Now Is Not The Time

Now Is Not The Time

Now is not the time for your hot take about how Ireland is not racist.

Not when an African-American girl put up an Irish dancing TikTok a few weeks ago was abused by social media’s basement-dwellers.

Not while local councils are still turning off water to sites where Travellers live.

Not while there’s still a single resident in Direct Provision.

Now is not the time to claim the Fortress Europe is somehow better than Trump’s America, because when it kills people of colour it does so using dodgy dinghies and ignoring their humanity, or crushes them in systems designed with their wholesale rejection in mind.

Now is not the time for your naive, folded-napkin, hands-in-your-lap activism, where peaceful protest is good and just and acceptable, but rioting apparently delegitimises everything any cause stands for and allows you to safely distance yourself from it and hold your nose.

Now is not the time to go on social media and reveal just how little you know about how discrimination affects others, some of whom you call your friends.

Now is not the time to aggressively defend that ignorant, myopic view, obscured further by the comfort blanket of privilege that envelopes your wokeness.

Now is not the time to ask people – black people, Asian people, people from the Middle East and Persia, gay and trans and non-binary people – to do your emotional labour.

Now is not the time to employ them as your unpaid teachers, expected to fill in the gaps of your ignorance just enough so that you can feel good about yourself again.

Now is not the time to hide behind ideas of law and order that are solely designed to protect the rights of property, rather than the dignity of people.

Now is not the time to claim that “all lives matter” when you know, deep down, that they don’t, and that as it stands your life matters so much more than some others.

Now is not the time to offer solutions you haven’t tested to problems you don’t understand.

Now is not the time for feeling hurt because, for once, your voice is not the one being listened to and your experience is deemed less relevant for once.

Now is not the time for excusing yourself for having taken advantage of these structures, from the passport queue at a port of entry to “your” country to the job and property markets.

Now is not the time for pretending that you didn’t have a head start.

Now is not the time for talking about yourself and how all this affects you.

Now is not the time to preach loudly about how you intend to do something that nobody has asked you to do, or not doing something different you have been asked to do that would actually make a difference.

Now is the time for compassion, for humility and for a listening ear, because it’s hard for us to learn anything when all we ever do is keep braying incessantly, only revealing the breathtaking depth of our own ignorance.

Much of Ireland still needs to reckon with the IRA

The recent electoral success of Sinn Féin brought with it the inevitable tide of accusations related to the party’s support of the IRA during the conflict, once again showcasing that much of the Irish Republic has not even begun to examine its own history and relationship to it.

The inability or unwillingness to put things in context or to try to understand why things happen without condoning them is immediately dismissed as appeasement. Sinn Féin are to be forced to wear the hair-shirt, without ever asking what it was that led them to do what they did in the first place.

One of the greatest PR coups ever pulled off is in the teaching of Irish history, whereby the IRA lost all legitimacy just about the time that the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – the two parties that have ruled since the foundation of the state – broke away from it.

Until then it was OK to shoot men in the back or in their beds, or to bomb a barracks without a thought for passers-by, or to shoot someone or hearsay that they were an informer – but once the two major parties had no more use for the IRA, they were to become a pariah.

That IRA is an IRA the Irish people can understand, but not the IRA of Derry and of West Belfast. There is a notion that, despite their previous violent history pre-independence, the Provisional IRA should have played by all the rules of war and the Geneva Convention, a notion that completely ignores the context and conditions of the time.

Context is important. When comedian Steve Coogan parodied “Come Out Ye Black And Tans” on his TV show, the clip went viral in no time as Irish people howled laughing at the irony of an Irish lookalike taking over the British airwaves to tell them a thing or two – a few months later, the meaning of the song is once again changed to mean anyone singing it is an IRA supporter and to be condemned.

Legions of soccer fans have interjected praise for the IRA into songs sung in stadiums around the world, and little is made of it. Hipsters and twentysomethings have use the IRA almost as a meme for years, the cultural substance of their humour shifting constantly – and not because they support physical force Republicanism.

The point of Coogan and the song should not be lost; everything that occurs does so in a context, whether by a comedian or the supporters of an election candidate who have just received good news.

Sinn Féin have spent the last month of the campaign being cast as shadowy figures controlled by unelected representatives with a propensity for violence – and yet people still find it inexplicable that some less-controlled elements would celebrate their electoral victories by singing such songs or chanting “Up The Ra”.

Virtually nothing the IRA did is to be condoned, apart from its efforts to finally make peace – but it is absolutely essential that we try to understand why the organisation came to be, why people joined it and why it did what it did. This is not the same thing as legitimising or excusing it; by choosing to condemn it rather than understand it, we are dismissing the reasons for its existence as unimportant or irrelevant. That in itself – that the nationalist people of Northern Ireland felt abandoned and betrayed by the Republic – is one of the major reasons for its longevity.

Part of the reaction is also the bitterness of the established elites who were swept away in the last three elections – Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael performed disastrously, prompting them to try to police the triumphalism of others.

Much is also made of the youth of Sinn Féin’s voters and that they had no memories of their own of the Troubles, but Sinn Féin picked up votes from across the generations.

That raises the point that the commentariat refuse to consider – what if people knew well what the IRA had done, all of its brutality and atrocities, and decided to just move on, deeming them no longer relevant?

For that is essentially what happened with the established parties – they were quickly absolved of their sins when they underwent their democratic conversions, and the murders planned and perpetrated by Michael Collins and his men are now celebrated as an integral part of the struggle for independence.

Everything – everything – depends on context.

Much of the reason for this – the clean break between the acceptable and unacceptable versions of the IRA, the tone-policing, the false indignation to score political points – is that Sinn Féin were until recently muzzled by the press, and it did not cease with the abandonment of Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act.

One of the things conveniently forgotten is the Arms Crisis in 1970 when the Fianna Fáil government of the day actually drew up plans to send arms to defend nationalist communities in the North – the political descendents of those who made those plans are among the most vociferous in condemning Sinn Féin today.

It would be hard to point to a single columnist and say “that person writes from a perspective that is accepting of the legitimacy of the IRA”, or even one who displays some level of nuanced understanding of why they came into being at all.

In a case of history repeating itself, the IRA supported by Sinn Féin no longer exists, but the IRA still exists, so to speak. Dissident Republicans still lay claim to the mantle, despite the absence of conflict in the North and the prospect of reunification on the horizon.

But as with every other aspect of Irish politics, we are quick to say that we do not understand, or that something surprised us, or that something is simply wrong.

What is lacking is a willingness to understand why we were surprised, or why we don’t understand, or why someone might do something we believe to be utterly wrong.

Doing so requires us to put our pearls down and to ask ourselves difficult questions – what did we in the South do when communities in the North were under siege, when Catholics were discriminated against in housing and employment and when they were burned out of their houses?

That is not the same thing as condoning it. It is not the same thing as appeasement. It is not the same thing as giving a pass.

The murders, the torture and the bombings perpetrated by the IRA are an appalling stain on Irish history, one that cannot be washed away either by seemingly celebrating them as Ellis, Cullinane and others did, or by refusing to understand them in the context in which they occurred.

Because until we reckon with the IRA we will be fighting this battle forever, when there is so much more that needs to be done.

 

Ireland votes to change, but gently

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

- Warsan Shire, “What They Did Yesterday Afternoon”

Faced with a record number of homeless, a totally dysfunctional health service and a generation unable to afford to move out, the Irish people have finally voted for change – but they are not quite ready to rip the century-old sticking plaster of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael from their skin just yet.

Irish people are suffering, but not all of them, and the cry at the ballot box on Saturday was tempered by the murmur of contentment from those for whom change might mean not enjoying the same privilege as they once had.

The exit poll on Saturday night when the polls closed was seismic in that it put the Sinn Fèin cat among the otherwise unflappable political pigeons – but for every peal of the bell calling for a new Ireland, almost half still voted for the establishment parties.

Almost, but not quite half. The two main parties sliding under 50% was a key moment, but discerning what they are gradually being replaced by is not as easy as it looks.

On the one hand they are being directly supplanted by Sinn Féin – young (but not exclusively so), energetic and hungry for something different.

On the other hand, there are a plethora of independent candidates and smaller-party TDs who are as yet untried.

The Social Democrats – a party I have strong links to – look to be among the big winners. Comprehensive policy documents and common-sense arguments look to have resonated and the party will most likely end up with five or six seats, but at council level some of the decisions taken by the party have been dubious at best, and the more streetwise in Irish politics will seek to use their enthusiasm against them.

The Greens have also made considerable gains, but it’s hard to discern exactly where they are on the political spectrum – this, after all, is the party that blithely supported Fianna Fáil as they destroyed the Irish economy.

In a supposed progressive victory, there may yet be less female TDs than in the previous Dáil when the dust settles.

As usual, climate change-deniers like the Healy-Raes have been rewarded for their parish pump politics, and the bye-word for corruption in Irish politics, Michael Lowry, has once again been returned to the Dáil.

Despite their worst election performance since 1948 (and possibly ever), Fine Gael are still haughtily insisting that they were right all along and that it was an ignorant electorate that failed to recognise their greatness.

They will always have a core vote of wealthy people keen to protect their own interests, but for them to succeed they also need the blue-collar vote – that has now gone to Sinn Féin, and it may not go back for a very long time.

Micheál Martin has run a classic Fianna Fáil campaign, immediately abandoning everything he said in the run-up to polling day as he attempts a power grab. From ruling out coalition with Sinn Féin, he is now a democrat who respects their mandate – a sleeveen move as arrogant as it was predictable.

The most popular party in the country is Sinn Féin, for the first time in living memory, and leader Mary-Lou McDonald immediately came out swinging, saying she wants a government without the big two parties.

The road from here on in is fraught with danger for Mary-Lou. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael habitually destroy junior coalition partners and she would do well to steer clear of both, but doing so would require shoring up a coalition of the willing – people who share their core principles, but who are flexible enough to understand the give and take of minority government.

Success there would likely hasten the demise of the the two right-wing parties and perhaps eventually force a merger – failure, and Sinn Féin could go the way of Labour, blamed for not delivering on their mandate and consigned to the sidelines as punishment, opening the path for Ireland to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Ireland has voted for change, but not in the kind of revolutionary way that one might have expected; the old remain conservative, the young impatient, and somewhere in between is where McDonald must begin to build her government.

What speaks against the broad left coalition is its traditional fractiousness and political puritanism – what speaks for them is that their opposition have no principles, apart from the pursuit of power. If they seek to block the kind of progressive change that people have voted for, they will be punished accordingly.

Time will tell if this election changes the course of a young country, or if it is a mere bump in the road. Recent electoral history elsewhere have shown us just how easy it is to slip back into old ways in search of security.

Change, but change gently, is what the Irish people have asked for.

 

 

Ireland’s #GE2020 – Exit Poll Report Card

A quick look at last night’s figures – the PR-STV system means that they only tell a small part of the story, but it says something about the national picture

 

FG – 22.4% – C

Could have – should have – been so much worse. Tone-deaf, arrogant, out of touch and still a little more than one in five voted for them.

SF – 22.3% – C

What might have been – time will tell if the late effort to drag their name through the mud made a difference, but Sinn Féin could have expected 25% or more, given the ineptitude of the big two.

FF – 22.2% – B

The destroyers of the nation are back, but will probably never regain their previous pomp. FG’s incompetence played right into their lap, but they still did’t maximise the vote. Constant attacks on Sinn Féin showed up their utter ignorance of Northern Ireland past and present, and they would do well to drop the pretence of being a Republican party.

GP – 7.9% – D

For an election supposedly about the climate crisis, this is a poor return. Still struggling to get over their previous disastrous stint in government, offered very little tangible outside their wheelhouse.

Labour: 4.6% – F

Last sting of a dying worker’s movement which has been nothing but a disappointment since 1913. Rudderless, spineless, futureless.

SD – 3.4% – B

Considerable increase from last time out with extremely limited resources -  what it returns in terms of seats remains to be seen, but if it delivers the likes of Gary Gannon to the Dáil it will benefit them hugely. Produced a LOT of policy that was clear-headed, if not highly-noticed.

SPBP – 2.8% – D

Should have been up around 7-8% in a country stuck in the vice-like grip of market capitalism on steroids, but somehow it didn’t translate. Again, they will be transfer-friendly so they may punch above their weight in terms of seats.

Independents and others – 14.5%

If Michael Lowry gets in again we may as well invite the Tans back.

Kobe Bryant, 1978 – 2020

PR people usually want you to talk about whatever it is they are doing PR for.

Not Kobe Bryant.

Eleven days ago in Los Angeles, he wanted to talk about sports and winning and shutting up and getting on with it and just being the best that you can be.

I had seen him play in the Staples Centre on his farewell tour a year or two ago, lighting up the Golden State Warriors to hand them one of only nine defeats they suffered in a record-breaking season.

Now, in the LA sunshine of that Wednesday morning, he was retired, a businessman with his burning love of soccer, basketball and winning still very much intact.

Knowing that time would be limited, my colleague Rory and I considered carefully what we would ask him. WE skipped questions about the Hall Of Fame, instead asking about the Lakers, the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal that might have cost the LA Dodgers the World Series, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic leaving Los Angeles to sign for AC Milan.

The PR people were in a hurry, but Kobe wasn’t. He wanted to talk.

He wanted to talk about his love of soccer, how growing up in Italy he learned to appreciate the beauty of the game, the ebb and flow, the details of what makes a play great in a sport vastly different from basketball.

He waved away the idea that the Dodgers should have been handed a World Series ring because the Astros cheated – in Kobe’s world, winning was done on the basketball court or the field of play, not the courthouse or some administrator’s office.

Looking fit enough to have suited up and taken on the visiting Clevealnd Cavaliers the night before, he was a man at ease with himself. His tendency to be prickly and soft-spoken was nowhere to be seen – he was a man glad to have a new context in which to talk about his love of sport.

Although his legacy on the court is a simple one – one of the greatest of all time – his legacy off the court is more complex.

A 2003 allegation of rape was eventually dealt with away from prying eyes and though his public statements on the matter recognised that the woman in question did not feel that what happened between them was consensual, there was no escaping the damage to his reputation – but in Kobe’s case, it was eventually repaired.

His death leaves us with a vacuum – one of the all-time greats of the game, he was beginning to find a new niche for himself as a powerful business broker in a global game that made his name known in every corner of the world, giving him enormous drawing power.

As the PR people tried to cut interviews short, Kobe kept talking until he was done. He wanted to make sure we got what we needed, that we understood his love of basketball and soccer and baseball, and how winning is the only thing that matters.

He wanted us to see him as someone new off the court, but someone inextricably linked to who he was on it.

Little did we know that it would be the last time we would see him at all.

Rest in peace, Kobe.

 

Rest In Peace, Marian

The first time Marian Finucane asked me to appear on her show, I almost cried live on air.

I had written about how my brother had been struck down by a serious illness, and I had to race against the clock from Stockholm to Dublin to be at his bedside as doctors doubted he would survive.

Thankfully he made it through that illness, and I wrote an article for an Irish newspaper about the sense of powerless that distance puts between the emigrant and their family in times of crisis, and the gratitude I felt towards those who cared for him.

Marian had read the piece and asked her team to find me and invite me onto the show, and I had to hold back the tears as I recounted the story.

Just as I am doing now, having just been made aware of her passing.

Marian wasn’t just any old radio host to me – her honeyed voice was the stand-out female radio voice of a generation. When I was young I listened as she coaxed Ireland to talk about its problems on the original Liveline, her warmth and compassion and quiet anger underpinning her ability to get people to tell their stories, unvarnished.

I must have done OK on my first appearance, despite my quavering, teary voice, because I was invited back regularly over the intervening six or seven years, and she would often call me from wherever I was on my travels covering newsworthy events, from riots and murders to World Cups and fights.

Only a few months later she had me on to talk about the riots that occurred in the Stockholm suburb of Husby in 2013, which I spent five nights in the middle of. I remember her genuine concern for me at that time, urging me to be careful  and to look after myself. Of the dozens of interviews I did with hosts and articles I wrote for editors at that time, she was the only one to do so out loud.

I also remember her getting me on the line from Las Vegas to talk about Conor McGregor – it was the middle of the night there, but I was more than happy to pick up the phone when her show called.

It was a joy to be on the same show as Lynn Ruane, another woman Marian  rightly thought that Ireland should hear more of.

Marian was incredibly well-read, and not necessarily in terms of stuff she would use on her show. She would read stacks and stacks of newspapers and magazines and books, and make copious notes before entering the studio each week.

When her panel was in place, she would bustle in a few minutes before the top of the hour and settle herself, peering over the glasses perched on her nose to see how everyone was.

Old-fashioned media is often derided in the social media age, but she knew the power and reach that she had. Often she would ask a question she knew the answer to, just to make sure the matter was made clear to her listeners.

And when you left her studio and turned your phone on again, you felt the full force of that power as the text messages and DMs and social media tags rained in.

She had a fierce intelligence and sense of fairness, and hers is one of the few programs I have been on where I didn’t have to worry about gender balance – one of the original high-profile Irish feminists, there were always women on the panels in-studio.

She used to chide me for working too hard and travelling too much, and often asked both how and why my wife put up with me. Mind you, she was no slouch herself.

She may have only been in there for a total of four hours over the two days, but she worked incredibly hard to prepare for it. She also did a tremendous amount of work for charity.

In 2018 I asked her if we could turn the tables and if I could interview her for a podcast I was starting about media and journalism. She was in essence an extremely private person and wary of any personal probing, but she agreed immediately.

We booked a day, but she had to cancel as she was doing an event for orphans in the Eastern Cape in South Africa.

We never did manage to find another date, and that is the saddest thing of all for me now. She was extremely warm and friendly towards me, expressing a genuine interest in what I was doing and what I could bring to her table of discussion, and I would have loved to have had the chance to get to know her even better.

I will have to content myself with the fact that she chose to give me a seat at her table more than once, and that I got to see up close how a genuine legend of Irish broadcasting worked, and that for me is enough.

As I think of her this evening, I am reminded that it was not me as a journalist that stood out to her first – it was the personal, powerful story of being abroad when a loved one was in trouble.

Her great gift was not that she was interested in politics or journalism – it was that she wanted to know the person behind every story.

May you rest in peace, Marian, and thank you for everything.

My sincerest condolences to Marian’s family, her friends and our mutual friends at RTE who produced her program so brilliantly every week. We will all miss her greatly. 

 

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.