The joys of, eh, Latvian democracy

“Thousands of Latvians living in Ireland go to the polls tomorrow for a referendum on their country’s future.” Thus reported the Irish Independent last week. Apparently, the Baltic state’s president called the vote on the dissolution of parliament as a result of a row arising from a corruption scandal. According to the report, around 30,000 Latvians live in the Republic of Ireland and up to 4,000 in Northern Ireland. The referendum center was in Newry, County Down, and was organized by Latvian honorary consul and businessman, Gerard O’Hare. Spokeswoman for the consulate Edite Muceniece said: “The honorary consulate office in Newry being trusted to host this referendum demonstrates that Ireland north and south has become a more pluralistic society and it also shows that, even within a single or federal Europe, the citizen can still retain their own identity, nationalism and culture.” Isn’t that just uplifting altogether! The referendum, the first of its kind in Latvia’s history, seemingly became necessary after the country’s president, Valdis Zatlers, called for the dissolution of parliament. The dispute involved the parliament’s refusal to allow prosecutors to search the home of a rich businessman, who is also a member of the legislature. Begob but those Latvians don’t take much to starting exercising the levers of democracy. If the same standards were applied to Ireland in recent times there would be referenda by the bucketsful. But if there were, of course, the Irish living overseas, in the U.S. for example, would not be allowed to vote in something like this referendum because the right to vote is taken away as soon as they leave the old sod. There was no mention of this rather ironic twist in the Indo report, one that made the Latvians look ever so mature and confident in a democracy that was hard won from the Soviet Union a mere 20 years ago.
NOT THERE YET Fr. Sean McManus has been hither and yon selling his book - essential reading for anyone interested in Irish America’s role in the struggle for peace with justice in Ireland but the question is whether or not his work as head of the Irish National Caucus is concluded now that the wee North has made such enormous strides compared to the dark days of the 1970s and 80s when the Fermanagh-born priest first hoisted his banner on Capitol Hill. Much of the INC’s work, as veteran readers are well aware, was on behalf of the MacBride Principles, but though great progress has been made on the fair employment front in the North there yet remains examples where the Catholic/Protestant workforces in some companies do not stack up proportionally to their numbers in the broader community. One company is Bombardier, the Belfast aerospace firm once known asShort Brothers, where just 16 percent of the workforce is Catholic. According to a report, the company only employ a total of 830 Catholic workers out of a total staff of 5,320, which amounts to just 16.3 percent. Equality Commission figures in Northern Ireland show that an improvement in the number of Catholics employed at the company is painfully slow. In 1990, the number of Catholics there was around the 11 percent mark. Commented SDLP Belfast City Councilor Tim Attwood: “Under Fair Employment legislation all employers have a duty to monitor the composition of their workforce and to take the necessary affirmative action to address any community imbalance in the workplace. “Although Shorts/ Bombardier has taken affirmative action, the figures show that there is still progress required to ensure that the under-representation of Catholics in their workforce is addressed.” A Bombardier spokesman responded: “The proportion of Catholics in our workforce is currently approximately 17 percentdespite overall employment being less than it was 20 years ago, mainly due to the sale of non-core business and there having been relatively few occasions when significant recruitment has taken place.’ Which appears to suggest that there are few new jobs coming on stream and that those employed have been there a long time, thus giving Bombardier the appearance of a company from the early days of the fair employment battles waged by the INC and others. Well, maybe so. But at this rate the polar ice caps will have melted before Catholics can lay claim to even a third of jobs at the company. Equality, like peace itself, comes dropping slow.
THEY SAID “The prospect of unemployment in Ireland has led to a jump in Irish overstayers in Australia. For the first time in almost two decades, the number of Irish nationals overstaying their Australian visas has increased sharply. At the end of June 2009, there were fewer than 450 Irish “illegals.” The most recent figure is 1,075 and growing. There are both push and pull factors. Ireland’s economic woes and Australia’s buoyant jobs market are undoubtedly influencing the upsurge. Faced with the prospect of returning to an unemployment rate of almost 15 percent and mounting public debt (which will be the burden of Irish taxpayers for years to come) hundreds of young Irish are deciding to wing it by overstaying.Similarly, many young Irish illegals continue to work and earn a good wage.” The Irish Echo, Sydney. * “Met Éireann admitted that it got its forecast wrong for Dublin yesterday. Instead of isolated showers, a day-long deluge ensued.” The Irish Times.

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