As the EU line up to kick Ireland again, unions must lead in defending jobs, sustainable Irish business & provision of improved public services
Brendan Ogle: As the ESRI predict the worst recession in our history, trade unions and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) have led the way in providing a comprehensive and workable counter-analysis to the hawkish calls for austerity from Ireland’s crushing neoliberal consensus.
In the very weeks when Fine Gael and Fianna Fail first seemed to rule out tax increases going forward (including the ongoing refusal to accept the Apple Tax), and then state-led borrowing, an attack began on the COVID-19 payment, with people who have been forced into isolation being targeted for ‘being better off’ on €350 a week. Now we learn that, of €750bn targeted by the European Commission in a recovery fund of grants and loans for 27 member states, Ireland is earmarked for just €1.9 billion, a tiny 0.25% of the total. This for a country that Eurostat found had been forced to pay 42% of the total cost of the European banking debt following the financial crash.
Unite member Micheál Kelliher explains how the Public Health Emergency has exposed some of the structural inequalities in access to information for Deaf people.
Since Irish Sign Language (ISL) was recognised as Ireland’s third official language in December 2017, it has been a long and difficult fight to get the Act fully implemented. I am Unite member and a spokesperson for a campaign called #StopHidingISL. We started this campaign when RTÉ refused to include ISL in their broadcast during the national anthem at the All Ireland GAA finals in Croke Park in 2018.
The GAA were very good in including a Deaf person and an ISL interpreter to sign the national anthem at Croke Park on finals day so that the Deaf people at the game could be involved with their hearing friends and family members. However, RTÉ failed to feature this in their broadcast. This excluded the Deaf people at home and in pubs across Ireland from participating in their national anthem before the game began. RTÉ at that time said that it was technically impossible to include the ISL user on screen, in a bubble for example. However TG4, a significantly smaller station and the GAA managed to do just that without any issue.
In the same month, the Pope was visiting Ireland and was sharing a large, bright stage with the Taoiseach. The interpreter was off the stage, far away in a dark corner away from the cameras. It was somewhat ironic that the Pope was speaking about how society should be more equal, while my access was actively hidden from the screens?
The #StopHidingISL campaign has asked RTÉ about this situation, and their response was that they were filming for an international audience, and that ISL is ‘obsolete’. Wow! It’s a strange word to use. When someone is speaking Irish, does RTÉ tell this person their language is obsolete or edit them out? I’ve never seen this happen, but somehow it keeps happening with ISL! There are clear signs of discrimination and active exclusion of our language.
COVID-19 Health Warnings
When the global COVID-19 pandemic came to the forefront of news broadcasts in Ireland, the Deaf community was initially excluded from access to crucial information in their preferred language for more than a week. Without having access to critical information, we were vulnerable to misinformation and misinterpretation.
Some of you may be wondering why written English is not an adequate form of communication for Deaf people in these circumstances. Sign language is a visual language which like all languages develops organically and for some Deaf people, spoken and written English is like a foreign language. It’s critical that everyone has access to information in their first language so they won’t put themselves and everyone else at risk. Inclusion is not a luxury, it’s a necessity to protect society as a whole.
After a campaign involving the Irish Deaf Society, Chime, and the Deaf community, we got our first briefing with Irish Sign Language on the 5th of March with the HSE (or Department of Health) but it was still a disaster for us. The camera kept focusing in on the speakers and cutting the ISL interpreters out of the shot. The interpreters kept trying to walk into shot so they could be seen by viewers. It was clear that the media team needed some Deaf Awareness training. Slowly, we ISL is becoming more prominent in briefings, because of media teams becoming more aware, but it has been slow and difficult to make progress.
Despite the passing into law of the Irish Sign Language Recognition ACT there is still no consistency across government and state institutions. When we achieve access to information in our language with one agency, we have to do it all over again with other agencies, departments, media companies and staff. In recent weeks we have observed briefings and announcements by the Ministers for Health, Education, Finance, and the department of An Taoiseach without Irish Sign Language interpreters.
Another situation which is of great concern to our community is the education and inclusion of Deaf children. RTÉ launched a valuable initiative called the Home School Hub, to help with home schooling that children all over the country are facing. However, RTÉ yet again failed to include Deaf children who are ISL users.
For the first week or so, out of concern for the children Deaf teachers and special needs assistants stepped in and volunteered their time to translate the content into ISL. The Deaf community and its organisations again mobilised to campaign to get ISL included in the Home School Hub.
The approach to sharing information in ISL is not consistent across platforms either. For example, there are regular videos with ISL on RTÉ’s social media pages coming from the HSE’s daily briefings. But when the Taoiseach made an announcement about restrictions on the 1st of May, there were no videos with ISL on their social media pages, leading to confusion and stress when trying to access the new information. The ISL videos were only on the RTE News Now TV channel, and RTÉ Player. Each Deaf person has their own preferences on where they get news, e.g. TV channels, newspapers, websites, social media. And besides, not everyone has TV or the Internet. Access to information in Irish Sign Language should be on all media platforms.
Deaf communities around the world are experiencing similar barriers. British Sign Language users and the #WhereIsTheInterpreter campaign have started a class action legal case against the UK government. The World Federation of the Deaf and World Association of Sign Language Interpreters has made a joint statement “reminding governments on all levels of their commitments under the Convention on the Rights of Peoples with Disabilities (CRPD) to ensure full access to information and accessibility to all services under CRPD Articles 9 and 21.” The Irish government ratified the CRPD, but they, their agencies, departments and public owned companies consistently fail to follow the convention.
Moving forward, I hope that seeing ISL interpreters on screens will be normalised and not only during exceptional events. Interpreters are signs of an inclusive society and can inspire some people to learn ISL, and to let Deaf people play a bigger part in our inclusive society.
Here is a list of demands that I, and members of the Deaf community, would like to see all media companies, agencies and departments follow:
When interpreters are at televised events, they must be beside speakers and on camera, no matter if the audience is national or international.
Media teams should receive Deaf Awareness training and always keep access and inclusivity in their minds.
Full time and well paid staff who are fluent in ISL at RTÉ to always be ready for exceptional announcements or sudden changes (e.g. red warning weathers, COVID-19), in a timely manner (information translates immediately, not a few days later).
Consistent access to Irish Sign Language and subtitles across all media platforms, from TV channels (including the main one) and websites to social media.
Provide full access to ISL and subtitles for important events in our society like political debates.
Roles such as policy officers with a focus on access to ISL across all departments, agencies and media.
The demands above are so simple, and some of them don’t cost anything. We are aware that there won’t be any ‘getting back to normal’ after the COVID-19 pandemic. RTÉ shouldn’t get ‘back to normal’, actively excluding ISL from screens. The government departments and agencies shouldn’t get ‘back to normal’, forgetting about the Deaf community’s needs. The media companies shouldn’t get ‘back to normal’, having inconsistent approach on sharing information in ISL on all of their media platforms. I’m hopeful that we will keep going forward, not backwards.
“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance” – Verna Myers
“Washinghands doesn’t contribute to profits, so it’s not a priority for bosses”.
Most Easter weekends see us visiting pubs and restaurants to meet up with friends. This weekend is very different, with hospitality outlets closed as a result of Covid-19. As we sit at home, have a read of this post by Unite Hospitality Coordinator Julia Marciniak who lifts the lid on the conditions faced by many hospitality workers – and highlights what needs to be done to ensure that hospitality workplaces are safer places for staff and customers when they do re-open.
The picture at the top of this post was drawn by the young son of an activist and captures previous protests outside Dublin’s Ivy restaurant.
Julia Marciniak: This week Adrian Cummins, CEO of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, called on the Government to set out clear plans for lifting restrictions so that businesses can re-open.
Obviously restrictions will eventually be lifted, but when that happens a focus needs to be put on employers’ responsibilities to put in place new measures that ensure the health and safety of workers and the general public. Those measures need to include adequate washing facilities, break times, and a transparent method of workplace inspections.
Brendan Ogle’s latest blog on the UK General Election “in an era of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Donald Trump, in a world which has swung inexorably to the right and where greed is now considered not only good but great, finding a person with human traits of empathy, social justice, equality and dignity and putting them into high office would dramatically buck recent trends.”
The question keeps popping up within media circles, in various forms – ‘why is Jeremy Corbyn so unpopular?’
I could make an argument that the presumption in the question is unsound. After all the British Labour Party has had its greatest level of membership ever during Corbyn’s leadership, at times his meetings have taken on the size and sound of mass rallies, and young people in particular seem inspired by this aged Marxist in a way which is extraordinary to see. Yet it is certainly the case that all this is happening against a constant background of vicious and dishonest attack, blatant media bias, and personal vilification so intense and sustained that even some people that I would have thought would have had more sense on the left here in Ireland have descended to ‘Corbyn bashing’.
Then of course we have the liberal commentariat. In Britain they are called ‘Blairites’, or ‘Red Tory’s’ to give them a more incisive name. To understand them remember that Margaret Thatcher herself, when asked once what her greatest achievement was, answered ‘Tony Blair’. They are those who have effectively given up on a radical reform of society, of a re-distribution of wealth downwards from rich to poor, of just taxation and of improved and increased public services, and instead believe that the best the working class can achieve is a compromise with neoliberal greed and inequality. They use the words ‘compromise’ a lot as if neoliberals are into compromise. They talk about ‘holding the centre’ as if the centre hasn’t already moved to the extreme right, and they measure public opinion by what people text into TV and radio shows on the ideological sect that passes for media these days. Oh, and they carry a White flag, ready to wave to their masters whenever challenged.
Faced with such times and circumstances a win for a Corbyn led Labour in today’s UK general election would be extraordinary. But to me, who has taken some stick in my time myself, the most extraordinary thing is this – that Jeremy Corbyn is still standing after everything that has been thrown at him and is in with a fighting chance on denying Johnson’s toxic dishonest, selfish and greedy agenda a majority Government (or even better)! I take my hat off to the man.
Jeremy Corbyn has never voted for, let alone started, a war. He has never made a person homeless. He has never closed a public service. He leads a humble, some would say frugal, life. Unlike his opponent he is not a liar, he doesn’t threaten people, he doesn’t hide from robust and difficult debate and he doesn’t try to manipulate tragedy and murder victims for political gain as Boris Johnson did recently. He is a decent, humble and deeply compassionate human being. Any country should feel privileged to have the potential to be led by such a man in a Profession littered with liars, crooks, narcissists, sociopaths and even psychopaths.
But Corbyn does something very rare in politics today. He speaks truth to power, and he promises reform. Here’s a wee secret, power doesn’t much appreciate the truth, and the rich and powerful certainly don’t want reform and change. They are doing very well thank you very much, and the media outlets that they own and control know it. Corbyn threatens their hegemony, so much so that they would prefer an uncouth buffoon and renowned liar in power that will do their bidding, that they can put in their pocket like a possession.
I am not going to dignify the disgusting slurs peddled as fact about Corbyn and anti-semitism. Just remember this though while you are looking and failing to find any race of religion that Corbyn has ever attacked, this man of principle would be the first every British Prime Minister to have a pro-Palestine position and has promised to stop selling arms to Israel – arms that they use for their ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. In a world where Zionists consider standing with the oppressed children of Palestine enough to damn you as anti-semitic, it’s not hard to see why the powerful ‘Israel Lobby’ so dread Prime Minister Corbyn. Shame on them.
As I write this, polls are narrowing, but probably not quickly enough. A Labour/SNP coalition is still possible, highly desirable, but maybe unlikely. Is there a Labour surge that the unreliable polls are missing? We’ll know soon enough.
But I am certain of this – in an era of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Donald Trump, in a world which has swung inexorably to the right and where greed is now is considered not only good but great, finding a person with human traits of empathy, social justice, equality and dignity and putting them into high office would dramatically buck recent trends.
It would be an immensely positive turn, a necessary change #ForTheManyNotTheFew, a precious moment of fight back for decency.
New Blog by Brendan Ogle.
This week we had an emergency debate on a vote of no confidence in the Minister responsible for that emergency, Eoghan Murphy. Just days before we had four by-elections where barely one quarter of the electorate bothered turning up, so four new TD’S took part in the debate. I watched Tuesday’s debate live. Amid all the theatrics and finger pointing this much was clear: the Government believe the free market is the only way to provide housing, even on public land.
IN THIS REGARD IT IS OUR GOVERNMENT WHO ARE ‘EXTREMISTS’
Did you know that 5% of renters pay 75% of their total income to their landlord? This is one, just one, of an extraordinary array of statistics linked to our housing and homeless emergency.
This week we had an emergency debate on a vote of no confidence in the Minister responsible for that emergency, Eoghan Murphy. Just days before we had four by-elections where barely one quarter of the electorate bothered turning up, so four new TD’S took part in the debate. I watched Tuesday’s debate live. Amid all the theatrics and finger pointing this much was clear: the Government believe the free market is the only way to provide housing, even on public land. They are wedded to that ideology, see nothing at all wrong with it, and even think it’s ‘caring’. The Government’s definition of ‘caring’ is best encapsulated by Minister Regina O’Doherty who thinks it is ‘caring’ to refuse to award a 10c increase (yes 10 cents, it’s not a misprint) to our lowest minimum wages workers in a city where apartments costing €300,000 are described by Government as ‘affordable’.
That position is not caring. Rather it is an extremist position lacking in compassion or compromise.
I have just come from the launch of the ‘Jesuit Centre for Faith & Justice (JCFJ)’ strategic plan for 2019-2023. I am not a religious person but I like to think I am a compassionate one, and the Jesuit’s do fantastic work here in the areas of social justice and inequality. They are not extremists. They are realists in social and economic terms. Their plan focuses in on the three key areas of Housing, Climate Action and Penal Reform and their champion is Fr. Peter McVerry. In his address earlier he made reference to the report being a ‘critique without fear of losing Government funding because we don’t get any.’ This was more than just a quip, and everybody present knew it.
Yesterday the Chief Executive of the ‘Peter McVerry Trust’, which does rely on substantial Government funding, made what I still consider to be ill-advised comments about the political debate the previous night, basically saying that changing the Housing Minister would have been pointless. When Apollo House was order to be closed by the High Court in January 2017 the same Trust, and Dublin City Council too, swore affidavits in Court that there were enough beds in Dublin City then for all homeless people. Those oaths looked ridiculous then, and they look even more ridiculous now. They were simply untrue. But what sort of extremist Government requires such unquestioning compliance from emergency service providers like these in order to ensure the provision of essential funding streams for our most vulnerable?
Of course citizens shouldn’t require ‘charity’ or emergency services for a roof over their heads. That notion in itself is the manifestation of Fine Gaels’ extreme political ideology. Basic decency, fairness and the concept of ‘society’ should be enough. One of this morning’s speakers was JCFJ’S Kevin Hargaden who noted that ‘it has been decades since the wealthy have carried such a light load’ and that it was as a result of this fact that ‘social services have been devastated’.
Kevin also pointed out what should be obvious but is often lost in the cascade of extremist and divisive Government policies, and the clamour of their apologists in the ideological sect that is Irish media – ‘poverty is not a natural disaster’. Indeed it is not. Everything we see on our streets now, that we witness every day, is the result of a political choice. We are a rich country, a very rich country. Yet our streets are strewn with human suffering, degradation and economic isolation. It’s brutal in its contempt for ordinary people.
I learned this morning too that 75% of the occupants of our prisons are suffering from addiction, and of course there are only a small number of assistance programmes available. Where they exist they only do so to save Government blushes, as opposed to any sincere effort to stop the anesthesia of those who our Government are content to abandon to the fringes of ‘recovery Ireland’.
We now live in a country where those who believe a roof over their heads is a human right and social need, where those who want a living wage, who seek tax justice, who expect a health service that provides services based on need as opposed to wealth are treated as the ‘extremists’. And yet a Government that is presiding over the worst housing emergency since the famine, that allows employment abuses that are so bad some go back to the days of slavery (I have the records and real life testimonies in my office) and which is wilfully stealing our children’s youth and hopes for basic needs to be met in the future claim to be, and are allowed get away with describing themselves as ‘holding the centre’.
They are not. They are the extremists. They and their bullying, arrogant greed, their selfish pandering to their rich paymasters, their recklessness with our taxes and their non-collection of much more, their sociopathy which is now bordering on psychopathy, and their careless delusion of compassion. The carnage which is now the lived experience of far too many is a result of Government extremism. But enough from me. Peter McVerry, in the best letter I have ever seen printed in The Irish Times, sums up the extremism best:
‘Sir, – I attended court with a young homeless boy who had been charged with theft of a bottle of orange, value $1.
Another homeless man was charged with theft of four bars of chocolate, value €3.
Another homeless man was charged with theft of tow packets of Silk Cut cigarettes.
A TD, on his way to, or from, his full-time, very well paid job in Brussels, stops by at Dail Eireann to sign in, so that he can collect his full €51,600 expenses for his attendance in the Dail. – Yours, etc.
Brendan Ogle: On Saturday, I was to speak at the 35th Anniversary of a stellar event when we Irish stood up against racism. It was when eleven young Dunnes Stores workers in Dublin refused to handle South African goods to highlight the then system of apartheid in that country. They ended up being on strike for two years and nine months, gaining both national and international attention for this great cause. Nelson Mandela praised the workers for their actions stating that their action, in far-away Ireland, kept him going through many of his difficult days in prison. The workers won their strike, eventually forcing the Irish government to ban all South African produce from entering Ireland. What an achievement it was.
As I considered these events on Thursday a debate was taking place on RTE radio’s ‘Liveline’ about race. Some of those taking part were at pains to describe it as being about something else – direct provision – but it was about race alright. We were told that the Government wanted to move twelve (that’s 12, not 12,000) asylum seekers or refugees to Achill, temporarily, and the island had awakened from its autumnal slumber. There was ‘a vigil’ at 2:30 in the afternoon. We Irish love our vigils. The candles at this one would want to be made of good stuff though, because the point of this vigil was ‘to get information’ about the plans to house the twelve needy people. We were told that there were ‘no amenities’ by a few of the people who live there, presumably with amenities. Some also made the point that in the original proposal that among the twelve there would be ‘too many men’, but nobody made the case for what particular bit of ‘men’ might be an issue.
Next Friday, 20th September, young people across the globe will march down the streets of their cities and towns singing, chanting, carrying banners and placards to demonstrate against impeding climate chaos and the lack of political action to avoid or avert the grave risks we are all facing. This is not hyperbole, it is simply the facts, the scientific consensus. We are destroying the planet and the half-hearted measures proffered by political entities are wholly inadequate to deal with this crisis.
Climate chaos poses great risks to our planet, to food crops, to water quality and to human health. Rising sea levels will have an adverse effect on migration; it is estimated that 10% of the world’s population will be climate refugees by 2050. By 2048 there will be no fish left in our oceans. Young people face an uncertain future and the toll on human life will be considerable if action is not taken, and taken immediately. This is an emergency of unprecedented proportions.
A report published this week described preparations for climate crisis as “gravely insufficient”. One of the main obstacles is a lack of political will to implement the radical changes that are needed.
Ireland has consistently failed to reduce carbon emissions and is likely to face billions of euro in fines from the EU as it fails to meet both its 2020 and 2030 targets. The governmental response to this crisis has been weak and without vision. Government Ministers have been blatantly two faced on the issue, claiming on the one hand that climate action is a priority and even posing for photographs with young climate activists, while on the other hand continuing to issue offshore exploration licenses and preventing the passage of the Climate Emergency Bill.
Government will acknowledge that the planet is in grave danger because of human industry and out of control consumption yet they continue to push the very policies that are causing that damage; like increasing the national herd and handing out licenses for oil exploration. This is hugely irresponsible.
The over reliance on carbon tax as a solution is unsound as a policy. Ring-fencing money to implement good policies is necessary but that is only one relatively small step out of numerous steps that are needed. As it stands a carbon tax implemented by Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil will only serve to push the costs on to consumers and ordinary people. And those political parties will do very little to tackle the biggest polluters. Just 100 companies are responsible for over 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions on the planet and nothing is being done to curtail their behaviour.
The need for radical and visionary policies is now. Our society has to consider huge changes in how it produces, consumes and embraces transition. That starts with the need to stop measuring our society in the narrow parameters of economic growth, profit making and GDP. The pursuit of economic growth has led to a high level of inequality whereby Ireland, as one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, lags way behind its neighbours in terms of public services. We currently have over 750,000 people at risk of poverty and the highest level of homelessness than at any other time in the state’s history.
Taking new and brave decisions is the only way we will be able to stop climate chaos. For example Ireland should be moving forward to introduce free public transport as other countries and cities in Europe are now doing. The fact that the minister for Transport has ruled out this move is an indication of why Ireland is currently the EU’s worst performer on climate action. They have failed to take this seriously.
Unite the Union commends the lead given by international school students and urges those members to come out and support the September 20 ‘climate strike’. There are events taking place across the country and details of actions taking place near you can be found on the Global Strike Action website.
Climate change is the biggest challenge to our generation, and is a trade union issue and a class issue; it is riven with inequality and will leave no part of the economy untouched.
The greatest strength we have is solidarity and organisation, the Trade Union movement has to be a vehicle for the struggle against climate change.