Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Commemoration of Mamtrasna 1882 miscarriage!

“I will soon see Jesus Christ - he too was hanged unjustly”

Myles Joyce who was unjustly executed for his alleged part in the ‘Maamtrasna murders’ 130 years ago will be recalled at a commemorative event in Galway next month. He was convicted in connection with the slaughter of a family in a remote valley on the Galway-Mayo border in 1882 and was hanged and buried at the then Galway Gaol on the site where Galway Cathedral now stands.

Myles Joyce - from book
"Maamtrasna, the murders and the mystery.")
A native Irish speaker from the Gaeltacht Myles Joyce, who had no English, was defended in court in Dublin by a solicitor and barristers who spoke no Irish. The evidence he gave in Irish was ignored in court while evidence which might have helped his defence was withheld and informers gave false evidence against him. The judge and jury who convicted him had no Irish and the jury deliberated for less than six minutes to decide on his guilt before sentence of death was passed.

The commemorative event, details of which were announced to mark the 130th anniversary today of the ending of his trial and his sentencing to death in Dublin’s Green Street Court, is jointly organised by the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga, Galway City Museum and Conradh na Gaeilge.

The Galway event is prompted by a campaign in the British Houses of Parliament led by Lord Alton and Lord Avebury to persuade the authorities to review the case of Myles Joyce, to declare him the victim of a miscarriage of justice and to concede than he was falsely convicted and executed.

The commemoration on Saturday, 15th December next, the 130th anniversary of his hanging will include a mass in Irish in his memory in Galway Cathedral followed by the laying of wreaths on the spot where the gallows on which he was hanged stood and where his body lies buried under the tarmac in the cathedral car park. A symposium in Galway City Museum will hear contributions from historian Professor Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, Lord Alton from the British House of Lords - whose mother was a native Irish speaker from the Tuar Mhic Éadaigh Gaeltacht bordering Maamtrasna. There will also be a contribution from Johnny Joyce from Dublin, a descendant of the Joyce family whose murder in Maamtrasna led to the conviction of Myles Joyce. An exhibition, readings from historical material and an RTÉ film about the Maamtrasna murders will also feature. Further elements of the event are to be announced later.

Details of the programme for the day are available here as a pdf.

Burial place of Myles Joyce
An Coimisinéir Teanga, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, said that Myles Joyce’s case was one of most significant and distressing cases ever concerning the denial of language rights. “At a time when the public’s language rights are confirmed in law, we shouldn’t forget cases such as that of Myles Joyce which remind us of the difficulty of getting justice under the law in the past if you didn’t have English.” He recalled that Myles Joyce was quoted as saying as he was led to the gallows: “Feicfidh mé Íosa Críost ar ball – crochadh eisean san éagóir freisin” [“I will soon see Jesus Christ - he too was hanged unjustly”].

Breandán Ó hEaghra from Galway City Museum said that the museum was pleased to be involved in the commemorative event: “What happened to Myles Joyce is part of the history of the city, the county and the country. Like any museum, we have an important role to play in presenting that history to the current generation and conserving these memories for future generations.”

Peadar Mac Fhlannchadha from Conradh na Gaeilge said that it was difficult now to imagine the injustice suffered by Myles Joyce and others who spent years in prison as a result of the Maamtrasna murders. “This Gaeltacht case led to a furious debate which raged for many years in the Westminster Parliament and it was one of the reasons that William Gladstone’s Liberal Government fell in 1885 when the Irish MPs under Charles Stewart Parnell withdrew its support and sided with the opposition Tories under the leadership of Randolph Churchill” he said.

Of the eight who were convicted for the Maamtrasna murders, three were hanged but it is generally accepted that one of those, Myles Joyce, was innocent. Five others were sentenced to penal servitude for life and two of those died in prison. Four of those prisoners were also believed to be totally innocent. In 1902 the three surviving prisoners - two brothers and a nephew of Myles Joyce - were freed having spent 20 years in jail.

However, official state records portray them all as convicted murderers.

Further details of the commemoration will be announced in the coming weeks.
Mamtrasna District (Pic S Ó Mainín)

Monday, November 5, 2012

The President, the bureaucracy and the language!

" I find it shocking the ease with which authoritarianism emerges and the expressions of authoritarianism….." Michael D Higgins, President of Ireland

In a recent interview the President of Ireland made the following comments:

The President of Ireland
Dúbhghlás de hÍde 1938-1945
Michael D Higgins 2011-
"I think that one needs to address….institutional inadequacy. How is a legislative proposal initiated and where does it come from? How is it processed and is it processed with participation? How is it administered? I’ve seen advocacy groups work for 20 years on getting as far as a piece of legislation but then the implementation of the legislation is frustrated by a whole set of bureaucratic blocks.

"And there is a very serious bureaucratic problem in this country…a very serious problem of hierarchy. It’s very fine to ask public servants to be flexible but there is a hierarchical structure there. There are still many elements of patriarchy and what I think is extraordinary to me at this stage of my life looking back on it after nearly a half a century as a sociologist, I find it shocking the ease with which authoritarianism emerges and the expressions of authoritarianism…..I spoke about it recently to a very senior person, about where people are almost waiting for their authoritarian moment…(in the bureaucracy)

"Yes, oh yes. In many cases therefore it is sometimes quite difficult to be original, to be flexible, to be very human. It is nearly impossible to be vulnerable. Because the culture of never being caught with a mistake just completely stymies real development.

"When a country is recovering, and I think it is, from what it has been plunged into by a false model of a speculative economy, you find people are very flexible and innovative and creative. And also people value the warmth of relationships. I find that again in relation to groups I’ve visited, receptions I’ve had here....."

Language and bureaucracy!
A very good example, and there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of this, not to put too fine a point on it, obfuscation, is the management of Government policy on the Irish Language.

Take last Thursday's confirmation by the Government of Minister Brendan Howlin's decision in November 2011 to amalgamate the Office of Coimisinéir Teanga with that of the Ombudsman. This document (issued in English only at the time) excited strong and hostile comment and, as far as I can see, no favourable comment.

The press release from the Department that handles Gaeltacht affairs, (downgraded itself by this Government from a community department to a culture and arts department) purports to clarify the matter.

But does it?

This is what it says:

"An Coimisinéir Teanga (Irish Language Commissioner): The Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga is to be merged with the Office of the Ombudsman. A statutorily appointed Coimisinéir Teanga, based in the Gaeltacht, will continue to independently exercise existing powers under the Official Languages Act."

Later on it "clarifies" what this means in practice in a note for editors:

"An Coimisinéir Teanga (Irish Language Commissioner)
• The Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga is to merge with the Office of the Ombudsman.
• The statutory powers and functions of An Coimisinéir Teanga under the Official Languages Act 2003 will transfer to the Ombudsman and will be delegated to An Coimisinéir Teanga under the amending legislation.
• An Coimisinéir Teanga will continue to be statutorily appointed and exercise independent powers under the Official Languages Act 2003 and will also continue to be based in the Gaeltacht."

Hostile Policies
Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Governments have an unenviable reputation when it comes to the Irish Language and its recognition in state affairs.
The Cosgrave administration abolished the requirement for proficiency in the language among Civil Servants.

The current administration regards Gaeltacht Affairs as a matter of culture of Arts rather than as a matter of Community as the previous administration - however inneffective we might think it - did.
They abolished the requirement for the publishing of legislation bilingually.
They also abolished the direct democratic elections of Údarás na Gaeltacht.

They succeeded in breaking the cross party unanimity on the Gaeltacht and Language, after almost ninety years.
Other policies of this Government such as the closing down of rural schools and Garda Stations have had a disproportionate effect on the fabric of Gaeltacht Communities.

Most Irish Taoiseach?
The further delicious irony is that the current Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, uses more Irish in the Dáil than any Taoiseach on all aspects of policy (not only Irish or Gaeltacht matters) prompted by Gerry Adams, the leader of the junior opposition party!
Who was consulted!
Is this not a downgrading of the office of Coimisinéir Teanga? Or does it enhance the office as the Minister of State has mantained since.  Does it reflect the "comprehensive consultation" that the Minister of State's superior mantains has been engaged in since the Howlin Document was issued? It is interesting that nobody has come forward, not least the two offices involved, confirming that they were involved in this "comprehensive consultation!" Above all does it save money or the amount of bureaucracy (and therefore cost) involved in the work of this important, although perhaps fairly weak office.

A slight independance?
Let's look at the office itself.

It is an Office of State and the Coimisinéir is appointed directly by the President of Ireland of Ireland (as is the Ombudsman). This appointment is by the President on the advice of the government following a resolution passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas recommending the appointment.  (Dáil,Seanaid and Úactharán). The role and functions of the Coimisnéir Teanga, limited as they are, are clearly laid out on the Office internet site.

The new arrangement as outlined in the Department release appears to remove the direct connection with the President and the Oireachtas, and possibly the direct communication with the Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs. Instead the offices Coimisinéir will be delegated by the Ombusdman who will be the "de jure" Comisinéir Teanga. If he is delegated (and this is the word used in the release) of the Ombudsman then "ipso facto" we have an extra bureaucratic layer to the office.

The direct responsibility and access is gone and the extra works (and presumably expense) in becoming, in effect, a sub-office of the Ombudsman will further increase the work and the delay in the expedition of his reports and God alone knows how effective they would be in encouragement action.

The Presidency
The Coimisinéir will  "continue to be statutorily appointed" says this release. What does this mean? Will the President appoint the Comisinéir while the Ombudsman gives the office its powers? What is the sense, logic or indeed implications of this not only to the Office of Coimisinéir Teanga but to the Office of the President itself?  Indeed an unfortunate irony for an office first occupied by a man whose short paper "The necessity for de-anglicising the Irish nation!"  can justly be seen as what revivified the Irish people at the end of the nineteenth century and the ideals of which appear to be at best forgotten and at worst actively opposed by the administrative bureaucracy in Ireland!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Comprehensive consultation?

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has called on the Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs to clarify as to the future of the Language Commissioner. 

The Sinn Féin spokesperson on Irish language and Gaeltacht Affairs was responding to a statement issued by Minister Dinny McGinley TD yesterday, indicating the Government's intention to subsume An Coimisinéir Teanga into the Office of the Ombudsman. According to Senator Ó Clochartaigh, the statement has added to the uncertainty of the future of the role and that there is little benefit to the State apparent from the move. 

“It was clear from the start that the Department had not put adequate thought or consideration in to the proposal to merge the two offices. There has been no evidence put forward for any potential financial savings, nor much detail as to how such a merger would work practically." 
"In a statement by line Minister, Jimmy Deenihan, he also said that a comprehensive consultation into the matter had been undertaken. However, that didn't appear to have included possibly the two most important players - namely the Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly & the Language Commissioner, Seán Ó Cuirreáin. When I spoke to them both a little over two weeks ago they had not been consulted and I doubt a comprehensive consultation ensued with them since." 

"We are no wiser on this subject after the Minister’s statement on the matter yesterday. He should clarify whether the Coimisinéir Teanga will still be independent of the Ombudsman, or if the Ombudsman's Office will have have control over how the Coimisinéir Teanga fulfils his or her functions. Will he for example, still be able to investigate the Ombudsmans Office itself in relation to breaches of the Official Languages Act, as he has had to do in the past." 

"It is unclear also as to what this will mean for the remainder of the staff in the Office of the Coimisinéir Teanga. I understand from the statement that the staff will be merged with the Office of the Ombudsman. Does this mean that they will be based in Dublin - and if so, how will they be in a position to provide an effective service to the Coimisinéir Teanga?" 

"The bottom line is that this move does not make economic, or operational sense. The Minister of State and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform are trying to present this as part of a process of reform and improvement in Public Bodies, but this is a pretence. It is only optics on the part of an incompetent Government desperate to give the appearance of making savings. The result will be the undermining of the Official Languages Act and the crucial role that the Language Commissioner plays in its implementation." 

"The Minister should publish the outcomes of his consultation process and detail the savings he thinks he will make. I fear that they do not even understand the implications of the decision they are making, or the damage it will do to the rights of Irish language speakers in the future". 

Delegated independance?

Merging Oifig an Choimisineára Teanga with the Office of the Ombudsman is an “effort to deceive the public”.

“An effort to deceive the public” is how Director of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, Kevin De Barra, has described the statement by Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Dinny McGinley T.D., which outlines reform actions being progressed for An Coimisinéir Teanga.

In a statement issued by the Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht late this afternoon (31 Oct 2012), Minister of State McGinley declared:

“As a result of the Government decision today, a statutorily appointed Coimisinéir Teanga will continue to be based in the Gaeltacht and will continue to independently exercise existing powers under the Official Languages Act 2003”.

In November 2011, the Government agreed a Public Service Reform Plan, presented by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin T.D. Since then, Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge has expressed its concern in the strongest possible manner to Minister Howlin, to Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan T.D., to the Minister of State Dinny McGinley T.D., and to a Joint Oireachtas Committee.

According to today’s statement from the Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, following a period of assessment, consultation and review, the Government considered the progress made to date and agreed the following range of reform actions to be undertaken in relation to the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga:

Who's Responsible?
Emily O'Reilly
Seán Ó Cuirreáin
The Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga is to merge with the Office of the Ombudsman.
The statutory powers and functions of An Coimisinéir Teanga under the Official Languages Act 2003 will transfer to the Ombudsman and will be delegated to An Coimisinéir Teanga under the amending legislation.
An Coimisinéir Teanga will continue to be statutorily appointed and exercise independent powers under the Official Languages Act 2003 and will also continue to be based in the Gaeltacht.
Speaking on the reform actions outlined above, Director of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge has expressed disappointment that appropriate recognition of the importance of the independence of the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga in undertaking its functions under Part 4, Section 20-30, of The Official Languages Act 2003.

Kevin De Barra said: “The exact details are not clear yet as to how the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga and the Office of the Ombudsman are to merge, or how this would be managed from a resources point of view. It is difficult to understand why the statutory powers and functions of one office would be transferred to another office only to be delegated back to the original office”.

“The Bord Snip Nua Report declared that there would be no cost savings from merging the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga with any other state agency. If the Government are claiming that this new move will somehow save money, then I am afraid they are attempting to deceive the public”, said De Barra.

© A Pressrelease by Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge