DAPHNE CARUANA GALIZIA: London Vigil

One year ago today, Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese journalist who exposed corruption and criticized the Maltese political establishment, was assassinated. She had received several death threats; fires had been set near her home; her dog had been killed. She knew she was in danger. The final line in her last blog says: “There are crooks everywhere you look. The situation is desperate.”

She posted her blog, as any of us might, stood up from her desk and went out. Within half an hour the car she was driving blew up.

Tonight, we went to a vigil held at St James’s Church, Picadilly organised by International PEN, other NGOs and Maltese citizens living in London. The church is opposite Malta House. I’d guess there were two hundred people there, maybe more. Some holding images of Daphne, some with tealights, candles, other forms of light. There were speeches calling for justice for Daphne, for, at the very least, a public inquiry to be held. Three people have been arrested for her killing but there doesn’t seem to be much appetite to find out who ordered it. On the contrary, life has been made extremely difficult for her husband and sons as they try to discover the truth.

We crossed the road and laid flowers and lights at the door of Malta House. It felt urgent to be part of this vigil, as we wait, with little optimism it has to be said, to hear what really happened to Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Embassy. Knowing that human rights lawyers such as Waleed Abu Al-Khair and bloggers like Raif Badawi are still in prison in Saudi. Knowing, it has to be said, that so many writers and human rights workers are in Turkish prisons too. Because of their work. Because they speak truth to power, because they question power. And maybe because power has stopped caring when its excesses are publicly exposed.

These days we need courageous journalists more than ever. Is that why more and more journalists are coming under attack?

At this year’s Nollaig na mBan celebration at the Irish Writers’ Centre I spoke about Daphne as part of the Freedom to Write Campaign (the other speakers, about other women writers who have been killed because of their work)  were June Considine, Liz McManus, and Éilís ní Dhuibhne).  Here’s an extract from that speech, to refresh your memory about who Daphne Caruana Galizia is and what she stood for. What she still stands for.

“I knew nothing about Malta until Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated but the more I read of her work, the more familiar it began to feel. She wrote against the marriage bar for working women & the financial dominance of husbands (it persisted, as legal fact, until the mid-90s); she wrote in favour of divorce (legalised in 2011) and of same sex marriage, legalised last September. Malta is the only EU country that has a total, outright ban on abortion in any circumstances – Maltese women go to Italy or elsewhere for terminations.

Daphne worked as a newspaper columnist and editor until her death. Newspapers have lawyers that try to anticipate and avoid lawsuits, but her blog, Running Commentary, allowed her to be more expressive and direct in challenging corruption and cronyism in Maltese politics, to say what she damn well meant & to hell with consequence. She was provocative and controversial but her courage is breathtaking. She investigated connections between politicians and money, between business and politicians, politicians and known criminals/underworld figures/rogue states. As the first person to break news of Maltese involvement in Panama, Politico named her as one of “28 people who are shaping, shaking and stirring Europe” & called her a “one-woman WikiLeaks”.

She received frequent death threats. Her home was subject to more than one arson attack, the family dog was killed and its body left on the doorstep as a warning. She was the subject of a campaign to ruin her financially through libel suits which froze her bank account – still frozen at her death even though a crowdfunded precautionary fund had been paid to the courts.

Daphne broke news of members of the Maltese establishment’s links to Panama on 22nd February, 2017. You can read her own account of how she did it on her blog

In her last blog post she wrote about some of individuals she named in February: They “hunted around the world for a shady bank that would take them as clients. In the end they solved the problem by setting up a shady bank in Malta, hiding in plain sight. … There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.”

That blog was posted on 16th October, 2017 at 2:35 pm.

Half an hour later she was dead.”

One year ago today.

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GUEST BLOG: Write the Book You Want to Read? by Nuala O’Connor

It’s a treat for me to host a guest blog by Nuala O’Connor – who has featured in earlier blogposts as Nuala Ní Chonchúir – to mark the publication of her new novel Becoming Belle, a historical novel set (mostly) in Victorian London.

Becoming Belle is based on the story of a real woman, Isabel Bilton, who left her protected garrison life at 19 and became a music hall star before marrying a young aristocrat, Viscount Dunlo. His father is appalled and does what he can to destroy the marriage…

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Write the Book You Want to Read?

by Nuala O’Connor

When I hear the phrase ‘Write the book you want to read’, I always stop to think on it for a moment. But how could I do that? I wonder. Isn’t that utterly impossible? The saying may have originated with Toni Morrison who said once in a speech: ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’ But this phrase, this thinking, presupposes two things: one, that I know what I want to read and, two, – more crucially for me – that I know exactly what it is I want to write. For me, neither of these things is ever clear or obvious.

Yes, I like to read biographical fiction and historical novels – I’m a fan of Emma Donoghue and Andrew Miller, among many others. And, yes, I like to write those kinds of novels and stories too – my latest novel, Becoming Belle, is about a real life, nineteenth century music hall girl who married into the Irish gentry and ended up as the Countess Clancarty. But I also like to read dystopian fiction and hybrid narratives and long-form essays and, so far, I haven’t written much of any of that.

Until I’m reading it, I don’t really know what I want to read, or what I will enjoy. Some books, on paper, sound dull but turn out to be exquisite; others, with rave reviews and garlands of prizes, have left me decidedly unimpressed and wondering if there’s something askew with my literary tastes and/or critical faculties. But, like everyone, I just enjoy what I enjoy and I truly don’t know what that is until I’m in the immersive act of reading it.

As for writing what I want to read that seems a hopeless task. When I start to write a novel or story, I have a fizzle of excitement about a character but, mostly, I’m clueless. I’m with Stephen King who says, ‘Plot is … the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.’ Plot, for me, grows not from thought-out plans but from getting to know my characters by writing them, from seeing how they negotiate the trickier aspects of life. This happens because that happened, but I don’t plan the happenings, they occur because the characters are who they are: faulty, humane, nasty, sweet, contradictory, selfish, loving, narcissistic. Whatever.

I am, as a writer, what George R. R. Martin calls ‘a gardener’ – I sow seeds and see what will come up. I prefer this organic approach – there’s mystery in it, excitement and possibility. This is why I’m always uncomfortable when anyone asks me ‘So, what’s your next book about?’ ‘How on earth would I know?’ is what I want to answer, but I’m more likely to mutter some incoherent, semi-stewed plot idea and then go on to write an entirely different novel.

So, can a writer write the book she wants to read? I don’t think so. She can write a book that she hopes other people may want to read and characters that she enjoys and anticipates that others will too. But a writer cannot read her own book the way every other person does. Her relationship with the material is too knotty, she’s too aware of seams and patchworks, too loaded with the memories of the hows and whys, the weight of research, the questions asked and perhaps left unanswered, the long days of getting the story down word by word by word.

Generally, by the time I’ve finished, edited and published a book, I am gone past it, done, saturated and exhausted by the whole enterprise. The last thing I want to do is read that book. I’m already on a journey into another novel by then, I’m at the new friendship giddiness stage with fresh characters and, hopefully, an intriguing situation. For me, that’s the satisfying part of writing. Not the book launch, or the thoughtful reviews, or the literary events, but the first draft stage, the point where I don’t know what I’m doing but am joyfully starting to piece things together and find out what it is that I’m about to write.

 

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Manderley, again: On re-reading Rebecca, 80 years after publication

(Dublin Review of Books essay, May 2018)

In an essay entitled “Romantic Love”, Daphne du Maurier wrote:

There is no such thing as romantic love. This is a statement of fact and I defy all those who hold a contrary opinion. Romantic love is an illusion.

Yet she has been classified, and dismissed, as a romantic novelist and her best-loved and most enduring work, Rebecca, as a romantic novel. Since its first publication in 1938 it has never gone out of print. As recently as 2013, du Maurier’s son, Christopher, claimed in an interview that it was still selling four thousand copies a month.

One reason for Rebecca’s success is that it tells a good story, in the classic, narrative-driven sense – the sort of story at which it has become quite fashionable to sneer. Another is that the reader is never entirely sure exactly what is going on beneath the thrilling surface. Like all unresolved questions, Rebecca’s powers of suggestion haunt us long after the book has been restored to its shelf.

Du Maurier said it was a novel about jealousy, and so it is. She also said that it was about the imbalance of power between a man and a woman in a marriage and yes, it is that too. Part bildungsroman, part psychological thriller, it is also a crime drama with its conventions turned inside out. Not “how will the criminal be identified, caught and punished?” but “will they get away with it and how?”

Read more: http://drb.ie/essays/manderley-again

Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, Virago (80th Anniversary Edition), 448 pp, €18.20, ISBN: 978-0349010267

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Grandparents for Repeal launch & Why I’m voting Yes on 25th May

This morning saw the launch of #GrandparentsForRepeal in the Board Room of Buswell’s Hotel. The room was absolutely jammed with people who’d come to hear from and support the main speakers. Carol Hunter, who founded G4R, spoke first  – about the need for older people to talk to each other and share the experience and wisdom they have gained through years of living. Liz MacManus, Catherine McGuinness and Gemma Hussey took us back to 1983 and across decades of change to the present.

Gemma Hussey reminded us that no one really knew (or admitted to knowing) where the impulse for the 8th arose. There was an organisation called PLAC (Pro-Life Amendment Campaign), an idea that abortion was about to arrive on our shores like a foreign invasion and some leaflets saying that x or y politician was ‘soft’ on abortion. They never found out who was behind those leaflets – but momentum built towards the 1983 referendum.  Peter Sutherland, Attorney General at the time, warned that the amendment was unsound and unsafe but was shouted down by louder voices.

All of the speakers paid tribute to the work of the late Monica Barnes, whose funeral took place that same morning. They also recognised the work of Frank Crummey and Ailbhe Smyth, both of whom were in the front row and contributed to the proceedings.

All of the speakers were calm and clear about the devastation the 8th Amendment has caused in the lives of women and families. Grandparents for Repeal brings the concept of family and intergenerational impact into the picture. All of the older people in the room remembered the Ireland that allowed the 8th Amendment onto the statute books. Liz MacManus recalled being a young TD addressing the Dail on the issue of abortion and being afraid for the first time as she looked around the chamber and saw all the men in suits, only a scattering of women – and knew that they had been addressed by priests, an immam, a rabbi, doctors and lawyers and not one single woman who had direct lived experience of the issue they were debating and would legislate on.

The parents of two women who had to travel to England for terminations of non-viable pregnancies described their experience.  One woman brought the house down reminding us all of the furtive transactions (‘no eye contact’) that had to be undergone monthly to acquire what was known as bona fide contraception, the five children outside in the car (’Loose!’ she reminded us. ‘No car seats then!’) and how she and her husband used to take turns because they hated doing it.  Another woman spoke about how she, a midwife, and her husband, a GP, could not believe that their daughter could get no medical help when she was told her anencephalic baby would not survive birth. ‘She was expected,’ this woman said with immense dignity and sorrow, ‘to be a life support machine for a baby that would die when her pregnancy ended.’

Ireland has changed. The very notion that there might have been a group called Grandparents for Repeal would have been unthinkable in 1983.  Catherine McGuinness believes the perceived divisions between older and younger voters, or between rural and urban voters, are exaggerated. Carol Hunter started Grandparents for Repeal to initiate and reinforce conversations with and among older people who have enough life experience to understand a need for compassion and to know, as she puts it, that life is not black and white. Gemma Hussey said we have a chance to put something right that has caused endless heartache in Ireland in the intervening 35 years.  I suppose the big question is, have we changed enough?

The Catholic Bishop of Cloyne, Dr William Crean, has advised us not to think about sad and painful cases. By that I suppose he means real people, real families, people who live real lives in the real world. I’m sorry, but I don’t think he would know or understand the first thing about this. https://bit.ly/2FTH2UV

Dr Fergus O’Ferrall, Lay Leader of Conference in the Methodist Church, has reminded us that leaders of other churches opposed the original amendment. He says that church leaders who preach otherwise miss the point. They ignore the reality of abortion in Ireland and the need to face up to providing better services for the women who will seek out abortion no matter how difficult the obstacles. He says that defending the retention of article 40.3.3. is a morally defective stance and that it seems those church leaders have not studied the real legal, medical and moral issues in our current situation.  https://bit.ly/2K1UJ6k

The campaign is turning dirty, with vile, unattributed posters being put up outside schools and hospitals; with the abuse and manipulation of language; with the sinister use of digital dirty tricks to disseminate misinformation in order to sway undecided voters.  Grandparents for Repeal was founded to encourage open, direct conversations that include the perspective of people who have experience of their own and have witnessed the suffering and difficult choices made by women, couples, families in the last 35 years.

(By the way, for an account of the chilling events in and around reproductive choice in the 1980s, see Emily O’Reilly’s Mastermind of the Right )

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I am voting Yes because:

  • I want pregnant women to have the same constitutional rights as every other citizen in this country; to have confidence that their medical teams will see their needs as paramount and act according to their best interests; and to have the right to give and withhold consent to medical procedures – a right that other citizens take for granted.
  • I want everyone to stop assuming that women will opt for abortion in any crisis. Choice means considering all available options and making an informed decision to do what’s right for the individuals concerned. No-one else’s business.
  • I want Ireland to grow up and act like a republic. I want us stop exporting our problems for other countries to deal with.
  • Growing another life inside your own life and body is an incredibly intense experience. To harbour a wanted child is extraordinary, magical, rich. But imagine, after a violation such as rape, an unwanted being growing and moving around inside you for forty weeks. Some women will choose to go ahead with such a pregnancy. Some may even find it healing but that has to be their choice.
  • When conception occurs, there is only a potential for independent life. That potential needs to be fed and protected via the physical resources of a separate individual. If the personal cost to that individual is too high, for whatever reason – well, only she has the right to make that judgement.
  • Abortion is difficult. You may be opposed to it in principle but do you really feel you have the right to dictate to other people: women, couples, families, no matter what their circumstances?  The whole entire difference between people who are pro-choice and people who oppose choice is that pro-choice people might well imagine they would never have an abortion themselves, may hope to god they never find themselves in a situation where they suddenly need one – but they allow other people the democratic right to make their own life-changing decisions to suit their own circumstances, their own families, their own lives.

 

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An egg is not a bird. A seed is not a tree.

This blog was originally posted in 2013.  As we get closer to the referendum I am increasingly worried about the misinformation and distortion of facts I hear on the radio as reputable programmes try to present both sides of the argument. I worry when I hear about people who pretend to be qualified in medical areas in order to lend authenticity to the propaganda and lies they disseminate. There shouldn’t be ‘sides’ here; this is not an abstract question with a right or wrong answer. Every crisis pregnancy is different, and the only people who have any right to make decisions are the ones whose entire lives – and wider families – will be affected by the decision they make. So I thought this might be worth re-posting.

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An egg is not a bird. A seed is not a tree.

One of many things that enrage me about what passes for rational debate about abortion in Ireland is the way language is being corrupted and debased – mostly, I’d argue, on the anti-choice side. Politicians, bishops, academics and lawyers – all of whom understand absolutely what they are doing – don’t flicker so much as an eyelid when they substitute highly charged words for truth.  They’ve been getting away with this for far too long.

As soon as particular terms are introduced to any discussion, we know which side the speaker is on and scurry to take up our positions, so far apart we have to yell to be heard. And we’re all yelling in code, which makes no sense to anyone, not really. Pithy one-word insults and slogans make handy weapons in that sort of battle. ‘Baby-killer’, is one such term.  ‘Bigot’ is another.  When these poisoned darts appear on the horizon, everyone dives for cover in their own thicket, which may be confused, brambly, and uncomfortable, but is, at least, familiar. We’re not likely to get disturbed too much in there.

Maybe that’s why we do the name-calling and the yelling; maybe we don’t want to hear each other. We’re so hell-bent on steamrolling our own argument over the line to victory that we forget what language is for: communication, understanding, enlarging our perception of the world. Instead it’s being turned against itself.  Loud scary people turn sentences inside out, then apply a bit of heat and a lot of volume to make a big loud scary bang that will cause the rest of us to cover our ears, shut our eyes, and hum the mantra England, to calm ourselves down.  Because, if England wasn’t there, or wasn’t quite so accessible, how different would this conversation have to be?  Might we actually have to face the complexities of the question and deal with it, like actual, rational adults?

On one side of the argument, we have people who believe that all forms of human life are sacred and have absolute claims on our protection from the moment of conception.  [It’s worth saying that even the Catholic Church didn’t always hold this view.  There was a time when the penance for having an abortion was less than that for an unmarried woman having a baby.] On the other side, we have people who believe that a zygote is not a person, an embryo is not a person, and even a foetus is not yet a person, although as a pregnancy progresses these waters get murkier and murkier.  To be pro-choice is to believe that the needs of individuals who already inhabit the world have a prior claim on our concern.  There’s a painful, difficult conversation to be had about late-term abortion, but that conversation won’t even begin so long as we’re all clinging to our absolutes.  As the placard says, the range of pro-choice views are too nuanced, complex and delicate to fit on a placard (or even in a blog).

There’s a tyranny in the anti-choice position that rarely gets articulated. An individual can recognize the ethical complexities of abortion – she might even believe that she herself would never have one (and hope she never finds herself in a situation where she has to) – and still allow other women the right to make their own moral choices in keeping with their own highly personal (and no-one else’s business) dilemmas.  In other words, the pro-choice position allows other people the right to make up their own minds.  The anti-choice position doesn’t. (See Martina Devlin:  “For the Record: It’s possible to be pro-choice and in favour of life” http://shar.es/lQXy1  in the Independent 9th May 2013) There’s a peculiarly Irish irony in TDs bleating for a free vote on the legislation. They want to be allowed to obey the dictates of their consciences in order to stop women being able to exercise theirs.

As for the interventions of the bishops – please. Do we really have to listen to the all-male, celibate, Catholic hierarchy, with their track-record, lecturing us on sexual morality or child protection?

repeal badges

 

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DAPHNE CARUANA GALIZIA – International PEN Call to Action

Leading international writers join PEN International in calling on Europe to protect press freedom in Malta

Leading writers from Europe and around the world have written to the European Commission today, on the six-month anniversary of the brutal assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta’s foremost investigative journalist, expressing their grave concern regarding developments in the investigation into her assassination and ongoing reprisals against her family and sources.

Over 250 influential writers, publishers and PEN members including Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Anne Enright, Ian McEwan, Kamila Shamsie, Neil Gaiman, Eva Bonnier, Elif Shafak and Colm Tóibín are calling on the European Commission to ensure justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia, and for the protection of journalists and whistleblowers in Malta.

“European culture and values are our best protection against hatred and oppression. And Daphne fought for these values until she no longer could. Her death has left hundreds of thousands voiceless, while the state-appointed leader of a European cultural event in Malta slanders Daphne’s legacy and ridicules people’s calls for justice. We hope—and it’s clear this is a hope shared by many in Europe—that the European Commission will help fill the vacuum Daphne left and remind the Maltese government that there are lines such as this that must never be crossed,” said Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family.

In particular, the letter raises profound concerns regarding allegations of shameful behavior of the management of Valletta 2018, the European Capital of Culture, in relation to her case. This programme is overseen by the European Commission’s Creative Europe.

 “The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia was ordered in direct response to her journalistic work in exposing rampant government corruption at the heart of the EU. Since her death, the Maltese authorities have not attempted to investigate the crimes she uncovered and appear deeply reluctant to seek justice for her killing,” said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International.

The open letter also restates PEN’s broader fears relating to the ongoing investigation by the Maltese authorities into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, which we believe does not meet the standards of independence, impartiality and effectiveness required under international human rights law.

Even after her assassination, senior government officials, including the Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, are insisting on trying thirty-four libel cases against her, which have now been assumed by her family. In addition to these cases, the Prime Minister is taking a further libel case against Caruana Galizia’s son, Matthew Caruana Galizia, himself a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist. PEN believes that these proceedings are in direct reprisal for his mother’s work in investigating corruption within the current Maltese government. The Prime Minister is currently compelling Matthew to return to Malta to stand trial, despite independent security experts advising him to remain outside Malta due to substantial threats to his life there.

PEN has a long history of supporting writers at risk and campaigning for the protection of freedom of expression and recently submitted a joint report to the United Nations on the situation of freedom of expression in Malta. PEN calls on the Maltese authorities to respect and protect freedom of expression, journalists and whistleblowers in line with international standards.

Web Links

To read PEN’s recent joint report to the United Nations on the situation of freedom of expression in Malta, please click here.

For more information/press/interviews contact:

Sarah Clarke, Policy and Advocacy Manager, PEN International: sarah.clarke@pen-international.org +44 7575 030028.

Ebony Riddell Bamber, Director of Advocacy and Communications, PEN International: Ebony.Riddell-Bamber@pen-international.org, +44 (0)20 7405 0338.
 

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TYPHOID MARY at the Viking Theatre, Clontarf

If you haven’t seen Charlotte Bradley & Bairbre Ní Chaoimh’s production of the late, great Eithne McGuinness’s TYPHOID MARY at the Viking Theatre at The Sheds, there are four performances left. Do yourself a favour and book your ticket now.

This absorbing, provocative play brings Eithne’s distinctive voice back to us & reminds us of how much we lost when she died so young.

 

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