October November 2017 Issue – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Mon, 15 Jul 2019 20:00:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 Tim Ryan: A Champion for Diversity in the Workplace https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/tim-ryan-a-champion-for-diversity-in-the-workplace/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/tim-ryan-a-champion-for-diversity-in-the-workplace/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2017 05:59:18 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=32461 Read more..]]> PwC’s U.S. chairman has permanently opened the door to frank and honest dialogue about difference in the workplace at his firm and recruited the country’s top CEOs to an effort to improve corporate diversity, inclusion, and communication nationwide.

Tim Ryan, the senior partner and U.S. chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, is the youngest executive of the Big Four auditing firms, which include Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and KPMG. Though he only assumed the role last July, at the age of 50, he has already made a name for himself, bringing PwC to new economic heights while simultaneously leading the conversation about diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Ryan’s story is the story of the immigrant dream. He was born in Boston, a second-generation working class Irish American whose father’s parents had emigrated from counties Galway and Cork, and raised in the Hyde Park neighborhood at the southern reaches of the city limits until his family moved just over the border to Dedham, a blue collar suburb, when he was seven.

He is the second child of four siblings, with an older brother and two younger sisters. Both his parents worked. His father had two jobs – a day gig as a lineman at Boston Edison utilities and a graveyard shift at the Boston Herald; his mother worked as a cashier at the local branch of the small New England grocery chain Roche Bros. Together, he says, his mother and father emphasized the singular importance of working hard, often at the expense of other activities. Ryan jokes often that he doesn’t have a single memory of doing homework.

Despite that, he was the first member of his family to attend college, attending Babson College because they offered the most financial aid. Today, as a result of his own hard work and determination, as well as innate talent for managing people, he now has the responsibility of running one of the most influential professional services firms in the U.S. It has been a remarkable journey, and when I met with him on the 25th floor of PwC’s midtown Manhattan headquarters, it was a long way from where he started out.

(Photo: Kit DeFever / Irish America)

Ryan is a lean man with full, brown hair that he keeps in the traditional business style of trim utility. He religiously works out, a holdover from his high school days playing ice hockey, rising early five to six days a week – he takes Mondays off for travel – to perform his morning routine: 600 sit-ups, 75 push-ups, and a three-mile run. To date, he’s competed in 26 marathons, with his best time being 3:51 in Chicago a few years ago. “With my work schedule, I’m proud of that,” he says (though his fantasy is to take a six-month sabbatical and just train to see what he’s really capable of).

He is happy explaining concepts and teaching ideas to other people, but he seems happiest when he is learning and listening, probing and asking questions. He gets that from his parents.

“My parents were only high school educated, but they were the best educators you could have asked for because they taught us the lessons you needed to succeed in life,” he says. At his mother’s funeral two years ago, Ryan spoke about how she had always called him and his siblings out when they made a mistake, and would always promote the values of hard work, honesty, and treating people with respect.

When most people speak in platitudes about things like that, especially in eulogies, it’s easy to dismiss them as canned or cliché. When Ryan speaks about them, they are not only believable but downright inspiring. It’s because he lives an ethos of humility and earnestness, which he again credits to his parents:

“They did this unique thing when they were raising my siblings and me. They would regularly remind us to not to blame other people if we made a mistake, not to be so defensive, and to get over ourselves and stay humble. And that’s really a remarkable skill that I got from my parents. In managing PwC’s 50,000 people or when I’m working with other Fortune 1,000 CEOs, I’d never succeed if I got defensive every time somebody challenged me. This life lesson of not taking yourself too seriously goes all the way back to my Irish upbringing. That came from my parents.”

Ryan also credits his Irish ancestry with simpler things like his knowledge of tea and family Sundays: “It was the good old days. It was family dinner on Sundays. The supermarkets were closed. It was tea; I learned so many things about tea, like how to put the spoon in, and how to not let the heat out of it, and what a good cup of tea was and what a good cup of tea wasn’t.”

Ryan has had a relationship with Ireland professionally since the 1991 New England banking crisis – one of his clients was a New Hampshire bank owned at the time by Bank of Ireland, and as a result was the only one in the state not to be taken over by the FDIC, he told me. Since then, he has been to Ireland at least half a dozen times.

“What I love most about the people from Ireland who I interact with in the business community – executives at clients as well as at PwC – is their sense of responsibility, which is very clear. It goes beyond the dollar, beyond the money,” he says.

Tim Ryan and PwC staff take selfie after a Town Hall meeting earlier this year. The average age of PwC’s employees is 28. (Photo: Courtesy PwC)

When he was 14, Ryan joined his mother at Roche Bros. supermarket, taking a job stocking shelves. That’s where he found his other chief mentor, his manager Richie Ordway, who he credits more than any other figure in his life with his professional development. “He just understood people, and he was the one who really helped me understand relationships and the idea of inspiration versus telling.”

Ryan worked there for ten years – throughout all of high school, for 40 hours per week during college in order to pay for it, and moonlighting during his first two years at Price Waterhouse, which wouldn’t merge with Coopers & Lybrand to become PwC until 1998, after he graduated. “I’m kind of famous for telling stories about the supermarket because it was so formative to me in terms of how you treat people, your work ethic, the idea of the customer always being right, growth, and respect for people.”

One of those stories Ryan has told numerous times over, in various media appearances and in private. It does not cast a good light on his high school personality. He and his friends were making fun of a special-needs co-worker behind his back and Ryan was leading the assault. Ordway overheard and stopped him in his tracks. “He said, ‘He’s giving 100 percent of what he can give. Are you?’ That I’ll never forget.” It was his first lesson in what Ryan calls sustainable motivation, or trust-based leadership, the idea of managing fairly based on what people are capable of doing in order to get the most out of them and empowering people to make decisions.

Another story Ryan tells less often also involves him getting a dressing down. “I prided myself on working hard. I prided myself on working harder than anybody else – always be sweating, always be going. So one day I was killing myself and I looked at him for approval. And he looked at me and he said, ‘Thanks for doing your job.’ He always knew the buttons to push. He made it clear: your job is to work hard.”

Because of his experiences with the family-run Roche Bros., Ryan wanted to be an entrepreneur himself. He applied to colleges and was admitted to several, but accepted at Babson, just west of Boston, not knowing anything about the school except that they gave him the best aid package. “For me it was a whole new world. The diversity at Babson was tremendous. There was a big Latin American presence, even back then. So for somebody from Dedham, it was like, ‘Wow.’”

It was also his first experience being on the receiving end of socio-economic differences. In a crowd of mostly affluent students and parents in business casual, his father dropped him off wearing his work boots, jeans, and a t-shirt while on lunch break and Ryan made the walk to his dorm carrying all his belongings in an uncle’s loaned Army duffel. “There were a lot of people who were not like me,” he said.

It was in that environment that Ryan was persuaded to give accounting a try by a professor named Richard Bruno. “I think he saw, with the benefit of hindsight, that this business was about people and that I had an aptitude for that,” Ryan said. On Bruno’s recommendation, Ryan joined Price Waterhouse in their Boston office as a staff accountant in 1988. It proved to be a good career choice, and though his blue collar background stood out from the other recruits, he was a quick study and moved up the corporate ladder swiftly, but not before learning a few lessons about inequality.

Ryan started at the firm the same year the Boston office hired its first female partner, Maryann Murphy, who would become his supervisor and mentor. His first years were uneventful. But the 1991 financial crisis changed that – mortgages went through the roof and banks went under.

“I saw people losing their homes and saw the importance of the financial services,” he said. “A partner told me when you’re in financial services, you know, next to people’s health and family, you’re looking after the most important thing in people’s lives, their money.” That’s when he really got into banking, when he was able to see what Richard Bruno saw in accounting – that the business is about people and that spreadsheets have real-world consequences.

By the same token, Ryan saw that accountants are also people, and he witnessed the iniquity Maryann Murphy faced at the company. “I saw the struggles she had. She was massively supported, I will say, but as a woman she had to prove herself over and over again. That’s when I remember I started to realize it’s different. Like before I even got to race, I realized it was different for gender.”

Greater racial awareness would come a few years later, after the 1991 banking crisis, when he developed an expertise in mortgages and was given the opportunity to travel the country. “I spent time in Jacksonville, in Columbia, South Carolina, where I had clients. I started spending more time in New York where there was a more diverse population at the time even than in Boston. I realized there were differences and uphill battles that people had.” It was the first time he had left New England.

Tim Ryan and Sean Hill, a manager in PwC’s assurance practice, speak before a meeting this year. “It’s not about my views, it’s about people,” Ryan told Irish America. “One of the things I learned early on is you have to put yourself in other peoples’ shoes.” (Photo: courtesy PwC)

By the early 2000s, Ryan was made a partner, and was leading PwC’s consumer finance group and was serving on the U.S. board of partners and principals. In 2005, he became the head of financial services, and by 2009 was vice chairman of the assurance practice. Most recently, Ryan served from 2013 as vice chairman of U.S. markets, strategy, and stakeholders leader, where he demonstrated his ability to drive shareholder value, improve investor relations, and oversee regulatory affairs, public policy, corporate responsibility, and human capital.

What has stayed with Ryan through all of this is the experience of being an outsider on his first day almost 30 years ago, when he committed the faux pas of wearing a short-sleeved shirt. Price Waterhouse was at the time very formal, known for their employees’ dark suits, white shirts, and red ties. Ryan tried to keep his jacket on for as much of the day as possible, even as the others in his class were hanging their jackets on their chairs and rolling up their shirtsleeves. But it was a hot June day and by lunch he couldn’t take it anymore, earning the skepticism of his cohort but the sympathy of his instructor, who walked him to Filene’s Basement to buy him new long-sleeved shirts. (Ryan has since changed the dress code to “dress for your day,” which allows for significantly greater flexibility and personal expression, including jeans.)

Ryan’s management style is direct and lacks pretense, his voice still resonant with the cadences and confidence of a blue collar New Englander. It’s undeniable that he has the drive of generations of Irish ancestors who survived and strived, and that entrepreneurial spirit that allowed them to succeed in a new world despite hardship and prejudice.

“Over the course of my life there was this constant reminder that you’re fortunate, you’re lucky, and everybody deserves to be treated the same,” Ryan told me. “It was just a recurring drumbeat that came at home.”

As much as he is focused on his responsibilities to shareholders to run a profitable company today, that early education of difference has led him to need to do more with his time at the top of PwC by creating a culture where people are comfortable having dialogues about difficult subjects and there is an expectation of listening and learning from other points of view and experience, even, or especially, about subjects entirely unrelated to work.

“I think right away he felt that he was the odd man out. I think that he looked at himself a little differently,” Brian Williamson, whom Ryan hired in 1990, told me. Williamson is now an audit partner at PwC and is the godfather to Ryan’s second youngest child. (Ryan has six children, ages nine to 17, and is divorced.) “So I think when he sees other people and thinks about other people being different, he wants to make sure they don’t feel like outsiders, too,” he said.

Since 2008 PwC has worked with Mahzarin Banaji – the pioneering Harvard social psychologist who helped develop the theory of unconscious biases in the 1990s – on training its 150-or-so top partners to learn how to address their blind spots on topics like race, class, and gender, and since 2011 the firm has ranked in the top 5 of DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies list. Ryan took Banaji’s executive training around the same time he became assurance vice chair, and it made a clear impact. Last year, as U.S. chairman, he appointed the most diverse leadership team in the company’s history.

This past June, Ryan went even further, launching a corporate alliance committed to improving diversity and inclusion in the business world and hosting a nation-wide dialogue on how to do so. He called it the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, and as of September more than 300 CEOs have pledged that they will “continue to make our workplaces trusting places to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion;” “implement and expand unconscious bias education;” and “share best – and unsuccessful – practices.”

The CEO Action was born out of the events that happened during the first week of July 2016, Ryan’s first week as U.S. chairman.

On Tuesday of that week, Alton Sterling was shot at least six times by police while pinned to the ground in Baton Rouge. On Wednesday, Philando Castile was shot five times by police outside of Minneapolis during a traffic stop in which he informed the officer he had a concealed carry license and had a pistol with him. On Thursday, a sniper intent on killing white police officers as retribution for the deaths of black men by police killed one Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer, four Dallas Police Department officers, and wounded 11 others, including two civilians.

That Friday, Ryan was on vacation in upstate New York. He remembers thinking, “You’re leading 50,000 people, and you now realize you’re the one who has to decide, ‘What do I do.’ Do you do something? Do you do nothing? Things happen in the news every day and the question is when do you react and when do you say that’s not a place for the firm to step in? But it clearly felt like this is something the firm should step in and say something about.”

Ryan’s children with him on vacation in Lake Tahoe this August. Left to right: Madison (16), Jack (14), Jamie (13), Thomas (17), Luke (9), Ryley (12). (Photo: Courtesy Tim Ryan)

He got his leadership team on the phone immediately, including his diversity chief, human capital chief, and general counsel. They spoke for about 30 minutes and all agreed they had to do something, so Ryan decided he would send an email.

“It wasn’t an earth-shattering email,” he told me. “All I said to our people was, ‘Look, we know a lot of you are waking up and reading this news and it’s tragic and many of us don’t know what to do and that’s okay. We’re here for each other.’”

He was shocked by the responses his message received. The one that floored him was that the silence that week at PwC was deafening.

“I remember thinking, ‘Here we are, a relatively progressive organization, rated very highly for diversity and have been investing for years on diversity, and we can’t even talk about it?’ If we couldn’t talk about it, how are the organizations doing that haven’t progressed as nicely as we had?” It was a wakeup call for him. When he returned to work the following Monday, he effectively threw out his incoming plans for the firm. Instead, Ryan and his leadership team came together to propose a day on race relations at PwC, to be held July 21, firm-wide, across the U.S.

“It wasn’t terribly bold to send an email,” he said. “That was bold, that was risky.”

Since those July 21 discussions, PwC has actively encouraged employees to “bring their whole selves to work,” according to Ryan. In other words, that means one of the most influential companies in the U.S. says that it’s no longer taboo to talk about politics, the news, and personal opinions in the office. Over the course of last year, Ryan estimates he met with 300 to 400 CEOs in his role as chairman. As clients, PwC claims 96 percent of Fortune 500 companies, as well as every entertainment firm, and 97 percent of automotive firms. And with every one of them Ryan deals with, he brings up his message. So make no mistake about it, PwC’s reach is huge.

“Most first-year CEOs would pick other issues to make their mark,” Ron Parker, CEO of the Executive Leadership Council and a member of the CEO Action pledge steering committee, told me. “Tim could easily have followed the majority lead of driving shareholder value and say that we’re not going to get involved with the other – the social and political – things. But the world has changed. And Tim was courageous enough to step out of the crowd and up to the mic. And in doing so others followed.”

Under Ryan’s direction, too, PwC launched a new series of corporate-wide training videos this January that teach Banaji’s unconscious bias research in an interactive way. (Modified versions of these videos are available to the public on PwC’s website and are worth watching.) His hope is that through the CEO Action pledge, “millions” will take and use the series to start a conversation, especially at small and medium sized organizations that don’t have PwC’s “deep pockets.” So far, 30,000 of PwC’s employees have taken it, and Ryan has made it a requirement for all new hires and anyone receiving a promotion.

When I asked him whether he received any criticism over focusing on diversity and how he responded to that, he said the overwhelming response has been positive, but there will always be those who want him to focus on the majority.

“It’s not about my views, it’s about people. One of the things I learned early on is you have to put yourself in other peoples’ shoes. I fundamentally believe that the majority of the people in the world wake up in the morning trying to do the right thing. Very few people wake up and say, ‘I’m going to be bad today.’ But, we often look at the world from our perspective,” he explained. “I learned early on that you can’t tell somebody how to feel. As much as it may be logical to you or me that they should feel this way, it’s more important to go to how they feel and figure out how you work from there.”

What it comes down to, he told me, is either making an emotional argument, or a logical one, and sometimes both. “I approach it by saying what I truly believe, and I believe inclusion is the right thing to do, as the human race – that I got from my parents, to be clear. But I also believe it’s the right thing to do if you want a sustainable thriving organization. So, you either go with the intellectual approach or the heart approach. And if the heart doesn’t get you, the intellectual approach better.”

The intellectual approach is this: by 2050, white Americans will be in the minority, and there is a direct link between diversity and economic growth and brand reputation. According to a 2015 study by McKinsey, companies that rank in the top quartile of executive diversity are 20 percent more likely to show returns above the national industry median than companies in the bottom quartile. And for brands that address race publically, more than 70 percent of people of all races who are aware of it say it “made them view the company in a more positive way,” according to a 2016 study by the Center for Talent Innovation sponsored in part by PwC .

When I asked Ron Parker about this, and why he thinks Ryan has been so successful in his efforts to spread the message and grow the CEO Action pledge, he said it was just because of Tim Ryan the person. “No one is doing this because of Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman of PwC. They are doing this because they see the authentic, open, and fully transparent reasons why Tim is doing it.”

It’s hard to say for sure, after just over a year of Ryan’s leadership, where this is heading, but at the very least it means that one of the country’s most influential and traditional companies has permanently moved the benchmark about what is and is not appropriate to talk about at work, encouraging difficult discussions that otherwise would never take place, and mandating unconscious bias training. It also means that every one of PwC’s clients hears about it, directly or indirectly, each time they meet with someone from the firm.

Maybe most importantly, and most specifically, it means that an Irish American man from working class Boston in a position of power recognizes that there is a long, long way to go and is trying to do something about it: “You don’t change your culture on anything one and done. You have to be committed, focused, deliberate, and over a sustained period of time.” ♦

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The 20th Annual Irish America Wall Street 50 Awards https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/the-20th-annual-irish-america-wall-street-50-awards/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/the-20th-annual-irish-america-wall-street-50-awards/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2017 05:58:10 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=32642 Read more..]]> The 2017 Irish America Wall Street 50 is published. View the honorees here.

In 1998, we introduced the inaugural Wall Street 50 with the story of John J. Kiernan, the son of Irish emigrants who “would row from ship to ship in New York Harbor gathering financial information from overseas” for his 1860s Wall Street Financial News Service. The man had pluck and a good eye for talent, for it is because of him that today we have the Wall Street Journal and the Dow Jones – two of his early legmen were Charles Henry Dow and William Davis Jones, who founded both. Much has changed since Kiernan’s time (and much has changed since 1998), but the significance of Irish pluck to the industry remains.

The 2017 Wall Street 50 honorees by the numbers.

For twenty years, Irish America has sought to draw attention to that influence by recognizing those financiers who share a commitment to bettering the American economy and a passion for their heritage. We have never been lacking for candidates, whether seventh-generation Irish Americans who are themselves the manifestation of their ancestors’ dreams or the many Irish-born who continually work to maintain the strong connections and forge new bonds between our two great countries.

What the Irish on Wall Street have always shared is a sense of responsibility – to shareholders, to clients, to colleagues, to family, to society. We see this in the innovative work this year’s honorees do for their companies; we see this in the dedication they take in their philanthropic efforts; we see this in the pride they take in their families’ stories of perseverance and the humility they take in their successes. Together, they are a testament to the power, purpose, and necessity of the diaspora.

Here’s to a hundred and fifty years of Kiernan’s legacy; here’s to our own twenty years; and here’s to many more years to come.

Mórtas Cine,

The Irish America Team

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First Word: Tabhair dom do Lámh https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/first-word-tabhair-dom-do%e2%80%88lamh/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/first-word-tabhair-dom-do%e2%80%88lamh/#comments Sun, 01 Oct 2017 05:57:21 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=32648 Read more..]]> “If you really want to help society, you have to figure out a way to share all the lessons that you’ve learned.”

– Tim Ryan

Congratulations to all our honorees on this the 20th anniversary of our Wall Street 50.

Some things have changed in the 20 years since we began to explore the relationship between the Irish and our steady ascent in the financial sector. For example, our first list, published in 1998, had just one Irish-born person but today a whopping 22 percent of our 50 were born in Ireland.

The 1998 list only had three women while today the total is up to 14. Tim Ryan talks about how when he started out at PwC, the lone woman supervisor had to work harder than the men to continually prove herself. He never forgot that time with her.

The first in his family to go to college, Tim was something of an outsider in the financial world, then still the bastion of the elite where many jobs were handed down, father to son. That experience, being different, being the “Other,” inspired him to put diversity front and center in his role as leader of some 50,000 employees. Tim encourages his people to have open dialogues in the workplace and discuss, among other issues, race and gender. He has inspired other CEOs to follow his example and make the same pledge to their organization.

Like Tim, so many of our honorees believe strongly in giving back to their communities. The contributions of one of our honorees, Suni Harford are of special note. Suni, whose ancestors are from Tipperary, helped formalize Citi’s successful veterans’ initiative, CitiSalutes, in 2009. She went on to be a founding member of Veterans on Wall Street in 2010. For those efforts she recently received the Outstanding Civilian Service Award from the U.S. Army. Way to go Suni!

It’s not just the veterans of today’s wars that need help. Ken Burns’s new documentary on Vietnam brings to mind the many young Irish-Americans who fought and died in this brutal conflict. Private Michael Coyne tells his story of that war in this issue. He’s still haunted by his time there, as are so many others.

“No one wins in war,” a Viet Cong soldier tells Burns. In another documentary examined in this issue, the focus is on the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Alex Gibney’s No Stone Unturned, takes us back to village of Louginisland, County Down where, in 1994, an innocent group of Catholics watching a football game on TV in a local pub were gunned down. No one was ever charged with their murders.

Gibney’s documentary is reminder of how much we owe the Irish Americans who helped ignite the peace process. One of them was Denis Kelleher, the Kerryman, who was on our first Wall Street list. He started in the mailroom in Merrill Lynch and worked his way up to great success. Today, his son Sean runs Wall Street Access, the firm founded by his father, and we are proud to have Sean on our list of honorees.

In honor of Denis we bring you a picture essay on Kerry, one of the most beautiful counties of all. In truth, wherever you land in Ireland, you will find plenty to see and explore; it seems that history is ever present. In the midst of all the beautiful landscape are many reminders of our long struggle under British colonization. One such marker is the Treaty Stone in Limerick.

No one knows better the consequences of broken treaties, than the Irish. It was the broken Treaty of Limerick, that gave us the “Wild Geese” and scattered us to the four corners of the world. It was a broken treaty that caused the Battle of Little Bighorn. Sitting Bull and his warriors may have won the day, but the retaliation by U.S. military was swift and cruel, and decimated the Native Americans. You can read about it in this issue.

Adam Farley’s interview with Tim Ryan gave me pause to think about how in manifesting our own destiny we impacted the destiny of others, such as the Native Americans. Then there is America’s original sin, slavery, its legacy everywhere today especially in cities.

As Native-Americans and African-Americans continue to suffer, the Irish have gone on to climb to greater heights, as our Wall Street 50 list shows. We could do worse that to reach out and say, “Tabhair dom do lámh” (give me your hand).

President John F. Kennedy famously said, “One man can make a difference and every man should try.” Tim Ryan is one man who has made a huge difference and we could not have picked a better person for our 20th Anniversary Wall Street 50 cover.

Mórtas Cine


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Removal of Belfast “Peace Wall” is a Milestone in Peace Process https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/removal-of-belfast-peace-wall-is-a-milestone-in-peace-process/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/removal-of-belfast-peace-wall-is-a-milestone-in-peace-process/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2017 05:56:39 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=32652 Read more..]]> A milestone in the Northern Irish peace process was reached in September when the Belfast community welcomed the first demolition of a “peace wall,” a ten foot high barrier erected in 1989 between Springfield Road and Springhill Avenue to separate loyalist and nationalist locals, as well as to protect a nearby police station.

The decision to dismantle the wall comes as part of a promise by the authorities at Stormont to eradicate the presence of all Northern Irish peace walls by 2023. Since their construction, these barriers have become known as landmarks of violence, with the communities around them suffering frequent bouts of vandalism and intimidation.

The removal project received funding from the International Fund for Ireland’s Peace Walls Programme. Its chairman, Adrian Johnston, told the Irish Times, “There should be no place for physical separation barriers in a truly reconciled society. The communities’ decision to remove the wall at Springhill Avenue and the alterations that are taking place illustrate what can be achieved with strong local leadership and by fully engaging those who live next to physical barriers.”

“This is about more than just changing the look of this area,” Seamus Corr, project co-ordinator for the Black Mountain Shared Spaces, also said in an Irish Times interview. “The removal of a wall is not a starting point nor an end point, but a significant milestone on the journey towards a positive future.”

The first peace lines were built in 1969. 109 are still in place across N.I. ♦

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Irishman Ibrahim Halawa Acquitted After Four Years https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/irishman-ibrahim-halawa-acquitted-after-four-years/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/irishman-ibrahim-halawa-acquitted-after-four-years/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2017 05:55:38 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=32655 Read more..]]> After four years spent imprisoned in Egypt, Ibrahim Halawa, the son of Egyptian immigrants to Ireland, was acquitted of all charges relating to a 2013 political protest that descended into violence. The aquittal came as the result of a September mass trial of hundreds of prisoners detained on charges related to the protest. Halawa’s detention sparked international sympathy and outrage, particularly due to his young age of 17 at the time of arrest.

In a display of triumph, Irish diplomat Shane Gleeson raised his fist through a metal mesh and plastic screen as Halawa was declared innocent. In Dublin, Halawa’s sister Nosayba reported family members falling to their knees in relief. “Then we went back to crying and hugging each other,” she told the New York Times. Halawa is a son of Sheikh Hussein Halawa, Ireland’s senior-most Muslim cleric and imam of Ireland’s largest mosque. Hussein Halawa and his wife immigrated to Ireland from Egypt a year before Ibrahim was born.

The trial resulted from one of the most politically-charged and violent moments in modern Egyptian history, when on August 14 2013, national security forces killed over 800 people in Cairo as they dispersed Muslim Brotherhood supporters who had gathered to protest the ousting of elected president Mohamed Morsi by the military one month prior. This prompted a second protest days later, this time against the military, in Cairo’s Ramses Square which also became physical. Hundreds of people, including Halawa and his three sisters, hid inside a local mosque, but were later cleared out by police and arrested. The Halawa sisters were released on bail and returned to Dublin.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar promised in a statement that Irish diplomats will ensure Halawa “gets home as soon as possible,” welcoming the end of what he called “an extraordinarily protracted case.” Egyptian law dictates that the prosecution can repeal an acquittal within 60 days, so time is of the essence in returning Halawa to Irish soil before the prosecution appeals.

A minimum of 439 other people, including 20 Americans, were found guilty and given sentences of five years to life in prison, a ruling condemned by Amnesty International as a “cruel farce.” Included in these is U.S. citizen student Ahmed Etiwy, who, despite a recent rejection, may like Halawa soon be eligible for release. ♦

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Referendum to be Held on Abortion https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/referendum-to-be-held-on-abortion/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/referendum-to-be-held-on-abortion/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2017 05:54:57 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=32658 Read more..]]> For the first time ever, a referendum will be held on whether Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion, which puts women who illegally abort their pregnancies at risk of prison terms up to 14 years, will be lifted or loosened. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced in September that the referendum vote will be held between May and June next year.

The eighth amendment of the Irish constitution, passed by a two-thirds majority in 1983, declares that the life of an unborn child is equal to that of the woman carrying it and effectively bans abortion on Irish soil. This means that Irish women seeking abortions, including cases of rape, incest, and fatal fetal abnormality, must travel abroad to safely undergo the procedure, with an estimated average of 12 women a day making the journey to Britain, a fact often cited by “Repeal the 8th” campaigners in their efforts to bring about change.

Ireland’s current abortion laws are considered some of the most conservative in Europe, with the United Nations Human Rights Committee calling last July for the ban to be reversed, and public opinion on abortion is mixed, with most citizens believing in broadening access in some way, though the majority remains against outright legalization.

“Our ideal is that the eighth amendment is completely repealed, and not replaced,” London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign volunteer Claire McGowran told the Independent. “The very minimum is that it’s not confusing any more and gives free, safe aborti­ons to women in Ireland regardless of how they become pregnant.” McGowran added that the group were awaiting an exact date and wording for the referendum question and would soon after commence their year of campaigning. ♦



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E.U. Sues Ireland Over Billions Apple Owes in Tax Revenue https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/e-u-sues-ireland-over-billions-apple-owes-in-tax-revenue/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/e-u-sues-ireland-over-billions-apple-owes-in-tax-revenue/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2017 05:53:50 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=32661 Read more..]]> Ireland is being sued by the European Union for its failure to collect a year-old bill of €13 billion (over $15 billion) from Apple, Inc. In October, the European Commission referred the country to the European Court of Justice for failing to recoup the money, which was due January 3 but will likely not be collected for another six months.

The European commission presented Apple with the bill in 2016 after ruling that a sweetheart tax arrangement between Ireland and the company equated to illegal state aid. In 2014, Apple paid a corporate tax rate of just 0.005 percent; the usual Irish corporate rate is 12 percent.

“We of course understand that recovery in certain cases may be more complex than in others, and we are always ready to assist,” E.U. competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg. “But member states need to make sufficient progress to restore competition.”

Ireland and Apple continue to repeal the decision, though both face European scrutiny for resisting rules for tech company taxation. “Until the money is recovered, Apple continues to get an illegal advantage,” Vestager said. ♦

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Kurdish Refugee’s Croke Park Debut https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/kurdish-refugees-croke-park-debut/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/kurdish-refugees-croke-park-debut/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2017 05:52:47 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=32664 Read more..]]> History was made in Dublin’s Croke Park during the Lory Meagher Cup final in June, when the Leitrim senior hurling team took to the terrain for the first time against Warwickshire. Equally significant, however, was the presence of Iraq-born Iranian-Kurdish refugee Zemnako Moradi, who goes by Zak. It marked the first time an immigrant of that background lined out in a national GAA final.

Moradi, 26, arrived in Ireland at the age of 11 as one of some 100 Kurds placed in Leitrim’s Carrick-on-Shannon as part of a United Nations-supervised resettlement program in the early to mid-2000s. Several members of the group were profiled in the New York Times in September. During the 1980s, Zak’s parents fled to Iraq to escape persecution in their native Iran, but soon found themselves living in a terrorized community under Saddam Hussein. Arriving in Leitrim, Moradi spoke no English, and knew nothing of GAA until he met local hurling legend Clement Cunniffe.

“It took me a year or two to get used to it,” Moradi told the Irish Times. “I started later than everybody else.” But he learned fast, and when his family moved to Dublin, he began to play for the Thomas Davis club in Tallaght. His loyalty, though, lies with the county that welcomed his family into its community 15 years ago: “I never lost the connection,” he said on the day of the final, which came to a 0-17 – 0-11 win to Warwickshire. “I have a lot of friends down there in Leitrim.”

Moradi was named on the 2016 Lory Meagher all-star team and has gained popularity in his position as corner forward. He believes that the ethnic diversity in GAA will continue to broaden, and that the sporting sphere in Ireland is a place of welcome and inclusivity: “When you play GAA, you become part of the community and part of the culture.” ♦

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Viking Sword Discovered in Cork https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/viking-sword-discovered-in-cork/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/viking-sword-discovered-in-cork/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2017 05:51:17 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=32667 Read more..]]> A 1,000-year-old Viking weaver’s sword was unearthed by archaeologists at the site of the former Beamer and Crawford brewery in Cork City in September. Dated back to the 11th century and perfectly-preserved, the yew sword measures roughly 11.8 inches and is patterned with human faces in the classic Ringerike Viking art style.

“For a long time there was a belief that the strongest Viking influence was on Dublin and Waterford, but the full spectrum of evidence shows that Cork was in the same cultural sphere and that its development was very similar,” consultant archaeologist Maurice Hurley told the Irish Times. “A couple of objects similar to the weaver’s sword have been found in [Dublin’s] Wood Quay, but nothing of the quality of craftsmanship and preservation of this one.”

A close-up of the human figure hilt carving. (Photo: Courtesy BAM Ireland)

After expert examination, the sword has been categorized as one used by women to hammer threads into place on a loom, with the pointed end being used to pick up threads in pattern-making. “It’s highly decorated,” Hurley noted. “The Vikings decorated every utilitarian object.”

The sword was one of several artifacts found in “miraculous” condition at the South Main Street site, which also included intact ground plans for 19 Viking homes, remnants of central hearths, bedding material, and a wooden thread-winder carved with two horse’s heads, used, like the sword, for fabric-weaving. The items will go on display as early as February 2018. ♦

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QUB Study’s Astronomical Breakthrough https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/qub-studys-astronomical-breakthrough/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/10/qub-studys-astronomical-breakthrough/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2017 05:50:57 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=32672 Read more..]]> Astronomers at Queens University Belfast have aided in detecting titanium oxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet (or extrasolar planet, the name given to a planet outside of our solar system that orbits a star) for the very first time in September. This reveals groundbreaking information about exoplanet WASP-19b, which is notable for possessing one of the shortest orbital periods of any known planetary body and its large size, akin to that of Jupiter.

With the help of the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, the team discovered new information about the swelteringly hot conditions of WASP-19b. “We used an algorithm that explores many millions of spectra spanning a wide range of chemical compositions, temperatures, and cloud or haze properties in order to draw our conclusions,” explained student Elyar Sedaghati in the journal Nature, where the study’s results were unveiled.

“These results are the culmination of many years of work in improving these techniques,” said Queens University Belfast researcher Dr. Neale Gibson. “In the near future, we hope to use these techniques on more Earth-like worlds, and explore the diversity of terrestrial planets in our neighborhood.” ♦

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