Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Hollande: proof that playing it safe is sometimes the most dangerous thing to do.

Posted by Jason O on May 14, 2017 in European Union, Politics

Hollande scooterPresident Francois Hollande is leaving office with approval ratings that would make Fred West distance himself. Why is he so unpopular? What terrible thing did he do? Well, alright, he did that thing that every sane Frenchman must know is lethal. It wasn’t having a mistress that was the problem. Sure, that’s to French politics what having a favourite piece of scripture is to US politics. No, he humiliated his partner in the process, and that is the political equivalent of sticking a fork in a toaster.

Even so, he could probably have weathered even that if he’d been actually successful as president, and addressed the economic malaise and self-doubt that that has gripped the French for the last fifteen years. It wasn’t that he did something bad. It was that he, like Sarkozy and Chirac before him, was terrified of doing anything. He simply refused to make bold but unpopular decisions until it was too late.

As he packs his boxes over the weekend it must have occurred to him that trying to avoid being unpopular does not automatically make one popular. It makes one look weak, and that’s never popular. Unlike Blair or Merkel or even George W. Bush who will find their legacies debated for decades, Hollande will be the forgotten president. Not even a quietly competent unshowy John Major type. Just forgotten. That’s not an achievement.

Supposing he had attempted to push through big and radical economic changes, as Gerhard Schroeder had in Germany. Would it have saved his presidency? Possibly not. But Schroeder didn’t leave office a failure. Merkel only bested Schroeder’s SPD in 2005 by a single percentage point, despite his government inflicting radical and painful welfare reforms. He left with a legacy, and that matters. Germany’s prosperity today can be traced in part back to Schroeder’s courage in office.

Hollande’s legacy will be the image of him on a scooter visiting his mistress, looking like a randy Snoopy.

No De Gaulle he.

 
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The speech I’d like President-elect Macron to give*

Posted by Jason O on May 4, 2017 in European Union, Politics

Macron*Assuming he wins. I don’t take that for granted at all.

My fellow French citizens. You, my new employers:

Thank you  for the honour you have bestowed on me tonight. This has been an extraordinary election, and has one clear message that has come through tonight from virtually every voter, regardless of whom they voted for.

The French want change.

I am acutely aware that many of you, of right, centre and left did not as much give me your votes as lend them to me.

I understand that. I will not forget that.

It is, as I said, a precious honour that I will treasure with humility.

Our nation faces huge challenges, from the maintaining of economic dignity of our people, to our security from extremists, to our place in the world.

Change is coming at a speed never witnessed before in living memory. The challenges of technological change, of migration, of climate change are all titanic.

Yet this is not a nation of weakness. We are not a people with nothing to offer. We live in the most beautiful country in the world. We produce the greatest food. We build the greatest airliners. Our culture from our language to our movies to our art to our fashion to our literature are those of a superpower. We put nuclear aircraft carriers to sea. Our fighters bomb ISIS. Al Quaeda in Mali did not see a defeated or feeble nation: they flee in terror as our foreign legion liberates the people of that friendly nation.

France is not on its knees. We do not lack strength. What we need now is courage. To not fear change, not be hijacked by it, but to seize it and make it our weapon to do what we want. 

The solutions to our problems will not come from just the left or right. This election has shown that a good idea must be respected as such, regardless of which party or candidate suggests it first. I intend to assemble a government of all France, of all talents, of all generations of the French.

I campaigned in favour of free trade and free markets. But also that both must deliver their benefits first to the people. 

As France must change, so must Europe. I believe in Europe and its unity as a community of sovereign nations, cooperating on our shared values. But also recognizing that Brussels is the servant of the people, not the master.

They work for us, not the other way.

Both Brussels and the markets, like every good dog, may occasionally need a tap on the nose with a rolled up newspaper to remind them whose house it is that they live in.

We must show generosity to those fleeing war whilst ensuring that we control our borders. To those who see France as a great nation of which they wish to be part of, and who wish to share our values, to you I say you are welcome. You can be a good Frenchman and a good Jew. A good Muslim. A good Christian. A good atheist.

But to those who wish to come to our land and impose other values, the values of the extremist, I say to you: keep walking. This country and this continent are not for you.

And let me be very clear: if the security of the borders of France and Europe require taking action, be it military or humanitarian, outside the continent, so be it. This country will not be found wanting.   

My fellow citizens: some recently spoke of Making France Great Again. 

France is great. France is strong. France is courageous.

France does not fear the night. France makes the day.

Long live the republic.   

 
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A free eNovella about the future of Europe: Fulcrum

Posted by Jason O on Apr 30, 2017 in Books, eNovels & Writing, European Union, Writing

Fulcrum

Europe. The near future.

The Russian invasion of Europe has been defeated.

An EU safezone holds millions of refugees in North Africa.

In Brussels, a woman directs the continent.

To some she is a saviour.

To others a tyrant.

To one man, a target.

You can download a PDF of “Fulcum” below. Enjoy!

Fulcrum eNovella

 

 
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Europe needs to be an elephant.

Posted by Jason O on Mar 24, 2017 in European Union

LondonWe all know how we feel about the attack on London. Like Nice, Paris, London, Madrid, Brussels, Ankara, there’s the temptation to lash out. Bomb them into the stone age. Wipe ‘em out. Kill ‘em all. #stopislam.

But we also know that’s not the solution, because it won’t work and it isn’t who we are.

We can scrap Schengen, close our borders, tag Muslims, waterboard suspects, drone strike suspects in the Middle East. It might make us feel better, but even just for a little while. Then we watch Muslim children on our streets, fear in their eyes, their parents telling them that they’re hated, other children not wanting to play with them.

That’s not the Europe I want to live in, nor do I want these bastards to decide what sort of continent Europe will be.

This fascist death cult that attacks our cities is small, flexible, and yes, has some support amongst Muslim communities. But the way to fight it is through intelligence, surveillance, cross-border cooperation, rapid response and hand-in-hand with moderate European Muslims who regard these guys with as much disdain as non-Muslims. Well-resourced, targeted, nuanced. We could start by ensuring that there are EU resources available to EU countries like Belgium who are struggling to contain the internal threat. Maybe it is time for Europol to get teeth, to become not Europe’s FBI but its MI5.

I remember being in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s when many didn’t see a difference between being Irish and being a terrorist. Treating me as a potential terrorist would not have made me more anti-terrorist, but would have pushed me towards the terrorists. The British discovered this in Northern Ireland. Having said that, it’s time to take a hardline on Europeans who go to fight for radical Islam and also on (particularly) Saudi funding of conservative Madrassas in Europe. Neither should be welcome in Europe.

Finally, and this sounds counter-intuitive, but Europe should shake off these attacks as mere pinpricks on an elephant. We’re 500 million people. They’re never going to defeat us, no matter how many attacks they carry out. Instead, they want to provoke us into overreacting against Islam. That’s their aim. They want us to be less tolerant, less open, less European.

Let them go to hell. To quote Father Damo from “Father Ted”, perhaps unusually in these dark days, but relevant all the same: They’re not the boss of us.

 
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A few awkward points about fighting terrorism.

Posted by Jason O on Mar 22, 2017 in European Union

France_antisemitism_150629_900_LT-810x539There are events that one wants to write about but finds that one has said what one wanted to say before. Because these things keep f**king happening.

Repost.

We’re living in scary times, with what feels like almost daily attacks across Europe. Let’s just take a breath and consider a few things:

1. IS “claiming” ownership of attacks is like one of those countries (you know who I’m talking about) which claims a successful actor/athlete as one of theirs, and then when he/she flops suddenly disowns them. Most of these attacks are franchise attacks, often claimed after the attacker has been killed. Most are not part of a conspiracy.

2. Beware of politicians who are as much obsessed with being seeing to do something as actually doing something. If Sarko, for example, had to choose between putting troops on the streets, or spending those funds on a less public but more effective method of dealing with terrorism, I suspect he’d go with the former. It’s funny, by the way, how politicians who bang on about the niceties of human rights laws suddenly get very legalistic when being investigated themselves on corruption charges.

3. The public need to be wary of putting too much emphasis on visible forms of fighting terrorism. Consider this: if France wanted to put two armed soldiers within running distance of every 150 of its’ citizens, say on every village main street or every two urban streets, on a three shift basis, that’s 2.6m soldiers. That’s not including logistical support, extra guards for public places, synagogues, churches (and soon mosques, wait and see) or indeed the army actually defending France from external threats. Of course, France has large police forces too, but the figures and costs are huge and would means cuts in other public services. In short, you’re letting a few hundred nuts radically transform your society.

4. Terrorism comes in two forms, random and planned. Planned is defeated by intelligence, and random by quick response. We need small, fast and smart responses. Europe needs an MI5/GCHQ, a well-resourced clearing house and surveillance support to assist the smaller countries like Belgium.

5. Is mental illness playing as significant a role in some of these attacks as ideology? Either way, the public must be protected. But let’s not see a conspiracy where it isn’t.

6. Having said that, is it time for a defined set of European values, offending against which is a criminal offence in itself? It would be a big step against freedom of speech, although not that big on the continent where Holocaust denial is a criminal offence. People say there is no such thing as a European demos. I suspect these attacks are helping create one. When Paris or Brussels was attacked, most of us don’t see it as an attack on France or Belgium, as an attack on THEM. It’s an attack on us.

7. There is an issue about minority exclusion. Surely recruiting police and security agents from the suburbs of Paris makes more sense than randomly bombing things in Iraq/Syria?

8. Muslims have died both fighting these terrorists and being killed by them. This continent knows all about pointing at one faith and saying “get rid of them and our problems go away.” No. just, no.

9. If you were IS, turning the majority of Europeans against ordinary Muslims must be amongst your highest priorities. Ask the Catholics of the north of Ireland how internment helped recruit IRA sympathisers.

10. What the hell are we doing letting the Saudis fund mosques and schools in Europe for?

11. I remain convinced that Europe needs to create a safe off-shore buffer zone where refugees can be processed and where those refugees who show an unwillingness to conform to European values be prevented from reaching the EU itself. I’m not talking about an Australian style detention centre though: I’m talking about building a little piece of Europe away from Europe. Given the disastrous impact terrorism has had on tourism in North Africa, it might not be impossible for the EU to lease a chunk of land for such a purpose.

12. We need to keep an eye on the far-right too. Far-right terrorism will make an appearance soon, and is as much a threat to European values as religious extremism.

 
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For the world, and for itself, Europe must act its size.

Posted by Jason O on Jan 29, 2017 in Brexit Referendum, British Politics, European Union, US Politics

political-map-of-europe-lgIn the United States cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Northern France, the bodies of over 9000 US servicemen rest. Over 9000 Americans who gave their lives on the beaches of Normandy and elsewhere to free Europe from the shackles of Nazism. It is not an exaggeration to say that without their sacrifice, Western Europe would not know the 71 years of freedom it has enjoyed since the war.

The United States is not our enemy, nor should it ever be. The common values and the common history of the Atlantic, of Europe and America, mean too much.

But the election of the current President of the United States puts unique challenges in the path of Europe. From the defence of our Eastern most nations, to the securing of our southern borders, to our relations with Islam, to the defence of free trade and the prosperity it generates, these challenges throw a gauntlet down before this generation of Europeans and our leaders.

We are not some feeble minor nation. We are 450 million of the richest people on Earth, with some of the most powerful industries on the planet. We own one of the greatest common markets in human history. We build ships and cars and planes and aircraft carriers and yes, even nuclear weapons. We grow the finest foods on the planet, in vast quantities. We have the most beautiful cities in the world.

We are, in terms of spending, the second great military power on the planet if but we choose to recognize it.

And we are the greatest home on the planet to freedom, to tolerance, to diversity. We do not recognize torture. We do not execute our people. We do not boast of how many of our people we jail. We believe healthcare is a human right, not a privilege.

We are not perfect. Among us are extremists, both religious and political, including those who seek to deny the hateful crimes of the past against the Jewish people and others. But there is a majority across our continent which stands fast against those demons of both our past and our present, ready to fight, at the polling booth, on the streets.

Those demons, they shall not pass.

There are those who say there is no such thing as a European demos. That you can not build a united Europe because Europeans do not share a common history or common values.

The current incumbents of the Kremlin and the White House have disproved that. Europeans of the right and left have looked on in recent times and agreed that there is an alternative to a nationalism built on suspicion and fear. That love of one’s homeland does not automatically indicate fear of another.

Look at the response of Europeans to the attacks in Paris and Brussels and Madrid and Berlin. We did not treat those attacks as outrages in strange distant lands. They were attacks on us all, on our ways.

That is what unites Europeans. That I can walk the beautiful streets of Barcelona or Paris or Milano and know that an attack on them is an attack on my values too.

This is not a call for an identikit single nation called Europe. We are sovereign proud nations, proud of our flags and our history.

History has thought us that the defence of that sovereignty will come from the sharing of tasks and resources to magnify the power of all.

It’s time for us to recognize that the great nation to our east only respects strength, and that the great nation to our west is in a time of great insular strain. Given those realities, Europe must act decisively to secure its own interest and speak with strength in defence of our values.

We must build a European Defence Force, made up of volunteers, with the clear objective of pooling enough existing resources to get the increased capability we need to secure our borders east and south.

We must establish, in Northern Africa or elsewhere, an EU run refugee safezone to provide shelter for anyone fleeing oppression, and allowing us to restore full control of our continental borders. No more can we let our despotic neighbours use refugees as a boot with which to press on our throat.

We, as one of the three great economic powers, should enter immediate negotiations to create an Atlantic free trade area. Unlike others, we can negotiate with the United States as an economic equal, because we are. We should do so, but only as an equal.

These great projects are as much an act of self interest of the nations of free Europe as a pursuit of noble ideals. But both roads lead to the same destination. A strong Europe as the tool of its sovereign nations, putting our values at the table of nations.

In the words of that great European, Winston Churchill: Let Europe arise. 

 
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Ireland as a liberal oasis.

Posted by Jason O on Jan 14, 2017 in European Union, Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition

islandPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition. 

As a columnist, giving out yards about the state of the country is pretty much bread and butter. But I’ve always tried, if not succeeded, to convey that my frustration with this country is not from anger with it, but the fact that it is so tantalisingly close to moving from being a great country to a world leader.

It’s from that perspective that I get irritated when I see, and it’s pretty common in Ireland, someone launch a tirade about what an awful place this country is. You’ve heard it yourself. They’ll start with homelessness, or health waiting lists, or mental health services, or any number of legitimate areas of dissatisfaction. But that will be a launch pad into how we have no health service, no welfare system, no housing, how the country is run by the banks and how austerity has left us in a third world country. How we have no democratic choices and how the Gardai are fascist boot-boys and how the media is run by Ireland’s version of C. Montgomery Burns.

Except they get to say all this freely. And secret police don’t kick in their doors, or shut down the Socialist Worker. And they do win seats in the national parliament and draw very nice salaries.

See, that’s the frustrating bit. This country has its flaws in its public services yet our health service provides cheap and efficient care for millions. The great majority of our people are housed pretty well. Hunger is less of a problem than obesity. Our old people get good pensions.

Say what you will about Enda and Micheal and the rest, because you can. Unlike in Turkey or Russia. In Russia journalists investigating crime and corruption get murdered. Know what happens when a crime journalist gets murdered here? As it happens, we do know. The state, our state, mobilised to defend freedom of speech and brought its boot down not on the free press but those who threatened violence against it. Give abuse to our politicians and they might abuse you back, but they won’t send thugs around, even the ones who used to justify murdering political opponents.

But if you really want to know what a great country this is, ask someone who lives and works here but isn’t an EU citizen. Ask them would they like an Irish passport, and they’ll tell you it is a treasured document.

This isn’t all an accident. We’ve made mistakes, and lacked ambition for ourselves, especially with our natural resources, but this has been, since the end of the civil war, one of the most free nations on Earth. As the Trumps and Wilders and Le Pens and Erdogans and Putins become the norm, our little island may well be one of the few tiny specks of light in the coming darkness.

There’s a potential for us, to be Singapore on the Atlantic, but with, you know, a proper democracy. A small well-run place where crazy people are kept away from power. Where Enda and the rest, for all they do that gets up our nose, aren’t Trumpolini. Ourselves, Canada and New Zealand have the chance to be a haven for Americans and others. For a fee, of course. We can’t let everybody in.

But we have a clean, stable, English speaking country with socialised medicine, strict gun control, no death penalty, same-sex marriage, public broadcasting standards, a restriction on paid political advertising on TV and fair elections. We’ve even got an American in the cabinet, and they’ll just love Michael D with the poetry and the Castro. Yeah, the abortion thing might annoy them but given what the Republicans are planning to do with abortion it’s not impossible we end up becoming a pro-choice country just as the US buys a second-hand 8th amendment.

As President Trump starts pulling back on foreign direct investment by US companies, we might find ourselves scrambling for some other strategy.

I think I might have it. You know that ad the National Lottery are currently running about the guy who wins the lottery and buys an island which he gives to Ireland? The first time I saw it, I thought it was just silly and not a little bit colonialist. But then it struck me. If Ireland remains one of the few countries in the world not run by a variation of either Nazis or good old fashioned eejits (I’m looking at you, Venezuela), we could be a refuge for moderate rich liberals who want either to ride out the storm o’crazy or even retire. But the weather isn’t great here, and it’s a serious problem for all those Californian liberals.

But what if the state did buy an island somewhere nice? Owned by the state, operated by the state, and served by Aer Lingus. We could extend our non-crazy jurisdiction to the island, and still tax those liberal refugees. We could stick a few guards and soldiers on it, use rotation to the island for six months as a sweetener in the public sector talks, and here’s the best bit.

It would become a  holiday destination for the Irish. Good weather but also somewhere you could still see “Fair City”, get proper chips and Brennans sliced pan. We’d keep the holiday spending in the extended country’s economy.

Of course, we’d have to do something about the duty free and the price of a pint. As for who we’d appoint governor…

 
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When making choices becomes unpopular.

Posted by Jason O on Jan 8, 2017 in European Union, Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition

oil-rigPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition

Every once in a while a myth emerges that Ireland could be the Saudi Arabia of either natural gas or fish if it hadn’t been for the dastardly EU or multinationals robbing our natural resources. It’s a very comfortable myth that fits meets with all the criteria of a good Irish tale of suffering and woe.

Firstly, it’s about the simple decent Irish being tricked out of something by more clever foreigners, once again left standing on the side of the market road with a bag of beans as some rapscallion legs it with our prize heifer. Secondly, the prize is always something magical that could have solved all our problems if only we had a chance to benefit from it. Thirdly, it fits in with our bizarre national pride in being the fabled Most Oppressed People Ever, a country with an almost masochistic pleasure in being done in once again. As if our national symbol shouldn’t be a harp but a “Pulp Fiction” style leather gimp mask.

It’s a load of nonsense. It’s true, we do let other countries take out vast amount of fish from our waters. But the question I always ask is what were we doing with those fish before we joined the EEC in 1973? Bear in mind the Norwegian people turned down EEC membership in the same year  because they had exploited their resources and felt they didn’t need to join. Were we a fishing superpower, exploiting our natural resources before the evil continentals came and stole our golden goose?

No, we weren’t. In our 50 years of independence from 1922 until we joined the EEC in 1973 we did feck all with our much ballyhooed natural resources. We had no Brits to bully us, no European Commission to set down fishing quotas. We had just us and near total national sovereignty. We were masters of our own domain.

Did we build our own super trawlers and factory ships and conquer foreign markets with good Irish fish? Did we create hundreds of thousands of Irish jobs as a result, stemming the flow of emigration that blighted our land for a century and more?

No. We did little, but started complaining once someone else did something with them, even though we benefitted both directly and indirectly, as did they.

And, by the way: you know all that complaining we do about Spanish trawlers? We were in the EEC before Spain was. We were on the team negotiating with Spain on them joining, so we can hardly complain that Spain got too good a deal.

With Spain in 1985, as with us joining in 1972, we did a cost benefit analysis. What was in our overall interest? Would we lose fish to others? Yes. Would we gain in other areas by joining the EEC and not blocking Spain, as we could have? Yes. We took a conscious decision that hurting our fishermen, and we did hurt them, was in the long run of benefit to the common good for the majority, and we were right. This country, and the people in it, are far richer than in was in 1972 when we had complete control over our fisheries. We had far more farmers than fishermen and they benefitted from access to European markets, standards and the Common Agricultural Policy.

The fact that we chose not to share more of that new wealth with those fishing communities was not a decision made in Brussels, but in the Dail. National sovereignty in action.

In recent years, it’s becoming fashionable to talk once again about national sovereignty as if it is some newly discovered concept. As if suddenly just ignoring the EU or globalisation is some sort of Make Ireland Great Again switch that we could just press if the people we keep electing in free elections weren’t all traitors and sell-outs.    

Yet national sovereignty itself is a compromise between symbolism and the power to shape a nation’s destiny. North Korea has much more national sovereignty than South Korea, for example. The south is tied into defence and trade alliances with the US and Japan, whereas North Korea barely listens to China, if anyone. Yet in the south they ponder buying the new Samsung or an iPhone, whereas in the north the big debate for many is whether there’s enough tree bark to go around for supper. Which people have more real sovereignty, that is, control over their actual lives?

The debate to be had isn’t about national sovereignty, but a dangerous growing tendency in electorates across the west to not liking choices. It’s hardly suprising: the post-1945 welfare state was fuelled by levels of growth and borrowing that made choices easy. But there are no easy choices left.

Look at the hand-wringing on-line over the horrific scenes coming out of Aleppo, and Europeans demanding their governments do something. In the same breath, many of the same people oppose Europe acquiring a serious military capability, or the consequences of taking in refugees, or creating some vast EU funded safe-zone somewhere.

But this is the challenge for the new generation of those seeking office. To confront the people who elected them and tell them that phrases like national sovereignty are meaningless. That modern life is about choices, often choosing the least worst of them.

The politician who figures out how to communicate that and still get elected will rule the world.

 
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We have no concept of what war means.

Posted by Jason O on Jan 1, 2017 in Brexit Referendum, British Politics, European Union, Irish Politics

estonian-troopsPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition

Last week I was discussing online Sinn Fein’s proposed constitutional amendment on neutrality. As it happens, as someone who is unashamedly pro-NATO, I actually have little problem with Sinn Fein’s desire to put a constitutional ban on us joining military alliance.

For one, it means that Sinn Fein accepts, despite protests to the contrary for years, that the EU is not a military alliance, and that therefore military cooperation within the EU would be compliant with the Irish constitution. Glad to hear it. I’m not sure that is Sinn Fein’s actual aim, but as the 8th amendment has proven, sticking this stuff in Bunreacht na hEireann can actually have the opposite effect to what was intended.

It would also mean we’d have to have a referendum to join NATO. Again, shock horror! Is there anyone who thought that we wouldn’t? Really? I can live quite comfortably with the idea of Ireland not being in NATO for the simple reason that NATO is very important to the defence of this continent, and I don’t really want some sub-par Irish minister interfering with its work. Better we remain outside and just adopt NATO standards after they have been agreed by serious people, as we do now.

But back to my online discussion. A person very sincere in their beliefs about Irish neutrality informed me that they were completely against Irish troops ever serving in a conflict.

The statement fascinated me, because it assumed, as many, perhaps most Irish people do, that conflict is a choice. That if a country chooses not to be involved in war, then it doesn’t have to be.

It’s the sort of utopian view of war that only two sorts of countries can indulge in: ones that are armed heavily enough to make an aggressor think twice, or one that is actually physically hiding behind well-armed and friendly nations. Guess which one we are.

The statement caught my eye because I’d been reading tweets from the various Baltic ambassadors to NATO. Well, someone has to. But all three are full of reports of their local forces, both full-time and reserve, engaged in exercises and training with NATO partners. All three, along with their partners, are genuinely concerned at the possibility of a Russian attack on one of those countries under the pretext of protecting the Russian minority living in them.

Ordinary Estonians are giving up their weekends to drill and train in guerrilla and interdiction tactics to delay invading Russian forces until their NATO partners can reach them. Indeed, each country has seen the number of external NATO forces increase within the country for both training assistance but also as a deterrent against the aggression of the Kremlin.

Imagine an Irishman telling those Estonian farmers, bus drivers and shopkeepers that if they don’t want a war, they should leave NATO and tell the Russians that they want peace. That you can avoid war by just not participating. That NATO are the baddies.

If there is a conflict in the Baltics or elsewhere, it’s possible that we may not be directly involved. The US may or may not need to use Shannon. That’s assuming the US helps: we can’t be certain with the new guy. He might want a deposit first.

But supposing the US requested the use of Shannon as an emergency landing facility, and it was followed up by a threat from the Russians that such use would make Shannon and its surrounds a military target. Would we tell the Russians to get stuffed? Or block the runway to stop damaged US planes from using it, possibly threatening the lives of US pilots, live on US television?

Either way, we’re suddenly involved.

Ireland doesn’t do war. That’s not to say the Irish don’t do war, as those thousands of Irish who fought in the allied forces can testify. Or those Irish who went during the Spanish civil war to fight against fascism (socialists, liberals and republicans) or to complain about the food (the blueshirts).

But as a country, war is something that happens to other people because they sort of like it or are a bit mad. If the Russians bombed us half the country would blame the Americans, waiting for the Russians to arrive so they can sue them for compensation.

Yet even in 1916, in the proclamation, we recognised the support of gallant allies. Would we have been outraged if tiny Estonia (which in fairness had its own problems in 1916) had sent troops to help fight during the Rising? Or would we fete them today as heroes and friends of Ireland? Yet if Estonia, a tiny free country dominated by a larger aggressive and imperialist neighbour asked for our help, our response would be “that’s not our problem”? Is it because we see ourselves not as a nation that shapes events but primarily as a victim nation that constantly needs help from others?

The truth is that if the Baltics asked for volunteers to help defend them, I suspect that there would not be a shortage of  Irish volunteers willing to fight to defend other small free nations, even if collectively as a people we washed our hands of it.

After all, even in our own war of independence most people sat it out to see what side triumphed, then stormed in at the end claiming they were onside all along.

It’s an Irish tradition.   

 
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In defence of elites.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 3, 2016 in European Union, Irish Politics

The Times ScreenshotPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition.

Elites. There’s the villain of the day, the word bandied about by both the hard right and the hard left to signify those from whom all woe emanates. It’s a nice handy shorthand, and works everywhere. In Trumpian America, Brexit Britain, Le Pen’s France, Paul Murphy’s Ireland. If we could only get rid of elites, sure, wouldn’t we be in clover?

Yeah. I’ve yet to find a definition of “elite” which has common agreement. Is it the mega-rich? Not if you look at who just got elected to the White House on a Down-With-The-Elites platform. Is there anyone who thinks Donald Trump and the Republican congress is going to dismantle capitalism? Even his supporters don’t expect that.

Surely, if it were a revolt by the poor against their economic betters then Jeremy Corbyn would be topping the poll? Or the alphabet left in Ireland would be at least bumping around the same 25% in the polls that the distinctly counter-revolutionary Fianna Fail and Fine Gael each command? Marine Le Pen is certainly more economically left wing but even that’s more to do with populism than a dismantling of capitalism. Nigel Farage is a former City of London trader. The same struggling white working class who elected Trump also elected a majority Republican congress, a party that has systematically and unashamedly tried to dismantle the modest US welfare system. 

Sure, you can point at Davos and Martha’s Vineyard and Blair and Clinton types all meeting in pretty salubrious surrounds, and of course the sharing of wealth is an issue.

But the reality is that when many talk about the elites they are talking about a group, even a class, that they say is not just economically but culturally apart.

Look at the breakdown of who voted Trump. 53% of white women voted that he was closer to their values than an actual white woman. 29% of Latinos voted for him. They saw something in him that they couldn’t see in Hillary Clinton. Was it that she represented some sort of elite disconnected from their lives?

Let’s look at this elite. Who are they? They’re pro-immigration, more secular than not, internationalist, pro-free trade, socially liberal, economically centrist.

Against them, we’re told that the “ordinary people” are nervous if not openly hostile to immigration, traditionally religious, nationalist and suspicious about it, against free trade and economically in favour of both lower taxes and higher spending.

The problem with the disconnected elite argument is that when you trace it through history, the liberal elite are right more often than they are wrong. It was the unrepresentative elite who pushed for an end to slavery. Votes for women. Desegregation. Indeed, all three were condemned at the time as being lofty interference from on high by pointy-headed intellectuals in their ivory towers. Desegregation was forced on the southern states of the United States almost completely against the democratic wishes of the people of those states. The fancy-pants liberal elite literally sent soldiers into those states to enforce elitist liberal laws that black children could attend the same schools as white children.

Take our own country. A liberal elite here scrapped the marriage ban in the civil service in a time when Fianna Fail had a motion at its Ard Fheis suggesting that married women in work were unfairly depriving others of work. Homosexuality was decriminalised without much national debate, with no party of significance taking a stand against, despite the fact that there probably was a significant minority opposed.

Having said that, our own constitution has probably helped in this regard, in that many changes on everything from the special position of the Catholic Church to divorce to marriage equality to the death penalty all had to go before the people. But movement on all were started by a small liberal elite whose views eventually became a majority view. 

Across the west, the liberal elite has been right more often than it was wrong. It championed international cooperation on security (NATO) and economic prosperity (the EU) and on trade (the WTO). It pushed for the sanctions that toppled apartheid.

But more than anything else, it did details. That’s what made it work, and now threatens it.

The liberal international elite was the force that patiently negotiated the compromises that let an Irishman work in Estonia, or a Japanese car be bought in Belmullet. They negotiated the agreements that lets planes cross from one jurisdiction to another, using the same air traffic control protocols. That lets a man in Dublin buy insurance in Tokyo to safeguard a container being shipped to Helsinki.

Rail all you want about the WTO and NATO and TTIP and faceless international bureaucrats, but there are mortgages in Cork getting paid because a product shipped from Cork can go on a shelf in Beijing or Boston. It’s the elite that put those deals together.

The alternative offered by almost every opponent of the elite is to regard a slogan as a policy. Scrap NAFTA. Take Back Control. Build the wall.

Last week, a movie, “Arrival”, came out. It’s about a group of elite scientists desperately trying to communicate with newly-arrived vast alien spacecraft whilst shock-jock DJs are whipping up mobs to attack the alien ships under the slogan “Save our species”.

It’s a curiously appropriate metaphor for where we in the west find ourselves today.

Copyright © 2017 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.