What sleazy informality is for in Ireland

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A moment’s consideration will reveal the connection between the Garda penalty points affair and the Patrick Nulty affair.

Were you the kind of person who knew how to get their penalty points wiped? Would you have had the sense of assurance and the personal acquaintances that would have got you off the hook? Maybe one of the Guards you could rely on for that kind of thing is a friend of your father’s. Maybe you invited him along to give a talk at your Residents Association meeting, about the need to install burglar alarms and lock your tools in the shed. You can never be too careful with burglars.

I’m not that kind of person. I don’t know any Gardaí. If I got done for a motoring offence that got me penalty points, it wouldn’t even occur to me to approach the police to get the points wiped. This isn’t because I’m one of the good guys, it’s because I don’t trust the police.

Now, maybe if I had a guard for an uncle or something, I might have a different view of the police, and of my chances of getting penalty points wiped, and I might have a different sense of entitlement, too. However, I don’t. And the thought of going to An Garda Síochána to get penalty points removed brings with it the following: what would they want in return?

What they want in return may not be much. Most likely they will not say they want anything at all in return. All part of the service. So this is what you say happened, sir? Well, who are we to disbelieve your account. Points wiped. But this willingness to believe is a gift, and it is not a gift bestowed on everyone who crosses the path of An Garda Síochána. That’s one of the reasons they bug people’s phone calls.

David Graeber’s Debt has a telling quote, taken from Peter Freuchen’s Book of the Eskimo: “Up in our country we are human!” said the hunter. “And since we are human we help each other. We don’t like to hear anybody say thanks for that. What I get today you may get tomorrow. Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs.”

What happens when an institution of the State makes you a gift in the form of wiped penalty points? How does that change the relation between you -the ‘citizen’- and the State official? By gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs.

In this place, do you know where you stand when it comes to the police? How about doctors and consultants? Do you know what your rights are? Would you be confident enough to quote your rights and stand up for them? Could you do it even when there are lots of people standing around who, as far as you can see, think the police are great fellows altogether, or that the gynaecologist is beyond reproach because he delivered all my children, or that the politician at the meeting is on our side because he sorted out my mother’s pension entitlements?

A lot of people criticise Ireland’s political system because it is clientelist. A lot of this criticism comes from the bien pensant, socially liberal but economically conservative, extreme centrist core of the Irish middle class.

This criticism expresses haughty disdain both for the people who vote the same candidates in time and again, and for the grubby, self-seeking politicians who use constituency clinics and the like as a way of buying votes.

What this criticism usually hides from view is the fact that people are forced to rely on the intercession of political representatives because Ireland does not have public institutions that operate in line with principles of democratic citizenship and guaranteed rights. Instead, it has institutions that make sure you’re well looked after if you’re rich and might do you the odd favour if you’re not.

And this situation is getting worse, or better, if you are a privateer. Under the auspices of the Department for Public Expenditure and Reform, Irish government departments are doing away with the word ‘citizen’ altogether, and replacing it with ‘customer’. Thank you for your custom: ‘custom’ implies payment. Your rights, hence, are what you can pay for. If you look at Ireland’s constitution, it says that institutions should operate on the basis of charity. Charity, not rights. By gifts one makes slaves…

Patrick Nulty’s behaviour was stomach churning and reprehensible, but it didn’t happen in a vacuum. Why should a woman who has been the victim of physical and sexual abuse be forced to make her case for increased rent allowance to a male TD? The woman who attended Nulty’s office seeking help said her detailed account of the abuse she had suffered was “just another story I had to tell another total stranger because I thought I had no other option”.

Nulty’s own abusive behaviour in this case shouldn’t blind us to the fact that he was able to operate in the expanses of a vast grey area established by the Irish State, where gifts and favours and nods and winks take the place of enforceable rights, and of institutions that correspond to those rights.

This world of sleazy informality and bogus intimacy is not the exception to the rule of law: for the intents and purposes of those who matter in Ireland’s kleptocracy, it is the rule of law.



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13 responses to “What sleazy informality is for in Ireland

  1. “Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs.” Well, that is the best quote I’m likely to come by this year. It says it all doesn’t it? Creepy politicians and their thuggish ways…It strikes me that the best people don’t go into politics, do they? And why not? Maybe if we encouraged out children to become politicians instead of just considering it a ‘dirty business’, things could change. Grass roots, it works. But conservative constituencies make it a bit of a challenge, don’t they? The old ‘this is how one does business’ attitude.
    great post btw

  2. dude, I LOVE the way you write. “extreme centrism” is the whole of crappy Irish political life summarised in 2 words..

  3. 59C8F5C

    ‘I don’t trust the police’

    I will assume that you have had questionable dealings with Gardaí and have a grudge against them.

    • Assume what you like; I think it’s a reasonable position to hold regardless of my own experiences, based on information in the public domain.

    • niall

      I don’t trust the police.
      They are one of the most secretive police forces in the world. They have incredibly broad powers and the book of rules and regulations (The Garda Code) is confidential and unavailable to the public. It’s hard to hold an organisation accountable for anything when you cannot know what they should be held accountable for. They claim selective exemptions from the Freedom of Information act.

    • Ciaran

      That’s quite the assumption. Well, I don’t trust them either. I had questionable dealings with them too: I reported a serial child rapist and asked for as much confidentiality as they could offer. They immediately told the rapist who reported him and I only found that out ten years later. I don’t trust them because they were careless of my safety. *And* all the other reasons Richard lists too.
      Questionable? Yep.

  4. 59C8F5C

    So, you _have_ had questionable dealings with the Gardaí. Which makes your motives and a blog post such as this unsurprising. Care to divulge your dealings with them?

  5. 59C8F5C

    Don’t be obtuse. You said, full quote: “Assume what you like; I think it’s a reasonable position to hold regardless of my own experiences, based on information in the public domain.”

    Focusing in on “I think it’s a reasonable position to hold regardless of my own experiences”. From that, even more particular on “regardless of my own experiences”.

    “Regardless of my own experiences”.

    “[…] my own experiences”

    I will ask again, and don’t be the same evasive idiot that you were just now: what are your “experiences” with Gardaí?

    Maybe you should learn to comprehend. Maybe you should learn to engage with sincerity. Maybe you should learn to write honest responses.

    • Like I said before, you should learn to read. In my previous post to you I was trying to suggest to you that it is perfectly reasonable not to trust An Garda Síochána given information that is already in the public domain, and that, for the purposes of useful discussion, there is nothing to be gained from discussing my own experiences.

      Is my stance vis-a-vis the police justified or not? If you think it is not, then you should contest it based on the argument I have set forth. Tell me why you think An Garda Síochána should be trusted, in light of what is already known about them.

      What you are doing, instead, is trying to suggest that my stance vis-a-vis the police is based on some immediately personal grievance. That is a tactic preferred by people who do not want to engage in the substance of an argument because it is terrain they find unwelcome, and seek to pathologise the person making the argument instead. Well, since you insist, Bergerac, I haven’t had any dealings with the police, good or bad, and I have no ‘grudge’ against the police, beyond an awareness that they are a vital disciplinary force for a capitalist State.

  6. 59C8F5C

    Oh my. It is apparent from the length of your response, and your repeated evasiveness and obvious stupidity, that I’ve touched a huge, painful nerve.

    My response to your dumb response:
    No. No to everything.

    I don’t care about your obtuse, dense evasions. I don’t care about how justified or not your stance is in (your own) terms of your worthless little left-wing political little blog. You sound like a Jesuit.

    The internet has an entire dictionary, so if you don’t understand these words then maybe you should consult one. Maybe you’re a smart guy, and you understand _all_ of the individual words, in all their complexity, Dr. Chomsky, but what eludes you permanently is the _order_ of the words and the meaning of the words in their context.

    There is much “terrain” that we all find unwelcome. What I find unwelcome is the thought that a man with much obvious confirmation bias using the strongest terms, without substantial intellectual opposition in comments, to condemn an institution and grind an axe. With this understanding you’re technically a fascist. How does that sit with you, Mr. Anti-Fascist?

    “[…] there is nothing to be gained from discussing my own experiences”. Hey asshole. Let us be the judge of that. Your definition of “the substance of the argument” is obviously not the same as mine. Why you think stating this obvious fact is beyond comprehension. What matters here obviously is your evasiveness, your views on the police, your EXPERIENCES WITH POLICE and how obviously those thoughts and concepts are in conflict and how they influence each other.

    I now realise that this is a futile exercise, and you have zero interest in answering questions or engaging in other than in a remote, distant manner, but for the record – even though I know you won’t answer – I must state the following, in capital letters, so you can read and maybe take in the full meaning of the question (And don’t run away and make cowardly Facebook postings about my comments). Okay, here it goes:


    • Oh god.

      So apparently fascism is now saying things on a blog without anyone leaving comments that contradict them. I guess that makes me worse than Hitler.

      Like I’ve said already, I have had no ‘dealings’, good or bad, with An Garda Síochána. Before, I took ‘dealings’ to mean transactions of note in which I was personally involved. Now it looks to me like you are extending the definition of ‘dealings’ to encompass any kind of sensory experience. Well, I live quite near a police station. I have been to neighbourhood meetings where the police spoke. I have been to the police station to get passport photographs signed. Sometimes I see the police driving around. This one time, they rang at my door because there was a fight in a house a few doors down and they wanted to know if I had seen anything. They wear yellow high visibility jackets and I can see them from a distance. I have been to demonstrations where the police was present. I could go on in this boring, mundane fashion for the next six years if you like.

      It might be hard for you to understand this, but not everyone’s opinion of institutions is determined primarily by their own personal dealings with those institutions. You don’t have been locked up in order to have a view on prison conditions. You don’t have to have gone to a creche as a toddler in order to hold a view on creches.

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