Skip navigation

It is generally commendable that people who take part in public discussion be open about where they are coming from. This is so that citizens can evaluate whether or not they have a particular interest in the outcome. The general requirement is that they be upfront and explicit about possible determinants of their views. We consider it normal, for example, to ask a member of a TV studio audience who offers an opinion, if they are a member of a political party. There is however one, glaring, secretive exception.

When pay or pay policy is discussed, most of those talking in the media enjoy salaries that are multiples of the average, never mind the minimum, wage. Unlike party membership, salary is kept secret or not considered a possible determinant of argument, a vested interest.** There has always been an excessively mannered reluctance to divulge or discuss a person’s income. Bluntly, there is a pretentious effort to ensure that personal income be considered strictly private. Now, the history of political communication, democratization and progress itself can be traced through issues being dragged out of the private realm into the light of politics. It is time that public debate took another intrusive step.***

Consider how newspapers frequently place a person’s age in brackets or how TV identifies, describes and classifies a contributor with an informative caption under their picture. Now, consider a debate about pay – say, a proposal to increase the legal minimum wage – in which contributors’ incomes appeared in brackets and in captions. If Josephine Bloggs, Economist with A, Professor of B, Economics Editor at C, Director of D or CEO of E, appeared to argue pay policy with her salary clearly shown, a more open, honest debate could take place.

_______________________________

* I first made this suggestion in a blog in 2009. That was written at the height of a recession when pay cuts were a matter of constant discussion. I was prompted to modify and republish it by the sight of a well-off spokesperson for an employers’ advocacy group opposing a tiny increase in the legal minimum wage.

** Making interest clear is not normally an obligation placed on media workers.

*** My late friend, Peter Mooney, often said with a nod to Marx,‘The parameters of any debate in society are the parameters of the ruling class’.

Try this: Put some ice into a glass. Now fill the glass to the brim and watch what happens. The ice floats with some of it showing above the water level. As the ice melts, the water will overflow. Right? No, absolutely wrong! Melting ice will not raise the water level because, “Any floating object displaces its own weight of fluid.” — Archimedes of Syracuse.*

Yep, Archimedes. It’s as basic as that. Of course anyone who puts ice in their drink knows about this and anyone who has done Junior Cert. Science knows why.

Now, listen to this podcast of Newstalk Radio’s science programme, Futureproof, broadcast on Sat, 15 July 2017: http://www.newstalk.com/podcasts/Futureproof/Futureproof_with_Jonathan_McCrea/199154/Animals_adapt_to_Urban_environments_and_Reverse_Ageing

Not too far from the beginning there’s a discussion of the effects of global warming on the Arctic. Attention moves to an ice shelf the size of a county which has broken free in the Antarctic. Listen as a university scientist says that the melting of this huge iceberg will cause sea levels to rise. Notice that neither her colleague nor the presenter reacts, never mind corrects.**

The problem is not expert knowledge. The problem is a lack of basic knowledge which if widespread, makes citizen participation in debates about climate change impossible.

__________________________________________________________

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archimedes%27_principle

** There is debate around the extent to which the more dense seawater will indeed rise when the floating freshwater melts. It will rise by a relatively small amount but even this is complicated by the intrusion of energy and temperature considerations. See here: https://www.skepticalscience.com/Sea-level-rise-due-to-floating-ice.html

It is understandable and indeed predictable that activists, having found that protest is utterly pointless, would resort to something else – something distinguished by the term, “effective protest”.

When activists express a desire to have effective protest, they make the point that protest is ineffective. That’s true. While an exceptionally large turn out or the attendance of normally compliant people may prompt a government to pause for thought, the days of authorities quaking when people decide to march are long gone. The talk now is of security and stewarding, with organisers looked upon as managers. Indeed, it is now usual to hear senior police officers say not only that people have a right to protest but that police will defend that right.

Long experience has revealed that protest is unthreatening but there’s more: protest has been institutionalised. It has become quasi-constitutional, a part of the way that politics is done. It is now an effective lightning conductor, discharging anger and resentment safely to earth. It is conservative, part of the management of dissent.

Political activists tend to enjoy protests. They rate them as good or relatively good and reminisce about protests they’ve attended. It’s a badge of honour to be able to claim attendance at some of the famous ones. It’s even a way of meeting up with old friends and comrades or resuming association under a respected banner.

It is not uncommon, however, for those activists who oppose this established practice to attend a protest, leave the main body of protesters and take an action thought likely to cause some disruption or a confrontation with the police. This would lead perhaps to a fracas which could be characterised as state opposition to protest. There have been amusing outcomes as when the confrontation stops traffic and prevents law abiding protestors getting home from their protest.

During the campaign against water charges comments on social media began to make an interesting distinction between protest and effective protest. Typically a protester would be told by a Garda to stand aside from the installation of a water meter and to protest nearby. This they would see as pointless since the objective was to prevent the installation of water meters. Standing aside with a placard was not deemed effective protest. Effective protest is aimed at preventing something or perhaps causing something to happen, while protest as facilitated by An Garda is essentially communicative – protesting about something.

It might seem sensible at this point to tidy up the terminology but it’s not that simple. The inviting course would be to distinguish between protest – institutionalised as communication – and direct action. Here’s the problem: since the controversy is essentially about widening the definition and therefore acceptability of protest to include actions that are not exclusively communicative, creating a distinction right here between protest and action would prejudge the outcome of the discussion.

Peaceful” seems to present a complicating factor. Many protest actions are now accompanied by chanting “peaceful protest, peaceful protest”. The proposition would seem to be that any action that does not directly offer violence is legitimate protest and should be defended by the state.

As mentioned above, examination of the institution of protest was brought forward in Ireland by activists opposed to water charges and the installation of water meters. They actively tried to prevent the work being carried out by standing into earthworks, blocking roads to contractors and slow marching in front of contractors’ vehicles. Leaving aside the claimed justification of acting on behalf of the people, the proposition here is that preventing or delaying work is legitimate protest and should be defended by the state. It’s by no means a new proposition; environmental activists have occupied tree tops to prevent projects that involved the destruction of the trees. Blockades preventing workers or supplies reaching a disputed site are quite common.

While they sometimes lead to violent clashes when police try to keep a road open, the blockade or slow march is now increasingly accepted as legitimate protest. The activist gets to make an effective protest which prevents, say, work happening for a time. The state accepts that protest will cause delays but projects tend to completion in the longer term and it is recognised as necessary to dissipate anger and opposition. Occasional clashes between protesters and police are inevitable as an accommodation is achieved between two accepted rights: the right to protest and the right to go about lawful business without hindrance. The currency here is essentially time.

The activists involved in the Jobstown protest directed at a visit by the Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) to an educational conferral proposed that preventing or disrupting the visit or preventing the Tánaiste and her assistant from leaving was legitimate protest. The Director of Public Prosecutions disagreed and some were charged with illegally detaining citizens. This outraged activists who saw it as undermining the institution of protest. Indeed, in closing argument a defence barrister argued that the prosecution was an intentional assault on effective protest. In doing so, he ridiculed conventional protest as both old fashioned and akin to Father Ted holding a banner inscribed with “down with this sort of thing”. *

Two distinct arguments have emerged. Firstly, it is argued that a blockade preventing entry is not the same as preventing a citizen from leaving.** As the charging of the Jobstown protestors indicates, the State is intolerant of protesters detaining a citizen but this intolerance does not sit easily with police facilitating the slow marching of workers on a contested project trying to go home. Indeed, at Jobstown the slow march home was apparently negotiated between police and protest leaders/managers as an accommodation which would end the protest.

Secondly, a strange new proposition was advanced by a defence barrister: that because one of the detained citizens was a government minister she could be detained in order to ensure that she listened to the views of the protestors. In other words, the freedom of the minister to walk away from communication was contested. Like the slow march this could be developed into a peaceful accommodation: that a citizen can be detained in order to ensure that they hear some viewpoint. Again the currency would be time.

Now clearly there’s a great deal of pretence going on. On the state’s side there is a pretence that protest leads to change. In Ireland where decisions are subject to the delivery/pressure system, protest is just one pressure among many; e.g. interest groups, non-government organisations, sympathetic journalism.

On the side of the activists there is an implied pretence that if the state recognised a range of actions as protest, they would support the state. The reality is that since the state has assimilated protest, something else has to happen if the state is to be confronted.

In other words, one side says that protest is a right, encouraged, recognised and protected; the other side says any limitation on direct action undermines the right to protest. The two sides simply are not talking about the same thing.

Let’s take both at their word: that the state really does approve and encourage dissent, and that the activists do not seek confrontation but want to extend legitimate action beyond marches and standing with placards.

As suggested above the currency is time, delay. Negotiations are already the order of the day. The proposition is that activists may do as they wish as long as they are not violent. In many cases this will work out fine. A blockade of some engineering project is very likely factored into costs. Workers delayed by slow marches can probably be compensated by overtime payments. An extended list of accommodations might suggest that this is easily resolved but switching attention to different more basic examples of rights clashing reveals something far more problematic.

Leaving aside all question of violence like attacking an individual at whom a protest might be aimed or breaking up property, the extension of legitimacy (state recognition and protection) to all activity labelled protest could cede rights to groups at the expense of citizens. This returns consideration to the nub of the matter.

Citizens tend to be content to have rights limited in order to ensure public safety but this necessarily involves threat. It would be quite another matter if, say, freedom of movement were denied indefinitely or for a considerable period in order to defend a right to protest. While the state now negotiates with protesters, an authoritarian paradox emerges.

Should the institution of protest be extended to include all actions that a group or individual was willing to claim to be a protest, then a group or individual could rely on the state to constrain others. Thus the word “protest” – never mind “peaceful protest” – would trump all other liberties. Clearly no state with the slightest pretence to being liberal could cede such power to anyone willing to take action.

Rather than worrying excessively about what might happen – what obscure or mad action might be adopted to oppress fellow citizens – it might be better to consider codifying protest actions that are regularly claimed to be so, for example:

i) There is now no dispute over the protest march. It is a recognised institution.

ii) The sit down protest in a public street is disputed. It will normally be respected/tolerated by the state until it inconveniences a large number of citizens or a smaller number for a protracted period. Business interests tend to intrude as shops fear disruption of trading or the creation of the impression that going into town is subject to disruption.

iii) Slow marching is now virtually recognised by the state as a useful way of ending confrontation while allowing activists to feel that they’ve been effective in at least causing delay.

Come on, though, let’s be frank. If activists are committed to opposing the state, none of this is relevant because they must devise actions such that the state will oppose them. The position would seem to be that while protest is quasi-constitutional and effective protest can be accommodated, the last thing that anti-state/anti-establishment activists want is to be part of an effective lightning conductor, discharging anger and resentment safely to earth, part of the management of dissent. Though they frequently say that they are no longer interested in revolution, they still cling to some undisclosed role for confrontation and crisis***.

_________________________

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gT9xuXQjxMM

** In answering irrelevant questions at the trial of Paul Murphy et al, witness, Karen O’Connell, made an interesting distinction. She suggested that while blocking citizen entry is “peaceful protest”, preventing a citizen from leaving is not.

*** It’s hard to imagine what non-revolutionary street politics is about. It seems to be a compromise between joining that strand of socialism which opts for reforms within the system (frequently mocked as social democracy) and a revolutionary style/tradition without the substance. In practice it sides with all popular movement/sentiment including that which is right wing. It views class in terms of polling categories rather than political values and seeks to represent those it views as working class by putting pressure on the government/establishment/political class. Thus class is reduced to a pressure group and activists termed “hard left” operate within the Irish cargo/pressure system of politics. 

All too often journalists support the view that ISIS killers come from a dark, incomprehensible savagery and that they are utterly unlike the ordinary decent terrorists we used to know in the 20th century. After the 2017 murder of the children at the Manchester concert there was a harking back to the IRA bomb in 1996 which had fewer casualties but did more infrastructural damage.

Possibly the most egregious expression of this vile nonsense came from Stuart Maconie, writing in New Statesman.* He sees “no credible comparison” between the jihadi attack of 2017 and the IRA attack of 21 years earlier. Whereas the intentional selection of civilians as targets is an unambiguous war crime/crime against humanity, he clearly does not agree or he regards such crimes as sometimes understandable.

Certainly the likes of the IRA killed differently to ISIS but the argument that one is better or more acceptable than the other rests on two propositions that are utterly unacceptable. One refers to the respective methods of killing; the other to justification.

Firstly, it is argued by Maconie in common with many others that giving warning of a bombing and expressing regret afterwards is a preferable course of action. The proposition is that, having planted a bomb in a public place, giving the potential victims a sporting chance of escape and then expressing regret over the casualties, somehow makes those responsible a better class of perpetrator.

Secondly, there is the proposition that the opprobrium attaching to the selection of a civilian target should be proportional to how reasonable a cause the attackers espouse. Now, this is a thoroughly disreputable and selective form of outrage; it seeks the acceptance of war crimes in pursuit of a favoured end. Maconie is quite explicit. He argues that, while the IRA did not have the support of Manchester’s large Catholic and Irish population, their attack was not so bad because that population would have been familiar with the claims of Irish nationalism. He puts it thus:

These families and pubs and streets may not have sympathised with the IRA but their aims and their struggle would have been a familiar thread of family life and local culture. Those aims did not seem unreasonable to many: a united homeland, free of an occupying military colonial presence.

The ISIS attack on civilians, he reckons, was worse not because of the numbers or ages of the victims but because no “sane” person understands them:

By contrast, it is hard for anyone sane to comprehend what Isis or its deranged “lone wolf” sympathisers can possibly want beyond their own martyrdom and an end to what we think of as civilisation. It is a new dark age.

Certainly the ISIS mindset is dark, foreign and medieval. They don’t ever express regret and their bizarre methods of torture and killing in the Middle East alienate and frighten Western citizens. However, when it comes to bombings and shootings directed at civilians, they are precisely the same as the IRA.

All combatants select targets. They choose military, infrastructural or civilian targets. Civilians often die when a military or infrastructural target is attacked. They become in that awful phrase collateral damage. However, when civilians are targeted, an unmbiguous war crime is committed. When a public place is targeted, a perverse argument can be offered, pretending that it was a commercial target, that civilian casualties represent collateral damage and are regretted – and in any event a warning was given so that they had a sporting chance of escape. That’s complete bollocks. A developed country is rich in commercial, infrastructural targets often miles from human habitation. Targeting a public place is a carefully considered decision and it is a war crime.

____________________________________

* New Statesman, 26 May – 1 June 2017, pgs. 26-27

 

In Ireland all of the political parties represented in parliament support the political system in which priorities are set, decisions are made, infrastructure is positioned by way of campaigns which put pressure on the government/political class. They may differ on campaign issues and interest groups favoured but there is no opposition to the basic system.

Consider this. One of the following was copied from an on-line recruitment message. So, which of them is the real one?

By joining Fine Gael you will join a … strong grass-roots led, campaigning organisation.

By joining Fianna Fáil you will join a … strong grass-roots led, campaigning organisation.

By joining Sinn Féin you will join a … strong grass-roots led, campaigning organisation.

By joining The Labour Party you will join a … strong grass-roots led, campaigning organisation.

By joining The Social Democrats you will join a … strong grass-roots led, campaigning organisation.

By joining The Green Party you will join a … strong grass-roots led, campaigning organisation.

By joining Solidarity you will join a … strong grass-roots led, campaigning organisation.

By joining The People Before Profit Alliance you will join a … strong grass-roots led, campaigning organisation.

Difficult to decide? That’s because any of them could have said it; it’s the way they view politics.

Right then, the sentence was copied from Fianna Fáil. They have a confidence and supply arrangement to support the present government and for decades since the foundation of the state they provided the government. Nevertheless, they see themselves as anti-establishment and hardly anyone thinks it odd. It’s not odd because what they mean is that they will work the cargo/pressure system of politics. My local leftist TD takes up the same position; he sees himself campaigning for and being like a shop steward to some of his constituents, reducing working class to a pressure group.

In short, when it comes to the cargo/pressure way in Ireland, there is no consistent parliamentary opposition.*

Incidentally, the ellipsis in the party sentences above is because the original FF sentence referred to the number of party members and including that would have given the game away.

_____________________

* I argue that Labour should become a party of opposition: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2016/06/12/time-for-labour-to-think-before-taking-the-familiar-path/

 

Jeremy Corbyn is making a silly, unforced error in the way he looks to the wider context of the attack in Manchester, and it is the same error that saw him used by the IRA and SF.* There are two motivations for looking at context and JC simply must make it clear that his is one and that the other is reprehensible.

What happens before an outrage like that perpetrated in Manchester is that someone selects the target and then their associates participate to a greater or lesser extent. That is to say, there is deliberation leading to intention to cause civilian casualties. A military or industrial target could be selected but isn’t; the decision is to kill civilians. In short, there is a wilful choice to commit a crime against humanity. Because this is a matter of immediate target selection it cannot be justified, lessened or even explained by reference to context, circumstances or a wider struggle.

Now, there are thinking people who want to explore the wider context in which the act is situated and they most certainly should not be criticised – never mind condemned – for doing so. However, if they want to avoid the crude ridicule of feral bigots, they must be aware of the trap set for them.

You see, decent, thinking people are not the only ones looking at context. There are others looking and not in a thoughtful way but in a calculating way. The intention of these others is not to understand. Rather, they want to use context to deflect attention and responsibility away from the deliberate commission of mass murders. They want to so muddy the water that there is no difference between an attack on armed soldiers and bombing a concert hall, pub, restaurant or public place. Their objective is selective approval of some crimes against humanity. They know full well that they cannot hope for the support of anyone who holds that there is a categorical difference between a soldier/combatant and a war criminal.

A war crime cannot be explained away by reference to the cause of the war. Jeremy Corbyn can of course make this clear but his condemnation of an act or acts goes nowhere near making it clear. Neither is it enough for him to argue that for the sake of peace one must talk to one’s enemies because this implies negotiating with an honourable foe rather than the sort of person who would bomb a pub or would support such foulness. Of course one must talk and try to achieve an end to killing but Jeremy Corbyn like any decent person also has to reject explicitly the perverse doctrine that in conflict anything goes and that all civilian casualties are equally regrettable. There is an enormous difference between condemnation or saying that civilian casualties are regrettable and saying clearly that the targeting of civilians is always a war crime/crime against humanity.

In brief, it’s like this for Jeremy and indeed for everyone else: whether you are talking to them, trying to understand them or discussing their place in history, you must stand resolutely opposed; you must always be unambiguously on the side of rudimentary civilisation against ALL those who would ever consider that targeting civilians is other than the most shameful barbarism.

_______________________________________

* http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2017/05/jeremy-corbyn-speech-terrorism-and-foreign-policy-full-text

You may have little or no interest in the dreadful case of Madeleine McCann but anyone who participates in on-line debate might have a look at this: J. Synnott et al. Online trolling: The case of Madeleine McCann, Computers in Human Behavior 71 (2017) 70e78 .

It is of general interest because the bizarre world of the on-line participants is all too familiar. It is a world of certainty, aggression, obsession, rejection of argument, close identity matched by hostility to outsiders, sense of mission and refusal to accept that anyone could have good motives; it is a world of activists with “open minds” opposed to establishment cover-up.

John Synnott’s research interest and method could as easily have been directed at any one of dozens of political controversies. There is certainly an audience for the rejection of thought and there would seem now to be a political constituency to be lead.

Perhaps, however, it is misguided to view this as new. It may be an old 19th century fear that the masses are not always progressive or democratic.*

Incidentally, unless you’ve access to a college library or similar, you may be unable to read the article in full. Never mind, a bit of googling will bring up accessible media coverage of the research.

__________________________________________________________________________

*  https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2016/07/02/worried-about-simplistic-lies-in-public-debate-consider-the-audience-for-them/

On Sunday morning April 23rd 2017 Joanna Tuffy put a proposal to the Irish Labour Party Conference and it was adopted. If this decision is ignored, the Party can go on as before but if it is implemented, the Party will be changed.

Here’s the text:

“That Labour make measurable reduction of income inequality our basic objective. All policy proposals are then to be at least compatible with this objective and a year-on-year, measurable reduction in income inequality is to become a precondition for any talks on participation in government or on support for minority government. It is accepted that alterations in pay structures within the public service and/or within companies and organisations dependent on the state for finance or contracts may be implemented before more general changes in the wider economy.”

This conference decision has opened up a divide between Labour and all other Irish parties. It signals a refusal any longer to share their support for a meaningless “fairness” and to tolerate the restriction of equality to social concerns. It is a clear decision to move at last against the inequality that offends decent people day in, day out: the extraordinarily stable structure of income inequality – not the safely distant 1% but the gap between those on a minimum wage and those on high salaries.

The decision has three components.

The first changed the position of the Labour Party not to anything revolutionary but nevertheless to the start of something very different and radical: the reduction of income inequality. The reduction will at last become a topic of public controversy because this small party has made it its basic purpose and crucially has linked it to measurable change.

The second component addressed voting and the fraught question of coalition or support for a minority government. It says to potential voters that if you are offended by income inequality, Labour wants to begin reductions, that regardless of other compromises, without a commitment to have a year on year, measurable decrease in inequality of income, there will be no talks on government formation.

The third component is a matter of anticipating the whatabouters, the conservative messers who will try to prevent change by claiming that each and every move is “unfair”, that the whole nasty structure from, say, 15,000 per annum to 300,000 per annum must be maintained because to change any part of it would be – as usual – “unfair”.

So that’s it. It means change. Anyone who has been out talking to citizens knows that it is time to do this. There’s been obfuscation over the degree to which taxation is progressive and over the various methods of calculating inequality but it’s time to stop messing. The Labour Party’s basic aim is now the reduction of income inequality.

Thanks Joanna.

The Dáil cannot sack the Garda Commissioner. That’s the prerogative of the Government. Now, if we want to change that – i.e. to make it that a Commissioner’s job is at the pleasure of the Dáil – let’s discuss it and if it’s desirable, make the change.

Let’s not, however, mess about asking the Dáil to vote no confidence, calling on the Government to act, and pretend that this doesn’t usurp the power of Government.

Assuming that the backers of the Dáil motion are not fools, unable to appreciate the significance of their move, then their motive must be to put two institutions of the state at loggerheads. There is a pattern here of trying to damage the wider (small ‘c’) constitution. Remember that there was an attempt to legislate for abortion in case of fatal foetal abnormalities, knowing that the move would be unconstitutional. Moreover, on water charges the Dáil is moving towards instructing the Government to act illegally.

Anti-establishment is no longer a matter of opposing the entrenched position of the rich or the structure of inequality. It has more or less changed sides. It is now a matter of opposing the established way of doing things, the slow processes built up over many years on which reform and progress, depend. This anti-establishment is no place for a socialist. Indeed, socialists must resist the temptation to strike a faux-revolutionary pose and oppose the thoughtless barbarism of the new anti-establishment.

In the matter of the Dáil motion aimed at removing the Garda Commissioner the best outcome would be a decision that it is not a matter for the Dáil, second best would be a majority abstention, leaving the “anti-establishment” with a ridiculous victory, and third would be to defeat their motion.

Lorraine Mallinder, writing in New Statesman (17th February 2017), illustrates a particular case of what is a growing problem.* She tells of Ebrimah Jammeh who like many lost family in the Gambia. He now wants not simply peace and reconciliation but retribution. The likelihood is that he will not get this within Gambia because those who have committed crimes against humanity will be given an amnesty. This is not a problem for Africa; increasingly, it seems, that a free pass is a price paid for a peace agreement. Such a deal formed part of the Good Friday Agreement. The Irish and British states gave amnesty to those who had placed bombs in public, and respectability to their leaders and associates.

A crime against humanity is so called because it is beyond the scope of any state; it is a crime against all of us and for that reason we have international courts. As hideous local deals proliferate it is time that participants were made aware that they cannot absolve or be absolved in the name of humanity. In other words, for the sake of peace a perpetrator may walk free within a state or region but he or she should face justice if ever they leave their sanctuary and that risk should dog them for the rest of their lives. The best that Ebrimah can hope for is that Gambian perpetrators will some day be arrested in the name of humanity in another country.

______________________________________

* http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/observations/2017/02/dictator-family-why-ebrima-jammeh-wants-retribution-gambia

 

It has become far too uncommon for a citizen or a worker to speak up when confronted by something that is wrong. Worse, while objecting and arguing is taken as heroic, there would appear to be a consensus on silence: that keeping one’s mouth shut is acceptable. What is at stake here is the abandonment of integrity, i.e. the ordinary responsibility of the ordinary citizen in workplace, institution, club, on or off line and in casual interaction to speak truth to bad behaviour, illegitimate instructions or plans and indeed complete bollocks.

It has been necessary to surround whistle-blowers with protective laws and institutions. This is to protect their right to … well, their right to what? You see, there is an enormous difference between protecting their right to be exceptionally heroic and protecting their right to behave as any decent person should. The difference plays out in the treatment of those who knew and remained silent.

The protection offered to whistle-blowers makes it just about possible for an individual to act with integrity. Yes, it incentivises doing the decent thing but not overly so; it offers a measure of security but it also applies a label and probably ends a career. It is a contradiction – even madness – to accept that ordinary integrity be treated as exceptional and in need of protection. It is, therefore, essential to incentivise integrity by treating it as an expectation. That is to say, whistle-blower legislation must include the obligation that after enquiries are completed and perhaps offenders dealt with, attention should turn to those who remained silent, i.e. attention should focus on those who demonstrated a lack of ordinary integrity. In at least some cases the failure to behave properly will mark these people as unfit for the positions they hold. However, the main reason for extending the process beyond the individual whistle-blower is to incentivise whistle-blowing.

It has to be made clear that citizens are required to operate with integrity. Moreover, it has to be emphasised that integrity is a requirement for most jobs, and failure to demonstrate it – should the occasion arise – will result in opprobrium at least. It is not acceptable that the one or two demonstrably good people in an organisation should walk off as heroes into obscurity, leaving time servers and chancers to rewarding careers.

The RTE Primetime programme of February 9th 2017* performed a solid public service by exploding the story of the HSE’s and Tusla’s involvement in smearing the reputation of Sergeant Gerry McCabe. The programme of February 14th ** had the makings of something similar but the framing decided upon led it down a different path right through the obsessive question about a change of party leader and to the ridiculous suggestion by Paul Murphy T.D. near the end of the programme that the crucial issue is the credibility of the Taoiseach. No, no, no, the crucial issue is the operation of a system of silence operated by politicians and journalists which allows those who whisper falsehoods to remain anonymous. “Sources”, it would appear, must remain anonymous; they must remain so even years later when it is recognised that they were lying.

There would seem to be just one exception: John McGuinness, the former chairman of PAC, provided a name. He told the Dáil that he was approached before Sergeant McCabe’s PAC appearance by then Commissioner Martin Callinan who allegedly tried to discredit Sergeant McCabe.

Contrast this with Mick Wallace T.D. at c. 4 mins into the 14th Feb. programme who names people under privilege except that he withholds one name: that of a journalist spreading the smear.

Then watch Pat Rabbitte at about 21 mins. tell of being approached by a retired Garda who smeared Sergeant McCabe. Even at this stage – years later – Pat did not name the retired Garda and David McCullagh didn’t ask him.

Now go to 25 mins. and listen to John Deasy tell of being approached by a “very senior Guard” who smeared Sergeant McCabe. John did not name the senior officer and Katie Hannon didn’t ask him.

Journalists generally talk of culture and a quite comprehensive system of smearing but it would seem that just two have come out and said that there is no public benefit in keeping confidential the names of liars.***

Primetime has a team of respected journalists. It is inconceivable that they have not discussed the practice of protecting the anonymity of lying sources, the chancers who exploit for nefarious ends and undermine the accepted protection of sources.

Primetime could perform a public service by turning their attention to journalism and confidentiality generally. Right now there is a newsworthy vehicle available: the role of confidentiality in creating the current scandal whereby decent police officers were smeared.

___________________________

* http://www.rte.ie/player/ie/show/prime-time-30003251/10685085/

** http://www.rte.ie/player/ie/show/prime-time-30003251/10687165/

*** Justine McCarthy: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/name-and-shame-the-rumour-mongers-who-slurred-maurice-mccabe-sl29g5f7c

and

Colum Kenny: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/whistleblower-row-malicious-sources-have-no-right-to-protection-1.2971029

In contrast, here’s a case in which a journalist, having reported lies from Garda sources, invoked the guidelines of the National Union of Journalists in declining to reveal the identity of his sources. https://www.gardaombudsman.ie/docs/publications/Report_October2008.pdf (See in particular paras. 10 and 13.)

People are frequently asked to choose between two things neither of which they particularly like. Sensibly they think about preferences and make a decision. That’s what happened in the USA. Millions of voters preferred Trump to Clinton and the other candidates. There are commentators – and unfortunately some are leftists – who try to create not merely a bogus equivalence between two candidates but an absolute equivalence. They want to say that in choosing between Trump and Clinton, one might as well toss a coin. Well, coins weren’t tossed. Citizens thought about it and expressed their preference. Millions of them preferred Trump and there is no way of whitewashing their choice.

Don’t patronise Trump voters. They are not deluded fools, victims of a trick or even misguided. His voters prefer his views, his policies and him.

Those who reckon the result is down to Clinton’s candidacy are trying to avoid facing up to the fact that just less than half of the US citizens who voted preferred a man of this calibre. When people decide to do something truly awful, it’s best to face it.

At this late stage it may seem unforgiving to argue that membership of or support for Sinn Féin cannot be made a routine, acceptable matter. It may seem too to be dwelling in the past or indeed to be showing a preparedness to risk the peace process. However, the problem with SF is not that it is an organisation putting a criminal or military past behind it. The problem is a great deal more serious; there can be no question of tolerance for anyone or any group with a history or record of involvement in or support for crimes against humanity. The true nature of what is now whitewashed as “the armed struggle” creates a categorical difference and places SF among those parties whose 20th century horrors make their existence in the 21st century an affront to civilisation.

SF argue not merely that the IRA has ceased to exist and that they are fully committed to peace, they also argue that the terrible things which happened during the troubles or the armed struggle were typical of wars anywhere and are best forgotten, that it is time to move on. Their proposition is that a war has ended and that its participants were good people caught up in a conflict and can now return to civilian life. This is a parody which decent people will never accept.

There is, however, a moderate case that wrongdoing should be forgiven and forgotten. That can apply to all manner of offence from traffic violations, through thievery and on to murder but it cannot apply to crimes against humanity. Such crime is a category in itself; it involves not an offence against the person or the state but against everyone and against what it means to be human. It cannot be tolerated, forgiven or be wiped away by a local peace deal. Perpetrators, their commanders and facilitators must be hunted for the rest of their lives; they must know that they risk being treated like those frail, old people finally apprehended decades after the end of WW2. Their supporters must never be allowed fully to enjoy the society of ordinary people.

There is variety in the pit of horrors that faces anyone looking at crimes against humanity and war crimes but one thing stands out: the intentional targeting of civilians. Let something be absolutely clear: all combatants select targets, they make a choice. Some choose civilians. That is to say, they choose to kill civilians rather than soldiers. 

SF will say that the IRA was involved in a war of liberation, that they were fighting an army of occupation and crucially they will claim that civilians unfortunately die in all wars. Yes, civilians die in wars but when they are intentionally targeted, it is deemed a war crime, a crime against humanity.

Furthermore, the IRA campaign was not a military campaign blighted by the unfortunate deaths of civilians. Neither was it a military campaign during which war crimes were committed, crimes which dishonoured the majority of the fighting force. Rather it was a campaign in which civilians were routinely chosen as targets; the preference for civilian deaths was punctuated by military engagements.* The reality of the IRA’s armed struggle is a hideous inversion of SF’s warrior tale.

The Good Friday Agreement approved by the majority of Irish people involved among other features an end to IRA attacks in return for the Irish and UK states’ virtual amnesty for perpetrators, commanders and facilitators. It did not absolve, forgive or change the horror; it was a deal approved by citizens under duress. The IRA’s campaign remains a sordid series of crimes against humanity which was and is approved by SF. The Good Friday Agreement does not oblige any Irish citizen to join or vote for SF. Neither does it oblige any Irish citizen to engage socially with members and supporters of SF.

Well, there’s a small caveat. There is a constant low-level threat to end the “peace process”. In other words, if SF is denied what it sees as its rightful place within the establishment of a peaceful Ireland, that might lead somehow – despite the disbandment of the IRA – to renewed violence.

Their view is that SF must be successful and opposition – especially being truthful about their position in support for crimes against humanity – constitutes opposition to the peace process. Citizens are expected to accept the goblin tale of an honourable armed struggle, worthy of remembrance, even celebration. Dissent is met with anger and cries of betrayal.

SF has recruited many members, quite a few of them born after the end of IRA violence and enjoys the support of roughly 15 – 20% of voters. These people are not deluded, mistaken or intimidated. They are aware of what they are doing, they are making informed decisions, but their feigned innocence is aided by a common thread among journalists: that SF needs to break with its past by changing its leaders. It is a particularly sneaky argument which pretends that a veil of ignorance and innocence separates older from younger members. The reality is that those who might replace the current leaders joined the organisation before the killings stopped. Their present finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty, joined the year that Garda McCabe was murdered, a year in which civilians were bombed in Britain. It might then be argued that skipping a generation of potential leaders would work. However, a look at the celebrations on the election of their MEPs reveals pictures of Lynn Boylan hoisted on the shoulders of an alleged bomber. Her partner, Eoin O’Broin, is the SF spokesperson on Housing, Planning & Local Government. It is ludicrous to suggest that such people were unaware of the nature of their chosen party and do not now discuss it.

There are even younger members who, it is argued, were born years after the killings had stopped and who know nothing of the crimes. This is patronising nonsense which rests on the plainly silly suggestion that the decision to join a political party is a trivial matter, done without thought. Not so. When a young person joins a party, it is deliberate, a choice, the selection of one party from among others.

A similar range of choice faces voters of whom something in the region of 20% choose SF. It is this figure that reveals the extent of a dark stain on Irish society. A variety of evasions is offered to explain that these citizens are innocent of support for any kind of violence, never mind crimes against humanity.

It is said that at this remove from the ceasefire they know nothing of what happened or regard it as a history which should now be ignored. It is said that while they are aware of the crimes, they are voting for current policies and/or personalities, or are voting tactically against a despised government. It is argued that SF has become socialist or vaguely leftist and their relatively large support offers the possibility of a left-alliance majority government.

These are the arguments of those who despise ordinary citizens, who regard them as utterly uninformed, incapable of reasoned voting. That’s simply not true, though there are voters who may try to avoid responsibility by feigning ignorance. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of voters – including SF voters – are well aware of what they are doing.

The line that the past does not matter or matters less than current concerns merits consideration. It cannot be uncoupled from a clear look at what is being said not to matter or is being rated as relatively unimportant. Past involvement in minor transgressions or petty crime could be deemed unimportant with the passage of time. Major crime or even murder might be so regarded in some well argued circumstance. However, choosing to target civilians – crimes against humanity – time and again can never be disregarded. Similarly, when it comes to voting intentions, the very idea that such crimes could be less important than a policy or programme is abhorrent to civilised thinking.

It is time that Irish citizens paid attention to this phenomenon. Rather than pretend that it is something innocuous or some sort of misunderstanding or mistake, face it: a sizeable minority in Ireland are not overly concerned that a party with a record of support for a campaign of crimes against humanity continues to exist and/or they approve of that campaign.

There is an obligation on the rest of us to stand up for a basic point of civilisation: that the targeting of civilians is unforgivable. In this republic each citizen faces the decision of whether or not to acquiesce, to socialise without dissent with the one fifth of citizens who do not accept that point.


______________________________________

* It might be pointed out that of the deaths attributed to nationalist paramilitaries the ratio of security force to civilian casualties is not as bad as the ratios for loyalists or the security forces. However, three things must be emphasised. Firstly, the numbers killed by nationalists were greater. Secondly, the people injured – often hideously so – numbered in the tens of thousands. In discussion of casualties they generally receive relatively little attention and they were overwhelmingly civilian. Thirdly, the bombings of public places which characterised the conflict were repeated instances of a choice of targeting civilians.

Forget about whatever feelings or views you might have about the Labour TD and former minister, Alan Kelly, and read the part of Miriam Lord’s piece headed, “Lowry’s secret meeting sends Kelly off rails”.* The Irish Times published this on the same day (19/11/2016) that it ran an editorial on the term “post-truth politics”. The editorial was headed, “The truth will out”.**

Now, Miriam Lord is billed as a “colour writer”. What she does when writing about Alan Kelly is that she speculates, gossips. What she doesn’t do is present a shred of evidence. The fact that she admits that she has no evidence or rather that she flaunts her lack of evidence seems to be key to avoiding a charge of lying. That what she is writing about is relatively trivial may offer another excuse.

This political gossiping – making up stories – may also figure in discussions of an earlier fashionable term, “truthiness”. However, it suggests two things. Firstly, that the Irish Times is compromised if it chooses to take a line against fake news, truthiness, post truth or media lying. Secondly, that there is nothing new in the production of fake news. It is more plausible to suggest that it has recently dawned on real and dangerous chancers that the pillars of the media world produce made-up political gossip which some citizens like and/or believe. The chancers are not fools and they see that it makes commercial sense and attracts “political” advantage to go the whole hog and let “colour writers” loose to do their stuff.

__________________________________________

* https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/miriam-lord-on-military-manoeuvres-at-leinster-house-1.2874018

** Prompting thoughts of the X-Files!

As an interest in wildlife conservation developed, perhaps my most important realisation was that wilderness – understood as a primordial habitat – is now vanishingly rare. What we have is man-made landscape, the product of centuries of work and exploitation. Conservation is now a question of deciding which of our created landscapes we want to maintain, what we want to re-create and what new grounds we might build. These decisions are tightly fastened to deciding the flora and fauna that we want. While there are exceptions, in most cases ignoring the land and “letting nature take its course” – a superficially attractive notion – will create wastelands. Conservation has become a matter of husbandry; it needs to be seen as an industry which is surprisingly labour intensive and expensive. It will happen by way of direct state action, state subsidy, regulation and successful, sustainable agribusiness, tourism and catering.

A component of this industry is shooting and the production/rearing of game birds. Yes, a landowner /farmer will profit from it. Yes, birds will be reared and killed for the table – not unlike any meat industry. However, what separates it from the meat industry is that it is utterly uneconomic without the relatively rich people who pay to shoot. It is their money that bridges the enormous gap between the cost of a mass produced chicken and a partially wild pheasant. That is to say, because those who shoot are prepared to pay a great deal, this form of farming is viable.*

Viability is not sufficient justification for any enterprise and a major part of the argument for supporting the shooting industry is that it is environmentally desirable. The landscape that needs to be created and maintained for shooting not only appears as pleasant and traditional but supports the kind of living diversity that has fallen victim to more recent farming methods.

Moreover, the people involved – in particular the gamekeepers but also the landowners, guns, beaters, dog handlers and others – are interested in and committed to conservation; the shooting landscape with its mix of vegetation – open field, woodland, wetland, cover – and wildlife is the environment they want not only for themselves and for anyone who will respect it but also for their children.**

_________________________________________

* Apart from the driven shoot discussed here, there are gun clubs doing more or less the same thing but they are not operating as a business and their labour input is voluntary.

** If you have a grá for poetry along with gundogs and shooting, this collection by my lifelong friend, Maurice Spillane, may interest you:  http://sciroccopublishing.com/our-first-poet-maurice-spillane/

 

There is talk again of re-naming the Artane Band*. Opponents say variously that the name is the band’s own business or that locals in Artane like their band. Until it admitted girls it was called the Artane Boys Band but there was never anything normal or even joyful about that band’s longer history. Its boys were picked from the children incarcerated in the Artane Industrial School which name scared most Irish children and was a byword for evil. When the band was paraded in public, everyone knew the truth behind the flags and uniforms, and everyone understood the message they carried. This is no local issue; that band has national significance. It was a contributory cause of the Irish silence in the face of child abuse.

In Ireland to this day child abusers seek to evade personal responsibility by appealing to a myth. The myth is that they operated at a time when Ireland was a cruel society in which child abuse was common if not almost universal. In other words, everyone was at it in a violent culture. The truth of course is that Ireland was never like that. Generally parents were kind and treated children well. The myth endures because its supporters manage it carefully and rely on one item of evidence: that there was silence as mass child abuse took place in primary and secondary schools and unspeakable cruelty was visited on incarcerated children.

The decent people of Ireland who would never dream of beating a child spoke among themselves of the abuse but very little was said in public because they felt that objection was pointless. Their caring decency was compelled to silence by a power that was demonstrable and the flaunting of the Artane Boys Band was emblematic. Artane was a crucial component in controlling and maintaining the mass abuse – and the Artane Boys Band signalled the power of the perpetrators.

This is how it went. The primary and secondary school abusers made light of their offences by reference to what they told their victims was done in Artane. They boasted that nothing could be done, that they were in control. Several times a year the The Artane Boys Band was paraded in front of thousands of people at the most important games in Croke Park and the Gaelic Athletic Association facilitated the display. These were great, Irish occasions, celebrations of what we were. The games were attended by church and state dignitaries together with thousands of ordinary Irish citizens, while the radio and TV audiences ran to hundreds of thousands; the occasions were then reported in the print media. Absolutely everyone knew the truth but spoke it only quietly among family and friends. Year after year the radio and TV sports commentator, Michael O’Hehir, covered the spectacle of this Irish band and its colour party leading the teams onto and around the field of play. In decades of commentary there wasn’t a word of sympathy. The worst moment of media support came late, when in 1976 RTE allowed Liam O’Murchú to present a special tribute on the programme, Trom Agus Eadrom, to the ghastly Brother Joseph O’Connor for his work on the band.

Some of the collaborators may say that they knew – even approved – of the routine abuse in the schools but that they were unaware of the horrors of Artane and its Band. They are not to be believed because it bears reiteration that the perpetrators in the schools boasted about Artane and citizens discussed it quietly. In short, every child feared ending up in Artane because they knew that it was a place very much worse than school.

The Artane Band needs to make a clean break with its hideous origins. It needs to realise too that it can never be a local or a mere band. However, it doesn’t need to abandon or ignore its roots in Artane. It needs now to change sides, to become the band whose every appearance is a rebuke to the perpetrators and an expression of solidarity with its former members and their classmates. The addition of one word would mean a lot: a national institution called The Artane Memorial Band.

_________________________________________
* http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/diarmaid-ferriter-artane-band-name-a-useful-reminder-1.2785741

 

 

 

Perhaps Deaglán de Bréadún cannot write completely as he pleases in his Irish Times column, ‘Synger’ – An Irishman’s Diary on Synge Street CBS in the Sixties* or perhaps he’s unaware that the Department of education had rules. Nevertheless it should be pointed out that the column reinforces a mistaken view of what was permitted in Irish schools by way of beating children. If it is said without qualification that corporal punishment was permitted in schools, the statement is so lacking as to be a virtual lie but it is a lie which protects very many brutish retired teachers and perhaps some that are still working.

The truth is that while beating a child was permissible, the Department of Education had explicitly circumscribed that permission by a set of rules which – if obeyed – would have protected children from almost all of the beatings.

In other words, the majority of these teachers were in breach of their employer’s rules and were committing criminal assaults to satisfy their own perverse ends. It is quite simply not the case that in harsh times they were doing what was permitted or what was usual in society generally. Let’s be clear: what they did was explicitly forbidden.

Prepare to be surprised. The following are rules of the Irish Dept. of Education:

Corporal punishment should be administered only for grave transgression.”

In no circumstances should corporal punishment be administered for mere failure at lessons.”

No teacher should carry about a cane or other instrument of punishment.”

Teachers should keep a copy of these rules and regulations suspended in their schoolrooms in a conspicuous place.”

The pretence that it was otherwise is an instance within the shabby practice adopted in Ireland when dealing with child abuse. The practice is to avoid personal responsibility so that the state or the culture at the time can be blamed. The state may pay damages, the Taoiseach may apologise. However, not only will the guilty never be brought to account but their ill-gotten pensions will be paid.

It is not certain that it needs to be so. There was a time when it was believed that a pension was personal property beyond the reach of the state and the only course when dealing with an ill-gotten pension was the possibility of considering it a criminal asset. Since austerity it is clear that pensions are not untouchable.

Like those still alive who committed greater crimes in residential schools and Magdalene laundries, and who rigged illegal adoptions, it is completely unacceptable that guilty national and secondary teachers should be permitted to live blamelessly on comfortable pensions.

___________________________

* http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/synger-an-irishman-s-diary-on-synge-street-cbs-in-the-sixties-1.2767159

 

We all love a redemption tale and Gerry Moriarty worked to give us just that in the story of Laurence McKeown (Irish Times, Weekend, August 13 and 14, 2016) The title reflected the project, “From gun to pen: An IRA man’s story”.* What followed was a whitewash.

There is no doubt that Laurence McKeown suffered and had the strength to turn his life around. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for attempted murder; he had fired on a police Land Rover whose occupants returned fire. He also admitted to involvement in bomb attacks. Gerry Moriarty did not explore the bomb attacks but went on to tell of the horror of the blanket protest, a near-death hunger strike and the process of redemption by way of an Open University Degree, release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, a Ph.D. from QUB and on to becoming a successful playwright. Researching a play, Laurence McKeown had dinner with a police officer who spoke of shovelling body parts into bags. At this point in the story Gerry Moriarty again evades the question of bombs.

You see, the bombs and body parts are the essential truth. The whitewash is the myth of a struggle against armed opponents in which unfortunately civilians occasionally died. The truth is that while armed opponents were sometimes attacked, the preferred targets were civilians; the “armed struggle” was a long, long succession of crimes against humanity. It may be possible for a person involved in, facilitating or supporting crimes against humanity to seek redemption but it’s not likely and it certainly shouldn’t be a facile process.

It is right that people should attend and discuss the plays of Laurence McKeown but no one with a shred of decency should socialise with him and no journalist with the smallest commitment to truth should so trivialise crimes against humanity as to let them pass without comment in a redemption tale.

Bluntly, when civilians are targeted, it is a crime against humanity. When a story concerns crimes against humanity, they must become the story. Anything less reveals a perverse sense of priority.

_______________________________________

* http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/a-former-ira-gunman-and-hunger-striker-tells-his-story-1.2754240

 “A specially commissioned Irish Times poll in 2014 revealed most people had no idea the bulk of government spending went on social welfare payments, including pensions, and public service pay. Most people believed politicians’ pay accounted for more spending than either of these items.” – http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/stephen-collins-ireland-not-immune-to-virus-that-spawned-donald-trump-s-success-1.2747037

The media, according to the author of the article, Stephen Collins, must take some responsibility for this ignorance. He’s wrong. For once the media cannot be responsible. Ignorance – no, let’s be blunt, monumental stupidity – on this scale wasn’t caused by media. The survey result suggests a spectacular and basic failure in the Irish education system.

Regularly a citizen hears it said or reported in the media something along the lines of, “If politicians weren’t paid so much, there’d be plenty of money for …” Average intelligence and slight education should prompt reaction, “Hang on, that can’t be true!”

Right, let’s admit intelligence for all. That means turning attention to education. It is unacceptable that the majority of respondents in a properly conducted survey are incapable of participation in a basic public controversy. That such mass incompetence has been found should prompt a rush to research in order to find the root of the failure.

Ok, let’s not over-react. It was one survey and its purpose was not to measure educational attainment, but it does accord with my experience as a lecturer, a consumer of media and a citizen who engages in casual conversation at bus stops.

Apart altogether from the concern that a significant number of citizens cannot participate in a public controversy, there should also be concern among those who view education as training for work. That is to say, there is little point in fussing over the proportion of students taking higher level maths in the Leaving Certificate or the general maths needs of industry, when it would seem that perhaps the majority have no grasp of numbers and quantity.

Returning to the degree of blame for public ignorance which journalists should bear, it may be that they are as much victims of a failure to educate as the citizens whose views they report. Consider the possibility that many journalists think it makes sense when someone says, “If politicians weren’t paid so much, there’d be plenty of money for …”