Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Extend the Rule of Law to the Catholic Church

Some ten months ago, Head Down Eyes Open posted a blog about the dark shame of systematic abuse in modern day Ireland as perpetrated by the Catholic Church. This was based on an exhaustive investigation that culminated in the some 5000 page Ryan Commission Report. Despite much deflective actions by the accused, the issue of child rape will not disappear as conveniently as some might want. On the heels of more disturbing revelations that reach to the heights (or depths) of the Vatican, head down eyes-opener Sean Deeley posts a reasonable plea to investigate perpetrators of such serious abuse.

In April 2005, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became a candidate for the highest office in the Catholic Church, much was made of his past links to the Nazis, including his brief membership of the Hitler Youth and service in a Wehrmacht anti-aircraft unit protecting a factory whose workforce included slaves from Dachau concentration camp. His wartime service and his deeply conservative reign as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith – where he was criticized for “theological anti-Semitism” and a series of reactionary positions on women, AIDS and homosexuality – raised questions about the appropriateness of the Vatican’s role in modern society.

Indeed, the sight of the Roman Catholic Church locking the door of the Sistine Chapel on its 115 eligible Cardinals to elect a new Pope and spiritual leader for the world’s one billion Catholics evoked a sense of wonder about concepts such as transparency, equality, democracy and justice in the 21st Century.

8000 years of celibacy
One hundred and fifteen men – the vast majority between the ages of 70 and 80 years – with a collective experience of over 8,000 years of celibacy (or so we were led to believe), sitting down to pick one old man to provide global moral guidance in a world where women are disproportionately affected by the worst problems facing humanity. In Africa, where a growing number of people look to the Catholic Church for direction, it is women who bear most of the burden of extreme poverty, are more susceptible to infection with HIV/AIDS and now constitute a majority of the infected population; women who must care for the sick and the dying, walk further and carry more – whether it is water, or wood-fuel, or crops – as a result of climate change and environmental degradation; and women who suffer most because of lack of access to education, health services and protection.

Peddling lies about contraception
Membership of the Catholic Church is growing in Africa, where 15 percent of the total population – roughly 135 million people – have been born into or convinced to convert to Catholicism. In 2008, UNAIDS reported that Africa also remains the region most heavily affected by AIDS, accounting for 67 percent of all people living with HIV (22 million people) and for three quarters of all AIDS deaths in 2007. Almost 2 million Africans became infected with the disease in 2007. Globally, 35% of HIV infections and 38% of AIDS deaths in 2007 happened in Southern Africa where roughly one fifth of the population is Catholic. Lesotho – whose population is 70 percent Catholic – has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world at 23.2 percent. In Mozambique where one person in four is Catholic, the epidemic continues to grow—exceeding 20 percent in some central and southern zones of the country.

According to UNAIDS up to ten times more girls than boys aged between 15 and 19 are infected. Many older girls and young women are coerced into having sex with older men as a result of cultural and social pressures. Women are particularly vulnerable due to widespread cultural and social factors which limit their ability to negotiate safe sex, either by refusing sex or by insisting on the use of a condom. Their plight has been worsened by the Catholic Church’s position on the use of condoms to prevent HIV infection: condom use is condemned by the Vatican as part of the “intrinsic evil of contraception”. In 2003, the World Health Organization denounced statements by the Vatican telling people not to use condoms to prevent AIDS because they have tiny holes in them through which HIV can pass. WHO said: "These incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people, and currently affects at least 42 million."

In 2005, it was already clear that the “election” of another septuagenarian aficionado of the Billings Method offered little prospect of advance for the world’s most deprived women. In 1987 Ratzinger had responded to a proposal for education on the use of condoms in an AIDS-prevention campaign calling it “the facilitation of evil". In 2008, 60 Catholic groups wrote an open letter urging him to reverse the Vatican's opposition to contraception which they said "exposes millions of people to the risk of contracting the AIDS virus". His response, during his first papal visit to Africa in 2009, was to claim that the use of condoms to prevent HIV infection actually aggravates the problem, sparking outrage among health agencies trying to stem the spread of the disease.

Protecting child abusers
A widening child sex-abuse scandal in Europe now looks likely to raise further questions about Ratzinger’s suitability to act as a moral beacon for the 1 billion Catholics around the world. In recent weeks, he has been implicated in the Church’s failure to protect children who were being subjected to unspeakable horrors at the hands of Catholic priests who were supposed to protect and care for them. As Archbishop of the Diocese of Munich and Freising in 1980, Ratzinger reviewed the case of Father Peter Hullermann, accused of sexually abusing boys, including forcing an 11-year-old to perform oral sex. Ratzinger approved a proposal to transfer Hullerman to Munich, allowing him to return to full pastoral duties shortly afterward – and to find new child victims. The pope is also accused of intervening to prevent the dismissal of Reverend Lawrence Murphy who is reported to have sexually abused 200 particularly vulnerable young boys at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin where he was responsible for their care.

References in a New York Times report to correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin to Ratzinger warning that failure to take action against Murphy could undermine the moral authority of the Church are chillingly reminiscent of correspondence to Pope Pius XII during the Second World War imploring him to speak out against the killing of millions of Jews during the Holocaust. In September 1942, Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, warned Pius that Jews were being massacred in frightening proportions and forms. When Myron Taylor, U.S. representative to the Vatican, subsequently warned the Pope that his silence was endangering his moral standing, he was told that it was impossible to verify rumors about crimes committed against the Jews. Yet Pius was already well aware of what was happening: in 1942 Cardinal Theodor Innitzer of Vienna told Pius about Jewish deportations, and a year later the pope’s Slovakian Chargé d'Affaires reported to Rome that Slovakian Jews were being systematically deported and sent to death camps.

As head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith between 1981 and 2005 Ratzinger was also well aware of what was happening to tens of thousands of young children who were being sexually abused by Catholic clergy. He was responsible for Vatican investigations into sex abuse between 2001 and 2005. Observers are asking how many of these abuse cases were reported to civil and criminal authorities? And where is the line between the Vatican’s insistence on secrecy and passive collusion in these cases – between cover-up and complicity?

Corrupt Culture of Cover Up
This is the question which Cardinal Seán Brady - head of the Catholic Church in Ireland - is also facing, amid increasing calls for a police investigation to determine whether he committed a criminal offense in 1975 when he failed to report sexual abuse by the notorious pedophile Reverend Brendan Smyth. Instead of informing police about the crimes, Brady and other clergy responsible for the enquiry covered up Smyth’s crimes, forcing a 10-year-old and a 14-year-old who had testified against Smyth at a Church enquiry to sign secrecy oaths. Smyth later admitted to molesting and raping about 100 children in Ireland and the United States and was convicted and jailed. Many of these offenses were committed after the abuse enquiry that Brady was involved in.

Brady admits now that he should have done more, but says he had been following orders from his superiors at the time. He may be satisfied that this line of defense relieves him of any responsibility to Smyth’s victims, but it didn’t work at the Nuremberg Trial of the Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust, and it remains to be seen whether or not it would wash with a jury of his peers.

Similar questions are also being asked about the role of the Vatican in suppressing information about pedophile priests and clergy in different countries. Were these decisions to cover up sex abuse taken in consultation with – or under the direction of – the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, or the pope himself? Concern is rising over reports that only a small proportion of cases are ever given full church trials and that even fewer result in priests being defrocked. The same questions about transparency, democracy, equality and justice that marked Ratzinger’s election to the papal office continue to raise doubts about the appropriateness of the Vatican’s place in modern society.

Systematic Suppression of Truth
But while it is difficult to reconcile the Church’s claims about compassion and love with its institutionalized protection of its pedophile personnel and its suppression of the truth, it is incomprehensible that the people who facilitated this evil can be allowed to remain in positions of authority and responsibility within the Church. Surely the criminal justice authorities in modern, democratic countries cannot be satisfied that the Church has been made subject to the law while the individuals who suppressed evidence, swore victims and witnesses to silence, and facilitated the repetition of their crimes remain in office? Unless these officials are investigated and held legally accountable for their actions, the Rule of Law cannot be said to hold sway over the Catholic Church and there will be clergy who feel that they can continue to rape and abuse children with impunity, and officials who will continue to cover up their crimes.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Access to Water should not be a question of where you are born

World Water Day 2010

In our world today, more than one billion people do not have access to clean water. Over two billion people do not have adequate sanitation facilities. Some four million people die each year from diseases associated with the lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. 4,000 children under five years old die every day from those same associated diseases. Added to this, in times of disaster and crises, the urgency to meet basic water and sanitation needs saves lives, reduces diseases and restores dignity. Water means life for our planet.

Access to clean water is a right and not about where you are born. The little girl's name is Widline (photographed). She is one of the thousands of Haitian children affected by the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince in January. Next to the camp which is now her home, Widline often comes to the water distribution centre set up by Red Cross volunteers. It is currently the only access she and her family have to clean water, a vital element that helps keep them safe from disease and from the risk of deadly epidemics. In this sense, seen from the outside and compared to others children in Haiti, Widline could almost be considered ‘lucky’.

However, the truth is that Widline is certainly unlucky. Not just because her home was destroyed by the earthquake but, even more importantly, because she was born in one of the world’s poorest countries. In Haiti, mother and child mortality is high and diseases are often endemic, further fuelled by poor access to health services, housing, inadequate water and sanitation as well as urban and political violence. This reality faced by millions of Haitians certainly did nothing to prepare them to face such a devastating disaster.

Bringing emergency help is obviously essential. However, even though we do not know when exactly Haiti will be hit again by an earthquake, we are all aware that this is a disaster-prone country, affected by powerful cyclones almost on an annual basis. So why don’t we use the current tragedy to shift from a purely disaster response approach to a vision that also includes building up the resilience of communities? We must help people to be better prepared for the next crisis as first responders (and not mere ‘victims’) bringing solutions to their own recovery?

Making sure Haitians and people living in other disaster-prone countries have a well-equipped and maintained water and sanitation system will make it easier to quickly restore basic services when another disaster strikes. Access to clean water will also reduce the spread of diseases and epidemics.

Linking water and sanitation activities and programmes more concretely with other health activities such as emergency health, preparedness, and community-based health activities will maximise the effect of both. A more holistic approach that makes water available, improves sanitation, focuses on access to health services, and informs communities on how they can help themselves is the direction to take.

As we mark World Water Day today, lets help little Widline and her family – and the countless thousands like them - to believe in their future, by making Haiti a healthier and better place to live. After all, access to clean water, sanitation and health education should not just be “all about luck” depending on the place you were born. It is a human right that should be given to each and every one, rich and poor. 

To mark World Water Day 2010 we also produced a short video slideshow of what we are doing to ensure access to water is a right and not a matter of luck.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patricks Day Caribbean style

I remember when I was about ten years of age watching a great film on Irish TV called "the Black Irish". It documented the quite extraordinary history and adventures of the inhabitants of Montserrat, a beautiful island in the middle of the Caribbean. Montserrat is popularly known by locals and visitors alike as the “Emerald Isle of the Caribbean”, not just because of its lush green landscape, but also because of its unique Irish connections and roots which date back centuries.

Montserrat is officially the only country in the world outside Ireland where St Patrick’s Day is a national public holiday. On March 17th, celebrations are staged across the island, consisting of special events, concerts and performances. The festivities now spread over a week, taking on a distinctly Caribbean flavour with blends of calypso, reggae and iron band music blended in with jigs, reels and ballads. During the week, the old custom of wearing green still remains.

Montserrat was originally inhabited by Arawak and Carib Indians. The first European settlers in 1632 were Irish Catholic 'laborers' (some would say forced laborers) brought over from the Protestant island of St Kitts. Whilst Catholics were mostly unwelcome in other British colonies, the religion was tolerated on Montserrat and the island became a refuge for persecuted Irish Catholics. In addition, Cromwell sent indentured laborers and political prisoners to Montserrat following his victory at Drogheda in 1649. By 1678, a census showed that more than half the people on the island were first generation Irish, with the remainder a combination Caribs and Africans (shipped in from West Africa by slave traders). It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the Irish had the strongest influence on the developing culture of Montserrat, which is still apparent today.

The only other time I remember Monserrat on the TV was for more tragic reasons. The last years of the 20th century brought two events which devastated the island. In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo, a violent category five hurricane struck Montserrat with full force, damaging over 90 percent of the structures on the island. The island soon recovered —only to be struck again by disaster.
In July 1995, Montserrat's Soufriere Hills volcano, dormant throughout recorded history, rumbled to life and began an eruption which eventually buried the island's capital, Plymouth, in more than 12 metres (39 ft) of mud, destroyed its airport and docking facilities, and rendered the southern half of the island uninhabitable. Following the destruction of Plymouth, more than half of the population left the island due to the economic disruption and lack of housing. Few of them ever returned. After a period of regular eruptive events during the late 1990s including one on June 25, 1997, in which 19 people lost their lives, the volcano's activity in recent years has been confined mostly to infrequent ventings of ash into the uninhabited areas in the south.
The people of Montserrat were granted full residency rights in the United Kingdom in 1998, and citizenship was granted in 2002 after a mere 370 years wait! Although more than thirty years ago I still remember that documentary program on our black and white TV set. A local man who had never left the island sang a song in Gaelic Irish which had been handed down to him orally through the generations. Erin go bragh was the song I think, Beautiful Erin. So, lets raise a glass to our Monserratian cousins as they celebrate St. Patricks Day with the rest of us. And remember, if you’d ever love to be some place warm n’ sunny to celebrate Ireland’s Saint’s Day, there is no better place than Montserrat.

reposted from this day last year due to popular demand ;o)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A particularly French emotion

Some time ago in HDEO I wrote about “La Honte”, which I thought meant simply “shame”, or “embarrassment”. I used it in a pub in front of a crowd of French football fans when Thierry Henry deliberately handled the ball to allow his team to score and grubbily shatter any dreams Ireland had of playing in the world cup finals. It’s also been on my mind today with the “shame” of the alleged affairs of Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, and the equal shame pertaining to the alleged hoaxers. (The Henry affair also inspired, during those haunted days, another HDEO post which reflected on more gallant times when the French fought for Ireland).

I’ve been thinking and reading about the word, and it means a lot more than I thought. It has an incredible range of meanings, with positive and negative aspects, and tells us much about the French as a race, their complex inner turmoils, their often destructive passion, their schizophrenia (think Vichy vs Resistance), their cowardliness and bravery, and their enigmatic, sometimes confounding souls.

I find it thrilling that a nation could come up with such a word, five short letters, to describe such a smorgasbord of tantalising emotional trends.

The true meaning of honte is hidden in layers of nuance. It seems to be most often used, or distinguished by its secret, social, narcissistic dimension, in both spiritual and physical terms. It is not blame, although it has aspects of that, nor is it fear, although it can appear in social phobias.

It’s simple on one hand: rage, fright, sadness, but also deeply complex and disturbing: impotency, withheld rage, despair, and emptiness. It’s older than blame, in that it’s less verbal and more sensory. It’s emotional; disinterest, malaise, fear, but its Janus face is exuberance and aggressiveness. And it’s physical: head lowered (or raised), eyes lowered, red flushes. It’s cognitive (illustrated by aggressive or demeaning internal dialogue) and manifested by swings between inhibition and exhibitionism, paralysis or wild ambition.

Some synonyms (translated from the French, so missing some nuance perhaps) show the extent of this superb word’s ambit, and apply so well to what must have gone through Henry’s mind when he was, knowingly, screwing the Irishmen for his own personal gain, dragging his (many noble) team-mates into the midden with him. It also reflects what his countrymen felt about him afterwards, the inability to rejoice, as loathsome cheating and disregard for fair play brought progress to his agenda, rather than the valour, the romance that the French are oft famed for.

Here we go: humiliation, dishonour, ignominy, infamy, turpitude, affront, snub, withering, abjection, callow self-reproach, fuss, bother, blame, repentance, shame, modesty, scruple…

On the plus side, la honte regulates social relations. It lays out limits. It exists in other cultures too, northern races use la honte to teach children not to cross icefields. The anthropologist Ruth Benedict says that cultures can even be classified in how they use la honte to regulate members of society. Asian countries use la hontewhile modern European and American cultures are more cultures of blame. In ancient Greece and Japan “being caught” was more significant than what people thought of you.

When used as a restraining or inhibiting factor la honte is positive. It gives us limits without altering our personality. It prevents us from being the victim or from being either rescuer or persecutor.

La honte can save victims of humiliation and violence from descending in their turn into barbarity and chaos. Many victims of savagery have told how they managed to live the great principle of humanity thanks to their knowledge of the power of honte which kept them from succumbing to their animal instinct. La honte prevents – or should prevent - you from doing violence once you have tasted the pain of violence.

Too much honte is a bad thing. It leads to introspection, solitude, in short, a lack of trust leading to lack of friends. The opposing blades of bad honte are secret-keeping, mockery, contempt, social regression, obsessive rivalry, lying or, on the other side pride, ambition, desire. This sort of honte can destabilise and weaken a human being. It ploughs a deeper and deeper furrow into the soul, spiralling the subject ever downward to the bottom of the pit (broken ego, loss of worth, inability to love oneself, submission) or on the contrary towards dizzying heights (excessive narcissism, egomania, desire to dominate, kneejerk self-defence).

Honte doesn’t come from “doing a bad thing”. It’s far deeper, it comes from doing something unworthy, shameful. Once it forms, and becomes encysted in the personality la honte burrows into the ego, or overwhelms it with instinctive and paranoid self-defensiveness.

In David Lynch’s early film, the Elephant Man does nothing wrong but suffers from la honte. He lives hidden, humiliated, and famously cries “I am not a monster, I am a human being.” La honte makes the subject feel he has “something wrong”, like when Gainsborg sings “je suis l’homme a tete  de choux" (I am a man with the head of a cabbage). La honte can lead to low self-esteem, even self-hatred.

La honte has a purely physical dimension too, manifested in the flesh and personal hygiene. Being French (!), la honte is often associated with the sexual identity of the self in the bodyLa honte changes the bodily image and anchors it in the false sentiment of being dirty, ugly, monstrous, deformed.

La honte, when taken to extremes (hidden or over-exposed) signifies a deep narcissistic wound. It shrouds the body like a pimple that reddens, empties itself and sets, swelling in self-defence.

La honte is often associated with other troubles: alcoholism, addictions, depression, social phobias. Persistent honte can lead to depression and even suicide. Excessive honte sucks out the energy, replacing it with a strong sense of despair.  In such a case, the subject is urgently recommended to retreat form society and receive professional help.

The psychologist Michele Larivey says: “you don’t ever experience honte only by, or via, yourself. It’s always lived in front of others and subject to their judgement. It comes from the humiliation fed out by others and the negative judgement you carry yourself. Even if we think we cannot make la honte, we can identify the feeling, and this verification is difficult to accept. Finally, it shows us the importance, or otherwise, in our lives of people who we know see us living this shame.”

Honte spreads easily, communicated by a superiority/inferiority vertical logic. It falls on us from contact with others, and leaves us through others.

La honte shows us our true value and our place as humans in the human family. It’s about dignity, identity, and relative justice for all of us in our common humanity.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Gaza: Struggling to Stand Upright

A half-finished two-story building in central Gaza City is one of the few places providing support to amputees, most of them civilian victims of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, as they try and come to terms with their injuries.

Ten patients are waiting to see Dr Hazem al-Shawwa, the director of the Artificial Limb and Polio Centre. Mostly young, they had been caught in the violence of Israel’s 23-day assault on Gaza at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009, and were still learning to use their new prosthetic limbs. 
Photo: Ghassan Matter, 15, points at holes which the Israeli missiles that hit him on 5 January 2009 made. He lost his legs in the incident and uses artificial limbs now

“We have 250 new amputees following the Israeli war to add to the 5,000 cases we had before the war,” said al-Shawwa. “Some of the injured from the Gaza war are still having problems with their amputated limbs as they were not treated properly at the time due to the hectic situation; initial treatments focused on saving lives.”

A new upper floor extension to the centre is under construction, reflecting the demand for its services, but a lack of funds has delayed work.

In the centre’s ground-floor training room, 15-year-old Jamila al-Habbash took a firm grip on the parallel bars and shuffled forward. She lost both her legs in a missile strike by an unmanned Israeli drone as she played on the roof of her home in eastern Gaza city: her sister and cousin were killed in the blast.

Mohamed Ziada, one of five specialists at the centre, said Jamila was making good progress since her artificial legs were fitted in December, and may soon not need her crutches. He pointed out that treating teenagers was expensive as they quickly outgrow their prosthetics and need numerous re-fittings. 
“Worse than a nightmare” 

Fifteen-year-old Ghassan Mattar also lost his legs when an Israeli missile hit his home in eastern Gaza City on 5 January 2009, an
incident documented by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR). “I still can’t believe I’ve lost my legs. It’s worse than a nightmare”.

The only rehabilitation hospital with the capacity to treat amputee patients effectively is the al-Wafaa Rehabilitation Centre in northern Gaza. Ghassan should have been sent there directly but the hospital was hit by artillery fire during Israel’s Gaza incursion, and its wards were evacuated, according to PCHR.
Imports interrupted 

The problem facing the centre is that a blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel since June 2007 has interrupted imports of both prosthetic limbs - mainly from Germany - and the raw materials with which to make them. 
“We use hundreds of different parts, plastics and materials to make prosthetic arms and legs. Without even just one of the materials, the limb cannot be made,” says Ziada.

It takes about 30 hours to manufacture a limb when all the parts are available. “The
Red Cross helps the centre to mediate between us and the Israelis to let materials cross, which takes about three months,” Ziada added.

Prosthetics specialists from other countries who have tried to come and train Gazan doctors have been denied entry into Gaza, according to Ziada. “We need at least another five specialists because of the large number of amputees from the Gaza war.”

Israel says the aim of its incursion (27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009) was to destroy the military infrastructure of Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, and to prevent the firing of rockets into Israel. According to the PCHR more than 5’300 Palestinians were injured in the conflict.

Photo: Jamila al-Habbash, 15, lost both her legs in a missile strike by an unmanned Israeli drone as she played on the roof of her home in eastern Gaza. She receives training to wear her artificial legs. 

Originally published with our friends at IRIN.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Please Let Me Vote

Last night in Geneva I had the pleasure to be invited by (recently ensconced) Ambassador Gerry Corr to a reception at his modest lakeside apartment on the occasion of Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin being in town. About 30 or so Irish people from international affairs - mainly Red Cross, UN and civil society folk - made up the numbers. This was my first time to see such a group assembled in Geneva (the self-declared humanitarian capital of the world) so fair play to the Ambassador for the initiative.

Minister Martin spoke passionately and, I would say, sincerely about the importance for Ireland to have its citizens working in international affairs. “We need to value more the international perspective and experience that you can bring to Ireland” he told the assembled guests. "We need to connect more and find more means and fora to bring the ‘international Irish’ closer to the national scene."

Great stuff. I am all for it and would contribute in any way I could but I can’t help thinking to myself: if we are so important why can’t we vote? This is something that really frustrates me. As a child of the hungry eighties I remember well the self-defeating advice of Minister Brian Lenihan Snr. for us to get out of the country because "after all, we can't all live on a small island."

The sentiments expressed so well last year by Brendan Landers in the Irish Times resonated deeply with me and with most people I know who are in similar circumstances:

“Most of us who left Ireland during the 1980s ... went away not because we had itchy feet, had found our Eldorado or fallen in love with an exotic foreigner, but because Ireland had nothing to offer us.

No jobs, no opportunities, no scope to follow our dreams or aspire to even a modicum of success in life. The Irish economy was broken and it would take a miracle to fix it.
Along with the dismal state of the nation's finances, there was a sense that whatever wealth existed was hoarded greedily by a coterie of well-connected professionals, wide boys and golden circles. The land of our birth offered us nothing but tacit encouragement to leave.”

The point being that by leaving Ireland we did not willingly give up our voting rights. After almost 20 years abroad I have hungrily kept abreast of Irish current affairs (big thanks to the Irish Emigrant online newsletter being published since 1994 by fellow Galwegian Liam Ferrie) and I desperately want to use the hard-won democratic right to vote.

And I can’t resist wondering what type of country or what form of political culture or system might have evolved if the eligible voting diaspora were allowed to participate and exercise thier vote.

By way of comparison, a 2006 study by Global Irish of countries that allow their emigrants to vote included: 21 African nations; 13 North and South American countries; 15 Asian countries; 6 Pacific countries; and 36 European countries.

I know the Irish diaspora is reputed to contain as many as 80 million people and I am not advocating for a population more than ten times that of the island of Ireland to start voting. What is needed is fair but restrictive criteria such as: leaving cert graduate; Irish university degree holder (achieved at the end of an Irish primary and secondary education); born and resident in Ireland till the age of 16; certified apprentice; or similar i.e. citizens who know what it is to be part of modern day Ireland and who have emigrated for work and opportunities that were not possible at home (and yes, it is still home).

And, to fully underscore the earnestness of this very fair (in my opinion) demand I would also propose that Irish diaspora wishing to vote (and meeting the established criteria) should also make an agreed annual contribution to the Inland Revenue. Now, isn’t that a potentially good income generator for our beleagured economy? 

Am particularly keen to hear what my compatriots living in Ireland think of giving the vote to the recent diaspora. Should I and my wife not have a say in the Ireland that I want my children to return to? What of all those young, bright souls forced to leave Ireland today for instance – should they never vote again? Is that fair? Is that good for Ireland? 


Monday, March 1, 2010

Haiti: When it rains it pours

It’s been an extraordinary few weeks in the world's latest disaster zones. A little more than a month after the devastion that befell Haiti the Americas suffered another major earthquake – one of the strongest ever recorded – in Chile that unleashed tsunamis and so far has claimed more than 720 lives. 

Then, in Western Europe, Storm Xyntia claimed some 60 lives in with waves as high as eight meters battering the coasts of Portugal, Spain and France. The west coast of France was hit by winds up to 150 km/h killing at least 48 people. Charente-maritime and Vendée experienced very serious flooding and damage and at least 25 people died in Vendée after a sea wall collapsed in causing massive flooding. Search and rescue operations were still under way at the time of writing with casualties numbers expected to rise. 

Meanwhile back in Haiti, early rains trigger deadly floods, further testing the endurance of a nation reeling from one of the worst disasters of modern times. Occasional contributor to HDEO, Alex Wynter, is on the ground and posted this report today.

Deadly floods saturate Haiti’s south west

It came a month before the official start of the season, but the intense rain that swept through the western end of the southern Haitian promontory over the weekend left parts of the city of Les Cayes under a metre and a half of water and reportedly claimed eight lives. 

Photo: Jean Renand Valiere/UNDP: Intense rain swept through the western end of the southern Haitian promontory over the weekend, leaving parts of the city of Les Cayes (pictured) under a metre and a half of water and reportedly claimed eight lives.

“Yesterday it rained all day long and only stopped early this morning,” said Jean-Yves Placide, regional head of the Haitian Red Cross branch in Les Cayes, 160 km west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. 

“The poor state of the sewers caused flooding in every quarter of the city,” he added “and in some places the waters rose to ceiling level in people’s houses.”


Red Cross branch staff are now working with local authorities to assess the full extent of the damage. Local news reports said people had to climb on to roofs to escape the water cascading through the streets of the town, which is one of Haiti’s most important ports for the coffee and sugar trade. Some houses are said to have collapsed, and patients at Les Cayes hospital had to be moved to safety on upper floors.

Placide says the branch was trying to confirm reports two people had died in Cavaillon, 19 km from Les Cayes. Cavaillon and Les Cayes were also affected by the 12 January quake, if less seriously than Port-au-Prince and other towns to the east.


But like many towns and cities across Haiti, the 70’000 population of Les Cayes has been swollen by refugees from the quake zone, who are staying with friends and relatives or camping in people’s yards and on open spaces.

“There are many people living in the streets who could not sleep last night,” Placide says. “The situation will be really worrying if it continues to rain. The sun is out now, but the storm clouds come and go.”

The flooding in Les Cayes has given renewed urgency to the effort to protect hundreds of thousands of acutely vulnerable people in the more than 300 improvised settlements that sprang up after the earthquake.

The latest figures show that nearly 40 per cent of an estimated total of 1.3m people have now received various shelter materials such as tarpaulins, tents and toolkits.

Hurricane season

But with less than a month to go before the 1st of April start to the rainy season, humanitarian shelter in Haiti is a battle against time.

Neither tents nor tarpaulins are expected to provide much more than minimal protection from the Haitian rainy season, which peaks in May when Port-au-Prince gets an average 230 mm of rain, and sometimes as much as 50 mm in two hours.

“In addition to our earthquake response, we’re taking action to scale up preparations for the hurricane season, which starts around the middle of the year,” says Iain Logan, head of Red Cross operations in Port-au-Prince.

Disaster preparedness

“The early floods in Les Cayes are a sharp reminder that the very significant disaster preparedness effort we started after the 2008 hurricanes will have to be expanded and adapted. We face an almost unique set of circumstances generated by a catastrophic quake, a rainy season, and a hurricane season, one after the other in rapid succession.”

Les Cayes was Sunday cut off by road and – due to lingering bad weather – by air. But a Red Cross team was hoping to get through by air today.

/PC Originally posted on www.ifrc.org