Snogging, swine flu and Insein Prison

In my day, a snog at the end of the ceilí at Loch an Iúir during Irish language summer camp – Donegal Gaeltacht-style – would get you no more bother than a ribbing from your house mates and a red face when you met the girl at class the next day. 

In 2009, it seems you could end up with a potentially lethal dose of swine flu and have the whole summer school shut down. This week's swine flu scare story from sleepy Loch an Iúir brought me back to the three weeks of summer I spent there 25 years ago learning a bit of Irish and whole lot more about drinking, smoking and courting. 

The nostalgia-fest only heightened when I heard the inestimable Ralph McLean, telling the story of the album Live and Dangerous by Thin Lizzy, at the start of a special BBC Radio Ulster series on classic Irish albums. It was first released in 1978, although I only became more familiar with the tracks (classics like Jailbreak, Still in love with you and, of course, The boys are back in town) a couple of years later.

To top it all, the BBC NI then decided to drown us fortysomethings (I only just qualify, by the way!) in nostalgia with a look-back at the last, troubled, four decades of life in Northern Ireland, with its The Trouble with 40 programme.

Basically a bunch of people in or around my age (or a fair bit older – yes, Tim McGarry, I'm looking at you!) reminisced about Refresher chews, skipping games, Swap Shop, holidays by the beach in Donegal, Alex Higgins and Gerry Armstrong, mods and punks, Leisureworld, body searches going into Boots, rioting, bomb scares, power-cuts, hunger strikes and worse. It was great. The programme I mean. Really brought me back.  

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be, though. And, tragically for some people, the past remains the present too. 

One of my few living heroes, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has spent most of the last two decades of that forty years under house arrest. The Burmese dictators, living in fear of her, but ruling the people through a regime of violence, have kept Suu Kyi away from the people for 14 of the past 20 years. This week, another 18 months was added to her sentence – enough, it would seem, to keep her out of next year's elections. Coincidentally, I'm sure. A sick joke of justice

So, while Northern Ireland has experienced ceasefires, peace processing, endless elections, talks about talks, talks and even a peace agreement or two, since 1990, Burma has mostly faced more of the same that it experienced before 1990. Bad government, jail for democrats, riches for a few and misery for most.  

Some 2,100 political prisoners are in the notorious Insein Prison in Yangon and in other jails across Myanmar. Freeing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the rest of them must be one of our – and the world's most urgent tasks in defending human rights.  

You can start right now, here.

You can keep up with Amnesty International in Northern Ireland by signing up for our monthly e-newsletter, joining our Facebook Group and following us on Twitter. Phew!

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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