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What is easy and what is difficult… February 26, 2019

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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That’s the phrase that came to my mind reading this from Zaid Jilani in the Guardian on the Ralph Northam controversy. As is now well known Northam had a photograph in his college yearbook of students in black face and KKK robes. Northam as Democratic governor of Virginia is in extremely hot water over this, though has apologised.

Jilani’s analysis does ring true with me – particularly given that it is so centred in the structural and economic issues. Jilani argues:

Increasingly, parts of the American political left have developed a puritanical mentality of shaming individuals who are perceived to be racially insensitive. Social media mobs kicked up on Twitter have targeted everyone from 15-year-old teenagers on the National Mall to an autistic woman in Brooklyn. But no amount of naming and shaming individuals who on occasion have behaved in misguided or obnoxious manners will change the structures that produce inequality – just as giving lectures to gang members or publicly shaming thieves won’t alter the structures that produce those forms of antisocial behavior.

And Jilani all but says this is diversionary.

The North Carolina pastor and progressive activist Rev William Barber argued as much in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post. “Scapegoating politicians who are caught in the act of interpersonal racism will not address the fundamental issue of systemic racism. We have to talk about policy,” he wrote.
The work of civil rights in Virginia, where I live, is not just about ensuring public officials don’t cause racial offense. Almost a third of African American children in Virginia live in poverty. Surely the long-term developmental harm of growing up in poverty is far greater than the emotional harm Northam caused. If a photograph is a scandal, the conditions we are allowing our children to suffer in are a crisis.

And it is also much easier to complain vociferously about an issue like the photograph rather than engage seriously and comprehensively with the structural racism and economic issues facing people.

Indeed it is too easy. Twitter and other social media platforms all too often offer the illusion of activity when in truth nothing much is happening. To say it’s all rhetorical is almost painfully correct.

And Jilani’s point in the following is unassailable:

Barber advises that Northam and any other politician who has caused racial offense should be committing to “expand voting rights, stand with immigrant neighbors, and provide healthcare and living wages for all people”.
One thing I would add is eliminating Virginia’s prohibition on collective bargaining for public workers. The public sector has long offered better job security and benefits than comparable jobs in the private sector; it is particularly important in promoting racial equity because it has been an important source of employment for African Americans. But because of Virginia’s onerous anti-labor laws, Virginia’s public teachers can’t, for instance, go out on strike – an important tool that has helped teachers earn better wages, benefits and conditions for their students in other states.

As Jilani has said, Northam has apologised – now far more useful than demanding resignation would be to see that apology shaped into actual policy approaches that will benefit the people he was elected to represent. In other words, outrage has its place, but it’s essentially lacking in utility, almost trivialising of issues, unless it has outcomes that feed into genuine change. Otherwise, what is the point?

The Brexit Omnibus Bill… February 26, 2019

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The debate begins today and is likely to continue for quite some time, with the Dáil sitting for the next three nights in order to facilitate its passage. It will be educative to see the positions adopted by a range of parties – from Fianna Fáil onwards in these debates. But more importantly it will give a sense of the problems and challenges facing the state and the island in the face of the confusion and chaos in London.

Dublin and the North? February 26, 2019

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Hmmm… not sure about this column from Newton Emerson where he argues a number of contradictory positions, starting from the fact that titan of Irish politics Mark Daly, FF Senator, has issued a report…

Now the Senator has produced another report, again grandly titled “research”, claiming a hard Border and a “rushed border poll” are both equally certain to provoke violence and the only way to avoid this is to develop a shared Northern Ireland identity and society through, first and foremost, integrated education.
Taken together, Daly’s efforts constitute a near parody of Northern nationalism’s cynicism about Southern commitment to unification: namely, that a united Ireland is a great idea as long as it costs nothing and Northerners sort out all their differences before anyone even thinks of holding a vote on it.

And:

Senator Daly is not alone in making this painfully apparent. Statements on Brexit and a border poll from the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the leadership of Fianna Fáil have all conveyed exactly the same message in only slightly less gauche terms. It is a Free State prayer of St Augustine: Lord make me whole, but not yet.

To Emerson all this, particularly the latter regarding the Taoiseach, is evidence of… well, what? That…

British politicians have been widely derided since the EU referendum for not understanding Northern Ireland. Most Dublin politicians are no better. They may be aware of the sea-change in nationalist attitudes over the past two years but they have barely grasped the thinking behind it.

What Emerson ignores is that Fine Gael, and Fianna Fáil – albeit to a seemingly slightly lesser extent, are as one in arguing for, not change, and indeed they’ve been meticulous in avoiding calling or seeking unity, but instead retention of the status quo ante.

And while he complains that some politicians have been seeking a border poll on foot of Brexit this is a charge that simply cannot be placed at the door of FG or FF (or at least not the majority of FF or indeed most other parties in the Republic). It’s a brave soul who would see Mark Daly as representative of some larger dynamic.

But then he adds a further wrinkle, arguing that the GFA/BA presented ‘nationalists with a political quandary’ because:

If Northern Ireland ceased to be a “failed entity”, that might make a united Ireland less pressing. Conversely, if nationalists declined to throw themselves wholeheartedly into making Northern Ireland work, its failure could be seen as their fault and call their commitment to peace into question.

I think this is an over-simplification. It ignores two basic dynamics – political nationalism in its largest formation in 1998, the SDLP, was avowedly wedded to ‘working’ Northern Ireland. Secondly Sinn Féin, far from losing support as it went into Stormont and engaged with the institutions gained support, and indeed overtook the SDLP.

In other words there was no quandary. Nationalism, once it felt it was given a fair dispensation in the context of Northern Ireland was willing to long finger the constitutional issue.

No one would argue all was sweetness and light, but then how could it be. But throughout the 2000s a reasonably positive engagement took place. And Emerson has to agree with this although he frames it oddly:

In the years after the 2007 St Andrew’s Agreement this trap appeared to have been sprung. The nationalist share of the vote declined steadily as DUP-Sinn Féin government bedded in.
People spoke more openly of a Northern Ireland identity, undeterred by nationalist complaints that it was a unionist contrivance or a British plot.

Then he swerves to integrated education – roping in Obama and others.

It was clear from his speech that, like Daly, Obama favoured a united Ireland and saw the building of a united Northern Ireland as its essential prerequisite. However, nationalists were so aghast the US consulate in Belfast was forced to issue a clarification that the president was not opposed to Catholic schools.
For many Catholics, those schools are the foundation of their distinct cultural Irishness. To deny them that within Northern Ireland would be enforced assimilation.

Does this not seem oddly beside the point? I’ve no time for religiously divided education, but I’m not sure this really is the token of the dynamics in play.

Anyhow, he swerves away again:

The Brexit vote two months later, and the RHI scandal that quickly followed, changed everything. Nationalists now see themselves as freed from the trap – they are under no obligation to make Northern Ireland work if unionists and the British government have broken it.
This has moved us beyond the assumption, still evident in Dublin, that everything can go back to normal if a hard Border is avoided. The extent of nationalist relief at their political absolution should not be underestimated.

Is this borne out by the facts? We still see adherence to the GFA/BA as the framework. Yes, there are calls for a border poll, particularly and understandably from SF. But the main players are clear that it is the GFA/BA which is being protected. Indeed, I’d go further. The investment of political and other capital in regard to the issue of the border is not that the border be expurgated entirely in a UI but that it remain the GFA/BA border.

But oddly, Emerson appears to want to paint nationalism in a rather different light:

A functioning Northern Ireland, including devolution, remains essential for a peaceful future either within the UK or for the transition to a united Ireland.
However, this case can no longer be made with the traditional platitudes emanating from the Republic. Fresh thinking is required, along with new intervention from the British and Irish governments. Nationalists will settle for nothing less.

Will they not? I’d love to see the evidence for this. I think it is actually rather different. If the status quo ante continues then nationalism will accept that. But if not, then yes there will be a push in the context of a hard or no-deal Brexit towards some entirely new dispensation.

But he winds up actually arguing for a border poll… in order to reassert the status quo.

Among the most challenging matters to consider is whether we are approaching the point where a border poll might assist stability, or at least do more good than harm.
Nationalism is going for broke with a headcount vision of unity, and has convinced itself amid the Brexit hysteria that it can win. It cannot – its vote in both elections since the EU referendum was 42 per cent. Unionism last polled 49 per cent.
Establishing that baseline could be necessary, not to defeat nationalism but to demonstrate to unionists and nationalists how finely balanced both communities are, and why Northern Ireland must be shared to secure anyone’s constitutional aspiration.

Now read that last few paragraphs and it is clear that he wants the border poll in order to cement aspects of the status quo and to ‘demonstrate’ how wrong nationalism is – at least in regard to the view he presents it holding.

But he ignores some pertinent facts. For a start he tries to reify the constitutional issue and downplay Brexit – which after all is at the root of the problems. And Brexit doesn’t just exercise nationalists (and is hysteria the correct term to apply to the very genuine anxieties in relation to that process, anxieties held by a large range of people and not just on this island?), but also a small cohort of former and soft unionists. So he’s attempting to frame Brexit in the context of the constitutional issue ignoring the manner in which the former may impinge on the latter. It is not impossible that that cohort might impact in certain ways on a border poll.

There’s a logistical problem in all this too, in regard to a border poll. For a start there’s no such thing as an imminent border poll. I’ve read estimates that it could take two years from the point where the Secretary of State agreed to hold one to its actually being held. Given the churn of events at this point in time there is no likelihood of one being agreed anytime in the next six months at the very earliest and probably much further down the line. That would put a border poll into 2021/22. At the earliest. Assuming it was agreed by the UK government. Is that likely?

But all this is really beside the point. A border poll is for another day, another year. Rather more immediate is the reality of Brexit itself and how it impacts on this island.

And the aftereffects of that – and the form Brexit takes, are likely to be vastly more important than calls for a border poll in advance of that.

Labour to Back a second Referendum February 25, 2019

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I’d imagine some of those that departed Labour in recent days feel a bit foolish now….
Brexit: Labour will back amendment for second referendum, says Corbyn

Display at the FF Ard Fheis February 25, 2019

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Did a display at the FF Ard Fheis at the weekend. A few pics of the display.
Quite a positive atmosphere, especially with the SDLP link up. Nobody thrilled with Confidence and Supply but realising that an election at the present time would be crazy given the uncertainty over Brexit.
FFAF19fFFAF19eFFAF19dFFAF19c

Exclusion zones February 25, 2019

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Reading Breda O’Brien’s column in the IT on Saturday was interesting. In it she took Simon Harris to task for supporting the idea of exclusion zones around hospitals or clinics which provide abortion services.

She complains that:

…Ealing Council thinks that women should be protected from people offering leaflets outside?
The censorship zone around the Ealing clinic is so large that it encompasses part of a local park. Doing anything which can be construed as expressing an opinion on abortion, such as an elderly woman saying her rosary on a park bench while holding a pro-life leaflet, will leave her in breach of the exclusion-zone conditions.

And concludes by saying…

The irony is that the major pro-life organisations are close to agreeing on a code of conduct for those assembling to demonstrate that there are alternatives to abortion – quiet, dignified presence, with no graphic imagery and certainly no shaming or harassment. Why would anyone want to accost or harass someone with whom you want to build a relationship?

Graffiti on a doctor’s surgery is disgusting (pro-life organisations have had slogans daubed on their offices, too, and even faeces at times). Protesting outside someone’s home is inexcusable. But even if pro-life organisations voluntarily create a code of conduct, the Minister will still legislate.
If he wanted to create a 100km instead of a 100m exclusion zone, Harris has the votes to do it. And Amnesty, an organisation founded to defend the rights of conscience, will cheer. Pro-life or pro-choice, the extinction of the right to peacefully assemble and offer alternatives should cause us all to shiver.

A number of thoughts – even if ‘major’ pro-life organisations did agree a voluntary code of conduct, and by the by what would take them more than twenty minutes to work out such a thing, there’s simply no guarantee that other organisations would abide by such a code. Certainly some of those outside hospitals and the Oireachtas have demonstrated little inclination to function according to any reasonable guidelines.

Secondly, an anecdote from personal experience. A week or two back on a Saturday morning I happened to find myself on the far side of the road from the IFPA where there was a group of people. I see protests close to where I work on an almost daily basis, but I was struck by how some in this group, seemed intent on squaring up to passers by. That’s unusual. It was only as I drew closer that I realised it was a protest against the IFPA with the rosary being said. And it seems to me that while it is easy to suggest that an individual saying the rosary may seem unintimidating, a larger group can indeed seem intimidating.

I also think it a stretch to argue that such demonstrations are simply dignified presences. Walking back along the road on the other side later with the group facing towards the IFPA it seemed to me to be actually – given the context something that did include shaming and a sort of low level harassment. Perhaps that’s not the intention, but when you’ve a group of people, of varying ages, staring fixedly at a building saying the rosary, with various religious banners and placards it has a certain cachet.

It seems to me given the example in other polities – particularly the United States, there is a strong need ensure that those who need access to abortion provision can do so unimpeded in any way. There are multiple platforms for those who want to present the anti-abortion case, O’Brien herself has a national newspaper column on a weekly basis, others are in the Dáil and Seanad, there is no sanction on marching through the capital city or any city, and so on. Abridging the right to protest proximate to clinics or hospitals does not seem unreasonable.

And there’s a further aspect to this. Those examples already mentioned from other polities are central to this. Indeed the actions of some of those on the pro-life side during and after the referendum likewise. All else being equal perhaps there would be space for some minimal presence. But the fact is that it is from amongst those who have been anti-abortion, a minimal strand no doubt, but not an insignificant one, that the worst examples of ‘protest’ have been seen. O’Brien seems oddly unaware of that history. But it matters.

Contentious elections… February 25, 2019

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The woes of the Social Democrats in relation to their North Inner City council candidate continue with another SD executive board member resigning in protest at the decision by the national executive to conduct an internal review. Difficult to know what is going on, but meantime thought this was intriguing:

There are also significant tensions within the party over the decision to contest the upcoming European elections, with the co-leaders believed to hold reservations around the party challenging for an MEP seat.
The matter has led to a strain between the party leadership and north inner city Dublin councillor Garry Gannon, who is actively pushing to contest the Dublin MEP constituency this May.
Internally the party has said it would not be funding a European challenge, and any candidate would have to self-finance their own campaign.

Irish Left Archive: Irish Socialist, Communist Party of Ireland, No. 123, January 1973 February 25, 2019

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To download the above please click on the following link. irish-socialist-1973.pdf

Please click here to go the Left Archive.

Many thanks to the person who forwarded this to the Archive.

An interesting edition of Irish Socialist from the Communist Party of Ireland. This published in January 1973 argues that after the vote to join the European Economic Community ‘the benefits are: Higher Prices, Profits and Unemployment’. And it argues that ‘the call must be made for the Labour movement to lead a crusade to defend the right of the people of Ireland, North and South to work in their own country’.

The Editorial argues, though, that 1973 is ‘A Year of Hope’ and this because ‘in spite of set-backs, the struggle for democracy, equality and the right of the people to control their own destiny is advancing everywhere. The hysteria of the ruling class, the introduction of anti-democratic legislation, the attempt to hamstring the trade unions, all these things are happening because the bosses see that a new spirit is sweeping the world’.

And it makes the interesting point that twenty years earlier ‘“Socialism” was a word no self-respecting person would use. Now even Fianna Fáil Ministers claim to be Socialists’.

There’s much more, not least an overview of the (Official) Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis, the issues within Unionism, South Africa and Nixon.

Stupid statements from this weekend and the week… February 24, 2019

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A British Labour and Brexit themed quote or two but let’s start with this from today’s Sindo…

What if Leo Varadkar chose to [appoint a non-party ‘expert’ as Minster for housing or health]. Would a housing policy expert… solve the housing crisis? Or would a managerial guru be able to shovel the funding black hole that is the Dept. of Health? Given the considerable challenges in these two specific areas possibly not, but it is worth remembering that in recent years, Greece, Italy and Bulgaria all resorted to technocratic governments in times of crisis…

Resorted to? Is that quite what happened?

Then there’s this:

Finally, events since 2016 have given rise to much talk of a new momentum towards a United Ireland. This narrative is deeply flawed. Brexit – regardless of whether a soft or hard border comes into existence in Ireland – will actually further increase the fundamental political, economic, social and cultural differences that have long existed between southern and Northern Ireland. Long before partition in 1921, the unionist-dominated areas of Ireland had embarked on a more industrial, more religiously evangelical and deeply anti-Catholic development path. These fundamentals have not changed in the ruling Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and have extended to embrace a deeply anti-European element in recent decades. Realistically the economic cost alone (a £10 billion annual subvention from London keeps the lights on in Northern Ireland) would be disastrous for the Government in Dublin, not to mention the political nightmare and subsequent culture wars. For Ireland, Brexit should be welcomed as formalising partition, not ending it.

I do not think so.

This can’t be let pass by either:

And yet there were moments when you thought, “just maybe”. For a start, there is their [the seven Labour MPs who have resigned to establish a new political grouping] undeniable courage. For all the chin-stroking debates on how this will change politics (my own contribution to follow) we must not lose sight of their main message: that Mr Corbyn would be a disastrous prime minister and that his Labour party has been characterised by anti-Semitism, bullying, apologia for murderous dictatorships and complicity in facilitating Brexit.

Microdisney live… February 24, 2019

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Not surprising to meet and see a lot of people from various times at the gig the other day in Vicar Street. I’d never seen Microdisney live, as far as I can recall, though I did see Coughlan live in the early 1990s, and was surprised at how much energy there was there. All of them in fine voice and a surprisingly wide ranging set-list.

Mrs Simpson
Horse overboard
Our children
Birthday girl
Past
Are you happy?
Genius
Begging bowl
A friend with a big mouth
And
Rack
Everybody is dead
Pink skinned man
Sun
464
Loftholdingswood
Gale force wind
United colours
Singer’s Hampstead home

Encore:

Town to town + High and dry The night (Frankie Valli cover)

They didn’t play this…

…which along with Everybody is Dead, is my favourite song of theirs. But they played so many other great tracks it really didn’t matter.

And, they name checked Jacob Rees-Mogg, and not in a good way – but their brand of slightly submerged but very real politics never seemed more prescient than on this (sadly no live version):

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