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Connacht Tribune

Defender of rights

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Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin: “To see people risking their lives to become rights lawyers and that commitment to the rule of law, it was huge for me.” Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Lifestyle – Galway woman Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, who has devoted her career to promoting people’s rights all over the globe, has been appointed to a new position by the United Nations. Judy Murphy tells her story.

Furbo woman Fionnuala Ní Aoláin is known internationally for her work in promoting people’s rights in Ireland and across the world. This warm, open person, possessed of a brilliant legal mind and formidable work ethic is Professor of Law at Ulster University and the University of Minnesota in the USA, dividing her time between both.

Her books on legal affairs have won academic awards on both sides of the Atlantic, while the UN and the Irish government have called on her expertise through the years – she’s a member of the Irish council for Civil Liberties and a former member of the Irish Human Rights Commission. In the 1990s, she was a representative for the prosecutor at the International War Crimes trial in Bosnia. And in 2003, the UN named her as a Special Expert on promoting gender equality in times of conflict and peace-making.

Now, the UN has just appointed Fionnuala to a new position – UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism.  It involves working with selected countries to investigate, report on and advocate for citizens’ rights, especially in places where there’s concern that these are being violated.

When we meet in McCambridge’s Restaurant on a rainy Friday, Fionnuala and two of her three children, Noa (13) and Malachy (almost 12), have just come from Tipperary where’s she’s been visiting relatives. She’s trying to pack in as much family time as possible here before returning to Minnesota, to her Israeli-born husband Oren Gross and their oldest child, Aodthan almost 16.

Over coffee, she explains how her teachers at Taylors Hill Secondary School in Galway City and her father, Pádraig Ó hAoláin – the former head of Údarás na Gaeltachta –  were major influences on her decision to study law, where she went on to focus on human rights and conflict resolution.

While she was at secondary school, her father did a law degree. Fionnuala was intrigued, especially by the criminal law cases he was studying.

“He was the biggest influence for me to become a lawyer,” she says.

At school, one of her teachers, Sr Freda, advised her to apply for a scholarship to Pearson College in Canada, a small college founded by ‘peaceniks’ so students from around the world could meet and study together.

She won the scholarship, and spent a year there after finishing her Leaving Cert at the age of 17.  It had a huge influence. When Fionnuala returned home and decided she definitely wanted to study law, she opted for Queens University Belfast, rather than the more obvious locations of UCG or Trinity.

Her reason was simple. In Pearson, with its multi-cultural student body, there had been many discussions about inequality and human rights and she’d become hooked.

 

 

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Community fights back on hospital ‘downgrade by stealth’

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Raw emotion, sadness and some anger filled the air at Clifden Town Hall on Sky Road last Sunday afternoon as a shaken community gave honest, personal accounts of the impact the closure by stealth of Clifden District Hospital would have on the people of North Connemara.

The public meeting was hastily organised after fears emerged on Friday that the HSE may transfer respite services from Clifden to Merlin Park Hospital, 50-plus miles away in Galway City.

Families were told their loved ones in Clifden Hospital may have to move home, or go to Merlin Park the following Monday, due to ‘issues with staffing’.

An axe has hung over Clifden Hospital for some years, but this latest move stirred the community to fight back to retain services locally.

Galway County Councillor Eileen Mannion (FG), who organised the public meeting with Senator Sean Kyne, said 625 people signed the attendance sheets and an estimated 650 people attended.

“The community effort spreading the word was unbelievable; the turnout was unbelievable,” she said.

“It wasn’t just anger; it was raw emotion in the room. Sadness. Family members spoke about the calls they got on Friday. The feeling that their elderly person was being rejected; that they weren’t being respected.

“One man stood up, three years waiting for respite care for a family member, and then to be told after a few days in there that she’d have to be taken home or to Merlin Park.

“We’re 50 miles from Galway. If there’s no traffic you might get to the outskirts in an hour but with the traffic in Galway, you could be another hour to get to Merlin Park. Not everyone has transport either and they’ve to rely on buses.

“A young woman stood up at the meeting and said her dad was dying in Galway. And she had to go to Saint Vincent de Paul to get money to pay for a B&B so that the family would be close to him when the end came. People gave their personal stories, and it was just heart-breaking.”

(Photo by Carmel Lyden: Teresa Conneely from Roundstone addresses people at the public meeting in Clifden Town Hall).

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read extensive coverage of the Clifden Hospital story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Pilgrim took to his feet to realise dream!

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Clifden man Breandan O Scanaill, who is on a pilgrimage from his home town of Clifden to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, received a Mayoral welcome and a memorial crest when he arrived at the Asturian town of Navia last week.

Breandan, whose walk from his home outside Clifden to the reputed burial place of St James in Santiago, began in April, was walking through Navia in Spain when a local man came over to chat to him.

“He asked me about my journey and was interested in the fact that an Irish man had turned up in the town,” says Breandan, who had been admiring the Chapel of San Roque at the time.

The local man outlined the history of the building and the town to Breandan and they began chatting more generally about history and architecture – topics dear to the pilgrim’s heart.

Breandán’s new friend introduced himself as the Mayor of Navia, lgnacio Garcia Palacios, who invited the visitor from Clifden to visit the Town Hall.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of this story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Local Property Tax rate to stay unchanged despite Council chief’s plea

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Councillors have agreed to keep the Local Property Tax (LPT) rate unchanged – despite pleas from management that Galway County Council is predicted to spend at least €22 million more than it brings in for the next two years.

County Chief Executive Jim Cullen had recommended an increase of 15% on the LPT rate for 2023 and 2024 – amounting to €2.1m extra in the coffers annually – which would bolster its case when it came to pleading for a greater share of funding from central government.

In an estimation of income and expenditure for the Council, taking into account “unavoidable” expenditure and income changes set to hit, the Council would run a deficit of €9.04m in 2023 and 13.2m in 2024 – well over €22m unless there was a change in finances.

“I am hopeful of an uplift in baseline [funding] levels . . . we cannot continue to ignore the fact that other councils have raised LPT and their citizens enjoy a better standard of services that in Galway,” he stressed.

He told a meeting this week that €9m would be needed to maintain services next year at the same level as 2022. This was due to significant cost increases given that inflation is reaching 9.6% currently. Pensions, gratuities and payroll increases from the national pay agreement, increments and additional staff were all adding to bigger outgoings.

Without that extra funding, it will be necessary to reduce spending by that amount with a negative impact on service and staffing levels, he said.

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the story, including the councillors’ discussions, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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