Archive for Irish Life

Remarks to Social Democrats convention in Dublin

Speaking at the Social Democrats National Convention in Dublin. (Source: @SocDems’ Twitter account)

For the most part I stay out of party politics, but I was honoured to be invited to speak about my experience of 17 years of living, working and travelling in social democratic countries in Scandinavia by Ireland’s Social Democrats, who held their first national congress in Dublin last weekend.

The night before I sat in a hotel room not really knowing what to expect.

Sweden and Scandinavia are often held up as paragons of virtue, and Ireland is often pilloried as being backward, but the truth of both is somewhere in between, and that was something I tried to address in these remarks.

They were not delivered verbatim as written here, mostly because I left my glasses on the table, and indeed one of the most important statements was left out.

That is, that Ireland should learn from not just the successes of social democracy, but perhaps even more so from its failures, and in that way chart its own course to a fairer future for all who live there.

I thank the Social Democrats for inviting me to speak and for giving me the chance to be part of a democratic process that those of us who have emigrated are normally and unapologetically shut out from.

REMARKS TO SOCIAL DEMOCRATS CONVENTION IN DUBLIN, NOV 19 2017

I live in Sweden.

I live in a country where I was welcomed with open arms in 1999 and treated fairly and with humanity, despite having nothing to invest and not being the most attractive person on the labour market until a few years after I arrived.

I live in a country that taught me its language and completed my education at its own expense.

I live in a country which believed in me, and I have repaid that country’s faith by paying my taxes ever since.

I live in a country that fixed my broken arm after playing football on a Saturday evening, and still had me home in time to see Match of the Day

I live in a country that saw people fleeing from war and who were in need, and that took them in and gave them food and shelter – 163,000 of them in one calendar year.

I live in a country where the chairperson of the sports journalists association I am a member of is a woman, and there are many more of them beside me in the press box.

I live in a country where full-time childcare for two children cost me around €220 a month.

I live in a country where I do not worry about my in-laws ageing, or being self-employed and getting sick.

I live in a country with a comprehensive public transport system that runs on time.

I live in a county where I do not worry for the future of my children, and where our hall door in an urban area is unlocked most of the time.

I live in a country where third-level education is free and students can get both grants and loans to help them complete it.

I live in a country where the beer is expensive and tastes horrible, where you can’t get smoked cod and chips and where they have never even heard of a spice bag.

I live in a country which has a terrible shortage of housing as it adopts free-market solutions to the problems of the state.

I live in a country – one of only a handful in the developed world – where it is legal and possible for a private enterprise to make a profit from running a school.

I live in a country that sells weapons to despotic regimes, and that is home to companies who manufacture technologies for those weapons, as well as technologies to prevent refugees from reaching Europe.

I live in a country that has subtly racist structures that builds glass walls around areas such as the one where I live, and that prevent some of my friends and neighbours from advancing and achieving their true potential.

I live in a country that is by no means perfect.

I live in a country that is built on generations of social democratic values, in which everyone is equal, and everyone is taken care of, regardless of the thickness of their wallet or where they went to school

I live in a country that I have lived in for 17 years, but I am not a citizen of that country.

I live in a country that is not my country.

But I long for the day when this country – my country – learns from my current home.

I want this country – my country – to treat my father, my mother, my brothers, my sister, and all my fellow citizens with the dignity and the care that all of us deserve.

I want this country – my country – to recognise the strength that comes from togetherness, from meeting the challenges of life head on, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, and not as individuals all just out for ourselves.

I want this country – my country – to be led by leaders whose first loyalty is to my fellow citizens, and not to themselves or the markets or the shareholders or the lobby groups.

I want this country – my country – to learn from the successes and perhaps even more so from the failures of social democracy.

 

I want this country – my country – to be worthy of my fellow citizens, and to recognise the truth in one of the oldest proverbs of our native language.

 

“Ní neart go chur le chéile” – there is no strength without unity.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

Immortality awaits McGregor in the Garden, but there are no guarantees

Those who have visited the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave often get a rude awakening on their arrival in New York.

Instead of the outstretched arm of the Statue of Liberty with her torch raised to welcome them, there is usually a long, winding queue for passport control.

Not so this week as I waltzed through Newark Airport and straight up to gate 49, where a clean-shaven young man inspected my newly-minted passport with both courtesy and studied detachment.

“What is the purpose of your visit, sir?”

“To watch the UFC and the NBA.”

He nodded approvingly.

Fingerprints and photographs taken, he snapped the passport shut.

“You’re all set. Let’s hope our boy wins on Saturday,” he said, his face cracking into a wide smile.

“Our boy” is Conor McGregor, and if the Irish once ruled New York, from the firehouses and the police precincts to City Hall and back, he is claiming it back at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, but the stakes are arguably higher than they ever were in Las Vegas.

Interest in McGregor is at fever pitch, but Eddie Alvarez, whom he faces as he seeks to become the first two-weight champion in the history of the UFC, is no slouch.

McGregor has seemed swept up in the hype this week, his manic behaviour at Thursday’s press conference a perfect example of a man highly strung, so close to achieving his dream, yet still vulnerable to failure.

No customised Rolls Royce or Gucci fur coat could hide the fact that, on Saturday, it will be Reebok shorts, four-ounce gloves and a gate that snaps shut when the moment of truth arrives – and that is all that matters.

If he wins, his legend will be complete, and the much-touted major announcement he has promised after the fight will take on even greater significance.

He will effectively control the UFC for the foreseeable future, reversing the master-and-servant relationship that once saw him beg Dana White for sixty grand; instead, White will be forced to go to McGregor on his knees if he wishes to keep the company steamrollering forward on the back of its most notorious fighter.

Lose, and the questions that were prompted by his defeat to Nate Diaz in March will once again echo around the sport.

Ronda Rousey and others may have done the spadework, but McGregor is undeniably the sport’s biggest truly cross-cultural global icon, but there is a huge risk that, with tens of millions in the bank and a promotion that has little choice but to bend to his demands, that McGregor will find himself surrounded by yes men – and that could signal the beginning of the end.

Those who have known him a long time say he has changed – he has become a brand, a one-man global industry with spin-offs and offshoots, with a bottom line and bills to pay, and expensive tastes to satisfy.

Honed over a decade or more, he knows his craft inside the octagon better than anyone else.

Given his meteoric rise, it would be foolish to assume that his mastery of the outside world – of the business of fighting and celebrity and investing – is at the same level, although the iron control he exerts over his brand and his support staff would suggest he is a fast learner, at least in terms of minimising the risk to himself.

It is unlikely that we will ever again see an open-hearted interview which allows us to see into the soul of the man – instead, we will be treated to staged videos and set-piece interviews where the answers are decided in advance, and are entirely independent of the questions.

He is uncouth and vulgar at times, but McGregor is no fool – he knows that the prospect of getting punched and kicked in the head for a living is not going to be attractive forever, and even at this stage he probably has his exit strategy mapped out.

Whatever that strategy is, it is surely based on the presumption that he will win this iconic fight in this iconic venue on Saturday, cementing his legend and opening up a world of wealth, fame and possibilities, financial and otherwise, beyond even his wildest dreams.

There is talk of movies, a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather and even a brief but lucrative move to professional wrestling and the WWE.

But the difference between the UFC and professional wrestling is a stark one – nothing in the octagon is scripted, and one clean shot could lay waste to whatever plans McGregor may have.

And you can be sure Eddie Alvarez is planning an entirely different ending.

Five ways to put the “public” back into public service

Thankfully, I don’t get invited to too many media conferences any more.

I don’t have the time to attend, and I can’t afford to lose anymore friends in the business.

Still, it would have been fascinating to listen to new RTE DG Dee Forbes talking about the future of Ireland’s public service broadcaster, even if her comments fall far short of the revolution that is necessary to reboot it.

Dee spoke of the need to make more “frenemies”, for more collaboration and, of course, to cut costs.

All depressingly familiar to audiences and journalists alike – and probably the exact opposite of what is needed.

Unfortunately Dee’s comments portray someone who seems to have accepted the narrative that the problems of modern media are for journalists and program-makers to solve, not politicians or bean-counters.

But reform of RTE would go a long way towards righting the listing ship of Irish media – and in turn it might even restore the faith that many have lost in public service broadcasting.

In no particular order, here are some of the things I would do if literally every competent person in Irish media management died and somehow left me in charge of our public service broadcaster.

1. Get RTE out of the advertising market.

Ban everything – product endorsements, ad breaks, sponsored competitions, the works, and instead run it on government funding alone, through a combination of tax-payer’s money and the license fee.

No logos, no product placement – just public service.

It can’t be done?

Sure it can.

Here in Sweden, when two girls from the Stockholm Gaels appeared on state TV to talk about Gaelic football, the floor manager put a strip of gaffer tape over the logo on the O’Neills ball they had brought with them. There would be no free advertising there.

Getting RTE out of the market would open up an enormous revenue stream for private media outlets and remove the need for RTE to produce popular (and indeed populist) programming, and instead get it to focus on its public service mandate.

2. Switch the focus of the sales teams, with those currently involved in selling advertising selling Irish-developed content and concepts abroad. Long before the success of Nordic noir, “The Lyrics Board” was lighting up Scandinavian TV screens, although that may not entirely be a good thing.

3. With the removal of advertising as a driving force behind every decision, reassess the talent pool. There would no longer be a need to pay hundreds of thousands of euros to individuals, just because their names are synonymous with hundreds of thousands of listeners or viewers.

I firmly believe that those who work for public service broadcasters should be (very) well-paid, but even the top talent themselves would surely admit that things have gotten out of hand.

4. Become a centre of excellence for the broadcasters and producers of the future.

The two-day RTE radio documentary course I did a few years back, conducted by their award-winning staff in Montrose, totally changed my approach to how I work with radio, and that for the better. My work has become much, much better, which benefits both me and my listeners.

RTE’s crews, producers, directors and broadcasters are all top-of-the-line professionals – why not share their work ethic and methods with coming generations of journalists and technicians via paid six-month internships?

5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, work with other media outlets and the government to create workable legislation and guidelines for the industry.

At the moment it is far too easy for powerful organisations and individuals to suppress the truth by sending a flurry of solicitor’s letters, or by leveraging the depth of their pockets knowing that neither RTE nor anyone else can afford to defend a case against them.

Equally, there is little alternative for those ordinary Joes and Josephines who have been wronged by media reporting to gain recompense.

Given that RTE acts to all intents and purposes like a commercial broadcaster, it’s easy to forget just how important public service broadcasting is to a democracy. It needs to be able to report without fear or favour on all aspects of Irish life, and to ensure that all aspects of Irish life are represented in its output.

At the moment it is basically Sky One with the Angelus, and that is far, far short of the kind of journalism and programming that some of the most talented people in broadcasting could deliver to a country that so desperately needs it.

If the media won’t take part, McGregor will take over

Conor McGregor’s hand is raised in victory following his epic battle with Nate Diaz

Last week, an Irish athlete won one of the most epic contests ever seen in his chosen sport, and yet for a variety of reasons, it barely caused a ripple in the media consciousness.

In a bloody battle that raged for the full 25 minutes, the initiative ebbing and flowing between its two protagonists, the Notorious Conor McGregor finally emerged victorious.

In doing so, he avenged his March defeat to Nate Diaz and put himself once again at the pinnacle of mixed martial arts, redeeming both himself and the somewhat erroneous reputation of the Fighting Irish.

This is no longer a niche sport, confined to dingy hotel function rooms and fight clubs – it is a $4 billion business that is only going to get bigger.

For me, McGregor’s win beat Barry McGuigan’s victory over Eusebio Pedroza, and even eclipsed Steve Collins’ run of wins at super-middleweight back when he, Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn struggled for supremacy in boxing.

It was one of the most exhilarating sporting events I have ever seen live, if not the most exhilarating.

But with Pat Hickey behind bars and a myriad of other sports to cover, plus a nine-hour time difference from Las Vegas, it seemingly got lost, slipping through the cracks and never really getting the credit or coverage it deserved.

Considering the fact that, together with Joe Callaghan, Petesy Carroll and a select few others, I was responsible for spreading the news about one of the most remarkable victories in Irish sporting history, it might seem strange that I am bemoaning the lack of coverage.

But it’s worth looking a little more closely at how one of the big global sports stories of last week – one that over a million US TV viewers paid almost $70 each to watch – was covered.

Petesy is a stalwart of the Irish MMA beat – enormously knowledgeable on every level, well-connected, he wrote for a variety of websites and contributed to Newstalk, among others.

Joe was kept busy writing for the Irish Independent, the Irish Examiner, and the RTE website.

As the elder lemon, I was tasked with bringing the fight game to the mainstream, writing for the Irish Times and the Reuters news agency (I also filmed the weigh-ins and the press conference for the latter), and covering the event on radio for the BBC and RTE.

The coverage of the build-up cannot be faulted – the pitched battle at the David Copperfield Theatre in the MGM Grand ensured the headlines there – but it was the aftermath that felt abrupt and unsatisfying.

It would be understandable if the fight had been a turgid, clinch-heavy affair with little drama, but with Diaz downed early in the first and McGregor seemingly out on his feet at the end of the third, this was a fight that you couldn’t take your eyes off.

Though pretty much everyone in the arena (or at least everyone who wasn’t from Stockton, California) gave the win to McGregor, there was still a sense of nervous anticipation as the results from the judges’ scorecards were read out.

McGregor won, and the subsequent press conference, which he entered on crutches, was an emotional affair, his voice cracking as he revealed how important the fight and the result was for him.

Strange, then, that there was little interest in the video I had of the post-fight press conference, and indeed the lack of post-fight discussion in some of the major media outlets.

I did contribute a report to RTE Sport, but the more wide-reaching Marian Finucane show, which had me on for the guts of half an hour after the March defeat, didn’t seem to cover it at all, aside form a couple of questions as a preview late on Saturday.

Nor did RTE come looking for the video. Neither did Reuters.

Why is this relevant? Because it tells us a lot about how editorial decisions are made, what influences them and how budgets are spent.

Mixed martial arts still hasn’t gained the acceptance enjoyed by amateur boxing, or the genteel respect of golf.

But how many world champions does Ireland have at anything?

How many sports can boast a stable like the Straight Blast Gym, which had two winners on Saturday night’s card and which is teeming with prospects for the future?

MMA is a sport fervently followed by young to middle-aged fans, many of them urban working class males.

In other words, the very class of people most often denied access to the airwaves and the pages of our finer publications.

The class of people from which McGregor himself emerged.

In our burgeoning media culture of interns and working for “exposure”, it is a class of people who are an endangered species in our newsrooms.

But whereas once upon a time McGregor and everyone else would simply have to accept that fact, that is no longer the case, as demonstrated late in the week.

Having fallen out with the UFC, McGregor launched his own media channel, The Mac Life, and the publication of a remarkable behind-the-scenes video from UFC 202 instantly made other media redundant.

This is nothing new. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of many footballers who uses an app to communicate directly with fans, and plenty of athletes and personalities leverage their social media presence to boost themselves, but McGregor has taken it to a new level.

Combining his enormous social media reach with more traditional media such as the “Man’s Work” short doc, he will get his message out there to his fans, whether more mainstream outlets help him or not.

But at a time when they are struggling to remain relevant, the more traditional players need to question their editorial decisions now more than ever, lest they be left behind in a changing landscape.

This doesn’t just apply to McGregor either – from news to politics to sport, new players, new issues and subjects are emerging, as are new ways of disseminating them.

The new voices that are so badly needed to round out the discourse will make themselves heard, one way or another.

And the media house that doesn’t recognise that what once was a one-way broadcast business has now become a conversation with media consumers has a very dark – and short – future ahead of it.

 

 

On spokespeople, attacking integrity and the eighth amendment

Sometimes 140 characters is not enough, so what follows in a bit of background to a story playing out on my Twitter feed.

I was in Dublin last week working on a number of stories, among them one for Swedish radio on the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment to the Irish constitution, which effectively bans abortion in virtually all circumstances.

In my attempt to create a rounded, balanced report I contacted a number of organisations and private individuals to ask them to comment. There was a window of four and a half days in which I could schedule interviews.

Those in favour of repealing the eighth were quick to respond, and all those interviews were done on Thursday afternoon last.

From the anti-abortion side there were several people who were very generous in trying to help me set things up, but unfortunately, apart from an interview with journalists and author John Waters, I came away empty-handed.

Over the course of several e-mails, the tone of which was both respectful and nuanced, John had initially politely declined my request for him to speak on the record, instead informing me of a conference in Tralee where the delegates would include many who opposed the repealing of the eighth amendment.

I drove to Tralee on Saturday morning and asked the organisers if they could provide someone who would speak to me.

Their suggestion was John Waters.

John generously attempted to procure other interviewees for me during lunch, but was unsuccessful and ended up doing the interview himself.

Before he did so, he said to me: “You appear to have upset a lot of people in there,” meaning the dining room where the group was eating.

What followed was a very respectful and insightful 20-minute conversation where he outlined the current state of play in Ireland and his views on the situation, and though I was disappointed to have only collected one voice on such a long trip, I consoled myself on the way back to Dublin with the fact that he had been comprehensive in his remarks.

In the interests of the balance both sides seem to crave in this debate, I continued looking for further interview subjects, via Twitter, phone calls and e-mails.

I returned to Stockholm yesterday, and I would still like to talk to anti-abortion activists for the piece, which will be edited later this week.

This morning I find myself being sent two- and three-year old tweets, the implication being that people wouldn’t want to talk to me due to my personal (note: not private) opinions on the eighth amendment, and some of my comments on those involved in the debate around it.

In many of them, there are a few fundamental understandings about what journalism is, and indeed what it is not.

Firstly, reporting has nothing to do with one’s personal opinions. It is akin to a doctor treating a family member, or a lawyer defending a murderer he knows is guilty.

Perceived vested interests are put aside, and it is surprisingly easy to do so.

That some have great difficulty accepting that says more about the standard of journalism in Ireland than perhaps anything else.

I have interviewed politicians, union officials, criminals, doped sports people, neo-Nazis, Islamic extremists and everyone in between.

In all instances, my own personal opinions are left at the door. It doesn’t matter how many Facebook posts or Tweets I’ve made on any given issue, the process is always the same.

Do the research, ask the questions, publish the results.

In particular when reporting for a non-Irish audience on an Irish story, the aim is to present the information to them – this is why the story is of relevance now, this side wants the amendment repealed, this side wants it kept – in a way that they will understand, giving history and context, and let them make up their own minds.

I have never once been accused by anyone I have interviewed of misquoting them, or misrepresenting their views in any way.

In any case, this issue – that of my personal opinions contaminating my ability to report – was only been raised after I left Ireland yesterday.

It is true that I have said nasty things about public figures, and I apologise profusely to anyone that has been offended by that.

But as noted above, there is a fundamental difference between attacking a person’s public persona, the opinions they hold and the tactics they use to get their point across, and attacking them personally.

However much I disagree with them, their views are for the most part honestly held, but that doesn’t preclude anyone from questioning the veracity of public statements made or research offered in support of them, or the tactics employed in advancing their cause.

In Ireland these distinctions are seldom made – I know of one person who no longer speaks to me because I criticised a glib point about boxing made by his wife on a TV show, which he took very personally. He called me up to tell me.

In contrast, I recently engaged in a very heated debate with a friend and colleague here in Sweden about how a certain story was presented by him in his newspaper; at no time did it get personal, and both of us learned something from it.

And this is the nub of the issue.

Some have reacted to my attempts to secure spokespeople by searching for tweets and trying to undermine my credibility before I even sit down to edit the report.

Though not an attack on me personally (and believe me, when you write abbout immigration, abortion or LGBT rights, you get plenty of them, some of them threatening, most of them anonymous), it is a direct attack on my professional reputation.

Thankfully it is the first time this has happened, but I fear that it might say more about the climate around the debate on the eighth amendment than many of us would care to admit.

The point is that none of us – journalists, editors, campaigners, voters – will ever get anywhere if we only talk to people we agree with. Social media is enough of an echo chamber already.

And nor, I hasten to add, will we get very far by attacking them personally.

I don’t know if it’s even possible to have a civilised debate about abortion in Ireland any more.

Recent evidence would suggest that it isn’t.

But either way a debate will be had, and it is up to everyone participating in it to try to keep it as open and respectful as possible.

Public interest demands that RTE answer questions on McCollum

Screenshot of an RTE tweet publicising the McCollum interview

Some stories stick out, and not for a good reason – there’s a whiff of something not right off them, and the much-trumpeted interview with Michaella McCollum is one of them.

(Not that I have been able to see it in full, of course. The RTE Player continues to discriminate against the Irish abroad, limiting access to content which, although brilliant, as with the recent I Am Traveller documentary, has questionable or negligible resale value abroad).

But the McCollum story itself is now a story, and there are questions that RTE needs to answer in relation to it.

I have worked for the various editorial departments of RTE (mostly radio) on many occasions, and without exception they are highly-qualified and extremely professional people.

But in this case the state broadcaster needs to be utterly transparent about how the interview was conducted. Nothing less than the journalistic credibility of the national broadcaster is at stake – stories that wouldn’t look out of place in the tabloids are all well and good, but tabloid tactics and chequebook journalism are not.

The “why Michaela?” question is irrelevant – news editors make such decisions all the time, and besides, her arrest, denial of guilt and trial were big news stories, and it is logical to cover her release and to try to unearth the truth.

The following questions need to be answered, promptly and thoroughly:

1. Who initiated the story/interview – was it Michaela, the journalist on the ground, the RTE news desk, a book publisher, PR agency or similar?

2. Did Michaella, her family, her foundation or any other party connected with her receive any sort of compensation (including, but not limited to, cash, flights or accommodation) in return for her co-operation?

3. Did McCollum and/or her representatives promise RTE or their representatives exclusivity? If so, what did they receive in return?

4. Were there any demands or requirements made by McCollum or her representatives as to where, when and under what circumstances the interview would take place?

5. Did McCollum and/or her representatives refuse to answer particular questions, or seek a list of questions prior to the interview? If so, did RTE acceded to those requests? Did the journalist on site decide the questions to be asked or was he instructed by the news desk?

6. Is there more than one take of any of McCollum’s answers to the questions posed?

I am aware that there are confidentiality issues at play here, and therefore I have not asked for specific numbers regarding compensation or costs, so RTE should be well able to reply.

And if they have signed any confidentiality agreement that precludes them from explaining the journalistic method used, then that raises a whole new set of worrying questions.

 

No “Caravan of Love” for Connors in Donnybrook

Actor, Republican and filmmaker John Connors on the Late Late Show

This morning I re-watched the journalistic car crash that was the John Connors interview on Friday’s Late Late Show.

As John – an actor, Republican and filmmaker, who also happens to be a Traveller – went toe to toe, the interview quickly stopped being about John’s heritage or Ryan’s privilege, and instead became about those who weren’t there at all.

And it is in how we treat those who are not present that we learn where we are as a society in relation to our prejudices; Ireland may have made progress in recent years, but the conservative Catholic ethos still remains.

There is still a hierarchy, and it is slavishly adhered to by many in the media.

Take Paul Williams, a man who apparently told John Connors on film that as an ethnic group, Travellers bear a collective responsibility for criminality in their ranks.

Now in case you need it clarified for you, ascribing collective guilt is one of the oldest and most racist statements one can possibly make.

For instance, by that logic all Irish people bear responsibility for the campaign of bombing that tore through the British mainland in the seventies, eighties and nineties.

Which, of course, is nonsense.

By Williams’ racist logic we also bear responsibility for things like apartheid and the Crusades, given that the majority of Irish people are white and nominally Christian.

But John wasn’t even allowed to bring up what Williams said on the public record and why?

Because “he’s not here to defend himself.”

The same was then said of the local authorities that moved quickly to block the movement of any Travellers onto their land following the Carrickmines fire, in which ten people died.

Then, breathtakingly, Ryan asked John why publicans weren’t in a hurry to serve Travellers alcohol.

So the integrity of neither Williams nor local authorities may be questioned, but Ryan had no problem inferring that Travellers – who, let it be said, also weren’t there to defend themselves – are violent drunks.

Even John’s own experience of racism was questioned, as was his anger towards the system and the society that has not only allowed it to fester, but has in many cases actively encouraged it.

Here’s some of the tweets that were made on the Late Late hashtags during the interview – ranging from openly racist to simple, yet staggeringly ignorant, this is what Ryan believes John has little or no reason to be angry about.

In insinuating that Travellers as an ethnic group are violent drunks or criminals and that they deserve that reputation, Ryan is kowtowing to the racist logic of the sensationalist Williams, but of course, this cannot be discussed.

Because imagine if Williams did what Iona and John Waters and Breda O’Brien did when they were called homophobes by Rory O’Neill on the Saturday Night Show?

What if he sued? How much would it cost? What would that do to Ryan’s career?

Notice nobody asks what would happen if a Traveller sued, as in our society they are granted no standing. Williams can say what he likes – even if it’s racist, or even if it tars Sinn Féin’s voters as terrorists, for instance – but he cannot be called racist for making racist statements on the public record.

This is the legacy of Pantigate, it is what columnist (note: not journalist) Breda O’Brien, journalist and former member of the Broadcasting Authority John Waters and the Iona Institute in general, whose fear of homosexuality is the very definition of homophobia, have left us.

(As both are based on fear, being homophobic or racist are not necessarily bad things in themselves – it is the repression of and the imposition of one’s own values on others, and the denial of the rights of others that is reprehensible.)

Irish voters have in recent times indicated that they are abandoning the vicious, venal, hateful and judgemental attitudes fostered by the church and implemented for generations by politicians as they divided and conquered and created hierarchies that suited themselves.

But as yet the system itself has not changed – The Lads are still in control, and despite the fact that they are a minority, the likes of Iona still call the shots.

Every time they call the lawyers in, journalists jump and eventually they toe the line. When “they” are not there to defend themselves, the lawyers will do it for them, and as a result the questions can’t even be put.

Maybe John and the family of those who died in Carrickmines should call the Iona lawyers and see what can be done about the imposition of collective guilt and responsibility on Travellers, or Muslims, or Africans, or anyone else.

My guess is very little.

Irish media doesn’t tell the truth to power.

Instead, cowed by the fear of legal proceedings, it restricts itself to telling the truth that power wants people to hear.

 

Why angry silence is the only way to commemorate 1916 Rising

1916 banner – presumably there was no room for Ian Paisley.

The banner at College Green has barely been unveiled, but it has already confirmed what I have long suspected.

That I do not want any part of of a commemoration of 1916 that denies, distorts and destroys what it is supposed to remember.

Only in Ireland could a banner commemorating a revolution feature a man who recruited for the enemy and called the event “wicked and insane”, as John Redmond did.

It comes as no surprise. For years the battle has been fought to see who would “own” the memory of 1916.

In then end, it seems, Bórd Fáilte won.

As a result, what we are getting is an approximation of history, a “1916 Rising for Dummies.”

The blood of the dead – men and women, soldiers and rebels, over 300 civilians and more than three dozen children –  washed from the streets.

The barbarity – war crimes on both sides – is forgotten, and the context crushed under the weight of collective denial of what the Rising was, and more importantly, what it wasn’t.

What should have been a conversation about the country we have created has been made into a marketing vehicle for tourism.

Anything else would have forced us to confront the truth of the intervening century.

For all the reverence in which the signatories of the Proclamation are held in Ireland, almost everything they stood for died along with them.

The notion of “cherishing all of the children of the nation equally” was quickly abandoned.

With the hospitals, the schools and the populace in general controlled by a vicious, venal and violent religious junta that is still remarkably healthy and wealthy, it couldn’t be any other way.

Partition – as promoted by what is now Fine Gael – put an end to the dream of a republic that would cover the entire Ireland.

And any chance of a functioning trade union movement to represent the working people died with James Connolly, strapped to a chair in the Stonebreaker’s Yard in Kilmainham Jail.

What we got was no mystical vision of independence, as laid out by Pearse.

Instead, we got exactly what most other countries that were eventually freed from imperialism experienced – a divided society ruled by an appointed elite, first as a transitional system of governance that then became the norm.

The greed and power of the church coupled with Ireland’s isolated position on the edge of Europe kept it out of the reach of international socialism and the kind of liberal social democracy that saw Scandinavia and Germany thrive, especially in the post-war period.

Instead, like many Catholic nations on the periphery of Europe, the Irish poor were condemned to lives of poverty, promised their reward in heaven while their cassocked moral guardians enjoyed the fruits of everyone else’s labours here on earth.

Having presided over misery and poverty, tugging its forelock and deferring to the church for much of the state’s existence, there is little on the credit side in the great ledger of social justice for any Irish government.

Pointing to the recent marriage equality referendum only highlights how little has been done to “cherish all the children of the nation equally.”

Women are still second-class citizens, earning less and dictated to by the state, or ignored when they become too noisy.

The Lads still rule, and their friends at the golf club still get the no-bid contracts and the cheap properties and the planning permissions they need to feather their nests.

Children with special needs and those who occupy hospital trolleys night after night don’t play golf.

The 1916 Rising delivered change, but not the change it wanted or expected.

Yeats was right – a terrible beauty was indeed born; and the poorer you were, the more terrible and the less beautiful it was.

And so to those struggling to “own” the narrative. the idiotic banner at College Green – with three of the four featured having died long before the Rising ever took place – is a symptom of how history in Ireland is distorted and watered down for political ends.

The irish Times reported that the idea for the banner came from the Department of An Taoiseach – perhaps unsurprising, given the spectacular ignorance of the clown that has inhabited that office for the last few years.

Enda Kenny has been doing his best to soft-soap voters into believing that his Fine Gael party are sympathetic to the Republic and the ideals declared by Padraig Pearse a hundred years ago.

Yet it was his party that banned the 60th anniversary celebrations – and using the Offences Against the State Act as the legislative framework to do so is surely the definition of GUBU.

Perhaps even more so than the endemically corrupt Fianna Fáil, Enda’s party is the party of The Lads. Those who have most get more, those who have least get nothing at all.

Labour will begin its struggle to make itself relevant again, oblivious to the fact that Connolly died for his principles, while they immediately abandoned theirs to give a few ageing men one last shot at a ministerial post, where they gleefully inflicted misery on the people who had voted for them, begging for protection.

Like its protagonists, the Rising was complicated, messy and not easily interpreted, but the history ever since is somewhat easier to read.

A hundred years on, Ireland has, on the whole, failed to live up to its promise.

Too often it has failed the poor and the weakest in society, often consciously and deliberately as politicians descended from those who filled the power vacuum by creating a system to benefit themselves and their cronies.

Forget our music and our food and our culture.

Forget the high esteem in which our people – not our politicians or bankers, not The Lads – are held around the world.

Forget our athletes and our artists and our innovators.

All this exists in spite of, not because of, the country we have created out of the ashes of the Rising.

We can celebrate all these things another day.

If you want to commemorate the Rising properly, do so by not accepting the Bórd Fáilte narrative.

The Rising belongs not to them, or the politicians, or The Lads and their vested interests.

It belongs to those who bear the heaviest burden form a political system that demands their servitude but denies their needs, just as it did in 1916.

So skip the official “celebrations” and stick instead to history and the original date of April 24.

Go to the GPO, or to any other post office that has yet to be closed by the march of “progress”.

Stand there in angry silence for a minute and remember what Pearse and the others promised, and how pathetically little their political descendants have delivered.

Then go off and, in the words of Gandhi, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

That means tearing down the system of clientelism and privilege, of recognising the dignity of each and every person, and of demanding the highest standards from everyone in public office.

It means accepting that we have to pay our share, and that taking “uncomfortable decisions” means that we too will be affected.

It means doing not what is best for ourselves, but what is just and noble and right, even if we personally lose out.

That would be a truly revolutionary act in modern Ireland.

 

 

Biggest failures in #GE16? Labour, FF, FG and journalism

What election were you watching?

The one I saw was the utter destruction of the status quo.

Incredibly, what a lot of my colleagues apparently saw was a resurgence of it, in the form of Fianna Fáil.

Who, incidentally, had their second-worst election on record.

I saw the outright rejection of the traditional right-wing (note – not centre-right) notion of “stability”of so-called Christian democrats as embodied by the singularly inept and staggeringly incompetent Enda Kenny.

I saw the annihilation of the Irish Labour Party, 100 years after its founder was tied to a chair and shot for his revolutionary tendencies, solely because it abandoned those people who begged it with their votes to protect them.

I saw an election where a motley crew of traitors and treacherous sleeveens record their second-worst election since 1927.

I saw the return of Lowry and two Healy-Raes in an indication that the parish pump of Irish politics is still in full flow in certain parts of the country.

I saw an election that saw Sinn Féin finally returned to the political mainstream after the horrors of the “Long War.”

I saw record numbers of small parties and independents returned as the establishment which has failed Ireland since the foundation of the state was sent packing.

And I saw a fourth estate in the form of the Irish media that couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

Throughout the count, journalists and broadcasters have struggled to understand virtually all the phenomena described above, instead choosing the easy angle of the Fianna Fáil “resurgence” – despite the fact that it has seldom in its history been as weak as it is now.

The paralysis is evidenced by the “experts” called to give their opinions – almost to a man (and occasional woman), they are part of the establishment they built, all while the media stroked their egos.

We had the laughable sight of snake-oil salesman Pat Rabbitte calling anyone who annoyed him “ultra-left” and making the staggering observation that Labour – who pissed in the faces of the poor that voted for them and assured them it was raining – is the “only Social Democratic party” in Ireland.

We’ve had Jody Corcoran, whose Sunday Independent newspaper were the big losers in the election as their private Renua party ran aground on its maiden voyage, now lionizing Micheál Martin – a man they have consistently attacked for five years, but who now holds the balance of power.

And we have the return of the odious Conor Lenihan, possibly the greatest spiv of them all – a man who, together with his inept brother and the rest of their cronies, ruined Ireland.

Not only did he contribute to destroying the country – when he was done, he took his state pensions and jumped ship to tout for foreign direct investment.

For Russia.

The problem of Irish political analysis by journalists was laid bare by the pleasantries exchanged – “congratulations on your election/commiserations on losing your seat.”

Whatever you think of them, your job as a political journalist is not to engage in niceties with people in power, or those who would aspire to have it – it is to ask intelligent pertinent questions on behalf of readers and listeners and viewers.

Time and again last night, bitter Fine Gael politicians contended that it was up to the opposition to take the reins of government.

This conveniently ignored the fact that, despite their abject failure, they would still have a considerable influence on how that government might look, especially if they swallowed their pride and joined Fianna Fáil.

Elsewhere, Labour’s increasing variety of failures all used the same three words as the headed to the gallows – “the national interest”.

Seldom were either of these two self-serving, petulant narratives questioned by the journalists interviewing them.

As I’ve stated elsewhere many times, bias is not always conscious; it is sometimes a function of class and privilege and position.

It is my sincere belief that too many journalists are bound to their desks recycling press releases,tweets and Youtube sound-bytes, and not out in the field actually talking to people and building their own understanding.

In truth, far too many of those in positions of power in Irish media and who are in turn tasked with holding those in power to account are too close to be able to do so properly.

A case in point – when Brian Cowen imitated Ryder Cup golfer Philip Walton and made fun of his speech impediment late one night in a bar, there were plenty of journalists present.

Not only did they not report it – they laughed along.

If, then, reporters are too close to those they should be holding to account, it is easy to understand why they absorb the narratives fed to them like crumbs from the top table.

It is easy to see how the establishment line becomes the truth as quickly as it does.

If Labour are the greatest failures, and Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are not far behind, we must be honest and say that journalism has also failed the democratic process in Ireland.

It is not an easy place to work, but the inability to either predict or explain the outcome illustrates the need for voices who go against the grain, who do not cosy up to the powerful, and who put no price on their ability to say what they see.

In short, what we need is more independent journalists, and less Independent journalists.

And until we get that, we will only be getting the part of the story the insiders and career politicians want us to hear.

We all felt you in our pockets, Fergus

A man believed to be former ACC banker Fergus Crawford who accosted Mary Lou McDonald yesterday. Doesn’t like paying tax.

NOTE: Rabo Bank, the parent of Fergus Crawford’s ACC, was never bailed out by either the Irish or Dutch state. As a collective it was never

nationalised, and instead sank €900 million into ACC.

Ironically, if it had been it would have been Dutch farmers who make up its membership that would have lost out.

So while Fergus and ACC were never the recipients of a state bailout, they certainly contributed to the 2008 meltdown in Ireland.

WE ALL FELT YOU IN OUR POCKETS, FERGUS

An impassioned “concerned citizen” and self-confessed apolitical voter confronted Sinn Féin’s Mary-Lou McDonald on Grafton Street yesterday.

He accused her and her party of attempting to “tax people out of existence.”

Why? Because if Sinn Féin get into government, he will “feel it in (my) pocket”.

Now not wanting to pay tax is understandable – indeed, tax avoidance is a favourite pastime of many Irish people.

And that this should happen before the TV cameras on Dublin’s most upmarket shopping street is almost too good to be true.

I have previously advised against ever suspecting a conspiracy where common stupidity would seem a more likely reason, but yesterday’s clash was either a divine coincidence, or a clumsy set up.

You see, if the hive mind of the internet is to be believed, we’ve all felt this guy in our pockets, for the last eight years or so.

He’s Fergus Crawford, and we apparently bailed out his bank to the tune of €900 million.

Think about that for a second – one of the greatest corporate welfare scroungers in the history of the state doesn’t want to pay tax.

Fergus didn’t reveal much about his past or present.

For instance, he never mentioned that he was a relatively senior figure at ACC, or that his current employer manages pension funds for rich people, who are not renowned for their eagerness to send cheques to the revenue.

Given that his new venture is an Irish entity for Swiss investment house Sarasin, and that a story in the Irish Independent from 2013 says that they were set to take an office at St Stephen’s Green, it’s a short imaginative leap to imagine Mr Crawford building up a head of steam before charging down his marble steps to confront the people who paid for his mistakes.

Interestingly, Mr Crawford – if it is indeed the same fella who was chief economist and Head of Product Development at ACC, among other roles before the crash – didn’t waste too much time on the “middle-income earners” that he first appeared to be taking up the cudgels for.

Nope, he quickly abandoned them. Instead, his answer to Ireland’s problems was to “create wealth” – presumably the kind of “wealth creation” that he made his name in, and that led to a €64 billion bailout by the Irish people, who are now dying on trolleys for the privilege.

Blithely ignoring the fact that the Internet would out him within hours, our as-yet anonymous concerned citizen (erroneously reported by some as a “small business owner”) then moved on to his real concern – “What about their pensions?”

For those unfamiliar with how this works, Fergus and the likes of Sarasin invest people’s money to provide them with an income when they retire, siphoning off a huge chunk of money in the process, often laughably called “management fees”.

Part of their strategy is to pay as little tax as possible, sailing very close to the wind of legality, and sometimes ending up on the wrong side of it.

As recently as January of this year Eric Sarasin paid a “low six-figure sum” to close a tax fraud investigation into his affairs in Germany.

I wrote yesterday that Ireland is run for The Lads, and with impeccable timing, up pops Fergus and his enormous sense of entitlement to confirm my every word.

Ireland is still run for The Lads alright, and will continue to be so.

But The Lads are getting worried that their gravy train is about to be derailed.

It’s about time.