Tag Archives: Ireland

Ireland and CIA Torture

Since 2002 there has been concern over Ireland’s neutrality. US military aircraft have been using Shannon airport in the west of Ireland en route to conflict situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2002 over 2.25 million armed US troops have gone through Shannon Airport.

Many people were shocked by the realities of CIA torture revealed in a recently publicised report but for many other it was simply an official confirmation of what they have known was going on in secret CIA holding facilities and the infamous Guantanamo Bay. There is little the international community to stop the biggest military power from breaking international law, except condemn it.

What Irish people can and should be doing now is question the Irish state’s involvement in these “extraordinary rendition operations”. The Open Society Foundation produced a report called ‘Globalizing Torture’ in 2013 which dealt with many of the same practices confirmed in the “Torture Report” currently being circulated.

In particular this report highlights the complicity and facilitation of CIA torture by other states. Ireland is among these countries. Ireland permitted the use of its airspace and airports for flights associated with CIA extraordinary rendition operations.

tumblr_ngc37svPbx1qguyo7o1_500

The number of countries complicit is frighteningly high (as you can see in the graphic above) abut it is often ignored that the international community does not only allow the USA’s frequently illegal actions but actively enables it.

“In December 2005, amid concerns that extraordinary rendition flights were landing in Ireland, the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) recommended to the Irish government that it seek agreement from U.S. authorities to inspect suspect aircraft. The Irish government responded that inspections were not necessary because it had received assurances from the United States that detainees had not been and would not be transported illegally through Irish territory. In 2007, the IHRC conducted a substantive review of the matter and concluded that “the Irish State is not complying with its human rights obligations to prevent torture or inhuman or degrading treatment [and that its] reliance on the assurances of the US Government is not enough.” […]In June 2011, the U.N. Committee against Torture stated that it was “concerned at the various reports of [Ireland’s] alleged cooperation in a rendition programme, where rendition flights use the State party’s airports and airspace,” and that it was “also concerned at the inadequate response by the State party with regard to investigating these allegations.” – ‘Globalizing Torture’ page 85

It is simply not good enough that other countries shake our heads and tut at “the American war on terror” but do little to nothing to curb our own involvement.

Ireland is a neutral country, we do not engage in military alliances and we did not join NATO. But to facilitate CIA torture is to have the blood of America’s wars on our hands as well.

Changed Irish Political Landscape Elections 2014

While the weekend saw one of the slowest counts most pundits had ever seen, the delay gave three days for the results to sink in. Some journalists are calling this polling day Sinndependence Day, after the enormous success of Sinn Féin and independent candidates.

Certainly Sinn Féin have nearly tripled its seats in the local councils and gained 3 MEPs compared with none from the last European elections in 2009. At the same time Labour’s vote has collapsed and Fianna Fáil, the party held responsible for the economic crisis, has proved more resilient than expected and held their local support. RTE online provides detailed electoral breakdown. 

But the rise in support for Sinn Féin is only one symptom of a wider change in the Irish political landscape. What’s more significant is how the tradition political cleavages are breaking down. Those observing the transfers (Ireland uses a PR electoral system) shows that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have transferred to each other in this election in numbers not seen before.

For those less familiar with Irish political divisions, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael represent the parties formed from two opposing sides of the Irish Civil War in 1922/1923. The two parties, historically centre-right (FG) and centre with centre-left sympathies (FF) have never been in coalition. Their voters and the candidates often inherit the position.

Labour goes into coalition with FG on occasion then suffers afterwards for it in the polls. But Labour was distinctly the third party, one of a number opposition parties.

Sinn Féin’s support stayed under 8% in most elections and there was huge stigmas attached to membership because of the Northern Ireland conflict. Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act in Ireland forbidden the broadcasting of the voice of any Sinn Féin member. They could not take part in public debate. This only ended in the early 1990s so for them to be a significant player in the this election is remarkable.

One way this changing political landscape tripped Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE, up was the category of ‘others’. ‘Others’ is made up of all independent/non-party candidates and smaller parties, Socialists, People Before Profit, and the Green Party, among others.

rte vote bar

But in this election ‘others’ was one of the largest groups and so displaying results in this way is not very informative.

The rise of the left was one of the most talked about outcomes of these elections. Despite making foolish decision such as the Socialist Party running its candidates as the AAA (Anti-Austerity Alliance) which no one had heard of or changing the name of the party in the European election to Stop the Water Tax – The Socialist Party, they won 12 seats on county and city councils. People Before Profit, primary a working group of the Socialist Workers Party, also took 12 seats.

Political discussion and analysis by many journalists failed to catch up with the new realities. Talking about the four historic parties and “the rest” no longer adds to the conversation.

Other changes can be seen in the issues that effect voters. Jobs, tax and healthcare will be central to most elections and the rise of real left parties has forced discussion on economic alternatives into the mainstream but new issues are also coming into play. Social equality, gender, sexuality and race, are becoming increasingly significant.

Darren Scully, who was mayor of Naas at the time, claimed that he did not represent the African community in his constituency. He resigned as Mayor and was expelled from Fine Gael. In this election, not only was he allowed to return to Fine Gael but he was re-elected to the council in Naas.

racist scully naas vote deets

At the same time Sinn Féin ran Edmond Lukusa, Chairperson of the Congolese Consortium of Ireland and he was elected to the Fingal council.

edmond lukusa

Ireland’s growing immigrant communities are still not only underrepresented in Irish politics but social disconnected from it as well. The parties that connect with this demographic before the next general election will hold  a significant advantage over the parties who do not.

A gender quota of 30% is expected to be in place by the next general election and so many analysts are already pointing at parties that will struggle to comply with that, such as Fianna Fáil. Marriage equality activists are expecting marriage reform in this next two years and increased rights for GSRM couples and families will have to be in the manifestos of many parties.

The next general election will be one that defines Irish politics for the decade to come.

Who Speaks For Ireland? Media and Representation

Do you feel as though mainstream Irish media represents you and the issues that matter to you well? If not, then you are not alone.

 

There is a well-documented disconnect between many Irish young people and their government. A study in 2007 had Ireland’s young voting turn-out at the lowest in Europe. But what is less well-documented is the disconnect between much of Ireland’s youth and its media. I would argue that the political apathy is in part a knock on effect of a media that does little to prioritise issues that affect younger demographics but it is a problem in its own right as well.

 

This was well demonstrated in the ‘Pantigate’ incident that has been unfolding since January which brought many issues of homophobia and censorship to the forefront of debate. But it has also shown that the priorities and loyalties of the Irish media do not align with much of the population. The details of debates on homophobia, the Iona Institute and other parties involved have been and will be discussed elsewhere but what is more significant to me are actions of RTE in its role as broadcaster during the scandal.

 

There was a lack of transparency from the beginning which made many people uneasy. When the final figure of the settlement of €85,000 was revealed many people were outraged. RTE has received over 850 official complaints regarding this pay-out for a comment which received zero audience complaints on the night.

 

The general frustration and outrage was expressed on social media platforms and described on RTE a week later as “Twitter lynch mobs”. It was probably more akin to an unfiltered Letters to the Editor page. One upload of the section of interview edited out of RTE’s digital archive has been viewed on Daily Motion 27,360 times at time of writing. This is higher than the average rating of 18 of RTE’s 20 most watched programmes.This is maybe not that surprising given, according the Irish Digital Consumer Report in 2013, 53% of Irish people aged 16-25 and 43% of Irish people aged 26-34, now consume the majority of their TV content online.

 

I spoke to the chair of Ireland’s top journalism degree, Dr Jane Suiter who has written for a number of publications such as the Financial Times, to get her perspective on how Ireland’s traditional media have struggled to entice young audiences. “Yes I think traditional media are struggling with how to win audiences among young people. The Irish Times for example has hired a few younger writers who attempt to engage with issues relevant to younger readers but the success is patchy.”

 

However Dr. Suiter felt that journalism has had to become partially about entertainment rather than purely information. “Journalists are increasingly utilising social media as a source and reference for news and current affairs; this allows more direct access for all citizens as the shift in news production becomes more bottom up. Younger people are more likely to be engaged in social media and this is thus a source of influence.”

 

So young people looking to get involved in debates and commentary on current affairs now need no more qualification than an internet connection. Social media, particularly Twitter, is the primary news outlet for many young people all over the world including Ireland. Ireland has 600,000 daily Twitter users, making us the 10th highest country in the world for Twitter users per capita. This is a fact that journalists and broadcasters alike have been struggling with for a number of years. While this presents its own set of quality-control challenges, is an open more inclusive discussion not generally preferable?

 

The guests and debates on RTE only continued to highlight this disconnect in the weeks that followed ‘Pantigate’. Pussy Riot and Hollaback are two groups that have big youth followings but their treatment on RTE has cringe-worthy at best.  Brendan O’Conner’s interview of Pussy Riot in February was widely considered embarrassment as he failed to discuss their activism or feminist actions or their experiences of prison but rather made inappropriate jokes and asked questions about Madonna. Last year Ryan Tubridy interviewed the head of Irish Hollaback Aimee Doyle and suggested that she should find street harassment complimentary.

 

When asked Hollaback stated: “It was quite clear that Ryan didn’t take us seriously and was determined to present us as a group concerned only with “wolf-whistles” rather than a group concerned with street harassment and its place within rape culture. It was a frustrating experience, as we felt that there was a deliberate attempt to twist our words and redefine our experiences.  It seemed that our attempts to challenge the status quo were unwelcome to Ryan, who of course benefits from that status quo.”

 

Just this month RTE came out with a new TV show ‘The Centre’ that focuses on a working class community centre trying to “grab grants” by ticking “diversity boxes”. I watched the first 10 minutes of the pilot and that was all it took for the show to be massively classist and transphobic, not to mention anti-traveller and dismissive of Muslim women. Rather than spreading the things that would offend people out RTE decided to put all the things you might hate about them in one convenient place.

 

In February UCC held a Journalism Conference where the issues surrounding sexism in Irish media were addressed, like the fact that 98% of opinion columns in the Irish Times are written by men. Audrey Ellard Walsh, a Cork journalist covering the event, referred to traditional news outlets and “legacy media” which is an interesting term. Legacy is what traditional medias have to offer. Reputation, authority and trust are vital for any news outlet and it is the advantage that they still have over blog and purely online based publications. However what online journalism has to offer is an accessibility and diversity of voices that is seriously lacking in much of Ireland’s “legacy media”.

 

But Dr Suiter believes that “online journalism” as distinct from journalism as a whole is an increasingly outdated concept. “In many ways almost all journalism is now online to a greater or lesser extent. The questions are from where does it emanate? The traditional news organisations tend to have greater resources, more trained and experienced journalists and thus have a higher level of credibility with the public. The challenge for them and indeed for democracy is to ensure that these advantages are leveraged, ensuring high quality, questioning, well researched journalism that engages with the audience.”

 

The BBC could be seen in some ways to reflect this. It is one of the most highly visited online sources of news, on its own site and across various social media platforms, but also maintains its tradition television and radio mediums. It combines new techniques with a reputation that is trusted. But more importantly it provides context for its breaking news, something which can be lacking in Twitter headlines.

 

At the end of our interview, Dr Suiter expressed optimism for Irish media in the future, that it would figure out how to adapt and change. This week The Irish Times saw changes as John Waters left their employment and the website hosted a respectful and engaged article at the Lady & Trans Fest at Seomra Spraoi.

 

I am not suggesting that this disconnect is a new problem but rather that the internet is providing a new solution. Now the voices of the disenfranchised have a more easily accessible means of being heard. Underground zines that the world can read.

 

Does this mean we about to see a seismic shift in Irish media? Will ‘legacy’ outlets catch up with the needs and priorities of a very different country? I am not sure honestly. Most of the time in Ireland, to poorly paraphrase Yeats, change comes dripping slow. I do think that local, home-grown media still has value in an increasingly globalised word. So if Ireland’s media does change, hopefully it will be for the better.

 

First published in Trinity News.

The Weekend that Called Ireland’s LGBT Community to Arms

It has been a fraught start to 2014 for journalists, activists and GRSM people all over Ireland, but particular in its capital. Following the controversy of censoring Rory O’Neill’s interview on the Saturday Night Show.

Saturday night gave Panti an opportunity to respond to the RTE and to those who had accused her of “hate speech”. Following the Saturday showing of ‘The Risen People’ in the Abbey Theatre Panti took the stage to make the case for calling out homophobia when it is seen.

The next day the advocacy group LGBT NOISE held a protest in the city centre to condemn the censorship of the interview and the huge pay-out of €85,000 of state money to avoid a legal disagreement with any of those mention (and two who were not directly mentioned).

The crowd of over 2,000, was very diverse in terms of ages and backgrounds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Senator David Norris spoke with his usual passion. He certainly pulled no punches in questioning the victim position often adopted by opponents of Same Sex Marriage.

The theme that carried through the weekend was a call to arms, a cry that now was not a time for bar-stool activism but to take action.

Irish Water’s Leaking Investments

(First published in Trinity New 22/1/2014)

A lot has been written about Irish Water in the last few weeks, especially after the media learned that €50 million had been spent by the semi-state on consultants alone. This would be bad enough if it was done by a state body that was not already submerged in questionable wisdom.

 

For those of you just joining this story; Uisce Eireann/Irish Water is semi-state subsidiary of an Bord Gáis, answering to the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It was created by the Water Services Bill in early 2013 and then further defined two months ago in the second Water Services bill. It will take at least five years to fully set up and is already budgeted to cost the state €180 million, assuming it stays within budget. One of the reasons Board Gais won the tender to set up Irish Water was that they claimed to have a national customer billing network, which could be extended to cover water bills, but in their first year they decided they needed to spend millions of euros hiring consultants, partly to advise them on a billing system.

 

Not only is the project expensive but the Government has been consistently inconsistent in their statements regarding Irish Water. Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan is at the centre of controversy because in November of 2012 he told an Oireachtas committee that Irish Water’s set up costs would be €10 million. The apparent surprise of political leaders about the spending of €50 million on consultants was hardly reassuring. That figure is expected to reach €85 million in the next few months. Hogan claimed that the consulting contracts given out by Irish Water were “not my business”, though as he is the Minister for the Environment, it is unclear whose business Hogan believes this to be.

 

Also not reassuring was the apparent disagreement between Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Irish Water chief John Tierney over whether or not water service could be disconnected for those who do not pay the charges. John Tierney told Newstalk that people who did not pay their water bills would suffer disruption to the service but Gilmore claimed he “didn’t see how that could be the case” which is hardly a strong denial. Gilmore went on to say “In any event, the question of what regime will be in place is not yet determined and it’s too early to be speculating.” But some might hope the Tánaiste was sufficiently informed that there would be no need for speculation. Especially as there appears to be provisions in in the Water Services (No. 2) Bill, which was signed into law only months ago, clearly prohibiting the cutting off water services to homes.  It has been suggested that Irish Water believes they can reduce water pressure to a house to a level where appliances like showers will not work, while remaining technically within the law as the kitchen tap will still work.

 

All that could be written off as just the usually inter-department incompetence that is the hallmark of much of Irish politics but the problems surrounding the formation of Irish Water run deeper.

 

Water conservation is an important issue but there seems to be little to no focus from the government on protecting Irish water from pollution from industrial or chemical leaks or of encouraging the public to invest in water saving message such as grey water systems for toilet cisterns or rainwater collection. If fact, following speculation that water tariffs may need to rise if the public conserves water, questions remain over the effectiveness of this system at all. The money being spent on the installation of meter would have made a very significant long term impact if it had been used on the water system itself.

 

Which implies that the creation of Irish Water has more to do with raising taxes without calling it tax, than it does with the environment.

 

Installing water metres will cost the state half a billion euro, a figure made particularly galling as state investment in water infrastructure has fallen in the last 3 years from €435 million to €286 million according to the Irish Times. In Dublin alone there are 800 km of water main that are over 80 years old.

 

“So far, a total 115km of water main have been rehabilitated in the Greater Dublin region and surrounding counties, with 11 million litres of water per day saved”, said Tom Leahy, as Executive Manager of Dublin City Council in a press release in July 2013. He was announcing a €3.95 million contract to replace a further 20 km of aging water pipe and that work is still on going.

 

If we do a little maths the remaining the 685 km of old pipes not yet replaced could be losing up to 76 million litres of water every day. The fact that in July last year there were water restriction in place due to dry weather in a country that floods once a year would lead many to believe water is simply not being collected and stored adequately.

 

Much of county Roscommon has had a boil-order on their water for over 6 months due to cryptosporidium in the supply. Cryptosporidium was also found in Galway’s water supply in 2007 and again in 2008. Mains water in the Lifford area of Donegal has been periodically undrinkable for a number of years. This is the water that Irish people are expected to pay for?

 

John Tierney claims that his company will save the Irish taxpayer €2 billion by 2021. But this idea of saving the “taxpayer” fails to take into account that ‘savings’ on the state budget are achieved through payment of water bills made by said taxpayers as individual citizens.

 

These are just the flaws of management. The underlying ethics and precedent set by these events are even more concerning. The water tariff is another in a series of blanket taxes that will affect lower income families the most.  For those on low incomes, a water bill will be a much greater proportion of their cost of living than someone on a high income.  Irish Water is also being set up as a profit-making organisation, which is a dubious sentiment to hold around the nation’s water supply.  The manner in which Irish Water has been created, the management ethos displayed by their early decisions on the use of consultants and their aggressive position on reducing people’s access to water who cannot pay is early evidence that this approach to managing water is all about profit and has nothing to do with conserving water or improving services for Irish people.

 

(edit: The cost of water could increase to € 2 billion due to over-staffing. Read More.)

Let He with the Best Solicitor Speak Freely

This week has seen legal attacks not only on the LGBT community in Ireland but on the freedom of speech in Irish journalism as a whole.

The controversy began when Rory O’Neill, alter-ego of Dublin gay icon and pub-owner Panti Bliss, was interviewed on RTE’s Saturday Night Show on the  11th January.

The interview was going well until O’Neill attempted to discuss some of the prejudices still facing members of the LGBT community. O’Neill said that of course things has changed over time but that it there were still difficult to deal with the kind unpleasantness found “the internet in the comments and people who make a living writing opinion pieces for newspapers”. When pressed for examples O’Neill named John Waters, Breda O’Brien and the Iona Institute.

Not long after it was posted the interview was taken for “legal issues” following complaints made. When the interview was re-posted on line, all discussion of homophobia was edited out. A transcript of the missing section can be found here.

Now this obvious and upsetting piece of censorship was discussed eloquently by Trinity News writer Matthew in ‘Ignorance Isn’t Panti Bliss’ which was widely shared on social media in the outrage that followed.

O’Neill himself has received soliciter’s letters personally from Breda O’Brien, David Quinn, Patricia Casey, and John Murray (all of the Iona Institute the highly-conservative lobby group) and from John Waters.

John Waters, being the Irish Times columnist who wrote that the “gay lobby” want “to destroy the institution of marriage because they’re envious of it” and who is absolutely no way homophobic of course.

This is not the first time the head and founder of the Iona Institute, David Quinn, has silenced his critics or those of Iona with the threat of legal action.

Just last year David Quinn forced the University Times to retracted two articles it had published criticising the Iona Institute’s controversial YouTube video ‘The Case for Man/Woman Marriage‘ with threats of legal action. When Trinity News published an article describing these events, they themselves were contacted by his solicitor, as was published by the College Tribune.

It’s worth noting at this point that mostly the news outlets brave enough to risk Quinn’s legal wrath have been student publications with far less legal support than mainstream media.

‘Defamation,’ the common thread to these claims, is a slightly complicated piece of Irish law though it’s outlined brilliantly in relation to this case here. But ultimately nothing that is true can be legally considered defamation. Is the claim that the Iona Institute, Breda O’Brien and John Waters homophobic, not one of a opinion that O’Neill as a gay man is entitled to have?

Even outside of the range of opinion and in analysis of statements made against Same Sex Marriage by all three that they work against the mainstream of the LGBT civil rights movement is not a matter for debate, as is outlined in an analysis of statement here.

But I believe the real problem is that frequently it is not a question of whether those getting served with Quinn’s legal complaints are legally in the wrong but whether than can afford to run the risk that a judge might side with a wealthy, prominent public figure over them. Deeper pockets wins the debate; which is a scary thought for the future of journalism in Ireland.

Where does the argument for “defamation of character” end? How do we hold people accountable for defaming their own characters? Because the journalists and others Quinn has targeted are not in a position to stop his organisation publishing or operating, they are simply stating that they disagree. But Quinn’s actions serve to silence the opposition entirely. This incident certainly begs the question whether a wealthy, public figure can be held accountable for the offense his organisation causes so many people. 

And much more importantly when will we stop letting those with the most cash on hand, and the best solicitors dictate what is and is not fair debate?

Mandela and Ireland, complexity and sacrifice

There is a tendency, when great and inspirational people die, to reduce them to just that: an inspiration.

But before Mandela was inspiration he was an angry young man, a lawyer, a freedom fighter, a prisoner and it is important to resist the urge to simplify him to an abstract idea of how he effected others. Many world leaders, and journalists have praised this man he held views and behaved in ways that they routinely condemn. Now an idealist might say that people are able to put aside their personal feelings in order to acknowledge the great work done by Mandela but more cynical people might call it disingenuous.

In a sea of journalistic obituaries by people who never met him I am not sure what I have to offer, hence my delay in writing, except maybe the Irish perspective.

As a freedom fighter against a left-over colonial regime in the 70s and 80s, Mandela captured a lot of good-will from the Irish public. A boycott of South African goods as a protest against apartheid was put in place by a number of groups and trade unions.

Catherine Bulbulia (Fine Gael), Niall Andrews (Fianna Fáil), Donal Nevin (Irish Congress of Trade Unions), Reg September (African National Congress), John Hume (SDLP), Ruairi Quinn (Labour Party), Tomás MacGiolla (Workers’ Party) and Kader Asmal (Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement) share a platform to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the African National Congress. (An Phoblacht)

In 1985, 12 retail workers from Dunne Stores in Dublin went on strike for 2 and half years (July 1985 to April 1987) for the right not to sell South African products while Apartheid was in effect.

Dunnes Stores strikers on an Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement national march through Dublin, November 1986. (An Phoblacht)

“We had made the decision as a company that we couldn’t allow people in the organisation to decide what goods to sell and what not to sell.”

– Ben Dunne, Former Director, Dunnes Stores

“Ben Dunne was saying he had the right to sell what he wanted to in his store. If Ben Dunne decided to sell stolen property it wouldn’t mean I had to handle it.”

– Cathryn O’Reilly, former striker

The Irish government would go on to ban the sale of all South African good in Ireland until the end of the Apartheid regime. They officially called for his unconditional release in 1988. Mandela met with some of the strikers when he visited Ireland in 1990 after his release.

When Mandela spoke in Dublin on that visit he thanked the strikers as a source of comfort and inspiration to him during his imprisonment. “For more than a quarter of a century your country has had one of the most energetic and effective anti-apartheid movements in the world. Irishmen and women have given wholehearted and often sacrificial support for our struggle in the fields of economic, cultural and sports relations.”

Because it was a sacrifice to get involved. In the 1980s Ireland was in the grip of an economic depression with unemployment higher than even in the more recent financial crisis. But two of Ireland’s most significant trade partner the UK and America were not in favour of political support for Mandela’s ANC. Margaret Thatcher called them terrorists and the CIA sent money and arms to the apartheid regime. The government ran a risk of retaliation for their strong stance of support.

Not only that but the strikers themselves ran a personal risk and sacrifice of stable employment at a time when emigration from Ireland was very high due to the unemployment epidemic.

“The outstanding Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, has written that too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart…We understood that to emulate the barbarity of the tyrant would also transform us into savages. We knew that we would sully and degrade our cause if we allowed that it should, at any stage, borrow anything from the practices of the oppressor. We had to refuse that our long sacrifice should make a stone of our hearts.”

– Nelsom Mandela (Dublin 1990)

The willingness to sacrifice your own livelihood for what is right is a sentiment that is lost in politics today. Individualistic philosophy, a lazy apathetic amoralism has been a trend that even a new financial crisis could not shake.

Injustice in other countries does not inspire reactions like this again. Despite what I’ve said, I must admit that I feel like waxing lyrically on Mandela as a near spiritual figure. I feel like quoting Yeats’ ‘September 1913’ where he bemoans his own generation and longs for the heroes gone. I’ll try not to give in to the defeatist romanticism just yet.

My earliest memories of my parents and political activism involve my mother suddenly laughing in a supermarket that she could buy South African products again, my father’s copy of Mandela’s autobiography on the shelf, learning to spell boycott with the correct number of Ts. When angry teenage activist me sulked that all politicians were liars and con-men, there was an unspoken “except Mandela” at the back of my brain. So in a strange way I am mourning a man a never met.

But what worries me most is that I look around the world and cannot see anyone on the stature or  with drive and clarity Mandela had. I do believe that the world is not change by leaders but by communities but all the same, leaders with vision and influence can rally people to action in ways a group cannot. The world could use its next Mandela.

UN Human Rights Council sees Controversy

The United Nations saw the 27th Regular Meeting of the 24th Session of the Human Rights Council

Lithuania, just beginning their presidency of the European Council, opened discussions with a general statement of the EU position on Human Rights. The delegation from Ireland put forward a draft motion about maintaining pluralist civil society.

The delegations began to grow more adversarial Allegations of forced sterilizations of Tamils were issued against Sri Lanka. Myanmar was criticised for its discrimination and the violence against Rohingya Muslims.

Then a representative of Human Right’s Watch began accusing Egyptian human rights activist, Mona Seif, of not being eligible for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA), Egypt raised point of order that it was not relevant to the agenda. America disagreed, Cuba backed up Egypt as did China, UK went with the US then Pakistan supported Egypt. Human Rights Watch went on to call Mona Seif a “terrorist supporter”.

This was not unexpected as the last few months have seen increased controversy over Seif’s nomination following the publicising of Tweets where she celebrating the sabotage of the Egyptian pipeline bringing gas to Israel and the burning of an Israeli flag. Seif defended herself by saying:

“One of the rights that we, the young people of Egypt, have succeeded in seizing is the right to insult our own government and to insult anyone whose policies are bad for our people. We insist on this right.”

However many feel it would damage the reputation of the prize as her Tweets “publicly voiced blatantly violent views”

Another NGO raised the issue of the Falun Gong in China and their persecution. China objected calling the Falun Gong an “evil cult” which had been outlawed and denying that this was relevant to the agenda. While supporting this point of order from China, Cuba wandered from the point to criticise Israeli violence against Palestinians using the word “genocide” for which the Americans and UK delegations criticised the Cubans.