Archive for August 9, 2011

The answer? More democracy

One dead in London, 77 dead in Norway, but the answer to both is the same.

More democracy.

There is no excuse for what is going on in London right now. Nothing can possibly justify the thieving and wanton destruction sparked by the death of Mark Duggan at the hands of the police.

Maybe in the beginning it was about the death of a black man in suspicious circumstances, but that has long since ceased to be.

Now it’s about fear and power and violence and theft and control of the streets. It is the antithesis of democracy.

There may be no excuse,  but there is a cause for the rioting, and in a minority of cases it is a sense of helplessness.

Many feel that the democratic system and the state it serves is unrepresentative of their needs.

That is not to say that a revolution is needed. Great Britain’s parliamentary democracy may be flawed, but it is robust enough to stand the test of time.

Those who operate within it are not.

Ever since the advent of “New Labour” and “the Big Society”, people – especially working class people – have gradually felt more and more disenfranchised.

All the major parties have bought into the PR idea that a united front must be presented at all times – there is to be no overt dissent. No deviation from the party line. There is no place for anyone who disagrees.

Such a ham-fisted kills effectively drowns politics at birth. As a result, no-one in Labour is allowed to speak of legislating to make life better for the underclasses for fear of spooking “the markets”.

No-one in the Conservative party is allowed to mention immigration or crime or fearing old age, unless it has first been put through a tumble-dryer of spin and had the creases ironed out before being presented to the public, sanitised and cleansed for public consumption.

At a political level, people need to be allowed to speak freely, and they need to trust that their political representatives will not water down their ideas and opinions as they are passed up the line.

They need to be able to express their anger and frustration through their democratically-elected politicians at local and national level.

They need to recognise themselves in public debate, to see their ideas presented and dealt with in public- openly, transparently and accountably.

What they do not need is leaders, politicians and policies de-fanged and de-clawed, robbed of all the passion and urgency that made them worthy of discussion in the first place.

At best, people disengage from politics and leave it to those who understand how to manipulate the system for their benefit.

At worst, they turn to extremism and violence, like Mohammed Sidiqe Khan and Anders Behring Breivik.

People need to see government by consensus, whereby a good idea is a good idea, regardless of which side of the house it came from.

After all, what is the point of having a voice if it never gets heard or acknowledged?

Governing by consensus does not and should not mean that we agree on every single point – it means that people must be allowed to disagree before the best solution to a problem is found.

And whether that solution comes from the House of Lords or a high-rise in Brixton should make no difference.

Rioting is not revolution

I was in London not three weeks ago, and it was marvellous. I wouldn’t like to be there tonight.

It’s a city I’ve loved and loathed in equal measure; I’ve sometimes been troubled by its bustle, but never by its people.

Until now.

These riots are no revolution.

Though they may have started as a reaction to the death of a man in Tottenham, apparently at the hands of the police, they have long since become something else.

Now they are about violence, and greed, and power, and taking what you can’t afford because in some way, deep down, you think you deserve it.

I’ve news for you – if you’re rioting on the streets of London, looting from and burning down small businesses, you don’t deserve it.

Whether it be a satnav or a flatscreen TV, you don’t deserve it at all.

And if you think that this is the way to change things, you’re utterly wrong – in fact, you’ll find in the coming days and weeks that actions like this usually make life worse for the downtrodden you claim to represent, not better.

After all, what small business will give a teenager in a hoody a job after this?

What magistrate will take a lenient view of a gang member brought before them?

What school will look to help a problem child who has been bounced out of school?

None.

People will read the headlines in the Daily Mail and turn their backs on you.

If you want to know what it’s like to be disenfranchised and robbed, look at the Irish people.

Their government have not only robbed this generation, but several generations into the future, to pay for the foolishness of the banks. If anyone has an excuse to riot, it would be them.

But they don’t. You might say they’re too lazy, but after hundreds of years of violence and uprisings, they’ve come to a different conclusion.

Setting a car on fire or breaking a window never changed anything, and it’s not going to do so this time either.

If you, in your righteous anger, truly want to make life better for your people, your community, your children, you’ll take off the mask, put down the brick and go and learn how the system is run.

Because if you don’t understand the system, you cannot change it.

Real revolution comes not from breaking windows and stealing televisions; real revolution comes from reading books and communicating with your neighbours and friends and from the hard work of building your community from the bottom up, one small victory at a time.

Real revolution is about helping your neighbours and friends to build up sustainable local businesses that serve their communities, not smashing them up and burning them out.

Real revolution is not about violence or bitterness or hatred.

Real revolution is about being angry enough at society to want to change it. Not destroy it.

Because you are society. We all are.

And in trying to destroy it, you’re destroying yourselves as well.

The Byrne Supremacy – no qualification for presidency

Gay Byrne- not one for everybody in the Aras...

No matter what the polls say, Gay Byrne should not be the next president of Ireland, for one very simple reason – to elect him would be to rubber-stamp a system of politics that has reduced our democracy to a simple, rigged popularity contest.

I am not suggesting for one second that he wouldn’t be a good representative for the Irish people – far from it.

A conservative gent who has been ruined not once but twice by idiots who purported to be financial experts, it could be argued that he is the perfect person to represent Ireland at this point in time.

Gay Byrne should not be elected our president because at a time when we face a deeply uncertain future, he represents the past.

In his prime, there was no other broadcaster in the world who could match him. A professional in every aspect of his being, he managed to create intimacy with his guests despite not possessing the human warmth of some of his rivals.

The fact that he put issues like sexuality on the Irish agenda for the first time through his radio and television shows is a cliché worth repeating.

But despite the great debt of gratitude we owe him, the presidency of Ireland is not a prize to be awarded for his services to broadcasting.

It is a constitutional responsibility that grows more important by the day.

At 77 it’s hardly unfair to say that his best days are behind him and, judging by his leadership of the National Road Safety Authority, anyone hoping for a political Arnold Schwarzeneger effect from Uncle Gaybo will be sorely disappointed.

Having left his morning radio show and the “Late Late”, he has quickly become an irrelevance, not least to the generation of voters who will be voting for a president for the first time.

What these voters – and Ireland – need in the Aras now is something to set us apart, both politically and in the eyes of the watching world.

Politically, we need someone independent of and untainted by the existing political mafia, a voice not indebted to the gombeens in the shebeens who were the architects of our spectacular rise and subsequent sickening fall.

If ever there was a chance to send a message to the whips and the spin doctors, this is it. No more old politics.

From our new president, we need a combination of energy, intellect and sensitivity to lead the people as we try to regain our self-confidence and re-establish ourselves.

In the eyes of the rest of the world, we need a hard-nosed and dynamic presence that can sell Ireland and the Irish to investors and students alike, someone who can fill the citizens with wonder about our green and pleasant land to the extent that they want to find out more, spending their money here in the process.

For despite the very high opinion we have of ourselves, the rest of the world barely sees us at all, and what it does see it doesn’t like at the moment – a nation famous mostly for intoxicating substances and debt.

For our recovery to gain momentum, this has to change.

David Norris could have been that presence, as he is ostensibly everything that Ireland is not.

Gay Byrne cannot be that presence, in part because he played such a role in creating the old Ireland we wish to leave behind us, and it says a lot about the devious nature of the Fianna Fáil party that they would consider asking him to run.

Following the deserved kicking they got at the last election, they know they are a beaten docket- unless of course they pull the kind of lowbrow political stroke that supporting Gaybo would represent.

His election with their support would somehow allow them to fool themselves into thinking that had been forgiven for ruining our country.

They should never be forgiven. We should never forget.

Even more amusing is the staggering lack of self-awareness shown by the reprehensible Mary Hanafin, one of the chief architects of Fianna Fail strategy who according to reports is considering making a run for the presidency.

With her party’s record in office and the state they left their country in, it is both surprising and disappointing that the bottle of whiskey and the shotgun so beloved of Vincent Brown remain as yet untouched.

Dana, Michael D Higgins and Gay Mitchell are a trio of laughable alternatives that only go to show that is no serious candidate in the race at the moment; what is so disappointing is that the calibre of those named in connection with the presidency is so low.

This is not because they don’t exist- our last two presidents have been outstanding – but because the political system and the parties that operate within it have become so consumed by the hubris of the last ten years that the political careers of any outstanding candidates were drowned at birth.

Our choice is simple.

Either we start a serious search for someone with the style and substance to represent us at home and abroad and beg that person to run, or we change the constitution and create a new TV series called “Celebrity President” and turn the whole thing into a phone vote.

Somewhere out there, there has to be a John Hume or a Gordon Wilson, or a Robinson or a McAleese who hasn’t made a phone call or written a letter to Israel, who has paid their taxes and likes the church just enough to keep the conservative Catholics onside, but not enough to let them keep on abusing children.

Somewhere out there, there has to be someone whom we can elect to say to the rest of the world, “this is who we are, and this is what we have to offer”.

Somewhere, there has to be someone with the humility and the sense of duty to do this job not for themselves, but for us.

At the moment, our efforts to find that person appear to have gotten as far as “B” in the phone book, and stopped.

It’s time to start again.

Mind you, the TV show might not be such a bad idea- having the number of some crony to call a few thousand times might keep Michael Healy Rae out of the Dáil chamber for a while…

A creature made of clay- Norris pulls out of Aras race

If we’re honest, it was never going to happen.

It’s not that we wouldn’t elect a gay, erudite president. Far from it.

It’s that we were never going to be given the chance.

Mainly due to pressure of time, I wasn’t going to write about the demise of the Norris campaign, and for the same reason I’m not going to get into the moral rights and wrongs of Norris and of what he did, on headed notepaper from the Seanad or anywhere else.

But a tweet from George Hook, back on air after a holiday in Norway, changed all that.

George Hook wrote:

The political system is alive and well becasue David Norris failed to pass the rigourous test that every candidate should have to pass

Except that’s exactly what didn’t happen.

Despite the best efforts of many commentators, there appeared to be an enormous ambivalence towards Norris’ actions in writing to plead for clemency for his former partner.

In many cases, no effort was spared to shoehorn in the words “statutory rape” and “lover” in alongside the Norris name.

A Sunday Independent poll laughably asked whether or not Norris should have a partner should he be elected president.

And even if the vast majority of people ridiculed the very idea, the very fact that one of the biggest newspapers in the country would ask such a stupid question shows we’re not as grown up as we thought we were.

But that is not why Hook is wrong.

The moment the Norris campaign fell apart was not when the letters were revealed, nor during the controversy over the 2002 interviews resuscitated by Helen Lucy-Burke.

The moment his campaign fell apart was when the likes of the spineless Finian McGrath weighed up his options and decided that his interests would be best served by jettisoning Norris as fast as possible.

And in doing so, Finian denied us exactly what Hook claims we got.

The system of electing a president in Ireland is deliberately constructed to effectively disbar most Irish citizens from ever attaining the highest office in the land.

In order to get your name on the ballot paper, you must first secure the endorsement of the likes of fickle Finian and 19 of his colleagues.

And as we’ve just witnessed, even that is not usually enough as at the first sign of trouble, Finian will take his support wherever he thinks it will gain the most votes for him – not the candidate.

In withdrawing his support, he stopped the senator’s name going on the ballot paper and thus prevented the Irish people from passing the ultimate judgement on Norris.

Had we had the chance, we could have sent a clear message to Norris and the rest of the political classes that, along with being gay and clever, such interventions were either acceptable to us, or they weren’t.

Instead, Finian made up our minds for us, and all that remains is another week of talking heads telling us that is the senator – not the outdated, undemocratic, unrepresentative political system – that is wrong.

George, the only thing that today showed us is that the system doesn’t work.

Norris failed no “rigorous test”. He was damned in a poisoned court of public opinion until such time as those that supported him turned and fled.

And you can be sure that this was no test that “every candidate should have to pass”.

The asinine assortment of political nobodies left in the race inspire nothing but despair.

From left to right, they have either failed to live up to their billing, or never had a billing to live up to.

And that is why the system of electing a president should be changed. Let the Norrises and the Adi Roches and the Brian Lenihans stand up before the people, warts and all, and let the people vote. And if the people vote for them in numbers, let them be our president.

For the solution to a democratic problem is not less democracy and more decisions being taken over the heads of the electorate, including who gets to run for the highest office in the land.

As you no doubt heard during your recent two weeks in Norway, what is needed is more democracy, not less.