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Here’s a tweet posted by Gemma O’Doherty in April 2020:

@gemmaod1

Psychopath, Bill Gates, whose vaccines have destroyed the lives of millions of children, is embedded in the Irish Deep State. If you consent to #LockdownIreland much longer, you won’t be allowed to leave your home without receiving a syringe of toxins. #COVID2019

Reading slowly, it becomes apparent that it is a very dense message. It’s carefully crafted to push a lot of buttons. There are two important groups who unfortunately will not give it the attention it deserves. Firstly, thinking people are likely to dismiss it out of hand as raving lunacy. Secondly, leftists wedded to the idea that fascism is the ever present threat which it is their mission to oppose will shoehorn it into that simplistic world view. It is of course raving lunacy and fascism continues to lurk in filthy corners but that should not prevent taking such messages seriously.

There is a constituency waiting for that message. They believe its parts, and the whole is familiar and credible to them. They will be encouraged that smart people oppose them and that socialists might think them nazis. Bluntly, the people at whom this message was aimed regard socialism, other thoughtful approaches, education, expertise, science etc. as establishment and they are profoundly anti-establishment.

The temptation is to view them sympathetically as the left-behind, the people whose hopes and ambitions vanished while a management, professional, university-educated elite settled into good jobs. The new elite offered to those left behind little more than a haughty explanation of a changed world to which they must submit – even though they have no future in that world. There’s a twofold problem with this approach. Not all of the left-behind are credulous anti-establishment. Moreover, many who are certainly not left behind are also credulous and anti-establishment (CAE).

If CAE is not explained by social class, there are two other approaches. One comes from psychology; it’s popular and has explanatory force. The idea is to look at what kind of personal satisfaction is gained from being CAE. A number of answers emerge but a popular one is that being CAE makes a person feel special, part of an insider group. There is little point in presenting here an overview of what psychologists have discovered about the satisfactions of being CAE as personal satisfactions reveal nothing about the social or political significance of what has become a political constituency.


A better approach might be to liberate CAE from its current manifestation, its views on present concerns, and look at it instead as a movement which has developed over years. It is difficult to decide on a starting point. There is a temptation to go back to the early days of mass democracy because democrats then were worried about franchise enlargement to include those unable or unwilling to reason and likely to fall victim to manipulators, demagogues.

 

A second temptation arrives back at the same period but relates to a quite different story. This is the temptation to find the roots of CAE in esoteric or spiritual movements which, though they claim descent from ancient times and practices, seem to blossom in the hey day of theosophy, the likes of Madam Blavatsky and, let’s call it, a romantic mysticism.

It’s possible, however, to locate a more recent starting point. Just a few decades ago the Mind, Body, Spirit (MBS) movement developed. This saw significant numbers of people turning to beliefs, theories, cures, therapies for which there was no conventional explanation or evidence. Indeed the lack of evidence seems to be the main attraction and basic line of defence. As with today’s 5-G conspiracists, their obdurate stronghold is the rejection of all conventional evidence.

Sections of bookshops were set up to present this arrant nonsense and to serve the market for it. Conventional media reported it as if it were true. Health insurers paid for bogus therapies which their medical directors knew provided no medical benefit. (They still do.) State schools opened their doors to evening courses which their management knew or should have known had no educational benefit. Educational awards bodies sacrificed their credibility to recognise bogus disciplines.


What appeared in the 90s was a body of people large enough to support a thriving market. What these people had in common was a willingness to believe in powers, systems and cures for which there is absolutely no evidence or it might have to be said in order to humour them, for which there is no conventional evidence. The list is staggeringly long but includes reflexology, reiki, homeopathy, numerology, angel therapy, magnet therapy and on it goes … A comprehensive list is not essential to the argument here.

 

The point can be summarised thus. A believer in homeopathy should have no difficulty accepting that 5-G caused the Coronavirus for two reasons. Firstly, the evidential basis for both is equally absent. Secondly, adherents of both are actively promoting lies during this pandemic.

It has to be said that not all believers subscribe to the full range of beliefs. Many a believer in, say, Reiki or the power of orgonite might reject the notion of the deep state, the Illuminati and the Lizard People along with 5-G myths but that doesn’t change the fact that they believe something for which there is no evidence or, oops, no conventional evidence. These limited believers (LB) therefore actively contribute to the acceptance or normalisation of beliefs which have no foundation.

It’s important not to exaggerate the influence of light-hearted, entertaining interests in MBS but it has to be said that it just isn’t like an interest in science fiction or dragons, which participants know perfectly well doesn’t make truth claims. Belief in forces beyond discussion, however, does nothing to promote the ordinary conversations which are basic to society. This then is the LBs’ small contribution; they’ve helped normalise a refusal to engage in ordinary debate. Bluntly, they’ve helped make it acceptable to treat seriously views for which there is no justification.

There is now worldwide, accepted in local schools, bookshops, libraries, crossing socio-economic divides from poor to rich, from little education to highly educated, from menial employment to prosperous professionals, a huge constituency waiting to be addressed. They are the CAE. To gain the support of a fraction of them would make all the difference to a political candidate, movement or party.

The existence of this constituency is not a secret. They are real people; they have votes. They are there to be addressed but not in any conventional sense, for they are not amenable to argument. Apart from the possibility of a leader who shares their beliefs, they are there to hear lies. In truth it’s not unlike a lot of political campaigning in which a charlatan identifies people’s issues and concerns, tells them they share their concerns and asks for their vote or offers to lead them. It’s simple political marketing.

The tweet at the top of this piece is an all-out play for their support by pushing a lot of buttons at once but also in Ireland there has been a softer approach, a mere signalling to them that they are not being dismissed, that at least some politicians have what the CAE call an “open mind”, that they might be prepared to do their “own research”, i.e. believe something beyond what the scientific “establishment” treats as evidence. This softly, softly approach is in evidence when SF representatives and uncharacteristically one of the leaders of the Social Democrats show themselves open to the possibility that there really is a 5-G conspiracy.

Journalism and the political establishment have belatedly woken up to the dangers of lies, conspiracy theories and mass delusions. It was recognised as a problem to be tackled firstly after the Cambridge Analytica scandal illustrated that the GAE could be mobilised and secondly, when coping with the Covid-19 pandemic was being undermined by widespread beliefs. It wasn’t simply that communication masts were vandalised and workers threatened by activists opposed to radio waves but people groomed on anti-vax, anti-government plots were prepared to believe that there is no virus, that it is all a grand plot by the “establishment” to control the “people”.

What is to be done? Assuming it is not too late, democrats must resist but democrats have not been forthright against un-reason. Journalism is at last seeing the danger, talking about fact-checking and discussing their role in support of the public sphere but they are not being entirely frank and there is no sign of change. They do not acknowledge the part they’ve played in popularising, normalising crazy beliefs and practices. Suffice it to mention Andrew Wakefield and the platform later given to those opposed to HPV vaccination. Mention too should be made of impartial reporting of nonsense or even conferring normality by way of presenting it as balance to conventional science. The covid epidemic has led RTE, the Irish state broadcaster, to say explicitly that the 5-G myth is untrue. However, there is no intention to say that of anything else – no matter how bizarre.

If journalism is not prepared to stand against unreason, that leaves just ordinary participant citizens; there’s no one else. They are thus required to question not merely in social media but in everyday life, to be prepared to ask a family member to stop pushing nonsense. Moreover, they are to be asked to speak up in this way not only when their relative, friend, neighbour or acquaintance is coming on strong with fantastic and dangerous conspiracy theories but when they talk of a recreational interest in the likes of reiki, chakras, energy channels etc. because that’s where the LB support lies. That’s a lot of – perhaps far too much – activism and courage to ask of ordinary citizens but then the context is that pompous guff despises their ordinary discussions and needs to be chased away.

We are quite used to the idea that newspaper editors bear responsibility for public discourse. With the rise and reach of social media a similar responsibility has fallen to ordinary people who never expected it – people with no background in journalism or political communication. These are people who started or took over on-line sites that they never imagined would be hot spots for political struggle. They now find they are moderators, trying to square freedom of expression with organised attempts to dominate their sites. Typically these sites are local to an area or an interest and the interest is frequently nostalgia; memory sites, old pictures etc. are sitting ducks for reasonably organised intrusion.

The pattern seems to be fairly consistent. It usually begins with what might be termed a “Michael Collins appreciation society”. These activists extol Michael Collins and use this to deride today’s political leaders often as “traitors” to “the people”. The SF and/or IRA activists arrive a short time later, at which point the Michael Collins activists go quiet. Finally, the 5-G activists arrive and they tend to encompass anti-vax and other “alternative” views. Racists are prominent too, blaming change on foreigners, refugees, etc. but they don’t appear to be acting in an organised way.

Sometimes the intrusive activists take over, rendering the admins powerless. Other times an admin sees the problem in time and takes decisive action but at the cost of considerable pressure and abuse in the form of bogus defence of freedom of expression. Occasionally, ordinary people give up and leave the site to the activists. It can then rumble on picking up small numbers of adherents from the wider web, people who would know nothing of the previous process.

It is a great deal to ask of a site admin/moderator that they resist organised activists but their position is made worse by the failure of ordinary people to support them. Yes, it’s hard to speak up and much easier to leave them to it, but this is a struggle and remaining quiet is taking sides. The intrusive activists rely on most people lacking the nerve to tackle them.

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.

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.

________________

* 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.

The editorial staff at RTE Radio’s “Today with Seán O’Rourke” on Friday 14th June 2019 chose a panel to discuss events of the week. They selected Fergus O’Dowd T.D. (FG) Mark Carthy M.E.P. (SF) Niamh Lyons (Journalist)  Sarah Carey (Communications consultant). Assuming the selection was done with deliberation, one would wonder why these people were chosen.

From a political communications perspective the best possible reason would be that this panel of people would bring diverse perspectives so as to serve citizen listeners. As it turned out, nothing unique was said by any of the panel. They could, therefore, have been replaced by any number of people with similar views.

Any SF member of a panel, however, offers the singular and utterly repugnant point of view, that war crimes (shooting and bombing civilians) committed by the IRA should be commemorated/celebrated. This, however, was not among the topics discussed and from a citizen’s perspective there was therefore no compelling reason to have a SF speaker. In other words, the decision to choose a SF speaker was not determined by a desire to present a comprehensive discussion; he could have been replaced by any number of speakers without hindering the discussion.

His inclusion, however, served to present him as ordinary, commenting on routine public discourse. This is precisely how normalisation works.*

Short of a desire to favour SF, there are other possible reasons for his inclusion. It might be that the programme editors or RTE generally do not consider support for war-crime commemoration a repugnant viewpoint. In that case normalisation is not an issue; they consider it normal. It might, however, be that despite his views, they want to be fair to him and give him airtime. The latter possibility reflects a deep-seated problem with the regulation of public service broadcasting in that it prioritises the concerns of those seeking a platform (politicians, advocates, prominent journalists) above the needs of the participative citizen. Now, this suggests the need for a quite fundamental change and addressing it is work for another day.

The question that remains is, if the SF speaker was not necessary, why was he on the panel?

______

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

 

*

Lyra McKee was a 29-year-old journalist who was shot dead during riots in Derry on April 18th. Early reports suggested that a gunman had fired on police and that Lyra was an unintended casualty. It’s nonsense of course but the IRA (of whatever stripe) and SF push the lie that there’s been a war of liberation with attacks mounted on army, police and employees of the state. There was a possibility therefore that the old perverse argument would be given an outing, that the killing of Lyra McKee was an unintended outcome of a military engagement.

Then the video of the killer in action emerged. It might have been expected that he would crouch with a rifle, take aim and unfortunately hit a bystander. Then the conditions would be present for that perverse argument. It cannot, however, even be advanced because the video record does not show a “volunteer” carefully aiming a rifle. It shows a man with a handgun shooting not at a police officer but in the vague general direction of the police. The target in this instance was not the police; it was anyone at all. In stark terms, civilians were targeted and that means it was yet another unambiguous war crime.*

 

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

* Here’s a blog on commemorating Irish war crimes as such: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2019/03/19/the-dignity-of-the-nation-requires-that-irish-war-crimes-be-commemorated-as-such/

 

 

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/

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.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, I’ve made a start …

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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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

 

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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* 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/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – – – – – – – – – – –

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

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

No one at all agrees with George Hook’s view that a victim of rape could be to some extent responsible for the crime. Well, that’s how it seems but it’s not true. Many people agree with him but right now they are silent. They are silent in the face of the powerful outrage expressed by the establishment and by thousands of ordinary decent people who have decided that there’s no room for equivocation on rape.* This would seem to be the first general lesson arising from the incident: if decency and the establishment – especially journalism – combine in outrage, then the expression of a barbaric viewpoint will be met with concerted hostility. In other words, anyone holding such a view will know that its expression will invite opprobrium.

There are two types of opposition and they can be represented by two Irish Times journalists. Firstly, there is the Fintan O’Toole view that George Hook and his associates should be boycotted. ** Secondly, there’s the Kitty Holland view that he ought to be heard and challenged.*** Both accept that his viewpoint represents a wider misogynist perspective, with FO’T adding that Newstalk Radio, George Hook’s employer, is editorially committed to serving/entertaining the audience for this kind of material. Indeed, it is argued by former Newstalk presenter, Sarah Carey, that, “When you make controversy your business model, this is inevitable.”† Unfortunately, that’s far from the truth because the number of vile statements/slurs capable of generating a reaction like this is tiny.

The second general lesson then would seem to be that there are some viewpoints which decency and the establishment find so reprehensible as to warrant exceptional action. That prompts three questions: how does a viewpoint gain this status; how many such viewpoints are there; and, is the list comprehensive?

The road to establishment opposition to rape myths is unfortunately long and tear stained. Marital rape was not illegal in Ireland until 1990. Clearly opposition developed slowly and at some point the numbers represented a breach such that what George Hook said *** appeared beyond that breach. It’s worth mentioning that this is a recent breach; GH has taken the same position many times and recently. Numbers determine in so far as to form a critical mass which delivers the power to say, “No right thinking person would say that.”

At this point the liberal has stepped on to thin ice in being asked to side with the bien pensant. I don’t intend to explore this in any depth. Suffice it to say that there is an old tension here between preventing speech that will cause harm and requiring speech that will challenge the orthodox view. 

In discussing the George Hook incident, I asked a handful of people to identify other views which would attract the same degree of opprobrium. The banishment of Kevin Myers for the expression of a view that was a curious mixture of misogyny and anti Semitism sprang to mind for almost all.†† Racism (including hostility to Travellers) or opposition to homosexuality came to mind too but there was a consensus that while these might prompt a degree of condemnation, it would be nothing like demands for dismissal or the boycott of a radio station. It was thought that there was just one other thing that would compare: child abuse generally and paedophilia particularly.

A list of viewpoints which a typical leftist or progressive would be quick to condemn did not feature. The ton of bricks which fell on George Hook would not fall on nasty comments about women (other than concerning rape) the poor, welfare recipients, politicians, public servants, immigrants etc.

It would seem that there are just these three areas which are condemned as, “No right thinking person would say that.”

Anyone familiar with my views would be surprised if I did not mention what for me was the most glaring omission but it is also a link to and informs the third general lesson.

It is necessary to plumb the depths of depravity to find worse than supporting a rape myth, anti-Semitism or child abuse but supporting and celebrating war crimes is certainly a contender. Now, the IRA for years conducted a campaign of selecting civilians as targets. Each incident was an unambiguous war crime/crime against humanity. Sinn Féin supports/celebrates these crimes while attracting a share of up to 20% of the Irish vote. Bizarrely, Fintan O’Toole listed Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin, among those whom he called upon to boycott Newstalk.**

Unlike speakers for Sinn Féin, George Hook (and indeed Kevin Myers) apologised and expressed the error of what was said but there was no way back. The third general lesson then would seem to be that there are viewpoints which decency and the establishment find so reprehensible as to be unforgivable.

So, what have we got? Well, in Ireland decent people and the establishment – especially journalism – can combine to direct a powerful hostility towards anyone expressing a barbaric viewpoint. There is then no redemption; apology, withdrawal, recantation count for nothing. However, very few barbaric viewpoints are considered so reprehensible as to warrant this treatment. There may be as few as three: support for i) rape myths, ii) anti-Semitism and iii) child abuse.

The sudden, public and entirely unexpected onslaught on George Hook and on Newstalk has given rise to suggestions that something has changed: on the one hand, that vile, dangerous nonsense will not be tolerated or on the other, that free speech is threatened. The reality is that too little has changed. The pusher of rape myths now joins a tiny number of officially recognised despicable speakers. Is it possible that the decent citizens and journalists who finally had enough of rape myth-making will pause, look about and ask, “Is there similar or worse that we’ve been ignoring for too long and that warrant the same treatment?” At the very least it might be argued that it is time for guidelines which include a reminder to journalists that there are indeed viewpoints that are so foul, dangerous or depraved that they cannot be ignored or normalised. That would permit the participative citizen to object, cause journalism to engage and the issue could be dragged out into the open, and considered as potentially despicable – the kind of thing that no decent person could say.

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* https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/editorial/no-room-for-equivocation-on-rape-1.3217200

** https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/fintan-o-toole-why-i-will-not-appear-on-newstalk-again-1.3216957

*** https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/george-hook-should-be-challenged-not-silenced-1.3219952

https://www.irishtimes.com/business/media-and-marketing/george-hook-colourfully-bombastic-persona-with-distaste-for-political-correctness-1.3222742

†† https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/kevin-myers-i-have-no-career-left-my-reputation-is-in-tatters-1.3174510

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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