Monthly Archives: March 2013

Technocracy and Potatoes for Sale in Meath East


Yesterday I was talking to a Meath East resident. She was working in a shop and there was a TV on in the background. It was showing a programme on handy hints around the home. A woman was explaining how you could clean and freshen up the inside of your microwave by putting a bowl of water and lemon juice inside and turning it on.

Both of us looked up at the screen. She said to me, where in under God would you get the time to act on any of these tips? I’ve a hard enough time as it is preventing the house from falling apart. I replied that it was the same story with cookery programmes. When would you ever get a big enough and empty enough kitchen to cook any of the recipes? And how come they always seem to show the programmes after you’ve had your evening meal? Are they trying to make you feel miserable about what you’ve just eaten?

Then conversation turned to the matter of buying things on line. Sure you would need to pay someone to do it for you, we agreed.

We were chatting for a good five minutes, and conversation did not turn to the by-election. I doubt very much she was planning on voting on it. In fact, I doubt very much that she had any time to even think about it.

I took a run through Stamullen this morning. The first poster I happened across was one of the Labour candidate. It was lying on the ground at the side of the road in front of another sign that read Potatoes for Sale.

There were election posters all along the route. Fianna Fáil candidate Thomas Byrne looked as though he had eaten Mary O’Rourke. The Sinn Féin candidate Darren O’Rourke looked like a consultant from McKinsey. The Fine Gael candidate and apparent winner, Helen McEntee, was standing in front of a blue sky background. I imagine some political correspondent will suggest this was one of the factors in her win. There were a couple of Ben Gilroy posters. When you get up close to them you see his hair is slicked back, giving him the air of a sly, prematurely ageing otter or stoat. His was the only poster that contained text other than the names of the party and candidate. He stood for giving ‘Power to You’. The rest were standing for how well their heads matched the typeface and colours of their party posters.

All of them bar Gilroy had a technocratic sheen to their posters. It was obvious that they wanted to project an air of managerial competence. Expertise. Power. No slogans and no buzzwords, but also: no politics.

I have no idea where Gilroy was getting his money from. But it seems to me that for someone without a great deal of time on their hands to talk or read or think about politics, and there are many such people  in Meath commuter towns, just the name of the party had a certain appeal (though let’s not get carried away about 1600 odd votes). ‘Direct’ as in straight, no messing around: not as in direct democratic assemblies (standing for direct democracy in an election is like having sex for chastity). ‘Democracy’ because it is plain to see that a country under the control of unelected institutions is not democratic, despite the claims it makes for itself, and because elected politicians made all sorts of promises about banks and suchlike that they have not fulfilled. ‘Ireland’ because, well, because of many things, but not least because of the right-wing nationalism espoused by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Labour in recent years: the implementation of austerity policies, internal devaluation, and campaigning for constitutionalised neo-liberalism under the Fiscal Treaty, all in the ‘national interest’ (which, by the way, is never taken by anyone to mean ‘in the interest of immigrants’).

There is also the fact that Gilroy has created a certain public presence for himself by turning up at evictions and appearing to bore the authorities into submission. The system is rigged, and someone who appears prepared to throw a spanner in the works will always get a certain amount of respect, however unorthodox their methods.

Yes, Direct Democracy Ireland is a shady right-wing outfit with a syncretic political approach that could be the start of something nasty. Or it could merely prove a monumental pain in the hole, as anyone familiar with Freemen types might have experienced. But it’s also a symptom of how the established political parties -the Troika Party – have ceased to stand for anything, apart from neoliberal economic and social policy, right-wing nationalism, managerialism, and enabling robbery.  The humiliation of the Labour Party in this context is richly deserved.

The poor showing for Seamus McDonagh, the Workers Party candidate, whose platform was by far the most politically coherent, advocating debt repudiation and abortion rights, serves to illustrate the severe difficulties left wing parties will have in making any further inroads toward electoral power, absent any kind of widespread social rebellion with democracy (against capitalism) at its primary concern. In fact, for the lefts to get enthralled by elections, by the matter of what a vote for such and such a candidate means, by where the trends are leading, by what kind of electoral appeal would be most effective, is to run the risk of ignoring the fact that vast swathes of Irish society are deprived of any chance of democratic participation, any kind of experience of democracy in action at all.

In his famous essay from 1949, Why Socialism? Albert Einstein wrote that ‘under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights’.

Living somewhere like Meath East, there is a pretty good chance you won’t have a much time to sift those information sources critically, or to take part in political activity of any sort, especially if you live in a household where commuting to Dublin is part of daily existence. There is a word for this sort of thing: expropriation.

That is why I am wary of the idea that the massive non-turnout, of nearly 65%, is necessarily an indicator of anything potentially positive. It does indicate a glaring lack of democratic legitimacy for the establishment political parties.

But the Troika Party doesn’t care: they’ll bank the win, thank you very much. The media doesn’t care: they’ll proceed with the parliamentary spectacle and their weekly polls for as long as they are required to, and will ignore the deep discredit of political institutions that a 65% non-turnout indicates. Nor does the Troika care, nor do the markets.

So, where do we go from here?


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RTÉ Star Salaries: A Comment


I left an abridged version of this comment on Laura Slattery’s article in the Irish Times, headed ‘Star salaries at RTÉ were financially unsustainable and offensive to many’. I had to dump the first paragraph to meet character limits.

I’m quite surprised –though I rarely expect anything- at the degree of revulsion I have seen with regard to the latest details of the salaries of RTE’s ‘star’ presenters. Don’t get me wrong: for me, paying a TV licence to watch and listen to some of these figures is like paying for the privilege of sniffing urinals.  In contrast to the gushing praise for Pat Kenny I listened to on RTE’s Late Debate last night, I find his programme unlistenable on account of his fundamentalist defence, day in, day out, of the values of conventional wisdom, right-wing economic orthodoxy and cultural mediocrity. When I listen to Marian Finucane my ears glaze over out of self-preservation. But what do people actually want from public broadcasting? Will there ever be meaningful consultations on the matter, beyond someone like Pat Rabbitte looking into his heart?

I’ve heard people pointing out the incongruity and hypocrisy of certain figures chairing discussions about cuts to public sector pay when they themselves are getting paid big bucks by the public. Fine. So should we get someone on average public sector pay to chair discussions about cuts to public sector pay instead?

The point about these figures is not that they are highly-paid public sector employees at a time when the public sector is being pared back. The point is that they are highly-paid public employees who are players in an ideological war against the very idea of public and universal services, in a context where welfare states are being pared back across Europe and so much of what is public is being privatised. The danger is that this will get glossed over in order to legitimise another assault on public services in general.

Consider this. Some of these figures are not employees, but contractors for companies paid by RTE. They are the principal if not the sole figure in these companies.

Now, bearing that in mind, ask yourself this: is it really so surprising that there should be so much exaltation of the figure of the entrepreneur on RTE? That is, the rugged, solitary individual who cares not a fig for social institutions that give him education and health and shelter (that’s socialism, dammit) and whose success is the product of equal parts monumental graft and uncommon genius. Is it really surprising that the entrepreneur and his concerns (it’s normally a he) should figure so heavily in the programmes these figures present? And following from this, is it really so surprising that there is so little discussion, in public current affairs programming, of labour issues, matters of exploitation, rights and entitlements, at the very moment when wages and conditions of people at work are under attack, and people out of work are being subjected to ever more intrusive and arbitrary disciplinary measures and attacks on their dignity?

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Who is to blame? A response to John Bruton


This is a comment I posted on an article by the chairman of the IFSC lobby group (not mentioned in the bio – an oversight surely) and former Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton, on the Irish Times website today, titled Don’t blame Germany for Europe’s woes.

Perhaps we could go one further and point out that there is no such thing as ‘Germany’ to blame. Rather, we should be looking at structures of power in the European Union at the present time, and asking ourselves, under present circumstances, who wins? Who loses?  

 No doubt it’s true that many workers in Germany do not feel wealthy. No-one who has to work for a living under a regime of minijobs is going to feel wealthy. And such people do not have any control over the Bundesbank or hence ECB monetary policy. Hence there is no point blaming them for the predicament of countries on the periphery.  

 The same, however, cannot be said of the owners of the German press, which uses racist caricature to represent the populations of periphery countries, portraying them as workshy parasites who live off the taxes of German workers. Nor can it be said of the directors and major shareholders in German banks such as Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank. Peter Böfinger, an economic advisor to the German government told Der Spiegel in 2011 that “[The bailouts] are first and foremost not about the problem countries but about our own banks, which hold high amounts of credit there.” 

 Thus the entire premise of this article: that ‘Germany’ is solving Europe’s financial problems but cannot go it alone, is preposterous. It is Europe (which is to say, the populations of Ireland, Greece, Spain, and Portugal) that is solving Germany’s (which is to say, German banks) problems, and they are paying for it in massive austerity.  

 (In passing, I should point out that the practice of placing “austerity” in scare quotes is usually to address the fact that it really means a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in order to save the financial sector. This is also why John Bruton does it here, but for entirely different reasons.) 

 So yes, indeed we should park the notion that ‘Germany’ is to blame, since the people who are really to blame in Germany are those in its media, political and financial establishments. But it is not just they who are to blame. It is also those who seek to perpetuate the idea that the working populations of Europe are the people who ought to pay -with their health, education and living standards- to clean up the vomit after the European financial sector has had its party.

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Image: El Roto

I would love us to have somebody like that, and yeah, it may be a divisive figure, but somebody who actually can grab this country by the scruff of the neck and say “this is where we’re going” – John Reynolds, Marian Finucane Show, Saturday 23rd March. 

What follows is a partial transcript of an interview conducted by Marian Finucane on Saturday 23rd of March with John Reynolds. John Reynolds is a concert promoter and nephew of former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds. In the interview, he discusses his views on business, politics, Margaret Thatcher, and David McWilliams. The interview went on to discuss an upcoming promotion of his, a concert by Ennio Morricone. The upcoming Ennio Morricone concert was also discussed on the John Murray Show on Monday 25th March. John Murray is a former media adviser to the Progressive Democrats and former Deputy Government Press Secretary and Head of the Government Information Services.

According to a recent report in the Irish Times, ‘accumulated profits at [Finucane’s Montrose Services Ltd] increased by €206,641 from €584,272 to €790,913 in the 12 months to the end of October 31st last.’

You may also be interested in this transcript of an interview concerning Brian O’Driscoll, Hugo Chávez and Rory McIlroy.

MARIAN FINUCANE: You seem to be very philosophical about losing money, apart altogether from making money.

JOHN REYNOLDS: I’m not philosophical at all and in fact I’m just..I’m absolutely not philosophical about it, trust me I have more regrets in relation to things like that than anybody. But I am also aware that there are times where people think that you are.. everything is flying and everything is lucrative and everything know, at the end of the day you take a risk, you take an initiative and you bear the positives and negatives of it. But I’m certainly not philosophical about it, and I actually get, you know, like, after the first Electric Picnic, you know, trust me, it was, em, you know, I was very down for about six months. I take things very personally, and, eh, but, I also believe that you need to, you know, dust yourself down and get on with things rather than kind of wallowing in, in stuff the end of the day, you know, the most lucrative, or, you know, the safest vestibule..or, the safest business venture is the one that doesn’t take place at all. You know? So, I’m certainly not philosophical but I’m..em, you know..I’ve made mistakes, eh, probably made more than many, but I’m also very determined to rectify them and, and, eh, get back on top again.

MARIAN FINUCANE: We hear about people going from rags to riches. Have you gone from riches to rags? Mind you you don’t look raggedy it has to be said.

JOHN REYNOLDS: (Laughs) Thank you for that Marian. Em, no, I haven’t, I haven’t. I wouldn’t say I, like, I’ve still quite a few businesses and still working very hard but I think everybody in, you know, in this tsunami that hit this country and the world economy, em, got badly hit, em, and, you know, I, like everybody else was very much in expansionist mode, em, I was, you know, I tend to work very hard, and, and, eh, you know, most people thought that was never going to end. I, I, you know, I certainly was, I felt was more careful than many but I did, you know, I was ambitious, ahm.. and, eh, you know, once I got one thing up and it was working I wanted to do another thing whereas there’s other people that would say once you’d one thing up and working just mind, you know


JOHN REYNOLDS: Mind the pearl.


JOHN REYNOLDS: Yeah. But..there are certain people who are good at that. I’m kind of impatient, and, eh, I like doing things. So..

MARIAN FINUCANE: Yeah, I gathered you were toying with the notion of politics.

JOHN REYNOLDS: (Laughs) I don’t know if you would call it toying but, em, just going back to the kind of, the festivals and scenarios, that, em, one of the things that I have always kind of, been fascinated by is the, the concept of a tribe.


JOHN REYNOLDS: And the Irish people are tribes. Em, and festivals are very much about a tribe. Em, and you know, I’m a big football fan and that’s all about tribes. I kind of, one of the things I really kind of became kind of disenchanted about was just the whole Irish political system. And I’m actually not political, even though my, my uncle was, was, was Taoiseach. I’m actually not at all. I, em, canvassed for him, you know, and my dad did, my brother did and everybody did, but I wouldn’t call our side of the family political at all. We were brought up Fianna Fáil because my dad was Fianna Fáil and..and that, and em, but..but more and more I kind of felt, you know, at the end of the day, we need a kind of, em, a voice, and people were getting more and more frustrated and I was really seeing it at festivals and at gigs, and like, people were talking to me, friends of mine, em, you know, were kind of talking about it as well., so yeah, there was a group of people and I met on a number of occasions, quite seriously actually, for about six or eight months. About not really to start a political party but just to kind of talk things through and just decide really where, you know, where we felt about it, and it certainly wasn’t in any egotistical way, it was just actually born out of frustration, it was born out of, em, the last general election I didn’t vote, right? Because I actually, I just..I just didn’t, I was like, you know, I don’t know the difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. To me. I actually don’t. Now they’re both the same. And..and..I just think politics, like I just think politics, I think Ireland kind of needs heroes. We have heroes in many areas but we have none in politics. In my -and this is just a personal opinion- like in sporting, you know, like, you know, Brian O’Driscoll. And, you know, Katie Taylor. They’re heroes. And, you know, they actually bring people along and they inspire people, and they inspire people know. In business, you know, Michael O’Leary, Dermot Desmond, Denis O’Brien: they’re heroes, they’re like, you know, they’re playing on a world stage. Em, and I just don’t see that kind of, like, you know, I don’t understand and I’m sure there’s a logical reason why you wouldn’t bring someone like Michael O’Leary and Dermot Desmond in to negotiate with Angela Merkel. I’d say she’d be terrified. Like, you know, I actually don’t understand that. If these guys work on a world stage, you know, why don’t we use their talent, you know. Like, I read in the paper that Michael O’Leary bought 200 aircraft from Boeing for 16 billion. Like, he negotiated that deal, so send him over to Frankfurt, to Germany. I..I just think it, like, that’s just my.. you know?


JOHN REYNOLDS: I just think it needs kind of broader thinking than the obvious kind of, let’s just, you know go the normal route. And that’s just my opinion, like I could be totally wrong, I probably am, but it’s just an opinion.

MARIAN FINUCANE: You had an encounter, well not an encounter. You were working at one stage in Blackpool, when the Conservatives were having, em, their annual get-together. And you were struck by Margaret Thatcher.

JOHN REYNOLDS: Yeah I was. I actually em, I worked for a company called First Leisure in the UK after college and they owned the Winter Gardens which is kind of like the RDS in Dublin if you want to call it, and the Conservative Party conference is on and I was given the job after much vetting by the police over there, em, the job of actually running all the side rooms that she was specifically dealing with.


JOHN REYNOLDS: And eh, it was an extraordinary experience for like a 21 year old. But what I really saw, and you know, everybody has their own opinion of Margaret Thatcher and

MARIAN FINUCANE: Yeah and she wouldn’t be held…she wouldn’t be the most popular figure here shall we say?

JOHN REYNOLDS: No, absolutely not, and you know, I probably am swimming against the tide on this one but I saw her, right? And I actually saw..I saw the Iron Lady that everybody has seen. Em, and I, you know, I met her, like when I say I shook hands with her on one occasion. That, that was it. But..

MARIAN FINUCANE: But you were observing.

JOHN REYNOLDS: I..absolutely. And what I actually saw was, I saw all the elements of her over the five days. I saw her walking into a room full of pinstriped tough, you know, conservative Michael Heseltine types, and all of them swooning. I saw it. I actually saw it. It was.. it was an extraordinary thing to see. I saw her late at night with her husband where she was the wife. You know, Denis’s wife. I saw her with her kid. With her daughter. And she was the mo-..I actually saw it. It was so interesting to actually see. And yet, you know. And I was there, like, whatever time I left at she was still there, whatever time I arrived at it was, she was..

MARIAN FINUCANE: Already there?

JOHN REYNOLDS: Already there. And, like, and some of the speeches that are not broadcast, like some of the, you know, the small meetings, it was extraordinary to see. Like, absolutely an extraordinary thing to see. But I actually saw the whole gambit of her.


JOHN REYNOLDS: Yeah absolutely. And and, you know, OK she .. You may criticise her, you know, about Northern Ireland and everything else, but when you look back at, you know, the Falklands War and you look at the Miners’ Strike and you look at all these things


JOHN REYNOLDS: And it was probably at a time as well where, you know, it wasn’t kind of, let’s say, fashionable for woman, women, to have that kind of power. Right? I saw it. It was, it was a very.. It certainly struck me and has always struck me and I would always say that, you know, that she would be one of the heroes.


JOHN REYNOLDS: Because I just think she grabbed Britain by the scruff of the neck, whether you liked it or not, and took it in a direction, again, you may not like it or you may not but she took it there..she had, you know, purpose, she had determination, she wanted it, em, and everyone followed her. I look at Ireland and I think.. I would love us to have somebody like that, and yeah, it may be a divisive figure, but somebody who actually can grab this country by the scruff of the neck and say “this is where we’re going”.


JOHN REYNOLDS: So yeah, I was, I was massively impressed. Just from observation.

MARIAN FINUCANE: Well you did have these meetings over the eight months and, I mean, the public was aware that there was the possibility of a new party. Did that just fizzle out?

JOHN REYNOLDS: Probably primarily I suppose because of the onset of the, em, of the recession, and the people, well, some of the people who were there, including me, kind of felt we needed to concentrate on our business. We had enough on our plates, we were spinning enough


JOHN REYNOLDS: Kind of, were juggling enough things, em, and, it didn’t kind of materialise. Ehm, and, probably primarily for that reason. I’m not saying if the tsunami of the recession hadn’t hit..we were just talking through things. And it certainly wasn’t a..but it was, it was very interesting. I…there was some very bright people that were very interested in actually partaking in it.

MARIAN FINUCANE: Is this the group that involved David McWilliams? Because he was talking to us about it as well.

JOHN REYNOLDS: Yeah well David and I, I would regard David as a friend


JOHN REYNOLDS: And eh, he certainly is someone, I remember I met David, em, in the expresso bar on Mary’s Road one day before the bank guarantee. And we were just having a coffee. And he just took out a piece of paper and he said, you know, his idea, and again, it just seemed like a brilliant idea to me….




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The Three Point Plan


Who the fuck do these people think they are?

I am tired of running through the forever incomplete and abridged litany of things they have done, and things they plan on doing, but let’s have a quick and incomplete recap: they funnelled billions of euro in public money to wealthy bondholders. They introduced a regressive home tax to pay for it, and they have cut spending in education, in health, in welfare services, in order to pay for it. They have slashed wages in the public sector in order to drive wages down further across the board. They have introduced legislation to provide tax breaks for international financiers to send their children to private schools whilst cutting special needs budgets. They have threatened to cut off water to people’s homes as a disciplinary measure. They have cut a million hours in home help. They have staged sham constituent assemblies behind closed doors as a pathetic fig leaf for their anti-democratic programme. They have set about the de facto abolition of paid labour through the JobBridge programme.

Among many, many other things.

Now it turns out that James Reilly –who had a big fuck-off sign at the end of my road in advance of the last election that read “Vote James Reilly because the North County needs a Minister in the Dáil”, or words very similar to that, thus admitting in public that he was prepared to abuse his position in the special interests of people who would vote for him- has declared he does not think a mental health organisation for young people should be publishing articles about threesomes because he doesn’t think it “an appropriate use of public money”.

You don’t need a special website to tell you why this is happening. Fine Gael are ideologically committed to the stripping back of the welfare state, and the continued privatisation of health and education services, because these are the sort of things that make the most important members of its constituency rich. But not only are they ideologically committed to it: embarking on such a path holds the prospect of succulent cash rewards once political tenure has ended.

And yet, it needs votes from people likely to be impoverished by such measures. So in order to cover for the fact that it has no intention of doing anything to protect the social, economic and labour rights of people living in Ireland, but rather seeks to attack them, to drive down wages and remove public services, it sets about attacking ‘waste’ and ‘inefficiency’ in the public sector, trumpeting its power to subject public sector workers and public entities to the logic of profit and private business efficiency.

At the same time, it lashes out, through a compliant media, at potential sources of dissent: republicans are demonised, household tax campaigners are vilified, social media users are presented as a seething vituperative rabble. Irish charities and other quasi-public bodies have long been meek in their criticisms of government policy, for fear of punishment in the form of withdrawal of funding.

Picking a target like, a body that provides very worthwhile services to young people, so that they can make autonomous decisions about how to cope with depression, self-harm and suicide – phenomena that are being exacerbated by present government policy- is part and parcel of their kleptocratic bullying. It is part of their war on any vestige of a democratic society.


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The Fucking Titanic

Footage from ‘A Night To Remember’ (1958)
‘The Fucking Titanic’ by Dave Lordan
Edit: Eamonn Crudden
Soundtrack: Sunn O))) / Nurse with Wound – ‘Ra at Dawn’
More about Dave Lordan:
Order ‘First Book of Frags’ at

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The Rules Of Engagement and The Dictatorship of the Financial Bourgeoisie: A Comment

I left this comment on the article by Professor of Economics at Trinity College John O’Hagan in today’s Irish Times, titled ‘Cyprus bailout drama underlines need for global economic co-operation’.

A question: who agrees and enforces the rules of engagement mentioned by the author? 
If the political process in achieving such rules of engagement is 'tortuous and complicated', it isn't simply on account of the number of players involved, but, as the writer puts it, the fact that certain 'players' are subject to the 'diktats of the anonymous international financial marketplace', and the fact that other players are the influential names behind that anonymous marketplace: CEOs and major shareholders of big banks, for example. 
The writer states that full democratic legitimacy and speedy resolution of the financial crisis are mutually exclusive. I agree. For one, most of the 'players' involved have no democratic legitimacy, and the range of remedial actions that they will agree upon are anti-democratic: the stripping away of welfare states, the privatisation of public assets, 'labour market reform', which is to say, the stripping away of labour rights, and so on. The reason for this is that the crisis will, all other things being equal, that is, in the absence of democratic mobilisation, be resolved in the interests of the financial dictatorship that the writer does us all a service by naming. The resolution to the crisis, from the point of view of the 'players', is about saving capitalism, not human lives. 
Hence, what is coming to the fore here is the fundamental contradiction between capitalism and democracy. As the writer notes, the market has stupendous coercive power, over nation states and over human beings. Today, it is this coercive power that shapes agreements between nation states, agreements in which the democratic advances of the past century are being attacked. And it is the people conducting the negotiations, and those who define the boundaries of what is acceptable -the 'players'- who stand to benefit most from these agreements, having consigned social and economic rights of working people to the trash can of history, under the dictatorship of the financial bourgeoisie.  
Where political representatives exercising state power are not already the sworn ideological defenders of the market, they can be easily bought off by the prospect of succulent advisory positions once their political tenure has ended. In light of this, it is the broad mass of people under attack –from Ireland to Spain to Greece to Cyprus- who need to co-operate across borders.

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Politics, The Serious People, and Bearded Voodoo Dolls: A Comment

I left this comment in response to a piece by Stephen Collins published in the Irish Times last Saturday, titled ‘Worrying signs that politicians learned nothing from collapse of the Celtic Tiger’

The distinction drawn between so-called ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ politicians is a useful device to invite the heaping of scorn on anyone who opposes the thrust of government and Troika policies, namely, the restoration of the financial and property sectors to profitability and the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich [I got these two mixed up in the original comment, amended here].

Luke ‘Ming‘ Flanagan is also a useful device in this regard, a kind of bearded voodoo doll that the political establishment and its political correspondents can attack as a means of demonstrating not only the unreliability of the so-called ‘amateurs’ but the recalcitrant ignorance of the plebs.

However, what the use of such devices reveals is the author’s deep contempt for basic norms in democracy. In democracy, there is no such thing as the ‘professional’ politician, since elected representatives only speak for others based on the understanding that they are the equal of those who elect them to speak on their behalf. Similarly, the idea of the ‘amateur’, of the person ill-equipped to participate in political life, has no place in democratic politics, given the assumption of equality.

Nonetheless it is true that there are things that can frustrate people’s full and informed participation in political life. In today’s Ireland these might include: exclusion from the voting franchise, as with certain categories of migrant; absence of time available to take part in assemblies and debates due to work obligations; and, not least, a media apparatus geared towards producing resignation and passivity, with newspapers and TV and radio channels systematically promoting the idea that politics is first and foremost a management position, something best left to the experts.

The professionals, the insiders, the serious people: men -for it is mostly men, white ones- who, on the whole, wear suits and ties and look no different from other men who work in accountancy firms or investment banks or the ECB or the IMF. It is this group that forms the ‘inside’ of Stephen Collins’s conception of politics. Little is expected from those on the outside, except that they muster up the brainpower to vote for respectability once every four or so years, even when the distinction between respectability and robbery is altogether blurred by the social effects of banking bailouts.


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Fee Paying Schools and Democracy: A Comment

This is a comment I left in response to an article on the Irish Times website today (well, I think it was today, but with that site’s new design it’s hard to tell) by Labour TD Aodhan Ó Riordáin titled ‘Reducing State support for fee-paying schools is logical and equitable’.

Though I’m sure Aodhan Ó Riordáin will be portrayed by some as an amalgam of Stalin and Godzilla for calling for a reduction in State subvention in private schools he does not even touch on the fundamental issue here: why should the State be contributing toward private schools at all? The very fact that the State does so, as with similar arrangements in health services, illustrates that the State -despite the fact that it declares itself a democratic state- has no commitment to quality, universal, public-funded education for all, and does not treat education as ‘the great liberator’,  but rather as a commodity.

Most parents think deeply about their children’s education, not just those who send their children to private schools. It is just that for many, a lot of this thought goes toward how they can afford a new pair of school shoes or winter coat. Should they be congratulated for this, as Ó Riordáin suggests?

Meanwhile, Belvedere and other schools get lauded in this article for making access more inclusive, when such inclusivity is nothing more than a warmer, more variegated form of exclusivity, albeit one that helps obscure the icy cold matter of hard cash –who has it? who doesn’t?- that keeps exclusive private education afloat.

So there are different ways in which society can ‘value’ education, as Ó Riordáin puts it. On the one hand it can treat it as a commodity to be bought and sold or, on the other, it can treat it as an essential element of democratic life, in which the abilities and knowledge that people develop serve to address the human needs of their fellow citizens, in the interests of a flourishing life for all. The fact that the current Labour Minister for Education was, before taking office, Chair of the Fund Advisory Committee for  4th Level Ventures, a firm that sought to ‘commercialise the business opportunities that arise from university research’, is a fairly good indicator of what the government’s take is on all of this, and how they really value education.


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Youth Without Future: Politics of Exile

This is a translation of an article originally published on Público on 11th March, by Pablo Bustinduy, about the new campaign launched by Juventud Sin Futuro (Youth Without Future), intended to politicise the phenomenon of emigration.

Politics of exile



Illustration: Ramón Rodríguez

 The first thing the colonised learns is to stay in his place

-Frantz Fanon

Last week, the Juventud Sin Futuro (Youth Without Future) collective launched a campaign – #nonosvamosnosechan (we’re not leaving, they’re throwing us out) to denounce the situation of generalised precarity in which the country’s youth are living. The campaign’s web page compiles a series of hair-raising statistics: youth unemployment figures are rocketing, working conditions for those who do have work keep getting worse, and ever more people decide to leave the country to carve out a future somewhere else. There has been much talk of the carnage entailed by the brain drain, and of how the State has used public money to pay for the valuable training of young workers (doctors, researchers, healthcare workers, all kinds of technical experts, engineers, teachers, architects…) who are now being obliged to emigrate. The receiving countries receive these flows of qualified labour as if it were manna fallen from heaven; the German minister for Labour last week said that Spanish immigration was a ‘stroke of luck’.


But the reality is that many emigrants (qualified and unqualified) have ended up at their destinations with huge difficulties and conditions that are not much better than those they left behind (“precariedad everywhere” is one of the slogans of the campaign). Until relatively recently, those who left the country were those who wanted to try something different. Now those who are leaving are those who cannot stay any longer, and that gives rise to scenes and situations that had been repressed in the depths of our political, family and cultural unconscious. What is more, the irony is painful: in a country that still has internment centres that are opaque to any scrutiny or social oversight, we end up wishing luck to those who go off in search of a better life.

Juventud Sin Futuro has thus adopted an audacious and purposeful tack: to politicise this mass exile. Until now, emigration has been generally experienced as a private phenomenon: the decision to leave is always a personal matter in the final instance, and there are as many different trajectories and situations as people who leave. Everyone knows someone who has left, but rarely are there similarities to be found among these stories beyond the same resigned diagnosis: things are really bad, it’s normal that people should decide to look elsewhere for what they can’t find here. By pointing directly at the causes of this process, however, JSF presents exile as a de-individualised reality, a condition that is shared beyond the private and the singular, the common stem of all the voices and trajectories that are there without being in the country. Or rather, JSF manages to do both things at the same time: the symbolic centre of the campaign is a mapa mundi full of little yellow dots, each one of which represents an individual story with names and surnames; they are all different, but they are also all part of a same fabric that expresses what they have in common. That can be read fon the map: that emigration is not a storm or a plague, nor is it a sum of personal odysseys, but rather an economic and political reality that has causes, authors and alternatives.

But the campaign does something more than simply denounce this reality. Wherever she goes, the emigrant learns to become invisible: her place is that of the person who has left: an empty and voiceless place. Hence politicising exile also means rescuing emigrants from their civil death, from that tragic destiny for whom leaving means abandoning what one leaves behind, giving up on saying anything, losing one’s citizenship conclusively or temporarily along with the link to the political reality of the country. Against this imposition of silence, the campaign makes emigrants present outside (because it allows them to communicate and organise among themselves) and inside at the same time (because the campaign is not limited to those who have left, but rather binds those trajectories to those who have remained, to those who are contemplating leaving but who, independently of what they decide, share with those on the outside the same problems and the same condition). The youth without future is on both sides, inside and outside the country, and that is what the campaign achieves: it makes them present in two places at the same time, giving them a voice and a common name, and gives political form to what was invisible.


At first glance, the political map of exiles looks like a brain or a rhizome, those botanic structures full of roots, shoots and knots that grow horizontally without any centre. Though what is needed for that is something even more important: the tracing of lines between the points, the creating of links between each one of the stories, multiplying their crossings and trajectories. Let us hope ideas and practices circulate in all directions, and this common name becomes a machine for abolishing distances. The youth without future of those who are leaving and those who are staying is paradoxically the best future the country has: it is a subject that, to liberate itself, has the task of abolishing its own present condition. In this endeavour, the young people have nothing to lose, except the precarity and silence that enchains them.


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