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August 18, 2014

In pictures: Trad for Trócaire 2014 launches at Sligo Fleadh

 
"At the Fleadh you are in the real core of Ireland: its culture,  music and open heart. These are people of Ireland at their best. Focal as Gaeilge: Bhain me an-taitneamh go deo as an Fleadh. Iontach suimiuil agus spreaguil. Ta croi Trócaire ann."
-Geraldine McDermot, Trócaire Volunteer
 
The Trad for Trócaire team was out in force at the Sligo Fleadh this weekend. Musicians, dancers and singers donned their blue Trad for Trócaire t-shirts and entertained the crowds with sessions all over the town. 
 
Music fans: Organise your own event with Trad for Trócaire
 
trocaire at sligo fleadh
 
trad for trocaire sligo fleadh
 
trad for trocaire fleadh
 
trocaire at sligo fleadh 2014
 
trad for trocaire launch sligo
 
trad for trocaire volunteers sligo
 
trad for trocaire musicians at sligo fleadh 2014
 
Trad for Trócaire is a fundraising and music week run by Trócaire and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann that celebrates traditional Irish music, while raising funds to support Trócaire’s work to help poor communities overcome poverty across the developing world. 
 
Music is powerful, but a Trad for Trócaire seisiún has the power to change lives. 
 
Please play your part this year by organising a Trad session, and raising funds to support some of the world’s poorest people with Irish music and song.
 
 
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August 01, 2014

All change? New faces at home and abroad on climate change

In her new role as UN Special Envoy for Climate Change, Mary Robinson’s task is nothing short of convincing very reluctant world leaders to stop dithering and to respond with the urgency warranted by the threat of climate change, writes Niamh Garvey, Policy Officer
 
The role is fitting for the former High Commissioner for Human Rights, as there is no greater threat to human rights across the board than climate change. 
 
It threatens the right to food, the right to water, the right to shelter and the right to life.
 
This new role will be an immense challenge, but also an incredibly timely one. By the end of next year global leaders are due to agree an historic global deal to prevent runaway climate change, and as Special Envoy, Mary Robinson’s role will be to convince them to make the decisions and take the actions on climate change that they've so long evaded.
 
This will require Presidents and Prime Ministers to transcend their narrow national self-interests in order to take the really tough but vital decisions to protect people and the natural world on which we all depend.  
 
While there are some encouraging signs, including recently announced co-ordinated action on climate change by President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China, progress among all world leaders to negotiate an international treaty on climate change is moving at a glacial pace towards a deadline for agreement in Paris at the end of next year. 
 
As founder of the Mary Robinson Climate Justice Foundation, Mary Robinson’s approach will be much more than about getting any agreement. 
 
A ‘climate justice’ approach, which Trócaire has been calling for since 2007, means that we not only tackle the problem of climate change, but do so in such a way that ensures the most vulnerable people who are hit hardest whilst having done the least to cause the problem put at the centre of the response.  Mary Robinson is a powerful voice for such communities and we wish her every success with this role. 
 
mary robinson trocaire doha 2010
Mary Robinson pictured with Trócaire partners at the climate change negotiations in Durban in 2010
 
A first milestone will happen in September later this year when her boss, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon holds a Climate Summit in New York. He has invited global leaders, including our own Taoiseach Enda Kenny, to come and make announcements on what they are doing to advance progress on the response to climate change. He has set the bar high and it will be an important milestone for generating momentum towards a global deal.  
 
With an Irish woman in the high profile role of putting the case for climate action, will the Taoiseach announce enough of substance to make Ireland one of Mary Robinson’s ‘star’ or ‘problem’ countries?
 
This question will be to a large degree answered by the new face of climate policies at home. The recent Cabinet reshuffle has seen ‘Big Phil’ (Phil Hogan) head to Europe, and Alan Kelly take up the position of Minister for Environment and Local Government. 
 
Action in this Department, including delivering the long-standing commitment to bring in legislation on climate change, will set the tone for what the Taoiseach will be able to announce. The “Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill’ as it is known, is vital to putting Ireland on track for a low carbon future.  
 
Despite being in the programme for government since 2011 it has been an uphill struggle to get this piece of legislation past the post. An apparent u-turn by Minister Hogan back in November 2011 nearly took the Bill off the table altogether, but with lots of support from our campaigners, over 7,600 of who have taken action to call for the Bill, concerned citizens have managed to keep the issue alive.  
 
Minister Kelly has inherited a draft Heads of Bill that is yet to be formally published by the Government and still needs to go through the Oireachtas.  
 
To make his mark in this area, he should put the Climate Bill on the ‘A list’ for the new Dail term, and implement the recommendations of the cross-party Oireachtas Committee on the Environment report to address the current draft’s weaknesses.
 
It we want to do Mary Robinson proud, this Bill together with Ireland’s ‘fair share’ of climate finance to support developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change would provide the Taoiseach with the substance he needs to announce Ireland’s action at the Ban Ki Moon Summit in September in New York. 
 
It would be a strong signal that Ireland is prepared to play our part in getting world leaders collectively on track to delivering a global deal on climate change in 2015.
 
July 25, 2014

How Ireland can help to bring peace to the Israeli and Palestinian people

By Éamonn Meehan, Trócaire Executive Director
 
It is not enough to express horror at so many innocent lives having been lost in the latest round of violence in Gaza and Israel, we must instead ask how we can break the cycle that leads to this slaughter.
 
The region is trapped in a cycle of violence. Rockets are fired into Israel, followed by cyclical large-scale military invasions of Gaza. We utterly condemn the risks to civilians by both the rocket fire and the military invasions.
 
However, until we begin the tackle the underlying causes behind this conflict, this cycle will continue.
 
Through the European Union, Ireland can play a positive role in tackling these under-lying causes.
 
Regrettably, however, Ireland’s position on Israel and Palestine is contradictory and self-defeating.
 
Officially, the Irish Government condemns the military occupation of the West Bank, the continued expansion of illegal settlements and the blockade on Gaza.
 
Earlier this month, the Government issued advice to Irish businesses and citizens, warning against conducting business with illegal Israeli settlements. The government noted, “Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible…[the settlements] are built on occupied land and are not recognised as a legitimate part of Israel’s territory.”
 
Yet, despite recognising continued illegal settlement expansion as a key driver of the conflict, the Irish Government and the EU continues to make these settlements financially viable through trade.
 
Trade between the EU and the settlements is conservatively estimated to be at least €96 million a year. The actual figure may be as high as €160m, which stands in contrast to the total amount of Palestinian exports to the EU, which amounts to approximately €12m annually. This trade incentivises Israel to continue to expand the settlements by confiscating land and demolishing homes of Palestinians.  
 
It is utterly self-defeating to condemn illegal settlements while at the same time ensuring their financial viability and incentivising Israel to continue to confiscate land from Palestinian families.
 
We must remove contradictions from Irish Government policy. We must stop condemning with one hand and supporting with the other. We must stop making the occupation financially viable while at the same time funding the humanitarian crisis it creates.
 
Until we do this, we are incentivising the continuation of this conflict.
 
It is a fallacy to believe that cyclical military invasions of Gaza, which result in large numbers of civilian deaths, will bring peace to Israeli and Palestinian civilians.
 
The only way this peace will happen is through a long-term political solution.
 
Ireland can and should do what it can to make this a reality.
 
You can take action here: www.trocaire.org/gaza
 

July 17, 2014

Israel's military operations in Gaza strike me as ultimately self-defeating for their own security

"Making meaningful efforts towards ending violence and building peace will do far more to ensure security and safety for Israel’s citizens,” says Éamonn Meehan, Executive Director at Trócaire.
 
Trócaire began working in Israel and in the Palestinian territories in 2002.  We work with both Israeli and Palestinian partners to further the cause of peace and understanding in the region. 
 
When I visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory in January of this year, I witnessed firsthand the devastation that prolonged occupation is having on Palestinian communities. In Gaza, I witnessed the effects of ongoing cycles of violence and the economic impoverishment of the people by the economic blockade imposed by Israel. 
 
Israel's current military operations in Gaza strike me as ultimately self-defeating for their own security. Israel should recognise that collectively punishing and impoverishing the people of Gaza, including conducting extensive and disproportionate airstrikes in dense urban areas which inevitably result in large numbers of civilian casualties, will only create anger and hopelessness among the ordinary people of Gaza. Such resentment regrettably results in further violence. 
 
The actions of both Hamas and Israel contravene international law.  Both sides are acting recklessly and without regard for the safety of either Palestinian or Israeli civilians.
 
Ultimately, the sort of cyclical violence that we have seen over recent days, will only lead to a continuation of the situation whereby millions of Palestinians are impoverished and live without hope and Israeli citizens live in daily fear of rocket attacks. 
 
Making meaningful efforts towards ending violence and building peace will do far more to ensure security and safety for Israel’s citizens. As His Holiness Pope Francis stated on his recent visit to the Holy Land, there is a need to create, “a stable peace based on justice, the recognition of the rights of every individual, and on mutual security.” 
 
For further reading, see a comment piece in today’s Irish Independent (Thursday 17 July) by a representative of our partner organisation Breaking the Silence: 'Our politicians don't even pretend to promise hope', written by Avner Gvaryahu, who was Sergeant in the Israeli Defence Forces (2004-2007).
 
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July 15, 2014

A testimony of survival and dignity in the face of genocide

 
A CIDSE delegation of European bishops and priests has travelled to Guatemala to show their solidarity with survivors of genocide, Aisling Walsh reports. 
 
“It takes effort to reach heaven” said Don Tiburcio, with a big smile as we puffed and panted our way up the short but steep path leading to his house. When we reached the top we were rewarded with what was certainly a heavenly view: a 360 degree panorama of the lush green hills of Quiche, Guatemala, glowing in the morning sunshine.  
 
Don Tiburcio welcomed us warmly into his home in the village of Xix, an hour’s drive along a dirt road from Nebaj, Quiche. Of course it was not the first time that he had been visited by Trócaire. 
 
Don Tiburcio, of Maya Ixil origin, was one of the protagonists of Trócaire’s 2003 Lenten campaign that aimed at raising awareness about land rights issues in Guatemala and advocating for justice for those that had lost their lives, their loved ones and their land in Guatemala’s 36-year internal armed conflict. 
 
Over 22,000 Irish people wrote letters to the Guatemalan government demanding justice for victims and survivors of the conflict and ten years later, in 2013, Don Tiburcio finally had the opportunity to give his testimony to the Guatemalan Supreme Court as a survivor of and witness to genocide. 
 
The former head of state, General Efrain Ríos Montt was found guilty for genocide and crimes against humanity committed against the Ixil indigenous community and sentenced to 80 years in prison. 
 
A year has passed since the sentence was handed down and unfortunately there has been a series of actions taken by powerful sectors of Guatemalan society to annul the judgment, deny that genocide ever took place in Guatemala and to attack many of the key figures and local and international organizations that were involved in taking the case to court. 
 
Monsignor Hugh Connolly meets Don Tiburcio Utuy
Monsignor Hugh Connolly meets Don Tiburcio Utuy, survivor of genocide, at his home in the village of Xix, Quiche. Photo: Delmi Arriaza
 
In light of the increasingly hostile environment for human rights defenders and social justice advocates in Guatemala, CIDSE (the international alliance of Catholic organizations working together for global justice) organized a delegation of European bishops to visit Guatemala and demonstrate their solidarity with the Guatemalan people and their struggle for justice and equality. 
 
The director of CIDSE, Bernd Nilles, Father Peter Hughes of the Episcopal Conference of Latin America (CELAM) and Monsignor Hugh Connolly, Director of the Seminary in Maynooth, accompanied staff from Trócaire and our partners CALDH (the Centre for Legal Action on Human Rights) and AJR (the Association for Justice and Reconciliation) who were the plaintiffs for the genocide trial. 
 
Monsignors Juan Antonio Aznarez Cobo from Spain, Aloys Jousten from Belgium, and Felix Gmür from Switzerland visited partner organisations based in the region of Alta Verapaz were Trócaire has been advocating for the rights of 769 families forcefully evicted from their lands in 2011. 
 
Bishop Antonio Aznarez Cobo guatemala
Bishop Antonio Aznarez Cobo of Spain celebrates Mass at protest camp against La Puya mine, Guatemala. Photo: Courtest of CIDSE
 
It is the second tour of this kind that united high representatives of the international Catholic organisations in their will to fight against the deterioration of the human rights situation, conflict around access to land and against poverty, and in favour of peace and reconciliation in Guatemala. 
 
Don Tiburcio, a catechist and the director of Catholic Action for the village of Xix, was gratified by the opportunity to share his testimony and his reflections on the trial with the members of the delegation. 
Over the course of nearly three hours he recounted with incredible detail the story of the persecution of him and his community. 
 
“When the conflict began in the early 1980’s my family and I were just salespeople. We travelled between the different towns around Nebaj to sell our products in the markets.  Once the army entered Nebaj they began to harass us and confiscate our products. They accused us of helping the guerrillas. We were considered the enemy just for being Ixil, for speaking Quiche. They treated us like animals.” 
 
The first massacres in the Ixil communities surrounding Nebaj began in 1981. In February 1982 while on watch with other community leaders Tiburcio raised the alarm that the army was coming and the whole village fled to the mountains. There he lost his first wife and children who died from malnutrition. 
 
Tiburcio was captured by the army in 1983, accused of being a guerilla and was kept prisoner for three years. 
 
During this time he was subjected to repeated torture, interrogation, starvation and incomprehensible levels of cruelty at the hands of the Guatemalan military. 
 
Tiburcio described how he came so close to death three times that he thought he had actually died: “I prayed to God to take me if it was my time. I thought I would die, but by the grace of God I managed to survive.”
 
An estimated 200,000 people were murdered or disappeared during the conflict, 83% of whom were indigenous people. The genocide of the Ixil community was the most extreme expression of an ideology of racism that has festered at the core of the state; they were deemed an ‘internal enemy’ that must be ‘annihilated.’ 
 
candle for disappeared guatemala
Lighting a candle in memory of the victims of the internal conflict. Till this day families are still searching for the location of their relatives and continue to look for justice. Photo: Delmi Arriaza
 
When the Peace Accords were signed in 1996, Tiburcio returned to Xix and immediately reassumed his role as the community catechist, providing spiritual support to his traumatized community. Tiburcio also found love again and started another family with his wife Catarina.
 
 In 2013 Tiburcio was one of the key eye witnesses at the trial of Ríos Montt: “The trial was an important achievement for all our Ixil brothers and sisters. We were able to speak to the nation about our pain and suffering, all that we lived through and all that we felt. The sentence is an important moment of change for our country; it means that our children will never have to experience what we did. But it never would have been possible without international support, especially Trócaire.” 
 
As our meeting concluded Father Peter Hughes thanked Don Tiburcio for his honesty, sincerity and his trust in sharing his testimony, “All that is left for us to say is that we are now witnesses to your testimony, we will carry your words in our hearts, and we will share your story with the world, so that the crimes that were committed here in the past will never be repeated.”
 
 

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