Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Irish Regime


Following on from the last post:

  • “Whistleblowers are disgusting”, says head cop in Irish regime, amid suspicions of corruption.
  • Irish regime downplays bugging of police watchdog
  • “Now is not the time to talk about human rights”, says key figure in Irish regime on trade trip to meet Saudi partners.
  • Irish regime committed to strict prohibition on abortion
  • Billionaire media baron with close links to Irish regime lives in Malta
  • Irish regime moves to save banks and property speculators, decides public will foot bill.
  • Poverty and desperation on the rise as Irish regime withdraws public services and cuts welfare payments
  • Lax approach to child welfare under Irish regime leads to widespread violence against children in creches
  • Irish regime imprisons 79 year old peace activist
  • In move to quell public discontent about political corruption, Irish regime turns focus onto whistleblowers
  • Health minister in Irish regime lives in stately home, oversees massive health budget cuts
  • Citing welfare fraud, minister in Irish regime threatens police checkpoints in crackdown on victims of economic crash
  • The reality of the Irish regime: deprived of basic rights and condemned to live on €19 a week
  • Irish regime assigns spouse of President to investigate claims of torture and slavery
  • Regime broadcaster makes massive payout to institution that opposes equal rights for gay people


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When a “government” becomes a “regime”

Last year, following the death of Hugo Chávez, I wrote a piece for Look Left where I noted that the Bolivarian Republic was ‘consistently referred to across all Irish media as a ‘regime’, i.e. the sort of place designated for regime change from Washington’. In this translated article below, from, Isaac Rosa explores the difference between a regime –in Spanish,
régimen– and a government –in Spanish, gobierno. The relation between the two words is precisely the same in Spanish- and English-speaking media.

When a “government” becomes a “regime”

At what point does a country stop having a ‘government’ and thus become a ‘regime’? There are few expressions more loaded in their use than that of “regime”. A word that contains an entire geopolitical treatise within its six letters, and the use of which draws a clear red line on the map of the world: there are governments, and there are regimes.

Of course, regime is the abbreviated form of ‘authoritarian regime’, though the first part of the expression is omitted. In itself, regime has no negative meaning, it means ‘political system’, and no more. But nowadays it is used to portray a country where democracy, freedoms and human rights are either in danger or do not even exist. Although at times its use appears natural, when referring to unquestionable dictatorships, in the majority of cases the line is thin, and countries with identical shady areas when it comes to democracy and rights are called ‘government’ or ‘regime’ depending upon the estimation and the interests of whoever names them.

Some appear incontestable: the North Korean regime, the Guinean regime, the Syrian or the Chinese regime. In others, the expression is consolidated although it corresponds more to geopolitical alignments: Putin’s regime, or the Cuban regime. From there on, the term is used merrily, with little rigour but with every intention: over there we have the Venezuelan regime, which since Chávez has been the natural denomination used by half the planet’s press. And then there are the unlikely cases: it seems scarcely imaginable that one day we might end up speaking about the Norwegian regime or the Canadian regime.

For the majority of countries, to be called a regime by the press and by other leaders is like saddling them with a cross: you have now been marked, and you may end up falling someday. Regime is every government whose overthrow we see as a good thing, and which we would even speed up, and which we might even overthrow ourselves directly. When a government is called a regime anything can happen to it, be it a spring or a humanitarian war, or economic sanctions or UN resolutions. That does not mean there are not regimes that still get treated as allies.

But there is more: the effect that this language has upon the citizenry, us, the consumers of infomration. How it weighs upon news stories, how it distorts them. The fact that it is a “regime” already means that its affairs deserve more attention than those of other countries, but moreover the very expression amplifies the gravity of what is being told. We do not read “Venezuelan government withdraws television station’s license” in the same way as we read “Venezuelan regime withdraws television station’s licence”. There is a great distance from one headline to the other. Apart from the fact, of course, that when one begins the sentence by saying “the regime”, the rest must be to the same standard. In the example given, it would be, “Venezuelan regime muzzles opposition television station” – the kind of manipulations that Pascual Serrano usually warns us about, which makes Venezuela have a “regime” whereas neighbouring Colombia (with its bleak human rights record) has a “government”, and any cretin can speak of a “genocide” just like that.

When a country has a “regime”, everything that happens in that country can be attributed to the regime. We will never say “the police baton-charged demonstrators”, but “the regime baton-charged demonstrators”. Never “judge sentences opposition figure”, but “regime sentences opposition figure”. And there we have the other inevitable word: opposition. Every regime must have an opposition, and any person who does anything against the regime immediately becomes part of an opposition which, since it does not oppose a government but a regime, can count on our sympathy and our carte blanche: against a regime, everything is on the table, from violence to a coup d’état, as we have seen in the “Ukranian regime”. And whoever attempts it knows that they can count upon our support, our money and, frequently, our weapons.

How different everything sounds when they speak to us about regimes instead of governments. If anyone doubts this, let’s take Spain as an example. It is true that we often hear expressions such as “the Spanish regime”, “the PP regime”, “the two party regime”, “the regime of 78”, but it is always among activists, and always pejoratively, never in the Spanish press or the international press, never in the mouth of leaders of other countries.

And nonetheless, we only need a few examples to see how differently things are perceived when we speak of a regime. Let us imagine a European reader encountering daily headlines such as these:

“Spanish regime approves a law toughening repression against protests”

“Rajoy regime shoots defenceless Africans and causes 15 deaths”

“PP regime spent years getting rich through money laundry”

“Spanish regime throws tens of thousands of people out of their homes”

“Rajoy regime gets rid of newspaper editor to silence criticism”

“Poverty and infant malnutrition shoot upward under Spanish regime”

“Thousands of opposition protesters attacked by regime whilst protesting outside Congress”

“PP regime tries to reduce regional parliaments in order to perpetuate rule”

“Rajoy regime cuts worker rights”

“Spanish justice system in the service of the regime”

“Spanish regime pardons torturers”

“Rajoy regime toughens punishment for opposition”

“Persecution of magistrate who jailed banker close to Spanish regime”

And we could go on like this a good while. They are all real news stories. I haven’t even dressed things up. I have only used “regime” and “opposition”, and yet everything sounds more grave, it seems like a government that deserves international oppropbrium, an illegitimate government that any day could end up overthrown by the opposition.

There are those who say that what we have is indeed a regime, not a government. I am happy enough for us to witness just how thin this line is, and for us to take it into account every time they make us look from one side of the line or the other.

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Thug Developer Style


Last night I happened to watch the BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight programme on Tom McFeely, the former IRA hunger striker who acquired vast wealth as a property developer, and who has become the object of public opprobrium and suspicion since the debacle of his Priory Hall development, where hundreds of families were evacuated from their homes, with major financial and personal losses as a consequence, including the suicide of Fiachra Daly.

In the programme, McFeely came across as deeply intelligent and quick-minded. What made the programme interesting, if a little contrived to suit the arc of a pre-established story, was McFeely’s frankness about his predicament. Confronted with questions about avoiding tax, and his socialist and Irish republican principles, his answers were honest and hardly self-serving.

He grounded questions about his conduct in terms of a capitalist system. People are out to make money, and that’s what he did, and that’s what he does. Yes, it would be nice if Ireland was on the road to a socialist republic, it would have his full support. But it isn’t.

When it comes to paying tax, he said he paid a very large amount, but the nature of this system is that people try to pay as little tax as possible, and he saw himself as no different in that regard. He didn’t think his developments were of such a poor standard.

On the contrary, he said, they were of the same standard as a great deal of developments around Dublin. As for the matter of his Irish citizenship status, or his status as a British subject, he indicated he didn’t think he should be bound by either. Neither has any particular legitimacy, in his view.

‘Thug developer’ McFeely has been bestialised in the Irish media, but the principles –or lack thereof- he expressed in the programme are the stuff of everyday life in Ireland. As far as I could make out, McFeely was saying, hold me to account by all means, but I’m merely operating in keeping with the way things are set up.

Is he not right? How many people in Dublin, after all, live in dangerous shitholes that were not built by Tom McFeely? It wasn’t he who devised regulations concerning building safety and habitability, and it wasn’t he who designed the financial architecture of Ireland’s property boom, and it wasn’t he who drove people to spend progressively higher proportions of their wages on accommodation.

He may well be telling the truth when he claims he has been singled out on account of his IRA past. It’s a great deal more sensible, from the point of view of Ireland’s ruling elites –South and North- to point the finger at some singular demonic figure, some walking moral obscenity, than to allow any kind of of public critical evaluation of an economic model based on speculative crazes in housing and commercial property, or of the sectors –legal, media, financial- that benefit most from such a model.

How seriously, for example, should we take the demonisation of ‘thug developer’ McFeely by a media group owned by someone who declares himself Maltese for tax purposes?

McFeely’s point of departure, that capitalism is all there is and there is no prospect of a socialist republic and there is no point pretending otherwise, is a display of unalloyed cynicism.

But it’s also the same point of departure as most of political Ireland, with the difference being that for the latter, capitalism does not even need naming – it is the way things are, the indispensable condition for our existence, and that is that.

Witness the response, for example, of the Labour Party Minister for Social Protection to a Blanchardstown family dependent on rent allowance. The family’s rent had recently been raised by their landlord from €900 to €1300, a hike of 44%, and an indicator of the green shoots of recovery for financial speculators. Joan Burton said, in : ‘think anew about your family’s many needs, and how those needs can be met within the housing market as it exists at the moment’. It is ordinary people who must conform to the demands of ‘the market’ – code for property speculators- not vice versa.

Maybe the most striking bit of the programme was when Tom McFeely admitted, in relation to tax, that under capitalism, what is legal and what is not, is, in the final analysis, neither here nor there. It is about making money, end of. At least he did the honour of dispensing with the pretence of being on some righteous moral quest.

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Universality as Robbery


During her speech from the stage of the Abbey, Panti says: “A jumped-up queer like me should know that the word “homophobia” is no longer available to gay people.”

When she says this, she is ventriloquising the sentiments of who think she should be hit with the full force of the law for daring to name things as they are. The real sting in this sentence comes from “jumped-up queer”: it isn’t just access to the word “homophobia” that is being revoked, but the word “queer”. As if they were saying: “you gay people -should we still call you that? Now there’s a thought…- have had your fun playing with the word “queer”, but it’s time the word got restored to its proper meaning in the proper order.”

To call yourself “queer” is a refusal to be the object of abuse and stigma in a social order where your sexuality -and by extension your very existence- are treated as abnormal and unnatural. But it is also a conscious appropriation of the power to name things as you see fit, to break with the classifications and delineations that would put you in your place.

What Panti shows, and what those taking legal action against Rory O’Neill’s words show, is that putting a name on things is a matter of power, and it’s also a matter of politics. We rule through words, but words also rule through us. What words mean is not some elusive extra-human evolutionary process but the outcome of conscious action – and struggle. Dispossession can be a matter of words: if you deprive someone of the words to articulate their predicament, you deprive them of their possibilities of acting politically.

The Fine Gael-Labour government plans to implement a health system based on what it describes as ‘universal health insurance’. On Tuesday 18th of February, the Irish Times published an article by the Health Minister, James Reilly, with the title ‘Universal health care will be cheaper and better‘. But universal health insurance isn’t universal health care. Universal health care sounds good, doesn’t it? It suggests that everyone will be treated when they get sick, and their treatment won’t depend on their ability to pay. It suggests they will be cared for because they will be recognised as human beings with equal dignity. It suggests a break with what has gone on in Ireland up till now, when you had hospitals developed under Church supervision that bore signs that read things like ‘Mount Carmel Private Hospital’ and ‘Mater Private’, and you had GPs who ran their surgeries as a business where you had to pony up €50-60 you didn’t have. Some GPs ran their affairs so successfully that they wound up living in stately homes.


‘Universal health care’ calls to mind the major achievements of the labour movement in the post-war democratic settlement. Indeed, James Reilly summons forth the memory of the establishment of the British NHS in his Irish Times article. The problem is, the ‘universal’ aspect of the universal health insurance scheme represents the polar opposite of what the ‘universal’ in universal health care actually meant in societies where social democracy exerted a decisive influence. As Michael Taft notes in Irish Left Review, the flat-rated payment proposed by the Irish government is regressive. The ‘universal’ aspect is only in terms of the individual obligation to pay. The less money you have, the more the health system will cost you. What is more, as Taft notes, there will be no obligation for employers to contribute. So what we are facing is, beneath the suggestions of a more equitable society couched in the word ‘universal’, a universal obligation to pay for health care in order to maximise profitability: healthy profits before healthy bodies.

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Notes on a Rebranding


The attempt by the Conservative Party in Britain to rebrand itself as the ‘Workers’ Party’ will provoke both mirth and dismay from people who can remember the long, distinguished and continuing history of that party in destroying the lives of working class people.

But such a rebranding is not intended to win the hearts of all workers. Rather, what it seeks is a mainstay of Tory policy for decades: winning over just enough working class people in order to maintain political hegemony, as part of the striving towards the dream of a bourgeoisie without a proletariat.

What is perhaps new is the way the opposing pole of ‘Worker’ in this system of signs is not ‘Capitalist’ (there are no longer capitalists, only entrepreneurs) but those who do not work – the ‘workshy’, those who are dependent on benefits to survive, those culturally represented as ‘chavs’. The division between the dominant and the dominated is effaced, rendered unnameable in the regime of political representation, and in its place is a division between the healthy body of one nation on the one hand, and, on the other, the pestilence. It is no accident that the Nazi Party in Germany was the National Socialist Workers’ Party: fascism is a production of capitalism that seeks to annihilate the articulation of a political opposition between the oppressor and the oppressed, and, in its place to present the fact of oppression as the basis for liberation. Remember: Arbeit Macht Frei.

But if this attempt proves successful, it will be not least down to the rebranding of the ‘Labour Party’ that has already taken place, according to which ‘Labour’ no longer refers to the flesh and blood human beings exploited by Capital, but a commodity sold on the ‘labour market’. Witness Ed Miliband’s exaltation of ‘strivers’ (against scroungers, skivers and other suggested categories of untermensch), or, in Ireland, JobBridge Joan Burton’s declaration that Labour is the ‘Party of Work’.


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Et Tu, Paddy Casey? A reflection on water fluoridation in Ireland

-‘Water that flows is money that is lost

I know some people who are concerned about the presence of fluoride in drinking water. They say fluoride-containing chemicals are toxic and damage human health, and, when administered to the water supply, are the cause of illness and disease. Some people I know go as far as identifying water fluoridation as a means of social control. They suggest that Ireland’s policy of putting fluoride in the water makes the population docile. I know other people who think these people are idiots. What is the truth of the matter?

The other day, the Irish Times published an interview with singer Damien Dempsey, by Tony Clayton-Lea. The interview revealed the singer was considering writing a song about water fluoridation. “I’m not going to pay the water charges unless they take the fluoride out, because it’s poisoning us, I believe”, he is quoted as saying.

Last Tuesday, the Irish Examiner reported that Bantry had acquired status as ‘Ireland’s first fluoride-free town’, ‘after six businesses installed filtration systems they say will give their customers the choice to consume food and drinks prepared with fluoride-free water’. ‘Organico Café, Organico Shop, Trawl and Trend cafe and restaurant, The Fish Kitchen restaurant, The Mariner bar, and Wokabout, which makes ready-to-go Thai meals, each spent up to €700 on the installation of a reverse osmosis water filtration systems.’ The status was conferred by the Fluoride Free Towns movement, which is ‘working to reverse Ireland’s mandatory policy of water fluoridation’.

The Irish Examiner reports that ‘Ireland in the only country in the EU and one of only two in the world which implements a national mandatory public water fluoridation policy.’

Ireland’s apparently peculiar status in this respect appears to give people some cause for concern, and such statements, taken on their own, can hit an ominous note. It strikes you as if there is something inherently authoritarian and suspect about Ireland’s policy: what is it about Ireland’s ruling powers that gives them cause them to make water fluoridation mandatory?

However, there is widespread water fluoridation in the US. 67.1% of the US population receives fluoridated water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no ‘national mandatory’ policy: the policies are implemented at state level.

So, for example, the states of California, Texas, Florida, New York and Ohio all have widespread water fluoridation programmes, and they all have populations more than twice as big as Ireland. More than 210 million people in the US receive fluoridated water.

That in itself doesn’t make water fluoridation right, of course, but it shows that the ‘national mandatory’ element to Ireland’s policy is not as significant as it might appear at first blush. What is more, the term ‘mandatory’ makes it seem as though the population were being forced into consuming fluoridated water against its will. But in reality, the ‘mandatory’ nature of Ireland’s policy is the fact it was enacted by Ireland’s democratically elected government. There is a mandate for it: from the people of Ireland. The people of Ireland could, with sufficient political will, revoke that mandate. It has the legislatory instruments to do so. That’s the theory anyway.

Do the 210 million people in the US who consume fluoridated water reap any benefit from such policies? To be honest, it’s hard to tell. A US Surgeon General in 2004 reported that water fluoridation is the ‘most cost-effective, equitable and safe means to provide protection from tooth decay in a community’. But demonstrating the effectiveness over time of such protection could be difficult. There are a lot more factors in the prevalence of tooth decay than water fluoridation. Poorer people tend to have poorer diets, for example. So if dietary habits in a population worsened over time, and tooth decay increased as a consequence, it could be very hard to demonstrate how water fluoridation had served to mitigate the extent of tooth decay. My own sense of things, for what it’s worth, is that whilst it is no guarantee against tooth decay, there is no evidence that water fluoridation, safely administered, has any harmful effects on public health, unless you were to argue that the fact of water fluoridation in itself produced paranoia about water fluoridation.

I’ve come across all kind of horrifying stories about what happens to animals when subjected to massive doses of fluoride, and how fluoride is a toxic substance and so on (I am referring to the more reasoned contributions here, and not crazed stories about how Hitler used fluoride to keep Nazi subjects docile). Well yes, but so is paracetamol. Take enough paracetamol and your liver will pack in. Does this mean paracetamol is bad? Not when administered under appropriate dosage it isn’t. Why is fluoride -assuming it helps prevent tooth decay- any different?

Obviously, if you have a crowd of cowboys in charge of the water supply and there are no regulatory checks or secure facilities and anyone can just drive  in off the street and dump a big lorry-load of fluoride into the water supply whenever they felt like it, this would be a very bad thing. Fortunately enough, this doesn’t happen, Much. *cackles maniacally*

In the film Dr Strangelove, General Jack D. Ripper says that “Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face”, and “a foreign substance .. introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works.” But there are real-life opponents of water fluoridation in the United States, on the far right.

The John Birch Society, for example, is at pains to distance itself from the Dr Strangelove caricature, but is opposed to water fluoridation on the following grounds: ‘While the JBS doesn’t agree with water fluoridation because it is a form of government mass medication of citizens in violation of their individual right to choose which medicines they ingest, it was never opposed as a mind-control plot. If citizens want to add fluoride to their diet or daily routine, there are plentiful opportunities for them to do so.  It’s a choice they should make, not their local government.’

The same rhetoric used by the John Birch Society -a programme of mass medication that overrides any consideration of individual choice- can be found in an Irish context. For example, singer Paddy Casey, in a statement to Hot Press, recently denounced ‘what is essentially an experiment in mass medication‘. Labour chief whip Emmet Stagg declared at a party meeting in November that “the time has run out for this form of mass medication”. Another Labour Party delegate, Sinead Seery from the Coolock, Dublin North-East branch said “this isn’t about scaremongering, it’s about choice”.

Eric Hobsbawm once referred to Thatcherism as “petty bourgeois anarchism”. It’s not a bad description for the Fluoride Free Towns initiative mentioned above, either. What makes the towns ‘free’ of fluoride -and the malign interfering hand of the State- is private initiative, the purchase and sale of private products. In the absence of the ability to exercise decisive control over the water supply, what happens instead is -pardon the awkward phrase- the commodification of the absence of fluoride. If you can’t afford to get takeaway from the Wokabout -bad luck!- it’s fluoride-boiled packet noodles for you – the Big Fluoride Free Society will be built without you.

This might sound exotic, but it isn’t really. Consider the education system in Ireland, with its fee-paying schools. Last night I spoke with a man who had attended a fee-paying school, paid for by the farm labourer wages of his father. Then there is the health system, with its public-private split. People tell similar epic tales of their own individual heroism in scrabbling together enough in order to keep a private health insurance policy. Then there is the exaltation of the voluntary spirit, also beloved of the John Birch Society. The flight into private, individualised solutions to perceived and imagined failures of public institutions is a long established tradition in Ireland. Perhaps someday we’ll all be installing our own water treatment facilities, so that the only piss and shit that has been in the water we’re drinking has been our own.

A recurring theme in opposition to water fluoridation is the fact that the rest of Europe doesn’t do it. As I point out above, the rest of Europe mightn’t do it, but the US does. Similarly, countries like the UK, France, Germany and Sweden all had long periods of ample welfare state provision, periods of left-wing government, a left wing press. Ireland has not. Is water fluoridation an effective tool, then, contra General Jack D. Ripper, in preventing communism?

With that said, suspicion of public institutions in Ireland –particularly those dealing with public health and welfare, has a solid basis in fact: symphisiotomy, caesarean hysterectomies, baby trafficking, child slavery, the Hepatitis C crisis, to name a few issues.

It isn’t hard to see how a policy of water fluoridation could be held up as an example of an equitable public health policy by self-serving authorities who were indifferent to graver matters of concern regarding public health, such as the effect on life expectancy arising from cuts to social welfare spending, or the absence of a decent public health system.

More generally, Ireland suffers from a lack of proper local democratic institutions and its highly centralised State institutions tend to act with high-handed dismissals of popular concerns.

If anti-fluoride sentiment gains popular traction, it is on account of a general lack of democratic accountability and an absence of readily accessible and intelligible public information, and, as outlined above, in keeping with a tradition of ‘petit bourgeois anarchism’ that views the State as the eternal oppressor and the private enterprise of the sovereign consumer as the germ of the solution.

Damien Dempsey, among others, doesn’t like fluoride in his water supply, but he’s fine with paying water charges. That is, his proposed gesture contains no opposition to the commodification of water, or the fact that water is already paid for by citizens out of general taxation.

If there was properly accountable public control and ownership over the water supply, there could be proper scientific studies of the health effects of substances in the water supply. But by saying, I’ll pay water charges if this condition is met, he -and others- are saying that the de facto privatisation of the water supply with Irish Water, and the wholesale robbery of the population as a consequence, are both OK, provided there’s no fluoride in the water. As a form of political campaigning, it’s hard to conceive of a more ingenious way of maintaining the status quo.

Judged on this basis, fluoride paranoia is unquestionably far more harmful than fluoride in the water supply. It corrodes people’s heads.


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The Meaning of Alan Shatter, Justice Minister


-“I surrender!”

Words matter. Naming something or someone is a way of exercising power. If you look at a map of the towns and cities of Ireland, you see a load of Anglicised names that make no sense. ‘Belfast‘ in English makes no sense, unlike ‘Beal Feirste‘ in Irish. The Department of Social Protection -protection from what?- has decided to call its new offices ‘Intreo‘. I don’t know what ‘Intreo’ means. I bet most people who will have to attend the Intreo offices popping up in towns up and down the country don’t know what it means either. Do you think they’re supposed to?

In Ireland, Alan Shatter is Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence. This fact has an important bearing on how people at large understand the word ‘justice‘. Personally, I don’t think you can have a State institution that can administer true justice. I don’t think justice is the kind of thing that a State institution can administer. All it can do is enforce its own sense of things, and call this ‘justice’. What shape this ‘justice’ takes depends on whoever exercises control over the State.

What happens when a population thinks justice is whatever the State says it is? Or, to put a finer point on it, when a population’s sense of justice is decisively shaped by the State? Many people believe that the State’s protection of private property rights is justice in operation. This allows them to believe that people who lack access to the resources that would allow them to live a dignified life are, in fact, in receipt of their just deserts. They look at prisons and sub-machine guns and high-visibility jackets, all intended to keep the poor at bay, and see instruments of justice. The original name for the US war in Afghanistan was Operation Infinite Justice.

Perhaps we’re off to a bad start, then, if we expect the Ministry of Justice to administer justice. Especially so if the Minister for Justice thinks your country can be a Partner for Peace...with NATO. And that is before we reach the facts of Alan Shatter’s present activities. What does it mean for a population’s sense of justice when the Minister for Justice has people saying about him: “If Shatter thinks you’re screwing him, you’re finished.” Not just anyone, but a Garda Confidential Recipient who contributed €1000 to Alan Shatter’s election campaign – who has subsequently been sacked by Alan Shatter? According to Crime Correspondent Extraordure Paul Williams, “even his most vocal critics agree Alan Shatter is a man of unflinching integrity.” But even if we are to accept Paul Williams is telling the truth (I know), perhaps Alan Shatter’s biggest critics have good reason not to be vocal.

Let me go back to that speech by Peter Mair that I quoted yesterday: “We don’t respect our State“. As I suggested yesterday, the kind of respect this entails, for Ireland’s political class, is the same thing as obedience. But there is another kind of respect, which is more the respect one might have for a large and dangerous animal who, if given the chance, would tear you to shreds. It is this kind of respect, I think, that the Ministry of Justice deserves. And if it is controlled by an embodiment of flagrant arrogance and injustice and contempt for the public, and if the public does nothing to remove someone like Alan Shatter, then it is not just leaving the meaning of justice uncontested: it is sharpening the bayonets of its oppressors.


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Uterus Strike

This is a translation of an article by Beatriz Preciado, originally published in Público on 29th January 2013, regarding the Partido Popular’s anti-abortion legislation.


Locked within individualistic neoliberal fiction, we live with the naive sensation that our body belongs to us, that it is our most intimate property. However, the management of the greater part of our organs is under the aegis of various governmental and economic entities. Of all the bodily organs, it has been undoubtedly the uterus that has been the object of the greatest political and economic expropriation. As a cavity that potentially allows for gestation, the uterus is not a private organ, but a biopolitical space of exception, to which the norms that regulate the rest of our anatomical cavities do not apply. As a space of exception, the uterus resembles the refugee camp or the prison more than it does the liver or the lung.

The body of women contains within it a public space, whose jurisdiction is fought over not only by religious and political powers, but also medical, pharmaceutical and agri-food industries. Hence, as historian Joan Scott points out, women have spent a long time in a situation of “paradoxical citizenship”: if as human bodies they belong to the democratic community of free citizens, as bodies with potentially gestating uteruses, they lose their autonomy and become objects of intense surveillance and political control. Every woman carries within her a laboratory of the Nation-State upon whose management depends the purity of the national ethnos. For the past forty years, feminism has carried out, in the West, a process of decolonisation of the uterus. But the contemporary situation in Spain shows us that not only is this process unfinished, but it is fragile and can be easily revoked.

This 20th of December past, Mariano Rajoy’s government in Spain approved the draft for the new abortion law which will be, along with the Irish law, the most restrictive in the whole of Europe. The new law of “Protection of the Life of the Conceived and of the Rights of the Pregnant Woman” contemplates solely two grounds for legal abortion: risk of physical or mental health to the mother (up to 22 weks) or rape (up to 12 weeks). Moreover, the risk to the mother must be validated by an independent doctor and and independent psychiatrist and it must be the object of a collective process of deliberation. The draft has provoked not only the outrage of left and feminist groups, but also the collective opposition of psychiatrists who refuse to participate in this process of surveillance and pathologisation of pregnant women which restricts their right to decide for themselves.

How can this initiative of Rajoy’s government be explained? Policies governing the uterus, as with censorship or restriction to freedom of assembly, are a good detector of nationalistic and totalitarian inclinations. In the context of an economic and political crisis of the Spanish State, in light of the reorganisation of its territory and its national “anatomy” (consider Catalonia’s open process of secession but also the current discredit of the monarchy and the corruption of ruling elites), the government is seeking to recover the uterus as a biopolitical space in which national sovereignty can be manufactured once again. They dream that  by possessing the uterus they will be able to maintain the old borders of the Nation-State that are in decomposition. This draft law is also a response to the legalisation of homosexual marriage that took place during the rule of the preceding socialist government and which, despite the repeated efforts of the PP, the Constitutional Tribunal has refused to repeal. Faced with this calling into question of the model of the heterosexual family, the Rajoy government, which is close to the fundamentalist group Opus Dei, now seeks to occupy the female body as the latest place in which not only is national reproduction at stake, but also masculine hegemony.

If biopolitical history could be narrated cinematographically we would say that the film being prepared for us by the PP is a fevered porno-gore flick in which the president Rajoy and his justice minister Ruiz Gallardón plant a Spanish flag in each and every one of the uteruses of the Nation-State. This is the message that the government of Rajoy is sending to every woman in the country: your uterus is territory of the Spanish State, the preserve and ferment of National-Catholic sovereignty. You only exist as Mother. Open your legs, become soil for insemination, reproduce Spain. If the law that the PP seeks to implement were to take effect, Spanish women would wake up with the Cabinet of Ministers and the Bishop’s Conference inside their endometria.

As a body born with a uterus, I close my legs to National Catholicism. I say to Rajoy and to Rouco Varela that they will not set foot in my uterus: I have not gestated, nor will I ever gestate in the service of Spanish nationalist politics. From this modest tribune, I invite every body to go on uterus strike. Let us affirm ourselves as total citizens, not as reproductive uteruses. Not only through abstinence and homosexuality, but also through masturbation, sodomy, fetishism, coprophagy, zoophilia…and abortion. Let us not allow a single drop of National-Catholic sperm to penetrate our uteruses. Let us refuse to gestate for the accounts of the Partido Popular, or the parishes of the Bishops’ Conference. Let us carry out this strike as we would the most matriotic of acts: to put an end to the fiction of the nation and to begin to imagine a community of life post-nation-State, that does not have as its condition of possibility violence and the expropriation of the uterus.

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#GSOC: A brief note on the crime correspondent

The crime correspondent is a servant of the State. It can be no other way. The crime correspondent will never ask: should this be a crime? Instead, the crime correspondent exists to relate what the State is doing about crime. To do this, he -let’s say it is a he- relies on the offices of the State to transmit information. He is therefore a conduit for the ruling powers. Let me stress: it can be no other way. The crime correspondent is a symbol of the established order of things, a spokesman for the way things are done around here. He reinforces the legitimacy of the State and its power to determine what is criminal and what is not, its power to discipline and punish. If the State scapegoats a certain group, the crime correspondent will replicate the scapegoating.

Perhaps the least appropriate person in the world to report on the misdeeds of the police is the crime correspondent. Even less appropriate, I suggest, than a spokesperson formally appointed by the police. If the public is confronted with the police spokesperson, the suspicion will sink in, at some stage, that the police are lying. For the crime correspondent, the prospect of the police telling lies is similar to Lord Denning’s appalling vista: if the police are telling lies, how many lies has the crime correspondent told? Such a prospect is inadmissible.

Let me stress, this is not a matter of personal integrity: it is part of the job definition. Therefore the public will never be confronted with the prospect, before the fact, that the police might be lying. The fact that it is in the nature of police forces to have officers who lie, conspire, undermine, control and condition, will never be taken into account in the crime correspondent’s reporting. If the police were lying, that would mean the crime correspondent was lying too. And you can’t be having that.


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Time of the Snakes


Over the weekend, as I was thinking about events relating to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, I started to feel as if the whole thing had been concocted as some sort of personal insult. This felt strange: an Irish government perpetrates social outrages all the time, and my expectations of Ireland’s justice system could scarcely be lower.

I think it was the vehemence of Enda Kenny’s initial statement, the one broadcast as the headline news on RTE Radio 1’s 6.01pm bulletin, that gave things a different quality. My expectations of Enda Kenny could scarcely have been any lower to begin with. Unlike many, I don’t consider him to be ‘my’ Taoiseach. The personalised soft-soap treatment afforded to senior political figures, their boiling down to first name terms, such as ‘Enda’, or ‘Lucinda’, or ‘Bertie’, is something that makes my skin creep.

If Enda Kenny comes across as dim-witted in his public interventions, I don’t think he is stupid. On the contrary, I think he is instinctively cunning and committed on behalf of the constituency he serves: Ireland’s capitalist class.

You can see these qualities in his feigned outrage about the victims of violence in the North of Ireland whenever he is put on the spot by Sinn Féin in the Dáil about some entirely unrelated matter. You can see them in the way he was an enthusiastic early adopter of plans to constitutionalise the repayment of banker debt over hospitals and schools, long before the Fiscal Treaty Referendum, presenting such things as good sense, as if Ireland was, in the frame imposed by the austerian imperative, a household living beyond its means. You can see them in his dogged public insistence that “Ireland”, which is to say, Ireland’s working class, will pay “its debts”, which is to say, the debts racked up by Ireland’s financial and property speculating elites. All these things illustrate the reality of a figure who cultivates a public image as a bluff, Bruce Springsteen-loving man of the people.

But for all that, his vehemence in that statement, in which he turned the focus onto the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, and falsely quoting legislation in order to divert from the primary question of precisely who had been bugging a statutory body, took me by surprise.

In an Irish Times opinion piece on Saturday, former ombudsman commissioner Conor Brady rightly described Kenny’s ‘proprietorial, almost dictatorial tone’ in delivering his remarks. Brady also noted that the ‘Taoiseach seemed to have no understanding that GSOC is not answerable to Government (in the same way as the Garda Commissioner) but to the Houses of the Oireachtas’. This is far too generous by half. I believe Brady’s judgment in this matter is clouded by the intimacy of Ireland’s political and media establishment circles, in which Kenny figures as an amiable, jovial character respected for personal decency.

In a democratic State, what would be the consequences, if the State’s highest public official were suspected of misleading the public on basic matters of legislation and regulatory institutions? Such an act would be treated with the utmost gravity, and some kind of formal process of inquiry would be initiated.

What has happened here, however, is that Kenny has escaped largely unharmed, and his weasel words about ‘excessive meaning’ ascribed to his statement have been consigned by opinion formers to the annals of Curious And Diverting Things Our Leaders Said That Enrich The National Political Spectacle.

I should admit to a little rhetorical sleight of hand. I don’t think there is, strictly speaking, such a thing as a democratic State. I think there are States that are democratised to a greater or lesser extent. I don’t think Ireland is a democratic State, but I do think, on the whole, that it’s a bit better than North Korea. But that isn’t saying much. We might say there is a citizen body in Ireland -a demos– that exists within a complex set of rights and freedoms: expression, assembly, opinions, minimum working conditions, access to health and education, and so on. But what does it do, exactly?

I’ve written quite critically in the past about the MacGill Summer School. But there is one address from it, from a few years back, that sticks in my mind. It was from political scientist Peter Mair, now deceased.

It won quite a lot of acclaim in the organs of respectable opinion when it came out. It sticks in my mind because there were things about it I found quite objectionable, but at the same time, there was a core of truth to it. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the text, though it is behind an Irish Times paywall for those of you inclined to pay for such things. In it, he says: this is ‘our’ fault. “We don’t respect our State. We have never respected our State. We have never had a sense of belonging for our State. If anything we have viewed the State as the enemy, as an oppressor, as something not to be trusted but to be taken advantage of”. He went on to say that he agreed with Michael D. Higgins that Ireland’s political system of “local amoralism” “disaggregates the poor”, but  “it doesn’t just disaggregate the poor, it disaggregates everybody except the special interests”.

As I said, this address won a lot of acclaim. Last year, the MacGill Summer School held a debate in his memory. The debate asked: ‘Where Are Loyalty To, And Respect For, Our State’. If you look at the website, you will see the way the debate -which included Michael McDowell and Joan Burton as participants- was framed in terms of ‘citizens being encouraged to refuse to pay legitimate taxes imposed by the State to pay for services provided by the State.’ What this indicates, I think, is the way the operative ‘we’ is, in Irish politics, something of a floating signifier. The words “We do not respect our State”, can, in the right mouth and the right microphone, mean “the great unwashed do not respect their betters”.

When I read Mair’s ‘It’s our fault’ speech, my reaction was: “who, me”? And not just in a “Not I, said the fly” way. Neither I nor any of my immediate family living in Ireland going back two generations had anything to do with the politics of the Irish State, because we lived outside its boundaries. Who else is excluded from this ‘we’? My partner, for instance. Round about the time Cardinal MacRory was organising collections for Franco, her grandmother, who was several months pregnant, was fleeing Málaga on foot with thousands of other refugees, terrorised by aerial bombardment from Franco’s fascist forces, forced to walk hundreds of miles, her husband dead after the bombing of the military base where he was stationed as a soldier in the army of the Republic. How is it her fault? Or any migrant’s fault? And even within the boundaries of the Irish State, how is it the fault of those incarcerated or cowed by its disciplinary institutions – industrial schools, laundries and psychiatric hospitals?

Elsewhere, Peter Mair writes about a democracy without a demos: sets of institutions that are formally democratic, but operating on behalf of a passive and disengaged citizenry. This is where the core truth of “it’s our fault” lies: if Enda Kenny makes dictatorial declarations that are intended to deceive, it is because he has no fear of a public holding him to acccount, no public that takes the words ‘Ireland is a democratic State’ seriously, or knows how to.

Over the past week, it has been Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan who have been to the fore of public suspicion, and it is no wonder, since their activities have been suspicious. I have seen people complain that in other countries with higher standards, Shatter would already be gone. I am that sort of person. The fact that these people still hold public office is what gives weight to my feeling of a personal insult. But what is the point of saying these things, unless you’re going to do something about it? And, what is the effect of saying these things and then not doing anything about it? It is the absence of an active public, not the contemptuous attitude for democracy that pervades the Irish establishment, that is the crucial factor here. What is clear to me is that the ‘we’ through which we are led to understand and think about public affairs and politics draws us into the circles of clammy intimacy and personalised informality that sustains the likes of Enda and Alan and Martin in the present regime. If we are interested in democracy, then a different ‘we’ has to be born. You and me, and not them.

A final thought: in the drawing above, El País cartoonist El Roto shows a snake who is saying: we have a bad reputation because we bite back when they step on us. According to myth, St Patrick cast the snakes out of Ireland. On occasion, I have seen protesters carry placards depicting politicians and bankers as snakes. This kind of imagery identifies St Patrick and all that is good with the people of Ireland, and the snakes with the unwelcome individuals who speak with a forked tongue and disrupt the community with all their sexual suggestiveness and encouragement to eat forbidden fruit. I think we should revise our opinion of the snakes. What if the snakes are really the figures of dispute and dissent and resistance and liberation and knowledge that the ruling powers constantly strive to expel and trample underfoot?


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