Theresa finds handholding can turn to hand-wringing

First printed in the Irish Independent on Feb 6, 2017

The last time I had a special relationship with another person we did, I confess, hold hands. It is what special friends do to show their affection and is moreover tolerated in public, even by puritanical bystanders.I recall vividly that the hands were not small; they were warm and friendly, closing over my fingers in a comfortable fashion.

And that is why I watched with some small horror the scenes between Theresa May and Donald Trump, arguably the two great leaders of the free and English-speaking world. It was a first press conference and their smiles were wide for each other, both giving the open-mouthed braying hahahas of leaders in debate. She, smiling coyly over at Mr Trump as she answered for both, dismissing the gaps that lay between them and focusing on the ties that bind.

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Mr Trump on his part swirled his flat-topped Barnet Fair like a small boy in a shop. Looking this way and that and waiting to be offered his choice of confectionery.

Smile, smile, smile – the hallmarks of a special relationship. But it did not end there. Later as they walked, another visual cue of solidarity, his little hand sought out hers. Captured by an observant videographer, his fingers crawled over hers and in a sweet demonstration of the special relationship enjoyed by the two countries, by the two leaders, their fingers entwined.

But wait – that is not the handholding required between nations. I have never seen two world leaders cosy up into a handholding, ever. What were they thinking?

As Mrs May went home, she discovered more gaps between them, the ones she had tried to cover up in the press conference. The subsequent travel bans on citizens from Muslim-majority countries. Mr Trump had not deemed it important to tell Mrs May this little surprise was up his sleeve. She went home and straight into a storm of criticism from the opposition benches. Had she known Mr Trump was about to sign those executive orders? Was the handholding more of a walk of shame?

And what strange accident of fate decided that the two leaders of the English-speaking world had verbs as their family names? What is the universe playing at there?

Later, at the start of Black History Month, Mr Trump, with notes in front of him, spoke of Frederick Douglass, the former slave and abolitionist leader. He said: “Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognised more and more, I notice.”

People scratched their heads at this. Did he not know who Mr Douglass was? Later his press officer Sean Spicer added clarity to the remarks. Yes, he said, what the president meant was that more and more recognition is being given to Mr Douglass.

People scratched their heads even more at this explanation which offered no new insight. It was up to the descendants of Frederick Douglass to post a statement of 15 achievements in the ‘Huffington Post’. We are not sure if Mr Trump read them, but on balance I think we can safely say not.

Which brings me to the novel ‘Transatlantic’ by Irishman Colum McCann. This fantastical book traces in part the journey by Mr Douglass when visiting Ireland in 1845. For Mr Trump’s benefit, let me quickly summarise the events. Mr Douglass had escaped slavery in the south and moved into Maine, where slavery was abolished. There he penned a book on his life which made him a potential target for bounty hunters wishing to return him to his ‘owner’. Aided by the abolitionists, Mr Douglass left for a two-year lecture tour of Ireland and the UK.

Mr Douglass acknowledged that speaking in Europe would greatly increase the chances of his being heard in his native America. A self-taught man, Mr Douglass was charismatic and a powerful speaker. While on his travels around Ireland he met Daniel O’Connell. Mr McCann writes of a meeting of the two, now with Mr Douglass being called the Black O’Connell in Ireland.

Mr McCann writes: “Two days later, in Conciliation Hall, O’Connell brought him [Douglass] on stage and he thrust Douglass’s hand in the air: Here, he said, the Black O’Connell! Douglass watched the hats go up the rafters.”

And later, towards the end of that chapter: “O’Connell walked on stage and raised his [Douglass’s] hand in the air once more. The Black O’Connell he said again.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how world leaders, arguably the main leaders in the English- speaking world, should hold hands. Not in the sweet touching of fingers almost hidden from view but thrust into the air, on a platform, with a message to give. The cause of humanity is one the world over.

Unless your surname is a verb that can alternatively be happily employed in a whist drive or used onomatopoeically as slang for flatulence – and then anything goes.

B(u)y the book!

Last week I made it into a book, a legal book, a proper non-fiction book about Electoral Law in Ireland. The author Jennifer Kavanagh is a lecturer in Law in Waterford IT and has just completed a PhD in law in Trinity College Dublin. Her book, Electoral Law in Ireland, is available from Bloomsbury Professional

It is quite an expensive book as paperbacks go, costing €150, but it is possible to write the cost against tax. I was advised that by the young barrister Ruadhán Mac Aodháin who was also purchasing the book just as I arrived at the book launch. Ruadhán was part of the legal team that made it possible for me to be mentioned in the book.

In 2014 when I became the first female bankrupt under the new Insolvency laws in Ireland, I was unable to run for public office. Those of you who know my story will remember that my own personal descent into financial ruin (divorce + home repossession + business failure + bailiffs) had created an accidental activist.

I became well known for ranting and raving on the airways domestically and abroad about the injustices facing ordinary people.

I was – and remain – very anti the stranglehold the banks have on the people.

I was – and remain – very anti the spin developed by the banks to say that people who fail financially have the moral integrity of Artful Dodger and then some.

I had had enough. I was tired of the system where being a good, law abiding, hard-working, honest citizen had resulted in one crushing defeat after another. I won’t bore you with my story here – there is plenty of that on my blog – but I wanted to stop being a victim.

So the law case, handled by the incorrigible Colm McGeehan and ably barristered by Dr Michael Forde, Richard Humphries and the aforementioned Ruadhán, led me to the High Court so that I could argue my constitutional rights were being infringed.

I blushed when I met Ruadhán again for I was a most awkward client. The sharing of reciprocal affidavits where nothing was ‘admitted’ by the Irish Government except that I might be the Artful Dodger in question reminded me too powerfully of my recent experience in the divorce courts.

However, the legal team sallied on undeterred by their emotional client. And as the government too decided that I was not for turning, the law was rushed through in time for me to run for the European Parliament in Ireland South in May 2014.

I am proud to say I left the electoral count centre in Cork with 11,500 votes under my belt build on nothing more than my character.

I had no money, no party behind me and only four weeks to run my campaign. So much for the Government ‘admitting’ that I was the Artful Dodger.

However, while my character may have passed the moral test, my financial status has not as yet recovered sufficiently for me to be in a position to purchase that rather nice book. So instead the kind lady at Bloomsbury scanned in page 71 and here I attach it proudly.

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I am proud to be Page 71

 

 

 

 

And I thank Ruadhán for his encouraging words to me as I entered the 2014 European race with all the experience of a church mouse. Ruadhán said that everybody should run in a political election at least once in their life. While at the time, that emotional, denying Artful Dodger cursed him for his enthusiasm, the post election, triumphant candidate is deeply grateful for his words.

Victories are more than votes.

I got to put my victimhood under the sword in the process. That, as the ad says, was priceless.

But you can buy the book here

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The Tricolour

The Irish Tricolour, with its distinctive stripes of Green, White and Orange, is often viewed as a militant flag, a direct contrast and challenge to the British Union Jack and owned solely by one tradition in Ireland – the nationalist Catholic community. In fact, its origins could not be further from the truth and there is currently a movement to rehabilitate its image and indeed to encourage its widespread use in the same way that Americans, of whatever ethnicity, fly their national flag in backyards across the States.

tricolourThe Irish Tricolour was first flown in Waterford by Thomas Francis Meagher on March 7, 1848, at the Wolfe Tone Confederate Club at 33 The Mall. This was also of significance as Wolfe Tone a century before had fired up a movement that said: ‘Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter all unite under the common name of United Irishman.’  Meagher had just returned from France and wanted to realise a vision of a New Ireland from the wreck of the old sectarian Ireland. The band of white in the flag was the symbol of peace to join Irish Catholic with Irish Protestant and to forge a new unity and brotherhood between the two sides in a country that had been desecrated by the Great Famine.

 

Meagher went on to take part in the Young Ireland Famine Rebellion and subsequently sentenced to death for treason. This judgement was parleyed by Queen Victoria into deportation to Tasmania from which he escaped and moved to America. There Meagher continued to make a difference and this time joined the Union in the American Civil War. He raised a full company to fight with the 69th Infantry Regiment and went to head up the Irish Brigade. As a result of his involvement, the 69th Regiment became known as the Fighting 69ners. Following the war he was appointed Governor of Montana where he was institutional in bringing that territory towards statehood – the grant of which only happened twenty years after his death.  He is commemorated by statutes both in his native Waterford and in Helena, state capital of Montana.

A great orator, when he brought the flag to Ireland in 1848 he said:

…I trust that the old country will not refuse this symbol of a new life from one of her youngest children. I need not explain its meaning. The quick and passionate intellect of the generation now springing into arms will catch it at a glance. The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between the “orange” and the “green” and I trust that beneath its folds, the hands of the Irish Protestant and the Irish Catholic may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood…” 

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But it was not until 1916 that the Tricolour was flown again, this time when it was raised at the GPO in Dublin during the Easter Uprising and it was not until 1937 that it was formally adopted as the national flag.

 

 

Six years ago visionary local historian James Doherty from Waterford recognised the significant of the Tricolour, its history and the links with the 69th Infantry Regiment in New York. The 1848 Tricolour Celebration Committee was established that reached out to the 69th Infantry Regiment which resulted in a delegation arriving in Waterford to cement the connections. Every year since, a delegation arrives and Meagher, the Tricolour and the 69ners are celebrated. This year, Waterford went one step further and on Thursday March 12 renamed the river Suir bridge the Thomas Francis Meagher Bridge. The river Suir bridge was completed in 2009, is part of the N25 Waterford bypass and the longest single-span bridge in the Republic .

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I was privileged to be part of the Island of Ireland Peace choir (formerly the Waterford Omagh Peace Choir) that sang at the Gala Dinner and subsequently at a formal military ceremony attended by full military honours and ambassadors, including this year Kevin Vickers, the Canadian Ambassador to Ireland. You may recall Kevin as he was the sergeant at arms that single handed stopped the lone terrorist attack on the Canadian Parliament last year.  Standing at well over six feet tall, Kevin commended the choir following its performance during the dinner. Our rendition of Oh Danny Boy had moved him to tears. The following day he joined in our singing, becoming an honorary member of the choir.

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Colonel Jim Tierney spoke at the dinner. He spoke in Gaelic, translating it afterwards into English for the non-Gaelic speakers and into English for the Gaelic speakers! He spoke about the impact of political correctness on the history of the Regiment. For much of the last quarter of the last century, the emphasis on diversity did not allow for the celebration of ethnicity. It was not until the Regiment got an invitation to come to Waterford five years ago that the links were refreshed and the Regiment had an emotional home-coming to Waterford. He and his men fully embraced the connection and wished to see it continue and grow year on year. He also spoke of the role of Irishmen in the American Civil War. Recent historians are now estimating that more Irishmen fought in the American Civil War than in World War One, with Meagher being an inspired leader, seeking justice for the repressed.

This talk was given in the Granville Hotel, originally the birthplace of Meagher and was a fitting location to lead such a tribute. And as for the breakfast – I am sure that Meagher would have been impressed with that too. A choir can only sing on its stomach and we sang like canaries after that!

One final interesting fact: the Tricolour when first flown outside 33 the Mall was raised back to front with the orange band next to the flagpole. The 1848 Tricolour committee spoke with the Irish Department of Defence for permission to re-enact this mistake but permission was refused. For those of you in the military you will already know the reason for refusal – a national flag flown upside down or the wrong way around is an international symbol of disaster or distress. And we were far from that in Waterford at the weekend.

Interesting links:

The Island of Ireland Peace choir in practice before the Gala Dinner

A RTE compilation

The Tricolour site