It’s been an eventful news week for the Irish at home and abroad. As the Emerald Isle is venturing into yet another lockdown, Irish Americans have been dominating the political headlines here in the United States. President Joe Biden signed in his hard-fought infrastructure bill and the House of Representatives reeled following a violent tweet from one of their own. Ireland is also represented in the efforts of a Co. Donegal woman fighting to help the hungry under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Another native of the green and gold county is boxer Jason Quigley who is fighting for a world title right here on the east coast.
Biden Signs $1 Trillion Infrastructure Bill
Labor secretary Marty Walsh, a lifelong supporter of the working class, has played a huge role in the implementation of the bill and was quick to speak out about what it means for the country, telling MSNBC he believes the bill will “increase the potential for America” not only through infrastructure but also employment.
“We have so many opportunities with the $1.2T bipartisan infrastructure bill to really think about making sure [construction] jobs are accessible to people,” said Mr. Walsh, who resigned as Mayor of Boston after two terms earlier this year after being offered his current position by President Biden.
Since his appointment as labor secretary in March, Mr. Walsh has been keen to emphasize the importance of a living wage for working class families. His own parents emigrated from the Gaeltacht area of Connemara in Co. Galway.
He spoke on MSNBC’s Morning Joe about the matter shortly after his appointment to President Biden’s cabinet. “When you think about raising the minimum wage it’s really about raising the opportunity for families to earn a living. Most families can’t live on $7 an hour, no family can live on $7 an hour.”
Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan (R) also commended the bill, which will invest approximately $6M to projects in Maryland.
“This is going to help us get to some of the projects we’ve not been able to do and move at a faster pace than we’d planned to do,” Governor Hogan said in a statement about the bill.
The funds will be designated to the state’s highways and bridges, expansion of the Port of Baltimore, public transit, electric vehicle charging stations, forest fire prevention, cybersecurity, drinking water systems, the Chesapeake Bay restoration and high-speed internet.
Republican senator Susan Collins was in attendance at the bill’s signing. The Irish Catholic Maine senator said she and others “were determined to break through the partisan gridlock and pass this long-overdue infrastructure investment for the American people.”
Irish American Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick was among 13 Republicans to support the bill. The Pennsylvania representative is a member of the Friends of Ireland Caucus which promotes pride in Irish heritage.
Top union leaders also supported the bill, including Irish America Hall of Famers, Terry O’Sullivan and Sean McGarvey.
O’Sullivan, General President of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), described the bill as “the single greatest infrastructure investment in generations.”
“The investment will put Laborers to work in every community, revitalize our nation’s economy, and open doors to the middle-class for hundreds of thousands of working men and women,” Mr. O’Sullivan said in a LIUNA statement.
“President Biden’s ability to ultimately bring both sides together and deliver for working families ensures that his promise made, was truly a promise kept.”
Other union representatives in attendance at the White House for the official signing of the infrastructure bill include Lee Saunders, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Ray Curry, president of United Auto Workers, Joseph Sellers, general president of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers and James P. Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
House Reacts to Paul Gosar’s Violent Tweet
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who led the House’s Republican opposition to the infrastructure bill, was under the media spotlight for another reason this week.
Speaking on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Congressman Brendan Boyle called McCarthy a “coward” for his inaction over Rep. Paul Gosar’s threatening tweet.
Gosar’s tweet depicted him murdering Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez through a violent anime video. The video ends with Gosar’s anime character attacking President Biden. The doctored video was taken from anime series Attack on Titan and includes real-life footage of Border Patrol officers rounding up migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“[McCarthy] will do whatever it takes to be speaker. It’s almost pathetic.” said Congressman Boyle, whose parents hail from Co. Donegal and Co. Sligo. He suggested Rep. McCarthy wants to “pacify everyone” on his path to being speaker.
“[McCarthy will] do absolutely whatever it takes until he gets that brass ring, sadly,” Congressman Boyle told Lawrence O’Donnell when asked about the matter.
“[Gosar] took the video down and he made a statement that he doesn’t support violence to anybody,” said the California Republican. “I called him when I heard about the video, and he made a statement that he doesn’t support violence, and he took the video down.”
Just minutes after the House Democrats voted to censor Gosar over the video, the Arizona representative went on to retweet the offending video.
Gosar also tweeted his appreciation to his Republican colleagues for their support before releasing a statement likening his situation to the murder of the Charlie Hebdo staff in 2015. The staff of the cartoon satirical magazine were targeted in their Paris office after depicting the prophet Muhammed in their publication.
Speaking to The Washington Post earlier this week Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said Gosar will probably “face no consequences” because McCarthy “cheers him on with excuses.”
She later denounced Republicans during the House debate for being unwilling to call the video “wrong”.
“What is so hard? What is so hard about saying that this is wrong?” Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said from the House floor. “This is not about me, this is not about Representative Gosar. But, this is about what we are willing to accept.”
Irish Aid Worker on Taliban Regime
Leader of the World Food Programme in Afghanistan, Mary Ellen McGroarty from Co. Donegal has spoken about the organization’s work under the Taliban regime.
While many NGO’s made the decision to leave Afghanistan when the Taliban took over back in August, Mary Ellen was among the few aid workers from organizations who made the decision to stay.
“[The Taliban] are not a homogenous group,” Ms. McGroarty told PBS News. “We have to engage with them. We need access to the people in need. It’s based on the humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality, operational independence and, of course, humanity.”
Ms. McGroarty said while the Taliban “are facilitating the access” the future remains uncertain.
“We are only, what, 2.5 months into our new reality of what Afghanistan is. So, we are not sure how it’s going to go going forward.”
Taliban Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid spoke to PBS News about the group’s relationship with humanitarian workers. “We are in touch with international NGOs,” said Mr. Mujahid through translators. “We attracted their assistance, and lots of aid had arrived. And it is being distributed transparently.”
14 million Afghans face famine as a result of the country’s economic collapse. A major issue impeding support for the country is sanctions against the Taliban, who are still considered a terrorist group by most governments around the world.
“The humanitarian funding comes directly to organizations like WFP, FAO, UNICEF. So, we work directly with the communities. We work with a whole host of NGOs to get aid directly out to the people,” Ms. McGroarty told PBS News. “We don’t go through the authorities. And I think it’s important for the international community to remember that you can support the humanitarian effort, which must come now, independently of the politics.”
Speaking to The Irish Times back in August ahead of the U.S. military’s official withdrawal from Afghanistan, Ms. McGroarty said “Our priority is to deliver safely to the people and make sure our staff are safe.”
Ireland Re-introduces Covid-19 Restrictions
As Covid-19 cases rise in Ireland, the country has imposed new lockdown measures including a 12am curfew on nightclubs, bars and restaurants.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the rise in cases is “a cause for deep concern” and as a result the country would be “reducing socialization across the board” reports CNN.
Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe at 89.1% of those over the age of 12, Ireland recently recorded its highest case numbers since January, with 5,483 new cases reported.
Deaths remain at a far lower rate than the country’s January peak but are beginning to increase.
This week, Ireland also recorded its second highest rate of hospital admission this year. The Mater Hospital in Dublin is now ventilating patients outside of ICU, reports RTÉ.
As Ireland joins the rising number of EU countries re-introducing restrictions, the news was met with disappointment across the hospitality sector. Nightclubs were only allowed to re-open last month after being closed since the beginning of the pandemic.
CEO of the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI), Adrian Cummins, told CNN the “reintroduction of restrictions on hospitality shows that living with COVID is not viable for our country” given the Ireland’s high vaccination rate.
The announcement of restrictions comes as the Irish government announced free antigen tests have now been made available to schools and the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) but not the wider public.
Co. Kerry Town Named Among Europe’s Most Beautiful
The scenic village of Kenmare, nestled on the Kerry coastline, has been named by CNN Travel as one of the most beautiful town’s in Europe.
Surrounded by sea and mountains, including Ireland’s tallest, the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, Kenmare also lies in close proximity to the breathtaking Killarney National Park.
“This is in the middle of some of Ireland’s best loved areas – it’s on the Wild Atlantic Way, between the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Beara. Kenmare is known for its food, and for its views – with grand mountains rearing up behind the pristine bay.”
Often referred to as “the jewel in the Ring of Kerry” the beautiful town of Kenmare is well worth a visit once restrictions in Ireland are lifted.
Irish Sports News
The Irish Rugby team defeated the titans of rugby the All Blacks last weekend.
Playing under the lights of the Aviva Stadium, the home side defeated New Zealand 29-20 and received a congratulatory phone call from President Joe Biden for the unexpected feat.
“Incredible to have @POTUS address the team after today’s win over the @AllBlacks!” the Irish team tweeted, along with a picture of the team video chatting with President Biden.
Biden’s comments of congratulations were more warmly received than his joke to Pope Francis last month. The president made a light-hearted remark to His Holiness, saying “I’m the only Irishman you’ve ever met who’s never had a drink.” The comment received negative backlash on social media with some users accusing the president of stereotyping and using derogatory against the Irish people.
In other Irish sporting news, boxer Jason Quigley will travel to this side of the Atlantic to face Demetrius Andrade in Manchester, New Hampshire.
“I’m looking to get in there, fight the fight of my career and become a world champion,” the 30-year-old Donegal middleweight told The Irish Times ahead of Friday night’s bout.
Quigley, unanimously regarded as the underdog, hopes to return the middleweight belt to the Emerald Isle in the world title fight.♦