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Fighting the other guy’s war… March 31, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Blogging, Irish Politics.

There is a problem with the nature of the internet, particularly the unpleasantly named Web 2.0. For those who have use or have access to sites there is the opportunity to use them as and when the mood strikes. Which is unbelievably dangerous because it engenders a sense of importance, which can be illusory, and immediacy, which is very poison.

I’d echo entirely Conor’s words on Dublin Opinion about the recent problems over at Politics.ie, not because I’m a wimpish blogger, or middle-class bottling it in the face of power, but simply because they are right.

P.ie has become a bear pit in regard to all things Ahern and Tribunal. Words were allegedly put in the public domain that have now impelled a legal company into action with charges of defamation.

The possibility of such words being written was obvious, the response inevitable. And that David Cochrane has been, to some extent, caught in the crossfire is unfortunate.

But this is the real world where chances are a legal firm will be first to up the ante – particularly if they think that it is themselves who have been impugned.

To read this then as some sort of attack on Politics.ie with the motive of ‘chilling’ conversation on the topic of the Tribunals or Ahern is nonsense. To see that then as the rationale for a broader campaign to defend ‘free speech’ is near-risible. To then, as some (assiduously hunting with the hounds and running with the hare) suggest conspiracy – or rather air the idea that some are saying it is only to dismiss it while simultaneously spreading it yet further is … well, it is what it is.

In a situation like this there is one solution. The problem is dealt with as it by separate legal teams, because that’s the only way it can be dealt with. No public campaign on the internet is going to change this issue. No appeal to a gallery that will melt away at the first hint that this will incur either financial or other penalties. No dubious relocations whose efficacy has yet to be proven in Irish law.

It requires first and foremost cool heads, restraint, and the sort of compromise that is one aspect of the nature of the legal system. Particularly when what we’re talking about are commercial entities.

But restraint is not the nature of the internet, of boards, or whatever. In an echo of the supposedly ‘legacy’ media, immediacy is all. What is written takes on a life of its own. The ‘campaign’ becomes all, in a perfect simplification. We’re all ‘meant’ to rally to Politics.ie (best of all someone started a P.ie ‘pledge’)…

Nevermind that Politics.ie closed down discussion of the Tribunal and Ahern. Nevermind that they weren’t asked to in the original letter, and were questioned as to why they did so in the second letter. Nevermind that apparently they are going to reopen it as soon as it suits. Not the solicitors. I think the actions were understandable, but developed into the wrong response. So why on earthy would I or any thinking human being pledge ‘support’? Or as a poster on P.ie put it;

I support Dave Cochrane. I don’t support those who persist in putting his site and personal finances in jeopardy especially those mouthing off when service of legal action may be imminent.

My thoughts entirely.

Addendum: I note that Adam Maguire got some unkind words directed at him for daring to express his (entirely moderate) opinion about the matter on Newstalk today. That’s pretty unfair to, as anyone who has met Adam will confirm he’s a good observer of all things internet. Slightly entertaining was the confusion of him with Damien Mulley who is also guilty of thoughtcrimes… albeit ones that date back some time now…

The Left Archive: “The United Irishman” from Sinn Féin, March 1969 March 31, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive.



Cast your mind back to March 1969. The Troubles had yet to manifest themselves. Sinn Féin was a single organisation, as was the IRA. Almost unbelievably [and I’d like confirmation of this] Eamon Mallie and Patrick Bishop in their work on PIRA suggest that the first Civil Rights Association branch in Belfast was organised that April]. And April was to see the first serious clashes there between CRA members and the RUC.

So, if not quite the calm before the storm, it was certainly only in the first stages of the storm. But, as Richard English has noted, in 1966 the IRA’s strength was about a thousand, and in that year a plan had been drawn up to restart a campaign in the North. Indeed English writes that ‘in Belfast the IRA had grown significantly between 1962 and 1969. All of this should caution against too simplistic assumption that the organisation was militarily dead in the 1960s… in part however such martial noises as the IRA made during the decade were required precisely because Goulding did indeed want his army to embark on a new departure into radical politics’.

In this context what then was the message coming from the Republican movement?

Well, a mixed one which clearly tilted towards civil activism but hasn’t forgotten the past, as evidenced by an article on the 1939 campaign. One can but applaud the series on the counties of Ireland (Gaillimh in this edition) and the sidebar on estates of more than 400 acres, or indeed the tips on ‘defence tactics for demonstrators’. Roy Johnstone has an article on the Irish Labour Party. We read a piece on the Independent Orange Order.

The editorial criticises Peoples Democracy (not least for its stance on partition) and interestingly argues that ‘confrontation in the Six Counties must not be pushed beyond its real use’. An indication of future directions perhaps in the following sentence ‘In its extreme form as in Newry it polarises religious attitudes, as each side springs to defend “its own”.

The design of this newspaper is good with a strong visual approach that would put some commercial publications of the time to shame.

I hope this will be the first of a regular posting (but trust me, not every week) of successive UI’s through 1969 and on through to 1972 which will be an interesting means of charting the changes that occurred as Republicanism ruptured and very different approaches established themselves in those crucial years.

Meanwhile… Politics.ie stops talking about the Taoiseach. March 30, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Political Blogs, Irish Politics.

Interesting times at Politics.ie just got… well… more interesting as noted by Starkadder. For, on foot of a discussion of the Tribunal dealings the week before last David Cochrane was sent a letter from Frank Ward and Company which called on him to remove ‘comments ‘ from P.ie and to identify the names and addresses of six contributors to the debate.

On foot of the letter David has said:

Until further notice, the Tribunal section of the forum is out-of-bounds, and no Tribunal discussion is allowed. Furthermore there can be no discussion with respect to the Tribunals or anything concerning Bertie Ahern.

It is a problematic – and no doubt for David worrying – issue. On the one hand – and I only loosely followed the original discussion – it is clear that there was considerable heat on the matter. On the other isn’t this an issue of moderation? Why not just have a limited number of discussions on the Tribunal and Ahern which are tightly moderated? The letter doesn’t require P.ie to do anything other than two very specific things one of which has been done, the removal of the offending comments, one of which David (entirely) rightly says he won’t:

Under no circumstances can I be in a position to disclose the identity of any user on this website, and I will not be doing so.

So why the guillotine on all discussion of the Tribunal and Ahern?

Can’t disagree with that… March 29, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.

It’s funny. There is a point where it’s time to move on:

There have been too many explanatory statements from the Taoiseach since this newspaper first published Colm Keena’s story 18 months ago revealing that the Mahon tribunal was investigating payments of between €50,000-€100,000 by businessmen to Mr Ahern while he was minister for finance in the early 1990s. Some have been short; others have been long. Some have been in written affidavits; others verbally on oath. Some have been sound bites; others have been long articles.

Eventually the moment arrives when numerous tortured explanations which avoid dealing directly with the matter at hand won’t do:

The seminal statement was made on the Bryan Dobson interview on RTÉ when the payments were presented as a dig-out from friends at a sad time in his personal life. There have been three or four other versions of that story ever since.

Where sympathy, however residual, finally ebbs away:

The time has come for Mr Ahern to name a date for his departure.

Where respect for past achievements cannot outweigh the slow but steady attrition of a reputation:

He should be allowed the dignity of a valedictory address to the Joint Houses of Congress in the United States. He should lay claim to the historic part he played in the peace process in Northern Ireland. There is a danger that he could become the focal point for voters in the Lisbon Treaty referendum. Mr Ahern should name a date, sooner rather than later.

Enough really is enough… isn’t it?

Can you hear the American sound… Have you heard the American sound …Take a good look at the Fleshtones… March 29, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Demented is one word that springs to mind when thinking about the Fleshtones… exuberant is another. Since the late 1970s they’ve been playing a mutated form of garage rock crossed with psychedelia, blues and soul. For those of you haven’t heard them think of a less early middle-aged, less branded Blues Brothers (whose music I never warmed to) who due to coming up with punk actually learned the value of compact and concise riffs set against horns. The result a brew of surf, psychedelia, garage rock, RnB and a history that paralleled early punk/new wave (from their first and later regular appearance in CBGB’s).

I think I probably purchased Roman Gods and Hexbreaker sometime around 1985 or so. Their Powerstance from 1991 is perhaps my favourite, but I can’t be sure. And by most recent count I must have most of their albums, including Soul Madrid (a very bockety live performance from Spain, sometime in – I think – the late 1980s). Half of it is on vinyl. Which is inconvenient. And I discovered while writing this that one album must have been stolen some time in the mid-1990s. They weren’t remotely political. This simply was about the music and all that the music brings. Or as Robert Christgau noted:

Up-Front [I.R.S. EP, 1980]

I didn’t believe they were nothing but a party until I witnessed them leap out on the NYU stage tossing packs of Camels to the mob, then demolish Nervus Rex in a battle of the bands. And from these five songs you still won’t believe it. Best but not great is “The Girl From Baltimore”–real party city, cross between Philly and D.C., none of which the song implies. Nervus Rex album’s pretty nice. B-

Roman Gods [I.R.S., 1981]

This is where they get the junk-rock down–reckless enthusiasm plus the less stylish strains of late-’60s dance music add up to their own groove. But though it’s hooky and endearing, it’s short on what one might call nuggets, which is why a whole side of unexceptionably jet-propelled tracks tends to lose momentum. In fact, whenever I try to concentrate for even an entire cut, my mind starts to wander, just like with Jackson Browne. B+

You get the picture… But the riffs. They tended to stick. No more so than the central one in Roman Gods which was reprised ten years later on Living Legends

Somehow, they’ve managed to continue going during the intervening years, releasing albums every year or two to a devoted fan base. I sort of switched off, as one does, in the mid-1990s then returned to find that quality control hadn’t slipped.

And here for your entertainment are some examples of just what their self-proclaimed ‘super-rock’ sound is…

Soul City (a cover from the early days)

The American Beat

On the original version they list some of the stars of the ‘American Beat’ including:

"The fabulous Johnny C, Freddie 'Boom Boom' Cannon, the Inredible James

Brown, Roy Brown, Chuck Berry, The 'Reverend' Richard Penniman, Elvis

Presley and *all* the Kings of rock'n'roll.  Lou Costello, ?, the Illusions,

Eddie Cochrane, Buddy Holly, the Del Vikings, Del Fuegos, Del Shannon, MC5,

the Velvets, the Stooges, Louis Jordan, Rosco Gordon, the Raiders and the

Wailers, the Kingsmen and the Sonics, the Last, the Unclaimed, the

Plimsouls, the Lyres and the Real Kids, the Modern Lovers, Alan Vega, Los

Lobos, the Dodgers and the Headhunters too.  Mitch Ryders, Ritchie

Valens, the Osmonds, the Jackson Five, the Rivingtons, Donna Summer, Martha

Reeves, Richard Berry, Berry Gordy, whooo... Chuck Berry and...

louielouielouielouie.... come on louie... louielouielouielouie etc"

Which neatly triangulates their influences…

Here from the Pete Buck produced Beautiful Light is

Take a Walk with the Fleshtones

The funny thing is that they have been something of a magnet for name producers and collaborators. Steve Albini produced Laboratory of Sound and gave them a slightly metallic edge. Neither outing with Buck or Albini was bad but neither producer could really channel a sound that was already as full, or otherwise as it ever would be. Or to quote from a perceptive review on Amazon:

At the same time the Fleshtones never made Rock ‘n’ Roll any grander than it was. Unlike Springsteen who infused his brand of R&R with big dreams and a lingering sense of melancholy. Where R&R was the door to ultra coolness for the Punks, to Springsteen it was the door to something bigger, an escape for his small town background. R&R as a means, R&R as a promise, not an end. To the Fleshtones R&R was the final stop. They live to recreate the exitement on the records of Larry Williams, The Kingsmen, Lee Dorsey and Link Wray. The Fleshtones never aspired to anything bigger, be it a fleeting sense of cool or the realization of bigger dreams. The Fleshtones simply wanted to be R&R and indulge themselves in the accompanying lifestyle of sweaty parties deep into the night, raving live shows, sex & drugs.

In a way they remind me of Hawkwind, individual songs are great, albums, sometimes a bit less so. So it’s with something approaching awe that I see their latest offering Take A Good Look at the Fleshtones is gaining considerable plaudits from admiring reviews in the NME and – almost unbelievably – the Independent. They recently toured with the Sonics (a genuine – and fascinating – casualty of the years before the years of zonk) and swung by Europe. France and Spain, being countries with a variable but undeniable appreciation of certain aesthetics, took them to heart decades ago. England… not so much. Ireland. I don’t think I know of any people beyond my immediate circle who knew about them other than in passing.

And that’s a pity, because they’re a gregarious bunch of people.

I’ve seen them twice. Once in Manitoba’s on Avenue B in Manhattan in the late 1990s. Manitoba’s is owned by Handsome Dick Manitoba (himself something of a legend, to those of us with long memories, as lead singer with the Dictators… ahh… the Dictators), and despite it being a limited space they did the whole spiel. Dancing on the bar, through the crowd and back again. Then again in 2002 in a fine American Polish venue in Williamsburg (Death Cab for Cutie were playing the next week in the theater attached, and probably getting a crowd five times as big – go figure…). They were great and a group of us wound up having some powerfully strong Polish beer with them at the bar. Bill Milhizer, the drummer, recounted how they’d once toured with the Undertones back in the late 1970s or early 1980s and his memory of them was of them sitting around drinking milk – something he’d never seen adults do en masse before. Punk, how are you? What struck me was how open and friendly they were, particularly Milhizer and Pete Zaremba, and more than willing to sit and talk to a bunch of expatriate and tourist Irish about music and stuff.

There’s a book out about them by Joe Bonomo. It’s called Sweat, which seems appropriate. And while I tend to avoid such things (some hideous crimes against the English language have been committed in what are laughably termed ‘music books’) this is one I have purchased…

Torches of Libertas… March 28, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.

I had to smile today when I opened the Irish Times letter page to discover that the indefatigable John McGuirk, Communications Director of Libertas, was taking Gay Mitchell to task.

Now one of the things I love about politics is that it can throw up some unlikely alliances of convenience. And here is a perfect example. I’m not much of a fan of Fine Gael, although there are a number of politicians I admire in it. Still, I can’t help feeling a certain degree of sympathy for Mitchell when I read the following…

Madam, – Gay Mitchell (March 27th) wants to know how Libertas is funded. We have repeatedly said that we are in communication with the Standards in Public Office Commission, and are totally compliant with the relevant legislation.

If Mr Mitchell, or his party, wants to go down the road of talking about political funding, we will happily oblige him. Perhaps we could start with a lengthy discussion of his own party’s funding in the mid-1990s, when he was a government minister?

Mr Mitchell should stick to the facts of this treaty, and avoid the politics. He was never very good at the latter anyway. – Yours, etc,
Communications Director,
Baggot Street,
Dublin 2.

It’s not so much the factual, or otherwise, content of the letter as the little lash at the end. Now, I’d never present myself as an expert on such matters, but one thing I do know is that courtesy goes a long way whereas sarcasm, at least in these contexts, doesn’t.

And while there are those who think Libertas is getting an unfair time of it, I think it is reasonable to enquire about an organisation, any organisation, that can mount a fairly comprehensive billboard campaign in a political campaign. That this organisation in particular is an exotic blend on the political right (at least in the Irish context) is of natural interest to those like ourselves who like to study such things.

On politics.ie it’s all getting a bit raw, which is perhaps an object lesson in why it is probably best for people to avoid trying to be both players in a campaign process and assisting spectators of that process.

In a way I can’t help but think this is a bit like a project that has run well out of control. Perhaps some of those involved saw this as a good opportunity to burnish their credentials as campaigners and consultants – not unlike Frank Luntz or Saatchi and Saatchi for example. Participation in a campaign like this, where there is a good chance (particularly following Nice) that it might go sour for the ‘establishment’ could only look good, allowing for a share in the credit. Even if the result was close but the No side lost, well, it would still be seen as a credible and professional effort.

Perhaps the motivations are completely different. But the current spate of events seem to speak of a much less assured handling of the whole affair than might have been expected.

John Redmond, John Bruton and the Irish Parliamentary Party March 28, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish History, Irish Politics.


It’s funny, I had been thinking last week that in some respects Fine Gael remind me of nothing so much as the Irish Parliamentary Party – the reasons for that observation I will get to in a moment. And what happens? Why here comes John Bruton. For we learn in the Irish Times yesterday that ‘Bruton salutes the historic legacy of John Redmond’. Now I should state that for my money were FG to look for serious inspiration they could do no better than actually engage a bit more with the reality of what Michael Collins sought and did. But… to each their own.

Anyhow the article continues:

HISTORY HAD not “done justice” to the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Redmond, the EU ambassador to the US and former taoiseach John Bruton said at the Mansion House in Dublin last night.

Speaking at the launch of Redmond: The Parnellite, the first in a two-volume biography by Dermot Meleady (published by Cork University Press), Mr Bruton said he had “very strong feelings” on the book’s subject.

And Bruton recounts some of his achievements…

“He was, as the book tells you, regarded as the greatest parliamentary orator of his time; John Redmond’s capacity to hold the House [ of Commons] in his hand was equalled only by Gladstone,” Mr Bruton said.

“He won the consent of people all over the world for the idea that the Irish were capable of ruling themselves . . . The crowning achievement came on September 18th, 1914, when the Home Rule Bill was placed on the statute book.”

Which is great if one counts as a crowning achievement one which doesn’t actually have any effect. Or to rework Enoch Powell’s acerbic observation that all political lives end in failure… well yes, this one sure did…Because as the Irish Times notes:

However, Home Rule was suspended for the duration of the first World War.


Coming in the wake of the 1916 Rising, the general election of 1918 rejected Redmond’s legacy and his “policy of engagement and negotiation” in favour of “abstention and violence”.

Now, this is a significant rewriting of history. Because it elides a number of events and ignores others in order to present us with a highly misleading interpretation. The 1916 Rising was a direct consequence of the failure of Home Rule to be implemented. Many of those involved had been supportive of the Home Rule campaign but had become disillusioned when that campaign was not successful (in 1912 Pearse had shared a platform with Redmond demanding the implementation of Home Rule). These were not people instinctively wedded to violence. Their next political port of call? Why advanced nationalism otherwise known as Republicanism. The campaign for Home Rule had stretched across more than a century since the Act of Union. The suspension of Home Rule was not in itself an isolated issue, but also occurred in the context of the aversion of the British state to face down the political response of Unionism.

Nor is it unreasonable to suggest that the support for Republicanism in the period after 1916 was a direct result of the lack of Home Rule. The response to the Rising by the British demonstrated the reality of their authority – perhaps in a way that had not been seen in at least a generation at that time. And in such a context it is unsurprising that as with those involved in 1916 itself there would be a shift of sentiment towards a harder edged identification with Republicanism.

Nor would it be correct to suggest that the shift to violence was in some sense external to the Home Rule project (a sort of Republican import as it were). For the militarisation of the struggle was a response to Unionist militarisation in Ulster and the foundation of the original Ulster Volunteer Force. And it was Home Rule in the broader sense which mobilised in response, not Republicanism, in the shape of the Irish Volunteers in November 1913. Redmond ignored, then intervened in the Volunteers forcing their Provisional Committee to accept his nominees. This is not to ignore the fact that former Fenians and the IRB rapidly took a commanding role in the Volunteers, but that in the words of Alvin Jackson in Home Rule: An Irish History 1800 – 2000, ‘Redmond’s belated annexation of the Volunteers looked like weakness, and a panicked reappraisal of his most deeply cherished strategies’.

Indeed a better argument can be made that Home Rule in and of itself was the issue which led to not merely 1916, but 1919-1921 and thereafter. The point at which the British state was willing to concede self-government, limited as it was, was one which would lead to a backlash from Unionism. That backlash was in a paramilitary form utilising the threat of force and this was met with an equal and opposite response from Nationalism of the Home Rule variety, rapidly appropriated in part by advanced Nationalism.

So therefore to present it in bald terms as some sort of ‘rejection’ of negotiation in favour of ‘violence’ is simply wrong. It was the near-inevitable outworking of processes which the lack of implementation of Home Rule, indeed the previous aversion to even engaging on the issue, by the British political classes led almost directly to. And just as violence is implicit in all state-building, it is also implicit in secessions. We have seen how ugly the post-Yugoslav dispensation has been, why would it be different in 1914 or 1921, particularly if the state concerned was the then leading global power?

And while Redmond might well have won consent internationally that ‘the Irish were capable of ruling themselves’ this was a very partial sort of rule, one constrained by the structures of a British political system. I find it curious that the former Taoiseach of an independent and sovereign Republic of Ireland would see in Redmond a political hero. I don’t mean that in a lazy sort of ‘John Unionist’ way, but simply that while Redmond did indeed seek a non-violent way to ‘self-rule’ (although as we have seen that was tempered by the experience of the Irish Volunteers, and let us not even consider his role in recruitment to the British Army) the end he sought was surely very different from that Republic (indeed arguably his vision was less radical than that of O’Connell) and was directly incompatible with the Republic or indeed even the Irish Free State which did emerge in 1922. In fact it is difficult not to regard Home Rule as a political cul-de-sac which diverted energy away from independence, and which even had it been instituted in 1914 would still have seen partition of sorts, and then eventual independence probably sooner rather than later. The counter argument is that this might have been achieved without bloodshed. But, one wonders.

Consider this quote from Jackson, where he notes that…

Redmonds grief on military questions reflected, perhaps, not just the ambiguities created by the suspension of Home Rule but difficulties with the measure itself… under the terms of the suspended Home Rule Act an Irish leader had no direct jurisdiction over military matters. There is little doubt that the Home Rule Act could not – indeed should not – have been a final and complete expression of Irish national aspirations. But the war raises a question about even its short-term viability as a settlement. If Home Rule had been enacted, and Redmond had been Irish Prime Minister in late 1914, then under the terms of the Act he could have exercised no more authority over the critical issue of Irish recruitment than he already did as leader of the Irish Party… it is hard to resist the suspicion that the Home Rule Act of 1914 could have been no more than a provisional settlement of the historic Anglo-Irish antagonism.

More to the point even what support there was for the Irish Parliamentary Party, and it was on one level near-hegemonic, was built on shifting and contradictory ground. Jackson also notes that when the 1915 wartime coalition government in Britain took power and offered cabinet seats to Edward Carson (as attorney general) and Redmond. Redmond refused. As Jackson relates ‘Irish nationalism had traditionally been deeply opposed to the notion of its commanders accepting ministerial positions under the English Crown’. Granted the situation had changed to the extent Redmond could seek recruits to the British Army, but that he did not suggests that the alternative history of a gentle slide towards peaceful autonomy (or independence) during this period is largely aspirational.

This is not to say that, as John Regan in The Irish Counter-Revolution has noted that ‘notions of an Irish teleological history and republican predestination – that is to say that all Irish history was seen as a continuous process leading to independence, the republic and rule by Fianna Fáil’ were in and of themselves correct. Merely that so many of the elements that fed into the ultimate shape of the post-1916 conflict were well beyond the control of Redmond, or indeed anyone on the island (or the other island directly to the east). The First World War, Unionist dissent, the development of a small, but not insignificant band of dissenters within Nationalism itself (as early as September 1914 12,000 Irish Volunteers from the 170,000 original members followed Eoin MacNeill in direct opposition to Redmond). Each of these was in place soon after Redmond was forced to bend to the will of the Westminster Parliament and delay once more in the implementation of his ‘crowning success’. And that was largely that. His route was far from ignoble, but predestination aside, it seems more than likely doomed – certainly from 1913 or so.

Once one factors in 1916 one is left with a situation in which, as Jackson argues:

The Easter rebels had exposed the limitations and inconsistencies of the Irish Party’s rhetoric and actions – a party that celebrated the achievements of earlier insurgents, and yet which daily compromised the ideals of Irish self-government. The rebels had also exposed the distance that the party had travelled since the death of Parnell – the extent to which his great coalition of militant and constitutionalist had degenerated into a party of tough-talking but sedentary and ageing gentlemen. In the very act of purloining the rebels’ sanctity [by a speech following the Rising in which he denounced the executions and praised the courage of Pearse et al], Dillon underlined the integrity of their case.

And I wonder too if in the most benign scenario of a Home Rule government extant from 1914 pressure from a recalcitrant Northern Ireland, presumably behind a border, would not have fed precisely the sort of appetites that those like Bruton believe that Redmond might have shielded this different Irish history from. After all, in the relative calm of the late 1940s the Anti-Partition campaign saw a final flourish of near mass enthusiasm for direct (political) intervention in the North with frankly disastrous results. Add to this a younger generation impatient with the compromises and conciliations of a Home Rule administration and we see something approaching the counterfactual detailed in British Ireland (an essay by Jackson in Niall Ferguson’s interesting albeit right of centre Virtual History).

Ireland emerges as a dominion, loosely bound to the British empire. The inclusion of Ulster has little bearing on this counterfactual fantasy… however it should again be emphasised that an independent Ireland with a strong Unionist representation need not have been – in the long term – a politically and culturally settled polity. There is, in fact, some justification for supposing the reverse. It seems unlikely that had Home Rule been enacted in 1912, there would have been an Anglo-Irish war; on the other hand it is not improbable that advanced seperatists would have staged a revolt against a Home Rule administration which seemed to be (in MacSwiney’s metaphor) joining the Carnival of Empire.

And Jackson continues that in a further counterfactual there is the possibility of an Ulster provisional government emerging (this contention supported by some plans proposed by Carson and the UVF) which would either have been put down by force by the British or Irish, or transition to a near-civil war scenario and either a sort of half-life of autonomy within the Home Rule context or otherwise. Would any of these have been substantially better than the situation that did in fact emerge? Would they have been more stable? Would any of them have provided the sort of outcome that Redmond sought? And would any of them vindicate the faith John Bruton places in Redmond as the great lost leader who could have negotiated Ireland safely through the crucible of international and domestic events during this period? Could any leader do that?

Because the problem is that once we accept that the elements existed, were in place and required no internal activity to bring them into play it is clear that even had Home Rule been granted in 1914 the exigencies of the broader environment would place it under almost identical pressures to that endured by the protagonists of our actual history. Whether Redmond and his peers in the Irish Parliamentary Party were capable of dealing with such pressures is a very interesting question indeed. The brute reality is that despite his seeming altitude above the messy compromises political and military that the post-1914 era would necessitate Redmond was in actual fact deeply involved in attempting to bridge the same gaps that others who Bruton would find much less congenial later sought to do so. He is no more the untainted white knight of Irish political life than any other individual and his record, and indeed project, is vastly more contradictory than is presented by John Bruton.

And finally, to my mind there is an unhappy echo of the Redmond legacy today. For watching the assembled Fine Gael TDs recently the unkind thought struck me that they were being essentially true to their now distant roots in the Irish Parliamentary Party as they sat in an assembly with no direct influence, whatever their numbers. Indeed Michael Taft has noted that:

If Fianna Fail is one of the most successful parties in Europe then Fine Gael, as the main opposition party, is one of the least successful. Since its formation in 1933 it has been in office for only 18 out of 75 years. But, more to the point, Fine Gael is solely reliant upon Labour to lead a government. It’s not that they are inflexible: they have coalesced with Democratic Left while making it clear prior to the last election that both Greens and the PDs were acceptable partners. However, without Labour, they cannot hope to lead a government. Were Labour to permanently withdraw support, it is very hard to see Fine Gael ever recapturing that office.

I think it is unlikely that that latter scenario might come to pass, but it does speak of a serious structural problem for Fine Gael as it is currently positioned within our political system. The events of the last day have been triggered not by opposition activity but by ‘disquiet’ and ‘unease’ amongst the government parties. Events are made by those who can shape events (even if they sometimes propose that they are supernumerary to requirements). That’s as true of 2007 as it was in 1914.

A twin-pronged dig at Ahern by PD and Green Party Ministers which signifies… what? March 27, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.

Difficult to be certain what to make of the statements today which see both party political components of the Coalition delivering essentially the same message to Bertie Ahern.

Mary Harney of the Progressive Democrats was first out calling:

… on Mr Ahern to break his silence over Ms Carruth’s testimony regarding sterling lodgments to the Taoiseach’s Irish Permanent account in 1994.

Speaking to reporters in Dublin this morning, the former Progressive Democrats leader said the Taoiseach was the only person who could dispel public rumours following Ms Carruth’s evidence. “What I am saying is that the public disquiet has to be dispelled, and that is a matter for the Taoiseach, and only the Taoiseach can dispel that public disquiet”, she said.

She wasn’t saying she would walk… indeed she was being very careful to say nothing too scarifying at all…

“I am not being specific as to what the Taoiseach should actually do. That is a matter for the Taoiseach.” “I am simply saying there is considerable public disquiet as a result of Gráinne Carruth’s evidence last week, and that public disquiet needs to be dispelled quickly,” Ms Harney said.

Indeed she was at pains to state…

…she still had confidence in the Taoiseach.

I love this political dance which necessitates an extreme sensitivity in political language and gesture. Disquiet must be balanced by ‘confidence’. Only the Taoiseach can ‘dispel’ ‘unease’. It has all the mannered refinement of “The Importance of Being Earnest”. Delicacy in word. Reserve. Emphatic statements softened by something approaching diffidence. Or to put it another way, they reach forward but they refrain from striking.

John Gormley of the Greens was no more assertive.

In an address to county councillors in Co Meath today, Green Party leader Mr Gormley said it was clear that evidence given by the Mr Ahern’s former secretary Gráinne Carruth gave rise to serious issues which need to be clarified.

And from him the following masterfully understated sentence:

“There is evidence of growing public interest in this issue, and there are concerns.”


His suggestion?

More information from the Taoiseach would help here

Why yes. Yes it would!
But here’s the rub. He continues with:

We have always insisted – including during two key Dáil debates – on full Government support for the tribunal’s work. As I have said on numerous occasions, the issue is a distraction from the business of good government.

And how can he say otherwise. There is a process, but the process itself is subject to centrifugal forces that spin information out almost at random in a manner which actually subverts the process, and yet also gives a, perhaps, far too clear picture of a situation that causes… well… ‘public interest’… and in such a way as to make the political terrain – for Ahern at least – incredibly unstable. As it happens I agree with Gormley. I think it’s astute of him to introduce the idea that there is a distinction between Ahern’s position and ‘good government’. That may well become crucial for the continued participation of the Green Party in government in the mid-term. And I salute him for the skillful turn of the following phrase…

This is – as it has always been – primarily an issue for Mr Ahern, his lawyers, and the Mahon tribunal. It is also a matter for Fianna Fáil.

I think, on the evidence of this that there is no immediate danger to the Coalition. But… the rhetorical pressure is being ratcheted up. I’m guessing that Ahern at his next meeting with the Tribunal is going to have to pull some serious chestnuts out of the fire or else we’ll see yet further pressure again. And all the while… to paraphrase John Gormley in that last sentence, where is Fianna Fáil?

Commemorations and celebrations… The GPO, 1916 and all that… March 27, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics.


I missed the Easter Sunday parade on O’Connell Street this year. To be honest I didn’t hear about it until too late, and I got the sense that it was fairly unpublicised. This was confirmed, at least slightly, by the report on RTÉ before the event that the Gardai were expecting 5,000 spectators. Considering that the Easter parade, which I remember seeing as a very young child, went AWOL during the Troubles one wonders is it as a response to the continuing issues with the Peace Process that it remains low key. And yet I don’t see why it shouldn’t be seen as an entirely valid part of our history and commemorative traditions.

That said there was a certain degree of pathos about the fly past (which I did catch as the four Air corps – count ’em, four – propeller trainer aircraft looped out towards Fairview after storming across O’Connell Street. Time for a few fast jet squadrons. Or, if not that, how about beefing up the number of our coastguard aircraft. This is after all an island with an extensive shoreline and surrounding territorial waters.

Anyhow, on foot of all this there was an interesting article in the Irish Times about how the GPO may become setting for presidential inaugurations.

Franks McDonald, the IT Environment Editor (and surely one of the few remaining outposts of the ancien regime at the IT) writes that

THE GPO in Dublin may become the setting for future presidential inaugurations, following its transformation to accommodate a museum commemorating the 1916 Rising.

Plans being drawn up by architects in the Office of Public Works (OPW) envisage demolishing part of the building to create a glazed courtyard to the rear, two-thirds the size of the Upper Yard of Dublin Castle.

Apparently its current layout is not appropriate for such usage. And that…

The two existing courtyards within the GPO are “rather mean”, according to a spokesman, so the plan is to demolish the cross-block between them and create a much more impressive civic space.

It get’s better…

Beneath this courtyard, there would be a vast concourse – “something like the Louvre [ in Paris] rather than Clery’s basement” – which would be accessible from the front and sides of the building.

Let’s conjure with that thought a moment or two. “Something like the Louvre”… Okay. Sounds good. I’ve been there. But it is the second comment that I like… “rather than Clery’s basement”. No doubt that had their shareholders sputtering their morning coffee across the table when they read it, but really. Who would seek to compare a ‘vast concourse’ with ‘Clery’s basement’?

The concept being worked on is to retain the existing post office, but reconfigure it to create a processional route from the neoclassical portico on O’Connell Street to the courtyard and concourse.

“This could become the ‘front room of the nation’ within a building that’s central to the foundation of the State,” the OPW spokesman said. “It could even be used for presidential inaugurations.”

I think that may be a bit of a stretch, and one wonders if this is the spokesman talking or has it been thought about a bit more deeply elsewhere? Well perhaps since they seem to be fairly clued up on the matter…

Traditionally, presidents have been inaugurated in St Patrick’s Hall at Dublin Castle, “with 500 people crammed in, so it would be lovely to have these ceremonies in a space that could accommodate 2,000”.

I think the symbolism might be most interesting. It’s not as if the GPO isn’t even as it stands a bit more contentious than many consider. After all, the iconic site of the rebirth of Irish Republicanism and/or Nationalism (depending on taste) was a very British building indeed. Now I can talk about the mutability of such symbols – go take a look at who introduced the harp as a state emblem – and I have. But if one has even a passing acquaintance with the imagery used by the state in the first fifty odd years of its existence one will know that the GPO became something of a substitute signifier of Republicanism, to the point that Leinster House, the actual site of a sovereign independent Irish parliament was almost never depicted. No surprise there. The revolution was truncated and delayed in the context of partition. The present was less happy than a past which was bright with optimism despite the seeming defeat at the GPO and a future which would see an entirely new dispensation (and arguably no Leinster House).

So in a way this suggestion hearkens back to that. And I suspect quite a few people might find that a somewhat threatening proposition. Nationalist feeling has never been entirely trusted by our indigenous elites, hence the disappearance of our Easter Parade, indeed perhaps too a subtext that has led to a sort of de facto pacifism and dearmanent as regards our military affairs (although in fairness that approach has entirely sincere roots in other places). The idea that a President of the Republic of Ireland will be inaugerated at the GPO seems to me to be hugely unlikely. Still, we’ll see. Meanwhile the GPO redevelopment promises to be eye-catching…

The proposed concourse beneath the courtyard would be a large, column-free exhibition space similar to the central concourse of the Louvre museum, with roof lights above to flood it with natural light.

And we also get, and this makes considerable sense:

…a 1916 museum… it would contain a philately museum and possibly also a museum of Dublin. A working group headed by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism is examining the options.

The National Museum is advising on the content of the 1916 museum, which is likely to be broader than the Rising itself and its aftermath, but it is likely that professional exhibition designers will also be involved.

Erm… yes, I’m sure the National Museum could supply some expertise on that front, but anyhow. Although reading the above that does seem like and extraordinary number of museums being located there.

Generally I think the redevelopment of O’Connell Street has been reasonably good. The wider pavements and central island are a significant improvement. I’m one of those who liked the Spire and I think the general aspect of the street is better (and having an interesting effect in aiding the already on-going regeneration of Parnell Street as well). That it still acts as a central hub for traffic is problematic. There’s little as effective as a phalanx of buses to drag the look of a street down, and pedestrianisation would be a good step forward, but that’s presumably an impossible dream. Clearing the relatively low volumes of private cars off it would be no harm.

Nor does it mean that the GPO will lose its original function….

The proposal to demolish the cross-block, which is located halfway between the front of the building and the GPO arcade, means that many of An Post’s 1,000 staff will have to relocate to other offices.

However, the OPW spokesman emphasised that the GPO would continue to house the “headquarters function” of An Post as well as the post office, which dates from 1814 and was rebuilt in the 1920s.

And how soon is this coming on-line?

The sketch scheme they are preparing is expected to be presented to the Cabinet in May, with a view to getting approval to proceed to planning application stage and finish the building work by 2013.

Why just in time for the 1916- 2016 commemorations!

A sign of the times; War, health and the US legal system. March 26, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

John O’Neill of the Irish Socialist Network forwarded me this news story (available on the Marxmail site) which encapsulates the major themes that face the United States today.

As John says:

I believe it embodies all that’s wrong in the US; Greedy multinationals, the lack of Health Care, The legal system and so on. It also has another dimension, highlighting the American working class sacrifice for the “war on terror”. I wonder how the ‘moral majority’ feel about a man who has to divorce for his wife to get healthcare. Not to mention the pillars of society, the legal profession who took $583,000 in fees out of a $1 million settlement. It is tragic beyond belief.

It certainly is an imperfect storm that has led to unconscionable outcomes…

JACKSON, Missouri (CNN) — Debbie Shank breaks down in tears every time she’s told that her 18-year-old son, Jeremy, was killed in Iraq. Debbie Shank, 52, has severe brain damage after a traffic accident in May 2000. Even though the 52-year-old mother of three attended her son’s funeral — she continues to ask how he’s doing. When her family reminds her that he’s dead — she weeps as if hearing the news for the first time.

Shank suffered severe brain damage after a traffic accident nearly eight years ago that robbed her of much of her short-term memory and left her in a wheelchair and living in a nursing home. It was the beginning of a series of battles — both personal and legal — that loomed for Shank and her family. One of their biggest was with Wal-Mart’s health plan.

Eight years ago, Shank was stocking shelves for the retail giant and signed up for Wal-Mart’s health and benefits plan.

Two years after the accident, Shank and her husband, Jim, were awarded about $1 million in a lawsuit against the trucking company involved in the crash. After legal fees were paid, $417,000 was placed in a trust to pay for Debbie Shank’s long-term care.

Wal-Mart had paid out about $470,000 for Shank’s medical expenses and later sued for the same amount. However, the court ruled it can only recoup what is left in the family’s trust.

The Shanks didn’t notice in the fine print of Wal-Mart’s health plan policy that the company has the right to recoup medical expenses if an employee collects damages in a lawsuit.

The family’s attorney, Maurice Graham, said he informed Wal-Mart about the settlement and believed the Shanks would be allowed to keep the money.
“We assumed after three years, they [Wal-Mart] had made a decision to let Debbie Shank use this money for what it was intended to,” Graham said.

The Shanks lost their suit to Wal-Mart. Last summer, the couple appealed the ruling — but also lost it. One week later, their son was killed in Iraq.

“They are quite within their rights. But I just wonder if they need it that bad,” Jim Shank said.

In 2007, the retail giant reported net sales in the third quarter of $90 billion.

Legal or not, CNN asked Wal-Mart why the company pursued the money.

Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley, who called Debbie Shank’s case “unbelievably sad,” replied in a statement: “Wal-Mart’s plan is bound by very specific rules. … We wish it could be more flexible in Mrs. Shank’s case since her circumstances are clearly extraordinary, but this is done out of fairness to all associates who contribute to, and benefit from, the plan.”

Jim Shank said he believes Wal-Mart should make an exception. “My idea of a win-win is — you keep the paperwork that says you won and let us keep the money so I can take care of my wife,” he said.

The family’s situation is so dire that last year Jim Shank divorced Debbie, so she could receive more money from Medicaid.

Jim Shank, 54, is recovering from prostate cancer, works two jobs and struggles to pay the bills. He’s afraid he won’t be able to send their youngest son to college and pay for his and Debbie’s care. “Who needs the money more? A disabled lady in a wheelchair with no future, whatsoever, or does Wal-Mart need $90 billion, plus $200,000?” he asked.

The family’s attorney agrees. “The recovery that Debbie Shank made was recovery for future lost earnings, for her pain and suffering,” Graham said. “She’ll never be able to work again. Never have a relationship with her husband or children again. The damage she recovered was for much more than just medical expenses.”

Graham said he believes Wal-Mart should be entitled to only about $100,000. Right now, about $277,000 remains in the trust — far short of the $470,000 Wal-Mart wants back.

Refusing to give up the fight, the Shanks appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. But just last week, the high court said it would not hear the case. Graham said the Shanks have exhausted all their resources and there’s nothing more they can do but go on with their lives.

Jim Shank said he’s disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case — not for the sake of his family — but for those who might face similar circumstances. For now, he said the family will figure out a way to get by and “do the best we can for Debbie.”

“Luckily, she’s oblivious to everything,” he said. “We don’t tell her”

What is most difficult to understand is the way that Wal-Mart feels that it is correct to claw back money in the event that those in their scheme get other monies additional to that paid out by Wal-Mart. How this impacts on the “fairness to all associates who contribute to, and benefit from, the plan” remains unexplained.

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