Author Archives: Bryan Wall

From top: People Before Profit’s Adrienne Wallace; Bryan Wall

The election results have shown that there is a crisis in left-wing Irish politics. More specifically, parties of the left have, for the most part, fundamentally failed to make gains at the expense of the big parties.

Instead, discontent was channelled towards the Greens, with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael still largely coming out on top in spite of some losses.

Most people recognise that we need to urgently do something in order to have any hope of leaving a somewhat habitable planet for our children and grandchildren. That partly explains the success of the Greens.

But in spite of this, the neo-liberal parties won out at the expense of the parties of the left. It seems that people are willing to combat climate change by voting for a party or parties they believe will do something to combat climate change. But they aren’t willing to take that extra step and question the capitalist system which is responsible for climate change in the first place.

So the question then is, what did the left do wrong? And, probably more importantly, what does it portend for the future of Irish politics?

As for the first question, it seems that the left has failed to understand the fundamental issues that people are facing and worried about. And the left appears to not appreciate how electoral politics works to its disadvantage.

Given the housing and homelessness crisis, the left should be dominant in Irish politics and society. But it isn’t.

One of the left’s successes in the local elections is People Before Profit’s Adrienne Wallace, who ran in the Carlow constituency. I spoke to her about why the left overall did so poorly in the elections.

She pointed out that the “the radical left are too small at the moment to alleviate some of the worst aspects of the system” that people have to live with. And for this reason, when it comes to voting day:

“When a woman has all her belongings and her three children in their car with nowhere to go, voting is going to be the last thing on her mind and that’s just the reality of it.

She won’t have time to think about FG’s obsession with privtiasation and profits and how that relates to her situation.

I have witnessed first hand the crippling affect the housing crisis is having on people and I think they are in desperate situations, as a result finding time to go to the ballot booth is low down the list.”

Another perspective that I’ve come across is that the majority of the left in Ireland try to compete in an area which the dominant political parties have mastered years ago.

Quite simply, they are better and more efficient at canvassing, telling people the they understand them, and doing something as simple as pressing the flesh.

This is the realm of the major political parties, make no mistake about it. Anyone outside of this small club will work twice as hard to achieve half the results.

I saw it first-hand in the local elections in West Cork. Independent candidates who understand the issues and want to create a viable society for everyone struggling against the political machines of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

And that struggle resulted in receiving a fraction of the votes representatives of the above-mentioned obtained. When the field is so skewed against you, why bother to play in the field in the first place?

It’s one thing to see an injustice and strive to change it. It’s another thing entirely when an entire edifice is designed to keep you and your views marginalised for the benefit of the establishment.

And after decades of struggle the result is the same: A few gains here and there but the edifice remains unaffected.

Electoral politics offers the illusion of a diversity of outcome. The success of the Greens is held up as an example of this political diversity. Yet they are more than happy to discuss going into government with parties who should be anathema to them.

As for what this portends for the future of Irish politics, the answer is nothing good. We have a government that is a mixture of incompetent and venal with its insistence in ignoring the housing and homelessness crisis. Instead, developers and landlords are to be helped out to an extent that would make bank robbers blush.

But where does the left fall in this calculus?

It can continue to attempt to make gains via electoral politics. At some stage in the future it will likely be successful. But those gains will be minimal by comparison to the power of the big two.

And those gains will be lost just as we’ve seen in the local and European elections as the ebb and flow of Irish people’s political consciousness will not allow them to challenge the fundamental underpinnings of our society. They can only go so far.

On the other hand, Wallace disagrees. She believes the fact that the main parties only take around 50% of the total vote “is a huge decline from 30 years ago”.

For her, “This indicates that there is huge space and scope for change”. And she hopes that her own party can “occupy that space in the coming years”.

Overall though, an understanding of and solidarity with the average person are all needed. This includes a level of guidance in helping people get to grips with how the system functions. The left has provided some of this. It just hasn’t provided enough of it and it hasn’t provided it on a non-judgemental basis.

As Chris Hedges has previously said, the problem with a lot of the left, especially the mainstream left, is that they want to see the poor. They just don’t want to have to smell them.

There is also an elitism that pervades some parts of the left. If you haven’t read the “correct” theorists and interpreted them in the appropriately dogmatic way, then you are dismissed out of hand.

The future of the left then, does not look positive. With all of the developments in Irish society over the previous two decades, the left in Ireland should at the very least be ascendant. Instead, it’s largely moribund with some small exceptions.

The Connolly Youth Movement (CYM) is one of these exceptions. It seems that its reliance on direct action and avoidance of electoral politics thus far is paying dividends. New branches have recently been formed around the country. And although the numbers are relatively small, it is a success that should be taken note of by others on the left.

For now though, a thorough assessment of how the left relates to wider society has to take place. It can’t continue along the well-worn electoral path with no consideration given as to why we are still ruled by right-wing neo-liberals.

Down that path lies madness and failure. And we can no longer afford such misstep.

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

Rollingnews

Related: Michael Taft: Wanted: A New Popular Front

From top: Green Party’s Ciarán Cuffe arrives at the European elections count centre at the RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 yesterday; Bryan Wall

With the election results all but in, now comes the time for a post-mortem. The left vote has collapsed to large degree. Sinn Féin has lost the gains it made in the last few years and parties farther to the left have not been able to capitalise on the failures of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Instead, the Greens are the main winners right across the country.

Many are lauding this as proof of a greater awareness amongst Irish people of the challenges facing the country when it comes to climate change.

Perhaps there’s a realisation that all the other parties have failed to do anything about climate change. And now the Greens have stepped into the fold with a mixture of the right ideas and the right people to do something about it.

Their electoral success should be seen as a protest vote more than anything else. The Greens are far enough from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that there is a difference between them in the minds of some people. This makes voting for them palatable.

But the simple truth is that the Greens have more in common with the big two than with any of the parties to the left.

Having spent the last decade in the political wilderness, this has been forgotten or is simply not known by a generation of voters going to the ballot box for the first time.

When the Greens were in coalition with Fianna Fáil their record was, quite simply, atrocious. As the Shell to Sea campaign noted, when the Green’s current leader, Eamon Ryan, was a minister in the coalition with Fianna Fáil, he was happy to “impose” the Corrib gas project. Ryan, they said, “mobilis[ed] hundreds of Gardai and the Navy in order to do so”.

Former Green Party leader John Gormley, who was leader while they were in power with Fianna Fáil, stood by his party’s support of the bank guarantee. He argued in 2009 that “If we had not acted, the costs to the economy would be incalculable and that is why we had to act”. Although he later claimed that he was reliant on bad advice from experts.

Nonetheless, during his time in coalition he defended the austerity budgets he helped to impose on the basis that it was in the “national interest”. And during the banking inquiry he insisted that:

“Every one of those austerity budgets was progressive. In other words, each budget hit the wealthier members of our community proportionately harder than the less well-off.”

According to a prominent Irish activist, before getting into government, Gormley was also known to regularly attend meetings of the Irish Anti-War Movement and was “gung-ho” about Palestine. But they noted that as soon as Gormley went into coalition with Fianna Fáil, “that was the last we heard of such things”.

And current Green Party star Ciarán Cuffe was more than happy to hob-knob aboard the USS John F Kennedy aircraft carrier when it visited Dublin in 1996 while he was a member of the Dublin City Council. As The Phoenix noted, he did this while members of his own party were picketing the presence of the US ship.

This brief and incomplete history of the Greens is telling and all the more given Eamon Ryan’s comments while counting of the ballots was still ongoing over the weekend.

During an interview on Newstalk, he apparently refused to be drawn on whether or not his party would go into coalition with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

His defence was that:

“Every party increasingly in our system vote to agree internally to go into power or a Programme for Government”.

In another interview he told the Irish Times that he could see the Greens being part of “rainbow coalition with a range of different parties”. Cuffe refused to be drawn on this when questioned by journalists.

Fellow star of the party, Saoirse McHugh, has been more forthright, however. She said “Yeah” when asked if she would resign from the party if it entered into a coalition with either of the big two.

Cuffe argued that the idea of a coalition was “hypothetical” but nonetheless said, “Let’s see how things go today and then we can have a look at all these issues”.

Although McHugh seemed put out being asked about a possible coalition with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, saying “I don’t know why everyone keeps talking about it” as no general election has been called, it appears that her seniors have begun planning for the possibility.

Both Ryan’s and Cuffe’s comments are indicative of this. And, probably more importantly, it appears that Fine Gael has begun setting the stage for the Greens to go into a coalition with them.

Varadkar has said an early general election is possible. This is probably a greater possibility than ever before now that the Greens have shown their willingness to at the very least consider going into government with Fine Gael.

Hoping that the Greens’ local and European electoral success will translate into Dáil seats, he likely realises he can use them to prop up his party in the aftermath of an election in which Fine Gael would inevitably lose some seats.

The political courting has begun, with Simon Coveney saying:

“you will see in the next few weeks… a very significant climate policy coming from the government”.

With the Greens itching for another chance at power having spent the last decade in the wilderness, it seems they believe that their time has come again.

Having surprised everyone with their “surge”, their likely hope is that they can carry this success forwards into a general election. But what hasn’t been widely reported are the demographics of the Green Party’s new voters.

According to the Irish Times‘ Mary Regan, “42% of 18 – 24 year olds in Dublin” voted for the Green Party compared to 7% of the same age group voting for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

This means, then, that the “surge” in support for Ryan and company comes from people who either don’t know or don’t remember the role of the Green Party helping to cripple the country and, in particular, my generation who lost their jobs, income, homes, and, all too often, their lives.

The Greens represent nothing but more of the same old politics we’re all used to. For that reason they’ll be gladly accepted by either of the big two parties, thereby giving us the option of green neo-liberalism or green neo-liberalism.

The signalling of both Ryan and Cuffe that they would willingly enter into such an arrangement shows how hollow their professed green beliefs really are.

And with a general election possibly around the corner, watch as their already pliable beliefs become even more flexible as power draws ever closer.

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

Rollingnews

From top: Voting in the General Election of 2016 at St Joseph’s NS in Cabra, Dublin; Bryan Wall

One of the issues worth expanding on with tomorrow’s elections is the idea of tactical voting. The simple fact is that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are cut from the same cloth. Civil War politics aside, at this stage their policies are one and the same.

The confidence and supply agreement all but confirms that they are essentially different wings of the same party: The business party. For both of them free markets take precedence over the average person.

Public spending on housing, health, and public transportation is anathema to both. And let’s not dare mention any kind of regulation when it comes to finance or housing.

Despite this, both parties will do quite well in the elections. Which of the two comes out on top will make no real difference. That leaves us with the rest of the parties and independents.

This ranges from Solidarity – People Before Profit to Renua, to everything and everyone in between. So the question is: If you want to ensure the most possible damage to Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael pact, and stop an incipient far right, how should you vote?

My own approach is to vote tactically.

My constituency in West Cork is in the heartland of establishment politics. But there is also a rise of far-right conspiratorial types who hate anyone non-Irish as much as they love talking about the dangers of chemtrails.

The combination of these two factors means I have a relatively easy decision to make. Vote against the establishment and at the same time ensure that the far right get nothing.

One aspect of tactical voting is figuring out who the establishment is. In my opinion that includes the Green Party and Labour. Both did untold damage to the country and the most vulnerable while in power. They might suggest that they are of the left but they simply aren’t. They have no political compass other than the quest for power once again.

Who does that leave?

To mention my own constituency again, that means voting for parties I have disagreements with, such as Solidarity – People Before Profit. This, along with voting for genuine outsiders who are of the people, — and don’t yearn for an all-white Ireland — ensures that the transfers will make a difference.

The outsiders running as independents in my own constituency understand the problems that we face and do legitimately want to do something about it. We don’t have a duty to vote but we do have a duty to fight hatred and inequality. And right now this means voting for people who believe in the same things.

Figuring out where Sinn Féin fit into this is, personally, tough. It makes the right sounds but so did Labour and the Greens. And like them, Sinn Féin has shown a willingness to cooperate with the establishment it so often criticises. The same can be said for the Social Democrats.

But it boils down to who do you hate more? Would you prefer a mix of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael alongside members of the far right on your local councils and in Europe, or would Sinn Féin be a better alternative? For me the answer is self-evident.

In Dublin we have the appearance of Frances Fitzgerald on the ballot. Anyone remotely familiar with Maurice McCabe will know about her role in the scandal. The same calculus as above applies.

Do you want to reward dishonesty and at the same time allow a far-right victory? If not, then vote for candidates who understand racism, inequality, and injustice and will fight against them.

They might not change anything in the long-term, but it will terrify the establishment and its defenders. And it will undermine the political aspirations of the far right.

When it comes down to it, we’re in a situation where business as usual is creating more and more havoc. I don’t mean that people should go and vote for whoever claims to be against this arrangement. Many claim to want change and that they want to end corruption. In reality they’re far-right ideologues salivating at the chance of attaining power.

No matter what you think about voting and its effectiveness – and my own cynicism of it is well documented – there is a real chance to at the very least temporarily block the far right’s rise.

Along the way it might scare the establishment to witness a left-wing surge in the elections. Voting tactically will achieve this.

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

Rollingnews

From top: A car in Molesworth Street, Dublin promoting Fine Gael’s Frances Fitzgerald for the forthcoming European elections; Bryan Wall

With the local and European elections upon us the same worn-out cliches have reappeared. Our various candidates will make a change, be the change, or simply remind us that they know we want change.

Every candidate promises a commitment to job creation. They’ll simultaneously create them, protect them, and bring them in the form of industry. It is, to put it mildly, tedious.

Voting in the current system we live under is seen as a pressure valve. It’s there to relieve the political pressure that builds up over time and release it safely in the form of anodyne candidates who can be coopted by the system if they’re not already part of the system.

But candidates like Frances Fitzgerald are far from anodyne. Her porous memory is a wonder to behold. Even more so the fact that she was “vindicated” by Justice Charleton without actually being so.

The magical wonderland that is Irish political culture means that Leo Varadkar was going to ensure she was appropriately compensated for having her name brought into disrepute by something as tricky as the facts.

Then we have candidates openly mocking trans people. Others calling for the deportation of those they consider “freeloaders”. There are some who rail against the apparently communist government we live under.

We have a candidate in Roscommon who said he didn’t want “Ali Baba” coming into his community. And let’s not forget the assorted mix who combine anti-choice, ultra-conservative Catholicism with a misunderstanding of Catholic doctrine that makes the Life of Brian seem like a canonical text by comparison.

Essentially, what they want is to regress Ireland to a pale church-fearing country where difference is to be destroyed in the name of their version of cohesion and culture.

Somewhere in between is the Social Democrats, ie., Labour without the charm or the intelligence. Their policy of creating an environmentally sustainable society goes hand in hand with their support of “international businesses in creating good jobs”.

The inherent contradiction of the above goes unmentioned. It’s all perfectly grand in the finest Irish sense of the word.

At least Labour pretended to represent the working class. This meant that it realised it had completely abandoned its base in the pursuit of power. In response it decided upon a tactic that it’s best try to keep up appearances.

A tactic that involved congratulating itself publicly for defending the common person while allowing these same people to feel the full brunt of its economic and social policies.

In the morass there are decent people who want to make a change in the way that they know or feel is best. For them, that means getting elected. And a lot of us will be in a position where we will vote for them if their policies aren’t stupid, racist, or both.

Because given the prevailing situation the best that many of us can do right now is vote tactically. Keeping out the old guard and the hatemongers is of such urgent necessity that it is difficult to put into words.

Suffice to say that voting to keep them out is one method of undermining them and ensuring their demise in the long term. This is far from ideal but it’s all that most people are willing to risk.

Hopefully out of this something positive will emerge. The problem is that the political system is set up to divert people and ideas. People can work as much as they want to try and advocate for legitimately good and decent ideas, such as a pushing for a carbon neutral society.

The reality is that anything that runs counter to the establishment and the establishment narrative is to be blocked, undermined, and dismantled. The establishment wants nothing more than business as usual.

Right now that means a lack of any kind of tangible action when it comes to housing and homelessness. A profit has to be made somewhere after all, and if families have to be made homeless to do so then so be it.

Sinn Féin’s bill, which would have made housing a constitutional right was duly voted down. Who needs housing anyway? For too long we put all our hopes in elected representatives being able to gain a few crumbs from the wider political table for us The results have obviously been pitiful.

Political representatives are supposed to fit in and play the game as it has been played for decades. Don’t cause a fuss and you’ll have some success. Dare to raise your voice and you had better watch out.

The best I am hoping for is that the far right gets a trouncing. Beyond this immediate concern there is no hope to be had in voting for candidates who are limited by the system as to what they can achieve.

Greater protections for workers’ rights, the creation of an environmentally sustainable society, and the ending of all forms of capitalism are never going to be within the purview of a somebody running for office. These things can only be achieved by concerted mass action on the part of the wider population.

Our duly elected leaders are currently sitting by as the planet burns and corporations rake in massive profits on the backs of their broken workers. When they ignore something as basic as housing then how can they be trusted to deal with something like climate change? They can’t and they won’t.

So go out and vote in the elections. But go and do so with the realisation that its effectiveness is limited by design. Putting a roadblock in the way of the far-right should be the main goal. Any positive result beyond that is a bonus.

Maybe I’m wrong though and it’s just my own bias. Maybe there are candidates who will be able to change the structure from the inside for the better. I hope I’m wrong. And I hope they can prove me wrong.

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

Rollingnews

Top from left: Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring, junior minister with special responsibility for rural digital development Seán Canney and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at a press conference last week approving the next step for broadband in rural Ireland; Bryan Wall

One of the major myths of capitalism promoted by its supporters is that it encourages innovation. That the best battle it out to rise to the top of the economic system, profit, and become household names.

If that was the case then why the need for massive transfers of wealth to the private sector via the state? The reason for this is because the myth of capitalism is indeed not only a myth, but a fatal flaw in the system.

Its insatiable need for new markets and constant profit is a result of it struggling to survive. And in that struggle it has always found a willing assistant in the state. Hannah Arendt argued that the colonialist and imperialist expansion of the European powers was because of the requirements of capitalism. New markets and increased profit were needed. Therefore, the might of the state was to be used to ensure this.

The same pattern continues today. Capitalism is continuing the same search but in a world where most of the markets have been filled; there is nothing more to exploit. But, there is always the chance to return to habits of old and exploit the common people directly.

In Europe, and especially here in Ireland, banks seeking out more profit by being reckless and breaking the law had to be saved, i.e., bailed out, by the government in order to ensure their profit margins were not affected. Essentially, an upward transfer of wealth. Banks profit, developers have their debts wiped, and the general population is left with the bill.

And we see this played out again and again – history repeating itself as farce – with the cost of construction of the National Children’s Hospital reaching nearly €2 billion. The more profit the better, just as long as the right people and the right companies do the profiting.

Now we have the National Broadband Plan to contend with and yet another transfer of wealth for no other reason than the fact that a transfer of wealth has to happen.

Never mind questions about private meetings the now former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten had with the head of the then last remaining bidder on the broadband contract.

This is the same group which the government has decided to award the contract to. It’s also the same company who will own the broadband system once construction is complete and before they’ve even fronted most of the bill for it.

An article in The Sunday Times yesterday revealed that the company will be paying less than €200 million into the roughly €5 billion project.

As David McWilliams points out in the Irish Times, it appears that the investment they make will in part be funded by people paying their broadband bills.

So, the company pays little up front, the taxpayer via the government foots the bill, the government hands over the infrastructure to the company which then makes the larger share of its initial investment. And this investment is at least partially funded by the taxpayer directly via their bills. Death by a thousand deals.

We should be shocked. In a country with a functioning democracy and appropriate oversight the citizens would be shocked. Instead, we are resigned to the fact that this has happened before and will happen again.

The litany of controversies during the lifespan of our state has made us complacent; a case of having seen one controversy, seen them all. And given the scale of bank debt that was laden on us, a few billion for a national broadband network seems like small change by comparison. But we should be shocked and we should be angry.

We should be angry at a system that has been set up to reward private investors at the expense of everyone else.

We should be angry at a system that allows the health system in the country to slowly deteriorate so that it eventually be completely privatised.

This same system thought it appropriate that the average person on the street should shoulder some of the massive debt belonging to banks.

Welcome to neo-liberal Ireland; everything for them and nothing for ourselves. Dare to question the system directly and you’ll be dismissed as a naysayer. Try and take it on directly and you’ll feel the full assault of the government both physically and in the media.

Being part of the so-called sinister fringe should be seen as a badge of honour. It means that you believe that basic services that people rely on every day should be in the hands of the public.

They shouldn’t be in the hands individuals and companies whose ethical horizon extends only as far as their quarterly financial statements. The idea that there are certain things that shouldn’t be exploited for a profit and could – horror of horrors – be operated at a loss for the public good is completely alien to these same individuals.

And as much as services like water and health should remain in public hands, the national broadband network remain there too. Like it or not our societies rely on the internet for basic functions. The National Broadband Plan is akin to the rural electrification scheme.

Yet here we are. Our government is willing to hand it over to a private company. You could almost say determined given that it ignored the advice of Robert Watt. Watt, the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure, warnedagainst approval of the appointment of the preferred bidder”.

His argument was that it should not go ahead on the basis of affordability, risk, and the effect on other unrelated projects given the cost. He also took the step of saying the risk was “unprecedented”.

But it will go ahead. It has to. After all, a profit has to be made somewhere – just not by 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

Rollingnews

From top: Julian Assange arrested in central London last week; Bryan Wall

The arrest of Julian Assange by the British police is a watershed in journalism. Or at least it should be. Having fled to the Ecuadoran embassy 7 years ago, he now finds himself in a prison that the British government uses for convicted murderers and terrorists.

What Assange has done to warrant this treatment is to embarrass not only governments but also very powerful people who would rather have their actions hidden away from public view.

Hilary Clinton exemplifies this. In her leaked speeches to bankers she said that change “really has to come from the industry itself”, and not from wider political or social activism. In one speech she lauded herself for the fact that she “represented and worked with so many talented” bankers.

She went so far as to say that she “did all I could to make sure they continued to prosper”. Alas, she told representatives of Goldman Sachs that “there is such a bias against people who have led successful and/or complicated lives”.

Then there’s the US military itself which is what essentially put WikiLeaks on the map. With the leak of the Collateral Murder video by Chelsea Manning, the US military’s war crimes were broadcast to everyone with internet access. An American Apache helicopter targeted civilians and journalists for having the audacity to stand around on a street in Baghdad.

Of course our own native Atlantic backwater has not escaped mention in WikiLeaks’ gigantic archive. In leaked diplomatic cables Ireland’s relationship with the US at the time of the second Iraq war is described.

The cables say that “U.S.-Irish relations remains as strong as ever” despite protests over the US military’s use of Shannon airport. So strong that it was suggested that Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach, be asked about “his willingness to send Irish peacekeepers to Iraq under a UN mandate”.

And in yet another leaked cable it was revealed that the then American Ambassador to Ireland, Thomas Foley, thanked the then foreign affairs minister, Dermot Ahern, for his “staunch rejection” of demands to inspect US military flights passing through Shannon airport.

This rejection included a demand to “inspect aircraft landing in Ireland that are alleged to have been involved in so-called extraordinary rendition flights”.

The cable noted that Ahern “seemed quite convinced that at least three flights involving renditions had refueled at Shannon Airport before or after conducting renditions elsewhere”. In 2013 a report by the Open Society Foundation identified Ireland as one of 54 countries involved in the extraordinary rendition programme.

Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are being punished for this and this alone. It has nothing to do with skipping bail or rape accusations. Assange has embarrassed on a massive scale the political masters of the world.

The defenders of the status quo have rounded on him, declaring that he is not a journalist. This is despite the fact that what Assange and WikiLeaks do is what countless other publications have done and continue to do: They publish documents leaked to them on a regular basis. Assange must be made to pay for the transgression of embarrassing the powerful.

The lead lawyer for the New York Times had this to say:

I think the prosecution of him [Assange] would be a very, very bad precedent for publishers. From that incident, from everything I know, he’s sort of in a classic publisher’s position and I think the law would have a very hard time drawing a distinction between The New York Times and WikiLeaks.

On a similar note, The Intercept reported last year that after years of investigation, the Obama administration decided not to prosecute Assange and WikiLeaks “for publishing classified information”.  This was because it surmised that:

‘…such a prosecution would pose a severe threat to press freedom because there would be no way to prosecute Assange for publishing classified documents without also prosecuting the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian and others for doing exactly the same thing.’

And this was not an opinion lightly taken. Obama prosecuted more “whistleblowers under the 1917 Espionage Act than all former presidents combined”. Given all of this, then, the stakes are clearly high.

The attack on Assange is an attack on the press worldwide. Take a step back and think about it. An Australian citizen is arrested in Britain at the behest of the American government for leaking documents related to the US military in Iraq.

In theory, American jurisdiction does not extend past its borders. Reality, it demonstrably appears, is very different. But there is an apparent awareness of this.

In Assange’s indictment the government states that his “offense [was] begun and committed outside of the jurisdiction of any particular State or district of the United States”. It also points out regarding the leaks that the “information so obtained could be used to the injury of the United States and the advantage of any foreign nation”.

The contradiction between jurisdiction and supposed criminality is not squared. It is a given that Assange is guilty because the US government and its cheerleaders in the media say he is.

You don’t have to like Assange. You may even loathe him, as many do. But that is a separate issue to the one at play here. Press freedoms across the world are now at risk because of the ability of the US government to arrest a journalist regardless of their citizenship or location.

And it still doesn’t come as a surprise. Despite everything we like to tell ourselves we figured someone, or some government, would get to Assange eventually. His arrest wasn’t a shock so much as the imagery of him being carried out of the embassy by the British police was.

Yet it should be shocking. All of it should terrify and anger us. Fascist totalitarianism has a tendency to be insidious. How we treat whistleblowers can be used as an indicator of how our societies are faring. Daniel Ellsberg’s treatment was no different.

Chelsea Manning is yet again imprisoned. And here on our own shores we have signals of the dangerous potential that lurks.

In 2007 Jonathan Sugarman became a risk manager at UniCredit in Dublin where he witnessed massive liquidity breaches on a daily basis. He wrote a letter, which he hand-delivered to the financial regulator’s office, which outlined the scale of the breaches.

Yet, “apart from the official acknowledgment there was no reaction”. Sugarman soon resigned from his position given the scale of the transgressions and the lack of action taken by the regulator.

He would eventually have a meeting with the Central Bank in May 2011 about UniCredit. He relates that “the Central Bank officials threatened to ‘hand me over’ to the Irish Director of Public Prosecution, should I divulge any further information regarding irregularities at UniCredit Bank”. This was despite the fact that the regulator had “announced that it would consider any information offered about the affair ‘in confidence’”.

Sugarman has paid for this with the loss of his career and a lack of consequences for his former employers.

Whistleblowers and those that publish their revelations are often held up to scorn and ridicule. But their role is imperative given the structure of our societies where wealth and power are hoarded and criminality goes unpunished.

Just as the attack on Sugarman was an attack on all of us, the attack on Assange is just as much so. Different men with different causes yet the consequences of their persecution sets us down a dangerous path which we have already trodden too far.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column usually appears here every Monday but owing to the Bank Holiday… Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on twitter:  @Bryan_Wall

Top pic: Reuters

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin city centre last month; Bryan Wall

Homeless people will now be able to use their local post office as an address at which to receive mail. Standards have fallen to such a degree that the media and the rest of us celebrate this fact without a second thought.

Of course many homeless people will use the service and it will allow them to access basic services that the rest of us take for granted.

But it doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface of what needs to be done and what is really needed. Instead of investing heavily in housing and associated projects a relative pittance is given to this new project.

Meanwhile, homeless rates and rents continue to increase without fail. Both have reached truly obscene levels. And the government doesn’t seem to care.

A Sinn Féin bill that would make it illegal “to evict tenants in buy-to-let properties on the grounds that the property is being sold” has been perfunctorily blocked by the government with Fianna Fáil’s support.

AIB can sell so-called “non performing loans” to an American vulture fund and the government doesn’t even bother to blush. This is despite the fact that the government owns roughly 71% of the bank. And then there’s the bill that would stop banks from selling mortgages to vulture funds without the permission of the borrowers.

The Department of Finance can say with a straight face “we are not convinced that for the current mortgage holder this Bill would necessarily do a lot for them”. It’s not like they don’t know what happens when mortgages are sold to vulture funds.

As reported by the Washington Post, in the US city of Memphis, Cerberus, using a property company, “files for eviction at twice the rate of other rental home property managers”.

In the same article it is pointed out that:

Cerberus-owned homes in Memphis also racked up property code violations this year at a consistently higher rate than other single-family rentals in the same neighborhoods, equal to a new violation every day or two.

And it is Cerberus who just bought from AIB 2,200 loans for “mostly buy-to-let properties” for nearly €1 billion.

But this is all perfectly acceptable. This is how the system is supposed to function. People, who are supposedly citizens with inherent rights, can’t be allowed to stand in the way of profit. They also can’t be allowed to stand in the way of egotism.

Hence we have a Taoiseach whose letter to a pop star asking for an audience with her is the pinnacle of government mediocrity.

Using the headed paper of the Taoiseach’s office Leo Varadkar would rather a nice photo opportunity than actually use the same paper to achieve something that might help people. But that would be counter to free market principles and therefore it’s a non-starter.

It has been somewhat overblown, especially on social media. However, it does reinforce a point I’ve previously made here: Leo says what he means and he believes what he says.

That explains his office fighting against the freedom of information request to have the letter released. He understands propaganda and he definitely understands a propaganda disaster like the publication of a fawning letter he sent to a pop star on the same date that a national housing rally was taking place.

And there’s his defence of TDs accepting tickets to matches from the FAI. This, he says, is a non-issue. In the world of neo-liberalism the government is supposed to be chummy with big business.

Even though the FAI is a hardly the Apple or Google of the soccer world, it is a valuable sinecure for certain of its noteworthy members. And just because members of the Dáil, who are supposed to have oversight of it, receive gifts from it does not mean they will not be effective in their jobs. As we all know, politicians regularly bite the wealthy hand that feeds. Therefore, oversight of the FAI is assured against any untowardness.

So, this is the situation we find ourselves in. The homeless can remain homeless knowing that at least they’ll get their mail. And the Taoiseach can use his position to live out his fandom fantasies. How can any of this bode well for the future of the country?

With the rise of the far right and its various representatives in Ireland we are faced with challenges on two fronts: Fighting against a corrupt government enthralled to neo-liberalism and at the same time fighting a rearguard action against the extremists in our midst who are attempting to use the massive discontent in Ireland to both empower and embolden themselves even further.

This is the pattern right across Europe as the far right tries to profit from governmental malfeasance and its lack of concern for the people who voted them into power.

The left have a lot of catching up to do but there are some successes, such as the Connolly Youth Movement here in Ireland. New branches have begun appearing throughout the country, signifying that there is an appetite for a left wing movement that places activism, education, and solidarity over moral pontification. The other major left-wing parties would do well to take notice.

As for what’s next, it’s always hard to predict the future, especially when it comes to political or social issues. But one thing is certain: Unless neo-liberalism and its defenders in the Dáil can be gotten rid of once and for all then our future is one that will make dystopian fiction redundant.

Defenders of the neo-liberal faith will continue to enrich themselves while the population grows poorer and sicker. And with nowhere to live, expect homelessness to increase too. In a debt-laden society where the government puts profit above everything else, don’t expect basic social welfare services to remain in place for much longer.

But, when the inevitable comes, at least we’ll all still be able to get our mail.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column usually appears here every Monday but owing to the Bank Holiday… Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on twitter:  @Bryan_Wall

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From top: Former UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and British Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn; Bryan Wall

Brexit has become such a fiasco that the only way forward is a general election. Theresa May’s proposals have consistently been voted down and mocked. Despite her promise to resign if her latest proposal got voted through, it still failed to pass a vote.

And now we’re in a situation where her own party dislikes her so much that they don’t even want to let her resign. Instead they are insisting that she goes down with the ship as it surely will as soon as a general election is called.

The Tories have only been able to stay in power this long because of an alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). This is a party whose ignorance would embarrass the troglodytes of the world.

It opposed and continues to oppose the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and baulks at the slightest idea of anything Irish being in its general proximity. Yet it continues to hold some level of sway for the simple reason that the Tories would rather have creationist bigots pulling their strings than allow a Labour-led government come into power.

And now we’re in a situation where absolutely nothing that could help sort out the Brexit problem can get any traction. In fact, we’re in such a farcical situation that Nigel Dodds, the DUP leader in Westminster, has said that it would now be better for the UK to stay in the EU.

His reasoning is that he would rather “stay in the European Union rather than risk Northern Ireland’s position. That’s how strongly I feel about the Union”.

Dodds seems to be inadvertently letting his ignorance of the GFA shine through. It doesn’t matter whether Northern Ireland stays in the UK. Brexit or no Brexit, a border poll is coming whether he likes it or not.

In spite of this his party still managed to hold the Tories hostage over the last two years because of the numbers after the 2017 general election. But now it appears that no matter what happens, the next general election will destroy the Tories.

The Mail on Sunday is now reporting that according to a new poll the Tories are 5 points behind Labour. If an election was held now, Labour would come out with 307 seats with the Tories ending up with 264. Not exactly known for its love of Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, that the Mail is reporting this is telling.

All the while Boris Johnson is lurking on the sidelines. From here he takes the occasional snipe at May and her coterie, awaiting for what he likely believes is his birthright to fall into his lap.

Johnson wouldn’t be a bumbling, idiotic prime minister like so many believe he would be. This image of aloofness is one he carefully fosters. It’s a disarming tactic for a man who views the British Empire as the pinnacle of human civilisation. Johnson worships at the altar of Thatcher. All he lacks is the subtlety.

What none of them seem to care about are the real-world consequences of their actions or lack thereof.

For them, society is theoretical. It is something “out there” that is beyond the bounds of their experience; an experience defined by privilege that they all share in. It may have began at Eton but it continues into Oxbridge and beyond. Brexit is a perfect example of this.

Rich, privileged, elites deciding on the future of Britain without an ounce of concern for the wider population. Peasants be damned, the project must succeed. A project in which the idea of British “independence” from Europe is assured. A project in which British exceptionalism can once again stalk the globe.

Brexit has nothing to do about freedom and democracy. It has everything to do with Jacob Rees-Mogg and company wanting to recreate and relive British greatness. It comes at the expense of the British population and, if it goes ahead, our own too.

A new study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found that Brexit is going to damage the Irish economy no matter what form it takes. Wages will be driven down, exports will fall, unemployment will go up, and the economy will shrink. These are not minor consequences.

And what has the response of our own government been? It has been slow and appears to have relied on the loyalty of the EU. This was a major gamble, and an irresponsible one at that. But it appears to have worked out, for now, as the EU has stood firm in the face of May, the DUP, and Brexit. But the major question, leaving out Ireland, is what comes next?

May is not long for the political world. With the DUP pulling her strings and Rees-Mogg and Johnson doing everything they can to undermine her it’s hard to imagine a more pitiful sight than May pleading with MPs to vote for her Brexit bill. If a general election was called tomorrow Corbyn’s Labour would be victorious.

One won’t be but it does presage things to come. And remember, this is in spite of all the vituperative articles and headlines aimed at Corbyn over the last few years.

If the entire Brexit mess has done one thing it has likely ensured a Labour victory at the polls in any general election. Whether Corbyn is at the helm is another question. However, he has lasted this long. He has nothing to lose and everything to win. And a Labour government can only be good for us.

At the very least it’ll show people that it is possible to challenge the system and win. The victory might be minor in the grander scheme of things but it is still a victory.

The forces in politics and the media that have consistently tried to destroy a man of, by all accounts, impeccable ethics will have failed to halt his rise. A success of this scale, regardless of one’s particular left-leaning views, should not be dismissed out of hand. It will have been hard-won.

The alternative is a Boris Johnson or a Jacob Rees-Mogg in charge of one of the world’s largest economies; an economy which also happens to be our closest neighbour. At that stage dystopian fiction will have truly become irrelevant.

A Corbyn victory is a necessity.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column usually appears here every Monday but owing to the Bank Holiday… Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on twitter:  @Bryan_Wall

Pic: Getty

From top: Netta Barzilai after winning the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest securing Israel the right to host this year’s competition; Ireland’s entrant Sarah McTernan; Bryan Wall

It’s hard to imagine that the Eurovision song contest would become a political issue. Of course, there is the phrase of George Orwell’s that “All issues are political issues”. But the Eurovision contest?

How seriously it is usually taken varies from country to country. Ireland’s record on it is mixed. All in all though, we usually treat it as something anodyne; a harmless distraction that comes around for one night, once a year. This time it’s different. This year the contest is being held in Israel.

For Israel, the Eurovision is an opportunity to whitewash itself as it is so often found of doing. It can present itself to the world as a liberal, western nation that likes the same things we do.

Given the reality of the situation, hosting Eurovision is a propaganda coup of exceptional proportions. And as a result, there have been calls to boycott the competition.

Charlie McGettigan, a former Irish winner of the competition, has also added their name to the list of those opposed it being held in Israel. As has Mike Murphy. RTÉ and others have decided any controversy about this can be ignored.

The result is the claim that calls for a boycott are unfair to both viewers and Ireland’s representative this year. We are given to believe that it is simply a bunch of ne’er-do-wells being difficult.

So what’s the problem?

Israel is a state unlike many others. Its status is exceptional. Its boundaries are variable depending on military necessity. It is not a state of its citizens, making it an extreme outlier compared to the rest of the world. Instead, it is the state of the Jewish people, a not so subtle or unimportant distinction.

The religious right hold a substantial amount of power both politically and socially. But probably most importantly, the state is highly militarised. And this reaches right down through all the layers of Israeli society. It is a military society par excellence.

Netta Barzilai, Israel’s entry for Eurovision last year and who won the competition is herself a military veteran. As are the majority of Israelis. This is because military service is mandatory.

But not only are the Israelis that Sarah McTernan is expected to perform for either currently in the military or former members, the majority of them believe in an Israeli-Jewish ascendency.

Most Israelis believe “crucial decisions on security matters should only be made by a Jewish majority vote”.  A majority also believe “a Jewish majority vote is essential for decisions pertaining to economy or society”.

At the same time, and unsurprisingly, the Israeli military is the most trusted institution in Israeli society. It is a modern Sparta.

This is hardly surprising given the militarisation of the state. And all of this is without taking into account the treatment of the Palestinians.

This is why Eurovision will be such a propaganda victory for Israel if the competition goes ahead. And it is also why calls for McTernan to pull out of the competition should be taken seriously.

She, along with all of the other performers, will be used to present a veneer of respectability over gross human rights violations and a state whose politics skew heavily to the right.

It’s an old tactic used by the state’s supporters. They encourage people without a deep understanding to look at how liberal and progressive Israel is compared to other countries.

It means ignoring the razing of Palestinians lands and homes, not to mention the history of their ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Israel’s founders less than 100 years ago. It means ignoring the apartheid system there.

A system that ensures that citizenship and equal rights are premised on the idea that one is not a Palestinian. And this is just the Palestinians who live within the internationally recognised borders of Israel. This doesn’t include the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian suffering at the hands of the Israeli state and society is therefore not something that should be cast aside in the name of artistic freedom or neutrality. To claim be neutral in a situation such as this is to be complicit. Justice demands, at a bare minimum, our solidarity with victims of injustice.

The Palestinian cause is deserving of our solidarity. Right now this means calling for a boycott of the Eurovision contest on these grounds.

Many Irish artists have already pledged to boycott Israel so the request of McTernan is nothing unique. Nor is it bullying, despite what others like to claim. It should be seen as part of a wider movement by which to pressure Israel into accepting the idea that Palestinians are entitled to basic fundamental rights.

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement does just this. Israel will continue to flout the rights of Palestinians so long as their Occupation and persecution is cost-free. A boycott costs the Israelis, both economically and socially. And it is working.

How else can you explain the sheer effort that the Israeli government has put in to countering the boycott? It does everything from smearing advocates of BDS to employing legions of people to promote the Israeli viewpoint online.

This Hasbara as it is known is the biggest indication that BDS terrifies the Israeli government. On top of this is also the evidence that the Israeli government has lobbied the Irish government to block the Occupied Territories Bill.

A letter, obtained via a freedom of information request, was sent from the Chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Isaac Herzog, to Simon Coveney, the minister for foreign affairs. Herzog called the bill, which if enacted would outlaw trade with Israeli settlements, anti-Semitic.

He also went so far as to say there are some “who would interpret it as an official encouragement to more hostility, and indeed more hostilities” in the region.What’s more, he said that he was “offering my help to try and prevent it” from becoming law. In closing, he told Coveney “We need to join efforts to block this Bill”.

Although the bill is unlikely to become law it already represents a victory of sorts. It shows Palestinians that people do care about them and their future, as well as their past. And it shows the Israeli government that brutality and occupation comes with a price.

For these reasons the Eurovision this year is anything but normal. It is a chance to damage the Israeli propaganda machine that tries to convince the world that the Palestinians are a free people, if they even exist at all.

We can play our part in that if we care about human dignity and rights. And so can Sarah McTernan.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column usually appears here every Monday but owing to the Bank Holiday… Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on twitter:  @Bryan_Wall

Previously: EU May Like This

Pics: Getty/The Irish Sun

From top: Schoolchildren strike for climate action in Dublin city centre last week: Bryan Wall

The students striking for action on climate change represent probably our last and best hope for any meaningful change. In Dublin over 11,000 students took part in the protest while in Cork around 5,000 took to the streets.

Worldwide, over 1 million students went on strike in over 100 countries. Nonetheless, the question remains, is it too late to do anything? Unfortunately, the answer appears to be yes. The best we can hope for now, barring some kind of technological miracle, is mitigation.

Nothing has been done decades to create more sustainable societies and industries. Instead, businesses and their friends in government continued to extract and pollute as much as they wanted. The science has been known for more than a generation.

As far back as 1968 there were warnings about the damage CO2 could do to the environment. The American Petroleum Institute at the time had received a report which clearly stated that CO2 “may be the cause of serious world-wide environmental change”.

What’s more, the report detailed that “man is now engaged in a vast geophysical experiment with his environment”. Even in 1968 the authors could write that “There seems to be no doubt that the potential damage to our environment could be severe”.

Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, and warming oceans were some of the consequences they predicted. And here we are, 51 years later and we are still not adequately prepared for the damage that has already been done, let alone the damage that awaits us in the coming years.

Nick Cowern, an emeritus professor of atmospheric science, energy, and climate change has some stark truths for us. He pointed out that if all of our emissions stopped now, it would still take hundreds of years for the biosphere to absorb all of the CO2 that has already been emitted.

And even then, the global temperature would still go above 3 degrees of warming. So we on our well on our way to hurtling past 3 degrees of warming given that emissions are not going to simply stop overnight and all at once. What will that mean for us?

David Wallace-Wells describes this scenario in his new book, The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future. He writes:

“Warming of 3 or 3.5 degrees would unleash suffering beyond anything that humans have ever experienced.”

On our way to that level of warming we will have made survival for millions, if not billions, of people uncertain.

Wallace-Wells says:

“it’s possible as soon as 2050, when we will be at about 2°C of warming or a little bit warmer than that, that many of the major cities in India and the Middle East will be lethally hot in summer.”

This means people “won’t be able to reliably go outside, work outside during the summer months without incurring some lethal risk”.

Then there are other side-effects. In a paper prepared for the UN Global Sustainable Development Report, the authors pointed out that “Meeting current or growing levels of energy need in the next few decades with low-carbon solutions will be extremely difficult, if not impossible”.

What’s more, “economies have used up the capacity of planetary ecosystems to handle the waste generated by energy and material use”.

Essentially, then, we’re caught in a vicious cycle. Renewable energy isn’t reliable or common enough — at least that’s the argument — to provide for growing levels of energy use right now. We’ll have to rely on fossil fuels for the next few decades instead.

But at the same time we’ve already burdened the planet with so much waste that even the permafrost in the Artic and Siberia is starting to melt.

And given that “1.8 trillion tons of carbon, more than twice as much as is currently suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere” is contained in that permafrost, the future looks even more apocalyptic. So, we must turn to renewables. But we can’t. Instead we rely on fossils fuels, and on and on. Ireland, as you’d expect, is not immune from any of this.

A new report issued by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) found that Ireland is doing miserably compared to its neighbours in doing something about climate change. Ireland has a binding agreement with the EU to have 16% of its energy provided by renewable sources by 2020.

Instead only 10.6% comes from renewables. Ireland is not going to meet these or other 2020 targets according to the SEAI. In fact, at the moment Ireland is 26th out of 28 countries in terms of its progress towards meeting its targets.

Ireland is not the only one that is failing. Every country and corporation is. It’s just that some are failing more than others. Some don’t even care if they fail. According to the Guardian, a study found that 100 companies were responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Such an abhorrent figure should have people calling for revolution, be it green or otherwise. This, as Greta Thunberg pointed out, has been left to the younger generations; to the children of those doing most of the polluting.

She also rightly said that “change is coming, whether you like it or not”. The idea that people will continue to wait for their governments to do something while they are starting to die from the effects of climate change is laughable. People have their limits. We are quickly approaching them.

And we have already seen that climate change can have a role in provoking long and deadly wars. The Syrian civil war, for example, has been partly blamed on the effects of an unusual drought which struck the country in 2006.

Farmers were forced to migrate to the cities in order to survive, where their unhappiness with the government response turned into rage. Of course, there were other internal and external reasons for the civil war but climate change was one of them.

Syria could be a portent of what we can look forward to around the world over the next few decades. An economic and social revolution is needed. There have been calls to mobilise on the level of World War II in order to, at the very least, mitigate the damage that has already been done.

This is a laudable tactic but it is one doomed to failure unless we topple the corporations doing most of the damage. If we want a viable planet and ecosphere for ourselves and our children, revolutionary action of this kind is the only way forward.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column usually appears here every Monday but owing to the Bank Holiday… Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on twitter:  @Bryan_Wall

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