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Lessons of the Past

Although the issue of coronavirus remains rightfully the all encompassing news story with a unshakable position as the most prominent scoop of the news bulletin, however as this ruinous disease remains at the forefront of the minds of the general population it is easy to forget that the country must also be run, the pulse of government must be firmly placed on the heart of the nation. Throughout all political forums, whether they be Dáil Eireann, Stormont, Facebook or Twitter along with coronavirus, the eternal struggle of the Irish unity question has been raised foremost by many of the young people active on these sites and indeed many influential titans of the political world.

 It has become apparent that the Unionist majority which the apartheid regime of Northern Ireland Stormont has lost the control of the Irish citizens living north of the border with the republic, the border being a symptom of what many would refer to as the illegal partitioning of a sovereign state, as of the government of Ireland Act 1920 passed directly from the houses of parliament in Westminster as a method of appeasement to the unionist population concerned at the rise in support for an Ireland free of the century spanning domineering oppressive force of the British Empire. Stormont itself acted as much as a symbol as it was as a parliament with the imposing statue of unionist demagogue and former party leader Sir Edward Carson towering above those who enter the parliament of Northern Ireland which is supposed to be representative of all of her people, Nationalist, Unionist, Catholic, Protestant irrespective of creed or politics. This was made apparent by the open hostility of many of the early Prime Minister of the North such as James Craig and Basil Brooke who both openly called for the discrimination of employers against Catholic workers. Open discrimination in the housing market and a glaringly obvious systematic system of voter suppression through the deliberate gerrymandering of electoral districts robbed the nationalists of Northern Ireland of a significant legitimate parliamentary presence. 

In response to this many civil rights protests sprung up across the North demanding equal rights for the Catholic citizens of this state. Instead of being met with compassion and debate they were met with hails of bullets and violent abuse of peaceful protestors. Should this not have sparked outrage from the international community at large you may ask how was the condemnation of the world not fall onto the shoulders of Britain? The simple answer was in the beginning there was a general sense of apathy and following this desperation bore violence and unmitigated brutality. Although many simply wanted to defend their loved ones and communities the Troubles turned into a depraved, barbaric bloodbath on both sides as paramilitaries both loyalist and republican alike sunk to irredeemable lows massacring civilians both in political style executions, random acts of violence or indiscriminate mass killings costing the lives of so many innocents. An appalling manifestation of nationalism and unionism an affront to the ordinary citizens of Northern Ireland. The campaigns of the Provisional IRA no doubt did most harm to the cause of Irish unity forever tarnishing and staining the green, white and orange with a corrupting crimson red. It is however not in the ranks of those most violent men in the divisive, nationalistic and hateful rhetoric of extreme fundamental wings of these parties in which the solution is found. 

The state of Northern Ireland is rotten to her core the Good Friday Agreement has put given her an aesthetic change, yet it is but that, a change on the surface level, grievous sectarianism has reached boiling point under the surface as the implementation of an Irish sea border has stoked unionist fears. Yet if the hard-learned lessons of recent history have thought us anything it is that this fear can not be met with a similarly all-encompassing and devouring fear which like a poison seeps into our logic and humanity causing the most malicious atrocities. Only through the carefully constructed links between Ireland and the North can facilitate a peaceful transition from partitioned island to empowered republic. PEACE, that is the key word, the new Irish Republic must be founded on decency, morals, understanding, community, respect and equality for all regardless of background this may only be achieved through calm discourse and debate. The new Irish Republic must not be founded on the blood persecution and sorrow which fuelled and sustained the old Imperial Regime which came before it. Such bitterness will envelop and infect our new state irreparably rot the promising and unifying foundations on which it should be built. This state shall not be founded on bloodshed but on carefully built diplomatic ties between both governments and communities. There is no doubt this strategy is a time consuming one yet we’ve waited 800 years for a free Ireland rid of her colonial oppressors, so if it means that this new Ireland shall be formed of a peaceful enduring bond it is surely worth the wait. It is true this approach is best embodied by some parties more than others on either side of the border yet peace is a goal which requires universal and total support, this issue is not for but one political party, this is the way forward, the way to a united Ireland, the way and will of the Irish people. 
By Darragh Sinnott

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Opinions

Let’s End Period Poverty

With Labour’s Rebecca Moynihan and Fianna Fáil’s Lorraine Clifford-Lee both submitting legislation on tackling period poverty in Ireland to the Seanad, youth volunteers from Abolish Direct Provision have gathered together to set up a campaign, in the hopes that free period products would be provided to women in Direct Provision.  

The bills, if passed, would provide free period products in schools, education institutions and public service buildings. The bill also places an onus on the Minister for Health to engage in an information campaign to ensure people know where to obtain the products. In November 2020, Scotland became the first in the world to make period products free, it is time that other countries follow. 

It is a struggle for women in direct provision. While some centres do provide period products for free, centres are not obliged to do so and therefore not all centres provide these necessary items for free. Asylum seekers only get €38 a week. Many centres have in-house shops attached to them. In the newly opened direct provision centre in Donegal, it was reported that asylum seekers must buy from the in-house shop and they are not allowed to visit other shops in the local area, such as Lidl. Period products can be quite expensive, as well as this they must buy their own toilet paper, nappies (that range from €10-15) and any other womanly items. The €38 is not enough. Because of this low income, many asylum seekers resort to prostitution. Some asylum seekers suffer from mental health issues and as a result, there have been many miscarriages in direct provision. Abolish Direct Provision have recently set up a pregnancy kit project, that provides pregnancy tests, dressing gowns, slippers and much more for pregnant asylum seekers. Once the baby is born, the State only gives the mothers a once off payment of €50. This is why the pregnancy kit project has been a success. The non-profit organisation welcomes any donations from the public to help these mothers. 

Knowing all this, youth activists from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Social Democrats, People Before Profit, Green Party and the Labour Party decided to put political differences aside to work with each other on these issues. They decided to set up a pledge, similar to Fingal Against Racism’s anti-racism pledge set up during the general election. All elected reps, North and South, who sign, must promise to tackle period poverty in direct provision. In just 3 days, the campaign got a lot of attention and over 200 signatures so far, from all major parties like Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Social Democrats, Aontú, Labour, Green Party, Sinn Féin, People Before Profit, SDLP and a few Independents. The campaign has got the attention of Labour leader, Alan Kelly, Social Democrats leader, Roisín Shortall, Sinn Féin’s finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty, SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, People Before Profit leader, Richard Boyd Barrett, Fianna Fáil MEP, Billy Kelleher and much more. 

Fianna Fáil youth activists, Méabh Cusack and Sorcha Ní Chonghaile managed to attract 76 Fianna Fáil elected reps to sign the pledge and will continue to contact their party for more. They both like the idea of working together to end the direct provision system. Labour’s Catherine Arnold and Green Party’s Vanessa Mulhall, whose parties are very interested in tackling period poverty, have been amazed with all the support they are getting from their party. People Before Profit’s Georgia Walsh, who wants all parties to unite to effectively abolish direct provision, is looking forward to elevating the voices of women asylum seekers during the planned International Women’s day event, that accompanies the campaign, on the 5th of March at 3pm on the topic of period poverty. Sinn Féin’s Brooke Ní Riagáin, who is only 16 but very passionate about this issue, thanks to all Sinn Féin reps who have signed the pledge and looks forward to speaking on this important issue on the 5th. Fine Gael’s Lucy Roche, has noticed that quite a lot of male politicians are getting back to her in full support for the campaign, which is great to see. Social Democrats’s Christine O’Mahony, who set up this campaign with Abolish Direct Provision and the other youth activists, wants to thank all elected reps who have signed the pledge, and is overwhelmed with all the support and hopes that Minister O’Gorman will tackle the issue of free period products in direct provision. This campaign has proven that we are stronger together and we can put political differences aside to help others. 

All money raised before the event on the 5th, will go towards buying period products and essential items for women in direct provision. You can register for the event on the abolish direct provision website, www.directprovision.org

Christine O’Mahony 

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Opinions

United Education

As a young student of politics my world almost revolves around the constitutional question. Whether it’s writing about difference between the DUP and Sinn Féin or similarities between the latter and the SDLP. So as a result I often find myself questioning what a United Ireland would look like, what it would mean economically and how it would be governed. These are the topics of debate we often hear discussed by our politicians, and while of course they are the vital conversations, I find one topic to be often ignored. Education. 

The Northern education system is far from perfect, with religion segregating one way and academic selection keeping us separate another way. However we do not have mainstream private education in the way the republic does. While there may be some schools considered private schools in the North, they are not as mainstream. Mostly being Grammar Schools with quite expensive “voluntary contributions.” These schools are not considered private schools in the way that Eton and Harrow are but are more so considered “fancy grammars.” 

Whereas South of the border, private school education is much more normalised, with some of the highest fees coming in at over €8,000 in 2020, and as they become ever more popular and in higher demand, those fees will not be going anywhere. 

So, what happens in a United Ireland in regards to education? 

A two tier system purely based off of socio economic status is not acceptable. A system that gives kids a helping hand simply because Mummy and Daddy have got more money that another set of parents is not acceptable. A system that keeps the poor down and the rich up is not acceptable. A system which allows you to go to university simply because your secondary school was fancier than the one down the road is not acceptable.

Education in the 6 counties has been a source of empowerment for the nationalist community, nationalists used education to balance power in Ireland, to fight discrimination. Education was the only way a catholic could get a job. One side of the community had “jobs for the boys” so nationalists were forced to work harder in school to make sure they could succeed and prosper. It is the nationalist community who want a United Ireland however that United Ireland cannot destroy that source of empowerment for working class kids. 

A two tier system would only help keep the working classes down. It warps the system against working class kids and that will never be acceptable. 

Religion still segregates our education in Northern Ireland, separate schools keep divisions alive. Those divisions are still alive and well in the North. Implementing a system which would add another element of segregation would not help unify the next generation but would only help further divide society. Not just Catholic Protestant but then also Rich and Poor. Sectarianism is alive and well in education, classism does not need to be thrown into the mix.

In a United Ireland, the education system must be equal, free and fair. A system that helps to heal divisions and create a generation that wants to build a better society for everyone. Rich and Poor, Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. The education system should empower young people, regardless of background. That system must not be allowed to divide or segregate but must unify and integrate. That system must be representative of Ireland and her people. 

If a United Ireland is to happen the issues of education must be addressed properly in a way that satisfies the needs of students, not of businesses or churches, not of pressure groups and politicians but of the next generation of pupils. 

By Dermot Hamill