Cllr Joanna Byrne: Windmill Road Residents Deserve Better

                         Cllr Joanna Byrne & Windmill Rd Residents

 

Last week’s Municipal District meeting of Drogheda saw a furious Joanna Byrne take the council officials to task over the delay of implementing ‘Resident’s Only’ parking on the Windmill Rd. 

Demanding answers on the delay, the Sinn Féin councillor also slammed Louth County Council for failing to engage with the residents of the area at any stage throughout the process.

Cllr Byrne said, “Following a long , hard-fought campaign by the residents of the Windmill Road area, the committee were here on 2nd September to witness the passing of the amended Bye-Laws which would see the introduction of Resident’s Only parking on the West Side of the street and an increased rate of parking fees on the rest of the street. This increase would reflect the rates of the Hospital car-park to encourage visitors to utilise that facility and therefore relieve congestion on the Windmill Road. This was given a commencement date of October 10th.

“Over a month later, no such Residents Only parking has been introduced. Ironically though, the increased parking rates have.”

Cllr Byrne was advised by a Council Engineer present at the municipal meeting, that the delay was due to the signage not arriving on time although it had been ordered, and the Residents Parking Only would be implemented in due course when it arrives.

Cllr Byrne said “Delays happen with orders, that I understand, but here we are a month later and not one level of engagement or communication has been fed down to the residents to inform them of this. We are now entering the winter season which unfortunately always leads to a busier hospital, all the residents here can see is congestion building, increased parking rates and no sign of their parking being introduced. After the hard work and perseverance they put into this campaign, frankly they deserve a lot better from Louth County Council.”

Cllr Byrne who worked closely with the residents of Windmill Road on this campaign urged the Council to follow up on the signage as a matter of urgency and to “not let this drag into another month before any work commences.”

Hunger Strike Commemoration in Louth 2019

Louth Sinn Féin held its annual Hunger Strike commemoration in Drogheda on Saturday 7th September. The event was chaired by Imelda Munster TD and we heard the beautiful poem The Rhythm of Time, written by Bobby Sands, read out by Lee Hamill. A wreath on behalf of Sinn Féin was laid by Cllr Ruairí Ó Murchú.

The main speaker was a stalwart of Irish Republicanism, a man who was a friend of Bobby Sands and played a pivotal role in the 1980 & 1981 hunger strikes.

Danny is the secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust which was set up to protect Bobby Sands’ writings and to ensure they would always be in print in perpetuity.

We have printed his speech below but bear in mind, the words do not do justice to the passion with which they were delivered.

Over to Danny….

“In two years’ time we will be commemorating the 40th anniversary of the hunger strike. It seems incredible because to me and many of the older ones here, it seems like only yesterday. From where we stand today, the way we live our lives and enjoy our lives, what went on back then seems incomprehensible – the way our prisoners in the H-Blocks and Armagh Prison were forced to live, the conditions and brutality they endured.

But let’s go back even before that to understand what happened. It is a lesson in why you cannot trust the British government and is a lesson for us today when they try to tell people they don’t want a hard border and won’t implement a hard border.

Lee Hamill reads The Rhythm of Time

In 1971, Britain introduced internment and the republican prisoners incarcerated, without charge or trial, had political status. In 1972, sentenced republican prisoners then went on a hunger strike for the same status. Before anyone died the British agreed to recognise the political status of the prisoners.

The agreement didn’t bring total peace to the jails – we in the Cages of Long Kesh were still subject to violent military searches every couple of weeks; prisoners died of medical neglect when warders would not answer the emergency bell; and an internee, Hugh Coney, was shot dead trying to escape. However, the agreement brought relative peace to the jails and no prison officer lost his life or was attacked – until, that is, the beatings began in the H-Blocks.

But, the British government reneged on this agreement. Beginning in 1976 it planned to humiliate and subjugate sentenced prisoners in the belief that if it could demoralise and criminalise the prisoners then it could demoralise the IRA on the outside, which its repression had failed to defeat.

        Ruairí Ó Murchú lays a wreath

Don’t imagine that Britain didn’t know what it was doing or what the reaction would be. It knew that the republicans would resist – as Thomas Ashe had resisted in 1917 as Terence MacSwiney had resisted in 1920. So, even if their criminalisation programme failed they would still have the satisfaction of beating republicans, giving them black eyes, busted eardrums and broken fingers, and punishing them for their ongoing resistance and refusal to be cowed, the way Israeli soldiers vent their racism on the Palestinian people with killings and collective punishments.

So appalling were the conditions in the H-Blocks that in August 1978, after visiting the prison, Cardinal Ó Fiaich said: “one would hardly allow an animal to remain in such conditions, let alone a human being. The nearest approach to it that I have seen was the spectacle of hundreds of homeless people living in sewer-pipes in the slums of Calcutta.”

But nothing would move the British, especially Margaret Thatcher who became prime minister in 1979.

The prisoners then began discussing a hunger strike and we on the outside wanted to avoid a hunger strike which we believed would end in deaths. From early 1980 I began visiting the prisoners, including Bobby Sands, Brendan Hughes and Mairead Farrell in Armagh Jail. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I can still recall the smell of the prisoners, the pallor of their skin, their pimpled faces, Mairead Farrell’s greasy hair, because it had been years since they had been allowed out of their cells to wash or to exercise in the open air.

      Imelda Munster TD

At the same time, Gerry Adams and I began secretly meeting Cardinal Ó Fiaich and he, in turn, was talking to the British Secretary of State, Humphry Atkins. To help the talks the IRA stopped attacking prison warders. At one point, I think it was August 1980, Cardinal Ó Fiaich contacted us with news of a breakthrough after a meeting in Downing Street. He said the British government had conceded the right of the prisoners to wear their own clothes. However, when he was in the air on a flight to Rome, the British government issued a statement saying, “No, no! Not their own clothes, it will be prison-issue, civilian-type clothes” – which to the prisoners was just another uniform.

And so the 1980 hunger strike commenced. When it was in its 40th day we were contacted by the British government who claimed they wanted to find a resolution. The hunger strike ended, with Sean McKenna, seriously ill, and the British supplying a document promising a progressive prison regime. But when the prisoners applied for their clothes, the prison governor said – “Put on your uniform first and begin conforming.” There was no give, no compromise, and so Bobby Sands began the second hunger strike on March 1st, 1981.

Those seven, long, gruelling months when ten young men, two of whom were married, Bobby Sands and Joe McDonnell, died, those seven months of hunger strike made international headlines and exposed the cruelty and intransigence of Britain.

“How can I talk to you,” said Margaret Thatcher, “when you have no mandate.”

So, Bobby stood for election and was elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and got twice the majority that Thatcher got in Finchley. This was the perfect moment for compromise. But what did Thatcher do?

She rushed through a new the law, she amended the Representation of the People Act so that no other hunger striker or political prisoner could stand in an election and embarrass her and contradict her lies.

    Danny Morrison – Legend

Her intransigence led not only to the deaths of ten prisoners but to many people on the outside as well, including two children and a mother of three, by plastic bullets where I live in West Belfast. No arrests, no investigations, no charges.

As we know, after the hunger strike, the British conceded the five demands and, as part of the Good Friday Agreement the political prisoners were released from the jails.

The hunger strike was a huge event in Irish history. It was our ‘1916’. It inspired thousands of people to become activists. And, of course, the electoral success of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and two months later of Kieran Doherty in Cavan-Monaghan and Paddy Agnew, here in Louth, were to provide us with the next phase of our struggle and the electoral rise of Sinn Féin.

How wrong Thatcher was when she described the hunger strike as the IRA’s last card.

The amazing Rising Phoenix Flute Band

Of course, the attempted criminalisation of republicans, the demonization of republicans, that mindset, has continued afoot, and nowhere more so than by politicians in the South and sections of the media. I’ll never forget when, in the by-election after Bobby’s death, Owen Carron, Bobby’s election agent, took Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act Owen was banned from the airwaves. But RTE interviewed the loser, Ken Maginnis, a former member of the UDR. Again, when Gerry Adams was shot in 1984 RTE could have legally interviewed the organisation that shot him, the UDA, but not interviewed their victim, Gerry Adams.

Governments here simply did not trust the people to make up their own minds about the rights and wrongs of what was going in the North. That direct censorship truly damaged the prospects of dialogue and protracted the conflict, in my opinion.

Today, we have the likes of Micheál Martin attacking Sinn Féin for not breaking its election pledges and going back into Stormont and taking seats on the executive with the DUP. Is it not then hypocritical and a double standard, and partitionist, for the same Micheál Martin to state that Sinn Féin is not fit for government in the South? Okay for the North, but not the South.

We have politicians calling upon Sinn Féin to betray the electorate and its manifesto by taking seats in Westminster. The same politicians whose

        A small portion of the crowd

parties have had ample opportunity to set up shop in the North and run for elections but are too cowardly to do so. Ever wonder why Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, who had eighty years to do so, never organised in the North? It was because they accepted partition, became comfortable with partition and perfected partition.

Once you take your seats in Westminster and interfere in the affairs of Britain you lose all moral right to complain about Britain interfering in Irish affairs. The TDs, the Sinn Féin men and women elected in December 1918 – whom Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil revere – were right to boycott Westminster then, just as Sinn Féin women and men today are right to boycott that alien parliament and demonstrate to the world our rejection of British rule in Ireland.

Many politicians and many in the media are apoplectic on the occasions when a republican will refer to the Twenty-Six Counties as the ‘Free State’.

I can understand that. It is a pejorative term. But can they understand how insulting it is for us from the six counties when we are excluded by the deliberate use of the term ‘Ireland’ by those same politicians and editorial writers when they know that they are actually referring to the Twenty-Six Counties, to the Republic of Ireland. It is just as easy to say the Republic of Ireland. So, we must ask them, why do you do that? Is it to be offensive? Is it to project the false and repugnant notion that you and you alone are Ireland and that we, in the Six Counties are somehow second-class Irish?

If you think that, you are you mightily mistaken!

Book available from Dundalk Sinn Féin

I live in Belfast, I live in the North. But the state I live in is not the state I grew up in. Our struggle, our uprising, changed all that. Nationalists and republicans no longer feel vanquished. We are first class citizens and we stand tall. We know what we want and we are not so stupid to think that a New Ireland will work without the support and cooperation of the unionist community. Without reconciliation. Without expressions of the hurt and pain all sides inflicted. Those discussions – about how a New Ireland is configured – are taking place and will continue to take place, and in all likelihood will intensify if the British government crashes out of the European Union, and economic interests, reconciliation and unity prevail over narrow political ideology and sectarianism.

As the fortieth anniversary of the hunger strike approaches, let us take stock of where we are. We have greatly advanced, and many obstacles, none insuperable, are in our way. The sacrifices of the hunger strikers, of the Blanketmen, of the women in Armagh Prison, continue to inspire and motivate me and my generation and the youth of today.

Bobby Sands wrote about every one having their part to play, regardless how small. You are the republican grassroots. The ones who come out and march for Irish independence, for an Ireland where Britain has departed from our shores for good. You are the faithful. The ones who do not forget. And from your ranks will come the leaders of tomorrow.

You are the future.

Our past is a past littered with the names of prisons – Limerick, Portlaoise, Mountjoy, Armagh, the Maidstone, Magilligan, Crumlin Road, Maghaberry, Long Kesh and the H-Blocks.

In our tomorrow there will be no barbed wire, no locks, no borders, but the open air of freedom, the open air of sweet freedom, at last.”

              Some of the Sinn Fein team in Louth with Danny Morrison

Cllr Joanna Byrne: Extra Hostel Needed for People with Addictions

Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne has welcomed the passing of her Drogheda Council motion calling for additional homeless services to be provided in Drogheda to facilitate those with entrenched Alcohol and Drug issues.

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Byrne said whilst she recognised the phenomenal work Louth County Council and their Homeless liaison team do, she felt there was “an over-reliance” on the NGO’s in the town at times.

Cllr Byrne said “Louth is experiencing much higher presentations of homelessness than our neighbouring counties, but I fear this is not a true reflection of how prevalent this issue is as many homeless people do not meet the criteria and rules of current solutions offered by the Local Authority, mainly down to battling addictions and therefore ending up on the streets. They are not included in any figures or homeless reports.”

In a written response to her motion, Cllr Byrne was told that a multi-agency review for a low threshold hostel in Drogheda has now been listed as an action in the draft Homeless Action Plan 2018-2020, and if the need is confirmed in the review to be undertaken by the HSE and the Local Authority, steps will be taken to open one. Cllr Byrne pushed this with the Director of Service for Housing, Paddy Donnelly, asking how long it would take. “This is urgent, it can’t be allowed to drag on for years.”

Mr. Donnelly advised that the Council recognised the need and assured Cllr Byrne this would be a priority in 2019.

Cllr Joanna Byrne express her thanks for the cross-party support for her motion and re-iterated the fact that “there are people sleeping rough in the doorways and parks in Drogheda and this is solely down to them battling addictions  like alcohol or drugs.”

She added “The current set-up of just a ‘dry facility’ in this town is no longer adequate, we need to be broad-minded enough to recognise Drogheda is evolving and so is our homeless situation, we also need a ‘wet facility’ to ensure we are meeting the needs of everybody experiencing homelessness, and can no longer leave anybody to sleep on our streets. If they have a roof over their heads they can then begin to access other services to help them with their other issues but this is the first step. A roof is a basic human right and the onus is on us as a Local Authority to provide that!”

 

The actual text of the motion said:

“This Council calls for a Homeless Hostel in Drogheda to assist Homeless people with entrenched Alcohol & Drug issues.

We recognise these addictions are significant contributing factors to making these people homeless and at present we do not have the provisions in place to alleviate these issues and assist those in our town who need it.”

 

Figures from the Department of Housing for October showed:

133 people accessed emergency accommodation in the whole of the North east Region

124 of these were in Louth

7 were in Cavan

2 were in Monaghan

David Saurin Selected to Run in Drogheda Urban in 2019

David and daughter Leanne

Sitting Councillor David Saurin was selected last night to run for the Drogheda Urban constituency for the Party.

David was proposed by Nikki Gavin from his Cumann in Drogheda who commended him on the work he has done until now and wished him well for the future.

David was seconded by his daughter Leanne who assured the room she was in no way biased. “I am very proud of you Dad. Dad works hard for his constituents since taking over from former Cllr Alan Cassidy who had to stand down for health reasons. On top of all this Councillor work, Dad also does shift work and he does it all without complaint. I am so proud of him and everything he has achieved and how hard he works and I look forward to campaigning for him when the elections are called.”

David commended former Cllr Alan Cassidy and admitted he “didn’t realise just how much work was involved when he took it on. I didn’t appreciate just how hard the council team actually worked but I certainly do now. It is 24/7 and I am grateful for the team around me. Kenneth Flood and Joanna Byrne have been a great support and help to me here in Drogheda and together we do trojan work. It’s all about bringing the Republican agenda to the people and I, along with the Colonel Leonard Cumann strive to do that on an on-going basis. We have to continue to build up the vote, we can see how it has increased over the years but that doesn’t happen easily. it is hard work and I am prepared to continue to give it 100%”

The new line up so far in Drogheda

Reduced Drogheda Budget Voted Down

Tuesday’s Drogheda Council budget meeting ended with the budget of just €20,000 (reduced from €60,000 last year) being voted down by a vote of 5 for and 5 against leaving the Mayor with the casting vote.

Sinn Féin Councillors Joanna Byrne, Kenneth Flood and David Saurin gave a litany of reasons as to why they could not support the reduced budget.

Cllr Joanna Byrne said “The Ardee and Dundalk council meetings also seen their reduced budgets being voted down. But the difference there was that there was no talk of introducing or increasing pay parking charges. However, at the
Drogheda meeting it turned into a discussion, driven by the Chief Executive, to try and over turn our recent democratically passed motion to decrease Drogheda’s pay parking charges to €1 per hour, (except in the area around the hospital).”

An exasperated Byrne said “This is before we have even seen the decrease take place and see how it affects parking in Drogheda. The pay parking charges have never been on the agenda at a Municipal District Budget Meeting before.”

Cllr David Saurin said ” We have asked many times previously, as have other councillors at the parking meetings, if pay parking was to be increased, is it possible to ring fence it for Drogheda? The answer was always no. Now suddenly we are told and expected to believe that if we vote to increase the charge back to €1.20 we can ring fence it, but only at this specific meeting. No Councillor had ever heard that before. It just beggars belief.”

Cllr Kenneth Flood said “During last year’s budget discussions we were promised specific measures for various parts of Drogheda, none of which has materialised. We were asked by council officials to make submissions to the
budget process for consideration. The Sinn Féin group of Councillors made a varied and detailed submission with initiatives that we believe could save the Council substantial amounts of money. We did not receive a response to our submission.”

Cllr Flood said “We have not received answers to our queries, such as how much does the Council pay it’s PR Company and how much does it pay consultants to write policy documents etc. or even where this money appears on the budget. The Council has removed pay parking spaces on the North Strand without consultation, consideration or notice.  We are excluded from the process. We cannot be asked to pass any budget we are excluded from. We cannot increase parking charges when no one else is being asked to.”

Cllr Flood said “We have stuck to our principles and kept our word to the residents of Drogheda. We are not here to rubber stamp budgets, we are here to represent the people of Drogheda and ensure there is transparency, accountability and value for public money.”