Author of three collections published by Doire Press, in 2016 - 2018 Susan's poems have appeared, among elsewhere, in: The Cafe Review, Oregan, USA - Gather In, in a Special Irish Edition; Bosom Pals,Ed Marie Cadden (Doire Press, 2017) an anthology entirely in aid of Breast Cancer Research in the National UniveristyHospital, Galway and When They've Grown Another Me in Poetry Ireland Review, Dec 2018. January 2018 has seen her poems Commended in the Gregory O'Donoghue Poetry Competition.

She has been an invited reader of her poems at local readings in Galway, Cork and Dublin and at festivals, including the Belfast Book Festival, Cuirt International Festival of Literature and Clifden Arts Festival. Her poems have been read on radio.

Susan completed her degree in social science and qualified as a professional social worker in Trinity College, Dublin 1975. She was a psychotherapist, trainer, facilitator and occasional consultant to organisations for over thirty years until her retirement in 2012. Drawing together her writing with her earlier skills she has written interviews and facilitated conversations mediated by poetry. She continues to work on a manuscript relating the story of starting out in poetry and a mid-life move West along with occasional other creative non-fiction pieces.

Her workshop Having a New Conversation: About Dreaming was listed on the The Cuirt International Festival of Literature Programme (2015) and she facilitates similar workshops on a variety of themes, discussed through the medium of poetry, regularly and occasionally in local community settings.

While a founding editor of Skylight 47 Susan interviewed: then Ireland Professor of Poetry, Harry Clifton; Kay Ryan, former US Poet Laureate invited to Ireland by Dromineer Literature Festival and Dani Gill who talks about curating The Cuirt International Literature Festival. Her most recent interview, of Maeve O'Sullivan, appears in The Honest Ulsterman February, 2018.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

‘Cleared of wrongdoing.’ Expedient scapegoating? What Values does Ireland Want to Uphold - Leadership Questions posed by Micheal Martin and Enda Kenny.

What do the Taoiseach’s response to the Fennelly Report and an Opposition Leader, Micheal Martin’s, response last week to questions raised by the PSI, Northern Ireland, as to whether the IRA still exists have in common? And what does the RTE documentary on the training of Army Recruits have to add?

     Did the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, show presidential style leadership in 2014 in the midst of revelatory reports, official and unofficial, that were unravelling trust in the Department of Justice and the Gardai? Or did he overstep his brief while demonstrating more of the technical ethics – where the rule but not the spirit of the law is honoured – we have come to expect in public life: an expectation that continues to erode confidence in Irish and International politics?

     As with our eroding coastline that - where possible - continues to be restored when funding and the political will allows, when the erosion has gone too far nothing can be done except to shore up what remains. This is a dangerous business. When law and order breaks down it’s a long road back to restoring sufficient trust in politics to build peace.

     The slow and frustrating road to that restoration is something Micheal Martin should know about. He was a Minister in successive Fianna Fail governments engaged in the painfully slow peace process required to enable a return to the rule of an elected Northern Ireland Assembly.  Those in the front-line of organisations who took up arms (whether you call it terrorism or war) when they no longer believed the political system could, or had the stomach to, deliver an adequately just society had to be particularly patient. They had to act with painstaking attention to detail as they both negotiated peace and led their former – or present, at the time – organisations to continue to take steps for peace and to put their trust in politics instead of the bullet.

     Ironically, it may have been the now relatively normal context that led a Senior Northern Ireland police officer to choose the words he did last week, rather than the more carefully phrased sentences that have come since - familiar over the long years of a return to peace in Northern Ireland.  The Statement from a member of the PSI (Police Service in Northern Ireland) that the IRA was still in existence to a degree and that members are suspects in the investigation of a murder might not have been phrased that way in the immediate winning of a return to politics and the putting beyond use of weaponry held by the IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries. 
     The remains of an organisation, now with strong criminal elements, is not at all the same thing as the former organisation itself. It is generally understood that former members of all the paramilitaries have variously turned to active politics or to criminality, while others have retired entirely. The failure to spend enough money to resolve the societal inequities that fed the violence or to put in place sufficient processes to help to resolve grievances and grief after years of atrocities made that inevitable. It was nothing new that one of them might be a suspect in a criminal investigation. A suggestion that the paramilitary organisation, the IRA, was back in existence was however entirely new and a grave threat to the peace. It was surprising that the PSI Chief Constable backed up his Officer. His careful statement was never going to be fully reported after the first instance. He should have been less equivocal. Again, it appears he was not as fully conscious of the political dangers as former incumbents of the post might have been.

     Micheal Martin rushed to compound that failure to duly regard politics with his expedient use of a shorthand sound-bite. It was political opportunism at its worst. There was no need to repeat the inaccuracy. He could have added critical clarification. But it served to score a point against a Sinn Fein he now has to compete against for votes in the election next year. I have been impressed by his leadership of a party struggling to make a comeback. His success so far has been impressive but last week I knew nothing had changed. The old politics are still in place. Expediency rules.

     In Ireland and many States, the call from all sides for a renewal of political structures to rebuild the trust that polls and low turnouts on polling day suggest has been badly eroded is pointless if the attitudes at the heart of the problem prevail. One could even argue that if the attitudes changed (and research shows that it is attitudes that are foremost in deciding behaviour and change) the need for structural change would be significantly reduced. 

     I hate Joan Burton’s statement that the Taoiseach has been ‘cleared of wrongdoing’ by the Fennelly Report. It may have been the required political sound-bite but it stinks of expediency. It avoids all mention of the fine line he was traversing. We will never know the ins and outs of the responsibility the Garda Commisioner in the Republic, who retired early last year, has for what was going on in a culture that increasinglyseems to be the norm throughout the organs of the State. It could be argued that with all the emerging controversies arising from his time in office he ought to retire early. But we do not have a culture of people resigning when the perception of things happening under their watch turn sour. Wasn’t that what politicians used to do? Doesn’t that make the Garda Commissioner a scapegoat? The Taoiseach can no longer have trusted the Minister for Justice or he wouldn’t have gone over his head, but it was the Commissioner he felt should be informed that he might no longer be able to tell his Cabinet he could put his trust in. If he hadn’t been put in such an untenable position, the Garda Chief could have retired anyway – in protest at the behaviour of the political establishment. Maybe that is what has happened.

     I watched with initial horror the bullying tactics and expletives, totally unacceptable in any other workplace, deployed to train the Irish Army recruits on RTE television’s documentary (11th & 12th Sept, 2015). I refused to allow myself give in to an urgent desire to change channels. Some of the recruits laughed in the first instance. It was so ridiculous it was laughable. I smiled myself, remembering going to a Secretarial College and wanting to laugh when the teacher called on ‘Miss Harris and Miss …’ to ‘stand up’ for speaking to each other in class. Even in the 1970s, (I was brought up in rather privileged circumstances, given I was sent to a liberal school)I hadn’t seen anyone being asked to ‘Stand up’ for misbehaviour since First Class in National School. But the Sergeant was serious and she made it very clear by further expletives and demands backed up by the Lieutenant and other Officers.

    The would-be soldiers were given the justification that discipline is essential. It became clear that attention to detail – taught through attending to details of uniform and dress, no button could be out of place – and the developing of an inbuilt automatic response to follow an order could save their life, or that a fellow soldier, within  a couple of years. The runner up for best recruit of the year was an exceptional  woman recruit who may have been pipped at the post because she answered back under the extreme conditions, and for the first time in seventeen weeks, on a week-long training exercise out in the mountains. It doesn’t augur well for overcoming groupthink in the Army. I presume they’d argue first things first: there isn’t time when lives are at risk to have soldiers questioning orders.

     If the attention to detail required by our soldiers was required in politics, or in other parts of the civil service and in civilian life in general, we might be living in a very different country and not find ourselves in the straits we’re in. However groupthink and the kind of discipline that doesn’t allow questions or critical thinking is antithetical to what is required for creative and just solutions to problems.

     One has to ask if it’s still appropriate in the times we live in to train soldiers with bullying and expletives. I find it hard to believe we can’t do a whole lot better. Nevertheless, if I were a soldier looking at the shenanigans of the political leaders in whose hands their lives are ultimately held I’d be concerned. Without soldiers and Gardai the State has no power and can’t uphold any values. If we are going to teach our armed forces to be disciplined we had better all be disciplined in taking care of the values and peace we are asking them to help us to uphold. Nightly we see the refugees fleeing the breakdown of politics and the chaos of war. On an international scale, it has never been clearer that we need to build and take care of the peace. Politics is critical in that care. We don’t need a new politics we need a renewal in politics. We need our leaders to take leadership in demonstrating the values in their own behaviour that we want to ask our soldiers to risk their lives to uphold for the Nation.

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