Boston Irishman in Irelandby Larry Donnelly
- It's an Irish American duel, Boston’s hotly contested mayoral race
- Low down as Boston mayoral comes race down to the wire
- Critics be damned, I’ll always be a Rose of Tralee fan
- Why proud Irish American Governor Martin O’Malley would not be a “lousy presidential candidate”
- Why reform is needed in the Irish Senate over abolition - realizing the Seanad's 'real potential'
The last time this column visited Boston was on the eve of the September 24 preliminary mayoral election. On that Tuesday, the 12-candidate field was whittled down to just two: Martin Walsh and John Connolly. This Tuesday, November 5, Boston voters will decide which of these two Irish Americans will take the reins at City Hall from five-term incumbent, Thomas Menino.
That each finalist is a white Irish Catholic male is something that came as a surprise to many observers. They believed that this was the election in which a now minority majority city with tens of thousands of transplants who’ve moved in and displaced many long time residents – a “New Boston” – could select a woman or a person of color to be its next mayor.
It’s been a long, hot summer in Boston. That hasn’t stopped 12 mayoral candidates from crisscrossing the city and blanketing the radio and television airwaves as they seek to replace retiring Mayor Tom Menino, who’s been in office since 1993. Moreover, this campaign has been notable for the candidates’ extensive use of the internet and of social media, in particular, to spread the word of their candidacies and of their daily activities. On Tuesday, the 24th, Boston voters will go to the polls to choose two finalists who will battle it out until the final election on Tuesday, November 5th.
At the beginning of the summer, I wrote about the then fledgling campaign and assessed the viability of the candidates. Fortunately for me, and despite my having been away for a number of years and the city of my birth having undergone extraordinary changes in recent times, my political calculus hasn’t proven too far wrong. But there have been a few surprises.
For as long as I’ve lived in Ireland, colleagues, friends, housemates, and now my wife and children know that the penultimate Monday and Tuesday evenings in August every year are reserved in my calendar for watching the International Rose of Tralee competition on RTÉ (Ireland’s national broadcaster). Indeed, even on the two occasions when I found myself back in Boston in late August over the past decade, I watched the Rose of Tralee online. The only thing I don’t like is that it serves as my annual harbinger of the end of summer.
And so it was this past Monday and Tuesday that I was glued to the proceedings from 8:00 right through till 11:30 PM. Some readers may find the fact that I truly enjoy the Rose of Tralee unusual, or even disturbing, but I am not alone. In excess of 600,000 people in Ireland watched the competition for the approximately three hours it aired each night. Many thousands more around the world watched the competition on www.rte.ie.
Here in Ireland, we have had some very high profile visitors from the US recently. President Obama was in Belfast, where he gave a compelling speech on the future of Northern Ireland, and in Co. Fermanagh, for a meeting of the G8 nations. His wife, Michelle, and daughters, Sasha and Malia, spent nearly a full day and night in Dublin and also visited Glendalough, Co. Wicklow and Dalkey, Co. Dublin.
Additionally, a number of the Kennedy clan – including President Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, and former US Congressman Patrick Kennedy – visited New Ross, Co. Wexford and other places in Ireland to commemorate the 50th anniversary of JFK’s seminal visit to Ireland, just a few months before he was assassinated.
In 2010, the then-leader of the opposition in Dáil Éireann (lower house of Ireland’s parliament), Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny, announced that he and his party favored abolition of Seanad Éireann (upper house of Ireland’s parliament) and would hold a referendum allowing the Irish people to have their say on the matter if they were in the next government. This represented a u-turn from the current Taoiseach’s (Irish prime minister) statement a year earlier, when he noted that the Seanad had “real potential.” Now, the Fine Gael-Labour government will hold a referendum on Seanad abolition in October.
Before considering the merits of the issue and the referendum campaign that has recently commenced, this already has been an extraordinarily cynical political exercise. Enda Kenny’s announcement that his party would seek to abolish the Seanad took his colleagues by complete surprise. Its timing, though – in the days when Labour leader Eamon Gilmore was widely regarded as outclassing Enda Kenny in the Dáil and many Fine Gael advisors were privately and publicly urging him to “be bold” – was no accident.
It was a moment that Bostonians everywhere will never forget.
But he is no Steve Lynch. Steve Lynch’s story – a kid from the Southie projects who becomes a union leader, attorney, state legislator and US Congressman – is living testimony to the fact that what might seem impossible remains possible in America. That’s why, and regardless of where he stands in the polls a month from primary election day, I still think Steve Lynch can win the Democratic nomination and become the next US Senator from Massachusetts. As he commented when he launched his campaign in an iron workers’ hall in Boston, “some people have said I won’t fit in in the US Senate. I think they’re absolutely right.” And I’m hopeful that the significant number of Massachusetts voters with whom Steve Lynch’s sentiment and life story resonate will send him there.
One of the most vexing issues facing tens of millions of American families at present is the exorbitant cost of higher education. Surprisingly, it didn’t feature very much in last year’s presidential election. Cynics might say that Democrats are reluctant to spend much time on the issue because well-paid college and university academics and administrators are among their most strident activists and generous donors. On the flip side, those same cynics might say that Republicans’ blind faith in market forces and the fact that high tuitions aren’t much of an issue for their wealthy base make it less important for them. With respect to both parties, the cynics would have a point.
The issue remains, however. Tuitions in the US, especially at elite private colleges and universities, have always been high, but what has happened in the past twenty years has bordered on the incomprehensible. My alma mater, the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts – which thousands and thousands of Irish-Americans from throughout New England, New York and New Jersey and elsewhere have attended over the years and which remains one of America’s highest ranked liberal arts colleges – is a case in point. Holy Cross is an outstanding school and I am proud to be a graduate.
Every once in a while, something transpires in politics that makes even the most cynical and hardened of observers shake his head. I found myself shaking my head over the weekend in the wake of the Senate vote to delay the confirmation of Chuck Hagel to be the next US Secretary of Defense. Invoking a cloture vote, which, like a filibuster, requires 60 votes in the 100 member US Senate, 40 Republicans voted to delay taking the final decision.
Of course, all of the foregoing presumes that Scott Brown, who was defeated in November in his bid for a full term in the Senate by Elizabeth Warren, will be the Republican nominee. It’s hard to envisage a scenario in which he won’t be. The polls indicate that he remains very popular with Massachusetts voters – particularly with the moderates who could decide the outcome – and will be very difficult to beat. Although most people back in Massachusetts may understandably be suffering from campaign and election fatigue, this year promises to be another fascinating one for political junkies. And this column will certainly return to the question of who will succeed John Kerry in the US Senate between now and whenever the special election is held.
Very best wishes to all for a healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2013!
I believe that many Americans agree with me. I believe a lot more will gravitate toward this line of thinking after Newtown. I think some politicians will follow. And I think stricter, more rational gun laws may ultimately result. My only regret is that history will show that it took the slaughter of 20 innocent children and 6 of their teachers to get the US to this point – if we really have gotten to it. In the meantime, I can’t and won’t blame Irish people for heaping scorn on the country of my birth for its sickening gun culture.
These three matters – not to mention the economy – should keep politicians and the commentariat busy for the next while.
These are heady days.
In sum, local newspapers help to bind the ties that people have to their communities, no matter if they have never left, or if they are half a world away. Long may they prosper.
Here’s hoping that they will stand by their own principles and not bow to their party leaders when it comes time to cast important votes. It is high time that the status quo was challenged. The next few months are undoubtedly going to be trying times for Ireland and its political leaders, but I don’t believe that refusing to disavow deeply held beliefs poses anywhere near the threat to stability, either in the short term or the long term, that the establishment in this country does. If Colm Keaveney and others hold their nerve, very interesting days may lie ahead.
After the game, my in-laws and I boarded the train home to Wicklow. We regaled our wives and others with tales of this amazing day into the wee hours at The Shed Bar. It was an occasion that I mightn’t fully remember, but just as certainly, will never forget.
” Please keep reading. I’ll keep writing.
Back to dispassionate political analysis next time.
It was heartening, especially in these miserable economic times, to see Ireland qualify for its first international tournament since the 2002 World Cup, now best remembered in Ireland for the infamous sequence of events leading up to it.
However disappointing it was to watch Ireland lose three times in rather spectacular fashion, it was uplifting to hear the huge crowd of Irish supporters singing “The Fields of Athenry” at the close of the 4-0 loss to Spain. It was a defiantly loyal riposte to what the supporters could see on the field and on the scoreboard. To hear the singing 3,000 miles away, in the heartland of Irish America, as I did, made it even more special.
Maybe she’s right. I probably am over the top. But as I always remind her, Galway is my utopia. And I know I’m not alone.
These three factors will continue to shape the dynamics of the campaign. It should be very interesting. This columnist will be watching closely.
We’re back home in Ireland after two glorious weeks in Boston and on Cape Cod. The weather was nice most of the time – interrupted by a day of torrential rain on the Cape and three days of uncomfortable heat and humidity at the end of the trip. It went by way too fast.
As always, it was great to spend time with my father. He’s 78 now, yet remains mentally acute and physically active. Indeed, we walked the magnificently well-kept Pope John Paul II Park in Dorchester almost every day, sometimes twice a day. We chatted at length about politics, especially the “good old days” in Boston and in Massachusetts when the Irish still ruled the roost, as well as the current state of play locally and nationally. On the day we set out for Logan Airport and the journey home, there was the heart-wrenching, tear-filled (for me, anyway) goodbye that emigrant children know all too well. But I’m one of very few for whom it happens on the western side of the Atlantic.
The title of political journalist Miriam Lord’s front page article in The Irish Times, “The nation gives one great big sigh of relief,” nicely encapsulates the collective feeling of Ireland’s political, financial and media establishments on the Yes vote in last week’s referendum on whether to join the European Fiscal Compact.
Backers of a Yes vote were definitely on edge after a steady stream of unofficial statistics and anecdotes about low turnout on voting day. Indeed, turnout was low. Just over 50% of the electorate showed up to the polls. But this time, unlike on previous occasions, the low turnout did not augur a No vote, or even a close vote.
The referendum passed by a margin of 60% to 40%. There were a number of factors at play that convinced people to vote Yes. Guaranteed access to funding via the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) in the event that Ireland needs to be bailed out again in future was probably the primary motivator. Putting access to funds for a bailout in jeopardy, notwithstanding the contrary protestations of the No side, was a risk that Irish voters just weren’t willing to take. This doesn’t portray a confident people. A clear majority now regards a second bailout as inevitable.
This murk will become clearer at some point on Friday.
There has been a good deal of discussion in Ireland recently about academics. A piece in The Irish Times in March by Dr. Paul Mooney, former president of the National College of Ireland, called for far-reaching reform of Irish universities and alleged that academic staff are not sufficiently challenged and/or do not work hard enough. Dr. Mooney’s screed provoked a strong backlash from a broad cross section of Irish academics. The piece, however, reflects a negative attitude that is prevalent in this country.
The attitude can be summarized roughly as follows. Academics are overpaid, indolent and selfish. They do not live in the “real world.” They exist in some sort of parallel universe and don’t have the foggiest notion of what life is like for the average person living in Ireland in 2012.
I’ve worked as a legal academic for much of the time I’ve lived in Ireland – I will be returning to the National University of Ireland, Galway after a two year leave of absence in September – and I’ve heard all of these sentiments. These sentiments have been expressed to me both in good humor and in palpable anger.
the economy, stupid. But a small number will, and that could be enough to be decisive in November.
This one would authorize the Irish government to ratify the European Fiscal Compact. Formally known as the Treaty on Stability, Coordination, and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, it requires all countries that sign up to it to have budgets that are in balance or in surplus within a year of its coming into force.
Given the continued enthusiasm and seemingly insatiable appetite for the status quo, however, I’m not holding my breath.
Theirs is a constituency of tens of millions of Americans throughout the United States. They don’t fit easily in either the Democratic Party or Republican Party because they tend to be conservative socially and populist economically. They have voted for candidates of both parties over the last several election cycles and help account for the wildly vacillating fortunes of the two parties in recent years. I don't know if they will ever find a political home. But it will be immensely interesting to see how the two parties chase their votes in this election year and in elections to come.
I still think Kevin Cullen is a fine journalist. He has a very well-developed and unique perspective about Ireland. His work on the Phoebe Prince case, which helped to expose the bullying culture that undeniably exists in both the United States and here in Ireland, was extraordinary. But this column was beneath him.
Early this week, I received an unexpected telephone call from Eoin O’Liatháin, President of the University Philosophical Society (the Phil) at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). The Phil is no ordinary student society. Founded in 1683, it is the oldest society of its kind in the world and boasts the likes of Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and Mary Robinson as past members.
President O’Liatháin had a very appealing offer for me. Would I be willing to speak at a special Phil event, called “The Inaugural,” at which the former Speaker and current Democratic Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, would be receiving the Gold Medal of Honorary Patronage of the Phil in the presence of two members of Seanad Éireann (the upper house of Ireland’s parliament), the Vice Provost of TCD, a host of distinguished guests and hundreds of students? What’s more, a large delegation of Leader Pelosi’s congressional colleagues and other visiting Americans would be in attendance at the event.
While Irish women continue to make long overdue and steady, if slow, advances toward equality in an overarching sense, an examination of their progress in the political arena is far less heartening. This may surprise casual observers of Irish politics who can point to Ireland’s two trailblazing and outstanding female presidents, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, or to capable and powerful TDs (members of the lower house of Irish parliament), like former Tánaiste, (deputy Irish prime minister) Mary Harney, and former Minister for Justice, Nora Owen. The numbers do not lie, however.
In last year’s general election, just 85 of 566 candidates for 166 seats in Dáil Éireann (lower house of Irish parliament) were women. There were six male candidates for every female candidate. There are just 25 female TDs; 85% of TDs are men. This puts Ireland in 76th place on the international league table when it comes to the representation of women in national legislatures. It comes just ahead of Zimbabwe.
By way of comparison, in Britain, more than 20% of the membership of the Westminster parliament is female. In Sweden, women constitute nearly 50% of elected members of parliament.
Tom Deignan’s recent piece on Irish Central, “The real fighting Irish – Boston Irish fight each other,” deals with the 1970s, a terrible chapter in Boston’s history. By judicial fiat, public school students were forbidden from attending their local neighborhood schools and compelled to board school buses that took them to schools in far-flung corners of the city.
An Irish-American federal judge, Wendell Arthur Garrity, imposed this order to remedy the segregation of white and black students in the Boston school system that he found existed in fact, albeit not by law. Forced bussing was not a solution; it was an unmitigated disaster. It brought our city to its knees and accelerated the flight of ethnic Catholics, especially Irish Catholics, from the city to the suburbs.
This is a very big week in our house in Wicklow. My hometown team, the New England Patriots, is back in the Super Bowl and facing our sworn enemy, the New York Giants. I am hoping and praying that the Patriots will exact revenge for the devastating loss in Super Bowl XLII the Giants inflicted on that year’s theretofore undefeated team.
The New York Giants of the National Football League are – the New York Yankees included – the professional sports franchise I loathe most of all. Battles during college with Giants fans and, even more vexingly, heated discussions with my father fueled this passionate and venomous distaste. My father, like many of his generation in Boston, grew up a Giants fan in the days before our city had a professional sports franchise. Just as after the 2008 Super Bowl, there will undoubtedly be a grin on his face late on Sunday evening, regardless of who wins.
More news on the Super Bowl from IrishCentral
U2’s Bono set to become billionaire thanks to Facebook investment
In full knowledge of the emotional roller coaster we were about to board, my wife Eileen and I sat down to watch a television program, “MND: The Inside Track,” earlier this week on RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann, Ireland’s national broadcaster). Advertisements for the program revealed that it would chronicle the struggle of legendary sports broadcaster and horse racing expert, Colm Murray, against motor neuron disease, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in the United States. Because I know Colm, I regret to say that this is the second time I have had the misfortune of coming into indirect contact with this incurable and fatal illness. It is a monster.
The first time was nearly twenty years ago when a good friend, Anne O’Shea (nee Flynn), broke the news that her father, a highly regarded and well-liked sergeant detective with the Boston Police Department, had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Daniel Flynn fought the disease with everything he had and valiantly continued his case work as a detective, but ultimately succumbed in late 1994 at age 48.
Colm Murray came into my life in a most unexpected, yet forever appreciated, way when he toasted me and Eileen, his friend and colleague at RTÉ, at our wedding in 2009. Pressed into service at the last minute by other colleagues at the wedding, who had heard him give toasts before and knew of his magical way with words, Colm quickly undertook to learn everything he didn’t already know about my wife, and whatever he could learn about me.
“As a State, we are living so far beyond our means that the Government borrows €1.3 billion a month for public pay, pensions and vital services. The only way this money can be raised is through the IMF-EU bailout agreement. A condition of the agreement requires the introduction of a property charge, something that has been known for three years.”
So began a recent Irish Times editorial on the origins of the new property tax that Ireland’s 1.7 million households are now responsible for. In 2012, the first year of the new tax, all households, regardless of size or geographic location, must pay a flat fee of €100. While a flat fee is arguably a regressive tax, those living in local authority (i.e., public) housing and those on low incomes will be exempted from having to pay it.
Here in Ireland, most people are quite justifiably delighted to bid farewell to 2011. It may have been the worst in a sequence of difficult years for this country and its people. We continued to come to grips with the depth of our financial problems, but at last succumbed to stark reality and now must satisfy the demands of external stakeholders, namely the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
For all of us who love the sport of politics, however, 2011 was action packed and memorable. A general election, a presidential election, votes on referendum questions and a wide array of other happenings were, if nothing else, a welcome distraction from the steady diet of economic doom and gloom that otherwise dominated the broadcast airwaves, the websites and the newspaper headlines. Following are my own top ten memories, and some reflections thereupon, from what was an extraordinary year in Irish politics.