Archive for February 1st, 2010

Demons

I was watching the Mo Mowlam film last night. I thought Julie Walters was very convincing as Mo, but the dialogue for the Northern protagonists was stilted and unconvincing.

I think the North suffers from a sort of crisis of representation: its inhabitants are frequently infantilised and caricatured in cultural production and public discourse, and people who are from there often get caught up in this activity too as a way of marking themselves out as normal.

David Adams, I think, made the point that Northern Protestants in the aftermath of the Iris Robinson affair were subjected to crude stereotyping by people who would never dream of doing the same thing with any other group. I think he’s right.

I’m not saying I know what Northern Protestants are really like; I don’t know what they’re like, just as I don’t know what Northern Catholics are really like either, and I know a lot of both very well. But there’s always this impulse at large to lasso each group under some set of defining characteristics. I get sick of it.

LRB · Anne Enright · Diary

The story of the Troubles became the only story in the North for 30 years, but there were other more normal things going on. Sex was one of them, shopping was another. Southern Irish people have always known this. When the wind changes and the exchange rate is right, they come down to Dublin to do it: Northern women are demon shoppers.

It’s just not true that shopping was a normal thing during ‘the Troubles’: unless you count having your bags checked by a security guard any time you entered a department store or shopping centre, or evacuating said establishments on account of a bomb scare, as normal events. There were many women who stayed away from Belfast city centre on account of the fear of bombs going off: I even know of one woman who even refused hospital treatment, which would have involved trips to Belfast, on account of this fear. It only became ‘normal’ after the ceasefire. As for Northern women being ‘demon shoppers’, this is pure nonsense. Women also go North when the exchange rate is right, but no-one would the need to refer to Southern women -if such a group exists en masse– as ‘demon shoppers’ on this basis.

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The Kids Ain’t All Rights

Reforming electoral system is not going to be enough – The Irish Times – Mon, Feb 01, 2010

But reforming our electoral system is not going to be enough; indeed, it may be little more than a diversion. We are in the midst of the most serious crisis in our history, a crisis that affects all our institutions – economic, political and social (and, given the ongoing travails in the Catholic Church, also moral). This calls for a large-scale overhaul of our institutions, including but not confined to our process of elections. The State needs to find ways to engage better with its citizens. In particular, we need to harness our youth. We need to find better means of integrating and involving all citizens, from all sectors, in a process of civil and institutional renewal. This calls for deliberative processes (such as citizen assemblies), and other such devices that facilitate greater engagement by our citizens. Out of such processes a real review of our institutions could emerge.

Even under the most optimistic outlooks for the Irish economy a terrible legacy of debt is being left for future generations, making it all the more vital that our younger citizens have greater input into decisions today. I can think of no stronger argument than this in favour of “Votes at 16”. In this context, ongoing efforts by the National Council on Curriculum and Assessment to introduce a new syllabus on politics and society into the senior cycle in schools is very welcome.

There isn’t a great deal to disagree with here. But while it must be true that the State, however defined, needs to find ways to engage better with its citizens, surely the reverse is more important. There is no point in people expecting that the State should find better means of integrating them and involving them in their decisions, because any way that the State might do so would be on the State’s terms. Among other things, it’s the fact that the State has operated in the interest of particular groups at the expense of others that has led to the current crisis. The point being that it is up to citizens to develop deliberative processes for engagement, rather than imagine that whatever the State might put in place would be adequate to their needs. The danger is that citizens would be inured to allow the better to be the enemy of the better still, as Dewey put it.

And in that spirit, while I don’t have any problem with the extension of the vote to 16-year-olds, why stop there? Each parent has responsibility for a child, but the electoral franchise allows for no recognition of this fact, even though children are also citizens. The fact that their parents only have one vote each means they are under-represented in the decisions of state even they are the ones likely to be most affected by the most momentous of those decisions. The UK think-tank Demos produced an interesting pamphlet on this some years back. It advocated the extension of the vote to 14-year-olds, in line with the age of criminal responsibility. For Ireland, this would mean extending the vote to 12 years of age.

A reduced voting age would be one step, but still does not address the interests of most children: those under 14. Here we reiterate the suggestion put forward by Stein Ringen in his Demos pamphlet of 1997,
that all children should be issued with votes at birth. Their families could then decide who would exercise this vote, with the default going to the mothers or any other primary carers, until the children reach the age of 14. Parents could be encouraged to cast the “baby ballot” in consultation with their child, and to think explicitly about the child’s interests. But in any case, children’s votes would reinforce the importance of families with children as an electoral constituency.

Seems fair enough to me.


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