Is There One Brave TD?

Ballyhea
Click here to see me on Al Jazeera News! (Albeit briefly)

 

It’s often remarked how little Irish people are protesting, despite the cruelty of the cutbacks and the blatant injustice of much of the debt foisted upon us. You could come up with a variety of deep psychological explanations for this, but in doing so you might be overlooking one major factor: The lousy coverage that public resistance gets in the mainstream media.

Case in point, the brave folk of the Ballyhea Bondholder Bailout Protest have been marching every Sunday for two years now. But even when they brought their protest to the ECB in Frankfurt (you’ll remember, I went with them) they hardly won a mention from the press or TV.

Until last Sunday! Finally, they got on RTÉ main evening news. Why now all of a sudden? I think I know: Al Jazeera got wind of it. Would’ve been more than a little embarrassing for the national broadcaster if a story from their own country went big internationally and they didn’t even have footage.

You can see me there in the first few seconds. I’m on international TV! Don’t we look all brave in the January weather? In the Middle East they must think we’re downright superhuman.

But there are ways you can protest without risking pneumonia, with help of Contact.it. Yesterday a judge rejected a challenge to the legality of the government piping money directly from poor to rich, on the grounds that a private citizen does not (somehow) have the standing to take such a case. In his findings though, the judge did mention that a TD would.

So we’re looking for one brave TD. Contact.ie provide an email that will be sent to all of them, it’s just up to you to sign it. A suggested text is provided, but of course you can use your own.

Or you can use the one I wrote, which puts the case a little more starkly:

Dear TD,

We need someone to take a stand. The lending bubble, and subsequent channelling of the nation’s remaining wealth to the very institutions responsible for it, has sent one message and one message only to the people of this country: That we exist, that we live and work, not for ourselves or for the ones we love but purely for the further enrichment of these institutions and their owners; that they now effectively control our lives – and control you, our supposed representatives – as surely as if we were goods or livestock. We are being owned.

We need to reassert the purpose – indeed the existence – of democratic government. For once, a single TD could make all the difference.

Yours sincerely,

Help to stop the madness before the last of this country’s life is sucked away. You can send the letter here.

Mend The Constitution

Pregnancy in the 26th week.

Over four thousand women from Ireland are known to have obtained an abortion in England or Wales last year, a figure that probably under-represents the true numbers significantly. Why are they having abortions abroad and not here?

If you could sum it up in a single word, that word would be “hypocrisy”.

We have a hypocritical Constitutional ban that has the effect not of preventing abortion, but of making it someone else’s problem. It allows us to pretend it hardly happens at all, that we live by higher ideals. In fact, we live a lie.

And oddly, to an extent it is not even our own hypocrisy. The amendment was the result of a manipulative campaign coming largely from overseas, particularly the British organisation SPUC, that intended to make Ireland a showcase for Conservative Christian values. They wanted to prove it was possible, despite the examples of the US, UK and most of Western Europe, for abortion to be banned in a country where women had a vote.

Yes, a clear majority disapproved of abortion. They don’t necessarily approve of enforced birth either though. Irish people are no strangers to moral complexity and contradiction, and even if doctrinal absolutes came easy in those post-Papal-visit days they would not have stayed that way for long. But the amendment to the constitution stifled that moral debate by rendering it pointless.

It still stifles it. Even now we are hung up – insanely – on whether a danger of suicide constitutes a legitimate threat to the life of a pregnant woman. Of course suicidal feelings are a real threat to life, but some want to pretend the danger away in case it is used as a pretext to give abortions to those who merely want them.

This is all mad. Why are we trying to force women to give birth when, for whatever reason, they do not want to give birth? Only remorseless ideology produces such inhumane law.

Ah but the unborn are people, you can’t kill them!

Except they are not. That is just a religious doctrine, a philosophical view, forced into our Constitution to make hypocrites of all of us. Who is to say at what point human life begins? We could leave the decision to priests, to doctors or scientists. But I think instead we should leave it up to the woman who has to bring that life into the world.

Who else’s decision should it be?

What A Day

President George W. Bush accepts a bowl of sha...
Can you count all the things in this picture that make me angry?

Dropped off the radar again there, sorry. Thanks to some amazing weather for March – I think it reached 20C (68F) today – I’ve been held prisoner in the garden. At least it’s an opportunity to grow a skin. Technically, I don’t have a skin by the time winter ends. More a film.

It’s been a great day too in another sense – former leader Bertie Ahern has resigned from the Fianna Fáil party, on foot of the findings of the tribunal into planning corruption. This is huge, really. If it’s not literally an admission of guilt, it’s at least the admission of guilt he can sue you for calling an admission of guilt.

Too wrecked to go into this right now though, didn’t get any sleep last night to speak of. I’d gone shopping for a phone case online, and naturally I’d noticed small things here and there that would be useful too – a spare battery, a spare charger for the spare battery, a spare spare spare battery charger, so forth. The whole thing had rolled into a pleasant shopping safari, and it was about 4 a.m. by the time I was finally ready to proceed to the checkout. All that remained was to enter my credit card – done – and confirm my shipping address – done – and… Wait.

Of the five things I’d decided to buy, through five different sellers, not one of them would ship to Ireland. Actually it didn’t even tell me this. It just said for each item that there was a problem with my address, so possibly it was five different problems. Messages that vague and unhelpful only qualify as information in the theoretical sense, like yelling in an unknown foreign language. You know that it conveys meaning, but not what or to whom.

So what could I do about it? As mad as it may seem, Amazon.co.uk offers no system for filtering search results by where the seller will ship too. The process of separating the exporters from the non-exporters is essentially trial and error. Which is ludicrous for an online seller, and kept me up until well past dawn. And yet when you go to Amazon from Ireland, they tell you to use Amazon.co.uk. In the end I just bought almost everything elsewhere; a policy I may stick with from now on, at least until the day we finally get an Amazon.ie.

And now it is 4 a.m. all over again. Tomorrow I must go to toil in the fields once more, so farewell.

Address To The Nation

Enda Kenny making a speech in the Burlington H...
The Taoiseach, saying things. For some reason

The country stood by today as our leader Enda Kenny addressed the nation – only the sixth time in history that a Taoiseach has done such a thing. His speech left but one question on lips across the country.

What the hell was that for?

The speech contained much that would have been bad news, if it had been news. It was depressing, sure, but confusingly it did not contain the really awful tidings that would have justified its existence. So it’s pretty much as we expected.

No mention of any welfare rates being further cut, but no mention of them not being cut either. So expect that.

Direct taxes will not be raised, but indirect will. In other words, money will be extracted not just from those who have it, but rich and poor alike. Or as Enda put it:

“I wish I could tell you budget won’t impact on citizens in need, but it will.”

It seems the poor and sick aren’t actually going to be rounded up and shot though. Presumably they’re dying off at a rate sufficient to give markets confidence in our government’s international-finance-friendly ruthlessness.

The highlight I think was when he told us that the economic collapse was not our fault, even if we were all going to have to pay for it. Nice of him to mention that I suppose. We did know though.

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Join The Irish Diaspora

Have you or any member of your family ever been a member of the Irish nation? Then you should join the great new social network, WorldIrish.com. This was launched to coincide with the Global Irish Economic Forum held this week, and its purpose is to… is to… Actually, I’m not quite sure. Why would Irish people need our own special social network. Were we not talking enough?

This Is Me

Well the site looks and works well. You can create an account there (I’m “Richard”, I came early), add a 600-character bio and a few links. And you pick your five ‘values’, which generates a kind of little avatar. It’s trickier than it sounds though, because you have to choose your five from a list of sixteen things that are all about equally good and wholesome:

  • Ambition
  • Community
  • Compassion
  • Courage
  • Creativity
  • Diversity
  • Equality
  • Freedom
  • Imagination
  • Individuality
  • Integrity
  • Knowledge
  • Openness
  • Practicality
  • Progress
  • Tradition

You think you can’t go wrong, just picking five sugar-and-spice items out of a list of sixteen? How little you know. If I check tradition but leave out progress, I could be taken for a die-hard republican. Vice versa, and I’m a property developer.What if I plump for community but leave out diversity? Big ‘ol racist. What use is compassion without courage, openness without knowledge? Do I choose between creativity and imagination, or pick both and sacrifice ambition?

Such is life. In the end, I left the final decision to what made the avatar come out prettiest.

I really have only one question about WorldIrish.com – how exactly is it a social network? You can browse people’s profiles and you can contact them, but there is no real space for open interaction. There are a couple of pages where you can upload a video, but you can hardly have real conversation through video clips, and though commentary is allowed it’s to the page as a whole rather than the individual video so there is little opportunity for dialogue there either. (What’s more, to make such comments you log in not with your account but with another social networking system such as Facebook.)

In feeling therefore it’s really much closer to a new-media magazine like TheJournal.ie, more about controlled presentation than spontaneous interaction, top-down instead of ground-up. How that turns into social networking eludes me. I’ve joined anyway – networks are what you do with them after all – but I can’t help feeling that this was one of those laudable efforts where someone went “Wouldn’t it be great if we…” and everyone agreed, but no one really knew what the point was.

Another Presidential Assassination

Banner of the Irish Blueshirts.
You mention Fine Gael and far-right militants in the same article, and the automatic image search comes out with the Blueshirt flag. Stop editorialising, image search.

Could Norris have won? No, not now. He was the fun candidate. I am not saying he wasn’t a perfectly serious candidate as well, but he more than anyone else stood for liberation from tiresome, hopeless, party-controlled politics, and if he was going to be elected it would have been on a wave of joyful voting against the establishment. The sheer fact that his ex-partner had committed rape was inevitably going to take the wind out of that.

I wish he had been allowed to continue though. I’d like to have voted for him, if only to say that what he did wrong was forgiveable.

If indeed he did something wrong. From reading the actual letters (PDF) he sent to Israel, I don’t think he represented himself as speaking on behalf of the Irish people or government, or even his constituents. The only part that seems to have been on official Senate paper was the brief and rather bland character reference. The long, detailed plea for leniency appears to have originally been a separate document sent in a personal capacity.

The question of whether he should have pleaded for leniency at all in such a case remains, and I think that was a mistake for a person in his position. But I wouldn’t want to vote for someone who never did a stupid thing for love.

So now, bizarrely, it’s Gay Mitchell’s turn. He’s the candidate of Fine Gael, the party leading the newly-elected government, and so very arguably the favourite since Norris’s departure. Mitchell too made an appeal to a foreign judiciary, in 2003 when he was FG’s spokesman on foreign affairs. His though was for a man due to be executed for the murder of a doctor and his bodyguard, outside an abortion clinic in Florida.

Mitchell says that it was in the context of a consistent campaign against the death penalty. All I will say is, it had better be.

Is The Norris Campaign Finished?

Taken by me (jaqian) on Kildare Street, Dublin...
Senator David Norris, once the only Gay man in Ireland

In the early 80’s the Hot Press, Ireland’s leading magazine of politics and rock music, had this to say on the campaign to decriminalize homosexuality:

“Irish people have nothing against Gays. They like him. They think he’s funny.”1

This neatly encapsulated the suppression of Gay culture at that time in Ireland. Senator David Norris was almost the only man in public life – certainly the only one in politics2 – openly declaring his homosexuality and campaigning for his rights. It was greatly due to his perseverance and intelligence – perhaps also, his charm and wit – that homosexual acts were eventually decriminalised.

Things have come a long way since. Up until yesterday, Senator Norris was probably the frontrunner in the race to become Ireland’s next President. Yet now it looks as if his campaign may be over.

It was revealed that in 1997, Norris’s former partner Ezra Yizhak Nawi3, an Israeli human rights activist known for his support of Palestinians, was convicted in Israel of sex with another male below the age of consent. That might not have reflected so badly on the Senator, few after all would hold someone responsible for the crimes of an ex, but he had chosen to write an appeal to the Israeli court (PDF) on behalf of Nawi for clemency.

Compounding the problem, he wrote the appeal on Senate headed paper. This is damaging because it is  reminiscent of other scandals where members of the Oireachtas (parliament) have attempted to interfere in due process on behalf of friends or constituents. It makes him seem exactly what people believed he was not – just another politician. However this may really be more a problem of perception. While a politician making representations to a court or judge in Ireland would rightly be seen as an attempt to exert improper influence, an approach to a foreign court – where no improper influence is possible – is an entirely different matter.

Some have called it an ‘error of judgement’ to speak out on behalf of a convicted paedophile, but that seems to imply that he should have known better because he might want to run for President one day. It was an immensely difficult judgement call; his only other real option was not to try to help a friend and former partner. It may have been the less wise choice, but it was the most selfless one.

And it too is perhaps mainly a problem of perception. It appeared in the context of an earlier attempt to derail his campaign, by opponents who recirculated an interview4 he’d given in 2002, in which he seemed to argue against a hard-and-fast age of consent. He claimed the remarks were taken out of context, and people seemed to generally accept that, but his decision to support someone convicted of statutory rape brings his views back into question. Is it true that he doesn’t see too much wrong with sex between consenting males even if one of them is underage according to local law? Some would see that as a reasoned moral outlook.

I think though that most would reject it as simplistic, and argue instead that there needs to be a ruthlessly strict lower limit on the acceptable age for sexual activity. While it may be unfair on those who reach maturity early – or indeed, on those who reach it late – it seems greatly preferable to the the opportunities for exploitation that ambiguity could allow.

But we don’t know if that is – or was – Senator Norris’s actual belief. Poor or biased reporting may have misrepresented his opinions, he may even have been the victim of homophobia. No doubt what he really believes will come out in the course of the electoral campaign, and some quite profound issues around sex and consent may be debated.

That is, if they are allowed. Unfortunately Ireland’s constitution sets some preconditions on running for the Presidency. To be a candidate, one must have the support either of twenty members of the Oireachtas, or four city or county councils. With this shadow over his reputation it seems unlikely now that he will receive them.

And frankly, it looks like these leaks were timed to have exactly that effect.

  1. This probably isn’t verbatim, I’m quoting from memory.
  2.  So how does a Gay Rights activist get to be a Senator in a generally conservative country? It is a product of the strange way Ireland’s Senate is elected. Without going into great detail here, Senator Norris represents a university – Trinity College Dublin.
  3.  The Wikipedia page linked does not – at time of writing – mention the statutory rape conviction. This appears to be due to partisan editing – pro-Palestinian that is, rather than pro-Norris. See the discussion page. 
  4. Full text of interview available as images: Page 1, Page 2, Page 3.