Skip navigation

Since Mary Robinson began the process, developing the role of the president while staying within the confines of the constitution, has to a great extent meant using the presidency to help normalise excluded, marginal or minority groups and groups needing/deserving a higher public profile.

Think about all those people pictured in the Áras who years ago would not have been seen and recognised as part of official, respectable, acceptable Ireland. Think about the individuals, civil society groups etc. who have received recognition by appearing at the Áras. Think too about the visits, the sites, events and people chosen – and it is a matter of the president’s deliberate choice – to be dignified by association with the president.

The candidates in the 2018 election compete by pointing to the different groups they would promote as president.

Now let’s think about the SF project of normalisation: They want to have their narrative, as they call it, of recent Irish history accepted. They want honour and recognition for the Provisional IRA’s struggle against foreign occupation and imperialism.

They have a candidate for president, Liadh Ní Riada. When she talks of a “pluralist and inclusive” Ireland “that respects the identities and traditions of all”, Irish journalism accepts it as the sort of anodyne comment that any of the candidates might offer. It’s nothing of the kind, because the inclusive plurality, the identities and traditions includes something that none of the other candidates would favour: honouring the history of the Provisional IRA. 

Much has been made of her agreeing to wear a remembrance poppy should she be elected president. However, a very different question becomes utterly conspicuous for not being asked. This is the question that refers to Ireland’s honour and decency. She must be asked if she would invite car bombers and other perpetrators of war crimes, their apologists and supporters to Áras an Uachtaráin, if she would use the presidency to normalise barbarity.

 

 

Advertisements

I was one of those interviewed for Kitty Holland’s silence-splitting article on “corporal punishment” in the Irish Times.* While it is unlikely that my abusers are still living, that is not true of later perpetrators. Should the public outrage prompted by Kitty’s article endure, the familiar Irish pattern must be resisted. That is to say, this time there there must be consequences for perpetrators.

The peculiarly Irish cover-up

Whether it is laundries, industrial schools, selling babies or illegal burials it goes like this: blame is placed on the state, religion, an institution or even culture. Blame is placed everywhere to protect the persons primarily responsible – the perpetrators of what are dreadful but (let’s face it) plain, ordinary crimes.

The alternative to cover-up: capture one and then keep going
Sure, these are historical crimes but here’s how it ought to go: Identify the most recent incident/crime and – with a view to pressing charges – check if the perpetrator is still alive or in the case of the babies check if anyone who covered up is still alive. Get one, just one. Then begin working backwards until we are absolutely certain that all living perpetrators have been brought to justice.

On school violence dates decide: crime or grounds for dismissal

In the case of national and secondary school abuse, there are two key dates 1982 and 1997.

In 1997 – yes, that late – teacher violence against a child was outlawed under the Offences Against the Person Act. This makes matters simple. If anyone has experience or is aware of a teacher hitting a child after 1997, the matter should be reported to An Garda. Citizens should demand that reports be treated with the utmost seriousness with a view to charges and court appearances.

Corporal punishment was abolished in 1982. The Department of Education’s new rule was clear – impossible to misunderstand – and well publicised – impossible for a teacher to be unaware of the change and the consequences: “The use of corporal punishment is forbidden. Any teacher who contravenes . . . this rule will be regarded as guilty of conduct unbefitting a teacher and will be subject to severe disciplinary action.”

Here’s the thing. On-line comments in the wake of Kitty Holland’s article make it clear that there was quite a bit of violent “conduct unbefitting a teacher”after 1982. These incidents and experiences and others not yet revealed must now be reported to the Department of Education and must then be treated with the utmost seriousness with a view to “severe disciplinary action.” Moreover, the only meaningful interpretation of “severe disciplinary action” is dismissal.

Now the real controversy: dealing with retired offenders

Dismissal will of course mean loss of pension. The question arises as to what is to be done about offenders who have retired. It would be utterly unjust if someone whose conduct while in employment was “unbefitting a teacher” were to enjoy old age on a teacher’s pension.

In accepting, investigating and pursuing allegations of violent conduct, the Department of Education and the State in general cannot allow an offender to get away scot-free on the basis of their reaching retirement without discovery. Bluntly, retired offenders must be pursued as rigorously as those still at work.

Finally, offences committed while corporal punishment was permitted

It is conveniently forgotten by offenders and their supporters that while corporal punishment was permitted in Irish schools up to 1982, it was subject to explicit Department of Education Rules. In other words, all teachers who decided that they would beat children knew what was permitted and importantly what was not: they could choose to inflict corporal punishment in accordance with the rules of their employment or they could choose to violate those rules.

Apart from the blatantly obvious that the rules did not permit attacks involving blackboard dusters, fists, kicks, brush handles, throwing children about, pulling them by the ears or hair, etc., the rules were utterly clear in other regards. Two such rules are crucial: i) Hitting a child for failure at lessons was forbidden; ii) Carrying about a stick or other implement for the purpose of corporal punishment was forbidden.

Though the overwhelming majority of teachers from the era of legal corporal punishment are either deceased or retired, it remains possible that a small number still work as teachers or in some other part of the public service. If they broke the rules – say, by attacking a child, carrying a stick or punishing for failure at lessons – they must go, they must be dismissed.

Clearly, it would be an outrage if similar but retired offenders were treated more leniently. It needs to be said that a question-mark appears over all of those now retired who were teaching prior to 1982. If witness reports are now brought to the attention of the Department of education to the effect that a teacher broke the rules governing corporal punishment, they must be treated with the utmost seriousness and urgency, and with a view to stopping pension payments to offenders. Urgency is vital as age is a factor; death should not provide the ultimate cover for an offending teacher.

– – – – – –

* https://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/beaten-the-irish-childhoods-ruined-by-corporal-punishment-1.3643489

For too long now I’ve been arguing for the need radically to change the regulations covering broadcast politics. I really should get on with writing about it. I do, at least, have a starting point: re-cast the rules to serve the audience, the receiving citizen, rather than staff and contributors. This would of course impact upon the current complaints procedures. With that in mind and for now, I want to talk about a recent encounter I had with RTE’s complaints/compliance dept.

Now, no one could say that I’m other than an advocate for public service broadcasting or that I’m unsympathetic to RTE. I have argued that RTE is compliant and operates to the requirements of the law and the guidelines derived from it. It follows from this that I regard moaning about RTE’s performance as missing the point; RTE is acting in accordance with regulation, i.e. is compliant. Change, reform or improvement, requires regulatory change.

Nevertheless, I’ve been struck by the number of people on-line who think that there’s no point in complaining to the national broadcaster and particularly by those among them that I know to be thoughtful and reasonable.

Some time ago I was exercised by a programme which uncritically featured an alternative remedy. I reckoned that this was a matter of public controversy and that the broadcaster was obliged to treat it as such. I wrote and asked for their thoughts on this. Then began a series of what I interpreted as high-handed, antagonistic e-mails. A choice was put to me: I could submit a comment which would be placed in a complaints log distributed to senior editorial staff or I could submit a formal complaint citing the guideline which I was alleging had been breached. There apparently was no chance that I could have an ordinary, considered response to my point.

Now, I would be at pains to defend both the complaints log and the formal complaints procedure but clearly they are far too limiting and indeed forbidding to be of much use to the engaged citizen, i.e. the kind of citizen who might want to question, discuss and contribute to improving broadcast debate. Engagement of this kind is not the same as that of an aggrieved person – particularly a contributor or someone who thinks that they should be a contributor.

Some time later I was struck by a news bulletin which near its start covered developments in the Birmingham bombing inquest and later carried an interview with a SF spokesperson on a different matter. The interviewer made no reference to Birmingham. The usual defence offered by journalists is that in news about SF they cannot keep looking back to “The Troubles”.* However, in this instance Birmingham featured in the same news bulletin. Moreover, the interviewer did indeed look to something unrelated that was in the news not the same day but a few days previously, the selection of a SF candidate to contest the presidency. This looked to me like an editorial decision to avoid the particular, newsworthy controversy that was the bombing of Birmingham pubs and SF’s support for the Provisional IRA.

I decided to take up the matter and explored what might be the appropriate guideline-breach on which to base a complaint. This kind of research requires time and a little expertise. So, I took up an offer made during the previous correspondence: the Head of Compliance saw helping a citizen with the formulation of complaints to be part of the department’s function. I detailed what had happened and my concerns, and asked him under what rule I might submit a complaint. It took three e-mails and the best part of a month to get a response. Now, a new Head of Compliance had just been appointed but again when the response came, it struck me as defensive and antagonistic. He wasn’t trying to look after me, the citizen, but was resolutely defending his colleagues on the assumption – which I find bizarre – that I was attacking them. I should add that I had more than once explicitly made my commitment to PSB and my support for RTE clear.

The lessons I’ve taken from this? There is still the need for legislative reform which would focus the very purpose of broadcast politics on the specific needs of the participative citizen but now it’s also clear that every effort must be made to make new rules, let’s say, more user friendly. Moreover, the Compliance Department’s fundamental loyalty must migrate to this citizen; an element of this will have to be awareness that citizens cannot be expected to have expert knowledge of the rules and will need help to make their cases effectively. The experience around the second incident – the treatment of SF – has brought a new realisation: that editorial policy is a political and therefore a public matter. Its formulation and justification must be openly discussed and decisions must be open to question.

Well, I’ve made a start …

_____________________________________________

* I discussed it here: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2018/02/24/journalism-and-the-struggle-to-decide-what-is-normal-the-case-of-sfs-desire-to-celebrate-the-prov-ira/

Progressives – even socialists – too often face condemnation for associating with “terrorists”* with whom they may find a degree of common cause, e.g. in being anti-imperialist. The condemnation is usually met with wounded innocence and emphasis on their opposition to violence. They argue that ending violence involves talking to killers, while their critics see them as simply dishonest. Of course some may indeed be dishonest but taking what they say at face value, it is more plausible that they are naive, friendly and courteous, making a very silly, basic and public error.

The UK Labour Party’s Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, offers a good start to a short discussion. He was quoted in the New Statesman (7th Sept. 2018)**, “It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table…”

John McDonnell could have said otherwise, “It was the targeting of civilians and the sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table…” and that would be equally true.


He might even have said, “It was the war crimes/crimes against humanity and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table…” and that too would be true.

You see, the problem is not that Labour Leaders or anyone would talk to those who choose civilian targets. Talking may be necessary to stop the killing and of course democrats will condemn violence. The problem arises i) when democrats are pictured not in talks with but socialising and befriending perpetrators, their leaders and supporters; or ii) are quoted using euphemisms (e.g. struggle or campaign) for intentional targeting of civilians. When democrats act in this way, they play their part in normalising the barbarity they routinely condemn. They also alienate decent people who would never socialise with a perpetrator, supporter or apologist for crimes against humanity. Thus progressive or socialist positions can be mired with the blood and tissue of civilians.

In brief, it’s like this for John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn and indeed for everyone else: whether you are talking to war criminals, 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.

_______________________

* The definition of terrorism is contested. Here’s a short look at it in relation to the Irish 1916 – 2016 commemorations: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2015/10/21/1916-2016-time-to-talk-and-end-the-confusion-over-terrorism/

** https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/economy/2018/09/who-real-john-mcdonnell

Last week a big media story was the crippling cost of childcare in Ireland and there were well-publicised calls for the state to fund it. No mention was made, however, of increased taxation or of less important spending that might be cut in order to fund it. This is the polite, accepted approach but very, very occasionally there’s an inkling of a different, troublesome way.

 

When some years ago a hundred million was spent on building a free-flow structure on the N7 at Newlands Cross, Peter McVerry had a letter published in The Irish Times. He asked what was presumably a rhetorical question but of a type that is normally excluded from public controversy. He asked if the hundred million spent on Newlands Cross might have been better spent on accommodation for homeless people. He said he’d have been happy to wait a few minutes in his car.*


It was unusual in Ireland because discussion of state spending is rigorously confined to “calling on”. That is to say, media promote a procession of advocates calling on the government to start or increase spending on childcare, drug rehabilitation, school overheads, a particular health provision etc. etc. The list is potentially endless. No journalist seems to feel motivated or be allowed to ask the advocate what taxation or cut to existing services they are proposing.

 

It goes on and on and creates a bizarre consensus in which everyone is in favour of everything but nothing much changes. Advocates are presented as heroic because they speak for the people and government is decried for failing to do as the people want.

 

The difference with Peter McVerry’s letter, however, was the suggestion not only that priority existed but that there were consequences to choice. Now, that debate did not progress and he didn’t insist. You see, talking priorities would ruin a perfectly serviceable system, a system which prevents dissent and meaningful controversy.**

Avoiding the issue of priority not only makes public discourse infantile but reinforces the dominant model of Irish politics, and that model is deeply conservative. What passes for public discourse involves rival claims on the public purse. It seems to be unthinkable that anyone calling for more spending in one area would be asked at whose expense it should be funded. Being an advocate – perhaps an activist – in Ireland is a doddle.

There’s a political model in operation here and it goes unquestioned. In brief the majority of journalists support the belief that we have a “political class” with access to unlimited funds which because of stupidity or meanness, they will not spend on worthy and needy causes – unless they are forced by “pressure” from civil society organisations, activists and media.*** It’s quite like a peasant society in which the ruler concedes a bit here or there in order to keep the structure as it is. It’s also like the child’s misunderstanding of family finance – the little kid who thinks that parents should stop being mean and just get more money.

The model, and the organisations, activists, journalists, elected politicians and citizens who operate it, guarantee that there can be no real change because when a person is “calling on”, it is out of the question to ask about their priorities. The established view is that all spending is equally important and everyone must be treated fairly. Indeed “fairness” has become the watchword of Irish conservatism.†

The left is hideously implicated, many having a romantic view that opposition to tax, cutbacks, government and politics generally is progressive. The notion of discussing priorities in state spending would be dismissed as helping the government rather than resisting it. They seem not to give much credence to Nye Bevan’s dictum that the language of priorities is the religion of socialism.†† The idea of using priority to effect change – even to assault inequality – can’t get a hearing. Progress has been swallowed by a conservative populism which essentially argues that – now the recession has ended – fairness requires the old incomes and inequalities be restored and maintained. Moreover, there can be lots and lots of “calling on”. The only change required is that the rich pay more tax – well, not all of the rich! Conveniently for the majority of rich people, they too can pose on the left and perform their share of “calling on” because the emphasis is invariably on the top 1% and never on the top 20%. In fairness!

_____________________________________________________

* http://www.irishtimes.com/debate/letters/speedy-aid-for-the-homeless-1.1446630

** It would be easy to confine this discussion to the degree to which motoring is favoured. It was decided to create a traffic corps while ignoring constant complaints about the lack of Gardaí on the beat. While far more Irish people die by suicide than are killed on our roads, the Road Safety Authority is favoured for funding.

*** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/now-that-almost-everyone-is-anti-establishment-whither-dissent/

https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/fairness-has-become-the-conservatives-shield/

†† “We have woven it into the warp and woof of our national life, and we have made the claims of the children come first. What is national planning but the insistence that human beings shall make ethical choices on a national scale?…The language of priorities is the religion of Socialism. We have accepted over the last four years that the first claims upon the national product shall be decided nationally and they have been those of the women, the children and the old people.”


I’ve not said a word about the Papal visit. Perhaps it’s because I drifted away from the Church such a long time ago or because I can’t take delight in being mean to those who stayed, but mostly it’s because I don’t share the objectives of the overwhelming number of those protesting. I’ll go further: I fear that the protests will produce outcomes that protect the guilty.

You see, I don’t want an apology, I don’t want truth (We all know the truth!), I certainly don’t want reconciliation or love. I want perpetrators identified and tried by court or tribunal and if found guilty, I want them to face consequences. In particular I want to make damn certain that none are being paid state pensions.

An example of, let’s call it, progressive cover up: This morning on RTE Radio 1 the Minister for Children spoke about the Tuam babies. All sorts of responses are being considered except one: Identify the latest body dumped without burial, investigate that dumping and if anyone remotely associated with it or having any knowledge of it is still alive, identify and charge them. There may be Gardai and other public servants who knowing what was in that septic tank, failed to treat it as a crime scene; identify and charge them. It was and is illegal to dump human remains. This wasn’t one person acting in secret. This required numbers and greater numbers to look away.

Similarly, on the adoption/sale of babies scandal, the alterations of birth records were crimes – ordinary punishable criminality – perpetrated by individuals with the collusion of others.

The Magdalene Laundries and Industrial School closures are relatively recent and offer a wide range of criminality perpetrated by particular people and their associates.

Assaults by clergy, teachers and others together with associated failures to prevent and report them bring us right up to date.

Three things: i) If the statute of limitations offers protection, change that. ii) If we need a new Garda unit to hunt down perpetrators of historic abuse, let’s have one. iii) To make sure that perpetrators are not living in snug retirement, let’s take whatever steps are necessary to withhold pensions.

The difference between 500,000 and 150,000 or for that matter 150 attendees at the mass in the Phoenix Park is as nothing to me in comparison with one – just one – perpetrator before a court.

A constant theme among leftists who regret the success of right wing populists is that the traditional left parties are responsible for their own decline in that they allowed themselves to become out of touch with … well, with whom? That’s never made entirely clear. Vague labels, however, are liberally sprinkled: working people, traditional supporters, working class, middle class, ordinary people, ordinary working people etc. The thrust of this approach is that the people they have in mind were there for the taking and the likes of Trump and the Brexiteers in the cases of USA and UK took them. Essentially it is an argument for some kind of left wing populism, i.e. tell these people something they want to hear so that they won’t be seduced by right wing populists.

The problem for a left approach like this becomes apparent when some of its advocates talk simultaneously of left parties returning to or sticking with their principles. Again, there’s no clarity, no attempt to discuss principles or indeed values. Without such discussion – without critical examination – a very important doubt is suppressed. The question that seldom, if ever, arises is this: What if traditional left values or principles are incompatible with telling those “ordinary people” what they want to hear? That is to say, there is a fundamental problem when “ordinary people” want, say, tax reductions, privatisations, more competition etc. etc. or even the impossible, say, the clock turned back and jobs, long-automated, restored.

However, there are just two groups being in touch with whom is fundamental to socialism.

Out of touch 1

The industrial working class was identified by Marx as having historical purpose because their values and progressive demands were universal and certainly not because they were a rabble easily seduced by leaders offering political baubles.* Their heirs are present today, more than willing to listen, more than capable of political argument, knowing well when they are being subjected to patronising bollocks or offered some factional, preferential crumb to be denied to others. No party in Ireland is addressing the working class. For sure, there’s no shortage of parties – sometimes with an upper class leadership – who think that raucous, rude, sneering, anti-establishment, ignorance and name calling is somehow working class but they ignore the real deal.**

A major preoccupation of the working class today is that their ambitions have now more or less been thwarted by the latest iteration of capitalism, i.e. I.T. and the disappearance of huge numbers of middle level, satisfying, well-paid jobs. There is no point in telling these people that those jobs can be resuscitated, or replaced in sufficient numbers by new similarly good jobs or that security in low paid, low-skill, low-status jobs will have to do. They are working class; they’ll see right through it. Anyone seeking their attention – never mind their support – better have a good argument or at least show that they live in the 21st century and understand the problem.***

Out of touch 2

Almost everyone who makes policy tends to be out of touch with the poor. There are two aspects to the failure. Firstly, economics based on rational choice either discounts or utterly fails to grasp the short time-scale necessarily of interest to those with immediate money problems. That is to say, those with insufficient money this week cannot seriously be asked to evaluate medium or long term possibilities. Secondly, well off activists and policy makers tend to sacrifice the poor to grand policy. That they could lose their income or that they are dependent on the state should be uppermost in debate but it seldom – if ever – is. Bluntly, the precarious position of the poor demands that they be the priority. Paradoxically, when it comes to this kind of neglect, socialists combine little excuse and a poor record. Their universalist and egalitarian thinking, together with the likelihood that they will know poor, working class people, should ensure that they be constantly aware of the poor and certainly of the different outlook of those with immediate money problems. The failure for socialists is most likely rooted in the revolutionary tradition and the commitment to grand schemes which subordinate the needs of a group – even the poor – to the greater project. However, in truth this is as right wing as it is left. When in the UK the privileged Jacob Rees Mogg spoke of short term deprivation over Brexit which would take perhaps 50 yrs to work out, he was not very different to the Irish anti-austerity leftists of some few years ago. They, when the Irish state had a mere three months’ money left to pay state workers and welfare recipients, wanted to reject conditions demanded by the state’s only lender. In that scenario they hoped something would turn up so that the poorest in the country could be paid; they wanted at best to gamble and at worst to sacrifice the welfare of the poor on a long term objective.

In touch

Having excluded the working class and the poor, there would seem now to be even less clarity on “being in touch”. Not so. In fact it’s pretty clear. What Irish socialists and in particular the majority in the Labour Party want is to be popular with those they see frequently either in media or in person. These could be the attendees at a large protest, a popular campaign waged by a civil society group to obtain a concession from the “political class”, attendees at a political clinic or those whose doors were selected for a canvass.

The common feature is that there is no intention to argue or convince anyone of anything. Indeed the only out-group seems to be the top 1% and they are usually to be sacrificed not for egalitarianism but to maintain the structure of inequality across the 99%.

A note to the declining Irish Labour Party

There are two possible routes to survival. Because they are incompatible a decision is required. Neither offers certainty of success.

The first is to engage along with every other party in the state – without exception – in the crowded, competitive market of “fairness”. Labour’s objective would be to get a slice large enough to ensure survival. While that course allows for marches and fists in the air, it’s a conservative, managerial position. It’s a competition in ideas and policies (which any rival can steal) aimed at issues. It’s a competition too to have one’s best issues accepted as newsworthy. There is no requirement to have an overall achievable objective and no requirement to argue for anything that would change the existing structure of inequality.††

The second is to look to the working class and universal values, and to argue for change in the conditions of the 21st century. This would put the Party out on a limb, i.e. unlike all the competitors in the fairness free-for-all. The doubt that absolutely has to be faced is whether or not there are sufficient voters open to that approach as would ensure the Party’s survival. The audience is comprised of the working class (In the meaningful as opposed to the polling sense) and others who might – sharing the participatory/republican outlook – be open to an argument for change.

In crude marketing terms it’s like this: When you’re on 3%, the choice of competing in the consumer market or of being more specialised and quality oriented is a difficult one.

The temptation is to do the familiar regardless of changed circumstances.

____________

These are links to my blog. Each expands a little on the respective points above

* https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/no-karl-marx-was-not-out-of-his-mind/

** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2017/07/31/working-class-has-meaning-it-should-not-be-twisted-misappropriated-or-trivialised/

*** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2018/07/10/getting-a-firm-grip-the-labour-party-jobs-and-the-working-class/

https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/fairness-has-become-the-conservatives-shield/

†† https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/its-odd-in-ireland-all-the-parties-like-grass-roots-campaigns-and-no-one-is-in-opposition/

There is a troubling misunderstanding at the core of the current health controversy. Be certain: The screening tests do not give a diagnosis of cancer or an “all clear”; they deal in probability and risk. The misunderstanding, however, is allowed to rumble on and on.

Way back when the then Head of the HSE, Tony O’Brien, made the matter absolutely clear before a Dáil committee, his interlocutor failed to explore it and went off on a rant, treating what had been said with dismissive contempt, as an excuse or possibly a lie. T.O’B. accused him of trying to spread a public panic. He could indeed have been trying to play to the gallery but it is more likely that he hadn’t a clue.

T.O’B. resigned shortly afterwards when the contents of a memo he received in 2016 were revealed. The memo is complex but has that same core: the tests do not deliver diagnoses. Moreover, it pointed out that if patients went to the media and journalists chose to run headlines and stories to the effect that “screening did not diagnose my cancer”, there would be public panic.

Now the worst kind of politician and journalist would be prepared knowingly to propagate and exploit a panic. The more likely problem is, however, far more serious. Presumption of innocence towards elected representatives and journalists suggests that they too are subject to the panic because they fail to understand or grasp the significance of what T.O’B. said at the Committee. They just don’t get the distinction between a test-marker and a diagnosis. Indeed they don’t get risk or probability but live in a binary world of certainty; in this instance that’s simply cancerous or all-clear and anything else is a failure of government to mind us.

This level of misunderstanding among citizens is a dreadful comment on Irish education but it is utterly unacceptable in a member of parliament or a journalist. It not only makes public discourse next to impossible but almost certainly makes health screening initiatives for the future at best

 

That old saying is the point of agreement between no-deal Brexiteers like Jacob Rees Mogg and Ireland’s old “anti-austerity” campaigners. It’s basic to political fantasists and many revolutionaries that the welfare of today’s living, breathing citizens can be sacrificed for some gain in the remote future. It’s a view pushed by the well-off and secure who will not be greatly troubled by whatever happens in the intervening years, and are prepared to tell ordinary citizens the soothing authoritarian lie: don’t concern yourselves, it’ll be alright; we know what we’re doing.

JRM is telling the UK that Brexit will take 50 years to work out. When the Irish state had just three months’ money left to pay welfare recipients and state workers, Ireland’s anti-austerity “leaders” tried to convince citizens that they should tell our only lenders to keep their money and we’d manage somehow.

This is literally “sinn féin”: “ourselves alone”, insular, proud, self satisfied. Poor or prosperous? That doesn’t matter; it’s a question for the future.

The Workers Party has come out with a proposal effectively to make the MMR vaccine compulsory. They say that parents should be required to show proof of vaccination before their children can access a range of public institutions. Essentially they’re talking about schools.* Because of this, there may be a constitutional hurdle to be faced but if we are serious about health care, it is is the way to go. 

What’s the problem? Well, the Workers Party have just poked the anti-vax movement and the gates of hell may be opened because behind the antivaxers there is a huge constituency of nonsense – some of it dangerous. This ranges from supporters of the use of MMS who believe that bleach is a curative**, through libertarians and conspiracy nuts, on to the relatively benign world of healers and hoaxers – some receiving payment from medical insurers*** – homeopathists, reflexolologists, angel botherers, mediums etc. until you get to thousands like the woman I met recently who would prefer that her lovely old dog endure the pain of his arthritis on doses of turmeric rather than give him “toxic” anti-inflammatories “pushed” by Big-Pharma.

 

What the lot of them share is a rejection of science, reason and the establishment generally.

Let’s take the spotlight off the Workers Party and talk in general terms, It’s just about possible that a political party could support compulsory MMR vaccination without losing the entire woo/anti-establishment constituency. If, however, they took up the same position on HPV,† things could get difficult.

In terms of priority, what a party should look at and soon is MMS. Making, using, selling and advertising it in Ireland is illegal and there have been convictions.†† However, advocating its use is legal.††† Yes, there’s a question of freedom of expression but no one supports complete abandon; we have regulation re slander and libel, incitement etc. Restricting speech in favour of submitting a child to a bleach enema should be posssible, even popular.

Well, now that our party of reason has opened up the can of worms, will it have the courage to be consistent and tackle the other wrigglies? Here’s a list of actions falling short of outright bans: stopping the use of health insurance money to pay chancers, ensuring that homeopathic “remedies” carry a big label saying that they contain no active ingredient,‡ preventing chancers from “teaching” in school buildings under the guise of adult education, telling professional bodies who enjoy state recognition to ensure that members are not engaged in or supportive of bogus therapies/preparations, asking colleges and universities to investigate what was lacking in their courses that they produce graduates who believe in, practice or promote foolishness … That list could become very long.

An interesting political question is this: Are the Workers Party stopping at the MMR question and are they on their own or are there other parties willing to oppose chancers, liars, fakers and worse? The risk is the loss of the support of the thousands who now believe utter nonsense and reject the establishment. A second risk might be an exodus of party members or a split. The possible gain might be support among thinking people. Saying nothing, hiding away, hoping not to be asked to take a side as this enormous social gulf widens, that’s an option of course; it’s essentially a decision to move in the direction of irrelevance.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

*http://workersparty.ie/calls-for-mandatory-scheme-of-vaccinations-for-school-going-children-to-stem-whooping-cough-measles-outbreaks/

** https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/outlandish-therapies-exploit-families-of-autistic-children-1.3076647

*** I tried to tackle this in 2010: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2010/09/13/alternative-health-insurance-well-pay-for-anything/

https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/immunisation/pubinfo/schoolprog/hpv/hpv-vaccination-programme/

†† https://www.rte.ie/news/2018/0215/941028-bleach/

††† https://www.rte.ie/news/player/2015/0514/20780390-report-on-a-cult-which-believes-that-industrial-strength-bleach-can-cure-autism/

https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/homeopathy-making-choice-meaningful/

The problem with internships is the number of them that are bogus. An internship is not a job nor is it work experience. Because of abuse and access it needs to be regulated and policed.

When the much maligned Jobsbridge scheme began in Ireland it was a vehicle both to encourage firms to offer internships and to stamp out abuse. Predictably, sections of the Irish left went off at half cock, lumped internship in with its abuses, and sought to bring the whole thing down rather than take a progressive stand, insist on rigorous weeding out of abuse and the involvement of working class young people in elusive internships.

Let’s face it: there is elitism in the concept of an intern. You see, there cannot possibly be an internship in a low or medium skilled job environment. That is to say, an intern on the floor of a supermarket or among forklift drivers is ridiculous and if it seems to appear, it is very clearly the contrivance of an exploitative chancer. An internship is a training programme in a – for want of a better word – professional work environment. The intern may perform some useful tasks but in no real sense are they employed or working. It most certainly is not work experience. Work experience programmes are real, useful and are not training; they are as the term perfectly describes.

So many bogus internships now exist that there are moves to stamp out the whole concept, to finish off what the opponents of Jobsbridge started. Yes, this course if successful will strike against exploitation but it will also abolish internships for those without family contacts and send internship into a priviliged underground with arrangements being made by Mammy and Daddy with their professional and business friends.

What is needed is a state supervised scheme in which all internships are required to be registered, and well intentioned businesses and other organisations are encouraged to participate. There are many such organisations and many people prepared to offer an internship – a real one – to a young person without family contacts. They’d be performing a public service, not creating a job. All but the chancer know the difference and when the chancer tries it on, the penalty should be swift and severe.

A state-supervised scheme, recognising and expanding access to internships? Sounds good, eh? But wait, we had the makings of that and we allowed an idiot fringe to destroy it, playing as usual into the hands of the rich and privileged.

 

* https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/una-mullally-unpaid-internships-threaten-all-workers-1.3572883#.W1VyGTlofWw.twitter

Fadó, fadó,* shortly after I got my first Flatcoat, we began gundog training, of which I knew absolutely nothing. What was blindingly obvious however was that apart from Grania’s Springers, Eddie’s Irish Water Spaniels and my Flatcoat, it was a world of Labradors. Having asked, I was told that no one bothered with other breeds because they were too difficult and took too long to train. Very early I heard the accepted wisdom expressed thus, “You can train 3 Labs and 5 Labs in the time it takes to train a Golden and a Flatcoat respectively.”

Clearly these people knew what they were doing; they competed in these trials and tests that I was hearing about for the first time. It was obvious that Labs were more suited to competitions; some young dogs were way ahead of my guy whose progress was slow but whose work was fast and very flashy. No problem for me; I was always likely to stick with flashy. Yep, I’d fallen for Flatcoats and there has never been a moment when I considered a change.

Over the decades I developed a remarkable record of failure in competitions (Don’t misunderstand me; I’ve had a wonderful time in good company and beautiful places.) and never questioned that the superiority of the Lab in competition was innate.

It is only very recently that I’ve developed doubts. Firstly, I’ve been seeing and training with a few late-developing Labs. Secondly, something crucial and significant was said to me that started me thinking: “If they’re not winning field trials by two years of age, get rid of them and get another.”

Now, I’d been aware of the age preoccupation for decades but because I’d opted for a “late maturing” breed, it was of no concern to me, and I didn’t expect my dogs to be remotely competitive until they were well over five.

Something should have stirred in me as judges almost always asked only about the age of the dog, competitors expressed themselves too embarrassed to compete at novice and preliminary levels with Labs over two – perhaps three – years old, and relatively few older ones competed even at open/advanced level.

Despite the mounting evidence, I hadn’t the slightest doubt in the old wisdom until those last seven words finally settled in, “… get rid of them and get another.”

Now, apart from my family refusing ever to speak to me again, I was never remotely likely “to move along” and replace an unsuccessful friend of mine. However, assume for a moment that I’m ambitious and prepared to be ruthless, cut my losses and bring in another pup, I still have a problem. Do you see where this is going? I couldn’t get another Flatcoat pup – especially from working lines – in a short time frame and if breeders knew that I was cutting my losses, they wouldn’t sell me a pup.**

I asked some friends who compete with minor breeds to think ruthlessly. They too immediately came up against the insurmountable problem of supply.

Right so here’s what I’m suggesting and there is no criticism implied: Labradors have come to be favoured because their success is highly visible and people want to emulate. However, that success rests on a less visible foundation.

You see, if a test/trial competitor is not happy with the progress of their young dog, starting afresh is a reasonably attractive option. They can try again pretty easily. They haven’t wasted a great deal of time and effort, and they can realise the value they’ve added to the dog they now reject, i.e. their partially trained dog is valuable and in demand.

The competitions also serve as quality control to a small industry, producing reliable gundogs from proven stock. For some at least this makes two years a commercial necessity.

Now clearly nothing I’ve said here supports any substantial change of mind about the desirability of Labs as trialling dogs. It is likely that the turnover of young dogs and the industry generally has led to very refined, working stock. However, that same facility layers-on the evidence that promotes two beliefs. Firstly, that apart from odd exceptions only Labs are worth taking to competition standard. Secondly, that once a Lab reaches, say, three years old and is not in the rosettes, it’s time to pack it in. The consequence will be to discourage competitors and potential competitors of two – one might think – types: i) those with minor breeds; and ii) those with Labradors whom they are not willing to move-on.

What’s to be done? Well, little or nothing really. Those who favour minor breeds will continue to do so. Because of the belief that their dogs are slow to mature, they will feel not the slightest embarrassment in entering older dogs in competition. If there is a problem at all, it is for Labrador owners and possibly the vitality of the sport which relies almost exclusively on Labs.

Consider someone attracted to the sport – possibly a young person – who does some research and acquires a Lab pup from proven working stock. They are really pleased with their new little friend and later doubly pleased when they join a training group and begin a working relationship. For a variety of reasons their Lab doesn’t make alarming progress but they’re still enjoying an occasional outing to run in preliminary level working tests or even a tilt at novice level – and slow progress is evident. Both are learning and having fun; there’s no problem – yet! At some stage the working retriever credo is put to them: “How old is that dog? Ah, you’ll achieve nothing with it now. Get rid of it and get another. Yeah, it may have FT Chs on both sides but that’s not a guarantee.”

It’s just as demoralising if the beginner gets the dog first as a pet and then tries to turn their hand to working it.

Occasionally a newcomer will follow the advice and go on to make up a FTCh with a later dog. Very rarely one will say “feck that for a game of soldiers” and continue to try. Most will pack it in.

Of course this doesn’t matter if the idea is to refine and confine numbers but if the idea is to increase participation, it matters.

Over the years I’ve seen late developing Labs whose progress is quite like that of the minor breeds. Moreover, shooting fields are graced by thousands of early rejects who have clearly come good with maturity.

Here’s the thought and let’s confine it to fairly good working stock: Now, if the early achievers among the Labs are excluded from consideration, would age of maturity and success in competition be very different from other breeds of retriever? I’m beginning to think not and I’m beginning to think that trainers, training groups and judges owe it to the sport to encourage those with Labs of two and three years of age – as long as there’s some sign of progress – to persist.

++++++++++++++++++

* It’s the Irish equivalent of the traditional storyteller’s opening, “Long, long ago …”

** I’m aware of one breeder of working Labs who will not sell to a trialer for that reason.

 

The conflict between those who would normalise Sinn Fein and those who would not so much as socialise with a member of Sinn Fein is deep-seated. It turns on the question of something a great deal more basic than debate.

SF want to commemorate and celebrate the campaign waged by the provisional IRA. They see that as respecting their own dead, placing their narrative alongside others in telling the story of the troubles, and ensuring that the PIRA is seen as part of the longer tradition of violent Irish nationalism.

They do not accept that the PIRA’s campaign was exceptional. They want to liken it to earlier conflicts, specifically the insurrection of 1916 and the War of Independence.

When confronted by the thought that there are worse things in wars than the horrors of battle, that war crimes are a reality, they tend to have two responses. Firstly, they emphasise the old cliché that terrible things happen in war. Indeed they often condemn all wars. In other words, they deny the concept of a war crime and the need to consider it separately. Secondly, if they accept that war crimes exist, they argue that every party to every war is equally guilty.

The dispute here turns on i) what constitutes a war crime and ii) the extent to which war crimes featured in the conduct of a particular war.

Clearly the conduct of any war is a matter of selecting targets. Very few would quibble with the proposition that when civilians are selected as targets, an unambiguous war crime is committed. Even fewer would quibble with the suggestion that all wars have featured war crimes, the intentional targeting of civilians.

Nations like to commemorate, honour their war dead, their heroes. This is usually possible because the conduct of wars is ambiguous or the incidence of war crimes is sufficiently infrequent as to permit relatively civilised myth-making and public ceremony. That is to say, the war crimes – the targeting of civilians – can be condemned or quietly and shamefully hidden away so that the overall conduct of the war can be remembered as heroic or at least necessary. Thus Poppy Day can be celebrated while carpet bombing cities isn’t mentioned, the US knows that there can never be a Mai Lai Massacre Day and the Irish State knows that while there can be a commemoration of The War of Independence or the Civil War, that must not include detonating a bomb to which IRA prisoners had been chained.

It is stark and true that we all know about the horrors of war, the breakdown of civilised conventions, the cover it gives to do evil, the collaboration – cowardly if seeking advantage and understandable if seeking to survive. We know too about the heroes who would have no part in attacking civilians. Bluntly, we know damn well the difference between a war crime and a battle.

Because it was a campaign of war crimes punctuated by military engagements, the campaign of the Provisional IRA cannot be allowed these established, shamefaced distinctions and hair-splitting. For the most part, theirs was a campaign of assassinated civilians, “prisoners” tortured and their bodies dumped or secretly buried, “proxy bombs” in which a civilian was attached to a bomb and made to deliver it while his family was held hostage, and perhaps the most shameful and dishonest of them all: the public bombings.

They were shameful because they reduced civilians to mere messages (“The only thing the Brits understand!”) They were were also dishonest in their depravity. Think about what they did – time and again. They placed a bomb in a public place. Then by way of a warning, they gave their victims a “sporting chance” of escape. Subsequently, they expressed go-by-the-wall regret over the casualties (Irish and British) and said that it wouldn’t have happened if the authorities had acted more promptly on their warning or if the British were not occupying Ireland.

Thus the PIRA campaign of war crimes was a nasty episode in Irish history. Best forgotten completely? No! Let it serve as a warning that some Irish people can sink to the obscenities witnessed in so many countries. For that reason it must become part of our history, evidence that the Irish are capable of evil deeds. However, it most certainly should not become a part of us as one narrative among many. It cannot be commemorated with any suggestion of pride, let alone celebrated.

It might have been possible to put it to the backs of our minds and move on (We are constantly reminded that young people don’t remember the sordid PIRA targeting.) but Sinn Fein won’t allow that. They want it made normal that in today’s Ireland we tolerate the celebration of war crimes – worse, a campaign of war crimes.

In this they are usually facilitated by Irish journalism which hides behind conventional approaches to news and impartiality. Today SF speakers are passively granted a hearing. They state their views on public controversies of all kind as if they were an honoured part of our republic. This spineless and now established media approach is analogous to the effete silence faced by someone who habitually spouts vile nonsense. That is to say, otherwise decent people too often opt for a quiet life rather than confront a neighbour, friend or family member. In so doing they fail a basic test. A citizen of a republic has a responsibility to tell a blackguard that they ought to be ashamed of themselves and to do it day after day.

There’s a very longtime acquintance of mine, a man I admire. I know him through the Labour Party. He’s dependable, thoughtful, well read, a retired industrial worker and experienced shop steward. He’s more than a pollster’s or a sociologist’s category; he’s real working class and holds the values to prove it. He’s a socialist; he and the Labour Party are a natural fit but there’s something wrong these days.

I bumped into him in town recently. He’s great company and I was glad he suggested a pint.

He was bothered and thoughtful about a meeting he’d attended the previous evening. He feels left out and odd at party meetings. The discussions, he says, are too confined to gender, identity, management and liberal issues generally and when they refer to work and trade unionism, they go on about organising as if nothing much had happened in the last 30 years or so. (As for me, he says that I’m not much better, always on about inequality of income, republican citizenship, and the type of work – jobs – that he doesn’t recognise.)

He has no difficulty with any of the liberal, cultural, identity issues. They’ve always been there – part of the movement – and he’s always taken the progressive position. No, the problem is what has disappeared, and disappeared to the extent that he now seldom speaks at meetings because the things of his concern, expertise and experience don’t appear on agendas anymore.

There is no industry and industrial worker that he recognises, no factories. Yes, he would like a return to that way of life, when there was stability and the expectation that the next generation would come up a bit in the world. He is not, however, like those duped by Trump; he knows those jobs are now in low-pay countries or gone forever, designed and automated out of existence, no longer necessary.

What can I possibly say to him? We’re both working class and know the score. He took a route that ended in redundancy in his early fifties and apartment blocks on his factory site that once nurtured a whole community. I didn’t take a route at all, I just drifted, did alright and now talk about the changed world but without his profound sense of loss.

When we meet, we have two areas of common ground. Firstly, agreement that the trickle down economy with well paid, permanent, satisfying jobs is gone. What we have now is a small number of high-expertise jobs at the top end, a lot of low-skilled, poorly-paid, boring, insecure jobs at the other end and in the middle, yes, some – but not many – old-school, good jobs with new titles. It is a different expression of capitalism, of exploitation and of yawning inequality. It is a loss about which the party seldom, if ever, talks and in that silence ignores “old-Labour”, those who planned prudently for upward mobility. While patronising attention is often paid to the “left behind”, little consideration is given to those whose plans and aspirations have been thwarted by a change that has made jobs befitting their hard-won education very scarce indeed.* 

He likes and I like too Jack O’Connor’s and other trades unionists’ approach to improving standards, security and wages by way of labour reforms and collective bargaining but that doesn’t speak openly about the fact that so many good jobs are gone for good and what that means for society and socialism. It’s a hard position for a party that has so linked work and prosperity but that’s the very reason Labour cannot credibly avoid it. Discussing traditional labour responses to the new situation without regard to how we deal with the loss is a drift away from socialism. The most fundamental change in industrial society cannot be ignored.

Secondly, he can’t stand it when gougers are described as working class. He gets apoplectic over the screaming, foul-mouthed thuggery – some of it lead by upper class nits – that is too often presented as working class. He expects the Labour Party to talk about the working class. Like me, he sees his class as setting a standard for decent behaviour.** I express that a bit differently: that working class is characterised by a set of values and that is what Marx saw when he identified the agents of progress. ***

This is where our recent conversation got really interesting, agreed and controversial. What we edged close to was a sense that the Labour Party needs to help take back the meaning of working class, get it back from pollsters, patronising professionals and upper class dilletantes, and state it as a set of values. That’s not vague; it’s quite clear and most know exactly what we’re on about. Yes of course, it would take a book-length piece to spell out the markers of working class membership, to contrast it with markers of lumpen loutishness, and to tie the difference to a political programme but perhaps that’s not necessary. For now let’s just set down opposites – streotypes, if you like – and leave it at that because in truth anyone steeped in the labour movement knows the difference only too well but is normally too polite to draw attention to it.

A working class kid is reared neither to look up to nor down on anyone and never, ever to resort to crude abuse – and here’s a small, sharp identifier, an easy way to tell the difference these days: there is no chance whatsover that they would refer to someone as a “c*nt”.


Grave offence is taken when media label such conduct and abuse as working class. 


It’s time the Labour Party spoke up for the working class to prevent it being traduced by the media and to prevent its record, good name and historic role being tarnished by lumpen yobs.

 

 

 

* https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/full-employment-in-this-century-will-be-different-as-work-befitting-educated-skilled-workers-grows-scarce/

** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2017/07/31/working-class-has-meaning-it-should-not-be-twisted-misappropriated-or-trivialised/

*** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/no-karl-marx-was-not-out-of-his-mind/

The Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, has reported for 2018. The part of the report which particularly shocked me was the long delays in seeing a mental health professional and the lack of round-the-clock care for a young person in crisis. The shock was not the lack of provision as if this was an emerging area of care. No, the shock was the decline from what was available in Dublin (perhaps elsewhere too) in the 60s and 70s – half a century ago!

You see, I know about this and I’m not sure what would have become of me had I faced the wilderness which seems to prevail today.

Shortly after my Inter Cert sometime in the early to mid 1960s, I suffered a breakdown. There’s no need to go into the causes, symptoms and diagnosis here. I want to talk about the public service I received and the extent to which it has declined.

I plunged suddenly, alarmingly and painfully into a mental crisis. I had no idea what was happening, only that I needed help. After a time I found myself seated with my GP (Dr. O’Malley, SC Rd, Kilmainham) a decent, caring man who’d looked after me since I was a child. I was upset when he told me that I’d need to see a psychiatrist. He calmed me and told me about the work of psychiatrists and psychologists. I agreed to see whoever he wanted me to see.

Here’s the part that will shock when compared to today. He made a phone call, wrote me a note and made it absolutely plain that I had to cooperate. The following Tuesday I was seated in a queue at the psychiatric outpatients clinic in the Meath Hospital.

Now, I was not a private patient. I was a public patient in a public clinic.

That first day I was interviewed at length by a psychologist so as to open up a file on me and get things moving. Then I saw a psychiatrist who would treat me.

So began a long, long series of Tuesdays in the crowded, dilapidated clinic, with lots of different drugs unlike the modern, clean ones available now. The thing is I was treated promptly without waiting for years for an appointment. I was treated kindly and with respect. Suffice it to say that after years, ups and downs, I emerged and made a good life.*

Here’s a final surprise and a dreadful comment on how things have disimproved. 24 hr. support? While I never had to use it, I was repeatedly informed during those years that if my distress became unbearable, I was to go immediately to the main reception in St. Patricks Hospital and tell them that I was an outpatient.

What the Ombudsman describes scares me. What became of that clinic and that service?

_____________

* https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/ombudsman-for-children-we-re-not-delivering-on-the-promises-we-ve-given-them-

1.3519985

** The head of the clinic was Prof. Norman Moore and I’m indebted to him and his staff.

On June 5th there was a mysterious gun attack on Bray Boxing Club. The journalist covering it for RTE included in his report the views of local TD, John Brady. This inclusion prompts two questions.

Firstly, what is the purpose of broadcasting the views of a member of parliament in news reports of this kind? They seldom add significant information and they never offer a unique perspective. On some occasions similar comments are sought from a local priest. If local comment is a feature of journalism, any number of bystanders or neighbours is available. It would seem that the choice has nothing whatsoever to do with the news report or recognising local interest or effect and a great deal to do with pointing out who is recognised as important – even a leader – in a community.

When a priest is selected, atheists and non-catholics might find it anything from extremely odd, through partisan, and all the way to downright antagonistic. When a TD (MP in other countries) is selected, it might be argued that democracy is advanced, that a person elected by citizens and frequently referred to as a public representative, should be recognised as their spokesperson. It might also be argued that encouraging representation of this kind is intensely anti-democratic, that citizens in a republic do not vote to elect community leaders and certainly not to appoint those who will provide soothing – almost ceremonial – utterances for news reports of murder.

The second question is the selection of the particular politician for inclusion. Perhaps selection is not the best term. Perhaps some public representatives with an eye to publicity and re-election chase around in the knowledge that journalists consider a politician’s comment to be a standard component of their news product. This of course would constitute manipulation of journalism.

Whatever the reason, a Sinn Féin TD appeared in the RTE report of a savage gun crime. Five TDs are elected for Wicklow and eight councillors for the Bray area. Two are members of Sinn Féin. Now, there there may be editorial policy that selecting SF speakers somehow serves the peace process, that having them talk on all manner of occasions stitches them into constitutionalism. That just might be worth addressing but the immediate reaction on this occasion must be: This was a gun attack. There’s a citizen dead and two wounded. Bringing in a SF rep to comment is downright perverse. It mocks the nation.

The notion that media can serve the republic, its constitution and peace by having SF speak on all manner of issues is utterly wrong. It does precisely the opposite. It serves to normalise them and their values. It says that these are ordinary public representatives with views that are within the limits of democracy. That’s not the case. In our republic the normalisation – constitutionalisation, if you like – of ceremonies and celebrations of war crimes (bombing etc. of civilians) and those who hold those odious views has to be resisted.* Journalism generally evades responsibility by talking in terms of mere reportage, coverage, impartiality and news.** Perhaps the only resistance now will come from ordinary citizens – maybe just a handful – who are prepared to say to a member of SF, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself”. ***

********************************************

* This was manifest when SF’s relatively late opposition to the 8th Amendment (The constitutional ban on legislation to permit abortion) was hidden, while RTE presented their president as a leader of the move to repeal:

https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2018/05/31/the-media-preference-for-mary-lou-mcdonald-during-the-referendum-campaign-showed-partiality-in-coverage-of-a-different-and-fraught-public-controversy/ 

** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2018/02/24/journalism-and-the-struggle-to-decide-what-is-normal-the-case-of-sfs-desire-to-celebrate-the-prov-ira/

*** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2016/12/11/the-division-between-supporters-of-sf-and-other-irish-people-is-and-ought-to-be-fundamental/

During the weeks of the campaign on the proposal to remove the 8th admendment from the Irish constitution, journalists and programme producers – especially at RTE – time and again selected Mary Lou McDonald, President of Sinn Féin, to make the case for repeal. She did it very well and I agree with what she had to say. There was nothing exceptional in the content of her remarks and any number of people could have been chosen to make them. There are reasons why she seemed an obvious choice. It was fitting that a woman make the case and it added to the attraction that she’s well known, articulate, smart and the leader of the third largest party in the Oireachtas. A far more important consideration was, however, ignored when selecting her for such prominence.

The very deliberate level of favourable exposure radically unbalanced coverage of our most fraught public controversy. She and her party want it accepted, made normal, that the military campaign of the Provisional IRA be commemorated and celebrated like other violent parts of our history. While holding this view, she nevertheless wants to be accepted as a reasonable, decent person and a tolerable contributor to all manner of public debates. In this she and her party are routinely facilitated by docile editorial decisions, apparently unconcerned that in other countries something so vile would be supported only by pariahs.

Many countries – perhaps all countries – honour their freedom fighters and their war heroes. Given that terrible things happen in war – war crimes – they tend to be ashamed of such incidents and to accentuate heroism and bravery. If the Provo IRA’s campaign had been a war of liberation with rare or even occasional lapses into war crimes, Ireland could follow that pattern of commemoration.

That is not possible because that IRA campaign was largely composed of war crimes. All combatants choose targets. When they choose civilian targets, they commit an unambiguous war crime. When the IRA eschewed military targets and chose to beat and shoot civilians, and routinely bomb public places, they embarked on a deliberate campaign of war crimes.

That is all over now and everyone wants to put it behind them. Well, everyone except Sinn Fein. They want to make war crimes respectable, a normal part of our history, to be celebrated and commemorated rather than recognised as a depraved episode and a stain upon the nation.

The struggle to make war crimes a normal part of Irish history includes presenting its devotees as normal, decent people. This needs to be stood on its head. Regarding war criminals and a campaign of war crimes in this perverse way is incompatible with being a normal, decent person, someone to be admitted to civilised society and called upon to comment on our controversies.

This, however, is what Irish media routinely do and RTE, the national broadcaster, seems to display an enthusiasm for it. Moreover, the struggle to normalise is a matter of public controversy and RTE’s unnecessary recourse to SF speakers displays partiality in a controversy whose opposing sides are decency and barbarism.

It is neither sensible nor acceptable to facilitate one side in a controversy by pretending that other controversies are unconnected.

_________________________

* I’ve discussed similar before. These might be of interest:

https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2018/02/24/journalism-and-the-struggle-to-decide-what-is-normal-the-case-of-sfs-desire-to-celebrate-the-prov-ira/

https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2016/12/11/the-division-between-supporters-of-sf-and-other-irish-people-is-and-ought-to-be-fundamental/

A while ago I reluctantly gave up communicating with a Facebook friend. He’s a socialist and has interesting things to say but he has a dismal view of human nature which prompts him to think that whatever a person says, it’s not an honest expression of their view. He is one of a number among my FB friends who resort to this form of ad hominem attack. No, on second thoughts, they don’t resort to it; that suggests a chosen tactic. Rather, they really do believe that everyone is dishonest in argument, that everyone makes their points not because they’ve thought about them but because they serve some hidden purpose or some organisation with which a speaker is associated.

Over the years I’ve grown weary of this nonsense. I’ve concluded that there’s really no point in talking to people who dismiss me as dishonest, accuse me of saying things not because I’ve thought about them but because I am a member of the Labour Party, or had worked for RTE, or had lectured in UCD, or I’m a man, or am nearing seventy etc. etc.

However, it’s not simply a matter of walking away from a small number of grouchy cynics. Their view is widespread. It is considered normal and is not challenged.

When Simon Coveney, Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland) recently changed his position from one of outright opposition to abortion to a position favouring a change in the Irish constitution to allow the Dáil (parliament) to legislate on abortion, he presented his reasons, his line of thinking. He was plausible. The response from those opposing change was not to address what he said but to discredit him as insincere, dishonestly making points to cover up a volte-face so as to serve the Government.

Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? No, they wouldn’t – not if they were decent people who had no evidence to support that view. More seriously, they were allowed to say it without challenge. The reaction of radio journalism was placid, as if something entirely uncontroversial had happened. A person had just been called a liar on national radio and … well, and nothing, just accordance with a dominant way of thinking.

It might be said that calling out ad hominem argument is best avoided during a contentious amendment campaign, that balance is best achieved by letting everyone say as they wish while according equal time to both sides. This would be both a perverse misunderstanding of balance and a suggestion that journalists at other times challenge shoddy debate. They don’t; they tend to report it faithfully.

Here’s the problem: It’s no wonder that cynics think they are normal when mass media permit – even, encourage – people to make up stories about a parson’s motivations. Media – journalists – should be more concerned about their stewardship of public discourse. They should give the cynics a choice: talk about the topic or get off the programme. That might demonstrate that many people have higher standards. It might also encourage citizens in ordinary conversation to say something explicit to their cynical friends: “You reveal a lot about your own motivations when you make assumptions like that.” Thinking citizens might be even more blunt: “Just because you think like that, don’t assume that the rest of us do. You’re not normal.”*

Getting back to journalists, they have to decide on their audience: are they serving gossiping cynics or citizens who want to hear from those who talk about the point?

 

_____________________________________

* Increasingly I’m of the view that the defence of public discourse is down to the citizen: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2017/11/04/day-to-day-conversation-and-the-struggle-for-decency/

Populism is not another word for democracy. It is, however, a word for a crude kind of majoritarianism which the market-oriented right finds very attractive. Unfortunately those leftists who have abandoned universal aims and class politics feel a similar attraction.

Concern over democracy descending into a crude head count is certainly not new. Since the development of mass democracy there has been a consistent fear of what a majority might do, possibly harming a minority or overriding individual rights which have been progressively established. There are two responses to the fear. One is to limit democracy. The other is to enhance democracy by accentuating its usually ignored feature, deliberation.

And there’s the jump-off point for today’s concerns over populism. The will to democratise has always rested on a belief that citizens will be informed, thoughtful and deliberative, that they will participate in the affairs of their republic not merely as volunteers, community activists and the like or as self-interested members of pressure groups but as people who will talk, argue and participate in public discourse.

Of course no democrat could ever have been confident that all citizens would be participants. There would always be those who would opt out, having no active interest in the direction of the republic, no interest in politics, or who would be excluded, lacking resources of income, leisure, education or ability.

This then gives the most basic division in a republic between, let’s call them, passive citizens and participative citizens. The latter want public discourse, the former want leadership, simplicity and promises. Both can vote.*

It has long been possible – perhaps even necessary – to be elected by offering services, goods, promises or even a focus for anger to citizens who have no participative interest. What has dawned in recent years is a full realization of the size and political potential of passive citizens. These are citizens who don’t want to hear and discuss contending arguments but who want reassurance and deliverance. They want leadership and there are leaders and parties with simplicities who are anxious to compete for their support, populist leaders. Again, it’s not new but it has been growing for two reasons. Firstly, potential leaders have increasingly sought out data about what people want to hear so that they can patronise rather than convince voters. Secondly, passive citizens – previously content – have lost faith in a political system which they thought catered to them at least adequately.

The fear now is that meaningful democracy will be reduced further in the direction of crude majoritarianism. Before looking at how passive citizens lost their faith, it would be sensible to set down the characteristics of populism. Nowadays they are all too familiar.

Populism: its familiar features

There is an essential belief that society is composed of two antagonistic but internally homogeneous sections:

a) The “establishment”, undifferentiated but including the rich, business, banks, media, elected politicians, state officials intellectuals and experts;

and b) The “ordinary people” who are more wise and virtuous than the “corrupt establishment”.

Populists have an uncomplicated approach to democracy. They seek strong and charismatic leaders who will reflect the will of the people. They also like direct and majoritarian democracy, favouring referenda and plebiscites over representative democracy whose checks and balances might give undue attention to minorities and thwart the will of the majority.

They are strongly nostalgic, looking back to what they consider better, simpler times both economically and culturally, when industrial employment gave a basic prosperity and the prospect of inter-generational improvement, and before cosmopolitan values, multiculturalism, “political correctness” and feminism made life less certain. This can lead to expressions of support for isolated nationalism and for crude misogyny to the point of foul-mouthed sexism.

The passive citizen’s loss of faith

There is no point in pretending otherwise, things have changed for very many people who are passive/disengaged but who were formerly more or less content. Their employment is gone, their expectations are undermined, their understanding of family, gender, community and race now seems incongruent. And yet, it is clear to them that others are flourishing in the new circumstances. They feel as though they’ve been left behind and are in need of rescue, restoration, deliverance, a leader, even something familiar in which they can have faith.

When this is theorised there tends to be two approaches. One talks about economic insecurity, emphasising the low pay consequences of declining industrial production and the attendant increase in unskilled and semi-skilled work which rarely leads to promotion. **

The second talks about a cultural backlash, an objection to the progressive value changes and increased migration that were concomitant with the loss of industrial jobs.

Austerity and the decline of the left

The rise of populism is frequently contrasted with the decline of Socialism, social democracy and Labourism. The conventional argument is that people are angry over left involvement in business and especially in the defensive cuts to pay and welfare (austerity) thought necessary to stabilising – even, saving – the capitalist system.

It is true that for the greater part of the 20th century socialists were complicit in a deal with capitalism which saw the system encouraged and promoted in return for relatively good pay, conditions and systems of welfare. It is equally true that right wing as well as left wing elements were deeply unhappy with this arrangement. Right wing dissent took the form of neo-liberalism which wanted a reduced role for the state and an increasing resort to markets, especially labour markets. Left wing dissent saw participation in the management of capitalism as a sell-out. They claimed a monopoly on the term, socialism, while social democracy became a term of abuse applied to socialists who operated within representative democracy.

The early 21st century economic crash was a happy day for both sets of dissenters; clearly the deal they hated could no longer deliver. Worse, the establishment – including socialists – moved to save or stabilise the system by rescuing banks, investors and industry, and cutting wages and welfare provisions.

At this point, according to conventional argument, people were no longer convinced that those who ran the deal and did well out of the deal – the establishment – would protect them, and they turned to alternative leaders who offered deliverance.

The flaw in this conventional argument is located at that word, “convinced”. The thing is that when considering populism it is a mistake to think in terms of a Demos comprised of thinking citizens who no longer hold with the argument behind the 20th century deal, who no longer agree with what has been termed social democracy. Rather, it is more accurate to think in terms of passive people who were never convinced of anything.

The truth is in a range of criticism appearing over the greater part of the 20th century which was concerned with citizen abandonment of appraisal, analysis, discussion and judgement, i.e. participation. That old fear of mass society crackles across the thoughts of democrats from Marxist alienation, through the “descent into a vast triviality” to just at the birth of the web, “The Culture of Contentment”. Then a decade and a half later there’s Barack Obama, “… in politics and in life ignorance is not a virtue”. Now it’s opposition to populism but it’s the same old fear: democracy stripped of citizen deliberation. Democracy reduced to brutal majoritarianism. ***

Leaders of the passive

The right will seek power by trying to manipulate passive citizens. A revolutionary left could try the same. A left which has, however, abandoned revolution but wants to lead the masses faces a dilemma: oppose right wing demands even when expressed by “ordinary workers” and lose their support or agree with them and go over to the other side. ****

What to do?

Democrats – as opposed to majoritarians – know that without deliberation the whole point of the democratic project/tradition is lost. It would be undesirable – as well as unlikely – that liberals, socialists and some conservatives elide their differences and come together but as democrats they must always be aware that populism is a common foe. To be blunt, political controversy whether arguing individual freedom, equality or class conflict is part of the establishment that is now threatened.***** Fortunately, there remain citizens who are amenable to argument. They must be addressed. They must be encouraged to speak up, to participate as they wish. No democrat should ever patronise passive citizens; that’s partly what led to this crisis for democracy.


+ + + + + + + + +

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

** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/full-employment-in-this-century-will-be-different-as-work-befitting-educated-skilled-workers-grows-scarce/
https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602869/manufacturing-jobs-arent-coming-back/

***

On alienation and later: https://aeon.co/essays/in-the-1950s-everybody-cool-was-a-little-alienated-what-changed

descent into a vast triviality.” Neil Postman (1985) Amusing Ourselves to Death, p.6

https://quote.ucsd.edu/childhood/files/2013/05/postman-amusing.pdf

Contentment sets aside that which, in the longer view, disturbs contentment; it holds firmly to the thought that the long run may never come.” – J.K. Galbraith (1993) The Culture of Contentment, p.173

John Waters, Amused to Death, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsspXqCe4kI

Barack Obama: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjGUUGw0pQ8

**** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2017/12/04/the-conservative-embrace-a-home-for-former-revolutionaries/

***** 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.

Recently on Facebook Mark Hennessy, News Editor at the Irish Times, became cross with me. I had criticised a journalist I admire for failing over decades of interviews to ask Jerry Adams about the decision of the IRA to target civilians. Mark felt that it was unreasonable to expect journalists to go on about the troubles in every article concerning SF. It’s not the first time this has been said to me and it’s time I addressed it.

Among all of the policies, views, topics etc. that SF addresses today one is utterly unique. They want to commemorate and celebrate the campaign of the Prov. IRA. Some of their members may prefer that this looking back stopped but they are aware that a part of their support base requires it, that forgetting it might split their movement or might even prompt a group to violence. Some others may see the campaign as honourable and worthy of celebration.

There is a simple reason why a desire to celebrate the IRA is loathsome. Like all combatants, the IRA thought about it and selected their targets. At some stage they decided that civilians were to be their targets. Over decades they persisted with this as public bombing – among other civilian killing – followed public bombing until it characterised their campaign. SF point out that civilians regrettably die in all conflicts. This is true. It is equally true that the intentional targeting of civilians is regarded as an unambiguous war crime. SF today want to celebrate this campaign.

There are of course Irish citizens who think that civilian targeting was acceptable in the Irish context or that it is a staple of asymmetric warfare and they are fine with its celebration. There are other Irish citizens who will view the celebration of a campaign of war crimes as relatively unimportant and will support SF because of other policies or issues. In order for SF support to grow, however, a large number of Irish citizens will have to come to accept that such celebration is normal or harmlessly eccentric.

We are talking about normalisation and this is where all citizens – but journalists especially – have to think long and hard. To begin with, we have to decide if we want the celebration of war crimes to be accepted as a normal or indeed as a merely eccentric feature of Irish life. If we do not, then we have to resist its being normalised.

There are two ways in which something is made normal. It happens firstly when it receives little or no adverse comment. In Ireland most citizens have been drawn into using a sanitised lexicon in which targeting civilians is hidden; we talk of war, troubles, unrest etc. – anything to avoid calling a spade a spade. Secondly, it happens by way of acceptance: a person or organisation is tolerated to the extent that they can take part in all of the nation’s conversations as if all of their viewpoints were within the bounds of acceptability. When the speaker is presented as normal, it is implied that their parcel of views is normal. Bluntly, normalisation proceeds every time a SF speaker offers a view, or they are reported or discussed and no one refers to their celebration of war crimes.

A journalist will respond by saying that news and current affairs cannot be disrupted and possibly made boring by constantly harping back to an old issue. Generally speaking this is a sound point. However, the subject here is extraordinary and could of course be treated as an editorial exception, having nothing whatsoever to do with day to day journalism. It is, moreover, for SF not an extraneous but a defining issue and it is not old, it is current.

There is a small number of extreme views which a civilised society cannot normalise and which therefore fall neither within the confines of media practice nor the routines of polite company.* No journalist or any citizen should let pass an opportunity to strike against exceptional barbarity. Obversely anyone holding an exceptionally barbaric view should expect it to be raised in most if not all situations.

Normalisation is an ordinary and familiar part of everyday life but it has a dark side and its outcome always involves struggle. It has delivered many of the features of progressive, tolerant society. It is the process through which previously excluded minorities together with perspectives, beliefs and practices, once thought to be vile, become unremarkable and accepted. None of this happens without resistance and opposition, and the media provide the arena in which each tussle is played to a stable conclusion.

Normalisation, however, is not necessarily progressive. It has a dark side because by that same process – again, with media playing a central role – a decent society can be so poisoned that large numbers of citizens accept or turn a blind eye to depraved actions and expressions.

The outcomes – progressive or poisonous – are decided by struggle. The danger of course is that a struggle might be smothered because media/journalism as an institution fails to create and stage a public controversy for the citizens they serve. That danger is increased when those seeking normalisation are adept at using the values, codes, practices, conventions and obligations of journalism to prevent a public controversy.

This is now where we are with SF and Irish journalism. SF wants to expand support while holding the view that their celebration of the IRA’s campaign of war crimes is normal, routine, something that is to be accepted and most certainly not to be a matter of continuing public controversy, brought up every time they appear in news or utter a comment.

It’s impossible to know how many but some journalists at least may take the view that such celebration is neither normal, routine nor accepted but that the journalist’s role is to report the news and comment on current affairs as defined by elite “news-makers”. When it comes to extraordinary depravity, that level of passivity falls far short of professional performance in support of the republic and its citizens.

Let it be said clearly that for as long as SF persist in celebrating war crimes a journalist covering them in any way who decides to avoid raising this horror, is facilitating its normalisation.

Many citizens remain steadfast ** and for them it is unthinkable firstly that Ireland could ever accept the commemoration and celebration of war crimes becoming ordinary – becoming part of what we are – and secondly that those who would do such a thing could be allowed among us without being told repeatedly that they should be ashamed of themselves, and that they are a disgrace to the nation.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2017/11/04/day-to-day-conversation-and-the-struggle-for-decency/

** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2016/12/11/the-division-between-supporters-of-sf-and-other-irish-people-is-and-ought-to-be-fundamental/