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Connecting History: the establishment of the Irish engineering union – ILHS November 26, 2021

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Signs of Hope – A continuing series November 26, 2021

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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?

Waiter, waiter! November 26, 2021

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This is interesting, chefs, waters and others involved in food and catering (the Guardian uses the term ‘hospitality professionals’) discuss how to handle a problem with food in a restaurant.

This came up in comments some time ago and I related the experience of getting hands down the worst chowder in the world – it looked like something from Alien was lurking in the reddy brown depths of what was laughably called a soup, and where one of the group I was with, a good friend who happens to teach home economics and related areas had no qualms about demanding our money back, and got it too.

I’m a quiet life kind of a person and I suspect had it just been me et al, well, soup would have been left but no fuss made. Which isn’t great.

In the piece the person recalls how at a local café they were served up a vegetarian dish which was nothing but salt.

Had a similar experience in Barcelona with what could be described as the most aggressively salted salad I’ve ever eaten. I figured that was just the style of that dish. It wasn’t pleasant but eat it I did.

Now put aside the temporary health implications, but the advice was useful from those who produce food…

“If someone is paying for something that they think is inedible, they should feel free to voice their opinion.”

“When I ask her about my salty meal, Martin says I should absolutely have sent the dish back, especially considering I’d had it many times without issue. She adds that in such a situation, if offered a replacement, she would advise asking for a different dish, as any dressings or sauces in my original order would be from a daily batch and the same problem would be likely to recur.”

“hospitality veteran Dave Hinnrichs has done every food service job you can think of, as well as some you probably can’t. He believes valid reasons for complaint include food not being cooked properly, dishes not matching their menu description, and yes, over-seasoning to the point of discomfort. As a punter, he’s comfortable raising issues about food, but always in a “courteous and professional manner”.”

That said one food writer thought it best not to send food back short of finding foreign objects in it.

Marxism 2021 – 26th & 27th November November 26, 2021

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The Marxism 2021 online conference, organised by the Socialist Workers Network, starts today, the 26th November.

Registration is free online here.

Don’t mention the war… November 26, 2021

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There’s a strand in broader media narratives around nationalism that somewhat irritates me. One also sees it in politics and it goes along the lines of ‘if only x didn’t exist we could do y’. Of course it’s true. If only we could focus on class politics instead of nationalism then we could foster class politics. If only Northern Ireland had bread and butter issues then constitutional issues would recede. Granted sometimes this is nuanced to ‘if only parties concentrated on class politics then…’ etcetera. The latest manifestation of this is in the IT where writer and poet Michael O’Loughlin writes under the headline “We need to stop talking about a united Ireland” and in the text of his piece he writes:

If you really want a united Ireland, based on unity rather than head counts, now is the time to stop talking about it.

It sounds logical, but it makes not a bit of sense.

Because he’s essentially averting his gaze from a key problem. The partition of Ireland is a reality and the politics of the island has developed on foot of that partition. The fundamental divides between Unionism and Republicanism/Nationalism are precisely about partition. One can not stop talking about a ‘United Ireland’ because in the very essence of the DUP or UUP and to an extent SF and other parties the issue of a UI or NI is written into their political DNA. Moreover not talking about it is not a ‘neutral’ position, somehow beyond and above the sweat and grime of political discourse but is in and of itself a position that aligns with a status quo which as it stands embeds partition.

One of the problems in all this, though a telling one, is the issue of the very term nationalist being applied to CNR. Of course Unionism is an equal and opposite nationalism. But that framing – unfortunate as it is tends to accentuate a belief in some that Unionism is not, or not to the same extent.

The piece is somewhat confused:

Whenever I see a union jack, be it in Belfast or London, I feel a certain atavistic revulsion for the “Butcher’s Apron”, so I can easily understand how the unionist community has the same reaction to the Tricolour. As such, it can never, under any circumstances, be the flag of a united Ireland. The fact is, the very idea of a united Ireland is already a flawed and self-defeating concept.

And he sort of expands on that last comment, albeit not clearly a little further into the piece:

Catalan nationalist hopes rest on eventually having a razor-thin majority for independence in some future referendum. But would this give them legitimacy to impose their vision of Catalonia on the other 49 per cent of the people, who have a very different one in terms of language and culture? The Irish parallels are clear. If a Border poll in Ireland were to result in a 51 per cent majority for nationalists, would this lend legitimacy to the concept of a united Ireland – would it become more of a reality? Does it never occur to supporters of a Border poll that they are just replicating the behaviour of the people who founded Northern Ireland as a sectarian state 100 years ago?

It’s hard really to credit that. The circumstances are entirely different. NI was born as a secession within an artificial area (and yes, all borders are artificial, but even in the context of the time what became Northern Ireland did not follow the boundaries of a traditional Ulster, and tellingly not the nine-county entity that Unionism envisaged with the Ulster Covenant). To accept those boundaries as the expanse within which democratic legitimation for union with the Republic is the antithesis of 1920-21. It is also a foundational element of the Belfast Agreement/Good Friday Agreement where all-island but geographically distinct votes were taken in 1998. The democratic mandates were entirely lacking in 1920-21. That mistake will not be made again, and to argue that unity is somehow sectarian seems a curious and unsupported argument.

He continues:

But the fact that unionists are so delusional about the past century does not invalidate their emotions. They have a right not to live in a united Ireland.

They do as long as a majority within Northern Ireland agree with that. Their right not to live in a United Ireland is not absolute. And oddly Newton Emerson pointed to a dynamic O’Loughlin completely ignores when he wrote recently ‘Unionists also have to accept that living within an arrangement at odds with their nationality is what they demand of nationalists. I believe you can hear the wheels turning on that thought if you stand quietly enough in the garden centre.’

One could as easily write ‘Republicans/Nationalists have a right not to live in a partitioned Ireland’. They do indeed, but until a majority in the North agree with that proposition they will have to ‘accept living within an arrangement at odds with their nationality’.

From there it all breaks down to a greater degree.

When Irish nationalists talk about “reuniting” Ireland, what do they mean? When was Ireland ever “united” except in the context of British rule? So what would a united Ireland actually look like? A Republic writ large? A Christy Moore fantasy of Irish ways and Irish laws? At this stage so many people have killed for, or been killed for, a united Ireland that it has become a tainted concept.

This is offered with no supporting substantiation. One could equally argue that the Union, Northern Ireland itself has, given the level of deaths and repression, across many decades until the GFA/BA also become a ‘tainted concept’, but that doesn’t really help. These sort of large rhetorical flourishes obscures more than it illuminates.

Benedict Anderson’s concept with respect to nationalism being an ‘imagined community’ is immensely powerful, that is that “a nation as a socially constructed community, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group”. It is one I broadly find very plausible. But there’s a problem. It may well be imagined but it’s not imaginary in the sense that it has very very real political power, in much the same way as many other isms. It would be a fine thing to be able to move directly to class politics, but class politics oddly – given the manifest limitations of nationalisms (and that plural is key given the reality of multiple nationalisms, though not nations, on this island), is oddly weak in some ways with regard to its mobilising power. Then again, so is nationalism much of the time.

And that’s why the exhortation that “If you really want a united Ireland, based on unity rather than head counts, now is the time to stop talking about it” has little utility in all this. Is it in the slightest bit likely given the centrality of national identity and nationalism(s) to the politics of this North and South that anyone can stop talking about it? Unionism is predicated upon opposition to a United Ireland, Republicanism and Nationalism on working towards it. The Border exists – in some ways more manifestly than in decades (or at least since 1998). There is quite clearly no chance at all people will not talk about it. So with O’Loughlin and others of that ilk the question is, if that’s not going to happen, what precisely is Plan B?

The roots of the Peace Process? November 25, 2021

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The Phoenix has a piece on the speech Bertie Ahern gave at the launch of Conor Lenihan’s biography of Albert Reynolds where he apparently:

rejected the notion that the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, signed by Fine Gael taoiseach, Sir Garret FitzGerald and British premier Maggie Thatcher was the catalyst for the northern peace process. Instead, he argued, that description should be more properly used to describe the 1993 Downing Street Declaration issued – and here’s the important bit – by Fianna Fáil taoiseach Albert Reynolds and British prime minister John Major.

He argues that there was an ‘orchestrated’ effort to rewrite that history in this context. And the Phoenix suggests that part of this is due to some involved in the AIA (and the FG input into the AIA) seeking to reify that as a foundational aspect of the Peace Process.

I wonder is the truth more complex again? It’s not that the AIA intentionally paved the way for the Peace Process – anymore than the Downing Street Declaration was the catalyst for it either. The AIA was, after all, a fairly conscious effort to clip the wings of a politicising SF, sideline PIRA, and to assist in supporting the SDLP and northern constitutional nationalism (in a vague sort of a way). That the British government and state conceding for the first time that Dublin had a role in Northern Ireland only indirectly assisted. I think that that indirect, and unintentional, consequence unlocked certain elements that would come later, but it is far from the whole story. And of course the Downing Street Declaration was pivotal, but then it too came on foot of other events, most notably the Hume-Adams dialogue and the clear intent on the part of the British state and PIRA and Sinn Féin to work towards some form of agreement. Picking amongst all these for the single source of the Peace Process seems almost perverse.

Looking the other way: Britain and Ireland… November 25, 2021

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Don’t often say this, but Finn McRedmond had a pretty good piece on the aversion within Britain to considering political developments in Ireland. She noted that there are exceptions to this rule – John Major and Tony Blair, for all their faults have not been shy to point to the dangers of Brexit in relation to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.

And she notes:

The wilful ignorance of Northern Ireland reflected a deeper dismissal of Ireland and its politics – a dismissal that finds its provenance not just in an ignorance of Anglo-Irish history but a failure to recognise the reverberations that domestic Irish politics can wreak on the machinery of Westminster.

None of the above is a particularly new or subtle observation. Northern Ireland was an afterthought and never a deciding issue for the English electorate. That is in many ways understandable – the depth of knowledge or interest required to understand the North’s unique political make-up was simply not there. The designation of the Border question to a second- or even third-tier issue by campaigners and politicians is less forgivable.

It is strange. Consider the very public agonising about Scotland and its place in the Union. I think sometimes of the letters signed by English authors and artists imploring a No vote in the last referendum there, and yet where was the similar phenomenon in evidence with respect to Northern Ireland? One has to wonder is it simple proximity. Northern Ireland is on a different island and somewhat further removed by being due west of Scotland rather than England. It’d be an interesting exercise to see how many people from England have been to Belfast as against Dublin. Yet a weekend in Dublin is itself no passport to understanding the political and other dynamics that impinge on Britain as a whole.

And McRedmond also noted that both the Protocol and one other matter have evinced much less reaction than they should have:

The protocol now (and the backstop shortly prior) has received protracted prominence in the press since it forced itself into the political topography of the UK. But “forced” is the operative word. It seems this is a parliament, media landscape, and Number 10 chronically indisposed to paying attention to what happens just a stone’s throw over the Irish Sea. Rather it creeps up slowly and then asserts itself as a major and often intractable problem once it’s too late.

And Sinn Féin’s non-frivolous growth in popularity (not just a recent phenomenon, of course) is just the latest reincarnation of this foolish Westminster sensibility. Projected to be the largest party in Stormont, the UK might see its first Sinn Féin First Minister. The party could potentially be in power on both sides of the Border within a couple of years. Not much of a whimper of interest has been expressed.

These are enormous issues, and yet the degree of attention paid to them is remarkably limited. One doesn’t have to see Sinn Féin as red revolutionaries to think that their assuming a degree of state power in the Republic will have profound ramifications. It truly is reactionary – in one sense of the word, the sheer indifference to all this. And it speaks of both ignorance and complacence in London at how the world is changing. Perhaps this is due to the current crop of Tories being second and third raters, perhaps – and not unlinked to that, the sheer stresses of pandemic and Brexit and how they have eaten up political bandwidth.

But it’s difficult to not also think that part of this is due to a sense there that fundamentally what happens on this island is not of any great seriousness. Given how the politics of Ireland has shaped the UK itself across so many centuries that seems an egregious error of judgement on the part of those who would hold such views.

All apologies… redux November 25, 2021

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Useful to see the limits on where and how far some will go in saying what they want to as exemplified by the TUV’s Jim Allister’s climbdown after comments he made this week. What’s particularly noticeable – and the reality of David Tweed’s history of sexual and physical abuse of children is unbelievably grim – is the manner in which Allister sought to double down on the initial comments in a BBC interview.

But in a way isn’t this indicative of the time we are in, where for all the talk of cancel culture and so on there’s remarkably little hesitation on the part of some to stop and think whether what they say might be offensive. It may sound insipid but before saying anything it’s no harm to consider basic courtesy and thoughtfulness. No-one is immune from failing in respect of that from time to time but for public figures it is near inexplicable that they would not recognise this.

Interesting too that DUP figures also made inappropriate comments, before retracting them. The individual at the centre of this was, of course, formerly in the DUP and TUV. That former membership is not the fault of either of those parties, but given that particular sensitivity it is difficult to understand why those figures and Allister woudn’t have thought all this through long before comments were made.

The Revolution In Laois November 24, 2021

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Terry M. Dunne (of Peelers and Sheep and Laois Historian-in-Residence) has weekly articles up on the Laois local studies site over the next while, on the revolution in Laois, here are the first two – one on the Prison and the other on the Market Square. A fascinating series.

British exceptionalism November 24, 2021

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Anyone see this in the Guardian? A report on how:

As Covid infection rates surged again across Europe, Boris Johnson spoke this week of “storm clouds gathering” over parts of the continent and said it was unclear when or how badly the latest wave would “wash up on our shores”.

The situation in some EU member states, particularly those with low vaccination rates, is indeed dramatic. In central and eastern Europe in particular, but also Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands, case numbers are rocketing.

But as the Guardian notes:

missing from the prime minister’s remarks, and from much of the media coverage of them, was the fact that Britain’s rolling seven-day average of daily new coronavirus cases is still higher than the average of the EU27, and has been since June.

According to figures from OurWorldInData, the EU’s average has quadrupled in recent weeks, from just over 110 daily new cases per million people on 1 October to 446 on Thursday.

The UK began that same period with a daily infection rate of 505 per million people, nearly five times the EU27 average. After peaking at nearly 700 in late October the rate fell to 495 on 10 November, but for the past week it has been climbing sharply again.

This sort of blinkered view is indicative of an administration that now appears to frame so much in effective opposition to Europe – albeit in a rather distorted fashion. It is, of course, expedient for a PM under pressure from Tory corruption controversies to do this, but it has really become a tool of government and one has to wonder even after the Tories, presumably, at some point are ejected from office whether it will remain so? But Jonathan Freedland notes that fundamentally there’s a deeper and even more pernicious dynamic at work, that is that there is now a basic dishonesty in all areas of the Tory government, and a dishonesty that is deployed entirely for political gain. He writes:

dishonesty is no longer merely the character flaw of one man. It has become the imprint of his party and this government.

Admittedly, the Conservatives’ collective dishonesty is less florid than Johnson’s individual variety. If you were being kind, you would call it intellectual dishonesty or, kinder still, magical thinking. Sometimes it takes the form of arguing two contradictory things at once; often it comes down to saying one thing and doing the exact opposite.

The list of examples that Freedland offers is lengthy and compelling. Of course one can say that all governments of whatever stripe will be dishonest, and that is true to an extent. But it is the blatant aspect of this government (perhaps inflected by the Trump and Republican experience – though that’s not the happiest of examples) that sets it apart from its predecessors. That said, rather like the pandemic, and as with Brexit, the problem is that dishonesty only takes you so far. Squaring the circle between backing away from previously made agreements and attracting others to make agreements with you is not easy to do (most interesting Brexit Republic podcast recently where it noted the pressure the UK government was under from Washington on foot of Irish and EU entreaties over the NI Protocol – what was striking was how the UK government hadn’t seemed to predict that line of pressure, though it surely was entirely predictable).

As to where countries broadly stand, here’s a telling snippet:

Other EU members including Ireland, Hungary, Greece and the Baltic states also have infection rates higher than the UK’s. But several – mainly those with high vaccination rates and relatively strict social distancing rules – do not.

They include France on 201 daily infections per million, Italy on 138 and Spain on 95, as well as Portugal, Finland and Sweden. Infection rates in Romania and Bulgaria, previously the EU’s worst-affected countries, are now also much lower.

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