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This Week At Irish Election Literature January 20, 2017

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From 1983 Abortion Referendum,a leaflet from the Anti Amendment Campaign warning that “This Amendment Could Kill Women”. A lot of the contents are prophetic

From 1944 “Aiséirge Says… The New Order In The New Ireland” a booklet produced by Ailtirí na hAiséirghe giving in detail the Sixteen Point Programme of the Party.

A “Fur Hag Alert!” leaflet from The National Animal Rights Association.

Martin McGuinness retires from politics January 19, 2017

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Genuinely sorry to hear this news. He’s going to be missed.

Signs of Hope – A continuing series, January 19th, Week 3, 2017 January 19, 2017

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Gewerkschaftler suggested this recently:

I suggest this blog should have a regular (weekly) slot where people can post happenings at the personal or political level that gives them hope that we’re perhaps not going to hell in a handbasket as quickly as we thought. Or as the phlegmatic Germans put it “hope dies last”.

Any contributions this week?

Labour rebuild January 19, 2017

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There’s a piece on Labours rebuild in The Examiner

While Labour faced a near wipeout in last February’s election, its membership has now increased by more than 1,000 in recent months as leader Brendan Howlin aims to secure the party’s future.

Mr Howlin and other senior party figures are moving away from campaigning in middle-class areas and instead focusing on attracting working-class support once again.

You’d wonder about the increase in membership. As for campiagning in working class areas……. There is also a lot of talk about doubling. …double the membership numbers, double the number of Councillors and double the number of TD’s.

I think it’s a long hard road for them and it’s hard to see how they make their targets.

A necessary (partial) counter-narrative to the austerity orthodoxy January 19, 2017

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This looks interesting… a book that examines the record of austerity in the Irish context:

Austerity was necessary to correct Ireland’s public finances, but it was not responsible for the rapid recovery of the country’s economy subsequently, according to a major new analysis of the economic crash and recovery.


Instead of crediting austerity with the recovery, the book credits Ireland’s strong export industries and buoyancy in the country’s top export markets, along with European Central Bank quantitative easing and historically low interest rates.
Together these factors helped to stabilise the banking system and supported the recovery, according to the book’s contributors who include economists, social scientists, political scientists and other “internationally acknowledged scholars”.

The response to this will be educative, assuming there is one.

Hunting with the hounds, running with the foxes… January 19, 2017

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Curious this…

Minister of State John Halligan has challenged Fianna Fáil to introduce a motion of no confidence in the Government in a row over the provision of cardiac services at University Hospital Waterford.
Mr Halligan, rounding on Fianna Fáil in the Dáil, said the party rather than the Independent Alliance of which he is a member, holds the majority say in the Government.

I heard his intervention came using opposition speaking time – can that be accurate?

Flags of convenience? January 19, 2017

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Ah, normal service resumed by Newton Emerson in the IT after his thoughts on Martin McGuinness. And curiously at odds with his previous thoughts in regard to unionism not cutting a good deal with nationalism now rather than a bad one later. He writes;

Sinn Féin wants a new settlement at Stormont based on “equality” and “respect” – words it repeated prominently as the latest crisis deepened. There is no doubt the DUP has denied republicans both, but it is misleading to portray these terms as synonymous. In Northern Ireland, respect is vital because it is our agreed alternative to equality.
This does not apply to equality between the sexes, races, religions or the other six “categories of persons” specified by the law enacting the Belfast Agreement. The mistake is extending the equality of individuals to unionism and nationalism themselves.


Unionism is simply British nationalism, and two nationalisms cannot have equal standing within one sovereign state. Such a thing could only be attempted within some innovative new constitutional arrangement, and that is specifically not what the agreement or Irish nationalism seek to achieve.
Instead, the agreement states that Northern Ireland will be British until a majority vote for it to be Irish. British nationalism is therefore favoured pending the ascension of Irish nationalism, and as this a one-way process – no mechanism is provided to be British again – Irish nationalism is favoured overall.


In the meantime, the agreement grants both nationalisms not equality but “parity of esteem” – in other words, equal respect. It is a subtle yet critical distinction, fundamental to the dynamic balance of Northern Ireland.


Unionists have upset this by showing no respect; the comparable republican sin is wilfully over-interpreting equality. This is best illustrated, pathetically, by the issue of flags and emblems.
Unionism’s position is that British flags should adorn all public buildings, with views differing only on how often. Nationalists can like it or lump it.


Sinn Féin’s position is that no British flags should be flown unless Irish flags appear alongside, which appears superficially reasonable. So would the reverse apply in a united Ireland? Of course not. This is equality as an acceleration mechanism towards unity, after which it would be rapidly decelerated to zero.

Tellingly he pretty much stops there in relation to flags. He doesn’t say what his actual position is. He clearly doesn’t want both flags flown. So does he want one flag, that being the Union Flag flown? Or none? And the answer isn’t unimportant. Because whether he thinks the issue is ‘pathetic’ or not one thing we all know from long experience is that these issues have a power beyond their supposed immediate aspect.

And I wonder at his certainty about the GFA not accommodating two nationalisms, or the idea that in one sovereign nation (a bit fuzzy, at the least, that I’d have thought given cross-border political structures and contacts) there can’t be two nationalisms having equal standing.

But even if he believes that to be the case, why should the trappings of nationalism, which don’t as such give effect to it in any material way – and flags are a good example of same because I could fly a flag out my window for the Independent Socialist Republic of WBS and it would mean less than nothing in actual terms, not be given that parity of esteem? That’s as easy a win, without changing the substance as one can imagine really.

It’s odd because every time one thinks he might actually get it he demonstrates that he doesn’t. Take the following:

Equality lends itself to such creative expansionism: it is a difficult thing to argue against without sounding like one of Adams’ “bastards”. So it has been reduced to a buzzword slapped onto the same old constitutional battleground. Yet the battle is not for the permanent draw that equality implies, but about respectfully managing a process of victory and defeat.
The approach afforded to unionism – the eventual loser – is to show nationalists enough respect to blunt their nationalism, which would be difficult to manage even for those inclined to try. In failing to try, unionists have lost any authority to complain about the consequences.

Truish. I see this slightly differently. I think respect for unionism means parity of esteem afforded to them too, whatever their failings in reciprocating. Simply put pulling the Union Flag down – outside agreed contexts where shared or neutral symbolism can be used – short of a UI (and possibly not even then) is a bad idea because it breaches certain principles in regard to… parity of esteem. And if they are breached one way then they can be breached the other way.

But he continues:

Unionism is about defence of the status quo, not because it “fears change”, as Adams likes to say, but because it already has what it wants.

Not quite. I doubt unionism finds the current dispensation entirely to their liking. But perhaps like democracy it is the least worst option given the alternatives (and let’s not even get into the fractures within unionism over the years over the shape of Northern Ireland, devolution as against direct rule, etc.). But in a broader sense, yes, unionism sits within a polity that it finds tolerable/acceptable – diminishing that is a threat to it.

And the first part of the next paragraph is not without a certain truth either.

To unionists, political generosity can seem like trying to delay the inevitable by encouraging it. That concern deserves respect, too: republicans are far too glib about dismembering someone else’s country, considering that their grievance is the dismemberment of their own.

But that’s the whole point. That republican grievance isn’t cosmetic. It isn’t unreal. There was an actual dismemberment of Irish nationalism and one form of the Irish nation(s) in the twentieth century. And he cannot seem to understand why it is precisely because there are two nationalisms on this island, and focussed most immediately on the North, and that actual dismemberment that it is even more necessary that both are afforded respect, parity of esteem and yes, equality. Or, alternatively, remove such iconography from the public/state sphere entirely.

Moreover he seems unable to grasp that Northern Ireland might exist very far into the future (and as time goes on distinct from but in strong – possibly confederal relationships East and South). And that being the case the issue of what would happen in a UI (his point in regard to whether the Union Flag would be flown) is as moot as pretending that the status quo is the North being as British as…well, Finchley.

And if the optimal position, that is full union with the UK is no longer possible – and it is not, then it makes sense to move to the next best position or the next best after that and so on ad infinitum short of unity with the Republic, and that involves an acceptance that the Union Flag cannot if there is genuine parity of esteem, fly alone. And yes, that flag would fly beside the Tricolour, perhaps indefinitely.

What’s fascinating for me, and again speaking as a Republican, is to see how zero-sum his underlying approach actually is. It’s all or nothing, take it or leave it, Tricolour or Union Flag. It’s disappointing because he does understand the power of symbolism, and it is futile to pretend that it doesn’t exist just because one doesn’t like that power.

Northern Ireland is not England, nor is it quite like the rest of the UK. Nor is it the Republic. That is a basic outline of constitutional fact. That being the case best to accept that there are two nationalisms within it as there are, that there is nothing in the GFA that prevents flags being flown together (or not at all), and just get on with it for the time being. However long that may take. It was after all, as noted above, Emerson himself who talked about cutting good deals now.

The UK and Europe. Size is relative January 18, 2017

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Rafael Behr, in the Guardian, gets it just about right here I think when writing about how:

Maybe the European Union is God’s way of teaching the British about Belgium. Specifically, it is a mechanism that forces UK politicians to confront the idea that Belgium matters. And not just Belgium but countries like it – the small countries.

This concept doesn’t come naturally to a nation that is neurotically worried about its greatness. Naming famous Belgians is a parlour game for British foreign secretaries. Cultivating small-state alliances feels like something less ambitious countries do. The UK struggles to see itself in perspective because it is richer and more powerful than most countries, yet so much less influential than it used to be.

Of course the EU isn’t a benign entity as such. As we know from the approach to Greece there have been massive problematic aspects – aspects which are part and parcel of pushing for more progressive outcomes. But there’s a smidgin of truth in this assessment (for example he points to how the Wallonian regional parliament almost scuppered the Canada-EU free trade agreement recently). And more pertinently in regard to how the UK is about to learn that…

It’s a question of perspective. For decades Britain has struggled to get a comfortable sense of its scale relative to the rest of the world. We are about to find out how big – or small – we really are.

Check out the comments BTL for a sense of how that particular lesson is taken by some.

But Ed points to an even more egregious example of this dynamic described by Behr here in comments

Here it is in all its awfulness (paywall extant).

And what of Boris Johnson’s absurd outburst?

In an extraordinary outburst at a foreign policy conference in Delhi, the UK’s chief diplomat said: “If [François] Hollande wants to administer punishment beatings to anybody who seeks to escape [the EU], in the manner of some world war two movie, I don’t think that is the way forward. It’s not in the interests of our friends and partners,” he said.

But the analogy, such as it is, doesn’t hold up. The EU isn’t a prison camp. States can leave the EU. That’s written into the EU itself (or has been since, was it Lisbon?). But states can’t leave the EU and then cherry pick for themselves what relationship they have with the aspects of the EU they like or dislike, that’s the EU’s right to determine. The crass stupidity of Johnson – or rather guile because I’m presuming he’s not so stupid as to believe his own rhetoric, is telling. He believes he can say this without fear of contradiction from those in the UK. Or rather that such contradiction will not be sufficiently strong to rebut his argument.

That he himself and his attitudes to the EU are so utterly hypocritical – as we know from his machinations prior to deciding he would support Brexit – that they reach Trump like levels is almost neither here nor there.

Quite a seven days for absurd Brexit rhetoric – a Chancellor threatening the UK will adopt a Singapore like model (and by the way, how would that work for Northern Ireland or Scotland) and now a Foreign Minister talking utter rubbish. But it’s not all rhetoric. If only it was. Now there is news that…

Hundreds of thousands of elderly Britons living in Europe may be forced to return to the UK unless the government guarantees that their healthcare will continue to be reimbursed by the NHS, campaigners for British people settled in Spain and France have warned. The House of Commons Brexit select committee was told on Wednesday that an unintended consequence of Brexit could be a surge in immigration of British migrants both working and retired.

And it goes on…

A view from inside the government… January 18, 2017

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Finian McGrath has broken his somewhat uncharacteristic silence of late, being interviewed in the IT. I was intrigued by the plaudits he received from sources various over the Christmas as a quietly effective Minister. No longer quiet so. Anyhow, he muses on matters various – not least an Independent run for the Presidency.

Independent members of the Dáil and Seanad should facilitate the entry of a strong nonparty candidate into the next presidential election, a member of the Independent Alliance has said.


Minister of Tate Finian McGrath said that while some of his colleagues would like to support current president Michael D Higgins for a second term, he favours a contest.
“I have fantastic time for Michael D and, this is not plamás – I like the guy. He has been an amazing president, but I’d like to see an election and there should be a few candidates and I’d love to see different candidates putting forward different views, and then I’d see who the best person is.”

He’s not wrong when he suggests that:

…it is “lazy politics” to allow Mr Higgins be returned without a contest.

I liked Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson perhaps somewhat less, but two term Presidents, two-terms uncontested in particular, always gets my back up – I can’t quite say why.

Interestingly the math is good for an independent…

A presidential candidate needs the support of 20 members of the Dáil or Seanad to get on the ballot paper.
Given the high number of Independents in the current Oireachtas, with 23 in the current Dáil alone, it is likely that an Independent could enter the next presidential election, if the current Dáil is still in place at the time.

Meanwhile McGrath, predictably, likes his new job…

“I’ve settled into the job, and I would love to serve another term. I will be standing in the next election, and I’ll stand on the work I did over the three or four years or however long this Government lasts. It would be a great honour to stand again and serve.”

And this is fascinating…

“I think politics has changed. I don’t think the bigger parties are going to get the big bloc votes they used to get before. There will always be a role for Independents. I’d love to see more Independents in government.”


McGrath accepts he and other members of his group are perhaps more in line with Fianna Fáil thinking in policy terms, but says Micheál Martin just did not have the numbers to form a minority government.
In that torturous weeks’ long process of government formation, the Alliance and other Independents sat down with Fianna Fáil, and McGrath said he was offered a full Cabinet position. However, the numbers just weren’t there, and he says Fine Gael knew it had to emphasise society as much as the economy if it was to stand any chance of gaining power.

And what of this? Hope over experience or more?

McGrath says the Coalition will now stay in place to implement the three budgets Fianna Fáil has agreed to facilitate in the confidence and supply deal.
“There is a sense even when I was talking to the Fianna Fáil lads and lassies after [the Dáil vote on the rental strategy]. They said: ‘we said we’d give you three budgets and we’ll give you three budgets.’ In fairness to them, they have that mantra.”

SF and the unions… and what about unions more broadly? January 18, 2017

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The Phoenix has a pretty positive profile of newly elected SF TD Louise O’Reilly who seems to be working hard in Dublin Fingal. I liked her riposte to one FFer in the Dáil Chamber, where presumably when given out to about SF policy in the North responded:

If you’re that concerned about the North go up there and bring your policies with you.

Fair point. More broadly her election – and background as an active trade unionist – would seem to be very good for the party (and always good to have more active union members in the Dáil, full stop). But the Phoenix points to an important point when it says:

For SF O’Reilly’s election is hopefully the harbinger of greater trade union involvement for the party. But it is one thing to attract energetic young grade unionists individually to join the party and become Dáil reps for it, it is another to forge the close working relationships with he trade union movement as a whole that is a key aspiration of SF.

This is a serious issue, because the absurdly close links with the Labour Party have left the unions utterly compromised in a context where the LP is a shadow of its former self. And one has to wonder whether those same unions wouldn’t prefer to cosy up to FF rather than establish links with SF.

Just on unions more broadly no surprise to discover that in my own workplace where I’ve been since the early 2000s I’m one of a diminishing band of union members. A very diminishing band. People in their twenties and thirties just aren’t joining and those who are older are moving towards or have arrived at retirement. Leaving a group of us in our forties and fifties and early sixties at the barricades. Given that this is a PS employer I’d be curious as to the experience of others? Does that mirror the dynamics elsewhere in the PS? If so I cannot but blame the unions for yet again letting their eye drift away from the ball. Firstly in the 1990s and 2000s they made little or no effort (I know this from direct experience) to unionise the private sector. And now, with that well lost at this point there’s the PS.

I’d have to wonder whether if SF did manage to establish formal links with the unions whether there’ll be much of a membership left to establish those links with.

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