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.