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Newmarket-on-Fergus native playing a leading part as Irish community fill two 53ft trucks with donations for Navajo Nation

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*Jason Ryan and family.

A Newmarket-on-Fergus native has been helping to spearhead the efforts of volunteers in Arizona whose supplies have filled two 53ft lorries.

Jason Ryan assisted in the organisation of a major donation from the Irish community in Phoenix for the Navajo Nation American tribe. As of June 5th, 269 people have died in the Navajo Nation from COVID-19 with 5,808 confirmed cases.

His sister-in-law, Doreen McPaul is the Attorney General for the Navajo Nation while his wife and four children are all Navajo. Jason outlined that the State is the size of Ireland yet only has thirteen department stores.

“For the 13 stores, there are almost 200,000 people that are looking for essential items and they are just not there because the stores don’t get them because all the distributors are cutting back on work because they are afraid too. We came up with the idea to do a donation drive through the Irish Cultural Centre in Phoenix where we would ask people to do a contactless drop-off, we had our PPE and people drove up in their cars and stayed in them while we took all the items out that they wanted to donate, we did that over four days in total,” he explained.

Their efforts proved to be an incredible success, the Arizona National Guard had to send two 53-foot trucks and 22 soldiers to help distribute the huge donation. The response “was a little bit crazy,” Ryan reflected. When he began the appeal he expected that the contents of everything donated would fit into his mini-van. “Day one we started off and it was pretty mediocre, day two doubled and day three just tripled and the last day was phenomenal, we had cars coming for three hours non-stop, they weren’t coming with one or two items their cars were full of stuff like paper products and water”.

Owner of the Arizona Cardinals, Nicole Bidwill, Captain Mark Kelly who is running for the US Senate and Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall were among those to lend their support to the donation appeal. “The Irish Cultural Centre in Phoenix is centrally located, it is like looking at Ennis compared with Clarecastle, Doora, Barefield, Ballyea, that is what it looks like so people we’re coming from all different cities around, it was a 20 to 30 minute drive.

“When we finished on Sunday at 12pm, we were looking at donations and my idea of putting it in the van was thrown out the window. We got in contact with the National Guard, we had bales of hay, dog food, almost 200 cases of water, I was expecting a guy with a truck, they came in with two 53ft trucks and they filled them to capacity, they helped bring them all the way to Windrock in Arizona which is the capital of the Navajo Nation, to see their operation was phenomenal, they had 22 soldiers to get the stuff up. I was overwhelmed, everybody was shocked, when we brought the stuff into the 53ft trucks, to see how much was there, it took us an hour and a half to fill the trucks, there was 30 of us”.

Everything that they put on the trucks had a shamrock sticker placed on it to let everyone in the Navajo Nation aware it was the Irish community that led the initiative. Guardian Air were called on to fly prioritised items down which included “almost 2,500 face shields and 27 boxes of feminine products”. The donations are inspired by the donation that the Choctaw Nation sent to Ireland in 1847 at the height of The Great Famine and Jason said they are in the process of planning for another big appeal. The official COVID-19 Navajo Nation relief fund has raised over $1.3m while the efforts of the Clare native and the Irish community in Phoenix brought in over $37,000.

Members of the Arizona Guard.

As restrictions have eased in Arizona, the amount of confirmed COVID-19 cases have increased. “We were on lockdown for seven or eight weeks but in the last two weeks they started opening the bars and our numbers have increased because people aren’t taking precautions”.

So too has the “tense” atmosphere in the United States with protests from Black Lives Matter. He acknowledged that organisers are now attempting to conduct demonstrations in a peaceful manner following the concern expressed by business personnel after the initial series of protests. “Some businesses may never recover, there is that feeling that it is unnecessary and it could have been done peacefully instead of risking other people’s livelihoods and careers. The news broadcasts were talking to business owners, they said ‘COVID-19 has shut down our business and now we have lost our business because our items have been stolen,’ it was like a catch 22 situation”.

A long history between Irish Americans and the US Police Force has come into focus in Arizona. “Working with the Irish community here, it is a difficult situation for us too because of the Irish influence in the police force in the United States. We have an Emerald Society here that does wonderful work for charities and to put them in the same category as the police officer that was involved in George Floyd’s death, it is hard to say. A friend of mine from Sligo is graduating from the police academy from Arizona on June 12th and he doesn’t want to post pictures for fear of backlash, he has always wanted to be a police officer but it is a hard situation especially for us Irish, we have so many connections to the police force”.

Failings of US President Donald Trump on race issues are likely to cost him in November’s election, Ryan expects. “His ratings have gone done dramatically, there is a lot of stuff he has done wrong, he has done stuff right but the social part of being a President he has missed a step or two, he has reacted rather than listened to reason or thought. One of his tweets said ‘once the looting starts, the shooting starts,’ for a President that is supposed to be impartial to use that terminology in a tense situation is wrong. We have our primary elections, a lot of people on the Republican ticket that are losing seats because of what is happening, a lot more Democrats and females are getting voted in, I honestly don’t think he will get in the election whatever form that takes, there is too many people upset over his handing of COVID-19 and now Black Lives Matter. I think his time may be up, if he thinks what he could have done differently in five years time, I think he would have changed a lot of things”.

Páraic McMahon is Head of News & Sport with The Clare Echo. The Newmarket-on-Fergus native also writes for national papers including The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times along with doing work for RTÉ, Today FM, TheJournal.ie and The42.ie. A graduate of Mary Immaculate College, Páraic was previously employed by The Clare Herald and Clare FM. If you have a story, tip or some feedback for him then send an email to - paraic@clareecho.ie

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