Archive for Irish Politics

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.

 

 

Much of Ireland still needs to reckon with the IRA

The recent electoral success of Sinn Féin brought with it the inevitable tide of accusations related to the party’s support of the IRA during the conflict, once again showcasing that much of the Irish Republic has not even begun to examine its own history and relationship to it.

The inability or unwillingness to put things in context or to try to understand why things happen without condoning them is immediately dismissed as appeasement. Sinn Féin are to be forced to wear the hair-shirt, without ever asking what it was that led them to do what they did in the first place.

One of the greatest PR coups ever pulled off is in the teaching of Irish history, whereby the IRA lost all legitimacy just about the time that the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – the two parties that have ruled since the foundation of the state – broke away from it.

Until then it was OK to shoot men in the back or in their beds, or to bomb a barracks without a thought for passers-by, or to shoot someone or hearsay that they were an informer – but once the two major parties had no more use for the IRA, they were to become a pariah.

That IRA is an IRA the Irish people can understand, but not the IRA of Derry and of West Belfast. There is a notion that, despite their previous violent history pre-independence, the Provisional IRA should have played by all the rules of war and the Geneva Convention, a notion that completely ignores the context and conditions of the time.

Context is important. When comedian Steve Coogan parodied “Come Out Ye Black And Tans” on his TV show, the clip went viral in no time as Irish people howled laughing at the irony of an Irish lookalike taking over the British airwaves to tell them a thing or two – a few months later, the meaning of the song is once again changed to mean anyone singing it is an IRA supporter and to be condemned.

Legions of soccer fans have interjected praise for the IRA into songs sung in stadiums around the world, and little is made of it. Hipsters and twentysomethings have use the IRA almost as a meme for years, the cultural substance of their humour shifting constantly – and not because they support physical force Republicanism.

The point of Coogan and the song should not be lost; everything that occurs does so in a context, whether by a comedian or the supporters of an election candidate who have just received good news.

Sinn Féin have spent the last month of the campaign being cast as shadowy figures controlled by unelected representatives with a propensity for violence – and yet people still find it inexplicable that some less-controlled elements would celebrate their electoral victories by singing such songs or chanting “Up The Ra”.

Virtually nothing the IRA did is to be condoned, apart from its efforts to finally make peace – but it is absolutely essential that we try to understand why the organisation came to be, why people joined it and why it did what it did. This is not the same thing as legitimising or excusing it; by choosing to condemn it rather than understand it, we are dismissing the reasons for its existence as unimportant or irrelevant. That in itself – that the nationalist people of Northern Ireland felt abandoned and betrayed by the Republic – is one of the major reasons for its longevity.

Part of the reaction is also the bitterness of the established elites who were swept away in the last three elections – Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael performed disastrously, prompting them to try to police the triumphalism of others.

Much is also made of the youth of Sinn Féin’s voters and that they had no memories of their own of the Troubles, but Sinn Féin picked up votes from across the generations.

That raises the point that the commentariat refuse to consider – what if people knew well what the IRA had done, all of its brutality and atrocities, and decided to just move on, deeming them no longer relevant?

For that is essentially what happened with the established parties – they were quickly absolved of their sins when they underwent their democratic conversions, and the murders planned and perpetrated by Michael Collins and his men are now celebrated as an integral part of the struggle for independence.

Everything – everything – depends on context.

Much of the reason for this – the clean break between the acceptable and unacceptable versions of the IRA, the tone-policing, the false indignation to score political points – is that Sinn Féin were until recently muzzled by the press, and it did not cease with the abandonment of Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act.

One of the things conveniently forgotten is the Arms Crisis in 1970 when the Fianna Fáil government of the day actually drew up plans to send arms to defend nationalist communities in the North – the political descendents of those who made those plans are among the most vociferous in condemning Sinn Féin today.

It would be hard to point to a single columnist and say “that person writes from a perspective that is accepting of the legitimacy of the IRA”, or even one who displays some level of nuanced understanding of why they came into being at all.

In a case of history repeating itself, the IRA supported by Sinn Féin no longer exists, but the IRA still exists, so to speak. Dissident Republicans still lay claim to the mantle, despite the absence of conflict in the North and the prospect of reunification on the horizon.

But as with every other aspect of Irish politics, we are quick to say that we do not understand, or that something surprised us, or that something is simply wrong.

What is lacking is a willingness to understand why we were surprised, or why we don’t understand, or why someone might do something we believe to be utterly wrong.

Doing so requires us to put our pearls down and to ask ourselves difficult questions – what did we in the South do when communities in the North were under siege, when Catholics were discriminated against in housing and employment and when they were burned out of their houses?

That is not the same thing as condoning it. It is not the same thing as appeasement. It is not the same thing as giving a pass.

The murders, the torture and the bombings perpetrated by the IRA are an appalling stain on Irish history, one that cannot be washed away either by seemingly celebrating them as Ellis, Cullinane and others did, or by refusing to understand them in the context in which they occurred.

Because until we reckon with the IRA we will be fighting this battle forever, when there is so much more that needs to be done.

 

Ireland votes to change, but gently

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

- Warsan Shire, “What They Did Yesterday Afternoon”

Faced with a record number of homeless, a totally dysfunctional health service and a generation unable to afford to move out, the Irish people have finally voted for change – but they are not quite ready to rip the century-old sticking plaster of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael from their skin just yet.

Irish people are suffering, but not all of them, and the cry at the ballot box on Saturday was tempered by the murmur of contentment from those for whom change might mean not enjoying the same privilege as they once had.

The exit poll on Saturday night when the polls closed was seismic in that it put the Sinn Fèin cat among the otherwise unflappable political pigeons – but for every peal of the bell calling for a new Ireland, almost half still voted for the establishment parties.

Almost, but not quite half. The two main parties sliding under 50% was a key moment, but discerning what they are gradually being replaced by is not as easy as it looks.

On the one hand they are being directly supplanted by Sinn Féin – young (but not exclusively so), energetic and hungry for something different.

On the other hand, there are a plethora of independent candidates and smaller-party TDs who are as yet untried.

The Social Democrats – a party I have strong links to – look to be among the big winners. Comprehensive policy documents and common-sense arguments look to have resonated and the party will most likely end up with five or six seats, but at council level some of the decisions taken by the party have been dubious at best, and the more streetwise in Irish politics will seek to use their enthusiasm against them.

The Greens have also made considerable gains, but it’s hard to discern exactly where they are on the political spectrum – this, after all, is the party that blithely supported Fianna Fáil as they destroyed the Irish economy.

In a supposed progressive victory, there may yet be less female TDs than in the previous Dáil when the dust settles.

As usual, climate change-deniers like the Healy-Raes have been rewarded for their parish pump politics, and the bye-word for corruption in Irish politics, Michael Lowry, has once again been returned to the Dáil.

Despite their worst election performance since 1948 (and possibly ever), Fine Gael are still haughtily insisting that they were right all along and that it was an ignorant electorate that failed to recognise their greatness.

They will always have a core vote of wealthy people keen to protect their own interests, but for them to succeed they also need the blue-collar vote – that has now gone to Sinn Féin, and it may not go back for a very long time.

Micheál Martin has run a classic Fianna Fáil campaign, immediately abandoning everything he said in the run-up to polling day as he attempts a power grab. From ruling out coalition with Sinn Féin, he is now a democrat who respects their mandate – a sleeveen move as arrogant as it was predictable.

The most popular party in the country is Sinn Féin, for the first time in living memory, and leader Mary-Lou McDonald immediately came out swinging, saying she wants a government without the big two parties.

The road from here on in is fraught with danger for Mary-Lou. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael habitually destroy junior coalition partners and she would do well to steer clear of both, but doing so would require shoring up a coalition of the willing – people who share their core principles, but who are flexible enough to understand the give and take of minority government.

Success there would likely hasten the demise of the the two right-wing parties and perhaps eventually force a merger – failure, and Sinn Féin could go the way of Labour, blamed for not delivering on their mandate and consigned to the sidelines as punishment, opening the path for Ireland to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Ireland has voted for change, but not in the kind of revolutionary way that one might have expected; the old remain conservative, the young impatient, and somewhere in between is where McDonald must begin to build her government.

What speaks against the broad left coalition is its traditional fractiousness and political puritanism – what speaks for them is that their opposition have no principles, apart from the pursuit of power. If they seek to block the kind of progressive change that people have voted for, they will be punished accordingly.

Time will tell if this election changes the course of a young country, or if it is a mere bump in the road. Recent electoral history elsewhere have shown us just how easy it is to slip back into old ways in search of security.

Change, but change gently, is what the Irish people have asked for.

 

 

Ireland’s #GE2020 – Exit Poll Report Card

A quick look at last night’s figures – the PR-STV system means that they only tell a small part of the story, but it says something about the national picture

 

FG – 22.4% – C

Could have – should have – been so much worse. Tone-deaf, arrogant, out of touch and still a little more than one in five voted for them.

SF – 22.3% – C

What might have been – time will tell if the late effort to drag their name through the mud made a difference, but Sinn Féin could have expected 25% or more, given the ineptitude of the big two.

FF – 22.2% – B

The destroyers of the nation are back, but will probably never regain their previous pomp. FG’s incompetence played right into their lap, but they still did’t maximise the vote. Constant attacks on Sinn Féin showed up their utter ignorance of Northern Ireland past and present, and they would do well to drop the pretence of being a Republican party.

GP – 7.9% – D

For an election supposedly about the climate crisis, this is a poor return. Still struggling to get over their previous disastrous stint in government, offered very little tangible outside their wheelhouse.

Labour: 4.6% – F

Last sting of a dying worker’s movement which has been nothing but a disappointment since 1913. Rudderless, spineless, futureless.

SD – 3.4% – B

Considerable increase from last time out with extremely limited resources -  what it returns in terms of seats remains to be seen, but if it delivers the likes of Gary Gannon to the Dáil it will benefit them hugely. Produced a LOT of policy that was clear-headed, if not highly-noticed.

SPBP – 2.8% – D

Should have been up around 7-8% in a country stuck in the vice-like grip of market capitalism on steroids, but somehow it didn’t translate. Again, they will be transfer-friendly so they may punch above their weight in terms of seats.

Independents and others – 14.5%

If Michael Lowry gets in again we may as well invite the Tans back.

Rest In Peace, Marian

The first time Marian Finucane asked me to appear on her show, I almost cried live on air.

I had written about how my brother had been struck down by a serious illness, and I had to race against the clock from Stockholm to Dublin to be at his bedside as doctors doubted he would survive.

Thankfully he made it through that illness, and I wrote an article for an Irish newspaper about the sense of powerless that distance puts between the emigrant and their family in times of crisis, and the gratitude I felt towards those who cared for him.

Marian had read the piece and asked her team to find me and invite me onto the show, and I had to hold back the tears as I recounted the story.

Just as I am doing now, having just been made aware of her passing.

Marian wasn’t just any old radio host to me – her honeyed voice was the stand-out female radio voice of a generation. When I was young I listened as she coaxed Ireland to talk about its problems on the original Liveline, her warmth and compassion and quiet anger underpinning her ability to get people to tell their stories, unvarnished.

I must have done OK on my first appearance, despite my quavering, teary voice, because I was invited back regularly over the intervening six or seven years, and she would often call me from wherever I was on my travels covering newsworthy events, from riots and murders to World Cups and fights.

Only a few months later she had me on to talk about the riots that occurred in the Stockholm suburb of Husby in 2013, which I spent five nights in the middle of. I remember her genuine concern for me at that time, urging me to be careful  and to look after myself. Of the dozens of interviews I did with hosts and articles I wrote for editors at that time, she was the only one to do so out loud.

I also remember her getting me on the line from Las Vegas to talk about Conor McGregor – it was the middle of the night there, but I was more than happy to pick up the phone when her show called.

It was a joy to be on the same show as Lynn Ruane, another woman Marian  rightly thought that Ireland should hear more of.

Marian was incredibly well-read, and not necessarily in terms of stuff she would use on her show. She would read stacks and stacks of newspapers and magazines and books, and make copious notes before entering the studio each week.

When her panel was in place, she would bustle in a few minutes before the top of the hour and settle herself, peering over the glasses perched on her nose to see how everyone was.

Old-fashioned media is often derided in the social media age, but she knew the power and reach that she had. Often she would ask a question she knew the answer to, just to make sure the matter was made clear to her listeners.

And when you left her studio and turned your phone on again, you felt the full force of that power as the text messages and DMs and social media tags rained in.

She had a fierce intelligence and sense of fairness, and hers is one of the few programs I have been on where I didn’t have to worry about gender balance – one of the original high-profile Irish feminists, there were always women on the panels in-studio.

She used to chide me for working too hard and travelling too much, and often asked both how and why my wife put up with me. Mind you, she was no slouch herself.

She may have only been in there for a total of four hours over the two days, but she worked incredibly hard to prepare for it. She also did a tremendous amount of work for charity.

In 2018 I asked her if we could turn the tables and if I could interview her for a podcast I was starting about media and journalism. She was in essence an extremely private person and wary of any personal probing, but she agreed immediately.

We booked a day, but she had to cancel as she was doing an event for orphans in the Eastern Cape in South Africa.

We never did manage to find another date, and that is the saddest thing of all for me now. She was extremely warm and friendly towards me, expressing a genuine interest in what I was doing and what I could bring to her table of discussion, and I would have loved to have had the chance to get to know her even better.

I will have to content myself with the fact that she chose to give me a seat at her table more than once, and that I got to see up close how a genuine legend of Irish broadcasting worked, and that for me is enough.

As I think of her this evening, I am reminded that it was not me as a journalist that stood out to her first – it was the personal, powerful story of being abroad when a loved one was in trouble.

Her great gift was not that she was interested in politics or journalism – it was that she wanted to know the person behind every story.

May you rest in peace, Marian, and thank you for everything.

My sincerest condolences to Marian’s family, her friends and our mutual friends at RTE who produced her program so brilliantly every week. We will all miss her greatly. 

 

Like charity, accountability begins at home

Seldom does a day go by in Irish media without another horror story about how the state has failed yet another citizen.

Today’s offering is the Irish Times story of the two children of a 30-year-old mother in emergency accommodation, who spent the night with her corpse after she died of a drug overdose. She had spent 11 years on the housing list, waiting for a home.

This comes after recent revelations that a parliamentarian from Cork has been cashing in and claiming expenses for time spent in the Dáil when he was off working somewhere else, and ahead of a vote of no confidence in the current housing minister, Eoghan Murphy, a man who has not only failed to solve Ireland’s housing crisis, but who has exacerbated it with every ill-advised, profit driven move he has made.

In all three instances, the cry goes up for more accountability, as if it is someone else’s job; but in truth, those whose duty it is to hold our politicians to account are the voters, and they abdicated that responsibility a long time ago.

As a republic, Ireland is a failure. Despite being one of the richest countries in the world, the two parties that have ruled it since the foundation of the state cannot provide the most basic of services and protections for its citizens.

Every time these stories come out, the people cluck their tongues and call the talk shows to say how it’s a disgrace Joe, before pulling the curtain of the polling booth closed behind them and voting for exactly the people who are responsible for whatever it is that has gone to shit on that particular day.

On this very day five years ago I wrote that we all killed Johnny Corrie, the homeless man found dead in a doorway not too far form Leinster House.

Sad as it is to admit, Johnny’s death changed nothing, and more have died since. Thousands more, many of them children, have become homeless.

Back then, his death caused headlines; those that followed him to the grave are treated as mere statistics.

The outcry on social media would have been hilarious if it wasn’t so serious – pillars of society blaming politicians, but not for one second recognising their own role in putting them there, and thus their responsibility for their actions.

But it is not only there that accountability fails; we fail to hold each other to account every single day. And accountability, like charity, begins at home.

We turn a deaf ear to the anti-Traveller racism of our our friends. We ignore our co-workers when they tell us in the lunch room that “the blacks” are lazy and only here for what they can get out of us.

We cringe when a family member talks about sluts using abortion as contraception and how transgenderism is a fallacy gone too far, but we would never, ever call them out.

And when we go into those polling booths we close our hearts and open our wallets and ask who will look after our interests best, before marking the paper accordingly and betraying our fellow citizens again.

They might be ridiculed or given limited time on the airwaves, but there are radical alternatives out there, as the “Green Wave” in the local and by-elections has illustrated despite the shamefully low turnout for the latter.

But a populace shoe-horned into passivity for so long and told “nothing can be done” eventually starts to believe its captors, leaving them free to feast at the trough, year after year.

The idea that “someone” needs to do “something” about the situation needs to be turned on its head.

That someone is you.

That something is whatever you decide it to be.

It might be holding yourself and those around you to account.

It might be getting involved in politics and holding those in power to account.

But what it is not is whingeing while doing nothing.

The time for doing that has past.

 

 

 

Communications Breakdown

Ellen Coyne’s journalism – not bought and paid for by the SCU

I gave up being surprised by Irish politics many years ago, but I have to admit I was blindsided by the Strategic Communications Unit SNAFU, and I am equally amazed by the lack of reaction to it.

Put simply, in a functioning democracy, the streets would be awash with political blood as politicians, advisers and spin doctors either fell on their swords or were hoisted on their own petards.

But in Ireland, Leo just stops tweeting for a few days and it all goes away.

What we seem to be missing here is that the SCU tried to undermine a crucial part of a functioning democracy by “buying” good news stories about the governm from reputable media outlets ent and passing it off as objective journalism.

It is the very definition of “fake news”.

Now the point can be made that the SCU and the agencies involved were never explicitly told NOT to do this, which begs the question – what on earth led them to believe that fooling citizens into believing that they were reading objective journalism was the right course of action?

It’s a perfect storm – the media industry is on its knees but it retains a unique power to inform and influence, especially the local papers.

Al the government’s representatives hd to do was make them an offer they couldn’t refuse – a phrase made popular in a book about the Mafia.

Not content with that, everyone from the Taoiseach on down then called into question the bona fides of the journalists such as Ellen Coyne who found them out.

Some would say to apologise to them now would be a sign of weakness; in fact, the opposite is true.

The lack of apologies, in some instances by people who should know much better, is a confirmation of the megalomaniacal thirst for power that the setting-up of the SCU is indicative of.

Put simply, the SCU is the Irish equivalent of a Russian bot farm, with the added insult that you are paying for it, and it cannot and should not be allowed to continue in its current guise.

The job of government is to communicate with citizens, not to market itself to them, and the pure ignorance of this fact displayed by the SCU and the agencies acting on its behalf is a danger to democracy.

What needs to happen – but won’t as in Ireland we don’t do accountability – is that a lot of people need to resign.

If you were part of setting up the SCU, you need to resign.

If you defended it while attacking journalists doing their jobs correctly, you need to resign.

If you were an editor and you accepted the conditions foisted on you to publish their material, you need to resign.

Does this sound harsh to you? Good.

Because it is happening not just in the SCU – politicians, civil servants and people in power are running departments and services all over Ireland like their own personal fiefdoms, and it’s why nothing ever gets better.

It’s why your elderly relations are on trolleys.

It’s why people are living in tents along the canals.

It’s why vulture funds now own your home.

If you are entrusted with power in a democracy, your job is to serve the people and not yourself.

Neither Leo Varadkar nor many in his inner circle, nor indeed many of those making a living out of Irish politics and civil society, have the humility to understand this simple, yet fundamental, democratic concept.

There was only ever one Martin McGuinness

Picture courtesy of rte.ie

In the rush to eulogise Martin McGuinness on his passing, it is fascinating to observe the discomfort as Ireland’s media outlets wrestle with how to remember a man they despised for the most part, but who ultimately brought peace to our island.

The laziest, yet most common knee-jerk reaction is to suggest that there were two Martin McGuinnesses – the post-ceasefire peacemaker and politician on one side, and the IRA leader on the other.

It is the conclusion drawn by those who still, almost 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement, cannot even begin to understand why a young man like McGuinness would become a high-ranking IRA man and wage a guerrilla war against the British for so long and in such a bloody fashion.

It says more about the writer than it does about their subject.

It says that they have never really addressed the root cause of violent republicanism – that is, the state violence perpetrated on a minority whose human rights were constantly suspended, ignored and denied.

It says that they haven’t looked into the Bogside – or, for that matter, The Diamond – and tried to understand the political forces that spilt the community in Derry and turned them against one another.

It says that what they want is a clinical, road-to-Damascus-style conversion where the savage learns to speak and thus realises his potential, becoming acceptable to polite society in the process.

Because in Ireland, that makes us feel better about how we abandoned our brothers and sisters in the North – Catholic and Protestant, unionist and Nationalist – for so long.

In Britain, it allows our neighbours to ignore their role in the disaster of their rule.

McGuinness was undoubtedly a violent man in command of a group of violent men.

His opponents on the battlefield – the streets of Derry – were equally violent, but their violence was backed by the Crown and made them all but immune from prosecution or consequence.

When both sides had enough, much was made of the conversion of the “men of violence”, a term exclusively employed to describe the IRA, the INLA, the LVF, the UVF and other armed groups.

Little or nothing was said about the complicity of the state forces of the United Kingdom (and to a lesser extent the Republic of Ireland), and their role in the tragedy of those decades.

In our islands we wish to consign the Troubles to history, blithely ignoring that we continue to visit injustices – sometimes violently – on sections of our populations.

Whether it be the economic violence of austerity or the physical violence of state brutality, we still divide into “us” and “them”.

The reason we try to make this distinction is that we cannot countenance the fact that the “men of violence” were exactly like us – mostly fathers, brothers and sons, but also mothers, sisters and daughters who reached a point where they believed that peaceful protest was no longer effective.

We abhor their actions, but then we turn on the news to hear of a wedding bombed in Afghanistan and we feel nothing.

Beware the commentary that would simplify and attempt to remove Martin McGuinness from his context, and that would somehow suggest that he had a monopoly on violence, or that the violence of the state is automatically justified and justifiable.

There was never two Martin McGuinnesses – he was both a violent man and a skilled political operator.

So too was Nelson Mandela, another man once considered a terrorist only to be all but absolved of his sins in peace and, ultimately, in death.

Eventually the time came when both of them realised that the ballot box was indeed more useful than the Armalite.

But it is probably fair to say that, if either of them were ever again faced with the same level of cruelty or injustice being visited on their people, they would not have hesitated for one second to take up their arms again.

Nelson Mandela didn’t change.

Martin McGuinness didn’t change.

We did.

Why I won’t be watching Claire Byrne Live

So apparently Clair Byrne Live is to be the latest to provide a platform to the self-proclaimed “alt-right”, presumably as some part of a “freedom of speech” segment designed to provoke a reaction, while blithely ignoring the consequences for Irish society.

I won’t be watching.

I won’t be watching because we have already had a real live discussion about their supremacist values, and found them wanting.

The first part of it ended in 1945, with millions dead – killed because of their ethnicity, their sexual preferences, their religion.

Their “values” lived on in the form of apartheid and segregation, until they too were gradually and thankfully consigned to the scrapbooks of history.

I won’t be watching because human dignity and equality are not a matters for discussion – they are enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

I won’t be watching because I don’t want to be part of the fact-free masturbatory fantasies about Muslim rape waves of white, male, emotionally stunted keyboard warriors.

I won’t be watching because I don’t believe that people fleeing from war and persecution should be painted as a threat.

I won’t be watching because I refuse to legitimise the language of their hatred.

I won’t be watching because I believe journalism is best served not by dragging these hateful cretins into the light, but by leaving them in the shadows where they have festered for so long, only to bloom when the lights of publicity were recently turned upon them.

I wont’ be watching for the same reasons I wouldn’t watch ISIS justify their murderous “caliphate” on the show, or Gary Glitter justify having sex with children.

I won’t be watching, because this “debate” about human dignity is already over, and they lost – and I am not prepared to offer the Nazis a chance to come in from the cold.

The real danger of normalising racism

Peter Mangs, who shot and killed people in southern Sweden based on their ehtnicity

I’m not quite sure every bleating quasi-liberal, from ministers to newspaper editors, has realised it yet, so I better take the time to point it out again – normalising racism and making hate acceptable has actual real-life consequences, not just for the discourse, but also for society itself.

I realised this recently when I said on Marian Finucane’s radio show that society as a whole was pretty much agreed on what constituted hate speech, and social protection minister Leo Varadkar disagreed with me.

I never got the chance to explain it then, but what I meant by that was that society has set the boundaries through its laws against incitement to hatred, as well as in Article 1 of the UN Convention of Human Rights:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

As for what Minister Varadkar meant, you’ll have to ask him – but he did mention “shutting down the debate”, which in this instance is what people say when what they really mean is “I want to be able to present my ideas unopposed, and have everyone agree with them.”

(For now I’m not even going to bother with the car-crash that is the Irish Times’ latest fuck-up in the rush to embrace the far right, and its pathetic explanation – let us just say it is indicative of the genre.)

Over the last 15 or so years I have seen the normalisation of racism and hate speech in the media lead to the rapid rise of the far right in Scandinavia, in the UK and in America, to the extent that they have recent government experience in many countries, and they have also moved the goalposts for the more “liberal” parties.

Ireland is behind the curve in that regard – or perhaps ahead of it, given that right-wing populism has been the order of the day since the foundation of the state – but it is more than capable of accommodating an upsurge similar to the one that happened in Scandinavia.

Despite its reputation for social democracy and equality, some in the Nordic region have always had a penchant for white supremacy, and it’s something that raises its Aryan head from time to time.

It is when it moves out of the shadows and into the mainstream that violence becomes acceptable, and in many cases inevitable.

Take the early nineties in Sweden when “New Democracy”, a hotch-potch of neo-Nazis, racists, Islamophobes and a man famed for churning out Eurovision stars, came into being.

Their rise, and the utilisation of their rhetoric, coincided with the advent of “The Laser Man”, a racist who targeted non-Aryan looking people and shot eleven people, killing one and paralysing my friend’s father.

As the century turned and Sweden gradually forgot the horror of the Laser Man, once again it was time to “hear them out”, and racists were again provided with a platform.

The rise in the polls of the Sweden Democrats coincided with the appearance of another racist murderer, this time in the form of Peter Mangs, who was eventually convicted of two murders and four attempted murders.

This is to say nothing of the wave of arson attacks against buildings that were ear-marked as housing for refugees in 2015, at a time when the anti-foreigner rhetoric being “heard out” from the far-right was at a peak.

What happens is that when we allow the racists airtime and column inches, when we “hear them out” and let them tell us about their “legitimate concerns”, we are allowing them to set the boundaries.

Regardless of whether we are editors, journalists or media consumers, we allow them to discuss things in terms of race, ethnicity and religion, and in those terms only – that African men are rapists, or that Muslims are potential terrorists who want to destroy “our values”, and the birth rate of feckless immigrants will mean that Europeans will soon be a minority in their own continent.

Once we go head first down that rabbit hole, there is no backing out, because these people are immune to facts – they just jump to the next trope, the next meme, the next fact-free accusation let loose on the airwaves.

Here’s one from personal experience – Sweden’s “55 no-go zones”.

This far-right racist trope arises from an op-ed piece written for the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, in which it was claimed that there were 55 lawless areas into which police essentially could not go.

Frankly, that claim is bollocks, as illustrated in this short (Swedish-language) video I made as a rebuttal – and if Svenska Dagbladet’s writer had bothered his arse to go to any of these areas, he would have seen the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong – there has been a spate of shootings, some fatal and many of them in the five suburbs where I live and circulate, and a young man was shot dead at the top of my street last year – but pretty much every one of them has to do with crime, rather than ethnicity.

Despite all this, the researchers at the Economist rank Stockholm as the fourth-safest city in the world – and the safest in Europe.

When I mentioned this to an Irish debater, and the fact that I had visited many of the areas listed among the 55 “no-go” areas without problem, he sent me a link … to a double murder carried out by a failed asylum seeker at IKEA in Västerås.

Now I’m not sure if his point was that IKEA is a now no-gone zone, but it illustrates the tactics perfectly – make an accusation, and when it is disproved, abandon it and make another, until you have a discussion based only on race, ethnicity or religion.

This is how racism is normalised.

This is what Clare Byrne Live and the Late Late Show are promoting and encouraging when they invite Ian O’Doherty or that vile Hopkins woman on and give them a platform to spew their bile.

Put simply, editors and producers are gatekeepers, and it is their editorial responsibility to ensure that anyone given a platform uses it responsibly – not to spew lies and hate and then change the subject when called out.

The neo-Nazi “alt-right” grew out of the dark reaches of the Internet, but it only became a political force when it was given a platform by the mainstream media to spread its ideas, its jargon and ultimately its hatred.

It should have been left in those dark corners of the Internet, along with the 9/11 conspiracy theorists, the Grassy Knoll brigade and the chemtrails enthusiasts.

Because as soon as you start to give these ideas and this rhetoric legitimacy, be that on the public service airwaves or in the paper of record, you are letting the genie of racism out of the bottle and giving him a seat at the table.

And experience shows that it is never those who do the letting-out that pay the price.