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Boost for nurses’ campaign April 30, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Health, Irish Labour Party, media, Media and Journalism, Progressive Democrats, Sinn Féin, Trade Unions.
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While most of us are focused on the elections, and the announcement yesterday that the longest election campaign in history now has an end date, the nursing unions will be immensely buoyed by a report in today’s Irish Times (Sub required) that shows that 65% of voters back their demands for a 10% wage increase and a 35 hour week.

Even better, a clear majority, 58% of voters, also back industrial action in pursuit of their claims. Even with the general instinctive sympathy towards nurses that exists in Irish society it is staggering to see people not just support their campaign, but support the use of industrial action to achieve the objective. I can’t remember an opinion poll that showed support for strike action in a long time and it’s a far cry from the public’s reaction to the ASTI dispute, with which it has some similarity.

Much as with the ASTI, the nurses have enjoyed the experience of being repeatedly kicked in the face by the media. The Evening Herald and the Irish Daily Mail have been sticking the boot into the nurses Work-to-rule campaign, now in it’s fifth week, on an almost daily basis with harrowing tales of callous nurses sneering as old people gasp for air on the hospital floor and so on. Newstalk’s Claire Byrne has given them a hammering in her column for the Tribune and on the airwaves. The more ‘liberal’ papers have pushed Benchmarking as the solution.

While on a local level the lunchtime protests by nurses outside the hospitals, suspended now while negotiations are underway and due to resume tomorrow, have been attended by Government and Opposition TDs and candidates, so far Sinn Féin is the only party to give the nurses wholehearted support. Labour’s instinctive sympathy for the nurses and desire to put the boot into Harney over this is blunted by their need to keep the SIPTU/ICTU leaderships onside.

Beggs and O’Connor are worried that the end-run by the nurses has the potential to undermine Partnership and the Benchmarking process. As SIPTU Nursing President Mary Durkin put it at SIPTU’s National Nursing Convention in Castlebar at the start of the month, “The pay anomaly which exists between some staff nurse and childcare workers can be dealt with through the Benchmarking process, in my view….this round of Benchmarking should rectify that anomaly.”

Interestingly, SIPTU went so far as to issue a clarifying statement last week in an effort to correct various unspecified ‘misunderstandings’ that had appeared in the media.

So Labour’s hands are tied a little on this, but from the polls, 71% of their supporters, and 79% of Sinn Féin’s, back the nurses. In fact, majorities of voters backing every party bar one back the nurses and there will be no prizes for anyone guessing that it’s the Progressive Democrats. So despite the fact that our political leaders have, for the most part, not been backing the nurses, or in some cases actively opposing them, the nurses retain massive public support.

And they’re likely to need it. According to the Times again, the talks between the unions and the Health Service Executive Employers Agency are at an impasse, with the reduction in hours believed to be the main stumbling block to a resolution. If the nurses have to back to the picket line, it will be interesting to see how solid their support remains, and whether much like the ASTI, they will be abandoned by the other unions and their political leaderships.

And on a slightly related note, congratulations to all who turned out for the May Day march yesterday in Dublin. Turnout was about twice as big as last year and it was clear that the boys and girls of Liberty Hall and Parnell Square actually put some effort in this year, even if they designed some of the least eye-catching posters in Europe to publicise it. There are pictures up on Indymedia.

And so it begins. Election 2007 April 29, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics.
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26 days

Hard not to think it was a bit fluffed, as noted here. Two reasons strike me for saying that. Firstly the fact it was called on a Sunday and that he didn’t wait until next week, but instead had to meet the President just prior to her departure from the country to the United State. Secondly the mention in the Sunday Independent of this:

Meanwhile, the Fianna Fail leader will announce stamp-duty reforms to be implemented before the Dail rises for the summer. The changes are to be promised in the election manifesto.

The focus of the legislation is to improve the lot of first-time buyers – but it is possible that other changes will be introduced as well.

No doubt any such change will earn the undying gratitude of the Sunday Independent. Too late perhaps, too late. But in the scheme of things I’m with Vincent Browne on this as when he wrote last week in the Sunday Business Post that:

But the tax strategy group found that the previous reductions in stamp duty did not improve ‘‘liquidity’’ in the secondhand home market, which means it did not result, for example, in more older people selling their homes.

Anyway, how could mobile workers benefit from a reduction in stamp duty? The laws of supply and demand will dictate the price at which they sell their house and the price for which they buy their new house. Stamp duty is irrelevant.

If I may illustrate my point: assume there is a demand for 10,000 houses at €400,000 plus 7 per cent stamp duty, which means a total of €428,000 per house. If stamp duty is removed, it doesn’t mean those houses will be sold for €400,000; they will be sold for €428,000.

This is, and in a way it’s necessary to make this clear, a very different discussion to the issue of making it ‘easier’ for first time buyers to purchase housing. We and others have already mentioned the difficulties, or more accurately, the impossibility of getting housing or accomodation in the current market situation. But that requires much greater and more efficacious interventions on the part of state and semi-state in the housing market.

And then there’s the Mahon Tribunal. Pat Leahy in the Sunday Business Post today notes:

Lawyers for the tribunal will make an amended opening statement on the Quarryvale module, which is expected to draw on an investigation of the Taoiseach’s finances.

The Taoiseach, who has strenuously denied allegations by developer Tom Gilmartin that he received payments, has supplied the tribunal with extensive detail on his own finances.

So that should ratchet up the tension nicely. Although the Tribunal cannot sit for the last two weeks of the campaign.

As if that weren’t enough, there is the rumbling annoyance on the part of Labour and other opposition parties regarding the on-going victory lap by Ahern throughout May over the Peace Process. It may well be ‘politicising the Peace Process’, but in fairness if Ahern can be said to have one lasting political achievement worthy of any Taoiseach his stewardship (and let’s not get into a debate as to the ownership of it) of the process is it.

As noted previously here, how this plays is anyone’s guess.

****************************

I should add, on a personal level, a feeling of ‘meh’. Finally it arrives, and so what? We’ve known it was coming for years now. We’ve all had a fairly good sense as to when the date would be. That which is predictable generally tends in the end to be dull.

The next three or four weeks will be canvassing hell, for both those involved in canvassing and those who must go to the door to answer the dread knock. But if the canvassing isn’t done the politicians will be accused of not doing their job.

We’ll receive, and no doubt hand out, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of leaflets. Most won’t be read. Posters will be everywhere. Television spots. Debates.

Yep, it’s going to be a long May.

Just letting you know… April 28, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.
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One of our number has been asked to contribute to the the Sunday Papers segment on NewsTalks 106-108 FM “Taste” programme this evening sometime between 7 and 9.

Check it out…

Incidentally many thanks to Cian at Irish Election for the contact. Much appreciated.

Volatility, thy name is the Irish Electorate…or is it? April 28, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Irish Election 2007, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics.
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A very provocative poll from MRBI/TNS in the Irish Times.

Fine Gael have recorded their best result in over a decade with 31%. Fianna Fáil has received 34% which is not the worst they’ve seen but is a long way from the 41.9 % they recorded at the last election. The Greens have dipped to 6% from 8%, Sinn Féin are up from 9% to 10% and Labour is looking at 10%, down 1%. Independents and such like are down 2% at 6%. The PDs are up 2% from 1%, but bearing in mind that the accuracy figure is thought to be +/- 3% it’s not difficult to see problems ahead.

Not much comfort there, it has to be said, for a broad range of people. Indeed the only people who could be cheered by it would be Fine Gael and Sinn Féin.

And for Fine Gael there is one remarkable fly in the ointment. MRBI/TNS have ‘adjusted’ the figures to account for the undercounting of Fine Gael in the past. The most egregious example of same is said to be the 2002 election when IIRC the last MRBI/TNS poll recorded 20% for Fine Gael and they actually received 22.48% on polling day. Now in fairness that remains well within the broad accuracy figure so it seems odd that the new weighting TNS/MRBI has placed upon this poll adjusts the figures for FG from a core vote of 23%, a vote of 28% if one excludes undecided voters and a final figure of 31%. Quite a jump I think most will agree. And perhaps a little overdone in the context of the 2002 figure.

At the same time the recent RedC poll indicates a certain momentum towards Fine Gael, so a substantial increase is not out of question.

But it is the undecided’s who may well determine this election and as it stands we now have 19% (up 1%) of voters still unable or unwilling to made a decision.

That’s one in five voters. Where do they go? The Independents? Back to Fianna Fáil? More to Fine Gael in some sort of Kenny Tide? Because, one way or another, they’re going somewhere, or most of them anyhow.

Best comment so far, to my mind? From an FF strategist on the Pat Kenny radio show on Friday morning who said that he was unaware of any reason for a PD increase and an FG increase and perhaps it indicated that people were beginning to make up their mind. If so that is something of a double edged sword for Fianna Fáil. Second best? Noel Whelan (yeah, he’s been lashed around here, but hey credit where credit is due) for his comment about ‘a certain brand of lagers don’t do election photocalls, but if they did…’ it would be the succession of appearances for Bertie Ahern, first the May installment of the Stormont Executive and Assembly, secondly the meeting between himself and First Minister Paisley at the Boyne and finally his address to Parliament in Westminster.

The only thing is… how far does the North impact on Irish politics, for good or bad?

Post-Nationalism V (I think!): Let’s look at Scotland, the Scottish National Party and all that… April 26, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Scotland, Sinn Féin, Unionism.
15 comments

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An extremely interesting snippet in the Guardian some weeks back, which events have prevented me discussing. Michael White was writing about “Fear and Midlothian” (and isn’t that a tired phrase at this stage?) and the policies of the Scottish National Party in the upcoming Holyrood elections. The SNP is well ahead of Labour and set, if events go well, to become the largest party in the parliament.

According to White “Alex Salmond’s …In his concern to reassure sceptical Scots that independence is a viable option he promises to keep all sorts of things, including the Queen, sterling, and what he calls the “social union” with England.”

Now, this is sort of kind of true. Which means that it’s a little bit in the eye of the beholder whether these are promises to ‘keep’ these things, or instead a promise not to jettison them overboard if Independence is won at a referendum. And there is a small yet distinct difference between those two positions.

In fact if one views the SNPs rather fine website (which by the by says many very nice and complimentary things about Ireland) one will discover that the actual policy positions are as follows.

What will Scotland’s currency be?
The euro may well already be a reality in Scotland at the time of Independence. If not, however, Scotland has three options – entering the euro, setting up her own currency, or remaining within Sterling.

The SNP is favourable to entry into the euro, assuming that economic conditions and entrance requirements at the time are favourable to Scotland’s interests. The currency shall continue to be sterling until such times as the Scottish Parliament decides to change that position. Any move to adopt the euro will require the sanction of the people in a referendum.

It’s that second paragraph which is important. The SNP is itself in favour of entry to the Euro (and I’d be four square behind them on that), but it will

Will the Queen still be Head of State?
The Queen and her successors will remain Head of State, in the way that she is presently Head of State in fifteen other independent Commonwealth countries. If, in the future, the people of Scotland wished to change these arrangements, they would be free to do so by amending the constitution through a referendum, and it is the SNP’s policy that the issue should be tested by such a referendum once Independence is fully in effect. Ultimately, the decision rests with the people of Scotland.

and Alex Salmond said some weeks ago in the Scottish Sunday Herald that:

“That is the argument to transfer full political and economic control to Scotland, not to interfere with either the monarchy or social union between England and Scotland.

“The two countries will be independent but with the same head of state.”

Again, the SNP is largely a Republican party, but it must appeal to a base which is divided on this and many other issues. So this in a sense is the compromise. Through the Commonwealth there is an opportunity to retain a link of significant importance to many Scots while at the same time becoming Independent. Incidentally, intriguing here to see how there is little of the angst and breast beating that accompanies many Republican dissidents regarding issues of sovereignty. Even with the Queen as HoS parliamentary sovereignty is regarded as absolute and the fact that Scotland will be Independent even under such a system is taken as read. Now, this isn’t an argument for reintroducing the monarchy to the Republic (although there is a different argument regarding the Commonwealth which I’d certainly be more than sympathetic to – say as a relationship between the North and the UK under yet further transitional arrangements).

But overall this is an extremely nuanced approach by a party which, of necessity must operate on two quite different political levels. On the one hand it must be a largely left of centre political party operating within Scotland on a range of issues. One can be cynical and propose that this is a means for it to garner the largest possible vote under the circumstances, but on the other hand it’s instincts have throughout it’s history – despite having a more conservative element within it – generally been progressive (or at least since the 1960s). On the one hand it must, as it were, address the constitutional issue of Independence and all that entails. This is quite tricky balancing act. How to push a population in the contemporary period, one where constitutional politics is of diminishing interest? Well, to be honest, I’d argue that they’ve been very fortunate in recent years. The establishment of the Scottish Parliament gave a focus for them to shine in a local setting. Counter-intuitively, or not, Blair despite ceding this measure of self-rule is fairly extensively loathed north of the Scottish border (perhaps less so than the Conservatives, but comparisons on this level are invidious). The Iraq misadventure has only exacerbated this.

So the SNP has managed to present itself both as the recognised opposition at Holyrood, but also an effective and professional one. And it can’t have hurt to have the SSP to it’s left perhaps indicating how moderate the SNP was for those as were worried. Add to this the partial self-immolation of the SSP in recent years and the SNP becomes not merely an alternative, but effectively the default alternative.

In such a context the SNP must acknowledge the realities I’ve mentioned before, of a population that in some parts has a profound attachment to the UK. Hence the talk of ‘open borders’ with the UK following Independence. Such things generally don’t need to be said, unless one has a constituency that wants to hear them. Now this hasn’t gone unchallenged – even within the SNP, and there are those who see this as capitulation. But the clear drive of the SNP to hold referenda, if in power, on these subjects is telling and demonstrates their appetite to put their case before the Scottish people.

And what are the lessons for this island? A number spring to mind. Firstly the curious similarity between aspects of the Sinn Féin project and the SNP. Now first let it be said that there is no comparison on one level. The SNP never attempted to forcibly repeal the Union (although like SF it took on a distinctly left hue unlike many nationalist parties of the last century). But strip away tactics and what are revealed are common problems, most fundamentally the strategic necessity to disengage from one federal entity and establish (or reunite with) a new political entity. The distinctions aren’t minor. It is clearly easier and less contentious for the SNP to operate within a society where the sectarian/political/communal divides while extant are much less sharp edged than in the six counties. Moreover the existence of the Republic of Ireland hinders Sinn Féin and separatist Republicanism much more than aids them (since it provides a half way house to full independence and in doing so mutes the demand for full unity).

But more important is the necessity to grapple with reality. How does a Northern Ireland transitioning towards leaving the UK in ten or fifteen or twenty years retain the aspects that are of significance to Unionists? This isn’t an issue of cosmetic approaches beloved of Republicanism which from Éire Nua onwards has had a sincere (and sincerely wrong) capacity to pretend Unionist national allegiance is colonial, a case of false consciousness, can be erased as if by will or an amalgam of all three (most heartening in recent times has been Alex Maskey’s entirely credible engagement with Unionism on the part of Republicanism).

The SNP seems to have grasped the difference between substance and image. Hence they’re comfortable with talk of a ‘social union’ between the UK and an independent Scotland and with elements of this social union which might make most Irish Republicans balk (and which would be inappropriate in any event in the context of the Republic) but which are not regarded as a significant diminuitions of Scottish sovereignty.

As noted above, this is not meant to be an argument for a shared head of state. As I say, that would be inappropriate (unless they agree to share the President ;) ), but it is reasonable to consider that within the area of the six counties in the context of further development of the GFA there might be a dual or overlapping aspect to identity even in the context of a ‘near-united’ Ireland or island.

Secondly, it is notable how the psychology of this is developing. The SNP are generous. Remarkably generous in fact in even countenancing a shared head of state. But that generosity isn’t the product of fear of failure, but the possibility of success. This is something Irish Republicans should think about as well. And it requires Republicans to be generous.

Scotland is convinced that there is much to learn from the Irish experience of independence since 1921, and in particular from the specific experience since Irish entry to the EEC. Perhaps we have as much, if not more, to learn from the Scottish experience of dealing with another aspect of British Unionism.

The Czar last time: Yeltsin, Gorbachev and just where did Russia go? April 25, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Marxism, Russia.
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Strange watching Channel 4 News tonight, and in particular the report from the funeral of Boris Yeltsin. Quite a window on the past it was too with Clinton, George Bush Snr., John Major and other worthies assembled to pay their last respects to the first President of the Russian Federation. Quite a window on the present with those remaining house-trained oligarchs clustered in another group.

And there, also at the funeral one of the pivotal figures of the Twentieth Century, Mikhail Gorbachev, paying his respect to the family and – notably – to some of the current regime members in attendance.

I have mixed feelings about Yeltsin. Actually, no. Not mixed really. Politically it’s difficult not to regard him as an opportunist, a man whose adherence to democratic norms was limited in large extent to the ability of those norms to be of advantage to him. One good thing, his response to the attempts to impose a hard line security solution in the breakaway Baltic Republics led to his call for Soviet troops not to obey illegal orders – unlike Gorbachev, already attempting to maintain his authority in the face of allies who wanted faster reform and opponents who wanted to roll those already in place back, who went remarkably silent for the best part of two weeks. Yet his actions during the 1991 coup against Gorbachev seem to me to be not so much directed by principle but by the possibility that this would finally destroy the power of the Communist Party.

And the famous incident caught in the photograph above following the coup seemed to me to be born of a personal malice rather than a political agenda (although there was that as well). This was a very personal and public humiliation designed to signal the end of the Communist period, but it was also entirely unnecessary. Gorbachev was never the enemy of change, but as an alternate arbiter of it he had to go.

Worse, naturally, was to come. His rule saw Russia enter into a period of chaotic economic change as individuals such as Yegor Gaidar pushed rapid liberalisation of what had been the largest centrally planned economy on the planet. The increase in prices and clear failure of the policies led to the 1993 confrontation with Parliament in an ironic inverse of the earlier coup. And after that? Privatisation, Chechnya and economic instability that was to continue until the end of his rule.

Reading the obituary in the Guardian yesterday, am I alone in thinking that when Jonathan Steele writes that while Yeltsin cannot be blamed alone for the dismal state of Russia in the post-Soviet era ‘Russia needed a more sensitive and intelligent leader during the transition from the politics of one-party control and repression to the politics of negotiation and consensus’ he is thinking of Gorbachev?

Unfortunately the coup plotters in 1992 didn’t merely do in the Soviet Union, they also – by fatally undermining the rapidly diminishing authority of Gorbachev – did in any chance of a managed transition from communist state to democracy. And it’s arguable that without that managed transition the situation we currently see whereby civil society within Russia remains stunted, centralised power remains embedded in the political system and the leadership is drawn from the security forces apparatus, is a result of that earlier ‘original sin’. Putin in power is a worrying prospect. More worrying is the thought that Russia has yet to develop more palatable and popular alternatives (which is in truth a function of the Yeltsin and Putin years), and that some of those on offer at the moment are much less palatable than him.

A couple of years ago I was talking to a member of the Communist Party of Ireland who proposed that Andropov was the man who, had he lived any length of time, would have reformed the Soviet Union unlike Gorbachev who had (according to himself) sold out Communism. I doubt that very much, this being the same Y. Andropov who had been one of those to oversee the Hungarian intervention by the Soviets. No reformist he. No Dubcek, no ‘socialism with a human face’, no Moscow Spring in the early 1980s. But it’s fair to point out that Gorbachev was and remains a convinced leftist and it’s at least possible to argue that had the Soviet Union survived even half a decade more, even in emasculated form, many of the excesses of the Yeltsin era might have been avoided.

But leaving his own words until last it’s worth noting the bitter honesty in what he said on his resignation in 2000 to the Russian people: “I want to beg forgiveness for your dreams that never came true. And also I would like to beg forgiveness not to have justified your hopes.”

This nineties feminist kills fascists! April 24, 2007

Posted by smiffy in Media and Journalism, Republicans, United States, US Media, US Politics.
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Anyone to the political right of the remnants of the Baader-Meinhof gang will likely have raised eyebrows on reading Naomi Wolf’s piece in the G2 section of today’s Guardian, where she explains to us why and how the United States is headed toward a fascist tyranny.  While it’s not yet a dictatorship, it’s apparently only a matter of time.  Unless, of course, Naomi can save the world (in her new book).
Wolf first came to attention in the early nineties as a ‘Third Wave’ feminist, writing about The Beauty Myth and profiled in a large number of pieces in which her own looks featured prominently.  Since then she’s been attacked by Camile Paglia (score one for Wolf), advised Al Gore on how to be an ‘Alpha Male’ during his Presidential campaign (score one against her) and accused Harold Bloom of making unwanted sexual advances when she was an undergraduate at Yale (no score draw).

While some of her work is interesting, her recent writing is, it must be said, decidedly pedestrian and unstimulating and lacks any kind of real intellectual rigour.  The piece in the Guardian is a case in point.  Even leaving aside, for a moment, the entire concept – the Bush regime is proto-fascist – is so predictable, so unoriginal, so … well … easy, that the reader is tempted to shrug their shoulders and sigh “Yeah, okay, whatever” and move on.

But the content is important and it’s on the content that Wolf’s argument really falls down.  She essentially takes a series of random criteria for determining fascism (i.e. “Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy”, “Develop a thug caste”, “Dissent equals treason”), picks some tenuous examples of these from the actions of the U.S. administration and – hey presto! – we’re on the road to fascist tyranny.

Except, of course, we’re not.  Nowhere in the piece does Wolf exhibit any kind of understanding of what fascism actually is or was (I’d recommend Paxton’s Anatomy of Fascism for a serious and informative discussion of the subject).  Rather she picks the definition that fits the examples she can find which, while certainly to credit to Bush and the rest fall far short of the kind of tyranny Wolf seeks to invoke.

What’s worst about Wolf’s analysis is that by failing to get to grips with the real nature of U.S. politics she completely ignores the rot at the heart of that state, and exculpates the current (and previous) regimes.  The truth is that political power in the United States, certainly at federal level, is so determined by business interests that there’s no need to establish a tyranny.  There’s no danger of any threat to those interests emerging anyway.  Someone, I can’t remember who (it might have been David Aaronovitch on Little Atoms) recently made a very valid comparison.  While it’s accepted that the veto the Iranian mullahs have over political candidates is inherently undemocratic.  However, less obviously but just as actually undemocratic is the effective control that business exercises over U.S. political candidates.  Even though, strictly speaking, anyone can run for public office (Gary Coleman step forward), the reality is that unless you’re able to amass a huge amount of money, you’ve no chance of ever being elected.  And unless you pose no real threat to those with money, you’re naturally never going to raise enough money to amount an effective campaign.

This kind of more nuanced analysis seems to be beyond Wolf.  By talking about the way the government ‘controls’ the press, she completely misses the point. The government doesn’t need to control the press.  If anything, it’s the other way round.  The press (or, rather, the mass media and the business interests which it broadly facilitates) determines who the government is, a point made in Chomsky and Herman’s somewhat overstated but essentially correct Manufacturing Consent. Once you start throwing half-baked concepts of fascism around, though, any chance of a serious debate along these lines is lost.
Another annoying thing about Wolf’s piece is that it seems intent on playing up to a rather ignorant and kneejerk anti-American worldview.  That’s not, of course, to say that criticism of the U.S. government and of American society more broadly is illegitimate.  Rather, by never once comparing the actions of the government (particularly domestically) to the actions or the political systems of any other contemporary state, Wolf’s piece seems to suggest that the United States is the be-all and the end-all of global politics, a view as insular and uncurious as that of any much-ridiculed Middle-American red-stater.

The fact remains that the United States remains, in theory at least, a strikingly free society by any standard.  That’s not just in comparison with genuine dictatorships like North Korea, Belarus or Zimbabwe.  If you look at the protections for freedom of speech enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and upheld by law, they’re much stronger than anything we enjoy in Ireland.  Indeed, many of examples of steps on the road to tyranny Wolf presents would be unremarkable in many European countries.  Are we, therefore, all living under tyranny?

Of course, life in most Western European countries is, in many other ways, more appealing than life in the United States (if it’s even possible to speak in broad terms of such an heterogenous entity) and, it could be argued, civil society is far healthier in certain respects on the Eastern side of the Atlantic (although there are strong arguments to the contrary as well).  This is the stuff of a real debate about the nature of U.S. politics and of the Bush administration, but all of it is lost to Wolf who prefers to present an argument that would even shame Rik from the Young Ones.  Again the narrowness of Wolf’s political interests (even, perhaps of her knowledge) means any debate is going to limited at the outset.

At the risk of generalisation and of setting up straw men, I also get the feeling that the kind of people who would nod along with Wolf on this point, and agree with comparisions between Bush’s America and Germany of the 1930s (the “while it’s not exactly the same, it’s moving in that direction” kind of approach) would be the same people who would balk at the phrase “Islamofascism”, or at comparisons between Iran, Ba’athist Iraq or Taliban Afghanistan and genuine fascists states of the past.  And while the latter comparisons are, in many cases, highly suspect and rather stretched, they’re certainly a lot more accurate than anything Wolf puts forward in her piece.

The piece ends by telling us that “Naomi Wolf’s The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot will be published by Chelsea Green in September”.  Forgive me, but I think I’ll give it a miss.  For all his faults, I’ll stick with Hitchens’ Letter to a Young Contrarian.  Better a smidgeon of intellectual honesty and a dash of rational thought, even if it is latterly associated with the phenomenal stupidity of the current U.S. administration that the kind of lazy, predictable and, ultimately, inaccurate piece that the Guardian has seen fit to treat us to today.

Posters, posters everywhere, where’s the politics? April 24, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Irish Election 2007, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, media, Progressive Democrats, Sinn Féin.
8 comments

As part of a vaguely pointless bit of experimentation, I decided to keep track of the election posters, by which I mean the commercial posters on walls and bus shelters, on the bus into work from Inchicore to the City Centre yesterday. I was later obliged to take the bus out to Marino in the afternoon and did the same.

Starting right on the road my flat complex is located, we have a massive Fine Gael billboard promising 2,300 new hospital beds. As I come onto the main road, there’s a Fianna Fáil ‘Next Step’ billboard and a small Ad space for local Labour candidate Eric Byrne. Onto the bus and there’s Mary Upton smiling at me from behind the bus driver’s compartment.

On the way into work, we pass a Catherine Byrne/Anne Marie Martin of Fine Gael bus shelter, and another Fianna Fáil billboard. There might have been more but it was morning rush hour and vision of anything other than commuters was fairly restricted. And into the City Centre where we pass another Fianna Fáil billboard.

Off to Marino in the afternoon and we pass a small size, Cyprian Brady ad in Five Lamps, same size and shape as the Eric Byrne one in Inchicore, and then a massive North Koreanesque Cyprian banner hanging off the scaffolding at a construction site on the North Strand. Into Fairview, and Ivor Callely appears at a bus shelter with sleeves rolled up and tie loosened. And then, back to Fine Gael, with a bus shelter ad promising free health insurance for children under the age of 16.

We pass a disused commercial unit with Derek McDowell posters on it, which I presume is going to be an office and so probably doesn’t count, and then, the final poster of the day, a Fine Gael bus shelter ad promising 2,000 new Gardaí.

Not counting the McDowell posters, this is 12 commercial outdoor advertisements, none of which the political parties in question have to report at the end of the election. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael predominated, with a couple of Labour contributions. Nothing from Sinn Féin, Greens or the PDs, though in the last case they’re not really PD target seats, and I have seen Sinn Féin bus ads. I should add at this point that there’s a brand new Frank McNamara of the PDs poster on the LUAS line in from Inchicore I saw this morning where he looks like an eccentric child molester. Hardly what they were going for.

So how much is this going to cost? Well, Medialive provide outdoor advertising rates here. To be honest, they could have made it easier to follow, but a good ball-park estimate is a fortnight, minimum of 150 for the whole country, with Adshel, will set you back 73,500 Euros, not counting the cost of printing the posters. The big massive billboards, rates with JCDecaux, have you into multiple tens of thousands very, very quickly.

I’m concentrating on outdoor advertising here, but anyone picking up a copy of the Northside People, or any other local paper, will be familiar with the amount of advertising in them from candidates. Full rate cards are available on medialive, same link as above, but to give people a ballpark figure to work from, a full page in the Southside People will cost you 4,320 Euros, not counting VAT, and a colour half-page in a paid for paper, like the Fingal Independent for example, will set you back 1,650 Euros. Obviously, for big spenders there would be bulk discounts, but it gives people an idea of the amount of money being spent before the election.

Vincent Browne has some good points on it here , though I don’t necessarily agree with the notion that all parties should be state-funded and only state-funded. A contrary viewpoint is put forward by this chap at the Semper Idem blog , which I link to for the sake of debate. I think he woefully underestimates the impact of money in elections and on political parties.

And finally, worth noting that except for the Fine Gael posters, which outline specific commitments, there’s not an ounce of politics in any of the posters.

Smear, fears and Irish Elections…or the curious case of the latest non-story about Bertie Ahern April 23, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics.
4 comments

Let me make this very clear. I am not a member of Fianna Fáil, have never voted for them and have no intention of doing so in the future.

But..the current rash of stories regarding Bertie Ahern are symptomatic of a serious problem in contemporary Irish political discourse. The latest non-story? Harry McGee of the Examiner writes under the headline “Ahern’s father quizzed over Garda death” about how Con Ahern was questioned over the murder of Garda Richard Fallon in 1970.

1970. Thirty seven years have passed since the nihilistic murder of Garda Fallon by the tiny Republican paramilitary Saor Éire group, and the questioning of Con Ahern. Con Ahern was in his late 60s at that point and was questioned because he was a strong Republican with friendships with many involved in such activity. He was, as the article put’s it one of the ‘usual suspects’. There is no hint that he personally was involved or knew anything relating to the murder of Garda Fallon. We can disagree over whether he should have been questioned or not, but it happened thirty seven years ago!

Now, if that doesn’t mean that the headline was misleading, I’m not sure what is. But more to the point Bertie Ahern acknowledged that his father was questioned by the Gardai over just this issue in a 1998 biography.

And the contemporary resonance that gives the Examiner license apparently to drag anything up from any point in human history? That the recent round of ‘suitcase’ allegations in the Independent (that Ahern on his famous visit to Manchester brought a suitcase of cash with himself there) originated, so it is said from the brother of Garda Fallon who was the Garda who allegedly mentioned the suitcase.

It’s funny isn’t it? Just as the temperature goes up, both physically and politically, along comes another ‘rumour. Surely no coincidence here.

Well, Ahern has said “there is no truth to claims published”. I’ve read on Politics.ie the idea that he must sue otherwise we must assume that there is something in the allegations. I don’t think so, I really don’t. That logic opens the floodgates to a round of perpetual litigation for every and any Taoiseach, and as we know from Irish politics, what comes around goes around.

I find it telling that the Irish Times coverage of it, unlike the Independent, was tucked away on an inside page, well out of harms way. Sure they put two reporters on it, but it was remarkably arms length in it’s observations. It’s when it’s on the front page, with other articles on pages two, three and four that I’d find it more convincing. And even the coverage in the Independent was interesting in it’s emphasis. Signalling “the start of the Election campaign” there was a sense of punches pulled, as if this is just the sort of knockabout stuff we should all expect in this circumstance, and for the next couple of months.

For those of us who’ve been around long enough to know the slow, steady and deathly dull list of rumours which have swilled back and forth over the years regarding the ubiquity of Fianna Fáil malfeasance this has a gloomy predictability. It’s like, yes, I know they’re centre right opportunists but tell me guys, what are your crowd of centre right opportunist going to do to make things better?

This sort of thing doesn’t answer that question. All it does is make me wonder why it’s not being answered, and why time and energy is being expended on ‘allegations’ and whipping up a sense of self-righteousness on the part of our other centre-right party while at the same time strenuously denying that the ‘allegations’ have anything to do with them.

Whatever our political affiliation, shouldn’t it be better than this? Even a little bit better?

The Swastika and the Laundry: or…what on earth were they thinking of? April 22, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Ireland.
81 comments

For some reason the thought of the Swastika Laundry came into my mind the other day.

For those unaware of this particular slice of Irish material culture the Swastika Laundry was a venerable institution in Dublin, founded in 1912. It operated from Shelbourne Road in Dublin 4 and remained in business until the late 1960s. I remember vividly the cream and brown coloured labels they used to tag their deliveries and the electric vans that they were delivered in. Now, seeing as this would have been 1967 or 8 it must have been just prior to their eventual demise.

And quite a sight the labels and vans were too, emblazoned with that most remarkable of symbols, the…er…swastika. The photograph below is available on the Dublin City Council website, and depicts the livery of the company on a van used in the series “Caught in a Free State”. I certainly don’t remember the vans as being red, so perhaps this was a previous livery that the company used (or perhaps they overdid the look to make it more Nazi-like – but even so the Swastika remained the symbol of the company).

image_large-1.jpeg

According to an Irish Times report from some years ago the Laundry changed it’s name in 1939 to Swastika Laundry (1912), perhaps in an effort to preempt a successful German invasion of launderers fired up on National Socialism, and ready to orient the Swastika in the opposite direction.

Because it is strange, but true, to consider that the Swastika laundry used the Swastika in it’s original configuration.

Even more strange is the thought that the brick chimney at Shelbourne Road was also decorated with a Swastika and the name of the company up until the late 1960s. Irish Eagle has a photograph which I hope I can get a scan of of just that location.

So what was it about? The logo was introduced at a time well before it’s association with National Socialism. It was a symbol of good luck, originating in India. It was configured facing left to right which is the correct Indian orientation.

Yet it’s hard not to believe, if only judging from the way in which the van above, which would date from the post-War period, is decorated with the Swastika set within a white roundel with two horizontal bars on either side and set against a red field in an almost exact emulation of the Nazi symbol, that the most unpleasant connotations of the symbolism were being – at best – parodied.

So here we have it. Ireland’s capital city, graced with laundry vans plying their trade hither and yon decorated in arguably the most reviled political symbol of human history.

In some respects it speaks of an innocence regarding the power of visual symbolism. But it is difficult to judge at this remove the true motivation behind it’s use. Was it a sense that the Swastika Laundry had it first and therefore it had some ‘ownership’ of the image? It certainly tends to indicate an insularity as to the significations of the Swastika, and perhaps within a culture that reified the written and spoken word over the visual this isn’t quite so surprising.

And it raises interesting and troubling questions regarding the nature of other imagery that has political connotations.

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