Tag Archives: Irish

The Red Carpet and The Mob

In light of the re-emergence in Ireland of The Risen People – finally driven to rebel not just against the unjust water tax but by relentless austerity, authoritarian rule and rampant corruption among the political class, I think it is appropriate to publish a recently discovered piece written in 1969 by my father, Pearse. It will demonstrate how much of a circle game life can be if underlying problems are not dealt with. I know it would do my father’s heart good to see the Irish people come out to take control of their country. If he was still with us he would be at the barricades.

This is what he wrote –

Bernadette [Devlin] has been giving our beloved establishment a rather thin time. She doesn’t seem to realise fully just how firmly based our institutions really are. After all, our conservatives scored heavily in the last general election. The good old profit motive was fully endorsed by the electorate. The remnants of the Irish race, left here at home prefer to lie down, and be counted-out. We have lost faith in ourselves, and God seems to be on the side of the stronger battalions.

Bernadette is quite wrong to equate our gentle whimsical green Tories with the tough, die hard bull Tories of merry England, such as Sir Gerald Nabarro and his ilk. To be quite fair to our own dear Tories, they would all be socialists only for what happened to them – they were born lucky, and got rich. There’s the difference.

Bernadette’s abrasiveness is wasted on our smooth operators down here. Of course, they may only be pretending to be Tories, because any leftish tendencies, any slight list to port might result in the offender getting a ‘belt of a crozier’ to steady him up. A wise statesman plays it cool because he knows the score. It’s like this:

In the beginning God made a long red carpet, and rolled it out to infinity across the good flat earth, and He said, ‘Let there be kings’. And lo, there were kings. There were fat kings and thin. Tall and short kings. Foolish kings and wise ones. Kings white and black and all shades between. Kings good, and kings evil. Oodles of kings and all equally invested with divine rights, all trooping down the red carpet in endless succession, by the Grace of God.

They came with all their retinues in gorgeous array. Princes and Prelates, Dukes and Earls, Baronets and Knights all duly supporting their divinely accredited monarchs.

All was not exactly rosy on the nice red carpet. Heads rolled in grisly profusion. Crowned heads, heads with coronets, mitred heads, and plain ordinary swelled heads. No king on record lasted long without his head. That was a fact of life, divine rights notwithstanding. The natural order was preserved –  the survival of the fittest and all that. A bit messy, but no hard feelings. ‘The King is dead, long live the King’, and that sort of thing.

At some stage of the game the supply of kings started to dwindle. This was only to be expected. The royal mortality rate was rather high, due to one occupational hazard or another. Only a fool would want to be a king who wasn’t actually born with a crown on his head.

The kings in their heyday were very partial to a well-filled stocking, and they had lots of leisure, with predictable results. They say the Hapsburg chin was discernable in the most unexpected corners, for instance. There was no formal study of genetics in those days of course, but we know that the cutest hen lays out. This is where the hard-line Tories come from.

Wealth and power was a reasonable substitute for a crown especially when the divine right was extended to private property. Anyway there were only a limited number of crowns. The idea was to stay put on the red carpet with all those solid churchmen – to play it safe in saecula saeculorum Amen. Official Tory policy.

Suddenly, much too close to the red carpet, hordes of unruly peasants and workers appeared, churning up the mud and kicking up a row trying to get onto the plush. Couldn’t the damn fools see that there simply wasn’t enough room? By Gad, sir, the cheek of them, all swinish anarchists and socialists, fighting each other and everyone else.

Keep back, fools! Back to your places. Be content. It’s not for long anyway and there’s pie in the sky for sure.

Preach to them, Bish. Tell them they’ve never had it so good. Think of something quick. Tell them God is on our side. Tell them its a sin. Get through to them Bish, for heaven’s sake or we’ll all be dished.

Look at the silly bastards trampling each other in the mud, and blood. Serves them damn well right. Steady boys steady. Press on regardless and show no mercy. We can’t have millions of stupid clods getting mud all over the bloody carpet.

Oh to Hell with it all, there’s too many of them. They’re everywhere. Press the button. Finish the lot. It could never be the same again anyway.

Pearse Stokes

16th December 1969

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.

Bank Crisis – take to the streets.

It just won’t work, some ‘experts’ say, while other ‘experts’ line up to chorus ‘oh yes, it will’.  €70 billion so far to ‘fix’ the banks, with, we can be quite certain, more to come at great cost to every citizen. Well, not quite every citizen – there are of course those tax exiles and tax avoiders and evaders who never ever pay their share of taxes, facilitated all of the time by politicians, senior civil servants, lawyers, accountants, bankers and the rest.

The current estimate is that every tax compliant man, woman and child in the Republic of Ireland will each have to stump up over €16,000 as their individual contribution to rescuing the banks, with no alternative to this other than to set out for distant shores, and forced exile.

The new government has decided on its ‘solution’ to the banking crisis. The Bank of Ireland will be scaled back, divesting €30 billion of assets by 2013 and will provide the first ‘pillar’, while the Allied Irish Bank will merge with the Educational Building Society, shed €23 billion of assets by 2013 and form the second ‘pillar’. Irish Life and Permanent TSB will be taken into State ownership, also entailing shedding many assets.

What we will end up with is fewer banks competing for customers, the end result of crazy, criminal banking policies pursued without hindrance by the State, without adherence to sound business practices, without compliance with the law, without ethical consideration of their actions by the bankers, cheered on by politicians. The citizen will foot the bill for the losses in the banks and for the ‘solution’, and will be at the mercy of a duopoly – effectively forced to deal with just two competing banks, with little prospect of foreign banks wishing to provide any level of competition.

That is the sort of ‘progress’ that comes about as a result of consolidation, synergies, amalgamations – all, we are sternly warned, necessary to compete in the ‘real’ world. It wasn’t always thus.

Up to the 1960s Irish customers had a choice in banking between the Bank of Ireland, Hibernian Bank, Munster & Leinster Bank, National Bank, Provincial Bank, Ulster Bank and Royal Bank. All of these were run on serious lines, operated to sober  business standards by men (not in those days women) who knew their duty was to protect the assets of the bank and its customers, to deliver a profit to the shareholders, and to hand on a sound business when the time came for them to move on.

There were also the Agricultural Credit Corporation to finance agriculture, set up by the State in 1927 but sold to the Dutch Rabobank in 2002, and the Industrial Credit Corporation, set up in 1933 but sold to Bank of Scotland/Halifax in 2001 and closed down with the Halifax operation in 2010. Two good effective State banks, gone.

In the 1960s Ireland had about 40 building societies providing mortgages for house buyers. These were merged over time into the Irish Nationwide, Educational Building Society, First Active and ICS. Even with the mergers there was choice for consumers.

In 40 years we have gone from seven good general banks and two specialist strategic banks, and four solid building societies, to two ‘pillars’ with another, Permanent TSB, in some sort of half-life. No real choice anymore for customers, and a huge bill to pay for the privilege. That is ‘progress’, that is the ‘real’ world – progress for crooks and gamblers and a world of real misery for the citizens.

The people spoke in the General Election, just five weeks ago, and voted, we were subsequently told, for parties that promised change for the better and rational solutions to our financial crisis. It is patently clear that the new crowd in government is as incapable of bursting out of the bubble in which politicians, economists and other ‘experts’ live and think and talk to one another, as was the old crowd. We cannot rely on them to see the world as we see it, and  to take on the neo-liberal Euro-imperialists who will quite happily do this country down to protect their banks and their half-baked Eurozone.

It is time to take off the gloves and take to the streets. No-one is riding to the rescue. No solution but by ourselves. That is how it has always been. The Greeks know that, and so, by now, should we.


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