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Dear Fellow White Journalists

This week I did a 20-minute podcast that I really didn’t want to make.

It bore the same title as this article and it came about because I got tired of seeing the same lazy ideas masquerading as compassion from journalists and media figures when it comes to Black Lives Matter.

As long as we’re not expected to do something or change anything, we’re all on board.

But ask us to give up anything – no matter how small – and the reservations kick in.

For most, by the time George Floyd was murdered it was already too late. The frenetic scramble to find Black people to comment belied the shallowness of their contact networks. They simply did not know anyone that they could talk to.

And even if they did, it’s not just any Black people that are acceptable – you need the right ones who will be illuminating but not angry, informative but not threatening. Preferably college-educated, well-spoken and with enough self-restraint not to cause us any embarrassment.

I’ve seen a lot of white people asking moving questions and stroking their chins thoughtfully as they drag the trauma out of people of colour before breaking for the commercials, never once interrogating the link between how our interviewees are treated and how are societal systems are constructed.

Now is not the time for us to be asking Black people to do our emotional labour for us, to be our unpaid tutors as they teach us the things that we should already know, because they have been telling us for centuries.

When we bring them in under the hot TV studio lights, we are not doing so to include them – we are doing it to make ourselves feel better.

We are doing it so that they can explain these things to us in a way that makes us feel comfortable about the choices we make and the norms we perpetuate.

Black Lives Matter, but not as much as our prosperity and peace of mind.

And when someone does something concrete, such as removing or re-editing a TV show, we cluck our tongues about how that’s going too far.

In the case of the British sitcom Fawlty Towers – one of the most brilliant comic shows ever made that also contained some of the most nakedly racist and xenophobic stereotypes ever on TV – is a good one.

“BUT WHERE WILL IT STOP?!” they cry, ignoring the simplicity of the answer.

It stops when a person of colour no longer has to worry about turning on a streaming service or a TV show without the risk of them hearing the word “n*gger” said by a white person, for laughs.

It may come as a shock, but we as white people are not the arbiters of what others find racist or offensive. It is not up to us to tell them how to feel – in doing so we reinforce the very racism we claim to abhor.

And then there’s the statues. Yesterday the beer-bellied white lads gathered in their numbers to “protect” monuments to slave-traders and racists all over England.

“THEY WERE OUR GREATEST LEADERS!”

Yes, but they were also racists and slave traders.

“THIS IS OUR HISTORY!”

Yes, and it too is racist.

Then the pseudo-intellectual daytime TV logic takes over.

“WE NEED TO LEAVE THEM UP SO WE CAN REFLECT ON THESE THINGS!”

Karen, these things have stood for hundreds of years, and you have never once reflected in a meaningful way about the racism that put them there, and how you benefitted from it. Now step aside as another bronze white supremacist is rolled off the pier.

And then when the TV lights go out and the Black interviewee leaves the studio, the number of Black people working on the production returns to its usual level – of zero.

Have a look at the media. How many times in the last month have you seen Black people comment on issues other than race? How many times have you seen them present a show about economics or education or science?

How many times have you seen a Muslim asked to talk about something other than terrorism or racial profiling or Ramadan?

Not that these are not important conversations in and of themselves, but if that is the only time they are allowed air time or column inches, then that is part of the problem.

So I’m asking you to do something that doesn’t come naturally to any of us as white journalists.

I’m asking you to think about why you are sitting in the seat you are sitting in, and why your Black interviewee is sitting in the seat they are sitting in.

I am asking you to not see things from your own perspective, but from their perspective.

I am asking you to leave your own world, your ego and your fragility behind and humbly enter theirs.

I’m asking you to be quiet for once and listen, and when you’re done listening to speak to other white people and tell them that the way things are is wrong and needs to change.

I other words, I am asking you to radically rethink the way you and those around you approach your journalism about the fundamental building blocks of our societies, and I’m asking you to change it.

It does not mean losing your privilege – it only means giving up the “white” part of that privilege and extending it to everyone else.

Because if you’re not prepared to do that, well then maybe Black lives don’t matter to you nearly as much as you thought.

Shocks Await The Privileged In America’s Uncivil War

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

 

Anger, as Ewan McKenna says in this week’s brilliant Black Eye podcast, has a shelf-life, and we would do as well to observe and take in as much as we can while it burns at its brightest.

Many things are obvious – the irony of protests against police brutality being met with even more overwhelming and widespread police brutality cannot be lost on anyone watching a TV this week – and some are less so.

And some are blindingly, staggeringly obvious, yet are either ignored or somehow unseen.

The protests at the murder of George Floyd (and yes, it was murder, as one man has been charged with it and three for aiding and abetting it) in a massive misuse of state power have shown us that the Second Amendment is not about protecting people from the violence of tyrannical state.

It is about protecting white people from having to concede that their fellow citizens are equal.

An old man violently pushed to the ground by a police officer in Buffalo, his skull splitting open.

A homeless man in a wheelchair in Los Angeles shot in the face with a laughably-named “non-lethal” round.

Journalists arrested and assaulted live on air.

And yet, not once have the “patriots”, who arm themselves to the teeth at Dick’s Sporting Goods and who were out cosplaying in camouflage over their inalienable right to get their mullet trimmed just a few short weeks ago, responded.

Not when a man was executed in the street for allegedly passing a fake $20 bill.

Not when the First Amendment rights of reporters and journalists, and indeed fellow citizens, were being trampled under the jackboots of the police and National Guard.

And not when innocent people were being left bruised and blinded by rubber bullets, batons and tear gas.

Nor did any African-American pick up their legally-owned weapon and go out to defend their community, invoking the Second Amendment rights that are supposed be vindicated in exactly these kinds of situations.

That’s because this is not about the “tyranny of the state”, and hasn’t been since the Boston Tea Party.

It is about preserving the structures of white power, where white people prosper because they control the police and thus the state’s monopoly on violence which is used to vindicate their rights at the expense of others.

View the social media footage of police actions this week. Take away the uniforms (they’ve already covered up their badge numbers), and what do you see?

You see armed gangs intimidating and brutally beating protestors for having the temerity to protest racial injustice.

“Ah, but the rioters! The looters! The mindless violence!” they intone, while never distinguishing who is doing what.

One doesn’t have to make too generous an interpretation to see that, in many cases, it is police that are instigating the violence, often under the guise of enforcing arbitrary curfews that effectively suspend many of the rights guaranteed in the constitution so allegedly beloved by the cosplaying cowards.

The looting is also worth a close look. Forget Target – zoom out just a little and you will see that Africa was looted of its people, but no armed man or woman stood guard to vindicate the rights of these slaves; in fact, they hunted those who escaped from slavery as if they were animals, looting their freedom, their dignity and their future, not to mention that of their children, for generations

The “mindless violence” of crowds is only mindless if you do not wish to consider or understand where it comes from.

If you do, you will find that riots are in fact complex social events with shared boundaries set depending on social contexts and power dynamics.

There are no singular “flash-points” that suddenly cause them; riots are a result of tension built up over time, in this case a pressure-cooker of injustice that exploded with the death of George Floyd, but that can be traced from 1619 through the murder of Clifford Glover in 1973 through those of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin and thousands of others, culminating in the knee on George Floyd’s neck.

Of course, all this is of little interest to a goober with an AR-15 who is petrified of pulling the trigger unless it’s a black child in his sights, or a man with skewed notions of “law and order” who is only protected from prison by a badge and the colour of his skin.

All they are interested in is preserving the status quo. After two terms of a black president, they voted in their droves for a racist demagogue to redress the balance and claw back what it was they felt they had lost.

That racist demagogue has not disappointed them.

America has always been a paradox; “discovered” by Europeans fleeing persecution at home in search of “freedom”, who then set up a rigid society based on norms and notions of morality, white supremacy and closely-guarded power and property rights.

It claims to be the “land of the free and the home of the brave”, but all too often it incarcerates and oppresses to protect the privilege of the spineless mediocrities who outwardly profess faith in the “free market” but inwardly fear it because it would expose the comical myth of their superiority.

In a democracy, the state’s monopoly on violence is accepted by the citizens, but only to a point; when that monopoly is turned against the citizens and the descent into dictatorship and oppression begins, there is a window in which the citizenry can use the threat of its own violence to arrest or reverse that slide.

In America, the guys and gals with the guns are standing idly by while the protestors are beaten off the streets. What they see is the police as vindicating their personal and property rights, so there is no need to intervene.

But the biggest betrayal is yet to come.

For decades, they have been flattered into believing that they can defend themselves against state tyranny by keeping some guns and ammo handy.

The oppression of America, hardwired into its policing, did not apply to them; the “well-regulated militia”, as they see themselves, could rest easy.

The truth is that the might of the now-militarised police will crush them if and when the time comes. The warm feeling of power they get from clutching the bump-stock of an automatic weapon to their shoulder gives them a false sense of security; for all the firearms in American society, they are hopelessly, overwhelmingly and inevitably outgunned by the police.

White supremacy is not about the supremacy of all white people; it is about the supremacy of some white people – the powerful, the manly, the fearless, whose destiny it is to lord it over the weak, be they people of colour or women or lily-livered liberals who are to be swatted aside, trampled in the dirt of the progress of the privileged.

But as the situation gets more serious, the definition gets narrower and narrower until such time as the “supremacists” wind up in an exclusive club too small and weak to defend itself before finally, grudgingly being subsumed back into society.

Anger does indeed have a shelf-life, thus the need for those who seek to right injustices to strike while the iron is hot.

If they don’t, the cost of this will be enormous, but this is not new; minorities have been paying it on the never-never since the foundation of the republic. Soon, however, those who thought they were immune will have to cough up too, and it is then that the lies of their “freedom” and “supremacy” will be exposed.

In America, you can be anything you want to be, as long as it is compliant.

If you enjoyed this piece, please consider supporting independent journalism at https://www.patreon.com/ourmaninstockholm 

 

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.