Helluva commotion going on in Donegal over lovable little oysters

Oysters, those soft, jelly-like little creatures that are (to some people) delicious to eat and ingeniously produce glittering pearls, are causing some bother in Ireland, especially in Donegal – or at least the greedy corporations hunting them for profit are.

And it seems the partnership government of Fine Gael-Fianna Fail and its back-up civil service are doing their utmost to prevent concerned local communities from doing anything about it.

Sitting at a public meeting this week at Falcarragh Community Centre focusing on these issues, these were the thoughts that passed through my mind as I listened to speaker after speaker give their views on controversial shellfish farming practices at Ballyness Bay near the town of Falcarragh on the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ in the Donegal Gaeltacht they consider are polluting and defacing the lovely, pristine scenery.

John Conaghan, spokesperson for the ‘Save Ballyness Bay’ committee, said four jobs would be created through aquaculture while more than 250 would be created via tourism, therefore “we should be protecting our area environmentally.” He also complained his committee had been denied inaccessibility to certain details, sometimes entire documents, pertaining to official comments made by both Donegal County Council and Údarás na Gaeltachta.

“An official comment from Donegal County Council stated that there would be no visual impact, but the document was simply signed by a clerk,” he said. “I’ve spoken to many councillors and nobody seems to know who authorized the comments. No visual impact? Maybe, lads, you should go to Specsavers.”

Politician after politician, both local and national, including TDs, Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty and Fianna Fail’s Pat the Cope Gallagher, told around 200 concerned people that they were unable to access key information relevant to the situation.

John Shéamais Ó Fearraigh Sinn Fein local councillor and Údarás na Gaeltachta board member said he would try with whatever powers he had to obtain the information required from the council and the Irish language organization. “I will do whatever I can to help,” he said.

Fine Gael local councillor, Michael McClafferty, said he had submitted questions to the local council but had not received any answers. “It looks as if we are being thrown under the bus,” he added.

The proposed shellfish scheme could cover more than 46 hectares of sea coast in the scenic Gaeltacht region, with bags on steel trestles containing millions of oysters, with sediment accumulation beneath them and large-scale congregation of dead shells, committee members said. Licenses for 20 hectares of oyster beds have already been granted, with one site alone being over 10 hectares.

Committee member, Caitlin Ni Bhroin, said “no cost-benefit analysis has been produced for us to see” and licenses have been granted on “unsound scientific criteria, including the idea that oysters are healthy water filters, but they actually emit waste.”

Conaghan said there were many contradictions in the government’s approach. “While it granted licenses for shellfish farming, Ballyness Bay is not designated a shellfish area, but it is a special area of conservation.” He said Inland Fisheries Ireland declared the bay a valuable fishing asset.

“We are against all oyster harvesting in Ballyness Bay, such activity will damage eco-tourism, which could bring much-needed jobs,” he said. “Gaps, mistakes and assumptions sums up the government’s approach. If community concerns had been addressed properly, we’d not be standing here talking.”

He said the ‘Save Ballyness Bay’ committee was being assisted by Belfast-based Pat Finucane Centre.

Commending the committee on its efforts, Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty stated clearly, “My firm belief is that this scheme is anti-community and the application process is not fit for purpose, they are not being given properly and there is a lack of clarity.” He said three years ago he had sent a letter to the relevant ministry and department questioning the decision process, adding “construction cannot begin until all appeals have been heard, which could take several years.”

Being a long time, staunch member of Fianna Fail, part the ‘partnership government,’ Pat the Cope Gallagher, was obviously in a bit of a conundrum. While he offered to find out more information and report back to committee members, he went into a bit of a tantrum when I asked him to say ‘yes or no’ whether he agreed with the ‘Save Ballyness Bay’ committee’s views.

Now, credit being given, Pat is a wily politician, that comes with being forty years and more in politics. Maybe I spoke harshly when I said that his spiel was (to quote myself) “pure politics, filled with generalities and trivialities.” That he took offence was his right. That he tossed the microphone down (as someone said, “like a baby throwing out its dummy-tit”) is also his democratic right.

But he still didn’t answer my question.

Instead, he said previous situations had occurred near his home in Dungloe similar to the one at Ballyness but he “didn’t get involved in them,” but said he did pass on letters he had received from local people to the relevant minister.

At the meeting, two members of Aontú pledged their support, with one young member saying as the shellfish farms were adding to the carbon footprint, people had a right to know more.

Local resident, Mary Attenborough, said while a proper environmental impact study was required, so-called experts were all vetted by the government, and that bias might occur in their reporting.

Committee members were still unsure if licenses already granted were strictly non-transferrable.

One challenge facing the committee is the expense involved in appealing licenses. Each one must be appealed separately at a cost of 200 euro each, with a time limit for appeals being four weeks from date of the government’s decision on December 4.

Columbia Hillen, my wife who is from Romania but concerned about the environment, stood up and asked if those local people who had applied for licenses would show support for the local committee by refusing to accept them even if they were granted. None of those applicants in the hall – and there were some present – said anything. One of the applicants, Seamus O’ Donnell who owns Cluain Na d’Tor (Seaside Nursery Garden) in Falcarragh had gone as far as saying he is “having second thoughts” about his application for over 4.4 hectares of aquaculture if granted. But has he withdrawn his application?

For full information on all applications see HERE.

One speaker said Ballyness Bay was one of the best surfing areas, comparable to Hawaii and western Australia, creating strong tourism income. “Let’s try to keep it that way by not spoiling the scenery.”

Another speaker summed up feelings of many people present, “Governments that treat people with disdain, usually get their comeuppance.”

Sean Hillen is co-founder of Gaoth Dobhair based ‘Ireland Writing Retreat and author of the contemporary novel, ‘Pretty Ugly,’  linking Donegal and the United States.

Traditional Irish group Arcanadh woos and wins hearts of audience

Traditional Irish group Arcanadh woos and wins hearts of audience

Another cultural entertainment success for Amharclann

What a terrific cultural contribution this historic theatre provides not just for Bunbeg, not just for the Gaeltacht, not just for Donegal but for all-Ireland, north and south.

world itineraries

by Sean Hillen

Six musicians-singers-songwriters with such a wealth of talent it seems blatantly unfair to the rest of us mere mortals – that sums up Irish-group, Arcanadh, which played to an enthusiastic audience at historic Amharclann theater, Bunbeg, northwest Donegal, Ireland this week.

Here I must admit my bias.

In a rare moment of wisdom, I invited this terrific group to tour Romania when I launched the first-ever Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations in that former-Communist country. It was a decision I’ve never regretted.

The result more than 10 years ago was the same as that at Amharclann 72-hours ago – a boisterous appeal for more at the end and an appreciative standing ovation after their final encore.

Members of Arcanadh have known each other for more than twenty years and this is reflected in their smooth light-hearted banter off-song and their seamless harmonies on-song. Their passion for their…

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Sinn Fein Ard Fheis features multi-faceted personalities

It’s interesting, the people – some expected, some unexpected – one meets at a political Ard Fheis – in this case, Sinn Féin’s in Dublin’s ultra-modern glass and steel, Liffey-fronting Convention Centre recently.

The former included loyal, hardworking party stalwarts – both at local and national level. People like Donegal Councillor and youth worker, John Sheamais Ó’Fearraigh, from the Gaeltacht hamlet of Bun na Leaca, Gaoth Dobhair, who voiced his concerned “about the closure of rural post offices and banks and lack of broadband coverage and tourism development, as well how European legislation on planning and wild life is preventing rural development – all leading to the export of our youth and loss of our Teanga Dúchas.”

John Sheamais Ó'Fearraigh, Sinn Fein Donegal

(l to r) Donegal Councillor, John Sheamais Ó’Fearraigh, discusses issues with Pearse Doherty TD, outside Dublin Convention Centre at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis.

And Inishowen Councillor Albert Doherty from Carndonagh who spoke passionately to the 2,500 party members about “unfortunate Donegal residents who are having to watch their homes disintegrate before their very eyes” because of Muscovite mica, a mineral that weakens concrete. He called for the government’s much-delayed experts report to be concluded by August 31.

Then there’s Pearse Doherty, TD. Though only six years since his victorious High Court case against Fianna Fail for delaying the Donegal South-West by-election, Doherty has risen in the party ranks astronomically since, culminating in national kudos recently when he found a gaping two billion euro hole in Fine Gael’s ‘fiscal space,’ (the amount of money available to the government above what is already being spent on public services). His value to Sinn Fein was more than obvious last weekend when I entered the so-called ‘green room’ to find him engaged in whispered conversation with party president Gerry Adams and vice-president Mary Lou McDonald. Even though a photograph was required of him for this article, a subliminal ‘not-to-be-disturbed’ sign hung clearly in the air.

Easter Rising Celebrations Dublin,

Celebrating women’s role in the 1916 Rising. Over 300 women participated, some of whom were sentenced to death, later commuted.

All three Donegal politicians supported calls made by delegates under the party banner “Saoirse Ceart Aontacht’ for the rejuvenation of rural Ireland, on behalf of people the official Ard Fheis programme declared, “are tired of being treated as second-class citizens, fed up with under-investment and angry at the lack of jobs and opportunities.” Among the motions to strengthen rural areas under the document, ‘A New Deal for the West,’ were “the introduction of rural equality legislation; a spatial enterprise and infrastructure strategy backed up with financial stimulus; a commitment to significant investment to protect and enhance public services; support for traditional industries, particularly co-operatives; and measures to assist emigrants wishing to return.”

Sinn Fein Ard Fheis Dublin

Honoring those who died during the Hunger Strikes and the Easter Rising.

Such were the expected.

Among the unexpected was meeting author and former ‘Sunday Times’ managing editor and ‘Daily Mirror’ editor, Roy Greenslade, now journalism professor at City University London, my alma mater, who now pens an insightful media blog for ‘The Guardian.’ From sturdy working-class roots in east London and a fellow West Ham fan, Greenslade has been a long-time supporter of Sinn Fein. We met way back in the mid-80’s ago when he and his wife, Noreen, a former national feature writer, visited me in Kansas City and later at Mirror HQ before I headed off to the Romanian revolution, former Yugoslavia and the Iraq war. Greenslade bought Ballyarr House in Ramelton and two years ago stood surety for Creeslough-based former IRA member John Downey after his arrest at Gatwick Airport.

Roy Greenslade journalist

Roy Greenslade, author, editor and journalism professor: unafraid to speak out on sensitive social issues.

Last, but not least, was Danny Morrison, Sinn Fein’s former national publicity director, now successful fiction and non-fiction author and international creative writing trainer. Dressed stylishly in black hat and long leather coat, the affable man reminded me of Toulouse-Lautrec’s portrait of Aristide Bruant, famous on so many posters. Both Greenslade and Morrison have been invited as special guest speakers at this year’s ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ held at Teac Jack’s in Glassagh from June 27 to July 3.

Danny Morrison author

Belfast-based Danny Morrison: a life well lived. Former editor of An Phoblacht-Republic News, Sinn Fein publicity director, author and creative writing guide.

For those interested in writing a novel, poetry or a memoir, or simply want to hear some fascinating speakers, this is the place to head for. It should be a most stimulating week. You can stay for the whole week, or sign up for several of the days. Your choice.

Time for change. Real, lasting change. Time to grow up, we Irish have prevaricated enough

Today, you and I – along with several million other Irish people – will enter a voting booth, pick up a pencil and start X’ing.

In doing so, we’ll help seal the Fate of the Republic of Ireland for the next five years, and probably far beyond.

That is a daunting responsibility for all of us and we need to be clear and confident in what we do – for it is not only for whom we give our X but the very action in doing so that could have momentous repercussions. As has been proven scientifically, actions and words have a multiple energy far beyond the effect on the person taking the action or saying a word or phrase.

Without going into further details here, my advice is to be aware of the incredible power you possess that is yours and yours only.

Back to the national elections and one particular influence playing you.

Irish elections 2016, voting in Ireland

It’s time for us to grow up as a Nation. We’ve tried Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour – and they’ve all failed us. Let’s change the game right now.

Established media

‘Established media,’ no matter the country, holds a certain view about social development. Having been in turn, reporter, editor, publisher and journalism professor for over 30 years, I suppose I could easily be lumped in under this heading. I hope not, for the term refers to those media, usually right of left to varying degrees in their political thinking, which support the status quo, regardless of whom is in power nor the far-reaching consequences of that entity staying in power.

Why?

Inevitability it’s because members of the ‘established media’ have well-paying jobs they want to protect at all costs, ones that provide them with hefty salaries, thick expenses and a handsome pension at the end of it all. Change, they feel, means uncertainty. Perhaps, their jobs lost. After all, they are elites and the fall could be a mighty one.

That’s why it is key for us voters to be aware of these factors when we read newspapers, watch TV or listen to radio – especially media supported directly or indirectly by big business (Denis O’Brien at Independent Newspapers) or government (RTE). Health warning: don’t be unduly influenced.

I have been fortunate not only to have spent my media career in both broadcast and print (newspapers and magazines) but also in different countries including Ireland, north and south, the US and mainland Europe, so have gained a broader perspective than if I had stayed in my native Belfast.

As such, while abroad, I was shocked to learn that the entire body of ‘established Irish media’ failed utterly to warn ordinary folk of the economic bubble that burst upon them, a bubble as we know, created by crooked bankers, crooked developers, inept regulators, all caricatured by Fianna Fail’s infamous ‘Galway tent.’

From my standpoint, removed for so many years from journalism in Ireland, the cozy relationship between big Irish media and big Irish business was, and is, so obvious, with some few exceptions, sometimes (such The Irish Times columnists, Fintan O’Toole and Diarmaid Ferriter).

RTE’s Leaders Debate – an exercise in maintaining Right power

leaders debate Ireland, national elections Ireland

Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams (left), capturing Fine Gael Taoiseach Enda Kenny (second left) in pretty much a straight lie was the highlight of the entire set of nationalized ‘Leader Debates’ – but ask the ‘Established Media’ and you’ll get a very different answer.

Take, for example, the ‘Leaders Debate’ on RTE earlier this week. My view: Miriam O’Callaghan’s performance was biased and amateurish, certainly compared to Claire Byrne in the previous debate. O’Callaghan read at times so automaton-like from her prepared script while attempting to stamp her ‘established media’ credentials on the final outcome.

Did you notice how, having mentioned the widespread cronyism that has gone on under the tutelages of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour (hard to avoid), she then turned to Gerry Adams – who, not having ever been Taoiseach or a Government Minister here, couldn’t be accused of cronyism. But that didn’t stop O’Callaghan, citing, unfairly, two particular persons, Bobby Storey and Danny Morrison. Her inaccurate accusation of Morrison being a felon was so reckless and willful an attack that it could well lead to a major lawsuit for which, rightly, RTE should pay generous compensation. Morrison was long ago cleared of all charges in the case the British state brought against him and RTE’s researchers should have been well aware of that.

Not only but in the televised debate, there was one dramatic and defining moment, one captured by Gerry Adams on camera before millions: that, for the first time after multiple denials and prevarications, Taoiseach Enda Kenny admitted – caught unawares – that HE had appointed Donegal’s John McNulty, a Fine Gael Seanad by-election candidate, to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, even though McNulty had no prior interest whatsoever in art throughout his entire life (unless you include the art of deception).

Gerry Adams Sinn Fein, Enda Kenny Fine Gael

Moment of triumph for Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams (left). Caught in a lie, Taoiseach Enda Kenny (right) fumbles to keep him at arm’s length.

Hypocrisy of RTE’s Miriam O’Callaghan

I also find rather despicable the hypocrisy of Miriam O’Callaghan in bringing up the issue of cronyism. I met her in the Belfast studios of the BBC in recent years having been invited to attend an event celebrating the investigative program, ‘Panorama.’ I had learned that not only did Miriam use her role as a presenter to help get lucrative contracts with her employer, RTE, for some of her eight children, but also for her private production company, Mint Productions, one she established with her second husband, Steve Carson. Then helped him get a job at the Beeb in Belfast (my belief is that Carson left RTE, in great part, because the conflicts of interest he and his wife were involved in by gaining outside contracts with RTE for his children and Mint Productions was encroaching more into the public arena and the RTE elite were becoming uncomfortable that their lucrative jobs could be at stake for allowing it, but also because of some silly broadcasting mistakes Carson made).

Miriam O’Callaghan elections,

Expensive looking dress. Miriam O’Callaghan and husband, Steve Carson, have done pretty well financially as full-time RTE employers, while also obtaining RTE contracts for their own production company, as well as for their children. But there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?

At the public debate that was part of the ‘Panorama’ event, hosted by Miriam, I asked her about these things as the first question from the floor. Her answer shocked me, “I don’t know anything about those things. My husband and I don’t discuss professional matters.”

This is the very same lady who tried to hammer Mr. Adams, Danny Morrison and Bobby Storey so unfairly on national television earlier this week – about cronyism.

Analysis or simply spin?

Immediately after RTE’s 90-minute ‘Leaders Debate,’ the station hosted ‘The Spin Room,’ with so-called experts analyzing the debate. Even though Gerry Adams catching Taoiseach Kenny out on the McNulty issue was by far the most dramatic new development in the whole debate – literally a ‘journalistic scoop’ – the station did not even re-broadcast that short exchange between Adams and Kenny – even though they did replay other videos from the debate, labeling several of them as moments of what they called ‘Adams’ substandard performance.’

RTE’s ‘Leaders Debate’ was peppered with examples of ‘Established Media’ bias. There were plenty more elsewhere:

Noel Whelan, in his column for The Irish Times, wrote that, “The only sustainable outcome (of the election) is a Fine Gael and Fianna Fail Government.”

Sarah McInerney, a political reporter for The Sunday Times, who lives high on the hog in a spacious home in one of the most elite areas of Dublin, said during ‘The Spin Room:’ “The next Government will be Fine Gael-Fianna Fail. If they can’t do business, no-one can.”

Pat Leahy, deputy editor and political editor of The Sunday Post, in his very first column  days before the election was even called, wrote: “For Sinn Fein, the big breakthrough – participation in government – won’t come this time. The party doesn’t really want it to – that’s what its strategy to rule out anything but a left-led coalition means.”

Sinn Fein and Independents: a viable alternative to the same old…

What such ‘Established media’ commentators are saying is that with Labour in free-fall, there is no other choice – but there is, though they don’t dare mention it: a winning combination of Sinn Fein and Independents.

Through sheer hard-work and diligent application, Sinn Fein has increased its popularity, both in votes and seats at both national level (in the election five years ago) and in the local elections (two years ago). Not only but Martin McGuinness – who has acknowledged that, like the 1916 heroes, Padraig Pearse and James Connolly before him, he is an Irish Republican, and was a member of the IRA – did well in the Presidential Election. In fact, his penetrating dramatic contribution on the final televised Presidential debate in 2011, in effect, won Áras an Uachtaráin (the Irish ‘White House’) for Michael D. Higgins.

As for the Independents, their rise up the political ladder over the last five years is just as impressive as Sinn Fein’s, but the ‘established media’ again do not want you or I to consider that duet option. So they’ve tried to pour cold water on it, saying Independents in government is unworkable, especially when they’re Lefty Liberals.

History, however, proves them wrong, repeatedly.

Steve Farnsworth, political journalism

US professor, journalist, author and political commentator, Stephen Farnsworth, says Liberal and Left-wing coalitions can and do govern well.

A long-time friend, Stephen Farnsworth, veteran American journalist with whom I was a colleague in the US, author or co-author of five books and now a tenured Professor of Political Science and International Affairs and Director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, told me over the last few days, “Not so.” Pointing to the Liberal minority governments of Lester Pearson of Canada in the 1960s, he informed me, “Pearson was Prime Minister during the 1960s and his amazing record, with the Liberals and the NDP, Canada’s left party, working together, included  universal health care, student loans, the Canada Pension Plan, the new Flag of Canada, a unified armed forces, a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, and he fought to keep Canada out of the Vietnam War. His government also abolished capital punishment de facto.”

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if a coalition of Sinn Fein and the Independents could achieve even half this? Why not? Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour have already failed miserably.

Here in Donegal, there is no shortage of quality Sinn Fein and Independent candidates (and I’m not speaking about pseudo-Independents such as cash-for-favors local councilor, John O’Donnell, who, interestingly, is urging people to vote for Fianna Fail’s Pat the Cope). A TD combination in Donegal of Sinn Fein’s Gary Doherty, Padraig MacLochlann and Pearse Doherty, Independent Thomas Pringle and one of the other candidates, now local councilors, such as Niamh Kennedy, Dessie Shiels, Frank McBrearty or one of the other ‘real’ Independents, seems to me like a good choice.

After all, haven’t we given the Fine Gael-Labour coalition five years to put things right, and what have they done? The former used this precious time to ignore the needs of the vast majority of Irish people and instead strengthened elitism, with economic research showing the most affluent 20 per cent of people in Ireland own 73 per cent of the country’s wealth and the poorest 20 per cent own just 0.2 per cent. Alas, Labour simply sold out its long-held principles for a whiff of power. As for Fianna Fail. Wasn’t that the political party that slept with crooked bankers and developers, bankrupted Ireland, closed hospitals and schools, lost our Sovereignty and sent the country groveling to Brussels for handouts?

Don’t let Big Media misuse and abuse you. This is your time in that voting booth, alone, your time only, a time when no-one has the right to tell you what to do.

As the French might say if they were here – ‘Bon voting‘!

In addition to voting today, there is one other place to which perhaps you would kindly attach your name, for a cause that is both noble and just, virtues hard to find in today’s questionable political world.

Public apology and re-affirmation of support for a true Irish Republic

or

President of Ireland Michael Higgins, apologize & publicly support heroes, families & ideals of 1916 Irish Revolution