Archive for April, 2010

We Are Where We Are

The other day I had planned on writing about something that happened the other day, a conversation I had with a couple of neighbours. And then I started getting engrossed in coverage and commentary on the whole bigot thing, and that put me off. So let me go back to what I was going to write about before, and see if I can fit it in with what has been unfolding in the British election campaign.

About five minutes in, one of them was saying there had been trouble from one house on the estate, a “coloured family” who had moved in recently. You know what “these people” are like, the way a whole load of them move in to the one house. Are there many rented properties on your street?

(“Rented properties”, I learned, was a sort of euphemism for houses where black, brown or Eastern European people lived. “Rented properties” were a growing problem on the estate, undermining the life of those decent homeowners who had bought a house there in expectation that some day they’d be able to sell up and move somewhere nicer. But then the property ladder got kicked away.)

I said I had no idea.

The other one said that the whole place had been going to the dumps. Only that day, he’d been out the front and seen a Roma kid at the gates to the estate picking up a bottle, smashing it against the wall, then hold it as though he was going to use it as a weapon.

“Of course, I didn’t confront him about it. How could you? Sure once they know where you live God knows what they’ll do to you. There was a judge a while back, and he got a lot of stick for it, but he was right: all they are good for is robbing and stealing. They’re total scumbags.”

I was about to object, when:

“So I shouted over to them. And they were speaking in English, but once they heard me they started talking in their own language. And they dropped the bottle and walked on. But as they were passing, of course I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but I did hear them say [the name of the estate], and you could tell by the way that they were saying it that they were trying to make out that it was a posh estate, using a sort of snobby tone”

How he was able to tell what a snobby tone in Romani sounds like, I have no idea.

And then the other one said:

“There was a stabbing a couple of years back. Another family of coloureds. Whole load of them living in the same house. Apparently a row broke out in the middle of the night. Guards came straight away, along with the landlord. A couple of them ran out onto the street, and one lifted a knife to the other.”

And then:

“But a couple of days later they were gone. I reckon a special team of the Guards came in the middle of the night and put them all in the back of a van and then onto a plane. Deported. Middle of the night is best time for it, if you ask me. No kids around getting upset.”

He smiled.

I’m being sketchy and leaving out quite a lot of the context here deliberately, but suffice to say that one of the reasons I was meeting them was a slow Garda response to what I suspected was a racist attack on the home of another neighbour. But neither of them knew a) that I suspected it was a racist attack; b) that the other neighbour was black. I’d spoken to the latter about it, and asked him if he thought whether he was the victim of racism, and whether the guards had initially not done anything about it precisely on account of the fact that he was African. On both counts, he said he didn’t want to deal with it that way, that he just wanted the police to do their job. So these two, who’d been prompt to meet with the police about the slow response while I was out of the country, didn’t know anything other than a deeply redacted of the incident when they did so. Fortunately.

Then yesterday evening I was walking back to the house with my wife and son, and there was an Indian family out in the street playing cricket. The little one had never seen cricket being played before, and he was curious. As we approached, a couple of kids sped past on bikes and shouted something like “Look at the fuckin Indians playing fuckin cricket in the fuckin street”. None of the Indians responded; I can’t be sure if they heard.

Are these people bigots? Absolutely. Racist? Of course. But the question to my mind is what good it does to brandish these labels as though they contained some sort of meaningful reproach just so that people living in white middle-class enclaves can feel good about themselves. As though it were a matter of nasty stuff going on in people’s heads that could merely be flushed out by some good old-fashioned liberal education.

I could ply you with a whole load of flannel about how my bigoted racist neighbours do lots of decent things and how they’re both nice and friendly to me, and how they just want a normal life for their kids and so on and so forth. And I could even say, well, they’ve been locked into a system where their sense of self-worth is pegged to the value of their homes and how much they’re getting paid at work (neither of my neighbours has had a pay rise for 3 years, I learned), and how their racism is basically -as Raymond Aron put it- snobbery on the cheap. But none of this is much comfort to people whose lives are being made a misery on account of this. Nor does it arrive at the origins of what produces their racism in the first instance.

As a recent Irish Left Review article in the aftermath of the murder of Toyosi Shitta-bey noted:

there is still a widespread tendency for racism to be portrayed and perceived as an individual, psychological phenomenon that resides in people’s heads or in their hearts.  Official anti-racism policies and initiatives have tended to explain racism in Irish society in terms of fear and ignorance of the cultural norms or customs of particular racial groups, and imply that racism is perpetrated by a few ‘bad apples’ within a society which otherwise welcomes, embraces and celebrates its ‘newfound’ cultural diversity.  Moreover, individual-level explanations tend to be accompanied by accounts of racism as comprising isolated or exceptional incidents perpetrated by these ‘bad apple racists’, which serves to present the Irish nation as one that is largely antithetical to racism, thereby absolving the state of any role in creating or maintaining racial tension.

So the other day I saw plenty of people exulting in how Gordon Brown at least had the good sense to refer to the woman as ‘bigoted’, but paying no heed whatsoever to Brown’s role in engendering this form of bigotry. He is, after all, the head of a party which in government has presided over an orgy of jingoistic chest-puffery as it continued along the neo-liberal path started by Thatcher. First there was ‘Cool Britannia’, then there was the blind imperial arrogance of Britain’s collaboration with the US in Afghanistan and then Iraq: projects for which Brown in his role as Chancellor had effectively declared that money was no object. And then there was Brown’s own attempts to put a nationalist stamp on his premiership with his ‘Britishness’ wheezes. Not forgetting the widespread demonisation of Muslims that the imperial adventures abroad entailed. So fair play, he said the woman was a bigot. From the safety of his car. A hero.

And, if you want to consider Ireland, consider, as I noted in a comment on the Irish Left Review article linked to above, the ethnocentricity of the idea of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ and how widespread its usage is. I observed that ‘Aryan Tiger’ doesn’t have the same ring to it, but there’s not a great deal of difference in the implication.

(Coincidentally, I am presently holding a bottle of water with a label on it that reads ‘Celtic Pure’)

Consider the Irish Times editorial that described a slowing in the increase of unemployment on account of immigrant workers returning home as an ‘encouraging indicator’.

Consider the Fianna Fáil TD with the massive bank shareholdings using the Dáil to say that
he opposed “foreigners coming into this country and telling us what to do” .

Or, consider the other Fianna Fáil TD who, at the height of the ‘Celtic Tiger’, using the same figure of speech used by BNP leader Nick Griffin the other day, railed some years back against the “spongers, the freeloaders, the people screwing the system. Too many are coming to Ireland and too many to Cork in my view…I’m saying we will have to close the doors.”

Then there’s the one-time Minister for Integration who received his appointment after seeing fit to refer to exploited Turkish workers as ‘kebabs‘ in the Dáil. And once he became Minister for Integration he announced he planned to visit Israel to find out how they integrated newcomers there.

Or the Fine Gael TD who proclaimed recently that ‘It is time for the Irish Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs to wake up to the perils of Turkish accession to the European Union. It is a prospect which horrifies most ordinary citizens when they think of the likely implications’, citing the unthinkable ‘dramatic influx of low-paid, unskilled or semi-skilled immigrants’.

Or how about the citizenship referendum arranged by the self-declared ‘liberal’ Justice Minister that moved from legal regulation of citizenship by jus soli to jus sanguinis, in which the simple fact of being born in the state’s territory was no longer a sufficient criterion for automatic citizenship, replaced with the requirement to conform to a defined set of biological criteria.

Or how about the the complete erasure of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (the NCCRI)?

Here are some extracts from the last report published on the NCCRI’s website, covering the six-month period to December 2008. The compilation has a rushed quality to it, as though they were struggling to get the report out before the place got closed down.

A 15 year old student of Iranian decent has been subjected to racial bullying by her peers at a school in Limerick. School students posted racial slurs about her on BEBO, calling her a “paki whore” the students set up a BEBO profile for the girl with racist content and sent it around to other classmates, The school were contacted in relation to the incident but deny any responsibility for addressing the incident.


A Nigerian actor on his way home for a night out with friends was violently attacked by a group of men on the North Circular Road in Dublin. The men who attacked him used racist slurs and told him to return to his home country. The attack was so bad that the man had to undergo surgery. Gardai were called to scene after the attack but no charges have been made.

A Nigerian woman reported an incident that occurred in the car park of an adult
education centre she attends. She was threatened by another student who shouted at her “Black nigger I am going to kill you, if you don’t leave my country, I will kill you”. The aggressor proceeded to threaten her and punched the woman in the eye with a set of keys. The Nigerian woman made a complaint to the school principal and the Gardai. The case is currently being investigated.

A man claiming to be a concerned citizen rang MWR radio station to report the arrival of “100 trained killers” to Ballyhaunis in County Mayo. The man was referring to Congolese refugees who allegedly were to be accommodated in Ballyhaunis.

NCCRI received a report that some Irish taxi drivers were sticking “100% Irish” slogans to their taxis. The person reporting the incident claimed the intent of the stickers were to influence customers to take their taxis and not taxis driven by foreign nationals. It was felt that the campaign was racist in intent.

And so on. Adverts on the radio declaring ‘The Difference is: We’re Irish’. 100% Irish Beef. 100% Irish Chicken.

100% Racist Irish State.

Of Vows and Men

For some reason Fridays always take on a religious bent for me in my inclination to write stuff on blogs. And today is no different.

A challenge to authority – The Irish Times – Thu, Apr 29, 2010

A DANGEROUS situation has developed because Garda Representative Association general secretary PJ Stone and his executive appear determined to transform the association into a trade union. If the withdrawal of labour is formally recognised as legitimate action, who will uphold the law and protect citizens? In promoting this agenda, Mr Stone has ignored the findings of the Morris tribunal into Garda corruption in Co Donegal and challenged the authority of both the Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern.

All Garda recruits make a solemn declaration to discharge their duties with fairness, integrity and impartiality and to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land. Those laws are quite specific concerning themselves. They cannot engage in strike action or withdraw their labour. It is a fundamental requirement. If some members now feel they cannot uphold that oath, they have the option to resign. Flouting the law in order to protest against Government decisions is not acceptable.

| Irish Examiner

An Garda Siochána – Special role means special obligations

Friday, April 30, 2010

THE very special role An Garda Siochána play was underlined yesterday when Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, despite facing the greatest economic crisis in the history of this State, announced that recruitment to the force will resume before the end of the year.

Some of those recruits are needed in the natural course of events, others are needed to replace gardaí who, in recent times, availed of early retirement opportunities because they were worried about the possibility of tax changes hitting retirement packages.

That special place is readily recognised by the majority of people who support the authority gardaí exercise on behalf of the State. This majority recognises too that the gardaí are the proactive arm of the Constitution who aim to protect all Irish people.

This responsibility brings its own consequences and one is the oath all gardaí must take, just like the 216 recruits who graduated from Templemore Training College yesterday afternoon. They vow to remain apolitical, not to join a trade union and not to strike.

There are good reasons for these provisions, the main one being the proper functioning and protection of democracy. The terms and conditions enjoyed by gardaí acknowledge the sacrifice inherent in this oath.


Remarks from the GRA’s incoming president – Mr O’Boyce’s successor Damien McCarthy – that he had “no difficulty” in supporting his predecessor’s comments, did little to suggest that equilibrium had been restored, or that he understood how they crossed a line. Mr McCarthy’s endorsement suggests he feels free to ignore the commitment he has made, under oath, to this State and its Constitution. By echoing his predecessor he has undermined the legitimacy of his presidency in the week he assumed office. GRA delegates who gave a standing ovation to Mr O’Boyce need to reconsider the implications of the oath they took on the day they left Templemore too.

Minister should lay down law – Editorial, Opinion –

So, if all these statements are sincere, the police force of this country has displayed open contempt for the elected Government, whose laws and directives it is sworn to enforce. Yet the GRA leaders insist that they are not engaging in politics.

The late George Carlin got to the nub of matters raised here: “At what point does all this stuff just break down and become just a lot of stupid shit that somebody made up?”

Read the full text of the planned GRA speech here.

To what degree is someone bound by an oath?

I remember being at mass one time, and the priest, after reeling off a list of requirements concerning moral and sexual hygiene and habits of religious observation, said something along these lines: “Now a lot of people listening to this may be saying, “well, I don’t agree with any of this stuff. Who is this oul’ fella up here telling me what to do? I never signed up to any of this. I never asked to be baptised a Catholic: I just am because the rest of my family is.” Ah, well it’s true, you never asked to be baptised, but didn’t you renew your baptismal vows when you made your confirmation? Hmmmh?”

I imagine plenty of the assembled adults -those who made their confirmation as children aged 11 and didn’t receive a grilling from the bishop on catechism as part of the process- must have been racking their brains trying to remember what the hell they said in their confirmation vows apart from swearing to give up drink until the age of 18, which isn’t even part of the confirmation vows anyway.

In other Catholic countries, people don’t make their confirmation vows until the age of 17 or 18, once they’ve developed the capacity to have a good grasp of what is being proposed that they should vow. But the Catholic Church in Ireland figures, with an undaunted faith in the young, that an 11-year-old is sufficiently aware of what she or he is getting involved in and would be sufficiently independent to declare, in the face of immense accumulated pressure from authority in the forms of the church, the education system and family, that having weighed things up, they’d pass on making the vows because they don’t believe in God. Or because they don’t think the vows are appropriate to their belief in God.

If you’re wondering what the relevance of this is to the Garda oath, bear with me.

You see, a reasonable objection to the validity of the vows taken aged 11, from the standpoint of an adult weighing things up, is that when they were 11 they had an infantile conception of God, which may have involved them imagining God as a satanic accuser, a figure who was primarily the creation of the people who had instructed them, an omniscient policeman monitoring their every move. And this adult may say, well, on consideration, I don’t think it was right for me to make such  vows since I was subjected to coercive forces. Therefore the vows cannot hold.

Now, on the other hand, an adult looking back may deem that the vows were and therefore continue to be valid, even if they recognise that at the time they held an infantile conception of God and so on, because man is by nature incapable of fully envisaging God, that there is no such thing as an ‘adult’ conception of God because He is seen through a glass darkly. And therefore the adult may say that it is precisely on account of fidelity to God as God, not as the man-made image cast before them by priests, that the vow holds. Seen in this light, the vows are not a ‘dead’ set of immutable requirements, like always wearing a balaclava no matter what or cutting your toenails every second Tuesday, but the basis for continued fidelity in God in light of experience and changed circumstances. And it is never the fact of having been bound to them back in the day, but the fact they are something to be held to at any given moment.

That, at least, is the cod-theological edifice I have construed from which to address the question of the Garda oath. Because the papers above and the minister (whose general attitude calls to mind a thug fearful that his weapon dog might turn on him) are drawing attention to the Garda oath as the basis for forbidding the GRA to get involved in ‘politics’ (as though the police could somehow not be involved in politics. What is rounding up ‘illegal immigrants’ if not a nakedly political act?) or to form a trade union.

I have had some difficulty tracking down the precise wording of the Garda oath. But I eventually came across this on Indymedia and see no reason to doubt that it is correct, if not complete:

” I ______ hereby solemnly and sincerely declare before God that I will
faithfully discharge the duties of a member of the Garda Siochána with
fairness, integrity, regard for human rights, diligence and
impartiality, upholding the Constitution and the laws and according
equal respect to all people.”

I also understand that Christian members of the Garda Siochána swear this oath on the Bible. So to repeat George Carlin’s question: at what point does all this stuff just break down and become just a lot of stupid shit
that somebody made up? The short answer is never: it is always already just a lot of stupid shit that somebody made up.

But the basis for the government’s and the media’s command to the guards to just shut up and do what they are told and fulfil their function as the distributors of state violence is the fact that they have sworn this oath. And this oath, it follows, is somehow binding.

Well, let’s look more closely. The oath is made ‘before God’. So it is God who establishes the binding nature of the oath. And any guard who is confronted with the accusation that they are not observing the oath are beholden to God, not the State, with regard to whether or not they are observing it.

Now let’s say it’s a good idea to swear oaths before God. You may disagree, but that is neither here nor there. If it is a good idea, then it could only ever be a good idea because God is good, the One, the condition of possiblity for all things, the Alpha and the Omega, and so on and so forth. Therefore swearing to do certain things before God must mean that whatever you’re going to do is approved by God. If there was something that you understood to go against God, like mugging old ladies (assuming it is your understanding that God disapproves of such things), and you swore before God to do this, then your oath, apart from being blasphemous, would hold no weight, because you’d be lying. It is only based on the understanding of God as good that you swear your oath, not because He is the Notary Universal.

OK, let’s say you discover that one of the things you swore you would do is no longer approved by God. Let’s say you discover the Constitution and the laws have become an instrument for oppress the weak and the destitute. Does that mean you are still bound by your oath to God to oppress the weak and the destitute? Of course not, unless you believe God wants you to oppress them for the hell of it. Maybe He does, but on the other hand, maybe He doesn’t. Who knows? Unfortunately, that is a matter for you and God.

Now, does it mean that you have to relinquish your oath? Well, no. The point is to be faithful to God no matter what. So maybe you made the oath at that moment in time, and you still think that the words of that oath are approved by God, but that what is being demanded of you contravenes the spirit of that oath. So maybe God wants you to display regard for human rights. In which case he probably doesn’t want you to allow the laws to deny people free choice of employment or just and favourable conditions of work. So maybe God wants you to enforce that, rather than cracking open people’s heads for opposing a resource grab by a murderous profit-seeking corporation.

Some people might read this and think, yeah, but the whole God thing is just a ceremonial nicety, a piece of symbolic pissing around designed to lend a sense of irrevocability to a declaration that has no ultimate binding character other than the absolute authority of the State: there’s no need to be so literal-minded about it.

Well, perhaps. But if that’s the case, and the individual swearing the oath doesn’t need to believe that the oath has any meaning, then the oath has no meaning other than the meaning invested in it by whoever points to it. So saying “but you swore an oath!” may mean nothing more than ‘but you must continue to obey!”: a demand for obedience to pure authority.

With this in mind, wouldn’t it be easier to say that the State has absolute command over whoever it chooses as its agents in the administration of the monopoly of violence, the waging of class war, and the destruction of all collective structures? Maybe it would. But then who would fulfil the vital function of making a whole load of stupid shit up? Why, the country would descend into anarchy!

Starters For Ten

A little while ago I listened to an official for Fingal County Council give a presentation in which he referred repeatedly to ‘starter homes’ as though these were both a fact of nature and a solid, necessary component to the overall mix of available housing. But a confrontation with reality reveals they are neither, writes Punishment of Sloth Property Editor HUGH GREEN.

As Bacharach and David point out, however, a house is not a home. Most people know the difference; for those who do not I would point them in the direction of the fact that you never hear someone talk about being housesick.

The term ‘starter home’, then, suggests some sort of progress in the activity of having a home. In a starter home, you might get to grips with the foundations: making your own bed, washing the dishes, doing the hoovering, ordering a pizza, paying the bills. And then you might even get round to some intermediate activities: curling up in front of the Superser with a mug of Maxwell House and a copy of Take a Break, looking out the window and smiling wistfully at the children playing amid the traffic, using fridge magnets, etcetera.

Once you have mastered all these things, you will then be ready to move on to a non-starter home. Here, the full joy of home living will unfold: installing the burglar alarm, hanging your hat on the stand after a hard day at the office, throwing dinner parties with the neighbours with witty back-and-forth about Frank McCourt novels, burying your child’s first dead pet in the garden, fretting about whether the car of some bumptious drink-driving twentysomething will come spinning through the air over your garden fence. Yes, the well-worn and much loved path to real, authentic, flourishing home life starts off in a starter home.

And yet one is left with the nagging sensation that there is more to it than that; that all is not well in the land of starter homes. Consider this, from then recent proud purchaser of a 100% mortgage, Fionnan Sheahan, from 2005.

The healthy double income from two steady jobs meant getting on to the property ladder wasn’t the problem. Without the 100% mortgage, however, the purchase would have been of some other stop-gap house rather than a genuine home.


Put plainly, the advent of the 100% mortgage has the potential to revolutionise the house-buying experience for many twenty- and thirtysomethings struggling to get on to the ladder.

Having the full amount at your disposal will speed up the purchasing process and, as I discovered, allows you to buy a better house, thereby ensuring that when you get on to the ladder, you don’t have to start out on the bottom rung.

All too often nowadays, first-time buyers are forced to purchase houses regarded as a temporary arrangement until they can afford to move on up the ladder. Yet that wasn’t the experience for previous generations. The parents of the current first-time buyers were usually able to buy a house that they could call home from the off. ‘Starter home’ is the quaint phrase used to describe that first step on the ladder. What’s wrong with aiming for a ‘finished home’ at an early stage?

What the 100% mortgage was going to enable, then, was a revolutionary new era in which the property ladder as we knew it would be abolished, and the humble ‘starter homes’ would be vanquished.

But pride always comes before a fall. People who thought they could leap headlong into the complex business of fitting out their bookshelves with Folio Society prints and installing attractive decking out the back -merely through the acquisition of more debt– were pulled under. Their failure to get to grips with home living’s basic essentials -unblocking a toilet with a mop head wrapped in a plastic bag, cleaning a window with newspaper, warm water and vinegar- meant their wax wings melted in the blazing sun of cheap credit. Property prices went into freefall. Tut tut.

What of starter homes now? Or rather, a couple of months ago?

At the risk of oversimplifying, the worst appears to be over – The Irish Times – Fri, Jan 22, 2010

Demand is most concentrated in the regional centres where, interestingly, supply is tightest. Rural locations with an excessive supply of starter homes will take longer to notice recovery – especially for starter homes.

Ireland is well poised for a recovery. We have faced our worst day and taken the necessary corrective action. The days of the Celtic Tiger may be behind us but valuable lessons have been learnt. We can anticipate a more mature, resilient housing market.

It seems the Sherry Fitzgerald chief economist, invited to give her dispassionate and impartial point of view in the Irish Times, is still grimly clinging to the doughty starter home, for understandable reasons, given its virtue of equipping its inhabitants with the necessary skills for living in a home. But -with all due respect- how can we have a more mature, resilient housing market with an excessive supply of starter homes? Are prospective homeowners no longer prepared to put in the long days putting the rubbish into a wheelie bin outside the front door? Is there no sense of modesty, nay, chastity, accompanying the burst property bubble? Have the young learned nothing? 


Private schools. One of the more diverting features of the lead up to the election campaign in Great Britain was the ignition of class-caricature pageantry on the part of the UK Labour Party. This party, having picked up the truncheon from Thatcher, had driven the country on to even greater inequality, criminalising the poor and exulting in the bumper fortunes of City bankers. But now it was gunning for the elites. On the surface, a party whose privately-schooled leader has gone on to pocket tens of millions of pounds from banking and oil firms having played an instrumental role in financial deregulation and the invasion of Iraq may not seem best placed to complain about the danger posed by Eton-educated Lords Snooty in the Conservative party. But deep down there is no contradiction from a party, propelled forth on providing’fair’ chances for the ‘aspirational classes’ to ‘high-status’ professions and being intensely relaxed about the filthy rich, simultaneously targetting symbols of established power. Such dynamism is the essence of neo-liberal ideology, and the Tory press plays its part in the farce by calling it ‘class war’.

One striking feature of Irish society is that there is no such farce played out: private schools appear to exist as part of the natural order. If privately-educated David ‘Dave’ Cameron needs to deploy a host of PR reps to project the image of the ordinary bloke (or blayhke, as his friends might pronounce it), privately-educated Brian Cowen (Roscrea College) requires no such assistance, luxuriating in his biffoness. Similarly, unspeakable asshole Michael O’Leary manages to project an everyman image unimpeded despite having gone to Clongowes.

But what’s this?

26,000 at private schools at a cost of €100m to taxpayer – The Irish Times – Wed, Apr 21, 2010

Despite the recession, the figures show that huge numbers of parents are still able to pay expensive fees for over 26,000 pupils.

In all, private fee-paying schools enjoy a fee income of over €100 million per year.

Most fee-paying schools charge fees of over €6,000 per year, with boarding schools charging up to €16,000 per year.

In addition, they received over €100 million in support from the taxpayer in 2008/9.

Oh lawdy, if the Irish Times is pointing out that the cultivation of a ruling elite is getting subsidised by general taxation, surely it’s only a matter of time before some oppressed moneybags gets handed an op-ed to emote at length about how keeping the child in a school with its own swimming pool has meant some of her friends have resorted to bin hoking and juggling nuts just to put a meal on the table every night, but they’re not doing it for their own self-interest, mind: it would be all to easy to send the child to the rat-infested mobile settlement down the road with all the poorz, since studying the poorz and how they need their swimming pools closed is part of the private school curriculum and he would do very well. No: the country needs an elite composed of individuals approaching the calibre of my child to administer professional services for the NAMA-led restoration, and the class war launched by the Irish Times is like something out of Cuba.

Passport to Dublin

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This is good stuff here, even if you can’t speak a word of Spanish. Above, from 1971, the Spanish Eurovision song selection programme, ‘Pasaporte a Dublin’, presented by Julio Iglesias and Massiel, with a cast of popular Spanish singing stars from that era.

Massiel won the Eurovision a couple of years previous with a Castillian version of the song Joan Manuel Serrat was originally going to sing in Catalan. Here is her song here, titled, intriguingly, ‘La la la’:

Despite the rough and ready set and the awkward delivery, there is something eerily contemporary about the gangly, diffident Julio Iglesias’s effusions about what an important moment it was in his life to represent Spain in the contest, and Massiel’s ‘oh I’m sure the future holds even greater things for us’ schtick: shades of X-Factor, You’re a Star bollocks.

Look out for Cristina, 5 minutes in, saying she’s very much the housewife -and very Spanish!- as she holds the bullfighter’s cape while her husband pretends to be a bull. And she’s found the perfect system to keep fit: fishing, though she never catches anything.

Karina, 17 minutes in, has a sort of Babes in Toyland vibe going on: “I’m a strange mix of little girl and woman…I like to be a flirt, but at the same time iron my dolls’ clothes”.

52 minutes in, Nino Bravo, running fully clothed and unhinged up the middle of a busy road, trying to lose weight, before getting down to do push-ups.

1 hour 3 minutes in, the assembled contestants are posed the question: Can you tell us what this programme is called? And they all erupt into song…’Pasaporte a Dublin…Pasaporte a Dublin’, entirely pointlessly.

1 hour 4 minutes in, Franco’s fascist regime begins to tumble as Dana delivers a rendition of All Kinds of Everything. Dana then goes into a British telephone booth to ring the caudillo to apologise personally.

1:13 – Programme nearly over. One can see the thought breaking across Julio Iglesias’s countenance that having seen Dana he must now go out and have sex with over 3,000 women.

Qu’est-ce que c’est: Fa fa-fa-fa fa-fa Es

Think tanks. Bag of shite.

Here’s a photo from a think-tank meeting yesterday, I think.

Why, it’s John Bruton, bonce bowed in direction of the José María Aznar.

According to the FAES thinktank, which organised the forum, titled ‘Thinking about the economy’ (which is presumably why they have ‘Economic forum’ written up in big blue letters), it was about thinking about the economy.

Now, FAES is basically a vehicle for José María Aznar. It proclaims, oh, I can’t be bothered, you can probably figure it out for yourself. Liberty, Democracy, Rule of Law, Western Civilisation, Market Economy, Terrorism, Bestiality, Goose-Stepping and so on and so forth. The usual.

But! One thing hadn’t occurred to me about it until I read this chat with Santiago Carrillo, former Secretary General of the Spanish Communist Party, Civil War veteran, and most likely one of the most evil people on the planet according to the President and Patrons of FAES. Carrillo is in his mid 90s, and still smokes, I do believe.

He gets asked:

Do you think Aznar, with his declarations, is contributing anything to get this country out of the economic pit in which we are stuck?

and he replies:

I don’t know if Aznar is a young falangist or an old falangist. At any rate he’s a typical representative of neoconservatism. In the first legislature he didn’t show his claws because he had to make a pact [with Catalan, Basque and Canary Island nationalist parties, IIRC – HG]. But in the second he started to show them by joining with Bush to invade Iraq. Of late he has been the mentor of the most reactionary wing of the PP. The FAES, what does that suggest to you? To me, Falange Española. Aznar, who is not stupid, didn’t pick those letters by chance. He represents the Francoist past of this country a lot more than Fraga [Manuel, leader of Alianza Popular, the precursor of the Partido Popular, and former dashing young technocrat in Franco government]. Look: Fraga, when he was the head of AP, conducted an opposition to González [Felipe, former Socialist Party Prime Minister, preceded Aznar in the job] in the English style, constructive. It was when Aznar arrived that that type of opposition ended and the political situation began to flare, to create the atmosphere of division that now exists in the country, doing away with all the advances we were able to make in the Transition with regard to the coexistence of different political currents. Aznar is the mentor of Rajoy [Mariano, current PP leader, potentially next Prime Minister] and he is a very dangerous man.

Now, I think Carrillo’s line that there is an allusion in the name of the think tank FAES to Falange Española is pretty convincing. FAES in Spanish is pronounced ‘Fa – Es’, i.e. exactly the same sound as the first syllable of Falange and of Española, as my bold highlighting is intended to demonstrate, but I underline the matter here for clarity’s sake. However, there is another allusion worth pointing out.

José María Aznar, in his teenage years, was a member of an organisation called El Frente de Estudiantes Sindicalistas (FES). Even to my cloth ears, ‘FES’ sounds a lot like ‘FAES’ too.

FES was, according to this link, an organisation devoted to maintaining fidelity to the ideas of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, even to the point of adopting a certain oppositional position to Franco’s dictatorship, in so far as Franco’s dictatorship did not go far enough (Franco had mobilised the memory of José Antonio Primo de Rivera in official national propaganda, promoting him as a martyr figure, burying him in the Valle de los Caídos and so on.)  Let’s recall what those ideas were:

First, it was time to put an end to:

electoral idolatry. The crowds are as fallible as individuals, and generally they make more mistakes. The truth is the truth (even if it only has 100 votes)


we do not struggle for a dictatorship that manages to patch up a sinking ship, that cures a seasonal ill and that involves a solution of continuity in the systems and practices of ruinous liberalism. On the contrary, we move for a permanent national organisation; a strong State; robustly Spanish, with an executive governing Power and a corporate Chamber which embodies the true national realities. We do not advocate the fleetingness of a dictatorship, but the establishment and permanence of a system.

id est, as I said the other day, the abolition of the democratic principle.

Now, it would appear that Aznar has undergone a partial conversion, in so far as he talks a lot about ‘democracy’; something an old-fashioned Falangist would dismiss as bourgeois and degenerate. And yet, his decision to hitch Spain to the invasion of Iraq was taken despite overwhelming opposition among the Spanish population: 91%, according to this Guardian report. And as Carrillo points out above, he has no particular truck with the to-and-fro of dialogical parliamentary opposition.

But then again, if talk about ‘democracy’ was just a means of installing the permanence of a particular system, i.e. unfettered capitalism driven on by the institutions of the nation-state, you can see how a young falangist might go in for it. One can even conceive of the revival of some common ground with a few old blueshirts.

Second Opinions

Harney warns over raising taxes to fund universal healthcare – The Irish Times – Thu, Apr 15, 2010

Fine Gael’s leader Enda Kenny told the conference there had been a massive loss of faith in the health system following a series of spectacular failures.

He said his party, through its fair care policy, would change this. “FairCare will end the two-tier health system, so that everybody will have free or affordable health insurance and equal access will be on the basis of need,” he said.

Such a system could be put in place cost-effectively but it could not be done overnight, he added.

Meanwhile, Labour’s leader Eamon Gilmore said universal health insurance in Ireland was both feasible and affordable.

But he said that in Ireland we need to acknowledge that “the existing state of our public heath service could be one of the biggest obstacles to convincing people that more access to it can be better”.

Sinn Féin’s health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin advocated a universal public health system that provides care to all free at the point of delivery, on the basis of need alone, and funded from a general, fair and progressive taxation policy.

There was this one time I got smacked in the face with a pool cue and I went along to the hospital and I got stitched up there and then. And then there was this other time when I knocked myself out, smashed my teeth up and got taken to hospital in an ambulance, got a load of stitches, they put some sort of mould around my teeth and then a couple of days later I went back to get the mould removed and get the smashed teeth repaired. And all this cost me nothing! Because it was the NHS and my treatment got funded out of general taxation. And then there was this other time when I split my head open against the lock of the boot of the car and had to go and get stitches. And I went along to the hospital and they put in staples and didn’t cut my hair though they normally would, and instead they took extra care to not ruin my haircut because I had to go to my own wedding the following morning. And all this cost me nothing. Thanks, General Spanish Taxpayer! (And by the way, thanks for performing heart surgery on all those British and Irish ex-pat residents. For nothing! I know this because I was talking to a Spanish cardiologist the other day.)

See Sinn Féin appended to that report? It isn’t on the Examiner report. And it isn’t in the Independent report either. Now I know the establishment consensus in the Republic of Ireland is that Sinn Féin are nuts. But the establishment consensus in the Republic of Ireland is completely fucking nuts.

I’m guessing one of the reasons Sinn Féin is advocating a ‘a universal public health system that provides care to all free at the point of delivery, on the basis of need alone, and funded from a general, fair and progressive taxation policy’ is because it has lots of party members in the Occupied Six Counties who, like me, were born in NHS hospitals and had free doctor consultations and their families were treated in NHS hospitals and they never paid health insurance, and they think that free healthcare is just one of those things, like sewage, which is a basic entitlement and a fact of life, not some sort of pie-in-the-sky-world-turned-upside-down-bring-me-the-severed-head-of-a-paisleyed-unicorn fantasy.

Like, when I first moved to the Republic of Ireland, I didn’t understand what paying for a doctor was. It was like moving into a well-appointed house and discovering there was no toilet. My girlfriend (now wife) at the time got sick, and we went to a doctor’s surgery, and they said you have to pay, and I thought, you bastards! Does the government know you’re ripping people off like this? Because to be honest, and I hope I’m not disappointing my readers here, I had very little interest in goings on in the Republic of Ireland prior to my being there on a permanent basis. Yeah, I knew Cadbury’s chocolate tasted different, and I’d been to Donegal on holidays and to Castleblayney on Saturday nights and I’d learned a bit about it at school. But I’d gone off to England and hadn’t paid it much attention for the preceding six or seven years, so I was happy to believe the stories circulating at the time that it was a reasonably decent place and I probably assumed you automatically had free health care because that was just the way things were.

But no.

So anyway, my late twenties passed without major health-related incidents, and I didn’t give the health system that much thought. But then my wife became pregnant and she had to go to doctors and hospital consultations. And it was then I had to confront the reality that health care in Ireland is an absolute fucking joke.

But before I probe the specifics, let me say something about the patients. I’m talking about the Irish patients here. Most foreign people I have spoken to are well aware that the health system is a disaster area. But most Irish people, while they will acknowledge that there are general problems relating to health care, are so awed by the symbolic power of doctors and consultants, who are like the symbolic first cousins of monsignors and bishops, only ones who can kill you, that they cannot see the deficiencies when it relates to their own specific situation. They could get their piles treated with a splintery fencepost shoved up their ass and most of them would respond by saying that it was grand altogether and the doctor was lovely. 

So anyway, maternity care. Call me old fashioned, but the fact that in the course of human history women have proven capable of giving birth in all sorts of straitened and desperate circumstances and their children have survived is not really sufficient justification for treating them like cattle. I’m talking here about the VHI semi-private care, which involves consultants. I went along a few times to the semi-private clinic in Holles Street, where my wife would see a consultant. It was conducted out of a set of mobile units, and there’d be a long queue down the stairs, the little reception area crammed with women 7, 8 months pregnant, on their feet, in various states of discomfort.

But fair play to the consultant, by Hippocrates he got through those women at an impressive clip. They’d get weighed, and then the consultant would see them for the best part of two minutes. I watched him. The way he wielded that blood pressure thing, the way he’d have a quick feel around. It looked like the sort of thing that someone on one-fifth his salary might be able to do. But ah! Would they have that consultantly gravitas and paternalistic chuckle? How could you be sure that they hadn’t been out all night testing headshop products? What if they missed out on some vital detail and you ended up giving birth to a runt pig instead of a baby? That’s the secret of the consultant, and the continued existence of private health insurance: a fear premium. People are primed to think that the system is shit, so they pay over the odds for some of that old time authority or marginally better quality to provide some assurance that the system is a little less likely to kill you. And then the consultant chuckles all the way to the bank, safe from the penuries of living on Mickey Mouse money.

Anyway, enough details. Point is that there is no good reason for the Irish health system to be the way it is, unless you consider its use as an instrument of terror by the rich against the poor as a good reason. As with many other aspects of the Irish oligarchy, in so far as there is a ‘public debate’ on such matters, the dice are loaded in the oligarchy’s favour. So there won’t be much ‘debate’ that deviates from the general theme of “Don’t touch our taxes! Don’t do any funny shit like try and redistribute income and wealth downward! You will be poor AND you will die! On the other hand, sit still and shut the fuck up while I confiscate a few billion for this zombie bank-cum-health insurance-cum-cement thing! Your life depends on it.”

Well, I recommend a second opinion.

Restoring the Republic

In response to the Garzón affair, a coalition of human rights groups in Argentina has filed a writ with the courts in Buenos Aires. El Público has an interview with the lawyer, Carlos Slepoy, who made the filing. Below is a translated excerpt:

What is the basis?

The application of the principle of universal jurisdiction, which is the same principle according to which judge Garzón instructed proceedings with regard to the crimes committed during the Chilean dictatorship.

Why now?

There is a sense of paying back the huge favour that Spanish Justice performed to put an end to impunity in Argentina.

What are you demanding?

This is a request for evidence from the Spanish government, which will have to give information about the ministers, still living, that participated in the Francoist governments. We will also request an account from the heads of the Armed Forces, the Civil Guard, the Police, and the Falange.

Will you request other details?

The certification of the number of disappeared of those for whom there is a record, of the number of mass graves that have been found, of the bodies that were covered, of the children kidnapped, etcetera.

Do you have figures?

They are in Garzón’s decree. The Spanish judge talks about 113,000 disappeared and 30,000 children kidnapped.

What is going to be judged?

The main accusation is the crime of genocide but this does not exclude crime against humanity (lesa humanidad).

What is the difference?

In genocide, the purpose of the repressor is to exclude different groups that comprise society with the goal of remodelling it, and, as such, it seeks the elimination of all groups that oppose this purpose. They exterminate individuals with the desire of destroying those groups of which they form a part. Crimes against humanity, on the other hand, imply an indiscriminate attack on the civil population.

Can you give an example?

The bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were crimes against humanity, but they did not aim to reorganise that society nor to eliminate identified groups, something that was done by Francoism and the Argentinian dictatorship. This differentiation is very important because it casts light on the causes, the beneficiaries and their responsibilities.

Who are the plaintiffs?

Darío Rivas, whose father, Severino Rivas, was shot, and Inés García Holgado, who has three murdered relatives, one uncle and two great uncles: the first disappeared and the other two shot.

Why does Spanish justice not wish to investigate?

What is happening in Spain happens in all countries where mass crimes of this nature are committed. The crime is followed by impunity, even through a pact with those who were victims. In Spain, the Amnesty Law was signed, which was supported by different political parties, even by those in Argentina who are descendants of those who were victims. This is how it has happened in places like Argentina and Chile. It is not an exclusively Spanish situation.

What is being pursued in Spain with the possible suspension of Garzón?

Those who committed these crimes in Spain, who control their societies precisely because they achieved this through their genocidal processes, are trying to stop these facts from being investigated. To throw silence, oblivion and impunity over them. As a consequence, what is happening with Garzón is this. He dared to comply with what internal Spanish law and international law demand, which is to investigate those crimes. Immediately all forces of the old Spain turned against him, managing not only to paralyse the process, but also to open a shocking process to suspend him, which discredits Spanish justice internationally in an incredible manner.

In a piece titled ‘The last cackle of Francisco Franco‘ on Mexican news site La Jornada, Luis Hernández Navarro, a son of Spanish republican exiles, talks how on news of Franco’s death he and his family uncorked bottles of cava that had been chilling for several days. He talks about his enormous laughter at finding out finding out how Franco’s death had been announced by a tearful Carlos Arias Navarro (then President of the Government) on Spanish television.

Here’s the moment he’s talking about:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Right enough, it is pretty funny.

Although his parents were exiles, Hernández Navarro says he never felt nostalgia for a country that wasn’t his, but

for a cause that still has not been won because in its place there was a monarchy installed: the restoration of the Spanish Republic.

He goes on to note that he finds Baltasar Garzón to be

a dubious and ambiguous figure

This image is taken from the Presidency of Arg...
Baltasar Garzón

but that he

cannot but approve of the intention of the judge to give satisfaction, through the courts, to the families of victims of the Civil War and the dictatorship of Francisco Franco who do not accept that the remains of their ancestors remain unidentified in mass graves.

Focusing on the figure of Garzón, he notes that:

Whereas for some he is a disinterested fighter against injustice and terrorism who deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, for others he violates elemental human rights and carries out his work with exhibitionism and in a twisted manner, particularly on the matter of the Basque Country. The defenders of both points of view have presented evidence that back up their claim.

He goes on to note that:

In the kingdom of Spain there was an amnesia about the Francoist past which regaled an amnesty to the criminales who held on to power during decades. The political class and a part of the intellectual world refused to look back and opted only to look forward. In the meantime, the reds became pink, the Francoists transformed into “democrats”, the falangists became entrepreneurs and the conservatives dressed up as progressives without a hint of regret.


Today it is obvious: the repressed past has returned to Spanish society and politics to demand justice, and impunity has replied, demanding it should maintain its grip on the wheel.

And finally:

Perhaps because he was already a mummy in his lifetime, the burial of Franco was full of absurdities: several days of rehearsals were needed to conduct the funeral proceedings; one of the mourners fell into the tomb and was knocket out; apart from Augusto Pinochet, no important head of state attended the funeral; the civil servants in the Valle de los Caidos [massive fascist mausoleum built with slave labour in honour of the winning side of the Civil War- HG] sweated blood to find a tombstone of the same height that covered the tomb of José Antonio [Primo de Rivera, mentioned here the other day]. As such, [I think..] faced with the outrage of the Garzón case, some 35 years on from his death, the caudillo, in an act of vengeance, cackles from his sepulchre: justice in the kingdom of Spain does not punish the crime of criminal disappearances, but the person who investigates them. A sign that it is time to restore the Republic.

You can see more coverage of Franco’s death here:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Note the prominence of the Catholic Church in proceedings. Wait for the aerial footage at the end of the monumental obscenity of the Valle de los Caídos.


Down the street yesterday evening I came across a new book titled Dublinesca (Dublinesque) by Enrique Vila-Matas, an author of whom I have read nothing. His website tells me he will be participating in a couple of events in Dublin this weekend as part of the Franco-Irish literary festival.

Of the book, he says (I translate):

If I’m talking with a friend,  I feel freer and I don’t tell him about the plot and I speak to him, for example, about a melancholic gravitas, a uniform and sublime tone like that of the last quartets of Beethoven. I speak to him about an autumnal book (Gracián spoke of an autumn of the vigorous age, in which one could glimpse the frozen horrors of Vejecia [Vejecia is a pun: vejez in Spanish means old age, and the name is one letter removed from Venecia – Venice -HG]), of a consummate style, like the one analysed by Edward Said in On Late Style: Schonberg, Rothko, Picasso, surpassing himself, defeating his young self.

Dublinesque – I tell this friend- is a sort of private stroll the length of the bridge that links the Joyce’s world of near excess with the more laconic world of Beckett and which, in the end, is the main journey of the great literature of the last decades: the one that goes from the riches of one Irishman to the deliberate penury of the other; from the era of Gutenberg to Google, from the existence of the sacred (Joyce) to the sombre era of the disappearance of God (Beckett), from the epiphanic to aphonia.

If I’m speaking to the gentleman who has sat down beside me on the train from Dublin to Barcelona and simply wants to know what my novel is about, I tell him “It’s about someone who gets bored and who wants to celebrate a funeral for the world (for his own world too) and discovers that the ceremony gives him something to do. That is, he finds his future in the apocalyptic

Here’s the video that goes with it:

Seems promising enough. I shall read it sometime before 2025, all being well.


More on the Garzón case. A group of prominent cultural figures are staging an indefinite lock-in in the Faculty of Labour Relations in Madrid’s Complutense university.

Actress Pilar Bardem said that “in this street we used to meet up against Francoism. Arriving here today I have felt a sort of negative nostalgia. I did not believe that at the age of 71 I would be locked into the same halls where they locked me in when I was 18. Perhaps it is crazy to say this, but this is the most serious thing to have happened in democracy since 23-F” [the attempted coup d’état of 1981]

The biggest fish among them is Pedro Almodóvar.


El País reports Almodóvar as saying that “Society has a moral debt to those who lost the war and to the family members of those 113,000 corpses that lie in the ditches. If Falange places Garzón in the dock it would be as though Franco had won once more, and that is very difficult to digest.”

Have any cultural figures in Ireland, which prides itself on its cultural weight -writers, artists, musicians, actors or directors- of even a tiny fraction of Almodóvar or Bardem’s prominence taken anything approximating a militant step against the country’s evisceration by corporate raiders? Have they fuck. Though Damien Rice did write a piece for ‘Renewing the Republic’.

I on Twitter

April 2010