Raising the tone of the Dáil… the lonely task of Dr. Martin Mansergh January 31, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
Back in the Dáil, an environment periodically almost as fascinating as the US election, that was some shouting match between the Green Party and Fine Gael. I’ll be interested to see who is regarded as coming out of it best. Paul Gogarty and Ciarán Cuffe whipped themselves into a frenzy of arm waving and finger pointing at the Fine Gael benches. The accusations! The bitterness! The muttered, well, not so muttered words about shady dealing on councils! To be frank, they looked like they were relishing the opportunity. One wonders is there a back story there from the past five years of opposition. Anyway, I’m always dubious about the utility of political theater as exemplified by the first two TDs, but, in truth Gogarty hit the headlines on the RTÉ bulletins. Mary White was rather more restrained, and I caught sight of her on TG4.
Still, I have to say, I’m with Ciarán Cuffe as regards the unbelievably ignorant comments directed at Martin Mansergh when he made a few references in French during his contribution to the debate. The shouts of ‘you’re talking to Irishmen now’ weren’t exactly the high point of parliamentary or democratic debate. Granted one does not hear quotes from (I think) Beaumarchais in our parliamentary debate every day, and I don’t entirely warm to Mansergh, but fair dues for actually writing a speech that deviated a bit from the usual dumbed down boilerplate that we have – unfortunately – had the misfortune of experiencing time and again.
And isn’t the response fascinating. A Little Irelander mentality so close to the surface that one hardly need scratch it… why a phrase in the language of our allies of 1798 will do the trick…
I’m told that the Green Party were fairly pleased with the ultimate counter-motion that was presented to the Dáil. Nary a hint of churlish disdain of the Tribunal. So, perhaps emboldened by this success they decided to go the distance. Got to smile. Recently I was told by a Green party person that they (the GP) were in some sense the lost social democratic wing of FG. There’s more than a little something in that analysis. Still, doesn’t look like they’re going to be refound any day soon at this rate. Loathing is generally an intangible and nebulous thing, but it was strongly evident today.
I should make special mention about Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin’s piece which was dignified and apposite and showed just how to do it if you want to make serious political points against the government and Ahern. But as is all too evident, that’s not the name of this game for some… the japing and buffoonery exhibited at various points – and I’m looking at FG here -demonstrated that principled, and even ethical, considerations are taking a subsidiary place in this contest…
Got to love elections. They’re a sort of searing blow torch – at their best – exposing contradiction, ineptitude and downright mistruth. And got to love the Republican primaries because in the latter area we see a strange phenomenon emerge, that is the outing of Rush Limbaugh as… well, you judge…
If proof were needed, not that it really is, that he is truly beyond parody let me direct your attention to his recent words concerning the Presidential Election. Limbaugh has always presented himself as an outsider, a conservative, but one at heart beyond the metropolitan Washington elites. Hence his appeal to those who glory in the term ‘dittoheads’.
So, one might expect that he would be strongly in favour of the two insurgent candidates in the Republican Party, Mike Huckabee and John McCain. One might expect wrong.
On a recent show there was the following exchange:
CALLER: Sorry to deviate from your monologue for just a minute, but you had a woman call yesterday that just frosted me to no end that if either Huckabee or McCain won the nomination she was going to sit the election out.
CALLER: People like her, I coined a term, a call them TV Republicans, and it doesn’t stand for television, it stands for tunnel vision, because they need to take the blinders off and see the bigger picture. If they sit out the general election, the Democrat wins it by default, whichever one of the Three Stooges wins it. Guess what? In the next four years, there’s going to be probably one, maybe two Supreme Court vacancies come up. Do they really want one of the three bozos over there appointing the next two Supreme Court justices? Is Clinton gonna appoint another Ginsburg, or is she going to do another Scalia? Is Obama going to appoint another Justice Thomas or is he going to do somebody like Breyer or Stevens? Do they really want a liberal appointing the next two Supreme Court justices? They need to take the blinders off, Rush. They need to look at the bigger vision and quit being Tunnel Vision Republicans.
RUSH: I understand what you’re saying. I hate to tell you this, but she’s not alone. I’m here to tell you, if either of these two guys get the nomination, it’s going to destroy the Republican Party, it’s going to change it forever, be the end of it. A lot of people aren’t going to vote. You watch.
I feel his pain. I really do. Still, what is his choice? Why, one Mitt Romney, of course.
Surely this demonstrates the effective vacuity of Limbaugh’s approach that he supports the de facto candidate of the Republican establishment against the insurgencies from the conservative religious right and the populist centre right? What is interesting is just how this exposes all the rhetoric as just that. What is more interesting is how it exposes the hegemony of a very specific strand of Republican thinking over the past while, whatever the tactical shifts we have had to endure as regards foreign policy, etc. That this hegemony is ending in complete disarray is fascinating, that it is apparently impossible for some to credit is more fascinating still. What it also points to is an interesting ‘essentialism’ developing amongst some conservatives such as in this example… something the left has often tended to do itself at its own expense. I’ve always found the salami slicing argument an interesting one… the one that goes, “better we lose than we win and find our principles compromised”. Well, yeah. Sure, but hegemony is a funny thing, it’s sometimes a fragile flower that needs at least a fair bit of attention. Keeping the discourse conservative (or whatever) means keeping the political environment conservative. And of course the reverse is also true.
Anyhow, that free piece of advice given, I don’t expect the dittoheads to take up arms against Limbaugh… but some conservative blogs are pondering whether by dissing Huckabee Limbaugh is misreading his own base.
Let’s hope so – eh?
They’re back! The Dáil and Seanad resume for 2008. January 31, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
By 14.29 yesterday afternoon the benches of the Dáil and Seanad were almost entirely empty. Two minutes later during the opening prayer there was a scattering of TDs in the Dáil chamber. And what’s this? No Taoiseach for priority questions… merely a typically bedraggled Brian Cowen giving an answer of breathtaking tedium on the state of the Irish economy to Richard Bruton… medium term prospect favourable… long term reasonably strong… pro-business outward looking society… finances sound…tax rates low… risks… sentiment deteriorated… relative strength… policies in place… improve competitive position… deterioration in global environment… oh oh… perhaps he’s not the best man to take the helm in … what is it again, 2012?
The smartest economic mind in the Dáil managed to all but equal Cowen in his response and supplementary… government generated price increases… undermine competitiveness… excessive growth of quangos… excessive bureacracy… competitive… tougher environment…
But this is like two people shouting past each other as the response came that..no doubt… level of resources available must be used efficiently…role of government… competitiveness… inflation… price stability… budgetary stance… sentiment deteriorated… halving indebtedness…
Simon Hoggart, the UK parliamentary sketch writer in the Guardian, has an occasionally entertaining trick where he transposes what is said by various political worthies to indicate the essential meaninglessness of the content. Yep, that’d work here.
Still, interesting that Cowen mentioned renewables, Minister Ryan and other ‘green’ tinged issues entirely favourably as a means of answering a question as to what practical steps were being taken by the government to stave off future problems… How useful such coverage must now seem, or is it an indication that they extracted their pound of flesh over the Tribunal counter motion and are now willing to offer the odd kind word? Time will tell…
By 14.45 with Joan Burton on her feet accusing the Minister of not accepting any responsibility for the downturn and the effects on the most marginalised and the Chamber was once more almost empty as the response rolled through in not quite sonorous sentences… budgetary stance… subprime market… 1 and a half percent of GDP… right thing to do… extra 1.7 going into the economy… social welfare recipients… right thing to do…
Meanwhile in the Senate a rather more energetic debate was taking place about the Order of Business. Everyone wanted Ministers to come in… a good idea. Apparently they are. Most interesting was the fact that one of theTaoiseach’s Senators was calling on two Ministers to address the House on various issues. And didn’t sound entirely happy about possible answers. Hunting with the hare and the hound?
Meanwhile there were complaints about the ending of the medium wave RTÉ service from an FF Senator at a time when the Celtic Tiger is alive and well’. This drew a… derisory.. response which in turn allowed the good Senator to restate the phrase two or three times. “Alive and well…Alive and Well! Alive and Well!!!” Cue further laughter. Ah, respect, where is it? Still, David Norris was in agreement on the issue of RTÉ.
Ronan Mullen praised the Labour party (saying ‘he didn’t do that very often’) over their stand on the sex industry and lap dancing clubs and likened the commericalisation of bodies to that of sales of organs. Not quite the comparison I’d have made.
And so, the leader of the house stood and noted the ‘very sad passing of a great friend… the late Joe Dolan … at one time the greatest Irish artist of his time’. It was also a time of congratulation… ‘for Eoghan Harris on his marriage…and Ivana Bacik on the birth of her baby’…
Meanwhile, back in the Dáil Richard Bruton was arguing that ‘asked a hard question… he [Cowen] just reads blather out that file…’
Later on during Leaders’ Questions we were treated to yet further facts and stats on the economy from Bertie Ahern – who graced the Chamber with his presence – and Enda Kenny [Incidentally... Kenny too was going on about unelected quango's... I have to say it's all sounding unpleasantly like the UK circa 1981, isn't it?]. It was odd to see Ahern again after some six weeks away from the Dáil chamber. It’s just not the same on brief TV or radio interviews. But not that odd, not when one is treated to…house reduced session..er..recession… issues being discussed day in day out… further oil increases though they’ve gone up or down in the past month… risk of a potentially steeper decline in new housing outputs…of course the housing market is lower, continually asking questions over overheating a couple of years ago…which by and large the capital programme in one form or another…thriving…it’s as the Tanaiste said on Budget day a more difficult year to manage but I would say not withstanding that the projected growth is 3%…strong year for growth… strong year for employment… strong outcomes… don’t have to remind Deputy Kenny…. close management…close watching of the international situation…manage these issues…
To which the response was that …no-one denies the fundamentals of the economy are sound… ah well now Enda, tell that to the guys on your side in the Senate.
Eamon Gilmore suggested that This house needs to move on from the troubles of the Taoiseach…
Yes, yes it does…
But by way of response so we were treated to another thicket of verbiage…issues ongoing… no question that I or my tax advisors haven’t dealt with… answered every single question the Revenue asked…everything is as it should be…
Gilmore noted that the answer contained a quadruple negative… but he was smiling and so was Joan Burton beside him afterwards… so that’s okay then…
He also noted that a newspaper had the headline “Bertie lied about tax”… and argued: that I can’t recall seeing a newspaper about a political leader in this state that was so blunt…has the Taoiseach taken any action arising from that headline?
Our hero smiled shyly and answered…Is that from the Mail…I’d need the whole law library to take the actions against the Mail… I just ignore them…
And that… more or less was that… whether last nights news about passports is any more than yet another damp squib remains to be seen. The Irish Independent is suggesting it’s Berties ‘GUBU day’, but so far it isn’t, really it isn’t… However, as to the longer term fallout, who knows?
One thing is for certain, though. It’s truly as if they never went away…
The Mahon Tribunal Private Members Motion… watch the counter motion… January 30, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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The most important aspect of the debate on the Fine Gael Private Members Motion expressing confidence in the workings of the Mahon Tribunal over the next two days in purely party political terms will be the nature of the counter-motion. This has been put together by Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and … what’s their name again… oh yeah, the PDs. Rumour has it that there has been some dissent from Fianna Fáil’s coalition partners over the push to give a lash to the Tribunal in the counter-motion. But we’ll be able to judge the relative balance of power between the constituent elements of the Coalition by how severe a lash it is.
Incidentally, isn’t this just a tad problematic for Fine Gael. If a suitable formula of words can be arrived at in the counter-motion which expresses full confidence in the Tribunal, noting the will of the Dáil, applauding the excellence of those involved, while no doubt flag waving somewhat on .. say… intrusiveness, doesn’t that largely take the issue off the table leaving our hero free to point straight back towards Dublin Castle every time some young FGer makes a point? After all, then it’ll surely be up to the Tribunal… Won’t it?
Cognitive dissonance at the Phoenix… Libertas, Kathy Sinnott and the anti-Lisbon Treaty Campaign… and what was the difference between social liberals and conservatives again? January 30, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Am I the only one to have noticed some oddities in the most recent issue of Phoenix magazine (incidentally, this post isn’t the place to mention it in any detail, but one has to salute the Phoenix for managing to soldier on regardless, apparently impervious to new media or the proliferation of magazines on the shelves of newsagents… in a world where one might suppose blogs would undercut their unique selling point as a sort of purveyor of insider information it is somehow heartening to see them continue serenely forward, relatively unfunny ‘funnies’ section and all). The Phoenix has always cleaved to a Eurosceptic position on the EU, long before the term had any common currency. I’ve often wondered if that was a function of Paddy Prendeville’s leftism, the residual nationalism that infuses its pages or just a generally sceptical worldview.
Anyhow, on one level they’re having a great time at the moment. This latest issue points up some entertaining information about the most vociferous representative of the new Fine Gael Young Turks, wonders aloud about the soon to be heard evidence from Eamon Dunphy’s at the Tribunal (a nation holds it’s breath), and notes the interesting recent statements from the President as regards the Hunt Museum. It’s a good issue, one might say they almost all are even if they can be read a little bit too swiftly.
But, they seem to lose their step when it comes to dealing with Declan Ganley and the Lisbon Treaty. So we are treated to two articles on the latter topic, one of which deals with Ganley and the other which while purporting to be an overview of Independent MEP seems to seek solace… well read on…
Firstly to the Ganley article. It’s an interesting piece about the apparently (and I’m quoting them…) ‘filthy rich’ ‘buccaneer capitalist’ businessman. It notes that his current critique of the EU was not quite so pronounced in the past when his business interests were more directed to eastern Europe, but since he established a company known as Rivada networks which creates emergency community networks and has started to sell into the US his emphasis has changed. Rivada has contracts with… well actually the rather unglamorous Louisiana National Guard amongst others. Still Ganley is welcome at the highish tables of the great and the good and has spoken at various worthy, rather rightist think tanks and organisations of a transatlantic hue. It’s hard to take entirely seriously the contention the Phoenix makes that this represents ‘Ganley [turning] into a neo-con critic of the EU… following the rapid growth of his Rivada Networks, which brought him business from the massive US military network’. Perhaps. But to be honest he still seems to be a fairly ordinary businessperson with an eye for publicity and some contracts with the fringes of the US military industrial complex who has seen an opening in the post-9/11 environment for a very specific service and knows how to promote his product. Still, give him neo-con tag… and away we go.
Still, the ‘neo-con’ tag obviously rankles the Phoenix, perhaps because they’re unused on this island to hearing right (but not socially illiberal right) critiques of the EU. So it is that we find an unlikely defence of Kathy Sinnott MEP being presented some pages later.
Once more Ganley is presented in unflattering terms, as being ‘enigmatic’ and his impact being described as ‘hard to predict as it may not amount to much more than the odd, melodramatic flourish or artificial media heave from the Mail’. For surely there is nothing worse than a media outlet or periodical engaging in boosterism of a … er… no… hold on…
Anyhow the profile of Sinnott actualy encompasses both Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Féin MEP, and Patricia McKenna, former Green Party MEP, all three critics – to varying degrees of the EU project.
Still, the profile attempts to present Sinnott as the ‘helm of the campaign’.
It argues that ‘Sinnott is characterised as a right-wing, Catholic fundamentalist, especially by some of the more self-righteous activists on the left’. It disagrees saying that she is ‘essentially the candidate of the disabled population and all the attendant relatives, carers, community workers and health workers – in other words the thousands of people who are associate with or affected by the issue of disability’. It then goes on to note that ‘At the same time Sinnott who resents being described as a religious politician, most definitely stands for family values and has been known to oppose contraception and divorce in the past while still an active campaigner with SPUC against abortion and stem cell research. She helped to launch the SPUC sponsored Amnesty for Babies before Birth Campaign in June 2006, and the year before she spoke at the John Paul II Society’s annual conference where she polemicised against abortion and stem cell research’. The article continues by noting that the Independence/Democracy Group in the EU Parliament contained ‘two unpleasant right-wing parties, the League of Polish Families and the Lega Nord, both of which have been forced out for their extremist views… Sinnott claims she was to the fore in purging these parties from the her parliamentary group, but she must surely have had some knowledge of their political make up before joining forces with them in an umbrella group’. Her base is described as a mix of disabled/carers and ‘those who see their Catholic and/ or Irish values threatened by a materialistic Europe…’.
So, clearly no hint there of ‘right-wing, Catholic views’, those pesky ‘self-righteous activists of the left’ refer too – eh?
The language becomes a tad more extraordinary when the profile notes that she ‘realised’ Dana was over-emphasising the religious to the exclusion of social content which led to her electoral failure. Sinnott by contrast has emphasised herself as a champion of the disabled, and not as a ‘primarily Catholic candidate’. And it continues ‘the onset of the brash Celtic Tiger and the godless (!) European Union has seen her very nearly take a Dáil seat in Cork’. Presumably as distinct from the Godly EEC and EC…
The article counterposes McKenna and McDonald as candidates who were ‘crushed’ or are likely to be so by the muscle of the main parties with Sinnott and argue that she is best positioned to rally the anti-Lisbon Treaty forces, far better it suggests than Justin Barrett of Youth Defence (who blotted his copybook last time around) or indeed the multitude of leftish groups campaigning in the area. She is part of the People’s Movement group of which McKenna is also a member, and the Phoenix argues that ‘Sinnott… proceeded to dominate a recent press conference with some cogent arguments about democracy in European nation states and the loss of Irish political power that will result from the Treaty’. She is further painted as ‘one of the main players in the debate, hard left hostility not withstanding…she is infinitely less abrasive than the dour… Barrett and although she is a Catholic militant she is not actually the clerical zealot depicted by some of her critics, possessing a wider and more liberal social outlook than such stereotypes…’. Perhaps. Perhaps.
It continues, and here we probably get to the heart of the calculation being made by the Phoenix… ‘More to the point she has a political appeal that is far wider than the reactionary Barrett and a base that is not confined to Cork or even Munster, but which is national.’
I can’t help feeling that, whatever Sinnott’s personal worth, and she has indeed been a sincere and doughty campaigner in the area of disability, this is a somewhat self-serving analysis generated by positing that which she is not as the yardstick for that which she is. And it is the way in which Ganley whose anti-EU position is regarded as ‘enigmatic’ and who is posited as a bad bad ‘neo-con’ by the Phoenix, is contrasted with good good Sinnott whose views are… and let’s be frank here… strongly socially conservative whatever way one cuts it but are somehow okay because she’s ‘right’ about the EU, which is both entertaining and yet also a bit unconvincing.
It really seems to me that the Phoenix is unsure of what to make of Ganley. It’s almost as if it can’t quite believe that an issue close to its heart is being appropriated by the economic right – and why not, that’s not quite the message that a lot of the left in this country has heard before. Well, my advice? Get used to it as the economy tanks. This is something we may hear a lot more of as time progresses. Granted, perhaps Ganley is not the best placed to make a rightwing case against the EU, but such a case is there to be made and it is one that is very very different to that from the socially conservative right of Sinnott, let alone the broader centre left case. And it’s interesting if only because it points up a remarkably enduring consensus on the EU across much of the Irish political spectrum from centre left to right where the sort of agonising that characterised the British Conservative party simply wasn’t replicated in any fashion amongst either Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Progressive Democrats. Quite the opposite if anything, perhaps since the EU was seen in part as a proxy for the social liberalising agenda for some, as a proxy for modernisation by another group and as importantly as a source of infrastructural and agricultural funding by others. That the right, or a libertarian sliver of same, has woken up to the idea that the EU is somewhat less than an unqualified good is telling, is it not, as we enter a politically and economically more turbulent period than seen hitherto.
I’m also nowhere near convinced that Sinnott will play as well as the Phoenix supposes, nor am I convinced that McKenna or McDonald will play as poorly. Or to put it another way, the anti-Treaty left is actually quite well provided by two individuals who can present a forthright case against Lisbon without having to depend on someone whose views on certain issues are fairly contentious.
Still, the Phoenix is perhaps its usual sceptical (or realistic) self when it notes that ‘it is unlikely that [the political establishment and most of the media] will allow another Nice Treaty I debacle to occur again… but while Sinnott and her unlikely bed fellows may fail to prevent the treaty going through, she will certainly enjoy a campaign personally that will act as a dry run for the European elections next year’.
Yeah…that sounds about right.
What have unions ever done for us? January 29, 2008Posted by franklittle in media, Media and Journalism, Trade Unions.
From the always imaginative Australian trade union movement, a two minute YouTube video entitled,
With apologies to Monty Python.
New Myths of the Peace Process No. 3: The 1987 PIRA “Tet Offensive”or ‘one last push’… January 29, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in New Myths of the Troubles.
Here is a myth that has been beloved of dissident Republicans, and I’ve touched on it once or twice before. It runs something along the lines of the following. In 1987 PIRA was well armed, well organised and in a strong position to take on the British security forces. Various sources indicate that there was some thought given to a “Tet Offensive” style operation which would have carved out a ‘liberated’ zone in Armagh free from British Army and security forces control. The nature of this offensive is somewhat unclear, the idea being either to hold territory for its exemplary effect or to make the cost of retaking it so high that the British would be forced to shift towards withdrawal due to public pressure, but dissidents often point to the example of Jim Lynagh (Lynagh was killed in May 1987 with seven other PIRA members during an SAS ambush as he and the others attempted to attack an RUC station in the town of Loughall in Armagh) who proposed, and in some respects was actually involved in nascent, ‘flying columns’. Ed Moloney in A Secret History of the IRA proposes that these would ‘consist of perhaps twenty or thirty trusted activists, which would be based deep in the South, with its own dedicated training facilities. The column would never break camp, in a conscious imitation fo the flying columns that had run the British ragged during the 1919-21 conflict. This was meant to ensure that it would be more secure [from informers]. The column would strike three to five times a year… satellite groups would all the while attack on a harrassment basis…’.
The myth has, in many respects, something close to the Weimar narrative of the ‘stab in the back’. In this case it is those who followed the Peace Process route – Adams and McGuinness who are portrayed as either being corrupted in some sense, unable to see what was going on, or worse. Although a critic of the armed struggle I treat this on the terms with which those who propound it propound it, so to speak. It should not be read in any sense as other than an analysis along utilitarian lines, and in no way represents a justification or apologia for the armed struggle. Indeed, if anything it demonstrates the essential futility of that struggle as time passed.
So…. just how serious was this proposed offensive? Or more importantly, whether serious or not just how feasible was such an offensive?
Firstly the idea has intrigued me since I read about it in The Fight for Peace by Eamon Mallie and David McKittrick. There they wrote that:
… it is now known that the IRA army council seriously considered what senior republicans described among themselves as ‘the Tet offensive’ option. This was a reference to the sudden Vietcong switch of tactics in the Vietnam war from guerrilla hit-and-run actions to standing and fighting in pitched battles. The Americans had been taken by surprise; the IRA wondered if they could surprise the British in the same way.
The era of the hunger strike and the anti-British sentiment which it generated had provided a stream of new recruits to the republican cause. The huge Libyan arsenal then gave the IRA unprecedented potential for wreaking havoc. It had virtually unlimited numbers of rifles; it had heavy machine guns firing armour-piercing rounds which could cut through even protected police vehicles; it had powerful Semtex plastic explosive; it had SAM-7 missiles and anti-aircraft guns capapble of downing helicopters and planes; it even had flame-thrower, which could propel a jet of Napalm like flame up to 80 years…
With such weapons the AC examined the option of … escalating into a more open form of warfare. A republican source said ‘Consideration was given to open confrontation… Ground to air missiles were coming in and there was aview that with all this gear the campaign should be stepped up.
A Tet offensive was a runner. They very seriously tested it – they put different areas on full alert on seek and destroy missions. The idea was to take on the army on roads and at fortifications with fifty to sixty IRA members invovlved at a time and to attack helicopters’. The option was, however, discarded, a senior IRA members explaining; ‘We could do, say, six months’ intense fighting, with heavy casualties on both sides, but the consensus in the IRA is that it wouldn’t work. The big bang wouldn’t do it’.
The key was the arms from Libya. Still, you’ll be hard pressed to find much detail about any of this, perhaps unsurprising due to the fact these were covert actions by an illegal organisation. Which leads us to an unlikely source (well, to my mind, but read on and judge for yourself). For it is -again – Ed Moloney in A Secret History of the IRA (and I have to applaud him for an even more readable updated version, whatever my qualms about his interpretations) who proves to be our most useful commentator on this period, and that’s ironic for two reasons. Firstly because in certain circles his Secret History is taken almost as the Bible of anti-Adams thinking for some of the larger conclusions it appears to draw, and secondly because it appears on close reading to say almost the opposite of what those who invest such faith in it believe.
On the issue of the Libyans Moloney writes:
So it was that as the Libyan venture was being organized, the IRA set about planning a major escalation of violence, something that would jolt Britain into reconsidering its options. The plan was modeled on the Tet offensive launched by the Vietcong in January 1968 when guerilla forces mounted a widespread and unexpected assault on US forces throughout the country. The Tet offensive is credited with beginning the end of American involvement in that part of Southeast Asia by convincing a decisive section of US public opinion that the war against North Vietnam was unwinnable. The IRA hoped to do the same with the British public.
The sense amongst the IRA was that:
‘By inflicting such big casualties, you’d get the support of radical governments elsewhere in the world,’ recalled the same source.
However, with the capture of the Eksund there was a rethink.
The capture of the Eksund changed everything…The more astute of the IRA leaders fully realized the consequences. ‘It was over, and it led directly to a stalemate situation which then fed into the peace process’. The IRA’s grassroots were jubilant over the organizations newfound strength, but even this was illusory. The IRA had lots of weapons, but it was by no means certain that they were the best that could be had. The value of the AK-47s, for example, had been exaggerated. ‘The volunteers thought they could fire round corners,’ remembered the same source. The heavy Soviet machine guns were pretty much useless. ‘They took three men to carry and only fired eighty rounds to a belt; they fired too slow,’ recalled a rural IRA activists. The SAM-7s were virtually obsolete. They dated back to the 1960s, and the batteries and firing mechanisms were dead and useless. Without Libyan assistance, and that was cut off when the Eksund was lost, they could not be replaced , and the SAM-7s stayed in their dumps.
But even this betrays a certain lack of realism. Support might be one thing, note however that the Soviet Union was always remarkably circumspect about PIRA, but tangible assistance would be quite another.
Still, I can’t help but wonder whether the idea was raised and subsequently dismissed in order to demonstrate the paucity of the armed struggle as a means of prosecuting change on the island. What better way to shift the discussion by putting forward an option that was but an exaggeration (at least as Lynagh saw it) of then current tactics in order for it to be – however reluctantly – put aside.
It’s also important to note how the Tet Offensive has become intertwined with the thinking of Lynagh. On the wiki entry of Pádraig McKearney, one of those killed at Loughall with Jim Lynagh, there is an entry:
His views were very close to those of Jim Lynagh, an IRA commander from County Monaghan, who devised a Maoist guerrilla strategy adapted to Irish conditions with the intent of creating liberated zones.
Further in that entry it is noted:
Note 1: The “Third Phase” in Provisional IRA thinking represented an escalation of the conflict in Northern Ireland with eventual aim of using conventional warfare by taking and holding “liberated zones” along the border. Due to a number of factors, including the loss of experienced activists at Loughgall and the interception of 150 tonnes of Libyan weaponry aboard the Eksund ship, this strategy was never carried out. (See also: Provisional IRA arms importation and Provisional IRA campaign 1969-1997)
Peter Taylor in Provos has an interesting point where he also argues that the IRA was energized by the ‘mass break-out of senior IRA prisoners from the Maze on 25 September 1983. The escape was important, not just to fulfill an IRA prisoners first duty (to escape), but to provide experienced men to regenerate the campaign outside’.
Amongst them was Padraig McKearney, brother of Tommy McKearney and one of the architects of a new strategy in which police and army bases were to be attacked and destroyed in order to deny the ‘enemy’ the ground, thus forcing them to retreat ever further north. The Vietcong had pursued a similar strategy in Vietnam. As a local man, Francie Molloy understood the strategy and the reasons behind it.
“The Tyrone IRA would have been trying to do in Tyrone what Tom Barry’s Flying Columns did in Cork in 1920-21. They were typical republican guerrilla politics. I think what they were trying to do in a pretty targeted way was to removed what the British and unionists would see as the second line of defence, like the second border”.
Ed Moloney raises an interesting issue. Talking about Lynagh and McKearney he notes that their military critique ‘… opposed two tenets of the Army Council’s strategy as it was developed in the mid-to late 1980s, both closely associated with Adams concept of republican struggle: namely the notion that the IRA’s war was a piece of armed propaganda and that Britain would be forced to move when enough soldiers were killed.’ Now, this seems somewhat contradictory. One can oppose one or other of those contentions, but not both. A war that is in effect ‘armed propaganda’ does not strike one as being the sort of conflict where ‘enough soldiers’ will be killed to prompt a withdrawal. What the Lynagh/McKearney military critique also opposed was the “Long War” strategy, in the sense that it pushed for a shorter much much sharper conclusion to force the conflict to a head. In any event, Moloney quotes a former associate of Lynagh and McKearney as saying that:
[they] didn’t believe sending Brits home in boxes would work, because the British army wasn’t a conscript army…they were working on the basis that a radical departure had to be made. The idea was either total war or no war at all, to force the British out of their bases and make the place ungovernable. They said that either the IRA should take it to that level or finish with the war; killing the odd UDR man did nothing. They believe the “Green Book” was shit, that it was based upon the false idea that the IRA would be able to operate from its home base and at the same time be able to resist interrogation at Castlereagh. Their response was the enemy will not allow you to survive in his bosom. Would Castro have survived if he had been Havana rather than in the mountains? That was the question they asked.
The problem with this approach is self-evident. Conflict, indeed history itself, is shaped by what is possible. The PIRA campaign emerged as it did much because it was possible, possible in the sense that it depended upon a balance between many different forces and dynamics including, but not limited to, the ability of the British state to react, the input of Volunteers, available weaponry and behind it all the passive – or active – support and participation of the wider Republican/Nationalist community. Remove any one of those factors, or add another and the conflict would change its nature. But, it is the comparison between Cuba and the North which is most telling. Accepting that there were complexities on both sides (not least in Cuba being the participation of Communists in earlier Batista governments) an insurgency in the 1950s to overthrow a society without the crucial politico-religious divide in Northern Ireland was a very different insurgency to one conducted in the mid- to late 1980s in a surveillance saturated, divided societal context.
Note that blame in the wiki entry is placed on the ‘loss of experienced activists’. Eight in total. Was it seriously proposed that eight activists could form the nucleus of a force which would create ‘liberated zones’? In the Toby Harnden’s odd and not entirely convincing account of South Armagh, Bandit Country, (which is written from a staunchly British perspective) he notes that:
Lynagh was a great admirer of Tom (Slab) Murphy because he commanded what Lynagh described a ‘liberated zone’ in South Armagh. Having studied Mao’s writings during his five years in Portlaoise and an earlier spell in the Maze Lynagh believed that the IRA’s aims could be achieved through the creation of a series of liberated zones which would be secured by attacking remote security force bases in mainly nationalist areas and then pushing out the few remaining Protestants. Tom Murphy admired Lynagh’s military prowess but had little time for his theorising.
Vincent McKenna said: Lynagh was into Maoism and all that sort of shite because he’d had time to read in jail. The likes of Tom Murphy and Kevin McKenna had probably never read a book in their lives.
Even taking into account the bias that is inherent in the text it is perhaps a fair appraisal by some on the ground of the ‘theorising’.
And here a questions has to be asked. What would it take to take and hold ‘liberated’ zones even for a limited period? For a start one might suggest the necessity to have a neighbouring state willing to resupply and to provide shelter during military counter measures. And go look at a map. The terrain which was to be ‘liberated’ was quite tiny, relatively easy in the eyes of the British to contain.
Now, having said that, if the object of the exercise was to force a response that was disproportionate then, yes, it is possible that under the guise of establishing ‘liberated zones’ it might have been possible to provoke a security/military response of such enormity that it would near-permanently alienate nationalists in that area. Yet, all this was really an attempt to wind the clock back to 1970 – 1973 when the initial stages of the conflict were at their height and when one might argue there was the greatest level of mobilisation. Or wind it back to a completely imaginary period.
But there is a further contradiction. Moloney argues that ‘the offensive was daring and ambitious, but it suffered from a single flaw. Its success hinged on the IRA’s preserving the element of surprise.’ He continues that according to one activist “You were all supposed to wake up one morning, switch on the radio, and discover that mayhem had broken out everywhere…the impact was supposed to have been earth-shattering”.
Moloney suggests that ‘whoever betrayed the Eksund robbed the IRA of a priceless asset… the British soon knew exactly what weapons had been brought in, and they were quickly able to put countermeasures in place’. The SAM-7s intended to down helicopters ‘were rendered useless when the British installed electronic countermeasures on the helicopters [although some sources suggest they were never fit for purpose in the first place being already obsolete]…. the Russian-made DHSK machine guns were far too heavy to be [used against helicopters - although oddly enough they did manage, it is thought, to bring down at least two in the early 1990s] lugged around the countryside, robbing ASUs of vital speed and mobility…’
Moloney also suggests that the ‘SAM-7s were to be used against the helicopters, ideally cutting off South Armagh and leaving it under the effective control of the IRA. The threat against the helicopters would force the British to ground their aircraft and to use armored ground transport which would be vulnerable to heavy machine guns’. Unfortunately that seems to entail a contradiction. It entirely underestimates the resources available to the British in terms of men and material. Is the implication that surprise alone would render the British unable to institute the countermeasures referred to above? Hardly tenable. Or indeed that the British were entirely blind to the prospect of such arms making their way to the North (almost unbelievably a certain M. Gadaffi of Tripoli publicly spoke of his support for PIRA during the period of the shipments).
And this also assumes that PIRA could mount large scale widely dispersed actions simultaneously and successfully. Yet the actual history of the conflict suggests that for various reasons that was far from certain.
And to see how an history where the Eksund made it through, or PIRA ramped up anyhow we should look at the actuality of Tet-lite operations because these were the material upon which the ‘liberated zones’ would depend. Ed Moloney provides cold comfort as regards Loughall which was part of a campaign of attacks on RUC stations which had started in February 1985 with a mortar attack on Newry police station…
Certain features of the Loughall operation suggested the possibility of a more innocent explanation [than the machinations of informers]. Glaring mistakes were made in the planning and execution of the bombing that inadvertently could have put the British on the trail, mistakes that spoke of a reckless overconfidence and carelessness. There were, for instance, no probes made around Loughall before the attack. This was routine practice in South Armagh, where, before ambushes or other operations, sheepdogs were sent into adjoining fields to flush out undercover soldiers. Nor was there any effort to give the attackers the protection of covering fire just in case something went wrong. Such sloppiness at this late stage possibly indicated that other lapses had occurred earlier in the preparatory work and it is conceivable that this is how the British learned of the plan.
While this at least partially skewers the idea that Loughall was some sort of demonstration of the unfeasibility of a serious armed offensive (by betraying it and therefore undercutting the exercise), it also implicitly points to a serious problem as regards ramping up the armed struggle. Simply put Lynagh and his unit, whatever their individual bravery, were simply not equipped to prosecute a serious war against hardened soldiers. And that is not to buy into some mythos about the capabilities of the British Army, but simply to suggest that the war that Lynagh was fighting was one which had been played out in the Border Campaign (which in itself was hardly a resounding military success), not the one they were actually engaged in against a technologically superior, better supplied, better quartered military formation with the political will to engage right back (particularly during the Thatcher era).
And as Brendan O Boyle has noted in The Long War the response by the British Army at Loughall represents an ‘extraordinary hardening’ of the conflict since it underscored that PIRA members would be shot without warning in the course of their activities.
Even within PIRA it appears that there were those who were dubious whether with or without the Eksund weaponry it was possible to mount such a campaign. Ed Moloney relates that:
The Army Council may have miscalculated the IRA’s ability to use the Libyan weaponry to best advantage. Not everyone in the IRA was convinced that the organisation had the wherewithal to deliver such an ambitious enterprise, as one middle-ranking commander recalled. “The strategy was to mount a massive campaign, but I had been going around the units and I was not convinced it would work,” he said. “We weren’t capable of that. There hadn’t been enough organization, and our security and training weren’t good enough. We didn’t have enough intelligence work done either. If we had tried to mount it, I think it would have been a disaster. I believed we needed a lot more time, but people had got carried away with all the heavy gear.” In a sense that did not matter, for the purpose of the Tet Offensive was, like that of its Vietnamese original, to show the world how deep and violent the opposition in Ireland was. After all, the Vietnamese had been given a bloody nose during their offensive, yet the violence had helped transform American public opinion.
That’s an interesting idea at the end of the quote, that any such offensive was to be demonstrative. But if so, then it was – arguably – as cynical as the idea that the war was continued while politically moves were made that would undercut it, which is the charge leveled at Adams and McGuinness, since those who proposed it then and still support it seem to believe it was a feasible option. And beyond that, when one considers that the RIRA appears to have been comprehensively penetrated by various security forces (including the FBI) the idea that a more overt or strengthened campaign by PIRA would have fared significantly better seems remote. Moreover, unlike the Vietnamese comparison where one saw an entire society mobilised against the United States the much more marginal position of the IRA within the Six Counties predicated against the levels of support that provided the foundation for the original ‘Tet Offensive’.
But let’s draw back a bit further. The main source here for the Tet Offensive option is Ed Moloney, and as I’ve pointed out, in certain circles his thoughts on the Peace Process are regarded as near incontrovertible.
But in page after page a close reading indicates – as with the helicopters, Loughall and indeed more importantly again the lack of security within PIRA – that there was never an option for total war along the lines of a Tet campaign. And why should this be a surprise? Because PIRA was not a traditional army – per se – but an entity that contained within itself aspects of an army and aspects of an insurgent grouping. Even the best weaponry and (as importantly) the best training would have been insufficient to leverage PIRA into a force capable of taking on and besting the British Army and certainly not in the absence of a largescale mobilisation of the Nationalist population. Across the three decades the only times such a mobilisation was seen was in the very early years and then in the early 1980s. The former mobilisation a troubling example because while it probably saw the largest numbers deployed by PIRA it also saw a huge attrition of numbers through actions and external pressures (a charge that the Northern leadership would make strongly against the former Southern based one when they took the helm). That latter mobilisation was conversely a political, not a military, mobilisation. And without the means to transmute that political mobilisation it was impossible for an armed campaign to sustain itself much beyond what was already happening on the ground. Nor is it tenable, even if we suppose that the ‘liberated zones’ idea was intended to be an exemplary rather than a sustained strategy, that conflict on the lines attributed to Lynagh would have necessarily drawn the response he sought from the Nationalist community if only because there was no clear political strategy to capitalise upon the establishment of these zones, zones that would be beaten back, it would appear, relatively quickly by the British. At best what political strategy there was seemed to be along the lines of seeking the reintroduction of internment in order to radicalise Nationalist opinion, or that the process of retaking those zones would so outrage Nationalists opinion that British rule would be undermined, and hoping that would open the North to complete chaos. But would that have happened? The Sinn Féin vote, an admittedly imprecise yardstick by which to measure Nationalist sentiment, had been in slow decline from 1984 through to 1992 which suggests that the hard edged face presented by the IRA was far from self-evidently a means of increasing support and that the response by the British didn’t of itself necessitate any positive political outcome. Nationalist opinion was already somewhat mollified by the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the remarkable sight of a Unionism seemingly unable to respond to the new rapprochement between London and Dublin. It might be slight progress forward – but even the minimal involvement of the Maryfield Secretariat suggested a very different context evolving from that previously. And on a practical level the attrition rate of IRA volunteers in this phase of the conflict was high. What would have been left of an organisation to actually put some shape on the chaos?
And this too is to completely ignore the political and physical environment beyond the limited and constrained discussions within the Army Council and the IRA itself.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, while but a pale shadow of a serious contribution to the process of developing a peaceful and wholly political context on the island, did signal a renewed interest on the part of the British state in reaching some sort of accommodation with the Republic of Ireland as regards the North. Indeed it’s hardly overly cynical to suggest that the British government played a twin-track approach of talking with Dublin while prosecuting a very hard edged war in order to in part assuage some Unionist concerns both before and after the AIA, particularly in the context of essentially ignoring those self-same Unionists during the negotiations that led to the AIA. Thatcher might well have been equally deaf to the pleas of Dublin in the early 1980s, but by 1985-7 it is clear that she was aware of the potential for disruption that a purely security solution would engender or one which did not gift Dublin some overt expression of interest. And most intriguingly was the development of something akin to a dismissal of Unionist opinion by her following the implementation of the AIA. Quite a turn around.
The British Army and security services were becoming increasingly adept at managing the security aspects of the conflict, containing them largely within the six counties and year by year increasing the levels of surveillance and intelligence operating both within the general environment and within the paramilitary group. Taylor notes that ‘…by the mid-eighties, the intelligence on which interceptions and ambushes were mounted was far more precise, with sophisticated electronic surveillance supplementing the information supplied by agents and informers within the IRA’s ranks’… Taylor posits that ‘the SAS went for, and largely achieved, ‘clean kills’ – the victims were armed – with the notable exception of the shooting of the three unarmed IRA Volunteers in Gibralter in 1988′.
Taylor also makes a crucial point. He argues that in the mid to late 1980s and early 1990s the SAS ‘devastated the Provisional IRA in Tyrone in a manner unlike anywhere else in the province’. He continues, ‘… such operations were on the whole difficult to carry out in urban areas like Belfast and Derry because of the risk to civilians and extremely difficult in South Armagh where the locals knew every suspicious-looking hedge, barn and ditch. Under the right circumstances rural areas like Tyrone offered a perfect killing field’.
Is it unreasonable to posit that those ‘circumstances’ would proliferate across the Six Counties, and in particular in ‘liberated zones’ in a Tet style scenario?
None of this is to suggest that even a minimal Tet offensive using the weapons then available prior to the Eksund wouldn’t have assisted an increase in violence and wouldn’t have resulted in a higher profile for PIRA. It would have been a publicity coup at the very least to down a large number of helicopters (incidentally 3 or 4 helicopters were brought down subsequent to 1988). But in the actual history there was an increase in violence and as we’ve seen it was met with a heightened security response. Such an offensive would not have made the role of the British easier, but with Dublin onside the idea of covert bases ‘deep in the South’ seems like so much whistling in the dark, as does any thought that the southern side of a ‘liberated zone’ would afford refuge for any serious length of time. We’ve seen, unfortunately, in the more recent era how it is all too easy for groups to prosecute more minimal campaigns. But their scale, from the fire-bombing of shops to very sporadic bombings or attacks indicates the difficulties implicit in such activities and also their effective political paucity. Furthermore they do suggest that there was a self-limiting factor to any such campaign and one which was containable by the British state even before it set to working on more imaginative solutions in tandem with the Republic that could lead to its effective removal.
And success? Well that would have required a different, better prepared PIRA and perhaps a different Nationalist/Republican people. A people willing to gift that PIRA more in terms of blood and sweat. One or other. One or other, which, when all was said and done, simply did not exist. And ironically the analysis Lynagh and McKearney are credited with leads to one inescapable conclusion. They were correct. Total war or no war at all.
The Left Archive: “Teoiric” the Theoretical Journal of Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party, 1980 January 28, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive.
Seeing as the last Left Archive piece has inspired a lively and – I think – illuminating debate about the legacy and policies of OSF/WP it is probably suitable to have a Workers’ Party piece this week. Fear not, there’s a host of other material out there. If you’re concerned that it’s too WP oriented, well, send other material to our email address. But, for the moment we’ll work with what we’ve got.
So, here, in all its glory is Teoiric, the Theoretical and Discussion Journal of SFWP. It’s an interesting document with a broad array of articles framed within the iconic image of the 1980s, the mushroom cloud.
Inside we see an array of familiar names, from the indefatigable Henry Patterson discussing Loyalism with, shall we say, a slightly BICO esque twist to his thoughts, a fascinating article on Terrorism and the Bourgeoisie which has a very telling introduction. Eamonn Smullen is here to discuss “Intellectuals and the Working Class” and we also have an article about the then contemporary issue of Poland.
The dual article on Honouring Wolfe Tone provides an interesting apologia for why SFWP wasn’t promoting a return to Stormont rule… Read it and judge for yourselves.
In a way it’s a tad predictable but it’s literate, well produced and locks straight into a discourse that would be continued in the Workers’ Party days where an alignment with currently existing Marxism was very much the order of the day. And the design is very much of a piece with Making Sense which was to come later.
Mind you, reading Comment at the front of the journal it’s hard not to see a further resonance with today…
1980 has been a great year for war-mongers. Events in Afghanistan and Iran have been exploited to the full by the enemies of detente….
History shifts forward in repetitive movements, doesn’t it?
If the resolution is a bit low please tell me.
That fruit looks healthy… er… no, not really. January 26, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Health.
The Guardian had a somewhat thought provoking piece in the G2 section on Wednesday about the real benefits of fruit consumption.
It noted that:
The reason apples are good for you is mainly the cellulose and vitamin C; chewing gives a feeling of satiety and promotes saliva secretion, which is good for your teeth; and because, in the real world, they tend to come as part of a deliberate lifestyle. “People who eat apples probably ride a bike and don’t smoke,” says Sanders. Except for the truly fanatic, they are also more likely to eat them in moderation.
Wait… eat apples, ride a bike, don’t smoke. Hey, that’s me they’re talking about. But let me say, my fruit consumption is… considerable. Three or four apples a day, a banana, fruit drinks, a kiwi… or two. And all because… well, because apples are meant to be healthy. And yes, the extract above does note that they are ‘good for you’. But apparently not quite as ‘good’ as previously advertised. And not just apples but all fruit.
The one thing that is in nobody’s interest to say is this: fruit just doesn’t provide that much nutrition in the first place.
This is bad, bad news. All those apples, that banana, the kiwi… wasted?
If you believe the nutrition industry, every week produces some new superfood, often a fruit: blueberries, pomegranates, acai berries. The fact is that fruit consists of water, sugars (normally about 10%), some vitamin C, and some potassium (thought to be good for controlling blood pressure). And that’s kind of it. Pineapple, for example, has only got about 10mg of vitamin C per 100g (which means a 80g standard portion would only have about 12% of RDA) and is mainly water and sugar. In a typical supermarket fruit medley of 150-200g, at least 15g will be sugar, and the other major constituent water. If it’s a citrus medley, there will be about 40mg per 100g of vitamin C, if not, there will be about 10-20mg.
So what should we be eating?
“The foods packed full of micronutrients are grains, seeds and nuts, the peas and things.” Bagged salad? “It’s mainly water. Dark green vegetables are a good source of some vitamins, such as vitamin A and folate, but lettuce hasn’t got much going for it at all. “
And a note of pathos…
The really sad thing is that we don’t eat enough vegetables, such as cabbage, spinach and broccoli.”
It is sad, isn’t it?
And all that stuff about ‘superfoods’?
The antioxidants in pomegranate juice, which supposedly fight diseases as different as cancer and arthritis, actually only last in the body for an hour. Wheatgrass, that standby of the trendy juicebar, is said to be rich in detoxifying chlorophyll, but every green vegetable and leaf in the world contains cholorophyll – which is not, in fact, absorbable by our bodies.
Still, who can’t identify with the following about ‘smoothies’:
Nor do dietitians have much time for the rise of the smoothie, sales of which have increased by 523% in the past five years. They are expensive, says Sanders, “and bloody holier than thou”.
They are though, aren’t they. I won’t mention a certain brand which proclaims its virtuous nature, but there is something about its glib cheeriness on the packaging which is enormously off-putting. But this is perhaps even more off-putting…
With whole fruit, the cell structure is still intact, and you swallow pieces. They take longer to digest and the sugar in them is released slowly, rather than the rapid spike in blood glucose produced by drinking juice, or a smoothie. “If you liquidise it into goo it’s just like drinking ordinary Coke. Or worse, actually,” he says.
Worse? How so?
“It’s still a sugary drink. A lot of people on diets don’t realise that if they’re drinking loads of apple juice or orange juice, it’s got a lot of calories in. If you drink a litre of apple juice a day, it’ll be 400 calories.” Saunders particularly objects to labelling that implies that drinking these concentrates substitutes for three or four portions a day: “They don’t. They only count for one.”
Fianna Fáil are looking for a Press Officer, and meanwhile, what about that poll in the Irish Times? January 25, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
Got to smile at the advertisement in the recruitment section of the Irish Times this very day. Fianna Fáil is looking for a Press Officer and Events & Communications Co-Ordinator. It will be intriguing to see who takes up the challenge.
Still, as a job what’s not to like? The new person ‘will be based in Lenister House’…. they will ‘report to the Head of the Press Office… and will act as an official regional contact for the Party. A detailed understanding … of the regional media is important’.
Still, it’s the last line which is revealing if only in terms of indicating where some previous applicants might be coming from.
It suggests that ‘Applicants should have an understanding of Irish Politics’… well, yes. And once that wouldn’t even need to have been said.
Meanwhile a further wry smile crossed my lips while reading the Irish Times proper (they do you know… they’re wry and they’re smiles and they ‘cross’… right to left as it happens. It’s an ideological thing). For if one caught a glance at the front page one would read the headline “Voters divided on whether Taoiseach should resign”, the subhead “Enda Kenny’s satisfaction rating now ahead of Bertie Ahern’s”. And accompanying it a photograph of a rather tense looking Taoiseach with 44% saying Yes, he should go, and 46% saying No, he shouldn’t.
Now, as I scooped it up in a Centra off Merrion Square, the thought that passed through my mind was that there wasn’t an accompanying poll of party strengths and that this would presumably arrive tomorrow so they could string it out across the weekend with a bump in their circulation. But no, later at lunch time, I had the opportunity to read further and saw the much smaller box with the “Inside” heading which noted in text as tiny as a typographer could make it that ‘Fianna Fáil support increases despite uncertainty’… but with the line ‘More bad news for Bertie Ahern’ beside it. What’s the guessing that had the poll indicated a further dip in FF support we’d have seen that featured on the front page.
And if one looks at the poll (margin of error not disclosed) we find that FF is at 34% up 1%, FG is stable at 31%, Labour is down 3% at 12%, the PDs have gone up 1% to 3%, the Green Party is up 1% to 6%, SF is up 1% at 8% and Others are down to 6% from 7%. I can’t help but think that the reality here is that the situation has not changed one iota since the last poll, bar perhaps a softening of the Labour vote which appears to have gone to the Greens and SF (and weirdly perhaps the PDs… those social liberals… who can say what they’ll do next – eh?).
The piece by Stephen Collins argues that ‘the Taoiseachs problems mount up, but his party is virtually unscathed’. It’s a fair enough analysis. The Taoiseach is beginning to lose significant support beyond Fianna Fáil, and in particular in his coalition partners. But even so, I find the whole thing pretty depressing.
My point? Well, look, I’m no partisan for FF or Ahern. But I can’t help feeling that yet again the Irish Times both in presentation and analysis is stirring the pot. That’s alright, as far as it goes, but it would do to focus a bit of serious political thinking on all this. For the moment the coalition is locked in tight. For the moment Fine Gael can huff and puff, but they simply can’t blow the house down. For the moment Fianna Fáil has the prospect of at least 18 months ahead where Ahern can enjoy uninterrupted and unchallenged authority over his party. And all the efforts to bring him down – to my mind – simply divert from much more profound issues that our society face.
Recently I was talking to an acquaintance of mine who I’d never pegged as particularly political. But he was saying that he felt bitterly angry about the way in which the fruits of the boom had been largely squandered by the present government, and where investment had occurred it had been piecemeal and often to the advantage of certain vested interests. That’s the real story about this government, and indeed about any potential successor made up from the largest opposition party. That’s what the left should be attempting to deal with, not a failing leader whose days are numbered. Because, that’s a strain of politics that Fine Gael have made their own, the image over the substance, the idea that in some indefinable fashion another party is ‘corrupted’ when in fact it is the very nature of those two largest parties to speak softly to and for power. Constructing a way forward on the left is going to be difficult but it demands better than that and better than expending energy and time on what the Sunday Business Post rightly regarded as a ‘sideshow’ in Irish politics.
I’d love to see a left of labourist and republican and indeed environmentalist hues arguing for universal health insurance which would roll back the two tier system that has evolved. That would address the structural inequalities that are now embedded in our educational system. That would argue that public and social good must be at the heart of the methods adopted within this society. These aren’t particularly contentious goals. The US is currently holding a discussion on many of these very issues. But as the years pass and more of the new-found wealth is squandered, or as the economy begins to dip and that wealth vanishes, we’ll only have ourselves to blame if five years from now the realisation hits home that it was a complete waste of time. The object of the exercise should be to construct new space for the left to occupy, not to support or prop up one or other of the two largest parties in their political project. It is that simple.