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Incivility in Irish political life… January 22, 2021

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Stephen Collins is very exercised this morning about a problem in Irish politics…

[Biden’s] plea to American politicians to “stop the shouting and lower the temperature” could well be applied to Dáil Éireann where aggressive grandstanding by Opposition TDs like Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and Richard Boyd Barrett have become the norm. Trump thrived on fomenting bitterness and division, constantly attempting to create conflict between “us and them”. A key element of the strategy was to portray political opponents as part of some ill-defined “elite” as distinct from the “ordinary people” he claimed to represent. It is no accident that the Trump social media strategy has been adopted here by Sinn Féin and a variety of extremists who dominate exchanges with aggressive and hate-filled messages which tend to drive more considered voices to the margins. Irish politics has steadily become more Trumpian in recent years and there is no sign that is about to change.

Now some of us would think that – given the level of antagonism displayed between M. Martin and L. Varadkar prior to their forming a coalition that these complaints are overblown, to put it mildly (and one could add to that the aggression of Martin towards McDonald over the years, and Varadkar similarly though to a slightly lesser degree, which has been marked by aggression and conflict and contempt). And the idea that Boyd Barrett or McDonald have had to learn anything or adopt anything from Trump is risible. Or even that their politics is akin to that of Trump likewise.

But unfortunately the very same day as Collins puts forward his argument we have a real example of an event that without question sits on the spectrum of Trumpist and worse behaviour. For only this morning one can read in the Examiner how…

The Lord Mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu has hit out at ongoing racism and intimidation after a group of far-right protestors showed up at her home and challenged her for wearing a face mask. A female member of the protestors was arrested and later fined for breaching public health laws. Ms Chu, who was born in Dublin to Chinese parents, has come under sustained and unrelenting abuse online from racist and far-right accounts since becoming lord mayor of Dublin.

And she related today on RTÉ how one of the protestors shouted at her ‘we’ll catch you on video turning into a dragon’ which presumably is one of the vile QAnon adjacent ‘theories’ about a global and political elite who are reptiles. As she notes:

“It’s not about my policies because no other Green Party rep is being protested.”

Odd isn’t it how Collins focuses on the – frankly – rather performative Oireachtas chamber and ignores actual events taking place outside it where a public representative is subjected to vicious and racist abuse from the far-right. Which tells us quite a bit about the focus of at least one tranche of Irish middle class political opinion.

Signs of Hope – A continuing series January 22, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Gewerkschaftler suggested this recently:

<blockquote>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”.</blockquote>

Any contributions this week?

Liberating January 22, 2021

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A real sign of how far things fell under the last US Administration is to be found in the following. One doesn’t have to have any investment in the Democrats to feel that this is important when Anthony Fauci speaks about Covid-19.

“It was very clear that there were things that were said, be it regarding things like hydroxychloroquine and other things like that, that really was uncomfortable because they were not based in scientific fact.”

“I take no pleasure at all being in a situation of contradicting the president, so it was really something that you didn’t feel that you could actually say something and there wouldn’t be any repercussions about it,” Fauci said.

“The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know, what the science is and know that’s it, let the science speak – it is something of a liberating feeling.”

None of this is to endorse the current Administration, indeed in some ways they need to be watched even more closely than their predecessor because they clearly have an ability that is significantly greater – and with that comes a knowledge of how to use the system and structures to their own ends. But, it is good to see science and research being reified in this very specific context.

Evading reality January 22, 2021

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A scathing analysis in the SBP recently by Deirdre Heenan of the twists and turns of the DUP in relation to the Irish Sea regulatory border post-Brexit. As Heenan notes:

…the proposals for a Northern Ireland Protocol published in October 2019 included the establishment of a regulatory border in the Irish Sea with associated infrastructure, including customs posts at the ports. Shortly after its publication, Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, endorsed the plan as a “serious and sensible” way forward. Within weeks, she had u-turned, and denounced the proposals as divisive and unacceptable.

And:

Rather than admit that it didn’t think through or foresee the consequences of Brexit for the North…it seems it has now decided that it is politically expedient to disassemble the overall Brexit project from the Northern Ireland protocol. Last week Ian Paisley jr, the DUP MP, referred to Brexit as “not just a good thing, but a great thing”.

And;

He stressed that the party still fully supports Brexit, but is just unhappy with the version of Brexit that we have ended up with. In the DUP‘s world, it was not short-sighted to campaign for, cheerlead and prop up Brexit at every opportunity…Implausibly, it is now seeking to divest itself of any responsibility for the creation of these barriers, instead pointing the finger of blame at its political opponents, an inept British government, a spiteful EU, the Irish government and the naïve business community.

And more:

On the Andrew Marr Show on BBC last Sunday, Foster refused to acknowledge the existence of a border in the Irish Sea, stating that it was her job to “mitigate against that”, and instead referring to a “regulatory issue” in the Irish Sea. When asked about the additional checks and new bureaucracy, she said that there had always been inspections at the border, and claimed this was nothing new. However, the suggestion that there is nothing to see here, as there have always been some animal inspections, is sophistry on a grand scale and is not reflected by the current reality.

As Heenan notes:

While these attempts to deny reality, contradictory positioning, mixed messaging and internal wrangling may be fascinating for political observers, they have serious consequences. The Irish Sea border exists, and there is no longer unfettered trade between Britain and the North. The checkpoints at ports, customs declarations, veterinary checks, red tape, delays, added bureaucracy and extra costs are all tangible and real.

All of which has an enormous political effect – as Brendan O’Leary (Lauder Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania) noted in the IT this week – “That union, moreover, has had its foundations bulldozed by the Brexiteers.”

And he makes a compelling argument:

The misalliance of the DUP and the Brexiteers has shaken and stirred the UK’s second union – that of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Neither set of sectaries promised this outcome, but since January 1st Northern Ireland is under the joint authority of the EU and the UK – a tribute to Boris Johnson’s career in truth-smashing. To address rational fears, Northern Ireland has been re-engineered in a remarkable improvisation. It is now a double “federacy” or an annex to two different unions. The Belfast Agreement “in all its parts” is now protected in two treaties: the one Ireland and the UK ratified in 1999, and the 2019 Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland agreed between the UK and the EU that has just taken effect.

And:

Rube Goldberg, Heath Robinson or HR Giger would be required to visualise the new order. Northern Ireland remains within the EU’s single market for goods, and, for practical purposes, in its customs union, but without European political institutions. Unless Stormont decides otherwise in 2024, the Government of Ireland will have more influence on economic regulations affecting Northern Ireland than the Westminster parliament.

And a stunning point too here:

To resume full citizenship of the European confederation, many northerners have taken out Irish passports. Up to half the population have them, while the number taking out UK passports has slid. Later, they may support Irish unity to return to the European Union – not to Pearse’s, Cosgrave’s, or de Valera’s Ireland.

O’Leary suggests that perhaps NI will remain in this state between two worlds, but he also suggests that the mechanisms of the Protocol and agreement between the UK/EU seems ‘precarious’. And he argues that to avoid a Brexit like referendum it is necessary to prepare because the situation is so unstable. Indeed he argues that the South has a particular obligation to prepare because a referendum is in the gift of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and that could mean a referendum came as a surprise. All of which places even greater emphasis on what he calls “the power-sharing securities needed for people of British identity and citizenship”. For many there are ways forward that will allow for those latter within a future united Ireland – the ‘reverse GFA/BA’ is onesuch.

Intriguingly Peter Shirlow (director at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies) argues in the same paper for another approach again which would seek to build, through the GFA/BA, the NI Protocol and – ahem – the Shared Island unit of the Department of the Taoiseach, an interdependence. Shirlow is hazy as to what that might exactly mean.

The protocol entails a policy of enhanced all-island relationships that will build economic, cultural and political opportunity. The protocol and its promotion of greater North-South co-operation, combined with Northern Ireland being within the EU customs code and UK customs territory, can frame critical all-island connectivity.

Little to disagree with there, indeed all laudable.

The binary approach to this issue also relies on and propagates the skewed idea that there are two economies on the island, as defined by the Border. In fact, there are several – among them Dublin, Belfast, the southwest, and the “left behind”. There is an immediate case for building an Atlantic corridor linking Derry and Limerick. The furthering of linkages between North and South through culture, environment and tourism can also raise the levels of mutual dependence and assist in the avoidance of conflict.

Indeed, but what of the political opportunity he mentions in his all-island relationships. The fundamental question with regard to the island to the East remains (and no mention of Scotland, a telling omission).

He suggests that:

For those who are pro-union, greater North-South connection can render the Border so invisible that the desire for unification will abate. For those who are pro-unity, greater interdependence can re-establish connections cast asunder by partition. Interdependence is the antidote to the politics of immiserating dissonance that have crippled Northern Ireland for so long.

I see where he is coming from. The sheer oddity is that all he describes in the first lines in the paragraph above was available under the GFA/BA dispensation. There was no nirvana but the issue of the Border appeared to be quiescent. Now though Brexit has thrown that into a degree of chaos. I have to wonder if matters haven’t moved on to a new phase and trying to return to the status quo ante is – while understandable – unlikely to occur.

After Inauguration… January 21, 2021

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Anyone catch this? RTÉ’s less than fantastic guest during the Inauguration coverage – James Conner of Republicans Overseas – who…

…called Joe Biden and Kamala Harris “two frauds” and falsely claimed one was “a bona fide criminal”. Conner was previously criticised following an appearance on the Today programme with Philip Boucher-Hayes a fortnight ago, when he suggested Antifa was to blame for the attack by supporters of Donald Trump on the US Capitol.

Given there are Republicans who actually accept the transfer of power was legitimate surely RTÉ could have found someone more measured to represent that side of the house? And why invite him back again after the first incident? This tweet captured this perfectly…

Meanwhile Biden moving pretty fast, not least in this. Now I’m not a Democrat so my expectations are low in regard to what happens next – while at the same time applauding a calmer polity and the election of the first woman and person of colour as Vice President. But good on him/them for the following:

Biden terminated Michael Pack, who was confirmed to head the U.S. Agency for Global Media in June. Pack sought to transform the agency, which oversees the international broadcaster Voice of America, into a propaganda outlet for Trump—despite a statutory mandate that prohibits such political interference. He purged the staff of VOA and its sister networks, replaced them with Trump loyalists, demanded pro-Trump coverage, and unconstitutionally punished remaining journalists who did actual reporting on the administration. In a perverse move, he refused to renew visas for foreign reporters who covered their home countries, subjecting them to retribution by authoritarian regimes. Pack also illegally fired the board of the Open Technology Fund, which promotes international internet freedom, and replaced them with Republican activists.

And;

Second, Biden sacked Kathleen Kraninger, who was confirmed as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2018. Kraninger, who had no previous experience in consumer protection, immediately tried to undermine the agency’s role as a watchdog for the financial sector. She scrapped a landmark rule that restricted predatory payday lending, pressuring staffto downplay the resulting harm to consumers. And she refused to enforce a federal law that protected military personnel against a broad range of predatory lending. Her decision yanked federal support from military families who were defrauded by lenders. In the midst of the pandemic, Kraninger also approved a rule that allows debt collectors to harass Americans with limitless texts and emails demanding repayment.

But this perhaps most importantly:

Third, Biden demanded the resignation of Peter Robb, who was confirmed as the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel in 2017. The NLRB was created to enforce federal laws that guarantee workers the right to form a union and bargain collectively. Yet Robb is vehemently anti-union; during his tenure, he tried to limit employees’ free speech, give managers more leeway to engage in wage theft, hobble unions’ ability to collect dues, and prevent employers from helping workers organize. He also tried to seize near-total control of the agency by demoting every regional director and consolidating power in his office. If successful, this gambit would’ve given him unprecedented authority to bust existing unions and prevent new ones from forming.

Meanwhile as CL has noted QAnon is in uproar after The Storm (sic) [this being ‘the day of reckoning when Donald Trump and his faithful allies in the military would declare martial law, round up all their many political enemies, and send them to Guantánamo Bay for execution by hanging – was finally here. 20 January 2021 wouldn’t mark the end of Trump’s presidency, but the beginning of “the Great Awakening”.‘] manifestly failed to arrive.

“We’ve been lied to,” wrote one person.

“I think we have been fooled like no other,” another responded, adding: “Hate to say it. Held on to hope til this very moment.”

“I feel like I’m losing my mind,” said a third. “I don’t know what to believe anymore.”

“Anyone else feeling beyond let down right now?” read a popular post on a QAnon message board. “It’s like being a kid and seeing the big gift under the tree thinking it is exactly what you want only to open it and realize it was a lump of coal the whole time.”

What can one say in the face of this level of delusion?

Commemorating the union January 21, 2021

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Good piece I thought by Alex Kane in the IT recently on the anniversary of Northern Ireland. Fair, I think, to say, that he’s not exactly brimming with confidence about the current dispensation. But even were matters more, ahem, normal, the following would likely still be true:

So, all in all, 2021 looks like being the most important year for the North since 1921. Most unionists will be quietly relieved that, despite everything, Northern Ireland is still in the UK. But they also know nothing can be taken for granted. The pro-union celebratory case is going to be a hard one to make, and will depend on events and circumstances over which they have no control. What may worry them most, though, is a lack of evidence that the collective leadership of political and civic unionism is actually prepared to make, or capable of making, the arguments upon which Northern Ireland’s future will depend.

And:

That celebration is difficult for unionism: a difficulty heaped upon it by Boris Johnson, the man cheered at a DUP conference when he pledged to save the North from semi-colonial status, then was later propped up by the DUP when he became prime minister. Yet it is Johnson who has shifted the North from its “place apart” status into the much more precarious position of becoming the constitutional equivalent of a granny flat. The North is now, arguably, in a weaker constitutional position than at any time since 1921, pushed there by the actions of the very man in whom the DUP invested so much trust.

A pro-union celebratory case has become ever increasingly difficult to make. I noted the other day Martin Mansergh’s rather quixotic effort to paint the history of Northern Ireland prior to the proroguement of the NI government in the early 1970s in a better light. The problem was that remarkably little of what he listed – the NHS, for example, was actually home grown from the North. Rather it was improvements that – ironically – the union itself had seen directly or indirectly imported into that polity. An argument for the union, well, perhaps, but a problematic one from the off to make in such a divided society, but hardly an advertisement for ‘Northern Ireland’ as such.

I think Kane’s point about leadership is key, but it’s not just leadership, indeed this goes well beyond that. This is about a fundamental dislocation between a people/community, their political orientation and the actual position they find themselves in. Simply put the socio-political and socio-economic underpinnings of unionism are askew. I’m not for a moment arguing that unionists are not unionists, or that unionism is a sort of false consciousness that given fifteen minutes in a United Ireland would slough off those who are currently unionists. Rather I’m talking about a broader dynamic where unionism has, in a sense, become as time progresses irrelevant to the state which they identity with and through the realities of the demographic and political dynamics within the North placed in a position where unionism cannot be fully expressed, even if the union persists.

By that I mean that the status quo ante of unionism, that of Stormont, which however imperfect could be seen as a logical expression of the unionist project is now almost 50 years gone. Subsequently the divisions within unionism over direct rule, or devolution and later over the institutions of the GFA/BA and powersharing with those who took antithetical views on state and nation have not been ‘unionist’ in that original sense. By the by this holds true for Nationalism and Republicanism – and more obviously so for various reasons, not least that the North is not politically connected with the ROI (bar the limited connections of the GFA/BA).

None of this implies that unionism doesn’t exist or doesn’t have political power, but for unionism – for all the much vaunted protestations as to its robust good health, the union is not what it was, and must make do with what, half a loaf, a quarter of a loaf, in perpetuity – that being a union that is contingent in all manners of ways and particularly post-Brexit. The great irony here is, that while the union persists, conversely nationalists and republicans feel the weight of history is with them. As Kane notes:

… a belief – common across nationalism – [is] that the UK is hurtling towards inevitable dissolution, starting with Scotland, and followed by a successful Border poll in the North. In other words, they don’t think it’s worth talking to unionists about the union because they think the union is doomed. And one of the reasons they believe the Northern Irish wing of the union is doomed is precisely because the Northern Ireland Protocol has placed the North outside the constitutional ambit of Great Britain.

And many would agree. That said there’s the possibility that a strange sort of equilibrium may develop that will continue for decades. After all, the GFA/BA dispensation, continues, now almost two decades old. Why not that plus the newer developments for another two decades? That’s not entirely implausible. But yes, that weight of history does seem to have a certain power all its own, pushing matters, however slowly, towards a certain resolution. And therein is a further irony, that while 2021 is indeed an important year for unionism, and perhaps Kane is correct in seeing it as the most important year for NI since 1921, it may be that the effects of 2021 take years, or many decades, to work through to that resolution.

Leaky January 21, 2021

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I wonder does this have damaging power? Reports in the IT that:

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar posted the new GP contract to head of rival doctor’s group Maitiú Ó Tuathail in 2019 when then minister for health Simon Harris was trying to obtain a copy, official records show. Mr Harris’s officials had warned that any leak of the document would endanger the agreement. Mr Varadkar apologised in the Dáil before Christmas for the leak, which happened in April 2019 when he was taoiseach.

My guess is that nothing much will be done – this government has a real feel of hanging together for fear of being hung separately.

I like the phrasing in the following:

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act to the Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty and seen by The Irish Times show increasingly urgent attempts by Mr Harris to obtain a copy of the draft agreement between the State and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO). This was happening at the same time as Mr Varadkar had posted a copy to the home address of Dr Ó Tuathail, who was head of the now-defunct National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).

Sense on the North… January 21, 2021

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Didn’t expect this to come from former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne – or at least not to be articulated quite so openly, but he’s not wrong when he says;

Writing in the London Evening Standard, where he is now editor-in-chief, Mr Osborne said the North was “slowly becoming part of a united Ireland” and most people in England “will not care”. The former Conservative MP wrote: “By unleashing English nationalism, Brexit has made the future of the UK the central political issue of the coming decade. Northern Ireland is already heading for the exit door. “By remaining in the EU single market, it is for all economic intents and purposes now slowly becoming part of a united Ireland. Its prosperity now depends on its relationship with Dublin (and Brussels), not London. The politics will follow,” he wrote on Tuesday.

And he points the finger of blame very clearly at one group for this state of affairs…

Mr Osborne said unionists in Northern Ireland had always feared Britain was not sufficiently committed to their cause. “Now their short-sighted support for Brexit (and unbelievably stupid decision to torpedo Theresa May’s deal that avoided separate Irish arrangements) has made those fears a reality. It pains me to report that most here and abroad will not care.” 

I await with bated breath the usual stuff about ‘Brit-bashing’ which is deployed by some both here and in the UK whenever Irish commentators discuss these political matters in these terms. Of course this isn’t ‘Brit-bashing’ but rather simple analysis which points up political dynamics. And notably – the blame is, as Osborne does here, placed on political elites (though he is – predictably, kinder to himself and Cameron with regard to the Brexit referendum, though do I recall correctly he was always against such a referendum being held?).

He also makes another very very interesting point:

The departure of Scotland from the UK would be a more serious matter, he implies, and it would represent the end of the United Kingdom “with no disrespect to the Welsh”.

I like that last, but he’s not wrong there either. A UK shorn of Scotland, even retaining (for a while) Northern Ireland and presumably Wales would be a most interesting political entity, but one that it has to be suspected would be considerably reduced both in physical terms but also – as importantly – in a broader conceptual context. Will it come to this?

Dispatched to Mar-a-Lago January 21, 2021

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Been waiting for this one for a while… just for the day that’s in it… from L7 (lyrics – oddly appropriate despite it being written a few years back).

A view of The Irish Left from March 1982 January 20, 2021

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Was browsing through the Newspaper Archive and came across a two part series on the Left in Ireland in The Irish Press in March 1982. Thought they might be of interest…..

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