Like charity, accountability begins at home

Seldom does a day go by in Irish media without another horror story about how the state has failed yet another citizen.

Today’s offering is the Irish Times story of the two children of a 30-year-old mother in emergency accommodation, who spent the night with her corpse after she died of a drug overdose. She had spent 11 years on the housing list, waiting for a home.

This comes after recent revelations that a parliamentarian from Cork has been cashing in and claiming expenses for time spent in the Dáil when he was off working somewhere else, and ahead of a vote of no confidence in the current housing minister, Eoghan Murphy, a man who has not only failed to solve Ireland’s housing crisis, but who has exacerbated it with every ill-advised, profit driven move he has made.

In all three instances, the cry goes up for more accountability, as if it is someone else’s job; but in truth, those whose duty it is to hold our politicians to account are the voters, and they abdicated that responsibility a long time ago.

As a republic, Ireland is a failure. Despite being one of the richest countries in the world, the two parties that have ruled it since the foundation of the state cannot provide the most basic of services and protections for its citizens.

Every time these stories come out, the people cluck their tongues and call the talk shows to say how it’s a disgrace Joe, before pulling the curtain of the polling booth closed behind them and voting for exactly the people who are responsible for whatever it is that has gone to shit on that particular day.

On this very day five years ago I wrote that we all killed Johnny Corrie, the homeless man found dead in a doorway not too far form Leinster House.

Sad as it is to admit, Johnny’s death changed nothing, and more have died since. Thousands more, many of them children, have become homeless.

Back then, his death caused headlines; those that followed him to the grave are treated as mere statistics.

The outcry on social media would have been hilarious if it wasn’t so serious – pillars of society blaming politicians, but not for one second recognising their own role in putting them there, and thus their responsibility for their actions.

But it is not only there that accountability fails; we fail to hold each other to account every single day. And accountability, like charity, begins at home.

We turn a deaf ear to the anti-Traveller racism of our our friends. We ignore our co-workers when they tell us in the lunch room that “the blacks” are lazy and only here for what they can get out of us.

We cringe when a family member talks about sluts using abortion as contraception and how transgenderism is a fallacy gone too far, but we would never, ever call them out.

And when we go into those polling booths we close our hearts and open our wallets and ask who will look after our interests best, before marking the paper accordingly and betraying our fellow citizens again.

They might be ridiculed or given limited time on the airwaves, but there are radical alternatives out there, as the “Green Wave” in the local and by-elections has illustrated despite the shamefully low turnout for the latter.

But a populace shoe-horned into passivity for so long and told “nothing can be done” eventually starts to believe its captors, leaving them free to feast at the trough, year after year.

The idea that “someone” needs to do “something” about the situation needs to be turned on its head.

That someone is you.

That something is whatever you decide it to be.

It might be holding yourself and those around you to account.

It might be getting involved in politics and holding those in power to account.

But what it is not is whingeing while doing nothing.

The time for doing that has past.

 

 

 

Suffer little children, but we won’t change

Having moved a lot of my journalism about journalism from this blog to the Patreon platform, I seldom use this one any more, but I cannot think of anywhere else that is appropriate for what I am about to write, so I dusted off the admin password and here goes. 

Image courtesy of Frontex

Every now and again something happens in the world that is a perfect storm, something that encapsulates the zeitgeist better than almost anything else.

In Ireland, those moments have been many and often wonderful – Italia 90, Riverdance, the Good Friday Agreement, but in this troubled world, the latest incident is a lot darker.

Yesterday, four Irish members of the European Parliament voted against a resolution that called for greater rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, and I haven’t been this angry, for this long, in a very long time.

The four – Mairéad McGuinness, Seán Kelly, Maria Walsh and Frances Fitzgerald – are members of Ireland’s conservative Fine Gael party. A party that, coincidentally, did everything possible to delay the granting of reproductive rights to women due to the “pro-life” views of many of its members and voters.

Now, what kind of people would cold-bloodedly vote to leave men, women and children to drown?

The kind of people who have been sucked in by far-right propaganda as Fortress Europe continues its decades-long lurch to the right, that’s who.

Now, not even this collection of clowns is so callous as to simply tip the brown people overboard; no, instead, there is an intellectual justification offered.

The “European Parliament Resolution On Search And Rescue In The Mediterranean” that they voted against contained a clause that called on Frontex, the Eurpean Coastguard and Border Agency, to “significantly enhance the information available about its operational activities at sea and to make accurate and comprehensive information publicly available as regards its activities at sea, while acknowledging its legal obligation not to reveal operational information which would jeopardise attainment of the objectives of operations”.

The point of this is simple – to ensure that everyone on the water knows who to turn to in the event of an accident that sees people go overboard. If fishermen and pleasure boat crew and the rest don’t know who to call, then the people cannot be helped. It makes perfect sense for EVERY European citizen to know who Frontex are, what they do and, to a certain extent, how they do it.

Of course, the far-right have twisted this clause into a welcome mat, framing it as an open invitation to greedy migrants to take the riskiest crossing possible, something that guarantees people from all over Africa and the east a five-star rescue party, should they inconveniently find themselves in the water.

It would also ensure that human traffickers – odious criminals who charge people thousands of euros a head for these dangerous crossings and who disappear at the first sign of trouble – can continue in business, say the nay-sayers.

But, like the dinghies that criss-cross the Mediterranean, that Frontex/trafficking explanation doesn’t hold water, for a myriad of reasons.

The first is quite obvious, and yet these four geniuses could not between them muster the individual or collective brain power to consider it.

It is this – do they really believe that ANY parent would risk their child’s life, or indeed their own, on the off-chance that they might be picked up by a Frontex boat?

Do they have no inkling of how utterly ridiculous – or indeed insulting – this sounds?

The only reason you would put yourself or your child in a boat is if what’s behind you represents an even greater danger.

- Let’s head to Europe!

- Isn’t it dangerous?

- Nah, they have boats all over the place ready to pick us up!

This the magical thinking of those barely capable of thinking at all.

And the European People’s Party, and their far-right tale of racists and neo-Nazis.

Secondly, it is going to have no effect whatsoever on the reasons that these people are leaving their homes in the first place.

A Kurdish family, abandoned by the U.S. after fighting off ISIS and now forced to flee from Turkey, is not going to stop their journey simply because Frontex has called off its patrols. Nor is it going to decide to travel to begin with on the off-chance of getting picked up by one of their boats.

Nor is a gay man in Uganda who has been run out of his village, or an Eritrean conscript who has escaped from military service, or the Somali family running from Al-Shabbab. Their path is dictated by what they are fleeing from, not where they are running to.

But of course, our well-heeled parliamentarians cannot be expected to know any of this.

Hours after voting to let these people drown, Seán Kelly – a man whom I have met and had great respect for thanks to his work wiht the Gaelic Athletic Association – was tweeting a picture of his airport hamburger.

Put simply, I don’t believe that Seán or any of the rest of these idiots has ever met anyone who has taken that journey.

Because when you sit with people who have, and they tell you of the fear they felt, and of the dead friends and family they left in the water, there is no way that you could vote any other way than in their favour.

Then, of course, the excuses came.

Walsh – a politician so shallow that the only thing capable of drowning in her is the tiniest sliver of human decency she may once have possessed – tried to trot out the talking points on prime-time morning radio, but clearly had no idea what she was talking about.

She has also said that the resolution in itself is not legally binding, which makes their voting against it all the more bizarre – why vote against it, if it can be changed at a later date?

Nowhere could any of the four indicate any ideas or amendments they had put forward of their own to improve the bill or to deal with their concerns. It was a no that simply said “sorry, we have enough brown people and we don’t want any more.”

For that is what is at the heart of this.

Any politician that truly wants to end the thousands of drownings in the Mediterranean and who genuinely wants to put the people traffickers out of business would quickly realise that the only solution to both issues is swift, safe and legal passage into the EU – which would mean an end to Fortress Europe.

It would also mean an end to producing the weapons that are being used to slaughter Kurds and Yemenis and Hazara, and an end for support to regimes who murder homosexuals, intellectuals and journalists.

But that is not a price that the European People’s Party is prepared to pay – the clue is in the name. It’s about keeping Europe white, and everyone else out.

In trying to hold back the torrent of political sewerage being unleashed by the far right in recent years, the EPP has to hold its nose and adopt positions like these.

It cannot be seen to back down on immigration, regardless of the fact that the rights of those fleeing war and persecution are ostensibly guaranteed under international law. And even if it could, these are not the kind of people who care.

Many will read this and feel a genuine, yet impotent rage about these four imbeciles and their blind following of what is essential a white supremacist doctrine.

A few more will laugh at the ineptitude of Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher, a man who “definitely would have” voted in favour of the resolution, but who was so committed to the cause of refugees that he left to get his bus to Frankfurt Airport before the vote was cast. It was subsequently lost by two votes.

These idiots are only partially responsible – back in May they saw their chance for a shot on the gravy train, and they took it. Hundreds of thousands of euros a year to push a button that sends others to drown in the Mediterranean.

The real fault lies with those voters who put them there – Walsh clearly didn’t have the slightest idea what she was talking about.

McGuinness – a woman who wanted more input from religious organisations into the workings of Europe but who has singularly failed in this instance to show any sort of compassion for her fellow human beings, has said her ethics should not be questioned, but she has been sucked in to voting against something so undeniably right that her political judgement is akin to the driving skills of a drunk that finds themselves upside down in a ditch on the way home from the pub.

Frances Fitzgerald was part of a government that continued to turn the screw on the Irish working class and nothing better can be expected from her, but as previously mentioned I have met Seán Kelly and I believed him to be a good man.

For that reason, I am both dismayed and distraught at how he has acted here. Mayou Angelou wrote that when people show you who they are, you should believe them the first time; it seems I was wrong, and there is very little chance of redemption here.

My question to their voters – the ones who bitch and moan yet vote for the same people, time and time again – is this; when are you going to start owning the consequences of your democratic choices?

When are you going to own up to the fact that your invisible hand is what is putting families into hubs, and others into boats, and destroying whatever hope for the future they might have?

When are you going to start realising that your lazy X for the tried-and-failed policies of the past is what is keeping this charade going?

The truth is that most voters are as ill-informed as their representatives – they don’t know what it’s like to leave a war and put their children in a boat in the dark, just to escape what they have left behind.

And as long as it doesn’t happen to them, they don’t care.

The questions is often asked – “but what are the alternatives?”

It answers itself – the alternative is NOT voting for parties that are in the pockets of developers, that gut social services and that condemn brown people to death in the cold, dark waters off Greece.

The other parties may have no track record of leadership, but on the upside, they haven’t bankrupted the country, given away its natural resources for a handful of magic beans, or destroyed the health, housing and education systems.

This is the zeitgeist - this is where Irish politics is right now, but change is possible, if you want it; and for the perpetually lazy, the good news is that you don’t even have to get off the couch.

You can start by asking those sitting beside you who they voted for, and why. Ask your dad or your sister if they are OK with the MEP they voted for callously cutting off rescue services for anyone, never mind children fleeing war zones, and leaving them to drown.

Ask them if they are OK with the rows of tents along the canals in Dublin, or homeless people dying on the streets of Cork, or children growing up in hotel rooms in Galway.

And if they are, ask them what their limit is – is it 5000 homeless children?

10000?

20000?

Is it 1000 Allan Kurdis, toddlers washed up dead on the shores of Libya and Greece and Italy?

Is it 3000?

5000?

In a functioning democracy, the only people who should live with any mild sense of fear are the elected representatives. They should feel the weight of their office and its responsibilities, and they should fear the fury of their voters should they fail to deliver.

In Ireland, there is no sign of that fear – instead there is a contempt that allows them to vote on each other’s behalf in the national parliament, thus blithely pissing on the constitution.

€94,000 a year and they can’t even push their own buttons in the chamber. They are coining it in, and thumbing their noses at you.

This is the Ireland we have, but is it the Ireland we want?

It is.

Because if you are not prepared to do anything to change it, then your answer has to be yes.

 

 

 

Communications Breakdown

Ellen Coyne’s journalism – not bought and paid for by the SCU

I gave up being surprised by Irish politics many years ago, but I have to admit I was blindsided by the Strategic Communications Unit SNAFU, and I am equally amazed by the lack of reaction to it.

Put simply, in a functioning democracy, the streets would be awash with political blood as politicians, advisers and spin doctors either fell on their swords or were hoisted on their own petards.

But in Ireland, Leo just stops tweeting for a few days and it all goes away.

What we seem to be missing here is that the SCU tried to undermine a crucial part of a functioning democracy by “buying” good news stories about the governm from reputable media outlets ent and passing it off as objective journalism.

It is the very definition of “fake news”.

Now the point can be made that the SCU and the agencies involved were never explicitly told NOT to do this, which begs the question – what on earth led them to believe that fooling citizens into believing that they were reading objective journalism was the right course of action?

It’s a perfect storm – the media industry is on its knees but it retains a unique power to inform and influence, especially the local papers.

Al the government’s representatives hd to do was make them an offer they couldn’t refuse – a phrase made popular in a book about the Mafia.

Not content with that, everyone from the Taoiseach on down then called into question the bona fides of the journalists such as Ellen Coyne who found them out.

Some would say to apologise to them now would be a sign of weakness; in fact, the opposite is true.

The lack of apologies, in some instances by people who should know much better, is a confirmation of the megalomaniacal thirst for power that the setting-up of the SCU is indicative of.

Put simply, the SCU is the Irish equivalent of a Russian bot farm, with the added insult that you are paying for it, and it cannot and should not be allowed to continue in its current guise.

The job of government is to communicate with citizens, not to market itself to them, and the pure ignorance of this fact displayed by the SCU and the agencies acting on its behalf is a danger to democracy.

What needs to happen – but won’t as in Ireland we don’t do accountability – is that a lot of people need to resign.

If you were part of setting up the SCU, you need to resign.

If you defended it while attacking journalists doing their jobs correctly, you need to resign.

If you were an editor and you accepted the conditions foisted on you to publish their material, you need to resign.

Does this sound harsh to you? Good.

Because it is happening not just in the SCU – politicians, civil servants and people in power are running departments and services all over Ireland like their own personal fiefdoms, and it’s why nothing ever gets better.

It’s why your elderly relations are on trolleys.

It’s why people are living in tents along the canals.

It’s why vulture funds now own your home.

If you are entrusted with power in a democracy, your job is to serve the people and not yourself.

Neither Leo Varadkar nor many in his inner circle, nor indeed many of those making a living out of Irish politics and civil society, have the humility to understand this simple, yet fundamental, democratic concept.

Losing Las Vegas

In the media tent for MayMac – just a few weeks later and a few metres behind where I stand in this pic, 58 people were killed by a gunman armed to the teeth and shooing from the Mandalay Bay Hotel.

A few weeks ago we sat in that white tent in the boiling desert, there to witness one of the biggest fights of all time between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor.

On Sunday night, music fans visiting the lot-turned-concert-venue witnessed the worst mass shooting in American history.

When things happen in Las Vegas, they can be hard to ignore.

The lot across the street from the Luxor can be anything – a concert venue, a media tent, a trade show, a parking lot.

For MayMac it was the home of the media tent, a white vinyl oasis in the crushing August desert heat.

Outside, day and night, the security guards stood watch, searching our bags and ourselves with good humour, putting us through the metal detectors and making sure we checked in and out with our wristbands.

Every day for five days we made small talk – one man told us how he had come to Nevada from Chicago and had grown to love the dry desert that his grandchildren were now growing up in.

Another younger man wanted our opinions on the fight, a few dollars earned in the blazing sunshine burning a hole in his pocket on the way to the sports book across the street at the Luxor or the Mandalay Bay.

Then there was the supervisor from the midwest, her accent unchanged despite decades spent in Sin City.

The lot on South Las Vegas Boulevard, a short distance form the fabled “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign is adaptable, central and out in the open.

In other words, there is nowhere to hide – especially if someone opens fire on it from an elevated position.

From the gold-diggers to the dam-builders, Vegas has always been a rough-and-tumble town where folks go to let their hair down.

It’s big and it’s loud and it wears you out fast, but it’s hard not to love it.

It is one of those places that encapsulates everything about America, good and bad – the ambition, the drive, the will to win, overcoming adversity, the suspicion of regulation and the dream that anyone coming here can be anything they want to be if they just work hard enough.

It’s a place where people have no problem drinking a skinful and getting in their cars, careering home along the I-15.

“The most dangerous thing you can do as a motorcyclist is drive home after dark in a drinking state,” a motorcycle equipment salesman called Aaron told me in July. He has the scars to prove it.

Las Vegas is no longer the Wild West, but there are still plenty of guns about in Clark County.

I know, I’ve fired them.

I’ve fired .357 Magnums, MP4s, AR15s, pump-action shotguns, you name it.

It’s nothing unusual – all along the strip you’ll find flyers from gun ranges that will collect you and drop you off at your hotel in stretch Humvees.

In the meantime, you can fire as many rounds as you can afford from everything from a .38 special revolver all the way up to heavy, powerful weapons.

Don’t believe me? For about three grand you can fire an M60.

From a helicopter.

For the Europeans who make up a small but lucrative part of their clientele, guns can be hard to understand, especially if they have never fired one before.

For those who have, it’s makes slightly more sense – they have experienced having the power of life and death in their hands.

For that is what it is – to have a gun is to have the power to kill someone, or let them live.

It is a feeling so powerful that my friend Angus (an extremely knowledgeable gun owner and instructor) has told me of grown men crying the first time they fire one.

Apparently, it’s not uncommon.

Somehow, the Second Amendment to the Constitution has been interpreted as imparting the right to own and keep a military arsenal in a private home, with little demand for either security or training.

I spoke to Angus at great length about it, and it is no easy subject; nor is there a simple solution.

It’s hard to underestimate how much people distrust politicians in America.

Many want them to provide the bare minimum in terms of upholding law and order, and then just get out of the way.

Much has changed since the Gold Rush, but the self-sufficient mentality that fuelled that frontier spirit is still everywhere you look.

That is what makes rolling the gun laws back so difficult.

For a start, there are so many guns in circulation that it would be almost impossible to collect them all – and that’s before we get to the sense of paranoia and mistrust of the federal government that mean that many won’t give them up without a fight.

There are plenty of gun owners who are well-trained, who keep their weapons secure and who would never dream of marching down the street in combat fatigues in a show of strength to protect their privilege.

There are also and awful lot of them that have access to powerful, lethal firearms who have no idea how to handle them properly, and who lack the maturity to know when to handle them at all.

The Nevada desert is a harsh place at times, and this tragedy is unlikely to change attitudes to guns at all there.

At the root of that desire for lethal power is fear – fear of the other, fear of the unknown, fear of not being able to protect one’s loved ones or oneself.

Fear, as politicians and corporations have long been aware, is a powerful selling tool.

Whereas we see mass shootings as an obvious reason to remove as many weapons as possible from society, those who believe in the right to bear arms see it as the opposite – hence the rise in gun stocks yesterday in the wake of this tragedy.

If America can witness the deaths of children at Sandy Hook and remain unmoved, do not think for one second that the actions of the Mandalay Bay shooter will change anything.

To do that would require a long discussion about whose rights are most important, and a deconstructing of the apparatus of fear, driven by the media, politicians and vested interests, that keeps the buyers coming to gun shops in their droves.

It is a complex problem to solve, but it can be done. Airports are now bastions of security, and smoking is banned pretty much everywhere.

Once the country’s national sport, drink-driving is now frowned-upon in Ireland.

But I won’t hold my breath.

Instead, I’m waiting to pore over the list of the dead to see if any of the security guards on a few bucks an hour who were so friendly to us a few weeks ago are on it.

Because no matter what the outcome of the political or intellectual discussions around the subject are, the undeniable fact is that 58 more people are dead.

Nothing can change that now.

 

 

 

 

There was only ever one Martin McGuinness

Picture courtesy of rte.ie

In the rush to eulogise Martin McGuinness on his passing, it is fascinating to observe the discomfort as Ireland’s media outlets wrestle with how to remember a man they despised for the most part, but who ultimately brought peace to our island.

The laziest, yet most common knee-jerk reaction is to suggest that there were two Martin McGuinnesses – the post-ceasefire peacemaker and politician on one side, and the IRA leader on the other.

It is the conclusion drawn by those who still, almost 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement, cannot even begin to understand why a young man like McGuinness would become a high-ranking IRA man and wage a guerrilla war against the British for so long and in such a bloody fashion.

It says more about the writer than it does about their subject.

It says that they have never really addressed the root cause of violent republicanism – that is, the state violence perpetrated on a minority whose human rights were constantly suspended, ignored and denied.

It says that they haven’t looked into the Bogside – or, for that matter, The Diamond – and tried to understand the political forces that spilt the community in Derry and turned them against one another.

It says that what they want is a clinical, road-to-Damascus-style conversion where the savage learns to speak and thus realises his potential, becoming acceptable to polite society in the process.

Because in Ireland, that makes us feel better about how we abandoned our brothers and sisters in the North – Catholic and Protestant, unionist and Nationalist – for so long.

In Britain, it allows our neighbours to ignore their role in the disaster of their rule.

McGuinness was undoubtedly a violent man in command of a group of violent men.

His opponents on the battlefield – the streets of Derry – were equally violent, but their violence was backed by the Crown and made them all but immune from prosecution or consequence.

When both sides had enough, much was made of the conversion of the “men of violence”, a term exclusively employed to describe the IRA, the INLA, the LVF, the UVF and other armed groups.

Little or nothing was said about the complicity of the state forces of the United Kingdom (and to a lesser extent the Republic of Ireland), and their role in the tragedy of those decades.

In our islands we wish to consign the Troubles to history, blithely ignoring that we continue to visit injustices – sometimes violently – on sections of our populations.

Whether it be the economic violence of austerity or the physical violence of state brutality, we still divide into “us” and “them”.

The reason we try to make this distinction is that we cannot countenance the fact that the “men of violence” were exactly like us – mostly fathers, brothers and sons, but also mothers, sisters and daughters who reached a point where they believed that peaceful protest was no longer effective.

We abhor their actions, but then we turn on the news to hear of a wedding bombed in Afghanistan and we feel nothing.

Beware the commentary that would simplify and attempt to remove Martin McGuinness from his context, and that would somehow suggest that he had a monopoly on violence, or that the violence of the state is automatically justified and justifiable.

There was never two Martin McGuinnesses – he was both a violent man and a skilled political operator.

So too was Nelson Mandela, another man once considered a terrorist only to be all but absolved of his sins in peace and, ultimately, in death.

Eventually the time came when both of them realised that the ballot box was indeed more useful than the Armalite.

But it is probably fair to say that, if either of them were ever again faced with the same level of cruelty or injustice being visited on their people, they would not have hesitated for one second to take up their arms again.

Nelson Mandela didn’t change.

Martin McGuinness didn’t change.

We did.

Why no-one really cares about Sweden

“Split on criminality and immigrants” – yesterday’s Expressen newspaper talking about what no-one is supposedly allowed to talk about in Sweden.

It’s not about Donald Trump.

It’s not about being the “rape capital of the world”

It’s not about riots in Rinkeby.

No-one cares about Sweden.

No-one cares about facts or statistics.

All they care about is winning the ideological battle over whether or not immigration – particularly Muslim immigration – is a bad thing or not.

I’m not going to bother regurgitating the statistics about why everyone from Donald Trump to Nigel Farage is clearly and empirically wrong about Sweden.

That has been done elsewhere, by the Swedish government among others.

I’m just going to share a few things that I have experienced.

Firstly – you might think so, but this is not new.

For almost three decades the Swedish far right – alleged nationalists and patriots – have in fact been telling anyone who would listen around the world that their country is a shithole.

It’s not a coincidence, or a mistake.

The same pattern has been seen in Norway and Denmark, and ultimately led to Anders Behring Breivik’s murderous rampage – a development brilliantly described by  Norwegian social anthropologist Sindre Bångstad in his book “Anders Breivik And The Rise of Islamophobia”.

This narrative didn’t just appear with Trump’s remarks – it’s been a trope of the far right for years.

Secondly, despite the protests of the far-right pearl-clutchers like spoof “Swedish national security expert” Nils Bildt on Fox News, you CAN talk about immigration, integration, criminality and the related issues.

In fact, for the last ten years or more, as the Sweden Democrats – the party who rose form the ashes of the neo-Nazi movement in 1989 – were given more and more of a platform, people have spoken of little else.

(According to various reports, Mr Bildt left Sweden in 1994 and was reportedly convicted of assaulting a law enforcement officer and public drunkenness by a Virginia court 20 years later and sentenced to a year in prison. A man of the same name was also sued by a credit card company for over $20,000 around the same time, suggesting that Mr Bildt is the same kind of violent criminal deadbeat immigrant he claims is a problem for Western societies).

The front page of yesterday’s Expressen newspaper, one of the country’s biggest tabloids, again featured immigration and integration all over its front page.

In short, that assertion is, like so much else in the debate, rubbish.

And it’s not just the right either - Conservative parties have lurched that direction, but even the supposedly centre-left Social Democrats in both Sweden and Denmark have lurched quickly and clumsily after them.

Thirdly, there are enormous problems in Sweden.

A young man was shot dead at the top of my street last autumn, and a teenage boy suffered a similar fate outside the school where my wife works. His brother was also seriously injured.

A grenade killed a young kid in Malmö, and a photographer was badly beaten in Rinkeby last Monday.

But in almost 18 years here I have never felt unsafe in Sweden – not in Malmö, not at the boxing club in Gothenburg, and certainly not in Stockholm, even during the famous riots in 2013.

Young people from the Stockholm suburbs I live in have problems finishing school and getting jobs. There is violence, there is crime, there are drugs.

This is a European city, with all the attendant social problems that entail.

But the far right – and indeed the Telegraph, the Irish Independent, the Spectator and other people who should know better, will tell you that this is simply because these people are immigrants.

They will tell you to ignore the prevalent socio-economic situations that have applied to first and second-generation immigrants that go back centuries – their place on the bottom rung of society’s ladder, their skills ignored and instead re-classed as cheap labour.

They will not refer to the social experiments that have seen health centres privatised and suburban centres gutted, or that schools allowed to make a profit hoover up kids whose parents hope for a better future for them, and then just warehouse them as state schools are forced to close due to lack of numbers.

They will not tell you about police targets that encourage the convicting of as many young offenders as possible, marking them for life for teenage misdemeanours and effectively shutting them out of the job market, leaving them no choice but to return to a life of crime.

They will not tell you about the dozens of fires at planned asylum centres over the last two years.

Instead they will make it all about race and immigration – and race is only relevant in criminology if you happen to be racist.

The only time race is a factor is when gunmen and murderers like Peter Mangs and “The Laser Man” John Ausonious chose their victims based on the colour of their skin, or when racists decide to set fire to a refugee centre.

After all, Niklas Lindgren, the “Haga Man” – one of Sweden’s most notorious serial rapists – did not commit his crimes because of his Swedish ethnicity.

He did it because he is a rapist.

Make no mistake – no-one cares about Sweden, and soon the international focus will shift back to the wall with Mexico, or expansionism in Ukraine, or whatever.

But no-one cares about facts.

All they care about is winning the ideological battle that says that a comprehensive and welcoming welfare state is in fact a disaster, and that Muslims are evil people intent on destroying Western civilisation.

It is, of course, nonsense.

But to racists, it is very important to be able to define and discuss things in terms of race – and, preferably, in terms of race only.

In allowing the debate to be framed in these terms and by “hearing them out”, mass media are doing exactly what is outlined in Bångstad’s book about Breivik.

(Ironically, the same day as the Sweden Democrats had an op-ed supporting Trump’s remarks published in the Wall Street Journal, one of their MPs was charged with embezzlement – SD parliamentarians are apparently twice as likely to have a criminal record as the average Swede).

They are allowing these ludicrous ideas – such as the idea that Sweden is anything other than an enormously advanced, rich and successful country that at the same time suffers the same social problems as virtually every modern European nation – to gain traction, uncriticised and unopposed.

And if Sweden can be painted in these terms, what hope do places like France and the UK have?

If what has happened in Norway, Denmark and now Sweden is anything to go by, there is no happy ending in sight. These ideas are not going to go away.

Call it fake news, call it propaganda, call it what you like – the ideological battle is currently being won by the far right pretty much everywhere you look.

This is happening, and it’s not going to get better until it gets a whole lot worse, as evidenced with the rise of far-right politics and leaders in the likes of Russia, Poland, Hungary and the United States of America.

 

Why I won’t be watching Claire Byrne Live

So apparently Clair Byrne Live is to be the latest to provide a platform to the self-proclaimed “alt-right”, presumably as some part of a “freedom of speech” segment designed to provoke a reaction, while blithely ignoring the consequences for Irish society.

I won’t be watching.

I won’t be watching because we have already had a real live discussion about their supremacist values, and found them wanting.

The first part of it ended in 1945, with millions dead – killed because of their ethnicity, their sexual preferences, their religion.

Their “values” lived on in the form of apartheid and segregation, until they too were gradually and thankfully consigned to the scrapbooks of history.

I won’t be watching because human dignity and equality are not a matters for discussion – they are enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

I won’t be watching because I don’t want to be part of the fact-free masturbatory fantasies about Muslim rape waves of white, male, emotionally stunted keyboard warriors.

I won’t be watching because I don’t believe that people fleeing from war and persecution should be painted as a threat.

I won’t be watching because I refuse to legitimise the language of their hatred.

I won’t be watching because I believe journalism is best served not by dragging these hateful cretins into the light, but by leaving them in the shadows where they have festered for so long, only to bloom when the lights of publicity were recently turned upon them.

I wont’ be watching for the same reasons I wouldn’t watch ISIS justify their murderous “caliphate” on the show, or Gary Glitter justify having sex with children.

I won’t be watching, because this “debate” about human dignity is already over, and they lost – and I am not prepared to offer the Nazis a chance to come in from the cold.

The real danger of normalising racism

Peter Mangs, who shot and killed people in southern Sweden based on their ehtnicity

I’m not quite sure every bleating quasi-liberal, from ministers to newspaper editors, has realised it yet, so I better take the time to point it out again – normalising racism and making hate acceptable has actual real-life consequences, not just for the discourse, but also for society itself.

I realised this recently when I said on Marian Finucane’s radio show that society as a whole was pretty much agreed on what constituted hate speech, and social protection minister Leo Varadkar disagreed with me.

I never got the chance to explain it then, but what I meant by that was that society has set the boundaries through its laws against incitement to hatred, as well as in Article 1 of the UN Convention of Human Rights:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

As for what Minister Varadkar meant, you’ll have to ask him – but he did mention “shutting down the debate”, which in this instance is what people say when what they really mean is “I want to be able to present my ideas unopposed, and have everyone agree with them.”

(For now I’m not even going to bother with the car-crash that is the Irish Times’ latest fuck-up in the rush to embrace the far right, and its pathetic explanation – let us just say it is indicative of the genre.)

Over the last 15 or so years I have seen the normalisation of racism and hate speech in the media lead to the rapid rise of the far right in Scandinavia, in the UK and in America, to the extent that they have recent government experience in many countries, and they have also moved the goalposts for the more “liberal” parties.

Ireland is behind the curve in that regard – or perhaps ahead of it, given that right-wing populism has been the order of the day since the foundation of the state – but it is more than capable of accommodating an upsurge similar to the one that happened in Scandinavia.

Despite its reputation for social democracy and equality, some in the Nordic region have always had a penchant for white supremacy, and it’s something that raises its Aryan head from time to time.

It is when it moves out of the shadows and into the mainstream that violence becomes acceptable, and in many cases inevitable.

Take the early nineties in Sweden when “New Democracy”, a hotch-potch of neo-Nazis, racists, Islamophobes and a man famed for churning out Eurovision stars, came into being.

Their rise, and the utilisation of their rhetoric, coincided with the advent of “The Laser Man”, a racist who targeted non-Aryan looking people and shot eleven people, killing one and paralysing my friend’s father.

As the century turned and Sweden gradually forgot the horror of the Laser Man, once again it was time to “hear them out”, and racists were again provided with a platform.

The rise in the polls of the Sweden Democrats coincided with the appearance of another racist murderer, this time in the form of Peter Mangs, who was eventually convicted of two murders and four attempted murders.

This is to say nothing of the wave of arson attacks against buildings that were ear-marked as housing for refugees in 2015, at a time when the anti-foreigner rhetoric being “heard out” from the far-right was at a peak.

What happens is that when we allow the racists airtime and column inches, when we “hear them out” and let them tell us about their “legitimate concerns”, we are allowing them to set the boundaries.

Regardless of whether we are editors, journalists or media consumers, we allow them to discuss things in terms of race, ethnicity and religion, and in those terms only – that African men are rapists, or that Muslims are potential terrorists who want to destroy “our values”, and the birth rate of feckless immigrants will mean that Europeans will soon be a minority in their own continent.

Once we go head first down that rabbit hole, there is no backing out, because these people are immune to facts – they just jump to the next trope, the next meme, the next fact-free accusation let loose on the airwaves.

Here’s one from personal experience – Sweden’s “55 no-go zones”.

This far-right racist trope arises from an op-ed piece written for the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, in which it was claimed that there were 55 lawless areas into which police essentially could not go.

Frankly, that claim is bollocks, as illustrated in this short (Swedish-language) video I made as a rebuttal – and if Svenska Dagbladet’s writer had bothered his arse to go to any of these areas, he would have seen the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong – there has been a spate of shootings, some fatal and many of them in the five suburbs where I live and circulate, and a young man was shot dead at the top of my street last year – but pretty much every one of them has to do with crime, rather than ethnicity.

Despite all this, the researchers at the Economist rank Stockholm as the fourth-safest city in the world – and the safest in Europe.

When I mentioned this to an Irish debater, and the fact that I had visited many of the areas listed among the 55 “no-go” areas without problem, he sent me a link … to a double murder carried out by a failed asylum seeker at IKEA in Västerås.

Now I’m not sure if his point was that IKEA is a now no-gone zone, but it illustrates the tactics perfectly – make an accusation, and when it is disproved, abandon it and make another, until you have a discussion based only on race, ethnicity or religion.

This is how racism is normalised.

This is what Clare Byrne Live and the Late Late Show are promoting and encouraging when they invite Ian O’Doherty or that vile Hopkins woman on and give them a platform to spew their bile.

Put simply, editors and producers are gatekeepers, and it is their editorial responsibility to ensure that anyone given a platform uses it responsibly – not to spew lies and hate and then change the subject when called out.

The neo-Nazi “alt-right” grew out of the dark reaches of the Internet, but it only became a political force when it was given a platform by the mainstream media to spread its ideas, its jargon and ultimately its hatred.

It should have been left in those dark corners of the Internet, along with the 9/11 conspiracy theorists, the Grassy Knoll brigade and the chemtrails enthusiasts.

Because as soon as you start to give these ideas and this rhetoric legitimacy, be that on the public service airwaves or in the paper of record, you are letting the genie of racism out of the bottle and giving him a seat at the table.

And experience shows that it is never those who do the letting-out that pay the price.

Forget “fake news”, fake debate is killing Irish discourse

Let’s get straight to the point here.

Last night’s “Claire Byrne Live” on RTE was a journalistic fiasco, a car crash of pub opinions presented as public service broadcasting.

And my suspicion is that it was no accident.

It was proceeded by a film called “The Crossing”, which highlighted the work being done by the Irish Navy in the Mediterranean, where they have been rescuing migrants by the boatload.

Indeed, some of those featured in the film were trotted out in a sort of mawkish public thank-you parade that seemed entirely out of place.

Some journeyman politician was then provided to give Official Ireland’s take, and actor Liam Cunningham, who has spent time in Syria, was also included.

To provide “balance”, the panel was completed by Ian O’Doherty, who has done … what, exactly, other than be sanctioned for racism by the Press Ombudsman when writing about Roma?

This is Irish journalism in the 21st century, where balance is giving equal weight to both sides, regardless of how inept, ill-informed or under-represented they are.

Given the opportunity on the national broadcaster, O’Doherty proceeded to march through the Breitbart checklist of racist tropes, ending up at one of his greatest hits – fundamentalist Islam.

Now I’m not sure if the refreshments were removed in the Green Room before the film was screened, but it seems that Ian missed the fact that many of those fleeing across the Med are from Eritrea – a country fairly evenly split between Christians and Muslims and from which people flee because of the dictatorship of Isaias Afewerki, rather than any religious conviction.

He moved from something which in this case was to do with sub-Saharan Africa and the failed state of Libya, and shifted it back to ISIS, without any explanation or nuance whatsoever.

Facts are, of course, useless to Ian, and he continued on through the tropes at a breakneck pace.

Rape.

Cologne.

Sweden.

And so on and so on, deep down into the rabbit hole of racism and self-importance currently jammed to bursting point by conservative columnists shrieking for some air time.

At no point did Byrne make any effort to challenge any of the erroneous assertions made by O’Doherty.

From a public service broadcaster, this is the very definition of unacceptable.

It is unacceptable to present people on a panel if all they have to offer is bar-stool opinions, rather than expertise, lived experience or at least some sort of insight into the subject matter  - say what one likes about Cunningham, but at least he put his boots on the ground in Syria.

Being the Village Racist (a man so incapable of discussing things in a civilised manner that Twitter suspended him recently) or the talking head at the top of the researcher’s telephone list should not be enough.

(Added to that was the sputtering representative of the newly-formed and avowedly racist National Party, who thankfully could barely formulate a sentence before foaming at the mouth and losing the plot, allowing the host to move on).

It is unacceptable not to challenge serious assertions that are racist in nature and that denigrate entire swathes of people, and to instead blithely allow them to be presented as fact or (at best) informed opinion.

It is unacceptable for RTE and Claire Byrne Live not to take their responsibilities, both in general journalism and public service broadcasting, seriously.

In short, it is not enough for an interviewer or moderator to know the questions – they must also know the plausible answers, and be able to distinguish when they are being manipulated or lied to.

The reason tropes like the ones espoused by O’Doherty are given credence is because they are allowed to go unchallenged; if a lie is repeated often enough, it becomes true for those who wish it to be so.

Those who pay attention to such things will have noticed the shift lately towards Breitbartian rhetoric – “virtue signalling”, “SJW” and the constant, all-encompassing Islamophobia.

The far right are coming out in Ireland, and in doing so they are revealing that they have been in plain sight all along.

And as with everything else it is important that “debates” probe and test arguments properly, instead of being the equivalent of putting two cats in a sack and letting them fight it out.

Fake news is a huge threat in terms of democracy, but the onus lies very much with the reader, viewer or listener to discern what is true and what is not.

Fake debates are a different matter, and giving extremists the platform to air their ill-informed views on vulnerable groups, from immigrants to those on social welfare, without them being robustly challenged is a failure of public service.

Remarks to Social Democrats convention in Dublin

Speaking at the Social Democrats National Convention in Dublin. (Source: @SocDems’ Twitter account)

For the most part I stay out of party politics, but I was honoured to be invited to speak about my experience of 17 years of living, working and travelling in social democratic countries in Scandinavia by Ireland’s Social Democrats, who held their first national congress in Dublin last weekend.

The night before I sat in a hotel room not really knowing what to expect.

Sweden and Scandinavia are often held up as paragons of virtue, and Ireland is often pilloried as being backward, but the truth of both is somewhere in between, and that was something I tried to address in these remarks.

They were not delivered verbatim as written here, mostly because I left my glasses on the table, and indeed one of the most important statements was left out.

That is, that Ireland should learn from not just the successes of social democracy, but perhaps even more so from its failures, and in that way chart its own course to a fairer future for all who live there.

I thank the Social Democrats for inviting me to speak and for giving me the chance to be part of a democratic process that those of us who have emigrated are normally and unapologetically shut out from.

REMARKS TO SOCIAL DEMOCRATS CONVENTION IN DUBLIN, NOV 19 2017

I live in Sweden.

I live in a country where I was welcomed with open arms in 1999 and treated fairly and with humanity, despite having nothing to invest and not being the most attractive person on the labour market until a few years after I arrived.

I live in a country that taught me its language and completed my education at its own expense.

I live in a country which believed in me, and I have repaid that country’s faith by paying my taxes ever since.

I live in a country that fixed my broken arm after playing football on a Saturday evening, and still had me home in time to see Match of the Day

I live in a country that saw people fleeing from war and who were in need, and that took them in and gave them food and shelter – 163,000 of them in one calendar year.

I live in a country where the chairperson of the sports journalists association I am a member of is a woman, and there are many more of them beside me in the press box.

I live in a country where full-time childcare for two children cost me around €220 a month.

I live in a country where I do not worry about my in-laws ageing, or being self-employed and getting sick.

I live in a country with a comprehensive public transport system that runs on time.

I live in a county where I do not worry for the future of my children, and where our hall door in an urban area is unlocked most of the time.

I live in a country where third-level education is free and students can get both grants and loans to help them complete it.

I live in a country where the beer is expensive and tastes horrible, where you can’t get smoked cod and chips and where they have never even heard of a spice bag.

I live in a country which has a terrible shortage of housing as it adopts free-market solutions to the problems of the state.

I live in a country – one of only a handful in the developed world – where it is legal and possible for a private enterprise to make a profit from running a school.

I live in a country that sells weapons to despotic regimes, and that is home to companies who manufacture technologies for those weapons, as well as technologies to prevent refugees from reaching Europe.

I live in a country that has subtly racist structures that builds glass walls around areas such as the one where I live, and that prevent some of my friends and neighbours from advancing and achieving their true potential.

I live in a country that is by no means perfect.

I live in a country that is built on generations of social democratic values, in which everyone is equal, and everyone is taken care of, regardless of the thickness of their wallet or where they went to school

I live in a country that I have lived in for 17 years, but I am not a citizen of that country.

I live in a country that is not my country.

But I long for the day when this country – my country – learns from my current home.

I want this country – my country – to treat my father, my mother, my brothers, my sister, and all my fellow citizens with the dignity and the care that all of us deserve.

I want this country – my country – to recognise the strength that comes from togetherness, from meeting the challenges of life head on, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, and not as individuals all just out for ourselves.

I want this country – my country – to be led by leaders whose first loyalty is to my fellow citizens, and not to themselves or the markets or the shareholders or the lobby groups.

I want this country – my country – to learn from the successes and perhaps even more so from the failures of social democracy.

 

I want this country – my country – to be worthy of my fellow citizens, and to recognise the truth in one of the oldest proverbs of our native language.

 

“Ní neart go chur le chéile” – there is no strength without unity.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.