Just finished an Internet Safety workshop to the parents of Scoil Shéamais Naofa Bearna. Thanks to príomhoide Máire Báicéir for the opportunity.
It is my final session for parents for 2020/21.
The early days of Social Media (2004-2009).
When I started Cyberbullying Awareness activities for parents, youth and teachers in 2005 I was one of the first to do so.
Online social media was in its infancy with Orkut, Myspace and Bebo probably being the big three in this domain. Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat had yet to be invented.
'Blogging' (blogspot) was very popular, allowing ordinary non-techies to create their own website for the first time.
There was an innocent then about our use of the web. We passionately believed in the power of online SOCIAL media as a force for good and for sharing stories and images between old friends from the real world and new found friends from the world of the World Wide Web.
I use to give a range of workshops on setting up websites, via a blog, and a personal social media account, via Orkut etc, to ethic minorities (e.g. Brazilians in Gort and the residents of the Eglinton asylum seekers accommodation centre), businesses, community groups, schools, politicians (including a young city councillor by the name of Niall O Brolchain!). For the vast majority of participants from across all sectors, it was their first time to have an online presence.
The Nastiness was there.
But sadly even then the nastiness and cyber bullying had started. Online harassment campaigns, stalking and misogyny were all there with the sexual abuse of young teenage females being to the fore.
It does not have to be like this!
I remember well the government promising in those early days to clamp down on online nastiness and bring the culprits to task with the promise of new legislation and the establishment of a digital safety office. In spite of many requests and many promises, I am still waiting for this to happen.
On Friday I took a group of primary school children on a guided walk from the Woodquay 'Plots', along the banks of the River Corrib to Terryland Castle and on into the woods and meadows of Terryland Forest Park. The teachers and pupils interacted with this beautiful natural environment using their senses, making boats from reeds to float in the waters of the Corrib, studying the diverse range of flowers and trees and enjoying the new educational heritage sculpture trails.
Thankfully there was no major occurrence of litter either along the river banks or in the woods. It was very clean. But a weekend of partying near Terryland Castle has subsequently done so much harm.
In 2019, Galway City Council abolished the Cash-for-Cans scheme that was introduced in 2011 at the instigation of community lobbying supported by councillor Catherine Connolly (now TD). I have to compliment the then City Hall officials for their support in implementing this pioneering scheme, the only local authority in Ireland to do so but a scheme that did and still does exist in many other European countries. Sadly the government that year refused our demands to bring in a similar nationwide initiative that would also include glass bottles. However the present government has promised to roll out in 2022 a new deposit and return scheme for plastic bottles and cans. This is welcome news. But it needs though to be extended to include glass bottles and metal cans and it should be introduced NOW! Every day that we don't act the natural environment suffers.
Likewise the present council needs to be more proactive and show leadership on this. We have to wait until 2022 for full time wardens for all three main parks to be introduced- thanks to Councillor Imelda Byrne for tabling a great motion supported by all councillors and for working closely with me on this. I can understand at one level (budget) why it will not take place until then. But, in the interim, why can the council not put in place, as promised, bins at the entrances to major green areas and to work with the community to set up and support units of park volunteer wardens? Ryan Crowell and myself showed a few weeks ago (see a previous posting from last month) that having a presence on the ground and talking to those socialising outdoors can make a huge positive difference.
Furthermore there has to be a much harder line taken against those littering with a need for more prosecutions. However for that to be effective, on-the-ground wardens are required.
There is also the ridiculous situation that, due to GDPR, we are told the names of those that are actually prosecuted cannot be published in the media. Local government and national goveernmment need to take a test case to Europe on this- laws are suppose to help society and the public, not to protect the anti-people protagonists.
After 50 years, the truth finally come out yesterday in a British court that the British Army shot dead nine innocent people over three days in west Belfast during August 1971. All the victims of the Ballymurphy massacre were members of the nationalist community.
At the same time as these murders were being carried out hundreds of homes were being raided across Northern Ireland by the British military with hundreds of people arrested and imprisoned without trail in internment camps. Many were immediately humiliated and tortured by their captors. Very few of these prisoners were associated with the IRA (the supposed reason for their arrest); many were members of the civil rights movement and left-wing organisations.
7,000 people mainly nationalists at this time were forced from their homes in the North due to burnings and attacks by mobs. Thousands fled over the border with refugee camps being set up in the South. In spite of the fact that British Loyalist paramilitaries were targeting Catholics and carrying out indiscriminate bombings in the period, not one member of these Unionist sectarian gangs was arrested and interned. The Unionist government in Northern Ireland made sure of that.
Over the full period of internment that continued until 1975, of the estimated 1,981 people interned; 1,874 were nationalist, while 107 were loyalist.
During the course of the killings in Ballymurphy that included a priest holding a white flag attending to a wounded person, the British Army press officer on the ground was telling the media that those shot were IRA gunmen. That officer, belonging to the First Parachute Regiment, was Mike Jackson who was head of the British Army (Chief of the General Staff) during the illegal invasion of Iraq by British-American forces in 2003. A few months later (January 1972) he was in Derry when the same regiment shot 26 civilians (13 died immediately) during a peaceful Civil Rights march.
Boy on the Border
As a young boy living a few kilometres inside the border in Carrickmacross county Monaghan at the time, I witnessed the families fleeing for safety, victims of vicious pogroms in Belfast and elsewhere. I use to listen to the BBC/UTV television channels and the British mainstream media telling the world that the British military in the North were a peacekeeping force protecting the ordinary people of the North from the terrorism of Irish republicans. As a member of a Catholic family living in Ulster (Monaghan), I would hear Ian Paisley being quoted at Loyalist rallies stating “(Catholics) breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin" and that “Catholic homes caught fire because they were loaded with petrol bombs; Catholic churches were attacked and burned because they were arsenals and priests handed out sub-machine guns to parishioners”. I knew then what was being said and written were pure lies. I realised even as a young teenager that the British media were very much part of the propaganda war effort. Censorship applied. Fake news was continuously being spread. An example was the front page of a News of the World newspaper in 1977 showing a (false) image of a Soviet (Russian) submarine off the coast of Donegal (supposedly delivering weapons to the IRA).
As a student activist in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was painfully aware of the dirty tricks and terror campaign being organised by the British state. Bombings and bank robberies took place in the Republic and in the North carried out by British military, their spy network, their special forces such as the SAS, their allies in the Loyalist military and agent provocateurs (e.g. Littlejohn brothers) which were blamed on the IRA. Other covert operations involving collusion between British clandestine security forces in Northern Ireland and loyalist paramilitaries led to killings on both sides of the border. According to witnesses including some former members of the British forces and of loyalist gangs, this included the Miami Showband massacre (July 1975) and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974 (33 deaths). During the 1980s and 1990s I was involved in the campaigns to release the imprisoned Birmingham Six, Maguire Seven and Guildford Four, innocent mainly Irish people living in the UK framed by the British police for the murderous IRA bombing campaign in Britain.
British Heroes of Justice and Truth
But there were the courageous few in Britain who were not afraid to speak out and demand justice and truth even though they were subsequently ridiculed, lied about, harangued and even framed for crimes that they never committed by the British media and British state. These heroic people included ex-British soldiers such as Colin Wallace and Fred Holroyd (who also exposed the British Intelligence cover-up of abuse of children in the Kincora Boys Home Belfast by Unionist paramilitaries) and those unnamed squaddies who gave evidence of the psychopathic behaviour of some of their fellow soldiers involved in the shooting of unarmed civilians; British politicians such as Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone, Jeremy Corbyn and Clare Short; British investigative journalists such as Chris Mullin; lawyers such as Michael Mansfield and Gareth Pierce; artists such as Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Vanessa Redgrave; and British police officers such as Deputy Chief Constable John Stalker who exposed the shoot-to-kill actions of the security forces under which suspected IRA members were deliberately killed without any attempt to arrest them.
Why A Reign of Terror in Northern Ireland?
So the question has to be asked, why was such a brutal system imposed by the British establishment? The answer was partly due to the desire to protect a right wing corrupt sectarian elite in Northern Ireland because they were loyal to a British state that still had 'big power' imperial aspirations. But it was also because of the situation happening globally during the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. It was a time when all across the world (United States, Vietnam, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Palestine, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Algeria, South Africa, Palestine, Iran, Czechoslovakia, Poland…) peoples and the youth in particular were rising up against racism, discrimination, tyranny, occupation and colonialism. In the case of this island, there was a fear amongst the powerful elite in Britain that a ‘Catholic’ Ireland could go the way of a ‘Catholic’ Cuba and become a bastion of communism that could spread to neighbouring countries.