I like Christmas. I like the Christmas story. Joseph and Mary and the wee donkey fleeing from the Roman occupation forces. The baby Jesus being born in a stable. I marvel about the impact of Jesus Christ in this human world and I still believe in his teaching. I no longer have any confidence in the institutional Christian churches, but I do value the efforts of many priests and nuns to bring justice to a divided world.
I like the simplicity of Christmas. Daddy and Mammy Christmas, the elves. The joy that little children bring. I like Christmas carols. And my Christmas dinner. I dislike the stress that Christmas means for some people. I detest the commercialism and exploitative activities that accompanies this festive time. My heart goes out to those less fortunate than me.
Like most everyone else I remember old pals and family members who are no longer with us, and I enjoy raising a glass to their memory. And another glass for my many blessings.
So have as good and as peaceful a Christmas as you can in these pandemic times. Stay safe and embrace the pandemic regulations. And remember, this too will pass. Bliain Úr Faoi Mhaise Daoibhse.
LEONARD PELTIER: AN APPEAL FOR COMPASSION
This Christmas take a moment to think about Leonard Peltier. Leonard was convicted in 1977 of the murder of two FBI agents during a confrontation at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Two others who were charged with the murders were found not-guilty by reason of self-defense. Peltier has always denied involvement in the two deaths. He has been in prison for almost 45 years.
In the years since then serious and significant questions have arisen over the evidence produced by the prosecution at the trial. A witness who recanted her account claimed she had been forced into making a statement by the FBI. A ballistics expert who linked Peltier’s weapon to the murders was reprimanded by the federal court for lying.
In July of this year James H. Reynolds the former U.S. Attorney General whose office handled the prosecution and appeal in the Leonard Peltier case appealed for his sentence to be commuted. In a letter to President Biden he said: “With time, and the benefit of hindsight, I have realized that the prosecution and continued incarceration of Mr. Peltier was and is unjust.”
In October, Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action notice calling for clemency for Leonard Peltier. Amnesty pointed out that, “Leonard Peltier has been imprisoned in the USA for over 44 years, some of which was spent in solitary confinement, serving two life sentences for murder despite concerns over the fairness of his trial. He has always maintained his innocence. He is 77 years old and suffers from a number of chronic health ailments, including one that is potentially fatal.”
Amnesty International has asked that President Biden grant Leonard Peltier clemency on “humanitarian grounds and as a matter of justice.” The human rights organization has asked people to write to President Biden.
Several weeks ago I did just that. I wrote to President Biden urging him to release Leonard Peltier on “compassionate grounds.”
I said: “Leonard has been imprisoned for almost 45 years and has served more time than the presumptive maximum federal sentence… Leonard has always protested his innocence.”
I also quoted the view of James H. Reynolds and said: “In August former Federal Judge Kevin H. Sharp who is currently Leonard Peltier’s clemency lawyer filed a new clemency petition with the Department of Justice.
"In October, U.S. Congress members Raúl M. Grijalva, Barbara Lee, Jesús G. “Chuy” Garcia, Cori Bush, Emanuel Cleaver II, Jared Huffman, Teresa Leger Fernández, Rashida Tlaib, Pramila Jayapal, Betty McCollum, and Melanie Stansbury wrote a joint letter to you requesting the “expedited release of Leonard Peltier from the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida and request that Mr. Peltier be granted clemency.”
Calls for Leonard Peltier’s release have also been supported by international figures, including the late Nelson Mandela; former Irish President Mary Robinson and Archbishop Tutu. Join us in urging compassion and clemency for Leonard Peltier. Write to: President Joseph Biden, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20500, USA
A NEW YEAR RESOLUTION
If you take as read the normal health warning that accompanies opinion polls there is little doubt that the two latest reaffirm the public interest in the potential for Irish Unity and the need for a dialogue to commence to talk about the many issues of concern that arise for such a step to be contemplated.
It says much about the disaster that is partition that in the year of its centenary there are more people talking about its failures and the need for an all-island replacement than ever before.
However, instead of leaving it to newspapers and pollsters – whose questions can often negatively affect the responses – to ask people about new constitutional arrangements, the place of a health service, the question of flags and emblems and anthems and the cost/tax implications of Unity, let’s have a considered conversation in which those questions can be asked and expert testimony taken on what answers and solutions are available.
This requires a time-framed structured conversation, led by the Irish government, involving the setting up of a Citizens Assembly, representative of people across this island. The Irish Government has established similar bodies three times in the last decade. A Constitutional Convention was held between 2012-14, which included representation from the North; a Citizens Assembly ran between 2016-18; and a Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality was established in July 2019. Its report was given to the Oireachtas in June of this year.
A Citizens Assembly makes sense. It pays to plan for the future. So let’s have an intelligent, calm conversation on issues as diverse as governmental structures; an all-island health service; future governance arrangements; taxation; pensions and public services can be aired. Only the messers and begrudgers are suggesting that there should be a vote on unity today or tomorrow. Sensible people want space and time to talk these issues through. Had we all stuck to our respective positions – politicians and people alike – there would have been no Good Friday Agreement. Dialogue and negotiations dramatically changed that. It can do so again. That's why An Taoiseach’s New Year Resolution should be to set up a Citizens Assembly.