Monday, March 22, 2010

Celebrating Irishness

Yet again, I'm posting this almost a week after it was written! Normal service will resume when I get back from Haiti but until then please bear with me...

Parades. Unemployment. Wearing green. Drinking. Emigration. Having Gabriel Byrne as our 'cultural ambassador'. Having a leprechaun museum. Waiting two years for a response from a consultant, because nobody has opened your original letter – if you live in Dublin. Being asked to put money in a church collection basket to pay for defending child abusers – if you live in
That's what being Irish means today, in 2010.
If you'd asked me in 1990: Gabriel Byrne had just left Bracken, there was no leprechaun museum, and we didn't yet know the extent of the child abuse in the Catholic Church.
But the rest? Parades – yes – although they are much better now, with fewer tractors and frozen majorettes and more Carnival-style colour. Unemployment – yes. Wearing green – about the same. Drinking – it's more expensive and there's a lot more variety, but we still have extremely high alcohol consumption. Emigration – yes. The health service – much improved, but the revelations about Tallaght Hospital show an appalling lack of interest in patient care.
Despite all the progress made during the Celtic Tiger years, in so many ways, the prevailing mood in the country today is low. In fact, 'my heart is low' – from 'Only a Woman's Heart', released in 1992 by Eleanor McEvoy, before the boom and all that came with it – just about covers it.
Yesterday's parades throughout the country were a welcome distraction from the feeling that there is nothing right with this country at the moment. The body politic and the Church are crumbling; at yesterday's Mass in Cork City, as the Catholic Church tumbles around our ears, the sermon was about St Patrick's poor Latin. Irrelevant doesn't even begin to cover it.
But there is a feeling, all the same, of great pride. Much of this is visible in the way younger people have taken on St Patrick's Day as a real celebration. And there is a feeling that there is change happening, painfully, slowly perhaps and with many casualties.
As we approach the hundredth anniversary of the 1916 rising, there's a real chance that by the time it comes, the pain we are undergoing at the moment as a nation will somehow have contributed to a new Ireland. And, as we wake up this morning after toasting our national saint and the drowning the shamrock (whatever that means), sore heads or no sore heads, it might be time to start thinking positively again, and to think how, in the next six years, this country can be made into one we're proud to celebrate every day, not just once a year.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gutter press have no shame

I don't often use the phrase 'gutter press' because I think it's generally rather condescending - as the editor of a free paper I'm sure it has been thrown at me and my colleagues a few times.
But this piece illustrates why it exists... my editorial from last week. Sorry I've been so late posting, rather caught up in Haiti events these days!

When news broke in January that conjoined twins had been born to a couple in Cork, there was widespread excitement, not just in Cork but throughout the country.
When pictures of Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf first arrived on newsdesks, they were gazed at (in this office at least) and oohed and aahed at, because they are not just conjoined, but two of the sweetest looking kids I’ve ever seen.
Quickly nicknamed ‘Cork’s Little Fighters’, the boys have become regular celebrities; but their parents only revealed their identities because of the overwhelming interest in their case.
The fact that they are conjoined made them newsworthy, because of the rarity of that condition. And when they appeared on the Late Late Show, the sight of their proud parents and sisters showing them off, like any other babies, was simply adorable.
Since then, they have appeared regularly in national and local newspapers, due to that same overwhelming interest.
Hassan and Hussein will soon undergo separation surgery, which must be a dreadful worry to their parents.
As usual, Cork has not been found lacking and the support for the twins has been huge, with a bike run held by the Rebel Riders raising over €21,000 on Sunday. That’s just one of a number of fundraising events held for the twins; with the medical expenses they are facing, all donations are welcome, their uncle told us.
All donations, with the exception of one.
Reports surfaced over the past few days that a tabloid newspaper offered thousands of euro to Angie and Azzedine, the twins’ parents, for pictures of them. The sum reported was €100,000, but it was far less than that.
So far, so Brad and Angelina?
Not quite.
The newspaper wanted pictures of Hassan and Hussein in the bath.
In the times we’re in, pictures of children in the bath are not something you print in a newspaper, for a number of reasons.
While doting mums and dads love to watch their little ones splashing around, and are fully entitled to take such pictures (we all have that embarrassing photo album at home), a national newspaper is another thing.
And the added element of the twins being conjoined is no doubt what prompted the request in the first place.
Whatever about taking pictures of just any child in the bath, taking naked pictures intended to show off and exploit the twins’ difference to sell newspapers is inherently sick.
It’s a testament to the good taste and sense of Angie and Azzedine that they said no. If they had said yes, I wouldn’t have criticised them; they are going to need money, and parents will go to huge lengths to look after their children’s welfare.
Thankfully, widespread goodwill and generosity has saved them from having to sacrifice their sons’ dignity in order to pay for their life-altering operation; shame on the newspaper that tried to make them do so. It brings all of us in the media into disrepute.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


I’m not normally the type to randomly break into song, but I’ve been watching a lot of the new American show Glee recently. In that spirit:

“We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig in our mine the whole day through,
To dig dig dig dig dig dig dig is what we really like to do,
It ain't no trick to get rich quick,
If you dig dig dig with a shovel or a pick,
In a mine! In a mine! In a mine! In a mine!
Where a million diamonds shine!”

You may recognise this refrain as the song from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a cheerful fairy tale in which seven vertically challenged men work in slavery digging up diamonds for somebody else.
The second verse goes like this:

“We dig up diamonds by the score.
A thousand rubies, sometimes more.
But we don't know what we dig 'em for.”

This refrain could be adopted as the unwelcome mantra of anybody under the age of 35 in this country.
We’ve just learned that we’re going to be “dig dig digging” for three years longer than our parents before we’re allowed out to pasture, as the retirement age is to be brought from 65 to 68.
Those of us, that is, who still have jobs; while I don’t quite fit this age profile, it’s shocking to learn that one-third of the labour force between 20 and 24 is currently unemployed. But these are the same people who will now be forced to work longer and harder under the new provision.
As part of the new framework, the Government is providing a State pension scheme, into which every employee over the age of 22 will be enrolled automatically. This part is welcome – like the smoking ban, sometimes you need to push people into looking after their own welfare.
It might be going a bit far to quote Kevin the Teenager (Harry Enfield) and a fairy tale in the same article, but: “It’s so unfair!”
The under-35s are most likely to be unemployed, most likely to emigrate, and we will be paying for NAMA all our lives. And now, we will be paying for it for a further three years; the days of glamorous retirees in their fifties going out to lunch and playing golf will soon be over. Oh, and we’ve just been informed that our qualifications are worth less than those of our parents due to grade inflation.
The Seven Dwarfs didn’t know what they were digging for. But I do. My friends and I will be digging for NAMA. We’ll be digging for the Catholic Church to pay lawyers to avoid compensating abuse victims. We’ll be digging to pay the pensions of the bankers and politicians who landed us in this mess. And we’ll be digging until we’re 68.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I was right, for a change

I was just having a nostalgic trawl through my old blog, at, and I found this:

... in a nutshell, why I didn't think George Lee would last. Sometimes I don't like being right. Not often, though!