18 March 2004 Edition
Madrid massacre lessons
The PP government in Spain has paid the price of trying to manipulate the massacre in Madrid for party political gain. Politicians here should learn the lesson that people can see through such opportunistic politicking.
For the past few weeks, we have been subjected to a barrage of vitriol against Sinn Féin by right-wing politicians and gullible and/or propagandist journalists. Conveniently, as in Spain, these attacks are based on secret "security briefings" which can't be challenged.
Many pundits here even tried to crudely exploit the Madrid massacre by comparing it to incidents in the North, when the most obvious similarity is to the Dublin/Monaghan bombings, where multiple bombs were synchronised to kill as many innocent civilians as possible. Like the Spanish government, some even portrayed Basques as responsible as a means of attacking Sinn Féin.
However, as in Spain, the Irish people, north and south, have shown that they will not be conned so easily.
Countering the racists
We need to be always alert to the pernicious currents of racism creeping into our consciousness and communities these days.
People absorb messages very quickly indeed; witness overt- and subliminal- advertising on television. The arrogant manner with which Michael McDowell has rushed through the Immigration Bill 2004 betrays the fascism bubbling beneath that smooth 'I'm a reasonable man' exterior. Such ill-thought-out, hastily mounted and repressive legislation is akin to using a steamroller to smooth out a few bumps in a piece of pastry; it also has a tendency to feed into any latent paranoia in certain individuals.
In the 6 Counties there have been a sizeable number of attacks on members of ethnic minority groups, perpetrated by racial supremacists; and we all know who we're talking about here.
Now, it seems that the British National Party (BNP) is setting its sights on organising a parallel political group in the 26 Counties, and launching a campaign to 'Keep Ireland Irish'. The good people of Eire(sic) are being urged to form a new party that will enter the Dáil and provide a new 'strong voice' capable of halting the flood of immigrants and asylum-seekers threatening our nation. Remember, the BNP has links with a range of European far-right groups such as the Austrian Freedom Party and Lijst Pym Fortuyn; and possibly, some even more unsavoury set-ups.
It is easy to be dismissive of minority movements like the BNP, but lest we underestimate the influence they can exert, remember the lessons of history - less than a century ago, in fact. The copy and line drawings used in the BNP's website 'campaign launch' bear an unnerving resemblance to the Nazi anti-Jewish print propaganda of the 1930s. The 'Declaration' on another page is nothing more than a crude cut-and-pasted parody of the 1916 Proclamation with the insertion of racist paragraphs. I'm sure it would be seen as deeply offensive to any Irish republican. Anything further removed from Sinn Féin's vision of liberty, fraternity and equality you could not imagine.
It is vital that we counter this sort of xenophobia wherever we meet it. One great strength we have is to keep in mind our own history; never to forget our parents, grandparents and others, driven thar sáile by poverty and persecution - and who were themselves taunted and discriminated against in their country of refuge.
I am writing with regard to the letter from Brendan Hogan in last week's paper dealing with the decriminalisation of cannabis. I find myself in what might seem the odd position of supporting the legalisation of cannabis but not the decriminalisation of possessing it for personal use.
The simple truth is that the bulk of cannabis brought into this country is imported by the same people devastating Dublin communities in particular, but the country in general, with heroin and cocaine. If cannabis was decriminalised, users would still have to purchase from these people and their organisations, providing financial support for a drug distribution network with whom there can never be any compromise.
If cannabis was legalised, however, we could have a situation where a relatively harmless drug was taken out of the hands of the dealers of hard drugs. The medical benefits of cannabis could more easily be assessed. We could have a debate around how to use this drug in a responsible fashion in much the same way as we argue for responsible use of drugs like alcohol.
Brendan states that the motion will be coming up next year. I'll continue to vote against it, and argue that a halfway house between criminalisation and legalisation is ducking the real argument and would be a financial boon to people who are parasites on working class and disadvantaged communities around Ireland.
Lastly, Brendan points out that a motion calling for a conference to further the discussion was passed unanimously. I join him in calling on the Ard Comhairle to prioritise this and I would suggest that there is no reason why, in the aftermath of the elections and the summer lull, we could not look at having an informed and reasonable debate in the autumn. This would give cumainn and cúigí an opportunity to debate this at a local level, and An Phoblacht to serve as a forum for providing information and space for discussion.
Harney's deaf ears
North Kerry has been dealt another body blow with the announcement that Imperial Stag in Listowel is to close.
However, the Tánaiste and Minister responsible for the development and growth of the Irish industrial sector, Mary Harney, has ignored numerous calls from many bodies in North Kerry who feel that it is imperative that she visit the area to see at first hand the devastation that these job losses are wreaking on the people of North Kerry.
At the November meeting of Tralee Town Council, I tabled a motion calling on Mary Harney to visit North Kerry to meet with Public and Industrial Representatives to discuss how North Kerry can be revitalised industrially and economically. However, I feel that my call has fallen on deaf ears.
If Mary Harney is as concerned as she says she is about the current unemployment situation in North Kerry, let her illustrate that by coming here to meet with those who share her concern.
Cllr. Risteárd Ó Fuaráin
Sinn Féin, Trá Lí
Flying Column sought
I came across a 7-inch record recently. The band went under the name Flying Column. The songs were Johnston's Motor Car and Four Green Fields. The label was Emerald, and the year was 1972. Could your readers tell me more about this band? I'm nearly sure the Belfast singer Kathleen Largey's voice is on the Four Green Fields number.
If you can confirm this, or indeed let me know it there any more recordings by these artists, I would be most grateful.
Pádraig Ó Gibne
Baile Átha Cliath