The Long Betrayal – Lies, Direct Provision And The McMahon Report

Words by Subprime
Images by Asylum Archive

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The McMahon Report into the Protection System and Direct Provision was published one year ago this week. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, the report has taken on an almost mythic status in some quarters as a panacea for the ills of Direct Provision. If only the report’s 173 recommendations were implemented, this tale goes, the horrors of Direct Provision would be a thing of the past. Trumpeted as a “Yes Equality moment” by then Minister for State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin this day last year, the publication of the report would “turn the page on the scandal of Direct Provision”.

Reality and the things Ó Ríordáin says are frequently at odds, however, and the report gathered dust for months before being quietly removed recently from the final Programme for Partnership Government (PfG), having been featured in an earlier draft. The report was in reality a weak, reformist document —  had it been implemented fully, Direct Provision would remain intact  —  and a quiet death like this was a fitting end for it. Unfortunately Ó Ríordáin couldn’t let sleeping dogs lie and decided make an issue of the new government’s failure to include a commitment to implement the report’s recommendations after having failed to do so himself as Minister for State in the Department of Justice.

Ó Ríordáin issued a statement claiming that the decision to remove mention of the report from the final PfG is “a betrayal of the thousands of people who have found themselves languishing in Direct Provision Centres all around the country.” On Twitter he said that the McMahon Report was “ the only chance that DP residents had.” This is ridiculous, even by Ó Ríordáin’s usual standards.

The working group process which led to the report was the real betrayal of Direct Provision residents.

The process and the report itself were so compromised and limited in their scope that, far from being “the only chance” for residents, they were used by civil servants and politicians including Ó Ríordáin to actively hamper efforts by residents and others to improve the system.

The bizarre notion that the McMahon Report would somehow solve Direct Provision is perfectly illustrated by a couple of recent news reports: Michael D. Higgins, reacting to the news that McMahon implementation was dropped from the PfG, told the Irish times that he had “noticed” the McMahon Report had not been featured in discussions on government formation. This statement was then picked up by breakingnews.ie, who twisted his words to claim the President had criticised the lack of a commitment to “end the Direct Provision for asylum seekers.” The site further stated that the “McMahon report into Direct Provision calls for an end to the system.” This is completely untrue and could be dismissed as bad journalism but unfortunately it appears that it is a fairly common view that both Ó Ríordáin and the McMahon working group had set out to end Direct Provision.

This narrative is the exact opposite of the truth. The McMahon working group came about during a time when Direct Provision system was experiencing protests in centres across the country. The process was used by the Department of Justice, with help from Ó Ríordáin, to suppress those protests, co-opt NGOs and block all attempts to change the system for over a year.

An Independent Working Group?

The July 2014 Statement of Government Priorities contained a commitment to set up an “independent working group” to report to government on “improvements” that could be made to Direct Provision and the wider asylum system. The group consisted of two sides: representatives of government Departments on the one hand and on the other, a group of asylum NGOs, some random “non-affiliated” political picks and a single refugee

The “independent” adjective was apparently just thrown on there to lend credibility to the group, or out of habit. It was never clear who exactly the group was meant to be independent of and the language of independence was mostly dropped (there’s no mention of the group being independent in the press release announcing its establishment, for example) except when convenient (when government wanted to avoid questions about the group’s progress.)

Being charitable, one could assume that the group was meant to be independent of government  —  except the majority of participants in the group were civil servants from various government departments. Or perhaps it was to be independent of actual government ministers  —  except for the fact that one of the draft plans was for Aodhán Ó Ríordáin to chair the group (which was apparently abandoned to avoid the perception of political interference in the group); government set the terms of reference and picked the group’s members; and ministers publicly discussed what they “hoped” would be in the final report, as the group was conducting its work.

In the end, the Department of Justice settled on ticking the independence box by installing an “independent” chairperson, former High Court judge Bryan McMahon. Despite the fact that Frances Fitzgerald met with McMahon to discuss the group before it first met and that they appeared in public together during the course of the group’s work, you could say that he meets the criteria for being independent simply by virtue of the fact that he is a former High Court judge, seemingly the only necessary qualification to chair such a group in Ireland. An independent Chairperson does not an “independent working group” make but I suppose the Department is entitled to some leeway in their implementation of government commitments.

In any case, it’s not government ministers or a retired judge who would care enough to engage in some kind of conspiracy to influence the group. Rather, it’s the Department of Justice as an institution who have the most invested in maintaining the status quo of Direct Provision and the asylum system.

It is their job, after all, to manage the state based on government decisions. A government decision 16 years ago mandated them to create Direct Provision and the establishment of the working group did nothing to change that decision.

The group’s terms of reference required that whatever the working group recommended, “the existing border controls and immigration procedures are not compromised.” Direct Provision is border control. It acts to dissuade people from travelling to Ireland to claim asylum by keeping those that already made it here in terrible conditions. If the working group was to truly and critically examine Direct Provision, it would have to look at this fact. To do so independently, it would require independence from the Department of Justice, the government department tasked with upholding government policies on border control. In this sense, the group was anything but independent as Justice was more prevalent on the working group than any other group.

Two actual Department of Justice officials sat on the government side of the plenary working group  —  Michael Kelly of the INIS and Noel Dowling of the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) which runs Direct Provision. Then there was David Costello of ORAC, (formerly of Justice, soon to be in Justice again when ORAC is subsumed back into the Department.) In addition, three other Justice officials sat on various sub-groups within the working group, according to the final report, but others were involved in various capacities as the subgroups were something of a free-for-all. Four Justice also officials helped out as the group’s secretariat and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal was also represented on the group.

That’s a lot of people working within the Department of Justice and/or its semi-autonomous agencies who got to come to the table and help construct the report.

This doesn’t include Tim Dalton, former Department of Justice Secretary General, who for reasons unknown was included on the “independent”/NGO side of the group. This appointment alone should have been cause for objection and outrage from the NGOs represented on the Group  —  Dalton was Justice Secretary General as his Department set up Direct Provision 16 years ago. He would be contributing to a report that, if it were truly independent, could potentially criticise the very system he was responsible for establishing. There were no public objections by members to his appointment to the group. Perhaps there would have been objections to the fact that Dalton and the Chair of the group, Bryan McMahon, visited a Direct Provision centre together after the membership of the group was announced but before the first working group meeting. However, other members of the working group were not told that this trip happened so they did not have a chance to analyse this relationship.

I’m nitpicking here to an extent  —  I’m not sure anybody ever seriously tried to claim the group was independent. It was stated a lot, but didn’t seem to mean a whole lot. Its supposed independence was, as I said above, a useful way for government to long finger any discussion of changes to Direct Provision at a time when it was, from their cynical perspective, absolutely necessary for them to do so.

Hunger strikes and occupations

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The working group was set up, intentionally or not, in order to stifle and displace mounting opposition to Direct Provision in the latter half of 2014. The group first met in November of that year and for the preceding three months, residents of various Direct Provision centres had been engaged in both spontaneous and loosely coordinated direct actions against the system.

Starting in Mount Trenchard, Co. Limerick in August, and spreading to eight centres during September and October, residents of Direct Provision railed against the system despite the best efforts of the Department of Justice and centre management to ignore, co-opt and intimidate them (armed Gardaí even came to Mount Trenchard to forcibly transfer three protesting residents to other centres, after the dispute there had already been ‘resolved’.) Actions included hunger strikes in Athlone, Portlaoise and Mount Trenchard; occupations of centres in Cork and Waterford, including a ten-day occupation of the State-owned Kinsale Road Accommodation Centre in Cork City; and a march on Enda Kenny’s constituency office in Castlebar by residents of the Old Convent centre in Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo.

Residents used the protests not just to highlight and change the woeful conditions in the centres but also to call for the closure of the system, residency and a right to work for all asylum seekers and an end to deportations. In an effort to quell protests at various centres, Department of Justice officials told residents that the above demands were “non-local issues” which could not be addressed directly by RIA during protests but that they would be covered by the working group. This was untrue. The terms of reference for the group, drafted by Justice, did not allow the group to recommend the closure of Direct Provision and Frances Fitzgerald made it clear at the first meeting of the group that they had not been assembled to consider such an option.

The group did recommend an extremely conditional right to work in their final report but the government has no intention of implementing this and the Minister had ruled this out before the group even met. Similarly, an amnesty was ruled out before the group met, even though the report did recommended a conditional process whereby people in the system longer than five years would be given a form of residency. And, of course and unfortunately, stopping deportations was never going to be considered by the working group — they did, however, recommend that government legislate for increased powers of deportation, a recommendation implemented as part of the International Protection Act.

Avoiding action

The spectre of the working group allowed government to avoid debate on any Direct Provision reforms raised in the Oireachtas. On September 17th 2014, Ronán Mullen proposed a reformist Seanad motion which called on the government to allow a conditional right to work and to institute a review mechanism to grant those in Direct Provision longer than four years “compassionate” leave to remain in Ireland. (Four years is a ridiculously long cut-off point before we should be compassionate about people’s stays in DP but ironically even this obscene time limit was lower than the similar 5 year condition which made its way into the final McMahon Report.)

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin was on hand to counter this motion with a government amendment which welcomed the establishment of the working group. He said the “working group process… is a sensible one” which allows for “necessary change to be identified and managed effectively without the dangers which would be generated by peremptory actions.” In the same speech, Ó Ríordáin also decided to condemn protesting Direct Provision residents who were engaged in a process of unmanaged and dangerous change. While he said he “fully respect[s] the rights of residents to protest”, he could not “condone the targeting of individuals working in certain direct provision centres or the stopping of people going about their lawful work.” This is an astonishing attack on protesters by a Minister for State who supposedly respects their right to protest.

It’s not clear where Ó Ríordáin got the idea that certain workers were being “targeted” but he is perhaps referring to the demand of protesting residents in the Kinsale Road Accommodation Centre in Cork for the removal of a manager there. The grim conditions in the centre and the protest itself are discussed by one of the residents, Lucky Khambule in a recent rabble interview. In their list of demands, residents of the centre said that the manager in question “does not respect the people who are under his care” and that they were “intimidated by the manager calling Gardaí” and threatening to transfer them when they raised issues with him.

“Stopping people going about their lawful work” could also apply to the protest in the Kinsale Road where, at the time of Aodhán’s speech, residents had seized control of the centre and locked out management and staff. The irony of attacking protesters for impeding workers in the same speech in which he is denying Direct Provision residents the right to work is apparently lost on Ó Ríordáin. This method of protest, unlike the “sensible” working group process, was effective in winning residents immediate reforms. In the end, the residents of the Kinsale Road won many of their demands and the manager was removed.

Later the same month, Ó Ríordáin was in the Dáil to counter another motion on Direct Provision, from Thomas Pringle. This motion would call on the government to “abolish” DP and replace it with six months capped reception centres and a right to work after that time. Pringle, pre-empting the inevitable government response that that working group would solve all ills, laid out clearly the problem with this: “Everyone here who has an interest in the direct provision system can indicate what needs to be done because the experts have been informing us about the matter for quite some time.” There was of course, no need for a working group after years of reports ignored by government and the working group process was, Pringle said, “just another delaying tactic on the part of Fine Gael that will result in a much diluted version of what must to be done.”

Ó Ríordáin’s counter motion was identical to the one used against Mullen. He again took the opportunity to condemn protesting Direct Provision residents and this time also expressed his concerns “about the impact the protests can have on children and other vulnerable persons living in the centres.” Again the irony seems to be lost on him that he is smearing protesters while calling for the retention of a system that has an actual negative impact on children and vulnerable people.

It’s worth also comparing Ó Ríordáin’s comments to those of Direct Provision contractor Alan Hyde, in a submission to the working group, describing a protest the Birchwood centre in Waterford:

While protesting peacefully is a recognised constitutional right, the protesters in many cases took the law into their own hands… my employees were stopped from entering their place of employment… the majority of residents were casualities [sic] of the protest.

The Birchwood protest began after Ó Ríordáin’s two Oireachtas speeches condemning protesters so I’m not suggesting he lifted his comments from this submission but the simple fact that a supposedly anti-Direct Provision Minister would come up with the same talking points as did a Direct Provision centre owner should tell you all you need to know about the sincerity of Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.

NGOs

I’ve written before about how the Department of Justice was concerned that some of the NGOs involved in the working group process might be presented with problems because the official stance of their organisations is that they are for the abolition of Direct Provision while the working group was not set up to end the system at all. They needn’t have worried. Of the five NGOs represented on the group, only two had previously campaigned against Direct Provision  —  the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) and Nasc. The remaining three  —  SPIRASI, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and the Children’s Rights Alliance (CRA)  —  had taken much more ambiguous positions on the system, consistently failing to call for its abolition. The UNHCR, also represented on the group, never came out against the system.

The IRC and Nasc got around the problem of their previous opposition to the system by releasing statements saying they were still in favour of ending Direct Provision even though they were joining the working group. Nasc’s CEO Fiona Finn said that although she was “disappointed that the terms of reference for the Working Group seem quite narrow,” she believed it was “better to be at the table and try to effect change than not to take part”. Nasc would “continue to push for an end to the system of direct provision… both within and outside of the Working Group.” The IRC released a statement entitled “The Irish Refugee Council will continue to advocate for an end to Direct Provision”. Then CEO Sue Conlan said that the IRC would be “advocating for an international protection system that Ireland can be proud of” while also “advocating for an end to the current system of reception”.

The problem with both of these statements is that they were made after both NGOs had sight of the working group’s terms of reference which did not allow the possibility that the group recommend the abolition or replacement of Direct Provision. The terms of reference as I’ve mentioned above tasked the group with recommending to government “what improvements should be made to the State’s existing Direct Provision [system]”. While this could be interpreted charitably as allowing the group to recommend an alternative to Direct Provision, there was no confusion from government about what they intended. At a roundtable of NGOs in September 2014, prior to the establishment of the working group, Fitzgerald had made clear that by “improvements” to the system she meant improvements and not “replacing it with something else or abolishing it.” This fact was again highlighted by the Minister and McMahon at the first meeting of the working group.

There was no confusion from other observers. Shortly after the terms of reference were announced, a group of academics described the objectives of the working group as “very clear. Direct provision will remain in place. Any suggestions for improvement will be governed by “cost efficiency”, continued ghettoisation and deterrence.” Highlighting the fact that only one refugee was appointed as member of the group, the academics said that the group as announced “further silences and marginalises asylum seekers who have to live with the damage that this system has inflicted upon them”. They supported the call by Anti-Deportation Ireland for the NGOs to step down and give up their places to people in the system.

The Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), a group of residents across multiple centres which grew out of the organisation developed during the Kinsale Road blockade and other centres, also called for the resignation of NGO working group members. They sent letters to the NGOs demanding representation and this was discussed at the second plenary working group meeting, as noted in the minutes.

The calls for resignations were ignored by NGOs. Asylum seekers would be represented officially only by the Core Group, an IRC funded group of asylum seekers and refugees. They had one representative on the main working group, Reuben Hambackachere, who from the minutes of the group seemed like the only person speaking truth at working group meetings. For example, he made the following contribution at the first meeting of the group:

In relation to the stated aim of the work of the Group — to show greater respect to the dignity of persons within the system, IRC Core Group representative expressed the view that the system of direct provision, which requires people to live in a controlled environment, is incompatible with the dignity of the person.

Sue Conlan and the IRC would later resign from the working group in March 2015 for reasons unrelated to the above. This kicked off internal discussions within the Core Group who fractured into two camps, those who wanted to also resign from the group in protest, led by Hambackachere, and those who wanted to stay on for the final couple of months and see what reforms could be won. In the end, Hambackachere lost out and he resigned from the working group, saying in his letter of resignation to the Chair of the group that he felt restricted by the group’s terms of reference to “legitimizing the current system with only a few tweaks…. My conscience will not allow me to endorse an exercise that has not truly reflected the voices of asylum seekers.” (He also wrote about his experiences in Village.)

Hambackachere’s resignation was in a personal capacity, the Core Group still remained on the working group. He was replaced by Stephen Ng’ang’a who sat on the group until the end and signed off on the final report. The Core Group had been badly damaged by their internal dispute. They started off as a small group of refugees and asylum seekers, backed by the IRC and unrepresentative of the wider body of asylum seekers and refugees in Ireland. They ended up as an even smaller group, and lost the institutional backing of the IRC. This was predictable and comes back to the demands from other asylum seekers for proper representation on the working group. The “community” of protection applicants in Ireland cannot of course be represented by any one group, especially not one tied to a specific NGO.

Apart from the issue of asylum seeker representation, the McMahon NGOs were compromised by the working group process itself. While the lines between Justice and the NGOs have always been blurry, not least in the eyes of many asylum seekers, the McMahon process was a radical departure from the earlier position where the NGOs at least paid lip service to the idea that they were antagonists of the Department. While individual NGOs had of course worked with government before this on various projects, including the first drafting of the RIA house rules, McMahon saw a group of NGOs come together with government to work together to plan the future of the asylum system and Direct Provision.

The co-option of the NGOs was noted in a recent article by working group member Ciara Smyth entitled “Chronicles of a Reform Process”. Smyth notes that one might take “jaundiced view” that the working group formulation, ie. NGOs and civil servants working more or less together towards a common goal, “might impede NGOs from adopting stance [sic] critical of government; the co-opting of NGOs onto the Working Group will certainly do so as far as the report is concerned.” Smyth’s article was written just before the publication of the report in June 2015. She was certainly correct that the remaining NGOs were indeed co-opted to the extent that they could not be critical of the government’s immediately obvious intention not to implement the report.

Another #YesEquality moment

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The day after the report was finally delivered to government on June 23rd 2015, the Irish Times carried a story by Fiach Kelly quoting anonymous sources including a cabinet member. The story claimed that “700 migrants” had entered the state in just one month. An anonymous source then said that “those who are the focus of concern” are “in essence illegal immigrants and they are using the asylum process to gain entry to the country”. Fitzgerald was later asked about the 700 figure and it’s clear from her answer that nowhere near 700 people claimed asylum in any one month period in early 2015.

Apart from the outright lie that 700 people had abused the asylum system, the story also features anonymous concerns within “the Coalition” that “improvements in direct provision system, as well as a recovering economy, could make Ireland a destination country for immigrants.” The Irish Times had access to some of the report’s recommendations that same day as detailed in a separate article by Carl O’Brien — but they chose to run Fiach Kelly’s anonymously sourced article on their front page. In other words, they could have taken the opportunity to highlight the report’s recommendations but instead they chose to undermine it.

It isn’t that surprising that reactionaries in Cabinet and/or the Department of Justice would try to undermine the report’s release by planting ridiculous Daily Express style “migrant” scare stories in the press. It’s certainly not surprising that the newspaper of record would facilitate them. However, despite this clear evidence that the report was being and would continue to be undermined, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin’s optimism was not dampened.

A week after being delivered to government, the McMahon Report was published on June 30th 2015. Ó Ríordáin lost the run of himself on Twitter that day, producing this classic tweet where he characterised the publication of the report as a “another #YesEquality moment”. He said that the publication of the report was an “important moment” and that “implementation must be a priority.” You have to admire his enthusiasm but the report was never going to be implemented. Fitzgerald’s rather less enthusiastic reaction to the report was to say that the report “will receives [sic] serious study and consideration.” There was a press conference to launch the report at 4.30pm that day at which Fitzgerald said she thought the “roadmap set out in the publication is practical in its ambition.” Before 6pm she had already refused to commit to implementing the report’s recommendations.

Time to Act

Though the government was clearly never going to implement McMahon, the NGOs who remained on the working group until the end never lost hope. Their dedication to the report was total. They came out with coordinated statements on the day of the report’s release. When government avoided discussing the report in the Dáil, the NGOs formed a group called Time to Act to call on the government to implement the report’s recommendations. But implementation never came. Government implemented a couple of previous announced recommendations – a waiver on prescription charges for Direct Provision residents and a scheme of third level supports for asylum seekers which was so limited that only two people qualified for it. But for months these were the only announced changes to Direct Provision on foot of the McMahon Report.

Fans of Ireland’s asylum system will notice I’ve thus far glossed over the fact that the working group actually dealt not just with Direct Provision but with the wider protection process. This is an intentional choice, for brevity and because the group was presented as and referred to by government as a “Direct Provision working group”. The group actually focused equally on or even gave more time to “improvements” to the protection process rather than on “improvements” to Direct Provision. These two issues although related could be separate but McMahon blurs the line between them.

Whether Ireland maintains open or closed border in theory has no bearing on whether or not it operates Direct Provision, a separate system or no reception system at all. However, the report proposes a single application procedure as a method of reducing time spent in the asylum system. And although the introduction of a single application procedure was already planned by the Department of Justice, government has seized upon the single application procedure as a “solution” to Direct Provision.

The single application was legislated for as part of the International Protection Bill last year. According to government, this Bill “responded to” 26 of the McMahon recommendations, primarily the recommendation to introduce a single procedure. Non-McMahon NGOs objected to how the Bill was constructed and to how the government rammed it through the Oireachtas just before the Winter recess in December 2015. Even McMahon NGO Nasc objected to it, saying that while the “Minister claims that the Bill implements the key recommendations of the Working Group, this is simply not true.” Despite these objections, the Bill became an Act, signed in to law by the President after being referred to the Council of State.

The Department of Justice recently released a document which which lists the status of the 173 McMahon Report recommendations. In a press release accompanying the release, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald stated that she is “determined to implement this report in full as soon as possible.” This is impossible as things stand. Justice has decided that 5 recommendations will not be implemented. These relate to the right to work for asylum seekers after 9 months in the system and the establishment of an independent advisory board to oversee the system. These recommendations are marked “no longer applicable.” A brief information note at the top of the document explains that these recommendations have been superseded by “the passing of the International Protection Act 2015.” This is clearly at odds with the Minister’s statement that the report will be implemented in full and this was the the first and only time that the Department has stated officially that some McMahon recommendations will not be implemented.

Of the “implemented” recommendations, it appears that less than the amount stated have been implemented. In some cases, a recommendation listed as being implemented clearly has not been implemented. In many other cases, the ‘implemented’ recommendations are vague, subjective, or a continuation of standard practice. For example, one recommendation requires that “the good practice established through the [McMahon] Working Group of sharing and discussing information in a safe setting among key stakeholders be continued.” This is listed as an implemented recommendation but it’s not clear who the key stakeholders are or what constitutes a safe setting.

If the McMahon NGOs were honest they would admit that Justice’s claimed implementation of a number of the recommendations is completely false. Instead, they have over the past year consistently “welcomed” “progress” on implementation. Following on from their criticism of the International Protection Act, Nasc also mildly took issue with government’s announcement of a €6 increase in the weekly Direct Provision Allowance for children. Nasc’s Fiona Finn said that they “welcome any improvement” to Direct Provision but that the increase wasn’t enough and called on the government to implement McMahon properly. Tanya Ward of the Children’s Rights Alliance, another working group member, said that the increase “will barely cover the cost of a bottle of Calpol” but in the same statement, along with two other children’s charities, she acknowledged “the leadership of” Joan Burton “in securing this increase” and recognised “the support and commitment of Fitzgerald and Ó Ríordáin but said that the government must implement McMahon fully.

Why would government fully implement the report when NGOs are welcoming insulting “implementations” of the report that go nowhere near meeting its recommendations?

Despite a year of non-implementation, it emerged recently that the McMahon NGOs have been meeting with the Department of Justice over the past year, and will continue to do so. The Time to Act NGOs released a joint statement “welcoming” government’s “renewed commitments” for full implementation. They did not mention that government, presumably with their blessing, had ruled out a right to work for asylum seekers.

It seems that the NGOs who were involved in the group are happy to be drip-fed half-implemented recommendations, reassurances and lies from government. This would be fine if they didn’t claim to advocate on behalf of the people most affected by inaction. When they renewed their commitment to implement McMahon, government claimed that they had granted status to 1,500 people who had been in Direct Provision longer than 5 years. That is great for those people, but as of April there are still almost 1,000 people in direct provision over 5 years. There are 3,047 in the system for longer than 9 months, one of the government’s vague targets for a maximum stay once the single procedure is implemented. Rather than advocating for an end to Direct Provision, these NGOs have been praising government for removing some of the people in the system for the longest and implicitly condemning everybody in the system for a year or two to continued limbo.

Aside from Ó Ríordáin’s and the NGOs’ hypocrisy in calling for the report to be implemented, other people and groups who should know better are also making serious calls for implementation. For example, the Irish Association of Social Workers issued a statement recently which called on government to implement McMahon “without further delay.” I disagree. The current “delay” is one full year since the report was presented to government. In August, it will be two years since the Direct Provision protests of Summer ’14. Residents suspended some of their protests partly on the understanding (explicitly stated by the Department of Justice) that their concerns would be addressed by the working group. They were not.

The working group was ill-conceived from the outset, partially a response to protest by residents and to longstanding objections from all quarters against the horrors of Direct Provision. The work of the group was shaped and directed by a Justice Department resistant to even the most minor reform. The recommendations in the McMahon Report are impossible to fully implement.

It would be nice to believe that the government will suddenly decide to implement McMahon, but they will not. If the report was a true template for positive change then people should indeed campaign for its implementation, but it is not. It deserves to be forgotten about. The real crime is that people still push it as a “solution” to the detriment of real change. For the McMahon NGOs to continue to push it when it’s going nowhere compounds their betrayal of asylum seekers during the process.

Over fifty thousand people have been forced to live through Direct Provision over the past 16 years. Residents’ stories of horrific conditions and abuse from staff are no longer hard to find. There were plenty of reports before McMahon laying out the damage caused by the system. Government and the NGOs ignored all of this during McMahon and they continue to ignore it by slowly and incompletely implementing the report’s recommendations.

Direct Provision is in theory reformable, but only if you leave aside your morality and compassion. To anybody who sees its residents as human beings, the Direct Provision system is unacceptable. Men, women and children have been left at the mercy of private operators for years because of their immigration and financial status and because of the colour of their skin.

Government ministers, a retired judge and some well paid ‘humanitarians’ had the privilege of wasting almost a year of their lives compiling a white-wash report. Another year has now passed while they have sat on that report.

During that time, an average of about eight people will have died in Direct Provision. Hundreds of applicants for asylum here will have been introduced to roommates they don’t want and bad food they shouldn’t be expected to eat.

None of these horrors would be fixed by implementing McMahon  —  the only way to right the wrong of Direct Provision is to end it.


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Ireland, Abortion And #Brexit

Figures released by the UK Department of Health in May show women from the island of Ireland accounted for 82.6% of abortions provided to non-British residents last year.

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That’s roughly nine women having to travel every single day and these annual headlines are an understatement. Not every woman arriving at a British clinic will give an Irish address while in other instances, women may have the option to travel somewhere else like the Netherlands. Even in the collection of statistics there are layers of invisibility and silence but nine women forced to leave their own home each day is nine too many and Britain remains the primary destination.

The task involved in arranging this journey has been covered in some detail here.

Have you been to the doctor? How far along are you? Do you know the further along you are, the more expensive an abortion is? Can you get a loan from a Credit Union? Or will you go to a money lender? Do you have anything you can sell to raise the money? Can you lie to your parents or friends to borrow money? Can you max your credit card? Do you even have a credit card? Are there any bills that you can get away with not paying this month? Have you gone through all your old coats and looked down the back of the sofa? How long will it take for you to get €1,000 together? Can you get an extra €20 off the Community Welfare Officer? Can you not buy coal for the next few weeks? Are you on the dole? Can you use your savings? Can you defer your year at college and save the money for your Master’s Degree again? Is it Christmas time? Can you return any gifts for a refund or sell them for cash?
And more pertinently.

Do you have travel documents? A passport is €80 and Ryanair will only let you travel with a passport. Can you get a Driver’s Licence? You’ve lost it? Aer Lingus will let you travel on a work ID. Your work ID doesn’t have a photo on it? You’ll need a passport then.

Are you an Asylum Seeker? Ok, then you need to get travel documents that will allow you to re-enter the state. Who is your solicitor? Is he or she pro choice? How much does he or she charge to help you with this?

In the republic, while already illegal, abortion has also been constitutionally prohibited since 1983. The North is still governed under the 1861 Offences Against The Person Act as the 1967 Abortion Act has not yet crossed the Irish Sea.

Women living the republic were eventually given explicit right to travel for a termination in 1992 and Irish citizens along with women from the north can avail of the Common Travel Area to enter Britain with minimal restrictions. This pre-EU agreement is likely to remain in the event of Brexit but given the prevailing climate and addition of an EU border scenario, movement between Ireland and Britain will be effected in other ways.

For this group, the worst outcome will hopefully be limited to uncertainty in the weeks and months following the referendum but we do not expect the ground to shift that dramatically.

It is worth pointing out in this context another example of the hypocrisy which reliably follows the abortion question. The referendum campaign and decades leading to it have regularly focused on the alleged pressure migration places on the welfare state at the expense of ‘taxpayers’. British services for the British and all that.  In the midst of all this chest beating sensationalism, women from Northern Ireland alone, who are no less entitled than those in Kent or Cardiff, are denied access to treatment on the NHS anywhere in Britain.

Ireland has also been a destination of increasing migration since the 1990s and these people, chief among them the British (!), accounted for over half a million residents at the last census in 2011. The split is roughly 50/50 meaning there are at least 250,000 women who may potentially seek an abortion at some time in their lives. While EU citizens make up the majority of this number, Britain outside the EU is unlikely to look as favourably on say, Lithuanians as they might the Dutch. How the issue of free movement for EU citizens is dealt with after the referendum is unknown but the cry that “we have lost control of borders” being a dominant campaigning issue is ominous. Tighter application process or controls can only be worse for women often in desperate situations of time and money.

The sizeable number of non-EU Irish residents from places like Nigeria and the Philippines already face restrictions and routine torment at airports. On top of crisis pregnancy, they, along with asylum seekers and the undocumented, will potentially face yet another layer of racist bureaucracy and policing in both Britain and at home. Take all we have learned about Irish women’s experience and add having to account for your movements or reasons for travel in the face of Irish immigration officialdom.

None of this is meant to be alarmist and rests firmly in the realm of speculation. In the event of Britain rescinding EU membership  the target of restrictions will tilt toward permanent visas and immigration rather than temporary visits in the short term however both are very quickly linked when one approaches the passport desk.  Increasing hostility at the boarder is certain and this is important to highlight in the reality of Irish abortion. As entry to Britain becomes more draconian, women who for reasons of xenophobia are seen as undesirable or suspect will be under further pressure to prove they are only staying for a day or so. Their personal, entirely legitimate reasons for travel are hardly suited for airport interrogations.

Regardless of outcome, this referendum coupled with refugee paranoia will only add increased burden so long as abortion access remains restricted on the island of Ireland.

The prospect Britain leaving the European Union is viewed as an unmitigated crisis in eyes of the Irish government but while prime minister Enda Kenny travels around Britain campaigning at the behest of business, finance and farmers, it is safe to assume the implications for Irish women have never crossed his mind.

In truth, the idea that Irish women may soon be forced to leave the European Union to access healthcare doesn’t bear thinking about.


Oireachtas Retort is a space for original and occasionally incisive commentary on the relentless torment of Irish politics. If you find any of this useful, just click the brown envelope to donate!

At the End of the Rainbow: ‘Yes Equality’ Come Again No More

BY JAMES CUSSEN

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Reflections on the Irish same-sex marriage referendum of May last are as charming as the hoary old one about the Holy Roman Empire in that almost none have actually been reflective. Except, of course, as a parody of what a reflective piece might look like.

Barely a wet twelve hours after polls closed we were invited not to look back in anger, or deploy any of our critical faculties. An admittedly umbrella campaign led by assorted Birgitte Nyborgs (such that it was occasionally given pep talks by a puppet from RTE’s 1980s children’s programming), Yes Equality, had already elevated John Lennon lyrics to political praxis with expressions that we enjoin the scum of the far right in a renewed brotherhood of man. But it was scarcely the first time in the campaign that heterosexuals had ventriloquised us either; and more of that anon.

Sooner than interrogate the referendum process occasioned by Ireland’s overwrought constitution, or even admitting that how we inscribe ‘equality’ in the future  (or what even constitutes it) is contested terrain, most hacks were and are concerned with the replicability of its apparent ‘lesson’.

What kind of excruciating culture warrior would want to repeat it?

What incarnation of centrist ennui, for whom it was a bloodsport only needing the politesse of fair play, would want to run it all again like some statistical regression?

To make matters worse, the High Court (s)quashed predictable attempts by fringe lay litigants to nullify the referendum result in such a way as to lead to a week of wild liberal paeans about kritarchy and the righteousness of the state form.  A boat naming competition at that moment by the Irish Naval Service could very well have led to “Judgey McJudgeFace”; a Michael O’Leary owned racehorse christened “Borgen” might have attracted millions in novelty bets; Fukuyama himself might have unuttered his recantation in the courtyard of Dublin Castle, lachrymose at what we now know was the opening salvo of “Senator Zappone goes to Washington” … via a route elongated enough to qualify her for the second tier of travel expenses.

And at last, after 18 months of concealment and shadow-boxing, we glimpsed what this was all really about. At long last, as legitimacy leeches from institutions of the state every day, We, The Queers, can take a seat on the porch of this burning house and they will call it the work of their better angels.

The conventions I detest about both the politics of ‘The Gay Question’, and most of the writing on it, really are an ever-growing list, and not exclusive to the topic either. As with the broader currents of identitarian appeal in liberal democracies, the tendency is to co-opt or cultivate ‘appropriate’ minorities (or, lately, ‘appropriate women’) as adjunct to the state and as demonstrations of its benevolence in the ultimate. We are invited to believe that the state muddles through life trying to do the right thing, in a manner more redolent of Bridget Jones than say, Adolf Eichmann.

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Witness Labour’s new leader Brendan Howlin (lol) recently emphasising that these ‘soft’ or ‘social’ issues, disaggregated entirely out from a coherent political economy, will be the path his party beats back into the ‘leafy suburbs’ of Dublin. Those leafy suburbs, indeed, that were matched and often out-voted in ‘Yes’ support by less salubrious counterparts in the referendum’s final result. This was in the face of despicable concern-trolling emanating from the coalition’s gaping, moronic ingénue, Labour’s Aodháin O’Riordáin, that the fundament of our water charges movement lay in the forces of reaction ‘duping’ the working class. These pied-pipers of nebulous ‘populism’, and even ‘poujadisme’ according to another over-excited, middle-aged man, existed nowhere except as the reification of Labour’s venomous contempt for instantiated socialism.

To contemplate the dearth of good writing too which permitted matchless liberal hypocrisy to flourish during the referendum, this consisted mostly in the ‘gay’ modality of what writing there was; mirroring a confessional genre deployed for other crosses borne privately (e.g. mental illness) and which is then served up to the middle classes in weekend newspaper supplements. Notionally it’s to prick readers’ consciences, and facilitate their tourism to a place behind a velvet or hospital curtain amidst consumer testing of coffee machines and notes from wine-tasting. But likely as not it prompts them to cross themselves in thanks that they are not such perpetual victims.

Perish the thought that we might be capable of political agency; or that we might think we are not in fact the ones with the problem.

Better explanations for the embarrassing decision to name one ally organisation ‘Straight Up for Equality’ elude me. A further example is how it might always be ‘poor Ursula Halligan’ (who outed herself like some Iphigeneia at Aulis, better to appease the electorate in the final days) but never any similar expression of pity at the intrinsic disorder of emotionally stunted, wife-beating heteronormativity.

Indecent public emotional exposure has been a remarked-on morbid symptom of journalism more generally, of course.

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This is meant as no affront to those who achingly, occasionally even beautifully, reveal their ‘inner self’; but the authenticity of this writing is destabilised constantly by either the commodification or instrumentalisation inherent in most examples of it. It is frequently demeaning. Exploitative. A violation. Almost seeking to be probative of how we bleed too if you prick us. Was it indeducible without seeing the guts? Do you want for an empathetic imagination?

Which is all a roundabout way of appraising the reader of how uncomfortable I feel at resorting to it myself in order to get you to listen to me. Reminiscing on the referendum campaign with my boyfriend at the start of this year, we both were struck by our shared feeling of mortification at being suckered by the process even to the point of genuine enthusiasm for the outcome at the time. Now, that was inauthentic. We resolved that having only met each other a month or so before that, the first flush of being together as a couple in that highly charged political climate could be sooner implicated than any worrisome softening of our cynicism.

Sure enough, a lot of my fear of being singled out for homophobic abuse due to public displays of affection has returned since; while any such fear of his, never being really present in the first place, hasn’t changed either. Our lives haven’t changed. Why would they? Marriage is in origin, and nearly always in practice a propertied institution which one perforce arrives to with property for the purpose of further accumulation and inter-generational transmission of that property. Miscegenation statutes in the United States, commonly invoked as historical precedent during our referendum campaign, tellingly did not need to exist in the antebellum (before 1861). Neither of us will ever attain enough wealth so that marriage assumes its primal significance for us: and certainly how could it change what people shout at us in the street, or why they do so? The country hasn’t changed for the better. The world generally is getting worse even though there are genuinely hopeful sites of resistance organising within it that are yet to be hollowed out by parliamentarianism and its political science. We think this is important to remember.

And the personal is never not political, despite wishing it away. Bunreacht na hÉireann’s Article 41 bespeaks the (bourgeois) family being the basic constituent of a whole rotten edifice which hopes for the family to privatise social goods (yes: cooking, cleaning, child-minding, first aid, garment-mending and washing) which society will not (not cannot) afford to provide:

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Personal stories, it is incanted by our psephologists, are what carried the result of a referendum to amend Article 41 in specific (the instanced passage above remaining intact, forebodingly). Little aware how unguarded they are being; they have admitted the transactional basis of these prostrations. The proliferation of coffee-table anthologies of personal stories about the marriage referendum, rather than being a sign of Ireland getting the training wheels off (or some such other infantilising analogy that is utterly characteristic of the post-colonial dumpster fire this country is), instead leaves one cold at best and more often speechless at what is being papered over, dissolved or sunken in the process. Soothing narratives for the establishment, of amorphous good triumphing over evil are all that lie that way; and it would be more proper to be afraid of where uncritical heralding of a ‘liberation’ might lead.

Over the long duration, I predict that we will instead discern the Irish marriage referendum, in as much as it is portended already in just the 12 months since, as merely a new, hollowly emoting idiom for as much raw sewerage of bourgeois ideology as it claimed to sweep away on just one day in May.

It was not a radical reform (that being a contradiction in terms anyway) and was, and will continue to be used to set the limits of acceptable and unacceptable minority expression and civic participation in a dangerous way. It will be a template forced on all those who are othered for the prospect of their assimilation and disappearance into reactionary ur-category of ‘taxpayer’. What kind of taste does the much-fêted #hometovote leave with minorities whose right to travel is constrained by either the price of the ticket; or the colour of their skin; or their gender, or all three?

History simply will not be kind to the ‘Yes Equality moment’; or at the very least it ought not be. Astonishingly, some still speak of a ‘Yes Equality moment’ seriously as if it were either reproducible or not already a self-executing punchline.

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The cause celébre here being the tortuous assignation of that term to a never-to-be-implemented reform document published last July about Ireland’s asylum seeker detention system, by a preening junior minister whose bailiwick (then) was ‘integration’ and ‘new communities’. Taste the ideology in that bag of Skittles much? The McMahon (named for its judicial chair) report being precipitated because of direct action by asylum seekers, and which the government was only seeking to neuter; largely freezing asylum seekers out of even the deliberations on that report. O’Riordáin might be right – there are definite echoes of Yes Equality in that.

This is just at the domestic level of analysis: the day is surely not long ahead of us before a President of the United States announces s/he is bombing an orientalist caricature in the vindication of the rights of the Human Beings of RuPaul’s Drag Race. There are, just this week, flypasts by RAF fighter jets at Pride parades in one imperial core. The imperial religion pretending to Catholicism’s throne for the moment, New Atheism, has been sure to remind all us uppity homos of the homage we owe those who protect us from the History (capital ‘h’) miring the rest of the world.

I wish to itemise some of the disconcerting portents in the Irish case in due course. Indeed, the biopolitical aspect, and how ‘gay’ marriage has been a route of stealth for reinforcing and recuperating racist immigration regimes; which now have begun to pivot on the imputed testability of a Platonic form of ‘love’ (the self-same ‘love’ that emblazons Coca-Cola bottles), has been covered with tremendous lucidity by Anne Mulhall. I would only add there: did you ever hear the one about Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Services (INIS) asking for screengrabs of the nudes which a couple exchanged over Grindr at the beginning of their relationship, for verification purposes? It’s an inverse Pastor Niemoller speech where first they gave the gays civil rights; and then I spoke up very loudly that this could only be protected if we remain a White Nation.

My ambitions, as you can gather, are more limited than that magisterial article: proffering a tentative baseline to ground a new discussion that is in any way at all more nourishing than the passive-aggressive ‘advice’ delivered during the referendum campaign about ‘start(-ing) a conversation’. The latter being pregnant with the asinine zealotry of mainline liberalism that there is nothing a cup of tea and a decent debate can’t fix in the (faintly Darwinian) ‘marketplace of ideas.’

Pandering might have been (and was) one outcome of this pollyannaish fervour, but more frequently it devolved onto pompous demonstration of intellectual superiority, and tribalistic chest-beating by liberals. Pleas of mine (I was scarcely alone in it either) that the eristic parlour game being made out of my life and others for reasons of pure vanity was far worse than doing nothing, predictably went unheeded. The casuistry inherent in this stuff, so as to be held above the accusation of giving a platform to the hatred of the far-right, is comically lacking in self-awareness.

It is the thesis, in microcosm, that you could have denuded Adolf Hitler’s power by drawing funny cartoons of him, or maybe scrawling phalluses in the margins of Mein Kampf. It is the hidebound belief that the oxygen of public ridicule is antiseptic rather than publicising and emboldening; or simply making it more likely that hate speech will be read by those it will hurt the most.

Any defence of this white-knighting behaviour invariably comes to rest on the insinuation of mine and others’ ingratitude at this outlay of vigorous argumentation on our behalf. Clown noises might accompany the recitation of that Edmund Burke quotation, and I am happy to announce I remain deeply ungrateful.

In this vein, we might segue to the policing of tone, cadence and word that was endemic to the referendum campaign. Again, it is one of those portents that I discern of the referendum’s longue effect on how we will in future discuss, or even postulate the vindication of minority rights in Ireland.

Rather than being an expression of risible optimism, the statement that the marriage referendum ended homophobia in Ireland might actually be true in only the most perverse way. That is: the word itself was abolished from our discourse, by order and as corollary of the same system of law which held forth the false promise of our emancipation.

Our body politic is already injured from the recombination of this ‘abolition’ of homophobia so as to in turn deny the reality of Islamophobia. Mid-throes as we are of Atheist Ireland’s alignment with the vanguard of pan-European neo-Nazism, we can practically see the hamster wheel turning as they re-import the arguments of the referendum’s ‘No’ campaign as to why homophobia was deniable as an incoherent and ‘merely sociological’ (!) concept.

Yes, they will concede, there is a phenomenon of ‘anti-Muslim violence’; but what lurks beneath this meagre concession is that only physical violence counts, and that it is furthermore only sporadic, and will not admit of a structural explanation or, crucially, even being racialised. ‘Islamophobia’ thus is merely a device for demonising Atheists (capital ‘A’) who are critical of Islam. Substitute the words, and break out the violins, and it is all much the same bogus humanitarianism of ‘hate the sin, not the sinner’ that they excoriated the Iona Institute for 12 months hence.

How did we get here? The answer to that owes more to the discursive turns of the liberal-right than the unreconstructed conservatives of Merrion Square, actually. You don’t need me to recount here the blow-by-blow of events that began on RTÉ’s execrable Saturday Night Show in January 2014; the ‘noble call’ orated by Rory O’Neill’s alter-ego drag queen, Panti Bliss, in The Abbey within a fortnight of it either; or even to probe where the pre-emptive disbursal of blood money to litigation-addicted greasy till Catholics, apparently impugned by the chat-show appearance, ultimately wound up. It’s irrelevant to us in all but one remarkable way:  that was the precise moment, 18 months before the final poll was set, when the marriage referendum was won.

Little could have intervened to alter the outcome, nay, the wider public mood, beyond that point, and nothing, in the event, actually did. This really isn’t controversial: any analysis of say, the delicious götterdämmerung suffered by Labour in the 2016 general election will situate it in 2014 too because the chain of causality from that time is just as ineluctable. By April of 2015 I imagined myself figuratively hoarse from being the safest soothsayer shouting into the void; fulminating with mounting exasperation at the stench of defeatism all around, and insisting that unless political polling was being conducted in an extraordinarily botched way (even by its own shabby standards), that a constant twenty percent spread in a simple run-off proposition, persisting solidly over and beyond 18 months, was unassailable.

My point is this: there was space, or the luxury of a solid lead, with which to mount a genuinely radical campaign.  One that afflicted the comfortable far more than it poured oil on their tresses. We could have properly queered it, at least. The tragedy of the marriage referendum abides as much in what a missed opportunity it was, and how it danced more to the beat of the stolid Marian Finucane Show than to the street activism of say, the vast and variegated Right2Water movement.

And I would credit many agents in the latter for rousing political consciousness in working class communities (both urban and rural), and crucially doing so in an autonomous way which was singularly more responsible for the overall national result than anything Yes Equality did. Peruse the index of the windy yet slight Ireland Says Yes: The Inside Story of How The Vote For Marriage Equality Was Won (phew), and you will get a sense of just that. It is an insider’s history, with no entries for ‘class’, ‘austerity’, ‘financial crisis’, ‘neoliberalism’, ‘troika’, ‘Jobstown’, ‘Darndale’, ‘Stoneybatter’, ‘The Liberties’ or anywhere not bounded by even-numbered postcodes. To mention any of these things would disrupt the central conceit that at 7 o’clock on the evening of 23rd May, 2015, Ireland ‘became a nation of equals’.

Mainly though, knowing this now makes much more sinister the dire instruction we took from hangers-on of the political establishment; whether seasoned backroom boys (like Noel Whelan); or doyens of the NGO/Consultancy/PR revolving-door nexus (e.g. Tiernan Brady) as to what we should do so as to secure, I repeat, a nearly inevitable referendum outcome.

Noel Whelan has been given too much attention, i.e. any at all, in consequence his vigorous self-promotion; his typically masculine insertion of himself into a national conversation (they love that phrase, don’t they) where his contribution was not sought. His advice to us, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a man frightened into rending his garments, was that to have an honest opinion, or even a word, just a word, with which to classify the oppression we experience was ‘counter-productive’ (“not helping ourselves”) and ipso facto libellous. He has since been celebrated as among the chief architects of the ‘victory’ which Yes Equality wot won.

Nobody has seen fit to take him to task for the price paid not just by LGBTQ for this but also causally, and inevitably, that exacted from Muslims in Ireland. And tomorrow it will be Travellers told that their ethnicity is a sham; And the day after tomorrow it will be women told to their faces that misogyny has been figmentary since the invention of the washing machine, whenever we do finally a get a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment of 1983.

Identically to racism and sexism, homophobia only exists on the conceptual horizon of liberalism as something to be warded off as uncouth; something above all not to be accused of, or to accuse someone else of: and especially not on the internet! Only a physically violent assault; only a Westboro Baptist Church slogan so on the nose it may as well be rhinoplasty, might be admitted to the canons of “homophobia”. Rancière’s perceptive analysis of the contrived disjuncture between racism of ‘popular passion’, which is vigorously policed so as to shield the racism of the state from scrutiny, maps across perfectly here. The liberal and the conservative, to riff on Marx, are merely two brothers at war vying for illusory distinguishability from the other.

That is where I will finish lingering on the odious figure of The Tallyman, about whom we can wonder with reasonable safety as to where he will stand when the time for picking sides comes:

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Tiernan Brady, on the other hand, and he stands for so many others as well, is much more interesting by dint of being entirely unsophisticated at concealing how he is a pet of the heteronormative regime as both outworking and supporting truss of finance capital. In September of 2015, four months after the referendum, Brady on behalf of GLEN (Gay and Lesbian Equality Network) landed into the ominous-sounding “Out Leadership Summit”, in the City of London, with newly out and proud Fine Gael Health Minister, Leo Varadkar.

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Before this incarnation though he had been a Fianna Fáil apparatchik who dutifully served former minister for numerous portfolios Mary Coughlan, in a dogsbody role; she who felt sufficient urgency at an adverse equality tribunal outcome to alter a law on social benefits in 2004. As then Minister for Social and Family Affairs, she made it so that a same-sex partner of an eligible pensioner could not claim the free travel allowance on public transport in right of that relationship anymore. She later in the same year expressed that although some piecemeal reform in the area might be contemplated, Ireland would ‘never be ready’ for same-sex matrimony, or the raising of children by gay couples. Brady joined her team later on, in 2007, but mentioning self-loathing seems redundant when he was already a member of Fianna Fáil.

Go forth again to September of last year: Brady, together with the aforementioned member of the Irish government, was in London to export the distilled ‘lesson’ of Ireland’s frankenstein civil rights experiment as if it was Kerrygold Butter. The corporate firms in attendance at the event ‘pride’ themselves on leveraging the best value from their employees’ wage labour by creating a workplace environment which is accepting of their sexual orientation. They might all hope to be named a gay-friendly employer in awards schemata presided over by severally sycophantic, tory-fancying magazines that are laughably termed a ‘gay media’ in the United Kingdom.  A similar navel-gazing exercise here, The GALAS, once announced the Irish Prison Service as its ‘employer of the year’. How quaint really, given that the Irish Prison Service ‘has no policies to protect LGBT prisoners’.

We digress. Brady and Varadkar condemned themselves out of their own mouths, and let a veritable café of cats out of the bag without any help from me:

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It sort of spoils the effect to parse what Tweedledee and Tweedledum are being careful to only say while ensconced abroad with the neighbours, but indulge me an executive summary. We have the political director of an LGBT advocacy organisation admitting to censorship of LGBT voices who speak out about homophobia, and he has the temerity to be proud of this fact. Into the injury he adds the lightly gendered insult of imagining us ‘screaming’ at people. The Irish government minister, as Judy to Punch in this re-staging of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, applauds the job of self-censorship done by homosexuals to themselves and has the further audacity, as a man who came out only four (4) months before the referendum, to declare that LGBT are their own worst enemy. It succinctly illustrates the exact parameters of what I have poured out thousands of words already trying to convince you is in operation: the engulfing of queer existences by the sham of capitalism with Irish characteristics. Later this year, Brady informed the Irish Times while on home soil of how he is toxifying the ongoing same-sex marriage debate in Australia with his good counsel. I’m sure Aborigines, in turn, might be told they’re not helping themselves either as this new spiritual Irish empire widens its embrace in a way every bit as patronising and suffocating as the old African Missions.

You and I might have hurtful memories of what was said, and done, during the campaign; but what better nail in the coffin than to let Brady tell you what his is (from the latter Irish Times article):

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Good to have it cleared up whom encouragement is due to in of all of this: the homophobes.

That was what Yes Equality told us not to say; but what about that which they told us to say instead? I want to close out by considering the startling reproduction of patriarchal, comely heteronormativity contained in a smattering of official ‘Yes’ campaign literature. The consideration of ‘positive role models’ and telephoning grandparents vaunted by the likes of Brady and Vlad the Impaler to overseas observers, already betrays this trajectory: but I would contend that it still doesn’t prepare you for the brusqueness of the ideology. Consider one such leaflet in which rutting heterosexuals from the GAA and IRFU (notorious for its er, steroidal social conscience), and the beatific figure of an Irish mammy too, implore the reader to do the right thing in the polling booth. Another exists with much the same arrangement except for the insertion of national treasure and semi-fossilised cultivator of Elektra complexes, Gay Byrne. Between the folds, apart from his name, it is as if the gays have been put out of the good room while visitors decide whether or not to buy the house; their very existence too risky to admit to the floating voter.

That’s only the start of the trouble though. Turn over the page on either leaflet, and you are greeted with this stunning antonym of a sleight of hand:

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The Iona Institute might be apt to spit feathers that the discredited rubric of ‘family values’ is properly their province. They wouldn’t be wrong. The term cannot be emptied of its implied programme of enforcement and propagation of ‘normalcy’, to the end of a putative ‘common good’. In any event, the campaign did not seek to invert or up-end the meaning of the phrase: it was straight-up for it (yes).

The language harks, quite deliberately, word for word, to the unaltered text of Article 41 from 1937, and uncritically adopts all the predicates of a Victorian social order based on contractual relations. The basic goodness of this type of marriage is presumed, and there will be no troubling historiography ventured about where it has come from and whether it ought be ‘strengthened’ at all, rather than subverted, and ultimately swept away. Should it want for the raiment of tradition, I am suggesting nothing that was not in the 1847 edition of The Manifesto.

Let me put it another way: if one were to hear the snatch of “is a secure foundation on which society thrives” might you be sooner put in the mind of the Stonewall rioters, or instead Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper from Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove?

If the shoe fits, after all. Be rioters comrades; not lovers.

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Oireachtas Retort is a space for original and occasionally incisive commentary on the relentless torment of Irish politics. If you find any of this useful, just click the brown envelope to donate!

How Labour Lost The Election – And Why There Is No Way Back

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Let us play a thought experiment.

If one were to be entirely fair minded and place ourselves in the shoes of the Labour Party.

These are the excuses we expect people to swallow

  • We inherited a country on the brink
  • We were constrained by the Troika programme
  • We were just a junior partner, coalition is compromise
  • We still did stuff though and isn’t it wonderful
  • Our critics are provos/trots/populists/progress deniers/people who didn’t understand the gravity of the situation yak yak yak.

Now let us cast our minds back to June 2010. It was a whole eight months before the general election. Labour just hit 32% in an Irish Times opinion poll and for the first time in history are the most popular political party in Ireland.

Since 2008 Eamon Gilmore and Joan Burton relentlessly assailed a beleaguered Fianna Fáil front bench leaving Enda Kenny in the shade.  Having taken the scalp of expenses abusing Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue the year before,  the poll came just weeks after the party famously accused Brian Cowen of “economic treason” in the Dáil.

Sliding into second place in that opinion poll was enough to trigger a challenge to Kenny’s leadership at a time when all Fine Gael had to do was sit back and make it to the finish line.

Labour then were causing problems for all main rivals. Presenting themselves as example of virtue in public life and certainty in a country overcome in political and economics chaos.  Think further back to the emergency budget in 2009 when Pat Rabbitte has this advice for the junior coalition partner.

A party that does not stand for anything will stand for nothing.  That is the position the Green Party has arrived at.

Fancy that!

They had government on the run and one in three voters in their pocket. Fine Gael in meltdown while Fianna Fáil’s “tough decisions” were starting to take hold. Labour were there to take advantage of both and their opposition strategy was beginning to pay tangible dividends.

Contrary to what has been endlessly repeated since, it was this long period and not three weeks of an election campaign that formed expectations of how the Labour Party were going to behave in government.

No doubt something like Ruairi Quinn signing a four foot pledge on his way to becoming Education minister was hugely damaging but there was a much more important cumulative effect. The entire Labour Party strategy during those years can be understood simply in repeated reminders that they were “the only party not to vote for the bank guarantee”. Regardless of the particulars of that decision this was the message. Labour they said were not like the other parties. Labour were not part of the rotten club that brought the country down. Labour were different and this was key.

The “broken promises” narrative only later became accepted wisdom because of lemming-like repetition by journalists, who of course have good reason to frame politics in ways that cloud a regime they themselves are part of too. For example, it is worth  returning very briefly to the infamous ‘Frankfurt’s way’ promise. In short, Gilmore was responding, however insincerely, to comments made by ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet about potential debt renegotiation. What is commonly and conveniently forgotten is that Gilmore climbed down on the remark within two days after being savaged by several Irish journalists, including Vincent Browne. Cast your mind back to a country reeling following the IMF arrival, we were all about ‘restoring confidence in Ireland’s reputation’ in those days and Gilmore was mauled for deviating from the official script. The ‘Labour broke their promises’ line was then spun for years by the same newspapers who had the party in retreat before a vote was cast.

So while it did become a no-brainer for detractors to share opportunistic election martial, we must consider that something like the Tesco advert only worked in its original meaning because the party had built up reserves of perception that Labour was different. Not just from Fine Gael but different and opposed to all the villains, bad practice and business-as-usual that haunted the country since 2008.

In public relations terms the Labour Party were capable of putting enough distance between themselves and the Galway tent, property supplements, banker’s bonuses and all signifiers of unfashionable nod and wink venality. Evidentially, these perceptions turned out to be false. Even if Labour were not golfing with Sean Fitzpatrick they soon proved eager to sacrifice you, me and even themselves to protect and strengthen the very same complex of speculation, exploitation and privilege.

Today they are despised, barely avoiding wipe out in the worst result of the party’s history.

This is the story of how the Labour Party squandered all that good will.

Throughout the past five years you have been regularly chastised for not electing enough Labour Party TDs. On one day, some hack will inform us that they just didn’t have the numbers to see their policies through. On the next, that excuse is forgotten and we are told all the wonderful things Labour achieved. Go figure.

The truth is that despite 2011 presenting a historic opportunity the Labour Party did not bother to run enough candidates to win a Dáil majority. Even Fianna Fáil in death spiral went into that election with greater ambition.

How about a coalition majority? Nope, just days ahead of the vote in 2011 Roisin Shortall on The Week In Politics made it quite clear that the party had no notion of a Labour led government in coalition with “rag bag and misfits”.

The intention then as always was propping up Fine Gael. How Labour went on to play their hand in government is entirely their own responsibility. The failures, defeats and climbdowns are nothing whatsoever to do with voters or our alleged failure to appreciate the party’s position. This persisted right until the recent election when Labour began to tie itself in knots by clinging to this excuse while simultaneously promising all sorts next time based on returning in even fewer seats. What a load of bullshit.

This contempt for the public, any sort of outside criticism or counter opinion was probably the dominant feature of Labour’s time in government. On their supposed liberal agenda Labour are very keen not to frighten horses, keen to build consensus and bring people along as they claim. Contrast this with implementation of austerity. Pleasantries quickly go out the window as Labour got down to a deliberate project robbing wealth, resources and future protection from the vast majority of citizens.

Here is departed deputy for Dublin South West, Eamonn Moloney

I do not like using the word “austerity”. It is a very bourgeois word. When I was growing up we just used the word “hardship“. The people in most working class estates do not use the word “austerity”. I am aware it is cool for the career socialists to speak about austerity but it is an awful word. Hardship is much better, and people like Dickens used it. I do not know how the word “austerity” crept in but it did not come from the labour movement.

Contributions like this will surely be missed! Hardship, Eamonn, is a result of austerity. Austerity is a deliberate project. Something imposed. Look, read the Labour Party constitution written by career socialists

“the Labour Party believes in tackling the underlying conditions which generate the systematic and deeply rooted inequality which people experience. The achievement of equality requires that society be reorganised with specific objective of a more equal distribution of wealth and power”

So austerity is recognising that underlying conditions generate systematic and deeply rooted inequality but instead reorganising society to make it worse — forever. That’s how the bourgeoisie you refer to are bourgeoisie and that’s what Labour were doing in government for the last five years.

Labour did not save the country. They saved the people who run the country. They protected the “underlying conditions that generate systematic and deeply rooted inequality” that faced potential crisis in wake of the banking collapse.  To get the customary Connolly reference in these articles out of the way, if governments are “committees of the rich”, can anyone say the Labour Party acted in another interest.

When the Irish Citizen Army, created to protect workers from domestic capitalists, unfurled a banner on Liberty Hall reading “We Serve Neither King nor Kaiser, But Ireland”, they didn’t mean William Martin Murphy. “We are out for Ireland for the Irish. But who are the Irish? Not the rack-renting, slum-owning landlord; not the sweating, profit-grinding capitalist; not the sleek and oily lawyer; not the prostitute pressman – the hired liars of the enemy. Not these are the Irish upon whom the future depends. Not these, but the Irish working class, the only secure foundation upon which a free nation can be reared”. The idea here is not to hold Labour to the revolutionary standard of 100 years ago but to underline that each time the Labour Party claim to have “put the country first” and so on, they have never said what this means.

Under the smokescreen of growth and competitiveness policies never designed to work, everything done since 2011 was by design. Actively working to undo gains won by workers across all sections of society. A race to the bottom. Landlords, employers, financiers, speculators have all prospered under Labour at your expense. People’s homes bought up and sold from underneath them at the government’s invite. The return of absentee landlordism. Mainstays of social reproduction in private eduction, for-profit healthcare, intergenerational privilege and so on, remain intact.   They leave office having not challenged a single pillar of exploitation. Intentions and Labour’s own view of their purpose in the world then are clear, so on their own terms how did they fare.

After the Troika’s arrival a  vast majority may well have compliantly accepted what was ahead however, even following the Troika demands to the letter, under very different leadership you can imagine the past five years being very different. From a purely self-interested party political point of view it is arguable that the government could have got away with austerity itself if not for the manner in which the parties conducted themselves but there was no, depending on your persuasion, ‘we shall fight them on the beaches’ style appeal or Stakhanovite movement.  They entered government under an agreement that contained many grave stipulations, grave circumstances many governments have faced in the past but nowhere did the IMF insist they behave like assholes.  For none more than Labour this disregard ensured terminal decline.

In 2012, Sean Sherlock walked into what became known as ‘Ireland’s SOPA’. Essentially, Sherlock was genuflecting to the whims of gigantic record corporations and planned to sign an order allowing courts to block websites accused of copyright infringement. Despite spending his days bullshitting at tech and start-up photo-ops, Sherlock decided to ignore the ‘Innovation’ part of ministerial brief in a gutless attempt to protect EMI’s redundant business model.

Politicians obsequiousness to business is nothing new but the main issue here was Sherlock slavishly providing courts and corporations with blunt powers that remain open to abuse. All this would have passed unremarked had it not been for Digital Rights Ireland beginning rumblings on twitter before coverage on Boards and growing websites like Broadsheet.ie. It was a very good example of how issues can begin with just a handful of people online before seeping into mainstream media and ultimately parliament itself. This is something we saw become more common over the last government term and in itself underlines what is at stake when politics and business collude to erode remaining online freedoms.

Sherlock however was not prepared to accept any contribution and behaved like a child throughout. This tantrum climaxed when Catherine Murphy and Stephen Donnelly forced the minister of state to account for himself in Dáil Eireann during topical issues. Put briefly Sherlock’s words, actions and demeanour amounted to a massive ‘go fuck yourself’ before he promptly folded his script and walked out of the chamber.

The SOPA furore, being an newfangled internet issue, attracted the attention of a lot of young people. There were teenagers without prompt from anyone else making their first protest on Kildare Street before running home to catch a live stream of proceedings. All they saw that day was petulance and contempt from a minister in a futile parliament.

In my eyes it was an awful waste but an early example of how the Labour Party time and again, even with the option of better policies and new approaches were prepared to prop up existing structures no matter how rotten. All while giving anyone watching two fingers.

Indeed, the ‘watchdog’ element could have been one of Labour’s greatest strengths if not their saving grace in government. It would not have made a jot of difference to Troika arithmetic if Labour had decided to act as a force of accountability, justice and transparency. Expectations are extremely low on this front. It really would not have taken much but while the Troika were eager to remake Irish society in their desired image the Labour Party, when it counted, were not.

After coming to power, the Government promised to restore the Freedom Of Information Act hobbled by Fianna Fáil. However, rather than abolish, Howlin very underhandedly attempted to increase fees via amendment at committee stage. When caught bang to rights, like Sherlock before, he threw a massive strop in a hail of bad faith, outright bogus statement and personal attacks on critics. It was quite a week with Howlin, Rabbitte and Kenny out blustering and Labour pissing away more support on the little things.

There was total silence and even defence of Fine Gael on massive scandals surrounding  James Reilly, Phil Hogan and Alan Shatter. The number of times you can recall Fine Gael supporting their Labour comrades says all you need to know about the mugs in that relationship.

Elsewhere on symphysiotomy, mobility allowance, Magdalene laundries, Moriarty Report, garda misconduct,  Siteserv, TBRC, Tuam babies, Rehab, NAMA in the North, to name a just few, were all quietly swept under the rug. The list of sins they were prepared to overlook is repulsive. The 31st Dáil had constant lows, down there with the worst of them and there was none the Labour Party were not prepared to stand over.

For instance, Labour were quite prepared to go along with the McAleese Report whitewash until Enda Kenny, who was only sticking to plan, refused to admit liability in the Dáil. Fearing the optics, Labour forced a public apology before again washing their hands to hide behind a sham redress scheme. This is reprehensible stuff from a chest beating secular, feminist party but once again, fealty to a crooked state took precedence.

“When it comes to jobs, anything goes” were weasel words of Eamon Gilmore on disgraced Maltese billionaire Denis O’Brien’s official invite to Farmleigh House just months after the tribunal’s final report.

Later, when the Mahon Tribunal published in March 2012, Labour were quick to take the moral high ground, puffing their chests as the only party directly unnamed in local  authority corruption systemic in Irish politics. Smug Howlin applauding himself in the Dáil for other party’s tribunals. Just three months later, Jan O’Sullivan sat passively on the front bench as Phil Hogan announced that there would be no need for an independent inquiry into planning irregularities in seven local authorities.

I will never forgot that afternoon when Phil Hogan looked up to knowingly smirk over at opposition benches while announcing the non findings of his “rigorous review”. Right here in this June 2012 debate. Bully Hogan had the arrogance to laugh in our faces from the Dáil chamber and why wouldn’t he while Labour are prepared to look the other way.

As Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Jan O’Sullivan signed off on this white wash. Since then several of her ‘findings’ have been overturned in court leading to a second inquiry and since Alan Kelly became top dog in the department, an as yet unacted upon whistleblower file from Wicklow council has twice went missing having already disappeared once on Phil Hogan’s watch.  Make of that what you will.

So tell us Labour. What good is being squeaky clean when you are prepared to sit by while all manner of crime and injustice goes unchecked. Might there be a connection between appalling homelessness and the planning wild west.  The level of malfeasance ignored was breathtaking, week after week. If Labour in government are too spineless then why all the head scratching about voters deserting.  That the only matters they managed to get worked up about were increasingly contrived outrages about Sinn Féin says all you need to know about the Labour Party’s priorities and road to redundancy.

Indeed, Labour Party priorities are a mercurial thing. In 2015 they published this flyer

howlin

Such is Labour’s unflinching dedication to housing that they forgot to include a photo of Jan O’Sullivan, the member of their own party who had just been housing minister for three years. Perhaps the near absence of housing during her time accounts for the omission but nor does that explain the inclusion of Alan Kelly.

Last year saw fewer social houses built than any other year on record. Over half a decade into this problem and this is what they have to show for themselves.

Joan Burton herself had discussed “the emerging housing crisis” in 2010 just weeks before entering government. That was then. Three years later, during another fruitless Dáil exchange, Catherine Murphy suggested Burton was running the risk of becoming the “minister for homelessness”. As we will see below, she was already privately aware.

Labour repeatedly dismissed the housing issue outright until May 2014. Simply refused to acknowledge what they now claim to be one of the party’s dearest held values, only softening their cough after a drubbing in the local elections. What we eventually got was a combination of specious reclassifications and public relations waffle that turns further landlord largess into “social housing units”.

The tale of Alan Kelly here though is worth dwelling on. Up until just a few months ago he had been protected and indeed lionised by journalists as the hard man to see down water protest rabble. Kelly was regularly given easy headlines and soft interviews. Gifted a cosy media pulpit to slander a movement of ordinary people. Then in October once he looked like doing something vaguely uncomfortable for landlords, the media and even some colleagues turned with a vengeance and by then, Kelly along with his party had pissed away any support needed to upset some of the country’ most powerful interests. A lesson there about who the party chooses to make allies and enemies of.

Upon taking office as minister for foreign affairs Eamon Gilmore ceded entirely the crucial European brief which was subsumed into the Department of Taoiseach. That is to say, between Enda Kenny, Michael Noonan and Lucinda Creighton, Fine Gael took all the top jobs at a time when ‘Europe’ had never before dominated national considerations. If this is the example set by party leadership at the very height of EU crisis political manoeuvring and even during Ireland’s presidency of the union, is it any wonder Labour failed to crave out any identity domestically.

Gilmore has since taken up a job as no less than EU envoy to the Colombian peace process. Given his party’s willingness to shamefully cower behind victims of the troubles to avoid Dáil questions it is unlikely he will do much more for Colombia than he managed for his own party in government.

One theory is that Gilmore walked into office and on being shown the books went into some sort of shock. Fight or flight and Gilmore legged it. Having already been damaged internally by a disappointing election he all but vanished from the national stage, completely abandoning his own party.  Would they have done better if he was present and visible. Unlikely but his Houdini act was a long way from the man who  for a laughable moment just weeks before eyed the Taoiseach’s office.

The second theory is simply that Eamon Gilmore is full of shit. Shortly after entering office he was exposed as two-faced and a national rat by wikileaks cables from Chelsea Manning. On what we must presume were regular cosy chats with the US Embassy, Gilmore informed diplomats that political consideration meant it necessary to maintain a “public posture” on the prospect of a second Lisbon referendum. So there is leader of Labour Party,  parliamentary opposition, having a good private laugh at us and the future direction of the European Union. Just so Labour could get into office and achieve fuck all.

In 2010, a few weeks before emerging on top of that opinion poll, the Labour Party tabled a private members motion on cuts to special needs assistants. Gilmore said the following

Listening to the Minister and the Minister of State, one would think there was no problem at all and that no cutbacks were taking place, that somehow, the concerns that are being communicated to us on a daily basis by parents, teachers and SNAs, were made up. They are not. Over the past week or more, my colleagues and I have received many heart-rending stories from parents about what is likely to happen to their child in circumstances where the SNA is removed. These are very real stories that are not made up. The Government needs to respond positively to them this evening rather than in the self-congratulatory way of its response.

Three years later in government

There is no cutThere is no cut in the allocation of money for special educational needs. The Government has ring-fenced the funding available for special educational needs, and for very good reason because it is committed to providing for the needs of children with special needs. Second, the number of teachers dedicated to working with children who have special educational needs has not been cut. The number of special needs assistants dedicated to working with children with special educational needs has not been cut.

This is but one of hundreds of examples of how the Labour Party in government are indistinguishable from what they opposed. Do click here to see Gilmore and Brian Hayes on the same issue. What are you even doing in life if you are no better than Brian Hayes. Isn’t one enough.

Are they liars, careerists, pragmatists, realists? That it came so quickly and effortlessly raises unavoidable questions about the party’s sincerity, wider bona fides and purpose.

At the Labour Party summer school in 2006, Pat Rabbitte himself presented an award to the Rossport Five. In 2013, as minister for energy with the power to act, it was total indifference to allegations that Royal Dutch Shell were engaged in an elaborate scheme of bribing the police force with cases of alcohol.

After his pledge Ruairi Quinn promptly began slashing grants and fees. This was just the start and Quinn has presided over a nightmarish restructuring for students and staff across third level in Ireland.  Casualisation and debt. Money everywhere but everyone is broke with not much but Dublin airport and further precarity to look forward to. All this will be covered in depth in a later post but to pluck one recent example, a group students were recently kicked out of room during a meeting on environmental issues.

Trinity News received the following statement

“[t]he Blackstone LaunchPad space in Trinity is reserved during office hours for entrepreneurial students and events. All students engaging in entrepreneurial activities are welcome to use our LaunchPad space. We define the term entrepreneurship broadly to encompass social enterprises and not-for-profit ventures. However all such ventures must aim to eventually generate capital through their activities in order to survive and progress their idea.”

He went on to outline social entrepreneurship promoted in by the space, saying “we have supported many social enterprises since the space opened in February. For example, “CriServ”, an app to assist refugees as they migrate from war-torn areas, and “Small Farms” a student start-up that will produce protein in a carbon-efficient way through cricket farming. Next week the space will play host to a Skype call we have arranged between the UN Food programme Incubation Centre and the Trinity Enactus Society. The space also hosted and sponsored the “Dev, Meet Tech” hackathon in February. The goal of this hackathon was to use ‘technology to provoke positive social change’. We are inspired by the student entrepreneurs we have been working with so far. They wish to change the world, but they do so by creating viable and sustainable businesses that generate capital and create jobs in order to achieve their aims. Political activism, whatever the stance taken by our students, without entrepreneurship is unfortunately not relevant to our mission, and therefore will not be hosted in the space. Any activities run by or for students that aim to promote a spirit of entrepreneurship around campus are welcome.”

This is Ruairi Quinn’s education system. From an RTÉ documentary and book published by his adviser, my take away of Quinn behind the scenes is a man far more concerned with spin than the harm of his policies as even in the end, Quinn announced his retirement early to ensure an entire day of homage for himself.

Joan Burton having been the first TD elected nationally in 2011 had to rely on transfers from hideous right wing politicians to take the last seat in this year’s election. Burton’s record in office can now this week be surmised by the fact that newly appointed Social Protection minister Leo Varadkar can hardly be any worse. Yes, that is correct. An ignorant, privileged, monumental dickhead Thatcherite can hardly do more damage in the dole office than leader of the Irish Labour Party.

Where to begin…. Labour protected core rates as long as you are not under twenty five! Good regime liberals and journalists like Olivia O’Leary will even repeat this bullshit on the party’s behalf.  Labour have led an unprecedented campaign of unemployment vilification while at the same time engaged in breathtaking dishonesty through a regular series of fraudulent unemployment figures.  Labour is all about some warped dignity of work even when it’s hugely exploitative internships that have completely fucked the labour market for a generation. A Labour Party leader who believes working class communities are unfit to own apparently “extremely expensive phones, tablets, video cameras”.

34 countries in the OECD and in an economy only second to the United States in terms of low paid jobs at least Labour restored the minimum wage whoop whoop.  Labour that fills newspapers with stories of garda checkpoints for the unemployed. That invites proven failed and fraudulent companies to come and make profit from unemployment so long as it fiddles the books. Labour, where unemployment is on a level with criminality and mental illness.

There were 457,948 people on the live register when she entered office and who she promptly labelled as a  “lifestyle choice”.

The sight of Joan Burton dismissing opposition deputies quoting trade union economist Michael Taft during Dáil debates on Jobbridge was really something. Or when she wiped nearly eighty thousand people from the live register for the sake of a good headline. Pick of the bunch though was ahead of the budget in 2013. Laying the ground for further attack Joan Burton’s people planted a story about supposed ‘welfare traps’ for single mothers in the Irish Independent. Her evidence was a self-selecting sample of just 774 (of 419,200 on live register) who themselves contacted Citizens Information. Of six issues identified in the ‘study’, five were related to cutbacks in Joan Burton’s own department but WELFARE TRAP SCUM screamed the Indo front page so job done.

gftfgg

Also highlighted here you can see that in early 2013 according to her own very important study, Burton’s department was receiving information that processing delays due to her cutbacks were causing potential homelessness. Not that you would have known listening to her in the Dáil or reading the Irish Independent.

Short of mandatory electric shock therapy it is difficult to see how Leo Varadkar can top this and what a legacy that is for Joan Burton. As part of the Social Welfare Bill 2012, she began her long, ill-thought assault on lone parent families. Relying on ever present prejudices and inequalities, the lone parents cuts were purely an accounting exercise. The outcome will cost more money, provide no solutions and fulfil none of its stated aims but Burton did it anyway, causing untold stress and misery, just to meet the bottom line.

Remembering that debate on an April night nearly four years ago now, Burton faced a sustained campaign by activists – who can take no small credit for her political demise, NGOs and even the customary press release from Labour Women. In the chamber, Burton faltered for a moment and nearly bottled it, clearly aware of the damage she was doing. The promise that no cuts would occur without the introduction of “Scandinavian style childcare” came at the very eleventh hour as a sort of fudge but after recomposing herself the minister carried on with what was to be the first of a number of attacks on Ireland’s poorest families. Last year she pushed ahead with visiting further poverty on their children to make room for tax cuts promised in the election. Hiding her actions for the umpteenth time behind the death of Jean McConville and then later adding further insult to injury by outright lying about improvements in the last budget.

It is genuinely difficult to convey the cynicism, dishonesty and base opportunism with which she behaved during leaders questions each Thursday. Burton and Kenny by no small feat achieved something of a departure from the level of evasion we saw from Ahern and Cowen. It is entirely fitting that she will end her career to anyone who witnessed it as reviled as the aforementioned.  Labour really are no different.

Pat Rabbitte could have been used to illustrate any number of points. Firstly and perhaps only Pat Rabbitte, more than even Joan Burton and Alan Kelly, in his ubiquitous unrelentingly glib pig ignorance was emblematic of how Labour conducted themselves publicly, alienating almost the entire electorate in a cloud of heedless condescension but more than that, Rabbitte represents a resigned defeatism that permeates the party.

Rabbitte should have retired years ago having shown no interest in his ministerial brief and inflicting enormous damage on the party publicly. His bluster played no small part in ending the careers of new Labour TDs while he hogged jobs at the top table before retiring. Pat Rabbitte as minister was asleep at the wheel and in time it will be recognised that Gilmore made a huge mistake in not leaving him on the back benches.

Rabbitte with the weight of experience and niggling sense of failure cloaked his defeatism in a well rehearsed world weariness. Shaving minutes off RTÉ broadcasts with a large and troubled intake of breath before each reply. For others in the Labour Party though this is yet to sink in. Instead, these low expectations are repackaged in various babbles and sneers.

“Who speaks of Syriza now?” taunted Brendan Howlin across the chamber during the last budget. To put this in its full and ugly context, Howlin was minister in a department of finance that was to the forefront in colluding with a brute and more than likely illegal show of strength on the Greek people. The Syriza strategy may gone greatly awry but Howlin was no bystander and in the end, in terms of things that certainly matter to him, it was Syriza who were reelected. The summer of 2015 was a grotesque moment in the history of a party that wraps itself in the starry plough.

This was not a once off example of Howlin hubris. “Let’s see Sinn Féin deal with same-sex marriage in the North now” was his contribution to celebrations on that day in Dublin castle. A glimpse into the small mind of a man who keeps it partisan when so many worked together but throwing down the gauntlet, as Howlin seemed to think he was doing, is revealing. Firstly, the rights of those in the north are no less our concern. Second, it is the responsibility of no individual party to ‘deliver’.

It may burst what remaining bubble they cling to but marriage equality was won in spite of the Labour Party in government and they blotted their copy book in a big way when Aodhán Ó Ríordáin had the stupidity to suggest the referendum could fall on water protest sentiment. Coolock 88%, Jobstown 85%, Stoneybatter 86%, Darndale 80% – yes votes rolled in from working class heartlands and not just that, but those driven out of the country returned in numbers to have their say. As has been comprehensively argued this was not “voting in solidarity with the government and the State, but in defiance of the multiple impoverishments and oppressions that the State has enacted on the majority of those who live here”. Marriage equality then was in fact a vote against the Labour Party.

During the UK Labour leadership race several Irish Labour members I spoke to either wrote off Corbyn’s leadership chances completely, public condemned Corbyn as Pat Rabbitte did or took the road of saying yes, OK Corbyn, but I worry about his “electability”. What struck me most was not taking lectures about popularity from a party on the road to oblivion  but that Labour members here have so comprehensibly swallowed the all false reality and constraints imposed by the likes of Rupert Murdoch. This is it. This the best these clowns can imagine. That there isn’t even a ‘traditional labour’ Corbyn current of significance remaining within the party speaks volumes. Even at this point, having gone kamikaze by wedding themselves to the regime, the idea of an alternative is incomprehensible if not considered outright madness.

Labour is said to always wrestle with its conscience and win, but now it barely has conscience left to fight.

Instead ever more frequent defeats and retreats are painted as victories. Take Aodhán Ó Ríordáin’s self serving duplicity on direct provision. Ireland’s asylum process is a web built entirely from bad mindedness. Ó Ríordáin said as much in various ways but his behaviour since 2014 has been as perplexing as it is nauseating. In the process he has unwittingly become a case study for the most scurrilous actions of government, non governmental organisations and profit seeking in one of Ireland’s darkest scandals. What Ó Ríordáin did was make promises, flop and in order to save face personally, double down on a somehow even more abhorrent regime under the International Protection Act. A Bill, the President whom no one in Labour can question on the issue, went as far as refer to the council of state. Another Yes Equality moment indeed.

Was he hobbled by the department? The minister? What did he and his party even try. Answers to these we will never know because in the absence of anything approaching transparency or explanation all we have is self-congratulation for himself and disdain for anyone watching. As Fine Gael appear to have dropped the Mahon recommendations from the programme for government,  we see how Labour played their part in quelling dissent inside and out of direct provision, colluding in the illusion of progress and compassion, before the regime got on with dropping any pretence of whitewash altogether.

Just a few months ago Ó Ríordáin was lecturing women and activists about the eighth amendment and political reality. “Deluded” he called people on national radio. People who have built a movement in spite of anything his party did in Dáil Éireann. Those people are deluded but Ó Ríordáin having been kicked out of the department in failure, is telling people he is going to fix direct provision from opposition benches of Seanad Éireann, huh.

Those of us outside the Labour Party do not understand political reality because for the Labour Party, political reality does not extend further than extracting concessions while always upholding the overall system they themselves are part of. They sat back on all the scandals and corruption mentioned earlier so as not to upset Fine Gael. Is it worth the price or could there be a better way? You wont hear it from Labour.

On issues like abortion, which speaks to so much more, Labour see nothing wrong with their place in the world, always remaining on other side of the house dismissing and demeaning counter efforts. Exposing themselves as very thing they accuse of others. Clare Daly’s constructive prochoice efforts in the last Dáil are beyond question but Labour benches remained almost empty every time, only momentarily filling to engage in excuses and petty turf war.

On a range of issues and with some substance Labour may once have positioned themselves outside a conservative mainstream but largely  due to their own actions in recent years and to seemingly little alarm, much of the ground has moved beneath their feet.

Sitting in Dáil Éireann today is a clutch of TDs who are a long time kicking around Leinster House and we know what that does to people. Across much of the world parties like Labour are being gobbled up. Pasokification is the imperfect if ever evolving understanding, named in honour of Labour’s Greek counterparts who were even out polled by the communist party last September. Scottish Labour are finished, PSOE dropped 20 seats. The list is long and parties with far more successful histories in shaping their respective societies  are dying in ditches of their own making.

Here at home, don’t be surprised if Labour blame it on a ‘communications problem’ because Labour have not just proven politically redundant but politically inept. Aside from the unpopular business they had to get with in government and the election, look how badly the party are advised. Think how incompetent, detached and tone deaf the whole shambles was almost immediately and throughout these past five years. After the election in 2011, Gilmore told the party they would face a sea of protest placards but he didn’t predict half it could be accounted for by an unfathomable string of unforced errors. The David Begg appointment, the Mairia Cahill fiasco, Joan Burton cutting the ribbon at food banks for christ sake.

Who, for example, had the bright idea to make near pathological Sinn Féin fixation party policy when it was Fine Gael who ran rings round the party week after week leaving no discernible Labour identity in government.  In terms of managing public perceptions and implementing a programme, the skills deficit within the party has been exposed as enormous and quite unbelievably really, for party that at least appeared on paper to have no shortage seasoned and canny operators when it comes to the toolkit any seasoned politician needs to succeed. To borrow a well worn quip, the Labour Party were evidently not up to ‘senior hurling’.

The Labour Party are about solutions not slogans.  We believe in delivering. We get results.

The Irish people have weighed up those results, being wholly acquainted and made their decision.

The Labour Party could very well disappear now and no one would miss it.

If Labour were to dissolve itself, which is something that must be seriously considered, you can easily imagine the current represented in Joan Burton and Ruairi Quinn making up a liberal wing of Fine Gael. Alan Kelly would be perfectly at home in Fianna Fáil while the more image conscious like Ó Ríordáin always have the Social Democrats.

I say none of this to be facetious. Think about it, if the Labour Party believe the right way of doing things is consensus, concessions,  compromise, targeted interventions and so on.  If it is all about working within then why do it from another party at all and not among fully committed managers of Irish capitalism. There is no getting away from this. This is who the party has spent decades aiming to go in and out of power with anyway.  If everyone else is told this is the only way of doing things why is Labour codding itself and not following the logical conclusion of its beliefs by trying to “effect change” from the driving seat.

Quinn said “because we don’t believe in capitalism, we know how to f**king manage it”, this is ambitious but on both counts patently untrue. Burton said the Clery’s closure was “capitalism at it worst” but her ambitions only amount to capitalism at its best and has quite clearly shown her standards in that regard.

Plenty of people still believe in this nonsense. There is space for liberal capitalist party, women in boardrooms and an iron fist. The civil war parties don’t really have their heart in this stuff yet but the kind of people who would defend Labour’s actions over the past five years could make a contribution there without having to support a labour party. If you find so much of this acceptable in exchange for meagre ‘progress’ why not do it from Fine Gael or Greens and save yourself the bother of having to excuse neoliberal policy. The last thing those who rely on a left wing party need is a ‘respectable’ left wing party and in one too many ways Labour have quite contently gone over to the dark side.  Dick Spring on the board of AIB, Ruairi Quinn on the board of a third level venture capital firm before becoming education minister. How many landlords are in the party these days?  In the coming years we shall see what emerges from the FF/FG convergence. It is happening and there is space for all of you somewhere. Something to think about but for the rest of us, Emer Costello wouldn’t even endorse rent control in Dublin during an RTÉ debate in the European elections. Having already spent more than any other candidate she lost her deposit.  People had other options to vote for because Labour stood for nothing.

The Labour Party are clearly not fit for purpose and quite arguably never were. As a litmus test, on the day Labour’s much  vaunted collective bargaining legislation was passed last year, we also had warm and welcoming press releases from IBEC and Richard Bruton.  For 100 years the party has consistently lagged behind comparable counterparts. There are, how shall we say, some Irish factors for this but the Labour Party itself is also one of these stifling peculiarities and it is time to weigh up the blueprint objectively rather than continuing for another  100 years of mediocrity. Comparing the achievements of parties across different countries is by no means a perfect lens but Labour has clearly not achieved anything approaching the success of others either as Catholic workers party, socialist party or Blairite liberal party.

Labour may have a proud history and tradition that members feel should continue but it is also a history of nearlys and not reallys. The Noël Brownes and Mary Robinsons that the modern party hopes to emulate were hardly even members. Browne was up on screen during the party’s centenary in 2012 but was not a member in 1951, Labour were among those who tuned their back on him during the mother & child scheme. So the, let’s called it restructuring, would provide the space and impetus to seriously re-equip from the bottom up the intersection of politics and trade unionism not just in 2016 but for the next fifty years. Otherwise, Labour’s continued presence is in all seriousness no different to the dance of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael protecting redundant fiefdoms in naked self-interest. 

How likely are Labour to engage with any of this or wider questions facing their nominal tradition in Europe is questionable given the bankruptcy of thought and purpose evident in the party and not least considering the way criticism and dissent has traditionally been dealt with. Maybe given reduced parliamentary numbers and with some of the old leadership cleared out things might open up but as if to underline the pervading groupthink, there are nearly as many former members as Labour deputies in the new Dáil. With flunkies like Dermot Lacey and Lorraine Higgins to the technocratic pinnacle represented in someone like Brendan Halligan, you can see the dead end thinking Labour offers. Internal discussion continues I’m sure but any assessments I have seen online were  out of date before even published. There will be no social democracy in Ireland. Democracy itself is on the way out across the continent and the Labour Party itself as recent as 2012 in the Fiscal Treaty enthusiastically collaborated in the effective outlawing of socialism in the EU.

And look where it has got them. Internal struggles over the coming months will not amount to much more than personality difference and loyalty. Members may insist that there is no shortage of dissenting views within but we also recognise bluster and to any outside observer the idea that Labour is anything but a near homogeneous and largely ineffective liberal party would be preposterous.

It might once have suited the other right wing parties to keep Labour on life-support so the party could fulfil its tradition role in putting a nice face on capitalism while taking the blame but it is questionable if Labour are even up to that task in future.

For everyone else, take a look around Irish politics now and it will be evident, those who left, were kicked out or never joined have more in common with each other than those who remain. That should be very troubling.

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Jobstown Trials

After months of shrill meltdown that included protests likened to ISIS, Hitler and harbinger of the total collapse of civilisation, all the regime has to show for itself so far is a child in prison. Even then, his crimes amount to unrelated serial delinquency but the judge has decided to recast and punish his actions as politically motivated, after the fact. An “attack on the state” no less, so the state is moved to protect itself from a sixteen year old boy.

During sentencing the court heard comments from the bench suggesting a supposed gendered nature to the protester’s actions. It would be laughable if not so insulting and we don’t need to waste much time here dismissing these insinuations. All government politicians spent the last five years lamenting the terrible welcome they faced from ungrateful public. Phil Hogan spent most of his time as Environment Minister unable to appear in public without being greeted by a protest. Enda Kenny being booed in Cork was a favourite of mine.

The judge’s remarks however do bear remarkable resemblance to a line almost immediately pushed by  Joan Burton and the trite bad faith of some of her more  opportunistic supporters. We shall see how things progress from here.

Code named ‘Operation Mizen’ the gardaí have little to show for months of surveillance given all the subversives loudly and repeatedly alleged to be infiltrating and directing the entire movement. Think of the utter shit talk from the Dáil and media during that time. Months of hysterical and equally calculated accusations. All smears, all lies. Terrorists, anarchists, Bolsheviks with the help of your neighbours were at the point of tearing down the state if you were to believe the vast majority of comment but so far, a single teenager has emerged as the menace needing to be banished from society. You will recall much dark muttering about the protests “being hijacked” and at here last the culprit is revealed. A boy of fifteen who masterminded the whole thing by not even being involved in the protests.

In November 2014, senior gardaí planted an entirely false story that water protesters were assaulting three members each day. This would have involved an enormous amount of serious illegality resulting in dozen of prosecutions of actual water protesters but instead here we are with one kid jailed for refusing to cooperate with probation services.

Remember this? When some enterprising journalist at the Irish Independent  decided to ludicrously place a photo of Joan Burton in the path of a flying brick despite the fact she had left  Tallaght hours before. That was one of the more egregious examples but almost without exception across the entire media, journalists, politicians and commentators were given unfettered opportunity to attack and defame a movement of ordinary people.   Today the headlines say ‘boy jailed over Jobstown protest’ while the Irish Times  in giddy exception informs us that he is ‘the first’.

Despite this though, none of the media seem to discuss what his protest was. He was not there that day or any other in opposition to water charges. Is too much or too inconvenient to ask what motivates a teenager to jump on a garda car?

It would be a pleasing to imagine him cheering slogans about Denis O’Brien’s role in the ever narrowing distribution of wealth and resources from on top a policeman’s bonnet but no paper reports him doing so. It is quite unlikely, as the judge seems to suggest, that the young man got out of bed that morning to “attack the elected Tanaiste of Ireland”. In any case, an un-‘politicised’ kid took the opportunity to challenge authority in a way that could only end badly for himself but few will ask what this means.

According to Judge O’Connor the boy had other issues including “negative peers, anti-social incidents, involvement with pro-criminal gangs, drug issues” and more worryingly “had been hospitalised 14 times in the last two years with serious injuries”. A child with  “significant emotional and behavioural difficulties”. So prison then will provide the help and support he clearly needs.

His sentencing comes some fifteen months after gardaí decided it was necessary to arrest him and twenty six others at their homes at dawn. Six guards they sent to Paul Murphy’s door. Such a risk that he may not see the inside of courtroom till April 2017. Six police at six in the morning to apprehend someone so dangerous that he will still walk the streets and corridors of parliament for thirty months after the events itself.

The whole thing was taken completely out of proportion it seems, for reasons the regime are reluctant to acknowledge. That Sunday Independent front page screamed ‘Attack On Democracy’ all for nothing. Such lofty ideals are harder find now that we have an anti-water charges majority in Dáil Éireann.

But speaking of delays and the law, it has also been ten months since a company called RPS, run by several individuals who went on to become senior staff at Irish Water, were found by the High Court to have secretly and illegally manipulated records relating to the Poolbeg incinerator.

Dublin City Council, then headed by recently departed Irish Water chief executive John Tierney, had paid RPS more than €30 million for its ‘services’. A contract itself that the European Commission also found  did not conform with EU law.

Elizabeth Arnett who was in charge of public relations at RPS moved seamlessly to spin doctor for Irish Water. Her performance can probably be best summed up by the company being dead and despised by even those who support it and to think people spend their days saying Luas workers should be sacked!

Her salary remains in the realm of corporate confidentially but after three years in the job, it is probably safe to assume the price of failure was multiples of Paul Murphy’s impending legal aid. Hopefully we can start to think about these things whenever they are finished prosecuting  children, who weren’t even water protesters to begin with.

Oireachtas Retort Podcast Episode Three

Episode three, a prochoice special!

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This show begins with Fláiva Simas from Galway Prochoice reading a migrant’s perspective on Savita Halappanavar. A musical interlude from Sissy and then I am joined in conversation with Niamh Puirséil and Máiréad Enright. Topics covered include just about everything  from law, politics, respectability and media ‘balance’.

Closing things out, Linda Kavanagh from the Abortion Rights Campaign and Goretti Horgan from Alliance For Choice give us an activist update from north and south.

Massive thanks to everyone who made time to contribute. Very pleased with how this one turned out and would also point people in the direction of this post from Sinead Redmond over on Feminist Ire.

These podcasts will be going up on itunes and Stitcher in the coming weeks but for now you can stream or download on Soundcloud below.

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