Archive for May 31, 2011

The real shame would be to ignore wisdom of Norris

Ireland's next president?

That David Norris would be “got at” sooner or later was a foregone conclusion. He is almost too perfect a presidential candidate for modern Ireland.

He’s gay, educated and he has a very good chance of winning. And that would never do.

I don’t believe in most conspiracy theories, especially not those that attach themselves to Irish public life, where most people are too short-sighted and selfish to have any Machiavellian designs.

It’s more the case that Irish public discourse is susceptible to its very own form of chaos theory, where the butterfly beat of a Liveline producer’s wings causes a tsunami of indignation on Today with PK the next day.

But when the waves of indignation over Helen Lucy Burke’s badly-written Magill article once again abandon the strand we would do well to read the senator’s words carefully, for there is a golden nugget among them.

Somwhere on her water-damaged interview tapes, Norris is purported to have said “I think that the children in some instances are more damaged by the condemnation than by the actual experience” of paedophilia.

For that alone, he is worth your vote in a presidential election – of all the things he told her about sex that night in what seems to be the most bizarre of interviews, this is by far the most intelligent.

For where does the shame of the victim of paedophilia come from? What is it that they have done wrong? Trust an adult? Obey them? Expect protection?

For the most part, children instinctively know that abuse is wrong, but it is the sense of shame forced upon them that guarantees their silence and allows perpetrators to continue. This sense of shame is not of their own making.

It is foisted upon them by those who abuse – “if you tell, I’ll say it was your fault. You wanted it. You liked it. You enjoyed it. You teased me into it. Besides, no-one will believe you.”

It is foisted on them by society too, as if we believe that they should have fought back, resisted, refused.

It is a shame born of the anger and rage of helpless fathers and families, who wish they had seen or heard or done more and stopped it in its tracks.

It is a shame well-known to victims of adult rape too – male and female – and is a major part in why they don’t come forward. The physical scars may heal in time, but it is the mental ones – the shame foisted upon them by us – that are ever-lasting. Any woman who ever sat in a witness box will testify to that.

You don’t believe it? Look at the Ryan report. It was only when knowledge of the appalling behaviour of the “men of God” came into the public domain that the Catholic Church started to do something about the systemic abuse of children. True, it did too little, too late, but it was better late than never.

In turn, child abuse in everything from schools to sport to family homes shot up the agenda and a raft of legislation was passed to ensure it could never happen again. For many who turned to drugs or drink to deal with the shame of the abuse perpetrated on them, it was too late.

But for those brave people who came forward and said “this shame is not mine to bear alone”, we would still have no idea of the extent of the abuse that happened in Ireland, and it would have continued unabated. The church still continues to drag its heels in making restitution, and is rightly held in contempt for it.

A friend told me once of a female war correspondent who gave a talk to other journalists about her work. She was asked about the most difficult thing she faced in the field.

“I would say it was the first time I was raped in a war zone,” she answered.

“The first time?” asked the moderator of the discussion, incredulous.

“Yes, the first time,” answered this remarkable woman. “after that, you realise it’s not about you. It’s about them“.

The problem of the legacy of child abuse in Ireland will not be solved by Norris, Helen Lucy Burke, Joe Jackson, Joe Duffy or Pat Kenny.

The problem is that the discussion about it has for the most part been about who was to blame.

But for the healing to begin properly, for us to help repair all those lives knocked off their axis by the deeds of the church and others, it’s time for a different discussion- about who was not to blame.

The children.

And shame on those who – unlike Senator David Norris – say otherwise.

Unless everyone accuses you of bias, you’re doing it wrong

Enda gives Obama a rhetorical lesson- or is it the other way round?

“The only way you’ll ever know an article on the Middle East is correct is if everyone on all sides hates it”.

So spoke a journalism professor to a seminar I attended on bias in news reporting. It’s a great process of elimination – if everyone hates it equally, then you’ve remained impartial.

There are those who argue that it is one of the functions of the media to be biased, to provide comment which balances the output of corporations and government, and in many cases that’s true.

This blog, for instance, gives me an outlet for my own opinions which, due to the nature of my work, have no place in straightforward reporting of news, politics or sport. The comment and op-ed pages in our newspapers are valuable vehicles for debate and ideas.

The problem arises when comment starts to masquerade as news.

Take Enda and the “plagiarised” lines from Obama at College Green this week, about which Colin Murphy provides an excellent explanation over at politico.ie.

I’m usually the first to give Enda a good kicking in these pages, but not this time.

This time, he didn’t “plagiarise” anything – he engaged in a simple, respectful and powerful rhetorical device, and to interpret it otherwise is disingenuous.

But of course, in Irish media it was reported as “plagiarism”, instead of the skilful piece of  political theatre performed before a master of the art that it actually was.

As most people are aware, plagiarism is a terrible crime in both journalism and academia, and those accusing Enda Kenny of it knew exactly what they were doing, regardless of their political colours.

Whether they are disappointed with him for dragging his feet over how to make the poor poorer, or cut thousands of jobs from the civil service, essentially they wished to paint the Taoiseach as a fraud and a gombeen.

They wanted to give the impression of a man stupid enough to steal the words of the American President and then repeat them in front of him.

I disagree with some of Colm’s conclusions, in that I don’t think speed or social media has anything major to do with such distortions. For me it’s more a simple lack of humility and respect on the part of those reporting the events.

Just as economists have become our newest celebrities, it is far too easy these days for the reporter to become the story.

We all know who Charlie Bird and Anne Doyle and Ingrid Miley and Kay Burley are, but that is something that doesn’t matter – what matters is what they are reporting and how.

Because most of us want to make up our own minds, what we want is news based on facts, not hearsay or opinion from someone with no respect for or knowledge of the subjects with which they are dealing.

With the possible exception of the staggeringly ill-informed Burley, there are far worse culprits out there than those named above.

The reason I always wanted to work for the Reuters news agency was because of the principles and strict guidelines that cover how we report- these apply to every journalist, including freelancers like me. It’s not just that they make it easier for us to be unbiased in our reporting – they demand it.

Some might find it difficult to work under such circumstances, but I feel the opposite – it moves journalism out of the shadows, liberating its practitioners to do their best work. It also reminds us that it is what we are reporting – and not we who report it – that is important.

Which is why I’m looking forward to next week. Despite the fact that I find most of the professional athletes I meet boorish and unapproachable, I’ll write another article about Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Swedish national team, and then sit back and wait for the mails to come in.

And as soon as I’ve had complaints from the fans of Malmö, Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, Milan, Sweden, the former Yugoslavia and anywhere else you care to mention, I’ll know I’ve gotten it just right.

Urban myths and uncomfortable truths

Ruarí Quinn - blue seems to suit him better these days...

You’ve all heard of them.

The African family up the road who were given- given!- a 2007 Toyota Corolla because they claimed they were victims of racism on the bus.

Imagine! Given a car! No-one ever gave me a car! And now he’s using it as a taxi! A TAXI!

Or the single mother who has a bunch of children by three different fathers, who spent a month in Thailand last winter.

In Thailand! Earns a fortune she does, and it’s all from the social. I can’t afford to go call me sister in Thailand, let alone go there.

You’ve heard of them alright, but you’ve never met them.

That’s because they don’t exist. Not really.

And because they don’t exist, we have to invent them. And when we’ve done that, we use them as a stick to beat every other genuine person in the state who has fallen on hard times.

Break it to the tabloids gently, but for the vast majority living on social welfare, it’s no walk in the park. Two hundred euro a week in one of the most expensive cities in Europe (Dublin) is peanuts. And the number of people having to do so is growing all the time.

“Ah Jaysus, but they get rent allowance- HUNDREDS!!” they cry on Adrian Kennedy and Joe Duffy. True, but it is hardly the fault of those on social welfare that rents are so high and state accommodation so scarce that they are pushed into the arms of private landlords.

“But they don’t even WANT to work! If they did they’d take a job for whatever they could get! There’s no INCENTIVE for them- they should have their dole cut, so they should. They wouldn’t be unemployed very long after that!”

This is usually said by those with a comfortable living on more than the average industrial wage, who have never been down to their last tenner.

These are also not the kind of people who would work for the minimum wage in their wildest dreams, and yet they expect everyone else to do so.

But the real problem is not that people turn down viable jobs to stay on the dole. The real problem is that no proper, viable, sustainable jobs are being created to take people off the dole.

After all, if everyone was forced to work for a euro an hour sure the whole country would be employed- and we’d never have any chance of paying back the massive debts of the banks that we stupidly accepted as ours.

All this comes in the light of Labour ministers (remember, they’re the ones supposed to look out for the little man, the unemployed and the working poor) being paraded all over the radio today to talk about how they were going to get people back to work – despite there being little or no work available.

When questioned about the tragedy of people with no other income having their social welfare removed, Ruarí Quinn gave the sort of glib answer only a career politician could give.

“We are in receivership thanks to Fianna Fáil, and not in charge of our own cheque book anymore,” said Ruarí as he not-so-deftly sidestepped responsibility.

He also neglected to mention the he- and virtually everyone else in Leinster House at the time, allowed this to happen- complicit in handing over economic sovreignty via the bailout either by their support or their silence.

It has to be said- there is too much social welfare fraud in Ireland, and it needs to be dealt with. Those that engage in it should be called by their proper name – criminals – and held to account. They are effectively stealing from every taxpayer, as well as those more needful than themselves.

But the biggest social welfare fraud of all in Ireland is Labour claiming that they care about people on social welfare at all.

If they did, they wouldn’t be trying to cut their payments without having the slightest idea what the unemployed should do instead.

I don’t have the answer to the jobs crisis (no more than Ruarí Quinn, the OECD or the IMF has), aside from the fact that we should be retraining people for the kind of jobs that will exist in two or three years’ time, and looking to build on export potential in the meantime.

But what I do know is this. Reducing unemployment benefit does not create jobs – in fact it actually hampers job creation, as unemployed people as a rule spend every penny they get trying to make life tolerable for them and their families.

This money goes to the local shops, the local doctors, the local schools and transport companies, which- unless you ask Ruarí Quinn- actually has the effect of creating viable, sustainable jobs in every community in Ireland.

Maybe it’s time for Ruarí and the rest of the boys to create a few jobs in graphic design by investing in the long-overdue overhaul of Labour’s brand, including dumping the old socialist red for a more Tory-friendly blue.

Either that or face a case under the trade descriptions act for misleading people into thinking that they cared about the common man.

Who knows, maybe the African man with the 2007 Corolla might even make a tenner from driving Ruarí and Joan to the hearing.

Under the table, of course.

Nothing to Bragg about as the times, they ain’t a changin’…

Bob Dylan - still freewheelin' at 70.

So the voice of the 60s American counterculture turns 70 today, and is still as cantankerous as ever.

Bob Dylan almost makes a point of not giving people what they want in concert or in his later recordings, and in doing so remains relevant  when his contemporaries (like the risible Rolling Stones) have long since ceased to matter.

How we could do with an Irish Bob Dylan, or a Billy Bragg or a Bill Hicks in these turbulent times, as our politicians whistle past the economic graveyard and our people vote for more of the same.

The passing of Garret Fitzgerald gave us plenty of time to reflect on Irish politics over the last half-century, and it’s not a pretty sight. Irish political life is essentially made up of a whole bunch of people who all believe the same things arguing over who’s right.

There is, as we have seen with the happy-clappy visits of the Queen and Obama over the last few days, not much room for dissent.

As Dylan blows out the candles on his cake, Obama and the Queen have left, but astonishingly our banks are still broken and the recession hasn’t gone away.

The relative silence of our artists, poets and songwriters is disconcerting, as from my far-flung Scandinavian perch I cannot think of too many of them who have stuck their heads above the parapet to engage in any meaningful criticism.

There has been some tremendous satire and comedy (not least by illustrator and cartoonist Alan Moloney, and Dermot Carmody and the creators of the Emergency), but serious protest songs are noticeably absent. And you can’t have a revolution without music.

Instead, economics has become the new Irish rock’n roll, with David McWilliams, Morgan Kelly and Constantin Gurgdiev playing a role previously filled by punks and folk musicians. In a country famous for its “rebel songs” the social critiques of Christy Moore have been replaced by op-eds in the Irish Times, which although often well-written, are a damn sight harder to hum along to.

Given the seeming absence of an intelligent Dylanesque social commentator on the Irish music landscape, our best hope lies with our comedians and satirists, for whom these should be times of plenty. There is an endless supply of original material being provided by the buffoons that claim to be in control of all aspects of Irish life.

Just as Billy Bragg could never have existed without Thatcherism, the legendary Bill Hicks was assisted in his breakthrough by American foreign policy in the early 90s – it didn’t make him popular back home, but it would be hard to find a more respected and influential comedian. For Irish comedians, are politicians are the gift that keeps on giving.

But the Bills, Hicks and Bragg, operated in a much wider marketplace. Their home countries have populations much larger than our island, increasing the likelihood that they would find people prepared to pay to share their opinions – besides, who cares if a million people hate you, out of an audience of 250 million?

Our singers and comedians operate in a smaller, much more rarified environment, and not just in terms of audience size. Criticising anyone in public life might lead to a TV appearance getting cancelled or a gig slot getting pulled, or a grant being denied – the scrapping of Scrap Saturday and the banning of “They Never Came Home” are a good barometer of just how free speech in Ireland really is.

But if our journalists and commentators are to continue to abdicate responsibility by not asking the hard questions, someone else will have to step into the breach.

Though we are under no obligation to agree with what our songwriters, satirists and artists say, we should support them if and when they decide to do so.

Even more so, we must support their right to do so – without their being punished, ostracised or silenced.

“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.” – Bob Dylan, 1985.

“My theory is this; I’m not a political songwriter. I’m an honest songwriter.” – Billy Bragg.

Bill Hicks- the War.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4CQ_1GWn4w]

What is says in the papers

God, I’m dreading tomorrow’s papers.

Usually at this time on a Saturday night I’ll be watching the Twitter feed of Frank Fitzgibbon, editor of the Sunday Times in Ireland, who performs the invaluable social service of tweeting the main stories from all of tomorrow’s papers as soon as they hit the newsstands.

I reckon he can probably take the night off tonight.

Tomorrow’s papers will, unless the Rapture arrives in the next few minutes, be about Garret, Leinster and the Queen.

Whereas I’m looking forward to reading about the first two, I’m not sure I can stomach another millisecond of the gormless cheerleading about herself across the water that has dominated the media in Ireland this week.

This was the week when Newstalk’s “news without the state-run spin” tagline became laughably redundant, as commentator after commentator read long and loud from the government script.

RTE broadcast hour after hour of uncritical commentary of her visit, beating us soundly over the head with about how “unprecedented” it was, and how “successful” it all was.

Our new government also took the opportunity to declare how the visit had drastically improved Ireland’s image abroad, despite the fact that it was roundly ignored outside of the British Isles; indeed, here in Sweden any mention of it also included the “viable explosive devices” found on the day of her arrival. Great for the image, I’m sure you’ll agree.

But rather than heralding a new era in Anglo-Irish relations (we’ve had good relations for twenty years or more now), the only thing that has really changed is the attitude of many people towards the Queen herself.

Skips quickly filled with Wolfe Tones tapes and Proclamation posters as the Irish people discovered they really liked her after all.

A lot of people were genuinely astounded at her warmth, her ability to deliver a speech (including a few words in the local language) and the fact that she was generally reasonably amiable.

Why people would be surprised that a woman who has been doing the job – and it is a job – for nearly sixty years might actually turn out to be good at it is beyond me.

But beyond the platitudes and the thundering media back-slapping, nothing has changed; all the visit of the Queen has done is cement the fact that Ireland and the Irish people don’t do accountability.

Because rather than apologise for the actions of her country in ours (which she was never going to do, and is probably why they sent her), this unelected head of state spoke of her “sympathy” for those affected.

It was as if one eight-minute speech was enough to close the book on the North and move on. Those interned without trial, or the families of the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, might respectfully disagree.

Anyone not prepared to forgive and forget this week is labelled backward, a bigot or a crank, lumped in with the morons in Manchester United shirts throwing rocks at the police and failing to burn the Union Jack.

In short, a person accountable to no-one has essentially told us that no-one will be held accountable for anything, but it’s all alright because we are friends now. And we applauded her loudly for it, because that is what we do.

That is why Charles Haughey died a free man, never called to account for his actions – or his accounts – before a court. That is why Mountjoy is filled with the working-class poor while no banker nor politician has been charged with bankrupting our country.

That is why Michael Lowry still gets votes, and why Bertie Ahern gets away with telling us that his income comes from the gee-gees. That is why we remain a laughing stock, not least to ourselves.

As he is laid to rest, it is worth remembering that Garret Fitzgerald was one of the few politicians – some would say the only – who was held to account for his time in office; not only that, he also held himself to account.

His government had to administer some deeply unpopular economic medicine, and the voters extracted their revenge at the ballot box. His party was hammered at the polls, and he resigned as party leader.

It’s worth keeping that in mind this Sunday morning as the hacks have one last outpouring of superlatives over an old woman who cannot be touched and who can only be spoken to if she speaks first.

And as you read their gushing, unblinking praise and listen to the back-slapping on the morning radio shows, ask yourself why they are not doing what it is we expect them to do – why are they not asking critical questions of people in power? Why do they never manage to hold anyone to account?

Goodbye, Garret

Garret Fitzgerald, 9 February 1926 – 19 May 2011

It was Garret Fitzgerald and Charles Haughey that started my lifelong interest in the GUBU world of Irish politics, and it was with great sadness that I learned of his passing this morning.

The three elections at the start of the 80s were a crash course for anyone remotely interested in the affairs of the state, and coming as they did in the wake of the hunger strikes in the H-blocks and the shadow of a crushing recession, it was a comprehensive education in nationalism and economics.

I mourn his passing, but not because I rated him as a great leader. It was his tenacity and political stamina despite probably the toughest conditions an Irish statesman has ever faced that made the man.

It was an impossible job, but somehow he managed to do it.

But despite his obvious mastery of economics, he made several bad calls in the 80s and as a result could not deliver growth despite arresting the slide in the economy.

His refusal to meet with the families of the hunger strikers was no doubt an agonising decision, and I strongly believe it was the wrong one, despite the reasons for which it was taken (to preserve fragile relations with the British) – as John Hume, Albert Reynolds and many others have shown since, the vast majority of Republicans are reasonable people who are eager for peace, provided they are granted dignity and respect at the negotiating table.

But Garret continued to chase his dream of peace in the North and a pluralist Ireland, despite criticism from all sides and a deeply unwilling and ungrateful counterpart in the shape of Margaret Thatcher. Without Garret’s efforts in the field of foreign affairs, like his father before him in our fledgling state, it is unlikely that there would be peace today.

It was remarkable to see Peter Robinson in Dublin for the Queen’s visit – once one of the bitterest, most ardent and intransigent voices of Unionism, he came to the capital to honour the Irishmen that died in the Great War fighting for the crown.

It was Garret that started the ball rolling that eventually led the opinions and rhetoric of Robinson and his ilk being transformed.

His death comes as a timely reminder to his successors, inside and outside the government. Over the next few days the likes of Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar will have plenty of opportunities to read once more about their former leader’s exploits in the papers.

If Ireland is to have a future that is not reminiscent of the lost decade of the 80s, they would do well to take heed of his mistakes on both the economy and how he dealt with the more violent wing of Republicanism.

For a lifelong diplomat and academic like Garret, the greatest tribute we can pay is to learn from our mistakes and deliver a newer, better, stronger Ireland – because whatever he did, he never stopped striving for his vision of a just, peaceful, pluralist Ireland, where the Catholic community of his father and the Unionist tradition of his mother could feel at home.

Go raibh míle maith agat a Ghearóid, agus ar dheis Dé go raibh do anam dílis.

If you can’t do it with guns, do it with money

All the great war correspondents speak of a feeling of being outside the action when reporting. They see the death and destruction, but they are emotionless in the face of it. It is only long afterward the battle is over that they allow themselves to process what they saw on a human level.

There are very few great, emotionless reporters covering the queen’s visit.

Ryan Turbidy’s Twitter feed yesterday morning was unblinkingly positive towards it, as was Pat Kenny’s radio show this morning. Brian Dobson’s presentation of the start of the visit was coolly professional, but oddly lacking in depth as Mary Kenny waffled pointlessly about colours and hats.

On the political front, it appears they all have a day off- both Enda Kenny and William Hague have made the unchallenged assertion that “the vast majority of Irish people welcome the visit”. I’m not sure how they would know this, as the vast majority of Irish people are being presented from witnessing it.

No matter where you looked this morning, commentators were breathlessly intoning a new era in Anglo-Irish relations, and patting us all on the back for our maturity. Which of course is rubbish.

The ordinary people of Ireland and Great Britain made their peace with each other a long, long time ago; some would say they never had a problem with each other at all.

For Irish people have lived in Britain for hundreds of years and been that nation’s trading partner since trade began. Our streets are full of her shops and brands. Our language is theirs and even those who protest at the queen’s presence wear the shirts of football clubs from her country.

What the British couldn’t do by force, they did by commerce; we remain a colony in all but name. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, it is simply our legacy. We have thankfully long moved on from the days of firebombs in British Home Stores on O’Connell Street.

The absence of the Irish people from the Queen’s visit is about the most symbolic aspect of all, because this visit is not for them. This visit is for the politicians and the diplomats who were busy talking themselves into knots for the last century and getting nowhere- while the rest of the people, Irish and British alike, were just getting on with things as best we could.

But to the reporters in the field, this is something much, much more important, mostly because of their own involvement in it. Again, modern media has become the beast that gorges on itself as it seeks to become the story, rather than report it.

It’s no wonder people get confused.

Dear Liz

I hope you enjoy your stay in our country. I have to admit, the whole thing is causing me a few problems, and I’d appreciate it if you’d do your best to solve them whilst you’re there.

The first is the cost. Like any tourist, I’m delighted you’ve chosen to visit, and no doubt you’ll see the best that Ireland has to offer.

But unlike the vast majority of other visitors who will come to Ireland this year, we’ll pick up your tab. And with estimates of over €20 million it won’t be cheap.

The government tells us not to worry, because your visit will generate massive tourism revenues from the UK.

Aside from the fact that an awful lot of your subjects will have to come and spend an awful lot of money before we even begin to make back our original investment, I’m not convinced they wait to see what you’re up to before they go on Ryanair’s website and book their weekend away.

If they did, Balmoral would be an endless string of bed and breakfasts and souvenir stalls, and as far as I can remember you’ve never been to Torremelinos. But your people still go there in droves.

So I don’t believe this claptrap about your visit being good for tourism, not least because anything this or any other Irish government says should be taken with a massive pinch of salt, and preferably a large brandy and a Valium before being roundly ridiculed.

If it was about tourism, why not spend it giving British people free airline tickets to come visit us and spend their money in our hotels and pubs?

I really hope you prove me wrong and say the right things, loudly and often, about Ireland and industry and tourism in the coming days and months, seeing as it’s going to cost us twenty million or so. We deserve something for our money.

If you did, it would mark a major change, as you’ve been conspicuously silent on the subject of Ireland down through the years, despite laying claim to part of it.

Despite them being your subjects, I don’t ever remember you saying anything about Bloody Sunday, when the troops over which you were commander-in-chief shot down innocent people in the streets.

Nor do I remember you criticising Lord Widgery when he effectively slandered your slain subjects with his partisan report.

I don’t ever remember hearing of you begging with Your Majesty’s government to intervene when young Irish men in your jail were starving themselves to death, and for what?  For five simple demands that could have advanced the peace process 20 years, long before the term was even invented.

I don’t remember you ever saying that internment without trial wasn’t a great idea, or questioning why the overwhelming majority of those detained were unwilling subjects of yours, whilst those loyal to you were allowed to go free.

Added to the tourism argument and your silence on the subject of Ireland is a more fundamental issue- I just don’t see the point. You’ve survived this long without making the short hop across the Irish Sea to see us, so why now?

Not wishing to be rude, but you ceased to be relevant (even to your own people) a long time ago, and your coming now is more an inconvenience than anything else. I’d rather see the money spent retaining special needs teachers or keeping hospital wings open.

Or even invested in some proper marketing of Ireland abroad; after all, people in Scandinavia still think that our country still belongs to you.

So maybe we could spend some of that €20 million explaining to them that we weren’t really involved in the BSE that ran rampant through your agriculture, or the foot and mouth epidemic- two incidents that Ireland continues to pay a heavy price for, despite being relatively untouched by them when compared to your country.

But most of all, I think your visit is sending the wrong message.

At a time when Ireland needs to get all hands to the pumps, strip away the fat and get itself lean, mean and working again, we invite someone like you – someone whose life, whose very existence is built on privilege and entitlement and expectation, solely caused by your being born in the right place at the right time.

Like many Irish people of my generation, I don’t believe in hereditary privilege. I believe in doing things on merit.

I believe in the inalienable rights of all human beings, including the right to grow up in safety and security, to receive an education and the right to do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.

Ironically, a lot of these rights have been denied to Irish people during your time on the throne.

I believe in the dignity of work, and that anyone capable of working has the obligation to go out and do it, and that we as a society have a responsibility to give them the chance to do so.

Whatever little privileges there are in this world are to be earned, not demanded or expected as a matter of course by you and your family – or by bankers or politicians or anyone else.

I simply don’t believe that you – or they- are better than anyone else. Because you’re not.

Most of all, I believe that these rights bring us responsibilities, and that is where you have failed us most.

You had a responsibility to oversee the actions of your governments through the years, as well as your armed forces, but you did not do so. Why the interest now?

I ask these questions here because no-one in Ireland will be allowed to. Everything is being done to ensure that dissent is not part of your travel itinerary.

But at the very least, an apology to the Irish people and a neighbourly offer of help for the future should be. Even if it will be too little, and far too late.

Got our lipstick on…

Pelle Blohm is one of my favourite people, but I’ve a feeling he doesn’t get Jedward.

I’m not sure I do either, but it doesn’t bother me.

Given his long-held love of Irish music and culture, I suspect it bothers him a little though.

But even if we don’t get the brothers Grimes, a lot of people do and tonight on the internet there was an outpouring of joy via social media when Jedward won a place in the Eurovision Song Contest final this Saturday.

But the great thing about tonight was not the performance – it wasn’t some post-ironic, pre-apocalyptic, mid-bailout punk rock statement. It wasn’t even about poking the rest of Europe – who, let’s not forget, currently feel a mixture of anger, pity and contempt towards us – in the eye.

After all the debates and elections, the bickering and the toothless reports, the penury and the austerity, the five-point plans and the pension plundering, tonight was about having something to collectively feel good about again. The fact that it’s a pair of hyperactive twins is entirely beside the point.

For half an hour, we had something to share that we could all feel good about.

And that hasn’t happened for a very long time.

Enjoy.

PS Sweden made it to the final too. 

The future has already happened

As they set about interviewing a whole bunch of ministers in our “new” government, our good friends over at Newstalk (@breakfastnt on Twitter) were looking for questions for Pat Rabbitte.

I sent them a tweet requesting them to as him if he remembered being a socialist, and if so, why did he stop?

I wasn’t joking.

In the Moderate party, Sweden possesses the most left-wing Tory party in the world- in Ireland, Labour is to the right of Sweden’s tories.

Where else would a party of the left stand idly by and watch billions- that’s BILLIONS- of taxpayers money stolen from the people to pay back speculators?

Where else would a party for working men and women sanction a raid on their pensions to make up for the shortfall caused by the orginal robbery?

Where else would a socialist group propagate the shallow, facetious argument that if Ireland defaults, there will be no money to pay “the nurses, the police, the teachers”?

Let’s bury that one once and for all.

The simplistic notion that by not paying it’s debts, Ireland would become a pariah state is utterly laughable. Ireland already is a pariah state and the markets are quite rightly punishing us- consistently and severely- for our past, present, and future sins.

Whatever fear it is that has been keeping the ministers awake, they can sleep easy. It’s already happened.

There is another issue. Brendan Howlin and his Quislings seem to think that the markets simply rock up in their SUVs, check to see that we have paid our previous bills and then lend us more money. He’s trying to say that it doesn’t matter what caused the default, but simply that if we do, the markets will be closed to us.

Which, of course is rubbish. The markets know exactly what will cause us to default- after all, they are the ones that forced it, massively over-charging Ireland for money it borrowed to pay back debts that it didn’t owe in the first place.

Not to mention their careless lending, total absence of risk management and the short-selling of the banks and other institutions. And by charging ten percent or more, the markets are closed to us already.

Sooner or later, Howlin and the rest of the new left-right brigade will realise that they are tilting at windmills. The markets are treating us as if the default has already happened- it is, as the market term says, “priced in” to Irish debt.

As is the billions- BILLIONS- pumped in to the banks and NAMA. And they know that we can’t pay it back.

People in the markets sit in front of information terminals that cost thousands of euros a month that help them make their decisions and calculations, but when it comes to Ireland they can do it on the back of a beermat. We have small tax revenues, big debts and big expenditure. Go figure.

The way out of this of course, would be to clean up the balance sheet- the innate greed of the markets means that, if they think there’s a chance that we will pay the next loan back and they can make money of it, they will lend to us- indeed, they had previously written off Irish bank debt, only to be handed a lifeline by the odious Brian Lenihan.

And maybe if the nice people at Newstalk ever get around to asking my question of one of the Labour ministers, it might shock them into remembering what they are supposed to stand for as democratic socialists- governement of the people, for the people, by the people.

Not of the people, for the banks, by the grossly inept as it currently stands.