Gerry’s News Digest 185: The 1916 Easter Rising, parental leave, NZ referendum (8th April, 2016)
Hi, this is Gerry. And welcome to my News Digest for Friday 8th April 2016. Having just celebrated Easter this year, on today’s show we’re going to look back at an important event that took place at Easter 100 years ago. After that I’ve got some news about the latest UK scheme for parental leave  from work after the birth of a baby. And finally, the UK is not the only country to be excited about a referendum at the moment. There was another one “down under ”.
At Easter 100 years ago we were in the middle of the First World War. April 1916 was the month that the British introduced universal conscription  (compulsory military service). The battles that followed in the valley of the Somme were the worst in British history in terms of the numbers of men killed in the shortest time. Irish soldiers played an important part in these battles, but at home in Ireland there were other concerns. All through the 19th century the movement for independence from British rule had been growing. Just before the First World War agreement had actually been reached for what was called Home Rule for Ireland. This would have given Ireland its own government while remaining part of the British Empire – a bit like Scotland today. Unfortunately, the outbreak  of war put everything on hold , and within the Irish nationalist, pro-independence movement, there were divisions: revolutionaries versus supporters of gradual change; people who believed in peaceful protest versus those who wanted to take up arms .
There was a great deal of frustration in Ireland, and things were made worse by the refusal of the Protestant majority in the north of the island to consider joining any self-governing, Catholic-dominated Irish territory. A smallish  group of Irish nationalists considered launching anuprising . Some of them hoped for German backing in establishing an Irish republic. Contact was made with the German government but no real support was ever received. Then in 1916 a splinter group  among the nationalists decided to go it alone  and on Easter Monday, the Easter Rising started. About 1,200 men and women, poorly armed, seized various key places in Dublin. At noon on Easter Monday, one of the seven leaders of the Rising stood outside the General Post Office on the main street in Dublin and read out a document called “Proclamation of the Irish Republic”. This was the first time that the intention to create a sovereign Irish republic had been declared. It started with the words “Irish men and Irish women” and it promised equal rights and liberty to all in the new republic.
To begin with there were only 400 British troops in the city to combat  the insurgents  but as the week went on more reinforcements  with vastly superior weapons were brought in. Huge damage was done to the city centre by the British artillery. Casualties  were high – most of them civilians  including a lot of children. The civilian casualties were mainly caused by the British Army shelling  in the densely populated  streets of the city. By the end of the week, the revolutionaries surrendered  and were taken prisoner. The Rising had failed. It was, however, what happened next that was important for the future of the country.
The Rising took most Irish people by surprise, and it was not particularly popular to begin with. Most people were not really anti-British. However, as the casualties began to mount up, and the military authorities insisted that the armed rising should be dealt with under military law, which led to the execution of the seven leaders, public opinion began to swing. The Easter Rising quickly became central in the nationalist story of the long struggle against the British oppressors. Violent struggle became the new route to Irish independence. The Easter Rising leaders became martyrs for their cause. At the end of the First World War, the Irish fought the British again in their War of Independence. This was followed by a bitter Civil War between those who were willing to deal with the British and those who weren’t. In Northern Ireland violent struggle continued through the 1970s and 1980s as the Nationalists fought to join the Irish Republic, while the Unionists fought to remain part of the United Kingdom. 100 years on, we are only just moving on from those dark days.
This Easter, there was a huge ceremony in Dublin to remember the Easter Rising. The general feeling was that public opinion has shifted in recent years. The language around the ceremony was less aggressive than in the past. Irish Republicans no longer attack the memory, for example, of those Irish soldiers who died in the First World War fighting with the British, the French and their allies. In the North, too, the tone is softer. We shouldn’t forget, however, that a prison guard was murdered there a few weeks ago by what’s left of  the IRA. It’s not completely over.
The Irish Proclamation promised gender equality . In Europe today, everybody now accepts the principle of equality for men and women. One area, however, where equality is not so clear is in family life, and how we should help parents find the best balance between family life and work. The cost of living and material expectations  mean that most families these days cannot get by  on one salary alone. Not only that, we invest huge amounts of time and money in young people’s education. It makes no sense for young adults to give up their careers for which they have been prepared in order to devote themselves to childcare. So how should society encourage young adults to start families, and, once they have done that, support their futures as both parents and salary earners?
I was reading an article recently about the UK’s new Shared Parental Leave scheme. This was supposed to radically change how parents would share the care of their babies. We already had maternity leave  in the UK. It includes 2 weeks compulsory leave after the birth of the baby, on full salary. After that a mother can stay on paid leave for 6 weeks on 90% of her normal salary. Then she can have another 33 weeks paid at about £140 per week. She then has the right to continue staying home till her baby’s first birthday, but the final part of her maternity leave is unpaid. While mothers got these 52 weeks, fathers were restricted to 2 weeks. Now under the new scheme, mothers can give up their maternity leave after two weeks, and the two parents can choose Shared Parental Leave. This comes with Shared Parental Pay. The leave lasts for 50 weeks and the pay for 37 weeks, the same as for maternity. The parents can choose which one of them stays home with the baby, but they can each take blocks of time . The thing is, however, that the pay is capped  all the way through, like the later months of maternity pay. This means that it’s limited from the start to about £140 per week. For higher earners, this is not much money at all. It’s then a question of whether the employer chooses to make a more generous offer than the government.
In the article I read, the journalist was talking to young fathers on this Shared Parental Leave. They were very positive about the experience, but the numbers who have so far taken up this new offer are very small – much smaller than expected. In some professions and companies any kind of parental leave is bad for future career plans. Women’s careers have always suffered because of this. A lot of big companies have, however, recognised that they’re losing talent when women stop to have children , and so they’re now making more generous offers to women employees. But often they don’t offer men the same, so in one major bank that I know, mothers are paid a lot more than the government’s minimum of £140 per week, but on Shared Parental Leave, they only get the statutory £140. Things are changing, but slowly.
The EU referendum debate carries on here. As I prepare this podcast, the official campaign hasn’t actually started. As in Swiss referendums we will have two official groups; one in favour of remaining in the EU and one for leaving. The choice as to which groups will officially lead the campaign is to be made by the Electoral Commission – this is the body that oversees  all our elections in the UK. On the Remain side, the situation is clear, but on the Leave side there are rival groups. Leaving the EU means change, but in which direction the change will go is not so clear.
Another country on the other side of the world has just had a referendum that involved change. The New Zealanders voted on a new national flag. In case you can’t remember, the existing flag is blue with four stars representing the Southern Cross, and the British Union Jack  in one corner. Australia has a similar flag. It’s felt by a lot of people, however, in both countries, that the Union Jack is no longer appropriate. So new designs were worked on in New Zealand, using, for example, the colour black and the silver fern (both used by New Zealand sports teams). After an exhaustive procedure the people were offered a new flag that retained  the stars on a blue background but replaced the Union Jack with a silver fern on a black background. In the referendum, however, the people voted by 56 to 44% to keep the old flag. It goes to show how difficult it is to win a referendum for change.
I then learnt from the BBC that the Union Jack still features in 18 countries’ or colonies’ flags. Here are a few of the most obscure: the Cook Islands, St Helena, Tuvalu, Fiji, Turks and Caicos, Niue, Tristan da Cunha, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The strangest use of the Union Jack is perhaps on the flag of one of the states of the United States. The flag of Hawaii contains the Union Jack. It reminds us that the British played a part in Hawaii’s history.
And that’s it for this time. Don’t forget the vocabulary trainer on the PodClub app. And remember if you’ve got any comments, write to me via the website: www.podclub.ch. Or use Twitter: my Twitter address is @Gerrypod. My next News Digest will be out on Monday 9th May. Later than usual because of the Ascension Day weekend. By the way, Ascension Island is another place that uses the Union Jack! Thanks for listening, and take care!
 parental leave: time off work for parents
 down under: a colloquial expression referring to Australasia, and Australia in particular
 NB This applied in the First World War to all British men aged between 18 and 41. In 1918 the age limit was raised to 51. It was not applied in Ireland as a result of the events in the following story. The Irish soldiers were all volunteers.
 outbreak: start (of something like war or an epidemic)
 to put on hold: to delay, to stop temporarily
 to take up arms: to start fighting with weapons
 smallish: rather/fairly/quite small
 to launch an uprising: to start a rebellion
 splinter group: a small group (of politicians, activists, etc.) that separates from/leaves a bigger group (usually because they disagree with the policy of the majority)
 to go it alone: to become independent
 to combat: to fight against
 insurgent: a person who is part of a rebellion fighting against a government
 reinforcements: new soldiers who have come to help the ones who are fighting
 casualties: people who are hurt or killed in war or an accident
 civilian: a person who is not in the army or other armed forces
 to shell: to use artillery (big guns)
 densely populated: where a lot of people live close together
 to surrender: to give up, to stop fighting
 what’s left of: the remains of
 gender equality: equal treatment of men and women
 material expectations: what people think they should have and consume
 to get by: to survive
 maternity leave: time off work for new mothers
 NB The blocks of time can be weeks or months.
 to cap: to limit
 NB “Stop” refers here to stopping work. Compare the grammatical difference between “stop to have children” and “stop having children”! The second means to have no more children, which in some ways is the problem that we have and that parental leave schemes are supposed to help solve!
 to oversee: to supervise
 NB We commonly use the term “Union Jack” to describe the UK flag but the official name is the Union Flag. A jack is a flag that is flown on a ship.
 to retain: to keep