Mutton Island at dawn

Mutton Island at dawn

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Bring on the clown

On Saturday, in cities all across the world, people are set to gather to protest against the election of US President Donald Trump.

At first, when I heard about the Galway protest, I decided I would not bother to attend.

I felt it was time to bite the bullet and accept a democratic vote as, after all, more than 62 million Americans voted for the New York businessman and reality TV star.
The 45th President of the USA.

Never mind the fact that Hillary Clinton polled over 64 million votes – I wasn’t a great fan of hers either – Trump was the legitimate winner of the US election.

I felt the Galway march would be organised and attended by the “protest against everything” brigade, the kind of people who condemned An Taoiseach (the Irish Prime Minster) Enda Kenny for congratulating Trump on his election victory in November.

Some of these people are never happy.

Whether they like it or not, they conveniently forget that the tiny Irish economy is over-reliant on American jobs in a globalized world.

They forget or ignore that sometimes in politics it’s important to play the game.

Kenny may have called Trump a racist during the election campaign, but it would be political suicide for an Irish leader to antagonize an incoming US President before he has even taken up office.

The US has always been close to the hearts of Irish people. It was an escape valve during tough times, when the ‘coffin ships’ set sail from Cork or Galway to allow people on one-way trips to flee from persecution and famine.

There are 40 million Irish-Americans and few countries as small as ours have such a big influence at the White House, where the Taoiseach gets to socialise with the President every year on our national holiday.

So I decided I would find something better to do this Saturday afternoon.

And then I began to read the comments on-line in response to the Galway protest, in which people felt free to vent their hatred towards immigrants, Muslims, or liberals.

They defended, and tried to justify, a presidential candidate who mocked a disabled reporter in front of millions of TV viewers. And claimed we had not seen the evidence we had witnessed with our own eyes.

Some of them genuinely believe that this billionaire businessman, whose father famously gave him a “small loan” of a million dollars to give him a start in life, is the answer to America’s problems.

This is a man who tweets with venom when he dislikes a piece of brilliant Alec Baldwin satire on ‘Saturday Night Live’.

Or who takes the time to send out a vitriolic reply to Hollywood actress Meryl Streep after she dares to criticise his views, at a time when he should be focused on putting his new Government together.

If Trump can take such offence when actors express concern about what he’s about to do to their country, how’s he going to behave in the Oval Office if he feels slighted by the Russians or the Chinese?

Presidential? Protests will take place across the globe on Saturday
Unfortunately, he will have access to a lot more damage than the Tweet machine.

To judge by so much bile and hatred on-line in recent weeks, the election of this man seems to have emboldened people who think it’s ok to spread hatred of immigrants, or Muslims, or Mexicans on-line.

It’s scary that 62 million people felt so angry or disillusioned that they voted for a man who boasted about "grabbing" women "by the pussy". Because he was rich and famous, he could act as he pleased.

It’s even scarier that Trump is a buffoon and a liar when it comes to climate change.

He has surrounded himself with people who have a vested interest in fossil fuel industries at a time when the very future of our planet is under threat.

Senior members of his Government have already admitted that short-term gain is more important than the state of our planet over the next 50 years.

The ice cap is melting, the oceans are rising, but Trump wants to reopen the mines and to "make America great" again by building gas-guzzling cars.

We can see it everywhere … global warming is no longer an abstract concept. We can see it in rising temperatures or freak storms, or the terrible air quality in big Asian cities which threatens the health of millions of people.

His treatment of a CNN reporter at a press conference last week brought to mind the way tyrants like Hitler or Stalin went out of their way to suppress and silence a free press in the 20th century.

But who cares what CNN say when you can get updates from Breitbart or Fox News?

This week, I've had people argue with me that Trump is not a racist, a sexist, or Islamophobic. They send me to obscure extreme right wing websites in a bid to discount what I've actually seen with my own eyes.

They'd rather keep the Mexicans out than look at the uneqaul power structures in this desperately unfair world. They'd rather build walls than bridges, when it was the immigrant experience which made America "great" in the first place.

It’s astounding that a property speculator with racist views is now seen as the salvation for so many people who are angry at the state of the world.

The people who pour scorn and venom at "illegal" immigrants see no irony in the fact that their own ancestors, many of them impoverished, set sail for the Americas in search of new and better lives.

Few of the people I have heard ranting about the Islamification of Europe and America seem to have spent much time in the Muslim world, where most people just want to get on with living happy and peaceful lives.

It’s simply absurd to condemn all Muslims – there are 1.6 billon of them across the world. It’s frightening, rather than absurd, that people still voted for Trump after he threatened to tag Muslims in America with special IDs just as Hitler targeted the Jews in 1930s Germany.

By voting for Trump, people chose ignorance over understanding and hatred over love. And I don’t want to live in that kind of world.

Like millions of others, I really hope that Trump will be a success, that he will shock the “lefty liberals”, and that he won’t destroy America and the world.

But he has said too much before and since the November election for people to face the future with anything other than concern or trepidation.

Which is why I feel it’s important to attend the protest against his inauguration on Saturday.
Not because we don’t accept the result of the election, but because Trump’s message of fear, loathing, and division is capable of destroying the entire world.

·         * There are two Galway events taking place on Saturday at 2pm. Check out the Facebook pages for Celebrate Diversity the Women’s March on Washington Galway

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

A bluffer's guide to an eventful 2017

Check out my Facebook business page

For many people I know, 2016 was a horrible year.

Too many faced job insecurities or even job losses, relationship breakdowns, and financial worries about the future. Many felt they were only a pay cheque away from homelessness, with rents increasing and the prospect of buying a home in Ireland becoming ever more remote for an entire generation.

The crisis in our health service left far too many vulnerable people lying on trollies and all across the globe thousands of people lost their lives in appalling wars.              
The Donald: set to make a big impact in 2017

We saw many of our musical heroes pass away, while the Brexit and Trump votes seemed to suggest that hatred and fear had overcome love and understanding on both sides of the Atlantic.

People began to wake up to the appalling reality of climate change, only to realize that a man who completely denies the reality of pending environmental catastrophe had become the most powerful politician on the planet late in the year.

But the start of January is a time for renewal and change, and perhaps looking forward to a brighter future.

When I used to work in the newspaper business, I often wrote my predictions for the New Year.

So, for what it’s worth, here’s my tongue-in-cheek assessment of what 2017 has in store.

The Irish Times publishes a piece called ‘Why fascism is trendy again’ on the eve of the inauguration of US President Donald Trump in Washington DC. The event itself proves to be something of a damp squid, as Mexicans, Muslims, women, gays, gun-owners and liberals are banned from the ceremony. The only two foreign leaders to attend are from Holland and Northern Ireland, after Trump insists it’s an “orange only” event.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny: our own wonderful leader

With an unprecedented number of patients on trolleys in Ireland’s public hospitals, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny is accused of gross hypocrisy when he takes a private jet to the United States for emergency heart surgery.

However, the emergency is quickly forgotten as a team of surgeons at a highly rated private clinic in New York fail to find his vital organ. Following his release from hospital, an emotional Mr Kenny calls on President Trump to give an amnesty to the “undocumented” Irish in the US who were unable to go home for Christmas.

After returning to Ireland, Mr Kenny calls for an immediate clampdown on “illegal” immigration to Ireland. “This might be the best little country in the world to do business in, but our small island hasn’t got room for all these niggers,” he tells a Fine Gael function in his native Castlebar. After a reporter from the Mayo Gazette secretly records his speech, he accuses the media of lacking a sense of humour and promises to sell the Gazette to his close friend, Denis O’Brien.

Trump, meanwhile, pledges $100 billion in military aid to Israel, on his first overseas trip since taking office. “It’s simply inhumane to expect Israelis to live on just 78% of Palestinian land,” he says. “I’m very strong on Israel. I’m so strong on Israel, in fact, that I’m gonna kick the UN out of New York for daring to question their policies. I’m gonna make Israel great again.”

Niamh Horan of the Sunday Independent courts controversy by organising a five page “Fascism is Fashionable” feature, with photo shoots of columnists Ian O’Doherty and Brendan O’Connor dressed up in Ku Klux Klan costumes. Controversy rages over the lack of security at Dublin Airport when UK columnist Katie Hopkins disguises herself as a cockroach when flying in for the feature.

Amazingly, security and customs personnel failed to notice any difference and waved Ms Hopkins through without even looking at her passport.

Is this Katie or a cockroach? Who knows?

Shannon Airport is in the news this month when management celebrate the arrival of the 5 millionth US soldier at the ‘neutral’ facility. A proposed party to welcome the soldier, on his way home from Iraq, has to be cancelled when white phosphorous is released from his plane, causing the deaths of 48 Ryanair passengers on their way to London.

Thankfully, no US soldiers were injured in the accident. And Michael O’Leary was presented with an Irish business innovation award when he managed to have his plane back in the air within four hours of the incident.

Billionaire tycoon Denis O’Brien commissions a report which finds that Rupert Murdoch of News International has too much influence on the Irish media. By complete coincidence, Murdoch’s Sunday Times commissions a report which finds that O’Brien has too much influence on the Irish media.

O’Brien buys up every remaining regional newspaper in Ireland, while Murdoch purchases all of the country’s “independent” radio stations. New Minister for Communications Michael Lowry expresses complete satisfaction with both deals.

The five million Native Americans in the US are baffled when President Trump warns them that they will be deported “along with all the Mexicans and Muslims”. A new “Orange Lives Matter” movement is born in the USA to counteract vicious lies about police brutality and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba begins to fill up with environmental scientists after the phrase “climate change” is banned by the US Congress.

Tax exile Bono becomes Freeman of the City after spending three nights “sleeping out” on Grafton Street in Dublin to raise awareness of homelessness. However, he calls the Gardai when a real live homeless person turns up at his occasional Dalkey home. Later in the month, he’s presented with an award for services to humanity by UN Secretary General Ivanka Trump.

“Every day, the poor people of Africa must thank their lucky stars that they have a brilliant, billionaire Irish singer to speak out on their behalf,” she said at the award ceremony at Trump Tower Two, the new name for the UN HQ in New York. Back home, Ireland becomes the first country in Europe to successfully sue the EU in order to make sure that it did not get money owed to it.

Taoiseach Kenny says he’s delighted he won’t have to take €17 billion in taxes owed by Apple Inc, as it would do “enormous damage” to Ireland’s reputation as a great little country to do business in.

Fears that RTE would have to go into liquidation due to financial difficulties are allayed when TV presenter Ryan Tubridy agrees to take a five per cent pay cut. Mayo win the All-Ireland football final (sorry …. That bit is made up!), no, actually, Dublin and Kilkenny win the football and hurling respectively. Hurling fans all over the country come together to hire Dublin drugs gang the Keenihans to ‘take out’ Kilkenny boss Brian Cody.

RTE are faced by a flood of complaints when crime journalist Paul Williams appears on the ‘Late Late Show’ for the 50th time, but lets his fans down badly by failing to utter the word “scumbag” once during his 45 minute appearance with Ryan Tubridy.

Gardai issue an apology after a banker is arrested for drunk driving. An Taoiseach Enda Kenny summons the Garda Commissioner to his office to remind her that no banker is to be arrested for any offence, ever. The Government announces that Irish Water is to be revived and advertises for a new CEO, to be paid €400,000 per year. A demonstration against Irish Water attracts 30,000 people to the streets of the capital, but organisers claim that 100,000 took part and Gardai deny that it even happened.

Promises, promises ... but sure they're only promises!

The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netyanahu, is awarded the highly prestigious Tipperary Peace Prize. Human rights organisations condemn the prize, pointing out that Israeli soldiers have killed 1,500 people so far in 2017. A spokesman for the committee, Alan Kelly, says that this is a big decrease on the 2016 figure.

“And, anyway, sure, he’ll bring a crowd and he’ll give us a bit of publicity,” say Kelly.

Russian jets bomb 85 civilians to death in Syria on the same day as US fighters murder 85 civilians in Iraq. RT provide excellent coverage of the Iraqi deaths, but say those in Syria never happened. Fox News, now allowed 24/7 access to the White House for a new series called ‘The Don Knows Best’, accuse RT of “fake news” and call for the Russian TV channel to be banned from America.

“Unlike all the others, Fox gets it,” says Trump.

A visit by US President Donald Trump to China turns controversial when the Chinese hosts fail to place a giant mirror in his Shanghai hotel bedroom. Enraged, Trump returns to Washington DC, where he presses the red button to blow the Chinese … and the rest of us … to Armageddon.

So ... that's the coming year for you.

It’s going to be a lot more eventful than 2016.

Happy New Year!

From the archives: An Uncomfortable Truth for Culture Night

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Send 'em all home ... !

(A fictitious, cranky Irish-American writes ... )                                          
Trrump will make America great again

Hey, let’s get rid of ‘em!

Every last one of ‘em. Send them back to where they came from. Some of them don’t even speak English and, if they do, it’s a kind of English I don’t understand.

How dare they, come over here and take our jobs. After we told them we’re the greatest country in the world.

If they miss mammy and daddy so much, why don’t they take a one-way flight home?

Rather than crowding out those goddamn ghettoes in Boston and the Bronx.

I know, I know. One of them fixed my car. He did a good job and he charged a good price. But, Hell, if I knew he was illegal I would have made sure he was sent home.

I know. Another one of them minds my grandkids. She charges a great price. My daughter laughs when she boasts about how little she costs. Up here from Nicaragua or El Salvador or wherever, undercutting our own people, stealing our jobs . . .

Another guy does my garden. He’s cheaper than anyone around here. But, hell, he has no business being in this country if he hasn’t got the papers.

And one of them served me a beer last Friday night. If I knew he was ILLEGAL, I'd have called the cops and spat out the darn beer. Even if he's been here for 20 years.

Hell, my parents and grandparents worked hard to make decent lives for themselves in this country and how dare these folks come in and ruin it all for us, tearing our land apart.

Don’t tell me about their parents, sad and lonely at home. Didn’t our ancestors take a one-way ticket to this paradise and they had to fight for everything they earned.

They weren’t looking for sympathy when they got off the boat, unlike these soft Irish kids these days with their political campaigns.

Can’t they just go back to where they came from?

We all know that blacks belong in Africa, Latinos should be down in Mexico, and those Irish should be drinkin' with the leprechauns out on the green fields.

They have no business being here.

Want’s that?

Where am I from?

Oh, I’m from Ireland. Well my grandfolks left there nearly a hundred years ago, but that’s where I’m from. Been back to the home place, visited the cousins, and I think I saw a leprechaun.

I’m Irish, you know.

Even though I hate these new ones, jumping off the planes, overstaying their visas, and stealing our jobs.

Somebody told me there’s 50,000 of the buggers. That’s a lot of people stealing good honest-to-God American jobs.

But at least they’re not Mexicans, with their brown skin and funny way of talkin’.

They are in America now and they should speak English, just like the rest of us.

If you come to this country, you must live the American way. And if you’re not legal, you should get the hell back home.

I’m as open minded as the next guy, but I’m sick of these people coming to this country and stealing our jobs.

Hell, if I saw those two million starving Irish arrive in New York in the 1840s, I’d have sent them all home. Because they were “illegal” by today’s standards.

Let’s build a big wall and get them to pay for it.

Let’s get the great Donald to send them all home.

Let’s brand those who are Muslims, so that we know who they are. Put a big mark on their clothes so we can avoid them in the malls.

Let’s tell those damn Latinos to speak English, the land of this country (because nobody speaks Sioux, Apache, or  Cherokee any more).

Let’s tell those damn Irish to find their way to the airport and take the first flight home. One-way guys, because there’s no coming back.

Let’s keep this country for the natives, the ones who belong here and made this place great.
So America will be great again.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and make sure to send those god-damn immigrants home.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. You can view his Facebook page here

He doesn't condone "illegal" immigration, but if all the non-natives left the United States there wouldn't be many people left outside the "reservations". And Ireland would get pretty crowded if all 40 million came "home".

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Let's hire a racist

Let’s hire a racist.

Because it’s good for ratings and we all know that’s all that really matters in this “post-truth” world.

It doesn’t matter that she referred to refugees fleeing terror as “cockroaches”, because we know she will get people talking.                                                  
Why would those  "cockroaches" want to escape this?

She will revive our flagging show.                                
It doesn’t matter if her country is partly responsible for the terror inflicted upon them, for forcing thousands to flee their homes.

She says she doesn’t care when she sees them drowning from capsized boats or queuing up for food on a cold Greek island.

She wants to set gunboats upon them, because they have no right to land on our shores.

She mocks them when they live in squalor, when they flee bombs and bullets in search of a better life.

“Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches,” she says. They are a threat to her beloved society and built to survive a nuclear bomb.

An ideal guest for a light entertainment show on a Friday night, don’t you think?

Let's overlook the fact that her country, the UK, has played an appalling role in supporting the kind of "rebels" who terrorise ordinary people and imposed Sharia Law across huge swathes of Syria and Iraq.

Let’s hire a racist. Sure, isn’t it fantastic that we don't need to import one from the UK when we have a home-grown one of our own?

“Our own” – now, perhaps they are the Irish words of the year in "post-truth" 2016.

Why look after refugees living on €19.10 per week for the past 15 years when we have so many homeless people of our own?

Why allow Muslims into this country when we have so many people lying on trolleys in hospital wards?

Funny, how these migrants always threaten the poorest in society – not the tiny elite who bankrupt the country eight years ago or the multinational corporations who have no interest in paying a proper level of tax in the Emerald Isle?

Columnist Ian O'Doherty: racism's good for ratings

Funny how we stage protests to make sure that Apple locate their factory in Athenry, but none at all to reclaim the estimated €13 billion plus they owe us in taxes.

Yes, we do need to talk about “our own” homelessness, health crisis, and the lack of job security faced by so many.

But do we really need to hand over our TV screens to people with false claims about the number of rapes carried out by Muslims?

It's easy to forget there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world when people who thrive on shocking us insist that there are "swarms" of them arriving on our shores, hell-bent on destroying our wonderful way of life in the West.

Most of the Muslims I met in at least 15 trips to countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco have no interest in invading the "infidels" in Britain and Ireland. They are ordinary people who just want peaceful, happy lives.

Do we really need to mock the unfortunates fleeing places like Aleppo in terror only to face derision and racism on our shores?

But it’s ok to feature commentators who thrive on hatred, because we know they’ll get people talking and watching our fading shows.

If people like Katie Hopkins or Ian O’Doherty were in New York in the 1840s, they would have mocked the starving Irish as they fell off the ‘coffin ships’ on their way to the ghettoes of the Bronx and Hell’s Kitchen.

They would have called for the gunboats to turn the starving Irish back as those desperate people sought new lives so far from home.

And now we invite the kind of people who would have erected “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs” signs in London 50 years ago onto our Friday night entertainment shows.

Trump's election has emboldened racists
on this side of the Atlantic
But it’s ok. We Irish can mock those who voted for Trump because, yes, he’s a racist, sexist, xenophobe.

Even though we now have racist, sexist, xenophobic buffoons of our own.

Who cares about ordinary people fleeing bombs and bullets in terror as they try to build new lives for their children?

Because the only thing that matters is that we look after “our own”.

And racists are good for ratings in 2016.

It could be argued that those who give people with xenophobic views a platform are just as guilty as the racists themselves.

Whether we like it or not, our annual €160 TV licence fee is being used to invite people who get a kick out of spreading fear and hatred onto the airwaves.

But don't complain about the lack of informed debate guys, because complaints will get you nowhere as Katie Hopkins showed. 

Tough luck, because racism's good for ratings ... and we should only look after "our own". 

Walking through the ruins of eastern Aleppo this week

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. You can hire Ciaran to ghost write your company's blog. 

Check out Ciaran Tierney Digital Storyteller on Facebook. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Hero or tyrant? The truth might be in between

As the evening wore on, and my friend’s mother became more emotional, I noticed the tears well up in her eyes.

She came over and hugged me. She said she wished we could stay the night, but that was impossible.

The Communist Party official down the road would already be suspicious about the taxi which had arrived a good four hours ago.                                                    
Maybe Fidel knew when it was time to go

He’d probably be wondering why two Irish guys had pulled up in a taxi so far out from the centre of town, in this nondescript street of all streets at this particular time.  
There would be too much trouble, she said. It was probably time to go.

It had been a beautiful, emotional evening. Her beloved son had become a good friend of mine back in Galway and it had been amazing to bring her a fist-full of dollars and some good news about her grandchildren so far from home.

We had hired a trusted taxi-driver to take us to the far-off suburb, because our Spanish was not strong enough for us to undertake a four hour conversation.

Plus, she needed to be careful. I had secured the driver’s number before I even left Ireland.

Her son’s name had been blackened in Cuba.

He had jumped off a plane at Shannon, while on a flight to Moscow, in order to build a new life for his young family. We were the first visitors from Galway, his new home, in the five years since he was granted political asylum. No wonder she hugged us so intently, that she didn’t want to let us go.

Later in the trip, I visited the museum which featured a photo of her late husband, a war hero at the Bay of Pigs. He had died so young, defending his beloved Cuba, in the aborted and ill-fated US invasion which followed the revolution in 1959.

It was 1999, 40 years after the revolution. I both loved Cuba and felt profoundly saddened by the experience of visiting this wonderful island nation, full of dancers, merriment, and laughter in the Caribbean sun.

I’m not at all an expert, but there were clearly good and bad points about the Government at the time.

"Two island nations in the same sea
of struggle and hope" - O'Reilly St
It’s impossible to generalise about a country after just a few weeks of travelling around, but my overwhelming feeling at the end of the trip was that most Cubans felt stifled – they wanted an escape or a whole new way of life for their country.

And yet they respected how their Government had stood up to the might and hostility of Uncle Sam.

In O’Reilly Street, in the heart of Old Havana, we delighted in discovering the plaque which commemorated how our two island people swam in the same sea of struggle and hope. The plaque was put up a few years earlier by a trade union activist from Galway.

What a wonderful plaque to stand under before downing a few rums in the nearby bar which used to be frequented by Ernest Hemingway.

Cuba was a fascinating place in 1999. It was clear that the people were extremely well educated and the health service was one of the best in the world.

But we kept getting upset by the little inconveniences which seemed to make life such a struggle for ordinary people.

Such as Paula, fluent in five languages, who worked at the telephone exchange. Introduced to us by a mutual friend from Mayo, she was a wonderful guide during our time in the capital city.

She brought us to her home, where we were struck by the poverty, but also the generosity and friendliness of her family. We were also struck by how much admiration her father, and the older generation in general, had for Fidel Castro and the revolution.

People of his generation remembered life before Castro and they used to argue like mad that life under Fidel was so much better than under the old Batista regime, when Cuba just seemed to be a playground for rich Americans.

On the night of Paula’s birthday, in old Havana, we offered to take her out to enjoy a night of traditional Cuban music. Paula’s night was ruined, and I could see the pain in her eyes, when she was pulled up by a policeman and accused of prostitution.

Hanging out with foreigners was frowned upon and, when I protested that she was our interpreter and friend, I was escorted politely and firmly across the road. She received a sanction just for walking down the street with two Irish guys.

A few months later, she received another sanction for hanging out with my sister and a gang of Irish girls. The harsh reprimand by the policeman left her in tears. Paula’s only dream was to escape the island, and she achieved that when she managed to make it to the USA some years later.

I remember the ‘dollar’ shops being full of supplies, while there was next to nothing in the Cuban stores.

The local currency seemed worthless and, quite a few times, we met teachers and academics who wanted to become taxi-drivers – because they’d have more access to dollars.
A beautiful beach near Trinidad, Cuba, in 1999

In Santiago, in the south, I remember a frenzied attack in a dark, crowded nightclub by people who considered us to be loaded just because we were foreigners and had enough money to travel. Compared to all the local clubbers, we were rich and privileged.

So it was easy to see why people condemned Cuba as a Communist dictatorship, where freedom of speech was frowned upon, in the 1990s.

But I was also struck by the fact that the extreme poverty so evident in other Latin American countries was not evident on the streets of Havana, Trinidad, Santa Clara, or Santiago. The glaring inequality I’d later see in places like the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, or Panama simply didn’t exist here.

There was great joy, too. A night out in a bar could become a wonderful celebration of music and the Cubans taught us Irish lads how to party. The live music was out of this world.

They might not have been free to travel, but they seemed to have great knowledge about the wider world and were very enlightening to talk to once they gained your confidence away from prying eyes on the streets.

But the oppression was stifling, too. Residents of Havana used to refer to policemen as “Palestinos”, because they came from rural provinces and therefore were a people without a home.

It was impossible for a local to travel from one end of the country to another without a special permit, which meant that we were far too aware of our own privilege as white foreigners touring their beautiful island by taxi and train.

I felt like a cheat when somebody showed me how to convert my dollars into pesos, enabling us to take advantage of even lower prices than the ‘normal’ tourists.

In Trinidad, it was disconcerting to be propositioned by beautiful young girls who were desperate for dollars. We could fool ourselves that they were interested in our Irish charms, but there was a palpable desperation for hard currency at that time.

Cubans loved rum, sex, and music but, while Americans were banned from travelling, we noted a thriving ‘sex tourism’ industry among Canadian men who had flown over for some winter sun.

This was just after the ‘special period’ when the collapse of the Soviet Union left Cuba vulnerable and impoverished.

A political mural in Santiago de Cuba, where Fidel's Funeral
is set to take place.
The US embargo was 40 years old at this stage and it was clear to us that it was having a huge negative impact on ordinary people, most of whom remained defiant in the face of US imperialism.

Florida, of course, was only 90 miles up the coast and the island was under intense scrutiny and pressure from the US Government at the time.

From speaking to ordinary people, it was clear that Fidel Castro was no hero to the younger generation. That status was reserved for Che Guevara, who wasn’t given the chance to grow old when he was executed by a US-backed death squad in Bolivia.

And yet we admired Fidel’s strength of character and resilience in the face of such hostility from his giant neighbour. A lot of people loved him, even if many of the younger ones could see no future on the island.

So this morning, listening to Senator Ronan Mullen, on the radio I was pretty sickened to hear the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, being condemned for sending condolences upon the death of Fidel Castro.

Let’s not forget that most of the hardship endured by the Cuban people was as a result of the US economic embargo.

Or that the biggest prison camp on the island, at Guantanamo Bay, was in a militarized zone controlled and run by the Americans.

Or that the CIA made over 600 attempts to murder a leader who had a huge popular mandate when he first came to power.

Amazing how the people who are so concerned about human rights in Cuba now had nothing to say when prisoners were being renditioned illegally through Shannon Airport for internment without trial at Guantanamo Bay.

Will the newspapers who screamed “Death of a tyrant” this weekend use the same language when George W. Bush and Tony Blair eventually depart this planet?

Because those two leaders caused far more hardship, and took far more innocent lives, than the man who led Cuba in the midst of such hostility for so many years.

My own personal – and extremely limited – experience of life under Fidel Castro was profoundly sad and yet it was clear that members of the older generation, in particular, had huge admiration for their leader.

Fidel was neither a demon nor a hero. The truth, of course, was somewhere in between.

But I don’t need to hear an Irish Senator, who has no real mandate from the people, tell me that the President of my own country has no right to mourn the passing of a man who stood up to US imperialism for almost 60 years.

Because of him, the crass consumerism so evident across poor Caribbean holiday destinations does not exist yet in Cuba.

The island has a rich cultural history and is all the better for the absence of McDonald's and Burger King on every street corner.

Without the US-led embargo, life would have been so much more tolerable for the wonderful people we met back in 1999.

In the wake of the Apple Tax fiasco and the use of Shannon Airport as a ‘warport’, perhaps he could even teach our leaders a thing or two about how a small island nation can stand up for itself when faced with a global superpower.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland.

Follow Ciaran on Twitter,

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The biggest challenge facing us all

A friend of mine sent me a link to a feature-length documentary over the
Of all the contentious issues President-elect Trump stands for,
climate change denial might be the most troubling of them all
weekend and, after watching it last night, I have to confess I’m shocked that I hadn’t heard more about it or engaged in more of a debate about its contents.

Perhaps it got lost in the furore over the election of Donald Trump, the concerns over his racism, his xenophobia, his sexism, and how he pandered to hatreds and fears; because the whole world was in shock for days or weeks, the film didn’t get the attention it deserved.

But, given that this has been the hottest year on record, it was probably the most important film released anywhere across the world in 2016.

The stark message behind ‘Before The Flood’ concerns man’s propensity for self-destruction. UN Ambassador and Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio takes a harrowing look at how climate change is set to render the planet uninhabitable for our children and grandchildren.

What an awful legacy that would be from a species which has already caused the extinction of many species and decimated ecosystems across the planet over a couple of hundred years.

The film, produced by National Geographic, has been released free of charge in order to raise awareness and yet, because of the hysteria over Trump’s election, it didn’t get anything like the attention it deserved.

Here in Ireland, we love to talk about the weather. We can have four seasons in one day. But climate change . . . that’s another issue. It’s such a massive threat to all our futures, such a huge issue, that few of us want to sit down and talk about reducing our carbon footprints or eliminating our use of fossil-fuels.

We can see the effects of climate change every day. Our winters are colder – ironically, an impact of climate change in this particular part of the world – and we no longer seem to enjoy the hot and sunny summers which were at least an occasional part of life a few years ago.

Most of us drive to work and school, and then wonder why we are stuck in traffic jams. We burn coal, oil, and wood to increase CO2 emissions and we have seen a huge increase in extreme weather patterns, including flooding, over the past half-decade.

People laughed at Teresa Mannion’s almost hysterical RTE report from Salthill this time last year, but the reality is we never used to have such extreme weather patterns before.

One of the most striking things about ‘Before The Flood’ was the way in which scientists who warned about climate change were consistently ridiculed by the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News.

Because of the fossil-fuel industries, there is a consistent campaign to denigrate those who raise concerns about global warming.
Teresa Mannion's memorable weather report for RTE last year

Trump ridiculed the same scientists during the US Presidential Election campaign and, now that he’s about to take power, he poses a real danger to the entire future of the planet.

The environment? Who cares! He’s going to restore jobs in the places where coal plants closed down and people are in despair. Climate change? A myth. There’s even a clip in the film which shows Trump complaining about the cold on the campaign trail.

“It’s supposed to be 70 degrees today, it’s freezing. Where is global warming?” laughs Trump, ignorantly making a mockery of the scientists who believe human behaviour poses a threat to the future of the planet.

Is climate change real? Of course it is. It’s evident in the unprecedented flooding in places like South Galway in recent years, where nothing like this ever happened before.

It’s evident in Asian cities like Beijing, Shanghai, or Bangkok, where merely breathing in the city air can cause damage to your lungs.

The polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate

It’s evident in Greenland, where hundreds of cubic kilometres of ice no longer exist – they have fallen into the sea, where rising levels will eventually threaten places like Galway, Cork, or Miami.

It’s evident at coral reefs all across the planet. Ask any experienced scuba diver and they will tell you that the reefs are dying at an alarming rate. In the last 30 years, 50% of all coral has been lost. To suggest this is not due to human behaviour is simply absurd.

A friend of mine who worked at a dive centre in Asia for more than ten years says it’s too upsetting for him to return to familiar old dive sites, because so much healthy coral has disappeared.

The future of the entire scuba diving industry on the beautiful Thai island where I worked as a divemaster six years ago is now under threat because of plans to build a coal plant nearby on the mainland.

Tourism on Koh Lanta would be unthinkable without the dive industry which draws people back every year.                                                                              
An underwater protest against the proposed
coal plant for Krabi, Thailand

The Great Barrier Reef, one of the most spectacular places on earth, will not be around in a decade or two because of human behaviour.

There is no doubt that there are other major issues we need to deal with – homelessness, joblessness, inequality, and a deficient health service among them here in Ireland – but climate change is surely the biggest issue facing us all.

So what do we do?

We allow huge companies with an interest in fossil-fuels to spread misinformation because it suits their agenda not to pass legislation which could deal with the problem.

We elect a man who doesn’t believe in global warming to the highest office in the world because he says he will create more jobs and “make America great again”.

We drive to work or school, when it would be just as easy to walk or cycle, or jet off to holiday destinations for a week because flying is no longer a luxury for ordinary people.

We burn fossil-fuels in huge plants, to such an extent that horrible smog is now a normal part of life in some cities and people have to wear face masks every time they go outside.

There are no easy solutions, and change has to start at a micro level, but what’s really frightening is the way in which people like Trump and Fox News presenters can dismiss alarming scientific evidence so readily.

Already, before he has even taken office, Trump has announced that all climate change research conducted by NASA will be eliminated, because he wants to crackdown on “politicized science”.

At the moment, NASAs network of satellites provide a huge wealth of information about global warning.

Trump seems to suggest that scientists who are concerned about the sustainability of our planet have a political agenda, as though the corporations which rely on fossil-fuels for profits do not.
How many unjust wars have we seen being fought over oil?

And how many people have stood up and cried ‘halt’ when rainforests across the planet were being destroyed?

There is long-established evidence that burning fossil fuels and cutting down the rainforests causes the release of heat-trapping gases, raising temperatures across the planet.

Pollution is a huge problem in cities across the globe
The US has been the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in history and now developing nations like India feel they have the right to catch up . . . they want electricity, heat, and all the trappings of 21st century life which those of us who live in Europe or North America already enjoy.

Trump’s election has clearly posed a threat to Muslims, illegal immigrants, Mexicans, and women in the US.

But, given he once said that climate change was a “hoax”, it could have a terrible impact on every living create across the globe. There has never been a bigger threat to the future of life as we know it.

How ironic that the man who railed against lobbyists and corporate interest groups during the US election campaign could speed up the destruction of the entire planet because he’s willing to pander to those very same lobbyists and interest groups.

It’s a scary time for us all.

Check out the feature-length documentary from National Geographic and the UN,

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. 

Find Ciaran on Twitter, @ciarantierney

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Cockroaches? How easy it is to forget

If UK newspaper columnist Katie Hopkins had been a New York socialite in the 1840s, she might have referred to the Irish as ‘cockroaches’.

Imagine the sight of them, thousands upon thousands arriving at Ellis Island on the ‘coffin ships’, many of them without a word of English or a dime to begin their new lives in the new world.

About 100 ships full of impoverished, desperate people left my home city, Galway, over a three year period between 1847 and 1850.

Most of the passengers were ill-equipped for the long Atlantic crossing or the massive changes they could expect when they completed the voyage.                            
Katie Hopkins: refers to migrants as 'cockroaches',
brought to Ireland to defend Trump's racist views

But they had little choice, they were escaping the Great Famine. It didn’t matter that the British Empire had driven them to starvation or that they were escaping gross injustice – they were seen almost as the dregs of humanity by some people in New York City at the time.

As they poured into Irish ghettoes such as Hell’s Kitchen and Woodlawn, they didn’t care too much about what the ‘natives’ – all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants themselves – thought of them.

They were just glad to have survived.

They were the equivalent of Syrians and Iraqis today; escaping war, poverty, and famine to fulfil the very human need of finding some sort of a decent life for themselves and their children.

The problem with calling people ‘cockroaches’ – as the UK columnist did so offensively earlier this year – is that they then become dehumanised.

It’s easier to hate people when you don’t see them as human beings any more. It's easier to justify attacking them on buses or trains, because people who do so are emboldened by "celebrity" racists like Hopkins.

It doesn’t matter that Ms Hopkins’ own country, the UK, has played a huge part in the misery which engulfed those same migrants.

The Famine Memorial Park in Galway
It’s fine for her British Army heroes to bomb civilians to smithereens in cities and towns thousands of miles from home, but not for those civilians – fleeing in terror – to turn up on makeshift boats crying out for help on our shores.

When Celia Griffin, a little six year old girl from Connemara, died of starvation in 1847 there were thousands of people all across Ireland desperately trying to put the money together to set sail for the Americas.

Many of them died on the ‘coffin ships’ before they got to the other side as they didn’t have enough food for the voyage.

Just like the Syrian and Iraqi migrants today,

Irish people would have given their last dollar to traffickers in the hope of finding a new life – and some hope – at the end of a distressing boat journey.

In Galway, it took us a century and a half to erect a memorial to Celia - and all the Great Famine victims - because nobody wanted a reminder of such a distressing time in our history.

It was left to the late Mark Kennedy, who passed away last month, to remind us that we should never forget this harrowing period in our shared history.

In London at that time, the equivalents of Ms Hopkins had a great time mocking the starving Irish in their ‘witty’ cartoons.

In 2016, according to Ms Hopkins, migrants who flee war and persecution don't matter.

"Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches," she wrote in April. "They might look a bit "Bob Geldof's Ethiopia circa 1984", but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors."

And, according to national broadcaster RTE, there is nothing wrong with giving a platform to a person with vile, racist views on national television on a Friday night.

Hence, the decision to invite her onto the flagging ‘Late Late Show’ last weekend.

It didn’t matter that the invitation led to a flood of complaints in advance, or that her appalling views were going to be challenged. Presumably, what really mattered was that the increased ratings brought about by the controversy boosted the profile of a jaded show. She got people talking.                                                  
US President-elect Donald Trump: people are now trying
to justify some of his racist comments during the campaign

But does it matter?

Does it matter that the people Ms Hopkins referred to as ‘cockroaches’ are fleeing war and terror which her own country, the UK, is partially responsible for?

Of course it matters.

She was flown into Dublin from London to justify the racist views of a man who has just been elected President of the United States.

All week, people have been attempting to justify the indefensible from Donald Trump.

They have been wildly back-tracking and looking for glimmers of hope after an extraordinary campaign built on ignorance, hatred, and fear.

Is it wrong that the leader of a nation which was built on immigration can refer to Mexicans as rapists? What, all 122 million of them?

It’s wrong that illegal immigration is blamed for the troubles of a nation which has yet to face up to all the suffering it has caused to Native Americans. The United States of America were built on stolen land and the slave trade.

It’s incredible that the views of a man who boasted about groping and abusing women, because his wealth and fame allowed him to do so, can be defended so virulently by anyone.

Or that the national broadcaster would give a licence to someone who boasts of having racist views to do so.

It’s frightening that such a man can call from all Muslims to be banned from his country. There are 1.6 billion Muslims all across the planet and most of them, just like the rest of us, are trying to get on with happy, peaceful lives.

People seem to have forgotten already that this kind of abhorrent language was used to describe Jewish people in 1930s Germany.

It’s frightening that a man who can mock the disabled in front of millions of television viewers can be considered a suitable candidate for ‘leader of the free world’.

It’s scary that, in a nation which has a huge problem with gun crime, Trump is completely opposed to gun control.

It’s even more frightening that Donald Trump can dismiss the threat of climate change, surely the biggest issue facing humanity in 2016.

There is no doubt that Trump tapped into huge levels of anger towards the political establishment in America. That’s understandable.

What’s not understandable is how someone who can dehumanise so many people (Mexicans, women, Muslims, the disabled) can have racist or bigoted views uncontested.

Cartoonist Richard Chapman sums up Europe and America's
current attitude to migrants fleeing wars and persecution.
It was shameful that RTE chose last week, of all weeks, to invite a woman who sees no problem with describing human beings as ‘cockroaches’ onto its main weekend chat show.

Who cares about bad taste, spreading hatred, or fear-mongering? As long as the ratings are up, the national broadcaster seems happy to allow someone spread ignorance and racial intolerance.

Do we really learn from the past?

It’s a good job there wasn’t a ‘Late Late Show’ – or a Katie Hopkins – when Celia Griffin was dying of starvation in 1847.

Because imagine how horrified Irish people would have been if someone described a little six year old girl who died at the side of a road as nothing more than a cockroach.

Why not hire a ghost blogger?

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland.