Thursday, January 28, 2010

Violence on the streets of Cork

Two disturbing incidents of violent crime in Cork in the past week have reminded many of us city dwellers that we may not be as safe as we feel.
While Cork City and County are generally very safe places to live and work, incidents like last week’s shooting in Wilton and stabbing on Pope’s Quay show that violent crime is not confined to ‘gangland’.
While the shooting in cold blood in Wilton last Wednesday night of Gerard Staunton is being linked by Gardaí to criminal activity – and the shooting has reportedly been claimed by the Real IRA – that does not mean that its effects are contained within ‘the criminal world’.
Mr Staunton’s partner and her two small children – who have committed no offence – watched him die. Wilton has been spread all over the national news as the site of a ‘gangland’ shooting. The damage done to the family and friends of Mr Staunton is immense, and their pain is very real. They deserve sympathy at this terrible time.
Having lived in Limerick for a number of years, I know better than most that, while it may be that ‘criminals are shooting each other’ and not innocent bystanders (with notable exceptions like Shane Geoghegan), society suffers as a result.
Witnessing a violent death is something people never recover from. Violent crime, even among feuding gangs, reduces everybody’s quality of life because it is abhorrent to anybody with any kind of human empathy.
Last week’s other major incident, the stabbing on Pope’s Quay, was tragically ironic because it took place just hours after Chris Luke, consultant in emergency medicine at CUH, appeared on the Late Late Show to discuss the increase in knife crimes he sees every day.
While most of us feel relatively insulated from ‘gangland’ shootings, knife crime is in a different category. It can be and often is completely random – a fist fight outside a chipper after closing time or a ‘dirty look’ in the street can translate very quickly into the flash of a blade and the destruction of a life.
Damian Wilkonski, the 23-year-old Polish man who was stabbed on Friday night, is still fighting for his life in CUH. We don’t know the circumstances of the attack on him but it’s to be hoped that he will recover. Nobody deserves to die because of a random attack on the side of the street.
Both crimes are a cautionary reminder to all of us that the old rules about not walking home alone and taking basic precautions about our personal security are not obsolete.
Cork is not ‘a violent city’; two incidents do not make it such. But following Mr Luke’s evidence on the Late Late Show and last week’s two crimes, it’s clear that violent crime is very much a presence in all our lives, whether we live in ‘gangland’ or not.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Four Angry Men

I went to see Four Angry Men - Matt Cooper, Shane Ross, Pat Leahy and Fintan O'Toole - in the Cork Opera House last night.

About 1,000 people showed up on a cold, dark, wet evening to hear four men rant (very intelligibly and well, I must say) about the state of the nation, the banks, the governing party, and society.

It was absolutely fantastic.

I am a big admirer of all four men for their intelligence and for their work on various issues as journalists.

After last night I particularly admire Pat Leahy, who earned fewer rounds of applause because of his direct and honest approach to the problems facing the country.

And I was very taken with Fintan O'Toole's idea of "known unknowns" - the things that, in Ireland, we know but we do not know. Things that we are, on some level, aware of, but we refuse to admit to ourselves. Child abuse, domestic abuse, corruption, crime... it's all in there. The culture in this country of being aware of things but not admitting them is the biggest problem facing us and he put it very well.

Their exploration of the corruption and lack of justice in modern Irish society was very interesting, and the format really suited it.

As Shane Ross pointed out, 1000 people had paid to come and see them speak last night. The previous night he spoke in the Seanad, where people are paid to be. One person was there.

The apathy and disconnectedness of the Irish public was dissected well by Pat Leahy, who repeatedly stated what many of us know, but do not know; we did not do the crime but we enabled it. We elected the people who did, and continued electing them in a cycle of greed and stupidity and self-service.

And many people will no doubt continue to vote for the same people, because although they "hate Fianna Fáil", sure "Joe up the road was good to us" and "Paddy is great to fix a streetlight".

These are all things that I knew, but that I had stopped thinking about; falling victim to the 'known unknown' Irish culture that I thought I was above.

The evening was better than I expected because it was thought-provoking. It reminded me of how enraged I was when the bank bailout happened; I'd forgotten.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Haven in Haiti

*edit*: Just so you are aware, I will be paying all my own costs and expenses. Any funds raised will go directly to Haven for building materials, none will pay for me to travel or be housed.

This is my editorial from today's Cork Independent. I've decided to go to Haiti in April to write about Haven's work there and the recovery process from the earthquake. Any support you can offer - even by passing this blog post on to friends - is welcome.

With all the problems facing Irish people these days, it was heartening to see the turnout at the Haven Volunteer evening held in Jury’s on Tuesday night. Haven had hoped for about 50 volunteers from Cork, and approximately 200 people showed up in the hope that they could do something to help the devastated island nation.
The Irish-based NGO, founded by Corkman Leslie Buckley with the help of businessman Denis O’Brien, is relatively new to the development world but has already built hundreds of houses for rural Haitians.

Last week’s earthquake – and yesterday’s aftershock – presents the UN and the numerous NGOs already operating in Haiti with some huge challenges. With a population of about nine million on an area smaller than Munster, Haiti is already known as something of a disaster zone, with widespread poverty, political instability and a poor record on education and literacy. But, as Karl Louis tells us in this week's exclusive interview, Haiti has not always been this way. A proud country with a history of leading the way for others to follow, it is on its knees. And the historical similarities between Ireland and Haiti are legion.

While many people are sceptical about short-term volunteering projects, it’s clear that Haven’s week away is not a holiday camp. Volunteers get up about 5am and work solidly throughout the day. Every volunteer is required to raise about €4,000. €2,000 covers their costs, and the rest is spent on essential building materials. Building a small house in Haiti costs about $3,000, so each volunteer genuinely contributes. While Haven will have two Build It weeks this year (April and October), the NGO is involved in Haiti year round, enabling local people by giving them building skills and tools, and, in their own words, ‘building communities’ and not just houses.

However, the main focus of the volunteer drives is awareness-building; one volunteer is like a one-person PR machine and will do untold work in encouraging others at home to volunteer and to donate to the NGO’s essential work. It also gives Irish people an insight into the reality of a developing country and the work of development organisations.

The plight of Haiti following last week’s earthquake is truly overwhelming. Development organisations and security personnel from all over the world and the UN are facing enormous difficulties in distributing the aid that’s there.
From Cork, in the immediate aftermath, there’s not a huge amount we can do about the logistical problems on the ground. But what we can do – in a spirit of shared humanity and of solidarity with a country with so many historical similarities – is give.

While we are all facing our own problems - with money, job security, floods and the many individual difficulties people have – not one of us is facing the same ordeal as the survivors of the Haiti earthquake.

Traumatised, grieving, terrified of another earthquake and dispossessed of what homes and belongings they had, their plight is difficult even for us to comprehend.
For now, we must each do our best to contribute, to help feed, clothe and treat the survivors. Irish people have a proud record in this area and will not be found wanting in this case.

Longer-term, the disaster raises questions about international relations that are far beyond the scope of this newspaper; questions about why Haitian infrastructure was left to decay so much; why the country is suffering due to massive international debts despite commitments to cancel debt; and whether there should be an international emergency reaction team to provide for events of this type.
Longer-term, Haiti will need leadership and investment on a huge scale.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti is real life, not an episode of Thunderbirds | David Aaronovitch - Times Online

Haiti is real life, not an episode of Thunderbirds | David Aaronovitch - Times Online

This is a very thought-provoking piece and one that I really do agree with. We can't prevent earthquakes but we can prevent the conditions that cause them to have such devastating effects.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tweet tweet, read all about it!

Tweet Tweet
Read all about it!

The Cork Independent has recently become a convert to Twitter. The ‘micro-blogging’ site, on which users post 140-character updates called ‘tweets’, is being lauded by many as revolutionising the way we use the internet.
At the moment, Twitter use in Ireland is not as widespread as other places, and it’s largely used by the media and by business. But it looks like that’s changing.
Since the Cork Independent set up its Twitter page (at, we have found a myriad uses for the site. At first, I was rather sceptical – what can one say in 140 characters that has any meaning or relevance? But then I realised that the main purpose of Twitter is not really ‘blogging’. Blogging normally consists of stating one’s opinion on a given topic (most blogs are themed on a general subject area such as cooking or politics, while many are personal).
But Twitter is more like a snatched pub conversation, where you can hear snippets of everything.
With Twitter you can follow news organisations such as ourselves, individual journalists, politicians, and businesses – you select who you follow and you receive all their updates. It means that, should a politician you’re following find something online of interest, they can share a link and pass it on to all their supporters (and detractors – many politicians get a lot of abuse over Twitter, because anyone can follow them). It’s simple, but incredibly effective for disseminating a message. For journalists, it’s the best way of finding real-life commentators on practically everything, short of spending weeks wandering around holding a placard with our questions.
The Iris Robinson debacle first came to my attention on Twitter. As have all the articles I’ve since read about it. I’ve watched the RTE News pieces on it via Twitter and YouTube, instead of rushing home for 6pm or turning it on in the office. I’ve seen the rude videos and ‘satirical’ songs via Twitter.
Usually when something comes along that’s considered ‘revolutionary’ at first, I’m very sceptical.
This week I have been following AA Roadwatch on Twitter for all the latest updates on road safety, Met Eireann for weather updates, and many, many, individual users throughout Cork for their localised updates; who knows better than the people on the ground, after all?
The rise of ‘citizen journalism’ using blogs, Twitter and other new media has been perceived as a threat to established journalists and media. But it doesn’t have to work that way.
A study conducted by the Pew Research Centre’s Project for Excellence in Journalism in Baltimore, the US, recently, found that much of the “news” people receive through these media contains no original reporting. Eighty per cent of stories repackaged old information. Of the 20 per cent that did contain new information, 95 per cent of that came from ‘old’ media – chiefly newspapers.
The study found that new media – blogs, Twitter and other websites – played only a limited role, as ‘an alert system and a way to disseminate stories from other places’, that merely provided a new platform for media to break news more quickly.
For all of those who wonder about the viability and future of local newspapers, there’s your answer. We are here, and we are here to stay. New platforms can be a help, not a hindrance.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Is it just me...

Or do RTE not understand the concept of a website?

News Years Eve dresses still being on the front page of the RTE Fashion site is absolutely unforgivable. Being a weekly paper, we struggle with the issue of timeliness every single week. But the whole point of a stand alone website, not linked to another offering in a concrete way (as for example our website,, is, before you start throwing stones) is that you can update it regularly. Tut tut.

Monday, January 11, 2010

How News Happens | Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ)

Thanks to Fiona in the office for pointing me in the direction of this report. Interesting reading and something I have been suspecting for a while. More on this later.

How News Happens | Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Time to look at the bigger picture

Time to look at the bigger picture

While 2010 is being welcomed with open arms by most of us as an escape from the unrelenting gloom of 2009, it’s worth bearing in mind that we have certainly not had it worst over the past year or so.
We don’t need to look too far from our own shores to see how bad it could have been for this country. Only ECB membership saved us from the fate of Iceland, which has been thrown into complete turmoil by the failure of its banking system. The Icelandic people are being asked to pay back millions lost by external investors when their banks collapsed. At least we are paying only for our own mistakes. Not everyone participated, but that is the nature of a society and of a nation – we are all in this together, whether we caused it or not. Greece, meanwhile, has seen violent clashes and deaths following strikes over the economic crisis and Government policy.
Although we may have to deal with unaccustomed snow and ice in the wake of last month’s overwhelming flooding, and we are still in the grip of the recession, let’s not lose perspective; it’s time to look at the bigger picture.
Media coverage here of both the recession and the adverse weather conditions have tended to drown out the sounds of continuing conflict in places around the world.
However, this week we got a rude awakening with news that two people from Cork were trapped in Egypt after trying to bring a convoy of aid to Gaza via an Egyptian port.
Viva Palestina organises regular convoys of aid to Gaza, with the current one having left Cork on Saturday, 5 December. A number of activists from the Cork to Gaza group were with the convoy and took shelter in a mosque after allegedly coming under fire from Egyptian police. (See for more on this).
While we wish those people the best with their mission and hope they return safely, it’s notable that this is the first coverage Palestine has been given in Ireland in recent months.
Taking the time to move beyond the Irish media shows us that, contrary to popular discourse here, we are not having it worse than everyone else.
Besides the better-known problems in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq, all of which are seeing regular deaths, there are conflicts ongoing in Kashmir, Azerbaijan, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Colombia, Somalia and nearer, Chechnya.
While many people here are suffering money worries and worse, it’s worth remembering that this is a country in which you are unlikely to die as a result of conflict. While we may have problems, from adult literacy to operation waiting lists, we have, mostly, excellent schools and hospitals. We may be seeing a drop in quality of life – but we are dropping from the best place to live, to somewhere within the top 20. Time to look at the bigger picture – it’s not perfect, but it could be a hell of a lot worse.