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Irish Update

July 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Irish Pride

Hello again, and welcome (or should I say fáilte?) to the Fodar. Ireland has been having quite the summer, but I’m quickly realizing that not everyone keeps the Irish Times on their RSS like I do. So I’ve taken it upon myself to brief you all on the goings on of this tiny, yet thunderous nation. Sheep may outnumber people 2:1 over there, but they are certainly not a nation of followers. I’ve interspersed some highly significant moments with a few lighter pieces to give you a taste of Irish summer – hmm, maybe the Captain can come up with an “Irish Summer” themed shot to share with y’all. But I digress — Big things are happening in my favorite little country, so let’s get craic-in’.

British Prime Minister Apologizes for Bloody Sunday Massacre

On June 15th, while thousands gathered in Guildhall Square, Derry, British Prime Minister David Cameron publicly apologized for the massacre that took place 38 years prior. On January 30, 1972, British paratroopers opened fire on a civil rights demonstration, killing fourteen civilians in what came to be known as Bloody Sunday. “On behalf of our country,” said Cameron, “I am deeply sorry.”

The newly published Saville Report officially recognizes, for the first time, that British forces fired the first shot and that the killings were “unjustified and unjustifiable.” The 5,000 page report was welcomed by Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen:

“From this day forth, history will record what the families have always known to be true . . . 14 innocent people died on the streets of Derry on January 30th, 1972. There is no doubt, there are no ambiguities. In truth, there never were. They were innocent. May they rest in peace.” (Source: Irish Times)

This was a day of reconciliation for both Ireland and the UK, a monumental moment in the long and often bloody history between them.

Bono Blogs about Bloody Sunday

In a guest op-ed for the New York Times, U2 front man Bono checks his agenda and offers us a more personal perspective on the findings of the Saville Report and Cameron’s apology. He did write the song, after all – this is definitely worth a read.

Jay-Z Owns the Oxygen Festival

Reigning king of the Empire State has expanded his domain to Dublin, opening for Ireland’s largest music festival this summer. “He came, he saw, he conquered,” he “stole the show,” and was quickly dubbed “the festival’s undisputed heavyweight champion.” His performance may have “sidestepped hip-hop’s usual clichés,” but he seems to have inspired nothing but from reviewers at the Irish Times.

Milk 2010

Ireland’s first-ever outdoor LGBT music festival will kick off August 14th. How can you go wrong with a line-up featuring Bananarama and Right Said Fred? But really, this is about a growing culture of openness and acceptance in country still grappling (as so many of us are) with its conservative Catholic upbringing. Milk welcomes “anyone from any community encouraging a culture of inclusiveness, acceptance, diversity and celebration” – which brings us to our next story…

Seanad Passes Partnership Bill.

This is huge. While Massachusetts was busy declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, the Seanad Éireann was engaged in a 23 hour long debate, eventually passing a Partnership Bill granting “marriage-like benefits to gay and lesbian couples in the areas of property, social welfare, succession, maintenance, pensions and tax[KG1] .” The bill was passed 48-4 with no abstentions after it was eventually guillotined by Seanad Leader Donnie Cassidy. While same-sex marriage is still not recognized, the new civil registrations will carry comparable legal benefits. This is an enormous step forward for Ireland, a country struggling to find its own identity amid 21st century convention and a steep Catholic tradition. When you consider that divorce was not legal until 1996 and abortion is not legal in the Republic of Ireland, except when necessary to save the mother’s life, the Partnership Bill speaks volumes about the willingness of modern Ireland to compromise its Catholic roots and adapt to a more contemporary set of values.

Irish Gay Rights take a step forward.

Derry Crowned City of Culture

Derry, Londonderry, Doire Colmcille – the city has many names, and now a chance to showcase its oft misunderstood history as the first-ever UK City of Culture for 2013. Beloved Irish rockers Snow Patrol lead the campaign, urging the panel to “Just Say Yes” to Derry – I’m not sure which bit I’m happier about, the fact that this fabulous city is getting its due, or that a Snow Patrol song is finally being used to promote something other than the latest mediocre rom-com. I kept it in the Irish theme with that one, but seriously – take a peek at their soundtrack track record. Not good.

Whales in Dublin?

The first whale sighting off the Dublin coast in more than 20 years. He may not be as cool as this guy, but let’s give him some credit.

Ireland’s Credit Rating Drops

I feel you on this one, Eire. Happens to the best of us.

Citing the government’s “gradual but significant loss of financial strength, as reflected by its deteriorating debt affordability,” Moody’s has downgraded Ireland from Aa2 to Aa1 and changed its outlook on ratings from stable to negative. Bloomberg quotes Dietmar Hornung, Moody’s lead analyst for Ireland, as saying “It’s a gradual, significant deterioration, but not a sudden, dramatic shift.” But this is not a portent of doom, nor an irreparable mark on Ireland’s economy. The days of the Celtic Tiger are long gone – with an unemployment rate of 13% and emigration rates once again on the rise, this isn’t really surprising so much as signifying of Ireland’s acute struggle in Europe’s recent economic decline.

So there you have it – the financial and political woes, social struggles and civil and cultural landmarks Ireland has seen of late. With so much going on, such highs and lows wrestling in the headlines, it’s hard to say what shape the rest of the summer will take.

Sláinte!

Kelly

Condoms on Commercial Street?

July 9, 2010 1 comment

What would he say about the controversy?

Here we are, introducing our second guest blogger: Kelly. With a personal stake in dethroning the Fodder’s Captain Adam as our most popular fresh voice, Kelly’s first piece takes on a controversial microcosm of the US’s sentiments on sexual education. Condoms in schools? Hot button issue. So through the scope of a native Cape Codder, we bring you “Condoms on Commercial Street?” Enjoy!

Aah, summer on Cape Cod. The sun, the surf, the…six year olds walking along Commercial Street with condoms?

The Provincetown (MA) School Committee approved a policy in late May, proposed by high school students, to make free condoms available in the school nurse’s office. But if you’ve been reading the headlines from media outlets across the country, you might expect that the longtime artist colony at the tip of the Cape is also home to a population of unusually sexually active elementary schoolers who will soon be offered contraception as part of their curriculum.

As a native Cape Codder now living “over the bridge,” and an avid reader of the Fodder, I was quite excited to explore this real-life nugget of conversation and hopefully provide some insight on the media debacle of what should have been a non-issue. I mean, let’s face it – tossing first graders and condoms into a headline is bound to garner attention and foster gossip, if not discussion; but how many people actually know what Provincetown’s new contraception distribution policy says?

“Condoms will be available, upon request, to Provincetown students.”

Whoa. Scandalous.

Or is it? According to the Cape Cod Times,

“The [Massachusetts] state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education first passed a policy on condom availability in August 1991, as an addendum to its 1990 policy on AIDS/HIV prevention education. Among its recommendations was that “every school committee, in consultation with superintendents, administrators, faculty, parents and students consider making condoms available in their secondary schools.”

Sounds to me like P-town is on the right track.

On a recent trip “down the Cape,” I was curious to hear local reactions to P-town’s decision. I can’t imagine Provincetown Superintendant Beth Singer thought a policy change affecting roughly 150 students would soon be a headline across the country: the Boston Globe, USA Today and the New York Times were all quick to stick Provincetown, condoms and elementary school children into their headlines.

And believe me, the Cape is not often home to front-page news. Sure we’ve had our fair share of murder mysteries and serial killers – what quaint cluster of fishing villages hasn’t? But our usual stories are more comparable to Rupert, the goat from Wellfleet who needed surgery after eating too many Cheerios. Seriously.

I noticed immediately that I was far more interested in this than anyone else in town. Perhaps because I was the one reading the over-hyped headlines, not the smaller pieces closer to the source. (Even now as I write, this topic is still front-page news on Boston.com, while CapeCodOnline.com is all atwitter over the upcoming lavender harvest.) Responses ranged from “Well, it’s P-town” to my 87 year-old neighbor, who didn’t appreciate that her tax dollars would be providing Provincetown students with an endless supply of water balloons. Bless you, Nan.*

Over drinks one night in Wellfleet, I asked my friend Liam what he thought:

“Considering the absurd amount of press this story has received, I can’t help but wonder if there’s an underlying homophobia and sex-negative bias fueling this fire. I have an inkling that if this were Orleans or another less infamous town on the Cape – or anywhere, for that matter – this story wouldn’t have ignited in the way it did. But this is happening in Provincetown, a frivolous, dangerously progressive town filled with gays and hippies who are pushing their hyper-sexualized homosexual agenda onto six year olds.”

Well said, Liam. Now you may have been able to pick up on the sarcasm in that last bit – just maybe – but many conservative voices feared exactly that. The New American claims this new policy “in many respects reflects the permissive gay culture that permeates the town.” And here I thought it reflected the proactive student body that brought the issue before the school committee after weighing the concerns of their peers.

It angers me that Provincetown’s progressive reputation ultimately led to such a negative spin on this story. Were we to assume that, because no specific age limit was set, and because it’s P-town, that the nurse would really, as Liam put it, be doling out condoms like free lollypops at the bank? Many public high schools in New York City already have similar policies to what Provincetown is proposing. Washington D.C. has had a publicly funded program to distribute free condoms since 2006, making condoms available in high schools, colleges, pediatrician’s offices and adolescent health groups. (Liquor stores and barber shops are also among the most popular distributors – is that a guy thing?) According to the Washington Post, D.C.’s health department distributed 3.2 million free condoms last year, including about 15,000 in schools. I don’t know, Ben Gibbard – you might not be getting any, but it doesn’t look like the rest of the District will be sleeping alone tonight.

I’ve felt a growing disconnect from my Cape Cod roots since moving to Boston. But as the provincialisms of my small-town beginnings peter out, I find that in my heart, the liberal sun-drenched philosophies of earlier days prevail. I know what it’s like to grow up in a town that sheds a few thousand residents after Labor Day; and for a town with a senior class of just 16 students – a town so small it may not even have its own high school next year – to recognize a growing need for safe and practical sex education practices for future generations, and successfully appeal for change through the proper administrative channels, is a tremendous accomplishment. These students should be praised for their mature and proactive approach to safe sex, and it is a shame that their efforts have been overshadowed, and quite possibly overturned, by media sensationalism.

I’m proud of the Provincetown students who brought forth these changes – and I’m sure their gay hippie parents are as well.

*Names changed to protect the locals.

For a full list of condom distribution centers in the DC area, please visit DCHealth.gov.