underthewillows: (Default)
So you can have your children taken away from you in Ireland if, on the judgement of a neighbour or random passer-by, they don't look sufficiently like you?

Of course not! What kind of banana republic do you think we're running here? That only happens if you are dark and the kid is fair!

There are to my certain knowledge at least three families in my town and surrounding areas where one child looks nothing like the rest of the family. This is because the child is Chinese and the parents are native Irish (foreign adoptions).

Do you think the child protection services were called in on them? Do you think it was even dreamed of happening in such cases?

Tell me again about how modern Ireland is so progressive. Here is where I start insulting everyone.

We have a coalition government at the moment. It consists of a centrist-right party (not as right-wing as a former, now defunct party but slightly more right-wing than the other main opposition party) and an allegedly left-wing party (insert for yourself the eyerolling, gagging noises, and casting hands up to Heaven regarding the modern Irish Labour party).

Two of the minority party ministers are out and admitted atheists. One of them holds the position analogous to Deputy Prime Minister, the other is our Minister for Education. They have been tripping over themselves rushing to fearlessly take on the power of the Catholic Church in Irish public life.

Our Minister for Justice (the boss of the police and the one setting the tone for policing strategy and policy) is Jewish.

Our Prime Minister (to use an analogous term) is Catholic, but he's been proudly and bravely standing up to reactionary Catholic fanaticism (even allegedly going so far as condemnations that he will burn in Hell!) over the recent Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (which everyone calls the abortion act, because it permits a limited form of legal abortion in Ireland for the first time).

Why do I mention this? Because this can't be pinned on the Bad Old Days or the Bad Old Church. The same newspapers and TV stations that were plastering 'shock, horror' stories about the Magdalen Laundries and how in the dark days of the 50s children could be taken away from their families at the whim of the nuns and priests with the State as a complacent lapdog, are the ones who whipped up the hysteria about "welfare scroungers" and "Gypsies stealing white babies".

The same government, that is committed to a secular, progressive, inclusive social agenda, the same government that campaigned for a "Yes" vote (to a referendum on children's rights which would amend our Constitution) in such a fashion that the Supreme Court judged the information campaign had not been "fair, impartial or unbiased"; the same government which assured us that the extended powers of social services to take children into care would not be abused - this is the same government presiding over these two scandalous cases.

They're going to try to push the blame off on the cops and the social workers, and there is certainly a case to answer there, but our Minister for Justice and our Minister for Children (a spiffy new post only created in the wake of the 2012 amendment) should be out there making statements explaining the whys and the wherefores.

And not them alone. The great and the good of charitable causes were all pushing for the amendment, all claiming that it would finally give children a voice and recognise their rights.

One of the rights is this:

The views of the child mean that the voice of the child must be heard and respected in all matters concerning his or her rights. For example, those in power should consult with children before making decisions that will affect them.

How much consulting went on with the girl taken from her family home, I wonder? The various secular saints of good causes, especially children's rights, are very silent on this point. The websites for the Children's Rights Alliance and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children have posts up about the defeat in court of the challenge to the referendum. They have nothing about two children from a specific ethnic group being taken out of their homes by the forces of the state on anonymous tips - not about cruelty or abuse or neglect, but nebulous fears based on phenotypic appearance.

The chief executive of Barnados, whose face I got heartily sick of seeing placarded on billboards and in the papers and on the telly when he was looking for a nomination to run for the Presidency of Ireland back in 2011, and who trumpeted his involvement in children's affairs as a reason why he'd be a good servant of the public interest, hasn't uttered a word on the topic that I'm aware of.

These are not the rosary-rattling, puritanical, repressive, priest-ridden Catholic hypocrite politicians of the Bad Old Days. These are the Good Guys, as they're never tired of reminding us.

And yet, in modern Ireland of 2013, a tabloid hack ginning up publicity for his TV show can set in motion the police force and health authority to stage a raid based on a naked appeal to public prejudice and fear, on the part of the authorities, of bad publicity.

We're left with a couple of conclusions that are depressing, to say the least. First, either there were no complaints of abuse or neglect prior to these raids (I can't think of a better way to describe them) and they were carried out purely, as I have said, as a prophylactic against bad PR. Or there were abuse concerns, but nobody was bothered to get involved (or the usual inefficiency and muddle that I observed was the rule) until the journalist sniffed out a juicy story - that's not much better, since in both cases, the other children of the families were left in the homes. No fears for their safety?

Secondly, my late father had brown eyes. I have blue eyes. Should I have been removed by the health board on the grounds that I didn't look like my parent? My younger brother was blond as a child, while all the rest of us had mid to dark brown hair. Should he have been taken away because he didn't resemble the rest of his family? My brown-haired sister is married to a brown-haired man. Their younger son is blond. Does that mean she should have to produce evidence at the drop of a hat that he really is their son? How about the local families with obviously foreign children - are they exploiting them by sending them out to beg and steal?

You can all guess why I'm not seriously worried about these instances. Because all of us in the above examples are WHITE.

Ah, isn't it grand to be alive at this day and hour in (w)holy (liberated from repression), no-longer Catholic, Ireland!
underthewillows: (Default)
Warning: possible swearing ahead. Also, I'll be venting steam and doing a lot of foam-flecked ranting, in which I may or may not say things about individuals and institutions that could be construed as slanderous, libellous, or both. To which I reply: (a) if you don't expect vulgar abuse from the general public as part of the job, you shouldn't be in public life and (b) bite me, you tossers.


Double warning: Ireland is a racist country. I've been more or less denying this all my life, but over the past couple of days I've been smacked in the face with it. Evidence to follow.


Most of you probably aren't aware of the latest news from my green little island. Most of you probably aren't aware of the most recent tabloid hysteria case roiling Europe, for that matter. And there's no reason you should be particularly aware; you all have your own problems and your own countries' scandals, difficulties and 'who's on the front page of the redtops/scandal sheets today?' to occupy you.


But I'm angry, and I don't have a platform to express myself (I've left some angry comments on a newspaper's Facebook page - oh, the social activisim!) so you are going to bear the brunt of it. If you want to stop reading now, I cannot blame you.

We've just had a beautiful case - no, I correct myself, two beautiful cases - of the forces of the State intervening on behalf of the welfare of children. So why the scorn, contumely, and hollow laughter on my part?


Because the Irish childcare system - and I include voluntary organisations, registered charities, and the organs of the State in this opinion, no fear or favour to anyone - is fucking shit. From my very limited exposure to it in a five-year period in local education, I was and remain as unimpressed as I can possibly be. If I had a mangy cat, I would not be confident in relying on the system to take best care of it, let alone vulnerable children.


But underthewillows, just last year we had a brand new shiny Referendum on Children's Rights! We had the Children's Rights Alliance all over it! We had it passed! (We've even had complaints about, and court cases challenging, the unfair representation and lobbying by the government to push a "Yes" vote for the amendment to the Child Care Act, they were so eager to see it passed!) Is not everything now tickety-boo with children's protection in Ireland?


*sound of hollow laughter* *possibly slanderous opinion* I didn't trust any of the feckers involved, not even the secular saints such as Fergus Finlay, chairman of Barnados, or Colm O'Gorman, founder of One in Four.


Let me step back here, and give you some necessary background which may seem tangential, but it's relevant, I promise you.


(1) Currently, there is the gorgeous spectacle of a case in Greece that pushes all the buttons about "Gypsies stealing white children", that perennial favourite of yore going back centuries, combined with modern fears of trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation, forced labour, and selling of children for fake adoptions. You can read the bones of it here.


(2) Also current, but dragging on for years since 2007, is the Madeleine McCann case. It's something along the lines of the Australian Lindy Chamberlain ("Dingoes ate my baby", as the tabloids so sensitively headlined it) case in Australia or the JonBenét Ramsay case in the U.S.A.


Both cases are catnip to the British and Irish media; they love the McCann case because it includes all the tropes: heart-string tugging disappearance of a child (is she alive? is she dead?); British/Irish family (the McCanns come from Northern Ireland so, depending on which side of the Border you come from, you will or won't include them as One Of Ours) dealing with foreigners; alleged incompetence of the foreign police (because they're foreigners, of course, not like our good old British bobbies and courts!); wringing every last drop of tears and blood out of the parents and their desperate campaigns to find their child; then the old tabloid trick of keeping the story fresh by attacking those you previously supported - in this case, going from 'grieving parents mistreated by dastardly foreigners' to 'neglectful parents leave vulnerable child alone while they party' to the guaranteed headline-grabber 'did parents kill child and cook up fake abduction?'; and of course the White Slavery sex and trafficking angle. The case has been re-opened by the British police due to alleged incompetence and errors by the Portuguese police and it's all over the papers once again.


Put these two together and you get a hack's wet dream. And that's what I'm coming to: we've got the hack's wet dream in the two Irish cases.


Gypsies kidnapping our white children! Read all about it! Live at six!


I wish I were joking. I'm not. It's literally "Gypsies kidnapping our white children" because the two children in the cases were blue-eyed, blond/blonde children and they didn't look like their dark-haired, dark-eyed, dark-skinned families. That's why the police and social services took them away from their families: someone rang up and said "That kid doesn't look like the rest of them".


You still think I'm pulling your legs, don't you? Part II to follow.
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There's the story of a rumour going around about the possibility of a new "Star Trek" television series. I was going “Yay!” right up until I read the words “Bob Orci” and then my immediate reaction was “F**k, no!”

Guy whose actual reaction (not alleged, rumoured or imputed to him, but typed out by his own fair hands) to criticism from people who’ve been in the fandom longer than he’s been involved with the franchise is to call them “shitty fans”?

Yeah, that fills me with confidence they won’t make a dog’s dinner of it! I can see it now:

Opening scene of new “Star Trek We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Rules of Grammar” series:

Note: Important that this is to be NEW, original material and characters that is not in any way copying original series or anything that has been done before!!!!

TIM CORK, sexy young blond tearaway but with hidden emotional depths of MANPAIN is gunning his vintage hoverbike (they have hoverbikes in Trek, right? Whatever, it’s all SF!) through the desert, glugging down a (note to continuity: find out what soft drink company will pay the most for product placement here) and blasting out (hmm - what do kids these days listen to? Yeah, some Run DMC, that’s cool!) while a green (nah, done that already) blue (nah, those are the what's their names, starts with an "A", the Andrex? Anyway, we’re not copying the original series JJ says so!) orange with pink spots (oh, yeah, now we’re being original!) sexy alien chick no, twins no, triplets!!! in their skimpiest underwear (note to continuity: find out exactly how much nudity the network will let us get away with on TV) are all over him.

CORK tosses them off the hoverbike and leaves them behind in the sand, calling plaintively after him “Tim, take me with you!” and “You’re the best I’ve ever been with!” and “We’ll never be able to settle for another man again after you!” (note to continuity: will network let us get away with lesbian make-out shot here, if it’s done tastefully and is artistically necessary of course?)

CORK rides his bike up to secure government military base where they’re building the latest, most advanced, one-of-a-kind starship (yeah, he just drives up even though it’s a military base and top-secret project, no-one stops him, we don’t see any security) (yes, they’re building a starship on the ground even though in this universe at this date we should be seeing off-planet bases and orbital space docks because it’s a lot easier to launch your ship once it’s already been built in space rather than try and achieve escape velocity from a planet) and we get shot of him on his hoverbike outside the fence gazing up at the ship that is going to be his one day:

CORK (with intensity and determination and palpable sense of fate and ultimate conviction in his own destiny): That ship is going to be mine one day

CHANGE TO: Interior, sleazy bar/niteclub (you know the type, the cantina on Mos Eisley, for example). CORK hits on snooty chick who’s wearing some kind of uniform (note to continuity: does it have to be recognisably a uniform or can’t we just have a guy standing with her to tell everyone she’s a Starfleet officer-in-training? That way we can get her to wear sexy tight fitting backless dress in some kind of sparkly material - ask Kaplan about what kind is clingiest - with short hem and no sleeves and showing off her cleavage: you know, the kind of conservative buttoned-up gear you’d expect a prudish chick like her to wear). Snooty chick turns him down but this is only because her boyfriend is standing there (also, she’s probably frigid and maybe even a lesbian, because otherwise she would never be able to resist CORK).

Boyfriend is the guy standing beside her telling everyone she’s a Starfleet officer-in-training. He’s an alien, from the planet Bulkan. His name is SPARK and he and CORK get into a fight over snooty chick (note to continuity: remind me to think up appropriate name for her later; after all, she is our main female character! Actually, she's probably going to be our only main female character, but hey - we don't want to confuse audiences with too many women on screen all talking at the one time, do we?)

Interior of bar gets trashed (copy reuse pay homage to bar fight scenes from classic movies, use light touches of humour in scene like guy drinking at table that gets smashed who continues to drink as fight rages around him, guy getting tossed through window, etc.)

CORK and SPARK fight one another to a standstill until they’re the only pair left standing in the wreckage. They are only standing upright because they’re holding each other up, and you can tell it’s been a tough, rough, hard, manly, no-holds-barred fight because CORK has bruising, contusions, blood all over face, fractured ribs and possible concussion, while SPARK has mussed hair. They gaze deeply into one another’s eyes and you can sense the beginnings of a deep, once in a lifetime friendship, the kind of friendship that leads to a legendary partnership that will make history and be renowned in the annals of the Federation, the kind of pairing that not alone makes history, it changes the fate of the galaxy.

(Oh, yeah: the snooty chick is still hanging around as well. Better give her something to do since we’ll have to pay the actress anyway just for showing up on set).

SNOOTY CHICK: Spark, are you okay, baby? I was so worried that even though you have superior strength, faster reflexes, and higher pain tolerance plus advanced martial arts secret techniques from your home world on top of your Starfleet self-defence training, this guy might hurt you when he broke the chair over your head! Oh honey, let me kiss you to show that we are indeed in a relationship and although you’ve just spent the last five minutes gazing silently and intensely into the eyes of another man, both of you clutching on to one another and breathing heavily after rolling around on the floor on top of one another while that blond twink was making his O-face when you were choking him, there is nothing remotely homoerotic in this scene and you are both completely heterosexual!

SPARK: Lieutenant (note to continuity: remind me to insert name for snooty chick here when I think of one), please curb your Human propensity to unseemly displays of emotional indulgence in public.

(Oh yeah, going great so far! Just what this clapped-out old franchise needs: a complete fresh look at its very beginnings, an overhaul and a new angle with all original material and revamped characters!)
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Here, have a pome.* Here, have a link to the poet reading her pome and talking about her pome-writin'.

Quarantine by Eavan Boland
In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking - they were both walking - north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and a woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.


*The misspelling is deliberate. What use is poetry, after all? Can you eat it, wear it, make money out of it? It's still taught in English classes in our schools, but I can see the day when the useless stuff is stripped out and only Business English (or Computer English with American spellings - I am already hearing native Irish people thirty years old and over saying the American "zee" instead of the British "zed" for the letter Z) is hammered into the heads of the students (they'll probably be called 'customers' or 'service recipients' instead of "students", the same way nowadays that when you're signing on for the dole you're called a "customer" - as though you have an actual choice and input into the rules and regulations about accessing the services).

I remember back in the 80s the demand for "practical" subjects. The kids are not learning enough foreign languages, was the cry. Teach them German (because they'll need it when they go abroad for work). Then it turned to teach them Japanese (for the multinationals coming in to the West of Ireland) and latterly Chinese (the new giant economic power), instead of useless things like the Irish language (which, after fourteen years in school, no-one can speak) or art or music or any of that extra-curricular nonsense. The recent cry going up is that we're not good enough in maths and science, and we need more (for the technology multinationals).  More maths skills!  More girls doing higher maths!  All good aims, but rather in the sense of "churn out more worker bees!" than "expose our children to all the arts and sciences!"

Somewhere online I saw a comment about how it's no longer "education" but "training", and I'm starting to agree: fill the empty vessels with what will supply the needs of business because they need to be trained for whatever jobs our governments manage to scavage. Teach from the textbook, teach to the test, to get the best grades to get the most points to get the in-demand university courses to get the degree to get you the good job. I felt the need to put up a poem, and I wanted a modern Irish poem, and I didn't want to quote Heaney, so random Googling gave me this. I don't know - or rather, I didn't know - why I decided on this one.

Except the subject matter of the poem resonated with the post on here about memory and the past and the thread that gets cut by the running out of life. There's a small coastal village about fifteen miles to the east of where I live, and when my father used to drive through it, he would always tell me the anecdote about the time of the Famine. There were copper mines here, and during the 19th century (from about 1827-1877) the mines here were the major employers. During the Famine, you took what work you could get, and people from all over the south of Ireland came here looking for work.

A woman and her children, at the height of the Famine, walked all the way from Kerry (let's call it about eighty miles) to Bunmahon, to meet up again with her husband who had gone there for work. They would have been starving and desperate. The man wasn't there - whether he had died, moved on, who knows? They had no choice but to go back home, walk all that way again with nothing.

They probably didn't make it. They were probably amongst those who died by the side of the road. It's one of those stories all too familiar from the time, that was handed down as folk memory and (for a while, at least) part of our official history officially taught in our official schools (though not all of them; there's another local anecdote which I never learned in school but again from my father, about the parish priest of a mountain parish in this county allowing the people - evicted for non-payment of rent and having no choice but the workhouse - if they could get in, which wasn't guaranteed or the roadside - to squat in the graveyard attached to the church, so that when (not if, please note, but when and this is not an error) they died, at least they wouldn't have far to go to be buried.

Except those kinds of anecdotes are not being taught anymore, either as official textbook or by the teachers in class. It's a combination of forgetting the past, teaching the lists of dates and approved regurgitation of the text for the exam and 'let's stop blaming the English for everything' and 'forget our peasant background of misfortune and misery, we're shiny modern New Europeans now' (though the gloss has rather come off that last with the demise of the Celtic Tiger).  When those who remember these stories are gone, what becomes of the stories themselves?

Our history is being reduced to (a) the thing you learn in school to pass the exam and forget as soon as the exam is finished because it has no relevance to what we do nowadays (never mind examining critically what has formed us, and the reaction - the opposite swing of the pendulum, as extreme in its own way as the swing to the earlier side - from 'blame the Brits' to 'revisionist historians rule') and (b) fodder for the tourism industry.  The small coastal village and its mining history I mentioned above?  Has been re-purposed as "The Copper Coast**" and is a European Geopark.  No anecdotes about starving women and children during the Famine, as far as I can make out from their website.

I realised, after a bit of thinking about it, why this poem recommended itself to me (and the whole ensuing rant you've just waded through, if you've made it this far): there's a hotel in town, which has always catered to the tourist trade (in the summertime, insomuch as we get a summer, the tour coaches are lined up outside it on the street) and which is neither as fancy or as modern as other hotels in the town and surrounds, but has done a bit of re-decorating and up-market(ish) styling.

Now there are advertising signs on the walls facing the main road in and out; advertising a "Real Irish carvery".  Well, so what? says you, sure the Sunday lunch trade and pub carvery is keeping many's the business afloat and didn't you have a dacent dinner yourself in such a hotel carvery one time when you were out with your mother shopping? 

Indeed I did, and that's not the point.  The point is the image used on the sign - the stereotypical cartoon leprechaun.   You can do an online image search and find the kind of thing yourself, so I'll spare us both the embarrassment and misery of describing the wretched thing.  The point is, that's what is considered attractive to the tourist trade (so much for the more sophisticated campaigns latterly!  Though the thickness of our national veneer of modern sophistication has always been measurable in ångströms).

That's what they're boiling our history down to; leprechauns and geoparks.  Convenient historical amnesia and Paddywhackery resurgent.  This poem is an antidote to that.


**Feel free to Google, I won't mind.  Oh noes, you may get an idea where in the world I come from?  I'll just have to borrow a shotgun and load it so I can keep you kids off my lawn  :-)
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It is so strange to have outlived buildings.

We think of stone and mortar as being more lasting than flesh, but it is in memory that continuity lies.

The vulnerability of an oral tradition: so much that is never written down, and if no-one asks (or listens), so much is lost, the chain of transmission broken.

- Do you see that yew tree?  Do you know why the trunk is twisted like that?

- Tell me.

- Because it grew up and around a wall, the wall of a house.  It leaned on the wall, and its trunk developed that bend to accommodate it.

- But there is no wall there, now.  No house, no ruins.  Nothing but the tree and the grass.

- Because, over thirty years or more, the house was left abandoned when the original inhabitants moved out, died.  The house fell into ruin, then the stones of the ruin were cleared away.  But the tree remained and remains.

You see those houses?  I remember -

- Don't tell me.  You remember when it was all fields round here?

- Yes.  Yes, I do.

Even the mountains wear down, in time.
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