Author Archives: Bryan Wall

From top: Boris Johnson, then UK Foreign Secretary and Simon Coveney at the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2017; Bryan Wall

With the ascension of Boris Johnson to the prime minister’s office in the UK the prospect of a disastrous Brexit draws ever closers. Johnson is the epitome of the arrogance and lack of concern shown by many of the conservative Brexiters. It has to happen no matter the consequences.

Part of the reason for this is the incessant need for the powerful to demonstrate just how powerful they are. Johnson is no different.

Like our own Leo Varadkar, he’s not a bumbling idiot with a consistent case of foot in mouth syndrome. His worldview is tempered by privilege and the idea, inculcated from an early age, that the Britain of old was the peak of western civilisation.

Everything Johnson says and does is filtered through this particularistic and outdated mode of thought. It’s a signal to others, both the elite and the wider population of Brexiters, that the dream of Britannia can be realised once again. And all it takes is to cut ties with the EU no matter the outcome.

In any functioning society the idea of a hard Brexit should cause widespread panic among everyone from the heads of government down to the local shopkeepers. Instead, it’s seen as the top priority by a large portion of the population.

Johnson has played a large role in fomenting this view of Brexit as one of the UK regaining its former independence and prestige. And he’s been wildly successful at it too. Johnson is no idiot.

Given this, he likely believes he has the upper hand. Varadkar and Ireland have been largely dependent on the backing of the EU in its support of the Irish position regarding Brexit.

Everyone knows this, including Johnson. And everyone also knows that the EU has been more than willing to sacrifice Ireland on the altar of the perceived greater good in the past.

This is a vulnerability that it seems not many are willing to talk about. Considering Johnson’s apparent madman international relations policy, it’s a sizeable blind spot.

Thus far the EU has stood firm. But the premise of the madman theory is that Johnson is irrational and cannot be reasoned with. And with his insistence that a Brexit is coming one way or another we can see the theory in action.

Of course, this is a calculated move on Johnson’s part. But it should make people wary of placing all of our bets on EU support.

Plus, regardless of who blinks first, or who doesn’t, the effects on Ireland will be large. One report found that no matter what shape Brexit takes the economy will be negatively affected.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) looked at what effect three different kinds of Brexit would have on Ireland: A “Deal scenario”, a “No-Deal” situation, and finally a “Disorderly No-Deal” Brexit.

It found that:

the level of real output in the Irish economy would be 2.6 per cent, 4.8 per cent and 5.0 per cent lower in the Deal, No-Deal and Disorderly No-Deal scenarios, respectively, compared to a situation where the UK stays in the EU.

Unemployment will rise and tax revenues fall. For Ireland alone, a lot hangs in the balance. For Johnson and friends all they see is the possibility of a newly independent UK. Any side effects such as shortages of food and medicines are worth it for the chance to stick it to the Irish and reinvigorate Britannia.

Another side effect of Brexit and the rhetoric surrounding it has been its utilisation by the far right and extreme nationalists. For them Brexit is a way to stop what they see as the erasure of British culture and values.

Like Johnson, they are blinkered but for very different reasons. Johnson wants an independent Britain. The far right want an end to immigration and to anyone or anything non-white. And in both cases the wider consequences don’t matter. To not want Brexit is to be a traitor.

The situation is not pretty. No matter what happens, if somehow Brexit is averted or postponed, or if Johnson ploughs ahead with a hard Brexit, the division and hatred that’s been already whipped up will reach even greater heights.

As things currently stand hate crimes have increased. Now imagine if the far right and those who pander to them don’t get their way. This is not to be scoffed at or seen as scaremongering.

For now though, the entire situation lies in the hands of Johnson and those closest to him. If his madman tactics are played out to the full, then we can indeed expect a hard Brexit and all the negative consequences that will come with it.

But maybe it’s all about posturing. Remember, Johnson is no fool. Maybe he’ll finally be convinced that there’s a way other than a hard Brexit.

But if the madman theory holds true don’t expect any course correction, if any, until the last second.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column usually appears here every Monday. Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on Twitter:  @Bryan_Wall


From top: RTÉ presenters launch the 2018/2019 television schedule last Summer at Montrose, Dublin 4; Bryan Wall

It’s been an interesting week from the perspective of the average person. Our betters in Dublin have decreed that everyone must pay for RTÉ and its associated services even if they never use any of them.

And we have a government minister apparently delighted that those with drug problems won’t be treated in her constituency.

I say apparently because Josepha Madigan denied approving the wording of the celebratory letter in question even though it contained her signature.

As for RTÉ, it was mooted last week that a broadcast charge is to be introduced to replace the seemingly outdated television licence.

The current licence, it is claimed, is not sufficient because people are “evading” payment. More precisely, 12% of the population don’t pay any licence. Included in this figure are those with an exemption due to the fact that they don’t own a television.

My family and I are included in this.

But a broadcast charge is set to fix that. Now any household with access to a computer, smart phone, or tablet, will be forced to pay.

Not long after it was announced, Dee Forbes, the director-general of RTÉ, proposed that the new charge be added to people’s utility bills so that payment cannot be avoided.

This, she argued, “has happened in other markets” with “very positive” results. Considering the reactions to her proposal among the wider public, don’t be surprised to see a campaign similar to the anti-water charge movement spring up.

Her comments are completely out of touch with the concerns of the wider public and those who rightly criticise RTÉ. It has a long history of a tepid, and lack of, original programming. And that’s not even mentioning the massively inflated salaries of its various presenters.

Add to that its blatant bias towards anything slightly to the political left. Miriam O’Callaghan’s questioning of Mary Lou McDonald in May was a masterclass in this political bias. In the space of 15 minutes O’Callaghan interrupted McDonald 31 times.

This was not an aberration. We routinely witness and accept this kind of behaviour from our national broadcaster.

As a result, one would think RTÉ is in no position to be forcing a charge on people who, when given the chance, would prefer to spend their money elsewhere. What it comes down to is that right now RTÉ has a serious public relations problem.

And this is a pity. That’s because a public broadcaster is an asset. It can offer services to the wider public as well as minorities who otherwise would go unrepresented in the privately owned media. It would be classed as a public utility due to the importance and scale of the services it would provide.

Given this, it wouldn’t need to run at a profit. Public utilities are inherently positive given that they are owned by the public and provide for their needs. Therefore, seeking to achieve a profit becomes secondary if it even enters to equation whatsoever.

But RTÉ is not run like a public utility in this sense, as much as its defenders and representatives might claim. Instead, it’s run along the same lines as a private company with an overriding need to create profit.

But it has one advantage that others don’t: The licence fee. It is in effect a bailout for RTÉ which, if run along free-market principles, would have crashed and burned long ago if not for the licence fee.

This is what irritates more than a few people. It puts the profit motive above all else, thereby ignoring sections of the population who would be unprofitable to provide for.

Its programming is telling in this regard as well as its lack of indigenous productions. Yet, it is funded by the taxpayer via a not insubstantial sum of money in the form of the television licence.

According to the Irish Examiner, RTÉ “received €189.1m from the television licence fee last year and made €150m from commercial revenue”.

There is of course more to RTÉ than television and radio. But the question still remains if the current incarnation of RTÉ is worth the price.

Many, myself included, are willing to pay for media in various formats. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) recently revealed that young people are in fact more likely to pay for access to media than older generations. It wrote that although the rate of those willing to pay for news stands “flat” at 12%,

The 25-34-year age group was most likely to pay for online news (19%) and the 55-64-year age group was least likely to do so (7%).

When asked if they could only have one subscription for a year, “video streaming services (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime) were the most popular (35%)”. If those under 25 are of the same opinion, then RTÉ is in serious trouble in the coming years.

This might explain the ridiculous proposal of Forbes. Perhaps it speaks to a desperation in Montrose as opposed to aloofness.

Either way, the likelihood that any attempt to tax people for RTÉ via their utility bills will go unquestioned is highly unlikely.

How Forbes and company react in the coming days will play a large part in setting the atmosphere for any anti-broadcasting charge protest movement that emerges. We’ve seen what the arrogance and scaremongering of the government did when it came to the anti-water charge protests. More of the same might await RTÉ.

Hopefully the executives at RTÉ will take some time to reflect on public sentiment that emerged over the weekend.

Taking time to consider why people are so irritated at the possibility of the broadcasting charge, as well as a general contempt for the television licence as it currently stands, would do them well.

They might also want to consider how to attract the youth audience who are willing to pay for their media.

The simple truth is that it’s 2019 and people can be — and are — a lot more discerning when it comes to where and how they access their news and entertainment. If that means paying for it they’re willing to do so. There’s an entire demographic there ripe for RTÉ to provide for it. If only it knew how to be reasonable and realistic.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column usually appears here every Monday. Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on Twitter:  @Bryan_Wall


From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Maria Bailey TD in 2017; Bryan Wall

The Maria Bailey case just won’t go away. And that’s a problem, at least for Leo Varadkar and company. It has now emerged that on top of everything else she lied when she said she only asked the hotel for €7,000 to cover her medical costs.

In fact, it’s now being reported that she asked for €20,000. According to the Irish Independent, she initially received a cheque from the hotel for €600 to cover her medical costs. Apparently this cheque was lacking the appropriate amount of zeroes so she wrote back to them asking for €20,000 instead.

Then there’s the fact that she was receiving legal advice from her own party mate, Josepha Madigan. So we have a member of one of the dominant political parties making fraudulent claims while being advised by a member of the same party.

In any other country this would, one would hope, create some kind of controversy. But in Ireland it’s passed off as a public relations problem. It has nothing to do with dishonesty and double standards.

But in reality it does. A party that willingly accepts liars and cheats into its fold is a party that has no concern for what’s right and just. If it won’t deal with injustice and dishonesty in its own ranks why should it deal with it writ large across society?

The answer is that it won’t and it can’t. It won’t because it doesn’t care and it can’t because it would involve a restructure of our society that is beyond their comprehension. It would involve creating a fair society. And that just can’t be allowed to happen.

Controversies like this are a gift to the far right. The Justin Barretts of the world see this and can point to the dishonesty of our major political parties. They can say “Mainstream political parties don’t care about corruption in their own ranks”.

And the Justin Barretts of the world would be correct. This then becomes their greatest recruitment tool. The far right may be nascent in Ireland but it’s here. And before we know it, it’ll turn into a major problem.

Stieg Larsson, the author of the Millennium Trilogy, was also an expert on the Swedish far right. Throughout the course of his career as a journalist he wrote at length about its tactics and talking points. In an article from 2003 he wrote that for the far right,

The most common propaganda message is the claim that somehow other democratic politicians are scoundrels who cheat and line their pockets at the expense of ordinary people, and who have “sold out” or “betrayed” their country.

Given the ascendancy of the far right in Sweden over the last three decades, Larsson clearly had a point.

This should be apparent to every political party and politician. Politics is different to what it was 30 years ago. The stakes are arguably higher today given the increasingly obvious effects of the destructiveness of capitalism. Add in the climate crisis and you’re left with a scenario ripe for exploitation by the far right.

But this either isn’t apparent and our politicians are astoundingly blind or it is, and they simply don’t care. Their brazenness might be tempered if they did take it seriously.

If it was taken seriously in Sweden 30 years ago a far right party wouldn’t be the third largest political party in the Swedish parliament today. Instead, Bailey gets a slap on the wrist and Madigan, so far at least, has escaped any kind of reprimand.

In the now infamous interview on Today with Seán O’Rourke she related her distress about the story. Not her distress at being dishonest but at the commentary rightly criticising her and calling her out. Essentially, she was upset at being found out. And she went on to accuse people of bullying her.

Despite her claims, journalists investigating fraud by public officials and the subsequent commentary on it is not bullying. It is, as a matter of fact, in the public interest. And let’s not forget that she suffered no long-term injuries from her fall apart from perhaps a bruised ego. Yet when caught out she decided to evade and obscure. Irish politics at its finest.

Nobody is calling for her head to be placed on the block. All people want is some accountability. But that has always seemed to be in very short supply. Our leaders feel free to lie and obfuscate throughout their careers knowing that very little will happen.

At most, an inquiry will be set up to investigate any wrongdoing without any ability to impose penalties. And then they can saunter off into semi-retirement.

We deserve better. We need better. Frighteningly, the alternative that a lot of people see is some combination of Fianna Fáil and the Greens, more Fine Gael, or the far right.

With the continual arrogance of the big two, and the Greens’ seeming willingness to enter government with either of them, the far right will capitalise on this.

If only honesty was policy.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column usually appears here every Monday. Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on Twitter:  @Bryan_Wall



From top: Maria Bailey (right) with Eoghan Murphy (centre) and Damien English at a Housing Summit last year; Bryan Wall

To say that we have an out of touch government would be an understatement, and probably incorrect. Being out of touch doesn’t imply that you don’t care.

But in the case of our government it seems that it does. Eoghan Murphy’s latest foray into the realm of informing people who struggle to afford a home what they actually like was as successful as you’d expect.

Defending the idea of co-living he told Newstalk that it’s really the equivalent of “staying in a trendy boutique hotel”.

What kind of hotel has 42 people sharing one kitchen?

The kind of hotel whose living areas are smaller than disabled person’s parking spot of course.

He later withdrew the remark without actually withdrawing it. On Twitter he wrote that

“Coliving elicits outrage in some because they assume it’s what we propose as a response to families in crisis. It is not”.

But the fact of the matter is that individuals and families in crisis will end up in any co-living development that goes ahead. We are in the midst of a housing and homelessness crisis.

People need homes. That means people are going to take whatever’s available. And if that’s an apartment complex with tiny rooms and one kitchen for 42 people then no matter.

Landlords will making a killing, the government will claim it’s tackling the housing crisis, and people will have a roof over their heads. What’s not to love?

The problem is that it’s indicative of a pattern of behaviour. Over the lifetime of this government we’ve seen again and again how it seems to lack any understanding of daily existence for the majority of people in the country.

It’s not Leo Varadkar in particular who’s liable to saying something outrageously uninformed. It’s the entire party that simply does not care about housing, homelessness, and in any way trying to make Ireland a more equitable country to live in.

Hence, as I’ve argued before, Varadkar isn’t actually gaffe-prone as such. Everything his says is intentional. The shock his comments cause, and people’s descriptions of them as gaffes, means that at least people can still be shocked.

Essentially, we haven’t reached the bottom of the barrel quite yet when it comes to mainstream politics. So when our fearless leader opens his mouth there’s still the possibility that what he says will cause some level of outrage.

On the other hand, it’s like being angry at the scorpion for stinging the frog. It’s a scorpion. What else is it supposed to do? When neoliberal members of a neoliberal party say things that dismiss or denigrate the needs of the masses it shouldn’t be surprising.

What else are they supposed to do? Contempt for the working class is a core element of their being. How could they behave otherwise?

Take another stalwart of Fine Gael: Maria Bailey. We have been beaten over the head with stories of welfare and insurance fraud carried out by the ne’er do wells of Irish society.

We are told this is why people on welfare have to be surveilled given their obvious propensity for fraud and deceit. It’s also why insurance premiums are so high.

The fact of the matter is that both welfare and insurance fraud are essentially non-issues.

In the case of the latter, this was wonderfully highlighted by Pearse Doherty during an Oireachtas committee meeting.

At this meeting representatives of the insurance industry were there to argue their case for high premiums. Doherty pointed out at the meeting that: the insurance industry is completely exaggerating the issue of fraudulent claims in a way to try and justify the type of premiums they are charging, and the increases we are seeing in certain sectors.

He then asked the representatives of the assorted insurance companies to detail the level of fraud they deal with.

FBD claimed it deals with around 10,000 fraudulent claims every year. But Doherty revealed only 19 cases of fraud were reported to the Gardaí between October last year and March.

Approximately 1% of Allianz’s claims are apparently fraudulent. And Axa, which handles roughly 5,000 claims every year has reported only 55 incidents of fraudulent claims since 2013 to the Gardaí. As Doherty argued:

“That’s a fraction of a per cent”.

What this means is that the insurance industry is bleeding the consumer simply because it can. At the same time we are to be reminded of the fundamental untrustworthiness of the masses.

Yet when someone in a position of power such as Maria Bailey is found to have, at the very least, exaggerated her injuries in order to make a claim for a sizeable payout, it is portrayed as an aberration.

Never mind the fact she was clearly dishonest about her injuries. The Fine Gael investigation surrounding her claim is to be kept private in the name of decorum and not party embarrassment.

It seems her punishment is to lose the party whip. Nobody is calling for a public flogging but to lose the whip doesn’t even raise to the level of parody. But what else is to be expected?

Just as the scorpion stings the frog the party apparatus is not going to throw a member under the bus. And especially so when the numbers in the Dáil are stacked against them as it is and a General Election is coming sooner rather the later.

Instead we’re left with the Baileys, Murphys, and Varadkars of the world for a while longer.

There are likely more shocks to come. Varadkar will probably say something as stupid as it is ignorant mixed with an indifference which lets the neoliberal mask slip once again.

His above-mentioned cohorts will probably deliver just as well. And as the General eEection looms we can rest assured that more of the same awaits us.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column usually appears here every Monday. Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on Twitter:  @Bryan_Wall


From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste/Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney at Dublin Castle for the Global irewland conference; Bryan Wall

One of the fundamental aspects of democracy is the ability to pass laws and legislation for the greater good with support from the majority of people.

This should be self-evident in any democratic society.

I say should be because Fine Gael seems to think otherwise.

It seems to think that it, and it alone, is the arbiter of what constitutes democracy, what the greater good is, and who it applies to. Of course, then, this raises questions about the extent of our own democracy and its inherent limits.

So a national broadband plan that will enrich a select few is for the greater good. On the other hand, a piece of legislation which would outlaw the extraction of new fossil fuels in Ireland is to be blocked given its apparent lack of benefit for wider society.

The treatment of the Climate Emergency Bill by Leo Varadkar and company is not unique. Far from it. Perhaps it’s seen as leftist posturing.

Or maybe even seen as a threat. But it is yet another bill that the government is blocking via an outdated and undemocratic piece of legislation: The money message.

This allows for the government to block any bill from progressing that will have an effect on the state’s coffers. Under Article 17.2 of the constitution, no vote, resolution, or law can be passed if it will touch the state’s revenues.

Instead, Article 17.2 states that any of the above will first have to be “recommended to Dáil Éireann by a message from the Government signed by the Taoiseach” before they could be passed.

In a 2017 piece for the Irish Times, Kieran Coughlan pointed out that under normal circumstances the use of a money message to block bills in the Dáil would be unusual.

This is because the normal circumstances would consist of a majority government that could simply vote down everything it didn’t like. But Fine Gael is a minority government.

As Coughlan intimated, opposition bills have a real chance of getting passed as a result. And this, he said, “has alarmed the Government (and no doubt the permanent Government)”.

Skip forward to today. As it currently stands the government is blocking 55 bills from progressing via a money message.

This is an obscene figure. No matter how the government wants to try and spin it, there is simply no excuse for this level of intransigence.

Take the Climate Emergency Bill as an example. The bill, as mentioned, would outlaw any new exploitation of fossil fuels in Ireland.

On the one hand the government claims to care about the environment and published its Climate Action Plan. Yet it blocks the Climate Emergency Bill despite its obvious importance. Permission has been granted for a Chinese oil company and Exxon to begin drilling off the coast of Kerry.

And one of Leo Varadkar’s advisors has been in regular contact with a representative of the fossil fuel lobby.

It has been known for years now that the majority of the newly discovered fossil fuel deposits must stay in the ground if we are to have any hope of alleviating the ongoing climate catastrophe.

No matter. Someone has to make a profit. And it might as well be friends of the government that do.

And there’s the Occupied Territories Bill. Proposed by Senator Frances Black, it would ban trade with illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights.

The bill adheres to international law which the Irish government presumably respects. Yet it has stated its opposition to the bill. And it’s expected to block it via a money message.

As Ciaran Tierney has revealed, the government has come under immense pressure from beyond Ireland to block the bill.

Politicians in the US have put pressure on their Irish counterparts about the bill. They called the bill “ill-conceived”. And referencing the role of US corporations in the Irish economy, they said the “stakes for Ireland are high”.

The government has also been directly lobbied by a major Israeli government agency. The chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Isaac Herzog, wrote to Simon Coveney in January asking him to block the bill.

Herzog called the bill “unfair and unjust”. He also claimed that if the bill is passed it would encourage:

a violent turn by extremists who would interpret it as an official encouragement to more hostility, and indeed more hostilities.

He closed his letter by telling Coveney:

I am offering my help to try and prevent it. We need to join efforts to block this Bill.

All of the above speaks to a wider agenda. The government will do everything it can to ensure that its own interests are looked after first at the expense of everyone else. That much is clear.

But there’s also the interests of the government’s supporters and allies that must also be taken care of.

No Fine Gael government is going to vote for proposals that would protect renters to the extent that is needed. It’s not going to anger the fossil fuel lobby by banning new oil wells and coal mines.

And it’s not going to enrage the Israeli government, especially when it’s vying for a seat on the UN security council.

It’s us who’ll pay for all of this, literally and figuratively. Varadkar and his government have done nothing but show contempt for ordinary people.

For them, democracy is a tool to get elected. Its usefulness stops once that has been achieved. Fine Gael isn’t particularly distinctive in this regard.

But it’s the party that we all have to deal with at this point in time. And it’s the party that’s doing its best to show its contempt for what little democracy we have and ensuring that its own interests and motives take precedence.

Democracy extends only as far as Fine Gael allows it. An alternative is unthinkable. Because after all, that might mean allowing some real democracy to take root and flourish.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column usually appears here every Monday. Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on Twitter:  @Bryan_Wall


From top President Micahel D Higgins joins members of the Defence Forces at the annual 1916 Leaders Commemoration Ceremony at Arbour Hill cemetery in Dublin in May; Bryan Wall

Is Ireland willingly walking into an EU army? This is the question that was dismissed during the recent elections as if it was some kind of conspiracy theory.

But the fact is that alongside climate change, it should have been at the forefront of every debate. Instead, it barely got a mention.

Ireland’s involvement in an EU army has been assured via its commitment to the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) arrangement.

Ireland joined PESCO in 2017. But what does that mean? A factsheet published by the EU itself lays it out clearly. PESCO means “increased investment in defence” along with “further integrating and strengthening defence cooperation

If that in itself seems somewhat unclear, uncertainties are brushed aside a few lines later. The factsheet states:

The aim is to jointly develop defence capabilities and make them available for EU military operations.

To make sure that the involved states are living up to their PESCO commitments, each country will publish a yearly report known as a National Implementation Plan (NIP). This is so each state will know how everyone else is “contributing to fulfilment of the binding commitments it has undertaken”.

On top of this, states’ spending on national defence will be monitored.

Given the amounts of money involved, someone is going to profit from all of this. And in this case it’s the arms industry that stands ready to reap the whirlwind of increased defence spending.

This is not hidden from the public. In the European Defence Agency’s (EDA) own publication, European Defence Matters Magazine, it’s made quite clear what the role of industry is when it comes to increasing EU militarisation.

Take Eric Trappier, the CEO of Dassault Aviation, and the current president of the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD).

During an interview in the aforementioned publication, he pointed out that “Industry, has developed very good working relations with all EU institutions”. And new initiatives like PESCO create “opportunities” for the arms industry.

He also argued that “appropriate governance” for the industry is needed. Presumably he doesn’t mean greater regulation. This is seemingly confirmed when he says there’s a need for “an EU political and legislative environment that is fully adapted to the defence specificities”.

But that’s not all. In an EDA report about the EU’s “capability requirements” out to 2035, it notes that it’s important that the arms industry is able to supply states with the weapons they need.

This includes “future cutting-edge technologies”. In the introduction the report states that it “does not consider the ethical and legal aspects” of the weapons and technologies it discusses.

This makes sense when you get to the sections on human “augmentation” and “enhancement”.

These enhancements include the use of exoskeletons, “Cybernetic augmentation, genetic alteration and/or nanotechnologies to enhance human cognition”.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the potential use of pharmaceutical drugs to increase the “resilience of individual soldiers” to various biological, chemical, radioactive, or nuclear threats.

The “use of enhanced individual soldiers” is later mentioned as one of a number of “Key future military capability requirements”.

Is it any wonder that this wasn’t discussed during the elections and has been largely ignored?

For a start, some of it reads as bizarre and other parts are typical given the world we live in; bizarre given the discussion of human augmentation and typical because, as usual, if someone’s going to profit it’ll be large corporations.

So to even mention PESCO would open a can of worms as it were. All of this would have to be discussed.

But that can’t be allowed to happen because promises have already been made that can’t be reneged on. Ireland’s commitment to its lack of neutrality has been assured for a long time now.

PESCO just makes it official that our neutrality is a farce and always has been.

The mainstream political position can be summed up by a document published last year by Seán Kelly, Mairead Mc Guinness, Deirdre Clune, and Brian Hayes in their roles as MEPs.

In the document, which discusses Irish neutrality, they argue that much of language in debates about Irish defence spending uses “outdated language”.

They insist that “Ireland is vulnerable” to terrorist attacks. And for this reason they say they “support reinforced security and defence cooperation in Europe”.

At the same time, they also take note of Ireland’s lack of neutrality over the years which they describe as “practical, flexible, and pragmatic”.

And they insist “Taking a more proactive position in the security and defence policy of the future is in our national interest”. And all this while claiming Ireland will remain “non-aligned”.

People disconnected from the realities of daily existence get to define the so-called “national interest”. There’s nothing to be gained by an increasing militarisation of society.

PESCO ensures that and much more.

It ensures increased defence spending here, involvement in wars abroad, and a tidy profit for the arms industry. In a remotely democratic society this would be open for debate.

But it never was and it never will be unless a large amount of pressure is brought to bare on the political elites who believe that turning Ireland into a branch of the EU military is something to be lauded.

In Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell wrote:

It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line trench, except on the briefest of propaganda-tours.

Our case differs, but only slightly. We have politicians doing all the shouting while the soldiers will eventually do the fighting with the arms industry profiting.

Some kind of open debate is needed. The last thing Ireland needs is to be dragged into a conflagration with Iran and Russia. And that means resisting every attempt at militarising our society.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column usually appears here every Monday. Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on Twitter:  @Bryan_Wall


From top: The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has proposed regulating social media in ireland; Bryan Wall

The push by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) to regulate social media and the internet in general should concern us all.

We’ve gotten used to the idea of a free and open internet. For better or worse, everyone has the chance to voice an opinion and hear opinions back in return.

The simple fact is that an unregulated internet has given us access to information in a way that would have been impossible 20 years ago.

But now it has been determined that this is unacceptable.

Yes, hatred exists on the internet and oftentimes to an extent that is hard to believe. But granting power over the whole internet to an organisation like the BAI is not the answer to combating this hate.

Its proposals border on the extreme if not outright authoritarian.

It proposes three functions of any online regulator: The removal of harmful content, the promulgation of an online content code, and promoting awareness of online safety.

The latter sounds mundane. But it’s the former two that pose the problem. In its submission to the government, it contends that in working to remove harmful content from the internet monitoring of encrypted private messaging services is carried out.

It wrote that the online regulator should be able to issue Harmful Online Content notices (HOC) to “both ‘open’ online services (e.g. social media platforms) and ‘encrypted’ online services (e.g. private messaging services)”.

It further argues that this targeting of encrypted private messaging services — presumably they mean the likes of WhatsApp and Signal — is “desirable to ‘future proof’ them and to effectively tackle certain online harms”.

What’s more, it says that takedown notices can be issued by the regulator “on receipt of requests from Irish residents or someone legitimately acting on an Irish resident’s behalf”.

As for the online content code, the BAI suggests that:

“Appropriate and dissuasive sanctions should exist in statute where a regulator determines that an online platform has repeatedly or seriously breached the HOC Code”.

What’s more, the BAI also proposes that “Suitable investigatory powers should be granted to the regulator to support this function”.

Essentially, the BAI wants to regulate all online content, including private messaging services, and sanction providers if they do not adhere to the online HOC Code.

And not only would the BAI be monitoring private messages for hateful content, it would also be encouraging tech companies to monitor the private messages of their userbase themselves.

This would be a requirement given that having the BAI monitoring all content at all times is impossible. Instead, it would have to force tech companies to do this for them and sanction them if they don’t.

To say this is a dangerous turn would be an understatement. This has thankfully been recognised by some people already.

Simon McGarr, a solicitor and director of Data Compliance Europe, has criticised the BAI’s move into the world of online regulation. During an interview on  RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland, he commented that it simply “doesn’t have the right instincts” to regulate online communications.

For its part the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) insisted that the BAI’s suggestions are extreme.

It wrote that any attempts to tackle online hate should not turn into the construction of “totalitarian state structures capable of indiscriminate surveillance and censorship of our private communications”.

It went on to declare that:

We are deeply alarmed by BAI’s proposals for internet regulation, including their proposals to access, monitor and censor the private communications of people living in Ireland.

Such proposals ignore a long established body of human rights doctrine protecting our important rights including privacy, association, and expression.

Communications that are encrypted from end to end are a thorn in the eye of authorities for obvious reasons. For that reason alone the BAI’s proposals should set alarm bells ringing.

We didn’t and don’t monitor everyone’s mail just because some people use it for nefarious purposes. The same holds for the internet. And let’s be clear. This isn’t just a push to regulate the internet for safety reasons.

It’s a push to regulate the internet because a lot of powerful people don’t like the fact that it is an effective counter to state propaganda. It’s also a counter to lies and distortions promoted in the mainstream media.

And that’s not including the benefit of private, encrypted messaging which allows people and groups to communicate and organise outside of public channels.

Given that the BAI currently regulates television and radio, this move is surprising. There have been proposals in the last 12 months to increase its scope when it comes to journalism. Fianna Fáil have suggested the BAI begin funding “public interest journalism”.

That would pose problems of its own. Yet the BAI seems to think it is the organisation that can and should regulate the internet.

It’s also worth mentioning that the effects of this wouldn’t be limited to Ireland.

Given that major tech companies have their headquarters here, regulations imposed on Facebook and Twitter here are going to affect every one of their users across Europe. I don’t think many Europeans would be keen on the BAI snooping through their private messages.

We’ve seen before what happens when organisations have access to information that is supposedly private and who then use it to further an agenda. Alan Shatter had no problem using information that was leaked to him by former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to attack his rivals.

After Clare Daly’s arrest in 2013 for an apparent driving offence, the details were quickly leaked to the media. Added to this is the fact that an “unexpected number” of Gardaí accessed the PULSE records of her arrest.

Now imagine the kind of information that the BAI wants to have access to and you’ll begin to understand the kind of power that they’d have. It’ll go far beyond the kind of information that PULSE records store.

You’ll also begin to understand that many a grudge will soon be itching to be settled. Regulating the internet is one thing.

There is a legitimate argument to be made that websites like Reddit have never done enough to tackle the racism that flourishes on it.

But that doesn’t mean we should allow a state agency to have access to the entirety of our online selves. But that is what the BAI is proposing. It’s madness. It’s Orwellian.

And for that reason, don’t be so sure that they won’t get what they want.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. This is an election special. Bryan’s regular column appears here every Monday. Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow him on Twitter:  @Bryan_Wall

Pics: Rollingnews/Wired

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Fine Gael TD Maria Bailey in 2016; Bryan Wall

As we’re all well used to by now, the government insists on image over substance. It can claim to represent the needs and wants of the wider citizenry but all it continues to do is take care of its own interests and that of its backers.

We are in the midst of a climate breakdown but all the government can muster is a tepid response in the form of the Climate Action Plan.

Then we have the lack of accountability with Maria Bailey and her legal excursions. Instead, Leo Varadkar and company have decided to go after the source who leaked the entire fiasco to the media.

In the space of a week, then, we have a government intent on doing nothing constructive about the climate breakdown and pursuing a whistleblower.

One would think that given recent history, particularly when it comes to the latter, the government would know better.The fact of the matter is that it does know better. It just doesn’t care. And neither does Leo Varadkar.

With the Climate Action Plan, nothing of major substance is provided. Instead, the government admits that over the coming decades it intends to rely on a relatively “low price trajectory for oil”.

It also suggests allowing local authorities to ban petrol and diesel cars from certain parts of cities or towns. “Zero-emission vehicles” would be given precedence, thus punishing the lower-middle and working classes for not being able to afford a new car.

And that’s not even mentioning the state granting an exploration licence to a Chinese-owned oil company and Exxon to drill for oil off the Kerry Coast.

Another example of the plan’s hollowness comes in its discussion of agriculture. At beginning of the document it is revealed that 32% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. By comparison, the European average is 11%.

But in the chapter on agriculture the plan states that:

‘Irish agriculture has strong green credentials and a positive international reputation in terms of the carbon intensity of its dairy and beef output’

In the world of Leo Varadkar and company, being three-times worse than your European peers in polluting the planet is to have “green credentials”.

This is emblematic of the Fine Gael and Leo Varadkar edifice. Image is everything. Reality can never be allowed to shine through. But when it does, it illuminates the side of politics that people like Varadkar want covered up at all costs.

Take the issue of Maria Bailey. Instead of holding her to account for her apparently spurious legal claims, the source of the leak to the press about the entire fiasco is to be hunted down and named and shamed.

We aren’t at the level of Maurice McCabe but it does show that nothing much has changed since he was vindicated by the Charleton Tribunal.

Whistleblowers are not to be celebrated. They are to be found and punished for daring to undermine the edifice and the narrative that supports it. This shows how for Varadkar image is everything. Anything that undermines him and his party is to be denigrated and sought out as a threat.

That also includes the UN. Earlier this year the UN Rapporteur on Housing, Leilani Farha, along with Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations, Surya Deva, sent a letter to the government criticising its housing policies or lack thereof.

They declared that the government has a practice of “adopting laws and policies which treat housing as a commodity and undermine the enjoyment of housing as a human right”.

They went on to accuse the government of essentially allowing the “financialization of housing”.

Housing in Ireland, they wrote, is now “significantly unaffordable”. Government investment in the area “has disconnected housing from its core social purpose of providing people with a place to live in with security and dignity”.

The letter was written back in March, but the government has now taken the authors to task. The government has even claimed that housing is “eminently affordable”.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul says otherwise. In its pre-budget submission, it revealed that one in five people in rental accommodation spend more than 40% of their income on rent. This, despite what the government might insist, is not sustainable.

Varadkar’s tactic is to maintain that everything is fine and that society is not starting to buckle under the weight of obscene rents, rising homelessness, and a health system on the verge of collapse.

Nothing can be allowed to question the myth of him and his party working for the “common citizens”.

Maria Bailey is an embarrassment because she damaged this edifice by allowing people to see that, in fact, politics-as-usual is the same old story: One rule for them and another for the rest of us.

And that’s why the person who leaked the story to the press in the first place has to be tracked down and duly flogged.

But this insistence on the edifice and its stability is proof of the contempt that Varadkar and his party hold the country in. It doesn’t matter what’s true. It only matters what they say is true.

So, there is no housing crisis and there is a well-thought out plan to combat climate breakdown. The opposite, even if it is true, really isn’t because Leo says so. It isn’t surprising but there is a boldness in his actions and statements that’s impressive.

It makes you question what you’ve actually seen and actually read. This is a well-worn political tactic. Thus far, it seems to have worked. In our confusion the government continues its policies of ignoring the masses for the benefit of the few.

But the thing about tactics is that they can only be used for so long before their target adapts and realises what’s going on.

And this means that for Leo, time is hopefully running out.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. This is an election special. Bryan’s regular column appears here every Monday. Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on Twitter:  @Bryan_Wall

From top: Ross Maguire of New Beginnings; banking whistleblower Jonathan Sugarman; Bryan Wall

One of the most amazing articles in recent times came across my Twitter feed last week. The author, Ross Maguire, contended that banks are getting too much flack from the public, which itself has been whipped into an anti-bank frenzy by academics and activists.

He argued that this is a dangerous form of populism. This populism, in the author’s mind, is dangerous because it involves people exaggerating their problems and seeking out a scapegoat.

Any solutions they offer are “clichés” and therefore, one can surmise, not to be taken seriously by privileged men such as the author.

In the author’s mind banks do not deserve the scrutiny they receive from the wider public. This attention, he insists, “has now developed a whiff of populism”. But the author’s definition of populism is one associated with Donald Trump and hardcore Brexiteers.

And given this, he is trying to dismiss the concerns of ordinary people while at the same time attempting to perform a semantic and theoretical sleight of hand by making banks and their shareholders victims. In this equation, the victims have become the victimisers.

Populism has been twisted and corrupted by people like the author of the piece and the likes of Donald Trump. But populism has only ever meant one thing: An overriding concern with the needs of the common people.

This has always been seen as a threat because the idea of people having their rights respected, let alone granted, has scared establishment figures throughout history.

In fact, it precipitated a Trilateral Commission study in the 1970s which found the above notions of people having the temerity to demand their rights be respected so obscene that they called it a “crisis of democracy”.

In Maguire’s case the obscenity is that banks may have something to answer for and people are in fact rightly angry.

His only allusion to this is that banks might deserve this “to some extent”. For Maguire, protections for homeowners would be “profoundly negative” given the effects on the market. And besides, “Irish borrowers are already so well protected”.

Dare he mention the fact that last year thousands of people had their mortgages with Permanent TSB sold off to vulture fund Start Mortgages. In many cases the mortgages were performing but Permanent TSB wanted them off its books. Protected indeed.

But Maguire’s attitude, even though he isn’t a banker, seems emblematic of banking culture in general. Ethics and regulations become optional or in some cases a disadvantage.

Take the case of whistleblower Jonathan Sugarman. Having taken up a position as a risk manager for the Dublin-based but Italian-owned UniCredit Bank in May 2007, he quickly realised that the bank was regularly breaking Irish banking laws.

Irish legislation allows for a 1% breach of liquidity by banks. Sugarman discovered that UniCredit was in breach by up to 20% on daily basis. This meant that every day the bank was running billions of euros short.

As he related to an Oireachtas committee in 2017, Sugarman informed the Central Bank of the liquidity breaches. According to him, “A breach of 1% should have set alarm bells ringing” in the Central Bank. But with a breach of 20% he said, “I expected all hell to break lose”. Instead, nothing happened.

After hiring an outside IT company in order to get a second opinion, it reported to him that UniCredit was actually breaching liquidity by up to 40%. Sugarman’s figures, it appears, were conservative.

He resigned the next day and has been seeking justice since then. It appears no sanctions were ever placed on UniCredit for its liquidity breaches. Irish banks ran dry of liquidity the following year in 2008 which then gave us the bank guarantee. So not only was UniCredit in breach of liquidity regulations, everyone was.

I recently met Sugarman and he continues to be amazed at the lack of accountability in Irish banking circles. The inquiry into the collapse of the Irish banks was, he agrees, a distraction and farce, with the outcome predetermined.

This was seemingly confirmed at the time by a different whistleblower who claimed the Central Bank was redacting and in some cases withholding vital documents from the inquiry’s investigators. This story — and Sugarman’s — is far from over.

Meanwhile, Maguire has attempted to defend the indefensible by insisting that any anger the Irish public may feel because of the above actions of banks is irrational.

“Rage”, he says, “is the human emotion associated with populism. But rage is not intelligent and only intelligence solves real problems”. Therefore, populist notions of wanting banks to be held accountable for their actions is unintelligible. It stems from a place of rage and not of cold calculation.

But rage is justifiable and it in no way lessens the idea of populism; the idea that the concerns of average people are important. In Maguire’s world, banking should be left to the technocrats who know better. Any ill will thrown in their direction is misguided, misplaced, or simply irrational.

This contempt is elitism writ large. It’s the same contempt that caused the liquidity breaches in 2007 and 2008. And it’s the same contempt that’s going to give us another economic crash.

As Sugarman told me, nothing has changed since 2007. And the next crash, which is coming soon, won’t be pretty.

This is supported by former Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan. He has said that “deeper reforms” are needed in Irish banking. Furthermore, he pointed out that there is a:
long-standing culture of corporate entitlement by the banks operating in Ireland.

He also revealed that regulators are “deferential”, “lenient”, and showed a “tendency to passivity” towards banks.

Despite this not-so-new revelation, we still have to deal with unaccountable banks and bankers putting people’s homes and lives at risk. For them profit is never enough. It has to be an obscene profit that is endless and always increasing.

But to question this is unfair. It is to give in to populism. After all, we can’t have people being put above profits.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. This is an election special. Bryan’s regular column appears here every Monday. Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on Twitter:  @Bryan_Wall

Top pics via Twitter