Tag Archive for Garret Fitzgerald

Nothing to Bragg about as the times, they ain’t a changin’…

Bob Dylan - still freewheelin' at 70.

So the voice of the 60s American counterculture turns 70 today, and is still as cantankerous as ever.

Bob Dylan almost makes a point of not giving people what they want in concert or in his later recordings, and in doing so remains relevant  when his contemporaries (like the risible Rolling Stones) have long since ceased to matter.

How we could do with an Irish Bob Dylan, or a Billy Bragg or a Bill Hicks in these turbulent times, as our politicians whistle past the economic graveyard and our people vote for more of the same.

The passing of Garret Fitzgerald gave us plenty of time to reflect on Irish politics over the last half-century, and it’s not a pretty sight. Irish political life is essentially made up of a whole bunch of people who all believe the same things arguing over who’s right.

There is, as we have seen with the happy-clappy visits of the Queen and Obama over the last few days, not much room for dissent.

As Dylan blows out the candles on his cake, Obama and the Queen have left, but astonishingly our banks are still broken and the recession hasn’t gone away.

The relative silence of our artists, poets and songwriters is disconcerting, as from my far-flung Scandinavian perch I cannot think of too many of them who have stuck their heads above the parapet to engage in any meaningful criticism.

There has been some tremendous satire and comedy (not least by illustrator and cartoonist Alan Moloney, and Dermot Carmody and the creators of the Emergency), but serious protest songs are noticeably absent. And you can’t have a revolution without music.

Instead, economics has become the new Irish rock’n roll, with David McWilliams, Morgan Kelly and Constantin Gurgdiev playing a role previously filled by punks and folk musicians. In a country famous for its “rebel songs” the social critiques of Christy Moore have been replaced by op-eds in the Irish Times, which although often well-written, are a damn sight harder to hum along to.

Given the seeming absence of an intelligent Dylanesque social commentator on the Irish music landscape, our best hope lies with our comedians and satirists, for whom these should be times of plenty. There is an endless supply of original material being provided by the buffoons that claim to be in control of all aspects of Irish life.

Just as Billy Bragg could never have existed without Thatcherism, the legendary Bill Hicks was assisted in his breakthrough by American foreign policy in the early 90s – it didn’t make him popular back home, but it would be hard to find a more respected and influential comedian. For Irish comedians, are politicians are the gift that keeps on giving.

But the Bills, Hicks and Bragg, operated in a much wider marketplace. Their home countries have populations much larger than our island, increasing the likelihood that they would find people prepared to pay to share their opinions – besides, who cares if a million people hate you, out of an audience of 250 million?

Our singers and comedians operate in a smaller, much more rarified environment, and not just in terms of audience size. Criticising anyone in public life might lead to a TV appearance getting cancelled or a gig slot getting pulled, or a grant being denied – the scrapping of Scrap Saturday and the banning of “They Never Came Home” are a good barometer of just how free speech in Ireland really is.

But if our journalists and commentators are to continue to abdicate responsibility by not asking the hard questions, someone else will have to step into the breach.

Though we are under no obligation to agree with what our songwriters, satirists and artists say, we should support them if and when they decide to do so.

Even more so, we must support their right to do so – without their being punished, ostracised or silenced.

“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.” – Bob Dylan, 1985.

“My theory is this; I’m not a political songwriter. I’m an honest songwriter.” – Billy Bragg.

Bill Hicks- the War.


What is says in the papers

God, I’m dreading tomorrow’s papers.

Usually at this time on a Saturday night I’ll be watching the Twitter feed of Frank Fitzgibbon, editor of the Sunday Times in Ireland, who performs the invaluable social service of tweeting the main stories from all of tomorrow’s papers as soon as they hit the newsstands.

I reckon he can probably take the night off tonight.

Tomorrow’s papers will, unless the Rapture arrives in the next few minutes, be about Garret, Leinster and the Queen.

Whereas I’m looking forward to reading about the first two, I’m not sure I can stomach another millisecond of the gormless cheerleading about herself across the water that has dominated the media in Ireland this week.

This was the week when Newstalk’s “news without the state-run spin” tagline became laughably redundant, as commentator after commentator read long and loud from the government script.

RTE broadcast hour after hour of uncritical commentary of her visit, beating us soundly over the head with about how “unprecedented” it was, and how “successful” it all was.

Our new government also took the opportunity to declare how the visit had drastically improved Ireland’s image abroad, despite the fact that it was roundly ignored outside of the British Isles; indeed, here in Sweden any mention of it also included the “viable explosive devices” found on the day of her arrival. Great for the image, I’m sure you’ll agree.

But rather than heralding a new era in Anglo-Irish relations (we’ve had good relations for twenty years or more now), the only thing that has really changed is the attitude of many people towards the Queen herself.

Skips quickly filled with Wolfe Tones tapes and Proclamation posters as the Irish people discovered they really liked her after all.

A lot of people were genuinely astounded at her warmth, her ability to deliver a speech (including a few words in the local language) and the fact that she was generally reasonably amiable.

Why people would be surprised that a woman who has been doing the job – and it is a job – for nearly sixty years might actually turn out to be good at it is beyond me.

But beyond the platitudes and the thundering media back-slapping, nothing has changed; all the visit of the Queen has done is cement the fact that Ireland and the Irish people don’t do accountability.

Because rather than apologise for the actions of her country in ours (which she was never going to do, and is probably why they sent her), this unelected head of state spoke of her “sympathy” for those affected.

It was as if one eight-minute speech was enough to close the book on the North and move on. Those interned without trial, or the families of the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, might respectfully disagree.

Anyone not prepared to forgive and forget this week is labelled backward, a bigot or a crank, lumped in with the morons in Manchester United shirts throwing rocks at the police and failing to burn the Union Jack.

In short, a person accountable to no-one has essentially told us that no-one will be held accountable for anything, but it’s all alright because we are friends now. And we applauded her loudly for it, because that is what we do.

That is why Charles Haughey died a free man, never called to account for his actions – or his accounts – before a court. That is why Mountjoy is filled with the working-class poor while no banker nor politician has been charged with bankrupting our country.

That is why Michael Lowry still gets votes, and why Bertie Ahern gets away with telling us that his income comes from the gee-gees. That is why we remain a laughing stock, not least to ourselves.

As he is laid to rest, it is worth remembering that Garret Fitzgerald was one of the few politicians – some would say the only – who was held to account for his time in office; not only that, he also held himself to account.

His government had to administer some deeply unpopular economic medicine, and the voters extracted their revenge at the ballot box. His party was hammered at the polls, and he resigned as party leader.

It’s worth keeping that in mind this Sunday morning as the hacks have one last outpouring of superlatives over an old woman who cannot be touched and who can only be spoken to if she speaks first.

And as you read their gushing, unblinking praise and listen to the back-slapping on the morning radio shows, ask yourself why they are not doing what it is we expect them to do – why are they not asking critical questions of people in power? Why do they never manage to hold anyone to account?

Goodbye, Garret

Garret Fitzgerald, 9 February 1926 – 19 May 2011

It was Garret Fitzgerald and Charles Haughey that started my lifelong interest in the GUBU world of Irish politics, and it was with great sadness that I learned of his passing this morning.

The three elections at the start of the 80s were a crash course for anyone remotely interested in the affairs of the state, and coming as they did in the wake of the hunger strikes in the H-blocks and the shadow of a crushing recession, it was a comprehensive education in nationalism and economics.

I mourn his passing, but not because I rated him as a great leader. It was his tenacity and political stamina despite probably the toughest conditions an Irish statesman has ever faced that made the man.

It was an impossible job, but somehow he managed to do it.

But despite his obvious mastery of economics, he made several bad calls in the 80s and as a result could not deliver growth despite arresting the slide in the economy.

His refusal to meet with the families of the hunger strikers was no doubt an agonising decision, and I strongly believe it was the wrong one, despite the reasons for which it was taken (to preserve fragile relations with the British) – as John Hume, Albert Reynolds and many others have shown since, the vast majority of Republicans are reasonable people who are eager for peace, provided they are granted dignity and respect at the negotiating table.

But Garret continued to chase his dream of peace in the North and a pluralist Ireland, despite criticism from all sides and a deeply unwilling and ungrateful counterpart in the shape of Margaret Thatcher. Without Garret’s efforts in the field of foreign affairs, like his father before him in our fledgling state, it is unlikely that there would be peace today.

It was remarkable to see Peter Robinson in Dublin for the Queen’s visit – once one of the bitterest, most ardent and intransigent voices of Unionism, he came to the capital to honour the Irishmen that died in the Great War fighting for the crown.

It was Garret that started the ball rolling that eventually led the opinions and rhetoric of Robinson and his ilk being transformed.

His death comes as a timely reminder to his successors, inside and outside the government. Over the next few days the likes of Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar will have plenty of opportunities to read once more about their former leader’s exploits in the papers.

If Ireland is to have a future that is not reminiscent of the lost decade of the 80s, they would do well to take heed of his mistakes on both the economy and how he dealt with the more violent wing of Republicanism.

For a lifelong diplomat and academic like Garret, the greatest tribute we can pay is to learn from our mistakes and deliver a newer, better, stronger Ireland – because whatever he did, he never stopped striving for his vision of a just, peaceful, pluralist Ireland, where the Catholic community of his father and the Unionist tradition of his mother could feel at home.

Go raibh míle maith agat a Ghearóid, agus ar dheis Dé go raibh do anam dílis.