Less about the world, more about me.

Month: October 2013

Column: No sympathy for the young

My column in The Kerryman. 30 October, 2013

The Victorians had firm ideas about dealing with the poor. If you were too sick, young or old to work you were the deserving poor. If able bodied but couldn’t find a job, then they’d make your life as unpleasant as possible. You’d be admitted to a workhouse, where families were separated, one’s possessions confiscated and the inmates put to work in unsanitary and disease ridden conditions.

So feared were workhouses that some people chose jail.

When this style of ‘charity’ ended, some of the workhouses were converted into Industrial Schools, where the children of Ireland’s poorest families were incarcerated, left to the tender mercies of the violent and sexually deviant religious.

Fortunately these days there are just too many lobby groups representing the interests of children for them to be so obviously abused. It’s also considered very politically incorrect to jail poor people, just for being poor. So our politicians have had to develop the skill of hitting hardest, the people less likely and most incapable of hitting back, while still appearing civilised.

That doesn’t make them bad people. We elect them primarily to make decisions on how much of our money must be taken from us, to pay for services we may never need. That’s why we loved the Fianna Fáil Bubble so much. Not only were we being charged less in taxes, we had our egos stroked by their being so much more money spent on the deserving poor. We didn’t even worry much about the undeserving poor. Great days.

In 2011 we elected Fine Gael to work out how best to divide our newly decimated pie. And they’ve got to do it in such a way that’ll help them win re-election. They can only hope to win re-election if they’re careful to keep certain sectors of society on-side. Those sectors include first and foremost, people likely to vote.

People least likely to vote are those in consistent poverty and young adults. People least likely to vote for Fine Gael are people who work with and support those in poverty and young adults. Who have been targeted most by the recent Budget; the poor, those who support the poor and young adults.

I do have some sympathy for the poorest, but we live a country which will not countenance tax increases for their sake. That’s democracy. Many of us are also happy to hear people on the dole being demonised. We know there are no jobs, but we still have this sneaky suspicion the unemployed are having a ball.

I’ve no sympathy for young adults. Not because they deserve to suffer. Not because a 23 year old adult is entitled to less social welfare than a 27 year old adult. Not because young adults traditionally suffer most during a national crisis, they either fight our wars or emigrate en masse.

My sympathy is exhausted because young adults could resist, but choose not to. They could stop themselves being disproportionately targeted. All they need do is vote. The Institute of Technology in Tralee has over 3,000 students, foreign and domestic. They are all entitled to vote in next year’s local elections. Three thousand votes is enough to win a seat on the County Council. A block of 3000 voters will convince any politician to pick on someone else.

Kerry Column 13

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Column: Loyal to a fault

My column in The Kerryman. 23 October, 2013

Loyalty is a strange creature. It’s considered to be among the best of our human virtues. We laud those who show it and condemn those without it. We embrace it, but we don’t think too deeply about it. We do not dwell on what loyalty really is.

Áine Adams was raped by her father. She waived her right to anonymity so we know that her ordeal was compounded by the actions of those who should’ve protected her. She had to endure a wholly disreputable police force and a powerful uncle whose priorities apparantly lay elsewhere.

When she first reported her father’s crimes to the RUC, the police appeared more interested in discrediting her uncle, Gerry Adams. She was less important than their struggle with her uncle. She also found no help in Gerry Adams. It seems his loyalties were with his brother and his cause.

Loyalty above the safety and welfare of children is not uncommon.

The most senior Roman Catholic official in Ireland is Cardinal Brady. He’s a loyal man. Back in the 70s, while investigating the actions of child rapist, Father Brendan Smyth, he swore some of the children who had been raped by his colleague to silence.

He made children take an oath of silence, then carried on with his loyal service to his church, rising to the position of Primate of all Ireland.

Should he be condemned for his true loyalty? If the ability of Roman Catholic priests to rape children without consequence, had never made the headlines, perhaps Ireland would still have an Embassy at the Vatican. Perhaps bishops wouldn’t have to explain themselves. If others had been more loyal to the Church, then this scandal might have possibly been covered up more successfully.

Loyalty to a cause, over and above the safety of children is not unique to Ireland. This country recently had the profound honour of hosting Malala Yousafzai. She is a Pakistani girl who insisted she and other girls have access to education. The education of girls runs counter to the religious beliefs of the Taliban. They shot her in the head. She managed to survive and received medical treatment in the UK.

Being loyal enough to turn one’s back on a child who was raped is something to behold. Being so loyal as to shoot a child in the head? Is it much different?

In the last 25 years, thousands of people have died trying to enter Europe illegally, children among them. Many of them drown in the Mediterranean as their over-loaded and rickety vessels capsize and sink, or they die of thirst when their boats lose power and drift in the sun for days.

They are mostly Africans and they are faceless. Thousands of private tragedies that do not impact on us, as our first loyalty is to what we think is our economic wellbeing. Our loyalty is to our families and friends who themselves have had to emigrate.

Loyalty is a strange creature, a virtue that can justify anything.

Kerry Column 14

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Column: Seanad referendum result

My column in The Kerryman. 16 October, 2013

There are own-goals and there are own-goals. Enda Kenny’s failed referendum on abolishing the Seanad is without doubt one of the more memorable ones. While we in Kerry did vote to rid ourselves of the parasitic Seanad, too many people in the rest of Ireland didn’t agree with us.

As a result Kenny has been left looking rather silly. He didn’t exactly cost his team an All Ireland title with this own-goal, but he certainly didn’t help their cause. Before the vote I argued in this column that the result of this referendum would in reality mean little to anyone. The Seanad, being a powerless talking-shop for failed politicians, would not be missed nor would its retention mean anything. Though it kind of looks like I might be wrong about that as there are now some unsettling rumblings about reforming the Seanad.

Reforming this nonsense of an assembly would be piling injury onto insult. We’ll now have to endure embarrassing and witless wind-bagging from the great and the good about how best the remake the Upper House into something relevant and democratic. They’ll mouth empty platitudes as they window-dress this nonsensical assembly. They’ll promise all sorts but they’ll be deathly careful to not create a second Dáil or worse, give it the power to thwart a sitting government. They’ll strike serious poses and look meaningfully into the camera, but under no circumstances will they attempt any change so far-reaching as to require another referendum.

This parody will continue until the major beneficiaries of the present system, the political insiders, are certain we’ve been distracted by the budget and Christmas and anything else that actually matters. Then they’ll allow the status quo to continue uninterrupted. I bet most of us have already moved on.

There may be another referendum in a few decades time, to do something or other about this pointless body, but until then we can comfortably behave as if this silly little thing doesn’t even exist. That at least is some comfort.

Kenny’s own-goal has ramifications beyond the parasitic Seanad. It was such a tiny margin of defeat. Just over 40,000, out of an electorate of three million plus, though the majority of people made their feeling known by not bothering to vote. Could he have swayed those few people by debating with the opportunistic and hypocritical Michael Martin? We’ll never know for sure, but the memory of Kenny shying away from explaining his opinions on television of the Seanad will persist.

He made himself look weak or too in thrall to his faceless handlers. Worse than appearing weak and uncommitted, he also managed to reenergise the party that destroyed the country, Fianna Fáil. He reenergised them by holding a referendum on a non-issue and then failed to get his hands dirty. That must sting worse than losing the referendum itself.

By failing to be the standard bearer of this single, most visible plank of reform, Kenny not only damaged his own credibility, but also the credibility of reform itself. It’s ironic then, that without credible reform, Kenny remains the unassailable leader of a government without checks.

A less powerful government might mean more successful governance and a less powerful Enda Kenny might be a much more successful Taoiseach.

Kerry Column 15

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Column: Climate Change

My column in The Kerryman. 9 October, 2013

There are upsides to being older and childless. I can go on weekends away whenever I want. I can spend all my money on smelly cheeses and fancy food for my dog. I can even spend years agonising over my never to be finished novel, because being middle-aged and childless, means it can all be about me. However, the real benefit to my situation is that I don’t have to worry about climate change.

It’s like watching a mid-table, fifth division game of football. Unless one of the teams is mine or I have money riding on the result, I’m going to be bored. The ‘controversy’ over climate change has the same effect on me. I will be too old or dead to care if the temperature rises and I won’t have children to worry about.

If the scientists are correct though, we’re not facing the end of our species. We’re not headed to extinction. This isn’t a meteor hurtling towards our planet. It’s just that the planet will become a little less hospitable. It may take some time to adjust, but we’ve survived Ice Ages, so a bit of heat won’t stop us winning Sam again and again and again.

The lack of reaction to climate change by young people or those with children does put me in mind of that story about frogs. If you drop a frog into boiling water, it’ll immediately hop out. If you put it into cold water and apply heat, it’ll boil to death. Now I don’t know if that’s a fairy tale or scientific fact, but it makes me wonder about what kind of scientist would drop a frog into boiling water, just to see what happens.

It’s stuff like that which makes me think scientists are not the most reliable people on the planet. After all they did invent the atomic bomb, chemical weapons and a way to freeze someone’s face with poison to prevent wrinkles. Of course on the other hand, most people who get cancer today, have a fighting chance at survival. We can also thank scientists for those little devices in our cars that tell us how to get to Cork for chemo.

It’s hard to know who to trust really. Almost all the scientists who work in climate research say it’s now very likely we’ll have a 2 degree rise in global temperatures by the end of this century. They say this is caused by the billions of tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere by our burning of fossil fuels. These scientists are then flatly contradicted by the various industries that profit from the burning of fossil fuels.

Fortunately, as I said earlier, even if the scientists are right, our species will survive. There will be hardship. The island of Ireland will be smaller as rising sea levels eat away at our coasts. Some of our cities may even be lost to floods, but though it’ll cost us billions of euro, it’s unlikely anyone on this island will starve. Other people, in other parts of the world will, but we’ll only be poorer.

We could spend money now to prevent this possibility, but let’s face it, we’re not much smarter than frogs and neither me nor my genes are going to be around to suffer.

Kerry Column 16

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Column: Eliminate the Seanad

My column in The Kerryman. 2 October, 2013

It was an easy decision in the end. I’ll be voting to rid this country of the parasitic Seanad, though it’s not a vital issue. Placed beside the pensions we pay to former government ministers, it’s tempting to ask why we aren’t voting on that particular breed of parasite too.

Speaking of parasites, we’d be better served discussing our TDs and what function, if any, they serve. Try to imagine an Ireland without the Seanad. It’s easy. That Ireland is exactly like this one. The Seanad does nothing and can do nothing. So keep that Ireland in your mind and then try to imagine an Ireland where the vast majority of TDs are utterly pointless and overpaid. Again easy, as that’s what our TDs are really like.

Now imagine an Ireland where the Government (by tradition, not by Constitutional requirement) gets its way almost the entire time, on whatever witless nonsense it comes out with. Yep, not much imagining required there either. That is the system of governance we have allowed evolve in this country.

Now try imagining an Ireland where a Taoiseach is gifted such power and influence, that he or she can appoint and dismiss Ministers at whim. An Ireland where a Taoiseach, a mere Prime Minister don’t forget, can decide to eliminate an entire house of parliament, because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Have I tested your imagination yet? I don’t think so. That’s the power we cede, and cede means give up, to our TDs, who then cede it to the Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach has this much power because that’s what many people in this country want a Taoiseach to have. We have a tradition of wanting to be led by strong and charismatic men. That a Taoiseach is appointed by a committee of 166 people, who could eject him or her at the push of a button, does not alter the fact that many of us want to be led.

Opposing that tradition are people who see taoisigh as mere Chairpersons of sub-committees, or the Cabinet in this instance. To the Cabinet is delegated certain powers by the Dáil, who can remove those powers at a moment’s notice. It is a system of Committees which need not have built-in Government majorities. A system of committees that attempts to govern by consensus, instead of by majoritism. A system where all 166 TDs, retain a relevance above mere begging for medical cards and tarmac.

Try imagining that sort of Ireland. An Ireland where TDs from Kerry don’t compete with TDs from Roscommon for a hospital; who then compete with each other for the right to claim which of them it was who succeeded in depriving their fellow Irish citizens of a hospital. And then we reward them for it.

We have been taught that General Elections are ‘winner take all’ contests, when in reality they are a process of creating a body of people that is as broadly representative of the population as possible. That’s an amazing exercise in democracy, yet we insist on immediately neutering huge swathes of those representatives. They are paid a hundred grand a year to just do as they are told.

The Seanad is a bad joke, but a Dáil scared of its own power is no laughing matter.

Kerry Column 17

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