“Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion. It is poisonous.” Those are the words at the end of the statement issued this evening by Brendan Cox, husband of Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spenborough in Yorkshire, England, who was brutally murdered today. Like so many people here in Ireland and in the UK, I am shocked – and that word doesn’t even sum it up – by this terrible murder.
I had heard of Jo Cox a bit before today. I no longer live in England, and when I did, I never lived in Yorkshire, so her constituency is not one I had any links with. But I did see mentions of her since she became an MP in British reporting on social justice issues. When I heard via Twitter that she had been shot I switched on the BBC rolling news channel, hoping she would be ok. When the news of her death was announced this evening I cried. I cried for a woman I didn’t know, I cried at the thought of her two little children, I cried in sheer pain at how awful and hateful this world seems sometimes.
It is less than a week since we woke to the news of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. That atrocity was fuelled by hate. Next week the UK will be voting on whether or not to remain in the EU. I lived in England until I was 31 and have been following the debate – if you can call it that – closely. During the last two months I have been increasingly horrified at the level of xenophobia, of hate, of lazy thinking, and that immigration has for so many people become the sole issue on which they will decide how to vote. I am not going to speculate here on the man who has been arrested for Jo Cox’s murder, nor on his motives or what he may or may not have said at the time.
I’ve been passionate about politics, current affairs and social justice for over 30 years now. There have been times over those 30 years when truly awful things have happened which I have found distressing and demoralising, but never before have I felt like I have been increasingly feeling over the last few months – a feeling that I want to walk away and leave the rest of the world to it, a feeling that its all hopeless, a feeling that I can’t really have any impact. I’ve been feeling like that (about politics and hatred and intolerance) for a while now but it coalesced today in the tears I shed over the murder of Jo Cox who seems to have been the kind of person the world needs more of.
When I calmed down after hearing the news I commented to my husband that if we did ‘leave the rest of the world to it’, we would be letting the haters win. An editorial about Jo Cox published by the Guardian finished with words I needed to hear tonight: “Honour her memory. Because the values and commitment that she embodied are all we have to keep barbarism at bay.” In Jo Cox’s memory I will not give in to the hate that is so prevalent. In Jo Cox’s memory I will speak out on issues that are important. And in the memory of both Jo Cox and another strong woman who I was privileged to know I will speak truth to power.
Honour her memory.
So for my fourth book of the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge, I selected the category “a book you have been meaning to read”. My choice was Harry’s Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith. I’d been looking for this for a while and then my husband got it for me late last year. I wanted to really concentrate on it when I read it so it got put off until April of this year. It was well worth the wait.
Its one of the most passionate, angry, heartfelt books I have read in a very long time. In some places it reads like a rant for which Harry Smith has been criticised in some reviews. I disagree. Yes, there are some passages of the book that come across as ranting but I don’t see that as a fault in this case. Harry is a World War Two veteran and one of the dwindling number of people who clearly remember life during the Great Depression. He remembers – and describes vividly – the appalling poverty and deprivation that was the norm of everyday life for far too many people in Britain in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He is rightly angry at how his family – and countless others – suffered and he doesn’t pull any punches in describing what they went through. His descriptions of the life and death of his sister Marion are simply heartbreaking.
Harry goes on to describe the war years and how new opportunities opened up for him. You can hear real joy when he details the impact that free education and the birth of the NHS (National Health Service) had on the lives of the people of Britain. And you find yourself hoping that all is going to be well. But this is the point where Harry’s anger intensifies as he analyses and agonises over how this is all being dismantled and how he can see the same mistakes and wrongs being repeated in new generations of leaders and how he can see the damage this will do to people.
This is not a gentle read but it is gripping. If – like me – you remember Thatcher’s Britain and can see the same happening again under David Cameron, you will find this book pulling at your heart and hopefully your conscience. If you were born after that time you will find much in this that is thought-provoking. If you are old enough to remember the 1950’s and 1960’s, you will in all likelihood read this and weep. But read it you must.
OOPS!!! Well March kind of ran away with me here, between trying to finish a paper, the Easter 1916 commemorations and my daughter’s school holidays, the month seemed to just vanish. It only occurred to me on 31 March that I hadn’t read a book for the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge in March. As there are 12 categories in the challenge, I was working on doing one of them each month. I hadn’t even selected a category for March, let alone a book to meet it. I was in our local library with my daughter on said 31 March when this hit me. I know it wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t done the challenge in March but I’d made up my mind to do it that way.
A quick hunt on via the iPhone showed me that one category was ‘A book you can read in a day’. Hmmm. It was the last day of March and I was in the library, surely I’d find something I could read and finish before midnight?? Well, dear reader I did. A book by Emma Hannigan caught my eye – the Summer Guest. I had never read any of Emma Hannigan’s books before, but have followed her story through Irish media. You can read about her here I’ve seen her on various TV programmes and often said to myself that I really must read one of her books one day……
And I did read it all before midnight. I liked most of the characters involved and also liked how one of the main female leads (Lexi) was portrayed at times in a way that made me wonder if she was always as nice as she initially seemed. (She is by the way, but I thought the doubting elements and the question of how others perceive us was really well done). The story moves along quickly enough and there were no characters in it that I didn’t get a feeling about. I don’t enjoy a book where I couldn’t care one way or another about the characters. Hannigan touched on a few interesting themes and ideas that I thought could have been developed a bit more but that would have probably taken the story in a different direction. The ending is both happy and sad, and let’s face it, that’s life!
Overall, yes I enjoyed it, I’d read more of hers, particularly on those occasions when I have an uninterrupted hour to sit with a cuppa and something nice and read a book that’s enjoyable and thoughtful but not too heavy.
To explain firstly for those of you who don’t know, I live in Ireland and Easter 2016 is a huge event here as it marks the centenary of the Easter Rising in 1916. I won’t go into all the debates, discussions and arguments here as to whether or not the Rising was a good thing, if you want to read that there are millions of words written on that very subject. Irrespective of anyone’s opinion on the Easter Rising it is irrefutable that it set in train the long, painful and bloody list of events that led, eventually, to the creation of the Irish Free State. Again, opinions on the rights or wrongs of that are not what I am considering here today.
What I’m remembering today is a conversation I had over 20 years ago in Liverpool when I was an undergraduate. It was in the student common room of the Institute of Irish Studies at Liverpool University and somehow we found ourselves taking about the Easter Rising. I vividly remember saying that whatever else might be going on, I fully intended to spend Easter 2016 in Dublin, nowhere else.
Well today is Easter Sunday and I’m not in Dublin. Instead I’m ensconced on the sofa in our living room in Oldcastle, Co. Meath with the television on – telly NEVER goes on here this early in the mornings (9.45am) unless there is a major event happening. RTE (our state broadcaster) is giving full coverage of today’s State Commemoration. So am I disappointed not to be in Dublin this weekend? No, not really. Oh, I imagine the atmosphere in Dublin today and tomorrow will be great and it would be great to be there but with a wheelchair using child, hordes and hordes of people and a LUAS strike, its not the most appealing combination!
But I’m marking Easter 2016 in my own way. Yesterday I gave a paper on ‘Women of the Rebellion and the War of Independence’ at a seminar in Trim. Today is a day to follow it on the telly (I’ll see more anyway!!) and tomorrow, Easter Monday (the day the Rising actually started) I feel very honoured to have been formally invited by the government to attend the official State Commemoration at Ashbourne in Co. Meath, site of the Battle of Ashbourne. Over twenty years ago I never imagined I’d be living in Ireland and not only watching the commemorations but contributing to them in a small way.
You never know where life will take you!
My second book for the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge was From Beirut to Jerusalem by Swee Chai Ang. This came under the category of ‘a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, child or BFF’. My husband selected this one for me, having read it himself a number of years ago.
It is one of the hardest books I have ever read. Not intellectually, not in the style of writing (which is very accessible), but emotionally it was so so hard. I normally whizz through books and a book of this size (302 pages) written in plain, straightforward language I would usually expect to get through in a few days. This was so difficult to read that I could only manage a chapter at a time.
I knew a little – a very little – about the conflict in Israel/OPT and the wider Middle East. I had heard of the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982. I knew that Lebanon had for years, decades maybe, been pulled into and suffered from, conflicts affecting their neighbours. I did not know just how truly horrific it was. Probably still is. Dr Swee writes in a very unsparing way about the numbers of dead following the Sabra and Shatila massacres. She talks of – and indeed includes a picture of – piled up in alleyways. As an orthopaedic surgeon, she describes the horrendous injuries – and their long term implications – suffered by young and old alike.
I could go on but it is better to read it for yourself, to bear witness. One thing I learnt from the book is that as a result of her time in Lebanon, she helped to start up the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians which warmed my heart as a couple of years ago, a local event I helped to organise raised money for that charity amongst others.
This book is not an easy read. But I think that makes it all the more important. Reading about events of thirty years ago and then watching the news and seeing what is happening in Syria, in the wider Middle East, seeing how many refugees have been forced into an already overcrowded Lebanon, seeing the sheer chaos and agony that people are going through on the borders of a greedy bloated Europe, meant that this book resonated with me all the more. It is one of the few books I can truly say has had a profound impact on me.
Read it. And then read more. Watch the news. Inform yourself. Bear witness. It is the very least any of us can do.
The Disability Federation of Ireland has been running a campaign called Disable Inequality prior to and during the general election campaign, asking voters to vote to end discrimination for people living with disability. You might wonder in what ways are people living with disabilities facing discrimination. Take a quick look at the stories that the Disable Inequality campaign are sharing and you’ll see.
I do not have a disability but am the very proud mother of a feisty and fabulous daughter who has physical and intellectual disabilities. If you have children, ask yourself will your child/ren be helped and enabled to achieve their full potential? Children with disabilities are frequently told no they can’t take a certain subject for Junior or Leaving cert because the extra supports they need are not in place. Does that sound fair to you? Children with disabilities (who are still growing) are all too often left months, even years, with too small or inadequate equipment, or face long waits to have physiotherapy or occupational therapy. Does that sound fair to you?
Some children with special needs have to attend special school (like our daughter does) as their local school cannot provide the assistance and supports they need to achieve their full potential. That means they don’t get to go to school with their siblings and neighbours. Does that sound fair to you? In our case, our daughter’s school is 26 miles away. That is a round trip of 52 miles each day. 5 days a week. That is 260 miles she travels each week just to attend school. She has been doing this since she was five years old. Does that sound fair to you?
If children were facing these issues around equipment, therapies, appointments, schools because of their ethnicity or religion there would (hopefully) be an uproar. Yet when it comes to our children with disabilities we are told its all due to budgetary cutbacks and to staff shortages and to ‘the system’. If you get the opportunity to talk to a candidate in the next two weeks, ask them what they and their party if they have one are going to do to end this discrimination. Or contact them and ask. During the marriage referendum campaign last year I recall seeing a poster that said ‘Let’s treat everyone equally’. I hope I live to see the day when that really happens.
Two weeks to go to polling day and last night (Feb 11th) saw the first televised leaders debate on TV3 and Newstalk radio. I was undecided whether to watch or not as generally I don’t find the debates that interesting or useful when it comes to deciding how to vote. However influenced a little bit by commentary on Twitter, I decided to give it a whirl.
I should have stuck to my gut feeling and watched some more Netflix. I won’t waste my time or yours rehashing what was said, apart from Gerry Adams telling Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin (separately) “catch yourself on” and Micheal Martin telling people they had a brass neck. Honestly, you’d get a higher level of debate in sixth class.
I do wonder why media and politicians think these debates are a good idea. I’ve watched some British ones and some Irish ones and I’ve almost always come away fed up of hearing our political leaders shout over each other, not really listening and really engaging with the issues, of hearing them just spouting a load of frequently meaningless lines. Last night was no different. Now maybe some people do find these events useful when it comes to deciding who to vote for, but not me, all it has done is reinforced my decisions who NOT to vote for.
14 days and counting……..
The first big TV programme of RTE’s 1916 commemorations finished on Sunday night. I watched all five episodes with decreasing enjoyment as the weeks went on. So here’s my final thoughts. It wasn’t complete garbage, but it wasn’t great either.
My main problems with it:
* the inaccuracies throughout – I accept that a lot of viewers would not have been aware of them but as the whole drama was about one of the major episodes in Ireland’s history I don’t think it was unreasonable to expect that the details could have been sharper.
* the whole storyline with the character of May was appallingly lame and hackneyed and added nothing to the drama, if anything it took from it.
* while I felt the acting overall was good, there were some rather weak portrayals and in particular I felt Camille O’Sullivan’s portrayal (betrayal??) of Countess Markievicz was little short of hammy.
* the character of Lizzie – while generally I liked her – was just a bit too gushy and times and no way would she have spent days (weeks?) in an armed rebellion looking like a glammed up Virgin Mary in that coat and dress. (Although I did LOVE the coat)
I think RTE overhyped it and hence expectations were high. It does seem to have inspired some viewers who wouldn’t know much about the personalities involved to go away and read up on it which is most definitely a good thing. Or maybe they said that just to shut me up from saying “But the Countess wasn’t like that!!” !!!
Here in the Republic of Ireland we have a general election looming. It was finally declared this morning and will take place on Friday February 26th. Consequently I will be glued to the TV on Sat 27th, Sun 28th and quite possibly Mon 29th depending on how long it takes for all the counts to be concluded and the results finally known. (For readers unfamiliar with our system, we have multi seat constituencies and vote by proportional representation so it can take awhile. For political nerds like me that’s part of the fun.)
Along with the various candidates clamouring for our attention and promising us the sun, the moon and the stars, or least promising that they aren’t as bad as the other lot, a number of organisations have campaigns running either asking candidates to make various pledges or asking voters to highlight the issues that matter to them. Reading through some of these made me think about the issues that will decide how I use my vote this month. I WILL use my vote – I have voted in every election I have been eligible to vote in – but as yet, I am uncertain which way it will go.
In an attempt to tease out some of my thinking, I’m going to look at some of the issues/ideas/ways in which my vote might be influenced. A lot of psephologists and political analysts talk about there being certain ‘types’ of vote – so what kind of voter am I?
I’m a woman. I’ve often wondered if there really IS such a thing as ‘the woman’s vote’. It implies that women will vote the same way or at least be influenced by the same issues when deciding how to vote. I don’t know if that has ever been true. The National Women’s Council of Ireland have asked candidates to sign up to their Breakthrough Manifesto for Women, all of which I agree with. At time of writing none of the candidates declared for my constituency of Meath West have signed up for this. I know women who will not agree with all of the points in this manifesto, but we are all women voters – so is there really a ‘women’s vote’? Should a woman vote for a candidate simply because she is a woman? No – there are some women candidates who, if they were running in my constituency, I would not give any vote to, because their policies and beliefs are so far removed from mine that they would not be representing me.
I have a child with special needs, and am her carer. This will be one of the biggest deciding factors for me when using my vote. I wholeheartedly support the Disable Inequality campaign to end discrimination for people living with a disability. In case you think such discrimination does not exist, ask yourself do people with disabilities have the same access to education, training and employment as everyone else? (The answer is no by the way). Ask yourself, do people with disabilities struggle financially? (That’s a yes – the burden of paying for extra heating, housing aids and transport means many families with a member with a disability are struggling) This week when the country has been shocked by the terrible story of alleged abuse of children and adults with intellectual disabilities, Inclusion Ireland has released its manifesto for the election. It makes sobering reading.
I’m middle aged (and proud of it! Think of the alternative!) – is there a particular voting trend or voting appeal that should apply to me? I can’t think of one. Does being 44 (nearly 45) mean I think and hence vote a particular way?
I live in rural Ireland, on the edge of a small town with a rural hinterland. I am not originally from rural Ireland but have chosen to settle and raise our daughter here. That surely implies a commitment to rural Ireland, I could have just as easily chosen to live in a large town or city. I have no connection to farming, I don’t follow GAA (ok I like to see Meath win), I’m tired of hearing about ‘blow-ins’ who don’t understand the community they live in. Surely a community is not something set in aspic, surely it changes and adapts to those who live in it whether or not their families have lived there for generations. Those who wish to represent rural communities would do well to remember that these communities are not homogenous. Yes, many of the so-called rural issues are important to me – better public transport, the effects of the economic downturn and how long it is taking to see the promised upturn in some areas, employment, migration etc. But these are not the only things that will determine how my vote is used.
I want full equality in education, and support the campaign by Education Equality for the ending of all religious discrimination in State-funded schools. I would be delighted if the Education Equality campaign would also look at the issue of special schools and religious ethos.
To sum up then, I’m a middle aged woman living in rural Ireland with a child with special needs. I want to see full equality in our education system, an end to the inhumane system of direct provision and the repeal of the 8th Amendment. I care about where our food comes from and what we are doing to our planet. I’m not motivated by the acquisition of wealth and am passionate about making our history and heritage something that can be appreciated and cherished by all. What kind of voter am I then? I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that voters don’t fit into easy little boxes for canvassers and pollsters to tick off. We are more complex and have a range of issues that will affect our votes.
So, candidates of Meath West, what can you do to win my vote? You have 24 days including today and polling day. It’s over to you!