Trump's Ban, Palestine & My Galway Workplace.

Recently my friend Ihab Salawdeh gave a highly illuminating talk on his homeland of Palestine as part of our institute’s “My Country” series. The idea is for staff/students working at the Insight Centre for Data Anlaytics to present informative but light-hearted overviews of their country to their colleagues. With over 30 nationalities represented at our university research centre, we have had some excellent insights into places far and near. 

The jovial Ihab introduced us to a Palestine that not too many outsiders are aware off; a land where, in spite of Israeli military occupation and colonial settlements, is rich in natural beauty, culture and history. The inhabitants of the Holy Land are proud of their ethnic cuisine, folk dances, vibrant musical heritage, traditional dress, scenic hillwalking routes, churches, mosques, synagogues as well as ancient Roman/Greek/Jewish and Byzantine ruins. Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem are great world centres of tourism and religious pilgrimage.
Thinking about Ihab’s talk and the ‘United Nations of Galway’ that is my research institute at NUI Galway, I have come to the conclusion that Trump’s decision to ban travel to the USA for refugees and people from seven countries that have majority Muslim populations will have enormous and immediate negative ramifications not just socially, economically and politically but also scientifically.
Some of the researchers at our university centre are respected scientists from Syria and Iran who often as part of their work attend research conferences in the USA and elsewhere. America is now off limits to them and the research community of Galway, Ireland, Europe and the world will suffer as a result.
Trump will I feel extend the ban to other countries with Palestine probably at the top of the list.
With Trump promoting his newly discovered Christianity (of the conservative strand) and his support of American business entrepreneuralism, I should remind him that Steve Job’s father was Syrian and that the family of Jesus Christ fled to Egypt as refugees to escape probable death at the hands of a despotic ruler.
Trump is bringing a coldness and darkness to a United States that has such a proud bright history of welcoming immigrants escaping religious, racial and cultural persecution.

No to Forest Road, Yes to Forest Classroom & Greenway

In advance of the public consultation (Jan 25th) on the proposed changes to the Kirwan Roundabout, we are asking the people of Galway to attend a public information event on Monday (Jan 23rd) on the Terryland Forest Park which will outline the health, educational, environmental and social benefits of Ireland’s largest community-driven urban forest park project.

It is important that the public are made fully aware before it is too late of the need for council investment, protection and promotion of what is known as the ‘Lungs of the City’ and the damage that a proposed road construction through the park will do to its status as an Ecological Corridor, as a major carbon sink in combating climate change, as an Outdoor Classroom for the benefit of schools and colleges, as a tourist amenity and as an Outdoor Gym and Greenway for the citizens Galway city.

At the meeting we will outline a programme of social, learning, crafts, health, gardening and environmental projects being organised for 2017 by teachers, heritage enthusiasts, scientists, gardeners, medical professionals and community volunteers in this urban forest. These activities include meadow-making, wildflower plantings, a traditional scything festival, bat walks, nature trails, walking/cycling tours, a scarecrow festival, bee keeping, organic gardening and citizen science events.

The lack of opportunities for today’s urban youth generation in particular to enjoy woodlands and the wilderness is having serious negative learning and health repercussions. The need for children to experience the magic of forests and the wilderness is borne out by the latest scientific and medical research worldwide which shows the fundamental importance of integrating woodlands, trees and wetlands into the fabric of our cities. Building a road through the park would not only destroy wildlife as well as a tranquil greenway for walkers, it will directly damage people’s health by introducing high levels of pollution. For vehicle emissions are associated with rising levels of dementia, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. The Environmental Protection Agencey (EPA) recently stated that 1,200 people die prematurely every year in Ireland due to air pollution with the World Health Organisation listing Galway as one of the worst offenders in Britain and Ireland for breaching air safety levels.

It is accepted that trees are the most cost effective way to tackle urban pollution, absorbing between 7% to 24% of atmospheric contaminates.

On a biodiversity level, Terryland was initiated as an ecological corridor for flora and fauna by providing a green link to connect the Corrib waterways to the farmlands of east Galway, a key development at a time when the status of over 60% of Ireland’s native species is precarious. 

We welcome the fact that two days after our meeting, engineers from Halcrow Barry Consultants will host a public consultation on the proposed changes to the Kirwan Roundabout in the new Ballinfoile Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre

But our fear is that the views of the engineers as well as of senior officials in City Hall fail to fully understand Terryland’s role in citizens’ health and biodiversity protection, a situation that seems unbelievable considering that Galway is the designated Green Leaf or Green Capital of Europe for 2017.  For at last week’s council meeting when plans were unveiled for the first time of the six design options on revamping the Kirwan Roundabout, not one of the engineers either in their written or oral presentations made reference to the ‘Terryland Forest Park’ by name.  This in spite of the fact that three of the options are based on dissecting the lands of this key recreational and ecological zone.  This negative stance was similar to City Hall’s recent bye-law recommendation to ban children from climbing trees in parks as well as when the council’s CEO in September introduced the forest road development via a Material Alterations to the Galway City Development Plan, where the construction was (under)stated as just a “link road between Bóthar na dTreabh (N6) and Liosbaun Estate. They are by this approach devaluing the fundamental importance of forests and other green spaces, treating them as land banks to be used for built development and expansion when they want.  

There is no doubt that the Kirwan Roundabout and access roads infrastructure needs to be revamped to support motorised and non-motorised vehicle users. But it is going against the trend of other European countries that the engineers are not being given the wider holistic remit to consider the installation of a proper pedestrian, cyclist and public transport infrastructure nor to review the synchronisation of the traffic lights which are presently leading to tailbacks on the Kirwan roundabout. Likewise as with other countries’ such as the United States, Netherlands and Britain, there is no consideration given of building Green (wildlife) Bridges to connect the different sections of Terryland Forest presently separated by Bóthar na dTreabh (N6) and the Quincentennial Bridge Road.

The Terryland Forest Park project was established as a partnership between City Hall and communities in 1999 and with its 100,000 native trees is officially recognised as the Lungs of the City. Such a proposed road construction punctures these lungs, goes against council’s own environmental policies and is a betrayal of the trust of the people of Galway who in their thousands have planted tens of thousands of trees and native wildflowers over the last two decades.

We want the citizens to reclaim their forests and do what the council signage says at the main entrance to the park, “Citizens of Galway, This is Your Park, Take Ownership of our City’s Cultural Woodland”. The council have no right to renege on their written promises and to steal what was planted and nurtured by the ordinary citizens of all ages. We need investment not destruction.

Terryland Forest Park selected as Galway’s "Get Involved" project!

Galway City Tribune newspaper two page spread
Terryland Forest Park has been selected as the Galway City candidate for the Get Involved Sustainable Communities initiative 2016/17. Organised by 51 local Irish newspapers and sponsored by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, Get Involved selects those projects that promote local volunteerism, biodiversity, local food growing, ecotourism and developing markets for recyclables and renewable energies. 

The community and environmental projects organised through the Terryland Forest Park in 2016 were many and varied including wildflower planting, traditional hand-held scythe mowing of a meadow, scarecrow making, mapping out online walking trails, drystone wall restoration, castle heritage cycle trails,  organic gardening, food preservation courses, neighbourhood harvest festival, traditional crafts demonstrations, litter picking, bat walks, science surveys and production of a series of onsite biodiversity educational signage.

We sincerely thank the Galway City Tribune for choosing us and for the great two page piece that appears in the current edition of the newspaper which includes photos of Cumann na bhFhear members forging and an image of the  Seven Galway Castles trail (art by Helen Caird). 

Such a prestigious accolade has come at a most opportune time just as activists have commenced battle to save the forest park from a road construction that will destroy its development as a key Ecological Corridor for wildlife and as an Outdoor Classroom for local schools and colleges.

This recognition has resulted from the dozens of hardworking visionary community, educational and environmental volunteers who are regularly involved through a series of ambitious programmes within the park that are transforming this green urban network of habitats into a learning and cultural environment for the children, students, scientists and communities of Galway city. 

These groups include Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden, Cumann na bhFear, Conservation Volunteers, Galway Bat Group, Ballinfoile Mór Walking group, School of Science GMIT, Zoology Martin Ryan Institute NUI Galway, the Centre for Environmental Science NUI Galway, GMIT Science, the Galway Field Studies Centre and the overall coordinator-the Terryland Forest Park Alliance.

Aleppo: Lessons from Beirut.

The two photographs above are not some of those being shown a lot recently of Aleppo past (beautiful) and present (ruins). Rather they show Beirut as it is now (top) and as it was (bottom).

The horrors being endured by the peoples of the Middle East seems to be only getting worse. In the last days of 2016 and the first days of 2017, bombings of civilian areas, massacres of unarmed men. women and children as well as forced population movements continue unabated.  Yemen, Iraq and Syria are turning into wastelands. The scenes on our television screens of Aleppo showing miles and miles of streetscapes lying in ruins are reminiscent of Berlin, Hamburg and Dresden at the end of World War Two. We have all seen the photographs of Aleppo then (glorious) and now (desolation). These images could also come from other Syrian cities – Homs, Deir ez-Zor, Daraa…
Promises of a better future and a return to the normality before the men with their guns, tanks and bombs came seem to be an impossible dream.
But there is hope that this nightmare will end.

Only ten years ago, Beirut was synonymous with death and destruction. Once known as the Paris of the East, civil wars and military invasions from 1975 onwards reduced the Lebanese capital to rubble. Armed militias, military checkpoints, air bombings, kidnappings, sectarian killings, religious conflicts and foreign occupations transformed the city and countryside into a nightmare world reminiscent of scenes from the film Mad Max
A few months ago, I travelled to Lebanon to teach coding to Palestinian and Syrian  refugee teachers as well as to students in Lebanese schools.  In a country of only 4+ million citizens, there are over 2 million refugees mainly from Syria. This is a putting a huge strain on an already fragile Lebanese society. A national political deadlock of 29 months was only ended in November when the post of Presidency was finally filled. Mounds of waste were highly visible on inter city roadsides and in front of major buildings as a result of what many Lebanese say is due to endemic political corruption. The garbage crisis is so bad that there is a fear that it could contaminate the whole of the Mediterranean Sea.
Yet is spite of the past and present problems, Lebanon still inspires me and fills me with grounds for optimism.
The capital city is being rebuilt. Hotels are welcoming foreign tourists. Couples kiss, hold hands and share romantic moments together in public places. Families cycle along the seafront. Unaccompanied women drive cars, walk the streets, socialise together. The cafes and bars are full of young people. The streets around the American university are awash with students of both sexes and of different cultures. Mosques and churches exist in relative proximity. Public museums, galleries and hotels welcome visitors. No other country has done more to welcome refugees than Lebanon.
All of this takes places in what was until very recently a brutal urban battleground. Of course this is not to ignore the serious social problems that still exist. Women complain of experiencing sexual harassment on the streets; the refugees often live in cramped poor neighbourhoods; corruption and political patronage are talked about openly; and the urban geography is based along religious and ethnic lines.
But the most important thing is that Druze, Christian, Shia, Sunni, atheist, Armenian are living and mingling in the same city with lines slowly blurring as time moves on.
In spite of the fragility of Beirut society, it offers a possibility of a return to the past for the Middle East. For this region that was the cradle of civilisation never belonged to one faith, one people or one ideology. For thousands of years its cities were always mixed, always cosmopolitan.
I sincerely hope to be given the opportunity to once again work in Lebanon as part of the ambitious and highly beneficial 'Refugee Code Week' learning initiative.