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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. 

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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.

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* 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.

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* 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. ***

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* 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

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.

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* 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!

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* 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/

 

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

 

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.

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.

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/

 

Politics, deliberation, and public action dissolve under the relentless pressure for leveraging one’s self into a position of greater human capital and competitive advantage. The state remodels itself as a firm, the university as a factory, and the self as an object with a price tag.” *

The Left in Ireland is comprised of local examples of world movements and doctrines. It loves issues and campaigns. Tackling broad theory – never mind creating a plausible alternative – is not regarded as essential. That’s a fundamental error.

You see, there’s always been your man at the bar, the drunk who has the answers, the bar-stool approach to politics. You know how it goes: everyone is selfish, politicians are all crooks and/or stupid, public servants and experts are all incompetent, thoughtful citizens are sheeple and we need a revolution to put ordinary people in charge – people power!

However, something has changed because this kind of stupidity is no longer deplored. It is tolerated beyond the drunk at the bar. It has been brought out into the open, patronised and promoted. Moreover, it is the preferred weapon of the rich and powerful who see in it the possibility of undoing a century of state welfare systems and controls on markets. Unfortunately, they are aided by too many gullible leftists who bizarrely seem to think that angry stupidity could possibly be a working class trait.**

An impoverished and downright nasty understanding of what it means to be human and consequently of human rationality is now dominant and it is rarely – if ever – questioned. Because docile acceptance has political consequences, journalism bears a heavy responsibility. Journalism generally reflects dominant viewpoints, failing to question thoroughly the driving assumptions and theory behind them. Moreover, conventional news is fed by “anti-establishment” activists providing a flow of protest and outrage over discrete issues.

The term neo-liberalism can be both useful and superficial; it is scattered around – particularly by leftists – and it works fairly well to trigger emotions over an “issue”. However, any attempt to discuss it or – heaven forbid – compare it to plain liberalism prompts groans, wilful ignorance and the patronising claim that ordinary people won’t understand or are not interested. This is precisely how the left becomes conservative – campaigning, protesting, pressurising on issues while refusing to demand – no, cause – public discourse on what makes them issues.

The reason that Liberal thought survived left criticism for so long was that it delivered security, health, education, welfare and decent jobs; it reached an accommodation with capitalism and that accommodation became the establishment.*** Liberals – now often referred to as Classic Liberals – emphasised human dignity, mutual respect and fair procedures. They tended to insist that in making a decision, possible harm should be considered and avoided. They weren’t prioritising pay-offs; they were considering wider outcomes, consequences. This is what neo-liberalism seeks to destroy. It’s not just posing as anti-establishment; it really is.

Neo-liberalism then is utterly different. It looks at life as a competition, a constant struggle for scarce resources and dominance. It is built not only on a dismal view of human nature and rationality but but also on non-cooperative Game Theory. It is worth emphasising that Game Theory was developed not for ordinary citizen relationships but for working out nuclear strategies during the Cold War. The idea is that everyone is an adversary and decision-making is based on narrow, self-interested, “rational” choice.**** This approach was imported first into business and finance, and then into wider aspects of life and society. It favours competitive market solutions to all questions, undermines solidarity, fellow-feeling, goodwill, the state, welfare provisions, expertise, human decency and values – especially the values of classic liberalism – all in a drive towards radical privatisation, reducing citizens to contractors and/or customers who conduct relationships on the basis of quid pro quo. (Remember that gobshite on the bar stool.)

In Ireland today it is certainly true that many – more likely, most – citizens believe that self determination is expressed merely in consumer choice. They have been bludgeoned into this belief by a refusal of journalism and activists to contradict the dominant view. Choice has come to mean consumer choice and the citizen has been reduced to a customer of service providers. Public service – once a well understood, honourable and decent way of life – is now a matter of reacting to customers. Government departments, county councils, state bodies and industries, having abandoned citizenship, now operate to customer charters and the like, and prefer to deal with clients.

In many instances the left has gone along with all this. Their cooperation has perhaps three causes. Firstly, they may for populist reasons be unwilling to challenge orthodoxy when expressed by “ordinary workers”. Secondly, they may not see the significance of the contrast between customer and citizen. Thirdly, they may see customer relations as an improvement on some of the high-handed carry on that brought public service into disrepute. Incidentally, for whatever reasons Dublin South County Council when dominated by a strong group of Labour councillors, declined even to discuss a move from customer to citizen relationships.

When a theory becomes dominant – even orthodox – there are outcomes across the globe and Ireland is a case in point. Irish acceptance of bar-stool guff dressed up as Neo-liberalism leads necessarily to privatisation, market-based solutions to all problems and the reduction of the citizen to a mere customer living in an endless chaos of markets.

The anti-intellectual eye-rolling at the mere mention of “neo-liberal” functions not only to stifle counter theory but to prevent critique and thus cement the doctrine. Unable or unwilling to challenge at a theoretical level, the left is reduced to skirmishing over, say, particular privatisations, guaranteeing that it will win occasionally, lose frequently and not even slow the march. Perhaps the best hope the Irish left has is that critique and counter theory at an international level will win out and leftward change will seep into Ireland. That would be passive, shamefully passive.

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* https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/uses-and-abuses-neoliberalism-debate

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

*** Technology has had a crucial effect on work, employment and capitalism. https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/full-employment-in-this-century-will-be-different-as-work-befitting-educated-skilled-workers-grows-scarce/

**** If this is of interest, see: S.M. Amadae, Prisoners of Reason: Game Theory and Neo-liberal Political Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Anyone who thinks that acceptance of neo-liberal, bar-stool beliefs was accidental or that it can be combated by way of activism, should consider reading, Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains: the deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America (Scribe UK, 2017)

It’s very easy to be glib about the approach of those Irish left politicians and parties who prefer street agitation to participation in government.

Despite their relatively small size, a great deal of attention focusses on the “real left”, “socialist left” or “hard left” parties who refuse to countenance any form of support for a government which includes “right wing parties”, never mind entering into coalition government. A journalist/interviewer asking them if they are involved merely in protest rather than wishing to govern is failing to grasp the significance of what is happening. On the one hand these leftists are stating their traditional opposition to liberal parliamentary democracy – a position based in long standing theory – but on the other hand they are stating their role within the system.

Supporting and fomenting popular protest without due regard to its political content – i.e. whether or not it is right or left wing – while discrediting and distancing themselves from parliament, makes revolutionary sense. While it is certain that socialist revolutionaries still exist, it is decades since I’ve met one. I’ve tried but in recent years my discussions with, let’s call them, militant socialists have failed to discover a revolutionary.

There are many who use the word “revolution” but their use is meaningless within ordinary political discourse. When questioned about their intentions, i.e. when asked explicitly if they want to overthrow or break the existing political system and replace it, their replies are pretty consistent. They tend to be shocked, suspicious or hurt and they deny any revolutionary intent. They are essentially playing with the word. They don’t mean a revolution in the conventional sense; they don’t want to create a crisis during which they will seize power and rule for the common good.

Neither do they want to join the socialist tradition which seeks reforms through parliament.

This approach is by no means thoughtless. On the contrary it is a developing strand of leftism with old and deep roots. Historically, left revolutionaries viewed the bourgeois state as irredeemable, to be smashed and replaced by popular, local, grass-roots institutions run by workers. The revolutionaries had no time for socialists who favoured a parliamentary route of winning elections in order to govern in the interests of the masses or gradually to create socialism by reform piled on reform. The former went their way and governed huge areas of the world but fell into a rapid decline in the late 20th century especially with the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The latter went on to become part of the establishment, supplying Labour and Socialist Party governments, especially in Western Europe.

Reducing parliament to an area of struggle alongside street protest makes little sense without revolutionary intent. However, for activists who have spent so long decrying slow reform by way of parliament as mere social democracy, the abandonment of revolution and integration with the Labour/European Socialist mainstream, would probably seem a humiliation or even some kind of betrayal. They have come to, however, a solution – a workable compromise and yes, I’m afraid, it’s yet another third way – which maintains the trappings and style of revolution while becoming integral to the cargo/pressure system of politics. That system is one which has long dismissed universal objectives or political values as a basis for policy and instead operates by way of competing groups (some interest and some geographic, a polyarchy) which exert pressure on the government/political class/establishment to achieve a higher priority in state spending or delivery of infrastructure against rival groups. Leftists who have little or no time for parliament and government have found a niche: they now compete to represent workers not as the working class making universal demands but as a group confronting the establishment in pursuit of favourable treatment.

Apart from single-issue independents, it is new and fresh in Ireland to take explicit pressure group campaigning into parliament and to be seen to be confronting government rather than participating – even as loyal opposition. Should this course be successful, imitation is inevitable.

It’s a paradox really: that without revolution, revolutionary socialists have established a role within the cargo/pressure political system, a system that has the support of the overwhelming majority of Irish citizens. Stated bluntly, they are now conservatives. The task of achieving reforms aimed specifically at changing the system and at altering the structure of inequality then falls to socialists who will demand such reforms as the price extracted for governing in coalition with supporters of the system. They will be decried in and out of parliament by those who prefer that political decisions and priorities be determined by the constant struggle of competing pressure groups and they will unfavourably be compared by establishment journalists to “principled” or “real” socialists – the “hard left” – who strike revolutionary poses while dependably supporting the cargo/pressure system, campaigning like all other parties for delivery to a locale or preferment for a group. Sadly, that group seeking preferment is what they are making of the working class.