Grafton Street Quarter improvements

JOhnson place

The Grafton Street Quarter improvement plans were unveiled yesterday you can find more information on this website www.gsq.ie and also in todays Irish times http://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/revamp-plans-for-grafton-quarter-published-1.1573951

The public have just over two weeks, until November 15th to make observations and submissions on the designs which you can see on the website above.  It is very very important that people engage themselves in this process otherwise it will just be a small selection of the business community.

Submissions must be made in writing to Frank Lambe, Project Manager, South East Area, Block 2, Floor 4, Civic Offices, Wood Quay, Dublin 8 or by email to graftonstreetquarter@dublincity.ie  before Friday, 15th November 2013.

You don’t want to end up in what looks like an outdoor shopping mall with overbearing inappropriate architectural designs that are out of place like the ridiculous lamp standards in Smithfield plaza or even the kind of designed lamp standards that are depicted in one of the montages of St Stephens green south.

If you are interested in any of the aspects of this urban design from street furniture to appropriate trees to cyclists issues/pedestrian or any other features you fear are being over looked.

Now is the time to join the conversation.

The Politics of Philomena

Featured

The most startling thing to emerge from the premiere last night of Philomena was the lack of any questioning around accountability for the theft of a child, in this instance Anthony Lee from his mother Philomena, who was incarcerated in Sean Ross Abbey for 4 yrs in the 1950s.  The whole issue of criminality was avoided throughout the entire film and there was an uncomfortability in the Q & A emanating mostly from Steve Coogan, who was making every effort to be inoffensive in his efforts to appease Catholic sensibilities.  It would seem to me that Mr Coogan, producer, co-writer and star of the movie, didn’t really understand the politics of the issue of the banished babies and the criminal trafficking of children for profit out of Ireland and other countries that was perpetrated by the Catholic Church and religious congregations.

What happened here was that like many other children, Anthony Lee was taken from his mother without informed consent and for over fifty odd years the Irish Catholic Church, Religious congregation and indeed the State itself, concealed the whereabouts of mother and son from each other.  Yet, what we watched at the IFI premiere last night completely avoided the global issue of the “banished babies” of Ireland.  Nobody so far has been held to account for this practice; there have been no Garda investigations or Interpol investigations; nobody from the national Airlines (Aer Lingus) or Pan Am airlines that actually trafficked the children out of Ireland have been confronted. Indeed, this whole issue has been slightly saccarined and turned into a warm human interest story rather than a story of organised, joint-venture criminality.

The whole reality of this film is sentimentalised through a naive catholic spiritualism.  A lot of it is cliched and it never really deals with the horrendous tragedy and evil of what was perpetrated on thousands of mothers and their abducted children to this day.

The story of Philomena is based on true events.  True events that happened to generations of people and, while this abduction of children was going on in so-called Mother and Baby homes, there was also the rape torture and inhumane treatment of tens of thousands in what are now known as Ireland’s residential institutions.  The Mother and Baby homes like Sean Ross Abbey, Bessborough, Castle Pollard etc. formed part of a network of compounds where individual citizens were incarcerated and exploited till they died, made good their escape or somehow found themselves miraculously released.

The trauma of what took place in these institutions still permeates this society through the suffering of the individuals who were incarcerated there.  That suffering continues as many mothers seeking to find their children and many children seeking to find their parents are still not being given access to their personal records, to their authenticity, to their origins. There is an indifference, a disregard and a continuous punishment in the way Religious Congregations and indeed the State continue to behave around this issue, which borders on contempt.  There was an opportunity in Philomena to address these issues but the writers of the script chose not to do so.

This undermines the credibility of the movie and does a great disservice to this single story and to the big story because after all this tale is one of thousands of similar tales that are now emerging as part of Ireland’s social and criminal history.

Despite the warmth of the film and the good reception that it received at all the film festivals so far (Toronto, London, Venice) somewhere, the real issues that are at the centre of this story, the hard cruel facts, that unheard story, that brutality, uncomfortable as it is, has to be heard, has to be owned has to be accounted for.  It is not just the story of Philomena and Anthony Lee, it is the story of a society and as such the secret history of Ireland and the Irish State and religious institutions cannot be so simply packaged in a feel-good, heartfelt portrayal of real events that have not been dealt with so far.

We had to drag the apology from the Taoiseach in relation to the Magdalene Laundries and large parts of the truth have still been avoided in the massive whitewash of the Ryan and McAleese Report. The complete indifference and lack of consequences for all those that were involved in the criminality and abuses that were described in the Ferns, Murphy, Cloyne reports etc. There is a great danger here of assuming that we have dealt with these issues and that there is some measure of closure on them, but still the Church and State continue to deny wrong going and the myth that everybody was just trying their best in very difficult times continues to be perpetrated.

Judy Dench gives a fantastic performance as does Steve Coogan, the whole cast excelled themselves and it is a good movie, but that’s all it is –  a good movie, an entertainment, a night out in the cinema.  It doesn’t ask anything of us, it merely brings us along in a sad-warm way.  It’s a road movie that is very satisfying.  The danger here is, is that it smothers the ongoing issue of what’s happening in Irish society and elsewhere and can give further credence to the school of thought that wishes to put this whole issue behind us and let us get on with it.

Adoption Rights Alliance and other such organizations and individuals are desperately seeking information and the rights today for open access to all of their paperwork, their birth certificates, medical records etc.  They are seeking their truth that has been held from them all their lives as it was for Philomena Lee and her son Anthony Lee.

The film will certainly throw light on all of the issues that I’ve mentioned above and it will find its place in the cultural representation of Ireland’s social history, albeit from a British perspective and sensibility. This is a British movie, but what’s not uniquely British about it and what came across last night in the Q & A and in the movie itself, was its unwillingness to ‘go there’.  While I welcome the film, I note its lack of responsibility to the overall story, its insistence on the sensibility of the human story at the cost of the politics and the truth of the issue.   When, in actual fact what you have here is organized criminality on such a scale that it should really warrant a massive European, if not global investigation or tribunal, not dissimilar to that which is conducted by the United Nations into crimes against humanity because that is what this is.

With due respects to all of those who were involved and with deep respect to Anthony Lee who died searching for his mother – who died being told a lie by the very people who thieved him from his mother and continued that thievery by robbing him of his mother’s whereabouts – this story is not just theirs; it is all our stories. And unless you deal with this story in the way you would deal with any fascist of dictatorial regime, like the institutional Catholic Church, like the institutionalized Irish State,   all you are doing here is facilitating and enabling the closing down of the story, the othering of the story and the perpetration of further suffering.

There were comparisons made last night with the Magdalene Laundries so on so forth, but you can’t compare ongoing trauma and truth with films that are by-and-large commercial enterprises to the story of institutional tragedy.  The story of Philomena Lee is essentially a political one involving a sovereign state and its inactions to protect its citizens and a global church that professes Christianity love, truth and respect, but is engaged, in this instance, in joint venture acts of appalling inhumanity and cruelty.  It is up to us, the cinemagoers to inform ourselves to the highest degree on all of the issues that are missing from this film.  That said I would urge you to see the film because some truth in all its horrors still manages to reach out and touch us. Perhaps because of what we already know in relation to the culture that still exists in our country.

It will take some time for society to extract the truth on this whole issue.  Memorials at the Garden of Remembrance, Magdalene Sisters films, and films like Philomena can never be a substitute for the truth the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in fact sometimes such films can damage truth and authenticity as they can perpetrate the lie that it was ‘all done in good faith’. This film will now be promoted by Harvey Weinstein and may possibly even win an Oscar, however there is always the possibility that it could damage the ongoing advocacy for truth and accountability.

With all that in mind – please go.  And when you come out of the cinema, get involved, demand answers.  Seek accountability.  Don’t let the Church or the State off the hook. What happened here was on an enormous scale and that enormity has not been reduced, but has been added to by the continuous refusal of the congregations of nuns at the centre of the Mother and Baby homes who were willfully engaged with the theft, trafficking and sale of children to be held accountable, to hand over the many documents and files that they have in their possession.  These documents need to be given to their rightful owners without any hindrance whatsoever. Everybody has the right to their own information. The lie that is about that these documents were lost through fire damage or floods etc. needs to stop.  People have memory. The congregations duplicated many of its documents. Every child had a passport forged.  People know.  Including Aer lingus, Pan Am and emigration.

In essence the film is about secrecy which forms an unbroken web. That secrecy is never challenged.  And even the cinema goer is asked to accept that secrecy.  It is this very secrecy that gives rise to gross abuse in society, from the institutions of the state, the institutions of the church and the very institution of the family and here right before us in the IFI that secrecy is well maintained by the cultural industry and the film community.  This is far too serious an issue to be turned into mere entertainment.  Philomena the film is not Rabbit Proof Fence, or Los Ninos Robados.  It is a vehicle for the desires of Steve Coogan and the advancement of his career at the expense of a real truth, a real politic.  Mr Coogan needs to be aware of this, that in doing what he did he places himself firmly on the side of those oppressive regimes that wish to keep us all silent, all stunted and childlike and all contained.

This story and the thousands of stories like it will one day escape from this place and find a place where their truth will be heard, understood and accepted.  To avoid is to deny.  To deny is further injustice.  The struggle and the search for truth continues. Mr Coogan had an opportunity to inform the public.  He chose instead to protect the wrong doers – the Irish State and the Catholic church.  He needs now to correct this if he is to have any credibility.   He needs to inform himself of the reality by speaking with those many people who are desperately seeking their children, desperately seeking their mothers.  Its important to note that Philomena Lee didn’t write the book. Didn’t make the movie.  And the problem now is that the story is in the hands of unscrupulous, unprincipled Tinseltown merchants.  And we all have an obligation here to ensure the right thing is done and that the truth is told. Only then can a society grow. Only then can true faith be meaningful.

The continuation of unnecessary suffering

Friday sees the opening of the film Philomena.  A  story of a mother and sons search for each other having been separted at the age of three, sold off to an American family by the nuns in Sean Ross Abbey Mother and Baby home, Roscrea.  The banished babies story is about to unfold into Irish society.  A British film based on the book ‘The Lost child of Philomena Lee’.  This is an ongoing issue in our society and societies throughout the world.  It as as horrendous and shocking and criminal as anything described in the Ryan Reports.  For many it is an issue of Adoption Rights and the rights to obtain the records of their birth parents and their medical and personal records.  This is still being denied them by the Irish State and religious congregations.  And yet, the State still persists with a memorial to victims of residential institutional abuse. Truth not trivia.   (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2451155/Philomena-Lee-To-think-nuns-told-son-searching-me.html)

THE BANISHED- UNGATHERED 

Bringing home the Irish citizens that were sold abroad

Since the foundation of the State, thousands of babies have been removed from their lawful parents and their native land and sold to adoptive parents.  This practice was, by and large, carried out by Religious congregations and in many cases the Irish State turned a blind eye.  The mothers of these children were coerced into signing documents that would remove their rights to any information on their children and their whereabouts.  These babies were trafficked out of Ireland mainly into the United States of America.   All of these babies have been denied access to their personal histories and knowledge of their birth mothers and fathers.  This cruel and inhumane treatment and denial of personal information on one’s identity constitutes a form of ethnic cleansing.

The destruction and elimination of one’s origin, the beginning of the self, was erased and for many people a lifetime sense of absence ensued.  These people are still seeking to realign themselves with their birth mother and family and to be able to obtain access and ownership to all relevant personal and medical information and documentation.

The ‘banished’ children of this nation deserve their rights and their place in the history of this land. They deserve their birth certificates, their records and all the relevant information that is being held by the State, its agents and servants, and the church, its agents and servants  that will give them a roadmap to achieving their full selves and their full identity.  These are our brothers and our sisters, our aunts and our uncles, our nieces and nephews, our sweethearts, our family.  Let this be a true gathering of equals.  Support the cause, acknowledge this unjust denial and bring back the banished babies to their rightful place.  To be silent on this issue is the continuation of a violence.

It is time to end this perpetual exile, facilitated by the Irish State and Irish Church.   The light that reflects from a mother’s eyes to her new born child is the eternal home and that reflection needs to be actualised and manifested now in ‘action’.  Stop the prolonged injustice of those, who as babies, were trafficked with their identities erased.

Lets bring them home.

Video : https://vimeo.com/50934387
More information relating to adoption rights at http://www.adoptionrightsalliance.com/

Surviving survivor groups

 Procession

Nobody talks openly about it. Now and then you hear something that sounds familiar, that you heard before.   Nobody wants to commit to confirming it but nobody denies it.   What’s most alarming, is that nobody is doing anything about it. But déja vu is unfair on victims.

 The Ryan, Ferns, Murphy, Cloyne and recent Magdalene Commission and Quirke reports into the Magdalene laundries all report that people knew what was happening to the people in the residential institutions.  ‘In Plain Sight’ the report by Amnesty International pointed to general awareness of abuse in our residential institutions in our society and asked why nobody lifted a finger.

 Asking around over the past couple of months, having observed over the past decade or more, and having had first-hand experience of it, it is now time to make public that exploitation, bullying and intimidation  are alive and well in the many so-called victim survivor groups and ad hoc committees that purport to speak on behalf of those abused and mistreated in the Magdalene laundries and the many  residential institutions of this country.

 It is important to note that a substantial number of people who were in these institutions are not associated with any group. Some perhaps are wary of those who are self serving rather than at their service.

Way back when the former Government set up NOVA – the National Organisation for Victims of Abuse at a HSE premises on Ormond Quay I was asked to attend there to lodge a complaint of breach of confidentiality on behalf of an individual.  I was not on the premises five minutes when I was set upon and threatened by an individual who was then a leader of a well-known organisation that promotes itself as speaking and representing victims of the former institutions.  I reported this matter to the supervisor in the building saying that this was wholly unacceptable and that the premises was unsafe.  I immediately left the premises stating that I hoped something would be done about the individual and the manner in which the premises was being run. I believe since then little has happened to ensure that vulnerable individuals are afforded the protection and safety that was not afforded to them in the residential institutions.

Most recently I’ve been contacted by individuals and I believe what they have to say, that they are being bullied, isolated and blacklisted from their own process, from their own inclusion and their own demand for justice over the Magdalene laundries. Many claim that they have not been informed or kept up to date and a lot tell me they did not give their consent to any individual to speak on their behalf. One person went so far as to tell me that money had been demanded from her as some form of payment to an individual who is basically claiming in the media  to be negotiating financial redress for the women. Former residents are afraid to speak out for fear of isolation.

 We are all well aware of the kind of exorbitant legal fees that were extracted by legal firms throughout the Ryan Redress Board process. The vast sums that they got and the minor sums that the victims received. There is a great failure still to protect the vulnerable and their assets and also to protect them from a kind of agency-capture where individuals are setting themselves up as bona fide groups, committees, organisations etc.  This is unscrupulous exploitation of the most exploited. It is now necessary for this Government to put an inspectorate in place to ensure that those groups in receipt of public money or money given to them by a charitable organisation to represent individual former residents of institutions are held accountable –  that these are safe groups to belong to. If the government won’t do it I believe Irish Amnesty International should carry out an analysis of just what is happening.     What kind of professionalism, therapies, recovery processes are available.     Who is being paid and how much.  

Justice for Magdalenes recently announced that they were ending their political campaign.  I would ask them to reconsider this in light of what I am writing about now.  It would appear that they are aware of the issue I am addressing, which is both an advocacy issue and a political issue. Simply put, for many who are in this position they have nowhere to turn.

Some form of complaints procedure needs to be put in place straightaway to allow those who wish to use their voice to report this kind of abuse. For the longer term, perhaps a proper charitable trust should now be put in place to ensure protection and continuing welfare for victims. There is a desperation here to put it all behind us, to sentimentalise the issue, and to have it all played out in the front of Leinster House with blaring cameras, grandiose announcements and strategic tears, an apology there, a bit of remorse there – amounting to little.  Meantime  the state seems to have moved on, to primarily be concerned with the preposterous notion of a national memorial at the Garden of Remembrance to the victims of residential institutional abuse -while ignoring entirely that an abuse may be being perpetrated on the same individuals, to this day. 

 It is all well and good for the Mr Quirke’s report and its insistence that everybody sign up to a healing and reconciliation process.  Upon reading the report its like an obsession within the document and looks as if its a fate accompli.  Whats important to register here is the vast majority of people that this report is written about and seeks to address, cannot read.  The report itself states that.  The report fails to get the consent of every single individual is more of an outreach document than a proclamation of just what happened to peoples rights.  Whats more astonishing is that the perpetrators of the abuse admit no wrong, but wish to be part of a healing and reconciliation process.  There is a huge sense of anterior motive here.  We know that the issues of the Bethany homes are still being denied.  The mother and baby homes are still being denied.  The voice from this whole sector and community seems to be fractured and at the mercy of certain individuals who are more driven by their own personality and self-serving than they are by a commitment to fully honoring those who continue to suffer as a result of the indifference of a cruel State and an even crueler religious congregation. 

The truth is that nobody really wants to deal with the complex issues of this community of individuals and just what happened to them.   Bullying, intimidation and wholesale abuse  dominated the institutions. The residue of that activity is still alive today only because as stated at the outset of this article, there is a level of tolerance and a blind eye being turned rather than a robust challenge to stop this.

Thousands upon thousands of pages have been written on this subject.  Decades of reports.  Newspaper articles and documentaries.  One thing is always present and at the core of this issue – the issue of abuse.  Abuse in all its horrendous forms.  Executed by and large by individuals and organizations that felt they were entitled to behave like this because nobody objected to them.  The latter of the law seemed not to extend itself in this area neither did human rights.  In a most recent article in the Sunday times (July 28th) by Justine Mc Carthy she writes about people falling through the cracks and the absolute power of the Church and the way they could shame people into submission.  The article relates to the refusal by the Irish Government to acknowledge and include the Bethany homes in the now well established culture of abuses perpetrated on individuals who were locked away in institutions within this State.  Included in this is the Mother and Baby homes and the banished children of Ireland.  Again this is all about regimes of terror and abuse en par with a Nazism or the most vehement zealots.  The article also describes that these regimes were on par with the Taliban – well we know that the Taliban have been confronted and we know that extremists are being confronted and we know that the Nazi’s and the despot dictators were confronted – when are we now going to confront the bullies that are still in existence today.  Its grand to use lofty quotes ie ‘our poets are silent’ ‘then they came for me and there was nobody left to speak for me’ we’re good at that here.  We don’t really do uncomfortable.  We don’t really do responsibility.  We’re masters at mock-shock and fake outrage.  We need to take a look in our own mirror and just see how complicit we are in the continuation of abuse and indifference to abuse in Ireland today.

We can’t simply ignore what’s happening.  This time.