8 January 2004 Edition

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No More Excuses

No More Excuses

A Chairde,

Three former Fine Gael and Labour Ministers have tried to discredit the Barron Report into the Dublin/Monaghan bombings by challenging Justice Barron's finding that the FG/Labour Government didn't show much concern about the perpetrators or victims of the massacre. One would have thought that they could have come up with some more convincing arguments, if any exist.

It has been blatantly obvious for 30 years that successive FG/Lab and FF/PD governments have given a much lower priority to this, the worst crime in the history of the state. Yes, there were the ritual condemnations of "all violence", promises to leave "no stone unturned" and the blaming of the IRA, although the first bombings and killings of the Troubles were committed by the UVF and RUC. But after 12 weeks, nothing; no jailings, no charges, no arrests, no extradition warrants. Relatives of the dead, several reputable journalists and politicians and even former British Intelligence operatives all pointed to British Forces involvement, yet the "Law'n'Order" government increased collaboration with those same Forces at great expense to the Irish taxpayer at a time of severe public service cutbacks.

Successive governments, not only failed to attend annual commemoration services for the dead in the '70s and '80s, but sent the Special Branch along to monitor and photograph the mourners.

Former Justice Minister Cooney complains that the Barron report is "opaque" because it happened so long ago. That is only because the garda authorities and government ministers like himself failed to hold a proper inquiry, despite repeated pleas from relatives and human rights groups. They also failed to hold inquests or even provide basic information to the bereaved and injured. Instead, they spent even more taxpayers' money going to the Supreme Court to prevent relatives seeing relevant files that were either missing then or mysteriously went missing just before the Barron investigation.

If these former ministers really have nothing to hide, they should now, even at this late stage, support the long-suffering relatives' reasonable request for a proper inquiry, which will have powers to subpoena witnesses and documents. This, rather than pathetic excuses for years of inaction, might help rebuild respect for "Law'n'Order".

Ray Corcoran,

Dublin 11.

Do as I say...

A Chairde,

How can Tony Blair expect us to take seriously his sanctimonious speech in Basra?

He spoke of getting rid of killing and torture in Iraq but on the same day renowned journalist Robert Fisk reported the killing of one Iraqi and the torture of several others by the British Army in Basra, Baha Mousa, the son of an officer in the new Iraqi police force.

Baha Mousa was repeatedly kicked and suffocated by British soldiers and another seven young Iraqis were so badly beaten that some of them suffered broken bones and renal failure. British Army documents revealed by Fisk confirm that Baha Mousa died of "asphyxia" and other prisoners' horrific injuries were due to "severe beatings". The British authorities offered Baha's family $8,000 compensation, but only if they signed a letter absolving the British Army of liability, which they refused, even though his children are now orphans as their mother died of cancer a few months earlier.

Blair also called on everyone to assist in the "fight against international terrorism". However, only weeks before, Justice Barron reported that the British government and its agencies had failed to assist his investigation into the worst act of terrorism in the history of the Irish state, the Dublin Monaghan bombings.

Sandra Sludds,


Irish immigrants exploited

A Chairde,

I work as a building trade union organiser in Boston, Massachusetts. Being originally from Cork City, I have a particular interest in the conditions of Irish immigrant workers. The green grass of the foreign shore is not always what it is made out to be and there are Irish building contractors here who prey upon new arrivals from the home shore.

The immigrant who is taken advantage of is an age-old story, but that does not make today's reality any easier for the abused worker. The problems facing immigrant workers are common to all immigrants. The boss will not pay the worker the same wage as a native born person, because the boss knows that the immigrant may not be fully aware of his rights. To make matters worse, if the immigrant does not have a green card the boss will use this as leverage against them to pay less, and in some cases not pay them in full every week. They also force the worker to pay a kickback after they cash the cheque. This type of stealing is common in the public work projects, where state money is supposed to boost the hourly rate of pay for the worker. Sadly, the corrupt employer takes his share out of the worker's pocket.

In my daily work as a union organiser, I come across cases like this constantly. The Russian boss does it to his ethnic group, the Brazilians to their people and the Irish to their own. These bosses abuse their own people because they feel that they have control over them, because of visa status or just a them-and-us mentality towards the rest of the community. The bottom-line is workers are having their wages stolen by the employer. The only way a worker can truly be protected is by a union contract. The oversight from such a contract prevents the boss from dipping into the worker's pocket.

Our union, Painters and Allied Trades, District council No 35, runs information workshops in churches and community centres for all ethnic groups, to teach them their rights in the workplace. The only political party in Ireland that has shown an interest in any of this activity is Sinn Féin. The large group of Irish immigrants here in the United States, who are being taken advantage of by their employers, often have nowhere to turn except to our advice meetings.

Our union is proud to stand with Sinn Féin for social and economic justice for all Irish citizens and the families of these immigrants should know who to support at the polls come election time — the only party that has worked with Irish immigrants in the past and continues to do so today.

Mark Lohan,

Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Coca-Cola and Colombia

A Chairde,

Following the University College Dublin students' boycott of Coca-Cola products in October of this year, shop stewards from the Dublin Bottling Plant expressed dismay. They asked that if Irish students were organising on the issue in the future, they should include Coca-Cola workers in the debate.

In a letter to An Phoblacht, the same workers stated that they would work with the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) in pursuing justice for Coca-Cola trade union members. The IUF, for its part, says that the boycott of Coca-Cola products, endorsed by the Colombian Congress of unions is based on "unsubstantiated allegations and empty political slogans".

Human rights abuses in Colombia are reported through testimonies of those involved, from those in the workplace or community that have witnessed. They are painstakingly collected by national and international human rights workers as well as by Colombian lawyers and international observers through notarised affidavits. It is a risky business, substantiating allegations.

Coca-Cola has benefited most from the depletion of trade union membership at its plants, and from the reduced effectiveness of the unions. Coca-Cola owns over 35% of the Colombian plants involved in the human rights violations attested to by the Sinaltrainal union. Coca-Cola says that it cannot control what happens in or about its plants in "civil war Colombia". The fact is that they have ended up on the side of the paramilitary right wing.

In the view of independent observers, Coca-Cola has punished trade union activity by claiming that union members work with the guerrillas. This links legitimate trade union work with illegal activity, making it more dangerous and discouraging new members. Empty political slogans are a risky business for those on the receiving end.

A Sinaltrainal delegate who was in Dublin recently met with the branch secretary of the SIPTU drinks, tobacco and distribution branch. Shop stewards from the Dublin plant were also there. The meeting was acrimonious, but afterwards the Colombian brother, whose life has been continually threatened, and who spent six months in a Colombian jail on cooked up charges relating to his trade union activity, said though he did not agree he would respect the position taken by the Irish union.

I find it difficult to respect the pro-active anti-boycott pro-company stance taken by SIPTU on this issue. They promise solidarity while they organise against justice for Colombian trade unionists.

Dan Connolly,


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1