Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Populism Chronicles: Part One

The Populism Chronicles, part one of a continuing series.

Stephen Collins is crying for you, Argentina

Stephen Collins is crying for you, Argentina

Stephen Collins’s Inside Politics column in the Irish Times bore the headline ‘Coalition needs to resist easy rush to populism‘. ‘Populism’ in this context meant, variously;

  1. A refusal to follow the Troika stipulation to impose €2bn in cuts and taxes in the upcoming budget;
  2. Joan Burton, the Minister for Social Protection, referring to those stipulating this target as “austerity hawks”, which Collins believed ‘played straight into the hands of the opposition’.
  3. The use of the word “austerity”. According to Collins, “austerity” is mere ‘prudent budgetary discipline’, a means of ‘protecting the hard-won credibility of Ireland’s capacity to follow through on budgetary commitments’.

Against this ‘populism’, Collins counsels that Labour should take pride in its role in ‘prudent budgetary discipline’, and that Fine Gael should ‘present itself as the party that can best manage the economy’.

It seems a bit quixotic, Canute-like, even, at this stage to claim that the word “austerity” is populism. But what is giving in to windmills or the tide if not populism? “Austerity” as a name for a particular set of social and economic policies is well established in the public mind, and not just in Ireland. Using the word “austerity” does require some kind of subjective judgement, but so then does ‘prudent budgetary discipline’.

The “devastating effect on public health” of such policies, as recorded by The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills by Stuckler and Banju would not alter an iota if the full title of that book were ‘The Body Economic: Why Prudent Budgetary Discipline Kills’. One useful effect of the revised title, however, would be to expose the political interests operating behind the use of the term ‘prudence’.

The Body Populist: Why Irresponsible Book Titles Kill

The Body Populist: Why Irresponsible Book Titles Kill

Collins cited the ‘sad case’ of Argentina as a ‘salutary lesson about what inevitably follows when such irresponsible policies are followed, but that hasn’t deterred the “burn the bondholders” brigade from continuing to urge an end to “austerity” with all of the consequences that would follow from that.” Though he did not provide any evidence, or cite any consequences, other than the claim that it was sad.

Was the Argentinian government of the day irresponsible? In an Irish Times article a few days previous, Martin Wolf, the Financial Times’s chief financial correspondent, writing about Argentina’s default, said that ‘it had become impossible to service its public debt of $132 billion at tolerable cost.’

From Collins’s perspective, ‘responsibility’ equates to tolerance of what Wolf calls the intolerable. Neither writer mentions just who it is that has to do the tolerating. Collins, however, lauds the Labour Party for ‘protecting the most vulnerable in society from the worst ravages of recession’.

To understand further the political uses of ‘the most vulnerable’, you can read my Notes on ‘The Most Vulnerable’ from last year. Note that Collins does not see any ravages incurred by the imposition of ‘prudent budgetary discipline’, only the more natural phenomenon of ‘recession’.

What happened to ‘the most vulnerable’ in Argentina following its default? A recent study by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean gives some clues. In a study last month titled ‘Pacts for Equality: Towards a Sustainable Future’, Argentina’s record over the last decade was subjected to detailed scrutiny alongside other countries. Argentina came second in the regional ranking for policies that reduced social inequality, including rises in the minimum wage, which rose by over 200% in real terms between 2003 and 2012.

Here is the unemployment rate in Argentina in the post-default years.

The Price of 'Irresponsibility': Unemployment in Argentina fails to respond to calls for prudence

The Price of ‘Irresponsibility’: Unemployment in Argentina fails to respond to calls for prudence

If only the ‘most vulnerable’ in Ireland were subjected to such irresponsible and imprudent populism.

Let us sum up. It is prudent to ignore the social costs of paying off public debt incurred in order to save the financial system. It is irresponsible to pursue policies that reduce social inequality. It is populist to say there is such a thing as austerity in Ireland.

Tomorrow: Terence Flanagan, Joan Burton, and Punitive Populism

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Defending Capitalism

'In the wake of the great financial crisis, few people are willing to put their heads above the parapet to defend a system that has generated so much misery.'

‘In the wake of the great financial crisis, few people are willing to put their heads above the parapet to defend a system that has generated so much misery.’

I left this comment on an article in today’s Irish Times by one of its finance correspondents, Chris Johns. The article is titled Taxing capital risks underinvestment in our future‘, with a standfirst that reads ‘Thomas Piketty’s proposals could effectively abolish capitalism‘ (yeah, right). It also has a picture of Piketty in a pose that recalls a Roman salute favoured by certain uniformed movements of the 30s and 40s, which I’m sure is mere coincidence.  Johns claims in the article that ‘War, disease and Malthusian population dynamics prevented the world from becoming better off. Capitalism changed all that.’

So, ‘capitalism isn’t working as it should’, but who decided that it should work in a certain way? Dunno about you, but no-one ever asked me.

Absent from the author’s view of capitalism are a few important considerations: 1) capitalism is nothing without human labour, 2) capitalism depends on class exploitation, and 3) capitalism operates on a planet with finite resources and subordinates the use of these resources to the extraction of profit, with disastrous ecological destruction as a consequence. These facts are no less real because the Berlin Wall was demolished. Sure, the habits and methods of the market economy have produced economic growth, but growth as an end in itself will ruin the planet.

The major political institutions that exist under capitalism exist to serve capitalism. So unless there’s a political and social revolution, capitalism will cause more war, more disease and more famine, not less (Also, despite the author’s claim that capitalism is pacifying, the bloodiest wars in human history have happened during the development of captialism with state-backed military technology the source of much of capitalism’s drive to innovate).

One thing Piketty’s work shows is that concentration of wealth in the hands of a few brings the concentration of decisive political power in the same hands (though you hardly need to be a genius to work that out). From the perspective of this ruling class, capitalism works as it should when they get rich and everyone else…well who cares?

Lastly, the notion that ‘few people are willing to put their heads above the parapet’ to defend capitalism is a very odd statement to make in a country that doesn’t even have a single left-wing newspaper and where universities want to turn every student into an entrepreneur.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Lurid and Misleading Tales of an Idiot



Yesterday I finished a piece for the Catholic Church and Ireland’s elites for the upcoming edition of Look Left. One of the things I touched on in it was the response of the Irish media, in particular the Irish Times, to the uproar over the Tuam mother-and-baby home revelations and the fact Ireland’s media appeared to do nothing about it. The response from those quarters was largely a matter of the stupid public getting all frenzied about a series of misleading headlines.

Worst of all the responses came from Stephen Collins. I didn’t have room to go into it in great detail in the piece, so I’m just going to sketch it out here.

In a piece titled ‘Sound and fury overwhelm rational political debate’* , Collins wrote of the ‘instant hysteria’ and ‘lurid and misleading reports’ that had ‘fanned a political storm at home’, and of the ‘spectacle of politicians jostling to gain political advantage from the sufferings of past generations’. The etymology of the word ‘hysteria’ did not trouble him in the context of an institution that turned mothers into indentured slaves.

He was referring specifically here to Mary Lou McDonald’s Dáil intervention, which he described as ‘trying to make political capital’ out of ‘one of the dark episodes in our past’. In my view, Mary Lou McDonald’s intervention was both measured and appropriate, given the wider significance of the issue. She called for the investigation into mother and baby institutions to include the Magdalen laundries, and criticised ‘The State, the churches and society’ for ‘acting illegitimately and broke every rule and boundary of decency, morality and the rule of the law’. Collins basically said, in a way that aped Enda Kenny’s responses to uncomfortable questions in the Dáil from SF, that the Provos had some nerve pretending they were concerned with humanity.

What is interesting to me here is the way Collins talks about politicians ‘trying to make political capital’ whilst oblivious to the fact -or else he couldn’t care less- that his own actions are geared towards making political capital for the established parties.

Collins’s hatred of democracy knows no bounds. The task of a public representative in parliament, in theory anyway, is to represent the views of her constituency in deliberations on legislation and government. It is the essence of parliamentary democracy. This is the idealised picture of democracy that Collins and the Irish Times present, not me.

However, from Collins’s perspective, any time a representative actually does express views that most likely correspond to those of her constituents, such expressions, provided they are not at once the views of wealthy and powerful people, must be denounced as ‘populism’: made in the selfish interest of raising one’s political profile (and perhaps even a devious ploy to set the scene for bombing and killing people at some stage in future).

I should stress that this is not just Collins’s perspective; it is also evident more widely in the Irish Times, as well as in RTÉ, and in media controlled by Denis O’Brien.

There is little, if any, countervailing view of politics and democracy ever presented in any of these outlets. To give another example, the piece by Fiach Kelly yesterday on Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, titled ‘Ming to take full MEP’s pay as ‘it will be useful for the revolution’’ sought to cast Ming as someone who ran for MEP in order to double his salary whilst at the same time passing himself off as some kind of rural Dave Spart.

Pablo Iglesias

Pablo Iglesias

It is worth comparing what is happening here with what is happening in Spain and the European Parliament at the minute. At a meeting last week, Podemos figurehead and newly elected MEP Pablo Iglesias was asked how he would treat the matter of ETA in the European Parliament. He said: “If I have the opportunity to speak in the European Parliament about ETA, I would say that it has caused enormous pain but that it also has a political explanation.” He went on: “if there was no political basis to it, there would be no way to understand why [Felipe] González and Aznar sat down to negotiate”. Moreover: “to speak of a problem and try to analyse it politically does not mean being in agreement with it.”

As a consequence, numerous victims’ groups (some of whom have close associations with the Partido Popular] released a statement accusing Iglesias of ‘whitewashing ETA’s history of terror and justifying murder, kidnapping and extorsion’, insisting that ‘we do not accept that terrorist violence has a political explanation, given that any political position can be advocated with the instruments guaranteed by the Constitution in a democratic State’.

At a press conference today, presenting him as European Left candidate for presidency of the European Parliament, Iglesias was repeatedly asked about the details of Podemos deputies refusing to avail of the full MEP salary and other privileges. One Spanish journalist noted that there had been significant popular approval for this position. The word he used was ‘algarabía‘, a word that has no direct translation into English, but in Spanish connotes a festive rabble led by unthinking passions. Pablo Iglesias objected to the use of the word and said that journalists should have more respect for the views of the public. It is important to note that word ‘algarabia‘ derives from ‘al‘arabíyya’, that is, Arabic. It is also a word in Spanish that means garbled or unintelligible speech.

The point of all this, at a time when the credibility of traditional political parties of rule is collapsing due to their support for the anti-democratic imposition of austerity policies and bank bailouts, is for political and media establishments to present politics as a serious business for serious gentlemen with smart haircuts and a good understanding of what the markets want from them, gentlemen with no inclination of giving in to the public’s quicksilver emotions and turgid ululations.

Outside of that, anyone else with political pretensions is an egomaniac, a chancer or a terrorist, and anyone who votes for them is too stupid to have their voice heard. Ultimately, it is a response to the flagging legitimacy of the violence of the sovereign.

Whilst I think the effect of this approach is wearing off a bit, I think it is still strong in the way it designates safe and unsafe areas for ordinary people to think politically and express political opinions. Few people like to think of themselves as a mere element of a raging and unthinking mob. In particular, when it comes to the matter of terrorism, very few people have the stomach for coming under the suspicion of harbouring murderous terrorist thoughts. They don’t want to be thought of as would-be murderers, quite understandably. Ultimately, for this method of propaganda to be neutralised, it needs to be tackled head-on, in open public confrontation and debate.


* ‘Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing’. — Macbeth. Another one for the bumper catalogue of seasoned observer cliché, along with Zhou Enlai, things falling apart, and the week as a long time in politics.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Smearing The Guildford Four: A Reprise

: The Court of Appeal was not really what we were looking forward to, at any stage. It was a police investigation, it was documents that were found.. that had been marked blatantly not to be shown to the defence, that eventually released us, and the weight of a campaign that was gathering momentum as each year went by, and a campaign that was driven and had the motion of ordinary people. Ordinary people, and Gerry will be the first to say this, that it was the ordinary people in England, it was the ordinary people in Ireland, and at that time, the ordinary people who were involved were being called the fellow travellers of the men of violence.

Ó Mongáin: But that campaign on the outside, what kind of a morale boost was it for you inside the prison, that people hadn’t forgotten, there were still people out there, despite the establishment view, that believed in your innocence.

Hill: It gave us great fortitude. It gave us great fortitude to receive mail from all parts of the world. I received mail and so did Gerry, from, you know, all corners of the globe. So we knew that the story was out there. What we really needed was political leverage, and political leverage didn’t come until very, very late.

Ó Mongáin: Do you think..

Hill: And I’m not trying to score political points, but it has to be said that people in positions of power did very little for Gerry Conlon, for myself, for the Birmingham Six, for Judith Ward, for the Maguire family. They languished in prison during a period when everybody knew that we were completely and absolutely innocent. And when he’s being eulogised today, those people should look in the mirror and say: what did I do for those individuals?

Ó Mongáin: And do you mean governments..?

Hill: And you know, I’m not casting it on everyone because there were individuals, you know, who chipped away, who believed in us, but it was incredibly hard, as Seamus [Mallon] has just explained, because the British said it was a judicial matter and it wasn’t a matter of politics.

Ó Mongáin: And what about the Irish government, or as Seamus Mallon mentioned, indeed, the IRA?

Hill: Well, I’ve just explained that the Balcombe Street people came forward, you know, it’s not a time for scoring political points-

Ó Mongáin: Sure.

Hill: A man has died. What happened to myself and Gerry Conlon was a greater miscarriage of justice than those who died in Guildford and died in Woolwich and in Birmingham. We had absolutely nothing to do with that. And when we hear, “well what about the IRA?”, then no, it’s like, political point scoring. What do we say?

Ó Mongáin: Sure.

Hill: We were not involved in it. What do we say?

Transcript of excerpt of interview with Paul Hill, conducted with Colm Ó Mongáin, on RTÉ’s This Week, Sunday 22nd June.

Following this interview, the Irish Independent ran two stories in connection with it.

The first, uncredited appeared on its website, appeared thus:
The second, credited to Sam Griffin, was headed ‘Victim’s family enraged over ‘injustice’ comments by Hill’

It began:

The family of a teenager murdered in the Birmingham bombings has criticised remarks by Paul Hill, one of the Guildford Four, who claimed that those wrongly imprisoned for bomb attacks in the UK suffered a greater injustice than those killed in the bombings.

It continued:

Family members of those killed in the atrocities yesterday criticised the remarks which they described as “deluded” and “thoughtless”.

It quoted Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson:

“The families of the innocent people, who died as a result of those dreadful bombs, must find these remarks nauseating and deeply hurtful,” he said

The article also quoted SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell:

“No injustice, no matter how severe of that nature, equates with taking somebody’s life.

“Loss of life, and depriving someone of their life, is the greatest injustice of all.”

Let’s look closely at what has happened here.

Paul Hill, anxious to make clear that the moment of Gerry Conlon’s death was not a time for political point scoring, nonetheless felt compelled to observe, in light of the eulogies for Gerry Conlon, that people in positions of power had shown little concern for the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, for Judith Ward, or for the Maguire family at a time when it was common knowledge that they were innocent. He refused to be drawn into commenting on the role of the IRA, other than to say that those IRA members captured at Balcombe Street had highlighted their innocence.

A moment’s reflection should make it obvious why Paul Hill might refuse to partake in what he described as “political point-scoring” when called upon to offer judgment on the IRA’s role. Given that Paul Hill was absolutely innocent of any involvement in the IRA bombings, and was victim of a miscarriage of British justice, why should he be called upon to comment at all on what the IRA did or did not do?

Moreover, why should he be expected to let those who either did nothing or were complicit in his continued incarceration, off the hook? Why should he do anything to serve the purposes of those who cast as “the fellow travellers of the men of violence” those ordinary people who tried to get him and Gerry Conlon and others freed ?

Chris Mullin describes what happened with the IRA in relation to the Guildford Four:

‘from the moment that the IRA unit arrested at Balcombe Street were first interviewed, everyone concerned – up to and including the Director of Public Prosecutions – knew there was something wrong with the Guildford and Woolwich convictions;

.. rather than face up to the possibility of a serious miscarriage of justice, they chose instead to doctor the evidence…

I submit that from soon after the arrest of the Balcombe Street IRA unit it is inescapable that those in authority, up to the highest level, realised that innocent people may have been convicted of the Guildford and Woolwich bombings and were anxious to avoid facing up to that possibility.’

‘Miscarriage of justice’ is a precise legal term. It refers to a formal judicial process, and here, in particular, to the conviction and continued imprisonment of the Guildford Four. In these precise terms, it is indisputable that what happened to Paul Hill and Gerry Conlon was indeed, as Paul Hill describes, “a greater miscarriage of justice than those who died in Guildford and died in Woolwich and in Birmingham”. If the expectation was for justice to be served for the victims of the bombings, this did not happen because the British establishment opted not to pursue the IRA unit who had already claimed responsibility, and instead opted to keep innocent people locked up. In their proper context, there is nothing “deluded”, “thoughtless”, “nauseating” or “deeply hurtful” about Paul Hill’s remarks.

For those who died, justice was not, nor can it ever be, served by the imprisonment of innocent men and women. But the effects of the process were a great deal worse for those innocents who were imprisoned: torture, prolonged incarceration, solitary confinement, -in the case of Gerry Conlon, the imprisonment and death of his father. These effects were compounded by a refusal on the part of the Irish political and media establishments to pay heed to their predicament or recognise their innocence.

What the Irish Independent has done with these reports is to decontextualise and twist Paul Hill’s remarks. It has conflated the formal judicial process by which justice was supposed to be served –hence ‘miscarriage of justice’- with a far broader and more abstract interpretation of justice, and sought out voices to decry Hill, based on this broader interpretation.

The effect –the intended effect– is that Hill appears to say that those who were killed in the bombings were more deserving of what happened to them than what happened to him and Gerry Conlon, that they were not entirely innocent whereas he and Conlon were.

Hill is made appear as one of the stock “fellow travellers of the men of violence” that Ireland’s media used against the Guildford Four, and have used ever since as a control mechanism.

If you take journalism seriously, you might be inclined to believe that journalists have an ethical obligation to make sure that they are capturing the precise sense of what a person is saying. You might be inclined to believe, furthermore, that this ethical obligation is all the more binding when dealing with a person who has been coerced into making false confessions by the police -at gunpoint- and jailed for 15 years as a result.

Moreover, you might see this obligation as particularly important when the remarks are made in the context of the death of someone who was allowed to languish in prison, and whose life was probably cut short as a consequence, precisely because Irish political and media establishments did not take his claims seriously, and smeared those who did.

Well, any such inclinations you might have count for nothing when it comes to the Irish Independent’s drive to police what ordinary people think and protect the powerful from criticism.


Filed under Uncategorized

Fresh Eyes, Expired Perspectives

This is a version of a comment I left on the article in today’s Irish Times by Kathy Sheridan, which is titled ‘Casting a fresh eye on the Tuam controversy

I agree with Kathy Sheridan that it is all too convenient to cast the Catholic Church as the fons et origo of the Tuam Mother-and-Baby home. She is right to draw attention to the fact that such institutions were part of a broader landscape of misogyny, squalor and degradation, and that Ireland was not the only country in which such things happened. She is also right to draw attention to the economic considerations that sustained what she describes as Ireland’s ‘moral dustbins’.

However, it is also all too convenient to lump together all expressions of scepticism of the Irish Times’s approach to these matters as a kneejerk response. As other Irish Times contributors have rightly noted, in echo of what others are saying, the Tuam mother-and-baby re-discovery prompts us to look at how an oppressive past continues to inform oppression in the present.

What is more, Ireland’s contemporary institutions -political, legal, educational, health- are the product of this oppressive past. Is it reasonable to expect that the Irish Times, which has a track record of identifying with the priorities of Ireland’s power elites, can subject this issue to the fullest possible examination?

How, for example, given that Kathy Sheridan rightly highlights the economic dimension to this oppression, would you expect an institution that continues to present austerity policies as the common sense course of action -despite its patently obvious and wide-ranging destructive effects- to examine the social, economic and political factors behind things like the Tuam mother-and-baby home?

It seems all the more unwise to expect the Irish Times to examine these issues in their fullest meaning given that it habitually resorts to a differentiation between the views of the uninformed, fickle and easily inflamed public on the one hand, and the views of a coolly rational and far-sighted technocratic elite on the other, a trait unfortunately reproduced in this otherwise insightful article

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Harbison: The Long TED Talk of the Soul

I was only dimly aware of Niall Harbison until a day or so ago. I knew he occasionally wrote reviews of restaurants that made hideous remarks about working class Dubliners, with terms such as “knacker” and “Knackeragua”, and that was pretty much it. I don’t know much more about him now, either.

Out of curiosity I looked him up this morning. I found this YouTube video. It is interesting. In it, he tells the audience about his views on things.

Mindful of his remarks about “knackers”, I was struck by this phrase:

“I come from a background where I actually got kicked out of two different schools. So I couldn’t concentrate, by the age of 16 there was no more schools that would have me, I guess now you’d probably call it ADHD or something like that, but I didn’t actually know at the time what it was. It actually turned out that I was entrepreneurial and that I was somebody who could go and start businesses”

It turned out he was entrepreneurial. This was something he realised at some point, and it was a moment of liberation. It sounds a bit like when people find out that they have an undiagnosed condition, and knowledge of the condition allows them to see things clearly and live differently, whereas previously they thought there was something wrong with them.

The problem is, being entrepreneurial isn’t a pre-existing condition, or a suppressed truth. There’s no such thing as a born entrepreneur. There are, however, lots of people who believe they were born to be entrepreneurs. This is one thing Niall Harbison has in common with Sean Quinn, who claims he was a wealth creator since the moment he was born. We can trace this line of thought back at least to Adam Smith. Surveying the birth of capitalism, Smith reasoned that human beings were born with a natural propensity to truck and barter (if this is true, there must be something wrong with me).

In his talk, Harbison sees fear as what prevents us from enjoying work and, by extension, given that we spend decades working, from enjoying life. He identifies the education system as something that forces us to conform to a particular path. It puts us on a conveyor belt towards university and beyond, into a workplace where we seem incapable of doing anything but conform. In his own experience, he was called stupid and dumb at school by teachers and others. This appears to have had a lasting effect on him.

I found myself agreeing with this description. What is more, getting called stupid and dumb by teachers is traumatic, and where you have education systems that inflict such things, children are damaged, and societies are damaged as a consequence. So, I felt sorry for him at that point.

The problem is, Harbison’s understanding of the conformity and stigmas imposed by the education system did not turn into a critical understanding of why the education system does this. He doesn’t see the education system as serving a particular purpose in the organisation of a particular kind of society. Moreover, his apparent anti-authoritarianism is girded by an accomplished ignorance of how society actually works. He seems to think ‘entrepreneurialism’ is a natural quality, when in fact there are certain things needed for it to exist: money, banks, legal and political institutions, for starters. To say you are born an entrepreneur, then, is like saying you were born to watch Eastenders tonight.

Of course, this isn’t really Harbison’s fault: the contemporary cult of the entrepreneur is by and large a product of neoliberalism’s systematic dismantling of social institutions and structures that foster collective solidarity. If there are so many entrepreneurs around these days, it is largely because we are supposed to think we are on our own. For all the neophilia of self-professed entrepreneurs and their trials at the hands of deadening bureaucracies, there is more than a dreary echo, in their personal myth-making, of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, where Hayek says ‘our young men’ prefer ‘the safe, salaried position to the risk of enterprise after they have heard from their earliest youth the former described as the superior, more unselfish and disinterested occupation’. (Hayek’s own anti-authoritarianism is somewhat undermined by the way he both inspired and supported Pinochet’s Chile)

Harbison sees the world of work as a potential world of fun, but a world that is frustrated by the dead hand of archaic institutions, like the school and the corporation. In his view, it doesn’t matter what work you do; the question is how you approach that work. For him, “money is a very, very false metric” in this regard, and “people are ruined by money”. Well that’s easy for him to say as he shows us photos of luxury yachts and island resorts that cost shitloads of money. The poorer you are, the more you worry about money. Like Oscar Wilde said, ‘there is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else.’

What is more, Harbison’s view of work is devoid of any consideration that work sucks bigtime for a great many people not because they have the wrong attitude, but because the particular kind of work is boring, humiliating, and deadening. I have worked cleaning toilets. There is no tune you can whistle that turns it into lasting fun. And as long as there are people and toilets, someone will have to clean those toilets. But whilst Harbison mentions work on building sites, he is concerned mainly with people who work in offices. This is probably a good thing too. Because if his injunction to have fun at work were extended to everyone, and everyone were to take this injunction seriously, society as it is would probably collapse completely into a Hobbesian war of all against all in a matter of days. Bosses would have extra fun preying on their employees’ fear of losing their job, teachers would humiliate children in their classes with a sense of relish, judges would laugh as they handed out maximum sentences for minor offences, 999 operators would hang up on callers for the laugh, prison guards would stamp on prisoner heads with delight, and so on. Sure it’s only a bit of fun!

Harbison starts off with an image of the baby learning to walk, who takes risks, and who might “smash his face in”, but in the end, conquers his fear and learns to walk. Anyone who has been around babies will know that this is a very partial telling of the story. Babies have to be clothed and fed and cared for, and when they fall down they often need someone to pick them up and tell them that they’ll be ok, and that they shouldn’t be afraid. No baby ever learns to walk all by itself, and you have to wonder why the image is so convincing to Harbison. No baby could ever learn to walk unless it received at least some kind of care and nurture.

If a baby takes risks, as it will have to it does knowing it will still be looked after, and maybe picked up, if need be. The vision of the entrepreneurial capitalist society, on the other hand, entails in practice the stripping away of every form of social solidarity that allows people the freedom to develop fully as socially conscious and creative human beings, and subjecting vast swathes of the population to the risks of unemployment, illness and despair. When you are enthralled by such a vision, as Harbison is, you look upon rich people as born to be rich -sorry, successful entrepreneurs- whereas when anyone else comes into the line of sight and interrupts that vision and disrupts its appetites, they appear as little more than a stain to be wiped out.


Filed under Uncategorized

Some brief notes on ‘Independents and Others’


Graph based on analysis by Adrian Kavanagh at, 12th June 2014.

As a category for understanding electoral preferences, ‘Independents and Others’ only works in relation to major parties that already exist and are more or less established. This means continuing to look at electoral preferences -and the voters behind them- through a settled and established prism.

But this isn’t the only way of classifying electoral preferences. You could look at it in terms of voting for candidates with hair, or with more than three vowels in their surname, or whose election posters contained only capital letters, and so on.

When you put ‘Independents and Others’ alongside other recognised parties, you are looking at the data in a certain way, one that emphasises the history and fortune of entities familiar as parties. Nothing necessarily wrong with this; it’s one particular way of seeing things.

But seeing things this way leads to the highlighting of certain tendencies at the expense of others. For example, many people whose candidate or party of choice falls under the ‘Independents and Others’ grouping might complain, with justification, that their political priorities, the political content of what they are expressing by opting to vote for someone who falls under ‘Independents and Others’, is hidden from view.

As a consequence, when it comes to public discussion of what is going on, our perspective is focused on what developments mean for the established state of things, rather than what different kinds of political thinking are expressed in the different voting pattern.

(I should also point out that regardless of a considerable ‘Independents and Others’ component, monitoring electoral preferences over time gives you no insight into how much confidence people have in the political system to address their concerns and needs)

Clearly ‘Independents and Others’ is a very bad place to end if you’re going to talk about the different kinds of political thinking that might be expressed by people whose vote winds up in this grouping. But this is often where it both begins and ends, especially in mainstream discourse.

Such votes then appear as a ‘protest vote’ or a vote against the major parties, an act that is purely reactive rather than conscious political expressions of this or that kind. We might also tend to imagine a vote for ‘Independent’ as a vote for something seen in the Dáil Technical Group (itself represented in media as a quasi-party), and interpret it on the whole as a vote for Shane Ross, or Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, or Catherine Murphy -or an amalgam of those three- when there may be a great deal more to it than that, and it’s unlikely that anyone voted for anyone with the idea of such an amalgam in their head. (At least you’d hope not, but you never know).

Not only does the ‘Others’ bit deprive the People Before Profit Alliance and the Anti-Austerity Alliance of any prominence, but it also relegates their radical opposition to austerity to a matter of political unimportance. And in so far as these groups ever get named in the media as part of this ‘Others’ and as part of this broader ‘Independents and Others’ category, there is an inevitable suggestion that they are, like other electoral options, mere effects of the established parties, rather than political actors in their own right. Hence we are led in the direction that there is no need to pay any heed to what they are saying, because what really matters is how well the established parties articulate their case, not what smaller groupings have to say.

To be clear, I am not saying that grouping electoral preferences in this way is completely useless. Actually, it tells us interesting things, such as the growing discredit of the established parties. We might conclude that this is a consequence of support for austerity policies and the fact of implementing them in government, the inevitable result of stripping away public services, introducing measures to drive down wages, privileging the financial sector whilst depriving other people of the basic means for a decent existence. That seems to me a reasonable enough conclusion, as far as it goes.

But what I’d like to know, and what such data does not tell me, is whether voting for an ‘Independent’ is a different way of voting. Is it, for example, a way of voting against being represented by a party machine? Is it a way of voting for greater democratic accountability? Is it a way of voting for people you identify with precisely because you do not perceive them as machine politicians but rather people you can rely upon?

As I have noted previously, a lot of these so-called ‘Independents’ are basically Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in disguise. See here for more details. However, that doesn’t mean people are voting for them because they are Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in disguise. Similarly when people say to a pollster they are voting ‘Independent’ (assuming they did not mention any particular candidate that was classified as ‘independent’ post facto) that does not mean they were going to vote for any ‘Independent’ candidate willy-nilly; I imagine lots of them voted for independent candidates who showed particular traits and articulated their position in certain ways.

There are so many questions that will never even get asked through this perspective of Established Parties vs. Independent & Others, and so many perspectives that will simply be ignored. How much of an overlap is there between the reasons people had for voting PB4P or AAA, and people voting for other ‘Independents’? I am just guessing here, but I reckon a lot of people voted PB4P and AAA not because they are drawn towards the SWP or the SP as such, but rather because they saw the names and profiles of people with whom they could identify, not people who mean (big) business.

To sum up, rather hastily: I think the ‘Independents and Others’ category obscures a lot more than it illuminates, and the political effects of looking at things in this way are far from neutral. It may be tempting to look upon the votes in the category as ‘anti-establishment’, but you can have different kinds of anti-establishment vote.
There are lots of things worth investigating here, but one in particular is how much -if at all- people are voting in ways that they believe allow them to maximise their democratic agency, rather than simply allowing themselves to be represented by someone else. If there is such a thing, you have the nucleus of possibility for a new democratic common sense. I am wondering about this not because I want to classify certain voters in a better way, or because I am hoping certain people are this way inclined rather than that; it’s more like sifting through a pan full of sludge for a glint of gold.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Podemos in Roscommon and Ming in Madrid


I couldn’t have conceived of this image a short while ago. In fact, I haven’t quite got my head around it yet. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, sitting in the GUE/NGL formation in the European Parliament, directly behind Pablo Iglesias and Podemos MEPs Teresa Rodríguez and Lola Sánchez, with Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s name card to the left.

Do Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Podemos have anything in common politically, apart from a distinctive figure with a pony-tail and beard?

Many people I encounter in Irish left-wing circles are quite suspicious of Ming. Not because of the pony-tail or the beard, but because of his political stances, which on the whole make him hard to pin down into a pre-defined category. They suspect he is, at heart, behind the beard and the ponytail and the support for the legalisation of cannabis, a variant of the localist right-wing populism that has featured so strongly in Irish politics in recent decades, usually found in Fianna Fáil.

They point to his alignment with turf-cutters who want to cut turf on areas that have been designated as areas for conservation. I assume this is because they view such conservation measures as common sense (but it may also be because they view such people as bog-trotters, I can’t say for sure). He does not use any of the keywords that would identify him as socialist or left wing in any way, nor does he ever seem to say anything about capitalism as such.

Further to the right, by which I mean the Labour Party, Ming is looked upon with outright contempt, when not disgust. Someone I know said she had given her preference (their number 2 preference, I think) to Ming in the MEP elections just past. She was criticised for having voted for the Irish UKIP. What the critic meant was that Ming is a politician who seeks to mobilise an anti-European and right-wing nationalist sentiment for either the purposes of imposing right wing policies, or his own self-aggrandisement. In doing so, according to this point of view, he appeals to a sector of society whose passions can be easily led in such a direction.

For someone inclined, say, to support the Labour Party leadership of the day, there is something objectionable about Ming that goes beyond the political stances they attribute to him. He can be sharp and confrontational. He is typical of the kind of figure who, in their eyes, embodies the empty populism they abhor. They prefer smooth party machines, policy-driven approaches, and receptions in the Institute For Chartered Accountants. He is not a barrister or an accountant or drawn from the ranks of any of the other respectable professions. For those whose highest political ambition is to take a leak in the jacks next to Martin Schulz, the thought of him occupying a seat in the European Parliament brings horrifying shame and embarrassment.

Even further to the right, by which I mean the right wing of the Labour Party, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Irish Times, everything owned by Denis O’Brien, and RTÉ, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan is despised. These people like their politicians to dress like the people they serve, i.e. businessmen. They hate anything that gives even the impression of undermining the prestige and pomp of the political establishment, of the business of politics, i.e., politics as business.

These people use Ming as a voodoo doll and a convenient figure of fun, as a means of policing the public tone, as a means of showing that we are the ones who mean business around here, and that ye have no business sticking your noses in to affairs that are beyond your comprehension. The Taoiseach in the Dáil, displaying the same kind of discomfited reaction as when he encounters women with English accents on Ireland’s streets, recently sought to cast Ming as a drug dealer, when Ming posed uncomfortable questions about Garda surveillance activities in relation to whistleblowers.

Campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis is habitually treated as a joke, on both right and left. For the right, especially in the Irish political establishment, people concerned with such things are oddballs and dropouts who are far too drug-addled to say anything. There may be a minor ‘libertarian’ strand who advocate drug legalisation because they believe in freedom from the State as long as the regime of private property and wage labour is safely nailed down, but they are politically invisible, and they normally make their points safely within the bounds of their private residences, not out on the streets.

On the left, there is broad agreement that cannabis ought to be legalised, but it will rarely form part of public campaigns. It isn’t seen as that important. As a political issue, it tends to be seen as a matter that, if given prominence, would alienate the people left campaigns usually seek to reach. Making the legalisation of cannabis a key issue runs the risk getting painted as an oddball or a dropout. This would damage the political credibility of your broader platform. There may also be others who see the image of dope-smokers as corrosive of the image of committed, vigorous and politically serious activists they wish to project, even if they are partial to getting baked the odd time themselves. There is a tendency to see campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis as a largely apolitical activity, concerned more with private property and consumer rights than with opposing illegitimate State control.

If you watch The Life and Crimes of Citizen Ming, a documentary following Ming’s early activities in standing for election, and his pursuit by the law for cannabis use, it becomes clear that what motivates him in his political campaign isn’t the fact of being prohibited from smoking or growing cannabis as such, but rather, the political regime and social climate that treat this activity as an abnormality to be prohibited.

This campaigning leads him to witness first-hand the way RTÉ, the public broadcaster, serves to impose anti-democratic limits on what is politically acceptable, and what is not. He is prevented, physically, from participating in radio debates as a candidate. He declares publicly that RTÉ are “a shower of bastards”, and mordantly notes that Independent Newspapers’ phone number comes up as 666-666. He gets 5,000 first preference votes in the 1999 European elections.

The film delivers the image of someone who is largely polite, highly articulate, calm, dogged, and speaks in plain and accessible language. There is a Bartleby-like quality to his insistence to keep on smoking cannabis despite fines and imprisonment. He goes to prison with a bag full of political literature. He goes on radio shows to denounce the way alcohol floods into Irish towns and washes everything else out (in the government previous to the current one, the Minister for Mental Health was also a publican). He goes to register as a candidate for elections in 2002, and is told by the Returning Officer that she cannot accept his description of himself as “politician” (“That’s what I do, that’s basically what I do. All the time”) because he is not a TD or a Senator. “No”, he replies, but “a politician has nothing to do with whether you’re elected or not.”

(Via Irish Election Literature)

(Via Irish Election Literature)

It’s an illuminating scene: the Returning Officer has to look up the meaning of “politician” in the dictionary, but decides that since it contains a political reference, it is not an admissable occupation. It highlights how under Ireland’s electoral regime, politics is seen as a professional competitive activity and how a basic guiding assumption for someone’s suitability for practising politics -given that you actually have to specify some occupation in order to stand for election- is one’s occupation. The documentary is well worth a look.

Following election to Roscommon County Council, Ming became a TD in 2011. He was cast as one of a crew of misfit independents by Ireland’s media establishment, as ‘nasty’ and a ‘loudmouth’ by the Evening Herald.

He used the Dáil to denounce Ireland’s illegitimate debt burden, reading the remarks of the Ballyhea Says No campaign. In the debate on the 1913 Lockout, he supported Joe Higgins’s motion, and denounced media power as an instrument that destroys democracy. He suggested looking at workers’ rights from a different angle: not only in terms of how money was coming in, but also how money was going out, in the form of debt. He spoke of a different kind of lockout: the lockout from basic public services as a consequence of illegitimate debt.

Ming supported Clare Daly’s abortion bill, supported the campaign to save the A&E department at Roscommon Hospital; supported the campaign against fracking (and described having fracking on one side of the border as like “having a pissing section in a swimming pool”). The exposing of Garda corruption, in which he played a part, has had the effect of undermining the political credibility of the government and the political regime more broadly.

Outside the Dáil last year at a demonstration calling for the jailing of bankers, he said “the first thing I’ve got to say is, don’t wait for people inside to solve your problems. The only people who are going to solve it is the people out here, and in the words of my favourite band Rage Against The Machine, it’s time to take the power back. When the banks were making massive profits, anyone who suggested that money should go to the people were put down as lunatics. Then when the banks started losing a fortune, you were put down as a lunatic if you said you shouldn’t pay their debt, and that is the reason why we are in the hole we are in now. The government’s solution is to try and divide the country people -the culchies- from the townies and the city people. Don’t let them do that.”

What this shows, I think, is a far more sophisticated understanding of how power operates in Irish society than he is given credit for. It shows an understanding, borne of experience, of how social norms, pressures and stigmas shape political power. In a debate on bullying in the Dáil last year he said:

“My secondary school experience and that of many of my friends was more difficult than was my experience of prison. School was a complete jungle. Is this because school reflects society? That seems to be the case. What else can one expect in school when, upon turning on a television, a decision on whether someone is a good singer requires being tortured by a bully and a decision on whether someone is a good business person involves being tortured by a bully and eventually being told that he or she is fired? There is bullying everywhere one looks in society. To remove it from schools, it must first be removed from society.

The world’s main economic focus is neoliberalism, an idea that is based on the concept of the survival of the fittest. This concept depends on bullying thriving. If we want children to stop bullying one another, we need to set the example. Nothing else will solve this problem.”

At the MEP elections, Ming was elected to the North West constituency with 129,561 first preference votes, more than twenty times the total he got the first time he went for MEP. Podemos won about ten times that, but that was in the whole of Spain. Ming’s achievement is quite striking, then, by the standards of this supposed new era of so-called ‘anti-politics’ opened up by neoliberalism.

Unlike Pablo Iglesias, Ming did not have a crack team of political scientists around him to come up with an analysis and a way of speaking that articulated far better what many people were feeling than politicians from established parties, or mass media. Podemos’s success arises chiefly from a remarkable phase of public mobilisation and occupation of major urban spaces -which we can call 15M for short- that laid the basis for a new democratic common sense in the Spanish State, and repoliticised vast numbers of young people. Nothing similar has happened in Ireland. Podemos’s success also arises in a place that has a far stronger left wing and anarchist tradition. Ming, on the other hand, is from Roscommon, and draws his support from people living in rural areas and small towns that are hardly hotbeds of left-wing sedition.

Pablo Iglesias had both a TV show of his own and a great deal of public appearances in which he was able to embark on his audacious and confrontational approach, emulating the likes of Hugo Chávez and Rafael Correa in Latin America. Ming, in a country dominated entirely by right-wing media, did not. Those involved in Podemos were able to draw on a reservoir of credibility in left wing circles in order to win support for the initial idea. Ming was not. He did have a Facebook page, though.

A commenter on Cedar Lounge Revolution noted, quite rightly, that Ming’s MEP victory was all the more remarkable given that he had topped the poll in what was the heartland of Ireland’s grim anti-choice movement. Podemos has a detailed understanding, drawing on theorists like Ernesto Laclau, of the democratic possibilities of antagonism, conflict and populist figureheads who can articulate public concerns. Maybe Ming does too (it would be interesting to know what he read in prison), but if he does, he doesn’t like to talk about it.

And this takes us back to the photo at the top of this post. The strange and new image, representatives from the most isolated and rural parts of the European periphery, alongside those who have emerged from its urban centres, occupying Europe’s political institutions. Ireland’s political and media establishment think that Ming’s whopping vote -and let us not forget that he was denied an appearance in the main RTE debate- is down to a variant of xenophobic nationalism similar to that of Farage in UKIP. This image is a negative projection on the part of cringing pro-EU elites in Dublin, not an accurate reflection of what those who voted for Ming are really like, and their motives. What are they really like?

Maybe the best way of answering that is that we don’t know what they are really like at all because all they are ever portrayed as is xenophobic culchies and the only thing that has ever been asked of them politically is that they vote and then shut up. On this occasion, however, a resounding number of them have elected someone who is painted as a freak by Ireland’s media establishment, and who is yet able to communicate in ways that do not rely on presenting oneself as an heir to a tradition but that rather speak to people’s sense of disgust with the way those at the top run things, and who is acutely aware of the limitations of depending on elected representatives to practise politics on your behalf. That puts these voters in the same soup as the million or so people who voted for Podemos in Spain. The picture of these representatives in the same image, above, as part of the same European grouping, allows us to visualise and feel part of a different Europe, one that is radically opposed to the one relentlessly peddled by power-hungry Troika groupies: a Europe of its peoples. The more images and encounters like this we see take place across Europe, the better the chance of getting shot of the anti-democratic Beast stalking the continent.

POSTSCRIPT: Just on the particular issue of Farage, Ming was asked about him on his Facebook page the other night. His response was:if Farage was around(politically) in the sixties when my parents went to Britain I am not convinced he would welcome them. His answer on having Romanians live beside him showed him up for what he is. Romanians today. Paddy yesterday. The enemy is not the immigrant pawn worker it is those that have structured a world in such a way that puts us all second to profit.


Filed under Uncategorized

A Very Brief History of Irish Citizenship

2014 holds two significant anniversaries in the history of the idea of citizenship in modern Ireland. It is the centenary of the foundation of the Irish Citizen Army. It is also the tenth anniversary of the Citizenship Referendum, held ten years ago this week.

If we look at both events together, we can sketch a short history of the idea of Irish citizenship. The Irish Citizen Army vowed to ‘sink all differences of birth, property and creed under the common name of the Irish people’, a position largely in line with the radical republicanism of Wolfe Tone, who advocated putting the ‘common name of Irishman, in the place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter’.

The political name of ‘citizen’, in the eyes of the Irish Citizen Army founders, meant a rupture with the subjection to British rule, since, as James Connolly put it, ‘ justice did not exist for us,.. the law instead of protecting the rights of the workers was an open enemy, and … the armed forces of the Crown were unreservedly at the disposal of the enemies of labour’.

This idea of citizenship was inseparable from working class emancipation, the conquest of democratic rights, and was internationalist in outlook. As Connolly again put it: ‘the struggle of Ireland for freedom is part of the worldwide upward movement of the toilers of the earth’, and ‘the emancipation of the working class carries within it the end of all tyranny – national, political and social’.

This idea of citizenship, moreover, is embedded in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, in its guarantee of ‘religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens’, and in its ‘resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally’. ‘Children of the nation’ means citizens in this context, and not merely children, as the contemporary sentimentalist reading would interpret it.

Following the foundation of the southern Irish State, citizenship was granted to practically anyone born in Ireland. Such citizenship did not, of course, mean full participation in the political life of the new regime. The fact of partition, crucially, meant that a large number of Irish citizens living on the island of Ireland were excluded even from the most basic formal political possibility: that of voting on matters of common interest.

What took hold over a long period, instead, though not without contestation, was the view that ‘the people of Ireland’ could find legitimate democratic expression simply through the electoral decisions of people living in the southern State.

The established myth of 90-odd years of unbroken democracy in the south of Ireland ignores certain uncomfortable facts: the concentration of economic power in the hands of a few; the elimination of political rights for those forced out by the migratory safety valve; the panoply of disciplinary institutions -industrial schools, laundries, psychiatric facilities- trained on the victims of Ireland’s economic system; censorship; the oppression of women; the concentration of media power and the health and education systems in the hands of reactionary elites.

All of these things weaken the image official Ireland projects of an outward-looking young democracy, but they are powerful factors in shaping conventional wisdom on what democracy is, and what citizenship is.

What we see in the history of the Irish State, then, is a gradual distancing from the radical republican -and even socialist- conception of citizenship that played a part in Ireland’s struggle for independence, towards a conception of citizenship based solely on the fact of nationality, or belonging to a particular group.

We could sketch the trajectory of the idea of Irish citizenship like this: from membership of a political community committed to the expansion of democratic equality, to membership of a market society committed to meeting the demands of capital and competing against other countries, where myths about Irish national genius –‘Irishness’- bear close resemblance to the family narratives used by corporations to maintain strict hierarchical structures that naturalise distinctions of power and wealth. An imaginary ‘we’, then, forged in the image of the country’s ruling elites. A ‘Celtic Tiger’ showing its predatory prowess among the animal spirits of capitalism.

What is the basis of this ‘we’ in law? This is what the Citizenship Referendum of 2004 sought to establish. It would no longer be enough to be born in Ireland in order to have the same rights and entitlements as anyone else. It would now depend on who your parents were and where they came from.

This entailed constitutionalising racial biological criteria: the introduction of precisely the kind of hierarchies beloved of 19th century racial theorists who developed their ideas in the shadow of the democratic potency of the ‘worldwide upward movement of the toilers of the earth’.

The immediate political climate for the Citizenship Referendum was fostered by government politicians and mass media outlets casting migrants, and particularly migrant women, as devious foreign bodies incubating an evil that would subvert Ireland’s supposedly harmonious social and political order.

‘Citizens’, if they were really concerned with the common good, had to do their voting duty and secure Ireland’s borders against these contaminating infiltrators, and expel those who had managed to make their way in.

It was a long way from the solidarity-based citizenship embodied by the Irish Citizen Army, and, still further back, from the egalitarian principles that informed the Fenian proclamation of 1867, which held that ‘all men (sic) are born with equal rights, and in associating to protect one another and share public burdens, justice demands that such associations should rest upon a basis which maintains equality instead of destroying it.’

The immediate effect of the Citizenship Referendum was to strip certain people of rights and the formal status of citizen. As a consequence, there are thousands of children living and growing up in Ireland in a climate of fear and uncertainty, who have neither the formal rights nor entitlements of their contemporaries, often enduring family splits and living under extreme hardship and degrading conditions.

More broadly, Ireland’s now-formalised racial hierarchy, and the distinction introduced between citizenship and mere residency, all but deactivate the democratic possibilities of the political name of ‘citizen’. Reacting to the re-discovery of the treatment of babies in the Tuam Mother-and-Baby home last week, Fianna Fáil TD Colm Keaveney referred to the “800 bodies of Irish citizens”. After the Citizenship Referendum, it is hard not to interpret such remarks as suggesting, though perhaps indirectly, that there are other children who might be more deserving of such a fate.

To speak of what ‘citizens’ want now is to exclude those who are formally excluded from that category. What is more, since ‘citizenship’ in the Irish context is no longer ever a matter of the active conquest of rights, but rather the State affording certain privileges, there is little difference, in prevailing common sense, between the fact of citizenship and what was previously understood as subjection.

You might ask how it is that nearly 80% of voters – it was only a 60% turn out, so it was only 46.9% of the southern electorate who voted (remember, this is nowhere near all Irish citizens)- could have voted for a thing so destructive of human values such as solidarity and basic equality.

I don’t think this could have been possible were it not for the long unravelling of the concept of citizenship, its recuperation by the south’s ruling elites, and the reduction of democracy to the act of an isolated individual casting a vote in a regime where the economic and the political have been largely separated.

It is also worth remembering that in so far as ‘the people’ spoke on this occasion, this ‘people’ has always spoken in exclusion of large numbers of those it supposedly recognised as its fellow citizens, living just up the road. If equality is important to us, and if justice does not exist for our neighbours and friends, we should see the law, and this ‘people’ with all its cultivated racist and isolationist anxieties, as our open enemy.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Tuam: Not our dark past, but our dark present

'To The Debris', El Roto, 3rd June 2014

‘To The Debris’, El Roto, 3rd June 2014

I left this comment on the article in today’s Irish Times by Sharon Foley, chief executive of the Irish Hospice Foundation, which is titled Death devoid of dignity at Bon Secours home.

I can only agree with the author when she highlights the cut to the bereavement grant as a fact that poses serious ethical questions about the type of society the government is creating. This cut is not an anomaly, but part of a vast range of cuts implemented by the government.

These actions are in keeping with a State that treated the babies in Tuam, and a multitude of other poor children, with cold indifference at best, and vicious sadism, depraved neglect, and institutionalised terror at worst. The cut to the bereavement grant, as with so many cruelties inflicted in Irish society, is justified in terms of a dogma impervious to any kind of democratic reason, as in past decades. Contrary to the insistence from official circles since the Tuam story began to capture the attention of the global public, these things are not part of our ‘dark past’, but our dark present.

The author says that the benchmark of any society is the way in which it takes care of its most vulnerable. But it depends who is applying the benchmark. Yesterday, Ireland’s 10-year yield bond yield fell below benchmark US Treasury yields for the first time since November 2007.

What this means, in simple terms, is that the Irish State has proven itself even more creditworthy than the US, due to the way it was able to burden the public with astonishing levels of debt racked up by financial crooks, and the way it has made the public pay by slashing public spending for vital services. We don’t need to read authoritative sources such as The Body Economic by David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu to know that austerity policies kill: anyone prepared to use their imagination can figure out what the effects of high unemployment, the evisceration of public services, and attacks on working conditions will be. However, we have a government and a wider establishment that insists that this carnage is in the national interest, and a great many people who either accept this to be true and even desirable, or they resign themselves to a sense that nothing can be done about it.

Perhaps it is time, then, to focus less on what the government needs to do, given that it has been unstinting in its commitment to this barbarism, and start talking about what kinds of collective power are needed to turn benchmarks of decency into social realities.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized