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The Bold Fenian Men: History Ireland December 20, 2008

Posted by Garibaldy in History, Irish History.
17 comments

Who were the Fenians, the Irish Republican Brotherhood? Dangerous dynamite-obsessed neanderthals, the first international terrorists? Beardy picnicking day-trippers for whom political activity was mostly an excuse for socialising? Anti-aristocratic democratic secular republicans? At bottom, just another branch of Catholic nationalism? Innovative political agitators who broke the back of landlordism and gave Parnellism its strength? Diehards mostly isolated from the people, as illustrated by 1916? Some, or even all, of the above?

These are some of the issues raised by the current, and most interesting, edition of History Ireland, due to the 150th anniversary of the founding of the IRB. As well as an introduction by Fearghal McGarry and James McConnel, the commissioning editors, the magazine includes articles on the historiography of the Fenians, the relationship between the Fenians and Young Irelanders, the Fenians in Canada, the Ladies’ Committees of the IRB, Cardinal Cullen and the Fenians, the Manchester Martyrs, land league posters (including some fascinating visually striking ones), bomb-making in Brooklyn, and Fenians in the French Foreign Legion. While initially I was going to talk about each article, this close to Christmas I lack the inclination to write something so long, and I suspect most readers have no desire desire to read it. Instead then, I am going to discuss what the Feniansmight have represented, with reference to their Proclamation of the Irish Republic, and some of the articles in History Ireland (the text of the Proclamation is in the magazine).

From the Irish People of the World (1867)
We have suffered centuries of outrage, enforced poverty, and bitter misery. Our rights and liberties have been trampled on by an alien aristocracy, who treating us as foes, usurped our lands, and drew away from our unfortunate country all material riches. The real owners of the soil were removed to make room for cattle, and driven across the ocean to seek the means of living, and the political rights denied to them at home, while our men of thought and action were condemned to loss of life and liberty. But we never lost the memory and hope of a national existence. We appealed in vain to the reason and sense of justice of the dominant powers.
Our mildest remonstrances were met with sneers and contempt. Our appeals to arms were always unsuccessful.
Today, having no honourable alternative left, we again appeal to force as our last resource. We accept the conditions of appeal, manfully deeming it better to die in the struggle for freedom than to continue an existence of utter serfdom.
All men are born with equal rights, and in associating to protect one another and share public burdens, justice demands that such associations should rest upon a basis which maintains equality instead of destroying it.
We therefore declare that, unable longer to endure the curse of Monarchical Government, we aim at founding a Republic based on universal suffrage, which shall secure to all the intrinsic value of their labour.
The soil of Ireland, at present in the possession of an oligarchy, belongs to us, the Irish people, and to us it must be restored.
We declare, also, in favour of absolute liberty of conscience, and complete separation of Church and State.
We appeal to the Highest Tribunal for evidence of the justness of our cause. History bears testimony to the integrity of our sufferings, and we declare, in the face of our brethren, that we intend no war against the people of England—our war is against the aristocratic locusts, whether English or Irish, who have eaten the verdure of our fields—against the aristocratic leeches who drain alike our fields and theirs.
Republicans of the entire world, our cause is your cause. Our enemy is your enemy. Let your hearts be with us. As for you, workmen of England, it is not only your hearts we wish, but your arms.
Remember the starvation and degradation brought to your firesides by the oppression of labour. Remember the past, look well to the future, and avenge yourselves by giving liberty to your children in the coming struggle for human liberty.
Herewith we proclaim the Irish Republic
The Provisional Government

Stirring stuff indeed. And, it must be said from the off, not a hint of national chauvinism nor religious bigotry. The Irish people – it is clear from this Proclamation – for the IRB are the people of Ireland who are not aristocrats and landowners. As well as foreshadowing Connolly’s definition of the Irish people as effectively the rural and urban working class and their allies, it also echoed the revolutionary principles of 1789, when the French people was defined by the revolutionaries as those who contributed to the economy through productive activity.
The claim of equal rights for all, the rejection of monarchy, the stress on the separation of Church and State, even the structure of a secret society all place the Fenians firmly within a European democratic republican tradition. And an international one, with an appeal to republicans everywhere (although most likely this practically meant America). Whereas the Jacobins remained fundamentally bourgeois republicans, the Fenian Proclamation calls upon international workingmen’s solidarity in its disavowal of a war on the English people and its appeal to English workers. This suggests that those Irish socialists who have sought to stress the links between some Fenians and the First International have not been stretching a point as much as some would like to think. From this document, then, it seems fairly clear that the Fenianshave little in common with the Catholic nationalism that came to shape much of the politics of twentieth-century Ireland, and that they instead represent an Irish variant of an international militantly secular post-Jacobin republican tradition. Certainly Cardinal Cullen thought so, hence his remark that “eternity is not long enough, nor hell hot enough” to punish them. Owen McGee’s recent book The IRB makes a very strong case for seeing the Fenians in this way.

However, the story is not so simple. Although we can place the official ideology of the movement in this tradition, and the New Departure and Land War led by ex-Fenians like Michael Davitt in this radical popular republican tradition, it becomes more problematic when we remember that men like Eoin O’Duffy were also members of the IRB, as was a great deal of those around Michael Collins during the Tan War, and subsequently a lot of the early Free State Army officer class. Perhaps we ought then to see a gap between the early Fenians and those who joined forty or fifty years later. It is entirely possible that by then, the ideals of the majority of the members of the movement had changed. Certainly, as Matthew Kelly’s account of the historiography in History Ireland points out, Fenianism was sometimes used to describe the spirit of the Irish nation, and the IRB men of the Celtic Revival period were much more interested in the cultural aspects of nationhood than their predecessors.

Or, perhaps the official ideology of the organisation had never really represented the views of a great deal of its members anyway. Vincent Comerford nearly 30 years ago posited the idea that the Fenians represented “Patriotism as Pastime”. In other words, they were a manifestation of the mania for associations in the UK that sprang up in the mid and late-Victorian era – Association Football, the GAA, and other sporting organisations, as well as social gatherings such as “Fenian picnics”, and the glamour and excitment, and sense of belonging and comradeship, that belonging to a secret society brought to young men from the lower classes in rural and urban Ireland. In other words, there were plenty of reasons short of militant republicanism that would entice someone into joining the IRB. But, on the other hand, as Fearghal McGarry’s study of Eoin O’Duffy shows, joining bodies like the Gaelic League could lead to joining the IRB.

The IRB may have asserted their separatist principles in arms, but this was not the only tactic that Fenians adopted. Possibly as an outworking of the socially-aware republicanism represented in the Proclamation, much of the leadership of the Land War and subsequent land agitation came from current and ex-Fenians. Matthew Kelly’s The Fenian Ideal and Irish Nationalism details not only the Fenian involvement in the Land War, and their alliance with Parnell in the early 1880s, but also how the Fenians were key to the political strategy of the Parnellites after the split – what he calls the Redmonite/Fenian nexus, opening up a very interesting line of argument, and one that can help rewrite the history of the events that led to 1916. Fergus Campbell’s Land and Revolution shows in great detail how the IRB (and then the Volunteers and IRA) was involved in land agitation in the west. Again, the Fenians emerge as a disparate body, with different attitudes in different places at different times.

History Ireland, and the works cited above, deal not only with the organisational history of Fenianism, but with the popularity of Fenian principles. While Kelly states in History Ireland that McGee has perhaps exaggerated the extent to which the Fenians were democratic republican purists. he himself argues that the ideas that made up Fenianismwere much more popular than the organisation itself, and that the strength (or sometimes weakness) of the organisation and of the Irish Parliamentary Party has led historians to underestimate the extent to which there existed a strong body of separatist opinion in Ireland, for which Home Rule was the bare minimum, and not the final aim. To understand separatist and republicanism, therefore, we must look beyond the IRB itself to its rival organisations, and broader public opinion.

What then of the Fenians and unionism? Were they simply locked at the end of the day into a Catholic nationalist framework? Kelly points out that Fenian newspapers warned the Ulster unionists in the period before the First World War that they would fight to keep them, what Kelly calls “separatist tough love”. While it is true that the Fenians sought to secure independence for the entire island, they cannot be shoehorned into a Catholic nationalist framework, as some historians have tried to do with people like Peadar O’Donnell in the 1920s and 1930s. And in fairness, few have tried. That said, clearly, especially at the very end of the nineteenthand in the early twentieth century, the IRB did contain some old fashioned Irish nationalists.

The IRB that emerges from the pages of History Ireland then is a complex beast. Although some of those involved in the Fenian tradition were inspired by terrorist ideals, others were not, and it is a step too far to call it a terrorist organisation. Speaking for myself, I am inclined to agree most with McGee’s picture of the organisation, as socially-radical, secular republican revolutionary democrats, part of a wider European tradition with its roots in the French Revolution, though I recognise that this does not describe all Fenians at all times. This could of course be me seeing what I want to see. The Fenians lurk large in my own political views because of the success of the New Departure and its influence on republicanism in the 1960s. For others, they might represent the disaster of militarism and conspiracy. Given that the books of McGee, McGarry, Campbell, and Kelly are available in paperback, perhaps some CLR readers will be inspired to give or get them for Christmas.

That Bank Recapitalisation Plan in full… Part 2 December 19, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economics, Economy, Irish Politics.
6 comments

Okay, joking apart, and breaking off briefly from my self-imposed holiday (it’s very pleasant a chairde, thanks for asking) for the next week or so, can I just say that there was little Christmas cheer in what was laughably termed a ‘plan’ released by the government as regards the Bank Recapitalisation. For this was thin stuff indeed. Conditional and aspirational in equal measure. So… no surprise there.

And while it’s been noted that the plan is vague to the point of infuriation a number of other elements are very evident. Firstly, this was the recapitalisation that we were told previously was not necessary.

One has to wonder about a government which in early October was adamant that it would not be engaging in such a process. Even as recently as the 8th of October we read that

Mr Lenihan said the issue of recapitalisation of banks had been discussed by several ministers at the meeting, and was actively being considered by some EU states. He said he did not think this policy was required in Ireland, but events were moving quickly.

‘Didn’t think it was required’… eh? Well at least he was clever enough to leave a bit of wriggle room… because he’d need it.

“That is our position at this stage. But we are monitoring the position. It would be a brave person that could predict where the banking system would be in a week, two weeks’ or three weeks’ time,” said Mr Lenihan, who praised an EU agreement yesterday to raise the minimum deposit guarantee for consumers to €50,000 from €20,000.

By the 24th of November events were moving… well… apace…

The concern was not that the banks could survive but that they could “exist as a motor in the economy”. He said State investment would be a last resort.

Now call me cynical but I’d bet that one could argue that the concern very much was that at least some of the banks would be able to survive.

“If private money is prepared to invest in the banks on appropriate terms and on terms that serve the public interest, then the Government would welcome that,” he said. “The Government hasn’t ruled out public investment, but what we have said is the banks will have to seek private investment in the first instance.”

And – from his point of view – shockingly…

Mr Lenihan said it was legitimate that the taxpayer should not be asked to inject all of the funds required to recapitalise the banks. That would, in effect, be nationalising them, he said.

Good Lord… No! But precisely what principle was being argued from here?

“It would be difficult to justify having six separate institutions when the taxpayer had wholly invested in all of them,” he said.

Well, one could make a contrary argument that these separate institutions were the outcome of a freeish market and also the architects of their own downfall, so – and I’ll bet this was the subtext – why not have three, or even just two, separate institutions with the taxpayer investing in them, leaving the others to stand or fall (and while we’re pondering that can I direct you to Michael Taft’s latest eminently sensible – for which read ‘it will never be adopted by any party in this state in our lifetime’ – proposals, including the idea of financial institutions established with public good as their prime motivator). But there was a sneaky little way to cut this particular Gordian knot…

Asked if the Pension Reserve Fund could be used, Mr Lenihan said it had lost a lot of money in the last year. If the shares in the fund were sold that could involve a substantial loss to the pensioners of the future, he said.

Yes, indeed.

“But there are more liquid assets in the pension fund that could be used in the appropriate circumstances,” he added.

And lo! So it came to pass. This weekend just gone we read, to our horror or amusement or most likely simple resignation, that the Government is indeed to recapitalise.

GOVERNMENT STATEMENT: THE GOVERNMENT has today [Sunday] decided on an approach to the recapitalisation of credit institutions. The Government’s objective is to ensure the long-term sustainability of the banking sector in Ireland and to underpin its contribution through the availability of credit to individuals and businesses in the real economy.

This initiative will help to foster and encourage the flow of funds to the economy and limit the impact of financial market difficulties on businesses and individuals.

The Government noted that recapitalisation is recognised by the European Commission as one of the key measures that may be used by member states to preserve stability and proper functioning of financial markets, and that it believes that in current market conditions even fundamentally sound banks may require additional capital to respond to widespread market perception that higher capital ratios are appropriate for the sector internationally.

The Government decision followed the Minister for Finance’s statement of November 28th, 2008, which confirmed the State’s willingness to supplement and encourage private investment in the recapitalisation of credit institutions in Ireland with State participation.

In that context, the Government has decided, either through the National Pensions Reserve Fund or otherwise and subject to terms and conditions, to support, alongside existing shareholders and private investors, a recapitalisation programme for credit institutions in Ireland of up to €10 billion.

The State’s investment may take the form of preference shares and/or ordinary shares and the State may where appropriate participate on an underwriting basis. In principle, existing shareholders will be expected to have the right to subscribe for new capital on the same terms as the Government.

A key principle in the operation of such a fund will be to secure the interests of the taxpayers through an appropriate return on, and appropriate terms for, the investment.

The next step in this process will be for the Minister for Finance to initiate detailed engagement with the credit institutions themselves in respect of specific proposals.

In order to safeguard fully the interests of the taxpayer, State investment will be assessed on a case-by-case basis in an objective and non-discriminatory manner, having regard to the systemic importance of the institution, the importance of maintaining the stability of the financial system in the State and the most effective and economical use of resources available to the State and each credit institution’s particular requirement for capital.

Any State investment will be undertaken in line with best practice in the EU and elsewhere and consistent with EU state aid rules and in particular the recent European Commission communication on recapitalisation.

Recapitalised institutions may be required to comply with such requirements as to transparency and commercial conduct as the Minister sees fit.

The National Pensions Reserve Fund Act 2000 will be amended, as necessary.

Discussions with the relevant credit institutions are ongoing and the institutions continue to progress proposals for private investment. Institutions are being asked to submit their proposals by early January.

The Government guarantee scheme remains in place.

Now gaze in awe and wonder at a statement which contains five instances of the word ‘may’, an ‘either’, a ‘subject to’, an ‘any’, a ‘specific proposal’ and the chilling phrase (to some) ‘in principle existing shareholders will be expected to have the right to subscribe for new capital on the same terms as the government’… and so on.

Note too that the reason for recapitalisation is oddly nebulous.

…recapitalisation is … one of the key measures that may be used by member states to preserve stability and proper functioning of financial markets, and that it believes that in current market conditions even fundamentally sound banks may require additional capital to respond to widespread market perception that higher capital ratios are appropriate for the sector internationally.

So, all this to respond to a market perception and preserve stability. But… what is the market perception, and what of stability. It’s as if the government remains unsure as to why it’s doing all this.

There is an interesting article in the Irish Times here by Michael Casey, who as a former chief economist with the Central Bank and former member of the IMF board is presumably in a better position than most to know what is going on, and he, tellingly, admits to being entirely puzzled by the governments maneuvers on this issue. He notes recapitalisation itself is “a curious [decision] because there is not a shred of hard evidence to indicate that the banks are short of capital”. He comes to this conclusion because of the following:

The Central Bank and Financial Regulator and the banks themselves have repeatedly denied that capital adequacy is a problem. The 20 PwC accountants who were sent into the banks to go over the books came to exactly the same benign conclusion.

The “establishment” view is that the banks are not short of capital and that they have adequate , indeed “robust”, capacity to absorb impaired debts now and in the future.

Which rather begs the question precisely what is going on. Because as he also notes ‘speculators continue to adopt the opposite view and this is what is driving down the share value of banks’.

Worse, that old fraud ‘sentiment’ (or as the government statement puts it ‘perception’) enters the picture:

The speculators, and some academic economists, seem to be basing their view on the experience of some other countries where banks were exposed to the property market. They clearly do not believe one word of the establishment line. Which side is right? We don’t know yet, but we will early in the new year…The rights or wrongs sometimes don’t matter. If big players get a bee in their bonnets about the assets of a small country, then it is often extremely difficult to defend the value of those assets.

Ah, the rationality of the market.

But Casey raises a disturbing point when he argues that:

What is not clear, however, is the strategic objective of the Government action. Is it to massage share values or to encourage the banks to lend more to Irish companies?

And this may well account for the odd vagueness in the statement reproduced above. Could it be that the Government itself simply doesn’t know what it’s objective is and is trying to delay until forced to make a decision? Because Casey is dismissive of the idea that bank recapitalisation in and of itself will ‘fix’ the economy. As he notes, lending more money to companies who can’t shift stock due to a collapse in demand isn’t going to generate demand. Which reminds me of something Robert Scheer on Left, Right & Centre has been saying for quite a while, that increased benefits and wages to lower paid public workers (as well as supports for those on lower wages in the private sector) are one of the best ways of stimulating demand.

But beyond that Casey also raises one further very interesting and, when made evident, obvious aspect of the recapitalisation programme. If a bank seeks assistance under the recapitalisation plan that will inevitably raise questions as to the efficacy of a regulatory framework which signed off on that bank in the recent past (note his words above about the Central Bank, the Financial Regulator and the 20 PwC accountants who undertook that task). And since the banks clearly would have known when the investigators went in that something was askew the only reasonable interpretation would be that both the regulatory frameworks were flawed and the banks… well, unforthcoming. And as he notes this presents a ‘moral dilemma’ for the chief executive of any bank in said position who would consequently have to resign (although perhaps not, knowing the current crop).

And Casey notes that nothing will happen without a ‘hard push from Government’ including consolidation. Indeed he also proposes that while:

…traditionally, Irish banks have been very conservative with regard to venture capital…it almost seems as if the Government wants to use the banks to administer a soft lending programme for industries in difficulty. If that is the aim then complete nationalisation of one or two entities might be the way to go.

It might indeed.

Meanwhile the economic ‘plan’ announced yesterday to great fanfare seems, if anything, more of the same recipe that we’ve seen implemented across the last couple of decades. But with the added bonus of the now daily raids on the National Pension Reserve Fund. And sure why not? They may not like the detail of the US and UK fiscal stimulants but they sure do like the idea of pushing certain debts down the line. And interesting to read that “The Government intends backing them up with a favourable tax regime designed to anchor the businesses here. This will include tax breaks for intellectual property and a 15 per cent charge on profits that the funds make. This is the same rate as is charged on venture capital profits in the US and will be the lowest levied in the EU.”

Just what sort of a society and economy are we developing here?

And what of our glorious captains of finance? Standing tall on the deck of the ship as it continues to hit not one iceberg, but another, and another, and coolly indifferent to the damage, both direct and collateral, being taken. Well not quite…

What to make of the news that Anglo Irish Bank chairman Sean Fitzpatrick (a name one might recognise from his ‘bold and brave’ attacks on our public services prior to the Budget) is stepping down after some fancy footwork with loans. Loans let it be said that totalled €87 million. What is it humanly possible to do with €87 million. You can’t eat more than three square meals a day. Or sleep in more than one room. Or drive more than one car, or even take one more than one executive jet… ah… or who knows what this expert on our public services used the monies for. Perhaps just to have more money… or to have a little insurance should our society collapse under the depredations of a business and political elite who apparently don’t give a damn.

He noted that:

“This balance is substantially higher than in the 2007 report because in prior years I had temporarily transferred my loans to another bank before each year end. I had done this on my own initiative over an eight year period,”

And that:

the transfer of the loans between banks did not breach banking or legal regulations. “However it is clear to me, on reflection, that it was inappropriate and unacceptable from a transparency point of view,” he added.

Good Christ.

But, waving the flag for his particular brand of ‘enterprise’ he continued…

“I have made my decision in the best interests of the Bank and all its stakeholders. From the beginning, Anglo Irish Bank was based on a set of beliefs which were pro-business and we achieved great success allowing many new businesses and entrepreneurs realise their potential in Ireland and later overseas. I remain committed to those ideals of access and speed of delivery based on the strength of relationships that should underpin successful banking practice.

Well, you know, Michael Taft would beg to differ on the entrepreneurial issue, and I think he might just be right.

Anyhow, the mea culpa continues;

I am fully responsible for my own decisions and actions and I regret that I had adopted this approach. I have always pursued high standards in my personal and professional life and I failed to meet those standards in this instance.

…’I regret I adopted this approach’…

An approach? He calls it ‘an approach’. Shifting €87 million of his debt off the books periodically in order to… well… what exactly?

And despite all this the Board of Anglo IB said that “…it accepted Mr Fitzpatrick’s resignation with regret”.

But he wasn’t alone…

Lar Bradshaw, a non-executive Director with Anglo, also tendered his resignation. His decision was based on the fact that a loan, which he held jointly with Mr Fitzpatrick, was temporarily transferred to another bank prior to year end, the Anglo statement added.

What would it take, one wonders, for them to give him a kick on the way out.

Anyhow, that glowing reference from the Board, for reference it is, stands testament to the superb system of corporate social welfare extant in our current era. They’re not going to fail, not least because they can be secure in the knowledge that the lender of last resort, the Irish state, will always – but always – step up to the plate should the need arise.

That we all had such support in times of need. It’s a sort of selective Santa. Some will get gifts. Generally those who aren’t doing terribly badly. And the rest? There’s not much left.

So I guess it’s that sort of an economy and that sort of a time we live in.

Merry Christmas everyone!

That Bank Recapitalisation Plan in full… Part 1 December 19, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economics, Economy, Irish Politics.
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tumbleweed

Christmas Presents December 16, 2008

Posted by Garibaldy in Uncategorized.
66 comments

Ok, WBS may be buggering off for his holidays, but I am stuck for presents to buy. What books are people getting for Christmas for themselves or others? I feel that my head has been buried in the sand, and there is good stuff I have missed. All suggestions greatfully received.

That’s almost all folks… until the New Year. December 16, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
23 comments

Winter Scene

Time for a rest, some recuperation, recharging the batteries [insert your chosen cliche of choice here]. No, really it is. I want a holiday and I’m going to take one for the next two weeks.

It’s been a remarkable year on many different levels – both personal and political – and well worth considering what it all means. But that, I think, is for the New Year.

My thanks to our contributors, to all of you who comment and those who just dip in from time to time.

I’ll check in over Christmas (there’s a couple of small issues that might be worth posting about) and the Irish Left Archive will be back on January 5th.

Le Gach Dea-Ghuí Don Nollaig agus don Athbhliain

Nollaig Shona Daoibh.

The Irish Left Archive: Irish Socialist, from the Communist Party of Ireland, April 1970 December 15, 2008

Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in Communist Party of Ireland, Irish Left Online Document Archive.
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irishsoc-1970b

A fascinating document from the Archive here. The Irish Socialist, newspaper of the Communist Party of Ireland, from April 1970. The significance of this is underlined by an article on Page 6 by Michael O’Riordan entitled Communist Party of Ireland Reconstituted. Only a short week or so prior to the publication of this issue the Irish Workers’ Party and the Communist Party, N. Ireland had voted unanimously to merge to reconstitute the CPI. Well worth reading, and not merely for the details such as the attendance of fraternal delegations from the Soviet Union, Rumania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, France, Bulgaria and Britain.

Almost inevitably the cover has a woodcut of James Connolly accompanying the strapline… The Message of Connolly – See P. 3 & 4. And up there in the top right hand corner of the banner is “Small Farmers” advertising a piece on Page 8. Then look at the box in the lower right hand corner which states:

ANOTHER FIANNA FAIL TRIUMPH! Ireland has the Lowest Rate of Housebuilding in Europe according to the O.E.C.D. Report.

The contents is fascinating. Some good analysis from the indefatigable Betty Sinclair (better known perhaps for her NICRA involvement) on the make up of the Chichester Clark led Unionist government. Clear reference to the housing actions, including N.A.T.O. activities in Ballymun and elsewhere. There’s a ballad on page 2 and Notebook by ‘Northsider’. I’m mighty intrigued by the article on “British Interests Move to Take Over Printing Industry”. There was some presence of the left inside printing during this period. Then we have “The Plight of The Unmarried Mother” “by one of them”. Interesting to reflect on how language has changed.

The Editorial is striking. It argues that ‘Paisley can be a blessing’, since ‘[his] election… serves notice that Orange Fascism is one again on the march. This brand of Fascism is not the creation of Paisley. It is the creation of the Unionist Party and its imperialist masters. They created it to split the Irish people along religious lines so that they could continue to dominate us’.

But… “It would be wrong to see Paisley’s victory as having no positive features. For the first time there is a wide open split in the Unionist ranks. Many who vote Unionist are opposed to Paisley fascism. The opportunity exists to build a movement which will cut across religious barriers for democracy and against fascism.

The real danger is that Paisley will become ‘respectable’ and unite with Fascist forces inside Unionism.”

The proposed solution?

“Against this alliance a united front must be built to bring democracy and an end to sectarianism in the 6 Cos”.

It’s a thought-provoking analysis, not least because it is almost an inverse of the current dispensation.

Returning to the reconstitution of the CPI I wonder was the pre-existing split on the island into two orthodox CP formations one of the reasons for the development of a larger but similar left wing party in the shape of Official Sinn Féin? Or did it operate in the opposite fashion and did the formulation of a single entity make it more difficult to expand the formations due to the problematic issue of partitionist thinking?

Talking about listening… or is it hearing? December 14, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.
8 comments

You may recall that I went to see Hermano last month, and while mightily enjoyable not least because I was probably in a cohort of people there who could reasonably be described as of advanced years – and the fact that almost all there all dressed in the same shades of black, which has its own entertainment value – I have to report a worrying development.

Following the gig, or directly afterwards, there was the usual muffled hearing. But… this was still there the following day and then as it subsided was replaced by a hiss in my right ear. This lasted at an audible level until about midday the following Monday. So, all of 36 hours in total. It’s gone now, but I’m conscious of a very very faint hiss when in a quiet room.

This is, as you’ll guess, problematic. I like my music. I like making it – doodling away in Logic on the Mac – but more especially I like listening to it. Last thing at night, at the weekend. Here and there.

The hiss isn’t very loud it is true. Indeed it’s so soft as to be inaudible almost all the time. But… if I concentrate, and I’m the sort of person who does when presented with such things…

The funny thing is that I’ve always been pretty careful about it. I didn’t use a walkman for extended periods. At live music my chosen path was always to surreptitiously wad my ears with torn pieces of paper handkerchiefs. I’ve never enjoyed being at the front of a gig by the speakers. In fact I can only remember doing so at a Royal Trux gig in the mid 1990s. And that wasn’t great.

In the early 2000s I had a suspicion that my hearing had been blunted on a couple of frequencies by exposure to the hum of a computer all day every day for years, but nothing too pronounced.

Then came the iPod. Some years back I got one and although again I was careful I suspect I wasn’t careful enough. And messing about with music on the computer is a sure-fire way to cause trouble. In fact I’d say that that might be the root of the problem.

So I’m ramping back on noise. A lot. I’d already given up playing music on my iPod at anything over the lowest setting and podcasts are now fainter. Television? Well, I find I sometimes can’t catch the odd word here and there. I’m sure it’s due to them being spoken too quickly. Yeah. I’m certain that’s it. On the computer I’ve already hung up the big earphones. No loss there.

And so I figure I can preserve my hearing at least a while longer.

I had the option of getting to the Damned some weeks back but gave it a miss. I’d seen them before, even met Captain Sensible, but somehow inflicting another evening’s music on my battered eardrums seemed – foolish. And although if I had gone I’d have worn ear plugs, well, I’m not sure I’m really that keen to expose myself to any further attrition. To take that risk.

But the funny thing is that I wonder how much more time I have before it gets worse, or do these things stabilise? Where I am at the moment isn’t bad. Indeed it’s broadly speaking fine. But as with other things I notice that there is no steady state in life.

And what was it that old right-ring fraud Ted Nugent said? If it’s too loud you’re too old.

For once, just once, he might be right.

And the relevance of the last verse of “I’m an Adult Now” by Canadian band, The Pursuit of Happiness, from the late 1980s seems never more obvious…

Sometimes my head hurts and sometimes my stomach hurts
And I guess it won’t be long
Till I’m sitting in a room with a bunch
of people whose necks and backs are aching
Whose sight and hearing’s failing
Who just can’t seem to get it up
Speaking of hearing, I can’t take too much loud music
I mean I like to play it, but I sure don’t like the racket
Noise, but I can’t hear anything
Just guitars screaming, screaming, screaming
Some guy screaming in a leather jacket
Wooah!

This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… The Darkside December 13, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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Okay, here’s a band who are almost unknown. And perhaps for good reason. And yet, and yet over the years since I first heard them there’s some quality to their music that has stayed with me.

Pete Bassman (née Bain) and Rosco were former members of Spaceman 3 – a band I had relatively little interest in other than Sonic Boom’s more electronic/ambient/krautrock excursions (and who once claimed that Loop, of all people, were ripping them off… hmmm.. pot, kettle, etc, particularly as regards The Jesus and Mary Chain and a host of late 1960s influences).

And here are Spacemen 3 with “Walking With Jesus”.

So that makes it doubly odd that I really really like The Darkside. Here they are with Waiting for the Angels

Because it surely can’t be the vocals, which are – to be kind – workmanlike. And yet that monotonic delivery has a certain charm to my ears which somehow is reminiscent of the Velvet Underground. But the problem there is that I long long ago fell out of interest, let alone love, of the VU (other oddly than the albums that Lou Reed completed after John Cale did a runner). Which means that by some curious process I actually really like them.

They managed to issue two albums, astoundingly enough on one of Beggars Banquet’s offshoots, an eponymously named first album and a second one entitled Melomania. The sound, as with the track above was firmly positioned in a sort of faux-1960s place, droney, space rock-like, hints of psychedelia particularly the darker side of that genre.

Here is a track, Good For Me, from the second album where overall frankly the vocals tended to disintegrate (although wise man to put a bit of reverb and echo on them). And yet, once more, they don’t irritate me in the way that some of Spacemen 3’s similarly spoken/sung vocals do.

Bassman was a busyish guy in the 1990s going on after The Darkside collapsed to lead Alpha Stone which were a most curious mix of space rock set to dance rhythms and beats. I kind of liked it and still do but unfortunately I can’t find a YouTube video of their work. Some time earlier this decade he appears to have thrown in the towel, but Alpha Stone are back (here is a website which deals with all things Bassman).

Unleash the Libertas! The pan-European party is revealed… er… well no, but it will be… soon. Candidates and policies and all… December 12, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Politics, Irish Politics.
17 comments

Got to say I was surprised by how thin the Libertas news event. As spoilers go it wasn’t up there, now was it? Here is the text of the press release on the Libertas site:

Brussels, 11 December – Libertas will contest the European elections in 2009 on a Pan-European basis, its chairman Declan Ganley announced today.

Speaking to a packed Press Conference at Libertas’ newly opened European Headquarters in Brussels, Mr. Ganley said that Libertas would field candidates across the European Union on a common pro-European platform of democracy, accountability and transparency.

Mr. Ganley stated that Europeans have reached a crossroads: “If people want a strong and healthy Europe that is democratic and answerable to them, they should vote for a Libertas candidate. If they do not want Europe to succeed or if they are happy with the current undemocratic practises, then they should vote for an incumbent party. For those who weren’t given a vote on the Lisbon Treaty, this will be their referendum”.

Libertas will run candidates in every country where the candidates are of a high standard, committed to the Libertas’s pro-European stance and its platform of democracy, accountability and transparency aimed at bring European back to the people.

A detailed policy document will be published in the coming months, and candidates’ names will be unveiled over a similar time frame.

The Libertas announcement coincides with the European summit where the Irish government will announce a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

According to Mr. Ganley: “The Irish government and the powerful elite in Brussels are showing utter contempt for the democratic decision of the Irish people in rejecting the Lisbon Treaty. Not one sentence will change in a “new version”. Some non-legally binding texts will be added in an attempt to fool the people. They tried this with the French, they tried with the Dutch, they are trying with the Irish. It’s time to put a stop to this bullying.”

Incidentally if one takes up the offer on the Libertas.eu site…

Our 2009 European Parliament election campaign is underway….Click on your country page to see how you can get involved.

It comes as something of a disappointment to find the following formulation…

Welcome to the Libertas Czech Republic page. As our Czech campaign progresses, we will be updating you here.

Be part of changing the futures of the Czech Republic and Europe!

For the Czech Republic, Libertas is seeking:

* high calibre candidates for the European Parliament elections in June 2009
* donations to Libertas Czech Republic’s campaign
* organisational or communications support for running the Libertas election campaign in the Czech Republic

If you are interested, or have any questions, please e mail czech@libertas.eu

We want to hear from you!

With similar messages under Cyprus, Germany, the Netherlands and so on and so forth. So far the ‘pan’ bit isn’t quite meshing with the European.

Otherwise there is the text of Ganley’s speeches to the great and the good in these countries. Reading the following…

You are Europeans as I am a European

I am proud to be an Irishman and a European

… one is inevitably reminded of Simon Hoggart of the Guardian, and his propensity for introducing or re-arranging such statements from political speeches. Try this for size…

You are French… I am French…

or

You are Czech… I too am Czech.

Indeed the concentration on Ganley is quite something. It’s like butter spread thin across toast. There’s only so much of him to go round. One hopes that there’s enough.

He’s certainly remaining coy about his own actions in the future…

He said it would be best to run candidates in all EU states but conceded that the party’s candidate list had not yet been agreed. He asked for volunteers across the EU to come forward. On the question of his own candidacy, he said: “I’d like to; I haven’t made the decision yet. This is not about me.”

Well, the electorate will no doubt test that proposition to destruction soon enough….

A number of thoughts. Why no announcement of candidates now? Could it be that as mentioned on Wednesday the numbers aren’t flocking to Libertas, or is this meant to be a more impressive staggered release of numbers. The obvious problem is that the time to the campaign is now shortening rapidly, as any of our Irish hopefuls will attest, and the sooner people enter the field the better.

As noted in the Irish Times this morning…

Mr Ganley refused to name the countries where Libertas had already managed to secure candidates. But one member of the French party Movement for France at the event yesterday said they were considering running up to 72 candidates under the Libertas banner. A new party is being set up in the Czech Republic which will partner with Libertas, and there are already concrete plans to run candidates in Britain.

And while it is unusual, in the extreme, for anyone on the CLR to find any element of agreement with Nigel Farage of UKIP one has to concede he’s got a point when he says…

…”absolutely no common ground” between Libertas and his party. He said: “Libertas has nailed its colours firmly to the David Cameron mast of wishing to stay within the EU to try to reform from inside.

“Declan got one thing right – they didn’t listen to the Dutch, they didn’t listen to the French and they’re not listening to the Irish over reform. So why do he and Cameron think they’ll listen to them?”

Which brings us to policy… it’s quite an eclectic mix if yesterday’s press conference reports are to be believed…

Mr Ganley stressed that the main purpose of Libertas was to highlight the lack of democracy and accountability in the EU. But he struggled to communicate other elements of the party’s political programme. He said he was not particularly enamoured of the policy of neutrality and that Libertas was a centrist, moderate organisation that would include members from the centre-left and centre-right. A full manifesto would be published in spring after a first party congress.

It’s all very interesting, not least to see whether Libertas can become a force to be reckoned with over the next six months. But I’d be cautiously pessimistic on their behalf. And even the idea that they can – in some sense – operate as a proxy on Lisbon in states where referendums weren’t called, or where the national constitutions forbid such referendums, seems somewhat tricky. Perhaps they can generate some critical mass, but they’ll have their work cut out for them.

One very telling aspect of this will be whether they can capitalise on the general feeling of anxiety about the future that has found its most pointed manifestation in Greece. There we see a remarkable process unfolding from a truly tragic event. But the end-point, at least in the medium term, would appear to be a Socialist government elected to power. And while that would be far from an awful outcome does it really match up to fulfilling the expectations of those protesting now (and it clearly isn’t the goal of those rioting)? Or perhaps Athens in 2008 is really a reprise, with greater street violence, than Madrid in 2004 with a discredited conservative administration on its last legs. But a transition to a new government doesn’t have to take place in Athens until next year.

That anxiety is evident across Europe and whether it could be focussed in such a manner as to see large, or even medium sized, groups of voters detaching from their primary political allegiance is of no little interest.

It’s when one does thought experiments on how one applies a Libertas candidate in an Irish context that it all becomes a bit nebulous. For example in the Dublin electoral constituency it seems improbable that a candidate could slip in between strong sitting candidates from FF, FG, Labour and Sinn Féin.

And beyond that one wonders what sentiment will express itself as regards Europe over the next year or so, particularly if the downturn – as seems likely – worsens. I simply don’t think that the political ire of voters will leapfrog from the national to the EU (although in that context it is possible that Libertas might make gains at the margins). If anything, and the crisis over pig-farming is extremely educative, the call has been for more support from Brussels.

But all this can be hedged and argued one way or another.

The news that a second poll on Lisbon is to be held ‘before the end of October 2009′ is so expected as to have almost no weight at all. The concessions on the Commissioner and the probable Danish style opt-outs – although I’ll bet the government will do all in its power to avoid having to exercise those sort of genuinely binding measures, but they’ll probably have no choice but to do so – are now so well-flagged up as to be devoid of surprise.

The next opinion poll on the matter should concentrate minds all over.

News from the former Dominions… or that small spot of bother in Canadian political life. December 11, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics, Irish History.
12 comments

There are some fascinating political events happening in Canada at the moment – although their profile in their ‘sister’ British media is oddly low. Coalition building amongst the opposition leading to potential government formation has seen parliament prorogued by the Governor-General to prevent a confidence vote. There are claims of treason, an intriguing analysis by the Conservatives of the Bloc Québécois and some outworkings as regards federalism there that might just make the future a lot more interesting.

While hardly unprecedented in other polities the idea of a transition between one government and another without an election seems to be regarded with some aversion inside Canada where it is not unknown for minority governments to continue in power, as the Conservative party of Stephen Harper – the unlikable Bush-lite of Canadian politics – has done over the past number of years, as if by right.

Indeed when set against the situation in the Republic of Ireland where Enda Kenny still harbours hopes, forlorn or not, that there might be a change of government without an election and these are regarded as essentially legitimate one could wonder at the Canadian aversion. But then again there are aspects of democratic practice which while often within the letter of constitutional law appear to go against it. Consider the manner in which a redux Lisbon Treaty – or at least one unchanged from Lisbon I – is seen as somehow being perverse. And I have to admit that I share that sense at least on some levels.

Still it’s not as if Harper hasn’t played fast and loose with the Canadian electoral system himself. In 2007 the Conservatives introduced a bill which Parliament passed fixing election dates every four years. The next scheduled election was to be – and remains – October 2009. But curiously Harper held a snap election in October. Now this too sits within the letter of the fixed election dates bill, but hardly the spirit of it. Although the Conservative argument that it is too soon after that election to return to the people, or to see a change of government has a certain latent power to it.

Anyhow, the upshot was that the Conservatives saw their numbers increase from 124 to 143, the Liberals saw theirs decrease from 103 to 77, the Bloc Québécois decreased from  51 to 49, the New Democrats went from  29 to 37 and the Greens who had held one seat in the previous parliament lost all representation. The Greens are rather interesting in this context since their 6.7% vote nationwide is seen as assisting in the increase in Conservative numbers.

Still, heavy the head that wears the crown and all that. If Harper thought this (slightly) constitutional coup was going to make life easier for him after those results he was sadly mistaken.

The small matter of an international global crisis and the presentation of a fiscal plan that sought deep government spending cuts, the suspension of the right to strike by civil servants for three years, the removal of the right of women to seek court oversight on pay equity, sales of public assets and – most worryingly for the other elements of the Canadian political establishment – the removal of public subsidies for political parties, pushed the opposition together in a way which might otherwise not have happened. Self-preservation is a powerful incentive.

Finally the Liberals and the NDP woke up to the fact that in coalition and with support from the BQ – and not just support, but a fully fledged Accord dated until June 2010 – they would be able to operate a minority government that while lacking the numbers of the Conservatives could at least call on the 63% or so who voted other than the latter party.

Cue predictable horror from the Conservatives. Harper thought the idea was ‘undemocratic’ and that Liberal leader Stéphane Dion had no right to take power unless through an election. No doubt. It’s always entertaining to see systems of governance put to the fire due to unprecedented or unpredictable out-workings of their own details, and this is no different. Because implicit in the option of a non-confidence vote is the possibility of either a change of power within a democratic chamber, or an election. Moreover the Conservative Party was operating without the tacit support of another party in the Canadian Parliament (which was not the case in the most recent previous example of a minority – and short lived  – administration in the 1970s), and it was only the relatively low numbers of the opposition parties and the much higher (relative) numbers which allowed them to propose that they were in some sense ‘most popular’. One can see how protagonists on all sides could take directly contrary positions each rooted in some concept of ‘democratic’ legitimation.

The problem for Harper is that if he looks back at the last minority government, that of Joe Clark in 1979 – 1980, he would see that the non-confidence motion was the method by which that government (a Progressive Conservative Party one, a predecessor of Harper’s Conservatives) was despatched.

So, faced with a newly energised opposition ready to put forward a non-confidence motion, but one that curiously appears riven between proponents and sceptics of the coalition idea, he went to higher authority. That being the Governor-General.

Now, it’s always sensible to reflect on the enormous conservatism that Governor-Generals lend to the political life of nations such as Australia and Canada. From almost any Republican analysis, and a good few liberal democratic ones, the idea of an appointed individual having the power to dismiss governments or intervene in the electoral life of a democracy is anathema. And one can only applaud the rapidity with which our own was dealt with in the South. Domhnall Ó Buachalla, the last individual to hold the office, was instructed by De Valera to keep his head down and move to Booterstown (clearly the Siberia of Ireland).

The President of Ireland website has some thoughts on this…

Determined to undermine the office, de Valera requested that Domhnall O’Buachalla should succeed McNeill. O’Buachalla , a veteran of the 1916 Rising, had already agreed to do the minimum necessary, to be a signatory when a signature was required. He did not move into Vice Regal Lodge and never appeared formally at any public occasion. In this manner, the office and all that it stood for, literally disappeared from view. Vice Regal Lodge became a hollow and empty symbol, hidden behind trees.

As Joe Lee noted in Ireland 1912 – 1985, Ó Buchalla was a loyal acolyte of De Valera, who “cooperated in demeaning the office”. But Lee also notes that the Cosgrave cabinet were “…already intent on keeping the Governor General in his place. It dealt firmly with the inflated assumptions of the first G G, T.M. Healy, concerning his prerogatives”. An almost perfect object lesson in how to do such things, bar the small issue of contention over expenses for the rent on the Booterstown address. But perhaps even that indicated how marginal the office had become to the workings of the Free State.

One might also reflect on how the events in Canada are almost an inverse of those that took place in 1975 in Australia when the then Governor-General John Kerr dismissed a Labor Party government led by Gough Whitlam that was unable to get funding bills through the Senate and appointed the leader of the conservative opposition coalition as a caretaker Prime Minister. The distinction there was that the political battle was fought out over the supremacy of the lower house, which Whitlam and Labor argued was a central feature of the Westminster tradition that they cleaved to. And one could argue that the constitutional crisis in Australia was given an additional bitter element by the appointed aspect of the Governor-General. When accountability rests merely on appointment and not on democratic legitimation then arguably there is no accountability at all and all decisions made in that context will be suspect.

Which leads us back to Canada. There the role of the Governor-General is taken to allow only three courses of action, to dissolve parliament, to prorogue parliament or to ask Harper to resign his commission and to allow Dion to become the new Prime Minister.

The Governor-General in a sort of half-way nod to the 21st century is a woman, Michaëlle Jean, of Haitian descent appointed, ironically, by a Liberal Prime Minister. Some sensible suggestions have been made that the Chief Justice of the Canadian Supreme Court would be better placed to make such decisions, in open court. It won’t happen, of course.

Beyond that one of the most interesting aspects of the situation has been what can only be described as a reversion to a more conservative stance by the Canadian electorate in subsequent polls. The Conservatives have increased their vote share with both Liberals and NDP losing votes. Nor is the coalition option viewed with much satisfaction with the idea of a further election gaining more support.

This rightward shift, or, perhaps more accurately, a shift to maintain the status quo is not entirely surprising. One can imagine, particularly at this point in time, that stability – even in the context of a not hugely popular government – might appear preferable to a transition in power. And we can reflect on how unpopular in the Republic the similar replacement of the Fianna Fáil/Labour coalition by a Fine Gael/Labour/Democratic Left coalition was in the mid 1990s (although that government had reasonably high poll numbers – the actual replacement wasn’t considered an entirely correct procedure… for myself if it’s not prohibited what’s the problem?).

Yet, and here is the central paradox, such changes in government are implicit in the systems we have in place both here and in Canada. Sure, the Canadian example is distorted by the intervention of a non-elected third party representing… well, what exactly? It’s hard to believe that the British monarchy discusses little else but the internal machinations of Canadian politics, or that their representative on earth in Number 10 Downing Street is much exercised – although he might well prefer a Liberal/NDP coalition as a global partner than the current occupant of high office in Ottawa.

But there is no ‘democratic’ reason why shifts of power within an assembly should be deemed illegitimate simply because they occur during a term. Indeed a contrary argument can and perhaps should be made that that is a better expression of democracy than the alternative of proroguement. Moreover, in the Canadian context one might additionally argue that it shows the paucity of strategic thinking on the part of the centre and centre left that those parties did not cohere directly after the election (those of us who’ve watched the NDP over the years with a degree of sympathy will not be unacquainted with such a paucity of thinking). Of course internal power politics and the issue of dealing with the Bloc Québécois offers a different dynamic there. The Liberals, who relatively recently were a party of single party government are naturally unhappy at becoming a mere quarter in a 1 and 3 quarters party system along with the NDP and BQ.

And Harper’s comments on the Accord with the BQ have been very striking. He criticised the ‘opposition’ for ‘getting into bed with the separatists’. It’s an interesting thought, that a political party which has democratically gained seats in a federal party is somehow unworthy of engaging with and moreover in a situation where they would actually assist political stability.

Or as Karim Bardeesy in Slate notes:

The ground continues to shift as fractiousness emerges. The opposition coalition has complained loudly but is accepting Jean’s decision for now. The episode has taken its toll, further bloodying most of the political class and replaying old struggles around national unity. After all, don’t we use elections to decide who will lead us? And aren’t those separatists, whose bed the rest of the opposition is slipping into, still legitimately elected members of the Canadian family?

And therein lies the rub.  Expect this one to run and run, but the intersection between contemporary politics and a political structure that has inherited features that – to an external eye – appear to play a negative role on both democratic and a functional axes provides an instructive lesson about power.

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