Repost: On the 25th November 1992 over a million Irish voters, 62% of those who voted, voted Yes to the 13th amendment to the Irish constitution. This was to give the right to travel to Irish citizens, which in the context of the day was primarily a right to seek an abortion in the UK or elsewhere.
In other words, the Irish people voted that day not against abortion as a practice, but merely as a practice to be carried out HERE. We specifically inserted into our constitution a provision to ensure that the state would not attempt to prevent the procuring of an abortion by an Irish citizen. When other countries ask are you pro-life or pro-choice, we ask WHERE will the procedure be carried out? How Flann O’Brien of us.
Of course, some pro-lifers argue that it is not practical to stop Irish women seeking an abortion abroad. Why then did we have to pass a constitutional amendment to specifically prevent the government from doing that? We did it exactly because an Attorney General tried to do it, and we were mortified at him taking all this right to life of the unborn stuff seriously, making a show of us in front of the Brits and everybody else.
I genuinely am conflicted as to where I stand on abortion, but I’ll tell you one thing: nothing makes my stomach churn faster than watching alleged pro-life Irish politicians dance the popular No Abortion Here jig, and then go all quiet when asked about defending the unborn being exported for abortion. They go all quiet because they know that most Irish people are not pro-life but geographical abortionists, cherishing the unborn until the moment the Ryanair boarding pass is handed over. If they really believed, they’d be advocating a reversal of the 13th amendment and a law making it a criminal offence to seek an abortion abroad. But that would conflict with the look-the-other-way values of the Irish people.
It’s an awful pity hypocrisy isn’t an Olympic sport, because we’d be weighed down with medals.
Every few years we get a TV show that gets designated “the greatest TV show ever”. A few years ago it was The West Wing, The Sopranos, then Mad Men, and now it is either Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones.
All very fine dramas, and proof that this is in fact the golden age of television, when the medium realised its core movie-beating strength as the place for long form story telling.
Then, of course, there’s The Wire. Now, here’s a show that has received more hype than almost every other show, and I’ll be honest: I was sceptical. As I write this, in fact, I’m not even finished its final fifth season.
But I can still say this: the hype is deserved. The Wire is quite possibly the finest TV drama ever made. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for everybody. In fact, the first time I tried to watch it I gave up, finding it slow, turgid and very difficult to get into. It is the very definition of slow burning. But it is worth it, because as a means of telling a complex story, this is the text book.
What’s it about? Nominally, it’s a cop show, about an ongoing investigation into drugs, but in reality, The Wire is about how a modern racially-divided American city (Baltimore) works, warts and all. What’s interesting about it is that there are actually relatively few baddies in it, just people ground up by a relenting economic system forcing them to making choices between ugly options.
On top of that, the story goes from the lowest rung of the social ladder, from the story of a vagrant drug addict peddling tee shirts all the way to the mayor of the city, and how all are connected and seemingly equally powerless. It goes from the police to politics to education to the media. If it wasn’t called The Wire, it should have been called “The Web” because it is a magnificent picture of how modern society is so interconnected.
Finally, you can’t talk about The Wire without talking about the characters and the actors who portray them. I’m not going to name a single one, because that would do a disservice to the literally dozens of superb performances. But if we don’t see more of these superb actors around the place, there’s no justice.
This is the gold standard. That does not mean that everybody will enjoy it. It won’t be to everybody’s taste. But as television drama goes, The Wire is now the bar to be exceeded.
Some years ago, and this just popped into my head yesterday, for some reason, I saw an elderly couple of American tourists holding hands on a street in Dublin. Both were in their late sixties, I’d estimate, and the woman seemed slightly more infirm than the man. But what really struck me was the tenderness he showed towards her as she struggled to open a door into a shop, he making sure she got through and her thanking him with a kiss on the cheek. It seemed to me (and I could be wrong, of course) that they loved each other quite a bit.
Yet here’s the thing: she was black, and he was white. Now, who knows what their history was? They could have met in a retirement home late in life, or they could be married, I can only speculate.
But one thing is certain: when they were young and growing up, it was highly unlikely that either thought they’d end up in their later years with someone of another race. Not only was it not socially “done”, but in some states it was actually illegal.
The fact is, many of the arguments against interracial marriage are the same arguments used against same-sex marriage. That it is a breach with tradition. That is will somehow damage the institution itself, and that children raised in such an environment will be bullied. Above all, the core objection of many is that they don’t like seeing other people doing it. In the same way they didn’t like the idea of President Obama’s parents, they don’t like the idea of Adam & Steve.
Yet where are all the segregationists today who argued against equal rights for blacks and opposed interracial marriage? Where are the “we told you sos!”? They can’t all be dead. Where are their political descendants on platforms denouncing interracial marriage as an experiment that has failed and should now be reversed?
The truth is, they’ve shut the hell up and hope that nobody brings it up, followers of a social Voldemort who would just prefer if we all forget that the unpleasantness ever occurred.
That’s what surprises me about same-sex marriage opponents. Surely they can see the lay of the demographic land? 20 years from now we will see elderly gay couples sharing their golden years together, and where will the opponents of gay marriage be then? Hoping that nobody kept all those clips and newspaper articles of them opposing the tide of social evolution, because that’ll be seriously embarrassing.
Repost: For most of my life, Fianna Fail were the baddies. This was the party of Charles J. Haughey, of tapping phones and beating up political opponents, where corruption was the norm. This was the party where Ray Burke and Pee Flynn and Liam Lawlor were regarded as the mainstream, and where George Colley and Des O’Malley and Bobby Molloy were regarded as traitors for not going along to get along.
This was the party that ran on slogans of “Health cuts hurt the old, the sick and the handicapped” and “There is a better way” and then in power brought in even harsher cuts in spending.
But most of all, Fianna Fail were the party of minimum change, the establishment and the status quo. If there was anything wrong in Ireland, it was either Fianna Fail’s fault for doing it or not doing anything to stop it. Elections were about keeping Fianna Fail out, or at least keeping an eye on the bastards when they were in power.
Then Fine Gael and Labour got in on a platform of reform and change, and started to break promises within weeks. And not just economic promises. Within weeks of entering power, Fine Gael and Labour were abandoning any real political reform and instead paying their cronies the salaries they had attacked Fianna Fail for.
Which leaves me with a choice. Who do I vote for? The government with the biggest list of broken promises in the shortest time in Irish history? Sinn Fein? The Greens, who I have time for but have shown that even in government they struggled to have an impact? Could I vote for Fianna Fail?
What would Fianna Fail have to do to get me onboard?
1. Stop pandering. I have no problem Fianna Fail criticising cuts to public spending. What I have is a serious problem with Fianna Fail refusing to lay out, euro for euro, its alternative. If it can’t do that, if Fianna Fail has not got the intellectual capacity or the political willingness to do so, then it is trying to get elected on the same platform of lies as this crowd.
2. Become a proper liberal party. Fianna Fail is now a member of the European Liberals in the European Parliament. Now, I’m not so naive as to think that overnight FF can become socially liberal, but then, I would not expect it to. Nor does it even need to. Michael Martin should announce that the parliamentary party will designate certain issues, like gay marriage and abortion, as matters of individual conscience, and allow members to vote accordingly. It would be a major step for the party, put pressure on FG and Labour to follow suit, and allow constituents to lobby on those issues meaningfully.
3. Fianna Fail still has an ethics issue. Nothing has changed in FF to prevent the sort of carry-on from the past. The party should appoint an Ethics Commissioner from outside the party, someone of absolute public integrity, perhaps a retired judge, with the power to investigate and permanently dismiss any member from the party. Overnight, FF sets the gold standard on political integrity.
4. Set up an arms-length think tank, funded but not run by the party, with 51% of its board being non-FF members. The objective will be to examine and draft policies to reflect modern Republicanism, with the party free to pick and choose from its output, and even fly the occasional kite. It will also allow FF to broaden its support base without formally asking people to join the party. In the US, UK and on the continent it is becoming the norm for parties to draw on sympathethic exterior bodies. FF could look at the Centre Forum in the UK as an example. As a working title, how about The Lemass-Collins Institute?
5. Fianna Fail needs to start thinking about future coalition arrangements, in particular with Fine Gael and Sinn Fein. If Labour get hammered at the next election, an FG/FF coalition has to be an option for debate, and coming out with a simple historical “No” will lead to FF TDs and senators being made look like clowns on the telly and the radio, because the public does not respect that answer. Secondly, FF needs to have its SF answer ready. Where would FF stand on an SF justice or defence minister controlling Garda promotions, or an SF education minister rewriting what history is taught in our schools?
Of course, all this hinges on Fianna Fail not being dominated by an old guard who think that nothing has changed, and they just have to sit tight, shout at the government, lie to everybody else and wait for the clock to reset. They might even be right.
I’ve decided to do a review of the Gerard Butler headed “Olympus has fallen” not because it was any good, but because it was so silly that I wanted to forensically dissect the silliness. That said, it’s a perfectly entertaining leave-brain-outside movie, it’s just that it was so crammed with dopiness that I had to write about it.
So: spoiler alert! Don’t read on if you’re planning to see it, because I’m going to give away some key “plot” (word used very loosely) points.
First of all, cliche watch:
Square jawed president? Check. Two actually, with Morgan Freeman as the acting president. I think you can actually see Morgan Freeman’s paycheque blutacked to the camera in some scenes.
Annoying cute young “I’m scared!” presidential son who inserts clunky “cute” back story @like that time you ate all the ice cream, Dad!”? Check.
Tragic background (“It wasn’t your fault, Mike, and the president knows it too!”) that explains ex-Special Forces (they’re ALWAYS ex-Special Forces. Is there anyone actually left IN the Special Forces?) Butler’s Secret Service sidelining? Check.
Kickass no nonsense black woman in position of power (USSS chief Angela Bassett)? Check.
North Koreans as baddies? Check.
Moronically stupid Secret Service personnel who seemed to be queuing up to run into sustained automatic gunfire as opposed to actually taking cover and waiting for help from the US Army, which is 15 minutes away? Check.
Blowhard general (Robert Foster) who keeps falling for the most obvious terrorist traps, and decides that Gerard Butler is the main problem, not the terrorists? Check.
Pointless estranged wife who spends entire movie looking constipated and turns up at the White House at the end despite not knowing that her husband was in it? Check.
Then, there’s the ludicrous terrorist plot. Never mind the actual attack on the White House, which is quite a spectacle and relatively credible. The entire attack is based initially on the premise that the life of the US president is worth more than the US’s entire national security, which no one bothers to question throughout the entire movie. In fact, Gerard Butler seems to know more about the Korean geo-political situation than the entire National Security Council. And I mean Gerard Butler the actor, not the agent he’s playing.
Finally, the whole political premises on which the movie is based seems to be written by someone who has only ever seen politics through movies, and not even political movies. At one point, the president juts his jaw out (he does this a lot) and declares that “the United States does not negotiate with terrorists!”, which is something Hollywood screenwriters always thinks sounds good, but sounds silly because everybody knows it is not actually true. If he said “the United States only negotiates with credible terrorist groups we’re actually afraid of,” at least that would be honest.
Finally, there are also glaring plot holes (Or maybe I just missed them) where the terrorists get some vital codes almost casually having spent the whole movie torturing people for them. Then there’s the bizarre point where the US has a system to destroy nuclear missiles which accidentally launch by causing them to explode in a nuclear fireball, which surely defeats the whole point?
Curiously, I did actually enjoy the flick, and have a suspicion it could become a cult so-bad-it’s-good favorite. Butler is quite good, Eckhart is very underused, and the action scenes are fun. Rick Yune, the lead terrorist, seems to be the go-to guy in Hollwood for baddy Koreans these days, which at least guarantees him a decent living until that nut in Pyongyang overplays his hand.
Unlike many of my pro-European colleagues, I was disappointed when the hard left Syriza coalition did not win last year’s Greek general election. I was disappointed because the failure of the non-authoritarian (in the human rights sense) hard-left to actually take control of a modern western nation is bad for politics. It allows its advocates in other countries (like the People’s Front of Killiney) to continue to offer pain-free solutions without ever having to account for their implementation elsewhere. In short, there is no model they can be held account to.
Some point to Venezuela or Cuba, of course, but they always fall at the first hurdle: would those same Chavezist sympathisers have been happy giving Margaret Thatcher, or in Ireland, Charlie Haughey, the same powers that Chavez or Castro had? The answer is always a clear No, which proves the failings of the model. You can’t build a system of government around a cult of personality.
But the idea of a democratic socialist nation is still an attractive City-on-a-hill proposition for many, and so it really would serve democratic capitalism better if there was a genuinely tangible and above all measureable society with which to compare the capitalist model.
Sweden and the Nordic countries generally tend to be hailed as the closest to the ideal, although even they, as Sweden’s reforming free-market orientated coalition has shown, occasionally tip rightwards. Also, the fact that they seem, as a region, to have headed in a broadly similar direction might make one think that culture has played as much a role as politics. Has their severe weather, or the relatively minor penetration of Catholicism played a role in their prosperity?
Whereas the emergence of a genuinely socialist nation looks less and less likely in the current globalised environment, it’s not far fetched to imagine socialist “pockets” developing within a devolved nation. Whether it is San Francisco or perhaps Scotland, federalist politics (in the real sense) mixed with EU-style rights of living and working could offer us a tantalising possibility of micro-socialist states appearing in Europe or the US, where citizens with like-minded values could converge to build a mutually compatible society. Indeed in the US, it has already begun, with religious hardliners knowing they can find shared values in the south, and liberals likewise in New York, Vermont or San Francisco.
If anything, it is over-centralised countries like Ireland or the UK which are denying their citizens the opportunity, and are in danger of losing their more pro-active citizens to other more empowered regions.
And by the way, this is not just an option open to left wing policies: just how would a low tax libertarian county do in Ireland, for example?
Watching the ongoing battles over Croke Park and public sector reform, one can’t help wonder how much easier it would be if we could just pay public sector workers one off compensation for the various practices and allowances we need to change. The problem with that, of course, is that we don’t have the money.
We did have it in the past, and actually gave it to those same public sector workers through the shockingly misnamed “benchmarking” process, but our political leaders didn’t have the guts to look to the long-term when doling out our taxes.
So we ended up with a costly public sector without the benefits of those high costs that more visionary leaders would have insisted upon.
Having said that, it’s not just Irish leaders who always fail to think long-term. It’s the Western disease, leaders who are afraid to tell today’s voters that they must sacrifice for tomorrow’s benefit. Whether it is public sector or pension or energy or environmental needs, short-term, the needs of the next election, always triumph over future need.
How do we address this? One possible way might be to force politicians to choose between political expediency now, and their own personal economic benefit after they have left office.
Supposing we devised a formula which took account of, for example, the unemployment rate, inflation, and the budget deficit, and used it to decide what share of their pension they get every year they claim it.
It would mean that Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern would be very much aware of their short-term decision making today.
In fact, they’d be very reliant on their successors doing a good job to ensure their pension performs well. Perhaps that would have made them pay more attention to the needs of good government and long-term planning whilst in office?
Mrs Thatcher, not one for sleeping much to begin with, had nevertheless been awoken with the news. HMS Invincible had been hit by at least three Exocet missiles, and was sinking. Casualties were lighter than expected, but the captain had given the abandon ship order. The prime minister, after ensuring that all possible aid was given to the escaping survivors, addressed the question her assembled military and political staff waited for. Could they still retake the islands? Admiral Woodward was blunt. Air cover was vital, and with Invincible lost, HMS Hermes was now the sole provider of air cover, and the Argentinians knew it too. The entire enemy air force, he said, would be tasked with sinking the Hermes. That was easier said than done, given the range problems the Argentine Air Force had, having to fly from the mainland, but it meant that the closer the Hermes was to the Falklands themselves, to provide air support for ground forces, the greater the risk was that it could be hit.
Woodward also pointed out the effect the sinking of the Invincible would have on the morale of both sides, and that it would play a significant role. He was right. The following morning, despite D Notices being issued to all British newspapers, the Sun and the Mirror both ran with screen grabs from an American TV crew in a chartered plane who had footage of the ship’s last moments before it slipped beneath. The Sun declared “You Argy Bastards!” whilst the Mirror went with the more restrained “Revenge now!” The country swung solidly behind the prime minister, but then, it did not know what she knew. She had a choice. Risk the Hermes in close support, the loss of which would mean the end of the campaign, or risk soldiers lives without air support. Her political advisers were clear. Parliament would not wear the loss of the Hermes, and she would be gone by the end of the day. They advocated a landing without full air support.
The military objected strongly, with the head of the army threatening to resign in a red-faced heated exchange with a political advisor where he refused to put British soldiers into unnecessary danger to save a politician’s blushes. Mrs Thatcher, in a moment of honour that even her most ardent opponents recognised as an act of nobility, assured the general that she would never give such an order. She then instructed her foreign secretary to contact the Americans to act as go-betweens.
US Secretary of State Alexander Haig quickly negotiated a ceasefire, and within three weeks US helicopters were landing in the Falklands to evacuate any Falkland Islanders who wished to be evacuated from the conflict zone. The talks in Washington quickly settled on the concept of Britain conceding shared sovereignty of the islands in return for an Argentine withdrawal. When Mrs Thatcher visited the White House to make it clear to President Reagan that such an option was not acceptable, the president diplomatically informed her that she had no choice. Argentina was the force on the ground and she was negotiating from a position of weakness. She then requested US military assistance to change that fact. When President Reagan refused, she departed, and never spoke to him again for the rest of his life.
With the task force limping back to Portsmouth, the polls, which previous to the invasion had the newly formed centrist Social Democratic Party with over 50%, and the Tories in third place, opened up even wider. The prime minister delayed the general election until May 1984, but the desperate economic news and the humiliation of the Falklands led to her being christened “The Jimmy Carter of British Politics” by Liberal leader David Steel, and the voters seemed to agree, handing a huge majority to the SDP-Liberal Alliance with just under 48% of the vote. Labour suffered losses too, but the real casualties were the Conservative Party, who stumbled back into Parliament with less than 50 seats, Mrs Thatcher losing her own seat in Finchley by 234 votes.
Roy Jenkins, the former Labour Chancellor and President of the European Commission, and now prime minister, moved quickly to take advantage of the momentum of his historic win. Bills on constitutional reform, including changing the voting system, were quickly passed through the Commons, with the House of Lords, despite having only a tiny minority of SDP and Liberal peers, afraid to block a government which such a huge mandate. Jenkins also surprised many by making trades union reform a centrepiece of his government, although looking to Germany for inspiration. The new legislation swept away many of the old restrictive practices whilst putting in place generous profit sharing arrangements for employees, and tax incentives for the companies that signed up to them. The Jenkins government radically changed the approach of the government to industry and manufacturing, investing state money in companies willing to take the long term view, whilst pushing in the EEC for a dismantling of barriers to a European single market.
Jenkins then lobbied for, and succeeded in the appointment of a British President of the European Commission to take a tough approach to this agenda. European history books written years later credited the beginning of the final phase of European integration, a real single market, with the ten year European Commission led by President Thatcher.
Some years ago I was on Newstalk to discuss the anniversary of Margaret Thatcher’s coming to power in 1979. During the course of the discussion, I got into a heated row with a member of the Social Party over the myth that working class people didn’t benefit at all from her time in office. The reason it got heated was because, aside from the creation of the NHS by Clement Attlee (who disgracefully did not get a state funeral, having impacted British life at least as much, if not more, than Mrs T) Mrs Thatcher was responsible for the single most radical socialist act of the post-war years. She let people buy their council homes.
When you say this to people, they roll their eyes. Some on the left (in dwindling numbers, it has to be said) are outraged at the concept of selling council houses, but the reality is this: it was a radical act of wealth transfer from rich (through taxation) to the state (who used those taxes to build the houses) to poor, by selling an under-valued asset which appreciated in value and was now owned by people who had never owned such an asset before. This was wealth redistribution on a scale unheard of.
Of course, she banned those same local authorities from using the proceeds of those sales to build more houses, a short-sighted and (indeed hypocritical) act from a woman who lectured about freeing people from the dead hand of centralised control. Apparently people are free to do what they want, as long as she approves of it. But the policy did give poor people more actual wealth than they’d ever had before.
The greatest myth about her, however, is the “freedom” label that right-wingers attach to her. Economically, she did liberalise a lot of services, and did improve choice. But politically, while she was unquestionably a democrat, she was not big on devolving power away from the centre, holding onto it with all the zeal of a European Commissioner. When the people of London kept electing Labour Greater London Councils, she abolished them (the GLC, not the people). She refused to let the people of Scotland decide their own internal affairs, and she defended an electoral system which imposed a minority rule on the majority.
On the Falklands, she was right. The people of the Falklands should decide their own future, not some fascist dictator. On South Africa, she was just plain wrong.
The right, especially in the US, who will now attempt to create a cartoon version of her to fit whatever the agenda of the day is, will ignore the awkward stuff. She didn’t privatise the NHS, did believe in human activity causing climate change, didn’t introduce the death penalty, made abortion MORE available, and through the expansion of Qualified Majority Voting took a major leap towards a united Europe. And she took Britain into the Exchange Rate Mechanism, something eurosceptics quietly airbrush out.
But all that is mere detail. The reason Margaret Thatcher was a success was because she could speak to the gut. Unlike any Tory leader before, save maybe Stanley Baldwin (Churchill’s status was unique. His finest hour was not a Tory one), she could speak to the values of ordinary working Brits in a way that many of her successors, and certainly not the modern political leadership, can. Cameron and Milliband, with their I-eat-pasties-too pandering look just plain odd beside her, and that’s possibly her greatest contribution: that a leader can be blunt about what they stand for, and you can like it or lump it.
After all, it’s hard to imagine her worrying about whether people thought she ate pasties or not.