Tuesday, 21 July 2009

California Dreamin’

© Joe ÓNéill 2009
Mac Bride Lobbyists at California State Capitol bend the ear of the late Senator Milton Marks
L-R Joe O'Donoghue Milton Marks Mike Killeen Joe O'Neill

© Joe ÓNéill 2009
Mac Bride Lobbyists at California State Capitol
Pat Doherty bottom right

© Joe ÓNéill 2009
[Unnamed male Left]Head of California State Democratic Party John Burton RightCentre Actress Fionnula Flanagan at The United Irish Cultural Centre San Francisco

© Joe ÓNéill 2009
California Senator Barbara Boxer campaigning for John Burton

© Joe ÓNéill 2009
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco

California, once described by Patrick Doherty as, the 'Jewel in the Crown' of the Mac Bride Principles campaign for fair employment practices by American companies doing business in Northern Ireland, has again shown that Irish-Americans continue to be pro-active in the quest for Irish reunification.
Doherty was, and is at this time, Director of Corporate Responsibility for the City of New York pension funds, and a leading proponent of the Mac Bride campaign.

The Mac Bride Principles were first adopted in California by the City and County of San Francisco, and the legislation was then carried to the State Capitol, first by Assemblyman Tom Hayden, and then by Assemblyman John Burton of San Francisco, the current head of the California State Democratic Party. Passed in several sessions of the California legislature, the Mac Bride Principles were continually vetoed by Republican governors and eventually enacted into law with the election of Democrat Gray Davies.

The latest campaign by Irish-Americans in California is being spearheaded by the Irish-American Democratic Club of San Francisco. At the July 14, meeting of the club, they unanimously passed a resolution calling on the California Democratic Party’s Executive Board to support the reunification of Ireland. At the Sunday July 19, meeting of the Executive Board, the following resolution from the San Francisco club was passed unanimously;

Support for Irish Unification
WHEREAS, the logic of history, international law, human rights and peace dictate the reunification of the island of Ireland, and the reality of the moment -- in the Good Friday Agreement and the development of the All-Ireland institutions of governance -- attest to this momentum; and
WHEREAS, in the past the California Democratic Party and the State Legislature adopted the Mac Bride Principles for Northern Ireland and strongly endorsed passage of the Good Friday Agreement among the previously warring parties, in part because of the dedication of President William Jefferson Clinton, his administration, and Senator George Mitchell in seeing it to fruition; and

WHEREAS, the contribution of the Irish-born, and Irish Americans to this state, nation, and the Democratic Party are legion;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the California Democratic Party strongly supports Irish Reunification and urges both the State Legislature and the California Democratic Congressional delegation to support all peaceful actions that support the final reunification of the island of Ireland [Eire] by all electoral and diplomatic means necessary; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be forwarded to the Democratic members of the California Congressional Delegation, the Democratic members of the State Legislature, the President and Vice President of the United States and the U.S. Secretary of State.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, who recently held a conference in San Francisco; A United Ireland and How Do We Get There? has been supportive of the efforts and sent the following message to Jeannie Marie Maher of the Club, ‘I want to thank you for all of your work in support of Ireland and the initiative you and the Irish American Democratic Club is taking to propose a resolution on the Reunification of Ireland to the California Democratic Party.’

It is early days yet, in this campaign by a small group of individuals in San Francisco, to put Irish reunification on the political agenda of American foreign policy. Regardless of the current state of the economy, California remains the seventh largest economy in the world. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and one of the two California senators, Barbara Boxer, cut their political teeth in the old Burton political machine out of San Francisco. Hordes of would-be political office seekers from less well-off states make the pilgrimage to California in search of campaign funds. The Mac Bride Campaign in the United States, powered only by volunteer labour and miniscule funding, proved what could be done by a small-dedicated band of political activists. They took on the British Foreign Office based in British Consulate offices across the United States who spent millions of pounds to defeat the Mac Bride Campaign and defeated them from one end of the country to the other.

During the war years in Ireland, British embassy staff was able to exploit the concerns of many Americans on the issue of violence and ‘terrorism’. With the current relative peaceful state of political discourse in Northern Ireland, if the British choose to campaign against this effort as they did with Mac Bride, it will be much more difficult to divide Irish-America on moral grounds.
This campaign could develop very large legs. 

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Some Mother's Son

Destination Iraq
© Joe ÓNéill 2009
U.S. troops in Co. Clare Ireland enjoying an Irish wedding party
I have decided to exclude names and locations in this article for obvious reasons, which I hope you will understand as you read on.
The movie, 'Some Mother’s Son', which starred Helen Mirren and Fionnula Flanagan, dealt with the agonizing choice faced by the loved ones of the Long Kesh Hunger Strikers, intervention at the last moment to save their lives, or to watch them die a long and agonizing death. Almost 30 years later, the decisions taken continue to arouse controversy and within the last several months public meetings have taken place in the north of Ireland to request a public account of decisions made during the 'Hunger Strike' by leaders of the Republican Movement.
While the phrase 'Some Mother’s Son', is better know for it’s association with the 1996 award winning movie, written by Terry George and Jim Sheridan, and directed by George, those of a certain age will remember the initial coining of the phrase. My own recollection is of a TV street interview in Belfast after the shooting of a British soldier, and a woman from the neighbourhood lamenting, that regardless of the rights and wrongs of the war, at the end of the day, the British soldier was 'Some Mother’s Son'.

Fionnula Flanagan (Centre) with Gerry Adams (Right) and members of the San Francisco Irish-American Democratic Club at a recent meeting in San Francisco "A United Ireland and How Do We Get There?"
The poignancy of the phrase came back to me several days ago, as I sat watching groups of young United States soldiers, many of them in their teens, catching a little R 'n' R while in transit to Iraq, many for their first tour of active-service duty.
En route to Iraq they were delayed by mechanical problems at Shannon Airport, and were being fed and watered at a local hotel many miles from the airport, where my nephew was holding his wedding reception. Guests at the wedding were taken aback at the numbers of U.S. military personnel in battle fatigues, wandering the corridors and grounds of the premises. Several people, some with young children, a familiar feature of Irish wedding parties, expressed concern at the security implications of being in such proximity to troops, technically in-the-field, and en route to a war zone.
As the soldiers began to mingle into the private wedding party banquet area they were told by their Commanding Officer that the area was a private party and off limits. Common decency, and Irish hospitality however, overruled personal political opinions, and the groom, a fine young man, accepting that I might be a little prejudiced in this respect, informed the Commanding Officer that they were welcome to join the party. It didn’t take long before the combat fatigues were manoeuvring to the strains of ‘The Walls of Limerick’.
After the initial surprise of the encounter with so many combat ready soldiers, I believe the groom’s brother summed up the general feeling of wedding guests when he said, “If my own son happened to be in that situation in a foreign country, I would hope that someone would show him a bit of a good time before he had to face what they are going to.”
While I have no wish to turn what was a joyous family occasion into a political soapbox for a debate on the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war, some questions need to be addressed by the Irish government regarding our obligations under our neutrality laws.
I cannot claim to be an expert on Irish neutrality laws. Many Irish citizens feel that our government are acting outside the law in this regard, and there have been many protests at Shannon Airport over this issue. Having lived outside the country for many years, I admit that I am not as educated on the subject as perhaps I should be. Those issues I will leave to people better able to answer that question, and to the professional and semi-professional protesting classes.
This is what I do know however. Many wedding guests were uncomfortable at having to be in such proximity to foreign soldiers in our country, who were technically in-the-field. Irish citizens at this hotel were not given a choice or a say in this matter. Britain has suffered several attacks by Muslim extremists causing loss of live. As recently as yesterday, Muslim convert, and former public schoolboy, Isa Ibrahim, was convicted of making and planning to use explosives against civilians in Britain. I don’t claim to be an expert in security matters either, but to my untrained eye, security in this hotel was non-existent. There was certainly no uniformed police presence.
The implications of this are obvious. If we are required by our neutrality laws to host foreign combat troops that mingle with our civilian population then we need better security arrangements than those that were, or were not, as the case may be, in place this week.
This posting is over the weekend. I will be sending it to both U.S. and Irish government agencies for comment come Monday. Any replies will be posted.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Payday Loans-Center for Responsible Lending Report

A Soñar Blog reader in the United States sent this response to the article ‘Thanks, but No Thanks’.

The link for the full article is posted below.

Payday loans are touted as a useful financial product for middle-class households that just need a little help making ends meet in the short term. But critics have long held that the costly short-term loans burn a hole in those households' finances, which can immediately necessitate another loan, and another, and another, trapping the borrower in a cycle of debt.

A new study by the Center for Responsible Lending shows exactly how fast this loan "churning" happens. Eighty percent of people who take out a payday loan take out more than one per year, according to the study, and nearly nine out of ten of those repeat borrowers take out their next loan before their next payday. Half do it within one day of paying off the previous loan.

More than $20 billion of the $27 billion in annual payday loan volume -- 76 percent -- is a product of this churning, according to the study.

"If you look at payday loans in general, the industry looks like it has booming demand, like lots of people need these loans even if they have high cost," said Leslie Parrish, co-author of the report, in an interview with the Huffington Post. "What our findings show is three quarters of that volume is artificially generated."

Steven Schlein, a spokesman for the Community Financial Services Association of America, a trade group for the payday lending industry, brushed off the study.
The Center for Responsible Lending "has a history of misusing the regulator data," wrote Schlein in an email to the Huffington Post. "In fact, none of its studies ever hold up after review by competent statisticians or researchers. Of course, they don't care because they get the media attention and then move on."

Schlein pointed the Huffington Post to past criticisms of CRL reports by regulatory services company Veritec Solutions.

To get a payday loan, borrowers sign over their next paycheck in exchange for an advance usually worth a few hundred dollars, with a typical fee of $15 per $100 loaned. Because of the two-week repayment deadline, the annual percentage rate (APR) of interest on such a loan approaches 400 percent.

Arthur Delaney

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Thanks, But no Thanks

© Joe ÓNéill 2009
One of Dollar Financial's New Stores on Belfast's Royal Avenue

As Northern Ireland, like the rest of the world, suffers the effects of the recession, every job lost is a personal tragedy, and every new job and investment prospect must be viewed as a small victory in the fight against the lower living standards that increasing unemployment brings.

With few exceptions to the rule, there are not many businesses that can claim to be recession-proof. Repossession companies, bailiffs, auctioneers, moneylenders, legal, and illegal, all come to mind.

One company at the top of this food chain has just acquired four locations in Northern Ireland this week. While this company sees opportunity here for expansion, the sad fact is that we could well do without their business.

Dollar Financial, a NASDAQ listed U.S. company (DLLR), has just acquired Payday Loan Stores, with three locations in Belfast, and one in Lisburn. The stores main business focus is, check cashing, payday loans, and pawn broking services.

Chairman and CEO of Dollar Financial Jeff Weiss, said, “The acquisition of these stores provides an opportunity to further expand and strengthen our store footprint in Belfast.

DLLR, which describes itself as international financial, Services Company serving under-banked consumers, paid a reported £550,000 to Payday Loan for the business. The company founded in 1979, has around 1,264 stores in the U.S., Canada, U.K., and the south of Ireland.

This company no doubt fill a niche in the market place, and that is what business is about. However, forgive me if I do not do cartwheels over their expansion plans in Ireland.
In this country we have a great tradition of volunteerism and dedication which serves the so-called ’under-banked consumer’, it is called, the Credit Union. That is the exploitation of a niche market that I root for.

Long Kesh Hunger Strike Site Information Update

Below is an email received today, regarding website information updates dealing with the Long Kesh Hunger Strike.

"For those of you following the controversy over the 1981 hunger strike, there is a reference website that contains all the material related to the issue. Please update your links and make those interested aware of the resource."

July 1981



and is also on Twitter: http://twitter.com/LongKesh1981

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Irish Congress of Trade Unions Anti-Racist Protest

© Joe ÓNéill 2009
Belfast City Hall
© Joe ÓNéill 2009
Belfast City Hall
© Joe ÓNéill 2009
Belfast City Councillors, L-R Cllr. Pat Convery (SDLP),
Cllr. Nial Kelly (SDLP), Former Lord Mayor of Belfast Cllr.Tom Ekin.
Union workers and citizens, gathered at a rain swept Belfast City Hall today, to protest racist attacks on foreign workers in Belfast last month. (See Archive)
The protest was called by the Northern Ireland section of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Speakers included President of the ICTU Patricia McKeown, and Northern Secretary, Peter Bunting.
Local politicians attended including; Health Minister Michael McGimpsey (Ulster Unionist Party), Belfast City Councillors; Cllr. Pat Convery (SDLP), Former Lord Mayor Cllr. Tom Ekin (Alliance Party), and Cllr. Nial Kelly (SDLP).