Men from Nazareth, Officials from Hell


The other day, the head of the Housing Agency Conor Skehan made widely reported remarks that homelessness ought to be considered as a normal thing and that it was wrong to consider the current situation in Ireland as a crisis.

The idea of a ‘normal’ rate of homelessness is not all that different from the idea of a ‘natural’ rate of unemployment, a conventional enough concept in economics. Both will occur in the best of all possible worlds. The ‘natural’ rate of unemployment hold that even when there are more than enough jobs to go round, there will still, at any given moment, be people who are unemployed, because people will still lose jobs due to the dynamism of the economy, and it will take time for them to find other jobs. Similarly, with a ‘normal’ rate of homelessness, there will always, as Conor Skehan himself said, be people who find themselves on the streets as a result of events in their lives.

One major problem with both ideas is that there can never be a best of all worlds under a capitalist system. Ultimately, the only possible world worth having, as far as capitalism is concerned, is one in which profit rates are on the up. Since profits are little more than the appropriation of a surplus produced by labour power, a world of rising profits entails a world in which labour power -the ‘hand and brain’ exertions of human beings- is increasingly subjected to the rule of capital.

The Housing Agency headed by Conor Skehan claims it is concerned with ‘sustainable communities’ and ‘affordability’ in housing. Yet the rule of capital requires the elimination of collective solidarities that make communities truly sustainable. Moreover, the concept of ‘affordability’ in housing, by definition, treats housing as a commodity, rather than a right. ‘Affordability’ here is little more than the counterpart to profitability in the production and provision of housing.

This evening on RTÉ’s Drivetime, in an interview with Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger, the presenter described current levels of homelessness as arising from the failure of the state to build sufficient levels of public housing to cater for people’s needs. This description was true, as far as it went. What it omitted, and what is omitted by and large from media coverage of this issue, is any questioning as to why the amount of public housing built has been so paltry for so long.

From the dominant point of view, it is inconceivable that the best of all worlds could be one in which a home is not a commodity, but a right. It is also inconceivable from the point of view of many in the general public too. If a salaried worker is accustomed to looking upon their home as an asset that ought to appreciate in value -a habit that is strengthened by a sense of poor prospects for one’s wages and pension- they are less likely to take a positive view of the idea that a decent home should be a matter of right.
At best, they are likely to look upon public housing schemes as a form of charity. This predicament can breed a stew of reactionary resentment: why should they get anything laid on for nothing when I have had to toil for all that I have? A ‘sustainable community’, from this point of view, is one in which the price of one’s house continues to rise and the riff-raff are given the bare minimum to be kept out of sight and out of mind.

In the Drivetime interview, Ruth Coppinger rightly questioned the wider implications of the remarks of another public official, Eileen Gleason, director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, who said that homelessness arose, in many instances, from a longstanding pattern of ‘bad behaviour’, from people who were ‘not like you and me’. If this is what such people said in public, Coppinger asked, what do they say behind closed doors? In other words, how much is the real view of public officials, who are charged with dealing with housing and homelessness, a view founded upon on reactionary resentment?

The idea that everyone has the right to a decent home is fundamentally at odds with the idea that housing ought to be a commodity. Yet the latter idea is the outlook of Fine Gael and the broader political establishment, along with the media establishment. But it is also an outlook shared widely among the better-off sections of Irish society. This tension is addressed through a resort to charity. It is charities who should deal with the matter of homelessness, since those who are homeless, if housing is to be considered a commodity, are best thought of as unfortunate supplicants at best, and feckless miscreants at worst. The prominence given to charity -institutionally and rhetorically- also has the nice effect of dignifying the people shown to be providing it.

To give his view of homelessness as normality some moral ballast, Conor Skehan quoted “the man from Nazareth”. Assuming this was Jesus of Nazareth and not Hayek or Friedman of Nazareth, Jesus, according to Skehan, said “the poor will always be with us”. This is not what Jesus of Nazareth said, at least not according to biblical sources. He said that ‘you will always have the poor with you’. The remark had a specific context. They were made in the house of a leper, not a radio studio. A woman broke open an expensive flask of ointment and poured it over Jesus’s head, and his disciples had given out to her, since they calculated that such ointment could have been sold and the proceeds given to help the poor.

When Jesus says to his disciples that ‘you always have the poor with you’ it is not an observation on some eternal feature of the economy. It is a reference to the way in which his disciples are already supposed to be living in solidarity among the poor, and, foreseeing his death at the hands of the authorities for standing with the poor, Jesus welcomes the woman’s gesture, since he will not always be around. Considered in their entirety, the remarks of ‘the man from Nazareth’ are not a doleful recognition that all societies will have some degree of poverty or exclusion, but rather the expression of an idea that Skehan and the rest, institutionally and ideologically, reject altogether, and that is far closer in meaning to a popular expression from more recent times: that nothing is too good for the working class.


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Translation of an article by Manuel Castells, published in La Vanguardia, 21st October 2017, on the Spanish government’s planned suspension of autonomy for Catalonia.

“Spaniards: We Catalans love you. It is the State that we hate”

While you are reading this, the Council of Ministers is finalising details on the intervention on the autonomy of Catalonia via article 155 of the Constitution, prior to passing through the Senate. It is possible that the Parlament will respond with its Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Thus a period of uncertainty opens, the consequences of which are unforeseeable but undoubtedly harmful for public coexistence. The calls for dialogue have come to nothing, because what is at stake is whether or not to accept the possibility of a legal referendum through which Catalans may decide where their institutions ought to belong.

It is useless to invoke constitutional legality when the issue is that a substantial part of the Catalan public does not recognise said constitution. Constitutions cannot nail down social reality. The text that in 1978 obtained a consensus conditioned by de facto powers inherited from the dictatorship has proven incapable of containing the consciousness of new generations of Catalans who grew up in a climate of freedom in which disagreements are resolved democratically. In other democratic places, among them Quebec and Scotland, referendums serve to reconcile law and reality. Three-quarters of Catalans wanted to vote. According to surveys, the No vote against independence would have won. But Spanish nationalist essentialism blocked off democratic exits from a conflict that has been gradually poisoned.

Legally sanctioned police repression has become more problematic for the State since the 1st of October. The images of police violence have scandalised international opinion and have driven European leaders to recommend dialogue, behind the facade of supporting their partner. Tusk views the situation as ‘worrying’, but the EU cannot intervene in the intervention. Even so, the image of Europe as an example of democracy could be affected by its support for authoritarian decisions that have no regard for the political substance of the conflict. There is, moreover, another important limit to the intervention on autonomy: the stance of conditional support adopted by the PSOE. Though in Catalonia the socialists are being reviled for backing the application of article 155, this backing is constrained by their recognition of Catalonia’s reality as a nation. For Rajoy, the support of the PSOE is indispensable due to a strategic concern of Spanish politics that goes beyond the Catalan question. The political project of Spain’s financial and political elites remains a grand coalition that stabilises its domination, that is, the alliance of PP/Ciudadanos with the PSOE. This project was weakened by the reaction of the Socialist grassroots and the re-election of Pedro Sánchez. This opened up the possibility of a left alternative to the Partido Popular government once the PSOE, Podemos and its confluences accepted that their alliance was the indispensable condition for this alternative.

The crisis with Catalonia has allowed Rajoy to drive an almost unbreakable wedge between the PSOE on the one hand, and Podemos, its confluences and the Basque, Catalan and Galician nationalists on the other. Because although Podemos and Els Comuns are not in favour of independence, they are in favour of a legal referendum to resolve the conflict -democratically. A referendum in which Pablo Iglesias says he would campaign for a No vote. This is a starting point that the PSOE cannot accept because it is weighed down by the Spanish nationalism of its past leaders and the resistance of socialist-ruled autonomous regions who fear losing resources if there are concessions to Catalonia. The move works out sweetly for Rajoy: he presents himself as the champion of Spain, isolates Podemos, and rebuilds a constitutional front dominated by the right.

The Government’s dilemma is how to defeat the independence movement in the most bloodless way possible. In one area, it has prosecutors and judges who, by simply applying the constitutional framework in a strict manner, are closing in and punishing what is already being classed as sedition, a grave accusation. Elsewhere, the relocation en masse of business headquarters (nearly a thousand and counting), in reaction to the institutional uncertainty, is gravely damaging the economic credibility of an independent Catalonia. In this context the objective of the Spanish government, and the PSOE, is to force new regional elections, whether by the hand of Puigdemont or the route of article 155. They hope that enough fear and uncertainty has been created for an electoral defeat of the independence movement, which will allow for a Catalan government with which a new arrangement on autonomy can be negotiated, including a future decaffeinated constitutional reform. Thus everything would be restored to normal.

This strategy of gradually wearing down the independence movement, through exhaustion, isolation and repression, has serious obstacles. It continues to ignore that it is a social movement that can become active and spread without leaders and without institutions. On the contrary, the more intervention there is in the institutions, the greater the role played by civil society and the more diverse the forms of resistance. And the more there is perceived repression, the greater the outrage generated and mobilisation activated. Elsewhere, the Parlament assumes itself legitimate and representative, and as such Puigdemont cannot call elections unless it is with the understanding that if a pro-independence majority wins it is to organise a legal referendum. Square one. And even if the Spanish government were to intervene on autonomy and call elections, the fact that they were imposed would mean they would not have the participation of the parties opposed to intervention, that is, Junts pel Sí, the CUP, and Els Comuns, which represent the majority of the electorate. Article 155 is not an exit from the crisis, but rather its deepening and its extension in time, as Catalonia and Spain fracture and neo-falangism resurges. The alternatives are simple: either permanent state of exception in Catalonia, albeit an undeclared one, or dialogue, without preconditions, between Catalan nationalism and Spanish nationalism.

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Gernika: Legacy of a massacre

A version of this article appeared in the Gernika 80 Then & Now – 80 Years of Basque-Irish anti-fascist struggles magazine, published in April of this year, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Gernika.



“Did you do this?” This is the question a Nazi officer is supposed to have asked Pablo Picasso in occupied Paris during the war, regarding Picasso’s famous Guernica. Picasso supposedly replied “no, you did.”

Readers of literature on the Spanish Civil War will know something about the carnage that inspired Picasso’s painting, and who was responsible for it. But the event it depicts, and its authors, may not be as widely known as such people might imagine.

Visiting the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the 1970s, where Guernica was on display, social scientist and political activist Vicenç Navarro noticed that the accompanying description of the painting contained no reference to the Spanish Civil War, nor to the Nazi and Italian fascist forces that carried out the bombing. For many, Picasso’s painting stands out a sublime representation of the horrors of war, but no war in particular.

Picasso himself, however, as noted by Navarro, was painting for a particular time, a fact reflected in his broader political commitments: Manuel Azaña, Prime Minister of the Second Spanish Republic, named him director of the Prado Museum in 1936 following Franco’s putsch, and Picasso paid for the museum’s artworks to be transported to Valencia and later to Geneva. He refused to allow Guernica to be moved to Spain until the dictatorship had fallen and democracy was restored, but died before Franco did.

Even when its original context has been forgotten, Guernica carries a powerful symbolic weight. When Colin Powell visited the United Nations to present the case for war in Iraq, the tapestry reproduction of Guernica was covered up. As the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd mordantly noted, ‘Mr Powell can’t very well seduce the world into bombing Iraq surrounded on camera by shrieking and mutilated women, men, children, bulls and horses’.

The memory of the bombing of Guernica, captured in Picasso’s painting, the “rain of fire, shrapnel, and death”, in the words of one of the survivors, still has the capacity to prick consciences as to the human cost of war. Nonetheless, the mechanised slaughter, the raining of ‘fire, shrapnel and death’ on civilian populations, in the decades that followed the bombing of Gernika, became standard operating procedure, conducted by forces in the habit of identifying Nazism as the ultimate evil. When high altitude bombs were dropped on civilian populations in Baghdad or Fallujah or Gaza, the perpetrators cast themselves as the righteous defenders of a civilisation facing a threat from the latest incarnation of Hitler.

In the Spanish State, there are many who refuse to countenance the commemoration of these atrocities, and how they have shaped the present. The transition back to formal democratic rule, from the dictatorship established through the bombing of Gernika and countless other atrocities, did not involve any process of making amends or coming to terms with the destruction and repression that had been wrought. What prevailed, instead, was a so-called ‘pact of forgetting’, according to which the ruling elites of the dictatorship held the upper hand in shaping what would be acceptable under ‘democracy’, with many of the repressive institutional elements of the dictatorship kept in place. Those who had suffered the repression were expected to forget about the crimes committed against them and their families.

Neither the scale of the Francoist repression nor the collaboration with Nazism and Italian fascism have been taken seriously by the current rulers of the Spanish State, not least because it was Franco and his dictatorship that laid the basis for their rule, even if it does occasionally classify enemies as ‘Nazis’ for such offences as protesting eviction from their homes. At best, there is an equivalence established between those who fought to defend democracy and those who fought to demolish it. To illustrate: on 12th October 2004, the then Socialist Party Defence Minister in the Spanish State, José Bono, staged an Armed Forces parade, for the day known as ‘Spanishness Day’ –Dia de la Hispanidad. There was participation from both ex-soldiers who had remained loyal to the legally constituted Republic, and from a veteran who had fought in the Blue Division, that is, who had gone off to fight for Hitler on the Russian front.

José Bono said at the time that “What happened has been written about, but from my ideological position of struggle against Franco, which is on record, I say that there is greater strength in the symbolism of an embrace between two Spanish men, whatever their biography, than in the seed of hatred of those whose finger hurts from pointing it at their opponent”. Pointing the finger at Nazi collaborators, by the lights of the Socialist Party grandee, amounted to planting the seed of hatred perhaps in the same way that Picasso displayed hatred towards the Nazi officer.

Bono was speaking as member of a government that had withdrawn Spanish troops from the war following an election earlier that year. The direct political heirs of those who gave the orders to bomb Gernika, members of the Francoist Partido Popular, foremost among them the then Prime Minister José María Aznar, had lost. Aznar had given enthusiastic support to the invasion of Iraq, despite overwhelming public opposition to Spain’s participation in the war. Not surprisingly, the public was more attuned to the consequences of war than those pushing for it.

Aznar had cast the so-called War On Terror as a conflict between the West and the Muslim world, with the latter poised to recover Andalusia. “No Muslim ever apologised to me for Andalusia”, Aznar later remarked haltingly to an English-speaking audience, referring to the expulsion of Jews and Muslims in 1492. The fact it had been his chosen side that had carried out the ethnic cleansing did not, of course, trouble him.

Aznar’s party, re-elected last year to the central government with 33% of the vote, has refused to show any kind of condemnation, let alone remorse, for atrocities either during the Civil War or in the decades of dictatorship that followed it. In 2010, the municipal government of the Partido Popular in Madrid vehemently refused the removal of headstones commemorating the ‘German Aviators’ of the Condor Legion who ‘died for God and for Spain ¡Presentes!’. A spokesperson for the municipal government in Madrid argued that “the dead must be allowed to rest in peace”, and that the wartime bravery of the Blue Division -Spanish troops who fought alongside the Nazis needed to be recognised.

No such peaceful rest can be admitted, from the same quarters, however, for the estimated 150,000 victims of the dictatorship who lie unidentified in mass graves across the Spanish State. Such is the fate of those who were viewed through the lens of prevailing Spanish nationalism as the arrayed forces of ‘anti-Spain’: among them republicans, socialists, Basque and Catalan nationalists.

Nor, for that matter, can Gernika be left in peace, given its symbolic importance both to the Basque Country and to the wider world. In 2014, the Museum for Peace in Gernika awarded its Prize for Peace and Reconciliation to Arnaldo Otegi, the Secretary-General of Sortu (then imprisoned by the Spanish State for ‘glorifying terrorism’) and to Jesús Eguiguren, the President of the PSE-EE (affiliate of the PSOE in the Basque Country), for their participation in peace negotiations. Otegi and Eguiguren received the award along with the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement (Movimento Sem Terra). In response, the National Court in Madrid heard a prosecution case brought against for the mayor of Gernika by a civil society association with close links to the Partido Popular. The allegation was that the award, for which the mayor was responsible, amounted to a ‘glorification of terrorism’.

There is a savage irony in a political regime, established through high altitude bombing, mass civilian slaughter and brutal repression and torture, becoming concerned with the ‘glorification of terrorism’ in the town where its murderous feats gained global notoriety. It is also important to recall, in this regard, that during the repression in the Basque Country following the fascist putsch of 1936, 29 elected mayors were executed by Francoist forces, and that the mayor of Gernika was in this case under investigation from a judicial organ, the National Court, established by Francoists in order to exercise jurisdiction throughout the whole of the Spanish State.

For the Spanish nationalist forces controlling the state, people seeking independence for the Basque Country have long constituted an enemy within, subjected to political repression, vilification, and torture. Each and every political enemy -Basque or not- is routinely presented by ruling politicians and media outlets as either in cahoots with ETA, or the same thing as ETA. This is reflected in the reasoning of the National Court. It has maintained in its sentencing that ETA is not simply an armed paramilitary organisation, but a broad array of cultural, social and political organisations. As philosopher Juan Domingo Sánchez points out, ‘even if these organisations were to condemn ETA and to pronounce every curse from every holy book upon them, they would still not cease ‘being ETA’’.

Former Amaiur deputy in the Spanish Congress, Sabino Cuadra, says that the attitude of the ruling powers in Madrid to ETA’s cessation of activities is that ‘rather than a peace and democratic normalisation based on dialogue, negotiation and agreement, they seek to impose another peace, like the one in 1936, that speaks only of the victors and the vanquished’. It is ‘a false peace that our people rejects’.

The intransigent contempt -at best- demonstrated by the Partido Popular and the Spanish right towards the campaign for Basque independence cannot be separated from the history of brutal repression most vividly captured in the memory of Gernika. Nor can it be separated from its reactionary and anti-democratic character of its social and economic policies and its approach to the rule of law more generally. Jaume Asens and Gerardo Pissarello characterise the Partido Popular approach to the law as:

‘The law that criminalises whoever raises her voice. The one that expels the indignados from public squares, that treats striking workers as ‘rats’ and evictees as ‘Nazis’. And alongside it, the penal law of one’s friends. The law that is placed in the service of power and that looks the other way whenever there is tax fraud, the one that pardons big bankers and promotes or absolves police violence. This is nothing original. The punitive violence of the State has always found its enemies. And when it hasn’t, it has invented them. The inquisition persecuted peasants driven from their lands by accusing them of being witches. The propertied classes persecuted workers by accusing them of being degenerates, scum, vagrants. Seen in a historical dimension, names such as perro-flautas or ‘terrorists’ are often variations of a long-standing hatred. A hatred that implicitly carries demophobia, the classist (and even racist) hatred that the powerful feel towards those who might endanger their privileges.’

The full force of this law has been brought to bear on people fleeing their countries of origin in the same way as hundreds of thousands once fled Spain fearing persecution and death. In October 2015, 15 West African migrants died as they tried to swim to the Tarajal beach in Ceuta, Spain’s outpost in North Africa. Spain’s Civil Guard fired 145 rubber bullets at them, and later claimed this was justified on account of the “attitude” of the swimmers. The action was deemed lawful by the courts. Prisoners in the country’s Foreigner Internment Centres have staged revolts against the brutal treatment received at the hands of the authorities. At the end of one revolt, in October 2016, in which prisoners agreed to come down from the roof on the word that there would be no reprisals, a prisoner told a newspaper that “we came down off the roof and they gave us a tremendous beating. I have huge pain in my sides. Some of us are barely able to breathe. We have bruises everywhere”.

Spain presents itself to the world as an outward-looking democracy. Its ruling political party is in the same parliamentary grouping as Fine Gael in the European Parliament, an expression of a common outlook that can be traced back to the era of Blueshirts setting off to aid Franco in crushing the Republic.  Though the Partido Popular is at one with other ‘moderate’ forces in the European Union in pronouncing on the dangers of ‘populism’, its roots in 20th century anti-democratic revanchism, and its fidelity to those roots, cannot be ignored.

But the Spanish State, with its history of anti-democratic repression on one hand and subterranean struggles for democratic equality and solidarity on the other, is only one part of the picture. It is important to recall that whereas the indiscriminate bombing of places in such places as Bilbao, Durango and Gernika during the Spanish Civil War appeared to the wider world as exceptional and unprecedented brutal events. That is how they still appear in our imagination. However, the percentage of civilians killed in wars in the 21st century is far higher. What is more, these bombing massacres are carried out by regimes that present themselves as democratic whilst systematically undermining the material basis for genuine democratic equality. They frequently justify these atrocities in terms of protecting against the threat from new kinds of fascism.  Faced with this, and the brutal indifference and contempt that greets people fleeing war zones in search of a better life, perhaps the best question to ask is: did we do this? Assuming, of course, that we do not wish to be like the Nazi perusing Picasso’s studio.

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The Story With Paddy

Content note: this post contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence and rape.

By Estelle Birdy

Waiting outside the doctor’s surgery for your mother, you are in the car with your Dad. Bored and with a liking for churches when they’re quiet, you ask can you get out of the car and go into the nearby cathedral. You are 8, maybe 9.  It is early evening, winter, damp and dark. Your breath shows in the air. You get to the church porch. There is a man. A squashy-faced bald old man, with a shine on the corners of his suit and a coat that smells of back-of-church. He has tiny badges and pins stuck all over his lapels. They have things like bleeding hearts and doves on them. There is a table. There are leaflets and things for sale, like medals and bottles of holy water. There is noise from inside the church. There’s something happening inside. It’s not mass but something else with voices and too many people. So, you stay in the porch. You look at leaflets and the man starts to talk to you. He asks what your name is and what age you are. He asks about your school. He asks do you know Paddy Murphy. You do know Paddy Murphy. He’s in the other class in your year in your school.  His family live on the poshest road. He grins at you. He has fat fingers and unclean nails but you feel that he is a nice man because he smiles and he just wants to talk. You like to talk too. You feel grown-up, unencumbered by parents, in the church, talking to an adult about the things he is selling. Holy things. He says he is Paddy Murphy’s Dad.  He keeps you talking. People walk by in the street outside the open door. It is dimly lit. You say, eventually, that you have to go, your Dad is waiting. He is disappointed but very smiley. He asks can he have a little kiss. You are unsure. He leans down and you go to give him a kiss on the cheek because he is a nice man and you are a nice girl child. At the last second, he turns his head.  He kisses you hard on the mouth and holds your head. His fat tongue forces its way into your small mouth and probes around. You pull away and stand back. His smile is back. You smile too. You feel like getting sick. You don’t know what has happened. You search his face for clues. He just smiles back but now his eyes glitter. You are frightened but you know you can’t show it. He must have just accidentally done it. He is disappointed that you have to go. You continue to smile. You are afraid to turn your back to him. So you keep smiling and say you really have to go, your Dad is waiting. Once outside you skip –run, the 100 metres to your waiting Dad. You don’t tear away because you know that Paddy Murphy’s Dad is watching you. You get through the gates of the car park in front of the cathedral and then you run. You get into the car and you say nothing. Your Dad chats to you and you tell him nothing. Later you say you met Paddy Murphy’s Dad. You describe him. Your Mom says that he’s not his Dad, that it’s his Grandad but don’t say that at school. You tell what happened once it’s safely in the past. Years and years afterwards. Once you can’t get into trouble for being so silly, for going to kiss a stranger on the cheek, for talking too much, for being alone, for thinking you were safe in a public place. Your parents are horrified. Your Dad’s eyes look like the eyes of a killer. The man is dead now.

Your teenage friend, Mary Murphy, tells you that she was sexually abused for many years by her adult neighbour. You nearly die for her. Your stomach feels like it is tumbling into the earth. She tells you what he did. He put his penis in Mary’s mouth, on a regular basis, when Mary was between the ages of about 6 and 9. The discussions about this revelation go on for a long time. This is just about the time that child sex abuse started in Ireland. Before this, there was none. She tells another friend. You both persuade her to go for counselling. It doesn’t help much. It’s known that there’s no point in going to the Guards. You are angry beyond belief. You discuss what could be done. You discuss going to the Ra. The women of the neighbourhood know well that he is a danger to their children. He goes on community based trips. The women won’t let their children go with him. He then joins Sinn Fein. He was never interested before.  There is no way out. There probably never was. You hear afterwards that he raped an adult woman. He got off ‘on a technicality’.  Years later, he sues the County Council. He got off a bus, tripped and banged his head on a County Council Men- at- Work sign or something. In court, he’s looking for compensation, because that bang on his head caused a brain injury and since then, he has unnatural sexual thoughts about women and children, he says. You seethe. Years later again, he is murdered. The rumour is, by the Ra. When Mary Murphy told you this, your other friend, just another Mary Murphy, revealed that she too had been sexually abused by a relation for years. She never got over it. Later again, your other mutual friend, Mary Murphy tells how she was staying with her uncle as a young teenager. He plied her with drink, put her to bed and got in on top of her. He raped her and gave her breakfast the next morning. She was 14. No one ever told the authorities because what was the point, said the Mary Murphys.

Your friend, Mary Murphy, an adult, is raped. Driven to a secluded spot, after a night out, thinking she’s in a taxi because she has been told that this is the case. A bottle is broken and laid beside her face. She is raped in the dirt and the dark. The other man watches and keeps guard. Mary goes to the Guards. She gets swabbed. The Guards take statements. They are helpful. They prosecute. There is CCTV footage. Mary is seen walking, with her arm linked through the arm of her soon-to-be rapist. He was walking her to his friend’s taxi.  He gets off.  She wants to take a civil case. She is warned to drop the matter. Her rapist has paramilitary links. She is never the same again.

You go to the Tralee Festival with your friends, because you all think it will be like Feile. It is not like Feile. You walk through jammed streets. You are groped by countless male hands. You have to fight your way through. They grab your tits, your gee. They laugh at you when you push them away. They call you hoor and prostitute and dyke. On a windowsill, you and your girl friends are horrified to see a girl child, complete with frilly ankle socks, astride the leg of a middle-aged fat man. They are locked in a gruesome embrace. He pulls her up and down his leg. Her toes barely tip the ground on either side of the pavement. You try hard to get out of Tralee the next morning. You can’t. You meet a group of decent fellas on the campsite. A few of them are English, of Irish descent. Your two girl friends leave to go down the town with the other lads. You’re so sad and fed up and disgusted you stay on the campsite, with Paddy Murphy, one of the Plastic Paddies. Eventually, he says, “Do you want to go for walk?”. You walk through and away from Tralee, up into the hills. You can hear curlews. It’s very peaceful. On the way back, he takes your hand. Later on you kiss and it is lovely. You get back to the campsite to find the tent, your tent, occupied and ‘in use’ by one of your friends and a new -found partner. Being a decent sort, you stay out all night, in your sleeping bag, in the rain with Plastic Paddy Murphy. The next morning, you throw your friend Mary Murphy out and you and Paddy Murphy climb in, and mess around and snooze in the tent until he has to leave. You would be surprised to be raped by Plastic Paddy Murphy. You stay in touch for years afterwards. Your friends, the Mary Murphys, would also have been surprised to be raped, by their beaus.

You are at college. You go out a lot, to pubs, to clubs, to parties. You live with a rake of friends. Sometimes, you bring home fellas, Paddy Murphys. Sometimes they are Paddies you’ve just met that night. You sometimes just have a cup of tea, listen to music. You sometimes sleep in the same bed as them. You snog and have a laugh. You have sometimes (nearly always) been drinking. You do not have sex with any of them. You sometimes spend the next day with them too. You don’t have sex with these fellas because you don’t want to.  It never enters your head that they might rape you. You don’t want these particular Paddies putting bits of them inside your vagina. None of the Paddy Murphys rape you or even give it a go. You would be very surprised if they had. You would very much expect someone to ask permission to walk into your home. So, you’d definitely expect someone to ask to come into your vagina.  Your friend, Mary Murphy tells you about her friend, Mary Murphy, who was raped by her friend, Paddy Murphy. Paddy didn’t think it was rape because they were in bed, they were friends and she only said no in a weak way. She said she stiffened with fear and he went ahead with breaking and entering into her body. It made things awkward. Paddy and Mary couldn’t be friends anymore. Paddy was sad about this, apparently. You talk to your other friend, Mary Murphy, about this. You are shocked by this story.  You hadn’t ever felt pressurised into having sex. You are scared because your luck would surely run out. You couldn’t keep meeting Paddy Murphys who didn’t rape you, could you? What if you were attacked and none of your friends in the house heard? If you went to the Guards, they would say, “You were in bed, you had been drinking, are you surprised you were raped”.  You say no one would believe you. Your friend Mary said, “I would believe you”

You work in a tough factory, in a deprived, drug ridden suburb of Dublin. You are the only woman working on the factory floor. You work in a small team. You have a laugh. The manager of the team, Paddy Murphy, takes the piss out of you and your Culchie friends. He rarely says Culchie though. He calls them and you, Woolahs. He talks about every Sunday seeing all the Woolahs with their little heads bobbling around on the buses coming up from the country. He says he sees them with their packages of sandwiches on their knees, all delighted to be back in the Capital. He says he’s going to win the Lotto and he’ll build a huge wall round Dublin to keep us out. He also says students brought drugs to Ireland, no one else. Students destroyed the working class people with their drugs.  He is funny and he is kind and he brings you the stores to order your own special chain-mail glove (because your hands are smaller than everyone else’s) and your own special boning knife because “she’s pretty handy with a knife, so she needs her own”.  After a while a man, Paddy Murphy Scumbag, from another team altogether, starts shouting at you as you pass by. He tells you what he would like to do to you. It involves tying you up and putting a gag in your mouth and he says you would like it. He says he’d like to whip you. He says you’d like that. He talks about what you would look like naked. What PVC and leather clothes you’d like to wear when you’re not in your white overalls, wellies and hard-hat. He talks about spanking you and how you’d like that. He calls you whore. He eventually is happy enough to do this in front of other men. You say nothing. You half smile. You hope he will just stop. You know your shoulders slouch now whenever you see him. It is relentless. Paddy, your manager, takes you aside one day. He has never witnessed this talk. He has been told by the other men on your team. He says you do not have to put up with that. He says it is disgusting and that the other fellas think it is disgusting and it is sexual harassment and you don’t have to tolerate it. He says you need to go to the officey-type management and tell them. You say, you don’t want to cause trouble. The man will lose his job and he is known to be violent. He walked out of a pub in town, beat and mugged a woman, took her money and walked back in to spend it in the pub. You don’t want any trouble. You’d just like him to stop. Paddy says he wants to do something. He is annoyed and he is sad for you. A few days later, Paddy Murphy Scumbag’s Manager takes you aside. He apologises to you. He says he was unaware of what had been happening. He has docked Paddy Murphy Scumbag’s wages. He has been warned not to go near you. The Manager says he is really, really sorry. Paddy Murphy Scumbag stares at you. He glares at you and lets you know that he would kill you if he got you alone. Your teammates never leave you alone though. They flank you whenever you go anywhere outside of your area of the factory. They studiously ignore his dagger looks and tell you to do the same.  He ends up in jail for something. You are telling this story 25 years after the fact and your best friend, Mary Murphy, says, “You never told me that at the time!” You probably didn’t and you’re not sure why.

You are walking home through town on a sunny afternoon. A man is walking alongside you, grinning. You do not catch his eye. You speed up. You slow down. He is still there. You walk for 10 minutes like this. You are getting closer to home but you know you can’t walk near your home or into an uncrowded area. You can’t lead him. You stop at a critical junction. You will have to walk away from your home to lead him away. You know there is a Garda Station nearby. There are loads of people around. All of this you assess in milliseconds, before you turn, finally to look at him. He tells you you are really beautiful. You smile the I’m-not-getting-raped–and-murdered-today smile at him. He asks you to go for dinner, a coffee. You politely decline. He persists, calls you madam. You say no but by now you know it is time. You invoke your husband. “No, my husband really wouldn’t like it.” He looks unsure but you raise your left hand and display your markings. That’s enough for him. He turns and leaves. You wait to see that he has gone a good distance in the opposite direction before you walk in the direction of home again. You tell the story to your Spanish friend, Maria Murphia. She tells you of the exact same experience she had one day walking home. She described her prospective suitor. It sounded like the same man. He persisted for longer with her because she waited too long to invoke a boyfriend. Invoke the boyfriend. Always just get it over with, because it won’t end until you do.

This much you know about George Hook’s comments.


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George Hook And The Entitlement To An Opinion

Everyone may be ‘entitled to their opinion’, whatever that means, but not everyone is entitled to a national radio slot where they can spout misogynist garbage.
Rosa Luxemburg is often quoted as saying that ‘Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.’ Her preceding sentence was ‘Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all.’

George Hook is a cheerleader for Ireland’s ruling party Fine Gael in a very literal sense: he does warm-up speeches for them at their conventions. He is one broadcaster on a radio station owned by a billionaire media magnate who got his big break after greasing the palm of the Fine Gael Minister for Communications. On the whole, the radio station itself, as with the rest of the billionaire’s media interests, is anti-worker, anti-union, anti-left, pro-austerity, pro-big business, pro-establishment, pro-police. Crucially, though, it is not all that different from the state broadcaster RTÉ (who used to -and for all I know, still do- employ Hook as a rugby commentator) in this regard. Both run advertisements for Denis O’Brien’s private hospitals.

Where is the national media outlet that campaigns for universal health care? Or universal education? Or the democratisation of industry? It does not exist. What we have instead is a set of right-wing media institutions that habitually accuse the least right-wing among them of being in the grip of communists.

How did this state of affairs -this narrow-gauge ideological domination- come about? Suffice to say it was not through civilised debate and argument. Debate about freedom of expression and press freedom, without addressing this landscape first, is no debate at all.


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On Free Schoolbooks

Was down the local bookshop today. Forked out €25 for some additional back to school materials, which probably takes the bill over €200 (not including uniforms) For nearly every schoolchild in Ireland there are parents or guardians who fork out for basic school materials and textbooks.

The schoolbook market in the Republic of Ireland is a racket. All of this should be paid out of general taxation, as it is in other countries. So why is it not?

One reason is that people are accustomed to it. It is just the way things are. For example, it’s hard to imagine too many teachers standing in front of the class at the start of term and saying “Listen up, I don’t know why your parents have to spend so much money on schoolbooks. In other countries, school books are free for children. Everyone gives money so every child can have school books. We should have that here.” Maybe some of them do. All of them certainly should.

There is no real argument against introducing free schoolbooks for all children, because it is so rarely discussed in the first place, at least in the media. Yes, for two minutes every year some worthy from some charity will say they ought to be free. But the question as to why there are not free schoolbooks for all children is never posed.

Hardly anyone would want to say they are against it in principle, though if any momentum ever gathered in favour of it, you would probably get a host of economists and Austrian school dentists on the radio arguing that is not the right time and that it would be better to give children vouchers for toothpaste instead.

There might be a general grumbling that it would ‘cost the taxpayer’ more. What -the Drivetime presenter might ask the man from IBEC- will this cost the taxpayer? The overall cost would not change; in fact it might well fall, given that schools would purchase in bulk. Perhaps there would be a surge of concern and teary-eyed nostalgia for small-town bookshops, from the same people who think unstaffed libraries are a great idea. Then there will be others who will advise that in fact that books are so 19th century, and that there should be tablets provided to every child, purchased by the state from some company that pays no tax.

With free schoolbooks, the responsibility for educating children would be shared across the whole of society. It would not fall solely to people who happen to be their parents. This would be a good thing since it would go to show that people actually have a minimal obligation to the welfare of others. On the face of it, it’s hard to imagine that this would amount to a revolutionary moment in Irish society: schoolbooks are free in lots of countries, including Northern Ireland, and have been so for generations. In those countries, free schoolbooks are a fact of life that goes unquestioned, like colour TV. Whereas here, it feels like paying for schoolbooks is a fact of life that goes unquestioned, like colour TV.

In other countries, the concept of second hand textbooks is completely alien, because all textbooks are second hand, or potentially second hand, or third hand, because you hand them back to the school at the end of the year and they get passed on to the next year’s students. Of the many complaints about school I heard while attending it, I do not recall the lack of a textbook of one’s own being a major source of discontent.

The danger, I suppose, is that if you give the idea that you are obliged to care about the welfare of others seriously an inch, it will take a mile. Once there are free schoolbooks, who knows what other atrocity might occur, like canteens getting built in schools where free meals are served, and children actually sit at a table and have a meal with others, rather than eating out of their lunchbox at their desk. How would that be a good preparation for the world of work, this idea that you are allowed a lunch break?

All hell might then break loose if children began to think that there were certain other things to which they were entitled. Like if everyone makes sure that everyone has free access to schoolbooks, what if they started to think everyone should make sure everyone else has free healthcare too? Or the right to a home?

And what would all this cost the taxpayer? It’s quite instructive how often ‘it’ll cost the taxpayer more’ can be replaced with ‘it’ll cost rich people more’, with the meaning preserved. Worse than that, the dominant morality in Ireland has it that rich people are automatically exempt from paying tax, so ‘it’ll cost the tax payer more’ ends up suggesting that the ‘squeezed middle’ -who do pay taxes- will end up forking out for some imaginary category of poor people who do not pay taxes, and if you give them this much then they’ll come and take even more off you.

Such is the morality of the ‘people who get up early in the morning’: above all, save the rich, and then piss on anyone below you. They don’t teach this shit at school. Do they?


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On Leo-liberalism


When Leo Varadkar is hailed as ‘refreshing’ and ‘straight-talking’ by commentators and journalists, it is because he’s saying things that they wish they could say, but are hampered in doing so, whether by polite convention or broader public opinion. It comes as a minor thrill, in these quarters, for the reactionary character of elite Irish opinion to be properly let off the leash from time to time.

Varadkar’s elevation to Taoiseach, elected only by a set of reactionary TDs, has brought with it a repackaging of the most regressive aspects of establishment politics -class condescension and contempt, entitled arrogance, and smug vindictiveness- as shiny, enlightened centrism.

Whereas his predecessors in the role of Taoiseach, at least as far back as I can remember, were able to reconcile, to some extent, the task of serving ruling class interests with that of appealing to a wide cross-section of Irish society*, Varadkar embodies little more than the sneering insouciance of Dublin’s business elites and technocrats.

This is an individual who won over the TDs of his own party by squandering public money on a campaign to demonise recipients of social welfare, based on the fraudulent premise that welfare fraud is a burning issue, when the real burning issue is the class hatred that drives Fine Gael TDs and its wider membership. This is someone we can really get behind, they concluded.

Varadkar’s Dáil appearances since his appointment have been characteristically hollow and obnoxious, a Trinity debating chamber equivalent of the Golden Cleric award. It came as no surprise that yesterday he was dismissive of Paul Murphy’s call for a public inquiry into the plain evidence that multiple Gardaí provided identical false evidence for the Jobstown prosecution, and sought to upbraid Murphy for conduct ‘unbecoming’ for a TD. For Varadkar, as for the rest of his party, undermining the left is a national duty: where’s the problem? Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, ever anxious to show how his party loves cops even more than Fine Gael, requested that Murphy be referred to the Dáil disciplinary committee for his remarks.

The other day, Varadkar defended his successor at the Department of Social Protection, Regina Doherty. The latter had complained to An Garda Síochána about an individual who was tweeting information -already available in the public domain- about Doherty’s business dealings. As a consequence, the individual, Catherine Kelly, a US-based academic, was approached by plain-clothes gardaí at Dublin Airport. This was a “private matter, not one of public policy”, Varadkar said.

Bollocks. Varadkar’s high-minded distinction between the public and the private was nowhere to be seen yesterday when he conducted a character assassination on NUI academic Rory Hearne, who had co-authored a report on family homelessness in Ireland, after the report, and the claim that newly established family hubs supposed to address homelessness might become become a new instance of Direct Provision-style incarceration, were raised at Dáil questions by Joan Collins TD.

Instead of addressing the implications of the report, Varadkar spoke about how Hearne had been an election candidate for “one of the left-wing groups” and recounted how he had found him “less than pleasant” at a running event in the Phoenix Park, and how the encounter was “not the kind of polite conversation I would expect from a university academic”.

Whatever the content of the conversation cited, no-one is obliged to be pleasant to Leo Varadkar or give him the polite conversation he expects, whether in private or in his public role as head of government. What was striking here is how Varadkar dispensed with the polite fiction that the head of government is first and foremost a public servant and hence not entitled to use the Dáil to engage in attacks on members of the public. There will be no referral to the disciplinary committee, of course, since attacks on the left, and attacks on ideas appearing to come from the left, have carte blanche.  Here that we find the truth of the ‘centrism’ in which Varadkar cloaks himself and that cheers the hearts of official Ireland: behind its proclamation that there is ‘no longer left nor right’ is a signal that it is open season on the left, and, by extension, on any vestige of social equality, democratic accountability, and any intellectual work that does not serve the ends of power.


*Clearly I had repressed all memory of John Bruton at the time of writing.


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