Mí: Nollaig 2011

A Year Of The French

There is an interesting series of articles, in French, on the status of the Irish language in the North of Ireland over on the Couleurs irlandaises blog. The author looks at several aspects of the “culture wars” in the north-east of the country beginning with the post “Le gaélique: patrimoine fédérateur ou marqueur communautaire?”, followed by “Bûches et embûches de Noël à Belfast!” and most recently “Le gaélique, «langue des tourbières»?”.

Just as interesting is the sort of “how others see us” views and opinions of a locally based French blogger.

About these ads

A Trail Of Tears – Native American History Resonates For An Irish Audience

One of the leading online publications for news on the indigenous communities of the United Sates and Canada is the thirty-year old Indian Country Today. With its wide and varied reporting on all aspects of Native American life, culture and politics it has provided a real insight into how the aboriginal peoples of North America view themselves and has always been an interesting (and at times thought-provoking) read. This week it carries an article by Lindsey Catherine Cornum, a Navajo-Irish writer and scholar, on the anniversary of the infamous Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, when US troops murdered at least a 150 Lakota Sioux men, women and children in their custody (and perhaps as many as 350). It has more than a few resonances for the many people in Ireland who identify with our indigenous language and culture and the difficulties and prejudices we face in expressing that identity.

“Most of the time I don’t say, “Hi my name is Lindsey, and I’m an Indian.” I would feel false, insincere and presumptuous. That is why I identify as mixed-blood and qualify my Navajo with an Irish. But today is different. On this day in 1890 three hundred and fifty men, women and children were killed at Wounded Knee after being completely unarmed by American troops looking to capture the sickly Chief Big Foot as he lay on his death bed.

It was not the first time Indians were massacred and it wasn’t the last. Today the battle continues, sometimes bloody sometimes not. For a long time I didn’t even recognize myself as a part of that battle. I was in a state of surrender. But not today.

Hi my name is Lindsey, and I am an Indian.

They [the US government and nation] have tried to make me deny that. They have tried to silence my heritage. They have tried to take the land from my tribe and  take my tribe from me. They have tried to kill off the Indian inside for something more suitable. But not today.

I may be Indian, but I am not Sioux. I’ve never been to Pine Ridge. I’ve never seen a plain. I don’t know how to ride a horse, in fact they kind of scare me. But on this day I stand with the Sioux as a comrade and a relative.

I don’t know the day or the place but I can always remember the thought, in fact the series of thoughts, that secured my Native identity. I remember traversing the past, tracing back the lines of my family and fully realizing for the first time that I had ancestors who had lived for generations on this continent before any settlers. I then began to walk back to the present day. I knew that more painfully than I would ever experience they had witnessed the theft of land, language, clan members, tribal members, everything they held dear. I used to think of all this pain, all this loss as a sort of curse, the curse of a colonized people. Performing this act of time travel today, I know in a different context, it could just as easily have been my ancestors shot down, slaughtered and mutilated by the 7th cavalry regiment without warning or reason. Indeed, every tribe, every Native person, has their Wounded Knee moment, the time when they told you were dead or tried to make it so.

As a non-traditional mixed-blood who grew up in the suburbs, I often feel guilty, even ashamed, that I can’t live up physically or culturally to the model of an ideal Indian. I know in my mind that it’s not my fault. I didn’t give up my culture, my language, my people. They were taken from me. It may be my duty to struggle to regain these things but it is not my duty to feel bad that I was not born with the a legible and uncomplicated identity. Over the years I have accepted myself not as a traditional Indian, no, but as an Indian whose identity is founded in the struggle of all indigenous people for what is rightly theirs: their lands and lives.”

The full article (which also features on Cornum’s excellent blog) is well worth reading, with points that will seem all too familiar to an Irish readership.

Rising Boats, Trickle Down Economics And The Politics Of Regression

Another entry for my “Only In Ireland” series, this time thanks to Fine Gael’s Brian Hayes TD, with an entirely delusional piece given pride of place in the equally delusional FG Sunday Independent under the headline of the year, “A rising tide will lift all our boats!”:

“In 1959, on taking power at a bleak time in Irish history, Fianna Fail Taoiseach Sean Lemass noted that he believed “national progress of any kind depends largely on an upsurge of patriotism. . . diverted towards constructive purposes”.

We live, in terms of national morale at least, in a similarly dark age.

But similar challenges can sometimes require slightly different responses. In our case whilst the giddy optimism of the final years of the Celtic Tiger may have turned out to be a mirage, the antidote to that exaggerated optimism will not be provided by the current overdose of pessimism.

This Government faces many challenges but one of the most critical ones of all is to generate an upsurge of spontaneous optimism, or what John Maynard Keynes famously called ‘animal spirits’, which was the most positive feature of the Tiger.”

Surely most rational people now believe that the main features that formed the “animal spirits” of the Celtic Tiger era were greed, selfishness, corruption and vice? Are these the qualities a senior politician in this state should express admiration for? And the irony of a Fine Gael minister quoting a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach? How meaningless the so-called “Civil War” divisions of our two-party system, and ever more so since the latter decades of the 20th century. The Fine Fáil establishment remains the same, whatever representative of it is in power. However, Hayes in not finished in his homily to cliché just yet.

“…now that we have had our period of mourning and denial, it is time to begin the process of national resurgence by embracing a new policy of what I would call realistic optimism.

For realistic optimism to work, the first thing this Government must do is to actually fulfil the promises made to the electorate.”

Hmmm. Really? Like, say, the promises in the Fine Gael election manifesto to oppose any iniquitous forms of taxation such as a “flat rate” charge?

“Honesty requires us to admit that in areas such as banking reform and the debt crisis we continue to depend on what happens in Europe. But the mandate for widespread political and public sector reform is entirely within our control.

After eight months in government we have already come up with more than 200 concrete proposals in our public sector reform plan with specific timelines. And from procurement to reducing the size of the public service by 12 per cent over five years, much of what the Government wants to do goes well beyond the Croke Park agreement.

It has to if we are going to get out of this mess.”

So banking reform, reform of the institutions that contributed in the most direct manner to the moral bankruptcy of Irish society and ultimately the loss of Ireland’s national sovereignty, is dependent on “what happens in Europe”? What on earth does that mean? Who in “Europe” would gainsay the reform of Irish domestic laws and regulations governing the operation of financial and banking organisations? Or by “Europe” does Brian Hayes actually mean “the Markets”? Read on:

“A recent IBM survey showed Ireland is still the top location in the world for Foreign Direct Investment in terms of value whilst when it comes to the critical Information Technology sector, expansion in this area is so rapid that many companies are finding it difficult to fill their vacancies.

Earlier this year the World Bank ranked Ireland as the No 1 location in the eurozone for ease of doing business while the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom also ranked Ireland as No 1 in Europe for economic freedom.”

Ahh. So the Heritage Foundation gives Ireland its seal of approval for “economic freedom”? And who are they, you might ask, these lovers of Ireland (indeed, theselovers of the Celtic Tiger when it was at its most rampant)? The Heritage Foundation is a right-wing, American thinktank (motto “Leadership for America”) whose notable past adherents included one President Ronald Reagan (yes, that’s right, “Trickle Down” Ron!) and George Bush Jr. The organisation claims the dubious credit for the tax and revenue “reforms” that were implemented by Reagan, Bush Sr and Clinton in the 1980s and ‘90s (you know, the ones that all but destroyed the public services in the US, gutted the middle classes, and created a huge, impoverished underclass) as well as the ideology of the 21st century “War on Terror”. It most recent notable activities include the creation of the “Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom” (I kid you not), to mark the former British Prime Minister’s status as a patron of the organisation, as well as a new lobby group in Washington to push for even further cuts in taxes, and budgets for federal agencies (what Conservative America calls “big government” and what we in Ireland call public services like health, education, social welfare, et al).

So, an entirely suitable body for the Minister of State at the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Sector Reform to wag his tail over. Ah… “Finance”? “Public Sector Reform”? Now we get it. Good one, Brian.

Related articles

Aboriginal Sensitivities

In May 2011 the New Democratic Party (NDP), the perennial also-rans of Canadian politics, shocked the body politic and much of the Commentariat in Canada by scoring its highest ever vote at a federal election. In the traditionally separatist province of Québec it all but demolished the establishment nationalist party of the Bloc Québécois (BQ) sparking political tremors that have contributed to the fracturing of the BQ’s close ally in the nationalist Parti Québécois or PQ (by long-standing agreement BQ contests federal elections in Québec to the parliament of Canada while PQ contests provincial elections to the regional assembly in Québec only, both on a sovereigntist platform).

With the untimely death of the NDP’s leader Jack Layton, the party has seen something of slow downward spin in the polling (Layton’s television performances in Québec are widely regarded as influencing his party’s unprecedented electoral results in the province, and his passing has seen a noticeable fall in support there). Now several candidates are lining up to replace him, including Romeo Saganash, a middle-ranking MP from Québec, with an unusual background for a Canadian national politician. The First Perspective reports on his candidacy:

“He may be a rookie MP, but don’t call him a rookie politician.

And whatever you do, don’t ask him if he thinks Canada is ready for an aboriginal prime minister.

For the record, this reporter asked NDP leadership hopeful Romeo Saganash neither of these questions, but it became clear early on during a recent interview that they come up often and are among his biggest pet peeves.

The law school graduate and former deputy grand chief of the Grand Council of the Cree has spent the last 30 years brokering deals with industry, utility companies, the Quebec and federal governments and was a key player on the international stage in drafting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“How many of them have that experience?” he asked of his fellow competitors. “I don’t think too many besides Romeo Saganash.”

For example, he helped negotiate a special regime in Northern Quebec that saved the forestry industry where “trees don’t grow as fast as trees elsewhere” along with “tens of thousands of jobs” over many years.

Similar deals that allow northern communities to reap rewards – be it contracts, jobs or other benefits – from development in their own backyards have been struck with the mining sector as well as with Hydro Quebec. Today, he added, Hydro projects will not proceed unless they’ve been deemed “economically viable, environmentally sound and socially acceptable.

“I think what I have achieved in Northern Quebec and with the Cree . . . is applicable to the rest of the country,” he said.

“The foundations that we have laid in Northern Quebec are strong foundations that allows this type of development to happen for the benefit not only of aboriginal communities, but also the mining towns, the forestry towns and the economy of an entire region.”

Which brings him to that point about whether Canada is ready for an aboriginal prime minister, a question he finds “almost racist.”

While he may be an aboriginal leader, his efforts are not solely for the benefit of First Nations.

“Is being an aboriginal in this race a handicap? Some view that,” he said. “I myself believe I’m a leader, period. And my track record shows that. Much of what I did in the past has benefited everybody. Aboriginal and non-aboriginal.”

As for his plan, so far it’s less defined than some of his competitors. He says he wants to focus on the issues – the economy, the environment, inequality, education, housing and restoring Canada’s good name on the global stage -but he’s put forward little in the way of concrete policy.

In an effort to expand the NDP base in a bid to win the next election, he is reaching out to rural Canadians, suburban immigrant families and First Nations who are starting to bridge the gap with the general population in terms of voter turn-out.

A relative unknown outside Quebec and the aboriginal community, it’s Saganash’s personal story that in many ways sets him apart.

Born in a tent in the village of Waswanipi more than 700 kilometres northeast of Montreal, he jokes that he can “relate to the Occupy movement.”

He spent his first six-and-a-half years “in the bush” living the traditional way of life – hunting, fishing and trapping with his parents – before he was whisked away to residential school for a decade.

His father died the first year he arrived and in the same sentence his schoolmaster informed him of his passing, he was told he couldn’t go home to mourn as it wasn’t in the budget.

Among the youngest of 14 siblings, he never got to know his oldest brother John who died at the age of five during his first year at residential school.

It wasn’t until 1994 that the family learned where he was buried.”

At the moment Saganash’s leadership bid for the NDP seems unlikely to succeed, and whether he is willing to address it or not, his membership of the First Nations is certainly a factor in the debates about the upcoming contest. Meanwhile for the parties of Québec nationalism the future is looking ever bleaker with major fissures in the nationalist vote likely to benefit Canadian federalist parties like the province’s ruling Liberals.

État de Louisiane – French America

English, English, English!

The language of modernity. The language of technology, the media and business (always business).

The language of the “West”.

Yet, even in the heart of the “West” the English language is not the only spoken tongue or the sole definer of identity. From the southern US state of Louisiana (or La Louisiane) comes an interesting PBS report on that other North America, the French-speaking one, and why distinct languages and cultures bring their own rich rewards. Joseph Dunn, Director of the state-sponsored agency le Conseil pour le développement du français en Louisiane or Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), describes how in 1916,

“…French became sort of illegal to speak in the classrooms and also in the public buildings in the state. And in 1921, there was a new state constitution that reinforced those anti-French laws.”

These measures against French-speakers in Louisiana even saw students suspended from school for speaking to each other in their own language, driving the numbers of French-speaking citizens down to levels which would have inevitably meant French disappearing from L’Acadiane (the Francophone heartland of the southern United States) forever. But in the late 1960s the politicians and civic leaders of Louisiana belatedly recognised the cultural and economic importance of their unique French-American heritage and established CODOFIL. The organisation describes itself and its role thus:

“The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana was created in 1968 by the Louisiana state legislature

…empowered to “do any and all things necessary to accomplish the development, utilization, and preservation of the French language as found in Louisiana for the cultural, economic and touristic benefit of the state.”

…the defense and growth of the French language in Louisiana are important to us. …join us in this fight, helping us defend Louisiana’s francophone heritage and future.”

Since its foundation the Council has spearheaded a series of reforms in Louisiana, including the introduction of French language lessons into the state’s general education system and a growing number of French-medium schools. In fact legislation passed in 2011 will see a rapid expansion of French-speaking schools and classes into a number of new districts.

So, even in the modern heartland of the English-speaking world there is room – and the need – for more than one language or culture.

Is anyone in our own political elites listening? Probably not. Some are too busy finishing a linguicide started eight centuries ago while others are looking the other way.

Lá An Dreoilín Shona Duit!

Buachaill an Dreoilín "Wrenboy"

Buachaill an Dreoilín “Wrenboy”

May I wish all my readers a happy Lá an Dreoilín. Enjoy the hunting ;-)

Lucht an Dreoilín "the Wrenboys"

Lucht an Dreoilín “the Wrenboys”

Playing Fantasy Troubles

Three Volunteers of an Active Service Unit of the Irish Republican Army, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1970s

A lot of articles, books, documentaries and news pieces have been produced over the last two decades exploring the origins of the Peace Process in the North of Ireland, and none more so than in the murky world of Britain’s Dirty War. It has become de rigueur in certain British nationalist circles (and amongst their sympathisers) to claim that it was “the Brits wot won it!” thanks to the alleged penetration of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) by various branches of the British intelligence services. It was not boots on the ground that brought about the peace, or even the “hit squads” of the infamous Special Air Service (SAS), but rather “human intelligence” – and in particular informers and double-agents.

The successful penetration of PIRA at all levels by British spies and agents, from top to bottom, helped the British to turn the organisation around, point it in the direction they wanted it to go, convinced it there was nothing further to be gained by continuing the armed struggle, and set it off on the path of peace (a few bumps and hiccups along the way not withstanding). Or so the story goes. Some even go so far as to claim that the British succeeded in a complex, decades-long strategy of bringing Irish Republicans into the governance of the north-eastern part of Ireland on behalf of the British – a masterstroke indeed.

If true.

This particular narrative has gained legs in recent years with the dramatic unmasking of several senior British agents at high levels within the Republican Movement, in both the military and political wings. Not simply the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army but Sinn Féin itself was compromised, it would seem. So the cries went up: the Brits knew everything! The Brits ran everything! The whole last decade of the war, the whole peace process itself was nothing more than a sham.

All of which is complete and utter nonsense.

In fact it is a James Bond fantasy come to life for people who simply cannot understand the complex history of a three decades Long War. Or even Ireland’s history in general. Worse, it is a propaganda myth with a purpose – to sow fear, doubt and confusion in the ranks of an old enemy (or any new ones who may contemplate replacing what came before).

A Volunteer of the Irish Republican Army on active service in the British Occupied North of Ireland, armed with an American-supplied M16 assault rifle, early 1980s

Yes, of course, the British Forces in several guises, the RUC Special Branch (SB), British Military Intelligence (BMI), the Security Service (SS or MI5), the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) and other shadowy groups, managed to place a high number of agents within PIRA, or rather in most cases “turned” PIRA Volunteers to become spies and informers. These men (and women) did what they did for a wide variety of reasons: idealism, financial inducement, intimidation, blackmail, exploited psychological or medical problems, petty jealousies or personal rivalries. The list goes on and on. Patriots and traitors, heroes and cowards, the full gamut of human character is to be found in amongst these individuals.

But what will not be found are the answers as to why the conflict slowly ground to a halt. Nor, in any accepted sense of the word, is a “defeat” of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army to be found here either. There was none. There was a peace settlement, with all the compromises on all sides that such a political, diplomatic and military exercise entails. A fact that the British themselves acknowledge, as reported in the Sunday Herald in June 2004:

“MI5 has caused outrage after one of its spies stated publicly that the IRA “fought a just cause” and won a “successful campaign” during the 30-year Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The Sunday Herald is unable to name the MI5 officer following a threat of legal action from the government. However, the spy’s comments have provoked fury from the victims of IRA violence and Ulster politicians.

The controversy centres on a briefing given by the MI5 officer, a former Royal Navy commander, at a maritime security conference on Orkney. Details have been given to the Sunday Herald by Mark Hirst, the former head of communications at Orkney Islands Council, who attended the seminar.

Hirst says the MI5 officer said the IRA was “the biggest threat to British national security”. But the officer then said “in our opinion they [the IRA] have fought a just cause”.

“The conclusion of MI5, according to this officer,” said Hirst, “was based on the fact there had been legitimate grievances among, and discrimination against, the nationalist community and this had sustained the IRA through the length of the campaign.”

The MI5 officer then added: “Has it been a successful campaign? The answer is yes.”

Hirst said: “He referred to the fact Sinn Fein had two ministers in power. What better success can you wish for, he said, than to have your people in positions of power in government.”

Hirst said the comments were “not off-the-cuff as they were supported by an official MI5 PowerPoint presentation, complete with the official crest”.

“Presumably this was sanctioned at some level,” he added.

The DoT confirmed that the briefing took place, adding: “This was part of a programme to ensure that security staff at UK ports were up to date with the terrorism threat they are countering. We are not prepared to comment further.”

…Kevin Fulton, a former double-agent who infiltrated the IRA, said he was not surprised by the MI5 officer’s comment.

Martin Ingram, a former intelligence officer in the army’s spying arm, the Force Research Unit, said: “I think what this officer is saying is an honest appraisal. The nationalist community was unjustly treated and that led to the resurgence of the IRA, although I disagree with the IRA’s methodology.

“What this man has said will be detrimental to his career, but there are those in senior positions in MI5 who would probably agree with him.”

Did the Irish Republican Amy wage a successful campaign? Yes, undoubtedly. Did they have to compromise on their ultimate war aims? Without a doubt. Did Britain’s counter-insurgency campaign contribute to that compromise? Of course.

However the gross exaggeration of the numbers of British spies in IRA ranks simply detracts from the credibility of what the British did do. Claims that by 1994 the British had managed to turn 1 in every 4 Volunteers into a “friendly” or willing agent, or that 1 in every 2 senior officers was a spy, is beyond laughable. This is not just hype. It is patent madness and flies against all reason or logic. The claims do not match the facts. The compromising of the IRA’s leadership, particularly the Internal Security Unit (ISU) and elements of the Northern Command (the IRA’s counter-intelligence and fighting arms), was undoubtedly key to the last years of Britain’s counter-insurgency campaign. But it was not, despite all the hysteria, the most crucial key.

An Active Service Unit (ASU) of the Irish Republican Army launches an anti-aircraft attack with a HMG (Heavy Machine Gun) in the British Occupied North of Ireland, late 1980s

If we remove IRA prisoners-of-war (POWs), those living overseas (“on the runs”), and a few others, the IRA’s nominal strength in 1994 was somewhere around 450-500 Volunteers. Of this number some 250-300 were on Active Service; that is they were regularly engaged in military operations, the majority in or around the North of Ireland (by military operations I mean attacks on the British Occupation Forces or other targets, acquiring, maintaining or transporting weapons, explosives or other equipment and vehicles, active intelligence gathering and reconnaissance, etc.). Taking the upper number of 500 the conspiracy theorists would allege that at this time around 200 of these Volunteers were agents of the British (or Irish) state. This is clearly nonsense. It flies against all reason and what journalists and commentators on the ground, as well as many others, know to have been observable facts. It is simply impossible that in 1994 out of 500 IRA Volunteers around 200 were informers or “touts”.

A far more reasonable and probably accurate estimate would place the number of “double-agents” in IRA ranks in 1994 at around 20-30. Even that itself is a remarkable figure, especially as some were positioned in a number of key areas within the military organisation. The penetration of the IRA’s intelligence, or more accurately, counter-intelligence network was a coup of epic proportions and the British rightly did whatever they needed to do to protect it. But “human intelligence” was not the only weapon in the British arsenal, important though such sources were. The majority of tactical intelligence gathered by the British Forces, the sort of intelligence that saw weapons and explosives captured, ambushes and attacks thwarted, IRA Volunteers and Active Service Units counter-ambushed, arrested or assassinated, whole regions of the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland closed down for days or weeks on end, was derived from the new modes of electronic and computer-coordinated intelligence, surveillance and bugging that were made possible by the advances in technology that began to make their presence felt in the late 1980s and ‘90s.

British listening devices placed in phones, homes, cars, shops, pubs, regular meeting points, the use of long range, long term covert cameras (with real-time satellite and landline feeds), tracking devices placed on or into vehicles and other equipment (including guns and explosives), the widespread use of CCTV in urban areas accessible to the then RUC and the British Army, routine and co-ordinated communication interceptions and monitoring, indexing of suspected or known IRA Volunteers and continuous observation of their movements, homes, cars, work places (and of their families, friends and work colleagues), all these techniques were what powered the cutting edge of the British war machine in Ireland. The central collation and study of data, thousands of individual facts and figures, over a period of months or years, and the redistribution of that data to those who needed to know it is what weighed heavy in favour of the British in the closing years of the conflict.

It was the Irish Republican Army’s initial difficulties in keeping pace in the technology war, its inability to find genuinely effective means or tactics to thwart a virtual 24/7 police state (not to mention the related advances in forensic sciences), that began to tell in the early 1990s. Undoubtedly, given time, a way would have been found (as Palestinian guerrilla groups have proved in the Occupied Territories and Lebanon. Or Iraqi and Taliban insurgents have shown in their respective theatres of conflict). In fact the early signs of a developing counter-struggle were already there in the mid-1990s as Republicans became more adept with counter-surveillance and detection techniques, and the use of mobile communication devices and computer technology. But such (temporary and ongoing) solutions came just as the overtures for peace began to take real substance and the electronic war became one of several key facts that persuaded the Irish Republican Army to explore “victory through negotiations”.

Not the double-agents and “touts”, mythical or otherwise.

Units of the Derry Brigade of the Irish Republican Army parade through Derry City, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1970s

However some in the British press, the British military and intelligence fetishists, as well as their cheerleaders elsewhere, would have us believe otherwise. So to the latest “revelation” in the Belfast Telegraph:

“Half of all senior IRA members in the Troubles were working for intelligence services, a secret dossier of evidence into the murder of two RUC men has claimed.

The remarkable document has laid bare a startling series of claims about the infiltration of both the police and terror groups during the ‘Dirty War’.

It claims the IRA ran agents in the RUC and also that Dundalk Garda station was regarded by British intelligence as “a nest of vipers”, with at least two officers actively assisting the Provos.

The information is contained in a secret 24-page document in the name of Ian Hurst — a British intelligence whistleblower — which has been seen by the Belfast Telegraph.

The sensational claims are due to be made to Justice Peter Smithwick’s Dublin tribunal of inquiry into the murder of two senior RUC officers in 1989.

The victims, Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan, died in a hail of IRA gunfire as they crossed the border following an intelligence exchange with the Garda in Dundalk.

The dossier also claims:

•The shadowy Force Research Unit (FRU) had a file on suspected rogue gardai prepared to pass information to the IRA and act as its agents. MI5 also had a network of agents with the Garda.

•The IRA had a network of informants in public agencies such as social security offices and vehicle licensing departments.

•One in four IRA members was an agent, rising to one in two among senior members.

•Martin McGuinness was involved in all strategic military decisions taken by the IRA.

At the centre of the web of intrigue sat the IRA’s head of internal security, the agent known as Stakeknife, who took information from rogue gardai while himself working for British intelligence.

Perhaps the most shocking claim is that a rogue Garda Sergeant leaked intelligence to Stakeknife. Stakeknife has been identified as Freddie Scappaticci, a veteran Belfast republican.

Scappaticci has strongly denied working for British intelligence and said he had cut his links with the IRA in 1990. He is legally represented at the Smitwick Tribunal and is now considering giving evidence in person.”

In fact this much-heralded exclusive is anything but. The so-called “secret” document has been freely available on Cryptome for the last two months. The problems with it lie in the complex mixture of truth and falsehood that pervade the file. Undoubtedly everyone was spying on everyone else. But much of the Ian Hurst statement needs to be taken with a large pinch of salt. Or two.

Volunteers of the Derry Brigade of the Irish Republican Army parade through Derry City, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1970s

For instance it contradicts some of the claims made by him in previous statements and interviews (usually under his long-standing nom de guerre of Martin Ingram). In 2006 he stated that:

““It’s time ordinary republicans stopped being led like sheep and started asking questions. At grassroots level, around one in 20 members are British agents. Higher up, it’s one in three.”

Somewhat different from the numbers given by Hurst now. To say the least.

His alleged statement to the Smithwick Tribunal starts with an introduction:

“I was born in the north of England. When I was 20 I joined the British Army. Within a few months of joining the Army 07 01 1980 I joined the Intelligence Corps at Templar Barracks, Ashford, Kent. When I left Templar Barracks I had graduated into the Intelligence Corps as a lance corporal and posted as requested to Northern Ireland. All Intelligence Corps soldiers are negatively vetted (NV) on entry into the Intelligence Corps – which allows regular access to secret material but only occasional access to Top secret.

In 1981 I was posted to 3SCT (Special Collation Team) based at HQNI. The unit manually typed RUC source documents (RIRAC) onto the Intelligence computer system 3702 and was also responsible for Vengeful the Vehicle Intelligence system.

A few months later I moved to 121 Intelligence cell to cover the Derry desk. 121 Int cell is the Intelligence unit within Head Quarters Northern Ireland (HQNI) that supported both General Office Commanding Northern Ireland (GOC) his G2 staff officers, MI5 detachment and HQNI FRU. Employment within HQNI 121 Intelligence required access to computer 3702 level 1 access and access to classified intelligence.

In early 1982 I applied to join FRU (Force Research Unit) as a collator in Derry, Having completed my FRU collator training course, I was posted to FRU North, based in Derry. FRU (N) is a very busy office that deals with Human Intelligence sources within the counties of Londonderry, Tyrone, Northern Fermanagh, Northern Antrim, Derry City. The following areas were also part of FRU (N) responsibilities (AOR) Donegal, Sligo shared with FRU (W). This office along with every other FRU office dealt with Agents both within Republican Paramilitaries and the general public who were in a position to supply information of Intelligence value.

FRU (N) in accordance with province wide FRU instructions recruited NO loyalist paramilitary members; this rule could only be deviated upon unless the person/agent was a former member of the Britsh Army. A good example of that Policy was Willie Carlin & Brian Nelson who were handled by FRU (E) (N) respectively.

FRU is a force unit hence the name Force Research Unit. That means it is different to most British Army units operating within Ireland and during my service in the Intelligence Corps the following units were Force units and were active in NI:

a. 22 (SAS) – RUC controlled

b. 14 Coy – RUC controlled

c. FRU – No direct RUC operational control

The major advantage of being a force unit was being outside the normal command structure thus we had more power and influence for operational matters and from a soldiers point of view we had increased pay and allowances. FRU was an Intelligence Corps unit but was manned (Handlers) with approximately 60% Intelligence Corps and 40% other unit members. FRU was in operation from 1980 until the early 1990s when its name was changed to the Joint Services Group.

In Aug 1984 my father became seriously ill and I was compassionately posted to an Intelligence & security detachment in the north of England to be close to him until his death. At this time I was promoted to the rank of sergeant. Subsequently, I was seconded to L Branch, Repton Manor, Templar Barracks involved in the resettlement of exposed agents like Willie Carlin and Mr Frank Hegarty (RIP). I was seconded for six months to Belize and returned to England in 1987. I then completed a current FRU handler course in Templar Barracks and was then posted to FRU West, based in Enniskillen. During late 1990 I was posted to Ministry of defence in London with a recommendation for promotion and considered suitable for commissioning. Whilst serving as a middle eastern desk Intelligence officer in the MOD defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) This post required that I was enhanced positively vetted (EPV) which allowed access to the highest grade intelligence available within the UK including Sig Int and Satellite Imagery. That vetting was completed in Northern Ireland over a 6 month period prior to me taking up employment at the ministry of defence (MOD).”

He then continues with some more background information on the British Intelligence system in Ireland, as well as numerous allegations about the use of agents and counter-agents, and the manner in which all participants in the conflict penetrated each other’s organisations to one extent or another. The full statement is here in a downloadable PDF format.

All very interesting, and indeed plausible sounding on the face of it. However that’s the problem. When one starts to dig down into the many and varied statements of Ian Hurst “Britain’s top spy in Ireland!” one soon finds that the face takes on a thousand sides. Hurst, under his assumed name of Martin Ingram, emerges from the Bloody Sunday Inquiry examining the attack upon an Irish civil rights protest by British troops in Derry, 1972, as a less than credible witness:

“It is the case that Martin Ingram claimed that he had access to all documents while he was working at HQNI.  However, he was at that time only a Lance Corporal.

…We are of the view that Martin Ingram to a substantial degree exaggerated the importance of his role at HQNI and his level of knowledge and access to intelligence.

…Martin Ingram was too junior to be entrusted with the information.

Martin Ingram told us that while he was working in the Army’s Force Research Unit in the early 1980s he saw documents relating to the IRA’s plans for the day…

Martin Ingram gave confused accounts in the course of his evidence about the intelligence that he said he saw.

We formed the view that Martin Ingram had, at best, an imperfect recollection of events and that it would be unwise to rely upon his evidence.”

For some Hurst/Ingram provides more evidence of the hidden hand behind three decades of conflict in the north-east of Ireland. It feeds their version of what can only be described as form of “Fantasy Troubles”. For others it is just another dark and murky corner of Britain’s ongoing Dirty War in Ireland.

A Volunteer of the Irish Republican Army on active service in the British Occupied North of Ireland, armed with an AKM assault rifle, early 1990s

Irish Books For Irish Children – A Success Story

The Irish publishing industry has always struggled against the domination of the book market here by overseas English-language publishers, particularly those from Britain. The effective “dumping” of British titles on Irish bookshelves has left little room for native publishing houses and writers to flourish and this has only gotten worse with the steady decline in book sales over recent years.

However one small but shining light in all the doom and gloom has been the performance of Irish-language publishers who have carved out a market of their own that continues to slowly grow. The Irish Times reports on the health of Irish children’s book publishing:

“THIS YEAR, aged 75, Dublin grandmother Catherine Sheridan fulfilled a huge ambition. After a life filled with family commitments and a long-held interest in art, she published her first children’s picture book. What makes the achievement – and the book itself – more intriguing is the fact that it’s published in Irish even though she is not a fluent speaker of the language. Réiltín agus Banríon na Gealaí (Twinkle and the Moon Queen) was inspired by a personal story.

“I was always interested in art,” says Sheridan. “I went to classes and lectures, and whenever I drew, I veered towards toys and witches and fairies. Some years ago I found a photo of my eldest granddaughter, where she was sitting under the Christmas tree. I painted a version of it and it became part of this story.”

The tale concerns a tattered Christmas fairy and Sheridan liked the idea of our connections with the past and how old, well-loved things should be valued, rather than binned.

The book is the first publication by the newly founded Páistí Press, run by Jean Harrington, an experienced publisher.

…crucial to its ethos is the publication of bilingual books. “It wouldn’t dawn on many parents to buy books in Irish. For some it’s because they don’t speak the language, and are embarrassed by that. We’re hoping that it might encourage parents to get back into the language and share that experience with their children who are learning Irish in schools.”

Harrington points out that 80 per cent of the books on Irish bookshop shelves are by UK publishers, and that print runs of Irish language books are small.

“ Réiltín has glitter on the pages, which makes production expensive, so you need higher print runs to bring costs down. But while we’re competing with huge publishers, there is a level playing field for all of us in Irish language publishing and we support each other.”

Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin echoes Harrington’s sentiments, having set up Futa Fata (which means “a buzz or babble of excitement”) in 2005. “There are now more books for children published in Irish than English in this country and because we are working in Irish, we’re more immune to the very challenging competition that Irish publishers working in English face.” He cites publishers such as Móinín, Cló Mhaigh Eo and the oldest Irish language publisher (which is Government run), An Gúm.

Futa Fata published 15 children’s books this year, aimed at babies and readers up to the age of 12. Picture books dominate and in January they will launch a new series of books – Danger Zones – that take a humorous look at history. The fact that picture books fare so well, is not surprising, says David Maybury, editor of Inis children’s books magazine.

“Irish language publishers react faster to market changes and tastes and with more publishers joining the market next year we have some great books to look forward to.” Maybury also cites the long career of Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, who has written several young people’s books in Irish. Ní Dhuibhne, along with authors Úna Ó Boyle and children’s laureate Siobhán Parkinson, was nominated for this year’s Reics Carlo Irish language book prize.”

The article also lists some current best-sellers:

“MAC RÍ ÉIREANN by Caitríona Hastings, illustrated by Andrew Whitson (An tSnáthaid Mhór)

This story about a king who must banish his son was shortlisted for the Reics Carlo 2011 award.

CACA DON RI by Ailbhe Nic Ghiolla Bhrighde illustrated by Steve Simpson (Futa Fata)

A tale of a baker who enlists the help of some mice when he must bake a cake for the king.

FAINIC, A FHIACHRA! by Art Ó Súilleabháin, illustrated by Olivia Golden (Cló Mhaigh Eo)

The tale of a curious boy who can’t stop exploring.

ÉASCA PÉASCA by Áine Ní Ghlinn (O’Brien Press)

One of the most popular titles borrowed in Dublin libraries tells the story of a mysterious babysitter with magical powers.

FUNGIE by Ann Marie McCarthy Ré Ó Laighléis (Móinín)

A fun book aimed at 4-7 year-olds, starring Kerry’s most famous dolphin (comes with a DVD).”

All these titles are available from the publishers or from Litríocht, the “Irish Amazon”, whose bilingual website features a huge range of Irish books, e-Books, CDs, DVDs and many other items, all shipping internationally. Or try Cló Iar-Chonnacht for another large range of Irish materials.

An Anti-Irish Free State?

I’ve written several pieces here about the shock and dismay felt by many Irish-speaking citizens across Ireland at the decision by the current Fine Gael-Labour coalition government to abolish the office of An Coimisinéir Teanga or the Language Commissioner; a decision justified as a necessary requirement of the hack and burn austerity measures dictated by the IMF-ECB. However to most observers the move to do away with this independent public agency, which has fought to ensure the same access to state institutions for Irish-speaking citizens over the last 10 years that have been enjoyed by English-speaking citizens for the last 90 years, is driven more by the success of the office (and the legislation behind it) than any financial considerations.  Notable cases taken in recent years, based upon the exceptionally large number of complaints lodged with An Coimisinéir Teanga by Irish citizens who have found themselves discriminated against because they use the indigenous language of their own country, marked the Language Commissioner as an early target for the new wave of anti-Irish rhetoric emanating from a culturally Anglo-American, Anglophone political establishment.

Now support has come from a panel of Irish and international academics for those opposing the return to the institutionalised “racism” of previous decades, as reported in the Irish Times:

“FIVE INTERNATIONAL language experts have questioned the Government’s decision to merge the office of An Coimisinéir Teanga (Irish Language Commissioner) with that of the Ombudsman.

The merger was announced last month as part of the Government’s public sector reform programme, and has already been criticised by Irish language bodies and by Fianna Fáil.

In a letter to Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan, five specialists in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Canada question the justification for the decision.

NUI Galway lecturer Dr John Walsh, Prof Colin Williams of Cardiff University, Prof Linda Cardinal of the University of Ottawa, Dr Wilson McLeod of the University of Edinburgh and Prof Rob Dunbar of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the University of the Highlands and Islands, say they believe there are “no obvious economic savings” as a result.

Staff in the language commissioner’s office in Spiddal, Co Galway, are already employed by the Department of the Gaeltacht, and share that department’s human resources and financial and services functions.

The language commissioner’s office costs about €600,000 annually and is charged with ensuring language rights are adhered to under the Official Languages Act. Its annual report has been critical of a number of departments and public bodies for failing to meet these requirements.

“The great strength of the Irish system is the independence of the [Irish Language] Commissioner’s office to investigate complaints in strict accordance with its statutory obligations,” the five academics state.

“Without such an independent office and focus for investigation of complaints, we fear that the rights of Irish speakers will atrophy,” they say, calling on Mr Deenihan to reconsider the decision.”

It is of course the “great strength” of the Language Commissioner which is its undoing. For a zealous minority of the anglicised, English-speaking community in Ireland, with their pathological hatred of those who embrace a native Irish identity (or indeed a native and anglicised Irish identity), the success of An Coimisinéir Teanga was infuriating. For these “Neo-Colonials” the dismissal of indigenous Irish culture, in any and all forms, is the paramount “culture war”. One that has been fought here since the Middle Ages and the first British colonies. Any signs of “strength” by the “natives” is a sign of their “weakness”. No “parity of esteem” or “peaceful, communal coexistence” here. Annihilation, dressed up in the rhetoric of the free market or financial necessity or claims to faux modernism, is the intention. That is the true purpose behind the abolishing of the Office of the Language Commissioner.

A state which rejects the indigenous identity of its citizens is a state those citizens are in turn justified in rejecting.

Searglighe an tSionnaigh Fionn

Apologies to everyone who has been emailing, tweeting or commenting over the last few days but (to borrow a description used of the late Jeffrey Bernard) An Sionnach Fionn has been unwell. Unfortunately it wasn’t the festive level of “unwellness” achieved by the legendary Fleet Street journo turned bonhomie but a rather more prosaic bout of the winter flu. It has laid me low, like Feardhia before Cú Chulainn, adrift on a troubled stream of waters.

However, I hope to return to full tilt soon. Plenty more windmills out there ;-)

…Séamas

P.S. I’m fairly sure that “searglighe” would be rendered as “searglí” in Modern Irish (reformed spelling, etc.) but I’m too sick to research it. Ironically enough.

Dáithí Ó hÓgáin – Ar Dheis Dé Go Raibh A Anam

A brief post to mark the passing of Professor Dáithí Ó hÓgáin, a man who brought academic rigour to the popular promotion of Early Irish Literature, Mythology and Folklore. From the Irish Times:

“The funeral takes place today of folklorist and UCD emeritus professor Dáithí Ó hÓgáin.

Prof Ó hÓgáin, originally from Bruff, Co Limerick, but living in Bray, Co Wicklow, was a professor of Irish folklore at UCD, and the author of many books on the subject.

He worked at the university for almost 40 years and was the author of books including The Sacred Isle and The Lore of Ireland, a weighty encyclopedia of folklore.

He died on Sunday, aged 62. He is survived by his wife Caitríona, children Aisling, Orla, Niamh, Ruán and Sadhbh, two grandchildren and his brothers and sisters.”

His body of work was phenomenal, running to dozens of articles, pamphlets and books. But undoubtedly his greatest contribution is the huge compendium of native Irish literary knowledge published in “The Lore of Ireland: An Encyclopaedia of Myth, Legend and Romance“. Like may others I found it an invaluable introduction to Ireland’s indigenous traditions (and still do).

He will be sadly missed.

The SNP – Going For A Proportional Measure Of Freedom?

A new poll, reported in the Scotsman newspaper, shows an increase in the support for independence amongst voters, with the majority plumping for “devo-max”:

“The survey suggests 38% of people would vote to take Scotland out of the UK which is up three points from a poll in August.

A total of 57% of respondents were against breaking away from the UK with 5% still unsure.

Among those saying they are certain to vote, 68% back the second option, known as “devo-max”, up one point from August, 28% do not back it and 4% are unsure.

The poll follows survey results last week which showed the SNP is twice as popular as Labour.”

In political and constitutional terms “devo-max” is a slippery concept. It’s generally taken to mean the maximum devolution of political, economic and judicial powers to Edinburgh without full independence. However, exactly where the line on “full independence” would be drawn is open to debate. As more than one writer has speculated there are versions of the devo-max option that would see Scotland in a constitutional arrangement that in a few short years of use would be virtually indistinguishable from independence.

Scottish voters could vote devo-max but get independence without anyone even noticing it.

Likewise, no one is sure what rules will govern the referendum on Scottish sovereignty when it is held. It seems likely to have more than a simple “Yes” or “No” question on full independence. Several questions are possible. All of which would helpfully muddy the waters for the SNP – and not so helpfully for Nationalists of the Greater England variety. Additionally it may be a proportional referendum, with voters asked to number their choices in order of preference. That could certainly lead to some interesting results.

For instance, those voting “Number 1” for Independence would be very likely to also vote “Number 2” for Devo-Max (on the basis that if we don’t get full independence at least we 90% of it).

Many of those voting “Number 1” for Devo-Max would likely also vote “Number 2” for Independence (since I’ve gone this far in voting Devo-Max, I’m obviously dissatisfied with the current UK status-quo so why not give my second preference to Independence?).

With those voting “Number 1” for the UK-status quo the Independence choice is a highly unlikely option to make, so while some might vote “Number 2” for Devo-Max (better 90% of the way than the full 100%) most will probably go no further than their first choice.

In these circumstance a significant vote for Devo-Max looks likely, with Independence a strong second, and the current constitutional arrangement a poor third. A carefully worded and organised form of maximum devolution could then give the Scots the independence that many seek in the space of a few years as the new arrangements evolved and grew. There is certainly precedents for this throughout European history (not least in Ireland).

However, proportional votes are a funny old thing, even in referenda. They can produce the most unexpected results with late swings or sudden surges changing outcomes dramatically. Given the circumstance above, it is not entirely outside the bounds of possibility that enough first and second preference votes for independence could in fact produce just that. Especially if Unionist voters abstain from going beyond their preferred choice.

So which long game is Alex Salmond and the SNP leadership looking at?

Colonially Speaking

While in my earlier post it was good to see positive news for Ireland’s Irish-speaking population, it’s depressing to be reminded yet again of the same old bigotry and discrimination that is so prevalent elsewhere. Last week I reported on the hostile reaction of politicians from the British minority in the north-east of Ireland to moves recognising the Irish communities they share that part of the country with. As the Droichead na Banna Banbridge Leader reports the extreme of British Unionism in Ireland continues to behave as if they were a superior colonial minority over an inferior native majority:

“FALLOUT from a proposal to erect Irish language signage in the district continues to concentrate in Dromore, where this week it brought “outrage” and more calls for Unionist unity to block any such plan.

Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan warned of the potential for ratepayers from Dromore to Kinallen, Quilly to Gransha, seeing their money spent on “unnecessary street signs that nobody would understand”, while a former Dromore DUP councillor registered her opposition to her rates being spent on “this ridiculous proposal”.

Dromore woman Norah Beare, until recently a local DUP councillor, said she was “absolutely outraged” that Sinn Fein would even suggest the erection of Irish language signage in the district when it could mean spending thousands of pounds “needlessly”.

“English is a universal language and I for one want to register my total opposition to my rates being spent on this ridiculous proposal. Will it benefit the residents of the district in any way?

“I also wonder how many Irish speakers we have within the district who will understand it. It just proves Sinn Fein will never change.”

Mr. Givan called on Dromore’s Ulster Unionist councillors to “unite and join with their DUP colleagues and oppose proposals to introduce Irish language signs”.

He added, “The Irish Language has been used and abused by Republicans to antagonise the Unionist community and this latest attempt should be opposed by every Unionist councillor.

“Should this proposal go ahead, the people of Dromore, including areas such as Kinallen, Gransha and Quilly, could have their ratepayers’ money used on unnecessary street signs that nobody would understand and is only being driven forward as a Republican objective.”

More depressing than all of the above is the knowledge that the views of many in the British ethnic minority, in their absolute hatred of all expressions of indigenous Irish language and culture, will find ready support in many of the political and media classes throughout the island of Ireland – even supposedly Irish men and women.

There is a colonial mentality and the mentality of a slave. Much of the British separatist community in Ireland embrace the colonial mentality and filter everything they see or do through that prism. Unfortunately they are joined in that distortion of reality by many in the Irish majority who willingly embrace the mentality of a slave. And don’t even recognise themselves as doing so.

An Irish Slam!

Nice report from the Derry Journal on the recent All-Ireland Poetry Slam competition held in the Maiden City and its winner, Irish poet Séamas Barra Ó Suilleabháin. The only thing that mires the article is the apparent inability to record the champion’s name correctly: Seamus Barra O’ Suilleabhain is not Séamas Barra Ó Suilleabháin.

“A captivating poet performing only in Irish made history this week when awarded the prestigious title of All Ireland Poetry Slam Champion.

In an impassioned battle of words, Seamus Barra O’ Suilleabhain, representing Connacht, won first place and the admiration of all – despite the majority of the audience not speaking Irish. Although the precise content of his work remained a mystery to most, his passionate, animated delivery won over the entire room.

Local performer Conor O’Kane, AKA Teknopeasant, and Seamus Fox represented Ulster, Seamus Barra O’ Suilleabhain and Sarah Clancy represented Connacht, Karl Parkinson and John Cummins performed for Leinster, and Mary O’Connell and Fergus Costello for Munster.

Each performer wowed an enthusiastic audience, with Conor O’ Kane, Seamus Barra O’ Suilleabhain, Fergus Costello and Karl Parkinson all winning the round on points. The second round was mesmerising, with each poet leaving its audience awestruck and wanting more. After a great deal of deliberation and soul-searching, the three judges decided that Connacht-born Irish speaker Seamus Barra O’ Suilleabhain and Leinster poet Karl Parkinson would go head to head in the final round.

Choosing a winner from this nail-biting finish proved incredibly difficult for the competition’s three judges – Eaman Craig (aka Derry rap artist, Wileman), myself, and acclaimed poet Jason Lee Lovell, founder member of University of Ulster Poetry Society.

In the end, Seamus Barra O’ Suillebhain was justly named as the All Ireland Poetry Slam Champion thanks to the fluidity and passion of his performance and his natural ability to make poetry in the Irish language as melodious as music. A bold, but well-deserved winner.

Following his stunning achievement, Ireland’s new Poetry Slam Champion for 2011/2012, Seamus Barra O’ Suillebhain said modestly: “This isn’t so much a win for me as much as a win for the Irish language.”

Organiser Abby Oliveira added: “Seamus is an engaging performer who writes his work only in the Irish language for an Anglophone audience. The fact that he was effortlessly able to engage and entertain the largely English speaking audience is testament to his deserving win.”

For more on the work of Séamas Barra Ó Suilleabháin you could try the compendium of poems “The Willow’s Whisper: A Transatlantic Compilation of Poetry from Ireland and Native America”, which includes his writing. A preview is available here.

Taking Back “Our Territory”

Following on from yesterday’s piece on Québec and Canada, some potentially important developments for the indigenous peoples of La belle provence, as reported by the National Post:

“A group of Algonquins in West Quebec is preparing to launch what could be the largest land claim in Canada’s history — for a swath of territory covering 650,000 square kilometres across eastern Ontario and West Quebec.

Stretching from Sault Ste. Marie and Cochrane in northern Ontario through much of eastern Ontario, including Ottawa, the territory cuts across West Quebec to Montreal, and all the way to the confluence of the Saint-Maurice and St. Lawrence rivers at Trois-Rivieres. About two-thirds of the land is in Quebec.

Gilbert Whiteduck, chief of the Algonquins of Maniwaki known as the Kitigan Zibi, says the process will begin soon with the presentation of the territorial map to Quebec Premier Jean Charest to underline the claim. Mr. Whiteduck says the map and accompanying documents were presented to the federal aboriginal affairs minister earlier this year, and the group is now seeking a meeting with Mr. Charest to do the same.

Mr. Whiteduck says the plan is not to demand return of the land to the Algonquin. He recognizes that land settlement “is going to be way down the line” but aboriginal communities, which face serious socio-economic problems, have to be able to utilize the resources of their land to improve their lives.

“What we want to say to the Premier is, ‘This is our territory, and since you are Premier of Quebec, we want to be able to sit down with you and discuss the fact that resources are being taken from the land and there should be some kind of sharing arrangement here,’ ” he said.”

Interesting. I wonder what percentage of Irish land remains in the “legal” ownership of former British colonists, settlers and “land grabbers”? What about the detritus of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy? The heyday of the “Big House” has long since passed (would-be squires aside) but a sizeable amount of land in Ireland still remains in the possession of a tiny number of English families. And that land wasn’t exactly donated to them.

I wonder if I, and my relatives, went down to our ancestral lands in Teathbha could we claim them back on behalf of the Ó Sionnaigh and the wider Muintir Thadhgháin? Hmmm. There would be a legal case. Anyone up for getting all aboriginal in Cill Chuairsí?!