Less about the world, more about me.

Month: August 2013

Column: Tempting to vote no

My column in The Kerryman. 28 August, 2013

One thing we can say for Enda Kenny’s campaign to abolish the Seanad, is that it’ll be mercifully short. We’ve the end of the summer to embrace, the return of the Premiership to watch, the ‘back to school‘ craziness to endure and the All Ireland finals to enjoy. Then quick as a flash, it’ll be October 4 and we’ll be voting in the referendum. Well, a small few of us anyway.

It’ll be a small turnout and some of us will be motivated by something other than the Seanad. Sometimes referendums are used by voters to express anger at a government. While I don’t think we should use a referendum vote just to make a point, if you really need to get something off your chest, then this is the referendum in which to do it.

We’ll endure no negative consequences if we vote no. We’ve been given a free hit on the government. I voted for and support this government. I’m even inclined towards abolishing the Seanad, but I feel a very strong temptation to remind some very powerful politicians who the boss really is.

Let’s look at some of the actual issues. Those who support getting rid of the Seanad say it’s an elitist and largely pointless assembly. They suggest that abolition will save the taxpayers approximately €20 million a year. And they argue that we have too many politicians for our small population, when compared to other European countries.

Those who argue against abolition dispute the amount of money that’d be saved. After that it gets more complicated. It’s a check on the executive. It provides more oversight. Whole swathes of the population can be enfranchised. And they point out that there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm for abolition, on the government back-benches.

The no-side have a much harder message to sell, yet they’ve not been blown out the water. This isn’t because of any merit or otherwise in their argument, but because to get rid of something, people have to be motivated to make an effort. The Seanad is so irrelevant many of us lack the energy and interest to get rid of it.

On the other hand, there’s Enda Kenny and his lieutenants, bent over, presenting their backsides for a firm kick from those they’ve taxed, whose benefits they have cut and from those who’ve lost family members to emigration.

No one believes the Seanad will be reformed if we vote to keep it, as the only way it can be usefully reformed is if the Dáil reduces its own power. And that can only happen if the Government agrees to reduce its power. Politicians do not and will not volunteer to have less power and influence and therefore have less goodies to shower on their constituents.

This is frustrating, as TDs have all the power needed to behave like a properly functioning Seanad. TDs have the power to keep the Government honest and connected, but because of their chronic cowardice, they allow the government they appoint, to ride roughshod over them.

The Seanad is a cultural trinket from our time in the Empire. We won’t notice its abolition and we won’t notice its retention. So we’re faced with giving some really powerful politicians a huge black eye, or ridding ourselves of a whole host of less powerful ones. Hardest choice I’ve ever had to make.

Kerry Column 22

Column: Censorship versus parenting

My column in The Kerryman. 21 August, 2013

There have been calls for the Government to get involved in what we can and cannot see on the Internet. As is the usual case when people are demanding censorship, we are being urged to think of the children. The argument is that there’s so much pornography on the Internet, it’s too difficult for parents to protect their children from seeing things they shouldn’t see. The State must step in. And of course there’s the issue of online child abuse material.

What’s vexing about this call for censorship is not that it’s pointless, not that it’s crass populism and not that it’s so lazy, but that it’s so inaccurate. It’s unforgivable to confuse protecting children from seeing images that are not meant for them with the wholly separate issue of child abuse material on the Internet.

The first thing one has to do is get one’s terminology correct. There’s pornography and there’s child abuse material. There’s no such thing as ‘child porn.’ Pornography is the explicit depiction of consenting adults engaged in sexual acts. It’s a multi-billion euro industry and readily available online. Unfortunately it’s so easy to access that a child can find it.

The exchange of child abuse material is not motivated by money. It’s a dark underground activity of barter. This system of exchange exists in an area of the Internet that was created to circumvent the attentions of dictatorial governments. Its idealistic creators were not to know that it would become a medium for perverts to connect with other perverts.

Police forces around the world, as well as in Ireland, trawl through these vile images of children being raped and abused, trying to identify the victims. By identifying the victims, they hope to track down the perpetrators. We the public can help by emailing info@hotline.ie if we see something on the Internet, we think may involve a crime against a child.

Making and exchanging child abuse material is a crime. One of the worst crimes there is. It has nothing to do with parents not being able to prevent their children from accessing pornography. It has nothing to do with parents not educating themselves about the technology their children routinely use. It has nothing to do with parents not speaking to other parents about what controls they have in place to prevent their children from seeing pornography.  And it certainly has nothing to do with parents failing to educate their children about what pornography is.

It’s virtually impossible for a child not to use the Internet. The Internet is everywhere and pornography is everywhere on the Internet. If you have children you’ll need to learn how to use Internet filters. Then you’ll need to have a conversation with your child, that your parents never had to have with you. You’ll need to have a conversation about pornography with your eight year old. You’ll need to have that conversation several times as your child grows up and needs bigger words and more information.

There are supports out there for parents; the person selling you your computer or smart phone, the principal of your child’s school, the local library, parents’s groups and the Internet itself. Information is everywhere. The State is already doing what it can about child abuse material, let’s not invite it into our homes as well. Let’s do our own parenting.

Kerry Column 23

Column: Cheating in sport

My column in The Kerryman. 14 August, 2013

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being amazed by the reaction of Joe Brolly to Tyrone’s victory over Monaghan in the All Ireland quarter final of August 3. An amazement fueled by confusion. Football has long since descended into an almost unwatchable cheat-fest between amazing athletes, with occasional moments of skill and grace. Just where was Joe this last decade?

That the rules of the game allow and even encourage tactical fouling, has finally been recognised by the GAA. They are bringing in changes next season, to try making it less attractive for players to cheat so obviously. Why this has taken so long is anybodies guess.

Not that cheating is unique to the GAA. Look at cycling. Just not too closely. It’s a thing so diseased, one should keep some distance from it. This is a sport almost defined by cheating. When its greatest star, Lance Armstrong, was finally outed as the epic cheater he always was, his seven Tour de France titles couldn’t be awarded to the runners up, because they too were under suspicion. As were third, fourth, fifth and sixth places.

Athletics has a very ugly history of cheating. From East Germany systematically ‘doping’ its to top athletes to the recent failure of some top Jamaican sprinters to pass drug tests, it’s increasingly difficult to take top athletics seriously.

In soccer, on-field cheating is so rampant it never even occurs to us to wonder if anyone is taking drugs. ‘Diving‘ is commonplace and players will be called naive if they don’t collapse under a challenge. The professional foul has evolved, so that a player will be ‘taken down’ further from the danger area, as this will only merit a yellow card, not a red.

In rugby, they’ve recognised that players will cheat for gain, and so have introduced the ‘sin bin’ and the penalty try. This discourages cheating, but does not eliminate it. Even in cricket, which long held itself as the very epitome of gentlemanly conduct, batsmen no longer simply walk if they know they’re out. He’ll now wait for the umpire to make a decision.

Long standing records in baseball have recently tumbled to men playing under a dark cloud of suspicion. The records stand, but for the fans in the know, those records will always have an asterisk next to them.

Cheating is rampant, yet sport is thriving. We are watching so much of it that it has become a multi-billion euro industry. But it’s no longer a positive vehicle for teaching the values of teamwork, honour and honesty. Now it’s an arena for generating money and fueling brutish tribalism. We are getting fatter while our sports men and women are getting ever richer as we pay through the nose to watch their dubious antics. As we indulge our passion for seeing triumph wearing our colours.

What is intriguing here, is that there was no money involved for Sean Cavanagh. He simply did not wish to lose a game, and as the rules encourage the option of cheating, he cheated. Now I could simply whine about the message this gives to children, but truth be told I’d have done what Cavanagh did, so no moral high-ground here. I’d just like to know how and when did sport and honour become such strangers to each other?

Kerry Column 24

Column: Our Constitution?

My column in The Kerryman. 7 August, 2013

How often can a government minister simultaneously save the country from a constitutional crisis and from the expenditure of 20 million euro (the approximate cost of a referendum), by simply going with the crowd? This grand feat of avoiding so much annoying hassle and expense was achieved by Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore by just taking an oath.

Gilmore, as Tánaiste, sits on the Council of State and our Constitution, Article 31.4, demands members of the Council take an oath made “In the presence of All Mighty God.” Gilmore is an agnostic and so isn’t convinced there’s a god, be it the god of the Christians or some other extraordinary being. But he took the oath anyway and now we can continue to pretend that the Constitution is ‘our’ Constitution.

“In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred…”

That is the first line of the Preamble to the Constitution. Many people assume our foundation document, the defining and regulating affirmation of our Nation, to be just a legal text. It isn’t. Our Constitution is more like a Christian prayer. A prayer, that with some modifications, has sufficed for most of our nation’s history.

Today, over a quarter of a million Irish people don’t have a religion. There are more of us than there are Anglicans, Presbyterians, Jews and Muslims. The only group bigger than the non-religious, are the Catholics. Yet our nation is defined by this National Prayer.

To be the President of this country, the democratically elected candidate, no matter his or her beliefs, is obliged by Article 12.8 of the Constitution to take an oath, “In the presence of Almighty God I…” To be a judge in Ireland, Article 34.5 insists the judge swears, “In the presence of Almighty God I…”

It’s a source of irritation more than anything, as it has always been unlikely anyone outside the mainstream would rise to such heady heights. There was a moment of excitement when some of us incorrectly assumed Michael D. Higgins was an atheist. He isn’t and thus his conscious was clear as he took the Presidential oath of office.

We non-religious people finally thought Gilmore offered a real opportunity to highlight the exclusionary and discriminatory nature of the Constitution. The President asking the advice of the Council of State on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, gave Gilmore an open goal: He could’ve refused to take the oath, explaining that it denies high-office to a huge section of Irish society.

He didn’t take that chance. He said the required words though I’d guess that, in his heart, he affirmed to do his duty with all the diligence and ability that he could bring to bear. To some this may smack of hypocrisy. I know that in his position I’d have thrown my toys out of the pram and be feeling pretty smug right now.

Would a referendum to remove references to God from the Constitution pass? I don’t know but I think spending €20 million so those who don’t believe in God, could say ‘our’ Constitution and mean it, would be money well spent.

Kerry Column 25

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