For a long time leading to the centenary of 1916 a running battle had taken place between those who claim to support “constitutional nationalism” as represented by the Irish Parliamentary Party and those with loyalty the armed campaign on which this state was founded. The vast majority of commentary was a nonsense.
While there were many aspects, a central argument was the insistence that independence could have been achieved by the work of gentlemen legislators alone. The entire revolutionary period is considered something of an embarrassment but aside from a few million needless WWI deaths, the IPP was no stranger to regular violent protest outside parliament and were indeed responsible for a number of innovations in the Westminster chamber that were and would today be decried as a “stunt”.
It is fairly obvious that the counter revolution has won out so what struck me was just how anxious its proponents were over the last two years. Debate was started by a small group of people to defend a position that no one was really arguing about and yet they ensured it was thrust into the spotlight for months. Probably unwisely at this juncture.
It would be nice to think they are kept awake by questions of legitimacy but I suspect it is more to do with some underlying awareness of just how fragile their version of the world is.
How else do we explain the persistence of all this if not for fears about the precarity of their own position? Why was there such regime consensus and vigilance about the centenary being “hijacked”?
They have the run of the place unhindered for nearly one hundred years so what is it that spooked them so much. You could argue they did succeed in taking space from more important considerations of 1916 but that is probably giving them too much credit.
Descendants of both nationalist camps however are united in their disdain for dissent. The Labour Party meanwhile are busy preparing proposals for a return to social partnership at a time when striking workers are winning.
Protest, if it is tolerated at all , must be ‘peaceful’ and political engagement must end at the ballot box. This week however many were outraged by people wearing a jumper in parliament.
Laissez faire died with the PDs it seems and Ciaran Cannon has demanded that TDs be sanctioned. For a jumper. When asked his own view on a referendum in February he didn’t have the guts to answer the question. On Tuesday Houses of the Oireachtas broadcasting service resorted to bizarre camera angles in effort not to show the offending garments.
Elected politicians and a few jumpers. Deary me. There was no marching “mob”, no bad language, no water balloons or “missiles”, no alleged death threats, abuse or “false imprisonment”. All the rules regularly demanded were adhered to and yet people were fuming. It was reminiscent of last summer when many so called democrats were scandalised by Greek people having an opportunity to vote on the demands of international finance.
The opposition are routinely chastised for pushing the limit of constraint set down by government while many of the most outraged have no issue with the executive dictating to a parliament mandated to hold it to account.
Within this the media are trained to present pantomime contention in place of genuine conflict. Many, many, of those who preach the gospel of parliamentary supremacy were very late in waking up to scandals in the gardaí, NAMA and IBRC. In 2014 newspapers were convulsed by revelations of gardaí collecting ‘intelligence’ on infants from the Travelling community despite Clare Daly disclosing the information over six months earlier. Finance Minister Michael Noonan was for months free to evade questions from Catherine Murphy on IBRC and Mick Wallace on NAMA because the vast majority of political reporting took no interest. All these matters have since led to inquiries.
During a 2012 Dáil exchange it became quite apparent that the Dept of Taoiseach had breached the McKenna judgement during the Fiscal Treaty referendum. When asked to outline his departmental expenditure for the house and public, as he is required to do, Enda Kenny attempted to conceal nearly twenty thousand euro he had spent on PR consultancy during the campaign. When asked why the numbers he provided didn’t add up, the Taoiseach claimed the pages of his script got stuck together before getting extremely flustered and defensive.
It was farcical stuff, the kind Miriam Lord and others would normally feast on and yet for some reason not a single newspaper reported what happened. The prime minister had seemingly spent thousands unconstitutionally during a referendum, made a complete shambles of trying to hide it, the press gallery was full and yet the public were never informed. Make of that what you will.
You cannot with any credibility centre Dáil Éireann as the only legitimate place to do politics, devote coverage to meaningless debates and then precede to ignore the uncomfortable business. If people can get away with something of that magnitude on the chamber floor, imagine what goes on in private. What happened that day held parliament in far greater contempt than any jumper, walk out, sit in or stunt.
Which brings us to the fact that throughout this past year many politicians and journalists have muttered darkly about the emergence of something called the “post-truth era”. At its heart this is a sort of self-defence mechanism. Coping with no longer having a monopoly of influence. Spare a thought for those so used to being heard. Trust in all sort of people and institutions has collapsed but instead of self-reflection, the spectre of inflamed popular passions is conjured up as some sort of inexplicable outside phenomenon. The saying goes that truth is the first casualty of war but the aggressors remain reluctant to admit it.
Across much of the world political organising is decried as “anti-politics”, “populism”, “anarchy” and whatever else. This has always been the case as the enlightened and the anointed cower before the mob. What goes unspoken of course is that the opposite of populism is surely elitism but it is implicit in the growing list of things labelled as such.
According to figures released in September, 90 families have become homeless every month so far this year, anything else you see would be populism.
At the Irish Times, habitual no hoper Stephen Collins is particularly weary of this siren call. It is not unusual among jilted Progressive Democrats to hold the intelligence of the electorate in contempt but more-so Collins resembles the Japanese soldier hiding up trees unaware the world has changed and his own role it. Journalists talk about ‘new politics’ being current Dáil arithmetic rather than the result of it.
Outside the mainstream knockabout, reactionary forces also have quite successfully rebranded feminist, anti-racist, LGBT activists as “social justice warriors” as a means of carrying out the same poison we have seen for decades. Whatever you have heard, make no mistake this is a campaign to undermine dissent. Egregious cases are used to seduce people into ridiculing ideas like content warnings, safe spaces, no platforming, etc, seemingly unaware that they are gleefully belittling political organising. The conservative press have been remarkably successful in exporting their slander of political correctness and it never occurs to people why or in whose interest so much energy is spent attacking student politics at the very time when higher education as a public good is being dismantled.
The world today is a grim place but the disparities in wealth or democratic deficit at root were certainly not caused by an absence of manners or deference to authority. The ruling class in Europe succeeded in creating a new normal after 2008 which has decimated old certainties and safety nets. Those who like to think of themselves as the sensible moderate centre are directly responsible for creating conditions of current upheaval but just like the banking crisis itself, they have washed their hands of the results. This week Deutsche Bank teeters again. On the eight year anniversary of our own guarantee, we see all the same echoes of systemic risk in Frankfurt.
The past year of internal Labour Party politics in Britain is met with alarm and hysteria. Enormous effort was made to prevent people from voting in leadership elections which they are free and entitled to do. A glance at the rapid rot of political parties around Europe only underlines the enormity of what is occurring in Britian but this peaceful democratic engagement, following all the explicit rules; getting involved, trying change the system from the inside, etc, is treated as end times.
In the United States, White America continues its latest terrifying round of paranoia and ignorance. The largest and most important civil rights movement in generations has arrived because thousands of people who follow the rules still end up dead on a policeman’s bullet. In recent weeks a prominent football player started a peaceful, dignified and soon powerful protest. By now, thousands have joined him on one knee during the national anthem but this, this too is deemed unacceptable by enemies and supposed allies alike.
As seen during the marriage referendum and increasingly during the repeal the eighth campaign, those demanding respectability not only provide room to the opposition but probably aren’t all that interested the struggle to begin with. In the wake of 2008, many engaged in mass pseudo psychology about why the Irish were not protesting. Judging by most of the shrill commentary today, that was just how they wanted it to remain. Rules only matter to those who make them.