Archive for Irish Politics

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.

Forget “fake news”, fake debate is killing Irish discourse

Let’s get straight to the point here.

Last night’s “Claire Byrne Live” on RTE was a journalistic fiasco, a car crash of pub opinions presented as public service broadcasting.

And my suspicion is that it was no accident.

It was proceeded by a film called “The Crossing”, which highlighted the work being done by the Irish Navy in the Mediterranean, where they have been rescuing migrants by the boatload.

Indeed, some of those featured in the film were trotted out in a sort of mawkish public thank-you parade that seemed entirely out of place.

Some journeyman politician was then provided to give Official Ireland’s take, and actor Liam Cunningham, who has spent time in Syria, was also included.

To provide “balance”, the panel was completed by Ian O’Doherty, who has done … what, exactly, other than be sanctioned for racism by the Press Ombudsman when writing about Roma?

This is Irish journalism in the 21st century, where balance is giving equal weight to both sides, regardless of how inept, ill-informed or under-represented they are.

Given the opportunity on the national broadcaster, O’Doherty proceeded to march through the Breitbart checklist of racist tropes, ending up at one of his greatest hits – fundamentalist Islam.

Now I’m not sure if the refreshments were removed in the Green Room before the film was screened, but it seems that Ian missed the fact that many of those fleeing across the Med are from Eritrea – a country fairly evenly split between Christians and Muslims and from which people flee because of the dictatorship of Isaias Afewerki, rather than any religious conviction.

He moved from something which in this case was to do with sub-Saharan Africa and the failed state of Libya, and shifted it back to ISIS, without any explanation or nuance whatsoever.

Facts are, of course, useless to Ian, and he continued on through the tropes at a breakneck pace.

Rape.

Cologne.

Sweden.

And so on and so on, deep down into the rabbit hole of racism and self-importance currently jammed to bursting point by conservative columnists shrieking for some air time.

At no point did Byrne make any effort to challenge any of the erroneous assertions made by O’Doherty.

From a public service broadcaster, this is the very definition of unacceptable.

It is unacceptable to present people on a panel if all they have to offer is bar-stool opinions, rather than expertise, lived experience or at least some sort of insight into the subject matter  - say what one likes about Cunningham, but at least he put his boots on the ground in Syria.

Being the Village Racist (a man so incapable of discussing things in a civilised manner that Twitter suspended him recently) or the talking head at the top of the researcher’s telephone list should not be enough.

(Added to that was the sputtering representative of the newly-formed and avowedly racist National Party, who thankfully could barely formulate a sentence before foaming at the mouth and losing the plot, allowing the host to move on).

It is unacceptable not to challenge serious assertions that are racist in nature and that denigrate entire swathes of people, and to instead blithely allow them to be presented as fact or (at best) informed opinion.

It is unacceptable for RTE and Claire Byrne Live not to take their responsibilities, both in general journalism and public service broadcasting, seriously.

In short, it is not enough for an interviewer or moderator to know the questions – they must also know the plausible answers, and be able to distinguish when they are being manipulated or lied to.

The reason tropes like the ones espoused by O’Doherty are given credence is because they are allowed to go unchallenged; if a lie is repeated often enough, it becomes true for those who wish it to be so.

Those who pay attention to such things will have noticed the shift lately towards Breitbartian rhetoric – “virtue signalling”, “SJW” and the constant, all-encompassing Islamophobia.

The far right are coming out in Ireland, and in doing so they are revealing that they have been in plain sight all along.

And as with everything else it is important that “debates” probe and test arguments properly, instead of being the equivalent of putting two cats in a sack and letting them fight it out.

Fake news is a huge threat in terms of democracy, but the onus lies very much with the reader, viewer or listener to discern what is true and what is not.

Fake debates are a different matter, and giving extremists the platform to air their ill-informed views on vulnerable groups, from immigrants to those on social welfare, without them being robustly challenged is a failure of public service.

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.

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.

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.

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.