A victory for hope over fear, says re-elected president

President Michael D Higgins and his family celebrate his re-election.

President Michael D Higgins and his family celebrate his re-election.

Michael D Higgins has welcomed his re-election as president of Ireland as a vote for hope over fear.

The 77-year-old poet, professor and campaigner secured his second term in office with a landslide margin of more than 55% of the vote.

Speaking in Dublin Castle after he was re-elected, Mr Higgins said: "The people have made a choice as to which version of Irishness they want reflected at home and abroad.

"It is the making of hope they wish to share rather than the experience of any exploitation of division or fear."

He said his version of Ireland is one which draws on traditional genius and contemporary creativity.

"The presidency belongs not only to any one person but to the people of Ireland.

"I will be a president for all the people, for those who voted for me and those who did not.

"I am so proud of this country, I am proud to be a president for all of you and with all of you, and I look forward with joy and hope to all that we will achieve together."

Mr Higgins, who has served at almost every level of politics, is a fluent Irish speaker and a long-time campaigner for equality.

He made history in 2014 when he became the first Irish president to undertake an official state visit to the UK.

There were loud cheers as the father-of-four embraced friends and supporters as he celebrated his victory.

Ireland's premier Leo Varadkar hailed Mr Higgins's re-election as an "historic victory".

"You secured 822,566 first preference votes which is the highest first preference vote by any candidate," he said.

"That is an extraordinary endorsement of the last seven years of your presidency and a really strong mandate for the next term of office over the next seven years."

Businessman Peter Casey, initially an outside contender whose last-minute surge in the polls following critical comments about the Travelling community saw him propelled into second place, got 23% of the vote.

In his speech, Peter Casey congratulated President Higgins.

"It's been amazing, it's been a real experience the past six weeks or so," he said.

"I'd like to congratulate President Higgins and wish Sabina a wonderful seven years.

"I'm sure the sentiments you described so wonderfully there, I'm sure they are shared by everyone here - wishing you all the very, very best."

Gavin Duffy, who gained just 2% of the votes, said: "Was I disappointed? Yes. Did I have regrets? No."

Sinn Fein faced a disappointing result, with candidate Liadh Ni Riada gaining half of the support achieved by the late Martin McGuinness in 2011.

After receiving 6% of the vote, she said it was important the election was held, rather than allowing Mr Higgins to return to office unchallenged.

"The people of Ireland spoke today and spoke with a resounding yes to put Michael D Higgins back in office," she said, congratulating the president.

Mrs Ni Riada also said she hopes voters in Northern Ireland would soon be able to vote in Irish presidential elections. A referendum on the issue is anticipated next year.

In her speech, Joan Freeman, who received 6% of the vote, singled out the president's wife Sabina.

"I'm so happy for you Sabina," she said.

"The people who voted for me - thank you for that."

In the longest speech of any of the defeated candidates, Sean Gallagher, who gained around 6% of the vote, expressed pride in the campaign he and his team had run.

"Together we put forward ideas that can shape the future and today is not the end of those ideas," he said.

Mr Higgins has long championed an ethical Republic and has repeatedly addressed issues surrounding memory, commemoration, identity and the conflicting traditions on the island.

The refugee crisis in Europe and the plight of migrants has been a favourite topic, as well as the importance of the arts and Ireland's great literary tradition.

Australia wants more immigrants to go bush

Most immigrants, including the vast majority of Irish nationals, settle in the larger cities.

Most immigrants, including the vast majority of Irish nationals, settle in the larger cities.

The Australian government is considering banning some immigrants from settling in big cities.

Minister for cities, urban infrastructure and population Alan Tudge said his government wants to cut the number of immigrants moving to Sydney and Melbourne in a bid to reduce congestion in Australia's two biggest cities.

Mr Tudge said placing conditions on visas that force immigrants to stay in less popular centres for several years would increase the likelihood that they would settle in those places permanently.

"Nearly every visa has conditions attached to it, so it wouldn't be unusual to have a geographic attachment to a particular visa," Mr Tudge told the ABC.

Australia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, but has long had a high proportion of its population - currently 25 million people - living in cities. Around two in every five Australians live in Sydney and Melbourne alone.

The government is considering banning immigrants from settling in Sydney and Melbourne for five years after they arrive in the country.

Australia has the fastest population growth of any advanced Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development country other than Canada, growing 1.6 per cent a year.

But the population of Melbourne grew last year by 2.7 per cent, while the population of the south-east corner of Queensland state around Brisbane and the Gold Coast grew by 2.3 per cent, and Sydney grew by 2.1 per cent.

The main driver of population growth in Sydney and Melbourne was overseas migration, with 87 per cent of skilled migrants to Australia and almost all refugees gravitating to those cities.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants a cut to visa numbers.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants a cut to visa numbers.

Premier of NSW Gladys Berejiklian, the daughter of Armenian immigrants, said that she believed Sydney needed “a breather” from high immigration numbers.

“It’s time to tap the brakes and take a breather on immigration levels to this state. We should return to Howard-era immigration levels in NSW,” she said.

“I’m the daughter of proud immigrants myself, but it’s clear that successive federal governments have allowed the rate of immigration to NSW to balloon out of control.”

Growth in the Brisbane-Gold Coast region reflected higher levels of population shift within Australia and a higher birthrate.

Mr Tudge said some categories of immigrants would be exempt from geographic blocks.

Migrants who were sponsored by employers - which is the visa pathway for many Irish - would be able to work where employers need them, and those on family reunion visas - typically a foreigner marrying an Australian - would also be free to live where they chose.

Sponsored employees make up 25 per cent of Australia's immigrant intake and family reunion visas make up 30 per cent.

Marion Terrill, an expert on cities and transport from the Melbourne-based Grattan Institute think tank, said governments need to improve infrastructure in major cities rather than curb population growth.

"People are voting with their feet, they want to be in cities and so I think the job for government is to ensure that cities work and that people can get around rather than to try to get people to go where they don't want to go," Ms Terrill said.

Melissa Montero, an immigrant advocate and chief executive of the Sydney-based community migrant resource centre, said immigrants need social support, language services as well as jobs to successfully resettle.

Carla Wilshire, another immigrant advocate and chief executive of Migrant Council Australia in Canberra, suggested the government should invest in services outside Sydney and Melbourne to make smaller towns more attractive to immigrants.

Mark Morey, secretary of Unions NSW, which represents trade unions in New South Wales state, said the government's plan would leave immigrants isolated, with fewer job options and with less pay than they could hope for in big cities.

New PM Morrison quoted Bono in maiden speech

New Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with daughters, Abigail, second from right, and Lily, second from left, and wife Jenny after being sworn in at Government House, Canberra. Picture: Andrew Taylor

New Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with daughters, Abigail, second from right, and Lily, second from left, and wife Jenny after being sworn in at Government House, Canberra. Picture: Andrew Taylor

Newly sworn in Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has no discernible links with Ireland but he did quote Bono in his maiden speech.

Mr Morrison, 50, has promised a stable government at the end of a tumultuous week in which his predecessor was forced out of office, 13 ministers resigned and parliament was shut down for an afternoon.

Disgruntled government legislators forced former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull from office on Friday, arguing that most had lost faith in his leadership.

He is the fourth prime minister to be dumped by their own party since 2010 in an extraordinary period of political instability that frustrates most Australians.

Mr Morrison distanced himself from the turmoil, saying he had not been part of the push led by fellow lawmaker Peter Dutton to oust Mr Turnbull over four chaotic days, inspired by a feud between hard-right conservatives and moderates.

"We will provide the stability and the unity and the direction and the purpose that the Australian people expect of us," Mr Morrison told reporters. "The work of government continues. I want to assure all Australians that those normal wheels are turning."

A devout Christian, who is a member of the Pentecostal church, Morrison is seen as both socially and economically conservative. He is synonymous with the hardline Stop The Boats strategy aimed at intercepting refugees and asylum seekers before they reach Australian shores.

Bono and U2 on stage in the US in 2018.

Bono and U2 on stage in the US in 2018.

In his maiden speech to parliament in 2008 however, he spoke passionately about the plight of African people confronting war, poverty, famine and corruption.

"Africa ... is a humanitarian tragedy on an unimaginable scale," he told the House of Representatives.  "It is a true moral crisis that eclipses all others. The African tragedy is driven by war, poverty, disease, famine, corruption, injustice and an evil that is robbing generations of Africans, our fellow human beings, of their future."

He then quoted Bono.

"Paul Hewson, better known as Bono, said: 'There is a continent—Africa—being consumed by flames.... when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for ... what we did—or did not do to put the fire out ...'"

Time will tell as to whether Mr Morrison can put the fires of hate out within the parliamentary Liberal Party.

Irish-born former WA senator dies, aged 73

Cavan-born Jim McKiernan has died at the age of 73. 

Cavan-born Jim McKiernan has died at the age of 73. 

Former Labor Senator for Western Australia and proud Cavan-man Jim McKiernan died at his home in Perth on Friday after a long battle with cancer. He was 73.

WA Labor paid tribute to the Irish-born parliamentarian, who represented his state in the Australian Senate from 1985 to 2002.

"Sad news for the WA Labor family today, with the passing of the great Jim McKiernan," they posted.

"A unionist, a great parliamentarian, and one of the great senses of humour in politics.

"From Cavan, Ireland to the Dillingham shipyards in Fremantle, to the Senate in Canberra, his story is one of a working class kid made good, and a life well lived. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones. Vale Jim."

The third of eight children of James and Mary (Maisie) McKiernan, Jim left school at age fourteen to help support the family.

He worked as a petrol pump attendant and an abattoir worker before emigrating to England. In 1969, having gained a trade qualification as a first-class machinist, he migrated to Perth,  taking advantage of an assisted passage scheme.

He took on a position as a machinist/fitter and turner at Dillingham Shipyards in Fremantle, where he remained for the next four years.

He joined the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU) which later became the Amalgamated Metal Workers' Union (AMWU). In 1976 he was appointed as the AMWU's first full-time education officer in Western Australia,.

He joined the Australian Labor Party and became increasingly immersed in politics.

He put his name forward for preselection to run for a Western Australian Senate seat and in the 1984 half-Senate election, McKiernan was elected to Canberra.

After his first marriage to Jean ended in divorce, McKiernan married Jacqueline (Jackie) Watkins, a sitting member of the Western Australian Legislative Assembly who held the seat of Joondalup (1983–89) and, later, the seat of Wanneroo (1989–93).

McKiernan was re-elected to the Senate in 1987, 1990 and 1996, the latter two from the top of the ALP ticket.

During his time in Canberra, he agitated to remove references to the Queen from the oath or affirmation of allegiance to be made by new Australian citizens.

The passage of the Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill 1993 brought this campaign to a successful conclusion and many Irish permanent residents became Australian citizens as a consequence. According to those closest to him, it was his proudest political achievement.

One of his roles was as returning officer for the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party (1990–96) a role which famously saw him preside over and announce the results of both leadership ballots held between Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, in June and December 1991.

During these contests McKiernan was a vocal Hawke supporter and a critic of Keating, effectively precluding him from a ministerial post under a Keating-led Government. In his final days, Hawke gave him a call to wish him well.

McKiernan became an early victim of Section 44 of the Constitution when he was forced to give up his Irish citizenship before the 1990 election.

He said in 1999: “Regrettably in the late ‘80s I had to, on advice, relinquish my Irish citizenship. It was something I didn't particularly enjoy doing at the time, but it was something I had to do in order to hang on to my job.”

McKiernan remained in the Senate until his retirement in 2002.

He used his valedictory speech to reflect on his personal experience of migration. He stated that his generation of Irish were 'born for the road' and that, in his case, fortune had smiled upon him, in both England and Australia.

According to his parliamentary biography, "His fellow senators lauded his contribution to and expertise in the field of migration and noted the assistance his staff had provided when negotiating difficult migration processes. They also noted that he had brought a great sense of humour to the chamber and had been one of its outstanding characters, with his unorthodox taste in ties drawing considerable comment."

He is survived by his wife Jackie, his and her children Steven, Donna, Jimmy, Lisa, Kim, Kate and Ben, their partners as well as 14 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

A celebration of his life will be held at Pinnaroo Memorial Park on Monday, August 20 from 3pm. His coffin will be draped in an Irish tricolour and the Eureka flag.




Excluded voters keen to be heard

Supporting a ‘yes’ vote: Christine Howell, Shauna Stanley, Gary Hansell, organiser Lizzie O'Shea, Pam Lowe, Jimmy Yan and Grace Carroll at Melbourne’s Drunken Poet.

Supporting a ‘yes’ vote: Christine Howell, Shauna Stanley, Gary Hansell, organiser Lizzie O'Shea, Pam Lowe, Jimmy Yan and Grace Carroll at Melbourne’s Drunken Poet.

Almost all Irish citizens living in Australia are not allowed to vote in the referendum on abortion. Irish diplomatic staff can but that's about it.

The vote, on May 25, will ask people to consider repealling the 8th amendment, which prohibits abortion in almost all circumstances.

But a series of events have been held in Sydney and Melbourne advocating for a ‘yes’ vote. 

Diaspora Downunder Dollars for Choice (#ddd4c) is a campaign aiming for 30 events around Australia to fundraise for Together for Yes.

Convenor of the Irish Pro Choice group Shauna Stanley said it was frustrating that expats “cannot get our voices heard at the ballot box” but “we can contribute some of our hard-earned Australian dollars to give the Together for Yes campaign every chance for success”.

DDD4C has received pledges from all around Australia, including themed parties, events and a pub quiz at Melbourne’s Drunken Poet pub.

“We have had an amazing response, with lots of creative ideas from supporters all over the country. It’s been hugely inspiring to see this kind of grassroots organising. 

“Irish people always love good craic, but have shown themselves to be extra keen to get on board for this cause,” Stanley said.  

Louise Nealon, Ann Marie Crotty and Loretta Cosgrove at the Sydney fundraiser for the Yes campaign at 34Bia in Redfern, Sydney.

Louise Nealon, Ann Marie Crotty and Loretta Cosgrove at the Sydney fundraiser for the Yes campaign at 34Bia in Redfern, Sydney.

“This has a movement led by women organising to demand their rights, against a well-funded anti-choice lobby. We may be 20,000 kilometres away, but we can feel the international reach of the sisterhood,” said Stanley.

Fellow campaigner Elaine Arnold said “We wanted to [find] a way of collectively contributing towards positive progression in Ireland.”

Supporters of a ‘yes’ vote also gathered at the Irish-owned 34 Bia restaurant last weekend for a fundraiser. Organised by Louise Nealon and Ann Marie Crotty, tickets included a full Irish breakfast and a donation to the Together for Yes campaign in Ireland.  Ticket sales and raffle raised more than $2000.

Emigrants urged to travel home to vote in abortion referendum

Abortion Rights campaigners, (left to right) Morgan Maher, Adam Murray and Lute Alraad during a protest outside Leinster House in Dublin. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Abortion Rights campaigners, (left to right) Morgan Maher, Adam Murray and Lute Alraad during a protest outside Leinster House in Dublin. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

An estimated 40,000 Irish people living abroad are eligible to vote in a planned referendum on abortion.

Campaigners are urging emigrants to return home to cast their ballot and have their say on whether to change restrictive laws on termination of pregnancy.

The Irish Government backed proposals to hold a referendum on the State's Constitution which grants equal right to life of the unborn and the mother.

It is expected to be held in May.

The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign has kicked off its #HomeToVote social media drive.

Dubliner Mary Jane Fox, who moved to the UK at the beginning of the year, has already pledged to make the journey home.

"Even though I'm fresh off the boat in London, I'll be making the journey and encouraging everyone I know to go back too," Ms Fox said.

"It is ironic that so many Irish women are forced to make the same trip in reverse to have an abortion.

"I want to travel home to make sure this comes to an end."

The organisers said they want to emulate the surge in interest by emigrants who came back to Ireland to vote in support of gay marriage reform in May 2015.

The Home to Vote campaign aims to encourage any citizen living abroad for less than 18 months to return to vote in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which imposes strict limitations on abortion in Irish law.

More than 30,800 Irish people emigrated in the 12 months to the end of April 2017, according to the latest official figures.

It is estimated a further 20,000 emigrated in the second half of last year.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar outlined last week that voters would be asked whether they wanted to repeal the controversial amendment and replace it with new wording to allow parliament to legislate on abortion in the future.

Terminations are only allowed in Ireland when the life of the mother is at risk and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison.

Last December, a report by a specially convened parliamentary committee found the Eighth Amendment was not fit for purpose and should be repealed.

That followed recommendations from members of Ireland's Citizens' Assembly to liberalise the law on terminations.

The committee also recommended abortion be available up to 12 weeks of pregnancy without a woman having to explain her decision.

Barnaby Joyce's Irish roots

Barnaby Joyce treasures his Irish heritage but not his pale Celtic skin.

Barnaby Joyce treasures his Irish heritage but not his pale Celtic skin.

Australia's deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is currently at the centre of a major political controversy.

The Nationals Party leader's marriage has broken down and his new partner, a former staffer almost 20 years his junior, is pregnant with his child.

Back in 2010, the then Senator for Queensland had no such concerns as he told the Irish Echo about his Irish heritage.

What is your Irish background?

My first Irish ancestor to come to Australia was Father Roach a Benedictine priest in 1842. His two brothers, one my direct ancestor Lawrence Roach, followed from County Kilkenny in 1853. On my maternal grandmother’s side the first was an Irish Orphan from the potato famine, Mary Troy, who arrived in 1849 from County Cork. name is noted on the memorial to the Irish orphans near Macquarie Barracks in Sydney. My father came from New Zealand after the Second World War. His grandfather Michael Joyce arrived from County Galway in the 1860s. My wife also has some Irish heritage.

What, in your view, have you inherited from your Irish background?

Obviously my religious conviction and faith. Also, robust but friendly engagement with the people you meet and resilience to go to areas where other people may be less likely to go.

Most importantly, respect for how lucky we are in Australia and, most unfortunately, fair skin which I am trying to breed out by marrying my wife who has an olive complexion.

Much is said about the strong connection between Ireland and Australia but what do you think the Irish legacy has been to Australia?

Bob Hawke said it most succinctly; the Irish colonised the world, not by military power but by character. Go to any pub in the county and you see the strong connection and ethos from the Irish. In Australian literature we borrow a lot from the immense depth and dynamics of Irish writers. Ireland has managed to create an affinity among the Australian people that no matter how dispersed and diminished the Irish blood is in the Irish Diaspora, people proudly claim their Irish connection and that’s a good thing.

Which character from Irish or Irish Australian history would you most like to have met? Why?
Archbishop Daniel Mannix. Not that I necessarily agree with everything he said, but he was one of the most  dynamic political figures in Australia even though  he was  never elected to office. Also, Les Darcy the boxer, because he came from a working class area in the Hunter Valley and then became so famous. It would have been interesting to meet the Kelly Gang to see if they were really ratbags.

Have you visited Ireland?

Yes, I stayed with my cousins in Co Cork. Even though we left in the 1850s we’ve been in communication for all that time. My distant but dear Great Grand Aunt used to send me books on how to speak Gaelic from Galway. She must have worried that I was losing the language, which of course I have. I visited Ireland in 1993, and I spent the whole time talking to cousins who seemed to be everywhere.

Do you have a favourite place in Ireland?

Galway. I never thought I’d have a sense of connection because of so much time and distance, but I did get a sense of something deeper there especially when I saw my family name written in Gaelic on the street signs.