Monday, January 12, 2015

Responsibility v Truth in the Coverage of the Charlie Hebdo Murders

Montage of the victims from the Daily Telegraph.
Truth can suffer collateral damage when the media tries too hard to be responsible. We’ve seen some of this is in the coverage of the murders in Paris last week.

Many media organisations have gone to pains to stress that the murders have “nothing to do with Islam.” But if the murders have nothing to do with Islam, why did the murderers think that they did?

Anjem Choudray, a British Muslim activist, has made a very articulate (and therefore deeply shocking, of course) case that there is indeed a connection, and that the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists pretty much had it coming to them. As he wrote in USA Today, “Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression, as their speech and actions are determined by divine revelation and not based on people's desires.”

Choudray elaborated on this in a remarkable interview with Miriam O’Callaghan on Prime Time. Choudray made the case that sharia (Islamic) law is the only law and, had the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists been found guilty of insulting the Prophet in a sharia court, they would receive an automatic death sentence. Therefore, what happened to the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists is only what they would have coming to them anyway in a properly-ordered society.

So who’s correct? Is there a connection between Islam and the murders of the cartoonists or isn’t there? Well, that’s not really for anyone who isn’t an Islamic scholar to say.

Islam is different to Catholicism in that there is no pope – there is no one person who can claim to represent all Muslims. The theological tradition of Islam is not like that of Catholicism. Catholicism teaches that scripture is open to interpretation. Islam teaches that the Koran is of divine origin and contains, therefore, the answer to every question that was ever asked or could be asked.

So, there's nobody with whom to discuss and even if there was, it wouldn't matter because as far as an Islamic pope would be concerned, all questions are answered in the Koran.

This makes dialogue over competing values different, and this is the nub of the problem. The west has no business trying to figure out what Islam is or isn’t. What the west has to figure out is how to find common ground between peoples of a different value system.

And this is where we find out whether the idea of multiculturalism is the way to a bright, new world or whether it is a blind alley from which the west has to reverse and re-orient itself.

The hub of multiculturalism is that, while people appear different, they are all actually the same. They share the same values. Contemporary western values hold that nothing is worth killing for. Anjem Choudray disagrees: “Muslims consider the honor of the Prophet Muhammad to be dearer to them than that of their parents or even themselves. To defend it is considered to be an obligation upon them.”

Oil, meet Water. Water, this is Mr Oil.

If the central tenet of multiculturalism is that we are all the same, doesn’t this mean that we are monocultural, rather than multicultural? That culture is no more imbedded in us than a hat, something we can take off and put on as we choose? That there are no such things as separate cultures or beliefs or ways of life?

The media are trying to be noble, in their way, in trying to calm raging waters and not make a bad situation worse by inflaming passions that can only lead to pogroms and more pointless slaughter. But they have a responsibility to the truth too, and making sure that we all know exactly what’s at issue here.

The issue isn’t Islam. The issue is multiculturalism, and just how exactly two radically different cultures can conform to one law, before which everyone is equal, regardless of class or creed. The west has believed that this conforming is possible since the end of the Second World War. Events of the past week and, God help us, weeks to come will test that theory to its breaking point.

FOCAL SCOIR: Richard Dawkins should win an award for tweeting the most bien pensant thought of the week. “Ridicule is the best response, never violence,” wrote Dawkins. “Laugh at them, mock their ridiculous beliefs, do what Charlie Hebdo did. Never use violence.”

Very good in theory, of course. But in practice, when a crack squad of Methodist Militia or the Provisional Pentecostal Army break into your office intent on mayhem and getting set to fill you full of lead, you would be best advised not to say something withering about John Wesley, but rather to shoot them before they bloody shoot you.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Owning the News Cycle

Yesterday’s news was dominated by stories about patients on trolleys in Irish hospitals. Why?

Nobody doubts that having patients on trolleys is a bad thing. But that doesn’t make patients-on-trolleys news. For instance, the famed NHS of Great Britain has an A&E overcrowding problem right now and, bad and all as the HSE are, they aren’t responsible for events in Britain.

When asked once about the scandal of patients on trolleys, a medical doctor and Minister for Health once remarked that there is, actually, very little difference between a hospital bed and a hospital trolley, per se. You can lie on both, they both have wheels, and so on. But that doctor and Minister wasn’t Leo Varadkar, the current incumbent at Hawkins House. That was John O’Connell, twenty years ago.

So. Patients on trolleys because of hospital over-crowding isn’t unique to Ireland or unique to this year. Our current over-crowding is mirrored by over-crowding in the British NHS, and the issue of patients on trolleys has been an issue in Irish politics for a quarter of a century.

Why, then, did it get such intensive coverage yesterday?

Sometimes, something makes the news because there’s nothing else going on. It’s like all the foreign news that leads the bulletins over Christmas. An election in Azerbaijan is below the page 2 fold in the Irish Times 51 weeks of the year. Christmas week, hold the front page for the word from Baku.

But that isn’t the case this week, where there are lots of other things happening. Your correspondent's own favourite was Aodhán Ó Ríordáin’s extraordinary attack on his fellow Government members as reported in yesterday's Examiner. Ó Ríordáin went on the record to say none of the Government’s mistakes have been Labour’s fault. That buck, thinks Ó Ríordáin, rests with Fine Gael.

You can imagine what the backbenchers in Fine Gael, already plenty jittery, made of them onions. You can equally imagine what sort of repercussions that might have on those same backbenchers' enthusiasm, watery to begin with, for the same-sex marriage referendum – a same-sex marriage referendum for which Ó Ríordáin himself is to lead the Yes side for the Government. Will the backbench Blueshirts forgive and forget? What do you think?

That’s a juicy story. Was it covered by the National Broadcaster? Nope. Not a sausage.

For the four days prior yesterday, Lucinda Creighton's was the only story in town. Fergus Finlay in the Examiner was so sure that #rebootireland amounted to less-than-nothing that he wrote a column about it, as one does about things that aren’t important.

Of course, it hasn’t been easy to figure out just what Lucinda is up to, other than to note that when it comes to media appearances the woman is as sure-footed as a tightrope walker. Your correspondent has long hoped that Creighton would be the leader to finally consign civil war politics to the history books (and, for civil war politics to end, both civil war parties have to go – an important point that is hardly ever mentioned), but unless people rally to her flag and soon, that chance is gone.

But while the chance of ending civil war politics will be gone, Ms Creighton herself will be anything but. Her time is only beginning. For instance, consider the following picture tweeted by Lucinda just before Christmas:

Isn’t it extraordinary? For those who aren’t good at dates, it was December 17th when Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that Ireland’s abortion laws were too restrictive. And then he goes off and has a lovely dinner with his old friend and former party colleague Lucinda Creighton on December 19th, that same L Creighton who happens to be the current face of the anti-abortion movement in Ireland.

So. On Christmas week the Twitterati learned that Lucinda Creighton isn’t such a bigot after all, and is more than willing to dine with those who oppose her beliefs. And they learned that Leo Varadkar isn’t a bigot either, and remains loyal to his old friend. We can gather from this that, were Enda Kenny no longer the leader of Fine Gael, there would be very few bars to Lucinda’s return to Fine Gael should she choose that path.

Then, the first week after Christmas, Lucinda flexed her muscles before the general public by dominating the media with a press conference at which she said the absolute bare minimum to make renting the room worthwhile. Four days’ publicity from an hour-long presser.

As they saw Lucinda at every hands’ turn over the weekend, did Fine Gael backbenchers wonder if it was their own seats that were most vulnerable to the rise of a Creightonista faction?

Not that anybody is talking about Lucinda now. Oh no. On Monday, we had Simon Coveney - a contender to replace Enda Kenny as Fine Gael leader with, funnily enough, Leo Varadkar - announce that the lucrative American market is now open to Irish beef for the first time in fourteen weeks. Then yesterday the trolley scandal broke – just when Leo Varadkar happened to be on holidays and unable to act to defuse the situation.

Man. How unlucky is that for Leo?

Some commentators have said that it’s difficult to see what exactly Lucinda is up to with all this media activity. Reader, there’s a lot of it about.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Year in Sports: Review and Preview

A year when Kerry won the football and Kilkenny the hurling does not sound like a year of revolution in Irish sport. And neither was it, really. Kerry have been béal-bochting all year about how this was their best All-Ireland yet because no-one gave them a chance, but the nation might be well-advised to take that with a pinch of salt. The 1975 team weren’t expected to win that All-Ireland either, and they turned out to be pretty handy in the end.

But the question of how long can this keep going on is getting more and more urgent in football. Ulster is the only competitive provincial Championship now. Connacht may be next year, or it may not. Leinster will be a parade, and Munster the usual two-handed set. This isn’t good for anybody, but how it’s to be remedied is the Gordian Knot of the GAA.

Two solutions get the most media airings. The first is a dual-Championship, for haves and have-nots. The second is a Champions-League style thing, because the Group games in the Champions League are always such heart-stopping affairs.

Neither of these solutions is acceptable, because both work against the very spirit of the GAA. The spirit of the GAA is representation of where you’re from, and competing against your neighbours. The GAA is not a professional sport, and neither are the inter-county competitions the be-all and end-all of the Association. If anything, they are brocade and it will be a bleak day for the Association if that is ever forgotten.

In an interview on the invariably excellent Second Captains podcast, former Roscommon goalkeeper and aspirant All-Ireland-winning Roscommon manager, Shane Curran, reckoned that for Roscommon to win an All-Ireland, one million Euro will have to spent every year for fifteen years to raise standards to that of the elite counties.

Reader, if the Association spent more time wondering how winning All-Irelands costs one million a year for fifteen years than worrying about Rachel Wyse and Sky’s threat to the Purity of the Gael, it might come a lot closer to finding out why the Provincial Championships aren’t competitive any more.

It is an interesting thing that hurling remains free of accusations of creeping professionalism, uncompetitive provincial Championships and cynical play. After fifty years without a drawn All-Ireland hurling final, we’ve now had two-in-a-row and each final since the Tipperary revival of 2009 has been hailed as the greatest-ever.

Would it be monstrous to wonder about this? Is there a case to be made that the hurling Emperor isn’t quite dressed for the weather? The back-door may be a pox on football, further punishing and humiliating the weaker counties for whom it was theoretically introduced, but at least people can understand it. The complex steps of the hurling Championship are like a puzzle escaped from a cryptologists’ laboratory.

For all its faults, there is general consensus that come the August Bank Holiday, the best eight teams in the country are still in competition for Sam. Can the same be said for Liam, or could the best team fall in Munster and then die the death of a thousand cuts in the purgatorial struggles of the hurling back door?

Such complexities are far beyond a Mayoman’s understanding, of course, but is it time hurling people started to wonder aloud?

The other sport about which the nation seems to be labouring under a particular delusion is rugby. The sports page previews this week will speculate about Ireland’s chances as an outside bet to win the Rugby World Cup, which will be held in England’s green and pleasant land next autumn.

Reader, Ireland have never won a World Cup playoff game in the seven times the competition has been held, including two years, 1999 and 2007, when Ireland couldn’t even get out of their group. The Irish rugby public should think about crawling before thinking about walking.

Will the World Cup be worth watching? An unthinkable question once, but getting more and more relevant now. The best sports columnist in Ireland, Keith Duggan of the Irish Times, wondered recently if rugby hasn’t become a brilliantly-coached bore in recent years, and a perusal of the stats solidify that case.

The former Welsh out-half, Barry John, once said that he could tell how a game would go simply by looking at how the out-half handled the ball in warm-ups. In the amateur game, the out-half dictated the game from his regal throne standing-off the scrum. Now, the only thing that separates out-halves is competence. There are thin degrees of difference between them at international level, but they’re like the thousandths of a second that separate cars in Formula One. Too miniscule to take seriously.

Rugby Union is now a game of continual tackling in defense and not turning over possession in offense. Tackling has become the be-all and end-all of the game that sneaky attackers are now making sure they get tackled, in order to turn the laws to their advantage, as Will Greenwood noted in the Telegraph.

Union may dominate League in England since Union turned professional twenty years ago – the RFU’s turnover is four times that of the RFL – but League’s influence over Union has proved so strong that the codes are closer than they have been in over one hundred years. Good news for the stand-up, pay-up moneymen coining it at every turn, but for what the French used to call la gloire? A victim to progress, I’m afraid.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Examiner's Top Forty Irish Sports Books

What marvellous food for thought the Examiner has given us in publishing a list of the top forty Irish sports books. It would be churlish to argue with the ordering of the list, as no two lists will ever have the same order. But there is much to be gleaned from the list about who we are, the sports we watch and how we chronicle them.

The first thing that strikes you about the list is how much it is dominated by the GAA. Eighteen of the forty books listed are GAA-themed. This is astonishing, as Paddy is not a man who has ever liked to go on the record. Paddy felt strongly this way against the Invader, but he feels no less so against the notebook and the Bic biro.

In a culture where omerta rules, how can we get eighteen books about the GAA at all, to say nothing of saying those eighteen are among the best forty of all time?

Well. Firstly, the list betrays a certain bias towards the recent – twenty of the forty books were published in the past nine years, and thirteen of the eighteen GAA books on the list were published after 2005.

This is not to say that some of the books aren’t deserving of their position; of course they are. But is fair to presume that, were the list compiled again in ten years’ time, the position of these books relative to each other will change.

For instance, Michael Foley’s The Bloodied Field, published in the past two months, is 23rd on the list, behind Eamon Sweeney’s The Road to Croker, Dónal Óg Cusack’s Come What May and others. This is the last time Foley’s book will be listed so low, while some of the others ahead of it will be folded back into the mists of time.

The other astonishing thing about the list is relative absence of horse racing and rugby. Horse-racing books can run to a specialist interest, but rugby has traditionally been a well-documented sport – it’s origins in the English public schools make that inevitable. Rugby has also undergone a popularity surge in Ireland as couldn’t have been imagined even as Brian O’Driscoll ran in his three tries in Paris in 2000.

In the light of this, it’s odd that, not only are there so few good books on rugby (as opposed to player autobiographies, say), but the rugby book that is head and shoulders above the other two is about a game that was played in 1978.

The books that top the list are also a bit odd. According to the Examiner list, the five best Irish sportsbooks ever written are Paul Kimmage’s Rough Ride, Paul McGrath’s autobiography, Eamon Dunphy’s (first) autobiography, Michael Foley’s Kings of September and Tony Cascarino’s autobiography.

Four out of those five books do not make for jolly reading (all five, if you’re from Kerry). As a matter of fact, you would wonder why anyone would either play or follow sports at all if all that awaits them is what befell Kimmage, McGrath, Dunphy and Cascarino (and Micko, again, only if you live in Kerry).

There is no reason to let sport loom large in your life if the sport itself is the be-all and end-all. We follow sports for what they represent as much, if not more than, the sport itself.

At one level the 1982 All-Ireland football final was thirty grown men chasing a ball in the rain. At another level, it was Greek tragedy brought to life, as those who would think themselves equal to the gods were cut down by Fate. You don’t get much drama like that to the dollar, and that’s one of the reasons why we follow sports as we do.

Breandán Ó hEithir’s GAA memoir, Over the Bar, languishes at number 19 in the Examiner list. On my own list, it’s Number One. Other books show were sport fits in with history. Over the Bar shows where the GAA fits in with the Irish soul. An extraordinary, inspired book and essential reading for students of sport, of Ireland and of writing.

In the print edition of the Examiner list, Over the Bar is compared to a compilation of work by PD Mehigan, published at the same time as Ó hEithir’s book, 1984. Mehigan, who wrote under the pen-name Carbery, was one of the first GAA journalists and a man with a prolific output. But to compare his writing to Ó Eithir’s is to compare water with wine.

FOCAL SCÓR: William Hamilton Maxwell’s Wild Sports of the West, first published in 1832, should be on any list of great Irish sports books. Maxwell was something of a rake, who took a holiday from smokey London to do a bit of huntin', shootin' and fishin' in the West of Ireland. The prose in the book is, like Maxwell himself, rich and exuberant. For instance, Maxwell quotes from a contemporary tourist guide as to what exactly Connaught is like:

It lieth under a dark gray cloud, which is evermore discharging itself on the earth, but, like the widow's curse, is never exhausted. It is bounded on the south and east by Christendom and part of Tipperary, on the north by Donegal, and on the west by the salt say.

Now that’s writin’.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Ansbacher - Time to Publish, and Be Damned

Mary Lou McDonald may have impugned the august dignity of Dáil Éireann yesterday, but she has done the plain people of Ireland some service in doing it.

The entire political establishment has known the names on this infamous Ansbacher list for some time; now, thanks to Deputy McDonald, so do we. The plain people of Ireland, for one brief moment, are in with the In Crowd, and now know what the In Crowd knows. Or at least, some of it.

Will anything come of yesterday’s events? Who knows? If the Ansbacher list is just a list of unfounded allegations, then nothing will come of it, and all this will be quickly forgotten by history.

If the Ansbacher list is the goods on the most base corruption at the heart of Irish politics, the question then arises why Mary Lou didn’t drive the blade home and quote chapter and verse on the hows and whys of the thing?

The most likely scenario is that Mary Lou does not have the goods on these allegations, and is simply lobbing a high ball into the square, on the odds-against chance of it falling her way before being swallowed up by the full-back.

This would certainly make Mary Lou guilty of an abuse of Dáil privilege, and question her standing as a parliamentarian. But then, as the current Government cares not one whit for the Dáil, as demonstrated by its eagerness to guillotine debate and to run the country by the four-person junta that is the Economic Management Council, parliamentarian isn’t the title it once was.

It is interesting that, in this moment in history where we worship “whistle-blowers” – reader, do you remember one article that ever doubted Garda McCabe or ex-Garda Wilson, that ever wondered if these guys were just doing a dog even a biteen? No; me neither – isn’t it remarkable that nobody has sat down with Mr Ryan, the current whistle-blower, with a microphone, notebook and ballpoint pen?

The Irish libel laws are incorrectly balanced in the way they favour the establishment over the right to speak out and to question, so this makes the press a little more cautious than it ought to be. The fact that the journalism industry is currently falling apart like a three-dollar suit bought in Bangkok doesn’t help either.

But in abusing the privilege of that august chamber, Dáil Éireann, Deputy McDonald has opened a window for the journalists of Ireland to earn their corn. David Davin-Power reported on the Nine O’Clock News last night that Gerard Ryan’s report to Mary Harney is seven-hundred-pages long. So now it’s time to go through that report, and start seeing if things add up or if they don’t.

Why not publish it on-line, so we all can read it? Maybe it will be some enterprising Citizen Journalist who finally cracks the case.

Either result is fine, funnily enough. If Mr Ryan is simply an obsessive or a fantasist who can’t let this thing go, we ought to know. We ought to know for the good names of those who are currently under suspicion, and we ought to know so people aren’t completely gullible about conspiracy theories.

And if Mr Ryan is correct in his allegations, then we know that biggest lie of all throughout the 2011 election campaign was that not all politicians are the same. We will know they are exactly the same, and that we must find a new way of selecting politicians, the old one being clearly exposed as not fit for purpose.

The plain people of Ireland are in the slips, straining at the start. Time to turn finally open those closets, and see what comes tumbling out.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bígí ar Bhur Suaimhneas – Níl Tada Buaite Fós ag na Gaeil

Sa ndeireadh, bhí an cheart ag an gConnallach. Iarraidh air an deá-fhógra don bhliain seo chugainn torraí cluiche an Fómhair. Bhí na torraí ceanán céanna againne i 2006, a dúirt sé, agus níor thugadar aon chabhair linn i 2007.

Tá cuimhneamh teipe sa gCorn Domhanda i 2007 go láidir i meoin Uí Chonnaill, mar atá i meoin gach duine rugbaí na tíre. Ní raibh mórán ag tnúth go n-insíodh an Drisceollach an scéal go léir ina dhírbheathaisnéis agus d'fhán sé ina thost, mar is gnáth. Leanann scéal na bliana rugbaí sin go léir ina rún os comhair an phobail.

Agus anois, tá Corn Domhanda eile ag teacht agus pobal na hÉireann ag smaoineamh anois go n-éireodh linn an Corrán féin a ghabháil, agus sinne gan bua dá laghad i ndiaidh na gcluichí ghasra fós.

Ach seo foireann eile, a deirtear. Is é Joe Schmidt an saineolaí rugbaí is fearr sa ndomhan mór. Níl an glas ann nárbh fhéidir leis a oscailt. B'fhéidir. An uair deireanach a chuireas súil ar an scéal, ba iad na h-imreoirí amháin a bhí ar an bpáirc agus na traenálaithe go léir suas istigh 'sna ardáin, ach tá an cluiche chomh athraithe chomh tapa le déanaí tá seans ann go bhfuil dúl amú orm.

Ag smaoineamh ar na buanna in aghaidh na hAstráile agus na hAfraice Theas, cén fáth gur éirigh leis na Gaeil? An bhfuil siad chomh maith sin i ndáiríre?

Is deacair é a thuiscint ón meáin Éireannach, a chuireann na geansaithe uaithne orthu níos tapa maidir leis an rugbaí ná nuair a bhí Jack Charlton ann sa sacar. Bíonn an meáin Breataine réidh i gcónaí cnámh a chaitheamh chun na Gaeil fiáine, agus tá mo laethanta scoile chomh fada thiar liom anois níl fios agam cad a scríobhtar fúinn sa bhFrainc. Tá a bhfadhbanna féin acu ar ndóigh, na créatúir.

Agus an rugbaí éirithe chomh casta mar atá, breathnaím ar cluichí anois agus oscailte agam ar mo thablet, ag breathnú ar staitisticí an chluiche. D'éirigh linne an méid seo clibirte a bhuaigh, d'éirigh leosan an méid sin síneadh amach. Ní fhéidir na staitisticí go léir a chreideamh – bhí sé ghreamú aimsithe ag Ian Madigan acu, mar shampla, ach is ait é an greamú nuair a leanann an imreoir greamaithe ar aghaidh mar a bhí sé, ach go bhfuil Madigan anois aige mar phaisinéir chomh maith – ach cabhraíonn na staitisticí an cluiche gairmiúla a thuiscint.

Níor chabhair na staitisticí liom aréir, mar bhí an lámh in uachtar ag na hAstraláisigh ón chuid is mó imeartha. Níos mó seilbhe, níos mó talaimh, níos mó gach rud ag an Astráil ach cúlaithe ar an mbord, an t-aon staitistic amháin atá ina rí ar gach uile ceann acu. Bhí an t-ádh ag na Gaeil nuair a d'aimsigh Zebo agus Bowe a n-úid, agus ba é sin scéal an chluiche. Bhí an bearna ró-mhór do na hAstraláisigh.

Ní hea sin drochmheas ar cliathánaithe na hÉireann. Thógadar a seasanna, agus sin é an fáth go bhfuil siad ann, chun na seasanna sin a thógáil, in ionad an liathróid a ligeadh chun tosaigh nó praiseach éigin eile a dhéanamh as na seansanna.

Ach ar chonaiceamar fianaise i rith an Fómhair gurbh fhéidir leis na Gaeil an Corrán Domhanda féin a bhuaigh? Caithfear níos mó na an dhá úd sin a bheith ann. Tá an paca láidir go leor agus cróga a ndóthain, ach bhíodar faoi bhrú sa gclibirt agus agus ní hé an Astráil an fhoireann is fearr san obair sin sa domhain.

Tá Robbie Henshaw ag dul go maith i mbróga móra Uí Dhrisceoill chomh fada seo, ach tá D'Arcy sean go leor agus ní fheictear mórán luais idir an bheirt acu. Bhí an luas caillte ag BOD féin sa ndeireadh ach bheadh BOD ina imreoir agus é ar leathchos – fios ag gach éinne faoi sin.

Tá daoine ag súil go bhfillfidh Seán O'Brien agus Cian Healy agus níorbh aon íobairt é ceachtar acu a chur istigh sa bhfoireann, ach ag an am céanna tá imní orm maidir leis an bhfoireann seo.

Agus an bliain ina h-uimhir chorr, beidh Sasana agus an Fhrainc againn sa mbaile, ach tá an Albain tar éis feabhsú faoi Vern Cotter agus ní bhog an turas é ríomh dul chomh fada le Caerdydd agus an lámh in uachtar a fháil.

I mblianta roimhe seo, beidh buntáiste mór ag aon fhoireann agus leath-chúlaí amach na Leoin acu, ach tá dualgas agus stíl imeartha an leath-chúlaí athraithe. Níl an chumhacht céanna a bhí acu mar a bhíodh san seanshaol, agus leithid Barry John nó Phil Bennett nó Hugo Porta nó Jackie Kyle ina sheasamh taobh amuigh na clibirte.

Anois, tá níos mó dualgas ar an leath-chúlaí clibirte an imirt a chur i bhfeidhm. Is ar seisean atá an rogha idir cic, pas nó aimsiú a dhéanamh. Tráth, ba é mar dara geansaí a 10 é an 12; anois, a mhalairt a scéal atá ann. Tá seans ann go dtiocfaidh an lá agus, in ionad an chéad líne aimsithe é an leath-chúlaí amach, beidh sé ina chéad líne cosaint. Is fada an titim ar péacóg breá bródúil an rugbaí é.

Monday, November 17, 2014

That Troublesome Thing, Democracy

It is the nature of being a member of an elite to quickly forget what it’s like to be part of the hoi-polloi. Marie Antoinette, for instance, couldn’t conceive of a situation where people were starving. All she ever knew were sumptuous riches. She had no conception of people not having cake to eat.

Sinn Féin’s inexorable rise in the polls has the Irish political elite just as baffled as the last Queen of France. But how could the elite understand it, when they only ever talk to themselves? If they were to talk to real people living real lives in the real world, the secret of Sinn Féin’s success would be all too clear. It comes about – if you will pardon the infelicitous phrase – through process of elimination.

The current government swept to power on a manifesto of change. But all they changed were the chairs. The music remained exactly the same.

The current government did not stand up to Brussels. They did exactly what Fianna Fáil had laid out for them. The current government did not end cronyism. If anything, they brought it to newer and towering heights. And God only knows what the ongoing disaster of Irish Water will do before that debate calms down.

In the light of all this, you can see how people might be a little bit tetchy. Nobody likes being sold a pup. As for the Government’s greatest victory, the Promissory Note deal and the exit of the Troika – well, what does that mean, really?

The people were told that thirty years of hardship lay in store, thanks to perfidious Fianna Fáil and their crooked builder pals. And now everything’s grand after three years? Either the Government was lying while in opposition, or else it’s lying now. Both statements cannot be true.

So, having tried the strawberry flavour and then tried the banana flavour, the public are going to try another flavour again. And the only flavour left in the shop is Sinn Féin.

The Independents can’t form a Government. If anything, “Independent” doesn’t quite describe that eclectic group, as they nearly all have mother parties from which they are currently estranged.

Lucinda Creighton had the potential to create a new party that would, finally, end the civil war era of Irish politics. She had the moral authority that comes from giving up all she had, politically, on a point of principle, and she had a constituency desperate for change and reform.

But, perhaps through lack of vision on her own part, and certainly through extraordinary cowardice on others’ parts, Creighton could never rally people to her flag. Stephen Donnelly could have brought the Reform Alliance into life, cementing their status as fiscally responsible while take the right-wing Catholic edge off them. But he stayed put, and all Lucinda can do now is wait for Enda Kenny’s Night of the Long Knives and rejoin Fine Gael once Kenny’s head is in Mme La Guillotine’s basket.

Sinn Féin are soaking up the votes because there’s nobody else there. Fianna Fáil remain in ribbons after the 2011 election, while neither Fine Gael nor Labour realise just how betrayed so many of the people who voted for them in 2011 feel. They people didn’t get what they wanted at the last election, so now they’ll give the other crowd a try. That’s how it works, isn’t it?

The prospect of Sinn Féin in power horrifies the Irish political Establishment. As such, the media – who are as much part of the Establishment as An Taoiseach himself – have been bending over backwards to demonise Sinn Féin at every opportunity. But all they’re doing is making Sinn Féin stronger, because anybody can see the extraordinary bias in their coverage.

Mary-Lou McDonald’s expulsion from the Dáil last week is the latest case of this. All the coverage – all of it – dismissed McDonald’s expulsion as a stunt. Nobody was interested in teasing out the story a bit further.

For instance, did anybody ask if Seán Barrett is as even-handed as he ought to be in his role as Ceann Comhairle? Mary Lou McDonald’s isn’t the first name to make his bad books.

Former TD Luke Ming Flanagan has been vocally critical of Seán Barrett too. It’s not Sinn Féin’s imagination. That should make Barrett’s Ceann Comhairle-ship is a legitimate point of debate, but it’s not.

The second point is – does any of this matter? The Dáil’s theoretical purpose is to hold the executive to account, but the country is now run by a four-person junta, comprised of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The junta showed the Dáil exactly how much it mattered during the Irish Water debate. There wasn’t one. Irish Water was set up by fiat, just as things are done in any other totalitarian state.

And that’s why people are willing to give Sinn Féin a go. Because there’s nobody else there and, having been promised reform, the people still seem to kind of want it.

IN order to provide some vague alternative, the extraordinary prospect of a Fianna Fáil / Fine Gael coalition, to “safeguard democracy,” is now being floated. There is no notion that expresses the elitism of the governing classes so much as that idea.

A Fianna Fáil / Fine Gael coalition won’t stop Sinn Féin getting into government. All it will do is delay it, and ensure that Sinn Féin will have even more TDs and therefore more cabinet places in the election after next. If the people vote for Sinn Féin, they have to get them.

There is also the lesson of history in not giving the people what they voted for. Dick Spring’s Labour Party were never forgiven for denying the voice of the people in 1992.

If Sinn Féin get a mandate from the people to govern at the next election that mandate has to be respected, no matter how many stomachs churn at the prospect. That’s what democracy is – the people get to select their government, and not have their government decided by juntas and elites.

If the three establishment parties want to win more votes than Sinn Féin, they would be better off making it clear to the people why they’re worth those votes, rather than briefing against the dirty Shinners and hoping wool will be pulled over people’s eyes. The nation is sick of wool by now.