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Two cheers for Brian Lenihan: Campaigners force movement on trafficking January 17, 2008

Posted by franklittle in Britain, Crime, Feminism, Sex.
3 comments

Last year saw some celebrations and historical commentary on the fact that 2007 marks the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of slavery. To be more accurate, it marked two centuries since the Slave Trade Act of 1807 outlawed trade in slavery, not the possession of slaves, which would not finally come to an end until 1838, and even at that the trade was only outlawed within the British Empire, leaving vast swathes of the world to continue the practice.

But laws and collections of commemorative essays fail to conceal that slavery is alive and well. According to Europol, human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal business in the world, ranking only behind the trades in illegal drugs and arms. Make no mistake. Slaves are currently held in Ireland. They are, for the most part, women though they include children and occasionally men.

In Britain Operation Pentameter last year rescued more than 80 women and children, including ones as young as 14, from sex slavery and made 200 arrests. In July 2007, a BBC undercover team exposed a Bulgarian child trafficking ring, which habitually used Cherbourg to Rosslare and then over the border into the North as a way of getting children into Britain. An unnamed Garda officer quoted in the report told the BBC, “You’d have to be naive to think children had not been trafficked through Ireland.”

In August 2007, the Welsh Assembly published a report on trafficking, which referred to, “an increasing trend for children to arrive via smaller airports or in Wales by ferry from Ireland.” In October a study carried out at NUI Galway claimed to have identified 76 women trafficked into the sex trade in Ireland from Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. Ruhama, which provide supports to women involved in prostitution, has estimated a more accurate figure to be around 200.

One of the defences of slavery in the 19th century was that as the slaves were considered valuable property, they were likely to be treated well by their owners lest the investment be lost. No such defence can be made around the modern day slave trade. British police have identified numerous cases of women trafficked into Britain in the belief they would be working in legitimate jobs only to end up, in one case, being forcibly raped by between 30 and 40 strangers a day. The British Crown Prosecution Service has identified a case where a trafficking victim was the subject of a slave auction in the coffee shop in the arrivals hall of Glasgow International Airport while brothel keepers bidded on her. Trafficked women who resist are likely to be beaten or their families in their home countries threatened.

And if the women are rescued, they are often liable to be deported as illegals without any consideration of the risks facing them when they return. A New Internationalist investigation into trafficking a couple of months ago identified cases where women arriving off flights in their home countries following deportation were met on arrival by the same criminal gang that had trafficked them in the first place.

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Information about trafficking is hard to come by. There are no Health and Safety Inspections. The victims are often too scared to co-operate or are scared of the very authorities they would normally report to. Some might even decide that being a slave in Britain or France is better than being free and starving in Moldova or Ukraine. Language and cultural difficulties, shame, fear of being imprisoned and the closed nature of criminal activity in general makes hard and fast statistics hard to come by.

The official government position is that there is no evidence of a significant human trafficking problem in Ireland, though in recent months this has shifted ever so slightly to an acknowledgement that that it could become one of it is not addressed. Curiously, despite the fact that there is no ‘substantial human trafficking problem’ since his appointment as Justice Minister Brian Lenihan has moved pretty swiftly.

In October, he published the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill 2007, which for the first time would make the trafficking of people aged over the age of 16 a crime with a maximum sentence of life. As well as making trafficking an actual offence it provides anonymity for trafficking victims and the power to exclude the members of the public from court proceedings where publicity might place the victims of trafficking, or their families, at risk. As well as making it illegal to traffic someone for sexual or labour exploitation, it makes it illegal to do so for the harvesting of vital organs. A pleasant reminder of the world we live in.

But Minister Lenihan was not done yet and announced a number of other measures with the legislation. A High Level Group to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings was set up, tieing in government departments, the Gardaí, immigration and various NGOs. The Group will put together a National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings.

It’s all good, and a tribute to groups like Ruhama, the ICCL, IRC, Migrant Rights and Amnesty who have campaigned on this for the last couple of years that the government feels forced to take these initiatives for something it claims to believe it not a significant problem. So, why only two cheers for the Dublin West TD?

The major weakness of the Bill is the lack of supports and protections for the victims of trafficking. The Bill is designed entirely from a law enforcement point of view. The needs of the people, predominantly women and children, that are being trafficked are notable by their absence despite the physical and psychological abuses they will have suffered. There is no legally mandated time to recover from their traumatic experience. Immediately deporting trafficking victims makes it all the harder to convict traffickers, and all the more likely the victims will end up either back in Ireland, or trafficked elsewhere. It also means there is little advantage for trafficking victims to come forward to the authorities if they know the ‘reward’ is a one-way trip home to meet the criminal associates of the people they just put in prison in Ireland.

While he acknowledges the gap, Lenihan argues this will be dealt with in the government’s forthcoming Immigration, Resident and Protection Bill. Three problems with this. Firstly, the Bill hasn’t been published and likely won’t have been published by the time the trafficking legislation goes through the Oireachtas, so even if it does deal with the issue, how do we know it deals with it adequately? Secondly, he chances of the Bill getting through all stages between the start of February and the long summer recess aren’t great. At the rate the Oireachtas is currently going the likelihood of the Bill being passed in 2008 wouldn’t be great, so what happens between the passing of the trafficking legislation and the new immigration bill.

Finally, the debate on the new immigration legislation is going to be a big one. It’s going to be heated, on both sides of the fence, and the victims of trafficking could easily get lost in the maelstrom. On Dáil Committee Stage of the Bill, Labour’s Pat Rabbitte and Fine Gael’s Denis Naughten both movement amendments designed to deal with this and though Lenihan refused to take them, he did seem open to the possibility of an ‘administrative arrangement’ being contained in the trafficking bill to deal with the gap between the trafficking bill and the immigration legislation. It’s something worth keeping an eye on.

The Garda Policing Plan 2008 is also a disappointment. There is only one reference to trafficking in the entire document, where a commitment is made to a 5% increase in intelligence-led operations against drugs, guns and human trafficking organisations. Elsewhere in the same section, the phenomenon is referred to as illegal trafficking in immigrants, which is something substantially and clearly different to the trafficking of slaves. There is also no reference in the plan to Operation Pentameter II, the sequel to the British plan mentioned above which is to include the Gardaí.

Still, as serious as these problems and gaps are, and the difficulties should not be underestimated, the government has moved substantially in the last few months on the issue, largely because of the work of activists in various NGOs, especially migrant and women’s groups. The fight’s not done, and there’s been a lot of progress, but two centuries after William Wilberforce ‘abolished’ slavery, they’re still smuggling, trading and abusing women and children all across Europe tonight.

Channel 4: Picture This… Jonathan Olley, photographing RUC barracks and a changing Northern Ireland January 17, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Northern Ireland, The North.
4 comments

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A stunning three minutes on Channel4’s Picture This strand this evening with the work of British photographer Jonathan Olley who has documented the installations of the RUC and British Army in the North over the past ten years. Fair dues to Slugger for bringing it to general notice.

One of the most compelling sequences was the overlay of one of his photographs (seen above) of a British Army watchtower in Crossmaglen from a decade ago on the current street scene.

The brutalist, dalek-like design of the installation in what is a very familiar townscape provides a jarring visual and cognitive dislocation. It is in no sense an apologia for violence to suggest that this manifestation of the militarisation of an essentially civil environment reflected a pernicious dynamic that encompassed all within that environment. Nor is it reaching to suggest that the power relationships within that environment were exemplified by these structures. Their dismantling has reflected genuine change in the nature of those relationships. Perhaps that civil space will permit for the development of a form of class politics? Or perhaps it already has. Note that the Irish Times today reported that Ian Paisley would not be contesting the next Westminster Election and some were suggesting that he was devoting his time to Stormont. Granted the DUP has denied the reports blaming “unfounded press speculation”. But with the DUP and SF, parties with at least some aspect of a working class complexion, currently hegemonic in Stormont one can only reflect that while it’s class politics, it’s not quite the sort of class politics many had hoped for. Ah well, give it time…

For those interested other images can be seen on Jonathan Olley’s excellent website. Interesting that he should say that he is – as far as he knows – the only one to document this area in any sort of a comprehensive fashion. Doesn’t that tell it’s own story?

This Ireland: Gay Marriage and the Irish Times… a debate of sorts… January 17, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Ireland.
18 comments

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How interesting the debate on ‘gay marriage’ in the Irish Times on Monday. How rarified. How informative. How useful. Or not… For under the heading ‘Should the State sanction gay marriage?’ in the (natch) Head2Head column Tony Allwright, engineering and industrial safety consultant, ‘blogger’ (and prodigious contributor to the Irish Times letters page) debates Eloise McInerney, communications officer of LGBT Noise, a group set up last November to lobby for gay civil marriage in Ireland.

Now, it will hardly come as a surprise to you that around here we’re in favour of gay civil marriage. It’s not that we buy into social liberalism unquestioningly, simply that this is an issue where the way forward is straightforward.

But these are mere trifles compared to the discourse on the pages of the IT. I won’t go into the points made on either side, at this stage – and for shame the Irish Times being so far behind the curve – I’d bet most people have a fairly good sense of their stance on this issue. But Mr. Allwrights thoughts are entirely worthy of parsing out…

Civil union, civil partnership, gay marriage. It’s all the talk, these days. Unless you’re one of those (say in the Vatican) who believe homosexuality is some kind of curable disease, or else a fun lifestyle choice like drinking wine instead of beer, you would have to feel sorry for the plight of gays and lesbians in a hetero world.

How about this?

A tiny minority wherever they go, often – and wrongly – despised, disliked or disparaged, whether to their face or not, I doubt they can ever feel fully comfortable except amongst fellow-gays.

One is immediately and unambiguously reminded of De Valera’s ability to look into his own heart to see what the Irish people were thinking. But do continue:

…a question immediately follows: what’s so special about a partnership that’s gay? If gays are to benefit, there are plenty of other partnerships that should also be considered: two elderly brothers who have shared a house all their lives; a spinster daughter and/or bachelor son living with their widowed mother; lifetime bridge partners who have long shared a home together; celibate gays; three siblings.

And the societal ramifications?

…numerous studies [unreferenced by our intrepid correspondent] demonstrate that kids have a better chance in life if reared by their married biological parents. This is society’s return for the tax breaks. Thus, the practical argument against gay marriage is that without the possibility of children, marital tax concessions have little payback.

It is true, however, that availability of gay marriage might help reduce promiscuity among gays, but although this may be intrinsically beneficial to society, it is not comparable with raising responsible future citizens.

Those pesky promiscuous gays – eh? One is amazed only by the fact that the word ‘the’ is missing after the word ‘among’. And here is an horrific prospect…

Once you move away from the one-man-one- woman formula, the possible permutations become limitless. The one thing that would distinguish gay partnerships from all the others is that sex is involved, albeit fruitless sex. But that is a ridiculous prerequisite for tax breaks.

Hmmm… hold on a second… So we take it then that only ‘fruitful’ sex is a suitable precondition of marriage… that seems to raise a whole raft of issues. But hold up, deftly swerving away from that wreck, there’s another reason…

Without discriminating in favour of gay sex, it will be impossible to stop two people hitching up for purely tax purposes, or indeed three or four. In jurisdictions – such as the UK – which have granted significant tax advantages to gay couples in civil unions, it is only a matter of time before non-gay couples claim and obtain similar rights. It’s already happening.

It’s only a matter of time, but… it’s already happening… Right so. And…

The “equal rights” argument does not hold water because gays already have the right to marry someone of the opposite sex; they just usually choose not to, albeit for understandable reasons.

Okay…. and this is presumably an argument based simply on financial issues…

So, for all the understanding gays deserve, any kind of statutory non-traditional marriage for them or anyone else is insupportable and unjust. It’s either too discriminatory against non-gays, or else too wide open to abuse by tax-dodgers.

Resultant tax concessions would, in the absence of any discernible payback, unjustly increase the tax burden on others. Non-marital vows and commitments are personal arrangements. The State has no business getting involved.

QED. Still, I note that somehow this argument about ‘marriage with fruitful sex between men and women’ doesn’t preclude the state from getting involved when those seeking it are siblings or other relatives and yet…somehow…the appalling (yet to my mind entertaining) vista painted by Mr. Allwright doesn’t come into play. Odd that.

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Incidentally if one follows the link so conveniently provided in the Irish Times for Tony Allwright one will discover, rather than his blog, a page detailing his contributions present and future to the world of engineering and industrial safety [to add to something that was raised yesterday on a thread, Pete implicitly made the point about whether people are qualified to post on blogs, or rather why should what is said be taken as read. It may seem strange but I completely agree… blogging isn’t journalism, it’s largely opinion even if people do try to reference – as I think we do here – and at the end of the day that means that information on blogs or from bloggers has to be evaluated with extreme care or taken with a large pinch of salt]. Discreetly positioned to the right hand side is the link to the blog. I’m certain this imprecision is a simple typographic mistake. Still, it makes me look forward to the day when, no doubt, there will be no complaints when the Cedar Lounge Revolution website is nested within that of my new company, WorldbyStorm Window Glazing Enterprises, and when said Enterprises are advertised – in passing, of course – on any future appearances on Newstalk by contributors from here as “The Cedar Lounge… revolution and reform sponsored by WBS Window Glazing Enterprises”

While I’m at it… January 16, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Blogging, Class, Social Policy.
5 comments

A superb riposte to The Dubliner magazine by Donagh at Dublin Opinion on the issue of class, power and societal structures…

Considering the Coolacrease debate: Brian Hanley writes in History Ireland January 16, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish History.
120 comments

Very briefly, simply to note that in History Ireland this month Brian Hanley has an excellent and very balanced overview of the RTÉ Hidden History documentary, The Killings at Coolacrease. Suffice to note before you go and read it yourselves that he makes the reasonable point that:

‘the subsequent comment in the press, radio and on the web generated more heat than light and highlighted the extent to which comment about the War of Independence period is still driven by present-day ideological concerns’.

He also suggests that ‘many people seem to be shocked by the notion of the ‘old’ IRA targeting civilians. But the War of Independence involved a great deal of killing….’.

And he goes on to tackle the issues of the legitimacy of the independence struggle and the nature of that struggle.

Editor Tommy Graham makes the point in the editorial that:

‘On the face of it this was an excellent topic, a truly ‘hidden history’. What we got instead was a teextbook (and brilliant) exercise in media spin, where the ‘line’ of the programme – that this was an incidence of ethnic cleansing carried out for sectarian and/or land-grabbing motives in a deliberately sadistic manner involving sexual mulitation – was taken up by other branches of the media and a predictably ill-informed and emotive ‘debate’ ensued… the programme makers can congratulate themselves on conjuring up a media will-o’-the-wisp but it is doubtful whether they have made any long-term contribution to scholarship on this sensitive issue’.

So, as ever with HI in recent years it’s well worth a read, (including an interesting article by Geoffrey Roberts on “Stalin’s victory? The Soviet Union and World War II” which takes a positive view of the Soviet leader’s military prowess and in the context of HI is – er – thought provoking, but in truth in a good way).

New Myths of the Irish Peace Process: Addendum… January 16, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in New Myths of the Peace Process.
30 comments

As a postscript to the last “New Myths of the Peace Process” on a better British security ‘solution’, Sean Swan in Prospect takes Dean Godson to task with considerable accuracy as when he says:

In the 1950s, then, internment had succeeded because the active dissenting element was restricted to a few hundred, overwhelmingly southern, IRA men. But in 1971, a very large section of the northern nationalist community was engaged in active or passive opposition to the state. The use of such a blunt tool as internment, particularly when used in the one-sided manner it initially was, could only increase the extent and intensity of such opposition—and the Provisional IRA were the obvious medium through which to express this.

And he enlarges on the point that the late 1960s brought a different perspective to the situation…

One further political, or rather zeitgeist, factor was the progress of the “consciousness of freedom” between the 1959 and 1971 (to put it in Hegelian terms). What had previously been tolerated was now considered intolerable—a phenomenon to be witnessed from Watts to Prague. In this sense, Godson is correct to suggest that internment without trial cannot be used “in the era of the Human Rights Act.” The HRA, however, is not the cause but an effect of this progress. As, also, is the fact that it is politically impossible in the US, even for a Republican administration, to raise either troops (a draft) or money (a tax) to fight in Iraq. This brings us to another flaw in Godson’s analysis. He faults the British government’s position in Northern Ireland for being “late colonial” rather than “high imperial,” but does not consider why this was the case—bar, rather unconvincingly, putting it down to a lack of historical knowledge. Isn’t the real reason for the lack of a “high imperial” mentality simply that the age of empire is over?

A salutary redress to the original article.

I hope to post on a further ‘myth’ within the week.

Iran still stoning women to death January 15, 2008

Posted by franklittle in Crime, Iran, Judiciary, Middle East.
47 comments

Stunned to hear people being interviewed on Matt Cooper’s Last Word this evening about the practice of stoning, which it turns out is still alive and well in Iran. Amnesty International has just published a report highlighting the cases of nine women and two men who are under sentence of death by stoning at the moment and as grotesque as the notion is to my mind, it’s the little things about the process that are the most horrifying.

Article 104 of the Iranian Penal Code specifies the kind of stones that should be used. They should, “not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes; nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones.” In other words, we need stones big enough to really hurt someone, but not big enough that they die or lose conciousness. And we’re going to write that into the law. As Amnesty put it, “In Iran stoning is not against the law. Using the wrong stone is.”

Under Article 102 of the Iranian Penal Code, the process begins by digging a pit for the victim. The pit is then filled in to waist height for a man, and to chest height for a woman. I wasn’t sure of the reason for the difference, but perhaps it is to be found in one of the defences used by the Iranians to explain stoning.

In September 2007, the Secretary General of Iran’s Human Rights Headquarters and Deputy Head of the Judiciary defended the use of stoning by arguing, among other points, that in stoning, “the defendant has the chance to survive.” So a man is buried to his waist and a woman to her breasts and if, under a hail of stones, either one of them manages to climb out (Let’s pause for a moment to consider how unlikely this is) they’re free to go. Hence, perhaps, why the woman is buried to her chest.

According to Amnesty one of the most recent stonings was in 2006:

 

“Abbas H and Mahboubeh M were said to have been executed in Beheshteh Reza cemetery, part of which was cordoned off before more than 100 members of the Revolutionary Guards and Bassij Forces carried out the stoning. Abbas H and Mahboubeh M were reportedly washed and dressed in shrouds, as if they were already dead, and then put in holes that had been dug in the ground. Following a reading from the Qur’an, those present began to stone Abbas H and Mahboubeh M, who reportedly took over 20 minutes to die. They were said to have been convicted of murdering Mahboubeh M’s husband, and of adultery.”

Speaking of convictions, the sentences for some of those awaiting this punishment are an interesting insight into Iranian judicial priorities. One woman, whose name is Iran, was sentenced to five years imprisonment for being an accomplice in the murder of her husband, and to death by stoning for adultery. Another, Kobra N, sentenced to eight years imprisonment for being an accomplice in the murder of her husband and for sleeping with someone outside of her marriage, death at the hands of stones ‘not large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes.’ So for being involved in killing your husband, you face less of a sentence than having slept with a man other than your husband.

 

There’s some more information in the report about Iran’s less than perfect judicial process and the work of women activists and journalists within Iran to end this atrocity, which can only be applauded considering that country’s approach to political activism.

Rumour and counter rumour? The calls for the resignation of Bertie Ahern of Fianna Fáil by the opposition… January 15, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
54 comments

Rumour has it that far from ‘an extraordinary two-pronged attack on the credibility of his evidence to the planning tribunal’ when the ‘two main Opposition leaders have demanded the resignation of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’ at the weekend a rather more ordinary political process was in train. This rumour goes that Eamon Gilmore of the Labour Party had intended to announce to the press his statement calling on the Taoiseach to resign on Sunday. This was transmitted in vague form to the media and somehow – who knows how? – this worked its way back to Fine Gael which resulted in leader Enda Kenny issuing his statement first.

Good to see that the two are working together so … er… closely.

Anyhow, whether true or not, and frustratingly who can know for sure there is a determined push by the opposition to up the heat on the Taoiseach, particularly since he has departed the country for sunnier climes in South Africa. One can only imagine the conversations between him and another somewhat wounded political leader, Thabo Mbeki. Perhaps they can swap notes. In the Irish Times it was reported that:

During the weekend, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and his Labour Party counterpart Eamon Gilmore separately called on Mr Ahern to step down over what Mr Kenny claimed were accounts of his personal finances that demeaned the profession of politics.

Mr Kenny issued a 1,500-word statement on Saturday in which he made his most excoriating personal criticism of Mr Ahern since he became leader of Fine Gael in 2002.

In unremittingly harsh and personalised language, Mr Kenny said that Mr Ahern’s evidence to the tribunal would erode the authority of the office of Taoiseach if it continued in the same vein as his previous appearances. “It is not acceptable to have a Taoiseach who cannot declare compliance with the tax codes, who cannot explain €300,000 worth of lodgements to his accounts and who has clearly misled the public and the Dáil over his inexplicable finances,” he said.

There are problems here politically. It’s simply too late. There are close to four and a half years to go before the next election. And while Ahern may well face serious problems in the wake of the Tribunal that is then, this is now. Hence…

Yesterday Mr Gilmore strongly backed up Mr Kenny’s calls by renewing his own calls from last September for Mr Ahern to step down. He told RTÉ Radio’s This Wee k programme: “If anything, the situation has got worse [since September 2007]. We have about four different versions of the story of the Taoiseach’s personal finances. We now know the Revenue Commissioners have an issue with it. We now know that he’s not able to get a tax clearance certificate.”

And further…

Both Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore also widened their attacks to apply political pressure on those surrounding Mr Ahern, including Tánaiste Brian Cowen; other Fianna Fáil Ministers; and junior Coalition parties, the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats.

But again, this isn’t serious politics. The idea that Cowen would wield a knife is simply beyond comprehension. Apart from initiating civil war in Fianna Fáil it would simply raise the question later as to why he hadn’t acted sooner if the situation was this serious. It’s not going to happen.

And I know that. And Fine Gael and Labour know that and I suspect the electorate know that. So despite:

Mr Kenny honed in for the first time on the responsibilities of the Tánaiste. He said that if Mr Cowen did not force the Taoiseach to resign, he would be perceived as “an accomplice”.

… I can’t help feeling this is a bad bad strategy. Nor is it just Cowen who is getting it in the neck.

Both Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore also widened their attacks to apply political pressure on those surrounding Mr Ahern, including Tánaiste Brian Cowen; other Fianna Fáil Ministers; and junior Coalition parties, the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats.

Which led to a predictable response and one which points up a major contradiction at the heart of the strategy…

The scathing nature of Mr Kenny’s remarks prompted the Government parties to respond quickly and robustly. In a terse statement, Mr Cowen said he was not surprised at the vitriolic nature of the comments. “Personal attacks are becoming Mr Kenny’s stock in trade. I reject them as the electorate rejected him last year,” he said. Minister for Justice Brian Lenihan also accused the Fine Gael leader of editing the tribunal evidence to suit his own purposes.

Not only, but also…

The scathing nature of Mr Kenny’s remarks prompted the Government parties to respond quickly and robustly. In a terse statement, Mr Cowen said he was not surprised at the vitriolic nature of the comments. “Personal attacks are becoming Mr Kenny’s stock in trade. I reject them as the electorate rejected him last year,” he said. Minister for Justice Brian Lenihan also accused the Fine Gael leader of editing the tribunal evidence to suit his own purposes.

The Greens also brushed aside criticism from Mr Gilmore that Fianna Fáil was running rings around them in Government. “We feel Mr Gilmore’s remarks may reflect his own and his party’s ongoing frustration at the outcome of the election,” their spokesman said.

And think about it. What is better calculated to develop even greater cohesion amongst the Coalition parties than these sort of attacks. It’s a tricky line, the one between a coalition fractious enough to be disassembled by external pressure and one which is actually strengthened by said pressure.

Worth drawing peoples attention to the last line:

Others pointed to the fact that with Mr Ahern travelling abroad, it gave Mr Kenny an opening to seize the domestic political initiative and dominate the news agenda ahead of the Dáil returning at the end of January and the first major opinion polls of the year.

Perhaps. Perhaps. I’m told that the RedC polls in the Sunday Business Post have been discontinued, which is a real pity if correct, and I’d be grateful if someone could confirm it. They’ve provided an invaluable source of data to mull over, and in truth – for my money – have been the most accurate reading of public opinion of all polls, month to month. So presumably the IT is lining up a poll for late January or early February.

But again. I wonder how effective this ploy will be. There is a point where continual calls for action begin to lose traction in the face of no forward movement. It is clear – as is often said – that the Coalition is now relatively well embedded. Sure, perhaps the Greens could be prised away, but it won’t be over the Tribunals (And a quick thought, anyone noticed how it is more and more being seen as the FF/Green coalition with the minor party of the liberal right now hardly more than an afterthought. How convenient for them that Harney remains in Health where she soaks up the political flak).

And in the absence of a clear killing blow, this is all so much posturing and hot air.

Yesterday’s afternoon’s damp squib, reported on Politics.ie and elsewhere, was a statement was to be released by Enda Kenny on the plinth of Leinster House which sent the political temperature – amongst some – soaring. That it proved to be no more than a reiteration of the previously stated position perhaps belied the true situation. And the problem is the optics. Set something up on the plinth and it conveys some terrifically important statement is about to be made. When it isn’t… well, hardly surprising that the public switches off in droves.

I don’t envy the Opposition, particularly the leading formations. In fairness, rhetoric is, for the moment, all they have. Perhaps they scent blood further down the line. A damaged Taoiseach, forced to resign in the wake of a less than glowing Tribunal Report. Happy days for them then. Perhaps

And indeed, the suggestion has been made on Irish Election that this is an effort to ‘link’ Cowen, and indeed all others who might have made public protestations of support within Fianna Fáil with Ahern. I’m very dubious about that strategy. I can’t see it working particularly well for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is the 2007 election itself. That suggests that potentially difficult issues for Ahern which were widely known prior to May 2007 simply didn’t impact sufficiently to remove a significant portion of FF support. Why should that not hold true in the wake of a possible negative finding at the Tribunal? That links into the still valid argument – and one propounded by FF’s coalition partners – that it is necessary to wait for the outcome of the Tribunal. Secondly, Cowen and Ahern are widely known to be far from brothers in arms. Add to this the clear change in tone should Cowen achieve the leadership (by no means a given) – a change which will be accentuated by the fact that once more a rural TD represents the party and I suspect that efforts to make ‘linkages’ are bound to fail. Thirdly, there is a hint of desperation in the idea that somehow Fianna Fáil will somehow be more discredited in the future than it is now. This feeds into a narrative that both Fine Gael and Labour have been keen to promote that someday, sometime in some way the Irish people will ‘wake’ up from the false consciousness that a Machiavellian Fianna Fáil has somehow managed to generate in the minds of said Irish people.

It’s not really tenable is it? I’m far from a champion of FF, but the idea that their support will vanish as with the morning mist is simply unrealistic. Sure, FG might do better next time around. Perhaps Labour will make up the numbers. But there will be no mortal blow against FF and such thinking is frankly a greater impediment to political change (even for those – unlike myself – who believe that FG is a vehicle for such change) than almost any other factor I can think of. It’s the politics of delusion, of grand slams, of seismic shifts. Perhaps there is no other strategy, perhaps keeping the pot… well, not boiling but just about simmering… is the best that can be hoped for. But somehow, amongst all the talk about how the current situation does no service to Irish politics I can’t help thinking that this approach isn’t the right way forward either.

US casualties in Iraq January 14, 2008

Posted by franklittle in Iraq, Middle East, The War On Terror, United States, US Media, US Politics.
9 comments

In December 2007 15 US troops lost their lives as a result of hostile action in Iraq according to CNN’s tracking of Coalition casualties in Iraq and Afganistan. Another eight died from non-hostile action, amounting to 23 in total. In order to find similarly low figures, it’s necessary to go back to February 2004 when 12 US troops were killed as a result of hostile action and another nine from non-hostile action amounting to total fatalities of 23. Last week six US soldiers were killed in a booby-trap bomb north of Baghdad. It was the first incident involing multiple deaths of of US soldiers since September and the bloodiest attack since May.

Suggesting the decrease US casualties is not a blip, US fatalities have been steadily declining since May 2007, with month on month decreases. Newspaper reports have indicated a growing number of military successes for US forces since the ‘surge’ began almost a year ago. While everything coming from official sources in Iraq needs to be treated with a large dose of salt there have been numerous reports of Sunni tribes who have switched sides having been alienated by Al Qaeda tactics. Last week the US launched the largest air offensive in Iraq since 2006 dropping 40,000 pounds of explosives on almost 50 targets following which US forces claimed they were able to move into previously insurgent held areas.  Bush indicated on his visit to Kuwait in a piece in the LA Times yesterday that the proposed reduction in US troop levels of 30,000 in July remains on track.

This throws up a couple of interesting questions. Are the US actually beating the insurgents or have Iraqi militants calaculated that the better option is to hunker down, hit more vulnerable Iraqi civilian and security targets and wait for the surge to die away knowing the US doesn’t have the ability to sustain it? Is the Bush administration, and the US Republican party, trying to create an image of success in Iraq ahead of the Presidential election that will allow them to bring home 20-30,000 US combat troops weakening the ability of the Democrats to use the war as an issue to attack whomever is the Republican nominee? Or is it possible that the new strategy and new troops are having as sizeable an impact as official sources claim and the insurgency has been delivered multiple hard blows in a short space of time? Could the US military strategy in Iraq be starting to work?

The Left Archive: Z Magazine (1989) – “A New Times” for Ireland? Well, not quite. January 14, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Independent Left, Irish Left Online Document Archive.
9 comments

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Here is a bit of a curiosity. Z Magazine – no, not that one, the other one produced in Ireland in 1989. Funded by the MSF union in part, it sought to present a left of centre perspective and was supported by civil society: womens groups, community groups, arts organisations and unions. It lasted, if my memory serves correct, something like three or four issues.

[incidentally, it’s been a tough one to scan due to the very faded pages. If the quality is too low tell me… and the size is a bit over 7mbs. Are any of you struggling along with dial-up connections? Again, tell me and I’ll see is there any way around this]

A quick perusal of the Editorial Board is revealing. Des Derwin, Patricia Hegarty, Brian Trench… Alastair Rutherdale, well known to some of us from USI, makes an appearance and that indicates a sort of softish nationalist/Republican aspect to the magazine. So does an implausibly youthful Trevor Sargent, and a rather more plausibly aged Richard Crotty.

I’m being a bit unkind when I mention the CPGB’s New Times project, but there is something of this in Z Magazine. So the concentration is more markedly on social liberalism than political economy or clear socialism. That such battles had a distinct edge in a society which had been through a bitter divorce referendum only three years previously (one I for one will never forget campaigning on) makes the concerns that Z Magazine expresses more understandable.

It’s a different world now. Many of the battles, divorce, contraception and so on have been won. Others have been lost or little progress has been made on them. Nicaragua looms large. But for all that this is, as one might expect, a very Irish magazine.

There is something endearingly shambolic about this project. If I recall correctly it was run, so I’m told, on a volunteerist basis. Not necessarily the best way forward when trying to create a vehicle to broaden the space for leftism in a society notoriously disinterested in same. Underfunded, amateurish on many different levels, particularly in the execution and design, and yet enunciating a clearly left of centre perspective. Perhaps the Village comes closest today to it, but that is a vastly more professional presentation reflecting a vastly changed media world. I like the way that someone thought it was feasible to produce such a magazine, but the execution? Not great… and perhaps indicative that good intentions couldn’t run a magazine alone and somewhere along the line people had to be paid.

But weirdly, the discourse within it is one that seems to me to actually – despite the specific linkages to then contemporaneous events – belong in a fairly familiar and now long lasting narrative of Irish liberal leftism. This is somewhere beyond party formations – it is telling that Sargent, Anne Speed of SF and the then somewhat detached Emmet Stagg of the ILP are the only party politicians actually interviewed – and not dissimilar to the sort of centre leftist thinking that once dominated the Irish Times.

And this returns to the ground upon which Z Magazine engages. For the Irish left there has always been three main areas of contention (which has even touched the further left groups). Firstly, and I was going to say ‘of course’ but perhaps there is no ‘of course’ when one contemplates the pragmatic realpolitic of political parties that scurried to the centre as the need arose, the approach to socialism in economic and other aspects. Secondly the national question. Thirdly social liberalism and modernisation. I’m hardly putting forward a radical or innovative thesis if I suggest that the Irish left has tended to pick and choose between these three. And the last, if only because that truly was running with the tide of history, is the one where arguably most success was seen – probably because the left was able to engage with a broader constituency beyond itself. This is not in any sense to be negative about this magazine or what it represents, but merely to point out that the concentration on certain aspects of centre left projects shading into liberal projects demonstrates some fundamental aspects of Irish political culture in a way a thousand worthy academic papers might not. Consider too that within a mere couple of years there would be a woman President, within half a decade a series of socially liberalising measures and as importantly significant economic advance which would see increasing and sustained employment growth. But the battles remain the same. The three issues remain live.

And therefore this remains an interesting resonance then, of the contemporary period, where what remains of the left is scattered across many different parties, formations and social and campaigning organisations. Much and little has changed across the twenty years.

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