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One step forward, three steps back… November 17, 2017

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From the Guardian…

Racially motivated crimes in Northern Ireland now exceed those connected to traditional sectarian bigotry, police figures show.Between July 2016 and June 2017, there were 1,062 racist incidents reported to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). In the same period, police recorded 938 incidents involving traditional religious sectarianism.

What of ten years ago… This offers some insight – 5 attacks a day according to police in 2006. So approximately 1825 in total in 2006-7.

Though there’s this:

There is, however, strong evidence that in certain parts of Northern Ireland there has been direct involvement by members of Ulster loyalist terror groups in racist intimidation.
So far this year there has been a spike in racist attacks in predominantly loyalist east Belfast, which have been directed against mainly eastern European immigrants.

And in some ways the tune may be slightly different but the song remains much the same:

In a single night last month, there were three racially motivated hate crimes in a number of streets close by to each other. In what appeared to be a coordinated series of arson attacks, two cars and a minibus owned by immigrants were set on fire in the Woodstock/Ravenhill area.
These incidents occurred shortly after a local unit of the Ulster Volunteer Force was blamed for intimidating four Catholic families out of a proposed religiously mixed housing development close by.
Nationalist politicians said the same UVF unit, connected to the organisation’s East Belfast Battalion, was behind the series of racist attacks a few days later.

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Never forget the Generals November 17, 2017

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Basic stuff and a message that Robert Mugabe appears to have missed this last week. As noted in the Guardian:

The move by the armed forces appears to have resolved a bitter battle to succeed the 93-year-old president, which had pitted his former vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, against Mugabe’s wife, Grace.

Mnangagwa was reported to have returned to Zimbabwe on Tuesday evening from South Africa, where he fled last week after being stripped of his office by Mugabe in an apparent attempt to clear Grace Mugabe’s path to power.
There were unconfirmed reports that Grace was in Namibia on Wednesday on business.

What’s particularly notable is that Mnangagwa is a former chief of intelligence, and that makes Mugabe’s error, or those of his entourage even more curious. Interesting how regional actors are not appearing exactly averse to the…erm… intervention.

Another new party or alliance? Not quite! November 17, 2017

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This from the Irish Times.

A number of Independent TDs are considering establishing a new political party or alliance to promote rural issues and an anti-abortion message.
Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath and Cork South West TD Michael Collins have confirmed they have met with the Standards in Public Office Commission about forming a new group ahead of the next general election.
Clare TD Michael Harty, Kerry TD Danny Healy-Rae and Galway West TD Noel Grealish were also present at the meeting, organised by former Fianna Fáil senator John Hanafin.

Though apparently ‘discussions had stalled after Mr Grealish confirmed he is unwilling to participate. However, McGrath said the option of creating a new alliance remained under serious consideration’.

But isn’t there an embarrassment of riches in terms of options already there. The Rural Alliance, I4C (of which one TD involved in the above noted, etc). And after RENUA one would think the perils of a party focused on abortion would be evident (and some will feel uneasy at the way ‘rural issues’ are tacked on as if per definition anti-abortion and rural are near enough synonymous). Well yes, for some at least. But for others the temptation of such an outfit remains.

And isn’t there a name missing from the list above?

This Week At Irish Election Literature November 17, 2017

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The Spring 1989 edition of “Republican Worker” -Journal of The RDG (Faction of the SWP) (has a good bit on Ireland in it)

“Céad Mile Fáilte” an early 90’s leaflet from Amnesty International regarding the treatment of asylum seekers in Ireland.

The May 2006 edition of the Young Fine Gael newsletter “The Informer”.. which features among other thing a profile of Barry Walsh

“Churchtown Past & Present” a lovely leaflet giving the history of many of the local landmarks of Churchtown in Dublin from Neale Richmond. (It seems that leaflets like this are becoming popular due to the decade of centenaries increasing interest in Local History)

Gratuitous tweets and interesting framing of a story… November 16, 2017

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Can’t help but wonder at this, from the IT where it notes the story about how:

Barry Walsh’s gratuitous tweets have been something of a secret in plain sight. What is surprising is that he was not pulled up on them before Kate O’Connell delivered a coup de grace at the Fine Gael parliamentary meeting on Tuesday.
Walsh, a solicitor, has been prominent in the party for over a decade but has made national headlines after the Dublin Bay South TD disclosed a series of abusive tweets sent by him, many directed at female politicians and commentators.

Harry McGee continues:

He is the former head of Young Fine Gael and now holds the position of vice chairman of the executive council. In last year’s general election, he was director of elections in Dublin Bay North. He also advised Lucinda Creighton back when she was minister of state for European affairs.

As well as:

Politically, Walsh very much belongs to the Christian Democratic wing of Fine Gael. He has very strongly-held anti-abortion views; defends denominational and Catholic education; rails against the ‘nanny state’ and political correctness; is pro-Israel; and strongly backs ‘right of centre’ administrations.
In that respect, he is one of a minority of voices offering an alternative (and probably unfashionable) viewpoint on Irish politics and society on social media, particularly on Twitter.

But even the piece has to acknowledge that:

There is one thing about having strong views and being outspoken in articulating them, or criticising the ‘totems’ which represent the views. It is an altogether different matter when you resort to abuse or insulting ad hominem attacks.

Er yeah. And since when was it a facet of supposedly ‘strongly held’ views about whatever that basic stuff like ‘not insulting colleagues or using abusive and personalised language’ to quote from the IT piece was ignored.

I find the following quite strange. After pointing to the fact that of 10,000 tweets it is noted that there ‘dozens’ ‘where he takes potshots at opponents’ and then ‘five instances where the word ‘bitch’ is used’. :

Walsh was indeed subject to pillorying on social media on Thursday, though some, including McGuirk, argued the reaction was over the top.
One senior TD agreed privately. He said that while Walsh was “way out of line with the tweets”, the reaction was not proportionate. He thought, for instance, that Doherty had gone too far in her comments.
“The vilification on social media is the original, but in reverse,” the TD said. “There’s a big difference between being an elected representative and a party member, albeit on the executive.”

Strange framing I’d have thought. Surely the unnamed TD might recognise that using those terms just isn’t appropriate whether off twitter or on it. And the difference between representing a party on an executive isn’t all that different from being an elected representative like a TD.

New capitalists on the block… November 16, 2017

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Honey coated poison… a phrase you may not have heard, and yet, that’s what seems to be taking place in the DPRK as it emulates at least some of the approaches of its larger northern neighbour. The Planet Money podcast #800: North Korea’s Capitalists is well worth a listen. And here’s a point… ‘since Kim Jong Un has taken over there’s much more trade in North Korea’. Why so?

Even inside North Korea, the most restrictive, socialist regime in the world, there are entrepreneurs. People are dreaming up ideas of services to offer, products to sell, businesses to start. They’re called the ‘donju,’ and they’re part of North Korea’s small middle class. Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, doesn’t throw them in jail.
This is relatively new. For a long time, even tiny acts of capitalism were thought of as ‘honey-coated poison’ by the North Korean government. Private business was banned. It has crept in at the edges slowly, but Kim Jong Un has set two main goals for his country: Build up the nuclear weapons program and grow the economy.

Signs of Hope – A continuing series November 16, 2017

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Gewerkschaftler suggested this recently:

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

Any contributions this week?

It didn’t work… therefore? November 16, 2017

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I don’t want to be unkind, but I can’t help but think reading this Guardian editorial on 1917 that if I was looking for a source to confirm that the Communist system ‘didn’t work’ I wouldn’t – with the best will in the world – go to Giles Fraser (second link down in the piece IIRC).

That said this is a neat formulation from the editorial…

For some, the Soviet Union was always beyond criticism – the cause transcended the crimes. For others, only revulsion and rejection were possible – the crimes were all.

I’ve always been suspicious of both those camps. One is too kind, the other too harsh. Like all human projects, particularly ones borne of immiseration there was a duality, indeed much more than a duality, of aspects.

Indeed to me the most interesting period of the Soviets is neither the initial period of the revolution and directly after or the Stalinist period, but rather that which came subsequent to that, from the mid-1950s onwards. Perhaps that is because that is the period (well, somewhat later) that I recall when the Soviets were the other pole – to be admired in part and criticised in other part. And when shorn of the existential crises of the revolution and the Second World War and moving on from the simple need to survive it had to prosper in contexts that were much less sharply militarised and in some very significant ways less sharply totalitarian. That, as we know, offered a mixed record.

I find the last twenty years of particular interest as the system sought again and again to find a way forward but to no avail – caught in a way by its own rhetoric of democracy and the very real phenomenon of mass education in regard to populations which were too large to contain by systems that had previously functioned. It couldn’t reverse to the Stalinist period – likely that would have initiated bloody civil war.

Nor could it move forward since democratisation would lead to pluralism with the leading role of the party being over-turned. I suppose it is just possible that a Chinese style solution of economic liberalisation with the party remaining tightly in control of the political side would have been feasible, if Eastern Europe hadn’t existed. But the liberalisation saw a centrifugal effect with other Warsaw Pact states moving more or less straight to liberal democracy and that it seems fair to suggest had an impact on the expectations of Russians and others inside the USSR.

So what resulted was stagnation – political immobility and retreat leavened only by on occasion madcap adventurism. What’s telling is how little interest there was from within in terms of alternative paths to introducing flexibility and innovation to these systems – whether political or economic, along socialist lines. Perhaps that was borne of a mindset where deviation from the orthodoxy was weakness (at its mildest). Or perhaps it was borne of lack of imagination. But that sheer lack of engagement with leftist approaches meant that when the system fractured as it did what remained, but capitalism?

‘Confounding’ times in the North? November 16, 2017

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There’s a piece by Newton Emerson in the IT last week which is well worth a read if only to see his now characteristic unusual take on the power dynamics in the North and on these islands. He writes about how the rise of SF has ‘confounded’ the BA/GFA. This is a line I’m always puzzled by. It is predicated on a belief in 1998 that nothing much would change subsequent to the BA/GFA. But what basis was there for believing that. It might have been unlikely initially to see the DUP and SF as leading a powersharing administration, but it wasn’t beyond the bounds of possibility in the medium to long term. Indeed, SF’s participation always seemed to me to be more likely than that of the DUP for quite some time and the idea of the SDLP and SF being much of a muchness in size wasn’t unfeasible – after all at the 1996 NI Forum elections SF won 17 votes as against 21 for the SDLP. Their respective vote shares were 15.5% and 21.4%. Not that far apart. Now granted the situation in the Republic was slightly different – with SF on 2.5% in 1997 (ironically, or tellingly, the same as DL – and in 2002 SF went up to 6.5%. Not a huge jump but not nothing either) and and it is this that Emerson runs with:

In 1998, the republican party had one TD and 2 per cent of the vote. Joining an Irish government seemed too distant a prospect to affect the agreement – and even Sinn Féin thought so. The peace process was sold to republicans on a projection that the 2001 census would show an imminent Catholic majority in Northern Ireland, triggering a short sequence of Border polls and Irish unification by 2016 – a target date often mocked but which made more sense 20 years ago than realised.

But…

Only when the census proved a disappointment did Sinn Féin shift to a new sales pitch, claiming unification would be under way once the party was in office north and south.
There were plausible hopes for this ahead of the 2007 Irish general election. Sinn Féin reportedly planned to seek the education portfolios in Belfast and Dublin and appoint one minister over both.

Hmmm… I always thought that that optimism was massively overstated on the part of SF in 2007, indeed I was never quite able to grasp where it came from. Polling in advance of that election didn’t seem to offer a breakthrough, and moreover FF and others bar the GP ruled out coalition with SF.

Emerson sort of concedes this in the following, but if he thinks it was merely a function of SF’s hyperbole/exaggeration/and or delusion he still presents it overall as if it were ‘plausible’ though almost immediately he also writes below ‘reality set in’. Which was it? Plausible or unrealistic?

When the election proved another disappointment, reality set in and the party redoubled its efforts at growth and consolidation, epitomised by Gerry Adams moving south in 2010. But the goal appeared the same: getting into office north and south, by the Easter Rising centenary if possible, as shown by occasional mad gambles like running Martin McGuinness for the Áras or paralysing Stormont over welfare reform before the 2016 Dáil election.

And speaking of which, I think the point about ‘occasional mad gambles like running MMcG for the Áras’ betrays a certain lack of understanding of political dynamics in the South (or on the island or possibly anywhere). I doubt many in SF thought McGuinness would win. But by running him they did their project no harm at all. It presented SF as a party able to contest such elections, it offered a means of partly engaging with problematic issues and raised its profile (it probably also made the subsequent meeting between MMcG and the Queen a bit easier given he had gained an even greater ‘national’ profile).

Anyhow, we’re on to Emerson’s complaint about SF. For he thinks entry of SF into a Dublin government is all but inevitable.

[it] has already bent the old Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil order out of shape, creating what is in effect a grand coalition against it.
Yet Dublin politics seems to proceed as if this is a passing fluke.
June’s DUP-Tory deal at Westminster raised the question of British impartiality in administering the North, as required by the agreement.
Yet it barely raised the question of what will happen if the shoe is on the other foot. The agreement envisages unification as Northern Ireland remaining unaltered, with London and Dublin simply swapping roles – and Dublin inheriting the responsibility for impartial administration.
Recent statements from the Irish Government and Fianna Fáil have echoed this view.

Whereas…

London’s occasional need for a unionist crutch may not violate the sovereign impartiality requirement but is the same true of a perennial Sinn Féin presence in office in Dublin? Perhaps that question will determine the agreement’s post-unity lifespan.

Hold on there. This is going way too fast. We move in a single sentence from ‘occasional crutch’ to ‘perennial presence’? Why is that latter true? Why does he think SF once in government remains there in perpetuity (or as near perpetuity as makes no difference)? And why cannot he see that the power dynamics are fundamentally different. I’m not one to talk down the BA/GFA, but at present it is structurally the relationship with London that takes precedent. The DUP is in government with the London government which has primary responsibility for the administration of the territory on this island at this point in time. Even if SF were in government in Dublin forever it would be quite some time before the relationship was analogous since Dublin has a secondary responsibility. This is so obvious, so clear cut that it is difficult to understand why Emerson seems so keen to ignore the very proximate issues in regard to the DUP keeping a London government in power as distinct from the still hazy possibility of SF supporting a Dublin government.

And I’ve got to take issue with the following:

In the meantime, aspiring to government has made Sinn Féin the Republic’s main opposition – a significant and durable phenomenon on which the agreement is utterly silent.
Enda Kenny and Charlie Flanagan, as Taoiseach and minister for foreign affairs, stuck to the formal compartmentalisation of the peace process, treating Northern Ireland as a diplomatic issue despite confronting Sinn Féin in Leinster House.
Leo Varadkar has all but abandoned this approach and Simon Coveney seems to be following suit. Sinn Féin is their opposition, north and south.

This hugely overstates matters. I don’t doubt that SF is an opposition, but FF remains the main opposition even locked in the unlovely embrace with FG. Moreover it is FF and FG that are vying between one another for poll position. SF has done remarkably well, perhaps uniquely well, in terms of gaining vote share in this state across the last decade and a half, but it is in truth hardly ahead of where the LP was for many years. And current projections seem to indicate some slight growth but nothing that would supplant FG or FF. It is indeed more a function of their decline and that of the LP that SF appears quite so strong. It is, but it isn’t, as it were.

All this makes it difficult to quite know what to make of his concluding thoughts:

Cross-Border aspects of the latest Stormont crisis should be seen in this light. The SDLP and Sinn Féin are both demanding Dublin intervention, even repeating each other’s soundbites on the subject. But what the SDLP wants is a bulwark against Sinn Féin, while Sinn Féin’s goal is to embroil and embarrass its Dublin rivals. The pan-nationalist front is stabbing itself in the back, yet real all-Ireland party politics has finally arrived – a huge advance for nationalism overall.
For unionists, the principle of my enemy’s enemy is my friend means Fine Gael and Fianna Fail appear better as their relationship with Sinn Féin gets worse. This could drive an all-Ireland dynamic of its own.
It would be wrong to suggest Sinn Féin’s southern rise has breached the agreement, either deliberately or accidentally. But it is bringing forward its sell-by date in unexpected and oddly under-examined ways.

Not sure about that then.

“Spats” November 16, 2017

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In a way this is a thing of nothing, and yet in another… the news that SF has advised its own TDs to ‘not engage in social media spats’. It’s remarkable to see this phenomenon. I’m wondering how often similar occurs between TDs of other parties online. What does it tell us about SF contemporary period. And, of course, good advice (or is it an order?) from the party.

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