Holy Orders

An upcoming conference from the Iona Institute proposes to tell us ‘How we killed God’ or…

….how ‘Official Ireland’ is ruthlessly pushing all consideration of God to the margins of Irish life. Christians are allowed no place in public debate, and God is rarely spoken of in public any more. So far as Irish public life is concerned, we have effectively ‘killed’ God. Except we cannot do that of course, so we do the next best thing; we pretend he is ‘dead’.

Never mind that I type this during the angelus.

John Waters will be speaking, fresh no less from his appearance replacing Frankie Gaffney at a Mens Rights Activist conference.

There purpose of this event is to promote David Quinn’s new book. A collection of the same five newspapers columns he’s written over and over since 1994 bound and repackaged in time for the Christmas consumer market. Who said god is dead, huh?

Rumors of decline in the convents is also greatly exaggerated.

Via the Workplace Relations Commission this week we learn a nun intervened to prevent a woman getting a teaching job despite being the strongest and only internal applicant.

Objection was on grounds that she was an “unmarried mother” and her “lifestyle did not reflect the standards of the school and would send out the wrong message to the young female students” . During the competition process the nun “set out to denigrate the candidate and diminish her status as a candidate”.

The same nun also denied someone else a promotion on the basis that he was protestant and it would, she says “send the wrong message”.

“One very impressive and clearly appointable candidate emerged… When the scoring sheets were completed this candidate was ahead of the others who had presented for interview… ‘However, given that the candidate was a member of the Church of Ireland, his scores were revised downwards to place him in third place overall”.

This was all in the last six years.

The complaint emerged following a protected disclosure. See full details here.

Both schools involved are part of Ceist, a Trust established by religious orders while the Ryan Commission was still ongoing so they could put assets beyond the reach of the state and abuse redress.

The Trust controls about 30% of Ireland’s secondary schools and board members include several representatives from religious orders, former senior civil servant, senior banker and Ronan Mullen for good measure.

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Michael Colgan’s World

Michael Colgan wields enormous influence within his own sphere. An industry particularly susceptible if not sustained day to day on abuse of position and boundaries. It is easy understand how he gets away with it on his own turf but he also is part of another very small group of people in this country.

A regular on say, Marian Finucane’s Sunday morning panel and the person whose phone rings when the papers or media want a spokesperson for ‘the arts’. A lot of dinners, launches and lunches. Engagements, meetings, consultancy and so forth.

Ministers speak at festival openings.  In bars, golf and rugby clubhouses during the bubble there was plenty boasting of the tax benefits investing in film and arts can bring. Accountants bringing people and worlds closer together. Just as we saw during the banks, you have a very small group of people always bumping into each other all the time.

Colgan would be rubbing shoulders regularly with the same journalists, editors, judges, politicians, wealthy types and bosses styling themselves as patrons of the arts. Different entourages with similar post codes. These circles are a close as we have to a who’s who. The top tables of theater are overwhelmingly middle class after all. He is part of a set and one that is looking the other way on a weekly basis.

Within this he seemingly made no effort to hide his behaviour and typical of people like him, took pleasure in humiliating his victims publicly. Flaunting his impunity and their powerlessness. Words like ‘bravery’ grate a bit in this and other contexts but having experienced that silent indifference, the knowing dismissal, it really is a massive things these women are doing.

When shit hits the fan though, this set are close to immortal. So very well practised when it comes to closing ranks, obfuscation and rehabilitation, if necessary. We have recently seen reaction to a convicted rapist. We should be used to the treatment of those who rock the boat. In most areas, groups or organisation, in big and small ways,  its is ensured that people understand the consequences of standing up.

So for many, instinctively there is much more than the reputation of Michael Colgan at stake. It is a matter of survival.

So now the stage is set for a familiar act.

The nature of these allegation, as we know, adds a whole other motivation for this episode to be contained.

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Reaction to Hook only looks like a “witch hunt” because these people are never challenged.

Anti-feminism has long underpinned the popularity of George Hook’s radio show on Newstalk. It has all gone too far, too fast, too soon, we are told, but despite tales of matriarchal mind control, having a go at women has always been big business and there is a significant audience out there nodding along in their tedious comfort zone.

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Only within that bubble could anyone avoid seeing how this crap is anything other than  going through the motions. The big talk and hard act scarcely concealing how gratingly unoriginal all this bullshit truly is. Only within this narrow minded posture could Hook’s comments be seen as out of the blue or responsibility for rape be up for discussion.

Women are regularly demeaned as the most conventional sexism is dressed up anew with dubious scientific ‘studies’ and tabloid moral panic churned out for afternoon broadcasts.  Hook’s show actively sought thinly veiled women-as-societal-honour items for the sake of entertainment and yet this week we are told it is Hook himself the victim of a “witch hunt”.

This is but the latest chapter in an ongoing series. Every Irish media organisation increasingly and deliberately trades on outrage but haven’t yet figured out what to do when not in control or indeed the target.

In the Irish Examiner, Michael Clifford claims that there is “absolutely no room for nuance” and “no room to ask Hook what exactly he meant or where he’s coming from”. One could only arrive at this conclusion under the impression that this is somehow a new or novel issue to be teased out.

What fresh and welcome insight can you offer about responsibility when women already spend an inordinate part of their lives getting taxis short distances, traveling in groups, checking in when they arrive home safe. The list is endless with further exhaustion having to constantly justify yourself in the face of professional and paid ignorance from people like George Hook.

Nicola Furlong was 21 in 2012 when she was assaulted & murdered in Japan. During the trial, an RTÉ radio report reiterated court arguments about skirt length. That’s what your judgement and victim blaming sound like. The same defense as a rapist.

Reaction to Hook, Waters, Myers, etc, only appears terrifyingly over the top because these people are so unfamiliar with being challenged. Right across the media and elsewhere, people who so spectacularly fail to do their job continue to prosper. Business journalists who couldn’t see a speculation bubble in front of their face and political reporters shocked by election results. Time and again we see these people completely misjudge the public mood and outcome of events.

Nothing changes and pushback then only appears like an ugly mob because effective accountability & means to challenge perpetual inaccuracies, incompetencies and worse are deliberately non existent. The people in position of power in this country are some of the last on earth we should entertain lectures on taking responsibility.

All this against the backdrop of a wannabe Taoiseach running campaigns vilifying the unemployed and vast sections of society being told to suck it up as they are driven into poverty.

The private lives of single mothers on housing lists and those of people dying on the street are splashed all over newspapers to mitigate damage to the powerful just as TDs campaigning against police malfeasance have confidential information handed over for headlines.

Noirn O’Sullivan finally departs in disgrace and will be paid €90,000 a year pension plus €270,000 lump sum. Having overseen an organisation that really does actively ruin people’s lives.

But instead we are told it is Hook and others that have been “destroyed”, “banished”, “torn apart” and even ‘lynched’.

George Hook has a side operation for himself as the face of Irish Rugby Tours LTD running packages for traveling fans. Company accounts say directors were paid €191,803 last year. For Hook’s punditry on RTE and other engagements he was paid through his own Foxrock Communications LTD which he wound up pocketing €903,660 as the only shareholder. None of this includes his Newstalk salary or indeed fees for playing host to events for the ruling government party.

Hook is popular on the lucrative after-dinner and conference circuit with agents boasting that he is “3-time winner of the British Chambers of Commerce ‘Best Individual Speaker’ award” and that “Hook’s appearance at a Dublin Chamber of Commerce breakfast brought the highest attendance in the history of the event”. No coincidence that Hook’s brand of chavanism would be so popular with the bosses.

Wealth aside, men like George Hook have a very cushy existence. Sometimes too cushy. After departing RTÉ, Hook had a bit of difficulty finding his way into the Aviva stadium. Confusion arising as he had spent the previous few years being chauffeured from his front door to a separate non-public entrance. That’s certainly the mark of someone deserving money and airspace to talk shit about the “real world”.

A cushy existence playing the hard man all the while your act fits neatly into ruling interests. These people sustain themselves for years, clogging space at the top by never challenging established and viciously guarded power. Each week Newstalk feature an item where celebrity boss and bikini fancier Bobby Kerr is on hand to answer listener’s questions on matters employment like pensions, maternity leave, and so on. This regular segment is an unintentional indictment of the grey areas and information deficit that allows workers to be exploited. Curiously, people are never advised to join a trade union.

Power will always side with power. The sympathy for George Hook is just the same as that recently found for the Sisters of Mercy when people then too said “enough” regarding the new maternity hospital.

The Sisters of Mercy who profited on the back of forced labour and imprisonment. The Sisters who were just one cog in a machine and culture that banished not the likes of George Hook but exiled women from their own families and communities to Magdalene Laundries and out of the country. That continues the denial of rights under the 8th Amendment.

According to Irish society what was the reason for all this?

Because women “got themselves into trouble”.

Cop on Comrades

We are a group of activist women from a wide variety of backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. Last week, a good number of the left-wing men we work and organise with seriously disappointed us. These men – our friends, our fellow trade unionists, activists, writers, organisers, and artists – shared and commented on a reductive and damaging article written by Frankie Gaffney, which was published in the Irish Times.

We live in a world where our advantages are tangled up with the things that disadvantage us – some of us are working class, some queer, some of us are poor, some of us come from minority ethnic groups or have disabilities or don’t enjoy the security of citizenship. As well, some of us have had a multitude of opportunities in our lives while some of us have had to fight our way through. It is an obligation on all of us to honestly look at our different positions within the structures of oppression and privilege under patriarchal racial capitalism. It is only by acknowledging all these differences that we have any chance of imagining and building a better world that includes us all.

Working-class ‘straight white men’ in Ireland don’t have it easy these days. They never did. They are ignored by a political class that couldn’t care less about them. They should have a say in the decisions that affect their lives, but they often don’t.

However, that doesn’t make them immune to critique. We all have to examine ourselves as oppressor as well as oppressed – because we are all both. The response to the article felt like a silencing to us and we are writing this because we are way past putting up with that. You will see from the names on this letter that we are women who have been in the thick of things. Whether in political parties and organisations, education, trade unions, or grassroots and community-based movements, we are tired of being accused of ‘bourgeois feminism’ and of betraying the struggle when we raise our voices. No campaign in this country could survive without women, without us – our work and energy and knowledge and organising have been instrumental in all the progressive movements in this country. When we say we need to be recognised and respected within our movements, we need you to listen.

The article expressed the view that identity politics is good for nothing except dividing movements, using language and narratives that have been made popular by MRA (Men’s Rights Activist) groups and the alt-right. According to such narratives, straight white men are the new most oppressed group. This ignores the struggles of women and others at the sharp end of misogyny, racism, anti-trans and anti-queer violence. It aims to silence those who will no longer tolerate the violence, abuse and marginalisation we have suffered for so long. These alt-right arguments have been used by people on the left to support the view that women, and feminists in particular, are to blame for the rise of the far right – for instance, for Trump’s election – and for neoliberal capitalism, which is seen as having damaged working class men in particular.

In this version of events, straight white men are made to feel uncomfortable about being ‘born this way’ by social media-fuelled ‘political correctness’. They are too afraid to say what they think or express opinions for fear of online retribution. Men who claim to be silenced in this way might try a week or even a day as a vocal woman or person of colour online and see how they deal with the rape threats and threats of racist violence that follow.

We are not concerned here about one opinion piece by one person. Rather we have all been aware of the increasing trend towards this particular new type of silencing of women from our supposed fellow activists on the left. The arguments mounted here and elsewhere are apparently to criticise some of the worst aspects of ‘call-out culture’, as well as the lean-in type of so-called feminism that disregards class and race. Yet they seem to be used now by some of our left-wing activist comrades as an excuse not to deal with the complexities of gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation in our political organising. These excuses, when accepted, prevent us from seeing clearly the state of our movements – who is taking part in them, who is heard and represented, who is doing the work. These are massive issues that have to do with how we are creating mass movements, which need to be addressed and faced to ensure that people of different classes, races, ethnicities, sexual orientation and gender have not just a voice but leading roles in our struggle. Without this solidarity in working together, we are simply imitating the oppressive structures we want to fight – the structures that say “not now, your life comes second.” It is not the straight white men who are being silenced when this argument is made.

We are working-class women, women of colour, migrant women, trans women, Traveller women, disabled women, queer women, women who are sex workers, women with children, and women who are none of these, active in our communities and committed to an anti-capitalist struggle. We are well aware that a right-wing, neoliberal distortion of feminism and what is called ‘identity politics’ exists. We know this because it erases our experiences and struggles and we resist this erasure through our work as activists every single day. It is distressing and enraging that we also have to fight against the bad faith of fellow activists on the left – mostly men, sometimes women – who, for their own reasons, blur the distinction between this kind of middle-class neoliberal faux-feminism, and a truly radical feminist politics that has class struggle at its very core. This hurts us because it erases and undermines our realities, our suffering, our analyses, and our organising, and gives more strength to the powers that are ranged against us. For many of us, it is heart-breaking to look at some of the men around us and realise that they are nodding in agreement with this erasure of their working class women friends and comrades.

Most of us have grown up learning to appease men. How to give them our space, how to deal with the fact that they dominate any political discussions, that they are paid more, heard more and believed more. However, most of us expect that the men we work with in all the social justice movements we are part of should have at least considered how they are complicit in this domination when they refuse to recognise that it exists. Patriarchy forces men into roles that damage them as well as us. Most of us have men that we love, admire and respect in our lives and for that reason, not only because it damages and diminishes the life experiences of women, we should all be fighting patriarchy together.

Niamh McDonald
Zoe McCormack
Jen O’Leary
Aline Courtois
Emily Waszak
Theresa O’Keefe
Sinéad Redmond
Aislinn Wallace
Hazel Katherine Larkin
Linnea Dunne
Natalia Fernandez
Helen Guinane
Maggs Casey
Stephanie Lord
Anne Mulhall
Eileen Flynn
Ellie Kisyombe
Elaine Feeney
Wendy Lyon
Sarah Clancy
Brigid Quilligan
Emily Duffy
Clara Purcell
Aoibheann McCann
Aoife Frances
Shauna Kelly
Eilís Ní Fhlannagáin
Dearbhla Ryan​
Michelle Connolly
Siobhán O’Donoghue
Aoife FitzGibbon O’Riordan
Stephanie Crowe Taft
Denise Kiernan
Aisling Egan
Donnah Vuma
Kate O’Connell
Natalia Fernández
Fionnghuala Nic Roibeaird
Mary McAuliffe
Marie Mulholland
Margo Harkin
Avril Corroon
Juliana Sassi
Ailbhe Smyth
Kate McGrew
Ciara Miller
Aoife Dermody
Emer Smith
Francisca Ribeiro
Jerrieann Sullivan
Marie McDonnell
Kathleen Gaul
Liz Martin
Laura Lee
Roisin Blade
Kerry Guinan
Gráinne O’Toole
Edel McGinley
Máiréad Enright
Erin Fornoff
Sarah Fitzgibbon
Cliona Kelly
Ciara Fitzpatrick
Bronwen Lang
Shonagh Strachan
Dervla O’Neill
Hilary Darcy
Jane Xavier
Emma Campbell
Clara Rose Thornton IV
Linda Connolly
Nomaxabiso Maye
Rosa Thompson
Liz Nelson
Eavan Brennan
Doireann Ní Ghríofa
Elaine D’alton
Anne Rynne
Elaine Crory
Jodie Condon
Clare Kelly
Catriona O’Brien
Meireka Radford
Lisa Keogh Finnegan
Fiona Dunkin
Lelia Doolan
Jacinta Fay
Mary O’Donoghue
Mariel Whelan
Aine Treanor
Flavia Simas
Meabh Savage
Noirin Lynch
Claire Brophy
Liz Price
Linda Kavanagh
Linda Devlin
Aileen O’Carroll
Anita Koppenhofer
Vicky Donnelly
Marianne Farrelly
Aisling Walsh
Ronit Lentin
Sarah Ferrigan

References:

Power in Society

 

Women of colour suffer more under austerity:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/28/toxic-concoction-women-colour-pay-highest-price-austerity

Women hit harder by cuts than men

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/07/austerity-feminist-issue-women-will-be-hit-twice-hard-men-cuts

Suffrage & Socialism:

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/century/century-women-and-the-vote/suffrage-and-socialism-links-with-labour-1.553467

Women & Class Privilege:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/mar/31/gender-pay-feminism-working-class

Why Class is a Feminist Issue:

http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/09/class-is-a-feminist-issue/

WHITE PRIVILEGE AND MALE PRIVILEGE:
http://www.collegeart.org/pdf/diversity/white-privilege-and-male-privilege.pdf

https://thewalrus.ca/on-cultural-appropriation-canadians-are-hypocrites/

More women attempt suicide than men
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jan/21/suicide-gender-men-women-mental-health-nick-clegg

http://www.healthpromotion.ie/hp-files/docs/HSP00612.pdf (pg 10)

A Blaze of Ignorance

Beyond the Blueshirt leadership circus business as usual continues in Leinster House. This Wednesday government bring a particularly despicable piece of legislation before Dáil Éireann.

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Recent months have seen large parts of the countryside obliterated by fire. Deliberately set in almost all cases, the immense, heinous cost to wildlife and habitats will take decades to replace.

Much is lost forever. Changes in climate, abuse of landscape and industrial disregard have upset the already delicate balance in cycles and necessities of survival in the wild. When life on the edge of existence is already so precarious, events like this are simply ruinous.

Today government intend to roll back already insufficient environmental protection at immense cost. Ahead of parliamentary debate on the Heritage Bill we hear from Oonagh Duggan of BirdWatch Ireland.

It is difficult to quantify such loss but at this remove is there any indication of damage caused by recent fires?

It is difficult to determine the impacts of the burning over the last few months but it is peak bird breeding season (and for other animals too) so we expect that there were a lot of casualties. An active Hen Harrier nest (parents were tending to it) was lost in the Sliabh Beagh Special Protection Area on the Monaghan/Tyrone border. There are between 115-150 pairs of Hen harrier and they are in decline as it is so this is really bad news. See Hen harrier video here.

We have also lost a Curlew nest and again with only 130 breeding pairs left down from 5000 20 years ago, this is a huge loss. It also undermines the Minister’s own work with the Curlew Task Force to try and stop the decline in the species.

Other impacts of course are loss of carbon rich habitats releasing carbon and therefore increasing greenhouse gases.

Could you provide some background on the proposed measures and their origin, whose interests they serve and why government are so eager to press on in the face of opposition?

The Heritage Bill is a compendium Bill which has several aspects covering details in relation to the Heritage Council, the Canals Act, and Section 7/8 in relation to making changes to the dates for hedgecutting and burning, as well as changes to the laws protecting NPWS rangers. In late 2014 Minister Humphreys launched a Review of Section 40 of the Wildlife Act which sets the dates for hedgecutting and burning in order to protect breeding birds. 186 submissions were received by the Minister and in late December 2015/January 2016 she introduced this bill. We had asked for additional engagement after we sent in our submission in Jan 2105 but alas that was not to be. We met with the Minister in May 2015. We got 5 minutes of her time and since then her diary has been too busy to meet with us again.

Not sure exactly why the government wants to press on in the face of opposition – maybe they don’t think that enough people care about nature/biodiversity but they thought wrong.

Yes; lots of opposition: 28500 have signed a petition; 15000 BirdWatch members in 30 branches, 80 branches of the beekeepers Association, An Taisce members, Irish Wildlife Trust members… 515 students from St. Colman’s in Midleton wrote a letter to the minister calling for her to stop the Bill. Fianna Fáil got an amendment into the Bill when it was going through the Seanad and this saves 80% of our national hedgerow stock from hedgecutting in August which is what the Minister wanted originally. This was great as FF and the Greens/Independents/Sinn Fein/Labour are all against Section 7/8 of the Bill (well they were in the Seanad, we hope that this wont be re-inserted.).

Now we have to tend with the fact that the burning provision is still in there (to allow more burning in March) and there is a provision to roll back the last 17 years of strict legal protection for birds in relation to hedgecutting on road sides.

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In the case of Cloosh it has been suggested that resources and attention were focused on protecting turbines, assets of a multinational corporation, while locals were left to fend for themselves. Do think this is indicative of deeper attitudes to both rural communities and wildlife?

Not sure about the resources side of things in relation to Cloosh. I don’t think that there is any shortage of resources nationally though I believe it should be spent differently. We did an FOI request to all the local authorities in relation to the cost to deploy the fire service to tackle out-of-control fires. We got good data back from 10 local authorities out of the 30 odd. Between 2010-2015 these LAs spent 6.1 million euro deploying the fire service to fight 5889 fires. In that period however, we know that there were 21,000 fires in all the local authorities between 2010-2015 so you can triple that cost figure at least. See press release here from BirdWatch Ireland on this. Coillte paid for a lot of their own resources putting out the Cloosh fire.

Media coverage has been frustrating and information scarce.  Issues of newsroom resources and priorities see over reliance on official sources while reporting often frames these as “wildfires” rather than man-made crimes. Almost immediately, the voices and excuses of certain business interests have been amplified. While some broadsheet editorials have opposed the changes and condemned burning, do you think this masks deeper issues in press handling of these issues? 

Yes, I don’t use the term wildfires as this to me is an American term which connotes real prairie fires. The fires like Cloosh here, are fires that are started deliberately and go out of control. Out-of-control fires is a little clumsy of a term but I persist as some people would like us to believe that fire is a natural process in an Irish landscape and it isn’t. Someone lights a match and uses accelerator and off it goes. I think that there is a general fear of standing up to the farmer associations and calling these fires for what they are which is deliberate. Some of the fires are started maliciously and a person was charged for this in west Cork some time ago.  Not all fires are started by farmers trying to clear the land of vegetation. It is hard to say who started the fires and maybe, therefore, people are careful not to cast blame.

We are careful too but still it must be acknowledged that many of these fires are started by landowners/farmers. They want to clear land because of the land eligibility (must be eligible for production) requirement under the Single Farm Payment and also to encourage the growth of younger heather for food for livestock. I think that press could do with focusing in greater detail on the issues and not just running with quick often shoddily researched articles (present company excepted of course!).

Farming groups are quite adept at shifting the focus and a narrow self-interest dominates much of the commentary. Not all of this is entirely representative, however it does reflect a sense of entitlement present in an industry so embedded as agriculture in this country. This power will have to be broken for all sorts of reasons but that alone wont address adjacent causes such as legacy failures in planning, reliance on grants, absence of alternative rural income, etc. Do you have any suggestion for how we move forward in this regard?

In relation to the uplands and lowland hills, we need a strategy for upland management with hill farmers at its core farming with nature in mind. Many of our upland birds are red listed for conservation concern (meaning they are on their way out) and so is hill farming. We need think creatively of how we can support both. We could also do with reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

In relation to hedgerows, we need a national strategy on how to protect and raise awareness of this unique habitat type. Most of Europe has lost these linear features in the landscape. They are our networks for nature and we could do with holding them in greater esteem. Recent research has shown how Barn Owls follow these lines of a hedgerow looking for food, bats similarly do this. They are soooooo important.

You can learn more about the impact of burning on birds and other wildlife here and on BirdWatch Ireland’s Heritage Bill briefing notes here . Dáil debate on the Heritage Bill takes place later this evening. Follow #heritagebill, Wildlife Trust and Bird Watch Ireland for updates.

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Earlier this month Taoiseach in waiting Leo Varadkar spent a quarter million euro on his bogus, heavy handed campaign against welfare fraud. At the very same time his colleagues in Heritage and Agriculture were apologists for criminality, an attitude privately hands-off and publicly sycophantic toward multi-million euro destruction of state assets and priceless natural ecosystems.

Ministers Humphreys and Creed waited months before issuing a joint statement “reminding” people of the law before later finding the courage to suggest those responsible “may” have grant payments docked. As one third of Ireland’s largest forest was destroyed in flames, Creed appeared on radio to defend the practice.

While just today ahead of legislation, for the first time as Taoiseach Enda Kenny promises “compassion and consideration”, not for the countless effected by government policy but for landowners he sees as “victims” of these fires.

It is very difficult to comprehend reports of a “five kilometer wide” blaze raging for several days but it happened in Connemara this month. Smoke drifted 35km across Galway city as far as Oranmore. Local Authorities who don’t have the money to build houses have spent over six million fighting 5889 fires since 2010. And they continue to burn this week.

In the face of this, ministers still talk of “controlled fires”.

Heather Humpries will be in the Dáil tonight with legislation intended facilitate, encourage and even reward this behaviour.


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, please click the brown envelope to donate!

Enda Kenny – The Most Successful Taoiseach Ever

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Enda Kenny is fond of a few lines of poetry if you could call it poetry.

He quoted Heaney on his nomination as Taoiseach and book-ended the 31st Dáil with the following folksy claptrap. In March 2011 he said

Together and for our country let us believe in our future. For Ireland and each other, let us lift up our heads, turn our faces to the sun and, as has been already said, hang out our brightest colours. This is the first day of a journey to a better future. That future will be achievable when Ireland can again take charge of its own destiny, when by the centenary of the 1916 Rising we can prove to be the best small country in the world in which to do business, to raise a family and to grow old with dignity and respect.

And when dissolving the Dáil last February.

 St Brigid’s Day is past. The Spring has arrived. I must raise my sail.

He indulges in this sort of guff quite a bit. Not that it ever shows but you can imagine him practicing in front of the mirror, dramatic music swelling in his own head. However far from some titan of oratory his attempts at profundity have fallen flat and mostly relegated to cringe inducing trivia remembered only by unfortunates like myself.

Who knows what mawkish drivel his resignation has in store but one thing certain is that Enda Kenny survived the last five, if not forty years in Dáil Éireann without saying much of substance at all.

One moment in particular stands out as emblematic of Kenny’s shallow, badly choreographed public premiership. Below is an extract from a speech delivered in Drogheda some years ago.

Here…. mesmerised……hundreds of thousands took to the roads.

Too many of them….already mere hints of humans….. carrying their most precious possession: their children….. blue-black and bloated from hunger and fever. ….

With those children in their arms, they turned their backs on all they had known..

The already-skeleton dead….. of a famished Ireland.

By the time they arrived here on the North Quay who knows what they had witnessed, avoided, endured?  Not just hunger, but typhus, fever, cholera.

And through it all, the best…..the worst of humanity.

Read the full thing here if you must but needless to say this demonstrates that ahead of the National Famine Commemoration, speechwriters had to include pauses so as to inject a bit of emotion into the Irish prime minister’s delivery.

His speech following publication of the sham McAleese Report will be referenced much in the coming week with few providing context of what happened before or since. Kenny’s now famous apology on February 19th only came after criticism for his refusal to admit liability earlier on February 5th. Writing on this site ahead of the last election, Claire McGettrick of Justice For Magdalenes told us that

Earlier this week a vulnerable Magdalene survivor phoned to say she had spent 17 hours on a drip in a chair in a crowded A&E.  This same woman shed tears of happiness in the Dáil on the night of the apology. She phoned me the next day, concerned about the Taoiseach – ‘the poor man was very upset’ she said. Three years later however, she feels completely hoodwinked.

She read Appendix G of Judge Quirke’s report and signed away her right to sue the State based on the legitimate expectation that she would receive a comprehensive healthcare suite.  She certainly expected better than 17 hours in A&E.  This woman has lived a hard life and the pain she has endured seems like it’s almost too much for one person to bear. Her lump sum payment is gone – she had debts to clear and had family to look after. But this woman is a fighter; again and again she picks herself up and keeps going.

And yet she keeps asking me when it will be over. Her life has been a constant struggle, but the State apology represented hope. She thought the fight would be over on 19th February 2013 – I haven’t the heart to tell her that the fight is nowhere near over, and that the State itself will likely resist her every step of the way.

That is the truth not only of Enda Kenny’s apology but of the regime and treatment of these women he represents.

Likewise, the much applauded Cloyne Report speech contained both multiple acknowledgements of the mistreatment of children in this state and  promises for the future. In practice, we know how this continues.  From children in Direct Provision, those hungry going to school, those with households destroyed by austerity. The recent National Maternity Hospital decision only underlines the hollowness of the man’s words.

Back in 2012 Kenny got himself into a tangle trying to avoid admitting his department acted unconstitutionally by hiring a PR Firm during the Fiscal Treaty Referendum. An Taoiseach told the Dáil that pages of script “got stuck together” and  fortunately for him no journalist bothered reporting the incident.

The “man with two pints” yarn has become cemented as part of his legacy with a long list of dishonesty on armies, ATMs, etc, not far behind. On one occasion I recall an irate member of Young Fine Gael writing to the Irish Times to complain that it was unfair of Fintan O’Toole to quote verbatim words Enda Kenny, in his capacity as Taoiseach and a grown adult, had publicly said.

Enda Kenny entered the Dáil in 1975, the year the Vietnam war ended. Prior to this he spent less than five years out of college working as a primary school teacher. Having spent over forty years then enclosed in the Leinster House bubble is it any wonder he is the way he is and so reluctant to leave. Never someone noted for his intellect, it is even truer to say he knows nothing of life outside politics.

However aside from rhetorical blunders there is very little Enda Kenny will look back on with regret. From his point of view, once the deflation settles he has a record to be proud of.

Let us imagine he sat down six years ago to write a list of goals as prime minister. How many do you think he has ticked off?

  • To protect the privileges that seemed and were no doubt believed to be mortally threatened by events since 2008.
  • To embed Fine Gael as a main organ of power and patronage in this state.

And, well..

That’s about it, isn’t it?

You and I may believe the problems facing this country are legion but we must accept that these were none of his concern.  All the ills and injustice deepened by his policies are not error or oversight but perfectly desirable features of how Enda Kenny believes the world should work. Foodbanks are not signs of failure.

You have to look very hard to find any measure imposed by the Troika that Fine Gael would disagree with. Every incarnation of the party dating back to independence and before has shown contempt for the vast majority of Irish people in the interest of the wealth and privilege they represent. Rather than some so heroic fight to bring the country back from the brink, the bailout provided perfect cover remake Ireland in their own warped image.

“The best small country in the world in which to do business” – that was the extent of his vision for Ireland. A modest ambition for a country that never had any issue in facilitating the needs of capital.  If anything, it was already too easy to do business in Ireland provided your business was finance, property or farming exports.

Kenny’s very first outing as Taoiseach was a conference of the Irish Funds Industry Association where he gave the keynote address. The main takeaway from that speech as noted on the lobby group’s website was the prime minister assuring financial services that his “door is always open”.

Not so for those at the sharp end. You needn’t have me repeat here that list in full. Soaring house prices, rents, debts and suicides. Decimated public services, deliberate rural decline, etc. Nor need we run through every twist a turn of his six year premiership because we’ve each witnessed it.

There is little point raising these facts now as he prepares to step down. Long prepared newspaper supplements and well rehearsed media punditry will do the usual routine with no one remarking that Enda Kenny leaves politics having fulfilled exactly the job he had to do. A sycophant in Europe and puppet at home. All in a days work.  Keep the show on the road. Housing crises, desperate lone parents and crooked cops have no baring on his record.

Commentary will instead commend him as a ‘canny operator’. Underestimated. He will be lauded for hanging on in spite of increasingly grotesque scandals exposing the dark heart of this country, whatever of the casualties.

Enda Kenny survived.

Just as the regime he led continues to exploit, demean and prosper for it. It may be cruel. It may be shambolic. But we cannot judge his role in it as anything other than a success.

 

The British Press, War Machine And Its Colonial Nostalgia.

Following recent events in Ireland, Rosa Gilbert finds British journalism struggling with ‘legacy issues’ of its own.

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Martin McGuinness’ death on 21st March gave a number of commentators in the British press the opportunity to drop the niceties and decorum that some of us had expected of them since the peace process led him to the office of Deputy First Minister.

Noman Tebbit enjoyed describing how he should burn in hell while article after article described him (without scarequotes) as a terrorist and murderer. Just a week later a British soldier called Alexander Blackman had his sentence reduced from murder to manslaughter after a huge public campaign backed publicly by the Daily Mail who raised almost a million pounds for his legal case. Despite being caught on video shooting an injured, unarmed combatant in Afghanistan, knowingly breaking the Geneva Convention, the British press never referred to Blackman as a war criminal or murderer – even though he had originally been convicted of murder.

By way of expanding on this theme, this article is a brief and preliminary attempt to expose how and why the British press works hand in hand with promoting the British war machine and its colonial nostalgia.

Where other institutions have attempted to deal with the past in Northern Ireland, the attitudes of British journalists remain stubbornly placed in the past. Despite insufficiencies and fragility that have emerged most visibly in the last few years, the Belfast Agreement of 1998, marking the end of the conflict known as ‘the Troubles’, included all the constitutional elements in Britain and Ireland necessary to bring a cessation to hostilities. It also attempted to provide for an impressively large number of eventualities relating to security and policing, justice, democratic institutions. However, the institutions established to deal with the ‘legacy’ of the conflict in Northern Ireland have been on the whole inadequate. The Historical Enquiries Team which was set up in 2005 to review the cases of unsolved murder committed during the Troubles faced criticism from the independent police inspectorate in 2013 for not investigating deaths caused by the police or military with sufficient rigour. Unsurprisingly this was largely down to the fact that members of the investigations team were drawn from RUC personnel, many of whom retired after its reorganisation as the Police Service of Northern Ireland under the 2000 Police Act. The Legacy Support Unit which was tasked with providing documents to the coroner’s office – who, in lieu of judicial reviews and inquiries, were carrying out inquests into murders committed decades ago – was similarly staffed by ex-RUC Special Branch members.

Thanks largely to cuts to the policing budget of 7% in 2014, the HET which, despite its partiality and inadequacies, had revealed crucial information about a number of incidents that had initially been hidden by the RUC, was dissolved and responsibility for its caseload transferred to the much smaller Legacy Investigations Branch of the PSNI. And so the one imperfect but functional method of providing families with information about what happened to their loved ones, a vital element of the reconciliation plank of the Belfast Agreement, ground to a halt. Amongst other issues such as the DUP’s refusal to allow an Irish Language Act, the provision of which was agreed upon in the Belfast Agreement, the lack of progress with legacy investigations has been one of the major stalling points of the current negotiations between the political parties in Northern Ireland. Undoubtedly it will prove to be a sticking point between the new and completely unprecedented Catholic/nationalist majority in Stormont and Theresa May’s Brexit plans – the Historical Enquiry Team, along with the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland, had been established following a series of landmark judgments by the European Court of Human Rights (McKerr group v UK). These judgments showed that the UK government had violated its obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to life) by a) not investigating adequately the lethal use of force by State agents in a number of cases, b) not implementing certain judgments in Northern Ireland that were implemented in the rest of the UK.

But if you were absorbing the British print and broadcast media in recent weeks, you might be forgiven for not appreciating this startling problem for the devolved assembly and executive in Northern Ireland in their attempt to continue power-sharing rule under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and British crown. When British politicians and the press bother to alert themselves to the continued existence of Northern Ireland, they concern themselves with two themes: the issue of the border, and the now decades-long moral panic that the second largest party in the province has been run by erstwhile senior paramilitaries. The death of Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, who served as their Deputy First Minister for the last ten years and was instrumental in bringing the Provisional IRA towards ceasefire and decommissioning, has provided a new generation with an insight into the absolute poverty of the British media in its reporting on Irish matters.

To prove how little the demographics of Fleet Street journalists has changed over the decades, the same, sensationalised language of the 1970s and particularly the 1980s has resurfaced, the perpetuation of which is vital for the perversion of the historical record that keeps the cogs in the media outrage machine turning – if the Provisional IRA can be written off as terrorists, godfathers and murderers, there is no need to understand how and why thousands of young Irish men and women joined an armed insurrectionary movement in a period of otherwise relative peace in Britain and Ireland. Whilst the Belfast Agreement demanded the reconciliation between the main political actors in Northern Ireland, and former IRA volunteers rather remarkably made peace with ex-loyalists, police officers, soldiers and prison guards, there has been no similar reconciliation between the British media and ex-combatants. Republicans especially feel aggrieved over the reporting of the conflict, and from reading the reaction to McGuinness’ death it’s easy to see how.

It wasn’t simply that print and broadcast media was partisan or treated republicans unfairly, it was an instrumental figure in the interpretation and trajectory of the conflict. From early in the 1970s, the RUC and British Army had a co-ordinated media policy overseen by the Information Policy Co-ordinating Committee based in Stormont Castle, and the British media consumed and regurgitated their output uncritically. One example of how this operated is the tragic incidence of the McGurk’s bar bomb in Belfast in December 1971, Belfast’s deadliest attack during the Troubles. The day after the attack, the BBC was quoting senior RUC sources who stated that forensic scientists believed the bomb had exploded inside the building; the Times repeated it the following day and called it an IRA bomb, and the day after that the Defence Secretary repeated it in the House of Commons. The narrative was set – those inside the pub had died, but as they were handling or protecting explosives, were they really innocent? In fact the police were lying, and the army media unit knew this. The forensic evidence and an eyewitness account proved that the bomb was left outside the pub – indeed, the car that dropped off the bomb was allowed to drive around the most securitised part of Belfast with no trouble. A loyalist sectarian attack was passed off as an IRA “own goal” by the RUC with help from the press, validating the security policy of pursuing and interning republicans instead of loyalists. By uncritically echoing the propaganda pushed by the RUC and British Army, the British media was culpable in smearing innocent victims as terrorists, and allowing their loyalist murderers and the police who colluded in the cover-up – and probably the deed itself – to get away with it. At the same time, they participated in the minimisation of Irish Catholic grievances as well as the vilification of the republican struggle.

There are some notable exceptions to this; the Times Insight team did significant work in lending their audience to the claims of “ill-treatment” in detention centres which we now know amounted to torture (although in the 1980s they misreported on the 1988 Gibraltar killings and helped to smear the key eyewitness). However, exposure of these claims, whilst meritable, can only go so far within the framework of British media reporting on the Troubles. As long as Irish Catholics were seen as a suspect community, and any republican as fair game, it was unlikely that British popular opinion would be adverse to them being subject to what was euphemistically called “slap and tickle”.

Whilst Bloody Sunday has rightly received attention in Britain, largely thanks to the Saville Inquiry’s vindication of the innocence of the victims, the Ballymurphy Massacre just five months earlier is not so well known. As Operation Demetrius – the arrest of the first round of internees – got underway on 9 August 1971, an enclave of West Belfast, besieged by the 1 Para British Army unit conducting arrest swoops, was the site of local protests against the siege, followed by the execution by paratroopers of ten unarmed civilians over the course of 36 hours (another died later after suffering a heart attack). The Daily Mirror’s report of this event from August 12 described the massacre as “IRA ‘suicide attacks’”; two days later it repeated the security forces claim that they have “virtually defeated the hard core of IRA terrorist gunmen” since the start of Operation Demetrius. Most of those arrested in that first swoop weren’t IRA members, let alone “gunmen”; one of those murdered in Ballymurphy was a priest who had been shot twice whilst administering the last rites, one man was shot 14 times in the back.

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The passing of Martin McGuinness has seen adult journalists and commentators screeching all manner of hyperbolic claims and holding him solely responsible for IRA attacks on mainland Britain. Of course these are chosen for the maximum impact on the British public rather than an accurate insight into the functioning of the Provisional IRA, beyond the fact that McGuinness never denied his IRA membership nor condemned its acts. And yet, the epithet of “ex-terrorist” has helped to define the more wearying trope of the reportage. The more liberal-minded, particularly those like Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair, who have a vested interest in buffing up their role in the peace negotiations,  emphasised this aspect of McGuinness’ personality as a former baddie turned good through his engagement with British politicians – all that was needed was a bit of compromise and reason, and the gunmen would down their weapons. McGuinness went on a “journey”; he “turned” towards politics; Theresa May separated the “earlier part of his life” to his recent years; journalists contrasted the Provisional IRA lethal attack on Lord Mountbatten in 1979 (whilst McGuinness is said to have been IRA Chief of Staff) against McGuinness’ 2012 handshake with the Queen.

The problem with this narrative is that it allows selective grief – we can mourn for the peacemaker whilst still despising the IRA man – without accounting for the subtleties and inherent contradictions that can be garnered from engaging with the historical record of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

This approach towards the republican movement does two crucial things. Firstly, it ignores the very early adoption of political strategies and participation in negotiations. During the 1972 IRA negotiations with the British Northern Ireland Secretary Willie Whitelaw, McGuinness participated as a senior figure. According to the Daily Telegraph in September 1972, attempts to ‘end the campaign of terror have been supported by the Provisionals’ Londonderry Brigade. The Londonderry Provisional leader [McGuinness], in hiding in Buncrana is strongly opposed to Mac Stiofain’s fanatical commitment to uniting the 32 counties by “victory through violence”.’ Secondly, it presents the earlier McGuinness – the violent murderer, the terrorist – in a way which distorts the chronology of the causes and outbreak of violence. To paraphrase Gerry Adams, unlike ‘Marine A’ Alexander Blackman, Martin McGuinness didn’t go to war, the war came to him. But focusing on Irish Catholics’ experience of the police and British Army in Belfast and Derry in the late 1960s would run the risk of assuaging the public of the notion that the British state was more than a neutral arbiter intent on making peace.

In 1982 when McGuinness & Adams had assumed the leadership roles of the republican movement and were pursuing the so-called “armalite and ballot box” approach, the pair, along with Danny Morrison, were banned from Britain under the 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act, having been invited to London by GLC leader Ken Livingstone who to his credit defied his party leader Michael Foot to do so. As Home Secretary, it was Willie Whitelaw, one of the negotiators during McGuinness’ trip to London in 1972, who had the responsibility of signing the exclusion orders. This was done upon the advice of Kenneth Newman, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and former RUC Chief Constable. Three years later the government intervened to halt the screening of a BBC film ‘At the Edge of the Union’ because of its part focus on Martin McGuinness. The Daily Mail was not at all alarmed about censorship of the press. In an article titled ‘How the IRA must love this BBC hypocrisy!’, the tabloid asked “what, one wonders, would the last war have been like if the sort of people who run British broadcasting had been manning the airwaves then? Would Hitler and Himmler have been interviewed on the grounds that it was important to ‘understand the issues’? The parallel is not so absurd. The IRA is at war as surely as Hitler was.” The Soviet news network was slightly more alarmed by this state intervention, recognising that the row over this censorship showed that the BBC was under the government’s [editorial] control.

Whitelaw’s hypocrisy was repeated by Douglas Hurd a few years later in 1988 when, after succeeding Whitelaw as Home Secretary, he announced the broadcast ban which stopped television and radio companies carrying interviews or direct statements from proscribed paramilitary groups, but also from representatives of Sinn Féin, Republican Sinn Féin (who had recently split from Sinn Féin) or the UDA, and anyone who supported or promoted these organisations. Ten years earlier, in February 1978, Hurd had met Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison in West Belfast for a BBC programme called Spotlight. A week later, Adams was arrested and charged with IRA membership. A few months earlier, in December 1977, the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Airey Neave had stated in the House of Commons whilst it moved to renew the Emergency Provisions legislation that the “terrorists” were “not glorious Republicans but bloody murderers”. Neave wanted something done about the “godfathers” who were still at large, in particular Martin McGuinness who he complained was “still around”.

The Thatcher government’s broadcast ban was not unprecedented. The 1922 Emergency Provisions (Special Powers) Act allowed the Minister of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland to ban papers, films, books. But as studies of the BBC and Northern Irish media have illustrated, there were soft forms of self-censorship within media organisations which reduced the need for external, state censorship. Some of the programmes censored by the BBC Director General included those on topics such as the Stalker/Sampson ‘shoot-to-kill’ incidents and following cover-up, and the Birmingham Six judgment. For consecutive ministers, relying on internal checks wasn’t enough in the clamour for more firm control of the press output. Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Roy Mason wanted a three-month blackout on reporting of terrorist activity, even – remarkably – if he were to be assassinated by the IRA. However, once Sinn Féin became an increasingly popular electoral force during and after the 1981 hunger strikes, there was a clear need to deal with the political respectability with which Sinn Féin were able to promote themselves. During the 1980s the reliance on self-censorship became insufficient and Douglas Hurd turned from making BBC programmes about Sinn Féin to legislating them.

Before he passed away, McGuinness resigned his position as Deputy First Minister, clearly in ill-health. This prompted a great number of tributes and praise of his career from Sinn Féin supporters, an image circulated of him wearing a wide-brimmed hat and three-piece suit imposed on top of the famous depictions of the leaders of the 1916 rising. Photos circulated of McGuinness with Nelson Mandela.  The parallels with the icon of the South African anti-apartheid resistance and its post-Apartheid peace and reconciliation is a recurring theme of Irish republicanism, based on similarities in state repression (emergency laws, curfew, police massacres), the resistance (civil rights, armed struggle and international solidarity) and in the attempts to transition to post-conflict society. This comparison between McGuinness and Mandela has infuriated the Daily Mail who published an article after his death with the title “The Irish Mandela? You must be mad! The day his mask slipped and I saw McGuinness the monster” – the mask slipping turned out to reveal that McGuinness had sworn to some British soldiers trying to search his car.

The tabloid press’ collective amnesia over figures like Mandela serves a purpose and we would do well to remind ourselves of Lenin’s description of this tendency in the opening paragraph to State and Revolution, but it wasn’t long ago that British aristocratic lawmakers were condemning McGuinness and Mandela as of the same ilk. After detailing his despair at the apparent travesty of independent, post-colonial African states during a debate in the House of Lords in November 1985, Lord Burton went on to extol the virtues of apartheid South Africa, in particular defending the regime’s press censorship: “Is there anything wrong in gagging the voices of a lot of terrorists? Her husband [Mandela] could have been out of jail now had he renounced violence. Our own Government was quite rightly unhappy about the BBC film on that violent man Martin McGuinness, who was portrayed as a nice comfortable family man playing with his children on the sands of the seashore. Why should the BBC be the voice of the IRA or the ANC?”

Indeed, the commenters on the Daily Mail website at least were consistent in their criticism of the headline which they were furious with for sanctifying Mandela. In 1961 Mandela formed the armed wing of the ANC – Umkhonto we Sizwe (The Spear of the Nation) also known as MK – later recalling that he had come to the conclusion that “it would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the government met our demands with force”. According to testimony and historical research, Mandela was a senior member of the SACP and part of a small group that prepared the ground for the move from a policy of non-violence to armed struggle on behalf of the SACP, whilst the MK remained formally separate from the ANC despite the crossover in membership of the armed and nonviolent wings. Without being overly simplistic, there is a striking resemblance in the roles played by Mandela and McGuinness in arguing for a competent guerrilla warfare strategy against the violent repression of the hitherto peaceful civil rights campaigns.

But there is a more urgent consequence to this depiction of McGuinness et al that goes beyond mere infidelity to the historical record. As long as both these portrayals – reformed terrorist or unrepentant murderer – of characters like McGuinness or Adams remain, both the Westminster government and the unionists in Stormont are repeatedly forgiven for not taking the legacy commitments outlined in the Belfast Agreement seriously enough to be implemented. Both portrayals position the republican armed struggle as needlessly violent and without cause, rhyme or reason. It helps to perpetuate the justification of British military and loyalist violence in Northern Ireland, and continues to condemn the victims of state violence. Whilst Sinn Féin have been rightly criticised for their political judgment in recent years, the reaction in the press to McGuinness’ death has shown the ignorance of Northern Ireland’s past, present and future.