Sheehy Skeffington School 2016


Contributor Biographies :

2016 Programme :

Irish Times article on 2016 School – click here

(Summary of the day, by Aiden Lloyd)

The 2016 School, which took place on 16th April in the Ireland Institute, was a special occasion to reflect the occasion of the centenary of the Easter Rebellion. The morning was chaired by Carol Coulter, adjunct professor of law at NUIG.
Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, granddaughter of Francis and Hanna, presented a synopsis of their lives and what they stood for. She spoke of their commitment to activism and her pride in being the descendant of ‘a long line of troublemakers’. She made comparisons with their quest for women’s rights and her own more recent campaign for gender equality in NUIG. She said that duties matter as well as rights and we must ensure we do not forget about collectiveness in our actions.

She spoke about the need for social justice through incremental action, quoting her father, Eoin Sheehy Skeffington who believed that ‘however infinitesimal the thing you do is, it is infinitely important that you do it’.
Professor Colin Harvey from Queen’s University was critical of the retrogression of rights that occurred both in Ireland and the Republic under austerity. Human rights, he said, gains life through activism, not empty symbolism. He was critical of the lack of political commitment to the application of rights, especially economic, social and cultural rights, with little though given to the poor and the marginalised. He said that despite progress in areas including children’s rights and marriage equality, multiple forms of inequality remain endemic north and south, especially in relation to socio-economic rights, which are regarded as second class. This is evident in the toleration of homelessness, poor living standards, lack of access to health care and the treatment of the marginalised.

Re-energising and renewing the human rights struggle is one way of bringing marginalised and silent voices of the past into the present and a productive way of honouring the memory of Frank and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. Hanna saw the 1916 Proclamation as ‘our charter of liberty’ and Frank sought that the fight against injustice ‘clothe itself in new forms suited to a new age’.
Declan Kiberd, professor of Irish Studies at Notre Dame and co-editor with PJ Mathews of the Handbook of the Irish Revival, said that the centenary of the Easter Rising has brought people ‘feeling their way back into a sense of communal experience’. This was especially noticeable on Easter Monday, which was the people’s day, with huge numbers on the streets engaging with the experience of 1916.

He spoke of how Frank Sheehy Skeffington’s perceived eccentricity disrupted existing ideas of nationalism, feminism and socialism. Frank, he said, was particularly critical of the militarism of both imperialism and some forms of nationalism, while Hanna was especially perceptive and forward looking in describing Michael Collins’ ideal Ireland as a ‘middle class replica of the English state’. Hanna was subsequently critical of the independent state, with its repression of women and consolidation of Catholic conservatism.
Lar Joye, from the National Museum, provided an outline of the Collins Barracks exhibition on the Rising, focusing in on the murder of Frank Sheehy Skeffington in Portobello Barracks. He told the relatively recently discovered story of ‘the bullet in the brick’, which outlined how some workers were convened to replace the bullet-holed bricks at the execution spot. Despite being warned to say nothing about the event, they passed one of the bricks on to Hanna in the following years.

The afternoon session began with a panel session chaired by Betty Purcell, journalist and IHREC commissioner.

Aiden Lloyd from the ESC Rights Initiative gave an account of the opportunity to embed the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights in the constitution through the constitutional convention. He said that despite initial misgivings the convention turned out to be a good example of deliberative democracy, thanks to a dedicated chair and secretariat. He spoke of the imbalanced rights regime in our constitution, with very little representation of justiciable ESC rights and he referred to the original intention behind the covenants on civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights as being indivisible.

David Joyce, barrister and IHREC commissioner, spoke of his interest in housing for everybody as a right. He said that, while Ireland had provided social housing in the past, there was also a persistent ideological hatred towards the idea of providing social or council housing. He said that the Carrickmines tragedy is indicative of the lack of planning and absence of any real will to see the alternative accommodation that Travellers require.

David said that when we look at the laws used to treat Travellers differently, they have generally been laws of negativity. The Sanitary Services Act 1939 set out to prohibit the temporary dwellings, caravans and tents that Travellers used for accommodation. This is all in the contest of a State founded on the principle of cherishing all the children of the nation equally.

Fiona O’Reilly, health researcher, said premature death is the ultimate outcome of health inequality. Socio economic conditions affect health outcomes for people and this amounts to people’s rights not being respected or realised.

Fiona said that the worse the social circumstances, the less the chance of enjoying good health. Traveller infant mortality, for example, is four times higher than rest of population. Homelessness is also a very unhealthy state, 89 per cent of those interviewed in one survey had physical or mental health diagnoses; 60 per cent had mental health problems and about one third had attempted suicide. All of this is an outcome of public policy. Unless we account for the difference and change policies based on rights arguments, equality will not be achieved.

Fiona said that although she, along with Austin O’Carroll, had advocated economic arguments to address health inequalities, sometimes the right thing is the right thing regardless of cost. She said that the best way to protect the health of homeless people is to prevent homelessness, just as better health for Travellers depends on better education and employment opportunities.

Pablo Vicente introduced a short video documentary on the 1976 massacre of five Basque civilians by Spanish police. The outrage took place in Gasteiz, and contemporary recordings of police conversations indicate the actions of the police was planned and premediated… was the attempted coverup.

Pablo spoke of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington facilitating publicity about the Basque cause by concealing the entry to a theatre in Dublin of Basque campaigners who subsequently took to the stage to highlight their issue.