On spokespeople, attacking integrity and the eighth amendment

Sometimes 140 characters is not enough, so what follows in a bit of background to a story playing out on my Twitter feed.

I was in Dublin last week working on a number of stories, among them one for Swedish radio on the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment to the Irish constitution, which effectively bans abortion in virtually all circumstances.

In my attempt to create a rounded, balanced report I contacted a number of organisations and private individuals to ask them to comment. There was a window of four and a half days in which I could schedule interviews.

Those in favour of repealing the eighth were quick to respond, and all those interviews were done on Thursday afternoon last.

From the anti-abortion side there were several people who were very generous in trying to help me set things up, but unfortunately, apart from an interview with journalists and author John Waters, I came away empty-handed.

Over the course of several e-mails, the tone of which was both respectful and nuanced, John had initially politely declined my request for him to speak on the record, instead informing me of a conference in Tralee where the delegates would include many who opposed the repealing of the eighth amendment.

I drove to Tralee on Saturday morning and asked the organisers if they could provide someone who would speak to me.

Their suggestion was John Waters.

John generously attempted to procure other interviewees for me during lunch, but was unsuccessful and ended up doing the interview himself.

Before he did so, he said to me: “You appear to have upset a lot of people in there,” meaning the dining room where the group was eating.

What followed was a very respectful and insightful 20-minute conversation where he outlined the current state of play in Ireland and his views on the situation, and though I was disappointed to have only collected one voice on such a long trip, I consoled myself on the way back to Dublin with the fact that he had been comprehensive in his remarks.

In the interests of the balance both sides seem to crave in this debate, I continued looking for further interview subjects, via Twitter, phone calls and e-mails.

I returned to Stockholm yesterday, and I would still like to talk to anti-abortion activists for the piece, which will be edited later this week.

This morning I find myself being sent two- and three-year old tweets, the implication being that people wouldn’t want to talk to me due to my personal (note: not private) opinions on the eighth amendment, and some of my comments on those involved in the debate around it.

In many of them, there are a few fundamental understandings about what journalism is, and indeed what it is not.

Firstly, reporting has nothing to do with one’s personal opinions. It is akin to a doctor treating a family member, or a lawyer defending a murderer he knows is guilty.

Perceived vested interests are put aside, and it is surprisingly easy to do so.

That some have great difficulty accepting that says more about the standard of journalism in Ireland than perhaps anything else.

I have interviewed politicians, union officials, criminals, doped sports people, neo-Nazis, Islamic extremists and everyone in between.

In all instances, my own personal opinions are left at the door. It doesn’t matter how many Facebook posts or Tweets I’ve made on any given issue, the process is always the same.

Do the research, ask the questions, publish the results.

In particular when reporting for a non-Irish audience on an Irish story, the aim is to present the information to them – this is why the story is of relevance now, this side wants the amendment repealed, this side wants it kept – in a way that they will understand, giving history and context, and let them make up their own minds.

I have never once been accused by anyone I have interviewed of misquoting them, or misrepresenting their views in any way.

In any case, this issue – that of my personal opinions contaminating my ability to report – was only been raised after I left Ireland yesterday.

It is true that I have said nasty things about public figures, and I apologise profusely to anyone that has been offended by that.

But as noted above, there is a fundamental difference between attacking a person’s public persona, the opinions they hold and the tactics they use to get their point across, and attacking them personally.

However much I disagree with them, their views are for the most part honestly held, but that doesn’t preclude anyone from questioning the veracity of public statements made or research offered in support of them, or the tactics employed in advancing their cause.

In Ireland these distinctions are seldom made – I know of one person who no longer speaks to me because I criticised a glib point about boxing made by his wife on a TV show, which he took very personally. He called me up to tell me.

In contrast, I recently engaged in a very heated debate with a friend and colleague here in Sweden about how a certain story was presented by him in his newspaper; at no time did it get personal, and both of us learned something from it.

And this is the nub of the issue.

Some have reacted to my attempts to secure spokespeople by searching for tweets and trying to undermine my credibility before I even sit down to edit the report.

Though not an attack on me personally (and believe me, when you write abbout immigration, abortion or LGBT rights, you get plenty of them, some of them threatening, most of them anonymous), it is a direct attack on my professional reputation.

Thankfully it is the first time this has happened, but I fear that it might say more about the climate around the debate on the eighth amendment than many of us would care to admit.

The point is that none of us – journalists, editors, campaigners, voters – will ever get anywhere if we only talk to people we agree with. Social media is enough of an echo chamber already.

And nor, I hasten to add, will we get very far by attacking them personally.

I don’t know if it’s even possible to have a civilised debate about abortion in Ireland any more.

Recent evidence would suggest that it isn’t.

But either way a debate will be had, and it is up to everyone participating in it to try to keep it as open and respectful as possible.

Hej media, kom inte hit nån mer

Hej alla ledarsidor som tror att ni är blåa, men har blivit lite sådär bruna i kanten senaste tiden!

Det räcker nu.

Vi i förorterna har haft nog.

Det är inte så att ni inte får skriva eller rapportera om förorterna.

Vi som bor här ser gärna att mer skrivs och rapporteras om dem.

Men helst av folk från förorterna – du vet, de som faktiskt vet vad de pratar om.

De som lever här och vistas här och pratar med folk varje dag.

De som har nätverk och känner folket och luktarna och nyanserna.

Eller åtminstone folk som någon gång har satt sin fot i en förort.

Någon gång.

Men att låta fokl idiotförklara sig och skriva bajs om att det ska vara utgångsförbud i Husby och Tensta efter 2100, eller kräva snabbare domstolsprocesser för ungdomar i orterna från folk som aldrig har varit här, och som aldrig skulle kunna tänka sig ens prata med någon här?

Tyvärr.

Nej tack.

Det duger inte.

Det här vet ni förstås, men ni vill inte göra något åt det.

Det är åt det här hållet den bruna vinden blåser, och ni hänger gärna med – antingen genom att upplåta era debattsidor till folk som vill “ta debatten” eller genom er tystnad.

Men det finns ju för många klick att skörda, för många ögonglober att locka.

Att det görs på bekostnad av de i förorterna – de som ni ser till att de aldrig får komma till tals – skiter ni i.

Och det är helt OK.

Vi förstår det.

Det är ni som har kontrollen över tidningarna och radio- och TV-program, och vår roll i det hela är att acceptera det.

I bästa fall kanske kallas vi för att försvara våra orter – men aldrig, aldrig någonsin får vi komma till tals först.

Vill ni fortsätta så?

Varsågoda.

Men i så fall kom aldrig hit någon mer.

Och sluta erbjuda pisssummor för reportage som journalister härifrån gör, som om de borde vara tacksamma från smulorna från ert publicistiska bord.

Sluta gärna rapportera från TV-Huset eller Radiohuset, eller Gjörwellsgatan eller Kungsholmen om det som händer här, som om det vore Baghdad eller Mogadishu när det är en del av Sverige.

Skicka inte ens hit folk, för det räcker inte med att vara här en kvart eller en halvtimme för att förstå vad som händer, och varför.

Och framförallt – sluta låta de som vill göra en politisk eller journalistisk karriär genom att trampa ned och klättra över samhällets svaga.

Vi förstår att ni inte vill ha med oss, vi förstår att ni inte vill hjälpa oss.

Men i så fall krävs det att ni inte skadar oss genom att berätta samma jävla trötta osanna historia gång på gång på gång, utan att ens fucking kolla med oss först.

Det räcker nu.

Dags att visa våldsamma supportrar OCH tomma tyckarna det röda kortet

När man avhumaniserar fotbollssupportrar kan precis vad som helst händer.

I 27 år har en skara fotbollssupportrar fått leva med stämpeln av att vara medskyldiga i det som orsakade 96 dödsfall bland de sina.

Enligt tidningen The Sun hade de inte bara varit fulla och våldsamma, de hade rånat och till och med pissat på de döda.

I veckan fick supportrarna till Liverpool Football Club upprättelse efter 27 år.

Det var inte deras fel.

De hade inte gjort någonting.

Det var faktiskt ordningsmakten i form av polisen som hade skapat situationen där 96 fotbollssupportrar fick sätta livet till.

Därför att de inte ansågs som mänskliga utan som en pöbel, ett pack, ett slödder som skulle omgärdas och drivas som boskap.

Ändå in i döden.

I Storbrittanien, inte minst inom poliskåren och media, har man lärt sig en läxa.

Emellanåt kastas det en banger på en fotbollsmatch i Sverige och man blir nästan söndertrampad i rusningen för att bevisa att vi inte har lärt oss någonting.

EN individ agerar, men hela fotbollen ställs till svars.

Det kulminerar i det här utbrottet av fullständig idioti i Expressen idag och nu får det vara nog.

Nu är det dags för de som inte vet något om vare sig fotboll eller rättssystemet att hålla käften.

“Fotbollen” har inget ansvar för att någon kastar en banger.

Den ende som har ett ansvar i den situationen är kastaren själv.

Inte hellre är det upp till övriga supportrar på läktaren att ingripa eller säga att de inte håller med, lika lite som samhället förväntar sig att man ska ingripa när någon rånar en bank med en AK47.

Inte hellre har den som inte tar avstånd något som helst ansvar.

Att tiga är inte att ta ställning, att på något sätt ger ett tyst stöd till våldsverkarna.

Att tiga är att tiga. Punkt.

Så länge de inte uppmuntra våldsverkarna har inte fotbollsklubbar något som helst ansvar för vad som händer på stan när de spelar matcher, lika lite som Bruce Dickinson bär ett ansvar om jag slår någon på käften utanför Pub Anchor efter att ha sett Iron Maiden spela på Friends.

Och lika lite som Bruce ska ha polisnotan för min käftsmäll så ska inte folbollsklubbar behöva betala för att ordningsmakten ska hålla just ordningen, även under stora evenemang.

Hos den överväldigande majoritet av fotbollssupportrar finns det ingen acceptans av vare sig läktarvåld eller inkastade föremål.

Det är ytterst, ytterst få som håller på med dumheter på läktaren men ändå krävs det att kollektivet ska ta ansvar och bestraffas om och när något händer – ett krav som till och med ställs av kunniga sportjournalister som borde veta bättre.

Problemet med fotbollsvåld (och våld i allmänhet) är, spaltmetrarna av tomma tyckandet till trots, att det inte finns några enkla lösningar.

Det är en komplex fråga som handlar inte minst om mansnormer, missbruk och självbilden hos våldsbenägna unga män.

Det är inte något som som går att fixa med en banderoll, eller en manifestation.

Eller en patetisk fucking krönika i Expressen.

Intresant nog så har jag träffat genom åren väldigt många unga män som är dragna till huliganism och läktarkultur men som är som mest ytligt intresserad av det som händer på plan – och som är ofta till och med direkt okunniga om vad som händer där.

För dem är det stamtillhörigheten och olika typer av rusning som lockar, inte taktik eller teknik.

Och även om de kan ställa till det med enorma problem (de har genom åren demolerat en restaurang ägt av en god vän till mig flera gånger) är de lyckligtvis väldigt få.

Den överväldigande majoritet av de som är involverade i fotbollen, som spelare och tränare och supportrar, är goda medborgare.

Jag vågar konstatera att tränarna i orterna där jag bor och vistas har hållit ned belastningen på kriminalvården rejält genom sitt dagliga engagemang för våra problembarn.

Men när det kastas smällare ska alla dras över en kam.

När det vankas bråk ska alla jagas med batong.

När något går snett så kan vi alla buntas ihop och ta skulden.

Nu fan är det nog med det.

Det är precis den attityden som låter samhället slippa sitt ansvar och lägga det  istället på de som har minst makt att göra något åt det i ögonblicket.

Det är den attityden som ger skulden till de som faktiskt var offren i Hillsborough.

Man får väl hoppas att det inte tar 27 år för det svenska samhället att inse att fotbollen är en tillgång snarare än en belastning och att våldet finns trots allt fotboll gör istället för tvärtom.

Och man får hoppas att vi aldrig ser en situation där kollektiv bestraffning eller skuldbeläggning går det omöjligt att gå på en match.

Inte för att man är rädd för våldsverkarna, utan för att man är rädd att ordningsmakten och rättssystemet har redan dömt oss alla som skyldiga till brott som ytterst få är ansvariga för.

 

Why Prince wants you to pay for art

“Get off your ass and go pay to have someone entertain you.”

In the Internet age, the death of a great musician has its own pattern.

First comes the tweet.

Then the confirmation tweet.

Then the Facebook post.

Then the Youtube clip and the Spotify list.

But when Prince died yesterday, it came to an abrupt halt after the tweets.

Fiercely protective of his music, he’s not on Spotify, and there’s not much to be found on Youtube either.

Much was made in the obituaries of how staggeringly prolific he was, and virtually all of them mentioned his clash with Warner Brothers and the music industry in general.

In truth, he was the first to see where the business was going – towards a marketplace where everything was free, nobody wanted to pay and the only money being made was going into the pockets of the least creative people in the room.

He rebelled, and you should too.

Prince could rebel by giving away his music with concert tickets or newspapers, by scrubbing it from streaming sites and pulling it off video services.

He rebelled by releasing his music whenever it suited him, in whatever format and at whatever price he saw fit.

He rebelled by touring on his own with a piano, or by announcing shows a few hours beforehand, and then torching the venues with his electrifying brilliance and a never-ending mountain of hits to choose from.

You can rebel by sticking your hand in your pocket and going to see a band, or funding a Kickstarter, or buying a CD, a download or – and this might sound a little crazy here – a vinyl record.

You will be disappointed. There is an inordinate amount of rubbish out there, and you will waste money on shit live bands. You will get CDs with one decent song that are filled out with tripe, and stuff that you will listen to once before converting the disc into a coaster.

But you will be breathing life into art again, and whether artists, musicians and writers like to admit it or not, the audience is an essential part of the whole relationship.

Prince arrived on the scene almost fully formed, but there are few artists that do so. For the rest, they must hone their craft over thousands of hours of gigs and rehearsals and recordings.

The creation of any kind of art or journalism takes time, and if all the audience is prepared to pay is peanuts, then all they are going to get is a never-ending stream of monkeys who should never be let near a mic or a word processor in the first place.

Worse still, we will be limited to the mindless droning of the over-privileged, the only ones who can afford to document and project their experiences.

Many of those who mourn Prince most lambast the youth of today for sitting in front of their computers, happier to play FIFA on a Playstation than real football on a playground. When it comes to art and music, we do exactly the same.

Spotify is great, as is Youtube and iTunes and Twitter.

But nothing online can replicate the raw, visceral feeling of being in a dark room and seeing a comic or an artist or a poet on a stage performing something they have created themselves.

If we ignore the corporate whores filling the stadiums at staggeringly over-inflated prices, music and comedy and art has never been cheaper. For a few bucks you can see one of the world’s best improv groups at Dublin’s International Bar, and Stockholm’s music scene is full of promising artists in interesting spaces.

We mourn the passing of a great musician and songwriter, but at the same time, whether we will ever see his like again is now up to us.

We can either sit at home and take what this world spoon-feeds us, or we can take it upon ourselves to go out and invest the time and money necessary to give future generations something to marvel at.

Honour Carvalho’s memory by ignoring MMA vultures

A picture of Joao Carvalho taken from the Team Nobrega Facebook page.

Long before Joao Carvalho expired on Monday night, the vultures were circling.

And as soon as news broke that the 28-year-old Portuguese mixed martial artist had passed away as a result of injuries sustained in a bout in Dublin’s National Stadium on Saturday night, they swooped.

In no time at all, social and mainstream media were filled with the empty-headed squawking of the ignorant and ill-informed – those whose need to be heard is always at its greatest when their expertise is at its most non-existent.

There were radio interviews and hot takes online, using words like “savagery”, “thuggery” and, in one utterly bizarre instance, “legalised killing” – needless to say, that particular article was among the most read.

One Irish radio station headlined their discussion “Death in the Cage,” the minor detail that Carvalho died in hospital some 48 hours later seemingly lost on them.

But then again, what use is knowledge, facts and informed opinion when you can have revulsion, ignorance and hyperbole instead?

Most laughable of all are the sports journalists who question whether or not MMA is a sport at all, a stance so archaic and pathetic at this point that it’s not even worth engaging with.

There are a lot of people who don’t like mixed martial arts. They find the violence, the blood, and in many cases the athletes themselves repulsive.

I get that.

Luckily, no-one is asking them to watch it, and fewer still who actually follow the sport have any interest in hearing the opinions of the uninitiated on it.

And while everyone is entitled to an opinion, no-one is entitled to their own facts.

Though a young and undeniably violent sport, mixed martial arts has so far proved to be no more dangerous than boxing, and it takes its responsibility to the athletes very seriously.

According to credible reports there were three doctors and seven medics at the National Stadium when Carvalho was injured – far more than I have ever seen in many nights spent at amateur boxing nights there in the nineties.

Big organisations such as the UFC regularly bar fighters from fighting for varying lengths of time following an injury, with particular attention paid to concussions.

The UFC – the flagship of organised MMA – also invests in research into head trauma and brain injury, as well as other injury-prevention programs in an effort to better understand what is happening and to protect its athletes.

Given the nature of the sport, the bar for stopping an MMA fight is undeniably set quite high, but it is also very simple – in all serious fighting organisations, the rules state that as soon as one of the combatants cannot “intelligently defend” themselves, the fight is over.

You will see or hear none of this from the vultures who use Carvalho’s death to advance their agenda against a sport they don’t understand and know little or nothing about.

To listen to them, you would think that Carvalho was the latest warrior to enter a graveyard filled to overflowing with the cadavers of young fighters.

Nothing could be further from the truth – does anyone really think that mixed martial arts would be experiencing such explosive growth if its participants were dying like flies?

That there is an enormous element of snobbery in the current wave of criticism should come as no surprise – the hoi polloi have never really understood the attraction of combat sports, the bizarre concoction of violence and chivalry, and what they term the bloodlust of the crowd.

They will tell you the participants are too stupid and too greedy to realise the dangers they are exposing themselves to; but at the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, no-one knows more about the risk of fighting than the fighters themselves.

The commentariat reduce the audience to braying simpletons who just want to see blood fly.

That they might be intelligent people who actually understand what it is they are seeing – in contrast to the empty-headed rent-a-quotes that are invited on talk shows or to fill column inches – is a notion easily dismissed.

That the fans actually have a deep respect and appreciation for the participants, for their mentality and technical skill and toughness, is brushed aside in favour of the Colosseum narrative – give the proles blood and gore, it’s all they understand.

I have always been interested in boxing and martial arts, and first became interested in MMA after reading “A Fighter’s Heart” by Sam Sheridan.

The rise of Conor McGregor and the UFC in general in recent years is something that fascinates me, especially given the fact that the UFC was perilously close to bankruptcy on several occasions.

It is undoubtedly a brutal business, but one of the most breathtaking fights I have seen was between Rory McDonald and Robbie Lawler.

It was a bloody, thrilling, enthralling affair where McDonald had the upper hand and might have snatched a victory, but in the end the pain from yet another blow to an already-broken nose finally broke him, and the fight was stopped shortly afterwards.

Despite the fact that he lost, the respect I have for McDonald as a fighter and an athlete following that bout is enormous. He is quite simply one of the toughest men I’ve ever seen.

Nothing teaches you more about the effect of violence than getting punched in the face, and the paradox of fighting, and something often ignored, is that those who learn to fight often have the greatest respect for and awareness of the consequences of their actions.

There is little doubt that boxing and martial arts provide an excellent framework for young people to learn about themselves, in particular kids who might otherwise wind up on the wrong side of the tracks. MMA is no different.

In learning to fight to any competent degree, you also need to learn self-discipline, humility and respect for the craft and your opponent. If you don’t, sooner or later you’re likely to find yourself on the wrong end of a beating.

Paradoxically, by learning the damage one is capable of inflicting with one’s bare hands, many end up realising that, outside of competition, they never want to fight for real,

You don’t like the violence of MMA? Well, tough. There are plenty who do, and besides, the violence is only one part of what is a much more complex and layered sport.

There are plenty of people out there who find the pleated skirt of the tennis club, the creased slacks of the golf course or the rarified air of the Formula 1 pit lane equally provocative and repugnant, discriminating as they do against those who could never hope to afford to indulge in them as fans, let alone participants.

Not so the boxing and MMA gyms that will continue to spring up in the cities and the suburbs.

Fighting is, and always has been, rooted in the experience of the working class and the unemployed, from the National Stadium in Dublin and the dirt-floored Thai boxing rings of Bangkok to the Madison Square Garden and the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

It provides the hierarchies, the discipline and the framework that many need to achieve their potential, in most cases without imposing a glass ceiling on them. If you’re good enough, and you work hard enough, you can progress, regardless of your accent or your education.

Despite the stated desire of the empty talking heads, mixed martial arts is not going away, and as such it is badly in need of further comprehensive research and strict regulation.

The death of any young athlete is an enormous tragedy, for his or her family, their friends and their sport.

But it is a profound insult to the memory of Joao Carvalho to suggest that he did not know what he was doing, or that he should not have been doing it.

He chose to be a warrior, he fought bravely and tragically, he paid the ultimate price.

His memory will not be honoured by banning the sport he gave his life for, or by denigrating those who practice or watch it, or by listening to the empty waffle of the dull and ignorant.

Instead, we owe it to him, and the current and coming generations of warriors, to make combat sports as safe as they can possibly be, while still retaining our respect and admiration for the fighter’s heart.

Public interest demands that RTE answer questions on McCollum

Screenshot of an RTE tweet publicising the McCollum interview

Some stories stick out, and not for a good reason – there’s a whiff of something not right off them, and the much-trumpeted interview with Michaella McCollum is one of them.

(Not that I have been able to see it in full, of course. The RTE Player continues to discriminate against the Irish abroad, limiting access to content which, although brilliant, as with the recent I Am Traveller documentary, has questionable or negligible resale value abroad).

But the McCollum story itself is now a story, and there are questions that RTE needs to answer in relation to it.

I have worked for the various editorial departments of RTE (mostly radio) on many occasions, and without exception they are highly-qualified and extremely professional people.

But in this case the state broadcaster needs to be utterly transparent about how the interview was conducted. Nothing less than the journalistic credibility of the national broadcaster is at stake – stories that wouldn’t look out of place in the tabloids are all well and good, but tabloid tactics and chequebook journalism are not.

The “why Michaela?” question is irrelevant – news editors make such decisions all the time, and besides, her arrest, denial of guilt and trial were big news stories, and it is logical to cover her release and to try to unearth the truth.

The following questions need to be answered, promptly and thoroughly:

1. Who initiated the story/interview – was it Michaela, the journalist on the ground, the RTE news desk, a book publisher, PR agency or similar?

2. Did Michaella, her family, her foundation or any other party connected with her receive any sort of compensation (including, but not limited to, cash, flights or accommodation) in return for her co-operation?

3. Did McCollum and/or her representatives promise RTE or their representatives exclusivity? If so, what did they receive in return?

4. Were there any demands or requirements made by McCollum or her representatives as to where, when and under what circumstances the interview would take place?

5. Did McCollum and/or her representatives refuse to answer particular questions, or seek a list of questions prior to the interview? If so, did RTE acceded to those requests? Did the journalist on site decide the questions to be asked or was he instructed by the news desk?

6. Is there more than one take of any of McCollum’s answers to the questions posed?

I am aware that there are confidentiality issues at play here, and therefore I have not asked for specific numbers regarding compensation or costs, so RTE should be well able to reply.

And if they have signed any confidentiality agreement that precludes them from explaining the journalistic method used, then that raises a whole new set of worrying questions.

 

The Proclamation, 2016

IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of a god most of us have thankfully abandoned and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of spin and whataboutery, Ireland, through us, summons her children to Twitter and Instagram to remember the centenary of 1916, a month before the fact.

Having organised and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Meeja, and through her open organisations, Google and Facebook, having patiently perfected her memes, having resolutely not waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and supported by her exiled children in broadcasting and by gallant allies in Bórd Fáilte,  but relying in the first on her own self-righteousness, she strikes in full confidence of whitewash.

We declare the right of the wealthy people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by poor people and their entitlement culture has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the self-made entrepreneurs and the Web Summit.

In every generation the wealthy Irish have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty, mostly in the pages of the Sunday Independent; every week for what feels like the past three hundred years they have asserted it in print.

Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in print in the face of the Internet, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic of the Wealthy as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and in particular the lives of the poor to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the hedge funds.

The Irish Republic of the Wealthy is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance, labour and assets of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty to some, equal rights and equal opportunities to men that can afford them, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally as long as they are born into money, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by parliamentary democracy, which has very occasionally divided a minority from the majority in the past.

Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National Government based on neoliberalism and the musings of Oprah, representative of the wealthy people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her wealthiest men and women, the Provisional Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people, in conjunction with the Germans, the EU and the IMF.

We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High Corporate Tax Rate, whose blessing we invoke upon our black box trading systems, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by generosity, humanity, or charity. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline, and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good of the wealthy, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which some of us are called, and which the rest of us will have to put up with.

Signed on your behalf by people better than you.

No “Caravan of Love” for Connors in Donnybrook

Actor, Republican and filmmaker John Connors on the Late Late Show

This morning I re-watched the journalistic car crash that was the John Connors interview on Friday’s Late Late Show.

As John – an actor, Republican and filmmaker, who also happens to be a Traveller – went toe to toe, the interview quickly stopped being about John’s heritage or Ryan’s privilege, and instead became about those who weren’t there at all.

And it is in how we treat those who are not present that we learn where we are as a society in relation to our prejudices; Ireland may have made progress in recent years, but the conservative Catholic ethos still remains.

There is still a hierarchy, and it is slavishly adhered to by many in the media.

Take Paul Williams, a man who apparently told John Connors on film that as an ethnic group, Travellers bear a collective responsibility for criminality in their ranks.

Now in case you need it clarified for you, ascribing collective guilt is one of the oldest and most racist statements one can possibly make.

For instance, by that logic all Irish people bear responsibility for the campaign of bombing that tore through the British mainland in the seventies, eighties and nineties.

Which, of course, is nonsense.

By Williams’ racist logic we also bear responsibility for things like apartheid and the Crusades, given that the majority of Irish people are white and nominally Christian.

But John wasn’t even allowed to bring up what Williams said on the public record and why?

Because “he’s not here to defend himself.”

The same was then said of the local authorities that moved quickly to block the movement of any Travellers onto their land following the Carrickmines fire, in which ten people died.

Then, breathtakingly, Ryan asked John why publicans weren’t in a hurry to serve Travellers alcohol.

So the integrity of neither Williams nor local authorities may be questioned, but Ryan had no problem inferring that Travellers – who, let it be said, also weren’t there to defend themselves – are violent drunks.

Even John’s own experience of racism was questioned, as was his anger towards the system and the society that has not only allowed it to fester, but has in many cases actively encouraged it.

Here’s some of the tweets that were made on the Late Late hashtags during the interview – ranging from openly racist to simple, yet staggeringly ignorant, this is what Ryan believes John has little or no reason to be angry about.

In insinuating that Travellers as an ethnic group are violent drunks or criminals and that they deserve that reputation, Ryan is kowtowing to the racist logic of the sensationalist Williams, but of course, this cannot be discussed.

Because imagine if Williams did what Iona and John Waters and Breda O’Brien did when they were called homophobes by Rory O’Neill on the Saturday Night Show?

What if he sued? How much would it cost? What would that do to Ryan’s career?

Notice nobody asks what would happen if a Traveller sued, as in our society they are granted no standing. Williams can say what he likes – even if it’s racist, or even if it tars Sinn Féin’s voters as terrorists, for instance – but he cannot be called racist for making racist statements on the public record.

This is the legacy of Pantigate, it is what columnist (note: not journalist) Breda O’Brien, journalist and former member of the Broadcasting Authority John Waters and the Iona Institute in general, whose fear of homosexuality is the very definition of homophobia, have left us.

(As both are based on fear, being homophobic or racist are not necessarily bad things in themselves – it is the repression of and the imposition of one’s own values on others, and the denial of the rights of others that is reprehensible.)

Irish voters have in recent times indicated that they are abandoning the vicious, venal, hateful and judgemental attitudes fostered by the church and implemented for generations by politicians as they divided and conquered and created hierarchies that suited themselves.

But as yet the system itself has not changed – The Lads are still in control, and despite the fact that they are a minority, the likes of Iona still call the shots.

Every time they call the lawyers in, journalists jump and eventually they toe the line. When “they” are not there to defend themselves, the lawyers will do it for them, and as a result the questions can’t even be put.

Maybe John and the family of those who died in Carrickmines should call the Iona lawyers and see what can be done about the imposition of collective guilt and responsibility on Travellers, or Muslims, or Africans, or anyone else.

My guess is very little.

Irish media doesn’t tell the truth to power.

Instead, cowed by the fear of legal proceedings, it restricts itself to telling the truth that power wants people to hear.

 

Why angry silence is the only way to commemorate 1916 Rising

1916 banner – presumably there was no room for Ian Paisley.

The banner at College Green has barely been unveiled, but it has already confirmed what I have long suspected.

That I do not want any part of of a commemoration of 1916 that denies, distorts and destroys what it is supposed to remember.

Only in Ireland could a banner commemorating a revolution feature a man who recruited for the enemy and called the event “wicked and insane”, as John Redmond did.

It comes as no surprise. For years the battle has been fought to see who would “own” the memory of 1916.

In then end, it seems, Bórd Fáilte won.

As a result, what we are getting is an approximation of history, a “1916 Rising for Dummies.”

The blood of the dead – men and women, soldiers and rebels, over 300 civilians and more than three dozen children –  washed from the streets.

The barbarity – war crimes on both sides – is forgotten, and the context crushed under the weight of collective denial of what the Rising was, and more importantly, what it wasn’t.

What should have been a conversation about the country we have created has been made into a marketing vehicle for tourism.

Anything else would have forced us to confront the truth of the intervening century.

For all the reverence in which the signatories of the Proclamation are held in Ireland, almost everything they stood for died along with them.

The notion of “cherishing all of the children of the nation equally” was quickly abandoned.

With the hospitals, the schools and the populace in general controlled by a vicious, venal and violent religious junta that is still remarkably healthy and wealthy, it couldn’t be any other way.

Partition – as promoted by what is now Fine Gael – put an end to the dream of a republic that would cover the entire Ireland.

And any chance of a functioning trade union movement to represent the working people died with James Connolly, strapped to a chair in the Stonebreaker’s Yard in Kilmainham Jail.

What we got was no mystical vision of independence, as laid out by Pearse.

Instead, we got exactly what most other countries that were eventually freed from imperialism experienced – a divided society ruled by an appointed elite, first as a transitional system of governance that then became the norm.

The greed and power of the church coupled with Ireland’s isolated position on the edge of Europe kept it out of the reach of international socialism and the kind of liberal social democracy that saw Scandinavia and Germany thrive, especially in the post-war period.

Instead, like many Catholic nations on the periphery of Europe, the Irish poor were condemned to lives of poverty, promised their reward in heaven while their cassocked moral guardians enjoyed the fruits of everyone else’s labours here on earth.

Having presided over misery and poverty, tugging its forelock and deferring to the church for much of the state’s existence, there is little on the credit side in the great ledger of social justice for any Irish government.

Pointing to the recent marriage equality referendum only highlights how little has been done to “cherish all the children of the nation equally.”

Women are still second-class citizens, earning less and dictated to by the state, or ignored when they become too noisy.

The Lads still rule, and their friends at the golf club still get the no-bid contracts and the cheap properties and the planning permissions they need to feather their nests.

Children with special needs and those who occupy hospital trolleys night after night don’t play golf.

The 1916 Rising delivered change, but not the change it wanted or expected.

Yeats was right – a terrible beauty was indeed born; and the poorer you were, the more terrible and the less beautiful it was.

And so to those struggling to “own” the narrative. the idiotic banner at College Green – with three of the four featured having died long before the Rising ever took place – is a symptom of how history in Ireland is distorted and watered down for political ends.

The irish Times reported that the idea for the banner came from the Department of An Taoiseach – perhaps unsurprising, given the spectacular ignorance of the clown that has inhabited that office for the last few years.

Enda Kenny has been doing his best to soft-soap voters into believing that his Fine Gael party are sympathetic to the Republic and the ideals declared by Padraig Pearse a hundred years ago.

Yet it was his party that banned the 60th anniversary celebrations – and using the Offences Against the State Act as the legislative framework to do so is surely the definition of GUBU.

Perhaps even more so than the endemically corrupt Fianna Fáil, Enda’s party is the party of The Lads. Those who have most get more, those who have least get nothing at all.

Labour will begin its struggle to make itself relevant again, oblivious to the fact that Connolly died for his principles, while they immediately abandoned theirs to give a few ageing men one last shot at a ministerial post, where they gleefully inflicted misery on the people who had voted for them, begging for protection.

Like its protagonists, the Rising was complicated, messy and not easily interpreted, but the history ever since is somewhat easier to read.

A hundred years on, Ireland has, on the whole, failed to live up to its promise.

Too often it has failed the poor and the weakest in society, often consciously and deliberately as politicians descended from those who filled the power vacuum by creating a system to benefit themselves and their cronies.

Forget our music and our food and our culture.

Forget the high esteem in which our people – not our politicians or bankers, not The Lads – are held around the world.

Forget our athletes and our artists and our innovators.

All this exists in spite of, not because of, the country we have created out of the ashes of the Rising.

We can celebrate all these things another day.

If you want to commemorate the Rising properly, do so by not accepting the Bórd Fáilte narrative.

The Rising belongs not to them, or the politicians, or The Lads and their vested interests.

It belongs to those who bear the heaviest burden form a political system that demands their servitude but denies their needs, just as it did in 1916.

So skip the official “celebrations” and stick instead to history and the original date of April 24.

Go to the GPO, or to any other post office that has yet to be closed by the march of “progress”.

Stand there in angry silence for a minute and remember what Pearse and the others promised, and how pathetically little their political descendants have delivered.

Then go off and, in the words of Gandhi, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

That means tearing down the system of clientelism and privilege, of recognising the dignity of each and every person, and of demanding the highest standards from everyone in public office.

It means accepting that we have to pay our share, and that taking “uncomfortable decisions” means that we too will be affected.

It means doing not what is best for ourselves, but what is just and noble and right, even if we personally lose out.

That would be a truly revolutionary act in modern Ireland.

 

 

Biggest failures in #GE16? Labour, FF, FG and journalism

What election were you watching?

The one I saw was the utter destruction of the status quo.

Incredibly, what a lot of my colleagues apparently saw was a resurgence of it, in the form of Fianna Fáil.

Who, incidentally, had their second-worst election on record.

I saw the outright rejection of the traditional right-wing (note – not centre-right) notion of “stability”of so-called Christian democrats as embodied by the singularly inept and staggeringly incompetent Enda Kenny.

I saw the annihilation of the Irish Labour Party, 100 years after its founder was tied to a chair and shot for his revolutionary tendencies, solely because it abandoned those people who begged it with their votes to protect them.

I saw an election where a motley crew of traitors and treacherous sleeveens record their second-worst election since 1927.

I saw the return of Lowry and two Healy-Raes in an indication that the parish pump of Irish politics is still in full flow in certain parts of the country.

I saw an election that saw Sinn Féin finally returned to the political mainstream after the horrors of the “Long War.”

I saw record numbers of small parties and independents returned as the establishment which has failed Ireland since the foundation of the state was sent packing.

And I saw a fourth estate in the form of the Irish media that couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

Throughout the count, journalists and broadcasters have struggled to understand virtually all the phenomena described above, instead choosing the easy angle of the Fianna Fáil “resurgence” – despite the fact that it has seldom in its history been as weak as it is now.

The paralysis is evidenced by the “experts” called to give their opinions – almost to a man (and occasional woman), they are part of the establishment they built, all while the media stroked their egos.

We had the laughable sight of snake-oil salesman Pat Rabbitte calling anyone who annoyed him “ultra-left” and making the staggering observation that Labour – who pissed in the faces of the poor that voted for them and assured them it was raining – is the “only Social Democratic party” in Ireland.

We’ve had Jody Corcoran, whose Sunday Independent newspaper were the big losers in the election as their private Renua party ran aground on its maiden voyage, now lionizing Micheál Martin – a man they have consistently attacked for five years, but who now holds the balance of power.

And we have the return of the odious Conor Lenihan, possibly the greatest spiv of them all – a man who, together with his inept brother and the rest of their cronies, ruined Ireland.

Not only did he contribute to destroying the country – when he was done, he took his state pensions and jumped ship to tout for foreign direct investment.

For Russia.

The problem of Irish political analysis by journalists was laid bare by the pleasantries exchanged – “congratulations on your election/commiserations on losing your seat.”

Whatever you think of them, your job as a political journalist is not to engage in niceties with people in power, or those who would aspire to have it – it is to ask intelligent pertinent questions on behalf of readers and listeners and viewers.

Time and again last night, bitter Fine Gael politicians contended that it was up to the opposition to take the reins of government.

This conveniently ignored the fact that, despite their abject failure, they would still have a considerable influence on how that government might look, especially if they swallowed their pride and joined Fianna Fáil.

Elsewhere, Labour’s increasing variety of failures all used the same three words as the headed to the gallows – “the national interest”.

Seldom were either of these two self-serving, petulant narratives questioned by the journalists interviewing them.

As I’ve stated elsewhere many times, bias is not always conscious; it is sometimes a function of class and privilege and position.

It is my sincere belief that too many journalists are bound to their desks recycling press releases,tweets and Youtube sound-bytes, and not out in the field actually talking to people and building their own understanding.

In truth, far too many of those in positions of power in Irish media and who are in turn tasked with holding those in power to account are too close to be able to do so properly.

A case in point – when Brian Cowen imitated Ryder Cup golfer Philip Walton and made fun of his speech impediment late one night in a bar, there were plenty of journalists present.

Not only did they not report it – they laughed along.

If, then, reporters are too close to those they should be holding to account, it is easy to understand why they absorb the narratives fed to them like crumbs from the top table.

It is easy to see how the establishment line becomes the truth as quickly as it does.

If Labour are the greatest failures, and Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are not far behind, we must be honest and say that journalism has also failed the democratic process in Ireland.

It is not an easy place to work, but the inability to either predict or explain the outcome illustrates the need for voices who go against the grain, who do not cosy up to the powerful, and who put no price on their ability to say what they see.

In short, what we need is more independent journalists, and less Independent journalists.

And until we get that, we will only be getting the part of the story the insiders and career politicians want us to hear.