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Archive for October, 2011

Irish Presidential Election Results

And, the winner is………….Michael D Higgins.  The tiny, frail, anti-America, anti-Israel, ardent socialist will occupy the largely ceremonial office of President of the Republic of Ireland for the next 7 years.  Having been the leader in the polls until 2 weeks ago, when he was surpassed by Sean Gallagher, he ran a generally positive campaign based, as he often claimed, on “ideas”.  His one exception was to bash Martin Mc Guiness, as each of the candidates eventually did.  As a Labour TD for the past 25 years (he stepped down earlier this year) and a former Minister for Culture in the 1990s, Higgins showed he was the consummate politician, winning almost 40% of the 1st preference votes and ending up with a total of over 1 million votes when all the transfers were counted.  This 4th attempt at the presidency seems to have been won just in time given his age and health.

How did the rest of the not-so-Magnificent Seven fare?  This time, I’ll list them in order of preference….not mine but the voters of Ireland.  (Less than 50% of those eligible to vote did so.  The great anger, disgust and mistrust of “government” is pervasive.)

SEAN GALLAGHER,  the Independent who surged to the forefront of the polls in recent weeks, was over-confident in the end.  Although he offered youth and vigor (his wife was quoted as saying they were looking forward to having and raising their children in the Aras and seeing them run around in the Phoenix Park) he stepped off the pedestal to take his potshot at Mc Guiness and question his suitability for the presidency.  This ultimately led to his downfall.  On Sunday, 23 October, Gallagher had a 15 point lead in the polls (40%).  During a live television debate on Monday, the 24th , Mc Guiness asked if he had personally solicited and collected funds on behalf of the now-toxic Fianna Fail party, specifically from a “convicted tax evader and former Provisional IRA  member”.  Gallagher’s shock and subsequent waffling over the answer, as well as his inevitable acknowledgement that he had and had in fact been a “bagman” for the despised FF sealed his fate as he was revealed as “just one more of the same”.  He ended up far behind Higgins but has said he will continue to pursue a career in politics, although under what auspices is not clear.

MARTIN MC GUINESS is probably very thankful to be returning to his office of Deputy First Minister (co-Prime Minister) of Northern Ireland.  His sabbatical from that office was the polar opposite of restful!  Despite being assaulted constantly (by the media, other candidates and a handful of the public) and accused of  involvement and complicity in 40 years worth of bombings, executions and murders, he retained his grace under pressure.  With the exception of his above-mentioned questioning of Gallagher, he ran a campaign focused on the issues of inequality, unity and the need for change.  The man who abandoned the bomb and the bullet decades ago and successfully achieved peace in the North of Ireland, through negotiation, has my utmost respect and admiration.  And, with over a quarter of a million (265,196) votes cast for him, others apparently feel the same way.

GAY MITCHELL  The man who was the candidate of the party in power, Fine Gael, failed to gain the confidence of the electorate.  His 2 plank platform of  “Martin Mc Guiness is evil” and “I am an ultraconservative career politician and Martin Mc Guiness is evil” just didn’t work and the “invisible man” remained so.  His dismal showing does not bode well for the fate of Fine Gael in the next general election.  He came in a distant fourth.

DAVID NORRIS  Norris’s late re-entry into the race provided  a bit of drama.  The Irish people, despite their slightly xenophobic, homophobic, racist, Catholic leanings, are ultimately very fair and just.  The facts that Norris is half-British and speaks with a British accent, has had a number of foreign homosexual partners and is a Protestant really didn’t seem to matter. The public overwhelmingly felt that he deserved a chance to run for the presidency;  they just didn’t choose to vote him into the office.  This probably had less to do with his questionable judgement in the past but more with the 16 years of disability payments he collected while working as a full-time Senator.  That and the fact that the value was triple the amount that he originally claimed.  Seems like it always comes down to money……………..

DANA ROSEMARY SCALLON, the dual citizen whose family’s dirty laundry is being aired for all the world to see, failed in this, her second, attempt for the presidency.  Garnering a feeble 51,000 votes, one hopes she returns to her successful singing career.  But the family drama continues.  The niece who was allegedly abused by Scallon’s brother has gone to the police in Britain and this weekend he is being questioned about the events of the 1970s.  She is also bringing  defamation suits against Aunt Dana and the television station which aired her comments denying the niece’s claims.  Another brother has come out against Dana saying she’s can’t be a good Christian because she hasn’t visited him during his illness of many years.  Also, unfortunately, Dana’s car suffered a blow-out while returning from a campaign event.  Her husband immediately claimed that “they” were out to injure or murder them.  Gardai say it was just a flat tire.  The soap opera continues.  Dana needs to keep singing that song “All Kinds of Wonderful”.

MARY DAVIS  First thought to be a shoe-in to complete the trinity of “Sainted Marys of the Aras”, she has finished dead last.  The title of “Queen of the Quangos” stuck and, despite her denials, she was seen as offering just more of the same as the corrupt Fianna Fail party.  Her campaign posters showed a lithe, confident woman with a youthful face and beautiful teeth in a Special K red dress.  Perhaps when voters encountered the baggy eyes, the badly stained and crooked teeth, the slightly dumpy physique they realized that you can’t always judge a book by the pretty cover.  Just another case of what you see is not necessarily what you’ll get.

So, the race for Uachtaran na hEireann is over for, hopefully, another 7 years.  Truthfully, after observing this one, I can’t see why anyone would subject themselves to such a brutal contest.  But, by 2018, I will have dual citizenship and you can be sure that I’ll be casting my vote.

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Irish Dawn

KINGSFORT NORTH VIEW

Cows at Kingsfort

Irish dawn
October Sunrise

I wake up very early, and very often, most mornings. Sometimes it’s pitch black out, or at least, as dark as it gets in Ireland.  In north County Meath, where I live, there is virtually no light pollution so the night sky is a black satin canopy shimmering with diamond chips of stars giving an almost heavenly glow.  But then, of course, the sky lightens as the hours pass.   I’ve become a bit of a prowler….to the bathroom, then a stroll to the kitchen to check out the cows in the front meadows (their white parts seem to glow in the dark!), a peek out of the guest bedroom window to look to the north and then a duck into the living room with its east and south facing windows.  And then, back to bed for, hopefully, another couple hours sleep.

Most days, the sky is gray, laden with clouds.  Occasionally there is glorious sunshine almost guaranteed, in this summer of 2011, to disappear by noon.  But one morning there was a very heavy fog.  So heavy I could barely make out the potted plants on the patio off the kitchen.  So heavy, I had difficulty seeing the stone wall protecting the guest room.  And, then, from the living room, all that was visible was a wrap of cotton candy, as if a gossamer pashmina of the most delicate of pink tints was enveloping the world.

The barely rising sun was allowing the world to be seen through rose colored glasses.  And I gave thanks.

Irish Presidential Election

(The President of Ireland is called Uachtarain na hEireann and the home of the president is called the Aras an Uachtarain.)

They’re referred to as the Magnificent 7, the 7 Dwarves, the 7 Samurai or the 7 Deadly Sinners.  That’s right……..there are 7 people running for President of Ireland.  Who are they and how did they get here?

Ireland has a parliamentary system of government; ie the leader of the majority party elected to the Dail (or lower house) is the Taoiseach (tee’ shawk) or Prime Minister.  Because the ruling party often doesn’t receive the required quota of votes, they must form a coalition government with another party.  At this point,we have Fine Gael and their junior partner, Labour.  The former government, led by Fianna Fail and in power almost exclusively since the 1930s, was overwhelmingly rejected at the last general election in March.  The excesses of Fianna Fail are universally blamed for Ireland’s current economic crisis. Fianna Fail, by edict of their party leader, decided not to run a candidate and forbade members to support any other candidates.   Okay, so far, so good.

There is also an uachtarain, a president, who has extremely limited powers…..almost more of a meet and greet, state funerals and such type of job, for 7 years with only 2 terms allowed.   For decades, this was considered a “nice old-gentleman retirement scheme” for career politicos.  But the last 2 presidents have been women, both named Mary,  Now, that’s 28 years of “Sainted Marys”……look good, mind your manners, do no harm.

Why would all these people want the job?  Well, the salary is good, about $445,000 per year, a lifetime pension, get to live in the Aras (House) in the Phoenix Park, a gorgeous Georgian pile, travel the world on behalf of The World’s Friendliest People and greet visitors to Ireland, like Obama and the Queen of England.  Oh right…………….hmmmmmmmmm, more about that later.

So, who ARE these 7 and how did they get here?  Well, they got to this point in several ways.  Candidates can be nominated by gaining the signatures of 20 TDs (representatives) and/or Senators (THAT unelected, appointed lot are a whole other story for another time!).  Not a problem if you’re supported by your political party as are 3 of them.  (Well, one has very lukewarm backing, as he wasn’t the choice of the leader of his party.)  If one is an Independent, those signatures can be a bit harder to obtain so there is the alternative of going to the local county or city councils for their backing.  A total of 4 council nominations is required.

The election date of October 27 was announced in May and nominations closed at noon on September 29.  It was a scramble right to the end for 2 of the hopefuls.  And now we are just over halfway through the 4 week official campaign period.  Is all this as clear as mud?  And you thought the American primary  and electoral college systems were flawed?  Here, it’s very intense, nasty, back-stabbing, dirty, etc BUT it’s over in 4 weeks!

Okay, so who ARE they, you’re asking. I’m going to do this alphabetically as it’s the most objective and least judgemental way I can think of.  (You may be able to determine what I really think of each of these characters, however.)

MARY DAVIS  She’s running as an Independent, having secured the backing of more than the required 4 councils late in the summer.  She is CEO of Special Olympics Ireland.  It seemed as though she could become the third “Sainted Mary of the Aras”, completing the Trinity, however it has come to light that she benefitted hugely (financially) from being appointed by the now-hated Fianna Fall regime, to many boards and directorships, especially in the “public sector”.  For this, despite her protestation of never having been an insider or belonging to toxic Fianna Fall, she has acquired the moniker of “Queen of the Quangos”.  (A quango is a task force, committee or council set up, by the government, to “study” a problem.)  She’s fallen way down in the polls in spite of her lovely campaign posters which depict her in full stride wearing a form-fitting red dress…..much like an ad for Special K.

SEAN GALLAGHER  He, too, came to be in the race through the backing of 4 local councils.  (After he had his 4, he asked all other councils to NOT  nominate him so they would be available to support other Independent candidates.  Nice touch – Mary Davis didn’t do the same.)  He was born with a congenital birth defect that left him virtually blind but after early operations did regain most of his sight.  He was a farmer in a border county, built and lost several businesses and was a judge on the Dragon’s Den reality TV show (sort of like an X Factor for inventors and entrepreneurs).  Gallagher joined Fianna Fall as a teenager and was a long-time member (most successful business people were) including serving on the National Executive.  He said that he quit the party in 2009 but recently his official resignation letter surfaced, dated January 2011.  His nose got a little longer.  He’s run a very clean campaign, very Mr Nice Guy and refuses to discuss other candidates.  He’s never run in an election before and although in his early 50s, is the youngest candidate.  Last week he surged to the number 2 spot in the polls.  Personally, I think his entrepreneurial abilities would better serve the country in a position where he could actually do something like create jobs, boost the economy, add value, offer opportunities to the many young, well-educated people who are finding no choice but to emigrate and bestow their vast talents on other nations.  A tall, well-built man with a shaved head, one journalist has described him as looking suspiciously like her thumb.

MICHAEL D HIGGINS  Michael D, as he’s always called, is a career politician, a Labour TD, so he had the 20 signatures from his party handily.  He’s been around a long, long time.  He’s a tiny, white-haired man from the West of Ireland known as a Gaelic poet and long-winded orator.  In his youth he was a tireless campaigner, world-wide, for the rights of the downtrodden.  (Interestingly, he never seemed to care too much about the plight of the downtrodden Catholics in the North of Ireland.)  Recent rumors suggest that in his “rock and roll” days he may have indulged in illegal substances.  He’s definitely an unrepentant socialist and anti-American (remember about having to meet and greet foreign visitors?).  Unlike an ideal socialist, he collects 3 pensions while still serving full-time in the Dail.  He’d get a 4th if elected President.  Although he is currently the favorite, I think he looks like the type of leprechaun who could easily and quickly turn very evil and malicious.  And, he looks REALLY old.

MARTIN MC GUINESS   No connection with the famed Guiness stout, he is the surprise Sinn Fein party candidate.  Sinn Fein is the only all-Ireland party, that is both in the Republic of Ireland (the 26 counties of the South) and Northern Ireland (the 6 counties of Ulster which are currently part of the United Kingdom) and is the party of the 1916 Easter Uprising, which led to the creation of the  Irish Republic.  Much is being made of the fact that Mc Guiness is a former Provisional IRA commander.  He says he left the  IRA in 1974 to concentrate on a peaceful solution to the Troubles (1969-2005).  Very few people believe this timeline and he is subsequently personally blamed for every act of violence in  Ireland for the past 40 years……and then some.  Even his supporters accept his dates with a wink, wink, nod, nod.  However, the undisputed truth is that since being elected to the Stormont (Northern) Assembly in 1982, he has been one of the primary architects of the Good Friday Agreement, peace in Ireland and success in bringing Catholic nationalists to a negotiating position in the North.  In fact, he is Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland  (essentially co-Prime Minister) and is very highly regarded, world-wide, as an incredible statesman.  During the Queen of England’s recent visit, however, he was notably absent from the festivities.  (Remember the meet and greet of foreign visitors??)  Well, Martin has said that, as President, he would of course welcome all visitors to Ireland.  (The joke is that he’d welcome the Queen with a 21 gun salute………………….)  He was in the US on a trade mission when his candidacy was announced.  Incidentally, he has said that, like all Sinn Fein officials, he will only accept an average industrial wage (about $469  per week) and donate the rest as he currently does.

GAY MITCHELL  Mitchell is the official candidate of the party in power, Fine Gael.  However, he was not the choice of the taoiseach and so has not seen much party backing.  (In fact, both parties of the coalition  – Fine Gael and Labour – seem to favor Michael D.)  He is a right-wing, ultra-conservative Catholic, a former MEP (Member of the European Parliament)  and seems to be a one-trick pony in that all he seems to offer are attacks on Mc Guiness.  He recently suggested, in a national debate, that Ireland rejoin the British Commonwealth.  Yeah, right, that went over like a lead balloon.  A rather boring and dull fella, he is referred to as the “invisible man” and is in a tie for last in the polls.

(An aside – the taoiseach’s choice for a presidential candidate was another party hack named Pat Cox.  He actually has a sense of humor.    When he announced his candidacy he said his slogan would be “Pat for the (Phoenix) Park” rather than “Cox for the Aras”.  Gotta love it!)

DAVID NORRIS   Another Independent, Norris has had an extremely convoluted route to the candidacy.  A distinguished looking former Trinity professor of James Joycean studies, a Senator and a proud gay man, he is an avowed and successful crusader for gay rights.  Norris, right from the beginning, seemed to be “the people’s choice”.  Then the attacks began.  The media resurrected a number of interviews and articles from years ago in which he seemed to support pederasty but not pedophilia (YOU go look  up the difference….I did).  Then it was revealed that he’d written a letter requesting clemency for a former Israeli lover convicted of statutory rape of a 15 year old Palestinian boy.  In an Ireland that only recently has started to overcome its homophobic, xenophobic and staunchly Catholic nature, this was a problem.  Norris, heart-broken, quit the race in  August.  Over a few weeks he became convinced that he was still “the people’s choice” and re-announced his bid.  However, most of his 20 signatories in the Dail and Senate had, by now, abandoned him so he needed to go the council route.  He did, getting his 4th nomination at literally the 11th hour.  Since the official beginning of the campaign, it’s come to light that he wrote numerous letters of support for his former partner, that he intervened and forced a passport application for another partner (Algerian this time) and had collected disability pay from Trinity College for 16 years (says he got hepatitus from drinking the water in Eastern Europe) all while working full-time and being paid as a Senator as well.  He’s not doing too well in the polls and his exuberant personality has been severely dampened.  I’m not sure I could have stood listening to his “awfully awfully” British accent for 7 years anyway.

DANA ROSEMARY SCALLON  For weeks I’ve been asking what is it about her?  What can she bring to the table?  The answer I get is “She’s DANA, the (1970) Eurovision winner.”  Okay, but so what?  Scallon is an ultraCatholic gospel singer and entertainer.  She moved to the US in the 90s to pursue her Christian music career but returned to Ireland to run for President in 1997.  Unsuccessful, she was eventually elected to the European Parliament for one term.  She is considered the voice of ultra -conservative Catholicism and makes no apologies for that.  In the past week it has come to light, in of course a very messy way, that she sought and attained US citizenship before her first run for the Aras.  Unfortunately, this was hidden and never mentioned until recently.  Michael D (the anti-American socialist), especially, has questioned her judgement and appropriateness to lead the country as the US Oath of Citizenship requires one to swear no allegiance to another power, prince, potentate or state, etc.  And, also in the last few days, “vile and malicious rumors have been spread against a family member in order to derail her campaign” (her words, not mine).  It seems that her brother and campaign manager was accused many years ago of sexually assaulting and molesting their niece over a period of years when she was just a child.  Funny timing, that this would be put out to the media right now, huh?  Anyway, Dana comes across as a bit dim but, then I’ve never heard her sing.  And I’m sure she would welcome visitors from all nations with a song in her heart.

Election Day is Thursday, October 27 (the day after we return to the States).  Unlike in the US you don’t just vote for 1 candidate.  Noooooooooooo, it’s preferential voting which means you rank all 7 candidates in order of your liking.  It’s unlikely that any candidate will receive the required quota of first preferences, so then the transfers kick in.  You know, who got how many  number 2 votes, add those in.  Oh, still not enough?  Well, add in the number 3 votes, etc etc.  Very complicated.  Kind of makes you nostalgic for the infamous Palm Beach County Butterfly Ballot!

So, there you have it.  As my friend ALan says “You can’t make this s**t up!”

Irish Hedges

If you have ever visited Ireland, or even seen pictures, a lasting image is one of narrow winding roads walled in by 40-shades-of-green vibrant, often towering, hedges.  As one who has only recently begun driving on the “other” side of the road, shifting with my left hand and having to remember to keep left, those hedges can be very intimidating.  But as I’ve become more comfortable and, hopefully, more competent driving,  I’ve come to delight in the enormous variety and beauty in these hedges.  Let me share with you some glimpses I’ve cherished as they’ve flashed by.

-the vivid purple spikes of loosestrife (or flame plant as it’s called here) swaying in the wind

-the passionate hot pinks of rhododendrum nestled in their bowers of glossy green

-the wild honeysuckle, each blossom a medley of yellow, rose, cranberry, clambering over stone walls and hedgerows

-the fuchsia, dripping, dripping, dripping scarlet tears

-yards and yards of white morning glories, their star-like blooms open to the sun and rain

-wild blackberry bushes by the hundreds, prickly stems, luscious ripe berries free for the picking, like a nation-wide “U Pick”

-stands of flaming crocosmia seeming to signal “Caution” “Slow Down” “Dangerous Curve Ahead”

-clematis in shades of indigo, blue, hot pink, white, deep rose climbing everything in its path

-the delicate rugosa roses, in Spring like teenage girls in their prom gowns of white and the softest pink; as fall comes, they mature and all we notice are their crimson bustles

Behind the tall hedges lie mysteries.  What will I see through the occasional gate or drive?  Will it be a humble derelict cottage or a grand stone pile of an imposing country house?  Or a green field full of cattle or sheep or empty space?  Perhaps there will be a ripening field of grain shimmering in its golden-ness.  After the harvest, the beauty of a newly plowed field recalls the richest, softest, chocolate brown wide-wale corduroy.

Or will it be a massive, silent industrial park, waiting, hoping, for a return to usefulness?

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