Author Archives: Bryan Wall

From top: The Shannon Key West Hotel, Rooskey, County Roscommon earmarked for Direct Provision; Bryan Wall

Yet another attack on a hotel that was earmarked as a direct provision centre should make us all apprehensive of what is to come.

Indignation at successive governments mixed with a nativist ideology that sees any supranational interference in the running of the country as an affront to a particular vision of how the country’s government should function is a toxic mix that gives us these attacks.

It also gives us the rise of the Far Right here and the popularity of its representatives.

Throw in the fact that these same people believe that a white genocide of the Irish people is being slowly carried out by the immigration of refugees from the Middle East and you have a pre-political body that is on the cusp of evolving into a fully formed political movement. The parallels from history are obvious and do not bear repeating here.

Given our own national history of emigration it is particularly galling to read comments saying that we are unable or should be unwilling to take in refugees.

One of the common arguments against accepting refugees is that they are not “real” refugees, and are instead economic migrants. As if the millions of Irish people who emigrated over the centuries did not do so for economic reasons.

Even if every person who applied for asylum seeker or refugee status here was an economic migrant, that does not preclude them from having suffered in their countries of origin. Besides, using the term economic migrant is a sterilising term; similar to the kind all too commonly used in economic arguments.

It obfuscates the fact of the matter that real people migrate in order to feed themselves and their very real families. That does not make someone less deserving of being welcomed into our country.

Again, the parallels with history are obvious, most especially our own history. But still we find those who want to say no and turn these people away. Some of the reasons used are the economic, and poorly understood, ones just mentioned.

Others are more vehement in their insistence that Ireland should not take in any asylum seekers or refugees. For them, it is the human face of the conspiracy to Islamise and de-Aryanise the country. People like this cannot be reasoned with.

But there are those who see answers and solutions offered by the Right and Far Right where previously they saw none and whose views are not so fundamentalist in nature.

For these people, governments over the last ten years, along with the mainstream Left in the form of the Labour Party, have failed them. Politics, something they perhaps once thought to be carried out in a reasonable way by reasonable people, has become laden with those seeking to accrue more power in their personal fiefdoms.

Their removal from the concerns of everyday life has created a gulf between them and those in whose name they are supposed to govern. The Right offers people a way to bridge the gulf between politics and daily existence whilst at the same time promising to get rid of those in power whose ideas and policies ensured the despoliation of a large portion of society.

For those who see the Far Right as offering a salve, their rejection of the idea of allowing asylum seekers and refugees a place of sanctuary is almost an afterthought. It is not something that forms a fundamental core of their existence. It is not a centre around which a larger ideology exists.

Instead, their rejection is based on the larger rejection of government policies. The government shows no concern for them so why should they be forced – forced in their eyes at least – to show concern for others who are not Irish.

But there is a commonality between them and those seeking asylum and refuge here. Both have been let down by their respective governments to varying degrees. And both are currently victims of the policies of the Irish government.

That this is not at least one element of tackling the Right and Far Right is short-sighted. A common understanding and experience of state repression, be it economic, military, political, or social, can be a force for binding together communities which up until then have not had much or even any experience of each other.

Instead we are watching as the Right makes inroads in wider Irish society. Their successes are being made on the back of our government showing its disdain for people day on day. With its inaction on climate change, housing, homelessness, and economic justice, the government pushes groups of people further to the margins.

We have government ministers saying that they will not pursue companies for committing fraud because they “don’t want to make employers the bad guy”.

Nurses exercising their democratic right in choosing to strike for better pay and conditions are lambasted by the Taoiseach.

And in a further betrayal of their base, SIPTU (Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union), who are aligned to the Labour Party, have said they will not support the strike.

Their Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell – himself a Labour Councillor – said the strike, by not adhering to the government’s Public Service Agreement in which increases in salaries were agreed to in small increments, will not “deliver what we want to over the short to medium term”.

The mask slipped when in the same interview he stated that if workers decide to strike, i.e., their democratic right, the previously agreed pay increases will be “withheld”. “Government”, he said, “are indicating that to us all the time.”

Hence, the position held by Bell and SIPTU that workers should adhere to the government line regardless of the cost, be it democratic or economic.

Even in their own self-inflicted implosion, Labour cannot but support the line that workers should work until their bosses say so and be grateful for whatever crumbs are thrown their way.

Leo Varadkar’s thinking is more understandable in that he has an actual ideology to which he clings. Labour seek power for power’s sake but the Taoiseach actually has values beyond the shallow pursuit of power.

They may be the values of the free market where workers and unproductive citizens are expendable according to the dictates of companies and economic necessity, but they are values nonetheless.

In this sense then, it is not that the concept that strikes should be inconvenient for governments escapes Leo Varadkar. He is simply insisting that unions should make things more convenient for him and his government as per market logic.

With this in mind, and these are only very recent examples, is it any surprise that parts of the population have fallen into a reactionary stance?

How that feeling is channeled is dependent upon who takes up their concerns and grievances, tells them they are not alone, and that something can be done. The mainstream Left has failed, thereby allowing the Right and Far Right take advantage of the political vacuum.

Perhaps the people who have firebombed the hotels that were destined to house asylum seekers and refugees were motivated by racial hatred. Or perhaps they were motivated by a feeling of betrayal by the economic and political system.

A system which tells them there is one law for the average person and another for employers and corporations.

That tells them violent evictions carried out by a mercenary force backed by the national police force is perfectly acceptable but a counter-eviction of that same group of mercenaries is almost terrorist in nature.

And a system that tells them to play by the rules that we have set at your expense or the crumbs you currently get will be reduced to nothing more than dust. In such an environment a reaction of some kind is guaranteed. How can it be otherwise?

Ensuring that the reaction in question is motived by a sense of justice and not a feeling of hatred is incumbent upon us all.

To gift the Far Right this opportunity is to repeat the monumental mistakes that have been made elsewhere in the world, especially in Europe.

The effects of their institutionalised hatred are blatant. Governments, leaders, and corporations must be held to account, yes.

But to do so at the expense of equality and justice is simply recreating the current system with a different facade where people are still expendable and some matter more than others.

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

Earlier: Direct Response

Rollingnews

 

Pic: RTÉ

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD speaking to the media outside Government Buildings after the first cabinet meeting of 2019 last week; Bryan Wall

The comments made by Leo Varadkar before Christmas were not a mistake made by some gaffe-prone politician. As I wrote previously, he says what he means and he believes what he says.

He is a neo-liberal stalwart whose policies could have been taken directly out of the works of countless neo-liberal ideologues posing as objective economists. For him, the poor are of no concern. Neither are those soon to lose their home to rapacious landlords, banks, or vulture funds.

The slow degeneration of our basic services continues whilst he looks on, occasionally making a comment that is copied and pasted by the mainstream media. A deeper analysis is lacking given the common understanding that one is not meant to question the government, especially its leader.

Consent in this regard is manufactured as to try to parse any of the statements made by Varadkar is to go beyond the acceptable limits of discourse.

What do we find when we place his comments into their rightful context, however?

Perhaps the most potent tactic that capitalism has developed over the previous two centuries has been its uncanny ability to isolate people from each other.

A divide et impera of the general population has been effective in pre-empting dissent for the most part. Division of labour was concomitant with a social and political division. The former could not function without the latter.

One of the best ways to do this is to not only turn people into willing consumers, both materially and ideologically, but is to turn them against each other.

The poor are played up as leeches on the system who contribute nothing whilst the “squeezed middle” toils in order to provide for those who neither appreciate or deserve what they receive from them.

Thusly isolated, the poor can be ignored or removed from sight completely depending on which is more conducive to political success.

Take the government’s initiative on clamping down on welfare fraud that was launched with great publicity in 2017. On the surface it was portrayed simply as a morally upright idea that would also result in the state saving money.

In total, according to The Irish Times, welfare fraud amounted to €38.4 million in 2017. Given that the social protection budget in 2017 came to €19.9 billion – €6.3 billion of which was to service the national debt – €38.4 million is a minuscule number.

Add to this the fact that it was mostly the result of mistakes made by the Department of Welfare itself and we have a non-issue that was given the appearance of systematic fraud in order to make it an issue.

We might ask, for what reason? An answer is obvious given who the government is and who leads it.

To isolate and denigrate those considered as not worthy of care or attention is a common feature of our societies. They can be utilised to shore-up government support in the sense that they are convenient scapegoats for whatever issue is decided upon. In 2017 it was welfare fraud.

Social protections can be made more difficult to access and in some cases cut back given their “generous” nature and those who take unfair advantage of them by committing fraud.

With those dependent on social welfare out of the way the government can focus on supporting and giving back to its own political patrons. This is the real business of government.

Accordingly, when something is said by the government or Leo Varadkar it is to be assumed truthful. So, when the latter claims that we have turned a corner on homelessness and housing it is to be accepted without debate. To question such a statement is deemed uncouth.

But it is nonetheless a signifier in political discourse and how wider society is to be dealt with: What I say is the truth. To deny its truthfulness is to deny reality. And after all, those who deny reality are obviously insane and can therefore be ignored.

So in their proper context, his comments about turning a corner are meant to do nothing more then isolate, and subtly denigrate, those who continue to see homelessness and housing as issues.

And given that they are the major issues of our time, they must be downplayed, ignored, or deflected in whatever manner possible. If this entails the Taoiseach telling journalists that the issue is in the process of being solved, alongside pushing faulty statistics regarding house construction, so be it.

Public relations — or more appropriately, propaganda — does not come cheap. The Taoiseach’s spending in this sense is not unique. Over one million euro being spent by the Taoiseach’s propaganda wing is indicative of his need for a mechanism by which to influence others via traditional and social media.

From here the message is parlayed that everything is on the up and up. What happens when this message is challenged? Denigration mixed with hysteria is another tool in the arsenal of the powerful.

When Pearse Doherty made comments referring to the violence inflicted on the family in Roscommon before Christmas by a mercenary force hired by KBC Bank to evict them, Varadkar was unmoved. Instead, he went on the offensive, telling Doherty that “it doesn’t take long for your balaclava to slip.”

For the Taoiseach, defending one’s self against state-sanctioned violence is beyond the pale. Of course this is unsurprising, but it is nonetheless informative to see such comments made publicly.

Again, it seeks to isolate those who are victims of state-violence, be it structural or physical, in order to better ensure that the market orthodoxy can reign accordingly. In our case it means making sure that the cries of those under the boot of market discipline are cast aside. This is a must if the continuing shock therapy of the country is to proceed as planned.

Isolation is a form of torture. In prisons the hugely negative effects – both mental and physical – of solitary confinement on a person are well-known. Perhaps for this very reason its use continues to be sanctioned. In our own country we are seeing isolation on a mass scale. It has been generalised to the wider population.

When Leo Varadkar insists that things are getting better or that we have turned a corner, he is enforcing isolation on wide swathes of the population.

The poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, and the sick are all isolated from each other, from those who are happy with the domination of the two-party status quo, and from those occupying higher rungs on the socioeconomic ladder. This is not an accident.

How can this be anything but a form of torture? Shock, isolate, and denigrate. These are the policies of the government and its leader that are directed at people who are not commensurate with the needs of the state and its backers.

Any resistance to this can be met with the necessary violence. People sometimes must be reminded of their place in the system.

For a lot of us in Ireland in 2019, our position puts us in a situation where rents are unaffordable, homelessness is rampant and a very real possibility for many, and the healthcare system is collapsing on its way to full privatisation. Combating the immiseration of an entire country is not a simple undertaking.

On the other hand, we have nothing to lose but our chains.

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

Rollingnews


From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; Bryan Wall

On Christmas night, the group Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) attended to 106 people in Dublin who were sleeping rough or in need of some aid.

One day later on St. Stephen’s Day, the Irish Examiner reported Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as saying that property taxes would now go back into the areas from which they were collected.

According to the article, this means “wealthy locations will keep their money while poorer communities will see a drop-off in funds.” Such a move is likely to be welcomed by those living in more wealthy areas of the country.

Two days later, The Irish Times reported on the Taoiseach’s defence of vulture funds, a term he finds derogatory given that “it is a political term” and apparently not in keeping with the reality of the situation. He also commented that vulture funds come under the same regulations as banks and that therefore consumers are protected.

Like his comments regarding hospital staff not taking time off work over the holidays, these are not gaffes by a politician who blurts out things that are inexcusable.

These are the comments of a man who believes what he says.

The Taoiseach believes what he says when he defends vulture funds as having a better business model than the nationalised banks here. Similarly, property taxes should not be pooled together out of which every area draws what it needs.

Instead, it should only go to those who pay into it and those who pay more should benefit more.

Given the current structure of societies in terms of class stratification, the outcome of the mooted plan is well-known by all in advance, including the Taoiseach. The context within which these comments are made is also important.

To say that we are in the midst of a housing and homelessness crisis would be an understatement. It would also not entirely capture the whole situation. Both issues are encompassed by the larger crisis of late capitalism. Intent on making profit no matter the cost, the human toll continues to mount.

Defenders of the status quo remain indifferent to the casualties of their preferred worldview or, being aware of said casualties of the ideology to which they ascribe, justify it on the basis of market discipline working itself out without the need for superfluous state intervention.

Many people have internalised this ideology. If you end up homeless it is you that has done something wrong not the system.This gains even more credence in the minds of the defenders of the faith given the supposed economic recovery that has taken a hold of the country.

Writing this past Friday, one Irish economist was at pains to understand why “so many people are worried there may be a recession around the corner” given “the otherwise rosy economic picture.”

Pointing to statistics which show that the country has nearly reached full employment and that wages have increased, the author reinforces the view that if all is well, then how can anything be wrong?

The economist – a former economic consultant to Joan Burton and the World Bank – failed to mention that the increase in rental prices negates any apparent increase in wages.

According to a rental price report published by Daft in November, rents nationwide are now thirty per cent higher than they were during their peak in the Celtic Tiger years. Year on year, the rents have risen by over eleven per cent.

Internalising of ideology is one of the core elements of how any ideology functions in the first place. It is no different when it comes to capitalism and its adherents.

When Leo Varadkar’s comments regarding the property tax was reported on, the authors of the article wrote “the move is likely to be welcomed by people living in wealthier areas who want to benefit form their own taxes.”

This is written without need for further comment. It is taken as a given that the wealthy elite simply do pay more and therefore are more deserving of help, be it in whatever form their friends in the government decide. Tax is a burden placed upon them. You would be at pains to find a more impressive level of internalising of ideology in another setting.

Mr Varadkar’s comments are welcome then, as he will rectify this obviously unfair situation. The poor, unable to pull themselves out of their self-inflicted misery, will get what they deserve: nothing.

Meanwhile, the burden of caring if the person down the road lives or dies by contributing to the national pool of tax will be removed from the wealthy and elite. They already have to live with the burden of the masses asking for more crumbs from the table.

We have a Taoiseach who accepts this worldview as the one true answer to the problems of society and the world at large. Is it any wonder that housing and homelessness have been ignored by the government?

We are undergoing a variation of the shock doctrine, albeit in slow motion.

A country in Western Europe in the 21st century that is unable to provide basic services, such as healthcare and housing, to its population is not a failed state according to capitalist doctrine. It is functioning precisely how it should.

Those who can afford to pay exorbitant amounts for housing or expedited medical care are the ones who matter. If masses of people are unable to afford either housing or medical care so be it.

Market doctrine must reign. Everyone can either get on board with the system or fall by the wayside. It is they that are the problem, not the system itself. Leo Varadkar’s statements are emblematic of this.

Vulture funds are called that for a reason. David Hall, CEO of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation, has said that the Taoiseach simply “does not understand that the ‘protections’ he refers to are meaningless.”  Furthermore, Mr Hall told me that “Vultures are parasites and will destroy many more families”.

It is unlikely that Varadkar does not understand what he says regarding vulture funds. It is just that most people who have a moral centre find it difficult to understand how an obviously intelligent man can say something so ludicrous. However, intelligence is not a measure of one’s moral rectitude.

The leader of our country was more concerned with a mercenary force being attacked in retaliation to a violent attack that was carried out by them than with their initial violence in the first place. When this is the case, you can be assured that any concern for the average person is no longer a key policy issue in the halls of power.

Housing and medical care will be provided but only if it can be done at a profit. If it cannot, then market doctrine declares that other more profitable ventures must be undertaken, such as full-scale privatisation.

The power of the certainty of one’s beliefs is a potent force. Leo Varadkar’s belief in the holy doctrine of the free market is powerfully dangerous especially given his leadership of the country. His convictions will ensure that housing will be left to the whims of private entities.

Homelessness will increase and our health system will continue to lurch towards its inevitable collapse. In this equation people are expendable. Why shouldn’t they be? People, especially those organised against injustice, have an annoying tendency to get in the way of the pursuit of unbridled profit.

If injustice is to be defeated, that means confronting the forces of exploitation head-on whether they come in the form of a private corporation or the government itself. Securing a decent future requires us to fight injustice regardless of the facade it wears.

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

Rollingnews

From top: eviction in Falsk, Strokestown, County Roscommon; Bryan Wall

How do we react when we see injustice? Do we stand by the wayside observing and waiting for the outcome before we pick a side? Even the idea that there is a side to be picked when witnessing obvious injustice is farcical.

Or do we intervene?

Not knowing all the facts means that we enter the fray at a certain risk, be it physical or otherwise. Nonetheless, do we leap in hoping that all the facts — the truth — will become apparent in time but that right now some form of reaction is beholden upon us?

These are not easy questions to answer. It is down to all of us as individuals that make that decision for ourselves.

On the other hand, there are times when an injustice is so overwhelming, so blatant, and the perpetrators so self-satisfied in the protection that is afforded them, that we cannot but intervene.

To do otherwise would be to lend a sheen of approval to the injustice that we are witnessing.

The events in Roscommon over the last two weeks may not have been a turning point, but they are indicative of something that is both hopeful and obversely holds a dangerous potential.

A family, having lost their home to a bank, were to be duly evicted. Instead, what we saw in the video that has gone viral was a base display of injustice and cruelty, no matter how apologists in the media and elsewhere try to dress it up.

Gardaí were present and witnessed a man being assaulted by mercenaries, yet chose to stand by the wayside in order for the group to carry on their assault, evict the family, and occupy the house. Did those involved, the bank, the mercenaries, and the Gardaí really expect that nothing more would come of this?

Perhaps they did. That would explain the shock in the media and online when the evictors were themselves evicted last Sunday morning by a large group of — some reports said as many as 70 — people. Personally, I was not shocked and I’m sure neither were many others; merely surprised.

A feeling of shock would be justified on the premise that we did not see something like this coming or that it was unpredictable. Quite frankly then, it was not shocking.

It was surprising, however, in that a reaction or countermove of the kind and scale that took place on the morning of Sunday, December 16 occurred.

This makes the events that took place both hopeful and dangerous. What those inspired by the actions of that Sunday do next will determine the atmosphere in which further steps are taken.

That Sunday morning was a direct confrontation with the forces of rampant capitalism and its foot soldiers.

This has to be dismissed out of hand though as the actions of dissidents or jilted security guards. The idea that people may not be pleased to see their neighbours brutalised whilst being evicted from their family home is a force to be reckoned with.

Add in the general contempt that the government seems to hold the general population in and you have a formula for direct action aimed at both the individuals representing, and symbols of, power.

If the next steps are to involve the denigration of those not appropriately Irish alongside the use of direct action as a panacea for the iniquities of the government and elites, then the Far Right will pose a far bigger threat than they currently do. And this is their goal; the co-opting of the anger and discontent that people feel and channelling it into a cause in which injustice is fought with inhumanity.

It may not be 1933 but the tactics are of that time. Ben Gilroy was recently interviewed on the YouTube channel of a well-known talking head of the Irish Far Right.

The host argued that if the smaller parties of the Far Right, such as Irexit, Renua, and others, “could come together, coalesce together, and get one personality”, which would then offer “something tangible that the people can get behind”, then that would present “an opportunity”.

Mr Gilroy agreed, and related that “one of the top-ranking Gardaí said to me… ‘We’re with you. We just can’t come out publicly and be with you.’”

Mr Gilroy is perhaps exaggerating but a level of discontent does exist within the Gardaí. And like the general public, it is rife for exploitation at the hands of insidious forces.

In the last week, Mr Gilroy has also appeared as a public representative of Yellow Vest Ireland. Last weekend he made a speech during their first protest in Dublin and made yet another just this weekend. In the interview mentioned, he states that he “was asked to promote the Yellow Vest movement”.

Given his association with this version of the Yellow Vests, and his own political background and associates, there is clearly an attempt underway to co-opt the image of the French Gilet Jaunes for ends other than those of justice.

This has not gone unnoticed. The family at the centre of the eviction in Roscommon issued a statement, part of which was clearly referencing the Ben Gilroy version of the Yellow Vests. They asked that any protest not be “‘hijacked’ by any organisation with ulterior motives.”

Furthermore, “they wish to distance themselves from any reference to imitations of the ‘yellow-vest’ or alt-right movements.”

Contempt from the elite directed at the supposedly lessers in society always engenders the creation of political movements dedicated to change. But as mentioned there is the potential for reactionary elements to latch on to this, hence the danger in the early stages of a fomenting discontent.

From here they use the very real pain of the public to attain power by promising them cure-alls. Once they have solidified their power they then proceed to eliminate groups they perceive as corrupted or corrupting.

This duality is inherent in the early stages of any revolutionary moment. Given that social change was never achieved by a softly-softly approach — that it arrives due to disobedience, tumult, and sometimes revolution — it always holds the possibility of corruption or destruction from within and without.

As things currently stand, it appears that the Far Right variant of the Yellow Vests are making headway. And as more evictions are coming, if the Left continues to flounder on the sidelines then the future of Irish political protest seems bleak.

What does signal hopefulness is that there is some awareness of the tactics of the Far Right. One can also be hopeful in that the initial moves on the part of the people in Roscommon were done independently of any nefarious influence coming from purveyors of Far Right talking points.

A movement that directly tackles injustice, takes on the government and its shock troops whilst retaining a core ethos of equality and inclusion is the only widespread movement that must be allowed to come to fruition.

The alternative is a movement with an ever-increasing circumference of enemies to be dealt with inhumanely while claiming to represent the “real Irish”. So this is the question that lays in front of us: Do we want a movement that represents everyone or a movement that deals in nativist absolutes?

How we answer that question will determine the political landscape for a long time to come.

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

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s inaction on the housing crisis has allowed the far right a foothold, argues Bryan Wall

On Wednesday last, Solidarity-People Before Profit debated their anti-eviction bill for the second time. Tabling it during the private member’s session, the bill’s intention is to offer greater protection to tenants and put more legal restraints on those renting out properties.

We have all become accustomed to the tactic of landlords informing tenants that due to needed upgrades and renovations on their accommodation, they have to find other housing.

Oftentimes it is discovered that the accommodation has not undergone any renovations and that this was instead simply an excuse to get rid of tenants who were not paying an apparently appropriate amount of rent.

Personal situations obviously vary, but this tactic has become commonplace. One aspect of the housing and homelessness crisis that could be tackled relatively quickly then is this very issue. Hence the bill put forward by Solidarity-People Before Profit.

According to them, the bill would bar landlords and property companies from evicting tenants because of their intention to sell the property or on the basis of renovations to the property in question.

The bill would also “ensure that if a landlord tried to move a family member in that they must compensate the tenant”. The term landlord would also be redefined in order to take into account the fact that many properties are owned and rented by vulture funds and banks.

Now there would be legal responsibilities placed upon them which up until now they have managed to avoid due to legal loopholes and at the same time afford greater protections to their tenants. All things considered, this would be a step in the right direction in terms of securing a right, of some kind, to housing.

Tenants would now be able to feel secure knowing that they could not be evicted due to the ever-increasing greed of some for even more profit.

During the second stage debate last week, Ruth Coppinger pointed out that “There has been a 75 per cent increase in landlords” in Ireland in the last ten years.

Furthermore, as Paul Murphy pointed out during Leaders’ Questions, “one in four deputies” are themselves landlords. A report earlier this year put the figure at a slightly lower level at one in five, but it is nonetheless higher than the national average, which stands at one in twenty-eight.

In response to the proposed bill, Leo Varadkar claimed the bill “is designed more for publicity than policy”. The bill, he said, is “extreme” and could presumably be therefore dismissed out of hand. Nonetheless, the bill managed to pass the second stage on Thursday by 46 votes to 39.

Outside of his polished public relations-filtered appearances and statements, Varadkar’s neo-liberal ideology is plain to see in his statements during the Leaders’ Questions. For the Taoiseach and his acolytes, public relations is just one half of the economic policies they prefer; the ideological window dressing for the despoliation of the working class.

In the Dáil, however, the unfiltered truth can on occasion make an appearance. In the Taoiseach’s case, anything which would protect those renting is seen as extreme. The landlord class must be protected.

Any government concerned with the rights of those in rented accommodation would have welcomed or at the very least insisted on an open debate surrounding the anti-eviction bill.

Instead it was to be shot down as being too extreme given that it might put a scintilla of pressure on landlords and their pursuit of profits.

Is it any surprise then that people are angry and latch on to any group that gives them answers or hope? Far Right politics has always been an aspect of Irish political life but it has been relatively latent in comparison to continental Europe.

Now, however, we have seen the emergence and rising popularity of numerous Far Right talking heads. An Irish Far Right variant of the Yellow Vest movement has also emerged. In fact, two Yellow Vest movements have made themselves known online. One, Yellow Vest Ireland appears to be a front for the Far Right, either having been hijacked by them or having been set up as a front from the start.

This has been evidenced by the support they have engendered from well-known members of the Far Right in Ireland. A second Yellow Vest group, Yellow Vests Ireland – A United Movement for Social Change, appears to be more in line with the original French Gilets Jaunes.

Ben Gilroy, for example, made an appearance at a protest organised by the former group in Dublin on Saturday where he gave a speech, even though the Yellow Vest Ireland Facebook page has claimed no politicians would be welcome in their organisation.

Mr Gilroy, who is long known for his “freeman on the land” arguments has stated previously that he has “limitless time” for Nigel Farage.

He is also the former leader of the now essentially defunct Direct Democracy Ireland (DDI) party, a right-wing ultra pro-capitalist party who were supported by the right-wing Christian Solidarity Party.

It is not known if Mr Gilroy is the leader of this Far Right deviation of the Yellow Vest movement, but his presence there on Saturday is indicative of the political leanings of the group.

Of course, the Left is partially to blame for the rise of the Far Right. A lack of coherent arguments and moral consistency is a like a plague in some parts of the Left.

An understanding of the economic pain that people have endured for the last ten years has also not been appreciated to the degree it should.

That parties of the Left have not capitalised on the effects of austerity and neo-liberalism is a monumental failure. And now, we are reaping the consequences of that failure.

This is not to say that the Left has not been active in terms of housing and economic injustice. Take Back the City, for example, goes from strength to strength in its highlighting of the housing crisis.

But many people, are nonetheless, attracted to those who claim to have the answers and a solution. At the moment, elements of the Far Right are offering that to people.

Whether the Left wants to admit it or not, the Labour Party was seen as the Left-wing party of Ireland. They were mainstream, well-known, and represented the average person. When they went in to government and betrayed their constituency, it opened up a political gap that the smaller parties of the Left, such as People Before Profit, have utterly failed to take advantage of.

Instead, the Right has entered the fray and offered hope to those who have none and who abhor the current political mainstream.

What this means is difficult to predict.

The anti-eviction bill is likely to not go much further all the while people continue to be evicted violently from their homes by banks, landlords, and vulture funds. Leo Varadkar and his supporters will continue with their current policies of supporting landowners and property speculators.

With the public not being blind to this, the Far Right could very rapidly make even more substantial gains. Suppositions and feeble predictions aside, we continue to lack justice. And injustice, especially when it breeds contempt, is a breeding ground for the Far Right.

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

Rollingnews

From top: Cows cool off in County Cavan last Summer; Bryan Wall

Late last month the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) published a report that once again details the deleterious effects that humans continue to have on the biosphere. The report details the increase of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere which, they state, “have reached another record high”.

In their press release they wrote that “Since 1990, there has been a 41% increase in total radiative forcing — the warming effect on the climate — by long-lived greenhouse gases.” Of this, C02 makes up roughly 82% of this increase.

WMO Secretary-General, Petteri Taalas, pulled no punches and was quoted as saying that “Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gases, climate change will have increasingly destructive and irreversible impacts on life on Earth.”

Of course, this is not news, especially not to the world’s climate scientists and members of the public who have followed the science reporting on the issue. Nonetheless, his warnings must be heeded.

Our window of time to make real changes is rapidly closing, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently declaring that we have twelve years at most to limit the effects of climate change.

Even limiting warming to 1.5 degrees would still have far-reaching consequences for the planet and us, however. Mass extinctions and die-offs will still take place even if warming is kept to the 1.5 degree limit, just at a lower rate.

Extreme and unseasonal weather will be the norm and droughts and flooding are likely to be commonplace. Warming higher than 1.5 degrees will amplify all of these aspects of climate change. And the fact of the matter is that we are currently well along the path to hurtling past the 1.5 degree limits.

Six years ago the World Bank was warning that an increase of 3.5 to 4 degrees was more likely. This would result in an overall 4 to 10 degree rise in temperature over land, meaning that “the coolest months are likely to be substantially warmer than the warmest month at the end of the 20th century.”

In the Mediterranean, for example, this would mean a 9 degree warmer month of July than the warmest July today. Today, at current rates, it is projected that by the end of the century the temperature will be 4 degrees higher, a massive failure on our part to ensure our survival as a species and the planet.

The world economy will be on the verge of collapse, food shortages will be commonplace given the failure of crops, and millions of deaths due to the increased temperatures will be unremarkable.

This summer saw widespread water shortages here due to the extreme temperatures, a timely reminder that we are not immune to the effects of climate change.

Yet, one would be forgiven for thinking otherwise given the fact that successive governments have been blasé regarding their concern for the environment and climate change in general.

The government’s current Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Mark Ferguson, recently told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change that “no crisis that was ever predicted in human history has come to pass.” He would also ask the committee to “not necessarily demonise oil and gas”.

In his comments to the committee he also made note of the rise of carbon capturing technologies, advocating their use even though their mass viability is decades away.

Also timely was that during the heatwave the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) issued its annual report on the effectiveness of Ireland’s climate change policy.

The CCAC’s press release opened with the statement that “Ireland is completely off course to achieve its 2020 and 2030 climate change targets.” The report also noted that one of the largest contributors to our greenhouse gas emissions comes from agriculture.

Emissions from this area increased by “4.5% relative to 2014”, with the expectation that these levels will continue to rise. It was pointed out that an increase in the number of dairy animals used in farming is responsible for the rise in emissions, with an increase of 25.1 per cent since 2011. Likewise there has been a rise in the number of non-dairy cattle, with an increase of 8.9 per cent since 2011 being noted.

On a similar note, according to a report issued by the World Resources Institute (WRI) last week, “major climate changes will make it impossible to grow certain crops.” What makes this even more concerning is that “Consumption of ruminant meat (beef, lamb, and goat) is projected to rise 88 percent between 2010 and 2050.”

As is referred to in the report, beef, for example, “is resource-intensive to produce, requiring 20 times more land and emitting 20 times more GHGs [greenhouse gases] per gram of edible protein than common plant proteins”.

If people were to limit themselves to roughly one and half hamburgers per week, it “would reduce the GHG mitigation gap [the 1.5 degree limit of warming] by half”. Clearly, then, taking a long and hard look at the content of our diets is something that we all must do and must encourage others to do.

Alas, the farming lobby is notoriously strong and conservative, thus ensuring that any attempts to limit cattle and sheep farming will be met with strong resistance. E

ven the appearance and popularity of non-dairy alternatives has the farming community and the dairy industry worried.

In a recent interview, Zoe Kavanagh of the National Dairy Council declared that the Irish system of dairy production, given that it is based on grass, “demonstrates the highest of standards… in terms of care for the environment.”

She also accused the “rejectors” – i.e., those who promote the use of non-dairy milk and cheeses  – of being “sinister” by “deliberately targeting young impressionable teenagers and scaring them.”

Obviously this “care for the environment” is at odds with the science on emissions produced by the farming industry.

And the truth regarding climate change is, unfortunately, scary. Unless something drastic is to happen in the next few years, we are well on our way to shooting past the 1.5 degree limit that has been agreed to.

Governments have been slow to react and corporations and industries have gone on the offensive in order to negate any green initiatives which may undercut their profit. If anything could be a better example of the psychology of the profit motivation in the late capitalist era it is the fact that companies would rather make just a bit more profit than try to save the planet that they rely on for their very existence.

If change is to happen, it is likely to come from people taking matters into their own hands and advocating and pushing for it themselves.

Cutting down on our dairy and meat consumption can have a huge impact considering it is something that is relatively easy to do.

If we simply defer all decision-making regarding the environment to governments and their patrons in industry and corporations, the status quo will remain and we will have doomed ourselves and our children.

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

Top pic by Lorraine Teevan

From top: Image obsessed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; Bryan Wall

Recent news that the public relations bill for the Taoiseach’s office amounted to €1,794,678 in 17 months should come as no surprise.

Leo Varadkar has been insistent on portraying an image of a dapper, cosmopolitan, and jocular leader; an antidote to the weariness of Irish political life and the wider world.

His choice of socks and attendance at gigs paints him as a young leader who is at one with the people. The demos can rest assured that their rulers understand them. This is obvious given the fact that they share the same sock-wearing habits and attend the same gigs.

It also means that they can rest assured in the knowledge that given the above, their rulers will do their utmost to protect and uphold the interests of their clients, the citizens.

Any economic cutbacks, reductions in funding for housing, homeless services, or the increasing privatisation of the health service, only come to pass regretfully. After all, he cares.

It costs money to care, though. Specifically, it costs money to popularise the image of someone who cares; of someone who fraternises with the masses, understands them, and therefore would do them no harm.

We often forget that the original term for public relations was the word propaganda.

One of the most informative pieces of work on the term was by Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud. Bernays wanted to take the theories and ideas of his uncle and apply them to mass industrial society.

His reasoning for this was that it was normal for the wider population to be controlled. In fact, they needed to be controlled. Otherwise anarchy would reign.

He opens his book, Propaganda, by writing

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.” Those who “manipulate” society form “an invisible government”.

For Bernays, the members of this “invisible government” are needed – in fact a requirement – for “the orderly functioning of our group life.” In return for order, the masses have had to cede power to their betters in government, invisible or otherwise.

This is not an ideal system, he adds. Much more preferable would be a system in which there were “committees of wise men who would choose” for us everything in society, from our leaders to our clothing.

Alas, this is apparently not the case. Therefore, “society has consented to permit free competition to be organized by leadership and propaganda.”

Bernays was of course writing about America in the early-twentieth-century but his word are worth reading and understanding nearly one hundred years later.

Public relations, or more accurately, propaganda, has become a mainstay of every society. With the advent of social psychology and technological innovation it has become far more insidious than Bernays could have ever predicted.

Communications obtained by Ken Foxe under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation demonstrate how far the government will go to obfuscate and misdirect the public and journalists by utilising the power of public relations advisors.

Governments have relinquished power to formidable public relations firms upon whom they have become totally reliant. The Irish government is no different in this regard.

In a truly democratic society there would be no need for propaganda and the public relations industry. The terms would be misnomers. In a true democracy there is no need to hide information from people, no need to alter their perceptions of reality, and no need to engineer their needs and wants.

But we do not live in a democratic society. We live in a society in which governments implement cutbacks and introduce privatisation initiatives of public goods and services. Things that are of inherent value to the wider population — such as healthcare, water services, and public transportation — are willingly hived off to unaccountable private tyrannies.

This is then sold back to us as an optimisation of services, an increase in competition in the market, or some other such string of public relations buzzwords which have become all too common over the last thirty years.

Public relations taints and undermines any attempts to achieve a genuinely democratic society. Lies become truths and heroes villains.

When Justice Peter Charleton published his report last month regarding the allegations of Maurice McCabe, he took note of the increasing manifestation of public relations among officialdom.

He wrote that:

“It seems that our public life is now to be dominated by spin and that plain speaking is elided in favour of meaningless public relations speak.”

This, he wrote, “is a hideous development”. Such methods “adds to the sense of public distrust in the key institutions of the State.”

The communications revealed by Ken Foxe, along with the comments by Justice Charleton have gone some way to lifting the veil that covers many official pronouncements. If this engenders a “sense of public distrust”, as Justice Charleton fears, then all the better. Liars ought to fear the truth.

Nonetheless, public relations still manages to be an effective tool in the arsenal of the powerful.

As I wrote about previously, the headlines about the supposed “vindication” of former Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, along with former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, were an attempt to whitewash and rehabilitate their characters in the eyes of the public.  This was public relations on a mass scale via the mainstream media.

That neither were vindicated was irrelevant. A certain image had to be portrayed and certain parts of the media in Ireland were willing to play along. On the other hand, this comes as no surprise given what we know about the media’s role in propping up the housing bubble.

It is also no surprise given the controversy that erupted earlier this year when it was discovered that Leo Varadkar’s Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) paid for advertisements for the government’s Project Ireland: 2040 plan, that were depicted as articles, in dozens of newspapers. When one glances at them they look and read as articles written by journalists.

Regardless of whether or not the Project Ireland scheme has any essential value, the government’s pushing of these advertisements, and the willing acceptance of them and portrayal of them as articles by journalists, is a fundamental betrayal.

Alternative or non-mainstream media play a role in combating this propagandising of society, hence the contempt it is held in by certain parts of the mainstream. Even so, we still have to deal with Bernays and the legacy of his descendants in public relations.

One example of just how effective this invisible government was and continues to be is the fact that the term propaganda was replaced by the phrase public relations and that this history has been elided.

As Bernays wrote:

“Modern propaganda is a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public”

. Our own government are consequently, by any calculation, experts in this field.

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

Rollingnews

From top: The hotel in Moville, County Donegal earmarked for Direct Provision on Sunday morning; Bryan Wall

In the early hours of Sunday morning, a hotel that had been designated as the location for a direct provision centre was set on fire. The hotel, located in the small town of Moville in County Donegal, was in the process of being renovated in expectation of the arrival of roughly one hundred asylum seekers.

It appears that at around 4.30 am something was thrown through one of the windows of the hotel which started the fire. Two people were in the hotel at the time, the owner and his daughter it is believed, one of whom had to be taken to hospital for treatment. No further information was available at the time of writing regarding the cause of the fire.

Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, and Minister of State for Equality and Integration, David Stanton, issued a joint statement in which they “condemned the arson attack on the Causal Mara Hotel”.

Minister Flanagan described the incident as “despicable” and which “could have led to a very serious tragedy.” For his part, Minister Stanton said he “deplore[d] this attack” given that the hotel was “being prepared for accommodation by persons seeking international protection in Ireland.” An arson attack on the hotel was therefore “deeply shameful.”

A representative of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) told me they “condemn this action taken by these people who perpetrated racism and hatred.”

The attack comes on the heels of a tour of Ireland by Far Right activists Damhnait McKenna, Lauren Southern, and Caolan Robertson. All three are well-known for their anti-immigrant views and their peddling of the racist myth of a white genocide being perpetuated by Cultural Marxists.

Ms McKenna is the leader of Generation Identity UK and Ireland. Members of the group have been sent on military-style training in Norway, as was revealed late last year. She claims that the views of her and the groups she leads are not extreme.

On the other hand, the anti-racist organisation Hope not Hate has described Generation Identity as “racist and extreme.” They also point out that Generation Identity “calls for ‘ethnopluralism’, which in practice means separating and segregating people along racial lines.” The overriding principle of the group, according to Hope not Hate, is to defend their “biological heritage.”

Lauren Southern is a well-known provocateur with a sizeable online following and is essentially the voice of the Far Right. She recently made a documentary in which she claims that white genocide is taking place, most especially in South Africa.

She has also supported, and taken part in, the attempts of Far Right groups Generation Identity and Defend Europe to block humanitarian organisations from rescuing migrants from the Mediterranean. In recent weeks Ms. Southern and her film crew posed as journalists and obtained an interview with the Ariel Ricker, the Executive Director of Advocates Abroad.

The interview that was shared online was highly edited and portrayed Ricker and her organisation as coaching migrants to lie to border patrol agents in order to gain entry to Europe.

In response, Advocates Abroad wrote that they were “aware of a video that shows a heavily edited version of an informal conversation that was secretly filmed and without consent.”

Furthermore, they pointed out that the video was “being used for political right wing effect, and misconstrued” to shore up “an anti-refugee and anti-human rights political agenda.” “This”, they declared, “is a shameful act of cowardly abuse.”

For his part, Caolan Robertson works alongside Southern and holds the same views. He previously worked at Rebel Media, the same organisation that Southern worked for before both departed.

He portrays himself as a “film maker” and as a “social commentator”. What he actually does, however, is no different than Southern. That they work together is indicative of this. For Robertson and Southern, anything non-white and non-Christian is deemed a threat that must be stopped.

This means, in their eyes, “defending Europe” from the hordes trying to make it across the Mediterranean. Robertson’s beliefs extend to stating that the homophobic attack on The George in Dublin last year “Was most likely gays desperate to be victims.”

All three have been on a tour of Ireland for the last few days in order to film anti-immigrant sentiment and reinforce the belief that white culture is being slowly eroded and replaced by “outsiders”.

On the day before the attack, Robertson posted to his Twitter account that he was “Filming today in a small town in Ireland that is forcefully moving hundreds of migrants into the only hotel in town, a historic building.”

Their reporting consists of nothing more than poorly disguised racism and Islamophobia. When I spoke to the Garda Press Office they would neither confirm or deny that they were looking into the movements of McKenna, Robertson, and Southern, or that they were aware of their presence in the country.

In the aftermath of the attack, an emergency meeting took place in Moville yesterday afternoon. There the attendees made it clear that asylum seekers would be welcome to the town and no act of violence would discourage that sentiment.

When I spoke to MASI they told me “The new asylum seekers will be welcome by all”.

In spite of this, we must be wary that any welcoming gesture to asylum seekers and refugees will be seen as a betrayal by those on the Right and their mouthpieces online.

Motions to help any group who are not Irish or white is seen as deep disloyalty towards Irish and European culture. Their unintelligible violence will likely erupt again as a result, as will their usual uneducated drivel about Cultural Marxism and white genocide.

For now, anyone concerned about the rise of Far Right movements must be vociferous in their denial of a stage or platform to anybody of the same ilk as McKenna, Robertson, and Southern. If this means denying them entry to the country then so be it.

Their hatred has no place in a multicultural Ireland in which we can all strive for a democratic and egalitarian future for ourselves and our children.

We, as Irish people, have a special obligation to those suffering the effects of natural disasters, famines, and wars, and who are forced to flee their homes. We collectively understand what it means to be under the yoke of an oppressor.

And we know what it means to have to leave our country, our families, and in many cases never return. When we turn away those who most need our help and understanding, we are betraying our history and ourselves.

The Far Right cares naught for this understanding. Their grasp of the world extends no further than someone’s religion or skin colour. Times such as this are dangerous for the potential violence that they hold. Regardless, the Far Right and their apologists must be contained and combated.

We know what the hatred of the Far Right results in. It makes no difference if their ideology comes in the form of well-spoken internet provocateurs. The final consequences will be the same.

As we welcome those in need we must protect them and ourselves from the bile and hatred of the Far Right, their mouthpieces, and the lies they spew.

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

Top pic via MASI

From top: Nóirín O’Sullivan (left) and Frances Fitzgerald in 2016; Maurice McCabe (centre) with Lorraine McCabe (left) and Katie Hannon during the making of the RTÉ 1 documentary ‘Whistleblower’ broadcast last week; Bryan Wall

The consumption of media and information has always played a vital part in our societies. It allowed us to inform ourselves of the wider world and areas beyond our immediate vicinity and common understanding.

We could argue and debate with others the content of what we had just heard or read, stirring up potential modes of action and behaviour that would later come to define the world we lived in.

In Europe in the 1800s, the coffeehouse played the role of an assembly where people could discuss what they had just discovered via the media of the time. Here the theories of revolution were discussed before being put into action.

Of course, the information that was promulgated and received had to be accurate in the first place for it to be of any value. The media had to be trustworthy and reliable. On the other side, ensuring that the media was accurate, or at least perceived as such, was of value to the media themselves given the drive for profits which underlay their motives.

Whether this balance between truth-telling and the need for profit was ever achieved is highly debatable.

In their new book, the two men behind Media Lens, lay waste to this recurring theme of a trustworthy, objective, and fact-finding media. In Propaganda Blitz: How the Corporate Media Distort Reality, David Edwards and David Cromwell demonstrate how the supposedly different ideologies between the main media outlets in Britain is simply a myth.

If there is indeed a spectrum offering a range of different viewpoints in the media why then, they ask, on so many occasions does reporting of certain issues bear striking similarities in terms of content and tone? The answer is that the content of the mainstream media reflects the interests of power.

Power in the form of the government and power in the form of wealth define the boundaries of acceptable reporting in the media.

What this means, then, is that anything which attempts to highlight certain issues which will directly impact the government and the powerful will have to deal with the full force of the mainstream media being directed against them.

It also means that when certain issues need promoting by the government and the elite, they having willing stenographers in the broadcasting and newspaper industries.

In Britain the most notable target in recent years has been Jeremy Corbyn, who has come in for obloquy right across the mainstream media, regardless of his actual policies and statements.

In their chapter about Corbyn’s treatment by the media, Edwards and Cromwell note that The Guardian, the Independent, The Times, and the BBC, all rounded on Corbyn, and oftentimes with the same kind of language.

In The Guardian, Corbyn’s policies were described as “‘more a matter of faith than a viable programme’”. The Independent declared Corbyn was “‘not the answer’” and that Tony Blair, instead, “‘earned his right to be listened to’”, even though he “‘remains controversial’”; presumably controversial given his role in the illegal invasion of Iraq which has cost millions of innocent lives. For their part, The Times wrote that Corbyn “‘believes Britain has not learnt its lessons from Karl Marx’”, and can therefore be dismissed out of hand.

The BBC, fared no better in spite of their professed commitment to objective journalism. When Corbyn was interviewed by BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg, she was appalled when he said he was “‘opposed to nuclear weapons’” along with being “‘opposed to holding and usage of nuclear weapons’” after she had asked him if he would press the “‘nuclear button’” if he was Prime Minister.

Ms Kuenssberg told him it that “‘it looks to voters like you would put your own principles ahead of the protection’” of Britain, unaware of the irony of such a statement. Corbyn responded by telling her he is somebody “‘absolutely and totally committed to spreading international law, spreading international human rights’”.

To this Ms Kuenssberg asked, “‘And that’s more important than the protection of this country?’” No further comment is needed given the obvious implications of such a worldview.

Ireland does not come in for scrutiny in Propaganda Blitz. Nonetheless, and with even a cursory look, the same patterns emerge when it comes to our own home-grown controversies. Take the Disclosures Tribunal and the publication of the Charleton Report.

In the immediate aftermath of the publication of the report, we were inundated with headlines regarding former Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald. She was sharing the headlines with Maurice McCabe. Across a number of media outlets the same type of language and reporting was used.

RTÉ reported Minister for Health Simon Harris saying “Ms Fitzgerald was hounded from office and now deserved an apology after being vindicated”.

On TheJournal.ie an article opened with the sentence “FORMER TÁNAISTE FRANCES Fitzgerald has been vindicated by the Disclosure Tribunal”.

In the Irish Examiner, a headline ran “Frances Fitzgerald has been vindicated by the Disclosure Tribunal report published this afternoon.”

The irish Independent also reported the comments by Simon Harris, writing that “Mr Harris said this morning that Ms Fitzgerald had been ‘vindicated’”.

For their part The Irish Times used slightly different language — but the message was the same — writing that “The Tribunal gives a clear exoneration to Ms Fitzgerald”.

Interestingly, in the Charleton Report itself not once is the word vindicate used in reference to Frances Fitzgerald. Instead, it is used in reference to Maurice McCabe, who, as is stated in the report, had already been vindicated by the O’Higgins Commission.  It is also used in reference to Martin Callinan who, the report noted, wished to see his reputation vindicated.

Where it was used by Fitzgerald, however, was in her own resignation statement last year. She said that her resignation “will allow me to vindicate my good name at the Charleton tribunal”.

What the media have done, then, and quite transparently at that, is use the actual vindication of Maurice McCabe to try to whitewash the reputation of Frances Fitzgerald.

Justice Charleton did not vindicate the former Justice Minister, yet the Irish media were more than happy to echo the very same and distinctive word that she herself had used to describe her preferred outcome.

There is also the issue of Nóirín O’Sullivan being appointed to a high-level position with the United Nations (UN) and how that has been reported. Her role in what happened to Maurice McCabe and John Wilson has been ignored in the coverage of her new appointment.

Justice Charleton found that it was “improbable that she did not have an inkling at the very least about Commissioner Callinan’s views”, with her presence when Martin Callinan made the now infamous comments about both McCabe and Wilson to TD John McGuinness also being noted by the latter. Important context like this is missing.

The reporting of The Irish Times was indicative in that it downplayed these serious issues with O’Sullivan by writing that Justice Charleton “rejected one portion of her evidence and found another to be ‘improbable’.”

With the recent documentary about Maurice McCabe that was broadcast by RTÉ we are left, as expected, with many gaps in the narrative. Gemma O’Doherty is left out of the equation completely. This is a considerable elision given her consistent support for Maurice McCabe from the very beginning, her reporting on Martin Callinan’s penalty points being wiped, and the price she eventually paid in terms of her career.

Any mention of this would demonstrate that there is indeed a nexus of power that exists in Irish society between the media and certain important and powerful institutions. This could not be reported on in the documentary, however, given the fact that RTÉ itself forms a part of that same nexus.

As Broadsheet’s Olga Cronin pointed out during a discussion on Broadsheet on the Telly last week, editorial decisions had to be taken in order to maximise the reach of documentary in order to bring it to people’s attention.

In a media landscape that wasn’t influenced by power and the powerful this is perfectly acceptable reasoning. A media landscape like this does not exist though, and the fact that such gaps are intentionally created leaves one to conclude that there are things we are not supposed to know.

Where this leaves us and the reliability of the media is plain to see. The media are willing to downplay, under-report, and twist reality to suit an agenda. What this agenda is differs in degree but never in kind.

Most recently it has been the attempt to rehabilitate Frances Fitzgerald and Nóirín O’Sullivan, thereby misleading the wider public into thinking that justice was done by the Justice Charleton and the Disclosures Tribunal.

Where power exists, those in the media across the supposed spectrum find common cause with it. In this case it is the government line that the truth has been discovered and that we should all move on, and ignore the many unanswered questions that remain, that the media has been intent on pummelling us with.

Their tactics appear to have been successful thus far. On the other hand, their hatred and fear of social media points a way forward for us in that it allows us to bypass the traditional media hierarchy.

As long as this avenue remains open, there is always the opportunity to dissent and find the real truth that is often denied us all.

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

Pic: RTÉ

From top: Pro-Israel protesters outside the gates of Áras an Uachtaráin during a visit by Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas to President Higgins last September; Bryan Wall

Documents [available to read here] released under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation show emails and letters regularly received by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFA) from a pro-Israel lobby group and its supporters.

The correspondence, which spans a number of years, shows a consistent attempt at pushing a one-sided narrative on behalf of Israeli government interests. It also shows a level of contempt towards the Irish government for their perceived slights of Israeli politicians and various Israeli political decisions and tactics.

Much of the communications originated from a now defunct group called Irish4Israel, an Irish pro-Israel lobby group whose stated aims, amongst others, were to “challenge the consistent political and media bias against the state of Israel” and to “Speak out for Israel when no one else will.”

Other correspondence was received at the DFA from individuals who it is believed were members of Irish4Israel or the Ireland Israel Alliance (IIA).

In one email sent by Irish4Israel in June 2014, its President, Barry Williams, declares that Ireland is “one of the last nations that have to be dragged kicking and screaming to condemn public acts of terror.”

What provoked this comment was the kidnapping of three Israeli teens by a Hamas splinter group. Irish4Israel, he wrote, “strongly condemns this kidnapping and equally condemn your [the DFA’s] silence.”

In another communication sent by Irish4Israel in February 2017, they declare that any motion by the Dáil to recognise the Palestinian state “would constitute a direct intervention by a third party in a conflict.”

In the letter the group also states that all of the peace proposals offered over the years “have been rejected by the Palestinian leaderships” — itself an outright and egregious lie — and imply that raising the issue of Israeli colonisation of Palestinian lands is merely a trick used by Palestinians and their supporters to forestall any peace negotiations. Therefore, any negotiations that take place must do so “without preconditions”.

Also sent in February of 2017 was a vituperative letter condemning the Gardaí, along with the security at Trinity College Dublin. The reason for this was their apparent inability to secure the safety of the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, Ze’Ev Boker, after his appearance at a student event was cancelled because of a pro-Palestine demonstration held in response to his proposed talk.

As The Irish Times reported, around forty protestors chanted slogans and held placards outside the venue which seemingly resulted in the talk being cancelled. In the correspondence I received, Irish4Israel accused the DFA of being in violation of various aspects of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and Optional Protocols. Ireland was, the group said, in “grave violation” of its “obligations under international law governing diplomatic relations.”

Authored by the Irish4Israel President, the letter referred to the demonstrators as “pseudo-Palestinian activists”, accusing them of “an attack” on the Ambassador’s freedom of speech. Such an “attack” was unacceptable given the fact that “anti-Semitism is on the rise globally lest we forget.”

In a more recent communication, sent in May of this year, Williams and his group draw attention to Sadaka, The Ireland Palestine Alliance and their support of the bill introduced by Senator Frances Black to ban trade with illegal Israeli colonies.

Irish4Israel took issue with the fact that Sadaka were lobbying on behalf of Senator Black and her bill amongst local authorities. The group argued that the bill “is incompatible with EU, WTO law and puts American companies in Ireland at risk.”

What’s more, they argued that by approaching local authorities Sadaka were attempting to “isolate” councillors who are also “caught unaware” regarding the bill.

In further communications in relation to the bill, Irish4Israel wrote “a lot of buzz words and slogans [are] used which lack sound historical knowledge.”

The group also attached a long document laying out what they perceived to be the main legal and moral issues with the bill, one of which was that it “undermines Ireland’s position in the Brexit negotiations”.

When I spoke to her Senator Black told me that although “EU trade policy is common… member states are entitled to seek proportional restrictions when they can be justified.”

Here such a course of action can be justified on the basis of “upholding and respecting international humanitarian law and the Geneva conventions” given that “the settlements are an unambiguous violation of international law, as has been stated repeatedly by the EU, UN & Irish Government”.

When I contacted Sadaka a representative of theirs told me they “undertook this campaign on the basis of our view that banning settlement goods is as much an issue of local democracy as it is of national democracy, as these goods may be on sale locally all around the country.”

This campaign was, they told me, “very successful”, with “motions in support of the Bill being passed in 13 local councils with a further 3 passing motions in support of the wider Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement”.

Various other emails were received from individuals presumed to be members of Irish4Israel or the IIA. In one such email the author writes that “Ireland needs to stop this anti Israel bias”. One way of achieving this would “be to stop funding NGO’s [sic] that are anti Israel.” These NGOs, the author declares, “frame themselves are pro human rights” but “are mostly just NGO’s [sic] that wish to attack Israel.”

In another similar email, the author writes that “there seems to be a concerted effort to increase violence in the hope of provoking an Israeli response.” People “never do hear about Palestinian violence” unless the mentioned Israeli response takes place, argues the writer.

In yet another email, sent in January of 2014, the author declared it was “an outrage” that the Irish government had not sent its Ambassador to the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. The DFA duly corrected the mistaken author in its response, noting that a letter of condolence was sent and that the Irish Ambassador to Israel had in actuality attended the funeral.

In addition, the DFA also replied that “it is disappointing in a letter concerned with extending courtesy to a deceased leader in another country, you were unable to do the same in relation to the President of Ireland.”

In a statement issued by the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) in response to the documents I received, they told me that it shows “a lack of basic knowledge of what our government is actually doing (and not doing) with regard to the Palestine-Israel issue” on the part of the authors.

The correspondence also shows a “skewed historical perspective that all but erases Palestinians from their own history” and a “basic lack of understanding of international law” according to the IPSC representative I spoke to. Palestinians are portrayed “merely as hate-filled antagonists obsessed with violence”.

Furthermore, the arguments used in the letters are “the same type of arguments consistently trotted out by the apartheid State of Israel itself, and its lobbying groups all over the world”.

As for the documents I obtained, a substantial part of them originated from the Irish4Israel lobby group. The activity of the group has been recently discontinued, however.

Now the pro-Israel movement in Ireland will be “coming under new management” in the form of the IIA according to the resignation letter circulated by Irish4Israel President, Barry Williams, this past summer.

In his letter, Williams bemoaned the “level of anti Israel [sic] activity here, the media and political bias and the general delegitimisation and hostility.” Having decided to “step down from coordinating pro Israel [sic] activism” in Ireland, that honour would now go to the IIA and its leader, Jackie Goodall.

Any donations, equipment, and literature that Irish4Israel still possessed would now be sent to the IIA “to use in the future and to continue its work” according to Williams.

Although the tone of Irish4Israel over the years ran a simplistic gamut from anger to hysteria, the subsuming of them by the IIA appears to be an escalation in terms of pro-Israel lobbying efforts here.

Ms Goodall, who heads the IIA, is a Christian Fundamentalist who describes herself as a “Christian Zionist” according to an article published by The Phoenix earlier this year. Ms Goodall has written elsewhere that Israel is “a beacon of light surrounded by darkness, chaos and confusion.”

She also believes that “our valued Judea-Christian heritage is being fast eroded” by a confluence of humanism, political correctness — “which aims to silence the mouths of Christians for fear of being stigmatised” — and “the aggressive growth of Islam.”

As The Phoenix noted, this represents an evangelical turn in pro-Israel activism in Ireland. This development is in line with the continuing lurch of Israel further to the Evangelical Right, especially over the last few years.

Although the correspondence obtained via FOI legislation reads as arrogant, dismissive, rude, bitter, and downright incorrect at times, the majority of the tone used represents that of a non-religiously orientated lobby group, grating as that may be.

With the absorption of Irish4Israel by the IIA, it is not hard to imagine that we can look forward to pro-Israel lobbying efforts in which the use of language has become even more belligerent, ignorant, and religious in its contents.

Given these facts, and that the head of the IIA considers humanists and Muslims to be the enemy, close attention must be paid to the group and its activities. This is for the simple reason that what is at stake is more than simple propaganda victories.

Any viable future for the Palestinians must not be allowed to be influenced by the Evangelical Right, whose dogma, in their own eyes, outweighs basic human rights and dignity.

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

FOI Request, Pro-Isreal Lobby Documents

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