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“You couldn’t make it up” …. No. #1433 November 30, 2007

Posted by smiffy in climate change, Environment, European Politics, Fianna Fáil, Uncategorized.
7 comments

George Clemenceau, the former French Prime Minister, is reported to have coined the phrase “War is too important a matter to be left to the military”. One might equally say today that climate change is too important a matter to be left to the politicians, particularly politicians like Liam Aylward.

Aylward, a Fianna Fáil MEP, writes in a letter to today’s Irish Times (sub req’d)

Madam, – I fully support the objective of the European Union to guarantee that C02 emissions in Europe will be reduced by 20 per cent by 2020.

But we need international action at a global level if we are to arrest climate change.

I would like to see the forthcoming UN Conference on Climate Change, which begins in Bali on December 9th next, securing a commitment from other international partners, most notably from the United States, China and India, to match this EU commitment.

All noble enough sentiment so far, even if our chums over at Spiked might disagree. However, Aylward really gives the game away with his next line.

Unless all key players are actively involved in reducing C02 emissions, we will lose this battle and the ozone layer will deplete.

When I read this earlier today, I had to go back and check it again, to make sure I wasn’t missing something. No, “the ozone layer” is still there. Whichever way you look at it, it seems that Liam Aylward’s understanding of climate change is less than that the average Junior Cert Geography student (or, indeed, anyone who’s taken an hour and a half to sit through An Inconvenient Truth). Rather it appears that he’s picked up a few vaguely “environmental” concepts over the last twenty years – climate change, ozone layer, pollution – and conflated them all into some progressive-sounding, but ultimately meaningless platitudes.

Ozone depletion, remains, of course an important issue, but it is a separate one to the issue of climate change to be addressed at the Bali summit. It’s not caused by CO2 emissions, but (as any fule kno) by the release of of chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere. It’s also an area where, unlike climate change, substantial progress has been made (but also one which is much easier to address than climate change).

It’s possible, of course, that Aylward is referring to the theory that does exist that man-made climate change will, through the cooling of the stratosphere, will increase ozone depletion and prevent the current, slow, recovery of ozone levels. However, given that the link isn’t strong, and the evidence is far from conclusive, as well the fact that if climate change isn’t properly addressed, the impacts of ozone depletion will be far less significant than the wider effects of an increasing mean global temperature it would seem an odd issue to focus on. So I doubt it.

We’ve been here before. Back in 2003, Martin Cullen said

“All of the experts are saying all of this is the greenhouse gases having an effect on the ozone layer and it’s causing major changes in weather.”

and was subject to a scathing attack from Fintan O’Toole a couple of days later. O’Toole concluded that piece by stating:

Major changes in attitude don’t come about without passionate leadership. Who’s going to believe that someone who hasn’t bothered to get even a basic grasp of the subject actually gives a damn about it?

But this is what we’re stuck with. Some politicians have deep moral and ideological convictions. Some have the technocratic appeal of being able to understand problems and work out pragmatic solutions.

We’re governed, to a very large extent, by people who have neither. We get all the brisk cynicism of professionals but little of the basic competence.

Given that Aylward reminds us of his position at Vice-President of the Climate Change Committee of the European Parliament, those words seem as apt now as they did five years ago.

Pledges, poppies and Pharisee’s… Barack Obama, the Irish National Anthem and Identity November 30, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Freedom of speech.
65 comments

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Public, or semi-public, expressions of loyalty and affirmation are in the news. The wearing of the poppy as a symbol of Remembrance of the First World War has rumbled through these parts last week in franklittles post. I’m in almost complete agreement with him on this (and while ‘whataboutery’ is bad, still I can’t imagine that we’ll any time soon be treated to an article in the Independent telling us how wearing an Irish Republican Easter Lily is a sign of our ‘maturity’ as a nation and our ability to transcend narrow nationalism). I tend to have little time for the poppy and generally think that UK Channel 4 presenter Jon Snow, who didn’t wear it on the television over the last while, has much the right idea.

Interestingly Alexander Chancellor writing in the Guardian a week or so ago disagrees. He argues that:

…remembrance of the first world war remains to this day a powerful stimulant to patriotic feeling. Poppy day, which falls this Sunday, unites the nation as nothing else. While the poppy is now also supposed to commemorate the sacrifices of the British military in every subsequent conflict, it is by its very nature associated first and foremost with that of 1914-18, in which, after all, the greatest sacrifices were made. It is unique among symbols of the kind in that it commands near-universal acceptance. One can even imagine an Islamic fundamentalist finding it perfectly possible to extol the stand taken by the British against the Germans in the first world war.

Despite Jon Snow, whose continued refusal to wear a poppy on the Channel 4 News earned him a letter of congratulations in yesterday’s Guardian, it is generally felt to be above controversy; and its appearance on every BBC staffer’s lapel is not seen, as any other promotional symbol would be, as in some way compromising the corporation’s integrity. I understand Snow’s objections to wearing any kind of symbol on air and his anger with those who would insist that he do so, but it seems to me a pity nevertheless that he should resist participating publicly in such a rare and benign demonstration of national pride. There is not much else that we all manage to feel proud about.

I don’t disagree with him as regards Remembrance – I had relatives who fought in that War. The First World War was a truly horrific event, perhaps in some respects the event of the 20th century in terms of its power to shape the rest of the century both in Europe and further abroad. So Remembrance yes. But remembering what? Those who fell? Again. Fine. Our own record in the Republic of Ireland on Remembrance is patchy. The Garden of Remembrance (commemorating the independence struggle) on Parnell Square is often ignored as is the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in Inchicore (which commemorates those who died in World War 1). Thinking about revisionism in history on foot of the Hidden History program the other night one can see how there was a strand of thinking amongst some that all such commemorations were dangerous… hence are near pacifist state identity over the past 30 years.

I don’t, in some ways, disagree with him about the choice to wear the poppy. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? The choice has to be there. And here is the thing, does one feel ‘national pride’ about the poppy. Or rather, should one? I don’t intend to enter into the varying complicity of those who participated in the Great War (a strangely hollow term in light of what came after), but this is surely an history which cannot be weighed in a simple fashion. I suspect that as time passes there will be less and less agreement with his statement that ‘it is generally felt to be above controversy’.

Yet, the truly interesting sentence in that piece is “There is not much else that we all manage to feel proud about”.

That has all the impact of a ‘ah-hah’ moment, doesn’t it. Because here we have in microcosm perhaps the motivation of those who believe the poppy is an uncontested symbol. The sense of ‘national pride’ is an engine driving its use.

And this is what makes it so contentious. Because it cannot be both a symbol of national pride and a symbol of Remembrance for those who fell. I’m not instinctively anti-nationalist. Nationalism has virtues as well as vices. But the realities and the horrors were such that ‘nationalism’ is too conflicted in that mix, too difficult to use as an anchor to ‘extol a stand taken by the British against the Germans in the first world war’. Indeed it’s a testament to the duality of nationalism and it’s ability to attract and repel that so much of Irish politics, and indeed the previous sentence, is about finding a balance between it’s positive and negative aspects.

Which brings me to the contemporary. In the United States there has been a viral email which accuses  Barack Obama of ‘refusing to put his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance’.

The reality is that he is shown during the national anthem with – as an excellent piece in Slate by Ron Rosenbaum notes – ‘his hands clasped in front of him, although some consider that a sacrilege, too’.

The widely circulated e-mail seems designed to play upon Obama’s previous public decision to stop wearing a flag lapel pin. To suggest there’s a pattern there. If so, I would say all these pledge-and-pin, hand-and-heart, loyalty-ritual fetishists are misguided about American history, especially the importance to that history of the challenge to loyalty pledges. If it’s a pattern in Obama’s behavior, I think it’s a courageous challenge to conventional wisdom on firm constitutional grounds (however politically self-destructive it may prove in the short run). When was the last time you saw a politician make that trade-off?

This is almost a pharisaic position which is demanded of Obama. And one that is oddly naive. It’s as if to suggest that in the process of singing the Anthem, or pledging Allegiance somehow any duplicity or deceitfulness would be negated – a sort of ‘how could anyone lie at that point?’. Well, people lie at every point. There are a raft of other issues which enter the debate about the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem which Rosenbaum addresses. Issues of the separation of church and state, the religious aspect of the Pledge, the dangers of ‘forcing’ public utterances. These are issues which we on the left feel a particular edge to. As we know leftists tend to be rather individualistic lot, hence perhaps the propensity for splits in our organisations and formations. And interestingly enough when faced with actual instances of ‘collective’ behaviour we tend to be averse to them. That’s a good thing. Then there is the unhappy history in the US in particular of McCarthyism (although in truth considerably less unhappy say than – to take an example at random – the lamentable history of the GDR which, on a tangent, developed a strong residual national identity out of the most unlikely of materials). There is the nexus of religion, domesticity, capital which engenders a near reflexive distrust on the left. And so on.

And Rosenbaum makes a critical point that relates to this:

I certainly feel allegiance, though less to the inanimate flag than to “the republic for which it stands,” but, paradoxically, the moment when I feel most rebellious about that allegiance is when I’m being forced by state or social coercion to pledge allegiance. The America I feel allegiance to isn’t the America that requires compulsory displays of loyalty.

I’ve always felt that way, that the point at which my loyalty is most vocally demanded is the point at which I least wish to give it. In Ireland we have little of the paraphernalia of such observance. I actually didn’t know that the pledge demanded a hand over the heart. To me that seems a little – and I say this in no way wishing to upset those for whom it is pivotal – theatrical. A little ostentatious. And yet it is a tradition and one that has developed. That in itself is not a great argument for its retention, in fact it’s practically no argument at all. Yet it has a meaning.

But note that it is when we are even gently coerced that we are – some of us – somehow detached from our national identity. We don’t stop being American or Irish. But we start to examine or critique that national identity.

My country is dear to me. But how dear and what exactly is the country? It’s not the government, but it is – to some extent – the representative institutions. The physical infrastructure. The place and above all the people. All, needless to say, accidents of birth. But how to parse that out?

One of the things at Croke Park in Dublin during Gaelic football or hurling matches which is unusual is the way in which the end of the National Anthem (sung in Irish at the beginning of each match) is drowned out by cheers as the game commences. Unusual in a way because it seems to indicate that the Anthem is but an interlude, and an unwanted one at that. And yet, even if I find that irritating, and I do sometimes, I wonder if the reality of a true ‘nationalism’ is that it avoids an obsession with the ‘inanimate’ or even the ‘musical’ symbols and instead is lived by its people. That the cheers rather than detracting from Ireland, and Irishness, in some way validate our identity.

That may be an overly optimistic reading. It’s remarkable that even with the lyrics on the large screens around the the stadium there is a certain – hesitancy – on the part of many to sing the words. That’s a pity.

But cheering is easier than singing an anthem in words which are half-familiar to people but not entirely understood. And then we see (or face) other social fears. Astoundingly the primary phobia amongst people is speaking in public. I’ll bet singing in public comes a close second third or fourth. Anthem or no, the process of engaging is difficult. Perhaps more challenging than many would think because the act of singing the Anthem is qualitatively different from chanting during a match. We, or at least most of us, understand that the Anthem is conferred a different sort of authority.

But there is one good aspect of this. Although all are enabled, none are forced. Perhaps that is because the Anthem is in a language which – sadly – is not used entirely widely. That leads to a certain distance – indeed there’s probably a thesis in just how the trappings of the Republic of Ireland, largely forged in the Celtic Revival, led in part to just that distance and detachment.

I believe it is coercion that destroys identity and kills cultural expression. So perhaps the concept of enabling gently is the best way forward. That all are welcome to participate. That that participation may be whole-hearted, conditional or even non-existent.

It’s far from the worst way to forge such identity.

Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Unionism… the Armstrong and Miller approach… November 29, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in The North, The other Sinn Féin, Unionism.
17 comments

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It’s rubbish, it can’t work…

But if it did work…

It won’t…

It might do

But it can’t…

Yes but if it did, you’d have to admit it’d be brilliant…

Armstrong and Miller…

Watching comedy on cable is a surprisingly good way to unwind. Sure, I know Conor of Dublin Opinion and others of you prefer Big Brother. That’s fine. I’m a pluralistic kind of guy. To each their own poison. I’m getting reacquainted with the final seasons of Frasier, avoiding MASH at all costs, checking out the Fast Show and recently caught the oddly nostalgic Armstrong and Miller. This is timely, if only because they’ve decided to reform after six or seven years (interesting too since I’d forgotten there was a Smack the Pony crossover – now there was a show, bar for the grim comedy ‘pop’ interludes. Top tip: not everyone can become a pop star, nor should they even try).

Anyhow, in a recently rebroadcast episode of the so-so, but often quite funny, A&M there was a sketch based around the above exchange where a scientist a cosmetic company proposed a de-aging device that would suck ‘age’ out of people making them young again. When the obvious response was made the point was made…

‘… but if it did, you’d have to admit it’d be brilliant’. Indeed it would.

Which brings me to Ruirí Ó Brádaigh. I’d said I’d write a few more words about the biography, and so I will. First, I’d still recommend it. He comes across quite sympathetically – and this is in spite of as much as because of the authors own sympathy.

It’s a fascinating read and a genuine insight into a character that was there during much of the travails of Republicanism during the later half of the century. One can only wonder what the meetings of SF and other organisations that he attended were like. To have been there with Costello, Goulding, McGuinness and so on must have been remarkable, and R Ó B seems at least somewhat aware of that.

There are a number of issues which the book glides over. It’s not entirely clear that the issue of political violence is dealt with comprehensively enough – or the contradictions between the aspirational and the achievable in real terms (for example one of the more recent jibes from dissident Republicanism is the idea that the armed campaign wasted lives of volunteers and this is an indictment of Adams and McGuinness. If so then it is also a crushing indictment of Ó B and others who must have realised by the mid-1970s that there would be no unilateral British withdrawal).

I can’t help feeling that somehow he is politically a diminished figure and not merely in the sense that RSF are completely marginalised. The project which he infused so much genuine and sincere energy has moved on to pastures new. It’s not the same. Not at all the same really, yet I can’t help but feel that there is something of an old Fenian looking on with a degree of incomprehension as the IRA supplanted the Repubican ground after 1916. Things would never be quite as they were, and the principles might actually change somewhat. Never a happy proposition.

Ed Moloney’s preface, which I critiqued some time back enlarges upon, exaggerates perhaps, but also reflects a genuine thread in the book which is the palpable tension between the old guard of R Ó B and the younger Northern based leadership. Well Seamus Costello, indeed Cathal Goulding some time earlier, could have told him about those sort of tensions. And realistically, it’s curious to see the incomprehension that developed over that issue when Ó B and others had used precisely that dynamic in the late 1960s to split away a component element of SF. In a way this is the one failing of the book, Ó B is presented as almost a naif figure – steadfast in principle but permanently let down by those around him.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness come out – well, not exactly covered in glory (incidentally there are a few entertaining bits of writing … for example on p.257 it is stated that ‘Adams… in the late 1970s, with his full beard and shoulder-length hair… looked and acted more like a hip young college professor than a wild eyed terrorist’… truth is that many many young Irishmen at that point looked exactly the same and it had no connection at all with ‘hip’ academics). But in truth it’s hard not to see this as a reading based on a flawed analysis, one which supposes that the only valid or legitimate strand of Republicanism is one that holds an almost theological adherence to the tactics and strategies developed in the 1922 to 1990s period.

I find that a most unlikely reading. I also find the idea that Ó B was a naif unconvincing. Whatever else he is and was Ó B strikes me as a remarkably shrewd individual, clearly quite likable on a personal level, but very very astute on the political.

Although… there are one or two stories which point to a certain detachment borne of a deep rooted idealism. And in addition to that a certain lack of interest in Unionism as an entity and a wish to paint it as something quite distinct from its actuality. Indeed if there is one thing that comes through very loud and clear it is an almost total lack of engagement with actually existing Unionism. The federal arrangement of Éire Nua might well be logical – by some lights (although why Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan would elect to go into a regional parliament has never really been addressed satisfactorily) – but it seemed so adrift from the political reality as to be almost pointless. I don’t want to overstate that. There were serious efforts to establish parallel networks, not unlike those of the First Dáil, but despite considerable enthusiasm they never took deep root. And a sense of genuine ‘negotiation’ and engagement seems to have been entirely lacking. This was the plan, all would have to follow it, not merely within the party, but far beyond it.

That wasn’t a viewpoint restricted to Ó B by any means, but it was symptomatic of an inability to come to terms with Ireland as it was, rather than as he and others wanted it to be.

And hence my reference to Armstrong and Miller at the start of this post.

Take this anecdote…

“In Boston, on a second trip in April (1972), Ó Brádaigh met William Craig. They were participants in a televised debate on Northern Ireland. At a reception afterward, John Hume, introduced Ó B to Craig, who offered his hand. Ó B shook it and the crowded room went quiet. After some small talk the discussion moved to politics. Ó B asked Craig what would happen if the British suddenly withdrew from the North. “Unilateral Declaration of Independence is on,” replied Craig. It was not a surprise; Craig, Paisley and others had been threatening UDI for months. What, Ó B asked, would happen if that was not feasible, if the Six Counties could not make it alone? Craig then brought up a system of regional governments ‘with the richer areas helping the poorer ones’. Although Craig saw things in a British context and Ó B saw them in an Irish context, they agreed that regional governments might work. They also agreed that there was too much violence in the north and that a civil war would be a disaster for everyone”

It continues…

“The conversation with Craig was satisfying because it suggested that some Unionists might take the Republican political initiatives seriously including Dáil Uladh”.

But how seriously? If one was seeing things in a British context and the other in an Irish context realistically they weren’t seeing anything similar at all. And there is an element of … what if this happens, and then what if that happens, and then what if the other? Each step moving to an ever more unlikely point simply in order to arrive at the pre-arranged destination.

The next sentence after the Dáil Uladh reference is even more telling. It continues…

“Unfortunately, IRA activities made continuing the dialogue highly unlikely as conditions deteriorated and some volunteers engaged in attacks that were contrary to Republican ideology”…

What is strange is the way in which Ó B can seemingly – from the evidence of the book – detach himself from the ramifications and effects of what was happening on the ground and appear oblivious to how these events impacted on his theoretical structure, a structure which was based on a frankly hypothetical series of events…

…you’d have to admit it’d be brilliant…

…it can’t work…


The Fianna Fáil mudguard on the Green Party? or how else to explain how almost 1 in 10 of us support the Green Party (apparently)… November 28, 2007

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

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It took me a while to realise there was something very odd about the latest RedC poll in the Sunday Business Post. Sure, Fianna Fáil has dipped precipitously. Well, after the month they’ve had one would think they’d better be down, at least a bit. Provisional Licences, pay increases, the latest noises from the Tribunal and sundry other issues have conspired to make life difficult for the government, but it is… and this is becoming a cliche, very early days yet.

It would be foolish not to see calculation in all this. Fianna Fáil must have made a strategic decision to front load the bad news in order to remove it from the electoral cycle early. Sensible. Having said that bad news has a habit of running away with itself. I suspect that they didn’t quite envisage the perfect storm that has engulfed them. And they’re beginning to look – rather like Gordon Brown across the water – unlucky. Perhaps not quite as unlucky as the seemingly hapless Brown and UK Labour (after all, to lose a Party General Secretary isn’t just misfortune, it’s downright idiocy), but unlucky nonetheless. The current mutterings amongst FF deputies as regards the vote of confidence in Mary Harney is indicative of that. I don’t expect any to break ranks – although the temptation must be strong, since the perception is of a rock solid coalition – but who knows?

And then there was Finian McGrath’s entertaining solo run at the weekend. Will he or won’t he vote with the government. Again, my money is on him voting with. Still, Finian must be a man torn. After all, the heady days of May and June certainly didn’t seem to presage this… the unpleasant nitty gritty of serious political conflict and choices. And whatever about other parties an independent is… well, just that. Independent. And while answerable ultimately only to themselves on one level, there’s a whole world of pain out there in the form of disappointed or enraged constituents and covetous political rivals. Which leads to another thought. Just what is the status of the agreement between the Independents and the government. Are they similar to contracts? And if so how does that work if one side or the other decides to withdraw? And that leads to another thought again. In the past ‘deals’ by Independents were a bit like political alchemy, the sort of thing that turned base politics to electoral gold. The “Gregory Deal” remains the standard. Tony Gregory leveraged himself and his supporters into the political stratosphere by engaging with Charlie Haughey. That ‘deal’ did have clear outcomes. But so has this one, and perhaps less palatable ones for Independents (note too the way Michael Lowry is remaining schtum). Gregory had, of course, one great advantage. The government with which he ‘dealt’ fell shortly afterwards. So, he picked up the cheque with none of the pain of standing over the less palatable aspects of it. Perhaps this is one set of deals which in the long term will seem to have been a trifle too limited, and too costly in political terms. Who will in 2012 dare speak of the McGrath deal in hushed tones? Who indeed?

Meanwhile Fine Gael must be clapping themselves on the back. 31%. Remarkable. Except it’s not really. That’s actually not quite good enough. After the last two weeks the best they can do is claw back 4%? That doesn’t quite look like a party in waiting. But I’ve been very struck by just how slipshod their presentation (and ignoring the chorus of disdain from their latest overly loud recruits in the Dáil) seems. My favourite example? Seeing Enda Kenny (hair uncharacteristically askew) speaking on RTÉ at the weekend flanked by four party worthies. Suddenly halfway through Olivia Mitchell snuck into frame behind. A display the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the sort of elbowing last seen during the release of the Shell to Sea prisoners… never a great advertisement for politicians.

As for Labour. Well, one would have hoped that they’d get 3% simply off the back of their party conference. It’s not great either. Gilmore is an improvement. I’d wager that he’d get 3% simply off the back of his being someone other than one P. Rabbitte. But they’ll need to do consistently better.

And parsing the rest of the figures the PDs are becalmed, or more probably sunk, on 2%, Sinn Féin sits at about 7% (1% down as it happens, but that’s neither here nor there) and the Independents are also slightly down on 7%.

Two thoughts on that. Everyone appears to be here to stay, with the possible exception of the PDs (and rumours abound, but precious little hard data as to their future). All have nice large chunks of support that will tide them through the next four years. The media spin that SF is bound to disappear is simply that… spin. So for the more strategic perhaps it’s time to consider the ramifications of their presence as a force in five years time, with perhaps six or seven TDs if they play their cards right.

But let’s turn once more to the Greens who in yet another gravity defying feat managed to increase their share from 7% to 9%? How on earth is this being achieved? I genuinely don’t understand it. If I’m puzzled, and I’ll bet many GP members are too, then the incomprehension down at Government buildings must be a sight to behold. Because after all, this surely wasn’t part of the plan in June of this year. Wasn’t the idea that the Greens would soak up criticism of the government with their middle class whinging over the environment and their zany carbon taxes? By contrast Ahern et al would appear statesmanlike and sensible for deigning to invite the loons into the tent and half-listening to their pronouncements. Even better, issues such as incinerators and the M3 could be expedited as judiciously as possible while the Greens would take the heat and the rap.

Odd isn’t it that that is far from the way it’s worked out? I can’t help thinking that this is one instance where FF have been too clever by half. Great to dump those issues on the laps of Ryan and Gormley, to the genuine discomfiture of the new Ministers. But wait! It seems that to a very real degree almost no-one is that pushed about those issues. Some planners must wonder why they didn’t just route the road across the hill, for all the upset it’s actually causing. Shannon might as well play host to legions of US troops for all the interest that has evoked. And while the incinerator has real political potential as a problem for one GP TD in particular, well, hey, if anything there seems to be some sympathy developing abroad as regards the way in which the GP was left holding those particular parcels. And the near-tedious reiteration by Ahern that Gormley couldn’t exercise any powers over the issues doesn’t make Gormley look bad – after all the current narrative that the electorate seems to be buying into is that ‘the poor man is simply doing his best, and fair dues to him for going up against the shrewdest and most cunning of them all’ – it just makes Ahern and FF appear somewhat duplicitous. Add to that the continual Green mantra of ‘we’re here to save the whole world, don’t blame us if some bits of it get mislaid in the process’ which continues to have an enduring power.

I’ve suggested before that that latter message might get old. It surely will in time. But, there’s two aspects to front-loading issues. If I were the GP I’d get the incinerator out of the way pronto (although this will be a serious problem for the Minister in 2012). In fact I’d clear the decks of all the post-dated FF decisions. And then… settle down, exercise the power they can and hope that all things being equal they’ll make it to the finish line.

And what a line. A 9% rating. Now that’s a base to build on, after all, there’s a whole heap of former floating and PD voters, broadly middle class, suspicious of but not pathological about Fianna Fáil and so forth, who might well like an edge to their politics. Save the planet as well? Why that’ll do nicely.

Reports on SIPTU Agency Workers Meeting. November 27, 2007

Posted by guestposter in Campaigns, Unions.
1 comment so far

Just to give this a slightly greater prominence than the comments section… two reports on the meeting from John O’Neill and D_D.

When the SIPTU leadership decide to launch a campaign they do so with style. The meeting was well organised starting with a short film of a SIPTU member who was an agency worker on a building site outlining the various forms of exploitation that agency workers are experiencing. Then there was an intro to the campaign from SIPTU followed by speakers from other unions endorsing the campaign. The meeting then asked for speakers from the floor representing Political Parties and all were given 2 minutes, PBP, SF, LP, RSF, WP all got to speak. Despite assurances from Fine Gael that they would send two representives to the meeting and a speaker they didn’t attend.The meeting was then opened to the audience with about 20+ people making short contributions. The meeting finished with a 10 minute contribution from Jack O’Connor about the importance of the campaign.Some points made at the meeting I noted were.;
If employers are allowed to continue abusing workers through Agencies this will role back all the victories won by the labour movement in the last 100 years.

There are 520 employment agencies in Ireland with a population of 4 million, Poland has 700 with a population of 40 million.

The Government along with Germany and the UK, have bloked the introduction of EU legislation to give some protection to workers employed through Agencies.

Employers are attempting to introduce Agency terms and conditions as the norm.

In workplaces where agency workers and directly employed workers both working there is the potential for conflict and division.

AW’s listed issues like only receiving 16 days leave per year, being sacked for taking annual leave, being paid flat rates for overtime, no job security despite lengthy terms in a job.

There is a need to educate workers of the implications for everyone if agencies are allowed to ignore workers rights.

One or two personal criticisms I would have of the meeting; I sensed a reluctance to get on the streets and organise demonstrations from JO’C and that the unions were not willing to allow this issue to be made a deal breaker in Partnership.

John O’Neill

A very good summary of the meeting by John. It is Hungary (not Germany), Britain and Ireland that have no legislation to protect Agency workers. (Though Germany may have been involved in some recent blocking action, I don’t know).

There is lots more on the Campaign on the SIPTU website (siptu.ie) including a PDF of a leaflet, a ‘What you can do’ bit and various statements. (Look under Campaigns & Current Issues). As John remarks, it’s important that the campaign assumes real substance, good and all as the words so far have been. There is a good pamphlet available from Liberty Hall and the Union have just produced an updated briefing document. The pamphlet includes the excellent policy on the issue adopted by the NEC of SIPTU. I reproduce that below.

contributed by D_D.

SIPTU Policy on Agency Workers

The potential for exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers and the parallel undermining of well established standards through the use of Employment Agencies has been evident for some time.

The absence of dedicated statutory protection facilitates the circumvention of progressive employment legislation such as the Protection of Employment (Part-Time Work) Act 2001/Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term work) Act 2003.

Some progress was achieved in the T2016 Agreement. This provides for the enactment of legislation to regularise the situation to some degree, e.g. entitling such workers to the protection of Registered Employment Agreements, etc. However, the principle of equal treatment remains to be won.

This will entail a determined industrial/political campaign.

It is critically important that we maintain a disciplined progressive industrial policy towards the issue in every workplace.

Where possible we should seek to resist the introduction of agency workers and seek to have all new workers employed on regular contracts of employment by the beneficial employer.

Where this is not achievable we must seek to ensure that Employment Agency workers are subject to a collective agreement specifying terms and conditions of employment including but not limited to:

* Clearly restricting the circumstances in which ‘agencies’ would be employed, (e.g. to cater for temporary or fluctuating demands, etc.) and specifying a maximum period beyond which the worker must become a direct employee.
* Providing for equal pay with directly employed workers performing the same or similar work or work of equal value.
* Entitling workers employed by ‘Agencies’ to the right to trade union representation. (In so far as possible they should also provide for trade union induction on commencement)

We must also vigilantly apply ourselves to the task of organising all ‘agency workers’ in unionised workplaces.

This must extend beyond simply recruiting these workers into our Organisation. It also entails ensuring that the workers concerned elect shop stewards (or representatives on Union Section Committees were appropriate). This is particularly important in the case of non-Irish workers.

It is important that the regular workforce understand the need to organise agency workers and the threat unorganised, under paid and maltreated workers pose to their own terms and conditions of employment.

Furthermore it is important to ensure that open lines of communications are maintained between the regular workforce and agency workers and that they are not ghettoised and alienated from other workers or union structures.

Regional Secretaries/National Industrial Secretaries will provide support on the implementation of this policy.

Adopted by SIPTU’s National Executive Council on Thursday May 31, 2007

The Left Archive: “Nuacht Náisiúnta” and a message from Official Sinn Féin, and others, 1972. November 26, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive.
8 comments

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I think this fairly well speaks for itself. Published on August 8th 1972 it is a two page newsletter from OSF with a message for the nation (this was donated anonymously as well – again, many thanks to all our unknown benefactors).

It’s not quite the United Irishman. But then, nor is it the Irish People which I’ll post up in the near future. There’s something oddly familiar about the language from the OIRA statement. Here is a grouping in that hazy area between conflict and non-conflict. But note too the emphasis on the working class…
And there is the Easter Lily at the top of the page. Strangely evocative.

As was pointed out to me, interesting to see “Saoirse”, the support committee for Republican prisoners. What comes around goes around.

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Coolacrease: Much heat, little light and the war of the words continues… November 25, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in History.
9 comments

Niamh Sammon, producer of The Killings at Coolacrease had a letter in the Irish Times yesterday. In it she argued that:

Over the past few weeks a small group of people have kept up a sustained attack on the recent RTÉ documentary.

Perhaps so. But, the critiques of the programme are broader than the people she is presumably referring to. This site – for example – is one unaligned with the Aubane Historical Society, if anything we’d be rather hostile to their interpretations. Nor are we partisans for any partial or simplistic reading of Irish history. Quite the opposite. Nor, despite being quoted favourably in An Phoblacht are we partisans for any contemporary political party or grouping. Again, quite the opposite. We’re broad left and you’ll find strong criticism of the various left formations on these pages.

Anyhow, that said, it’s interesting that Sammon then focusses in on Pat Muldowney ‘a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Ulster [who] alleges that an RIC investigation concluded that the Pearson brothers were targeted by the IRA because they shot at two members of Sinn Féin (actually that’s not what he says, he says they shot at IRA members – an interesting albeit subtle distinction – wbs).’

She takes him to task because ‘…he is quite wrong; in fact there was no investigation. The document Muldowney cites as evidence is actually British Army correspondance speculating on the reasons for the Pearson killings. It was filed after the Court of Inquiry had deliberated on July 2nd in Birr’.

She notes that at the Court of Inquiry Ethel Pearson in a sworn statement said “I saw the raiders search my brothers, and place them against the wall of the barn and shoot them”.

However, Muldowney has also noted that:

…the eye-witness accounts and the medical evidence tell a very different story. Matilda Pearson’s account in the following week’s local newspapers says that her two brothers were taken away from the other family members. Dave Pearson’s 1981 letter to Hilary Stanley, also quoted in Alan Stanley’s book, says that he and his mother and sisters were taken away separately. Michael Cordial was in command of the execution party, and his Witness Statement on the events (Bureau of Military History) says that the condemned men were separated from the rest of the family.

Who are we to believe? Muldowney has also supplied further geographic evidence that it would have been impossible from the Grove (where Ethel Pearson said at the Inquiry herself and her family were taken – her verbatim quote being “ … My mother who was in a fainting condition was carried by my two brothers into a little wood we call the Grove and we all went with her by the order of the raiders. Six of the raiders, two or three of whom were masked, ordered my brothers down into the yard. I saw the raiders search my brothers and place them against the wall of the barn and shoot them.” ) to see the place where the brothers were shot.

She argues that in the document there is speculation on the reasons for the murder and that ‘crucially’… ‘the very next sentence reads “It is further rumoured when the farm house was burning two guns feel out of the roof”. In other words, the army was simply collating the rumours surrounding the deaths of the Pearsons. Not only were those rumours never investigated; the “Possible Motives” document did not even form part of the Court of Inquiry”.

She’s right. This is crucial. But not quite in the way she suggests.
As with the conflicting statements of Ethel and Matilda Pearson as regards the location of the family it is impossible to weigh up at this remove the competing ‘rumours’. We could believe those presented by the British Army correspondance, or the IRA inquiry, or alternatively the written testimony of one or other of the sisters. Or we could believe Muldowney, or we can believe Sammon or Harris. But that’s all we can do. We can have no degree of certainty. We cannot know. And the only ‘certainty’ being offered is from the various protagonists in this debate.

But that certainty is a chimera. It is intellectually dishonest.

Sammon concludes her letter by saying that…

Dr Muldowney seems to have arrived at his conclusions in spite of, rather than because of, the evidence at hand.

No. He hasn’t. He has simply made a competing interpretation. There is in my opinion, on balance, slightly more evidence for his conclusions. But only slightly. In the end we can really draw no definitive lesson from all this. We cannot know.

Perhaps that’s the most tragic aspect of the whole sorry affair. But that is a demonstration of the limitations of history and dangers of partial or partisan interpretation.

Stormtrooper in Drag?… Don’t be a dummy, it’s Gary Numan. November 24, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Music, Uncategorized.
24 comments

I’ve been listening to a fair bit of Gary Numan the last couple of weeks. Every four or five years I go through this phase (I have a goth phase too, oh yeah, and a Flying Nun phase now and again… so nothing is every really lost). I can’t really explain it. Back in the day I was briefly into New Romantic and remained interested in his bizarre take on synth driven pop back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And what strikes me now, listening again is just how odd it all is. It’s not Joy Division. It’s very very different. If Joy Division was the sound of the industrial heartlands then Numan was the sound of the suburbs. Odd suburbs. Very odd suburbs. But then suburbs are odd.

On one level it is strangely evocative. Here is Numan singing about alienation, anomie, fear, curious science-fiction vista’s. Androgyny. Androids. Unpleasant but sexless sex. She’s got claws. Stormtrooper in drag. Here in his car. Down in the park. Beside the overpass (okay, that was John Foxx – but hey, it’s not that different). There is a sullen credibility to a voice which surely has to be one of the most unlovely, yet recognisable in pop. The synths power away, foreground and background. Doomy basses, ululating keyboard lines. Jagged melodies will be replaced by frankly pop-like elements. It’s all here. A sort of smorgasbord. Bowie, clearly a significant influence. But not limited to that.

On another level it’s curiously naive. Gary (what a feckin’ awful name) is in a video mugging it up for the camera. Except he isn’t. This is the palpable sincerity of the teenager gazing with rapt narcissistic adoration in the mirror as they mime along to a song. Except it isn’t adoration, it’s something closer to self-loathing and disgust. Albeit no less narcissistic. And the sub-costructivist sets that were the staple of late 70s and early 1980s pop ‘video’s’ do nothing to disguise this. There is no depth, but then again there’s precious little surface.

Yet there is something. The lad had a way with lyrics, with vocals. With curious stop start breaks in songs. A synth would slow in remarkably ugly fashion, fall to silence. He would whisper/say ‘stop’ in that dull monotone. A breathy pause. Then ‘start’. The synth would drone in an ascending scale into life again. Magic in 1979 in world where computers still largely occupied cabinets. This was the future. Your future. And mine too. This was the Big Machine we’d all be working on, the digital organic interface we’d all be willingly or unwillingly plugged into, decades before cyberspace, years before Bladerunner. Stuttering and starting. And Numan (what a feckin’ awful name, too) was in control. Albeit hating every minute of it.

Robert Christgau once reviewed Tubeway Army with the following:

Replicas [Atco, 1979]
Resistant as I am to the new strain of synthesizer punk now reaching us from England, I didn’t connect to this for months–not until I listened to the singing. Numan’s lyrics abound with aliens and policemen and pickups in what sounds at first like the worst sort of received decadence, but his monotone is too sweet and vulnerable for that impression to stick. To you it may be sordid sex and middlebrow sci-fi; to him it’s romance and horror. The debut (Tubeway Army, Beggar’s Banquet import) is faster, more pointed, and includes no instrumentals. This is catchier, more haunted, and includes two. B+

Although Christgau, being no slouch, also noted when quality control began to dip.

The Pleasure Principle [Atco, 1980]
Once again, metal machine music goes easy-listening. But last time the commander-in-chief of the tubeway army was singing about furtive sex, policemen, and isolation, while this time he’s singing about robots, engineers, and isolation. In such a slight artist, these things make all the difference. B

It’s not ideological. Gary was a self-proclaimed Thatcher voter. Until later when he wasn’t. There’s nothing really but one mans self-referential aesthetic. And aesthetics tend to be self-referential.

So it’s a curious blend. Crap. Genius. Which of course is eminently possible in music. I refer you to the career of many many groups.

I treasure those tracks. I’m not surprised they slot right into Sugababes “Freak Like me”. There is a limber quality to them. Something, that other New Romantics and synth driven pop never quite achieved (well maybe Duran, but they too had an oddness, a certain grit, and that too came from the keyboards and that keyboardist). For all his artistic pretensions and actually not bad songs, John Foxx never quite got there. Something that Ultravox, caught between the rock of their avant-garde history and the loud and pompous place that Midge Ure would lead them to never quite caught. Depeche Mode? Too obviously young. Not weird or self-obsessed enough (and they of course were a band). Heaven 17 too clearly on their way to the ‘mature’ end of the pop market. The Human League, good but limited. Talk Talk, yes, they were there too, just about, went off in directions wonderful and unknowable but fading into a strange silence eventually (as did OMD – except they went to bad bad pop places). And Visage and others, merely passing through from nightclub to the palace of excess or sub-celebrity. But then Gary was never New Romantic. His numanoids (ugghhh… what a term… but worse, if you ever met them, what people) were not Romantic. They were just… well, weird. But weird and suburban. Think back to the point about gazing in the mirror. And, for a brief while they were everywhere.

In a way he was always more a ‘Futurist’ as they called them (pretentious? Why yes) than a New Romantic, although the terms were interchangeable, at least at the start. Perhaps he was the only one. No surprise then to see him hook up with various synth luminaries.

People mocked Numan. The British music press was – in particular – excoriating. His flying. His male pattern baldness. His lack of politics, or worse still his Conservatism that belied a lack of politics. His eventual marriage to the head of his fan club (what on earth do they talk about?). But that was to miss the point. He didn’t care. Partly because he didn’t have to. Partly because much of the avant-garde experimentation that the music press championed, or worse again the sub-intellectual jangly and motownish bands (full disclosure, I still love Scritti, but oddly I can’t listen to them much. The songs seem to slide away. Too rarified, too overworked) didn’t last. Wasn’t co-opted by the current generation. And simply wasn’t as downright weird then and, more importantly, now.

He plugged away for two and half decades. Still does. I wonder how he feels now. There have been a spate of cover albums. Some by dance and electronica acts in thrall to his primitive sound. Some by indie musicians who tip a hat to him, which makes a sort of sense. He himself shifted across to Industrial. The nasal whine gone, replaced by whispers. It’s better than Nine Inch Nails. As good – perhaps – than Front Line Assembly. It is credible. Gloomy admittedly, but credible.

And then, this, from 1978.

I didn’t realise it was him at the time. I’m not really fan, you know. And I hadn’t heard it in 30 odd years, was downloading a rarities and demo’s album and found this stuck on the end. But I could sing the lyric immediately. Remembered the video quite well.

Crap. Genius. I don’t think I’ll ever decide. But I think I’ll keep listening.

Because they’re worth it… only 13,000 to go, the new Martin Mansergh’s staunch defense of the Ministerial Pay Increases November 23, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Fianna Fáil, Irish Politics.
15 comments

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I have enormous time and respect for Martin Mansergh. You know, the one who assisted in the Peace Process. Who was Director of Research, Policy and Special Advisor on Northern Ireland. He’s a good guy. Patriotic, a Republican in the best sense of the term. Even willing to put himself forward for election. But there seems to be a new Martin Mansergh abroad.

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This one apparently is the…

Martin Mansergh, … South Tipperary TD and former adviser to the Taoiseach, [who] pointed out that up to 13,000 Irish citizens would be better paid than Mr Ahern when his full increase comes into effect in 2009.Citing a reply by the Minister for Finance, Brian Cowen, to a recent Dáil question, Mr Mansergh said that up to 13,000 Irish citizens would be better paid in 2009 than the Taoiseach and other political office-holders.”They include, of course, a number of persons working at senior levels in the media, business people, professionals, and some higher-paid GPs. A vast majority, though not all, would be in more secure employment.

Or so reports the Irish Times…

This is deeply deeply problematic stuff. And to hear this new Martin Mansergh propound this is dispiriting in the extreme.

Just what is the principle being argued here by him? There appears to be none other than the concept that others are better paid and therefore the Taoiseach is ‘worth it’. Where does this argument stop? If there are 13,000 ahead of Ahern, well, what would then be wrong with 8,000, or just 3,000? Or 5, or 2 or just 1?

Basic pragmatism suggests that the reason why one doesn’t in a democratic polity pay the elected Premier a salary greater than any other in that polity is that that would represent an unconscionable sequestration of too great a proportion of revenue (or if we want to see it a different way – the money we as citizens pay in tax). That would, for many reasons not least in terms of the diversion of resources which could otherwise be distributed more widely, inequitable (and behind that there is a sense that too great a payment for public service can lead to those entering that service simply for the pay).

But it is also to evade a basic point about public life and public office.

Consider Martin Mansergh’s contribution to this island. His has been a life of public service. A citizen, if you will. One that has eschewed the limelight during that period of achievement – and challenge. And this concept of the public service is one that embodies within it an idea that public service is – to some extent – its own reward. That by serving the polity one is positioned within a virtuous cycle. That that service is of itself – and with no reference to others – of importance. During that period he was paid (one presumes) relatively modestly. So what? He did not, as far as we are aware, starve. His achievements speak for themselves.

But of course, being entirely cynical, public service isn’t just its own reward, because for those such as Mansergh, and Ahern, there are generous emoluments. The opportunity to shine upon the domestic and international stage. Subsidised restaurants and bars. A fleet of vehicles and Garda outriders to speed one from point to point. And that’s before we get to the pension.

I said earlier that I have enormous time and respect for Mansergh. But, really. This is hardly credible. “More secure employment”? This about a man who has that very handsome public service pension (paid – as it happens – directly from the public purse)? Are we seriously to believe that should Ahern lose his position in the morning that he would be out on his uppers on Talbot Street, a small bowl in hand seeking alms?

Bertie Ahern and Martin Mansergh will not die poor. They will, like as not, never experience waiting lists in A&E (like a close relative of mine who, at the age of 81, two weeks ago suffered a fall in a minor car accident and wound up with two broken knees on a trolley in a South Dublin hospital for three days). They already lead lives of considerable comfort, whatever about the pressure of the work they do.

And yet, what is so dismal about this is that despite these benefits that they have there is a sense of further ‘entitlement’ that comes across in all the public pronouncements on the issue. And why? Because they raise their eyes to the commercial sector and also make – ahem – unusual comparisons with other governments abroad. I think that on a political level this is extremely foolish. It sits very poorly with the public. And for good reason.

There is already some hostility to the significant wage increases and rewards given to those in the commercial sector. Increases which appear to bear little or no relationship to actual productivity or output on the part of those who receive them. People tend to know instinctively that gross income disparities are something that can lead to negative outcomes. And not just people on the left either.

That the public service would emulate this is disturbing.

In 2002 the House of Commons select committee on public administration released a report entitled The Public Service Ethos. It’s worth reading in full for all of us, right or left, who have any interest in that ethos and in the changing nature of the Public Service. Firstly because change is happening. The nature of the state has already altered incontestably over the past three or four decades both for better and worse. But also because it’s logical and coherent and persuasive and should be compulsory reading for this particular government.

In a report in the Guardian it was noted that:

The committee calls for the creation of a public service code of conduct for staff and organisations as a way of re-establishing the best and most honourable traditional values.

This would comprise observation of high ethical standards; accountability to elected representatives; high quality of service; fair and equitable treatment of staff; respect of the citizen’s right to good administration, and the belief that “public service means serving the public not serving the interests of those who provide the service.” It concludes that the government has not done enough to renew the public service ethos and rejects as “inadequate” ministers’ frequently quoted phrase: “What counts is what works,” to describe their policy of encouraging a mixed public-private provision of public services.

It continues:

“Whatever the shortcomings of the public sector as it is, there is something necessary, special and distinctive about those services which are provided as public services. They carry with them intrinsic assumptions about equity, access and accountability.

It adds: “The public service ethos should not be seen as an echo from the past but as an indispensable ingredient any public service deserving of the name.”

The report recommends setting up a public service academy to teach and disseminate public service values. There should be a survey of public servants to establish how far professional values had been undermined by the modernisation of services, it adds.

The report itself (available here) argues that the ‘traditional view’ of the public service ethos is one that:

…The traditional approach to the public service ethos sees it as a long-established set of values and rules, mostly unwritten, that sets out the standards that public servants should uphold. This view suggests that, although the nature of public service might change in some respects, the principles on which it is based (in Britain these are often traced back to the Northcote-Trevelyan Report on the civil service in the mid-nineteenth century, with its stress on merit in appointment to public office, avoidance of patronage, and political impartiality) have served the nation well and should not be eroded. It involves a recognition of the distinctiveness of public service. The fact that in Britain public servants are not seen as corrupt or self-serving owes much to this tradition, and represents a huge national asset.

Intangible isn’t it? It’s like goodness, somehow we tend to know when it’s there, somehow we tend to know when it’s gone.

I’m not suggesting that the motivations we have heard recently aired are in any sense corrupt. But what I am suggesting is that the distinction between serving the public and serving the interests of those who provide the service is not great enough in this instance. That there is actually a disconnect between the society and the political elite, or at least sections within it. One that is dangerous for both. One that appears blind to the way in which actions such as this resonate beyond the close-knit community that is made up of our political representatives.

Even if the motivations of those who have taken this decision as regards salaries is purer than pure, whiter than white, it is absolutely necessary in a Republic that the outcomes are equitable, accountable and just and most importantly be seen to be so. If, as we know, there is unease across the society I would hazard that then that last condition has not been fulfilled. These increases do appear self-serving. Bizarrely so when put in context with other standards of remuneration across Europe and further afield (incidentally, I was enormously amused by the counter-argument that An Taoiseach did not have the White House or Downing Street at his disposal. Dangerous territory I think to be moving onto, but worth suggesting that when we punch at the weight of the US or indeed the UK, when indeed we have a truly significant fraction of their populations, then I think it only right that there is built a small semi-detached house for both the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste in the grounds of Government Buildings).

And while it might just be a matter, to some, of ten thousand here or ten thousand there, it is not unreasonable in a society facing into potential economic turbulence that at the very least those who call for restraint on the part of others might exercise it themselves, that they might see an implicit irony in asking those who earn – oh, say €32,ooo which is the average industrial wage to reduce expectations while they pocket a cool €38,000 in a single increase. Because the idea that the Taoiseach should get an increase near equivalent but greater than the average industrial wage is both a symbolic and very real example of a lack of equity.

Which brings me to another point. Much has been made of the fact that it was an ‘independent’ body which oversaw the pay increases.

On Wednesday in the Dáil we heard the following (as reported in the Irish Times):

During leaders’ questions in the Dáil on rising trade union discontent, Mr Ahern dismissed an assertion by Labour leader Eamon Gilmore that the unusual increase in disputes was linked to the “public’s perception that the Government is feathering its own nest with the pay increases it awarded itself”.

Mr Ahern believed “the rule the trade union movement fought for in 1913 and has stood by since, as the deputy will be aware, is that when an independent body makes a decision on an increase, the government of the day should pay it”.

On a certain level this is true – well, bar the hyperbole about 1913 and the bizarre turn into labourist language. But it is entirely irrelevant. The review body is composed by entirely capable people with strong records in both the public and private fields. A preponderance of those on the group are people drawn from the business world. Again, let us note that there is already an unease about wage disparities in the business world amongst the broader society. An independent body is not infallible. It can arrive at a less than optimum conclusion. An independent body that sets a salary for the Taoiseach that is higher than that of the US President has almost certainly done so. The recommendations are not binding. The government could refuse to implement these increases. It would have every right to do so. It could be an exemplar in the very best sense. And let’s be serious for a moment. Does the government follow the recommendations of every expert group in every field? It does not. In some cases it delays, in others obfuscates and in still others it rejects. Yet in this case the holy lineage of Labour’s struggle on this island is invoked in order to justify obeisance before the Review Body.

It doesn’t wash.

When I was in the WP the TDs took the average industrial wage. I understand that SF do something similar, while Joe Higgins also did likewise with the Socialist Party in the last Dáil. Sure, it’s tokenistic to an extent – although not to small parties which are revenue hungry beasts (surely there is a thesis in how it is that Left parties operate somewhat like voracious companies much of the time in terms of generating funds). But it also indicates a bond between representative and party and more importantly party and electorate. It is a very public way of saying that ‘we aren’t here for the money’. When the average industrial wage is the figure itself awarded to some representatives… well, that tells us something about the current state of the ‘bond’. It tells us something about the self-perception of the political class. It tells us nothing good about this state.

A public service that emulates the worst excesses of the private sector is no public service at all and I want the old Martin Mansergh back…

The Financial Times? Uh-oh… just where is my newspaper reading taking me? November 22, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in media, Media and Journalism, The Left, The Right.
25 comments

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Here’s a thing. The other day I wasn’t able to get a Guardian. So casting my eye along the newspapers I saw no Independent (UK), my default alternative choice. Didn’t want the Irish Times which I get anyway in work on the internet. What was left? The Wall Street Journal. Nope. I dislike intensely their editorial stance, although the actual reporting is pretty good. International Herald Tribune. Nah, too reheated New York Times for my taste. And always somehow with a sense that it’s been written some way past Mars and we’re having to endure a time delay on it.

So I picked up the Financial Times. I haven’t bought it in at least a decade. But, I’ve got to be honest. It was pretty darn good. The reasons being? Well, first up the aesthetics of an actual broadsheet. The soothing pink colour. The full newspaper size. The Guardian has made considerable noise since it adopted the Berliner format and how this bridging size between tabloid and broadsheet can deliver the best of both worlds. But… there really is nothing like a full sheet paper. Lots of room for articles and good sized pictures. No sense of compression.

But the content wasn’t bad, either. The news pages had news. And not slanted news, just basic information on Italian politics, the upcoming Australian elections (no boosterism here for the right, just a dispassionate account of how the Australian Labour Party appeared on the point of besting Howard – great stuff for those of us who think sometimes even a small incremental shift in opening space on the left or centre left is good).

The editorial on OPEC was interesting and one on ASEAN in the context of Burma which was thought provoking. I didn’t agree with the one which threw around the idea that ‘reform’ of the public sector requires private ‘help’ (I’ve seen far too many private sector assistance which seems to devolve to charging inflated prices). But it is the ‘Financial’ Times after all.

And on the editorial pages there were good articles on British foreign policy, America losing it’s faith in Empire and immigration. I didn’t agree with some of what they said either, but all equally thought provoking.

Sure, back in the day there were quite a number of FT contributors and journalists who were loosely attached to the CPGB’s ill-fated ‘New Times’ project (I’m channelling the name Leadbetter…), and I’m sure that’s long gone. Perhaps the prospect of changing the world with a copy of Capital in one hand and a filofax in the other has passed. Or perhaps they just decided to change the world in other, different, ways.

But then, when I read the Guardian and in particular the G2 section I think that that’s not the only thing that’s long gone. And perhaps it’s telling that for my Sunday read I now buy the Sunday Business Post (and occasionally the Observer).

Perhaps it’s to get a handle on the other side. Perhaps it’s simply because they’re ‘serious’ papers in a way the Guardian – or God knows – the Irish Times aren’t. Perhaps because business and finance can actually throw up something unexpected, or perhaps because as a left-winger I find there’s more to ‘mine’ here in terms of raw information about our society and our economy than in any number of fluffy feel-good feel-bad articles in the more usual suspects, or the often doomy yet curiously congratulatory and self-referential solipsism of the further left. Perhaps too it is because, as has often been said here there is simply not enough understanding of Capital and economics at it currently is by those on the left and that’s a huge failing of mine…

A quick scan of wiki supports my own reading over the years that in editorial line it has been broadly pro-Labour in the 1990s and 2000s. Okay to a point. And that it has been critically pro-EU. Fair enough. Noam Chomsky in perhaps a backhanded compliment stated that it is”the only paper that tells the truth”.

You know, it’s a bit too pricey, being 2 euro, but I think I might just buy it again.

You’ll know also, that there’s trouble down t’mill if I change my username to Financialmarketsbystorm….

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