Less about the world, more about me.

Category: Current Affairs (page 2 of 5)

A Measure Of Success

It’s difficult to know how to assess the long career of Enda Kenny. He has been a professional politician for almost my entire life. And I’m old. I suppose the fact he managed to keep getting elected for that length of time is something of a success. Though just citing his longevity might appear to be unnecessarily churlish. He did rise, quietly, ever so quietly, to the leadership of his party. And he did manage to survive both the public’s and his own party’s indifference long enough for his only obstacle to high office to spectacularly self-destruct. He was the head of this nation’s government for six straight years. An unheard-of length of time for someone from his party. This is unquestionably something that can be described as success.

He rose to be head of government after his only credible rivals for the position destroyed both the Irish economy and themselves in an orgy of complacent incompetence. He headed a government with an overwhelming majority, tasked with governing a nation that had careered itself into a crisis of existential severity. Through his efforts, eye-wateringly stern compromises with our international friends and swingeing cuts to the living standards of people who probably didn’t vote for him, Ireland survived as an independent (or as independent a tiny nation wholly dependent on trade with bigger neighbours can be deemed independent) nation. The nation retained what nominal freedom to conduct its own affairs that it always had. This is not nothing.

He then faced the electorate with this success as his badge, and they went a long way towards removing him from government. Only retaining his role as head of government by gaining the support of the party that had destroyed the nation’s economy. This resurgent party, whose blithe ignorance of economic good practice had heralded Kenny’s initial rise, now decided that their mess required another term of Kenny to clean up or, at the very least, be erased from public consciousness. A second term, even a cobbled together one, reliant on those who went so close to destroying the nation, is still a second term as head of government. This must be deemed a success.

After six years of Kenny as head of government, Ireland is undoubtedly more stable than it was. It is more prosperous and there is less unemployment. The sort of unrest one would associate with the self-inflicted economic castastrophe we visited upon ourselves never materialised. And during his six years as head of government, Kenny never found it necessary to change anything. As an amalgam of institutions and competing interest groups, Ireland is as it was before he rose to his position as head of government with a huge majority. Maintaining the status quo can be described as a success.

Maintaining the status quo did come at a cost. Though a small one. Those who depended on the state for support were protected from the worst of the economic ordeal being endured. Except those deemed too young to matter. Being rational people they got the message and can now be found sunning themselves in Australia. Poverty did increase. Hospital waiting lists did grow ever longer. Homelessness became uncomfortably visible. Our debasing deference to transnational corporations even turned the heads of judges. But the status quo was maintained. Ireland is now very much as it was and even the desire to change has been successfully enervated.

There were social issues that almost tripped him up. Issues he managed to negotiate without risk nor commitment. Marriage equality took everyone by surprise by not being controversial at all. He made eloquent noises at the Church of Rome while carefully ensuring it retained all its power and access. He used his huge majority to allow 26 abortions a year in Ireland, while offering 14 years in prison for anyone else who dared. And managed a form of filibuster through consultation so as not to have to deal with this issue again as leader of this nation’s government. And he managed to leave refugees asylum-seekers languishing throughout his entire term. So much potential unpleasantness, successfully negotiated. Will his successor, as head of government, be as skilled or indeed as fortunate?

How does one attribute success or failure to someone who is so clearly a success within the parameters he himself has set? Even in this he is a success. He achieved everything a successful politician would deem a worthy ambition. The nation, whose government he led, is under almost all metrics, better off now than it was after his opponents imploded themselves and the country. He was head of government for six years. This is not something that even the most ambitious of his party would dream of. Yet he did it. He left before he was pushed. A rarity for a politician who achieves such high office. How does one attribute success or failure to someone who is so clearly a success within the parameters he himself has set?

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Confusing Agreement With Support

I’m a writer who wants to be a novelist when I grow up. I love words. I’m an activist who wants to change the world. I love being involved in campaigns. I’m a man. I have a huge ego. I am convinced that if enough people would just listen to my words they would finally see every issue from my point of view and necessarily agree with me.

I often day-dream about going on Radio Kerry to discuss the Eighth Amendment and being so eloquent that Kerry becomes a bastion of pro-choice sentiment. It’s an enjoyable daydream. But I’m a writer, so sometimes I look at my daydreams for ideas. I examine the detail. And when I examine the detail of this daydream I quickly realise how full of shit it, and I, am.

I search for the words for my barn-storming appearance. They aren’t there. I know my opponent’s words. They run the full gamut of ‘unborn baby’ all the way to ‘unborn baby’ and she wipes the floor with me.

I’m an activist, I know pithy beats considered every time. What are my soundbites? I have; trust women, forced birth, Savita, choice, medical care, the UK, ten a day, autonomy. I could throw in, misogyny, hypocrisy, patriarchy and religion, but these have too many syllables to tap a nerve, inspire empathy, take the listener’s mind from…unborn baby.

I’m a writer. I try to imagine what it would be like to be someone else. I’ve tried to imagine what it must be like to experience a crisis pregnancy in this country. I last about two seconds before I’m overwhelmed by feelings of panic and despair.

I’m a straight man. The obstacles to my physical autonomy include not being able to smoke weed when I want to and the theoretical possibility that I may not be able to end my own life at some future date, if the circumstances call for it. How do I describe in soundbites the panic I imagine? How do I equate my moral outrage to their moral outrage?

I like telling stories. I like telling farfetched stories. Once upon a time, in a land far far away, a law was passed that gave an appendix the same legal status as the man it inhabited. Why would an unthinking, unfeeling clump of cells be granted such rights? No one could really remember, but they were pretty confident that it had something to do with control and keeping men in their place.

How dare you compare a vestigial organ with an unborn baby. A paragraph of talking, undone by a soundbite. How do I inspire empathy without soundbites? How do I inspire empathy when I do not want to bruise?

Imagine you became pregnant through rape. Do I want to ask someone to imagine that? Do I want to ask women, mothers whose entire experience of pregnancy was positive and joyous, to imagine something so ugly? Imagine your mother, sister, wife or daughter was raped. Really? Am I really going to ask you that? I can only manage about two seconds of imagining a crisis pregnancy and I’m asking someone to imagine something so vile as a loved one being raped?

This is the greatest weakness that we who support choice have, it is a weakness none of the tone policing columns ever hit on, we actually care about the feelings of others. But the downside of that is that we are fighting up hill, one arm tied behind our backs while taking the time to worry about the safety of those who are watching.

And because we care we end up trying to appeal to the mind, rather than the emotions. We speak in abstractions and ideals. And every time we hear, unborn babies, Down Syndrome and regret.

We hear ‘abortion on demand’ and because it has been so befouled we must condemn the term, though it is exactly what we want. It is a soundbite I wished we owned. But it does serve a purpose. We know who uses it and why. It is used by the fanatics to appeal to the middle. It is used to give comfort and protection to the sexism and hypocrisy of the middle.

We know what it means, who uses it and why. It is code for ‘no abortions for sluts.’ We know who uses it and why but we can’t always say it.

We need the hypocrites, the benign misogynists. The men and so many women, who value the foetus of the broken condom over the foetus of the rape victim. The men and oh so many women who value the foetus of the poor woman over the foetus that is unlikely to live. But how do you go into these hypocrites’ homes and help them see their hypocrisy for what it is?

And then we get a tantalising glimpse of what evidence, shorn of soundbites can actually achieve. Lock a hundred people in a room for five weekends and bombard them with facts and they will embrace free, safe and legal. But we know we can’t force four million people to examine the facts. We have to use soundbites and we must be true to our values so we won’t try to wound. We will fight their battle, on their terms, on their ground. And our allies will gripe and our false allies gripe even harder.

We will get a referendum and it will be so restrictive, so far removed from what the Assembly recommended that some of us may even vote against it. We are in the hands of cowardly politicians who don’t even know they are hypocrites. And we will continue to fight fair, declaring where our monies come from, expending energy on making our voices representative, caring for the feelings of those listening and greeting viciousness with calmness.

And in the end, we will be fighting for the right of some women, in certain circumstances, to be considered more important than a clump of cells. We will be fighting for the further institutionalisation of the concept that some women just don’t deserve the medical care they want. And we might even fail at that.

I’m an activist who does a bit. Just enough to avoid the shame of having done nothing. I do less than many but more than most. And I wonder at those who confuse agreement with support. I wonder about that gap between agreement and joining in. Is it laziness? Is it fear? Is it the misapprehension that their help isn’t required? Or is it the belief that defeat is inevitable? Or is it the belief that activism is what other people do?

We must speak in long sentences, inspire strangers unused to grappling with long sentences to think in long sentences. We do not have the soundbites. We do not have shortcuts. We must speak in long sentences. And to speak in long sentences we need speakers, so many speakers. Men and women who confuse agreement with support. Men and women who think joining in is for other people. We need numbers, so many more numbers.

To campaign for free, safe and legal abortions is to be considered extremist. We are considered by the lazy as the mirror of the anti-choicers. The lazy get to think this because there are still too few who have joined in, joined up, who confuse agreement with support.

There will be a referendum next year. It probably won’t be the referendum we want. But even at this late hour there is an opportunity to shape those words. All it takes is everyone who agrees with free, safe and legal abortions taking a single step. Joining in rather than passive agreement.

Join your local group, most counties have one. If there isn’t one, start one. It is so easy even I helped set up the one in Kerry. It’s a small step, but it could mean the difference between a dozen women a day fleeing this country and perhaps half a dozen fleeing, and one day, no woman having to flee. It’s a small step. Don’t confuse agreement with support. A hundred activists can be dismissed as extremists, a hundred thousand is a movement.

And a movement gets to speak in long sentences, it has the power to inspire thinking in long sentences.

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Herd Immunity

There’s been debate about linking child benefit payments to vaccinations. A move designed to pressure parents into vaccinating their children. It’s a perfectly logical thing to do. Yet it makes me uncomfortable. And I can’t work out if it’s just a remnant of my libertarian days making me paranoid about ‘Big Brother’ or my more progressive self not liking benefits being used as a weapon.

There are some fundamental principles that require unpacking in such a proposal. I won’t look at the science for that is long settled. And there’s nothing that can be said to anti-vaxers to shift them from their nonsensical nonsense. Such nonsense is bone deep, it is an identity, it is the nonsense of a superstition made into a plague of nonsense by social media. A nonsense that would see the return of polio and small pox and call it progress. Fuck them and their nonsense.

But I’m torn. For years, the term ‘herd immunity’ meant little to me beyond an abstraction. A process I understood intellectually but felt no connection to. Then my mother became one of those people described as immuno-compromised. After her, my wife. This means that their immune systems are not robust enough to always be suitable to receive vaccinations and worse, any infection that is doing the rounds will find them, and hit them harder than most.

It means I get the flu-vaccination. Not necessarily because I’m worried I may get the flu, but because if I get the flu chances are my wife and mother will get it. For me it’ll be very unpleasant. For them it may be much worse. They are not relying on just their nearest and dearest, they are relying on their friends, neighbours, the people who serve them in shops and people they share a bus with to also have gotten their vaccinations. The more people vaccinated, the fewer opportunities an airborne pathogen has of finding them. That’s herd immunity.

Childhood vaccinations meant that things like measles had almost disappeared from the Western World. So high were the vaccination rates that those few children who couldn’t receive the vaccination were safe. Protected by the herd immunity created by responsible parents protecting their own children. Then proven fraudster and disgraced former doctor and chief peddler of nonsense Andrew Wakefield claimed there was a link between the MMR vaccination and autism.

Vaccination rates fell off a cliff. Children began to die. But I won’t go into the science of it. The nonsense is bone deep. It is an identity now.

Recently girls in Ireland began receiving the HPV vaccination. This protects girls from most forms of cervical cancer. Initially there was nearly 100% take up. Then reports began to appear of adverse effects. The science is clear but the nonsense is bone deep. Vaccination rates have dropped off of a cliff. Women will die. Those who couldn’t get the vaccination because of prior conditions will not have the protection of herd immunity. Their nonsense is an identity.

But if parents own their children, are they not entitled to endanger their children because of their sincerely held beliefs, no matter how far removed from reality those beliefs are? It’s easy for me to make the assertion that children are held in trust by their parents, but do not own them. It is easy for me to say the State has a responsibility to protect children from the wilful stupidity of their parents. That the State has a responsibility to protect children from the wilful stupidity of other children’s parents.

I don’t have children so I can make assertions about the status of children with ease. But I’m a son and a husband of women who could suffer because this nonsense is afforded a level of respect we don’t grant Jehovah’s Witnesses who will not allow their children receive lifesaving blood transfusions.

I’m also a member of this society and I don’t want this society I inhabit to be further marred by nonsense. I don’t care that this nonsense is sincerely held. I don’t care that this nonsense is now an identity. I don’t care that this nonsense is immune to logic and reason and evidence and reality, I don’t want to suffer because of this dangerous nonsense.

But do I want the State to wield the cudgel of withheld benefits? To coerce the wilfully stupid? To finally embrace its role as guarantor of every child’s welfare? To supplant parents and their sincerely held beliefs? Of course I fucking do. If they can do it with Jehovah’s Witnesses then they can do it with gobshite, middle class, conspiracy theorist, homeopathy believing, nonsense embracing, child endangering, gobshites. And yes, I said gobshites twice, because that is what they are.

The problem of course is that this is a nonsense that mostly infects the middle class (or appears that way at least). Halving their child benefit will only further convince them that they are modern day martyrs, without actually protecting children from their nonsense. It is a nonsense that is bone deep.

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Thin-Skinned Godling

Sometimes all one can do is laugh. Sometimes one just has to thank the gods they don’t believe in for having been born a cisgender straight man. Sometimes you find yourself looking at the capital ‘A’ atheists and wonder, just wonder if perhaps…

Our Dáil, in its infinite wisdom voted to make it mandatory for TDs to stand for a prayer at the beginning of every session. The Ceann Comhairle (The Speaker) will recite a prayer, followed by a 30-second period of reflection. A sop to the heathens I assume. Those TDs who do not stand face possible expulsion from the chamber. As I laugh, I’m checking the calendar. Yep, it is 2017.

The thing is, if this act of symbolic sectarianism with menaces, was an isolated incident, then one could simply laugh it off. It is so patently absurd it deserves both ridicule and patronising indulgence. But it isn’t an isolated incident. It isn’t the only occasion when Roman Catholic sectarianism is allowed free rein in this country and its institutions.

At noon and at 6 p.m. our national broadcaster transmits the Roman Catholic call to prayer, The Angelus. It’s irksome in isolation, but added to the rest it becomes burdensome.

In certain county and city council chambers across the country, councillors have voted to have crucifixes on display. That councils are supposed to serve all in that district doesn’t matter to those who require ostentatious displays of their Roman Catholic piety.

To become President, a High Court judge or sit on the Council of State one must swear a religious oath. It’s in the Constitution.

If one’s child is trying to get into an oversubscribed school, that school is allowed discriminate on the basis of religion. And if that school does accept your non-Catholic child, it’s up to the parent to look after the child during the religious indoctrination parts of the school day.

And they own the schools. They actually own the schools.

If you are a religious organisation that owes the State millions of euro for having abused people entrusted to your care, you don’t have to worry about bailiffs seizing your assets. You may get the odd letter and meaningful look, but you are perfectly entitled to ignore such lip quivering.

If you think the law should treat living women as being the equal of the foetuses they may be carrying, you get to have the Constitution altered so that a dozen women must flee this Roman Catholic paradise every day for medical care in the UK.

If you think the law should treat living women as being the equal of the foetuses they may be carrying, you are entitled to set up agencies that lie to those women. There is no law to protect vulnerable women from your religiously inspired lies.

If you think same sex relationships are all icky and against your thin-skinned god you get to hate on same sex relationships while not being called homophobic. Because that might hurt your feelings and the feelings of your thin-skinned godling.

And if someone treats you and your thin-skinned goldling the same way you treat people in same sex relationships you get to cry foul because blasphemy is not just a sin it’s against the law. Because your thin-skinned godling and his thin-lipped worshippers need protecting from words.

If you own strategically important land, the State will build a hospital for you and allow you to own that hospital. Some sap farmer in the way of a motor way will see his land compulsory purchased so quick he won’t know what hit him.

And they own the hospitals. They actually own the hospitals.

And worse than the laws, the land, the discrimination, the sectarianism, the hypocrisy and the sense of entitlement, is that they get to feel hard done by because not everyone is grateful for their death-grip on this country. Thank fuck and thank their petty godling that I’m straight, male, have no children, don’t have any ambition to rise to high office or low office to be frank, don’t watch RTE and am relatively healthy, because at least I’m spared the majority of their parasitic sanctimony.

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Varadkar and Welfare Cheats

Photo by Fiona Hyde

I understand why Leo Varadkar would make a big splash targeting welfare cheats. I do. In his position, I’d do the same thing. It may be transparently cynical. It may not be very original. And it will certainly enrage those who wouldn’t vote for his party anyway. But it does have a proven record in garnering those votes that someone like Varadkar wants. He’s looking to those of us in the struggling middle. The people who pay for everything. The people who get little in return. The coping classes. The squeezed middle.

We’re so important we can’t even settle on one name for us.

I’m one of us. I work, I have a mortgage, I pay for everything, I struggle. I’m one of those who now worries more about the cost of the dentist than whatever physical pain the dentist may inflict on me. I’m one of those who delays going to the doctor because it’s a week before payday. I’m one of those who has to pay his car tax and several insurance policies in instalments, costing me even more. I’m in negative equity and I have no savings. I recognise Varadkar’s siren call because it is composed for my ears.

And it is seductive.

It may not be very original, but it doesn’t have to be. It is an appeal to a part of what we are as a species. It’s an appeal to the basest of our human instincts. It is that dog whistle calling to our very core. It is that opportunity to feel hard done by. To have someone to blame. To feel superior. A chance to hit back. Easy answers so that our frustrations can be exploited and allow us feel good about being so used.

There are a lot of us and we vote.

We humans are a social animal. On the face of it this sounds like an absolute positive. There are some downsides though. We don’t react well to being taken advantage or just thinking we are being taken advantage of. We can get very exercised by that. It’s a trait of ours that is readily exploited. Ronald Reagan became the most powerful man on this planet because of this predilection. He used the term ‘Welfare Queen’ to target the poor. He used it to target the poor with a side order of racism.

Othering works.

I understand why Varadkar is targeting welfare cheats. If I was in his shoes I’d be doing the exact same thing. Those of us struggling in the middle really want someone to blame. If it’s to be people who are even worse off than us, then so be it. Reagan won and he won big. He rolled back what little social welfare provision existed. Over thirty years later and there remains a visceral mistrust in America of welfare. A mistrust that is tinged with racism.

But Reagan didn’t invent this.

It worked because it is as easy to other on grounds of class as it is to for race. At the turn of the last century, British writers could dismiss the intellectual and moral fibre of the poor as readily as they did the African and Asians they ruled. Poverty, like race, was innate. The real trick was to convince the poor that this was scientific fact. That was easier done than one would expect.

It worked because, capitalism.

I say this as a capitalist. One of the foundational pillars of capitalism is aspiration. Without it, capitalism is just a very few rich people lording it over a multitude of poor and struggling folk. Without it, Ireland is just a country with 83,000 millionaires, a growing homelessness crisis and ever more children in poverty. Only faith in an ideal, no matter how far-fetched that ideal, can keep the multitude quiescent.

Aspiration is this faith.

To paraphrase a certain French warlord, every poor person carries a million-dollar idea in his or her knapsack. And no one wants higher taxes on those future millions. Yes, they’re still imaginary millions, but they’re our millions. Let’s focus on the miniscule few criminals gaming the system at the very bottom. They’re probably foreigners anyway. Work shy and foreign, and probably black, or Muslim, or both. My aspirational millions must be protected.

Othering works.

There are those who game the system at the very bottom. That they steal less than is paid out by mistake is inconsequential. There are fewer votes in assailing the incompetence of public-sector workers and their antiquated technologies than there is in condemning the poorest. There are no votes in attacking those enterprising self-employed folks who dabble in the black-economy. We applaud tax-avoidance. We laud the entrepreneur. But we will vote for anyone who deals firmly with those at the very bottom, who need social-welfare just to survive.

There are no easy solutions.

There are 83,000 millionaires in Ireland. The State has proven itself incompetent. Taxes can be too high. Our services are creaking. We in the middle are struggling. There are no easy solutions. But sure fuck it, let’s burn a few witches and warm our hands on the fire.

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Dáil Prayer

There’s a good chance the world will end this week, but here I am writing about prayers in the Dáil. It’s as if my atheism, once again, comes with a capital A. It’s not that the idea of non-religious people being forced to stand to attention while a Christian prayer is said at them, appals me. Irks me certainly, but not appal. It is just one of a litany of petty insults that Roman Catholics like to throw around in this country. But what is important is that by their very nature, members of our parliament are quite a privileged bunch, so a few insults won’t harm them.

What I’ve found more interesting are the inventions by two Kerry politicians, Michael Healy-Rae TD and Councillor John Joe Culloty, on the topic. Neither man could care a whit less about an audience outside of rural Kerry, if you’ll forgive the apparent tautology. They were speaking to their constituents and both men are very skilled at reading and catering to their constituency.

They did not mince their words, other than to offer contradictory and demonstrably false comfort to anyone who isn’t a Roman Catholic. One gets used to listening to Iona types disguising their exclusionary opinions in so much smooth blather. It was refreshing to hear two politicians essentially tell anyone who isn’t a Roman Catholic to fuck off. A little irked, but not appalled.

I even began to feel some empathy for these rural types who fear the loss of their Roman Catholic privilege. Because this is more than simple privilege. Again, I’ve listened to too many Iona types that I forgot to listen to the sweaty masses that Iona like to speak for. This is about identity. Since before there was an Irish state, Irish children were being indoctrinated by the Roman Catholic Church.

Come the revolution, the Church smelled the direction of the wind and jumped on the nationalist bandwagon with all the gusto of the recently converted. And once independence was won, they got to keep the schools. Every generation since then has been taught a type of nationalism that twins Roman Catholicism with Irishness. It should not then be surprising that for a great many people in Ireland, an attack on their Church is an attack on their nationalism, an attack on their identity. An attack on their perception of who and what they are.

No wonder their hackles rise and their representatives smell votes anytime this new-fangled idea of secularism is touted.

To say one’s faith is a private matter goes against a century of conditioning. It’s just that a century of faith formation still seems to require constant public support to survive. The schools, the hospitals, RTE, council chambers, courtrooms, the constitution, the presidency and the parliament are all required to buttress this seemingly weak faith. It appears that there is no faith in the faith of Roman Catholics.

In this age of the ‘Identity’ and of all cultures being deemed worthy, it’s difficult to know how best to negotiate this impasse. Is it ageist to suggest that our senior citizens be allowed the comfort of Roman Catholic iconography on television and in hospitals? Is it too much to expect minorities to grin and bare it while an aging and diminishing majority lords it over them? Is it sectarian to accept that only Christians can be judges? I really don’t know how one can manage to keep everyone happy and equal, while ensuring no injury to someone’s dearly held identity.

Speaking about the values of a republic is meaningless in the face of an identity that does not distinguish between faith and nationality. I just don’t know how to square this circle.

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Hypocrisy and Middle Ireland

There are few things as galling as enduring hypocrisy. And those struggling for abortion rights are having to endure more than their fair share of it. It often feels as if the only thing standing in the way of abortion rights is hypocrisy. It assails campaigners from all sides.

There are the tone policers. A section of the commitariat that has managed to misinterpret the marriage equality referendum as a template for all future socially divisive campaigns. They want clean cut, middle class women, to tearfully come out to their grandmothers about the abortion they had because the foetus could not survive. They want campaigners to hold the hand of Middle Ireland as it reluctantly agrees that some women deserve autonomy, in some cases, for some reasons. They want gentle. They want clean. No burst condoms, one night stands, poverty or careers. No bad timing, wrong circumstances or indeed anything that smacks of women refusing to take responsibility for the sex they chose to have. Of course, rape victims should have some physical autonomy, but please don’t mention the near impossibility of turning this into law.

Keep it clean and polite and all things nice. Our betters are certain they know how to win. They may not campaign, but they just know. They expect standards, but only from one side. The vicious and serial dishonesty of the anti-choicers is never even alluded to. The made-up statistics, the made-up links, the misleading agencies, the money and the overwhelming hatred of women who have sex. Not one comment. Whatever act of fanatical misogyny, they escape censure from the tone police?

It is Middle Ireland however that is most guilty of hypocrisy. A hypocrisy that continues to confound those of us who work for abortion rights. The polling evidence is clear, a majority of Irish people agree with some women, being allowed abortions, in certain circumstances. It’s as if the status of the foetus is unimportant. What matters is the woman. How did she arrive at the point where she has demanded (always demanded) an abortion? Are they nice and tragic or just buyer’s remorse?

The foetus doesn’t matter. What did the woman do? Don’t talk to me about the ten women who leave Ireland every day for an abortion. What has the woman done to deserve an abortion in this country? My country. My dear old Ireland. The foetus doesn’t matter. Middle Ireland pretends it does but even the anti-choicers won’t dare suggest a travel ban on pregnant women, by repealing the 13th Amendment. No anti-choicer would dare suggest that women returning from the UK be charged with procuring an abortion.

Middle Ireland knows that abortion is a daily reality for Irish women. They know it is commonplace. Many of them have taken the plane themselves for each and every reason that women choose to have abortions. From the nice and acceptably tragic to the ones they don’t like to hear about, women choosing to have sex. But they want their hands held. Spoken to gently. Told that their prejudices and hypocrisy are values and morals that deserve respect.

This can never be a rerun of the marriage equality campaign. Grannies could have their hands held. Their clean cut, middle class, gay grandsons could appear on posters. Marriage equality was zero-sum. Winners takes all. No reruns. It wasn’t some gay people, in certain circumstances, if they met the standard of Middle Ireland respectability, that could get married.

It’s taken decades to get to a point where pro-choice campaign groups can see the possibility of some sort of a referendum on some aspect of the Eighth Amendment. We’ve gone from being a country where Middle Ireland locked up pregnant women and sold their babies, to a country where abortion rights are debated daily. This is progress. Slow, painful and frustrating, but progress.

If the Eighth Amendment was repealed tomorrow and the right to free, safe and legal abortions was inserted into the constitution, the campaign for abortion rights would still not be finished. Those who hate women, particularly women who have sex, will never stop. So, we can never stop. And you can fuck off if you think we are going to start being polite to those misogynistic shits.

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Learning Shame

I still remember my skin crawling when Tony Blair apologised for the Great Famine. Now, as then, I could not help but feel the act to be mawkish symbolism. Though I am in the minority. It was a well received apology. The devastation of that famine cannot be overstated. And that efforts to ameliorate were minimal is uncontested. Blair was head of the government of the nation who had to power to relieve, but chose not to. That the famine occurred over 150 years ago, is considered immaterial as the entity known as the UK still exists.

That is how we look at the world. We have divided ourselves into nations. And there are rules to being a nation. Everything your nation has ever done, is doing or will ever do is your responsibility. Everything our nation does is our business and we’ll only take responsibility for those acts we choose to take responsibility for. We expect and demand shame and pleas of contrition from others. We carefully educate our young to only see what is commendable about us.

In the last few years the head of government in our nation has had to make various apologies for how our nation treated its most vulnerable citizens. It is the closest we’ve gotten to admitting that the imagined nation created for the consumption and indoctrination of our children is wildly different from the nation that exists in reality.

We only exist as this nation because we have taught our children that this nation exists. We only exist because for generations we have taught our children that we exist. And this belief is bone deep. It is unshakable. It is an integral part of our core identity. We are Irish. We exist because we have always existed. We exist because being Irish is better than not being Irish. We are Irish because our ancestors are Irish. We are Irish and proud to be Irish. We exist because we have taught ourselves to exist. We are this nation and no other. We are this nation because we are proud to be this nation.

How then do we integrate shame into this self-perpetuating identity of exceptionalism and pride? The dead generations (and not so dead generations) that took a nation and forged from it a state, stand now accused and found guilty of callous cruelty. Not the personal cruelty, confined to home and hearth, but a cruelty made into custom and law. A cruelty of intellectual and material poverty. A cruelty of devotion to virginity and faith. A cruelty of rigid conformity and hypocrisy. A cruelty of gender and class.

A cruelty that only idealism and patriotism can fester.

How do we weld shame onto pride? How do we conjoin identity and reality?

And worse, so much worse, is the money. We might forgive the dead and not so dead generations for their wanton obedience to a vicious ideology. We could patronise them for their naivety and simplicity. Even excuse them for being in the inescapable clutches of an all pervading custom of hate. But the money.

This was not simple idealism. This was profit. This was not punishment and rehabilitation and salutary lesson. This was profit. Babies were sold. Hair was sold. Labour was sold. This was profit.

In this more enlightened age we understand the power of faith. It can animate those in its power to acts of unimaginable callousness. Many of those who imprisoned pregnant women, took their children and forced them to work probably believed that this was the right thing to do. I imagine it is easy to hate women, especially sexually active women, if one is taught to hate women, especially sexually active women and with a particular vehemence, sexually active women who aren’t married. And why would one even ask about the boys and men who got these women pregnant when one is taught to hate sexually women and only sexually active women?

With the correct interventions and therapies, one could possibly counsel this hate away. One could learn to forgive these poor souls lost in their hateful faith. But the money. The money. The money. They sold babies, hair and other people’s labour.

How do teach ourselves the shame we expect other nations, other states, to feel? Do we just leave it to the Taoiseach du jour to apologise and the taxpayer to give inadequate compensation? How do we teach the shame of our nation colluding in the kidnapping and selling of babies?

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Shamrock In The White House

I have a sneaky regard for Enda Kenny. He’s the kind of bland politician I like to see in my democracy. He entered the Dáil just one year after I was born. I have a grey beard, so that tells you how long he’s been a public representative. And in all that time he hasn’t said or done anything that could be remembered the next day, never mind ten years from now. He has the charisma of magnolia paint and the searing oratory of an awkward father of the bride. He is, to belabour the point, bland.

He probably has some ideological convictions. I’m not sure what they are because he has the decency to say nothing that could be construed as a guiding value. Yet one does get the impression, that while his primary focus is keeping his constituency sweet, he would like to see Ireland do well. If whether he can distinguish between the people who live here and the corporate entity known as Ireland, I have no idea. But I’m almost certain he knows that if his legacy is to be more than being Taoiseach for longer than expected, Ireland (or the people who live here) will have to feel (and feel is more important than reality) that things are better because of him.

Retaining his seat for so long has taught him some kind of electoral cunning. Or has he won that often because he is cunning? I don’t know, but he knows his people, especially if they are Mayo people. He may not wear his values on his sleeve but he knows what values are continually winning him re-election. And he knows what he thinks is best for Ireland Inc. So, when he happens upon a moral pickle he’ll do the math and act accordingly. He may not do it consciously. I’m sure that being a politician this long means it takes no more than split second to decide what to do.

For example, should he go to Washington, cap in hand, bowl of shamrock in the other, and prostrate himself before the Orange Monster now stinking out the White House? Let’s look at the math. The Bigly Bigot has targeted Muslims. How does that impact on Ireland and the people who live here? It has certainly generated a lot of outrage but mostly among people who wouldn’t vote for Enda anyway. Will Ireland Inc. be tainted by this crawl to the Big House? Possibly, but weigh that against the risk of US companies being directed by the thin-skinned buffoon to divest.

Do we really care that much about Ireland’s reputation that we’d risk some sort of economic pain for taking a moral stand? A moral stand for Muslims? A moral stand for refugees we don’t really want to help either? Yes, we have a history of fleeing our nation and seeking salvation in the US but that only happened in history books so it doesn’t count. So, the math is simple, Enda will certainly go to the US and kiss the ring on those tiny orange fingers.

Those of us who think this an embarrassing endorsement of sectarian populism have to do our own math. Enda won’t lose a single vote for playing the peasant supplicant for Ireland. Many among our families, friends and neighbours don’t see how a US ban that targets Muslims makes the world a less safe place. I’m not talking about the common or garden bigots who laud the Orange Monster’s actions, but the majority who don’t see why Ireland should care about what the US does to Muslims as long as they invest in our little country and look after our relations who are in the US illegally.

Outrage at being associated with our Bland Supreme being photographed with President Bigot is not much use. Attempting conversations with those who don’t see the vicious stupidity (and the immorality if you’re feeling up to it) that President Bigot is cultivating and unleashing is now our only option. Conversations with people who vote for Enda. Not conversations with the racists but with those who don’t understand that silence is the same as complicity.

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Trump Coming To Kerry

I have some sympathy for Kerry County Councillor Thomas McEllistrim’s (Fianna Fáil, natch) call for a formal invitation to be extended to Donald Trump to visit our beautiful Kingdom. Whatever misgivings we snowflakes may have about this orange menace, Councillor McEllistrim is doing his job.

He is a county councillor. A county councillor has two areas of responsibility.

The first is to protect his positon. And protecting means ensuring re-election. The councillor must keep a weather eye on his municipal rivals both from within and without his party. But ultimately, he looks to his advancement within the ranks so that one day he may leave the Council behind for the real money of a TDship.

To this end all efforts must be directed to promoting Brand McEllistrim. In inviting President Pond Scum, McEllistrim has ensured not only local coverage but national attention. His already high brand recognition is now at TD level. And as an election may be called at any moment he must be congratulated on this coup.

His second area of responsibility is the promotion and protection of this county’s best interests. This is a straightforward proposition as long as one doesn’t think about it for more than a split second. What are Kerry’s best interests? For a long time, we’ve been taught that this is merely a financial consideration. President Bigot visiting our golf courses will obviously have an impact on tourism. With tourism comes more jobs and more money and all is right with our tiny corner of the world.

How could anyone, but a snowflake, or a woman, question this logic? There is no way to put right and wrong into a graph with arrows going up or down, measuring what is in essence, nebulous. We know that President Sexual Assault is a bigot, a racist, a hypocrite, a liar, a misogynist, a threat to world security, a narcissist and too thin skinned to be believed, but does any of that matter?

In what measurable way does fawning at the feet of this worthless piece of shit impact negatively on the people of Kerry? Our Kerry politicians kissing his tiny orange toes will attract money. That he is a slimy, vindictive, divisive and self-aggrandising mess of a barely human male thing, should not detract from the money that Councillor McEllistrim rightly assumes will follow in his wake if he was to pollute our Kingdom with is vicious presence.

We can’t just make the leap to insisting that someone who boasts about sexually assaulting women being lauded by our public representatives is an explicit or even a tacit endorsement of sexual assault. It’s logically true, but you just can’t say it. They are our public representatives and that would be like saying that Kerry endorses sexual assault. So we can’t say that. We must just think of the jobs.

We can’t assume that just because he equates the actions of a minority of Muslims with all Muslims that Kerry also accepts bigotry as our county hobby. That we might have our own experiences of being assumed terrorists makes us impervious to such bigotry even if we embrace the most powerful bigot on the planet. For the jobs.

Yes he mocked a disabled man. It’s on tape, but he denied it so we have an out. We are not saying it’s ok to mock people with physical disabilities, we just want the jobs. It’s on tape, but he denied it. Jobs.

Doffing the cap, with our hands held out, to a mean little man doesn’t make us mean little people. Well obviously it does, but that isn’t the point, jobs. This clown and his circus of sycophants and psychopaths, will bring the world’s attention to our golf courses. And isn’t all that really matters?



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