A hint of light on a dark date in Irish history
2018-12-01 13:50:30 -
Opinion
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By Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

 

On Wednesday 21 November in the chamber of the Seanad, something truly beautiful happened. While across Europe the rise of the political right is having its influence felt on the tone and tenure of the immigration debate in every single parliament, the Irish parliament stood apart and achieved something truly remarkable.

While once respected voices from the Democratic Party in the United States are now cautioning European leaders to be seen to be tougher on immigration, in order to be more relevant to the ‘fears’ of the people, Ireland took a different path. On Wednesday 21 November, the majority of senators supported legislation to grant citizenship rights to Irish-born children of non-Irish parents after three years of residency here.

It did not overturn the effects of the disgraceful Citizenship Referendum of 2004, but it gave legislative underpinning to the aspirations of the Irish people to be more compassionate to children who face deportation to a country they do not know. Even the architect of that referendum, the then Minister for Justice and now Senator Michael McDowell, supported the bill. Its only opponents were the governing Fine Gael party — but the vote was won anyway.

The 21st of November is a dark date in Irish history. It is the date of Bloody Sunday in 1920 when Michael Collins and his ‘squad’ assassinated 14 British agents at their homes on the break of day. Some were killed in their beds, some in front of their pregnant wives. It was ruthless and gruesome and the bloodiest day of the bloodiest period in recent Irish history.

The attacks were followed by a revenge mission by British troops who entered Croke Park and opened fire on a crowd of spectators at a Dublin-Tipperary Gaelic football match, killing 14 people, including two boys aged 10 and 14. Michael Hogan, a Tipperary player, was among those killed and the Hogan Stand has since been named in his honour.

The dreadful scenes were preceded in the early morning of 21 November when three men were tortured to death in Dublin Castle on the assumption that they had information on pending attacks in the city. Two of those men, Dick McKee and Peadar Clancy, give their names to modern-day Irish Army barracks. The third man, Conor Clune, was completely innocent and was killed for information that he didn’t have. It was a very bloody day.

Another bloody 21 November was in 1974, when the IRA planted three bombs in two pubs and outside a bank in Birmingham, England. Patrons heading for a night out in the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town had no idea how their lives were to change forever. The subsequent explosions killed 21 people and injured 182 others. The majority of the dead were aged between 17 and 30 years of age and included two Irish immigrant brothers, Desmond and Eugene Reilly.

That evening, six Irishmen with no involvement in the atrocity were arrested, beaten, charged and eventually convicted of mass murder. They would spend the next 17 years in prison before their release in 1991 when their convictions were quashed.

The 21st of November is indeed a dark date. However, on my way into the Seanad chamber for the debate, I was reminded that the anniversary of the passing of legislation to grant women the vote was also on that date. In 1918, the final Act was passed that paved the way for women to obtain something closer to full citizenship. It wasn’t perfect but it was a start, and it was a momentous date in our history.

As a child growing up in a stale and failed country that everyone seemed to want to leave, I never thought I’d see the day when people from other lands would want to come to work and live here. I also never thought that a child born here would be restricted from citizenship, and that we’d have to fight to vindicate their rights. It is a shame that the Minister for Health, who campaigned against the deportation of a child in his constituency, couldn’t see the humanity behind our Labour Party bill and to support it.

The Bill has now passed second stage in the Seanad and if the same political groupings in the Dáil give it the same backing, it will be law next year. And maybe we can ensure that 21 November is a date that can be justifiably celebrated by future generations of Irish children.

 

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is a Labour Party Senator.

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