Girls In Green put Ireland on the map

When I watch you play football, I’m watching you telling me who you are.

Last night Ireland’s women showed us that they are a force to be reckoned with, long into the future, on and off the field.

Everything you do on a football field tells anyone watching something about you.

Do you try the spectacular when the simple would suffice?

Do you hold on to the ball for too long, or do you hide from it when the pressure is on? Do you conserve your energy for the attacking side or bust your lungs to cover that all-important last yard in defence?

This Irish team told us who they are last night.

They fought and they battled and they backed one another.

They blocked and harried and ran and covered.

They never hid.

And when the time came, Amber Barrett from Donegal, who has spent her fair share of time on the bench and the various lockdowns cut off from her family in Germany, took two touches and slotted the ball home for Creeslough and for Donegal and for Ireland.

Make no mistake, this whole World Cup qualifying campaign was win or bust for these Irish girls. Treated so shamefully for decades, they battled and battled, coming to the brink but never making it to the big dance.

Five years ago they had to publicly shame their own association just to be treated with dignity, never mind generosity, and all the while the clock was ticking.

Women’s football has developed exponentially over the last decade. Players are paid better and more often, facilities have generally improved, and at last we in sports journalism are starting to catch up.

Countries like Spain, Austria and even England have closed the gal to traditional powerhouses like the USA, Germany, Norway and Sweden. In fact, the Nordic nations are in danger of being eclipsed by these newcomers.

Had Ireland missed out again, there’s every likelihood that the train would have left the station, powering on ahead without us. To be among the best you have to play them, as Norway found out to their cost – in recent years they have crushed all the minnows in their path, only to falter when they came up against of equal or greater stature.

Such teams don’t want to play Ireland if Ireland aren’t going to give them the kind of test they will get at a major finals – miss out on the World Cup in 2024 and your friendlies are going to be against Slovenia and Estonia, rather than Sweden and Australia.

International results have an undeniable effect on the value of players too – when it comes to desirability and contract negotiations, an England international is worth much, much more than someone playing for a smaller nation, the kind of nation that doesn’t make it to major finals.

Every one of the players that played for Ireland last night deserves huge credit for getting to the World Cup, and what comes next. But we cannot forget every single woman who went before them who never got to experience what this generation is living.

The pioneers who paved the way for this team should be remembered and lauded and thanked for what they did, because they certainly didn’t receive our gratitude at the time.

The tournament in Australia and New Zealand will be a tough one; there are few enough weak teams at any World Cup, and arguably Ireland might be ranked among them, certainly from a European perspective, but Vera Pau has forged a steely spirit that ensures they can give anyone a game – and on their day, they can win it, too.

To thrive at the World Cup, Ireland will need to be a little more ambitious in attack, especially against teams at our own level, while shutting down the big fish as much as possible, but all that will be planned out in due course.

For now the window is open, and there is a real opportunity to completely shift the paradigm for women in Irish sport.

The route to the Champions League in the women’s game is shorter – investing in a strong Women’s National League could quickly bring returns in terms of participation in the group stages, something that no Irish club has managed on the men’s side.

Young girls now have people to look up to, and they are among the best role models the country has ever had. Feed that desire – give them the content they deserve, let them look in the mirror of this team and see themselves.

We are not going to the World Cup to make up the numbers, but we should not fixate on results alone. This is a great moment for Irish sport, for Irish women and for the Irish nation, in that it shows what can be achieved despite, and not because of, our situation.

We have to seize this moment, and the Girls In Green will be at the forefront of building something new and valuable and lasting that will benefit us all – not just on the field.

Little left of Palme’s legacy as Sweden goes to the polls

STOCKHOLM – It takes about five minutes to walk from where Sweden’s prime minister Olof Palmé was shot dead in February 1986 to the quiet churchyard where he was laid to rest – after Sunday’s general election, the plaque where he was murdered in Stockholm and his gravestone may be all that is left of his social democratic legacy.

Often held up as a model for others to follow for its cradle-to-grave welfare state, its commitment to equality and its high standing internationally, the truth is that Swedish social democracy has been in decline since Palme’s death, and he would barely recognize it in its current form.

In his last election in 1985, Palme’s Social Democrats won 44.7 percent of the vote, while the far right didn’t even register on the electoral scale. In 2022 they will be lucky to get more than 30 percent, with the Sweden Democrats – a party firmly rooted in the neo-Nazi movement – likely to get around 20 percent of the ballots cast.

Gone is the sense of solidarity that created systems of health, education and elderly care that were the envy of the world. They have been replaced by privatization and outsourced solutions across the board, and a school system exposed to for-profit actors that was deemed too extreme even for Augusto Pinochet’s Chile.

Gone too is the diplomatic superpower that built its reputation on Palme’s vocal opposition to the Vietnam war, which has been replaced by a rush to join NATO in the wake of Russia’s indefensible invasion of Ukraine.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, decades of freedom of alliance have gone up in smoke as the Swedes have been forced to horse-trade with dictators like Turkey’s Recip Erdogan, throwing Sweden’s Kurdish population under the bus so that they can gain membership of the world’s biggest military alliance, with all that entails.

The decline began in the decade after Palme’s murder – a crime which has never been solved – and accelerated under two consecutive terms of center-right government, led by the Moderate Party’s Fredrik Reinfeldt, from 2006 to 2014.

That period coincided with the rise of the far right, as the Sweden Democrats were gradually been brought in from the cold to become the bull in the china shop of Swedish politics.

Like many fascist and populist movements, they have vacuumed up voters from both sides, from dyed-in-the-wool white supremacists to former social democrats ostensibly worried about the threat from cheap labour.

In doing so they have dragged everyone, including  the Social Democrats, a long way to the right, leading to the kind of discourse and rhetoric that would have been unimaginable in Palme’s time.

During the election campaign, parties from across the spectrum have been tripping over themselves to be perceived as tough on crime and immigration, with breathtaking policy suggestions that amount to a suspension of the rule of law in mainly immigrant areas and allow the police to act with impunity.

Undoubtedly, crime is an issue. Parallel with the sell-off of social services and the conversion of schools into for-profit enterprises, gang violence has spiraled as youths, mostly young men, decide that a short life with plenty of money and notoriety from dealing drugs is preferable to taking a more honest path.

These young men don’t care about harsher sentences, or greater police powers. Most of them expect to die sooner rather than later, but such suggestions go down well with voters who will never set foot in the area where these gangsters live.

The Sweden Democrats may have taken some votes from the left, but they have stripped both the ballots and the dignity of the other right-wing parties, who by adopting the racist rhetoric of SD then found themselves on the same playing field, completely unable to compete.

The most shameful U-turn has come from Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson, who promised Holocaust survivor Hédi Fried that he would never collaborate with the Sweden Democrats, only to invite their leader Jimmie Åkesson in from the cold a little over a year later.

Far from such actions stemming the flow, the Sweden Democrats have now outstripped the Moderates to become the biggest of the parties in the right-wing block – almost half of Swedish voters intend to either vote for a party whose first committee contained a former member of Hitler’s SS, or a right-wing party that is happy to govern with their support.

Sweden is no stranger to minority governments, and it is highly likely that Social Democrat prime minister Magdalena Andersson will be returned for another term, in another weak coalition with the Greens and possibly the agrarian Centre Party, whose steadfast refusal to countenance co-operating with the Sweden Democrats make them the exception on the right.

Should Andersson fall short, the country faces the prospect of the deeply unimpressive Kristersson trying to put together a government with the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Party (who are liberal in name only), with support from the Sweden Democrats.

That would be a dream outcome for those who are making money hand over fist from selloffs and those who want to see Sweden’s immigration policies tightened even further, and a nightmare for virtually everyone else.

If you look out of the windows of the Social Democrat headquarters on Sveavägen and slightly to the left, you can see the church where Palme lies buried. Three and a half decades after his murder, one has to look a lot harder to find any trace of the country he left behind.

No other Troy? If only

On Wednesday night, it finally came – the resignation of landlord Robert Troy, whose career as a minister came to an end (for now, at least) due to revelations about his property empire and how the details were kept hidden from the general public.

The whole sorry scene played out under the hashtag #TroyStory, and in the wake of his resignation from the cabinet, jokes were made about there being “no other Troy”.

If only.

In truth, the Dáil is full of people like Robert Troy – in fact, he is still there, having only stepped down from his ministerial post, and not resigned as a TD, which any right-thinking person would have done when public confidence in them had drained away to this extent.

His breathtakingly bitter, whiny statement and the reaction to it from the likes of Micheál Martin says so much about Irish democracy that it’s hard to take it all in.

He’ll continue to pull in more than €100,000 a year in salary, plus generous expenses.

He will continue to make decisions that affect rents and standards and opportunities for others to buy.

Opening his mouth as wide as possible one last time, Troy inserted both feet in it, claiming simultaneously to have bought his first property at 20, and also that he is not a person of privilege.

I hate to break it to you Bobby, but being able to buy property at 20 means you’re privileged, no matter how you go the money.

In the Ireland of 2022 owning a home at all is a privilege – you own 11 properties, sublet into even more homes, even if some of them reportedly have no fire certificates and are substandard in other ways.

Not only that, those assets gave you the clout and the capital to run for office, which you successfully did – and you used that office to ask about continuing evicting people during a global, once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

I wonder how many times the poor put-upon private landlord voted that people like him should be given even more money through the housing assistance program (HAP), rather than build social housing that would be owned by us all, for the benefit of those who need it?

How many times did he vote to loosen or remove regulations that would directly benefit him personally?

If these were cases before a court and not bills before the Oireachtas, we would rightly expect a judge to recuse themselves due to their conflicts of interest, but Bobby Dozen Gaffs sat through it all, with many of his profits and properties hidden from view because he simply didn’t think he had to reveal them.

No other Troy? Look at the member’s register of interests.

Everywhere there are landlords and business owners who, almost daily, are asked to consider matters that will affect their personal finances, and yet we let them.

Former TDs can waltz in and out of the Dáil to lobby on behalf of private corporations in meetings that are never recorded.

Meanwhile, outside on Kildare Street, the plain people of Ireland protest for accessible education and healthcare, and for redress for homes that crumbled under light-touch building regulations. The vast majority do not have the means to mount a campaign and gain a seat inside the house, so they remain outsiders, while insiders like Bobby live off the fat of the land.

That Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar are disappointed to se him go tells you all you need to know in Ireland in 2022. Sure why shouldn’t he have a dozen gaffs, when 3000 children are growing up in homelessness? He’s a great lad, always voted how we told him to.

And last but not least, the ridiculous notion that it is hard work that lies behind the success of landlords, when it is simple privilege.

The privilege of knowing who to ask for a bank loan at the right time.

The privilege of having parents who can put you through college.

The privilege of having friends in high places who have your back, even when you’ve been caught being economical with the truth.

There is much in Ireland that needs to be fixed, and there is a great desire to do so – but not inside the Dáil, where once the status quo is maintained, the two major parties can retain their century-long tradition of a prime spot at the trough.

Meanwhile, outside, poverty creeps ever-closer as the citizens meekly hand over their ever-increasing rent to those on the inside, literally and metaphorically.

No other Troy?

If only.

Super League the inevitable result of greed eating the game

Gary Neville, who somehow during 30 years in football never noticed the capitalism

A sleepy spring Sunday was rudely interrupted by the news that Europe’s biggest clubs are considering breaking away and forming their own 12-team Super League, and somehow people were surprised.

The charge to the barricades set up to defend the game was led by none other than Gary Neville, a man who became a millionaire thanks to his ability to kick a ball while advertising products to fans in Indonesia.

Seemingly completely without irony Neville, who never thought to question why he found himself on pre-season tours of Asia as a player, built his barricade on the platform of Sky Sports, the organisation which, perhaps more than any other, sent us hurtling into the vortex of hyper-capitalism that is now inevitably consuming the last vestiges of a once-lovable sport.

This has happened before, and when it did, it was called the Premier League and the Champions League – this time it will be called the Super League, and if you think for one second that the billionaire owners of your favourite team care what you think, think again.

For almost a century the most important people in the professional game were the fans who came through the turnstiles every Saturday. There were no betting firms paying millions to have their logos on the front of the club’s shirt; at best a wealthy local businessman would pump money into the team as a gesture of goodwill, a way of rewarding those who worked in his factory or mine by providing them with a bit of entertainment on a Saturday.

For those who couldn’t get into the grounds, radio and newspapers reigned. Live games on TV were few and far between, and men sat in smokey pubs in deep discussions about the merits of Di Stefano and Duncan Edwards, Stanley Matthews and John Giles, in many cases without ever having actually seen them play.

The FA Cup in England brought about the possibility of a giant being slain, and the World Cup brought together the best players from all over the globe in a glorious celebration of the game.

That all changed in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the advent of multi-channel and cable TV. Clubs and fledgling satellite broadcasters realised that there were huge sums to be made from televising as many games as possible; in doing so, the players and their shirts could become walking billboards, generating ever-more revenue as fans around the globe tuned in to watch.

The top English clubs threatened to break away, and the Premier League was born. Europe followed soon after, and the European Cup was restructured into a lucrative league format, eventually gerrymandered into the current virtually closed structure that strangles the chances of any smaller club establishing themselves without the largesse of a new billionaire owner.

All of a sudden, the terraces – whose collected expenditure on tickets and pies and Bovril had previously kept clubs afloat for decades – no longer mattered. Standing on the Kop or in the Stretford End went from being a working-class pastime to something only Norwegian tourists could afford to do on a regular basis.

More and more billionaires with no local ties came into the game, leveraging their cash in return for respectability and laundering their reputations, and fans turned a blind eye, like happy frogs content to give these wealthy scorpions a ride across the river, confident they would never be stung.

But on a Sunday in mid-April, they were stung, and there’s no going back. What these fans have yet to realise is that they ceased to matter a long time ago.

The moment we realise we are past it is a tough one for all of us, and many of us don’t even notice until it’s long past. Thus it is with football.

If you’re over 40, football’s billionaires no longer care about you. You are the past. You have bought into the hype and paid your money. You’ve spent upwards of €100 on a t-shirt produced for pennies in the Far East, and they’ve made you into a walking advertising hoarding in the process.

They’ve sold you the lie that West Brom against Burnley is worth watching, and even if you haven’t fully bought it, you still paid for it.

The truth is that, in the modern game, an awful lot of top-flight games are completely irrelevant. No-one cares about Brighton against Fulham, or Sheffield United against anybody, even the big teams. The viewing figures around the globe are pathetic, and the top clubs have finally realised that they no longer want to share either the revenue or the limelight with the minnows.

Added to this is the change of demographics. Just as the Yuppies weren’t prepared to stand on a terrace and risk some docker or factory worker pissing their lunchtime pints down their leg, the next generation don’t want to watch football the way previous generations did.

They want to see highlights, action, skill, excitement. They want to see one top-rank brand taking on another in an exciting game with the best players in the world doing things the rest of us can only dream of.

They want to see 90 seconds of a game, not 90 minutes. And they definitely don’t want to see Burnley.

The Super League will give them all this. a select few global brands playing meaningful games week in, week out, the live rights sold for a king’s ransom, the near-live rights almost equally valuable and sold to banks or mobile phone operators or betting companies for use in their social media channels.

Fans will pay subscriptions to over-the-top TV streaming services that pretend to give them insight into the club and its machinations, all the while marketing everything from airlines to dictatorships to them.

At the highest level, football is no longer a game, and it hasn’t been since Lennart Johansson came up with the idea of the Champions League to keep the greed of Europe’s giants in check. These clubs – once founded and supported by members – are now financial giants in their own right, huge corporations whose primary purpose is to generate revenues and profits, not joy or victory.

You don’t like it, but you’re not the target market. The target market is people looking for a quick thrill and who don’t mind watching a pre-roll ad or seeing a logo plastered all over whatever viral clip it is they are trying to watch.

If your’e a fan of the laughably-titled “Big Six” in England, your love of your club is not important any more. All that is important is money, and the endless pursuit of it and control of how it is made by clubs and governing bodies.

Consumed by capitalism and greed, football has been a zombie for three decades – the Super League is simply the logical conclusion of what the cancer of greed has done to the game, and try as we might, it cannot be stopped.

Irish football as we knew it is dead

The solution to Irish football’s decline is not to fire Stephen Kenny – it is to keep him, and fire everyone else at the FAI.

The biggest-selling Irish-published book in 2020 was “Champagne Football”, which told in great detail the story of the destruction of Irish football thanks, in no small part, to the utter incompetence and hubris of a man now known in football circles as John “Fucking” Delaney.

Anyone who read that book cannot have been surprised by the 1-0 loss against Luxembourg; the only surprise is that it wasn’t by more.

Yet the millions watching at home were seemingly operating under the delusion that Ireland should, for some reason, be thumping the likes of Luxembourg by two or three goals.

The question to ask all these people is – why?

Ireland has, at the moment, not one single player coveted by any decent club in Europe. And after a decade and a half of stinking up the international game with putrid anti-football, we should be grateful that we’re allowed to play with the rest at all.

We are reaping what we sowed in the usual cesspit of corruption and incompetence that is Irish public life, and we should get used to the idea that things are going to get worse before they get better.

Yet still the fans gather and sing “The Fields Of Athenry”, that anthem of the gaslit that for generations has been our only achievement of note at the finals of a major tournament while the others got on with the task of actually playing the game.

Changing the manager after the Luxembourg result would not make one iota of difference, as results are now irrelevant, and they have been for quite some time.

To mangle a quote by Bill Shankley, winning is no longer a matter of life or death – it is much less important than that.

A cancer of incompetence is feeding on the cadaver of Irish football, metastasized by the whispering traitors who would sell their own mothers for a selfie with a well-known player and a grubby bit of power.

As such, the game can no longer be judged by what happens on the pitch, at any level.

It is, in every way, not fit for purpose.

24 hours after Ireland, with its population of five million, were beaten by Luxembourg, Denmark (population 5.8 million) were beating Moldova 8-0.

The Danes have a league with a hugely lucrative TV deal and teams that regularly qualify for the group stages of major European competitions.

The League Of Ireland has a one-camera set-up for most matches on a dodgy streaming platform – and in at least one ground, that camera is placed in an area no fans are allowed, so decrepit is the stadium in question.

There is never any guarantee that the teams that start the league campaign will actually get to finish it. The paucity of resources available to it are a stain on what was once a proud football nation whose domestic league produced players that went on to play for Liverpool and Manchester United.

On the coaching side, we continue to suffer from Dutch “erm” disease, where anyone with a Netherlands passport is considered a soccer savant, regardless of the evidence of our own eyes and ears.

We persist in talking of six-year-olds as elite prospects, despite all the evidence that such thinking is a mountain of sparkly unicorn shite dreamed up by weak-minded idiots who know nothing about either children or football.

The Football Association of Ireland has long been a triumphant failure of style over substance, despite having none of the former.

It’s a sporting Ponzi scheme that has ripped the dreams from the bosom of loyal fans while pissing on players and telling them it’s raining, all led by a golden shower of shysters who, staggeringly, are still free men despite an incompetence bordering on the criminal

The Irish men’s soccer team does not need a new manager – the current one is about the only one who has talked any sense at all in the organisation in the last ten years.

Instead it needs the corporate version of an oncologist to weed out and destroy the cancer of vested interests and the assorted sleeveens that have been allowed to usurp the game that used to be ours.

Irish football as we knew it is dead, and what has replaced it is no longer worth having.

Just for once, can ordinary Irish people get some justice?

I fucking hate Valentine’s Day.

Not because it’s a bullshit Hallmark holiday, but because of what that date and that day mean to the people from my part of Dublin.

Dawn on Valentine’s Day in 1981 on the northside brought with it the smell of smoke and the unfathomable news of the tragedy that was the fire in the Stardust, where 48 young people died.

214 more sustained non-fatal injuries.

579 others were there and escaped more or less physically unscathed.

But blood and burns and broken bones are not the only way to measure injury.

A whole city has been steeped in trauma ever since.

For days, the hearses criss-crossed between the churches in our communities. In the months afterwards we saw them on our streets, the young people whose skin had been melted from their bones as the molten ceilings collapsed, their hair burned off their scalps, their lungs destroyed.

Ask anyone who made it out and they will tell you the anguished cries from those trapped inside was the second-worst thing they ever heard in their lives, beaten only by the silence as the screams stopped for good.

Time has not healed those wounds – in the case of the Stardust, it only made them deeper.

The people of Coolock and Donnycarney and Finglas buried their children – their pride and joy – and then, as the months went on, they heard that these children  died because the fire exits were chained shut, all to ensure that no-one got in for free.

But this is Ireland, and no-one is ever responsible, and the vicious lies that are the lot of working-class people were aired in defence of those who should have shouldered the blame.

The fire was blamed on arson; incredibly, it was a claim taken seriously. The dead were smeared, the seed of doubt planted. What would you expect from these northside pigs, but grunts?

The other night I sat and listened to my friend Clare’s mother as she spoke about her memory of that night, and how one of her friends was grounded. Clare’s mam and another pal begged her friend’s mam to relent, and eventually she did and they went off to the disco together.

The grounded girl died in the inferno, and that guilt has never lessened.

If only.

If only.

If only.

That cursed fucking day passed again this year as it always does, lip service paid to the idea of justice for the families, but whereas once the graves in Balgriffin and Sutton were filled with the young victims of this terrible tragedy, now they are being followed by the parents who have fought so long for the truth, but time is running out.

Aoife Moore, a working-class woman from the city of Derry, another place to have known the icy hand of tragedy, wrote movingly about Christine Keegan when she passed away last year.

Christine and her husband John lost two daughters that night, and almost lost a third, but people like Christine and John and Antoinette who survived don’t matter to Ireland.

They are working-class people, and as such have nothing to offer but their labour and their sacrifice – in their case the highest sacrifice of all, as they buried two of their children, only to find the truth of why their children died would be buried even deeper.

Then this week comes the news that the hours and hours of testimony about the Mother And Baby Homes had been destroyed, and eventually one has to realise that this is no accident; this is a systemic denial of justice to those looked down upon by the powers that be.

You’d want to believe that people in power are doing their best for all of us, but time and again they tell us who they are.

Time and again they protected paedophiles and rapists.

Time and again they protected those who bankrupted the country and forced thousands into exile, giving the bankers back their place at the trough as quickly as possible.

Time and again they protected those who said that it was right that the fire exits at the Stardust should remain locked, lest the box office be down a few quid.

I was going on ten years of age when the Stardust happened. I have never once gone into a bar or a nightclub since without knowing how I was going to get out of it. In the aftermath schools and businesses held fire drills, new regulations came in, and we all became safety-conscious. Every green exit sign I see reminds me of those 48 children who never came home.

But nobody ever spent a night in jail over the chains on the fire exits.

Nobody has been arrested yet over the 798 children buried without record at a former Mother And Baby home in Tuam, County Galway.

Because when it comes to the Irish working class, it’s not worth it. They are only valued for their labour, their sacrifice, and their silence.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, just for once, Irish leaders – the people briefly selected to hold power before the next bunch of inevitable disappointments takes over – could say “this is not right, and it needs to be fixed – what do you want and need?” instead of kicking the can down the road?

Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a country where those in power used it for the ordinary people, instead of playing the long game and simply waiting for them to die off without compensation, without reparation, without acknowledgement of the grievous wrongs that have been inflicted upon them?

Every year on Valentine’s Day, I think not of chocolates and roses and love and poems.

I think of padlocks and chains on fire exits.

I think of those screams as the firemen tried to pull the bars off the toilet windows, before that deafening, deathly silence fell suddenly and told them that their efforts were in vain.

I think of the dull, grey days and the hearses and funerals, the long list of 48 names read out in our churches as they were laid to rest, and again a month later, and I think of the short list of those held to account for what happened – no-one.

And I ask – wouldn’t it be great if, just for once, ordinary Irish people could get some justice?

 

Until we learn what racism is, we need to stop talking about it

Get a Sharpie or a marker pen, and give it to someone else. Now try to take it off them without getting any marks on your hands or arms while they try to stop you.

Now imagine that the Sharpie was a knife, and you’ll get some idea of how hard it is to safely disarm someone holding a sharp weapon.

When this exercise is done on self-defence courses, the “wounds” are usually only to the hands and arms. In the real world, the face and neck would also be targets, and you don’t need me to draw you a picture of the damage that can be done.

This week in Ireland 27-year-old George Nkencho, whose family said he suffered from mental illness, was armed with a knife when he was shot dead by police. As George was Black, no time was wasted in turning this tragedy into the latest battlefield in the culture war so longed for by a tiny minority of Irish racists.

This poisonous minority of grifters and opportunists is not to be given the oxygen of amplification, but it is the “respectable” racists – the ones who, in their blissful ignorance, spread the lies and arguments on their behalf – that need to take a look at themselves.

It’s amazing how quickly they will out themselves when given the chance. I put out a couple of tweets last night pointing out the need for us to think about what racism actually is and what immediately dismissing it says about us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seconds later they were in my mentions, proving my point.

He was not “a bastion of innocence”, I was told – the inference being that the rumours circulating about the deceased having a string of convictions for violent offences were true.

They weren’t.

And even if they were, that is not a death sentence in itself.

Every time the state uses deadly violence, it is incumbent upon us to analyse the situation and ask what went wrong and what could be done better. Death is never a successful outcome.

In doing so, we must consider every possibility, and when the deceased person is a person of colour, then we must consider that too.

In doing so, we must consider more than the moment the trigger was pulled, or the person that pulled it. We must look at every circumstance that led everyone to that place, at that time, and to that outcome.

This means considering not just the motivations for all involved and the reasons for the outcomes. If race turned out not to be a factor in any of this, then there is nothing to fear.

If it was, then changes have to be made.

Then there is the broader perspective of George Nkencho’s mental health and the role race and racism played in his life until his untimely death. What effect did racism have on him growing up, and the necessary services and medical care he did or did not receive?

To immediately dismiss racism as a possible factor is to fundamentally misunderstand what racism is and how we understand it.

A clue – as white Irish people, we don’t. And we cannot.

What many seem to be saying is that “in the moment, the police officer would not have thought about skin colour before shooting”. While it may well be true, drawing further conclusions from that would be to miss the point entirely.

In a force where racism against Travellers is seemingly endemic, can we really say that racism could in no way have been a factor?

Are we so afraid of an open and honest discussion about racism because we are afraid of what we might find?

If your immediate reaction to the questions around George Nkencho’s death is to dismiss possible issues of racism around it, you are part of the problem.

If your reaction includes trying to find reasons why killing him was justified, you’re part of the problem.

If you are not capable of listening to the experiences of those who directly experience the kind of racism that you will never be subjected to, you’re part of the problem.

Racism is not simply hating Black people or Travellers.

It is a broad, sprawling mass of contradictions and fears and ideas.

It is individual and collective, personal and structural.

It is complex and confounding, and there are no simple answers – nor will we find any answers at all, if we are not prepared to listen.

The truth is that Black Irish people reacted strongly George Nkencho. Our duty is not to tell them about what racism is and isn’t, but to listen to them.

The pain and trauma of seeing a man shot dead in this way is traumatic enough; to see him so quickly and so gladly smeared as a criminal who deserved what he got is something else entirely.

This is not the time for the comfortable to be talking, trying to reassure themselves that there is no problem.

Instead it is a time for reflection and for listening and, later, for action guided by those exposed to the things we don’t understand.

Until we learn what racism is, we need to stop talking about it.

 

 

 

 

As Biden Wins, There Can Be No Forgiveness Without Repentance

The US presidential race hadn’t even been called for Joe Biden when the first predictable calls began to come to consider the feelings of the tin-pot junta of grifters and carnival-barkers that was in the process of being ousted.

Rick Santorum was on CNN, whingeing that this was a difficult time for Republicans, for Trump and for his family, and that the victors should show compassion for them.

The race may be over, but the gaslighting of the American people – and by extension, the rest of the world – goes on.

The same supporters who four years ago were wearing “Trump 2016 – Fuck Your Feelings” t-shirts as they celebrated his win were now demanding that their hot, salty tantrum tears be dabbed away.

What happens next is on Trump, his regime and his supporters. They cannot and should not be automatically forgiven – first, they must repent.

This is not the darkest period in American history; from the fact that a Civil War was needed to end slavery to the drone strikes on weddings in Asian mountains that were used as a sign of strength, there are many grubby, heinous episodes. Many of them happened while Joe Biden was vice-president.

But it has been four years of darkness, of open, vitriolic racism, of homophobia and transphobia, of lionising the absolute worst America has to offer while denigrating the best of it.

That is not on Biden, or his supporters.

That is on Trump, and his.

This election gave us many simple truths, but the underlying story is more complex, and not one many want to hear a day after Biden’s victory.

In truth, over seventy million people looked at the last four years, the persecution of minorities, the open murder of Black citizens by law enforcement, the shattered reputation of the world’s only superpower, the human dumpster fire that is Trump and his “politics” and thought – “Yes, I’ll vote for more of that.”

The final analysis is not yet complete, but many of those voters were white, middle-class Americans seeking to protect and preserve the privilege they have enjoyed for hundreds of years.

The fact that the race was close – Biden stuck on 253 electoral college votes for hours on end, despite having over four million more ballots in the popular vote – is a relic of the last time the victors sought to appease the vanquished.

The electoral college supposedly exists to ensure that the coastal “elites” (a word that has lost all meaning in American politics) from lording it over the good ordinary folks of the inland states, is a racist relic that allows the minority to punch above its weight every four years.

It doesn’t stop at the presidency. Each state, no matter how small, has two senators, which means Wyoming’s 600,000 people have the same number of lawmakers in the senate as California’s 40 million.

Still, it doesn’t stop. Districts are carved up and gerrymandered and systemic voter suppression is employed to ensure that the playing field is not just levelled, but rendered almost unplayable.

In 2016 the election data showed that, if only Black women voted, Hilary Clinton would have won all fifty states. A situation where Black women, and only Black women, could vote is of course unthinkable – until you remember that their forefathers found themselves in the exact opposite situation, where only white men could vote, not two centuries ago.

The Black American woman of today is still dealing with the racist legacy of that time; her vote is not valued, arguably not even by the Democrats who rode a wave of Black female empowerment back to the White House – and if push came to shove, over 70 million Americans would probably take it from her.

This is who we are asking to forgive and forget. But no Black American and no citizen of the world is under any compulsion to forgive anyone who has wronged them.

The process of healing does not start with a blanket pardon from its victims for the racism and fascist enablement of the last four years; it starts with the repentance of those who carried it out.

It is up to Republicans – politicians, political operatives and voters – to say “we got it wrong, and we’re sorry. We will never let this happen again.”

It is up to them to own their racism, their white supremacy, and the gullibility that allowed others to manipulate and exploit their unfounded fears for generations to the extent that America was almost lost to democracy completely.

The words of Biden and Harris in Delaware were a welcome salve on American wounds, but the onus is not on them to extend the hand of compromise. We know we are living in special times when the triumph of basic human decency and manners is somehow seen as a political revolution.

Trump is, as we have always known, a busted flush – a failed businessman, a failed president, and a total failure of the human spirit.

He will never repent, but America can.

Whether it will or not is up to those who so often claim to value the taking of “personal responsibility”, but who so often have no interest in doing so.

 

Hume’s long shadow shows the way to the light

Years ago I was in Derry, visiting places and interviewing people in an effort to find stories to tell audiences outside of Ireland that would help them understand the darker moments of our history.

Together with a Swedish colleague, I found myself in a bed and breakfast in Northern Ireland that had been one of the key sites in the slow, painful building of peace in the province.

It was to this place that John Hume had invited politicians and paramilitaries, diplomats and deacons, gunmen and gombeens to explore the possibility of bringing the violence that had blighted Northern Ireland for decades to an end.

First came the suits and the clerics and the uniforms, men and the odd woman anointed by some state or body to speak on behalf of the powerful without ever really saying anything.

Progress was slow. No-one wanted to give anything away, but he persisted.

Then, one night, John told the woman of the house that he had invited men there.

Violent men.

IRA men.

And that when they came to the house they might have guns, but that he had told them that under no circumstances could they be brought into the house.

Needless to say she was terrified, and even years afterwards she hummed and hawed about revealing the name of her business in public, lest she be a target.

She expressed these fears to John Hume, a man who forever looked like he was just about to slide out of whatever suit he was wearing mid-sentence, and that it wouldn’t bother him one bit as long as he said what he had to say.

“I’ll worry about the IRA, missus. You worry about the tea.”

She put the kettle on, as she had done for all her previous guests. The men came and left their guns outside.

Years later, she watched with pride as he received the Nobel Peace Prize as a reward for his bravery in talking to the men who, until then, could not – and many said should not – be talked to.

As we left the woman’s house we knew that our final chapter in this story would forever be unwritten; John had already begun the slide into dementia and was no longer receiving visitors or giving interviews.

Having passed away today, he will be lionised as a man of peace, and rightly so; but his death reminds us that much of what he fought for still goes unfulfilled.

There is much mention of his work in bringing about an end to the violence, but little has happened to bring about the kind of social justice that he craved, and the desire for which propelled him into politics.

He solved the greatest part of the puzzle, but illness robbed him of the chance to complete it.

His magnificent legacy now overshadows the social democratic politics that it was founded upon; we speak of him only in terms of the alchemy of his peace-making, and not the drudgery of his activism – how he set up and promoted credit unions, how he sought to replace the sham of Northern Irish democracy as it was with something more real and tangible and inclusive.

Most telling of all is that he stands alone; no other figure in Irish politics is as beloved, as respected or as revered.

But those elected representatives who now queue up to eulogise him are barely worthy of speaking his name. Their crass sound-bytes fail to fathom both the scale of his achievements and the essence of his being. They have been somewhat blinded by his brilliance, yet lack the curiosity to understand it or the courage and energy to emulate it.

The greatest way to pay homage to Hume is not to speak highly of him. He was never in it for the credit or the baubles and trappings of power.

It is to look at who he was and what he stood for – a social democrat committed to ensuring that everyone was treated with dignity and respect and could live out their lives in safety, security and prosperity.

Those who claim to have been inspired by him – especially the intellectual pygmies now queueing up to pay tribute to this Colossus – have no choice but to shoulder that mantle.

We need to live as he lived, and to lead as he led, always striving for the greater good.

His greatness and humble manner cast a long shadow over all of us in his wake, but in his humility and dignity he has already shown us the way out of it.

Though no longer blighted by violence, Northern Ireland and the island as a whole never reached the heights he expected of it – at least, not before he passed.

Let our gratitude not be empty words, soon forgotten.

Let it be the politics of diversity and inclusion and persistent compassion, the sense of solidarity that our nation’s big brother John taught us over all those years.

 

 

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.