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Workers and a hard Brexit… March 22, 2018

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Depressing – if predictable – news here:

A hard Brexit could push up consumer prices by 2% to 3% – adding between €890 and €1,360 to the annual spend of the average Irish household, according to new research from the ESRI.

And most notably – though again predictably:

The cost increase would also fall disproportionately on the poorest households, as they tend to spend more of their money on the type of goods that would be hit with the highest tariffs, notably food.

The IT notes:

Households with the lowest incomes would face a 4 per cent price increase in the highest-impact scenario – making them 70 per cent worse off than the highest-income group, who would face a 2.4 per cent price increase, according to the report
And the foods affected? Well many… including staples:

It found that the price of bread and cereals in the Republic could rise by up to 30 per cent in a hard Brexit scenario, while milk, cheese and egg prices could increase by 46 per cent .
A range of products from meat and sugar to confectionery, coffee, tea and mineral water were likely to increase by 20-30 per cent.

And then there are further potential consequences:

A fall in imports from the UK may also lead to lower levels of competition, which other studies have indicated would likely lead to local producers raising their prices to consumers.
Associate Research Professor with the ESRI Martina Lawless warned that price increases could result in food products disappearing from Irish shops. 
She said that if consumers stop buying a particular product, then it may not be viable for shops to stock it.
All of this was quite obvious to many of us, given that Brexit was pushed by the Tory party in the UK and that such a Brexit would always be prey to the most extreme eleme

nts within that party and outside of it.
And there’s a further point. A ‘soft’ Brexit will also incur costs for workers on this island and the one to the East as well as across Europe because the very fact of the UK leaving the EU will increase barriers, both tangible and intangible in trade, communications, services, cultural areas and so forth. There’s no no-cost option here, just varying degrees of costs from bad to worse. And when we say costs what we are really saying is that employment, conditions and so forth will be changed for the worse. And what we are really saying there is that workers are going to lose jobs. We know that even in this pre-Brexit phase that has already happened on this island. https://www.farmersjournal.ie/mushroom-industry-thrown-into-turmoil-by-brexit-227630

Immoderate moderacy March 22, 2018

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A depressing piece from John Wilson Foster in the Irish Times on unionism and a united Ireland. Foster has written copiously on Irish novels and one might think that given that, coming from a moderate unionist background, he might have greater sympathy than he expresses for an Irish language act, but it is genuinely dispiriting to read something that amounts almost to a check list of troubling perceptions of nationalism (and as troublingly the term is used interchangeably with catholicism).

Self-perceived oppressed minority? Check!

After all, Catholics must be constantly reminded that they are an oppressed minority who should be striving for a united Ireland. Unionists must be harried without term and reminded that Sinn Féin’s day is coming.

Sinn Féin unable to accept normalisation? Check!

My suspicion is that Sinn Féin cannot abide such normalisation of social relations. And since they exhaust almost all the oxygen on the matter of nationalism (the SDLP is gasping for air), those relations must not find ordinary, much less political, expression.

I need hardly mention ‘suspicions’ and ‘instincts’. Foster has many of those:

I have Catholic friends who are unconcerned by living in the United Kingdom (a few expressly wish to do so) but naturally I cannot know how representative they might be. Instinct tells me that that they are a considerable constituency.

If only Catholics would support the situation!

Were they to speak out, while asserting their undimmed Irishness, they might help prevent a worsening of our current plight.

And yet, and yet, he ignores entirely the substance of the letter from nationalists to the Taoiseach and suggests:

Whatever their numbers, they are a far cry from the people in exile and bondage depicted by the recent letter to the Taoiseach sent with fanfare by 200 northern nationalists. I have pondered their claim to be deprived of human rights and can find only one candidate: the right to live in a nation of their choice, an all-island republic free of the United Kingdom.

Note that in this he appears absolutely indifferent or unaware of the issue central to that letter – that Brexit threatened to undermine the GFA/BA (he doesn’t mention that agreement at all) and through a potential/likely strengthening of partition would set back matters on the island decades if not more. They weren’t calling for the over-turning of the GFA/BA but its continuation! Few would consider this revanchist. Fewer still, unreasonable.

But for him it is but a rapid pivot to:

It is no hostility to the Irish language to suggest that official bilingualism (through an Irish Language Act) can hardly be a human right based on reality. Some 1.7 per cent of the population of the 26 counties daily speak Irish; the figure for the six counties is far less.

Anyone in Northern Ireland is free to learn Irish and entitled to speak it anywhere save in court or government offices (where Polish and Cantonese would be less impractical). Meanwhile, most unionists care nothing for Ulster-Scots and know there is no cultural equation between it and Irish.

That this is essentially the same argument used by many in the DUP and TUV, that the Irish language has no cultural value worth persevering, less even in a sense that Polish or Cantonese and that it is arguably less equivalent than those suggests that moderate unionism is in real trouble in regards to understanding parity of esteem. As some comments BTL on the article noted, small but meaningful gestures in regard to the language would actually help support the unionist position and moreover, and not unimportantly, would dovetail with practice elsewhere in the UK.

Indeed it is the relative ease by which such measures could be introduced that undermines his argument in the following.

Human rights and the Irish language are being used as Macbeth’s enemies used Birnam Wood – to fulfil prophecy by sophistry, advancing on the objective of a united Ireland behind the manipulation of social reality.
Unionists are dismayed that the constitutional parties in the South seem to have fallen in behind Sinn Féin on these (with all due respect) fabricated issues and on Brexit. (Which is certainly not fabricated, but it is a practical problem to be solved, not a constitutional bandwagon to clamber aboard.)

A language act equivalent to those in Scotland and Wales simply cannot be the existential threat he seems to present it as (as well as which there is an obvious contradiction in his argument, for if Irish is as nothing in the North then how on earth can granting that nothing some formal recognition be of any particular import -and by the way, I don’t think that granting some formal recognition would be any threat at all to the union. Again, anything but).

Note that Brexit is waved away – whereas, and this sentiment is not confined to this island, many regard it as a genuine existential threat to the UK (and not much lesser to this island).

Speaking of checklists, when in doubt argue that people shouldn’t be looking here, look over there, there I tell you!

Prophecy is magical thinking that Sinn Féin practise, the idea that a united Ireland is predestined and thus justifiably to be achieved by any means. It suffocates debate, makes every reform a staging post, and obstructs daily reality from flowing in the direction the stream of consciousness takes us, a direction that might well be towards closer unity on the island were Sinn Féin itself magically to disappear.
It also deliberately diverts energy away from the truer issues that affect us all – education, the economy, health, employment. Instead, human rights, an Irish Language Act, legal pursuit of security forces from the time of the Troubles, are the current issues of choice in the politics of prophecy and endgame.

Curious isn’t it how ‘truer’ issues in regard to education don’t encompass a Language Act. It also ignores the relative calm of the pre-Brexit period, indeed the period from the early 2000s through to the mid 2010s. But then for him…

After all, Sinn Féin is dedicated to the failure of Northern Ireland, a dedication implicit in their refusal to speak the name of the jurisdiction or take their seats in Westminster.

Except that it is entirely possible to participate fully in the institutions established under the GFA/BA (part-established by SF amongst many others) and still have an end goal of ending partition). Because let’s turn this about. How can unionist parties come to work institutions that admit of difference and distinction from Britain by their very existence. If he genuinely thinks SF cannot work in those institutions then by the same token he should be deeply sceptical about how the DUP or UUP can as well. And yet, as we know, they can and have and could and perhaps will. And let’s be honest, many of us on the left know all about participation in institutions that ultimately we want to see superseded.

And all of this ignores the legitimacy of seeking to end participation constitutionally. Something that once more was part and parcel of the GFA/BA. He may not like that, but if we are talking about democracy in any sense, and not just in the context of the GFA/BA… And by the way, everything he says here holds true of the SNP or PC.

All of this is risible in its own way, but then matters take a darker turn…

How can the circle of this sleepless strategy be squared with participation in government? Surely any political party in the South that aligns itself with Sinn Féin on Northern Irish issues is complicit in the politics of sabotage?

Now consider that. An Irish party that through its own analysis somehow winds up in support of a position that SF holds is ‘aligning with’ SF and ‘complicit in the politics of sabotage’. So presumably the WP which also supports an Irish language act is ‘aligning with SF’. Or the fact FF and FG in different ways are hugely exercised by Brexit likewise ‘aligns’. This isn’t politics, it certainly isn’t analysis. It is – and I hate to have to say it – nonsense. Moreover it is self-serving and rather problematic because words like ‘sabotage’ are hugely loaded. Curiously he doesn’t apply this to, say, the DUP though he makes much of ‘moderate’ unionists. And he doesn’t explain how it is possible to walk a path in opposition to a Tory Brexit that is cheered on by the DUP. And let’s work through the implications. If he is correct, then whatever is proposed by London, or the DUP, in regard to the North if it is opposed by SF is per definition out of bounds for comment or action by Dublin or southern political parties. Again, we’re talking nonsense here. Not least because that’s not the way actual politics works.

What’s most depressing is the sense that he is collapsing definitions, complexity, and so on in order to offer a hugely simplistic narrative whose purpose is ultimately… well, what? It’s difficult to discern anything much bar the rather boilerplate lamenting of the loss of a ‘centre-ground’ in the North (again ignoring that the fiery radicals of the SDLP and Alliance both support an Irish Language act).

Indeed reading his thoughts it is difficult not to feel that his proscription is one where such inconveniences would not arise – that all is fine, let’s not trouble ourselves…

But as centre-ground politics (for example, a coalition of the willing, say SDLP and UUP, in the absence of Sinn Féin and the decay of the DUP) gained common purchase, it is my belief that the silence around the water cooler would end.

That none of this engages with the reality is also depressing (not least the reality that whether one likes it or not the current constellation of forces is on that has the DUP and SF taking primary roles). But perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised. There’s no road map forward, no serious effort to engage with the now rather than hazy aspirations.

There’s also an oddly condescending and classist note in respect to some of what he says. For example:

Aside from moderate nationalists and Catholic de facto unionists, the other largely unrepresented constituency today is that of moderate, educated unionism. Its relative silence has seduced even someone as distinguished as Denis Bradley to equate unionism with the DUP and accuse unionism across the board of the ancient practice of withdrawing behind the boom.

Educated unionism? And by the by, it’s not that unionism is equated with the DUP but the other way around entirely, that the DUP has sought entirely successfully to represent itself as the sole voice not just of unionism but in a characteristic display of chutzpah as the voice of Northern Ireland.

Instead, and despite the fact that until recently intercommunity social relations were the most amicable I have ever seen them, events have taken an ominous turn. During the recent and deplorable Troubles, the social centre held and the business, professional and academic classes rubbed along quite well.
Now because of the determination of a minority of educated republicans smelling meat, the faultline is threatening to run upwards, through the academy and professions. Pan-nationalism now looks cultural, not just political, and might even become social. If the upward fracture continues, we will be in serious trouble.

‘Professional and academic classes’, ‘a minority of educated republicans’. And earlier that ‘educated unionism’. Interesting.

Signs of Hope – A continuing series March 22, 2018

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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?

Those SF MPs March 21, 2018

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Difficult to disagree with this assessment on Slugger that even Noel Whelan’s latest thoughts on SF MPs taking their seats after a Westminster General Election are not really sufficient unto the day in regard to the basic issues at play. Particularly good is the withering takedown of Polly Toynbee by Brian Walker where he notes that ‘her argument is at heart a self-serving UK argument, an attempt to play a green card rather than an orange one’. But he is also right that even after a General Election one cannot tell whether there would be any ‘need’ for SF votes at Westminster or what they could add to the feast.

Polling news… March 21, 2018

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This didn’t surprise me, news that polling remains relatively accurate. 

It seemed to be a hat trick of polling catastrophes: Brexit, the 2016 US presidential election and the 2017 British general election. But researchers now say that despite popular perceptions, polls are as accurate as they have ever been.

They say a new analysis of political polls shows that errors have not increased over the decades since the 1940s – and might even have diminished.

“A lot of people have claimed that polling is in crisis, that there have been political events that surprised us over the last year … [but] what does the data say?,” said study coauthor Dr Will Jennings of the University of Southampton

Of course we know there have been some high profile misses, but in general terms the methods seem relatively robust given that polls are only snapshots. For Brexit the polls were actually there or thereabouts given the closeness both of the polled results and the actual vote on the day. For Trump Clinton won the larger number of votes but at state level where the electoral college functioned she lost badly. The 2017 General Election in the UK is interesting because while Labour still lost it gathered remarkable momentum during the campaign.

In a way I can’t help but feel that people demand certainty of processes that are anything but even at their best.  A poll is not a vote. To demand a poll to provide a future outcome in total seems perverse. We’ve long noted that in Irish polling there’s remarkable variation between polls and in terms of outcomes. That’s hardly surprising given PRSTV. But that said polling data is useful in regard to giving a sense of broad bands of support and overall dynamics. No-one, I think, can disagree that the polls broadly chart changing weights for parties and so on across time, even if the precise figures elude them. And this has consequences, this last that is. At the 2016 GE FF did better than expected on a relatively marginal increase. Surprise. Likewise parties and independents did well with low individual percentage figures, figures that allowed for positive outcomes but which couldn’t predict those outcomes.

Which of course is what is frustrating about the current situation where we know that Independents and smaller parties are likely to lose seats but we cannot tell which and where.

The Dáil debate on the 8th March 21, 2018

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Any thoughts on the debate on the referendum bill last night?

What you want to say – 21 March, 2018 March 21, 2018

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As always, following on Dr. X’s suggestion, it’s all yours, “announcements, general discussion, whatever you choose”, feel free.

Money talks March 20, 2018

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From the moment posters went up around Dublin advertising the – as of their posting – unlicensed Rolling Stones concert at Croke Park I was almost certain that the event would be permitted to occur, despite the fact, as noted on RTÉ:

Spokesperson for Clonliffe and Croke Park Area Residents’ Association Pat Gates, said the extra event would cause 18 days of disruption to residents with construction works and rehearsals lasting until as late as 1am.

He pointed out that An Bord Pleannála had limited the number of concerts to three per year in the interest of safety and public health.

The date of the concert on a Thursday evening with also cause traffic chaos particularly with road closures, he predicted.

One has to wonder how this is squared with An Bord Pleannála. It will be interesting and no doubt educative to hear more.

Politics and the personal March 20, 2018

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Anyone reading the SBP at the weekend will have surely noticed on the inside section a long interview with Paul Murphy TD. It’s an odd one. Murphy is, as ever assured and articulate, but the questions he has to field don’t really engage with issues and seem instead to see Murphy as the single personification of the SP/Solidarity. This isn’t his fault, he’s clearly happy to move to policy and principle, but on it goes. Even there there’s an odd disconnect. Not a word from the interviewer about Brexit, or a raft of other issues that weigh upon this polity – instead we are lead back through water charges and then onto far from uninteresting but not necessarily relevant discussions of future crises of capitalism. All that said nice to see an interview that, limited as it is, does at least take Murphy and his politics seriously and not-unsympathetically.

Whose integration? March 20, 2018

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Excellent piece in the Observer at the weekend from Kimberly McIntosh of the Runnymede Trust in the UK where she notes as a black British woman she often hears the question ‘whether ethnic minorities were doing enough to get on and fit in’ in the UK. To which she asks ‘does anyone ask the caller if he’s faithful to his end of the bargain. In our new integration briefing we found that may white British residents are living in isolation from other ethnic groups’. And it’s a basic point. Integration is a two way process.

Moreover she points to massive contradictions in all this. There are stated policies in favour of integration, but when it comes to the practical:

When the government launched its integration green paper, communities secretary Sajid Javid made it clear which side he felt had work to do. He promised to expand English language classes, claiming that 770,000 people can speak little or no English, most of them women from Pakistani or Bangladeshi communities. The actual number is closer to 138,000, many of them pensioners. Younger Britons of Bangladeshi and Pakistani heritage almost all speak English. So if he’s serious about bringing “divided communities together”, then why is he so focused on 0.3% of the population? And if the government is serious about increasing access to Englishlanguage lessons, why did it slash funding by £132m between 2010 and 2015? It is handing over only £50m to implement its entire integration strategy.

And there’s a workers aspect to this, as always:

That time should be dedicated to making equality in the workplace a reality. We mustn’t forget that more than half a million BME people are missing from the workforce. We’re glad that the government has shown leadership with its Race Disparity Audit and is looking at inequality in the job market. At work, we have to achieve goals collectively with all sorts of people. Many of us spend most of our week there. If integration and socialmixing is going to happen anywhere, it’s at work.

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