Monthly Archives: May 2011

A Proclamation Too Far

The news that Kathleen O’Meara, a former Labour Party Senator, intends to seek her party’s nomination for the Irish Presidential election in October is not particularly remarkable in itself. After all, provided she can muster enough support to secure the nomination, it will be for the electorate to decide whether or not she is presidential material. What is remarkable is her declared desire to fashion a new proclamation to be issued on the centenary of the existing Proclamation of the Irish Republic of 24th April 1916.

O’Meara wants, she says, “…to build a project, a national engagement, a conversation which would take place in every community in Ireland, asking those questions and hearing from the people themselves about who they want us, Ireland, to be.” Admitting that the first proclamation was ambitious and inspiring she concedes that the country has not lived up to it. And so, her solution appears to be to come up with a better proclamation herself – after having a conversation, of course, with the rest of us.

Her ambition does not rest with coming up with a better proclamation. “Amidst the wreckage we are now in, is an opportunity to start again, to preserve the best of what we have created and build a new vision to take this nation forward. The theme of the next presidency, under my leadership, would be building the nation. This is why I am seeking this nomination,” she said. Well now! O’Meara is going to build the nation too, presumably by having a conversation with the rest of us.

Well, if Kathleen O’Meara wants to have a conversation she might start by explaining to us the failure of the Labour Party since 1918 to live up to the reasonable expectations of its founder, James Connolly, that it would be a socialist party and therefore, by his rational definition, a republican party. She might explain why the Labour Party failed to effectively challenge the brutal counter-revolution that began in earnest with the creation of the Free State, and why the Labour Party surrendered its constituency to de Valera’s Fianna Fail, once that party was founded.

O’Meara might enlighten us about the 45 years from 1932 (the year Fianna Fail assumed power) when the Labour Party was led first by William Norton and then Brendan Corish, both of them members of the secretive Catholic masonic order, the Knights of Columbanus. No surprise then that Corish, Labour Party leader from 1960-1977 stated that “I am an Irishman second; I am a Catholic first.…If the Hierarchy gives me any direction with regard to Catholic social teaching or Catholic moral teaching, I accept without qualification in all respects the teaching of…the Church to which I belong.”

Another part of the conversation might deal with the Labour Party’s subservience to the two right-wing parties, Fine Gael (most often) and Fianna Fail (once), in always ditching the core values of any proper ‘labour’ party so as to achieve a temporary sojourn in coalition governments in which it played second fiddle to the larger conservative party, and dutifully acquiesced in the implementation of policies that  ran counter to socialist, or even social democratic, principles – time after time.

And it would be most interesting if Kathleen O’Meara explained why the Labour Party turned its back on the republic laid out in the 1916 Proclamation, even though that template for the republic is patently a socialist one, written, without doubt, by the founder of the Labour Party, James Connolly. She might then go on to explain why her proclamation is going to be a better one for the mass of citizens than the very instrument that gave them, and her, the right to be citizens and not subjects – the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. In doing that she will have to explain which line, which word of paragraph four of the Proclamation she has a problem with and would discard. And if she does not have a problem with it, then why is she proposing to write a new one, rather than taking the existing one out on the road with her to promote it, especially since most Irish citizens have some emotional attachment to the 1916 Proclamation, even if they haven’t read it or don’t fully understand its meaning, and many others, knowing what it means and promises, have a rational attachment to it?

A charitable view of Kathleen O’Meara’s dual-ambition to write a new proclamation and build the nation is that it is the product of a rushed decision to seek the nomination and an urgent need to have a ‘message’ or theme to sell to those who will select the Labour Party candidate. The uncharitable might suggest arrogance on her part, but since that might be unfair, let’s be charitable. It is likely, given the evidence of the Labour Party’s record in glossing over the party’s connection to James Connolly so as not to upset its middle-class membership and constituency, and its consistent failure to champion his beautiful vision of the ideal republic, that O’Meara knows only too well that the Irish Republic of the proclamation is too hard a thing a sell to the party, particularly given the party’s unfortunate history of unnecessary compromise with the right-wing anti-republican parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

Given the list of other possible candidates for the presidential election it is hard to see anything better than an insincere genuflection in the direction of the 1916 Proclamation coming from any of them – with the possible exception of Michael D Higgins, so long hamstrung by his membership of a less than ideal party for promoting his personal and political values, and David Norris. The rest of them would rather bury the ideas of the Proclamation in a quick-lime grave and compel the mass of Irish citizens to continue on the road to perdition while their own political class maintains and strengthens the political hegemony that denies the possibility of constructing a real republic.

What is certain is that there is plenty more guff coming down the line during the presidential campaign. So swallow hard, gird your loins, let the waffle commence. We already know who will be the losers –  the people, and therefore the Republic, again.

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A Conspiracy of Common Interest

Two items that illustrate the primacy that the political class in Ireland enjoys over the mass of other citizens have appeared in the media within days of each other.

A report in the Irish Examiner on May 16th draws on the latest Socio-Economic Review by Social Justice Ireland to present some stark facts about wealth and poverty in the so-called ‘Republic’ of Ireland. According to Social Justice Ireland (SJI), in 2009 the top 10% of Irish households received a staggering 25.83% of the country’s total disposable income, while the bottom 10% were forced to make do with a meagre 2.39%.

Contained within that top 10% of households are, of course, those members of the political class who wield enormous power which allows them to make, or shape, or sell to the public, those government policies that maintain and even widen the economic gap between the few at the top and the many in between and particularly at the bottom. If we had access to the figures for the top 5%, and especially the top 1%, then the disparity would be even more obscene.

What of the other end of the spectrum? According to SJI’s Review, close to 630,000 Irish citizens are below the poverty line, including up to 220,000 children. 90,000 of these citizens are what is known as the ‘working poor’ – they give up their week to a job, the reward for which toil is a wage that is not sufficient to lift them even marginally out of poverty.

As for the definition of what constitutes the ‘poverty line’ – it is pitched as being below 60% of the median income. In plain terms this amounts, in 2011, to the sum of €222.18 a week, a sum that would not cover the cost of a dinner for two in a moderate restaurant, or a visit to a fashionable hairdressing salon for one well-heeled woman, or a round of golf for a well-heeled man. But €222.18 is the amount that the ‘other’ citizens, if they can be deemed to be citizens in the real sense of the word, must live on week after week after week, the entire sum of money available to cover the cost of staying alive for another seven days, hoping that no unexpected emergencies arise.

Living slightly above this ‘poverty line’ are those who must toil for just marginally more, with no expectation that they can do more than get by, with a bit of luck. No luxuries, no small nest-egg for the rainy day, no margin of error in the spend on shopping. Grind a week in, then another, then another, hoping for the best.

But this rotten government, the latest in a long line of rotten governments, has plans to make that daily and weekly grind even more hopeless. It, like its predecessors, does not ‘have to’ destroy any vestigial hope that the poor and the working poor might have of some small respite from grinding poverty, it has chosen to. Remember that figure – the top 10% of households receive 25.83% of national disposable income! Yet this government, a coalition that includes a political party that pretends to be a social democratic ‘labour’ party, has set its face in one direction only – away from the wealth of the few and towards the miserable income of the many. This is a preposterous and indefensible choice for any political party that would claim to be even half-civilised.

Not content with imposing wage and social welfare reductions on the poorest in society, this government has drawn more of them into the tax net, hit them with a new ‘universal social charge’ and raised the cost of public services. On top of that, this rotten government is doing the bidding of that top 10% by again targetting low-paid workers, intending to dismantle Joint Labour Committee rates of remuneration for overtime and weekend work among other things.

In this latest assault, the government is egged on by large sections of the media who provide air-space and page-space to employers’ representative bodies such as the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC), the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) and the Irish Hotels Federation, among others.

This brings us to that second item in the media. The Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, a member of the same Labour Party that has chosen to side with the rich against the poor, has stated that he is against capping the salaries of State broadcaster RTE’s top presenters on the grounds that these people are not staff, but contractors. This tidy little arrangement allows these presenters to negotiate terms and conditions which would seem like Lotto winnings to the poor and the working poor in society.

The last year in which the earnings of the most highly-paid RTE presenters was released was in 2008. Pat Kenny was paid a salary of €950,976, Gerry Ryan received €629,865 with Marian Finucane on €570,000, Ryan Tubridy on €533,333 and Joe Duffy on €408,000. It is likely that each of these presenters is able to call on other earnings to supplement the RTE payments. Those salaries put them into, or very near to, the top 10% of Irish households.

These presenters, between them, occupy some of the most important slots on national radio and television schedules. Between them they wield extraordinary power to dictate and shape the agenda. They are intermediaries between the major players in Ireland’s social, political and economic worlds, and the people. They choose what items are to be covered on their programmes and in what way. They choose, with their producers and editors, whose voices will be heard, what questions will be asked and in what way, and how interviews and discussions will be conducted and often influenced by the intervention of the presenter. They are, by those means, opinion formers. They set the agenda for the day and the tone in which each issue will be presented to the people. They choose to cover certain items and not to cover others. They invite who they want, or don’t invite others. They endorse or dismiss views and opinions.

In effect, what these presenters do, and many of their colleagues throughout the rest of the broadcasting and print media do too, is to shape the mindset of the most powerful block of voters, the middle class, to make them compliant enough so that the status quo is not threatened, to the advantage of all of the political class, and the wealthiest in society.

The Minister for Communications could exercise his powers to require RTE to change the way in which it employs its presenters, and do it in the interest of transparently ethical broadcasting to the benefit of the audience who live, they are told, in a democracy. He could force RTE to change from the practice of using ‘contractors’ and let these people either work as staff, with capped salaries, or let them take their chance in the commercial world over which the Minister does not have the same remit.

But the Minister, of course, belongs to the same political class as Pat Kenny and the rest of the ‘contractors’ do, along with the top 10% who take that staggering 25.83% of the country’s disposable income, and the comparatively wealthy 10% below that group – business men and women, lawyers, doctors, engineers, executives, senior media workers, higher academics, and so on.  The Minister has chosen to leave things as they are, just as he and his party have chosen to leave the wealthy as they are and target the most vulnerable instead.

Two news items that show up the travesty of describing this place as a republic. It is not a republic, unless it is a banana republic, not quite the same thing. It is a hegemonic state, a plutarchy, effectively a dictatorship under the control of the political class, engineered to their advantage by manipulating the flow of essential information and controlling the conduct of debate and discussion, all inhibiting reasoned and informed democratic decision-making by the citizens.   It exists and persists only through the process of  ‘manufacturing consent’.

This plutarchy, this dictatorship, represents a tacit conspiracy of common interest by the wealthiest and the most well-connected against the impoverished – the wretched of this land. What is needed to overthrow it is a conspiracy of common interest by all who believe in true democracy and the enlightened and progressive republic.


The tyranny of ‘expert’ opinion

Closing his ‘Tonight’ programme on TV3 on the 24th of May, Vincent Browne made an extraordinary statement, almost revolutionary. He announced that he was looking to move  from the practice of having only ‘expert’ people on the ‘Tonight’ panels and, in the interest of having a democratic balance of views and opinions, asked for recommendations from the general public of suitable people who could contribute to his programme, to be drawn from across the social classes and not exclusively from the professional/business class as is the norm. What an idea!

Browne’s statement is extraordinary not only because what seems on the face of it to be a fair and democratic and correct approach has never been the practice in broadcasting in Ireland, but also because TV3 is a commercial TV station with a mandatory but limited public service broadcasting requirement. What Browne is proposing might more readily be expected to originate in RTE, the ‘national’ broadcaster, with its much more extensive public service broadcasting requirement and a significant proportion of its revenues provided by way of licence fee, paid in the main by the ‘great unwashed’ whose voices are excluded other than in shallow radio phone-in programmes, heavily moderated.

Blinded by ‘experts’, we are led up the garden path, lectured on what is ‘common sense’ and what should be dismissed as ‘looney’. These ‘experts’ are presented to us as people who ‘know’, who have the ‘truth’, whose opinions are not just worth hearing but worth internalising so that they become our opinions.

The ‘experts’ are, we are often informed, eminent or distinguished or foremost in their field. Some may be, but what does that mean? It may be that the lawyer knows a fair bit about contract law, or licencing law, or constitutional law, or criminal law, but not usually all of these legal areas and more. It may be that the surgeon is indeed an expert in neuro-surgery, or cardio-vascular conditions, or plastic-surgery, but not usually all of these and more. It may be that the academic has forged a successful career in the area of sociology, or economics, or science, or literature, but not all of these and more. It may be that the entrepreneur has made a fortune selling cups of coffee, or building houses, or making plastic ‘things’, but what does that show other than an ability to spot a chance, get organised and make some money?

‘Experts’ usually have a very limited area of expertise. They are not all-seeing, all-dancing fonts of wisdom. In fact, the very closed world that they usually inhabit within their particular area of expertise may close off ways of seeing and ways of thinking about a wide range of personal, local, national and global issues about which they are supposed to have opinions that we are led to believe are worth paying attention to. On these radio and TV panels, surgeons, lawyers, academics, politicians and ‘personalities’ will insist that their thoughts on economics, or politics, or the media, or war, or US foreign policy, or the EU policy on immigration, or the banking crisis are so well-informed and well-thought-out as to be suitable for serious consideration by the population at large. What arrant  nonsense!

On the other hand there are those who did not gain a reputation or access to membership of the political class by acquiring a degree or a PhD in a limited field, or by ‘networking’ successfully, but who left formal ‘education’ early and then educated themselves by keeping their eyes and ears and intellects open, by reading and discussing, by being aware of the natural, social and political worlds, by dissecting and assimilating ideas.

One such man was my father. Having left school at 13 through economic necessity, like so many others had to, he became a sheet metal worker, then a panel beater and later a garage owner. An inveterate reader, he was also a very fine writer, good enough to be offered a position as a correspondent in the 1960s by the Evening Press newspaper. He had a superb knowledge of history – Irish, European and World, and of current affairs, again spanning the globe. His analyses of various issues and their likely outcomes including Ireland’s membership of the EEC/EU, the conflict in the Six Counties, US foreign policy especially in the Middle East, and the economic rise of the East and of South America have been, or are being, borne out. He had an intimate knowledge of the natural world, from the sky at night to the earth below. Long before it was fashionable he was an environmentalist, and again before it was fashionable went against type by championing the cause of indigenous people from the Native Americans to the Australian Aborigines, and all points between.

So highly regarded were his views and opinions that on Saturdays at his garage in Dublin he would be visited by a stream of regular customers, including many  regarded as eminent in their professions, there not just to get petrol in their cars but to hear his views and to exchange ideas. One of the highest-ranking solicitors in the land would spend up to an hour every Saturday talking with him, and listening. But Pearse Stokes would not qualify for inclusion on any RTE discussion panel – then or now.

That is why Vincent Browne is not only right but intelligent in his new approach to the formation of panels for his ‘Tonight’ programme. At a moment in our history that we would prefer not to have visited – brought here by the ineptitude and stupidity and greed of so many in the political class, including some of the media ‘darlings’ – it is time to open out to a wider range of views and opinions by listening to articulate and intelligent and well-informed contributors from previously excluded social class groups.

By adopting this new approach, Vincent Browne and TV3 will enhance the Public Sphere, that area in social life in which public opinion is formed. It should make for more interesting television too – an escape from the incestuous ‘same old, same old’ discussion panels.

And what will it do to RTE – the broadcasting arm of the State and of the political class? Let’s hope it will give them cause for concern. They have had it their own way for far too long, at our expence. Come on Vincent Browne and TV3, show the Donnybrook set how proper current affairs broadcasting should be done – and  can be done.


The Captains and the Kings

And so, back to normal. Well, almost. No sooner does the Head-of-State of one warmongering, exploitative, imperialist nation leave than another arrives.

The English queen is no doubt a nice woman, something she has in common with the vast majority of women in the world, including those of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. Like many of them she is a wife,  a mother, a grandmother. Unlike them, she demands, and receives, extraordinary deference. Unlike them she is surrounded by a wall of steel to ensure her safety, she will never go hungry or live in a hovel, or watch her children die from starvation or treatable medical conditions. Unlike them, when a helicopter flies overhead it is to protect her, not to rain missiles down on her. If being nice was enough the world would be a happier place.

The English queen is no doubt an intelligent woman, something she has in common, again, with the vast majority of women in the world. Like them, she must know that it is wrong to kill, to steal, to cause disharmony, to wage war, to impoverish people to enrich yourself, to preside over the theft of land, resources and even nations, to initiate genocide or to stay silent when others practice it, to facilitate the oppression of people and their effective enslavement. The vast majority of women in the world do not consider doing any of these things. As the British Head-of-State, as an intelligent woman, the English queen knowingly involves herself through her armed forces and her public and private agencies in these crimes, constantly.

The English queen no doubt sees herself as a moral person. She is after all head of the Church of England by right of birth. The vast majority of women in the world would view a claim of that sort as blasphemous, being for the most part moral people themselves whether they belong to an organised religion or not. Having a moral framework set down by her own church, and being very well informed about her government’s policies, there can be no excuse for allowing or promoting all of the above. As a christian, the English queen must be aware of the Sermon on the Mount and what it means. Nowhere in there does it say ‘Blessed are the arms dealers, the oppressors, the warmongers’.

And what of her visit to Ireland, and the things she did and the things she said?

The Irish political class oohed and aahed at her laying of the wreath and her bowing of the head in the Garden of Remembrance. Maybe she meant it, and that would be good – showing respect for the actions of brave men and women is a good thing. But political class amnesia when it comes to ritual and protocol is a handy thing. The English queen is well-practiced at laying wreaths and bowing her head – it is what she does, and does very well.

The Irish political class was completely disarmed at the banquet the uninvited citizens paid for in Dublin Castle by her use of a few words of Irish as she began her speech, as if it was unique or original.  ‘Wow’, the First Mary said, followed by another ‘wow’. We were, fortunately, spared the ‘OMG!’. Get a grip. The English queen is well-used to doing this. It is, like laying wreaths and bowing the head, what ‘one’ does. And the Irish political class grasped at straws in their collective search for something, anything, that could be interpreted as an apology for the disgusting treatment of many generations of Irish people over many centuries by the armies and agencies of English kings and queens – and the straws weren’t worth grasping. Worse than that, the English queen sought to implicate the Irish people in those crimes, as if conflict with the English was ever something aggressively and gratuitously and by desire entered into by the Irish, rather than a necessary reaction in self-defence and in pursuit of national independence and freedom from oppression and exploitation by the English monarchs and the English political class.

The event at the war memorial at Islandbridge was another attempt (facilitated of course by the Irish political class) to implicate the Irish in the twin crimes of the First and Second World Wars. It is reasonable to suggest that very many of the Irish who took part in the 1914-18 version did so for economic reasons – ‘join up or your family starve’. Many others swallowed the spurious ‘Defence of Small Nations’ guff and did what they thought was right. There is an appropriate way to commemorate the sacrifice of ordinary men and women on the altar of capitalist expansionism, and feeding the British nation-building Poppy Day exercise is not the appropriate way.

And so, after four days of  near deification by the  Irish political class and their hangers-on, the English queen has ascended into the heavens boosted by four Rolls Royce engines, the sort favoured by the manufacturers of the tanks, warplanes and warships manufactured in England and peddled to brutal tyrants around the world. Saint Elizabeth she is not.

Hot on her heels comes one of the great disappointments of the political world, the man who promised much by way of change and changed nothing for the good, Barack Obama. The wars go on, the sin against the indigenous Palestinian people intensifies, the torturers remain in business, the Military-Industrial complex gets richer and fatter and more greedy, more people starve as Wall Street manipulates markets and commodities for profit. Old worn-out tyrants may go – not because the US wants them to – but new tyrants line up to take their place.

The Irish political class cannot wait for Air Force One to arrive. Thrilled with their success with the English queen’s journeys through over-policed empty city streets to venues where only the chosen few were deemed fit to be seen, the prospect of yet more vulgar self-aggrandisement is almost too much to bear. This time, the plebs will be allowed to take part in the adulation at the same open-air venue that that other warmonger, Bill Clinton, appeared at. Just like Clinton, Obama will scatter fine rhetoric to the four winds, meaningless rhetoric since we can be certain that what is promised will not be delivered.

But he is Irish, he is O’Bama, he is one of us. No he is not. He may have some DNA that connects him to this island, but that is all. He does not share the values that most people on this island most probably share – of non-interference in the affairs of other nations, of peace-keeping rather than war-making, of a sense of fair play and justice, of genuine compassion at the suffering of less fortunate people in the world, of a sense of solidarity with oppressed people in other places. We are not always good at looking after our own shop, we have many faults, we are far from perfect, but we do have a value system that at its core is decent, despite the worst efforts of the Irish political class to sign us up to the corrupt ‘elites’ of this world.

So, come Tuesday, it will be back to normal. Or perhaps it won’t be. Perhaps the Genie is out of the bottle. Perhaps we will remember how we were ‘locked down’ while others feasted at our expence. Perhaps we will remember how dissenting voices were ridiculed and silenced by a powerful hegemonic media – part of the political class and willingly serving its interests. Perhaps we will think about how the State views its citizens, at least most of them, as too suspect and dangerous to be allowed the freedom of their own streets. Perhaps, as another funding crisis hits the health service, or education, we will imagine how that €30 million spent on entertaining two human beings from outside and the political class parasites from inside might have been used.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Whatever the outcome, normal is going to feel, well, normal. Can’t wait.


Constitutional reform must be citizen-driven

It may seem churlish to argue against initiatives which claim to seek a greater  involvement by citizens in the affairs of the State, or, in the case of the Labour Party to engage citizens with the process of constitutional reform. But let’s be churlish – with good reason.

Both of these initiatives come out of the political class – a class which has shown scant regard for the notion of equality of citizenship since the foundation of the State, preferring to champion a ‘plutarchy’, a combination of rule by the wealthy and by a special ‘elite’ – a small number of ‘expert’ and/or ’eminent’ people. The outcome of their endeavours to date has been the creation of a hegemonic State in which the desires of the few have precedence over the needs of the many.

Both initiatives have, on the surface, the appearance of offering a semi-revolutionary outcome. The ‘We the Citizens’ initiative, funded by Atlantic Philanthropies, wishes to ‘renew democracy’ and ‘restore trust in  public life’ by creating a ‘national citizens assembly’ to meet in Dublin in June. 150 participants will be selected randomly from a poll of over 1000 people on the electoral register and will, according to the organisers, ‘consider proposals on making the political institutions of the State better suited to serving citizens’. Grand! We can all applaud that effort. Well not all – some may remain churlish, again with good reason.

Who are the organisers of this seemingly fine initiative, ‘We the Citizens’? They are, almost every one of them, members of the same political class that has overseen the maintenance of the very plutarchy that has destroyed real democracy in this so-called ‘Republic’ of Ireland. Apart from Fiach MacConghail, Director/CEO of the Abbey Theatre, almost every other person listed on their publicity material is a senior academic in Irish or US universities. Some, like UCD Professor Brigid Laffan, are ardent advocates of the EU and of Ireland’s integration into it, some might say to the point of madness. Others, like Intel’s Head of Corporate Affairs Brendan Cannon come as advocates of corporate globalisation and capitalism, not seen as forces that promote human equality or true democracy.

The initiative is supported by yet more university academics including those who run the website politicalreform.ie. On the evidence to date there is no reason to suspect that the Trinity College school of politics which seems the driving force behind that website has any interest in genuinely radical reform of the State which, to be genuinely radical requires the destruction of the hegemony which sustains inequality, privilege and injustice.

Many of these arguments can be made against the Labour Party’s fig-leaf of ‘constitutional reform’. What the Labour Party proposes is a constitutional convention which would draw together ‘all strands of Irish society’ with a mandate to ‘review the constitution and draft a reformed one within a year’. Note – reform, not replace. The current 1937 Constitution is the basis on which inequality and injustice and privilege are founded.

And what of Labour’s notion of ‘all strands of society’. Not quite what it says on the tin. The 90 members would include 30 members of the Oireachtas – yes, the very same dysfunctional and corrupted Oireachtas that is destroying our integrity as a sovereign nation, again all members of the political class. Then there would be ’30 members [who] would be academic or practicing lawyers and others with experience or expertise from non-governmental associations and organisations’, again all members of the political class. Bringing up the rear-guard would be ’30 ordinary citizens’, outnumbered at least 2 to 1 by the political class members.

Even if both initiatives brought to their endeavours strong citizens who could stand up for themselves and their fellow citizens the likelihood is that the agenda of both initiatives will have been consciously or unconsciously skewed before a word is spoken. And when it comes to ‘expert’ advice to the citizens in advance of their deliberations, who will deliver that advice? Why, the self-same political class that has overseen the anti-republican direction that this corrupt, hegemonic State has taken, and who now propose to manage its reform!

What is the intended outcome of either of these initiatives? It is to create a ‘new’ republic, or even a ‘second republic’. What the real outcome will be is best summed up by an Irish saying “cur síoda ar an gabhar, is gabhar i gconaí é”, or “put silk on a goat, it’s still a goat”.

What no-one wants to mention is the only republic we have had – the republic laid out in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic of April 24th 1916 and which stood until the Treaty and the counter-revolution which followed immediately. It is, to the Irish political class, the leper that needs to be sheeted, the vampire that needs a stake in its heart, the mad uncle who needs to be locked away. They despise it for its purity and its practicality. They have contempt for its vision of a better future for all. They reject its concrete universal principles of freedom, equality and justice.

There is a real need for an alternative to these spurious pretenses at initiating ‘reform’. That alternative demands a truly democratic convention that does not privilege members of the political class, or any social class. It requires the engagement of citizens – ordinary citizens – to the task of getting the work underway. The process of creating real, meaningful and revolutionary change needs volunteer citizens – as was the case 100 years ago when all appeared lost, but was redeemed.

Minds must meet to start the process. The time was never more right. This volunteer stands ready. Who else will come to the task?


Alternative to Irish media hegemony is vital

The Irish people, we are constantly reminded, are an innately conservative lot. Nothing could be further from the truth. Far from that conservatism being present from birth, part of the DNA of the Irish, it is solely the consequence of cultural formation. At one time it could be argued that that conservatism was the result of  a peculiar form of Catholicism, Ultramontanism, inflicted on the unfortunate people in the early 19th century. There is truth in that, but it tells only part of the story. The decline in the power of the Catholic church in recent decades has not led to a significant shift from conservatism. The answer to this prolonged ideological stasis lies in the media landscape of Ireland.

Ireland is virtually unique among European countries, and many countries in the wider world, in having no significant left-wing press. The three national daily newspapers in the ‘Republic’ of Ireland are to all intents ideologically interchangeable. The ideas and values they present to the readers are essentially conservative on politics, liberal on social  matters, and neo-liberal on economics. The same is true about the Sunday newspapers, and about broadcast media whether privately owned commercial stations or the semi-state national broadcasting company, RTE.

In this media environment, any ideas, values or principles that come out of left-wing ideology are routinely rubbished and ridiculed, usually with an air of authority and often with a sneer. Socialised medicine was recently rubbished on RTE radio as ‘Utopia’ – used as a pejorative term of course – as if the health systems in much of Europe, far superior to ours, could be dismissed just like that, an unattainable daydream. A recent demand by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland that public funding of €100 million for private schools should be withdrawn and used instead for severely disadvantaged public schools met a similar barrage of criticism, much of it from privately educated broadcasters and journalists.

That the existing Irish media not only failed utterly to challenge the ‘Celtic Tiger’ neo-liberal ‘market driven’ economic policies but actually promoted the crazy construction ‘boom’ that those policies were designed to fuel, demonstrates not just the failure of the Irish media to perform its functions  of informing the public and of holding the powerful to account, but its complicity in the creation of a national economic catastrophe. Instead of raising all of the pertinent questions arising from insane economic policies, those voices – most often of the left – which were raised against disastrous public policies were either silenced or rubbished.

The right-wing media hegemony must be broken if there is to be any basis for Ireland being able to claim to be a truly democratic State. The absence of fair presentation of ideas and values that offer an alternative to the political hegemony of permanent right-wing government by one or other of the civil war parties, the ideological twins Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, denies both the notion of a ‘free’ press and the repetitive claim that the Irish electorate is well-informed and well-served by its national media.

The defence of the Irish media that is routinely trotted out is that the media give the readers what the readers want. In the first  place there is no alternative offered, secondly an audience is through repetition over time cultured into believing that what is presented is the ‘norm’ and is the ‘common-sense’ position, particularly when the same small panel of ‘experts’, drawn from the ranks of the political class and elevated to celebrity status by the same media, is used over and over again in print and on radio and TV shows.

The belief is fostered that there is no market for a daily newspaper with the capacity to challenge the Irish Independent, Irish Times and Irish Examiner. A newspaper needs readers, not just to recoup costs through the cover price but more importantly to attract advertisers. To do this it is necessary to have a readership that it is worth marketing products to, and so middle-class and wealthier readers are important, but so too are lower income readers who also consume products and services and need public service information ads.

The approximate circulation figures for the national dailies are: Irish Independent 140,000; Irish times 102,000; Irish Examiner 46,000. Could a new left-wing daily newspaper match those figures, even the lowest? And from which part of the population might it do so?

In the recent General Election the two conservative political parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, garnered just under 1.2 million votes. The combined vote for those other parties that are, or claim to be, of the left was approximately 760,000, not counting leftist independents. Another figure worth considering is the total trade union membership in this State of about 600,000. Out of either of those numbers it is difficult to see how a good quality alternative to the current trio of conservative newspapers would not be able to match at least the lowest circulation figure, that of the Irish Examiner.

But what of setup and running costs? A creative approach would be needed, but one ally that a new newspaper has is new communications and printing technology, combined with the capacity to print simultaneously in different regions or provinces to reduce distribution costs and speed delivery. By setting achievable circulation targets and initially using freelance journalists and interns alongside a core of seasoned professional staff under a good team of editors it is feasible to challenge the existing Irish national dailies for readers, and more importantly to set out to win readers away from the Irish versions of British newspapers. There is also, very likely, a large cohort of potential readers who opt for a quality British newspaper, or for none at all.

The plain fact is that until an alternative to the existing conservative national daily newspapers is put in place, then the media hegemony which sustains the political hegemony will continue its work of distortion and propagandising, maintaining a roadblock on the journey to the day when we can legitimately say that this State is a democratic one.


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