Monthly Archives: December 2012

Social Media and a Politician’s Sucide

Many if not all major Irish media outlets have used politicians as fall guys for a social and economic crisis. They have systematically shielded powerful economic interests from political scrutiny. They have seen to it that the class war waged from above appears solely due to inept and self-seeking politicians.

How many times have you come across the suggestion, in Independent News and Media, or in the mouth of one of RTE’s right-wing hired talking heads, that politicians should be more like Michael O’Leary, or like some other captain of industry who never has to give two fucks about how many people’s lives he ruins, as long as he gets a fat payout at the end of it?

Shane McEntee was a member of a party and a government that is waging war on everyday people in Ireland. However, unlike some fatcat high up in the IFSC who never has to see the people behind the numbers, he had to come face-to-face with the human consequences of what he was doing, whenever he met constituents.

It isn’t that surprising that someone should find it difficult to cope, on the one hand, with the demands of party loyalty and the preservation of one’s standing and self-respect, and, on the other, the destructive effects of what you are doing to the people who make you what you are.

Especially when the Irish media have been singling you out as solely responsible for the social devastation.


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Gilmore For Taoiseach


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Propaganda may be pivotal to your health: A response to the Irish Times

A response I posted to the Irish Times leader of Friday 21st December entitled 'A pivotal year'.

Why does this leader column talk about ‘the public health system’? Presumably because there are two health systems in Ireland – the public health system, and the private health system.  
But are there really two systems? After all, many medical professionals –who have been trained by the public education system- work in both systems, and patients get treated in the same hospitals regardless of who is paying for the hands that treat them. What there is, however, is two kinds of patient: a public patient, and a private patient. And under the current system, one has a greater possibility of receiving adequate care than the other. 
Why does this leader column talk about ‘savings’? When you have a hospital full of sick people, and you cut resources available, what is being saved? The answer is the health of the financial sector, because the cuts –they are cuts, not savings- are being made in order for wealthy speculators, who have an interest in the privatisation of public health care, to get another payout. 
Why does this column sign off with the line about the “most vulnerable in society”? Let me tell you why: because “protecting the most vulnerable” is the standard alibi used by privateers and kleptocrats who want to dismantle and sell off public services. “The most vulnerable” are nothing but the excuse used by the powerful to deny universal rights and entitlements, and to dignify themselves with a charitable glow. 
If this newspaper were really interested in the protection of those most susceptible to illness and infirmity, it would point out that everyone has a right to health, and it would advocate a legal guarantee for equal access to health care. It would recognise that the health of the financial sector and the health of the population are mutually exclusive.  
But it isn’t interested in any such thing, and it isn’t interested in a universal public health system, only in preventing it. 

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‘Serious Inroads’ against truth

This is the text of a comment, with minor errors adjusted, that I left on an Independent column by Eamon Delaney published Wednesday 19 December. The title of Delaney’s piece was ‘Ragbag of cowards hiding behind Facebook’. My comment did not get published. I do not know why. On a general note, I think people need to be wise to anti-republicanism as a mechanism for social control, especially at moments when the government’s moral legitimacy is fast shrinking.

An opposition to Irish republicanism -or what is the same thing, the claim that the State as constituted is the true embodiment of Irish republicanism- is a device used to stifle dissent and place the ruling powers on the side of the angels. Witness Dáil responses by Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore to Sinn Féin questioning in recent days: never mind political accountability, what about the crimes of republicans?

Does Eamon Delaney have any evidence to show that the people protesting the Queen’s visit are the same people who allegedly plotted to kill this soldier? Or is anyone guilty by association simply because they fall under the semi-official category of ‘dissident republican’?

Tuesday’s Irish Independent speaks of a ‘new terrorist alliance, comprised [sic] of members of Alan Ryan’s former faction, the Real IRA group in Derry, the Republican Action Against Drugs group in Derry, and non-aligned activists from east Tyrone and Belfast’. Is there any evidence to show that the people protesting the Queen’s visit are part of this ‘alliance’? (Is there any evidence beyond security forces briefings that such an alliance exists?)

Eamon Delaney says that ‘serious inroads’ have been made, and, to demonstrate this, cites the fact that 15 people have been arrested. What he does not say is that those 15 people were released without charge, as per the report by Barry Duggan and Tom Brady in the Independent on Tuesday. How can one make ‘serious inroads’ and yet arrest a load of people then release them without charge? Something here is not serious, be it the inroads, the arrests, or the journalism.

The writer then uses this Garda-narrated series of events to concoct a tale that ‘almost the entirety of Irish people’ have a benign view of joining the British Army. Well, do they? Why are young Irish people ‘flocking’ to the British Army, as he claims? How many constitute a ‘flock’. Five? Ten? Half a million?

If more young Irish people are joining the British Army now, it will be not least because the prospects of other kinds of work in Ireland are dim, so the appeal of becoming a trained killer starts to make sense on economic grounds. And it stands to reason that the press owned by people who stand to profit from the immiseration of Irish people will commission work that cheers on the conversion of young Irish people into cannon fodder, and conjures up spectral terroristic enemies.

The fact that such work has to ground itself in half-assed droolings about ‘the potential perils of social media’ only demonstrates how intellectually bankrupt the whole enterprise is: do you think people wrote articles about Northern Ireland in the 1970s citing ‘the potential perils of the telephone’, despite the widespread use of telephones in bombing campaigns? As for the notion that these people are ‘hiding behind Facebook’, this article proves nothing about ‘hiding’, but it does show that the Gardaí monitor Facebook.

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“The left has disappeared” – Manuel Castells interview.

Image via.

This is a translation of an interview with Manuel Castells, published in El País and conducted by Francesc Arroyo. The interview is to coincide with the publication of his new book, Redes de indignación y esperanza (Networks of outrage and hope).  

Give your assessment of the indignados movement.

It depends on the country. In Iceland the banks got nationalised, the two parties that had governed since 1927 were thrown out, a new government was created with participative democracy, a new Constitution was drawn up, debated on the internet with thousands of citizens taking part. It was a revolution, a peaceful one, but a revolution. In certain Arab countries dictatorships came to an end. Islamism may not be to everyone’s liking, but it is something different. Dictatorships that had gone unchanged for decades came to an end in weeks. In Tunisia. In Egypt. In other instances, forewarned rulers turned revolts into civil war. In the United States the distinction between rich and poor was alien to American culture and it is now a live issue and had a knock on effect on the (presidential) campaign, in favour of Obama.

In Spain?

Spain is the country in Europe where the political system has shown the least sensitivity to protest, with the two largest parties agreeing to ignore it. The most dramatic case has been with mortgages. The suicides [there have been numerous instances of suicides in recent months in Spain by people who were going to be evicted from their homes] have set off an alarm in society, but this has been getting highlighted for more than a year. Public opinion has registered the criticisms from the 15-M. Surveys show 70% support, but they also record that hardly anyone believes there is a capacity for change. People’s consciousness has changed, but the political system remains watertight. And this can degenerate into confrontation and violence.

Violence that the movement rejects outright.

Yes, but there is a brew getting fermented by police provocations (this happens in Spain) and young people’s rage. With a mobilised, outraged society, without any credible response from institutions, it is difficult to avoid violence. I hope there is none, and many people in the 15-M hope so too. But we are talking about a movement, not about a party, or a hermetic organisation that can control people’s rage.

You point out that part of the mistrust with regard to (political) parties is due to the fact that they are subservient to financial capitalism. But you note that there is no rejection of capitalism.

Within the movement there is a tendency that is anticapitalist, but this is not true of the whole movement. What is being rejected is the financial system as it currently operates. And also the subservience of institutions and parties to this state of affairs. The movement arises from economic and social malaise, but above all it is a political movement that demands real democracy. It denounces the lack of an alternative. Unless one enters the political system, but for that you have the Spanish electoral law that blocks the entry of large minorities. The movement has made numerous reasonable proposals for the democratisation of the electoral system because society has changed, but the political system does not change. And it is essential for the connection to be re-established.

At one point in the book you draw together some of these proposals. Of the 12 you identify, 8 are negative.

The movement is, above all, a movement of critique, of rejection. Beyond that debate has to be opened up. And it has been opened up both in the form of assemblies as well as internet networks, in the hope that from this debate there emerges formulas for the future that might be adopted by the citizenry. There are positive proposals: the reform of the electoral law, changes to the mortgage system, mechanisms for controlling the banking sector. What does not exist is a programme, as this would make it a party, which it is not. But this movement has generated more debate and created more political consciousness than parties during the last 20 years. And all changes start off in people’s mentality. Later on it translates into votes. The problem is that there are no political proposals to reflect this new sensibility.

Such that, whenever there are elections, the formations that win are those that stand for the opposite.

The left has disappeared. Today, in political terms, we are in a constituent period. The conservative political parties are not disappearing, but the left is in crisis, despite the fact that there is a centre-left space that does not get filled because the electoral law serves as a blocking mechanism. In any case, alternatives are coming to the fore.

For the long term.

The Spanish movement has a slogan “we are going slow because we are going far.” That is, this is a very self-reflexive movement that has a historical perspective and has begun to ask what kind of political effect ought to occur.  What it cannot do is become a party, that would cause it to lose its mobilising legitimacy, but pacts between new organisational forms and currents of the movement can be expected. The political system has to be flexible. In Italy, for example, it is; in Spain, it is not. Spanish parties feel harassed, they believe that if they open up they will disappear. And they are correct, especially the left. And that is dramatic.

The movement communicates through computer networks, just as workers previously organised when meeting in the factory.

All social movements are born out of communication. The isolated individual with his anger has no strength. He can commit suicide. Suicides are what precede Islamic revolutions. People move from humiliation to self-destruction. Luckily there is a space for communication, the internet, in which many young people live. People organise themselves where they live. Workers communicated with each other in the factories, young people today do it on the internet, but it is vital that they then occupy public space. By occupying public space, people realise that they exist and can impose their right to the city over and above                the rules of traffic. What produces historical changes is the combination of a space for communication, a space for meeting, and a space for a political event (incidencia). These are old freedoms (of assembly, of expression), translated to the digital era. Movements are born on the web and they are organised in urban space. And since the occupation of urban space cannot go on forever (the police sometimes takes care of that) they withdraw to the web again, but they don’t disappear.

A communication that power combats with coercion and manipulation.

The perfect domination is the one that cannot be felt. It can be out of adherence to dominant values or resignation and hence processes of persuasion are fundamental. When these fail, there is a resort to coercion, but the best systems of control do not require the use of the police.

You highlight the role of emotions, of the fear that paralyses or the hope that stimulates.

The first emotion to appear is outrage. Fear grips people. Fear of losing the little they have left. Fear and resignation paralyse people. This blows apart when one can take no more. In that moment fear is overcome. Hope arrives when you overcome fear and you find, on networks, in the street, many people who are like you. It begins on speaking with another person, on feeling with another person. On perceiving that we do not have power but we are together and we have right on our side. That is the step from fear to hope. The effects do not occur in the short term, but even so, people feel better out protesting than staying at home.

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Espirit de Corpulence: You Will Respect My Authoritah

Word is emerging that Eamon Gilmore plans to remove party membership from 5 TDs and a Senator, thereby assisting with their public rehabilitation, and ensuring that he can speak without fear of contradiction.

When Eamon Gilmore talks about 'a war cabinet' running economic policy, he means it. He is saying, democracy is suspended, it is down to a few good men to hold the line against the enemy.

But the enemy is not wealthy bondholders or vulture capitalists or the IMF or the European Commission or the European Central Bank: they are partners. Frankfurt's way is Labour's way. Did anyone ever say it was otherwise? The enemy is anyone who opposes the economic policies of the government, and the targets for destruction are the people who distort the labour market by having basic human needs to be satisfied.

Like Gilmore, Pat Rabbitte is casting himself as a warrior on the field of battle, demanding loyalty and obedience to the markets. But isn't that what you're supposed to do when you get elected?

Rabbitte and Gilmore's war -in which they are unlikely to sustain any flesh wounds- is being waged against the working class, in Ireland and beyond, and their special task is to source enough sheep's clothing to cloak the insatiable wolves.

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Ten Minutes of The Frontline: A Review

I was watching the Frontline presented by millionaire host Pat Kenny the other night but turned off after ten minutes or so. The words that came to mind were ‘controlled explosion’: the way the British Army in Northern Ireland seal off an area and detonate a device in order to ensure that damage is kept to a minimum, but also, outwardly via news reporting, to convey a sense of mastery, of being in control of the situation.

On the Frontline, the “lot of anger out there” habitually spoken about on news media in what the presenter called “the age of austerity” (it’s an age: there is no political solution to an age) is given a hearing, but always shown, in the final instance, as neatly under control, and subject to the interpretation of designated experts.

“Out there”: anonymous scenes of disaffection, chaos and torture, to quote Mark Eitzel, and “in here”: the unfolding of rational deliberation in an orderly fashion.

The other night its panel comprised the legal correspondent from Denis O’Brien’s Independent News and Media, the economics correspondent from the Irish Times, an established maverick journalist whose opinions are more confused than unorthodox, and an academic who was a prominent public advocate in favour of successive European treaties. 

There was a man on at the beginning who expressed concern that those negotiating arrangements with other parties in Europe for the repayment of the debts acquired by the Irish State did not have the necessary ‘balls’ to do so.

He said that Ireland’s politicians were public sector workers in the main, with no business experience. Instead of the current crop, ‘we’ should be sending the likes of Dermot Desmond, JP McManus and Michael O’Leary to negotiate on ‘our’ behalf. Rather than questioning the assertion that such figures –of impeccable plutocratic and privatising pedigree- would be best placed to perform such a task, the millionaire host suggested that politicians in other member states were drawn from a similar “gene pool”. Perhaps they have now located the gene that causes the public sector.

The rest of what I saw didn’t continue in that particularly bulging vein. Indeed, the aforementioned maverick journalist –Eamon Dunphy, whom I have heard express similar approval of the suitability of Michael O’Leary as a national negotiator- claimed that Ireland was not a democracy. He supported this contention by reference to a leader article published yesterday in the Irish Times that thanked a bond trader for buying up Ireland’s sovereign debt, and claimed that the control exercised by such actors illustrated the absence of democracy in Ireland (say! perhaps he had read the comment I left).

I don’t recall Dunphy’s claim being disputed, at least not in the bit I saw, but the standard modus operandi when such claims are made is to pretend they didn’t happen. There were other dissenting opinions from the audience, the same way there have been for the last few years, but the overall effect of the spectacle is a sensation of the fruitlessness of politics –the politics of elected representatives, the politics of “in here”- and a simultaneous, continuous reminder that this kind of thing -in “the age of austerity”- is the only game in town.

More specifically, the way we are enjoined to think about politics, watching these shows, is in terms of what is possible –for others- within the boundaries already imposed by the facts of massive indebtedness, expropriations in the form of regressive taxation and user fees, and the deadening routine of electoral campaigns. It should also be pointed out that such boundaries are accepted as politically legitimate limits by the main political parties and the trade unions.

But even the realm of what is possible is defined within a strictly national frame: “we” must send “our people” “across to Europe” in order to hammer out “a deal”. The possibilities of agitation and mobilisation at a local level are deemed pointless and even counter-productive, lest the likes of Michael Hasenstab take a dim view of them. What is more, at the same time, it’s expected that Ireland should pull some kind of stunt at the negotiating table without there being any change –wrought from below- in the balance of forces in Irish society.

The prospects of any kind of favourable resolution on these terms for the majority of people in Ireland, as Andy Storey details here, can be summed up as: not bloody likely:

‘the current government is perfectly happy to go along with protecting and promoting those who helped wreck our economy.  And one reason for that is that the intimate links that bind together bankers, politicians and senior civil servants were not, and are not, confined to one political party’

Though presented as a starting point for a way out, the Frontline, with its discourse of resignation and despair, is a lubricant for expropriation. It is not so much public broadcasting as anti-public broadcasting. And I wouldn’t mind only the State will put you in jail if you want to watch TV but don’t want to pay to support it, even as it allows a billionaire tax fugitive like Denis O’Brien to operate his own media empire to cheer on the expropriation.


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Eamon Gilmore: Liar


The Irish Times reports that Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald accused Eamon Gilmore of making liars out of the Labour Party, a remark she was asked to withdraw by the Leas Cheann Comhairle. According to the report, Gilmore ‘said Sinn Féin had a brass neck to complain about basic rates of social welfare given that the rate in the North, where the party is in government, is €87 a week’. But this is a lie. Gilmore is a liar.

The lie is not that basic rates of social welfare are €87 a week, though you may wish to check this all the same. It is the way Gilmore creates an entirely spurious account of politics in the North of Ireland and in the United Kingdom, and Sinn Féin’s participation in that politics, in order to save his own bacon. He is lying his ass off.

Why is he lying his ass off? Well, first of all, who sets basic rates of social welfare in the North? It is not Sinn Féin. National Insurance is an excepted matter, under the control of Westminster. Gilmore’s criticism is as coherent as criticising the Socialist Party for criticising social welfare rates in the Republic of Ireland because they are a political party with elected representatives in the Republic of Ireland. But he knows this. Gilmore’s lie is a means to an end, not the communication of a conviction.

Like the vast majority of establishment politicians in the Republic of Ireland, Eamon Gilmore could not care less about what happens to people in Northern Ireland, beyond how it serves him. The reason he mentions people in Northern Ireland here is to demonise Sinn Féin, and to associate that party with a violent time and place.

There is a cultivated ignorance about Northern Ireland in the South. Most people are unaware that school books are free, that GP visits are free, or that most people do not deem private health insurance necessary. It is certainly not as if the Labour Party has ever sought to make them aware of these facts. It is not as if any of them are going to say “Sinn Féin has a nerve complaining about medical cards here when they are in government in a country where everyone gets free GP treatment.” 

It suits accomplished establishment liars such as Gilmore to preserve the North as a salutary example of what happens whenever political conflict heightens -bombs, mutilations, assassinations and riots- and what would happen if people were to start taking traditions of socialist republicanism seriously. Certainly, conjuring the phantasmagorical memories of Northern fear and destruction is preferable to being held politically accountable. That’s why Gilmore’s colleague Enda Kenny decided to raise Jean McConville’s name in the Dáil the other day rather than come up with a convincing reason for attacking the poor at the behest of the wealthy.

Well, sometime soon, I’m hoping the chasm between rhetoric and reality, between democratic pretensions and technocratic violence will become so immense -maybe it already has- that Eamon Gilmore’s accomplished lying won’t work as a temporary sticking plaster anymore. And that will be a good day.

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A Note on ‘Hearts And Minds’

Contrary to the claim made by former Peace Process negotiator Liz O’Donnell in Denis O’Brien’s Irish Independent, the removal of the Union Jack does not run contrary to the essential deal in the agreement that the North remains part of the UK.

There is nothing in the United Kingdom that enjoins the continuous flying of flags from public buildings in the way as had been done outside Belfast City Hall. Most municipal buildings in the UK do not fly the flag in such a way. The intention behind the flying of the flag is to illustrate unionist hegemony in Belfast and in Northern Ireland. You do not have to belong to a particular ‘tribe’ –the word used by O’Donnell- to find this a grossly inappropriate use of public buildings, anywhere.

Liz O’Donnell’s characterisation of Northern Ireland society in terms of ‘tribes’ and ‘hearts and minds’, whilst commonplace, is indicative of a neo-colonial, racialising perspective that derives from military domination: what ‘tribe’ does she belong to?

It is one thing to criticise the removal of the flag as ill-timed or irresponsible on the grounds that it might inflame people who are deprived and confused. It is quite another to criticise its removal on the grounds that it might lead to powerful and influential political actors embarking on a calculated attempt to bring people onto the streets.

These political actors did so in order to a) distract from the fact that the policies they stand for and implement are harmful for working class people who live in so-called ‘loyalist areas’; b) distract from the fact that unionism as a political ideology grounded in sheer force of numbers –which is all it has ever been- is long past its expiry date. c) obscure the fact that the people they do represent are financiers, property developers and military and security investors, in short, those who stand to benefit from the continued imposition of neo-liberal social and economic policies on Northern Ireland –and by extension, in the Republic of Ireland too- and in the final analysis it has very little to do with religion or nationality.

There are real material conflicts operating here, not just superficial narcissistic differences. And they are apparent in the tensions between loyalist protestors and unionist grandees, among other places. But the language of the ‘tribe’ and ‘hearts and minds’ serves to gloss over those conflicts and present people as honest brokers when in reality they have a parti pris like anyone else.

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A Note On Enda Kenny

Are Enda Kenny’s incoherent slobberings down to his inadequacy as a
political leader, or his talent? That depends where you are standing.
From the point of view of German magazine editors and vulture
capitalists, his drooling senselessness is precisely what is needed as
the cement in a new Europe shorn of its welfare state provision. It’s
a key ingredient in a spectacle that appals yet enthrals
simultaneously, fixing the location of decisive political power in the
figure of the impotent local robo-politician, not the array of
unelected and unaccountable bodies acting in the interests of
financial corporations.

From the point of view of local liberals, his burblings are a source
of shame but timely confirmation that what is needed is ‘political
reform’: how could the electoral system spew forth such a specimen?
Clearly it would be better to have some private sector manager drafted
in to sort things out.

From the point of view of people on the Irish left, Kenny’s verbal
abortions ought to feel like a taunt: that they have been unable to
come up with a radical democratic discourse that captures people’s
imagination, preferring instead to remain within the confines of a
robo-speak of their own.

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