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I want to make just two points in relation to the Irish TV series “Normal People” and today’s normality.

Firstly, I was struck by the nastiness among friends and acquaintances throughout but particularly by the portrayal of the school in the early episodes. Yes, there might be an attempt to say that school cruelty was ever present but this is of a different order. I couldn’t shake from my mind the newspaper reports of the school in Leixlip which was at the centre of the Ana Kriegel murder. It is disturbing to think that the school in the TV series might be the norm, that the young people are broken into shifting, mutually antagonistic in and out groups who seem to hate one another and who are on the look out for a person they might destroy, not because of anything in particular but because … well, that’s the way things are. Five years in such a place would be a hellish experience. No parent with the remotest clue about the nature of the place would send their child there to endure that, to be schooled in perverse ways and to emerge most assuredly damaged.

Secondly, the young adults – and not merely the main characters – emerge with a showy sophistication but very limited options. In this dramatisation upward mobility – getting out and getting on – is still a possibility but it has become a narrow, insecure and finely determined course. The option of settling and having children while young is not available now. Maturity and meaningful adult independence must indefinitely be deferred. It can seem like independence, like they want to live a little and see the world first. In reality they are trapped by the economics and insecurity of our times, and by a pressure to conform to a pattern of living which includes living abroad – even when they don’t want it.

The Covid-19 public health emergency has pushed Irish broadcasters into a significant, perhaps fundamental, change in reporting. The system which underpins coverage of political controversy is dictated by the Broadcasting Acts. In essence the requirement is be fair to what might be termed stakeholders and to provide balance. In other words, editorialising is not permitted. That was the stable, well-understood practice for decades.

No matter how unproven, unscientific or wacky a view, if it was held by someone notable or could be used as counterbalance to create controversy, it would be presented without comment.

The idea that a view could be marked out as suspect, wrong or even dangerous nonsense was foreign to the practice of reporting. The 5-G conspiracy theory in a time of crisis for public health changed that.

Now, for years 5-G has been a staple among believers in alternative therapies/medicine, a state or world government or “big pharma” trying to dominate, poison or exploit “the people”, through vaccines, fluoridated water, chemicals sprayed from aircraft (chem trails) and a whole range of other strange fantasies.

5-G refers to a fifth generation of mobile communication operating at a higher frequency than earlier systems. The higher frequency reduces range and therefore to achieve coverage many more sites with aerials are required.

Electro-magnetic radiation (i.e. radio signals) or non-ionising radiation has long been confused with ionising or “atomic” radiation and this confusion has caused unnecessary fears.* Because some who have stoked these fears are qualified in science, it is implausible that they do not understand; it is more likely that their purpose is exploitation. In other words, 5-G is the latest in a long line of scare stories but it took a truly bizarre turn when its adherents linked it to the coronavirus outbreak. They tried to have people believe that the appearance of the virus in Wuhan coincided with and was caused by the switch-on of a 5-G system. The story spread among the credulous and scared them to the extent that they began to attack communication towers and the technical staff who attended to them. In the middle of a pandemic this was getting out of hand and something had to be done. In communication terms the public had to be informed that this was pure bunkum.

The national broadcaster, RTE, acted. The 5-G conspiracy theory was explicitly labelled as untrue. Three points need to be made at this stage. Firstly, RTE acted correctly. Secondly, a complainant might be successful in saying that RTE was wrong to editorialise and in breach of a statutory obligation. In the circumstances it is unlikely that anyone will complain. Thirdly and crucially, the decision to say that the 5-G conspiracy was untrue could not have been based on new data. To be blunt about this, if the 5-G conspiracy was untrue in April 2020, it was no less untrue in, say, April 2019.


This amounts to a troubling realisation: that a health emergency forced a national broadcaster to tell the truth. It is of course entirely possible that the causal link was not so direct: that until the emergency the broadcaster did not know the truth. In other words, that controversy during the emergency prompted or forced the broadcaster to check the veracity of the years-old 5-G myth. There is no need to pursue truth any further down this philosophical rabbit hole because a much wider problem for political communication has been opened to examination.

The conventional view among journalists and broadcasters now is that social media are the font of all nonsense and that public discourse requires dependable, professional journalists who will seek out, interrogate and tell the truth. Given that it took an emergency on the scale of a pandemic for news from just one source in Ireland to break with convention, find and tell the truth, it is clearly not the case that social media have a monopoly on spreading nonsense.

If the 5-G lie were were an isolated issue, nothing further need be said but that’s not the case. Journalism and broadcasting has a long history of neutral reporting of lies. Anti-vax is a case in point. In the late 90s Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a bogus study linking MMR vaccine and autism. Eventually he was forced to retract and he was struck off but not before mass media reported it extensively. It would have been reasonable to expect that his disgrace would signal the end of such nonsense but it merely signalled the beginning of a movement which has been damaging public health vaccination programmes for years. Serious illnesses like measles, once thought eradicated, have begun to reappear and cause deaths. In Ireland the proposal to vaccinate young people against HPV was resisted. This anti-vax movement gained ground when mass media reported utterly unproven claims of vaccine damage as if they were true. It left a suspicion that journalists and broadcasters were unable to distinguish between causation and correlation. The public health vaccination programme was saved when a dying young woman whom the vaccine would likely have protected, spoke out. Nevertheless, anti-vax remains and thrives. Even the disgraced Andrew Wakefield has been re-cycled as a media spokesperson.

Here’s the point. Support for wicked harmful nonsense did not originate in social media or even with the internet. Much of it predates social media. The public sphere was poisoned by professional reporting.

Broadcasters may choose to hide behind the legal obligations to avoid editorialising but they could – if competent in the most basic science – have questioned, investigated, found the truth and at least avoided reporting harmful nonsense.

The decision finally to label the 5-G scare as untrue merely highlights the extent of the problem. The truth claims of homeopathy are at least as daft and its practitioners have been claiming to cure or help to cure covid-19. There is no indication that RTE or anyone else will label homeopathy untrue and that observation can be extended to a whole range “miracle” cancer cures and much else.


Yes, the Irish Broadcasting Acts may need amendment but what is at issue is more fundamental. It goes to the core of what citizens might expect of their broadcasters and particularly their national broadcaster. It is entirely reasonable that Broadcasters be required to have both the interest and the technical ability to identify arrant nonsense. It is out of the question that myths, fantasies and general raiméis be passively reported as if they were true.

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* Radiation is said to be ionising when it has sufficient power to crate ions, i.e. to shift electrons out of an atom. That power is related to the type of radiation and there is no evidence that electromagnetic radiation (radio signals) has this effect. The suspicion that it might is related to a paper published by The International Agency for Research Into Cancer, a part of the World Health Organisation. The paper refers to a particular cancer, to extensive use of a mobile phone held to the ear, and is clear that it is not making a finding of fact. (The paper can be accessed here: https://www.iarc.fr/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/pr208_E.pdf) Moreover, it was published in 2011 when all mobile phones were held to the ear. It might be worth adding that ionising radiation is not bad; modern medicine in the form of X-rays etc. relies on it.

Archivists are concerned that the effective lifetime of a considerable amount of on-line record may be as brief as 90 days. Their response to this may be at the limits of what can be done or it may be conditioned by their own dated approach or both. The response in Ireland is an attempt to grab and store the content of web sites. These websites are the traditional sources of information (state agencies and the like) who now update regularly, in many cases making their earlier record impossible to retrieve. Clearly this is work worth doing but it may be missing some of the most influential comment which will be denied to tomorrow’s historians and give a wholly misleading impression of what happened.

A considerable amount – perhaps the bulk – of organised comment and influence has been occurring on Facebook and other social media. That is to say, it does not appear on any website. In April 2020 in Ireland racist, nationalist and anti-government sentiment was mobilised behind shared scare stories – lies – about possibly covid-carrying passengers being waved through the ports or forming close contact bus queues. Now, it would be impossible to have an understanding of this period in Ireland without consideration of this activity and yet it is not being archived. Indeed, it may not practicable or even possible to do so.


I’m afraid I’m one of those annoying sorts who deals with anxiety by trying to understand. In Ireland we are due to see alarming increases in covid cases. I find somehow that the maths is comforting, knowing about the progression and how to spot improvement.

If it interests or comforts, it’s easy to do. It uses that old compound interest formula from school:

PV(1 + r)n = FV, where PV is present value, r is interest rate, n is the number of payments and FV is the final value at the end of those payments.

As of last night we had approx. 220 covid cases and that’s our PV for calculation here, the daily increase for the past few days has been a little less than 30% or 0.3, n is the number of days for which you want to calculate – let’s say 14 days.

This gives 220(1+0.3)14 = 8,668. Now, that’s alarming but less so than the Taoiseach’s calculation. By the way, the exponent (“power of”) calculator is here: https://www.free-online-calculator-use.com/exponent-calculator.html

Better is the realisation that this refers to cases, individual people. In 14 days some of these people will be recovered and recovering. The big number is less alarming when it is considered that there could not possibly be any expectation of an improvement in the rate of increase until the public health restrictions begin to have an effect, i.e. after about 14 days and that’s a reminder to concentrate not on the number of cases but on changes in the rate of increase. Always bear in mind too that most cases will be mild.

I don’t know if I’ve made your anxiety better or worse. I find it comforting to know what’s coming, why, and what to look out for to see any improvement.

Incidentally, I’m grateful to my old school friend, Paddy Griffin, who pointed to a basic error in calculation that I was making last night. He was always better at sums than me.

War is infernal; humans target fellow humans and try to kill them. Bad as it is, humanity has been compelled to define something more vile than war itself: the war crime, a category of crime against humanity. Two things need to be said. Firstly, no particular state can forgive a crime against humanity; the protection or amnesty of a state that might be afforded to perpetrators ends at its border. Secondly, there are many forms but targeting civilians is an unambiguous war crime.

During what is euphemistically called the Troubles in Ireland the Prov. IRA waged – as they see it – a war of liberation. Their selected targets were frequently civilian most notably through the use of public bombs. In other words their war was to a large extent conducted through the commission of war crimes. They were supported throughout by Sinn Féin.

After peace was agreed and the IRA disbanded* Sinn Féin embarked on a process of normalisation so as to gain wider acceptance as a political party. They had a choice: They could have put the war crimes behind them and relied on people to forgive and forget; or they could carry their support for war crimes into the future and make that support normal, a part of Irish life. They chose the latter and so they put it up to every Irish citizen to make the most fundamental of choices.

Sinn Féin enjoy the support of perhaps 20% of Irish voters and a much higher proportion of citizens will socialise with them and treat them as entirely normal. If the acceptance or celebration of war crime is to become a feature of life in Ireland, it will be a grave step. It will bring dishonour upon the nation and it should be approached carefully and with deliberation. That is to say, before we decide to normalise war crimes, war criminals and their supporters, there should be confrontation and frank public discussion. This is far too serious for any citizen to be be able to claim that they didn’t know.

SF use a number of devices to avoid the core issue.

1. Rubbish the very concept of a war crime

The argument here is that all war includes war crimes. That’s very likely true but it certainly doesn’t make war crimes any less evil or a normal tactic for combatants. It provides SF with a sick, self-serving rationale for pretending that the killings during the troubles or the armed struggle were typical of wars and that it is time to normalise them. 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 ordinary Irish people will never accept.

Ordinary people know full well that in the pit of horrors that is crimes against humanity and war crimes, something stands out: the intentional targeting of civilians. To be absolutely clear: all combatants select targets, they make a choice. Some choose to kill civilians rather than soldiers.

SF will say 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. It certainly does not imply that honouring war crimes become an accepted/normal part of Irish life.

2. Pretend that new leaders are different
Until relatively recently a common thread in Irish journalism was that SF needed to break with its past by changing to younger leaders. Now, this was a particularly sneaky argument because those who presented it knew well that the new leaders had joined the organisation before the killings stopped. SF’s present finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty, joined the year that Garda McCabe was murdered, a year in which civilians were bombed in Britain. Former MEP Lynn Boylan is the partner of Eoin O’Broin, the SF spokesperson on Housing, Planning & Local Government. When she was elected an MEP, pictures show her hoisted in celebration on the shoulders of an alleged bomber. It is ludicrous to suggest that such people are naive and do not discuss the nature of their chosen party.

3. Pretend that recent recruits are uninformed

SF has recruited many members, quite a few oedf them born years after the killings had stopped. It is argued that they 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. Such young people are not deluded, mistaken or intimidated. They are aware of what they are doing, they are making informed decisions.

4. Pretend that voters are stupid

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 that is at risk of spreading across Irish society. A couple of evasions are offered to pretend that these citizens are innocent of support for any kind of violence, never mind the celebration of crimes against humanity.

Firstly, it is argued that at this remove from the ceasefire voters know nothing of what happened or regard it as a history which should now be ignored. This, however, is precisely what SF oppose. They have decided not to let the history fade but to drag it forward and have the celebration of war crimes become normal in the future.

Secondly, it is argued that while voters are aware of the crimes, they are voting for current policies and/or personalities, or are voting tactically against a despised government. Sometimes a part of this argument is 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 and/or incapable of voting with thought. Among any group of voters there will be those who haven’t a clue and those who will try to avoid responsibility by feigning ignorance but most voters – including SF voters – are well aware of what they are doing.

The line that current controversies, issue, policies matter more than the past is important and deserves a terse response. This is not a matter of minor transgressions, petty crimes or even murders being consigned to the past and deemed unimportant with the passage of time. Choosing to target civilians – crimes against humanity – time and again can never be disregarded; war criminals as always must be pursued to the grave. When it comes to voting intentions, the very idea that commemorating/celebrating war crimes now and into our future could be less important than a policy or programme is abhorrent to civilised thinking.

Ordinary Irish citizens should accept an obligation

Face it: a sizeable minority in Ireland vote SF. Rather than pretend that they all represent something innocuous or some sort of misunderstanding or mistake, it would be sensible to confront two more likely and dismal explanations: the existence among us of i) a significant number who are not overly concerned about SF’s attempt to make the celebration of war crimes normal in Ireland or ii) a significant number who approve the Prov. IRA campaign and think it right that it be normalised for celebration.

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 and that to celebrate it is perverse. In this republic each citizen faces the decision of whether or not to acquiesce, to socialise without dissent or at every opportunity to tell such people that they ought to be ashamed of themselves and that they will never be accepted within the Irish nation.

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* Very few now believe that the IRA is gone. Their Army Council is thought to command SF.

In Ireland there are two groups with quite different reasons for returning to familiar right wing parties.

 

1. The conservatives and their rider
The majority of Irish people seem to want a universal health service, greater equality etc. etc. but there’s a fundamentally important catch: they want these things to happen without any other change, i.e. without their lives being otherwise affected. In recent times the welfare of the planet was added to the list of things that can “change as long as there’s no change”.

Too many Leftists take comfort in polls that show Irish support for all sorts of progressive reforms. Then when votes are counted, they express themselves surprised – even hurt and betrayed – by the outcome. They reckon – with an enormous degree of arrogance – that voters have behaved stupidly. The reality is that there is nothing actually stupid in a selfish conservatism that defends one’s place in the structure of inequality, while saying that apart from this progressive reform is fine. It’s not even a contradictory position. Indeed it is a position encouraged by leftists who sell the notion that this is precisely what can be achieved by dispossessing the top 1% or big business while leaving the rest of the rich and privileged untouched.*

A useful and descriptive term for it is “left conservatism”. It’s rooted in a bizarre understanding of fairness: that the whole structure of inequality must remain unchanged until the ludicrously wealthy are reduced, while the ludicrously wealthy see that as … wait for it … unfair. Very little happens. Nice people express support for reforms and the protest marches can be a fun way to let off steam and pose as anti-establishment. The structure of inequality is secured.

 

2. Seekers of a plausible alternative
There’s an under-researched group of voters – very likely a small group – who probably think differently. They are not wedded to short term self interest. Neither are they interested in disorderly or unqualified change, never mind revolution. Short of that, they are open to plausible argument about their republic changing its course. That they don’t hear such argument is because the left tends to ignore them.

What they hear constantly is a right-wing but plausible argument that is shared by electoral rivals; these rivals compete on the basis of claims to be better managers of a stable, fair and unequal society. It’s hardly surprising then that citizens who are amenable to argument vote for plausible managers over those implausibly and constantly “calling on” the government/ political class/establishment for concessions that are not arranged in any order of priority. If the left wants to win the votes of thinking people, a plausible argument will have to be presented. However, there’s a problem: opting to present a coherent, plausible argument for change means abandoning the “calling-on” which is for a different and wholly incompatible audience.

* http://piketty.blog.lemonde.fr/2019/06/11/the-illusion-of-centrist-ecology/?fbclid=IwAR1XlXe1QORP_DyExSKygowIRvwu7rV6oJPX1U77xYPtB8HphesWwDvavPg

I have argued that it would shame and humiliate Ireland to have it accepted that Irish war crimes and war criminals be celebrated. Perhaps they could be forgotten or be quietly swept under the carpet as most countries do but celebration would be a stain on the nation.* Unfortunately, this is not what’s happening. Instead there is a normalisation struggle going on right now and our status as a civilised people is at stake.

I have, moreover, argued that this is one of a tiny number of viewpoints that should be categorised as “morally repugnant” with a view to treating them and their supporters differently.**

Here’s the position in summary:

Coverage of Sinn Féin must always mention their desire to celebrate war crimes

This is not about the past.

It’s about a party’s plans right now and for the future of our country.

1. Morally repugnant viewpoints

While racism may be the only one widely acknowledged now, there is a short list of morally repugnant viewpoints worthy of special treatment.

Always prevent the supporter of a morally repugnant viewpoint appearing normal

Morally repugnant viewpoints are normalised by allowing those who hold them present themselves as normal. They usually succeed by talking about things other than the morally repugnant viewpoint they or their organisation holds. The person and the viewpoint must be firmly tied together in condemnation.

To prevent the normalisation of the repugnant viewpoint, the activist/supporter can never be allowed to present themselves as normal.

Should they make a public statement on any matter, the publisher, platform operator or presenter should point to their unstated repugnant viewpoint.***

2. Media coverage of the view that war crimes be celebrated

In all conflicts combatants select targets.

When combatants target civilians – by gun or public bomb – an unambiguous war crime is committed.

When years later activists/supporters seek to commemorate/celebrate war crimes/war criminals, they propagate a repugnant viewpoint.

To prevent the normalisation of this repugnant viewpoint, the activist/supporter can never be allowed to present themselves as normal.

When they make a public statement on any matter, a publisher, platform operator or presenter should point to their unstated support for the celebration of war crimes.

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* https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2019/03/19/the-dignity-of-the-nation-requires-that-irish-war-crimes-be-commemorated-as-such/

and

https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2018/07/13/reality-must-intrude-on-myth-making/

** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2019/05/22/morally-repugnant-views-and-morally-repugnant-people-calls-to-silence-racism-etc-misunderstand-the-process-of-normalisation/

*** Surprisingly, this is an approach recently adopted by Facebook. Jim Corr has had an anti-vaxer label permanently attached to his posts.

 

Before the brutal attack on Kevin Lunney, An Garda and the authorities generally were prepared to cede control of a portion of the state to an armed gang. Northern Ireland authorities did likewise. In two senses it is of course a legacy of the conflict in Ireland. Firstly, the group in this case were either members of the IRA or had business dealings with them. Secondly, taking control of an area and becoming the law enforcers to the exclusion of state forces is something that the IRA did successfully. However, it is neither confined to IRA history nor a matter of lethal force. The PSNI recently withdrew in order to let loyalists control a huge bonfire adjacent to people’s homes and a few years ago an election candidate was excluded from a Dublin housing estate by “forces” who considered it their area. The point is that unless a group goes too far, the state will cede territory to them. Indeed police will not even consider the usurpation of their power in a small area or to a small degree to be a challenge to the democratic state.

It is is not at all like routine police practice whereby, say, protesters are allowed to have temporary control rather than risk a confrontation.* This is more serious; it’s both longer term and involves territory – perhaps a tiny territory like a small housing estate or a more extensive territory like part of a city or county. It is moreover a partial abandonment of citizens of the state and their delivery to an occupation or rule by a self-appointed gang or even a para-military force.

Recently on radio Michael McDowell, the barrister and former government minister, wittily underlined the difference in treatment. He’d been driving in the Cavan/Fermanagh region and saw the threatening posters and signs permitted by lack of state action and contrasted it with what would happen if he erected similar in Ranelagh. The same could be said of course about the chances of diesel laundering in, say, Leixlip and yet it continued in border regions.

Two states have now jointly decided to take back control and liberate the citizens of Cavan/Monaghan. It doesn’t auger well for the future that it took an act of appalling barbarity to prompt action.

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* There is an overlap with protest. Here’s an old piece written during the water protests: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/citizens-need-to-talk-about-a-contentious-suggestion-which-is-reported-regularly-by-an-uncritical-media/

Today a British woman tried to stabilise the UK constitution: the Queen did as the Constitution requires of her and acceded to her Prime Minister’s request. She knows full well that the constitution is in peril and she certainly wasn’t of a mind to do more damage. She’s aware too that she has very probably undermined the monarchy.

Earlier this year another British woman tried to do something similar. Theresa May tried to steer a Brexit deal through parliament so that the UK could appear to act according to the referendum decision while maintaining the sovereignty of Parliament. *

Both women know the importance of a constitution – a country’s basic law – on which all citizens depend. They know that lawless tyranny is the alternative to a functioning constitution. They know too that under the existing constitution the Brexit referendum was incompatible with the sovereignty of parliament.

A fundamental choice in the design of a democratic constitution is whether to make the People or their Parliament sovereign. It cannot be both; a choice has to be made. The good news is that there really is no need to pit people against parliament as long as constitutional provision is made to prevent it. The bad news is that the UK made no such provision.

Take a look at Ireland whose system of government is modelled on that of the UK. In Ireland referendums are relatively common because the constitution says the People are sovereign and yet there is a stable Westminster-like parliament and government. The whole works tolerably well because all the parts are subject to the constitution and the constitution – while changed from time to time by referendum after fraught public controversy – enjoys popular support. Referendums do not challenge the constitution because they are part of the constitution.

No such constitutional clarity exists in the UK. Following the Brexit referendum this has led to a clash between popular sovereignty and parliamentary sovereignty.

It’s a sorry state of affairs that will have to be addressed. Both Theresa May and the Queen have acted to try to maintain the constitution in the short term because its breakdown is unthinkable. Should the UK survive this intact, consideration might be given to a written constitution which would provide for referenda and circumscribe what they might decide. The danger is that if drift continues, constitutional change may be decided in the streets and the outcome could exclude democracy.

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* https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/deciding-brexit-theresa-sees-the-constitutional-threat/


Since I moved to Lucan in the 70s I’ve enjoyed walking the Grand Canal towpath between the 12th lock and Hazelhatch. I’ve trained a number of fondly remembered retrievers here. I’m friends with other users of the path, anglers, walkers, cyclists and those who sit and drink beers near the old quarries where the kids used to swim until it was prohibited.

I was there yesterday and had my day spoiled. Ok, it could have been contact with one exceptional dickhead but I fear not; it’s the direction things are going and the casual elimination of existing amenities.

I was strolling with three dogs. Even on a sunny Sunday, there would be very few people about; on other days I might not encounter anyone. On seeing other walkers, runners or a cyclist, it is my habit to call the dogs to heel and sit them until the people pass. This normally results in greetings exchanged and sometimes conversations. I did this three times yesterday and spoke on each occasion with passing cyclists. Some time later I heard and suddenly realised that a runner was close behind me. I whistled the dogs to sit and asked the runner if he was ok with the dogs. He replied that he was fine and passed them. Then he turned to face me and shouted that they should be on leads. I tried to speak to him but he ran on giving me the finger with both hands.

I was almost back at the 12th lock when I met one of the regular anglers. He realised I was upset; I told him what had happened. He reckoned that our lovely place was in its last days, soon to be buried under a “blueway” and subjected to all sorts of restrictions, that I should enjoy whatever time was left there training my dogs to cross water on command.

I fear that public service is coming to mean the imposition of destruction, construction and catering to the demands of authoritarian dickheads.

The RTE Investigates programme on the greyhound industry has prompted demands for a simple ban on greyhound racing. Clearly this course has a final and brutal appeal but it is not so appealing on examination.

The barbarity uncovered by RTE is already illegal. It occurs because the law is not implemented. Indeed animal cruelty in Ireland tends not to attract serious sanction. Moreover, the controllers/managers of greyhound racing do not enforce their own rules and codes.

A ban will not end greyhound racing or coursing; it will end legal and regulated racing and coursing, and will do away with whatever humane forms have been developed over years.

Some of those favouring a ban admire the greyhound as a breed and would favour their becoming a common family pet. In this regard the greyhound temperament and demeanour has a lot going for it. What shouldn’t be forgotten, however, is that the breed – like all breeds – is the product of generations of selective mating to create a racing dog. Assuming all racing and coursing had been ended by a ban, the greyhound would continue in its familiar, pedigree form for as long as admirers ensured that the breed’s show standards were maintained but there’s still a problem.

Showing alone without regard to a dog’s ability to do what it was bred to do is a very poor idea. In the case of greyhounds after a racing ban, the show could do no more than ensure the appearance of sound dogs. The temperament that attracts today’s admirers could soon disappear.*

The key problem identified by RTE from which most if not all of the abuse and criminality flows is the extraordinary level of breeding (over-production). It is this that reduces the value of dogs and facilitates – even encourages – their rejection and disposal. Bluntly, if there were few dogs available, an owner would have to be damn careful about rejection.

Then if disposal of an unwanted dog were made difficult, commitment to the original choice of dog would be greater. That all greyhounds are tattooed and registered to owners led to barbarians cutting the ears off unwanted dogs. However, that all greyhounds are tattooed and registered to owners should ensure that the owner is held accountable for the whereabouts and welfare of their dog. It might be said that such a system would be too expensive to operate even in a computerised age. The reply of course is to point to the millions paid annually by the state and make it clear that there has been a management decision to avoid holding registered owners responsible.

When considering the amounts of money – especially state money – involved and the gross practices allowed to carry on unchecked, ignored, unpunished by the executive and management of the controlling bodies, it is impossible to avoid thinking of another Irish scandal: the FAI. Again, an enquiry is required to root out the chancers and time servers who presided over this mess and its ensuing cruelty. Similarly, if it can be established that staff at the Dept. of Agriculture continued funding while knowing about this maladministration, then they should be regarded as unfit for public service.***

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* Look to what happened with the gundog breeds: there developed show strains and working strains, and much has had to be done by interested breeders to ensure both appearance and ability are maintained. Does that matter? Well, for pet owners of gundogs it is vital as the friendly temperament is a component of the working temperament.

** Again, there is a parallel with gundogs. Among those involved in working Labradors there is an ease in moving-on young dogs which, it is thought, do not show sufficient potential. Now, there is no need to euthanise them because there is a healthy market for quality, trained dogs among shooting people who do not need a working competition standard but the point here is that ease of disposal and availability of pups facilitates rejections and fresh starts. If interested, see here: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2018/07/24/5-3-1-labrador-the-doubt/

*** The business case is well argued here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2574696522562837&set=a.454197071279470&type=3&theater

 

There are two groups with quite different reasons for returning to familiar parties.

1. The conservatives and their rider

The majority of Irish people seem to want a universal health service, greater equality etc. etc. but there’s a fundamentally important catch: they want these things to happen without any other change, i.e. without their lives being otherwise affected. Lately, as Ireland increased Green representation through local government and European elections, and seemed enthralled by school children raising awareness, the welfare of the planet was added to the list of things that can “change as long as there’s no change”. Well, the phenomenon is not confined to Ireland and coincidentally the illustrative issue on this is the environment.

Peter Wilby in a New Statesman article* told how in the run-up to the recent Australian general election much of the talk was about how the two main parties were starkly divided on environmental policies. Moreover, polling revealed that more than 60 per cent of Australians thought that global warming required immediate action even if significant costs were involved. The Australian Labour Party said that if elected, they would aim at a 45% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. By contrast, shortly before the start of the election campaign, the Liberal coalition government approved a new coal mine and promised more, while warning that Labour’s plans would lead to increased energy prices. Yep, you’ve guessed it: against expectations the Liberal coalition was re-elected.

Too many Leftists take comfort in polls that show Irish support for all sorts of progressive reforms. Then when votes are counted, they express themselves surprised – even hurt and betrayed – by the outcome. They reckon – with an enormous degree of arrogance – that voters have behaved stupidly. The reality is that while it deserves to be opposed, there is nothing stupid in a conservatism that defends one’s place in the hierarchy or structure of inequality while also saying that as long as that is unchanged, progressive reform is fine. It’s not even a contradictory position. Indeed it is a position encouraged by leftists who sell the notion that it can be achieved by dispossessing the top 1% or big business while leaving the rest of the rich and privileged untouched.** It’s best termed, left conservatism and it’s rooted in a bizarre understanding of fairness: that the whole structure of inequality must remain unchanged until the ludicrously wealthy are reduced, while the ludicrously wealthy see that as … wait for it … unfair. Very little happens. Nice people express support for reforms and the protest marches can be a fun way to let off steam and pose as anti-establishment.

2. Seekers of a plausible alternative

There’s an under-researched group of voters – very likely a small group – who probably think differently. They are not wedded to short term self interest. Neither are they interested in disorderly or unqualified change, never mind revolution. Short of that, they are open to plausible argument about their republic changing its course. That they don’t hear such argument is because the left tends to ignore them. What they hear is a right-wing but plausible argument that is shared by rivals who claim to be the better managers of a stable, fair and unequal society. It’s hardly surprising that they vote for plausible managers over those implausibly and constantly “calling on” the government/ political class/establishment for concessions that are not arranged in any order of priority. If the left wants to win the votes of these people, a plausible argument will have to be presented. However, there’s a problem: opting to present a coherent, plausible argument for change means abandoning the “calling-on” which is for a different and incompatible audience.

* https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2019/05/first-thoughts-borisgraph-crisis-and-what-australian-labor-s-shock-defeat-tells

** http://piketty.blog.lemonde.fr/2019/06/11/the-illusion-of-centrist-ecology/?fbclid=IwAR1XlXe1QORP_DyExSKygowIRvwu7rV6oJPX1U77xYPtB8HphesWwDvavPg

“Beliefs can be false, unwarranted by evidence or reasoned consideration. They can also be morally repugnant. Among likely candidates: beliefs that are sexist, racist or homophobic; the belief that proper upbringing of a child requires ‘breaking the will’ and severe corporal punishment; the belief that the elderly should routinely be euthanised; the belief that ‘ethnic cleansing’ is a political solution, and so on. If we find these morally wrong, we condemn not only the potential acts that spring from such beliefs, but the content of the belief itself, the act of believing it, and thus the believer.” – Daniel DeNicola, professor and chair of philosophy, Gettysburg College, Pennsylvania,

https://aeon.co/ideas/you-dont-have-a-right-to-believe-whatever-you-want-to

Among those who consider themselves decent, civilised people there’s unlikely to be disagreement over Daniel DeNicola’s “likely candidates”, i.e. his truncated list of repugnant beliefs/viewpoints. Then he goes further and introduces a more contentious proposition. The condemnation is not just of the harm that might flow from these beliefs, but their content and the act of believing, and thus, he says, condemnation falls on the believer. In short, he is saying that there are views so despicable that those who hold them should be despised also.

Hence, there are two questions: i) Can we agree a short list of utterly repugnant viewpoints that merit unequivocal condemnation? And ii) Should those who hold these views be reviled/shunned/excluded from one’s company or at least treated with some degree of special caution when it comes to public debate.

Confronting elitism and the dilution of “repugnant”

Before turning to those questions, something needs to be addressed. Look at the question: “Can we list morally repugnant viewpoints, convictions?” The reality is that many citizens already have such a list but, “We”? Yes, “We” because the reality is that these citizens belong to a group which thinks itself – and frankly is generally acknowledged to be – composed of decent people. They might also be termed civilised or thinking people.

There is a couple of dismissive reactions to the notion of “decent people”. To begin with, it’s easy to disregard decency as a latter-day manifestation of a moral majority. Indeed, that’s basically the line of attack when populists seek to lead ignorance and vulgarity by creating a new anti-establishment opposed to thought, expertise and concern with values. There’s no way out of this. It’s the struggle between civilisation and barbarism.

Another way to resist the claims of decency is to try to dilute them by the inclusion of more everyday political controversies like, say, a particular tax. That’s a familiar and popular tactic among extremists; they try to label routine matters as equally extreme. It’s a “what-about” of the sort, “We’re not the only killers. Taxation drives people to suicide.” It’s to be expected and resisted. By contrast, decency’s list is short and basic, and supports the civilised behaviour on which democracy relies. That too could be derided as bourgeois but unless there are conditions that call for revolution, decency supports democracy.

Populating the list

At the time of writing Ireland is experiencing local and EU election campaigns, and decent people are appalled that racist, anti-gay, anti-vax comment and candidates are being tolerated, indeed given public media platforms. That would be fairly typical. Decent people tend to condemn racist, sexist, homophobic viewpoints as morally repugnant. Lately, on public health grounds they increasingly include anti-vax opinions. Moreover, few would want to exclude Daniel DeNicola’s examples, to reiterate, that proper upbringing of a child requires ‘breaking the will’ and severe corporal punishment; that the elderly should routinely be euthanised; that ‘ethnic cleansing’ is a political solution, and so on. The point is that while repugnant viewpoints tend to be few, enduring and universal, the list can be discussed, extended or reduced, e.g. in Ireland in particular it can be argued that a belief in celebrating public bombers/bombing is a morally repugnant viewpoint.

Dealing with the list in an open society

Decent people tend to demand that repugnant viewpoints be censored, be denied a public hearing because such views are so bad as to override rights to freedom of expression. Censorship, however, is unnecessary, undemocratic and plays into the hands of those perpetuating repugnant viewpoints. Perhaps censorship is not the decent response!

The sensible and effective way lies through Daniel DeNicola’s second proposition, that those holding repugnant viewpoints be treated exceptionally. The way to address the spread of repugnant notions is to maintain a spotlight on those holding them. That is to say, the repugnant viewpoint must be heard – indeed, must be broadcast – according to routine liberal freedoms but in addition its sponsors and supporters must be marked out as very different, as morally repugnant.

This approach deals with the real fear that decent people have of giving a platform to vile viewpoints. They fear that these views will become commonplace and be accepted by greater numbers in society. They fear normalisation but here’s the thing: having vile views expressed and challenged publicly is not how normalisation works. The process is much more insidious.

The view and the person holding that view are both repugnant but while the person wants public attention, they seldom if ever want that attention to focus on the extraordinary viewpoint that sets the person apart, the viewpoint that above all else defines their character, marking them as a repugnant person. That viewpoint attracts far too much attention and they know full well that they’ll struggle to justify it. What they’ll seek to do is participate in all the routine discussions so that they can appear normal. Thus the repugnant viewpoint is normalised by saying as little about it as possible while allowing its holder to present as a normal, nice, friendly person with something to offer on all the issues and debates of a society. It is this quiet, creeping process of normalisation that decency must prevent.

An open, liberal society needs the expression of all viewpoints, no matter how hideous. They have to be out in the open to be rebutted. It is wrong to prevent expression. It is right to demand expression while letting their holder speak of nothing else. If there is a compelling reason that they be heard on routine matters, then let their utterances be bookended by emphases on their morally repugnant stance. Under no circumstance should the morally repugnant viewpoint be alienated from the morally repugnant person who holds it because the morally repugnant viewpoint is normalised by allowing the morally repugnant person to speak of normal matters.

DAMNATIO MEMORIAE is a modern Latin phrase which usually refers to excluding or deleting someone from official accounts – from history -because typically their actions were shameful or not compatible with a country’s myths. It reflects the weakness and fear of a state; it is an official, wiping condemnation of a memory.

There is, however, an alternative meaning: memory as condemnation, purposely remembering so as to make sure that despicable people and actions are never forgotten. This wholly different meaning is an official recognition of shame and is a reflection of the strength and confidence of a state.

The difference between the two interpretations of DAMNATIO MEMORIAE suggests a way to remember officially the actions of the Provisional IRA and its supporters, while preserving the dignity of the nation and the country’s international standing.

Since the Good Friday Agreement the establishment or conventional view is that Sinn Féin should be facilitated in moving into mainstream politics. This usually involves treating them as one would any political party and making as little mention as possible of their support for and affinity with the IRA, previously the Provisional IRA.

Now, the campaign waged by the IRA was dominated by intentional attacks on – deliberate targeting of – civilians by way of gun attacks but most spectacularly by way of bombing public places. In short, the essence of their campaign was the commission of war crimes.

Sinn Féin’s project to become a mainstream political party might work if they were prepared to put the IRA behind them but they’ve created a problem: they want the Provisional IRA to be honoured in Irish history, recognised as having fought an admirable war against a colonial oppressor.

The IRA of course is not unique in committing war crimes; it may well be true that all armies have their own murky, shameful history. Colonial armies, national armies or indeed armies involved in wars commonly regarded as praiseworthy, like that against Nazi Germany, without doubt commit atrocities – war crimes – and yet are celebrated, made a part of their national story or myth. However, they tend to exhibit shame and try to ignore or cover up the crimes. Those in the UK who stand before the Cenotaph or wear their poppies know full well that there were atrocities and for the sake of commemorating heroics or what they see as honourable battle, they ignore the atrocities. It is a case of damnatio memoriae in its conventional sense; don’t mention that which was criminal and shameful.

This is not a course open to the IRA or Sinn Féin for the simple reason that their war consisted too largely of war crimes, especially public bombings. In other words, were they to brush away or “forget” the war crimes, there would be too little left that could be considered honourable. To gain acceptance as a mainstream party Sinn Féin had a choice: i) push the recent IRA war and their support for it into the past and hope that it will be largely forgotten or ii) have it accepted as an honoured part of Irish history by convincing the nation to accept war crimes as part of our identity.

Journalism – media generally – gives SF every opportunity to avoid the shameful memory. Their statements, policies, events are covered as news while studiously avoiding mention of dead and disfigured civilians and the desire to commemorate the perpetrators as Irish heroes. Irish media are committed to the normalisation of SF, making them part of the political process. However, what journalists want to normalise and what Sinn Féin wants to normalise are irreconcilable; journalists want to forget, while SF wants to honour.

There is in any event too much that is shameful and fearful in the contrived loss of memory which most of the “establishment” now favours. It is unworthy of modern Ireland which is quite capable of saying that, like other nations, we have shameful parts of our history but unlike many, we have the stability and confidence not simply to recognise truth but to memorialise it.

It is repugnant to think that a civilised, decent people would ever honour someone who would place or attempt to place a bomb in a public place, or admit into ordinary company or discourse someone who would support or attempt to dignify such an unambiguous war crime. The Irish however are heading towards that outcome: official acceptance – normalisation – of barbaric events and despicable people. The established view is that SF is to be normalised because it has shed its past. The SF view is that their past and that of the IRA is honourable and worthy of normalisation. The SF view is likely to prevail because paradoxically in the interests of peace and normalisation, there is a reluctance – bordering on censorship – to discuss what exactly is to be accepted as normal, mainstream.

There can be a different outcome but it will involve a struggle to ensure that bombing public places or supporting such attacks on civilians will never be accepted – never mind, honoured – in Ireland. It starts by establishing as mainstream not just occasional and ritual condemnation of Irish war crimes but an intention to remember, immortalise, those crimes as Ireland’s shameful exception. It is DAMNATIO MEMORIAE in the second sense, the creation of memory as condemnation. It is, yes, to Sinn Féin’s desire for official recognition of the IRA’s campaign but on the terms of a decent and civilised nation. In short, the Irish state must have commemorative events, memorial plaques, monuments to highlight Irish war crimes explicitly as war crimes, to say that like all other nations we have among us those who fall far short of the standards expected of our people and we will not forget them or quietly pretend that they never existed.

State recognition, commemoration and memorialisation of the evil done in Ireland’s name would embolden quiet, decent citizens who might become comfortable with the confrontations necessary to let it be known that they will never accept as normal someone who would do less than unreservedly condemn public bombing.

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*  “Commemorate” may not be a term that seems appropriate here as it usually suggests pride or joy. However it also suggests that an occasion is marked by observances that remind one of the origin and significance of the event. 

Irish media tend to facilitate the normalisation of SF by allowing them to talk of all manner of things while ignoring their desire to celebrate IRA bombings. Today something a little bit different happened but just a little bit because a line of questioning was abruptly abandoned. Lynn Boylan, the SF MEP, appeared with others on RTE Radio One’s Saturday with Cormac Ó hEadhra. They discussed radicalisation and ordinary people becoming participants in ISIS.* Lynn Boylan contributed to the discussion as if the IRA campaign had never happened. Then, apparently prompted by text from a listener, Cormac asked her what was the difference between an ISIS and an IRA bomb attack on civilians. Having failed to avoid the issue, she tried to imply that bombing civilians was a part of the long Irish nationalist struggle, then she settled on a controversial but not unique justification: IRA public bombings – unlike jihadi public bombings – were morally superior because they were part of a campaign against British occupation, i.e. our war crimes good, their war crimes bad.** The next question was obvious but it wasn’t asked. The tone felt was flight: the presenter and the other panellists were relieved to return to normalisation.

* It’s at c. 14.20 and the programme is available on the RTE Radio Player: https://www.rte.ie/radio/radioplayer/rteradiowebpage.html#!rii=b9_21523166_26960_09-03-2019_

** This notion of a good war crime was advanced around the time of the 2017 murder of children in Manchester. It’s challenged briefly here: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2017/07/13/isis-the-ira-and-choosing-targets/

There were two alarming pieces about decline in university standards in the The Irish Times recently.* The paper did not facilitate readers’ comments but here are some brief points that the articles ignored.

Student literacy
The decline in literacy among students is not new. I attended UCD as an adult night student in the eighties and I recall a lecturer saying to me that while he should be teaching a demanding final year elective, he was often – because he cared – working on remedial English. Now, it can seem unfair to fail a student at this level over inadequate literacy. They tend therefore to be awarded degrees. The passage of time makes it likely that today’s students have had teachers with inadequate literacy skills.

A university has no business teaching such a basic skill. In the medium term the responsibility for this teaching should be fixed firmly where it belongs. The transition from primary to secondary school involves a step into educational objectives and material that presuppose literacy. A secondary teacher of course should correct errors in written work – as many at third level have been doing for decades now. Unfortunately students progress into secondary school without it being established that they have the literacy skills for the type and level of education on offer; there is no entry requirement for secondary education.

In the short term universities should act. They must try to shed the “remedial English” workload by making high literacy a requirement for admission and testing for it.. This can be done relatively cheaply by way of a secure computer application, yielding yes/no results.

Incidentally, while these comments refer to literacy, the problem extends into numeracy, basic science and general knowledge. Indeed it can be argued that these failures make it impossible to function meaningfully as a citizen.

These thoughts are developed a little here: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/pushing-remedial-teaching-higher-and-higher-risks-making-a-laughing-stock-of-irish-education/

The function of a university

There is an old and continuing debate about the proper function of a university. It centres on the question of the degree to which education should serve industrial/employment policies. These days, however, it is a debate which obscures the reality that is crippling higher education. You see, the objective of universities was changed in relatively recent years when management in the conventional sense was dislodged. Management, whose role it is to ensure that an institution achieves its objectives, has been usurped and replaced by a different leadership which has imposed their self-serving objectives on the university. That those objectives are expressed in a seemingly business focused way makes it seem as if the objective is support for employment policies and this ensures its damaging survival. This is developed here: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/cui-bono-the-commercialisation-of-universities-is-more-complex-and-durable-than-many-critics-imagine/

The truth about poor degrees

There was a time in UCD when there were two distinct courses, one leading to a pass degree and the other to an honours degree. They had different examination papers. This ensured that among graduates with a pass degree were highly educated people who had achieved very high marks in their examinations. The abolition of the two courses meant that pass and honours were determined wholly by results percentages and later by grades. A forty percent score delivered a pass degree, while fifty was the threshold of third class honours. The meaning of a pass degree had changed. All of the holders were now performers in the 40 – 49% range; there were no longer highly educated people emerging with pass degrees.

This continued after the move from percentages to grades. Guidelines for grading reveal the standards and they go very, very roughly like this: a basic knowledge will get a degree; evidence of reading will get third class honours; evidence of more extensive reading will get a lower second class honours (a 2.2); creative use of the material – constructing an argument – brings the elusive and highly sought upper second honours (the 2.1); and a very fine creative performance merits a first.

Failure is down at so low a level that there are graduates emerging whom the university doesn’t want. A 2.1 degree is the entry requirement for most post graduate study. Even to get a second chance of further study by way of taking a qualifying examination requires an honours degree of some sort. While the higher education system places little or no value on a low level degree, the public at large may accept that because they are graduates these poor performers are highly educated. Moreover, degrees once awarded to weak students almost ad misericordiam now seem to be incentivised.

Bluntly, a person with basic knowledge, lacking extensive reading and without proven ability to research, formulate and argue is not highly educated and should not have a degree. Add illiteracy, poor numeracy, little or no basic science and very little general knowledge and they cannot be said to have had an education that warrants the term.

– – – – – – – –

* https://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/higher-education-is-being-turned-into-an-extended-form-of-secondary-school-1.3803854
and

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/student-literacy-levels-it-is-almost-as-if-they-are-word-blind-1.3803913

In every part of the world there are remains of abandoned towns – indeed, cities – whose purpose, utility, evaporated. Dotted around Ireland are the remains of tiny villages, groups of houses, which were similarly abandoned. This is to say, the decline and abandonment of human habitation is a long established phenomenon. It can certainly prompt sadness and wonder about the lives of those that lived there and of those who experienced the end and left.

These are the thoughts that can and should come to mind when considering rural decline in Ireland and particularly the closure of post offices. It can be seen as a familiar, age-old process determined by markets, technology and changes in human expectations. That is precisely the view of those advocating closures: the time has come, the criterion is commercial viability, this is natural, the way of the world.

But, this is nothing remotely like the approach taken in other situations. For the most part, the state intervenes. For good or ill, there is planning. Moreover, unlike ancient times people today don’t wander off into virgin territory and make new settlements. What we are faced with today is analogous to the choices over landscapes and the environment.

There is no wilderness in which to start again and when it comes to landscape, we are forced to choose which man-made environment and historical period is to be protected. We then go about doing so in the knowledge that it will require effort, maintenance and money. Similarly with villages, towns and societies, there can be no question of hiding behind nature, commercial viability or the market generally. Decisions have to be made about what is to be protected, preserved and that will mean – again – effort, maintenance and money.

It has become routine to select towns and regions for economic development but even if all are successful, it is hardly enough. Though liberal economics is the accepted view in Ireland and the economic argument for the closure of post offices is generally supported, it is doubtful that there is public support for closing down villages.

Closing down a village is an emotive concept which is seldom if ever faced. As shops, post offices, pubs, filling stations go, it is generally thought that something will survive; there will still be people there, perhaps in reduced numbers but there will not be an abandoned town with fallen leaves drifting and a door banging plaintively somewhere along a once happy street. This is true: Ireland is not faced with the prospect of classic ghost towns but what remains may be worse: pretend towns.

A pretend town or village appears nice to a tourist driving through but should they stop, the reality is pretty brutal. Some people clearly still live here but there is no school, no pub open, there is no post office, there is no shop, there’s nowhere to get a cup of tea. There may be no one about from whom to enquire. The people who sleep here work elsewhere, shop elsewhere, socialise elsewhere. Ah, jaysus, that newly decorated shop front across the street is a mere facade. The place has more in common with a film set than a village.

This kind of conservation has an analogue in the countryside when some will be happy with sterile green, without people, livestock, wildlife or anything that might offer more than a view.

The truth is that it is not conservation, not really. Meaningful conservation arises from a decision to keep something old and valued alive and in working order long after its commercial utility has gone. This approach is true whether it is a village, an urban area, a landscape, a locomotive, traditional breeds of farm animals, horses, poultry, game or working dogs.*

In the case of conserving a village, an uneconomic post office, pub or shop may have to be subsidised. It is not unreasonable to hope that at some stage a commercial function may reappear. For now, however, it is a question of conservation, of paying the price to keep alive something that is valued but is no longer commercially viable.

– – – – – –

* These may be of interest: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/on-wilderness-landscape-conservation-and-shooting/

https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/retriever-breeds-use-them-or-conserve-and-use-them/

Maurice McCabe wasn’t always a hero. At the start – before his saga began – he was an ordinary person behaving with an ordinary level of integrity. He became a hero by persisting when his managers, colleagues and even friends opposed basic integrity. This prompts a question that should not be avoided: What is to be done about those who are opposed to integrity?

To begin with, there is quite a difference between the relatively passive sleveens who did not support him and those who did wrong in order to damage him.

Some offenders have retired on pensions far greater than his. It is frequently argued that pensions cannot be withheld or reduced. The justification for this line of argument can be that it would be wrong to make pensions subject to a career performance review on retirement. Yes, that would be wrong but there is no question of looking at mere performance in the job. Equally there should be no question of routine pension payment when actual, conscious wrongdoing has been discovered.*

Another line is that a pension is an entitlement or is owned by the retiree and beyond the possibility of review. During the economic bust, pensions were reduced, indicating that they are not sacrosanct. However, even if they were utterly untouchable, that is not a situation that the state can allow to continue for the very simple and compelling reason that it saps the morale of the nation. Bluntly, a way must be found to prevent wrongdoers retiring with a full pension – sometimes an outrageously large pension.

The Gardaí who posted threatening and hurtful social media material directed at M.McC were active wrongdoers and should be dismissed but they seem to have been outnumbered by the sleveens who lacked the integrity explicitly to support him. Even colleagues and friends turned away. While it is very doubtful that there is any place for such people in public service, the notion that they might be promoted is deplorable; they are “the wrong stuff”. **

Ireland has history when it comes to tolerating proven lack of integrity. The banking scandals saw a handful of jailings but nothing was done about those who sat meekly at meetings and failed to utter a word of opposition to the mad nonsense. Indeed bank managers who competed with their own customers for investment loans kept their jobs. This time it’s more important and it would be a shoddy outcome if An Garda took the same course as the banks. It may be that whistle-blower legislation needs to be changed because it can have no long term effect if the sleveens remain secure. ***

______________________________________

* The RTE documentaries point to three officers and a number of lower ranked Gardai as active wrongdoers.

** In another blog I have argued that demonstrable integrity should be a formal criterion for promotion.

https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2017/10/21/in-recruitment-banking-an-garda-etc-what-is-valued-integrity-or-the-lack-of-it/

*** Here’s an expansion on the requirement to deal with the silent chancers: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/if-we-are-serious-about-whistle-blowing-we-have-to-talk-about-the-chancers-who-say-nothing/

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.

 

 

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.

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