Fate Un-seal-ed: In conversation with Seal Rescue Ireland

Fate Un-seal-ed: In conversation with Seal Rescue Ireland

Fate Un-seal-ed:

In conversation with

Seal Rescue Ireland

 

United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
N K Initials for Niamh Kelly

17th of September 2022

Ireland has a rich and diverse array of marine wildlife, including two native seal species, common and grey. Seal Rescue Ireland (SRI) is a charity whose goal is to “rescue, rehabilitate and release native seals found sick, injured or orphaned from across the coast of Ireland”. Aoife O’Donoghue, who started as an animal care and conservation intern in SRI and has since taken on the role of donations and membership coordinator, highlighted in an interview with STAND News, how various human activities have impacted on the individual seals SRI has rescued, and also on wider marine biodiversity.

Photo by Aoife O’Donoghue. Finnegas, a male common seal pup, on his first day of fish school.

Aoife explained that “if you counted our marine territory, Ireland would be the same size as France”, and this large environment provides suitable habitats for many marine creatures, including seals. Ireland has a population of about 8,000 – 10,000 grey seals, and despite the name, a smaller population of about 3,000 – 4,000 common seals. Common seals, also known as harbour seals, have a wider geographical spread across the globe than grey seals, leading to their species’ moniker. An aid for the novice seal-watcher to differentiate between the two species that Aoife recommended is their similarity to household pets, “If it looks like a dog, it’s a grey seal. If it looks like a cat, it’s a common seal”. Grey seals are found most commonly in areas such as Dalkey and Howth, have long muzzles, and as their name suggests, have a grey coat. The west coast of Ireland is the most likely location to see common seals and this species have V-shaped nostrils. 

SRI is dedicated to helping seals from around the Irish coast that are ill, hurt or left without a mother to care for them. With capacity to care for up to fifty-five seals at one time and a volunteer network of around 800 people trained and licenced to rescue seals, SRI has observed six reasons why these animals are in need of rescue and rehabilitation before being released. These causes reflect larger global issues resulting from “anthropogenic activities” (human activities influencing the environment) affecting marine environments and biodiversity, as well as Irish seals, and are listed below:

 

Plastic Entanglement

Fishing equipment such as fishing nets that are lost or broken at sea still continue to catch fish, even though the nets are no longer in use for fishing. The fish trapped within these “ghost nets” attract larger predators such as dolphins, sharks and seals. Seals become entangled with the fishing equipment and any attempt to escape can worsen the situation. The entanglements can also restrict a seal’s movement, and this, in turn impacts its ability to hunt, and can result in starvation. Also, if a plastic entanglement begins to cut into a seal’s skin, it can cause infections and injuries.

Illnesses

Healthy seals are usually able to fight off parasites and illnesses, such as seal pox, by themselves. Aoife explained that “poor water quality lowers [seals’] immune system, and it can turn these illnesses quite deadly”. This poor water quality also impacts the wider marine environment habitats and inhabitants. Products that enter the seas from human activities such as “pesticides, herbicides, industrial harbours with metal in them, and raw sewage points” can have a negative impact on the health of any marine creatures living in affected areas.

Injury

Seals haul out onto beaches to rest, but during storms they can become injured if they are dragged out to sea and thrown against rocks or cliffs. SRI rescue seals with “broken bones, bruises, abrasions”, and after Storm Ophelia, more seals required help from SRI than the charity had capacity to accommodate. After taking in an additional eleven seals, bringing the total being cared for to sixty-six, SRI was unable to take in more seals as they “couldn’t ensure the best quality care if [they] kept taking them in”. These seals were rehabilitated and returned to the seas, but SRI hopes to not be in such a situation again of being unable to take in any seals that require their help. Aoife pointed out that “we’re getting way more storms in the last few years and they’re actually way more intense because of climate change”, and the injured seals are one local example of the impact of a global issue. Increasing frequency and intensity of storms may place SRI and other organisations in a position of more marine animals needing rescue and rehabilitation at one time than can be accommodated properly within an organisation’s resources and facilities.

Emaciation

Seals can come into SRI underweight and dehydrated if they are not able to find enough food. These sea mammals then begin to use their energy reserves known as blubber (a layer of fat that insulates the seals and helps to keep them warm). Ireland’s marine environment includes cold coral reefs. These cold coral reefs provide a habitat for the seals and the fish that they prey on, and are also “essential for hatcheries and fisheries. We’re not only fishing unsustainably, but we’re also destroying [cold coral reefs] with our fishing practices” as “bottom trawlers are dragging weights across [cold coral reefs]”. The destruction of these habitats, as Aoife explains, means fish stocks are being depleted, and the way to replenish fish stocks is also disappearing, because the cold coral reefs provide an environment for fish to reproduce. A decline in fish can result in seals being unable to find food and feed

Orphaning

Seal pups can be left without a mother naturally, if she dies, but often if people come too close to a seal pup on the beach, the mother will choose to abandon the pup to ensure she survives to have more pups in the following years. Seal mothers will leave their pups to feed in the sea and return to feed their pups afterwards, so unattended pups are not always orphaned pups. SRI is educating the public on how to respond if they see a seal pup by itself on the beach, and ask that people maintain at least a 100 metre distance, keep dogs on leashes and to ring or Whatsapp SRI if they have any concerns. Seals are protected under both EU and Irish Law (Wildlife Act, 1976) and It is illegal to harm or harass a seal in Ireland. SRI, and their trained volunteers, are licensed under National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) to legally handle seals, but will only do so if life-saving measures are deemed necessary Seal pups are monitored for a 24-hour period before being moved to the SRI facilities in Courtown, Wexford to guarantee the mother has not return to the pup, because as Aoife explained, “[seal pups] are at a crucial stage, they need to be with their mom. [SRI] do are best, but we’re secondary in care compared to a mother seal”.  

 

Photo by Chris Parkes. A grey seal pup on beach in Wicklow. The pup still has his lanugo (fluffy white coat) so less than 3 weeks old and still dependent on his mum for milk.

SRI not only helps seals that are ill, injured or orphaned, but engages in other work such as community outreach, education and habitat restoration. Guided educational tours of the centre for the general public are offered by SRI and seal feeding enrichment experiences which provide a behind-the-scenes look at SRI’s work. These tours, as Aoife said, highlight that SRI is “not a sanctuary. All of these seals that come into our care, they go straight back out to the wild once they’re healthy and up at a good weight again”. SRI also work with other organisations such as various county councils. These partnerships allow surveys of the seal populations to be conducted and beach areas can be closed off during the pupping season if necessary. SRI also had a community outreach stall at Bloom festival in the Phoenix Park, Dublin.

Finally, the conservation centre is aiming to plant 20,000 native Irish trees before the end of the year and hosts tree-planting events. Animal care such as feeding the seals, cleaning out the pools, applying wound care, administering medications and providing enrichment are essential in SRI, but the charity takes varied approaches to achieve its goal of helping seals. Their volunteering and internship opportunities are another example of this commitment. Aoife joined SRI after completing a Bachelor of Science in biology in National University of Ireland, Maynooth and later on, a Master of Science in Global Change: Ecosystem Science and Policy in University College Dublin. She stresses, however, that people from many backgrounds volunteer and work with SRI, “if you have an education background, if you’ve marketing, media, community engagement, obviously animal care and conservation, [SRI have] all those internships”. Aoife has developed professional connections and also strong friendships through her involvement with SRI,  “but honestly, it’s the seals that are the best part. Most of them come in and they’re quite poorly, quite lethargic. It takes them a few weeks obviously, and then suddenly, when they’re starting to feel better, their whole personalities come out”. After the seals are ready for release, “they will just galumph out of their cage and there’s no looking back for them. They’re just straight out into the water”. 

SRI are conducting rewarding and challenging work to rescue seals impacted by various “anthropogenic activities” and showcase a dedicated local response to protecting marine biodiversity. Global challenges such as climate change, plastic pollution and preserving marine environments have far-reaching effects, including on Ireland’s native seals. 

 

Thank you to SRI donations and membership coordinator Aoife O’Donoghue and executive director Melanie Croce for their support in this article.

 

Featured photo by Chris Parkes of Ilia Pika, a female common seal pup, with interns cleaning one of the deeper pools.

This article was supported by: STAND News Intern Brianna Walsh and Student Engagement Manager Aislin Lavin

New From STAND News

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Criomhthann writes about Earth Overshoot Day and the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment by the UN General Assembly. Criomhthann also shares some groups who post about progress made in climate justice and opportunities to learn more and meet people interested in these topics in Ireland.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

Stories straight to your inbox that challenge how you think about the world.

Decarbonisation is a political and ecological project: the EU Taxonomy, gas and other barriers to change in Ireland

Decarbonisation is a political and ecological project: the EU Taxonomy, gas and other barriers to change in Ireland

Decarbonisation is a Political and Ecological Project:
The EU Taxonomy, gas and other barriers

United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
Louie Lyons
17th of August 2022

Europe’s energy transition requires large-scale private and public investment in low-carbon technology. On the 7th of July 2022 Members of the European Parliament voted in favour of a proposal to include gas and nuclear energy in the EU Taxonomy, a classification system created to clarify for investors what constitutes a sustainable investment. The EU Taxonomy is a tool that hopes to counteract, in combination with subsidies, the failure of the market to incentivise investment in renewables. 

The proposal, put forward by the European Commission, triggered intense debate between member states. Austria remains deeply opposed to the expansion of nuclear energy, while Poland insists their use of gas is essential to quickly phasing out coal. The energy sector relies heavily on fossil fuels, and the transition to renewable energy is critical to reducing emissions; this is an immense project and is beginning to be fleshed-out in plans like the European Green Deal. The urgency surrounding Europe’s energy transition rapidly increased in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which contributed and was exacerbated by the continuing shortage in global gas supplies.

Ongoing heat waves across Europe provide an alarming backdrop to recent debates; suddenly the impacts of climate change carry a sense of immediacy for Europeans, an immediacy apparent to people throughout the global south for decades. Changing weather patterns, food insecurity, habitat destruction and pollution caused by extractive industries are just some of the impacts of climate change in the global south. Many schools and health centres in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, still do not have power. As Europe grapples with the question of how to build low-carbon economies, the question of whether energy transition will result in improved global energy access and inclusion is far from certain. 

Seven Irish MEPs voted against the proposal to include gas and nuclear in the Taxonomy, with five voting in favour and one abstention. All Fine Gael MEPs and one Fianna Fáil representative voted to include gas and nuclear energy in the taxonomy. The result of the vote generated strong reactions from some Irish MEPs, activists and researchers. Taken together they capture the contested and uncertain path to transition in Ireland and Europe. 

 

A United Nations humanitarian aid worker checks the heartbeat of a baby, while two women look on fondly

Portrait of Grace O’Sullivan by Roisin O’Donnell

Beyond dirty versus clean, what does transition mean?

Ireland is at a crossroads; there is massive potential to produce renewable energy, but our reliance on imported gas has prompted concerns over energy security. Meanwhile, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) projects are being proposed by fossil fuel companies in various locations across the country.  

During our interview, Brian, a representative of the ‘Not Here Not Anywhere’ (NHNA) Campaign, fighting LNG expansion in Ireland, was unflinching in his criticism of the EU decision: “anyone I’ve told about last week’s vote was shocked and outraged  – but the problem is that not enough people knew about it”. He stated clearly that:

 

“On an issue that has such a clear mandate from the public then I would wonder how [the MEPs] could justify their actions…It really makes you wonder who this legislation was for?”

The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), Ireland’s energy and water economic utility regulator, recently argued for the critical role of liquified natural gas (LNG) in Ireland. Ms MacEvilly, the CRU spokeswoman, said that ‘there was a need to explain to communities  in a better way why this was needed…we will not decarbonise without this infrastructure.” Fine Gael MEP Maria Walsh also emphasised the need to communicate the “reality” of transition:

“It is essential that we communicate and engage with the Irish public to ensure that they understand that member states are at different points in decarbonisation… Transition fuels are a means to an end. They are not the end in itself.”

The attempt to frame LNG in Ireland as a pragmatic solution to energy transition in Europe seems misleading. The reality of transition in Ireland is understood by many communities across Ireland, through their experience of decarbonisation and renewable energy projects. Their experiences highlight how we need to keep interrogating dominant approaches to transition in Ireland and Europe.

 

A United Nations humanitarian aid worker checks the heartbeat of a baby, while two women look on fondly

Portrait of Conchúr Ó Maonaigh by Roisin O’Donnell

Liquified Natural Gas in Ireland: means of transition or lucrative transaction?  

The influence and power of the fossil fuel industry, specifically those invested in the continued use of gas, was highlighted by Irish MEPs and activists. Brian, from NHNA: 

 

“[the] fossil fuel industry… use their influence to ensure no reduction in their activities. When it comes to LNG terminals being built in Ireland we see similar underhanded tactics being used to fund the Shannon LNG terminal by using European PCI (Projects for Common Interest) list funding.”

MEPs McManus and Daly, when asked to respond to the result of the vote, made reference to “powerful if silent interests” and the influence of “big lobbies here in Brussels”. Academics and activists insist that the fight against the fossil fuel industry is the ‘sine qua non of climate politics’ . Grassroots campaigns, including ‘Keep Ireland LNG Free’ focuses on the role that private companies will play in the expansion of LNG infrastructure, increasing our reliance on fossil fuels and unpredictable gas markets.

Shannon LNG, a subsidiary of Hess Corporation, has applied for planning permission for an LNG terminal on a site in North Kerry. In response, Kilcolgan Residents Association was established, including a website—‘Safety Before LNG’ (SBL) —that provides a ‘resource of information on the strategy used to develop an LNG terminal’. They describe a coordinated approach on part of Shannon LNG, the statutory body Shannon Development company and local politicians to convince residents of the potential of the project for the area, including a newsletter that described LNG as an “environmentally friendly fossil fuel”

Climate Camp Ireland, a week-long event was held from the 2nd-7th of August near the location of Shannon LNG’s proposed site. The camp, involving workshops and family-friendly events, was envisaged as a way of challenging Shannon LNG, but also an attempt to create ‘a space that is a model of the kind of society we want, and need, beyond capitalism’. 

 

A United Nations humanitarian aid worker checks the heartbeat of a baby, while two women look on fondly

Portrait of Patrick Kirwan by Roisin O’Donnell

“We need a new politics—not just new technologies and policies” 

Speaking with Patrick Kirwan, secondary school teacher and climate and biodiversity activist based in Waterford, I wanted to understand how decarbonisation is discussed in schools. He highlighted how “the education system doesn’t cover politics, how to engage with government reps…It isn’t dynamic because teachers lack time and confidence on these topics. But it could be different. We know that what we teach students leaches out into the community”. When I asked about the topic of just transition he was clear that, “to answer your questions students would have to have a good level of knowledge about the different aspects of climate…the students I work with closely, their knowledge is growing.  They just want to take action! They want to learn about the twin climate and biodiversity crises in a practical hands-on way”. 

Sinead Mercier and Patrick Bresnihan, activists and lecturers in Maynooth University emphasise that our current approach ‘prioritises and assumes private, corporate ownership of renewable energy production’. Sinead Mercier’s work compares transitions in Germany and elsewhere, highlighting the need for ‘social dialogue’ that facilitates an ‘inclusive, iterative, place-based, context-specific approach’, and the damage caused by a poorly implemented transition. Wind farms—a critical source of renewable energy in Ireland—have been resisted by communities that were excluded by developers and felt that private companies and their far-flung investors were the primary beneficiaries. 

Conchúr Ó Maonaigh, Phd student at Maynooth University, provided me further insight into the challenges of decarbonisation in Ireland, highlighting how it “ [relies] on spatial divisions of power that can undermine the so-called just transitions pursued by the state. There are clear sacrifice zones… [that] governments, activists, and the public do not consider in the discourse on decarbonisation”. He suggested that activists, particularly on the left, needed to “draw attention to the complex chains of ownership and resources that form the basis of renewable futures”.

The responses of committed people and organisations demonstrates the complexity of the energy transition, but also importance of continued interrogation of decarbonisation, a process that does not guarantee a just transition or dissolution of vested interests.

 

Featured image and portraits included in the article by Roisin O’Donnell.

This article was supported by: Interim Marketing Coordinator Criomhthann Morrison & STAND Student Engagement Coordinator Aislin Lavin.

New From STAND News

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Criomhthann writes about Earth Overshoot Day and the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment by the UN General Assembly. Criomhthann also shares some groups who post about progress made in climate justice and opportunities to learn more and meet people interested in these topics in Ireland.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

Stories straight to your inbox that challenge how you think about the world.

The UN: Compromise or Compromised?

The UN: Compromise or Compromised?

The UN: Compromise or Compromised?
United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
Louie Lyons
17th of August 2022

Russia vetoes humanitarian aid resolution

On the 12th of July, the UN Security Council voted on a resolution jointly proposed by Ireland and Norway. The resolution aimed to provide crucial humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians, who continue to experience the devastating impact of conflict between the al-Assad governing regime and rebels. This provision of aid would have lasted for twelve months, a period of time that the Irish ambassador to the UN, Geraldine Byrne, claims “actors on the ground… needed”.

However, the bias of Russia, a prominent supporter of the Syrian government, was on full display. The Russian Federation used its power to veto the proposal and in turn proposed its own amended resolution that passed with a vote of 12 members in favour and 3 abstainers (France, United Kingdom, and the United States). Aside from these votes, the only country to vocally support the amendment was China. The final resolution now sees humanitarian aid travelling from Turkey to Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing in Turkey for only six months as opposed to the original twelve. This is a replay of events in 2020, when Russia similarly pressured the Council to cut the period of aid delivery to Syria from twelve months to six.

The 2020 resolution also limited the UN’s access to a number of borders into the country, reducing entry from four borders to just two. The Syrian civil war has been a continuous conflict since the Arab Spring protests in 2011, where tension grew between government and rebels, and has led to a major international refugee crisis. In 2021, a total of 13 million people had been internally or externally displaced. The Syrian civil war has, since its inception, spiralled into an international conflict with Russia, Iran, and the terrorist organisation Hezbollah supporting Bashar al-Assad’s government, and the United States, Turkey, the Netherlands, Britain, and France as well as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel supporting Syrian rebels.

 

Many are heralding this recent settlement as a necessary step towards helping the 2.4 million Syrian people reliant on cross-border humanitarian aid. Proponents of the Russian amendment also point out that it does not preclude the possibility of a renewal of aid in six months.

However, others view this as a compromised resolution.

Critics say it reduces the certainty and confidence surrounding aid, with French ambassador, Nicolas De Riviere, claiming that we are now relying on a “precarious renewal”. The American ambassador, Richard Mills, also commented on the matter, stating “[this is what happens] when one Council member takes the entire Security Council hostage” and that Syrian civilians will be negatively impacted by the downgrade in the quantity of aid. Ambassador Mills went on to detail the general Russian stance on Syria, “Russia is so brazen in its disregard for Syrian lives that it has not even bothered trying to justify its stance on a humanitarian basis. This is an immoral and cynical approach to humanitarian needs.” Russia and China have both defended their positions on halving the guarantee of aid as a means of protecting Syrian sovereignty – that is to say the Syrian government’s autonomy and right to act however they wish within their own borders.

The irony of Russia’s claim to be a protector of sovereignty has not been lost on many. The impact of the new resolution may mean that, by the time UN agencies and NGOs working in the area will have organised to begin their operations, their authorisation will have expired. This will force them to spend valuable time and resources every six months working to apply for renewals and will diminish the amount of focus they can give to aid distribution on the ground.

The Security Council’s veto examined

Russia’s veto is part of a larger trend that sees the permanent members on the UN Security Council ally with brutal regimes by stalling action proposed by the UN. This trend applies to two states and two regimes in particular – The U. S’s defence of Israel and Russia’s defence of Syria. With regards to Russia, this is the 17th time they have used their veto to defend Syrian sovereignty despite that sovereignty being used to justify atrocities such as the Syrian government engaging in biological warfare against its citizens. Similarly, Russia and China both also used the veto to protect North Korea’s nuclear programme in 2022.

The situation between the U.S and Israel mirrors that of Russia-Syria but has been going on much longer. The U.S has used its power to veto 53 resolutions that would have sanctioned Israel over the past 50 years. Amongst those 53 exist a veto opposing investigations into the murders of seven Palestinian civilians by an Israeli soldier in 1990 and Obama’s veto of a resolution that would have denounced Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank in 2011. The U.S’s blanket support for Israel is tantamount to a war crime get-out-of-jail-free card and unquestionably sends a message to Israel that international law does not apply to them. China for its part has also used it’s veto twice to block UN aid to countries that are diplomatically engaged with Taiwan. Threats on the global stage is the main way in which China exerts indirect control over Taiwanese foreign policy and waving the veto around is one means of intimidating states looking for UN support.

 

This all begs the question – why are certain states given a veto at all, especially when vetoes are mostly used to defend the indefensible actions of friends?

A United Nations humanitarian aid worker checks the heartbeat of a baby, while two women look on fondly

An Austrian battalion doctor comforts a young patient in Damascus (United Nations)

Why is there a veto?

The veto was added to the UN charter as a way to persuade the Great Powers to join the UN. The Great Powers made it clear that there would be a veto or there would be no UN. In the wake of two devastating World Wars, the appetite for supranationalism and global governance was big. The veto was a bitter pill worth swallowing to establish the UN, binding the power in compromise from the very beginning in the hope that five countries would at least sing from the same hymn sheet on such serious matters. But in reality, over the near 80-year history of the UN, it has become an insurmountable weapon of war, the very thing the international organisation sought to prevent.

The veto is a barrier preventing the world from progressing past our former colonial global system. For four former western colonial powers to hold elevated influence over what regimes are worth keeping or what ones ought to be changed around the world is clear neo-imperialism. The list of permanent members on the Security Council includes only one state outside of the conceptual West. Similarly, the Security Council contains no representation from Africa, South America, or Oceania – yet three from Europe. This issue of Security Council representation too is a matter for debate.

Both Turkey and Brazil have at certain stages in recent times advocated for the abolition of the veto and have called for nations such as Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia, and India be added as permanent members to the council. In April 2022, the UN General Assembly voted that the General Assembly must convene within ten days of a veto, at which the vetoing state would be required to provide greater justification and a debate would take place around the use of their veto. This is a first step but it is doubtful that the General Assembly will have enough power to either convince or shame a permanent member into reversing their veto. The outcome of this reform is that procedurally, vetoes will now take longer but will still have the same effect of facilitating war crimes and authoritarian regimes. Efforts to reform international laws that would place responsibilities on third-party countries to ethically intervene in conflicts have also suffered under the political curse of compromise: legislation has been clumsily worded and operationally impractical.

 

 

Veto reform is merely polishing the veneer of something that is broken on the inside; abolition is the way forward.

Unfortunately, the five permanent members are likely to balk at any further diminution of their power and the loss of any of the five permanent members to the UN would be a great blow – see the League of Nations without America. The permanent members are significant contributors of financial aid to the UN and consequently, many members see the veto as a necessary evil to keep the UN together.

Ireland’s role

Ireland was among five states, the others being Algeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Mongolia, who called for an outright abolition of veto powers back in 2018. Italy as part of the Uniting for Consensus Group also noted a desire amongst member states for the abolition of the veto. In relation to the Syrian civil war specifically, on top of their proposed resolution Ireland pledged €23 million towards humanitarian funding for Syria at the Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region conference in Brussels in May 2022 – the sixth conference of its kind. The funding will be provided to a number of humanitarian agencies. With this pledge, Ireland surpasses the €200 million mark in total humanitarian funding provided to Syria since 2012. While aid is stifled by a paralysed Security Council, the UN is forced to build peace with one hand tied behind its back. Of course the various reasons that cause Western democracies to prop up authoritarian regimes in the first place will still exist. However, in a veto-less world, the ways in which they could do this would be reduced by one.

 

Featured Photos by United Nations

This article was supported by: STAND News and Communications Intern Brianna Walsh and STAND Student Engagement Coordinator Aislin Lavin

New From STAND News

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Criomhthann writes about Earth Overshoot Day and the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment by the UN General Assembly. Criomhthann also shares some groups who post about progress made in climate justice and opportunities to learn more and meet people interested in these topics in Ireland.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

Stories straight to your inbox that challenge how you think about the world.

From Wheatpaste to Home Fries: Looking Back on Climate Camp Ireland

From Wheatpaste to Home Fries: Looking Back on Climate Camp Ireland

From Wheatpaste to Home Fries: Looking Back on Climate Camp Ireland

People standing around in a circle in a field surrounding other people lying on the ground making up the words frack off lng
Penelope Norman

14th of August 2022

Early in the morning, I climbed out of my tent to head over to the kitchen. The night before, around the fire, I had promised my friends, ‘the best potatoes any of you have ever eaten in your life,’ and I aimed to deliver. We had two bags of freshly grown spuds which needed to be washed, chopped, and fried with only a couple of hours to do it all before the entire hungry camp rushed towards our door.

Slí Eile’s climate camp was set up during the first week of August in a field between Lislaughtin Abbey and Saleen Pier, just outside of the town Ballylongford, Kerry. The goal of the camp was to demonstrate organised resistance against New Fortress Energy’s (an American fossil fuel company) proposed Shannon LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) project. The project site the terminal would be built on was a fifteen-minute walk away from camp and, at the time of publication, it is currently leased as field space to a local farmer. The camp consisted of three large marquees which hosted a kitchen, a canteen, and event spaces. The other half of the field was kept for people to pitch their tents.

I went to the tap outside the kitchen to wash yesterday’s dishes and get to work. In addition to my potato-craving comrades, I had to worry about getting the meal cooked before our daily plenary meeting and my friends’ morning workshop about the benefits of Mutual Aid. Luckily, a few other early risers were around to help me with the cleaning and a number of the other kitchen crew were able to work on their contribution to breakfast. I easily found the tools that I needed to get the dish prepared.

 

 If the dream of the camp was going to be kept alive, it needed to be fed with care and attention.

The campers were a mix of people from different campaigns ranging from climate organisations such as Futureproof Clare and Fridays for Future to broader groups such as MacramÉire and Community Action Tenants Union, among others. Many had been a part of Extinction Rebellion Ireland at some point during their lives, though most had moved on to other ways to combat the climate crisis. Politically, there were two things which connected everybody who was there. We all cared about the crisis, with a hope to stop the methane-leaking LNG terminal which would exacerbate it. We also wanted to take active steps to move towards a world that was actually survivable, though there were disagreements about how much change would be required to get there. The camp and its mission were kept together by a fundamental bond, the shared experience of living in a specific space at a specific time which was only possible because we were able to rely on one another for basic requirements such as food, shelter, waste disposal, and warmth.

When I began to chop the potatoes into small chunks, I noticed how fatigued I was. From the moment I had asked if there was anything I could help with when I arrived Monday afternoon, I was swept from task to task in a way that I hadn’t been used to since I’d worked in a hospital years ago. If the dream of the camp was going to be kept alive, it needed to be fed with care and attention. That’s not to say that I didn’t have time to rest, it’s just that every action from the most intense work to the special moments of relaxation were deliberate and filled with meaning in a way I wasn’t used to in the city. Community feels different when you’re living apart from the people you build it with. We had weaved a fragile net of mutual reliance on each other; I didn’t have the time or need to dissociate to the same degree as usual. In the city, I tried my best to disappear; in the camp, with the support of others, I tried my best to actively live in the present.

People doing the jobs required to run the camp had a wide range of experiences. In my working group, there were campers who had worked in restaurants, cooked for friends occasionally, or maintained kitchens at other climate camps; we all taught each other the skills and recipes necessary to keep the camp fed. A task to install some complex solar panels turned from a specialist activity into a workshop where everyday people learned how to do it themselves. Direct action and media training workshops both helped people gain the confidence to engage politically for themselves and provided the space to share experiences and raise people’s awareness about various aspects of the struggle against Collapse. Even free transport to and from the nearby town of Listowel became an opportunity to learn about one another along the way and form the bonds necessary to maintain our community. The activities of the camp worked to empower each of us to participate in every part of camp life rather than separate us and disguise the labour happening around the site.

 

While the dish was my responsibility, I never had to hold that responsibility alone. We all pitched in where we could and managed to get things done that we never could have imagined possible before.

I needed help to light the stove we used to cook. While someone lent me a hand, I worked to create a spice mix of black pepper, cumin, smoked paprika, and sea salt to add to the potatoes when they were ready. Someone else helped me carry the heavy pot full of water to the tent so I could boil the sliced tubers before sauteing them. While I waited for them to boil, I was able to chat and share a coffee with a number of people who’d come into the marquee’s social area, including a number of friends from the previous night and new people who’d arrived in the morning. A couple of them helped me drain the potatoes while we reflected on yesterday’s Céilí and the upcoming events. While the dish was my responsibility, I never had to hold that responsibility alone. We all pitched in where we could and managed to get things done that we never could have imagined possible before.

For an extended encounter between a group of exhausted Irish leftists in a field, there was shockingly little drama. When a number of issues inevitably came up, they were handled without resorting to calling the gardaí (which would have put some of the campers at risk of violence.) We would find people who could empathise and communicate with the people involved in trouble and move through it without resorting to exclusion or violence. A lot of this came from a mutual respect we held for each other and our shared interest in maintaining the camp and its mission. A number of people did get tired, and conflict grew over space and scheduling. We knew the only way we were going to get through conflict without turning to older systems of punishment was recognising the worth in each other and pushing through to do the difficult work of compromise. This labour was just another job that kept the camp together, and one of the most hard-won successes we brought into reality.

I was able to fry the ingredients and serve them. Everybody made sure to thank me for the work and I in turn thanked them for what they’d done over the week. We all kept the old phrase ‘you are what you eat’ in mind while enjoying breakfast. We were eating locally produced food made by our friends for the purpose of keeping the camp going. We were a community, politically and gastronomically. The burner I made the potatoes on had been used the day before to create a glue out of boiled wheat flour called wheatpaste. Our actions and our meals were made by the same people in the same place, the heart of the camp as one friend put it. I don’t see these processes as distinct, separable parts of our camp, but different faces of the same fantastic gem. At the end of the day, it was a bold experiment in dreaming a better world into reality.

Featured Photo by Slí Eile

This article was supported by: STAND Student Engagement Coordinator Aislin Lavin

New From STAND News

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Criomhthann writes about Earth Overshoot Day and the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment by the UN General Assembly. Criomhthann also shares some groups who post about progress made in climate justice and opportunities to learn more and meet people interested in these topics in Ireland.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

Stories straight to your inbox that challenge how you think about the world.

Travellers and Access to Education

Travellers and Access to Education

Travellers and Access to Education

Traveller Women Graduating from UCC
Louie Lyons
15th of July 2022

Travellers, recognised by the Irish government as an indigenous ethnic group in 2017, have been victims of systemic and structural barriers to education that have seen them experience some of the lowest rates of participation in third level education of any demographic in Ireland. In December 2018, The Irish Times reported that only 1% of Traveller children go on to third level education. By comparison, in the same year, The Irish Times published an article entitled, “Are we sending too many young people to third level?” in which the education editor, Carl O’Brien, opined that there may be too many students (over 60%) from the settled population of school-leavers attending university. This dichotomy was how things stood back in 2018 and, perhaps not unsurprisingly, this disparity between settled and Traveller students has been exacerbated by the recent Covid-19 pandemic. An entire ethnic group left out of the Irish education system begs the questions, why and what needs to be done to tackle this inequality?

The lack of access to third level education arises from historical discriminatory processes of educational segregation of Travellers from their settled counterparts at the primary and post-primary level. Throughout the 1960s, and right up to the 2000s, Traveller-only schools were an accepted norm. A common belief throughout this time, and one that prevails to this day according to Bernard Joyce, Director of the Irish Traveller Movement (ITM), is that Travellers had no interest in education. The reality, as Mr Joyce points out, is that this is a harmful stereotype, externally imposed upon them, and that attitudes towards education are overwhelmingly positive, with all levels of education being valued within their community.

Government-sponsored and independent research into segregated educational institutions have repeatedly stated that it would be beneficial to integrate Traveller students into mainstream schools. Some progress was made towards this goal in the 2000s, which saw efforts to integrate and desegregate education with the introduction of resource teachers and visiting teachers into mainstream schools. Resource teachers assisted schools in meeting the needs of Traveller students and visiting teachers advocated on behalf of Traveller students and aided parents and communities with enrolments and entitlements. However, progress ground to a halt when funding for these positions was decimated during the post-2008 recession and the ensuing austerity, with spending on specific Traveller educational needs cut by 86.6% between 2008 and 2013, as outlined by Pavee Point in their report, Travelling with Austerity.  

An entire ethnic group left out of the Irish education system begs the questions, why and what needs to be done to tackle this inequality?

More recently, there has been financial support for Traveller progression to higher education. In 2021, €300,000 was provided by the government through the Dormant Account Fund to Higher Education Institutions for “Traveller progression to and retention in higher education”. Further financial support is on the horizon in 2022, specifically €450,000 is being allocated to HEIs for similar purposes of transfer to and retention in higher education. Now that it appears funding is returning to the project of Traveller integration, it is appropriate to discuss with experts in the field such as Mr Joyce, as well as Ms Grimson, coordinator of the Trinity Access Programme (TCD), both of whom agreed to be interviewed, what the best use of this money will be.

On the face of it, it may seem that a return of financial investment ought to lead to considerable improvements in the welfare of Traveller students and result in growing numbers making the progression to third level. However, both my interviewees agreedwere in agreement that the amount of investment is still not sufficient to current needs and as Mr Joyce made clear, it is not enough to target third level institutions as by that time many Traveller students have already left the education system.

The stated goal of the funding for HEIs reflects an inclusive agenda but by the time Traveller students have reached third level they have already endured years of social exclusion and torment from their peers, teachers, and schools at both the personal and structural levels. Tackling the apathy of the education system towards Travellers must begin at a younger age and must involve a greater amount of cultural and social investment in Traveller students, not just the economic. “From the leaves and branches to the grassroots, Traveller children don’t feel comfortable or welcomed [in schools] as not only have they to contend with the schoolwork but they also have to contend with not being happy” Mr Joyce said.

For many Traveller students it may seem that they are actively being pushed out of the educational system by having low expectations imposed on them by their teachers and schools, leading to an insecurity on their part in relation to their abilities. Mr Joyce pointed to instances where Traveller students were given textbooks of lower academic levels and were not expected to keep up with the same standard as their peers. This is further rendered problematic for the students in question as they fail to see their culture reflected amongst their peers, or within the school curriculum. Traveller students note that there is even a lack of Traveller-focused representation on the school’s cultural walls (which are a feature of most primary and many secondary schools in the country), further compounding the sentiment that they are not in an institution which is welcoming to either them or their culture. These exclusionary elements have a negative impact on school performance and attendance. And all of this assumes that Traveller students are being encouraged by the school itself to attend, even when enrolled. Mr Joyce highlighted that in 2021 it was discovered that many Traveller students were being targeted for reduced-hour timetables, a practice that ITM argues must be eradicated since it is an overt example of structural discrimination.

The stated goal of the funding for HEIs reflects an inclusive agenda but by the time Traveller students have reached third level they have already endured years of social exclusion and torment from their peers, teachers, and schools at both the personal and structural levels.

Another aspect of this debate that Mr Joyce outlined was the difficulty for Traveller students in separating the struggle in school with the struggle they face at home. “Traveller accommodation is often isolated from schools and may lack working showers, etc, so children are having to contend with school with fewer resources at home than their settled counterparts.” In 2019, the Council of Europe’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance condemned Ireland for the amount of funding being provided for Traveller accommodation. This disparity between at-home resources has become more apparent with the onset of the 2020 pandemic and at-home schooling where access to wifi and technology was of paramount importance, as Mr Joyce observed “many Traveller students have not returned to school since the reopening of schools.”

Returning to the question of the number of Travellers making it to third level, what can be done to tackle this culture of discriminatory disinterest in Traveller students? It is evident that the core issue is the necessity to increase the numbers of those completing second level education and all solutions must occur in tandem with primary, post-primary, and third level institutions.

The lack of representation at the primary and post-primary level was presented in the Government’s National Traveller Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017/2021 (NTRIS). This report acknowledged the lack of Traveller and Roma history and culture being discussed at the primary and post-primary level which contributes to a poor school retention rate on the part of students from both communities. Despite this explicit acknowledgement, implementation of the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018, has been unbearably slow. Representation, is a vital tool in combating racism and discrimination but, as Deputy Thomas Pringle pointed out in a Dáil debate on the 2018 Education Bill, “only if it is taught by teachers who are trained and culturally competent.”

This raises a point regarding the necessity for an increase in anti-racism education, workshops, and talks for teachers and students at all levels of education. Organisations such as ITM and each equity, diversity and inclusion office within the nation’s HEIs must ensure that environments of bullying or alienation are eradicated in lecture theatres and classrooms through anti-racism and cultural awareness teaching, echoing the calls of many student unions around Ireland. Speaking with Christine O’Mahony, DCU’s Diversity and Inclusion Officer who has long campaigned for anti-racism training in universities, she said “Anti-racism training is essential for universities. It should be aimed at the staff that don’t fully understand racism and microaggression… and help them realise that things that they are doing could be offensive to minority groups. Anti-racism training assists in making universities a safe space for minority students.”

Once the environment is comfortable enough only then can programmes such as the Trinity Access Programme look to increase capacity building in schools and allow for a return of the resource and visiting teachers, bolstering mentorship programs to handle the logistics of third level for students who may have no prior information about how to navigate registration, module enrolment, joint honour systems, etc as Ms Grimson said TAP wished to do.

The €750,000 made available by the government in recent years is merely the right amount to tinker around the edges of the educational system but is not the overhaul of a pervasive dismissive culture that leaves Traveller children behind from the youngest age, with long-term negative repercussions not only for the individual and community alike, but also for the nation as a whole.

Featured Image by Virgin Media News

This article was supported by: News & Communications Intern Penelope

New From STAND News

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Criomhthann writes about Earth Overshoot Day and the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment by the UN General Assembly. Criomhthann also shares some groups who post about progress made in climate justice and opportunities to learn more and meet people interested in these topics in Ireland.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

Stories straight to your inbox that challenge how you think about the world.

The Pressures of a Female Comic

The Pressures of a Female Comic

The Pressures of a Female Comic

Mrs. Maisel looks toward the camera in a crowd of men dressed in grey
Deepthi Suresh

13th of July 2022

A few summers ago, I came across a gem of a show, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, a Prime video series set in the 1950s that revolves around a privileged New York woman who suddenly finds herself single when her husband leaves her for his secretary. As I excitedly allowed myself to fall into the 1950s stand-up scene in New York through the show, I knew I had hit a jackpot of clever wit. It was a journey of a woman coming of age into the smokey comedy clubs, trying to speak her voice when all hell broke loose in her life. This was a perfect combination of entertainment, clever writing, phenomenal performances by the cast, and a story that inspired me. However, as I began my research for this article on female stand-up comics, I was bombarded with articles pointing toward the seemingly common topic, “ Why are female comics not funny?” At first, it seemed odd. I wondered whether there was any truth to it. In my personal experience, I have mostly tuned into male comics’ specials on streaming sites. But why was that?

The 1950s was a time when comedians had begun to transition into observational humour, which is still in vogue today. The lead actress of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Rachel Brosnahan, strikes an important note wherein she says, “History is generally told by men about men. To have a period piece being told by a woman about an extraordinary woman is exciting.“ That is exactly what the makers of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel set out to do. The woman at the centre of the show, Miriam Maisel, on the night of her breakup with her husband, ends up at a comedy club that she used to frequent with her husband to support him. He was an uninspired aspiring comic, and Miriam, being the devoted wife she is,would take notes and help him with his performance. Her rant about how her life turned out on that fateful night sets the stage for her accidental birth as a stand-up comic. She then embarks upon her new reality of juggling two jobs – professional stand-up comedy and single parenthood. Her first comedy routine ends up with her being dragged by the police for flashing the crowd while drunk and furious at the way her life has turned upside down. However, as time passes by, one can’t help but notice and revel in the charm with which she delivers jabs at unruly audience members or the police. She gets arrested not once but a few times throughout the series. It screams out a sure sense of self-assuredness that you normally don’t find in a female (comic) lead of a television series set in the 1950s.

It is interesting to note that Maisel’s character might have been heavily inspired by a Jewish female comic and singer, Belle Barth. Interestingly enough, Lenny Bruce’s character (a phenomenally played by Luke Kirby) acts as a mentor of some sorts to Maisel while in reality Bruce used to open for Barth early in his career.  Barth had been arrested and charged for lewdness in 1953 and was eventually banned from radio and television. But this didn’t stop Barth from achieving commercial success. Similarly, Miriam struggles to find her footholding in the field. She refuses to follow a set and expected style of comedy meant for female comics of the time. She refuses to apologise for her lived experiences and instead churns out spectacular recipes of relatable comedy with it. In the show it is clear that a woman faces bias in terms of finding space in the bill or male managers complaining about their material drawing in more women than men. But she cleverly convinces them that women can be a spending audience too. This is portrayed delightfully well in season 4.

An open minded audience would always be receptive to hear new stories. The question is are they getting a chance to hear stories of female comics or are they choosing to ignore different perspectives overall?

 

Although Mrs Maisel takes place in the 1950s, the show cleverly depicts alternatives to perfection, keeping in mind that women were still encouraged and pressured to strive for the latter then just like now. In Miriam’s case, her pathological need to be perfect is displayed when she keeps tabs on her slim figure by taking measurements every single day, and secretly removes her makeup after her husband sleeps just to put it back on before he wakes up. Perfectionism takes centre stage in Miriam’s life as she constantly walks on a tightrope of the expectations of her femininity while being a single mom as she ventures into the male-dominated field of comedy. She mines for her material through expectations that women are familiar with even today! Having faced setbacks and life experiences throughout the course of her journey to be a comic, she realises one important factor that sets her apart when she tells her manager, “You know what is great about me. It’s when I am me!” For Mrs Maisel to thrive, she had to let go of the never-ending quest for perfection. Her perfect life had to blow up in her face. This gave birth to her authentic self, a voice that tore upon the typical female caricatures that were quite in fashion among the rare female comics who had made a mark with self-deprecating humour.

Maisel learned to embrace the unpolished realities that she encounters in her daily life. She began to make choices that may have been unprecedented within her family. She was afraid of letting go at times but bravely managed to hold her ground even when the going got extremely tough. The most uncomfortable truths sometimes make the best material for comedy. Why? Because you and I are able to relate to it! For example, it is evident with Mrs Maisel’s entry into comedy where she ends up insulting her family sometimes in her act. She insults her Jewishness at times. She even insults the, ‘dumb secretary’ that her husband leaves her for. But would a male comic have to think twice before he spins out jokes about insulting people, family, or a community? 

Stand-up comedy has a tradition of breaking norms, morals, and political conventions. The question that arises in my mind is whether women are scrutinised a bit more than their male counterparts. Comedian Kim Wayans however, observes that with men, “the audience is eager and ready and then he has to prove that he is not funny and then they back off, but with a woman, you have to come out and win them over.” However, in a study by Alice Sheppard regarding social change and audience response to female comedians, she was able to find that there has been a considerable change in contemporary evaluations of women comedians, whose ratings now equal those of male comics. The pressure that a female comic faces in the field may have reduced due to increased awareness of gender problems and inequality in society. An open minded audience would always be receptive to hear new stories. The question is are they getting a chance to hear stories of female comics or are they choosing to ignore different perspectives overall? I would say it should be our duty as the audience to encourage and watch female comics’ specials on streaming sites and create a demand for their humour!

Funny is just funny. Gender must not be an obstacle.

Sumukhi Suresh, Prashanthi Singh, and Urooj Ashfaq, distinct voices in the Indian comedy scene, share their experiences as comics in an interview with Cinema Express. When asked whether questions about women in comedy get tiring after a while, Ashfaq and Singh are of the opinion that pressure to not fail publicly is harder on women than men. Suresh also expresses her displeasure with the usage of the tag, “female comedy,“ which has become a genre of comedy. Meanwhile, Singh understands that with her profession, she gets a chance to be vocal and be the voice for other women, and that is why she believes that questions about female comedy will continue to be asked. In my conversation with Ellen Corby, an Irish comic from Dublin, when asked about safety issues that female comics may have to face, she said, ”If the act is not necessarily in a city or if it is somewhere more in the country. It is funny that you mentioned it because I hadn’t realised it but in the last two gigs that I have been on, I haven’t drank and I have driven home myself. I usually know people on the line up and I don’t feel like I am on my own. It is something as women, we do automatically, we factor these things in constantly. It shouldn’t have to be. It is like second nature for us.” Eurydice Dixon was an Australian comedian and an actress who performed regularly at comedy venues in Melbourne, Victoria. She was found murdered at Melbourne’s Princes Park on June 13th, 2018 on her way back home from a gig. Comedy gigs usually take place at night, and the lack of affordable transportation puts women in an unpredictable dangerous environment.

In an interview for the Belmont theater district, Chicago’s largest theater district, when asked what was the best thing about being a woman in comedy, Jeanie Doogan, a stand up comedian who has set herself apart with her quick observations, says that she gets to amplify women’s experiences and parenthood through comedy. For Correy Bell and Sarah Perry, comics from Chicago, it was the freedom to speak their mind, that was the best thing about being a woman in comedy. But there is unfortunately a negative connotation to female voices in comedy. Common criticism is that female comics only talk about period, cramps, sex, etc.

Ellen Corby however, has an interesting take on this wherein she says, “You get the stereotypes about if you are a woman, you only talk about ‘women things’. I still get those kinds of comments even now but thankfully they aren’t that common or at least people aren’t saying it directly to me … but because I am a sex-ed teacher … people go like are you going to talk about vagina? I kinda lean into that a little bit but at the same time, men talk about dating, sex, and their penises all the time. I don’t even mind that humour. It is something that everyone can relate to or understand. I think it is a human nature thing and I don’t think it has anything to do with gender.” She says there are also a number of female comics who are incorporating various styles in their performances and that women have always pushed the envelope. In Ireland, according to Corby, there seems to be much more awareness with regard to sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour. It is heartening to know that most promoters want to be more inclusive and include people from all genders. She says, “It has become particularly undesirable to have an act that is all just the same kind of looking males. It is much more attractive to people… I think now to see a bit of a variety there.” It seems like Ireland is the place for female comics to perform and grow together.

Today, more female comics are at the top of their field than ever before and they continue to make original and pioneering contributions to the genre. Ali Wong’s 2016 special, Baby Cobra, made headlines as the first comedy special filmed while pregnant. Wong described the challenges of fertility treatment, miscarriages, pregnancy, and childbirth while 8 months pregnant. Tig Notaro, in her 2015 special Boyish Girl Interrupted, performed shirtless in the final 20 minutes of her act, putting her mastectomy scars on full display. Funny is just funny. Gender must not be an obstacle. As Corby rightly points out, it’s just human nature. There are plenty of laughs and more to go around. Female comics have displayed an immense range of creativity and courage by using their lived experiences of being women in their acts. Future comics, regardless of gender, must use this rich universe of stories as an inspiration. These stories were told by fearless women who have successfully paved the way to enrich the fine art of story-telling in stand-up comedy!

 

Featured Image by Amazon Prime Video

This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

New From STAND News

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Criomhthann writes about Earth Overshoot Day and the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment by the UN General Assembly. Criomhthann also shares some groups who post about progress made in climate justice and opportunities to learn more and meet people interested in these topics in Ireland.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

Stories straight to your inbox that challenge how you think about the world.

Global Citizenship in a Changing World – Reflections from the 2022 IDEA Conference

Global Citizenship in a Changing World – Reflections from the 2022 IDEA Conference

Global Citizenship in a Changing World – Reflections from the 2022 IDEA Conference
Protesters Attend March for Refugee Rights
Criomhthann Morrison
8th of July 2022

970 Years and 1 Month

Graduating mid-2020 and working amidst spikes and lockdowns, I have been fortunate to find opportunities to connect with people from across Ireland and the world through various online programmes and groups. While Ireland-based activities have gradually introduced in-person components, it’s no surprise that the annual IDEA Conference in June 2022 was the first in-person conference since the pandemic outbreak for many, including myself. Titled “The Future of Global Citizenship – educating for a changing world,” those attending were invited to look ahead to what global citizenship could look like across every facet of life for all.

The conference opened with the usual ‘long time, no see’ natter, and the facilitator Charo Lanao brought everyone together with groups physically crafting ‘‘living sculptures” of their visions for the present and future, as well as reflections on people’s experiences and backgrounds. A tally counted 970 years and 1 month of collective ‘global citizenship education’ (GCE) knowledge in the room on that one day. So I expected to pick up a thing or two.

Panel Exploring Polarisation and Systems Change

 

 

Biographies for each speaker can be found here on the IDEA website.

 

The opening panel dealt with the structural and systemic problems in our societies, workplaces and governments and how individual actions and lived experiences fit within solutions to address these. Dr Peter T. Coleman, Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University, highlighted how GCE practitioners can consider the polarisations around them and their participants, and the pursuit of ‘positive’ peace and ‘negative’ peace (“the promotion of peacefulness through positive interactions like civility, cooperation and care” peace” versus “the absence of violence, destructive conflict, and war,” bold added).

I found this distinction a helpful example of how even the most seemingly straightforward ideas can contain quite diverse and even incompatible assumptions and expectations, depending on the people ‘in the room’. This awareness of what we bring to the conversations and groups we find ourselves in is always worthwhile, helping us identity and talk through sometimes subtle yet substantial differences in how we understand the problems and worlds around us.

Dr Ebun Joseph, Director of the Institute of Antiracism and Black Studies (IABS), amongst many other qualifications and roles, also emphasised the importance of ‘healthy conversations’ for addressing the sticky behaviours and systems of oppression we haven’t fully shaked off yet (a purposeful choice of words, as opposed to ‘difficult’ conversations, which can prime people to resist, defend, or fight). Using an instance of racist descrimination between colleagues in a workplace as an example, Dr Joseph advises that the whole workplace should be involved in the resolution, not just the people directly involved. When discrimination happens within any context, whether at work, in education, or in public, we need to explore how and why it was enabled in the first place, and then actively change the structures and behaviours which allowed discrimination to happen. 

Most of us can name a dozen angles from which we do not face barriers and discriminatoin in everyday life like other people do, and we all have a responsibility to be part of the movements to rid of prejudice and abuse. Demanding healthy and meaningful conversations from ourselves and the spaces we’re in is one vital step in being part of an equitable, just and sustainable present and future for all.

 

Director of IDEA Frank Geary and Irish Sign Language Interpreter during the Opening Remarks.

 

Panel Exploring Challenges in the GCE Sector

 

 

The second panel gave space for 4 speakers to share their insights on key issues in the GCE sphere and the directions the space is moving in, followed by some questions from attendees. To briefly summarise some really rich sharing:

Ikal Ang’elei, an environmental activist, spoke about the importance for practitioners and activists to always work with and alongside affected communities, citing her experience as Co-Founder and Director of Friends of Lake Turkana, which works for social, economic and environmental justice for the lands and people in the area. It is an easy though grave error for genuinely enthusiastic and well-meaning individuals and groups to get caught up in their visions for their solutions instead of constructing these in partnership with the people impacted. The phrase “Nothing about us without us” springs to mind.

Mamobo Ogoro, an award winning scholar, social entrepreneur, activist and artist, followed by emphasising inclusion and belonging as key elements to reaching these visions GCE practitioners often strive for, naming dialogue as fundamental to her work with her digital media start-up GORM Media and her PhD research with minorities in Ireland. This calls for practitioners to challenge box-ticking exercises of simply getting certain people are ‘in the room’, asking if everyone in the room is fully able participate in conversations and decision-making, and what we need to do on the individual- and system-level to promote this ‘belonging’ for all. 

Dr Audrey Bryan, Associate Professor of Sociology in DCU, then raised critical questions about the individualisation and prescription of GCE in Ireland. She also cautioned the increasing focus on measurable technical skills to the detriment of considering holistically the relationships between individuals, their communities, and the challenges faced across society. Dr Bryan spoke to these ideas and more at the recorded webinar Future Trends in Development Education hosted by IDEA in Dec 2021.

Bobby McCormack, Co-Founder and Director of Development Perspectives, talked about developing the ‘innovation ecosystems’ within the sector and emphasised the opportunities for partnership especially with less obvious colleagues, sharing the example of Development Perspectives working with EirGrid to host community forums to include their voice in several energy projects. This suggests interesting opportunities outside the normal bounds of what organisations consider GCE and their roles in a changing world, offering bridges between areas of life not typically linked, from the energy system to community health to agriculture to far more.

During the Q&A, I found one moment worth noting: one attendee asked for suggestions for teaching useful and abstract tools like systems thinking to children, and another attendee quickly took the microphone to share resources produced by their own organisation for exactly this purpose. While a small interaction, it was hardly minor, and just one reminder from the day of the value of sharing these open spaces with our peers. Someone sitting behind you often has something that will help you, even before you realise you need help.

 

Conference Facilitator Charo Lanao speaking to the 70+ in-person attendees.

 

Panel Exploring Challenges in the GCE Sector

 

 

The second day of the conference ran online with two sets of workshops running parallel, which posed me the challenge of which to sign up for! The first I chose was Ecosystem Restoration and Development Education: Regenerating people and wider nature with Gareth Conlon and Karen Jeffares. I managed to catch the latter half which explored the lands, organisms and food around us, and how as GCE practitioners, mindsets should focus on bringing about positive transformation within communities, not particular solutions per se. Group discussions included reflections on how workshops with schools often implicitly task children with convincing the adults in their lives to make changes and the challenges this entails regarding justice and responsibility. Topics also arising included ‘pedagogy of hope’ and potential routes for collaboration across sectors, for example GCE and farmers.

This session posed important questions about our responsibilities as practitioners to the people and groups we work with, who we engage with in the first place, and why. Our answers can inform how we approach our work and help us to see the groups we work with (and don’t work with) as multifaceted and feeling pressures from various directions. What does this mean for fostering space to communicate, build skills, and perhaps sow seeds for peace – and which kind?

The second workshop I attended was Global Business and Human Rights with Mark Cumming. Business is an area many in GCE spaces are averse to, so the workshop sought to highlight the importance of working for human rights in the business realm, and to equip attendees to do so. We explored power of and accountability within business spaces, the state of affairs in Ireland, and what practitioners and the sector can do now and moving forward to better engage with the private sector. One key point made is the importance of building communities and movements for change, including encouraging people to join communities for their passions, and even trade unions, which the large majority of attendees reported not being part of. 

Early in the final workshop, Cumming referenced the Audre Lorde quote “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” This is a challenge for all GCE practitioners in their work: to what degree does the work we do uphold existing structures and systems despite best intentions, and to what degree does our work truly enable communities to achieve their visions within – dare I say – a changing world? Don’t worry, I don’t have a clean answer either.

 

 Lizzy Noone from WorldWise Global Schools speaking during a Q&A.

 

The Value in Sharing Space

 

 

I didn’t get the chance to attend the other two workshops, Transformative Education in Times of Crises with Tereza Čajková and Aurèle Destrée or War, Peace and the Future of Development Education with Zelalem Sibhat, Dr Gerard McCann, and Dr Gertrude Cotter, though from the titles alone, it’s clear GCE practitioners are working hard to locate their work across the different aspects of global and local challenges communities are facing around the world. That said, judging from my conversations with several speakers and attendees, perhaps people were most excited to simply share space with each other and feel more connected with and part of a larger whole.

What I am most excited about are the coming weeks and months, when the conversations and ideas shared will percolate in my mind and influence my work in obvious and subtle ways, some examples of which already spring to mind. And so what are the next steps for global citizenship and educating in a changing world? Healthy conversations, critical reflection, and collaboration across sectors may not be novel suggestions to some or most, but are nonetheless vital to achieving a present we can stand over.

Feature photo caption: From the left: unnamed, Susie Spratt from An Gáisce, Tahla from Amnesty, unnamed. Contact [email protected] if you feature in this photo and would like to be named.

Featured photos by Méabh Hennelly with permission from IDEA.

Connect with Criomhthann over LinkedIn or Twitter.

This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin and STAND News & Comms Intern Penelope Norman.

New From STAND News

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Criomhthann writes about Earth Overshoot Day and the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment by the UN General Assembly. Criomhthann also shares some groups who post about progress made in climate justice and opportunities to learn more and meet people interested in these topics in Ireland.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

Stories straight to your inbox that challenge how you think about the world.

Meet Treasa Cadogan, United Nations Youth Delegate for Ireland

Meet Treasa Cadogan, United Nations Youth Delegate for Ireland

Meet Treasa Cadogan, United Nations Youth Delegate for Ireland

Protesters Attend March for Refugee Rights
N K Initials for Niamh Kelly

6th of July 2022

Treasa Cadogan is a United Nations Youth Delegate for Ireland for 2021-22, and “a very proud Cork person” from Cape Clear Island (with a population of less than 200 people, according to the 2016 Census). The United Nations Youth Delegate Program began in Ireland in 2015 with support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and National Youth Council of Ireland. The goal of the program is to empower young people “to be active global citizens contributing to building a world of justice, equity, and dignity.”

 

Treasa’s Journey to the Role 

Treasa’s journey to becoming a Youth Delegate was an accumulation of previous experiences and undertakings. “Nothing stands alone, nothing stands by itself”, according to Treasa, whose first involvement in community work began at a young age when helping her mother with local family fun days to raise money for charity. Later on, Treasa engaged with more local issues and joined the board of the Cape Clear Island Development Co-Operative. Alongside her growing interest in community work, Treasa became more involved in advocacy when completing a Bachelor’s degree in International Development and Food Policy in University College Cork. Her studies helped to lay the “foundations for becoming a youth delegate” which combined with her local community involvement and learning more about global issues.

A rural upbringing on a small island has surely influenced Treasa’s areas of interest including “rural development, youth participation and getting young people involved”. The limited number of people on Cape Clear impacts on who interacts with who, what everyone talks about, and how often these interactions occur. Treasa notes that intergenerational learning is a huge part of her rural community, and that the benefits of sharing different perspectives (particularly across generations) and learning from each other are integral to local, as well as international, development.

Treasa also has “an interest in food systems and sustainable farming, which, obviously coming from rural area and from a farm, it kind of goes nicely into that kind of climate action that [she] feel[s] like our whole generation is really interested in”. Treasa was awarded the Climate Ambassador Outstanding Achievement Award in 2020 for her work on local climate action in Ireland, and becoming a Youth Delegate has given Treasa the opportunity to see how these local issues are a microcosm of global problems such as climate change.

Since becoming Youth Delegate, Treasa has become more aware of issues beyond Ireland and what is reported in the Irish media. For example, a few weeks after the beginning of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Treasa attended the United Nations Security Council and heard about conflicts in other countries she had not been aware of. Learning about other issues does not subtract from what someone already knows, but as Treasa explains, there is “so much going on and you’re forever learning. I think that’s one thing that I enjoy after leaving college, that I still am continually learning”. The willingness to investigate topics for yourself and openness to gaining new knowledge and understanding are essential to move beyond preconceived ideas about global issues.

Treasa has utilised her role as a United Nation Youth Delegate for Ireland to showcase to others the UN’s impact on their own lives, from the  local to the national level. She highlights “how the UN-level policies influence Irish policy, which I don’t think many people know. They just see it as this big kind of institution that kind of talks every so often” and her role as a Youth Delegate entails “bringing other people along on the journey and hopefully informing other people of what we’re getting up to”. During her time in UCC, Treasa co-founded the UCC Fighting World Hunger branch and she is now involved in the Sustainable Development Goals including Zero Hunger. These initiatives have similar aims but are happening on different levels. Similar to the top-down influence of international organisations and governments on policies, local movements also influence from the bottom-up.

 

Policymakers do notice things like that. The government, TDs and MEPs. They will notice these grassroots initiatives which will hopefully create movement in government level policies and local policies.”

 

For example,the formation of the UCC Fighting Hunger branch by Treasa and other students prompted the UCC Student Union into action. UCC Fighting Hunger highlighted the struggles for some students to access affordable food and in response, the UCC Student Union started a food bank to support students in this situation. Grassroot initiatives can draw the attention of larger organisations and leaders to issues that would benefit from their involvement. Local movements can bring about change to government policy, just as governments decisions have local effects, by emphasising issues that impact both levels. As Treasa phrased it, “it’s kind of that bottom-up or top-down. They have to meet eventually in the middle”.

Treasa has also enjoyed meeting Youth Delegates from other countries and expanding her network far beyond Cape Clear and Ireland. A standout moment for Treasa as a Youth Delegate has been attending the Commission on the Status of Women in New York, during which she also attended the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly. Treasa has also given speeches to the European Parliament about youth participation in rural development. She has organised UN Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogues and spoken at events such as Oxford Real Farming Conference and Girl Up India.

 

“The best thing is to just take the first step…”

 

If Treasa’s work as a Youth Delegate and beyond has inspired any young people to become involved in foreign policy and diplomacy, her advice is that “the best thing is to just take the first step” and to join youth organisations such as Comhairle na nÓg or Foróige (if under eighteen), or college societies. Treasa acknowledges that “it’s always so intimidating”, but “these organisations only want to see you improve and thrive”. The smaller steps will build up over time and individuals can learn from their experiences, so “Take the leap!”

The next steps for Treasa include another few months as a Youth Delegate and contributing to another event in New York. In the longer term, Treasa hopes to go into more humanitarian work. Two previous plans to do this were halted because of Covid-19, but Treasa is adamant about going “out in the field, out on the ground”  as “I never want to be the person who speaks about a development issue, but I’ve never actually experienced it in the country it’s happening”. Whether it is a community project on Cape Clear or international work as a United Nations Youth Delegate, Treasa continues to work to bring about positive changes on the local, national and international levels.

 

If you enjoyed this article, you can also read about STAND Contributor Patricia Gonzáles’ Instagram Live Chat with Diandra Ní Bhuachalla, the other UN Youth Delegate for 2021-22, by following the link. You can also watch the full Live Chat with her on our Instagram page @stand.ie, or directly reach it with this link

This article was supported by: STAND News and Comms Intern Criomhthann Morrison

New From STAND News

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Criomhthann writes about Earth Overshoot Day and the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment by the UN General Assembly. Criomhthann also shares some groups who post about progress made in climate justice and opportunities to learn more and meet people interested in these topics in Ireland.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

Stories straight to your inbox that challenge how you think about the world.

Meet Diandra Ní Bhuachalla, United Nations Youth Delegate for Ireland

Meet Diandra Ní Bhuachalla, United Nations Youth Delegate for Ireland

Meet Diandra Ní Bhuachalla, United Nations Youth Delegate for Ireland
Protesters Attend March for Refugee Rights
N K Initials for Niamh Kelly
6th of July 2022

Since 2015, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and NYCI have partnered to provide the opportunity for young Irish people to participate in the UN Youth Delegate Programme. Each year, two UN Youth Delegates are chosen to form part of Ireland’s official delegation to the United Nations General Assembly. The aim of this public diplomacy initiative is to provide a platform for young people from Ireland to be represented at the United Nations, and to facilitate greater engagement with Irish youth on national and foreign policy issues. This is a unique opportunity for those wishing to get involved in developing policies that affect young people. 

We got to speak to one of the UN Youth Delegates currently in this role, Diandra Ní Bhuachalla. Diandra has an open mind towards possibilities and willing attitude to try, which has led her to opportunities such as this position. She decided not to pursue a career in law after graduating with an LLB degree, and rather use her experience with advocacy and lobbying to develop a perfect mix for the position she is in today. In our Activists and Innovators Live Chat series, Diandra shared what she does and how other young people can get involved.

 

Diandra Growing Up

From a young age, Diandra has been interested in global issues and injustice. She first became involved in student activism at age 14, when she joined her secondary school’s student council:

 

“The student council gave me an opportunity to be involved with the organisational process of campaigns such as anti-bullying and recycling. I really enjoyed being involved in the student council which led me to apply for Comhairle na nÓg.”

 

Diandra’s time on the Cork County Comhairle na nÓg was particularly characterized by her lobbying on transport for young people, eventually leading to the introduction of the Leap Card in Cork, with reduced fares for young passengers under the age of 19.  

Her volunteering experience with Comhairle shaped her and sparked an interest in politics. As a matter of fact, Diandra holds a Bachelors of Science in Government. During her college years, she did an internship in the New York State Assembly, which resulted in her becoming more interested in policy-making and the legislative system. Diandra believes she is “bringing political science and law together by studying a masters degree in MSC International Public Policy and Diplomacy.”

Her path to becoming a UN Youth Delegate started in 2015 when she first learned about it, though it was not until last year that she decided to go for it: “I waited until I really felt and believed I was the best person for it” (bold added).

Representing 1.3 Million Young People

For Diandra, being a UN Youth Delegate is a huge responsibility: 

 

“It’s an incredible programme, you need to realise its value before putting yourself forward. There are an estimated 1.3 million young people in Ireland, which seems virtually impossible to be able to represent each and everyone of them but it’s my job to be able to represent as many as possible. As a UN Youth Delegate, you’ve been chosen to represent them locally, nationally and internationally. You have to find a balance between both forms of representation; representing your country, and representing the young people of your country.”

 

Being a UN Youth Delegate is a voluntary role and varies widely day-to-day, from taking calls in different time zones to late nights with stakeholders in another country. Diandra has managed to balance her duties as a UN Youth Delegate with being a full-time masters student through her incredible organizational skills. Additionally, she has been able to focus her career path by making academics her top priority: “I have now realised that to make the biggest impact and to truly help people, I need to specialise.” 

Diandra sits in the centre of the photo with a sign on a table in front of her which reads "Ireland". Behind is a large conference room with rows of tables and desks with other representatives at the 66th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women..
Diandra at the 66th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York in March 2022.

“My main hope for the future is to have a future.” 

As a young activist, one of Diandra’s main concerns is climate change: “My main hope for the future is to have a future.” As overwhelming as climate change is, she believes that we still have potential to take collective, empathetic action:

 

“Everyday that we allow species to become extinct, have the worst weather recorded, we allow governments to give the fossil fuel companies a free pass, the longer we are putting the future generations in danger. The WE is collective – fast fashion, big contributors, governments and fossil fuel industry. We’re not feeling it like the Global South is; the impact is felt much deeper there, where the greatest proportion of the global youth population resides. We are furthering the divide in gender, education, and inequalities by ignoring climate change.”

By being a UN Youth Delegate, Diandra represents the power of young people, and hopes to be an encouraging figure for people to follow their dreams. In closing our Live Chat, she reminded us that if young people are experiencing problems, or want to take social or political action, she can be contacted through the UN Youth Delegate @unyouthirl social media channels.

 

 

If you want to learn more about Diandra, you can check out our STAND News Live Chat on our Instagram Page @stand.ie linked here, or watch the Live Chat linked here. You can also follow her journey on LinkedIn here.

If you enjoyed this article, you can also read about STAND Contributor Niamh Kelly’s chat with Treasa Cadogan, the other UN Youth Delegate for 2021-22, by following this link.

You can find author Patricia Gonzáles on LinkedIn by following the link.

 

 

Featured image provided by Diandra Ní Bhuachalla.

This article was supported by: STAND News and Comms Intern Criomhthann Morrison

New From STAND News

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Criomhthann writes about Earth Overshoot Day and the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment by the UN General Assembly. Criomhthann also shares some groups who post about progress made in climate justice and opportunities to learn more and meet people interested in these topics in Ireland.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

Stories straight to your inbox that challenge how you think about the world.

Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

A cloudy day above number of buildings' walls ripped apart with building materials scattered on the ground
Penelope Norman
Penelope Norman
1st of July 2022

 

I was walking down Nassau Street one night in early December and I couldn’t stop thinking about Sunnyvale, a trans-majority community centre in north Stoneybatter, which had just been evicted. After the fight, everyone who called the industrial lot home got together to help build it back – climbing over makeshift barricades and crawling through murky halls littered with broken possessions. We picked up nail-sized shards of glass smashed on the concrete ground and took apart walls ripped out of abandoned buildings and caravans after hours of assault by heavies’ invading sledgehammers. We don’t like to talk about it much, though the day and every moment since tends to weigh on us and emerge one way or another. Every humiliation and injury by the gardaí, every community space slated to become a hotel, every time we look at one another and get blocked behind some wall that keeps us from talking about what happened, it’s like we’re living through the eviction all over again, digging ourselves deeper away from the surface.

I reflected on all of this while turning onto Fitzwilliam Street Lower to a house someone I knew had rented for the weekend on Airbnb. It was supposed to be a Haunukkah party with a few friends I’d met in our college’s Jewish society. The host and her family, who had flown all the way from Texas, were Ashkenazi Jews who had all been through all of their life cycle events and education at an average synagogue. Most of us in the college society had a much different experience. Either we had just completed our conversion, or our families had been Jewish for ages and either ignored the fact or hid it from us. My family in particular had gone completely underground (one might say stealth.) After struggling for years to pull anything from my mother and grandmother’s sealed mouths, I learned we were Sephardim and had concealed our Jewish roots for over a century. In other words, everybody in the group was Jewish, just in different, equally complicated ways. The society was and remains an important space for us to meet others and untangle our identities together. The only other relevant fact for what follows is that I had just gotten a new tattoo which was visible under the sleeve of my dress. It said, in Yiddish, ‘באפריי פאלעסטינע [Free Palestine].’

In 2007, the Israeli state decided to launch a marketing campaign to change how the rest of the world viewed its government. The campaign was called Brand Israel and it aimed to promote Israel as a bastion of rights for gay and lesbian people, encouraging LGB tourism to cities like Tel Aviv. At that same time, violence and hatred against Queer minorities was still present in the city, with a mass shooting in 2009 injuring seventeen members of the community. This was specifically part of an effort of what Palestinian activists have identified as ‘pinkwashing’, ‘how the Israeli state and its supporters use the language of gay and trans rights to direct international attention away from the oppression of Palestinians.’ One of the major rhetorical effects of pinkwashing Israeli apartheid has been a new resurgence of Orientalist language which defines Palestine and other regions in the Middle East as inherently repressive in their attitudes towards gender and sexuality (Said, 205). It also defines the Occident, Israel, as welcoming and open minded towards Queerness in comparison (the most important writer on the topic of Orientalism, Edward Said, was Palestinian.)

This ties into a common myth identified by philosopher Gayatri Spivak as ‘white men are saving brown women from brown men’, which sticks itself in our minds by structuring how we talk about international gender issues, limiting the ways resistance or acknowledgement of colonial structures can be discussed (Spivak, 92). To put it more simply, by leaning into gendered, colonial rhetoric which argues the ‘West’ saves the gendered minority of the ‘East’ from its own ‘inherent’ patriarchy, Israel has painted itself as a kind of widely recognisable saviour, giving it power in the eyes of people familiar with that rhetoric regardless of what they actually do. The most obvious problem with this is that it talks about Israel’s settler colonialism as a kind of protection or salvation, making it seem like the mass exodus comprising the experience of the Nakba (meaning ‘The Catastrophe’, a term referring to the ongoing expulsion of Palestinians from Palestine since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War) was a kind of gift.

One of the most famous retellings of the creation of humankind, as detailed by what Christians call the Book of Genesis, is the epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton. Milton was a Calvinist and an ally of Oliver Cromwell who wrote during the English Civil War. His poem tells the story of Man’s fall due to the schemes and manipulations of Satan, who had just been cast into Hell after turning against his Creator. In the epic, Adam and Eve are depicted as the ultimate example of binary genders in a heterosexual union. When they are first referred to by name in the poem, they are described as, ‘Adam first of men […] first of women Eve.’ In a conversation with Adam in the first half of the text, Eve says,

 “O thou for whom
And from whom I was form’d flesh of thy flesh,
And without whom am to no end, my Guide
And Head, what thou hast said is just and right,”

 

She is written to play a passive role by submitting to her husband, testifying to his rationality and morality. When it comes time for them to Fall, Eve is seduced by Satan’s speech as a snake,

 

“his words replete with guile

Into her heart too easie entrance won:

Fixt on the Fruit she gaz’d, which to behold

Might tempt alone, and in her ears the sound

Yet rung of his perswasive words, impregn’d

With Reason, to her seeming, and with Truth.”

 

Adam on the other hand gets to ruminate on his decision to join her in turning against their Creator, completing the epic’s ongoing conversation about the nature of the Divine and Free Will. He was given the time to make a choice. In other words, Paradise Lost tells the story of the first Man’s foolish, gullible wife and her original sin which resulted from her inability to use critical thinking to avoid trusting a sketchy talking snake.

In Bereshit 1:27-28, from what the Christians call Genesis, the first human was created. To quote in translation,

 

“And יהוה created humankind in the divine image,
creating it in the image of יהוה —
creating them male and female.
יהוה blessed them and יהוה said to them”

In other words, the first human (Adam in Hebrew has connections to both ‘human’ and ‘soil’, referring to how this first Human was created from the material of the earth) was neither male nor female, but contained both aspects within them in a unique combination. When their partner was created,

 

“יהוה took one of [his/their] sides, and closed up the flesh at that site. And יהוה fashioned the side that had been taken from the Human into a woman, bringing her to [him/them].”

 

This gets trickier when we remember that the Sex/gender system which tries to divide bodies and social roles into two polarised categories didn’t really become a thing until much later in the historical record. In other words, in Hebrew translation and Jewish tradition, the creation of Adam and Chava wasn’t the formation of the original cishet nuclear family, but the formation of self and other, the making of difference among all people. This interpretation has been told and retold for generations, treasured by Queer Jews and passed onto their chosen descendants. Notably, conversations about this section of Torah and its implications for Jewish life and practice began to gain newfound attention by rabbis in the sixteenth century after the perils of the Reconquista and Inquisition forced Jews out of Portugal and Spain, a population who would become known as Sephardim and eventually lead, albeit after centuries, to me. The most relevant themes which come up from this story specifically focus on the creations of further differences, between a home made for us and a wilderness we are expelled into or living as part of a shared community and dying in the fossils and shackles of violence from the past.

A recent UN publication not only stated that the situation in Palestine was apartheid, and it also described the occupied territories as an, ‘open-air prison.’ To cross between regions, people must undergo invasive searches and checkpoint procedures, conditions of which vary based on assigned nationality. To navigate these checkpoints, people are required to have a series of corresponding identity cards, permits, and other documents; these borders have been recognised as an explicitly gendered space, a ‘social geography of horror,’ where permissions for crossing are granted on a sexist basis (they’re usually only granted to women for exceptional medical or religious purposes) and the facilitation of crossing is founded on strict compliance with embodied gender norms as enforced by Israeli soldiers’ rifles and gazes. The creation of strict gender norms in the carceral structure of the prison or occupied colony is not unique to Israel; Angela Davis in her book Are Prisons Obsolete? details how, ‘the deeply gendered character of punishment both reflects and further entrenches the gendered structure of the larger society.’ (Davis, 61) Along similar lines, Dean Spade argues how,

 

“For trans people, administrative gender classification and the problems it creates for those who are difficult to classify or are misclassified is a major vector of violence and diminished life chances and life spans […] The aim of creating increased security for the nation hangs on the assumption of a national subject that deserves and requires that protection: a subject for whom these identity classification and verification categories are uncontroversial. (Spade, 77-85)”

In other words, the creation of a security state or prison system relies on the enforcement of an ideal person, a person who is defined by the social systems constituting race and gender in that state. For Palestine, the carceral subject under Israeli occupation is the Palestinian who will soon be eliminated by the settler colonial state. Cruelty is the goal; they are not meant to survive. For trans subjects in particular, the systems of policing, surveillance, and apartheid are made even more dangerous by an increased risk from the normal dangers of not fitting into a stable, identity-based system. Israel and its allies don’t care if they discriminate against trans Palestinians because, in their eyes, they are just particularly targetable Palestinians who shouldn’t be in Israel in the first place. Pinkwashing is not only a dishonest marketing strategy, but also a hypocritical alibi for genocide.

At the party, I decided to help my hosts make latkes, fried potato cakes traditionally served during the holiday. A number of friends I expected would be there had sent their apologies, so for a while the only people around to chat with were all standing with me in a circle binding shavings together and browning them in oil. We made jokes back and forth about which toppings are more Jewish, applesauce or sour cream. I learned all of the men in the family had joined the military in America and were quite proud of this fact. In my head, I could see my dad with his eyes locked on me gripping the honorary sword he received for his work on the border in Korea, keeping it safe like the tokens his dad had taken from Okinawa in the forties. My uncle had flown south to Peru at seventeen and died in a plane crash, and at the same age a version of me went east and quickly transitioned; to him, we both went in the wrong directions. Their father wore a t-shirt with the names and numbers of the people he had served with. I was cutting myself with a grater, spilling blood in the onions, while the rest of them moved and chatted together like a frictionless machine.

I was aware of the fact that I was different from the people around me, what I couldn’t admit was how much I wanted what they had. I needed to feel like I could be in a space without fear of hurting everybody else or being hurt myself. The sister suddenly saw my tattoo and asked with excitement what it meant. I knew I couldn’t tell the truth; I couldn’t lose another home. I tried to shrug it off saying, ‘it’s from an old protest chant.’ They pressed on, wanting to know word for word what I had decided to mark on my body. I lied. ‘It means, “There is no Planet B.”’ It seemed to work; I can’t be sure whether or not they bought it, but they were satisfied either way. I felt caged in and alone, after all that had happened there was no one around the room I could turn to for recognition. They went on to joke about the minor differences between Texas and Dublin. I stepped out into the hallway and tried to feel my feet on the ground.

 

 

Featured Image: ‘Sunnyvale Lost’ by Penelope Norman

This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

More From STAND News

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Criomhthann writes about Earth Overshoot Day and the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment by the UN General Assembly. Criomhthann also shares some groups who post about progress made in climate justice and opportunities to learn more and meet people interested in these topics in Ireland.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

Stories straight to your inbox that challenge how you think about the world.

LGBTQIA+ Refugees Are Being Deported to a Country That Will Not Protect Them

LGBTQIA+ Refugees Are Being Deported to a Country That Will Not Protect Them

LGBTQIA+ Refugees Are Being Deported to a Country That Will Not Protect Them

Protesters Attend March for Refugee Rights
Sarah Kennelly

20th of June 2022

To cross the channels in search of hope is a perilous journey that many do not survive. Those who succeed beat the odds working against them. From human traffickers to raging storms, the hurdles are endless. However, the barriers to their safety do not end when they reach our shores, in fact, they are fortified by governments who place policies above people.

 

This is exactly what the UK government is doing with a new policy that will deport refugees to Rwanda. Although Rwanda is making great strides in developing a more equal society, it is still failing to protect many of its marginalised groups.  Although Rwanda does not criminalize same-sex relations, there are no policies that outlaw discrimination against these identities despite the safety of the LGBTQIA+ community being particularly at risk.

 

The UK government is ignoring the concerns raised by many human rights organisations such as Rainbow Migration and ECRE. These institutions work tirelessly to protect the rights of LGBTQIA+ refugees and are experts in how immigration policies affect their clients. They have stressed that the country is an unsafe environment for these migrants who could face discrimination in social and institutional settings. In June of last year, it was even discovered that Rwandan authorities captured and detained over a dozen gay and transgender people, in a bid to “clean up” their streets.

 

 

British officials have openly admitted that they understand the nature of these threats and have expressed their own “concern” for LGBTQIA+ identities in Rwanda. However, they reveal their inhumanity by deciding to move ahead with the policy anyway. It has been justified by claiming it is cost-efficient but this remains doubtful. The top civil servant, Matthew Rycroft, shared this scepticism in a letter to the Home Secretary, stating that there is little evidence to suggest that this agreement would be an effective deterrent enough to save taxpayers money. In another statement, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “our compassion may be infinite but our capacity to help people is not”. It remains unclear how this new policy will benefit the British taxpayer which they are so dutifully claiming to protect. 

 

This decision will also have repercussions for Ukrainian refugees who reach the UK through Ireland. Ireland’s decision to lift all immigration requirements for Ukranians fleeing war has been denounced by politicians in Northern Ireland, who support crackdowns on migrants using illegal routes to enter the country. In response to the policy in the Republic of Ireland, British officials have warned that those who make this illegal crossing will be at risk of deportation to Rwanda

At the time of writing, the most recent development was on Tuesday 14th June when the Strasbourg court blocked the first flight of refugees to Rwanda, citing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The grounding of the plane came as a result of the countless activists and lawyers campaigning to end this discriminatory policy. The British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has expressed his disapproval of the decision but has confirmed the removal of refugees to Rwanda will take place despite international pressure. Further, Johnson has raised the idea of the UK withdrawing from the ECHR, publicly querying “Will it be necessary to change some laws to help us as we go along?”. Although the 7 asylum seekers aboard the plane were granted extra time, their future remains uncertain.

 

Featured Image by Vibeke Sonntag on Flicker

This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

New From STAND News

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Criomhthann writes about Earth Overshoot Day and the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment by the UN General Assembly. Criomhthann also shares some groups who post about progress made in climate justice and opportunities to learn more and meet people interested in these topics in Ireland.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

Stories straight to your inbox that challenge how you think about the world.

Real People, Tangible Action: a Chat with Climate Love Ireland

Real People, Tangible Action: a Chat with Climate Love Ireland

Real People, Tangible Action: a Chat with Climate Love Ireland

Criomhthann Morrison talks with Laragh McCann
Criomhthann Morrison

4th of May 2022

Laragh McCann is co-founder of Climate Love Ireland, a grassroots, community-led group that started out as a response to the global climate strikes in 2019.

The global strike was a ‘game-changer day’ for Laragh at a time when she was finding it hard to find deeper purpose in her work. The strikes and rising climate justice movement reminded of her younger years “getting so much solace” from connecting with nature, climbing trees and swimming in the sea. 

 

“There was so much momentum in general for the climate at the time, and I had it in me for sure”

 

A day before the strikes, Laragh pulled together a small crew to film the day and make a short video, then Laragh made a new Instagram profile where she posted the video and then started sharing pictures, quotes, and facts about climate change.

The page and team grew organically over time. The graphic designer Emma Conway helped design the logo, and then Laragh met Cormac Nugent at a demonstration outside the Dáil, who helped with the Instagram page. Caoimhe (a former STAND Contributor!) also got involved after reaching out for climate strike footage, and started sharing local businesses on the Instagram page..

Laragh eventually felt the page was becoming repetitive and wasn’t sure they were making much impact. Laragh also knew that she herself needed more time in nature, which ended up setting the tone and pace of Climate Love Ireland going forward.

 

“I felt like connecting with nature kind of embodies the solution in a lot of ways”

 

Nature Connection, Community Action, and System Revolution are the three pillars CLI has focused on over the pandemic, which Laragh feels covers the range of aspects and dimensions to climate change and what people can do about it.

And since restrictions have been easing, the CLI community has grown with in-person events like clean-ups and hikes.

 

“You can’t underestimate meeting people in real life and how much that actually leads to tangible action”

 

Laragh highlighted Rob Coleman as one example of this. She met him at a clean-up, connected him with many people who helped him grow his own project, and now has received funding from Creative Ireland for a tree-planting project with primary schools.

Climate Love Ireland also has a WhatsApp group of 80 people where they share shoutouts and resources and give general support. Even as we spoke during the Live Chat, someone asked in the comments to join it!

I reflected with Laragh on how hard it can be to find where you ‘fit’ in what’s going on, and how there are so many different ways to connect with solutions and movements and make an impact at the individual-level or higher. The most helpful thing to do can be taking time to just find what works for your situation and where you can be proactive. Linking in with a community can be really helpful for doing this.

 

“There’s such a sense of urgency with the climate crisis that […] instinctively one feels you have to be up 24 hours a day doing a mending session, swapping, eating nothing […]. It’s not really like that. It’s more about picking the things you know you’re good at and synchronising it with a wider group so that everybody is ticking lots of boxes and taking the slack off yourself.”

 

Laragh then shared one of her favourite phrases, but with a caveat.

 

“‘Less is more’ is one of my favourite mottos, but skillfully so. Not just saying ‘less is more’ and that’s it, but attaching it more to a wider movement, picking one or two things, not trying to do everything, allowing other people to do their bits”

 

Laragh then talked about promoting the many links across social movements, including examples like groups working towards climate justice, promoting feminism, fighting homelessness, and protection for migrants.

 

“Coming back to our shared humanity is the most important thing”

 

Laragh related this to the story of David and Goliath, emphasising that focusing his aim on the most important point is how David took down Goliath.

Laragh continued thinking about the opportunities and challenges in shifting the public consciousness and engaging political power and decision-makers.

 

“The climate crisis is happening. It’s a present-day thing for people”

 

To people who suggest “it’s going to happen anyway, there’s no point in doing anything”, Laragh highlighted that someone in the middle of the drought wouldn’t accept that, rather they’d be shouting out “Do something now”. And even if someone believes there is no way to hold or slow down climate change, there are still all sorts of issues we need to deal with “to make sure people are okay.”

For anyone looking to connect with Climate Love Ireland and get involved, Laragh recommended following the Instagram page for updates on events and activities to meet other people interested in climate justice. Reaching out to join the WhatsApp group is the next thing someone could do.

Laragh also shared two upcoming events: first the event ‘Swim for Bay’ (costumes optional!) for promoting the conservation and celebration of the Irish Sea. Laragh was going to share some words at the event alongside a speaker from Save Our Seas – Dublin Bay. That happened on the 23rd April.

Second was the ‘Eco-Film Night’ in collaboration with Act Now Collective, Ecohun, and Climate Alarm Clock happening on 13th May in Dublin (details on Instagram!).

Prompted for a final comment for the call, Laragh replied:

 

“Just get involved. There are loads and loads of people out there who genuinely care and are interested.”

 

Laragh shared how she has a pattern of presuming people don’t care, and then shutting down, not engaging, and feeling hopeless. But Laragh finds it helpful to practice being more open and having lower expectations of others.

 

“When that happens, you realise there is loads of people who are mentioning climate and things that are related. Just be more optimistic about people, because people do care. But also surround yourself with people who are on the same page.”

 

I had a really nice time chatting with Laragh and definitely recommend checking out Climate Love Ireland’s Instagram page and website at https://www.climateloveireland.com/.

I’m allergic to the extreme cold of the Irish waters, so you wouldn’t have caught me there. So as long as the place is dry, you’ll see me at the film night!

 

IG Live Chat link: https://www.instagram.com/p/Ccp1JEnFhL3/ or watch the video below

 

Climate Love Ireland Links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/climateloveireland-419849408774988 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/climateloveireland/ 

Website: https://www.climateloveireland.com/ 

 

Other links:

Caoimhe/Kiva’s film and photography website: https://www.kivadurkan.com/

 

 

All images provided by Recrowned Ireland

This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

New From STAND News

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Criomhthann writes about Earth Overshoot Day and the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment by the UN General Assembly. Criomhthann also shares some groups who post about progress made in climate justice and opportunities to learn more and meet people interested in these topics in Ireland.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

Stories straight to your inbox that challenge how you think about the world.