Author Archives: Eamonn Kelly

From top: members of The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC); Fintan O’Toole; Eamonn Kelly

Fintan O’Toole’s subscriber-only article in The Irish Times on Saturday (January 11) followed on from Fine Gael’s narrative that the protests against the RIC commemoration were directed squarely at the RIC, betraying immaturity on behalf of those who protested and implying a simple and antiquated anti-British bias.

He drew on Sebastian Barry’s play “The Steward of Christendom” as an example of a hope that, culturally, we had matured enough to forgive; seeming to take the general view, expressed by others in what Eamon Dunphy used to call “official Ireland”, that the protests were a result of ignorance and immaturity, and he concentrated his focus entirely on RIC casualties in the 1920s, underlining their Irishness.

There was no mention of Minister Flanagan fibbing about the role of the Expert Advisory Group in the decision to stage the commemoration – just another in a long line of Fine Gael people fibbing – or about the wider strategic political moves related to the Stormont reassembly as the Taoiseach apparently went for some kind of promised united Ireland home run in time for the pending election.

There was no mention of the lack of consultation with the public by government on the proposed RIC commemoration, and no acknowledgment that the reaction had as much to do with present-day anger at Fine Gael finding an outlet, similar to that which occurred with the water charges controversy, for the disasters in housing and health. And there was no mention of the Black and Tans as a factor.

The Good Priest Argument

Instead, the argument Fintan O’ Toole presented was similar in many ways to the “good priest” argument that defenders of the church brought forth in response to the abuse revelations of the 1990s. Similarly, now we have the “good RIC man” argument.

No one would deny that there were good RIC men, and yet this is precisely the argument that O’Toole chose to contest, as if this were the entire substance of the reaction to the RIC commemoration.

This from a writer whose subtlety revealed the forces driving Brexit but who now somehow can’t see that maybe the protests against the RIC commemoration were far more nuanced than simply the expression of an old nationalistic prejudice.

That what may really have happened was that maybe ordinary Irish people said No to the establishment. And with their voices now amplified by social media, the establishment heard that voice and not only did they not like it; they clearly didn’t understand it.

And worse, appeared to believe that Irish people do not have the right to hold power to account, the very principle under-pinning any healthily functioning republic.

Ireland’s establishment seems not used to being questioned. Rather, it pronounces and expects obedience, a habit inculcated by colonialism and by the church.

At its heart this seems based on a fundamental disrespect for ordinary people. Fine Gael don’t bother consulting people about anything.

They bully stuff through. They do as they please and denigrate the public when the public speaks out. This attitude was best exemplified in recent times by the photo of Dara Murphy and his spouse grinning out of their car in a can’t-touch-me kind of way after the double-jobbing scandal.

Even after the RIC debacle the Taoiseach said, almost like a parent-scolding children, that the Irish public, by speaking out, may have jeopardised the hoped-for united Ireland.

How? By speaking out against a careless, condescending government as free citizens of a republic?

The Managerial Class

You often hear it said that problems in the health service, or housing, or insurance, or any other area you care to name that isn’t functioning to its fullest potential, are “systemic”.

On closer scrutiny it often seems that the systemic problems identified are due to management being favoured over the actual practitioners. Health funding seems to go mainly to managers; arts funding to administrators, and so on.

What if each area hampered by so-called systemic problems, was only a fractal of an overriding systemic problem? Namely a problem where managers and administrators are rewarded at the expense of practitioners, at a national level.

In other words, a system where a cultural elite does the managing and commands all the levers of power and derives the most from the system it essentially owns, allowing also the control of the narrative of events.

Just as Fintan O’Toole was controlling the narrative of the RIC controversy, characterising opponents of the RIC commemoration as being mistaken in their understanding of the proposed event. Or as being intellectually unable to manage the subtleties at play; or as simply anti-British. Or worse, as little more than abusive social media trolls.

Fintan O’Toole’s article reinforces prejudicial ideas that serve the managerial class, leaving the reader with the inevitable conclusion of, Oh I see, the whole RIC debacle is the people’s fault, is it – for being too thick?

A Maturing Republic

But the reaction to Fine Gael’s RIC proposal might equally be framed as the emergence of a people mature enough to speak back to power and hold it to account.

The ideal at the heart of any republic is that all are equal, entitled to equal say, and that all ideally participate in building the republic by being unafraid to speak truth to power,

The public reaction to Fine Gael’s mishandling of the RIC commemoration idea would suggest the emergence, not of an ignorant rabble, as characterised by the elite and its spokespersons, but rather the emergence of a young republic finally beginning to come to maturity.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

 

From top: Royal Irish Constabulary Helmet and Dublin Metropolitan Police Baton; Eamonn Kelly

Well, what a mess. People used to say if you play with fire you get burned, which is what appears to have happened to Fine Gael with the RIC commemoration idea.

What were they thinking?

My own view is that they were creating a distraction, to cause a debate far removed from hospital waiting lists and homelessness. An attempt to create a shout-for-all safely parked in history. What a miscalculation.

That it was an election strategy was betrayed by the fact that everyone in Fine Gael was “disappointed” with anyone who opposed the idea of commemorating the RIC and, by extension, commemorating the Black and Tans; which is a bit like the Poles commemorating the SS.

Said Minister Flanagan.

“…it is disappointing to see some public representatives abandon the principles of mutual understanding and reconciliation in an effort to gain headlines.”

The Taoiseach was also “disappointed”; as was John Bruton, on the panel of the Claire Byrne show, who claimed that Fine Gael were taking a “mature” view of the events that transpired in what he described as our “two civil wars”.

He was corrected on this by historian Dr Mary McAuliffe who pointed out that Bruton’s first civil war was actually a War of Independence.

But gradually from the fog of obfuscation a pattern began to emerge of the whole thing being a stunt to allow Fine Gael claim a small mound of high moral ground in an argument of their own creation from where aspersions might be cast far and wide.

The debate could then be stoked by deliberate obtuseness, for no other reason it seems than to see the opposition tied up in knots faithfully trying to untangle the easy half-truths tossed so effortlessly into complex debates. The strategy back-fired spectacularly.

This kind of fake issue is typical of right-wing powers in recent times, where anything and everything is used, and often abused, to simply create division and obfuscation, while the perpetrators attempt to take advantage in the ensuing confusion. In this kind of political gamesmanship, nothing is sacred.

The Taoiseach’s attempt to rescue the situation only worsened things when he conflated sympathy for those Irishmen killed during the First World War, with those Irishmen killed while serving in the Black and Tans.

The two events are so entirely different that even the attempt to make out that they are one and the same is enough to short-circuit your thinking processes.

Naturally there were people who declined to attend a commemoration that seemed to be honouring the Black and Tans. But for a while this was just grist to the Fine Gael mill.

Though no one suggested that attendance at the commemoration was morally mandatory (or even compulsory) the “boycott” was soon well under way and eventually resulted in Fine Gael backing down, not with a cancellation, but with a deferment of the commemoration.

This came in the aftermath of a revelation by historian Diarmaid Ferriter that, contrary to Minister Flanagan’s assertions, a commemoration of the RIC had not been endorsed under the guidance of the Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations.

So, it seems to have been an entirely Fine Gael idea, plucked out of the air for perception advantages that might accrue to the party in light of a pending election.

But despite these setbacks Fine Gael stuck to their view that all opposition to the idea was morally questionable in its intent, which is essentially the moral view that they held from the beginning, a position that allowed them to declare morally superior “disappointment” with everyone.

Now with the deferment they were disappointed all over again at everyone else’s alleged moral shortcomings, and specifically so with members of Fianna Fail.

In psychology this is known as a Parent-Child transaction, with Fine Gael as the “parent” admonishing the wayward child, (Fianna Fail) but in such a mature way as to not express anger, but only “disappointment”.

We saw a similar angle worked in the Pat Kenny interview before Christmas where Leo Varadkar sought to characterise Fine Gael as the only common-sensical party in the country, surrounded by irrational ideologues who might capsize all the good work Fine Gael have done, as evidenced by the bodies piled up in the doorways of the republic’s city streets at night, and on the hospital trolleys of the state’s underfunded hospitals.

Here was the same idea now in another form, with Fine Gael being cast as the only “mature” party in the country surrounded by irrational hotheads lacking in the virtues of tolerance, compassion, reconciliation and maturity; qualities that Fine Gael claim to be so rich in.

What the entire affair appears to have demonstrated is that Fine Gael, like Boris Johnson and the Trump administration, are not at all shy about rearranging the furniture of history to accommodate present-day electoral requirements.

Which, when you think about it, is kind of disappointing.

The entire controversy seems to have been just another Fine Gael spin, where the object, as always, was to cast one sector against another and taint opposition to Fine Gael policy as intolerant in some way, shape or form; or irrationally driven by mindless ideology.

I guess the angle this time was to cast those opposed to this commemoration as opponents of law and order and all the Human virtues, while attempting to park public debate safely in the distant past.

But someone apparently forgot to drive a stake through the heart of the past and it rose up and declared itself severely displeased. The past, as it turned out, was not quite as distant as at first assumed.

However, the attitude underpinning the gambit, that the opposition is immature and irrational – in contrast to Fine Gael level-headedness and maturity – still persists, with Fine Gael remaining stubbornly “disappointed”, with a tincture of miff.

Its fine to be disappointed, many of us are, particularly since Fine Gael began to rule the roost; but the Fine Gael spin unit might be wise to remember that the last political party to imply that Irish people are too irrational, too irresponsible and too immature to govern themselves, was the British Tory party.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Top pic: Clare Museum

From top: Pat Kenny (left) and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar before their interview on Virgin media One last night; Eamonn Kelly 

While it’s easy to smile at the soft interview Pat Kenny afforded Leo Varadkar last night, the nature of this type of exchange also has a serious side.

It might not be going too far to say it is a danger to democracy in that it  gave the wrongful impression that Fine Gael are a party of common-sense, surrounded by ideologically driven dervishes intent on subverting all the good work Leo Varadkar has supposedly been doing since assuming office.

Even Fianna Fáil was tarnished with the brush of ideologically-driven lunacy with the charge that they set in train the damage to the health service, for “ideological reasons” (unspecified), by cutting beds. Which may actually be true, but that really was a long time ago now.

When you consider that artists are given a year to make a business of their art in an unsympathetic and underfunded economy, before being flung onto the scrapheap of JobPath, the government who dreamt up that insult breezily fobs off ten years as still not enough time to fix a few fundamentals.

Pat Kenny fed Leo like a straight man feeding a comic. At one point the host posited the ludicrous idea that people on hospital trolleys may be piling up due to flu outbreaks. Surely he knows better.

But this allowed Leo to correct him and say that the problem is an all year-round problem, and gave him the opportunity to present himself in a concerned light and then blaming FF “ideology” for causing the problem in the first place, way back before Fine Gael ever got a sniff of power.

The interview was timed with pending election very firmly in mind, where the taoiseach hopes to get a “mandate” from the people, where he hopes to be elected for real rather than just be taoiseach by business arrangement.

He airily dismissed all this as of little concern, claiming to be far too busy governing and being concerned about the country as a whole to be worrying about elections, giving the impression that he’d do the job for nothing.

That’s how public-service minded he is.

Nevertheless, not everyone is happy with the fruits of his ongoing concern. The hospital consultants are still going on strike in the New Year because Simon Harris apparently tried to lay the blame for the failures of the health system on them. Now Leo is trying to park the blame on Fianna Fáil.

And Pat Kenny has absolutely nothing to say about any of this. He’s letting it all pass by like it’s some kind of arts parade to be smilingly admired.

If Fine Gael are anything, they are the party of heaping blame elsewhere. Even in this interview Varadkar shamelessly assured viewers that Maria Bailey and Verona Murphy would be flung under the bus, because, presumably, FG cannot tolerate dodgy insurance claims or the tarnishing of all of the people of one group with the same brush, as the taoiseach put it in the interview; meaning racism of course, but not alleged welfare cheating.

In reality, FG know full well, given the party’s socially destructive performance in government, that someone has to be nominated for the chop, and who better to nominate than a couple of gals.

Gender equality is all very fine, but when push comes to shove you can’t be flinging good blue-shirt lads under the bus.

Luckily there are two handy women in the ranks who’ll do just fine to feed the critics and bolster claims of FG being the party of probity, a line actually served up on a platter by Kenny during the interview.

The interview ended on a kind of poignant note that we might be losing Leo forever, after all the good work he has done, the telling of which was so helpfully facilitated by Pat Kenny during the course of one of the dullest political TV hours on record.

The ending attempted a reach-for-the-tissues moment on the grounds that we were now staring into the abyss of possibly losing the best man for the job of taoiseach; a victim of reckless ideologues on all sides whose onerous activities might yet deprive the country of his far-seeing visions. A man of substance we might never again see on our screens.

At some stage in the great yawning hour of the interview Varadkar laid claim to various successes, such as the equality referendum, which I’m sure will be news to many activists, and also to creating full employment, saying there are jobs now for those who want them, effortlessly tarnishing even without thinking; and there are many who feel that a poorly paid job in an impossibly over-priced and increasingly privatised economy, where the bosses and the landlords get all the breaks, is hardly a significant gain for the common man or woman.

The truth may be that in Varadkar’s Ireland hardly anyone gets a good night’s sleep, except maybe the taoiseach, who always looks well rested. He’s the pharaoh who gets to go to Heaven, and that’s reason enough for everyone else to slave away building the pyramid.

On the question of job creation he said that the reason FG were having difficulties in building social housing is because all the construction workers emigrated after the 2008 financial collapse.

But when claiming job creation successes he said that emigration of workers had stopped. Presumably the builders left in 2008 and never returned, and we have stopped making any new ones.

However, a serious social housing programme would be sure to entice the builders back and also encourage new apprenticeships, solving at least three problems in one fell swoop, delivering jobs and houses for all.

But there is a bigger game afoot and the short term price being paid for the projected long-term profits are the homeless and the destitute.

This little mystery of the missing builders in a sense proves the point that there is no serious social housing programme underway, despite Varadkar’s insistence that there are tens of thousands of houses being built.

He even said at one stage in the interview that 10,000 families had been housed in recent years (or was it recent months?) This sounded like either a fib or a slip of the tongue. It went by so fast I wondered had I heard right. But Pat Kenny moved on. Nothing to see here.

It’s not really up to me to get into an interrogation of the figures the taoiseach and his team decided to present to the public. It’s like untangling old rope. I’d spend the whole piece arguing stats. It was up to Pat Kenny to intervene, and he absolutely did not challenge Varadkar on this or anything else. At least he was consistent in that regard.

The real problem with this type of interview, and particularly the way Varadkar set out his stall, is that it simultaneously subverts both journalism and politics.

The manner in which it was done here, in depicting a country that is devoid of common-sense outside of Fine Gael, is kind of reckless really in the way in which it allowed Varadkar to set up, unchallenged, other potential scapegoats, to possibly be used later as proxies for Fine Gael failures.

I’m thinking specifically of Varadkar’s raising the spectre of a possible widespread politicised racism which, naturally enough, he condemns. But the impression given is that he only raised the issue to knock it down in order to display his humanist credentials.

These are fake gestures, particularly in light of the woeful Direct Provision conditions, the homelessness and decrepit health service he is presiding over; not to mention the underpaid workers and the over-the-top rents and insurance costs.

This idea of Varadkar as a sensible and concerned public servant becomes all the more absurd when you realise that the one expressing concern for tolerance and equality is one of the most flagrantly right-wing politicians the country has ever produced and, far from being some kind of progressive humanist, is actually something of a menace to the social good, who appears to have somehow achieved the normalisation of the sight of scores of people sleeping on the streets of the republic’s major cities.

The problem is that many people just aren’t up to untangling this type of thing any more. Everyone is flooded with information. How are you going to even begin to sieve out the misinformation? This is what journalism is supposed to be doing.

Pat Kenny appeared to not only subvert the founding principles of objective journalism, but also seemed to cultivate the idea that only one party in the land is commonsensical enough to wield power.

That the party in question is driven by a quite naked right-wing ideology of privatisation and accompanying destruction of social services, while casting aspersions all around about other supposedly suspect ideologues, makes this type of interview all the more dangerous.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Watch interview here

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Pic via Virgin Media One

From top: Claire Byrne interviews homeless activist Fr Peter McVerry on Claire Byrne Live on RTÉ One last Monday

On the Claire Byrne show on Monday night Fr Peter McVerry said again what many people have been saying for a long time: that homelessness is being created by government policy.

Fr McVerry has a lot of clout and the Irish Times picked up on the story and said that homelessness is a direct consequence of government policy.

This means that homelessness is being created by the Fine Gael-led government. Homelessness is being created by the Fine Gael-led government.

And since it is being created, that implies activity. So, homelessness is being actively created by the Fine Gael-led government.

But here’s the thing, will this get through to people? I don’t mean the people it has already gotten through to, but the people who clearly still support the Fine Gael-led government, despite the fact that their policies are making tens of thousands of their fellow citizens homeless?

Because this is not an abstract argument, or a tribal preference or a random act of God. It’s not a mystery, or “just one of those things”, or simply “sad”.

This is a fact. homelessness, that condition that everyone decries, particularly at this time of year, is being actively created by the Fine Gael-led government.

Brand it on your forehead. Homelessness is being actively created by the Fine Gael-led government. Homelessness is being actively created by the Fine Gael-led government.

It’s likely that there are people out there who genuinely believe that people are homeless through their own failings.

This mistaken conclusion comes about as a result of what Slavoj Zizek calls “false personalisation”.

This is a deliberate strategy to imply that social ills have no outside agency but are totally due to character defects in those affected, not to anomalies in the system.

This is the idea that informs the controversial JobPath programme. The flaw is to be found in the individual, not in wider the system.

The approach evolved from the angle pursued and perfected by the tobacco industry to throw doubt on science’s findings about the connection between cigarette smoking and cancer. It is an angle that has been used by every political charlatan since.

Simply dismiss any “evidence” of a connection by the powerful to the creation of the problem, and, when necessary, use “false personalisation” to park blame on the victim.

Zizek brought up the concept of “false personalisation” in his discussion with Jordan Peterson. Peterson holds the view that the individual is key to social change and that if each individual gets their house in order, as he puts it, this will radiate out and cause change. A bit like leading by example.

Of course, it goes without saying that you need a house first to get your house in order. Because, as comedian George Carlin recognised, there is no such thing as homelessness, only house-lessness.

Peterson’s idea of individual agency bringing about social change, which is really a right-wing idea, is countered by the leftist idea that a society might be so rigged as to smother any individual attempt to have an effect.

Like, as Zizek put it, the ordinary person conscientiously recycling waste, to minimal effect, while huge corporations pump tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and plough up rainforests to produce consumer products.

To concentrate on perceived character “flaws” of the individual in such a situation is to badly miss the point.

But one of the side advantages of this deliberate attempt to park blame on the victim is that it can create a new market and area of expertise where the identified “flawed” people might be “fixed” by “experts”; seamlessly turning people into products that can create profits.

However, there is only so far you can go with this concept before you eventually have to start farming people for their meat.

Though Peterson’s idea of individual behaviour affecting social change does have legs when the individuals in question are leading from the top.

Unfortunately, here in Ireland, and elsewhere, the agenda being set by the powerful is often far from moral. Donald Trump, chief pussy-grabber, when seeking election, boasted at his “wisdom” in evading paying tax.

Here we had the Maria Bailey scandal, highlighting an apparently routine abuse of the insurance system that has inflated insurances costs to such an extent that arts events in particular have been made practically impossible to stage.

That Bailey was legally advised by the person who is now the Minister for culture and NIMBY in chief is almost Shakespearean in its implications.

That nothing has come of this apart from Baily being flung under the bus as a sacrifice towards a pending election, speaks louder than any moral action that might have been taken.

But I don’t think these are the kind of examples Peterson had in mind as engines of positive social change.

His solution, that to counter corrupt systems, the individual might change that system by behaving morally, hoping to have a radiating effect up the systems of power, seems to contradict his own views on how hierarchies operate. Ultimately, the powerful set the agenda.

In Ireland’s case the example given by the powerful is often very poor.

Social Darwinism predominates, accompanied in the political arena by what seems like cynical gaming of the system by many politicians in the form of taking political seats for the salaries and pensions they afford, not participating in the democracy through skiving off from work; over-claiming expenses, and basically serving yourself at the expense of others.

The ruse of blaming poverty on the poor and so on, is routinely pursued now by the powerful to deflect responsibility of everything from homelessness to environmental destruction.

And though it hasn’t quite gotten as silly yet as to suggest that if people would stop getting sick the health service would function fine, there might yet come a day when some enterprising, expenses-gobbling, lazy-arsed, Dáil-Bar-lizard party politician will come up with this as an excuse for the failings of whatever party he/she may be representing, and will go door to door on a campaign of imposing fines on those who get ill.

Meanwhile, homelessness, far from being some mysterious random act of God, is being actively created by the Fine Gael-led government.

Merry Christmas.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

From top: JobPath was implemented, where Jobseekers were deceived by the DEASP into entering into agreements with private companies that stood to profit from the deception, argues Eamonn Kelly

We now know from the taoiseach’s apology concerning the CerviclCheck scandal that state instituions are capable of deceit; which, as Audrey Carville pointed out to Simon Harris on Morning Ireland on October 23rd, implies intent.

In light of this revelation it might be an idea to have a fresh look at the manner in which JobPath was implemented, where Jobseekers were deceived by the DEASP into entering into agreements with private companies that stood to profit from the deception.

Far Right Drifting

The JobPath agreement, known as a Personal Progression Plan, is essentially a contract between the individual and the private company, where the individual “chooses” to enlist the “assistance” of the private company in helping them to find work. A bit like hiring a life coach.

The problem for the DEASP lay in how to get people to willingly enter into these agreements, while also ensuring a healthy take-up of JobPath. If choice was left wide open, the Jobseekers might simply wander off and leave JobPath empty. The solution was to deceive the jobseekers into entering into contracts with the private companies.

The first, and perhaps the biggest and most crucial deception, was orchestrated by the then minister for Social Protection and now Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, in the form of the now infamous “welfare cheats” campaign.

This deception was designed to deceive the wider public into turning a blind eye to the later deceptions planned for Jobseekers.

To their shame, in the centenary year of this declared republic of equals, the wider public went for it, including the mainstream media and the unemployed centres, (the Irish Times being a particular disappointment, becoming the Guardian’s ugly sister.)

All were more than happy to vilify a targeted social minority as “cheats”, deserving of every deception pulled on them. In fairness though to the unemployed centres, they are mainly staffed by CE schemes overseen by the DEASP, and subject to Stasi-like spot-checks. Nevertheless, if your main reason for being is speaking on behalf of Jobseekers, the decision to remain silent on JobPath was cowardly.

Rules can be made flexible and broken so long as no one cares about a minority group. And if that is the case for one group it can easily be the case for any group.

That’s why the manner in which JobPath was implemented should be of concern to everyone.

Because while it was okay with the wider community for the DEASP to share Jobseeker’s data with all and sundry – jobseekers being perceived as “cheats” and second-class citizens – the wider community woke up when the DEASP attempted to do the same with everyone’s data.

To deceive the jobseekers into signing the contracts/agreements, the main emphasis was on the careful replacement of key words in the social welfare literature; supplemented by direct threat, or coercion, overseen by a government party that aligns with Europe’s far right.

This alignment by Fine Gael with Europe’s far right was demonstrated in the recent vote in the European parliament on life-boat services in the Mediterranean.

The resolution lost by two votes, with Fine Gael giving four votes to the far right. While Green MEP Grace O’Sullivan said there was no racism or malice in the Fine Gael position, there must come a time when a party decides on how far right it might go.

In this instance, Fine Gael went all the way to the far right. Their excuse? The laughably apt [or deeply cynical?] “concerns” about data sharing.

Casual Deceptions

The official letters designed to draw Jobseekers into Seetec/Turas Nua offices, in what was really an entrapment, are termed “invitations”.

They open with good news tidings that the “lucky” recipient had been awarded a private sector personal advisor; and close with a threat of allowance cuts for “non-compliance”.

This schizoid approach of happy days and thwart me if you dare characterises the entire JobPath experience.The threats, tossed out so casually by comfortable public servants, are really, given today’s realities unthinking threats to poverty and potential homelessness, and are certainly understood in those terms by those at the receiving end of them, whose anxiety often evokes mockery in those delivering the threats.

The word “contract” was replaced by the word “agreement”, presumably to set the agreement between the jobseeker and the private companies beyond the remit of contract law. JobPath itself was carefully termed not a “programme” or a “scheme”, but a “service”.

Though it is unlikely that this particular service would be affording anyone consumer protections. This renaming also appeared to put the “service” outside the description of schemes in the Social Welfare Acts where a “scheme” must be appropriate to a person’s skills and education level, and can be refused by the jobseeker with “good cause”.

The concept of refusal with “good cause” itself is referred to in official letters and JobPath publicity and seems to refer to that clause in the Social Welfare Act where a person may refuse schemes, courses, programmes etc (but not “services”, because that word doesn’t appear in the clause), that are not “appropriate having regard to the education, training and development needs of that person and his or her personal circumstances…”

I asked two officials of the local DEASP office and an official from the JobPath office in Dublin as to what constitutes good cause for refusal. The question was evaded on the grounds that JobPath is a “service”.

The clearest straight answer I received, which was endorsed by the JobPath office in Dublin, was that good cause for refusal would come into play if the Jobseeker moved to another payment. Which is as good as saying that good cause for refusal doesn’t apply to JobPath.

Yet, reference to the concept of good cause for refusal appears in all official correspondence and publicity materials related to JobPath, like some kind of legal aside or safeguard.

If good cause for refusal does apply to JobPath, as it must, either that or it’s a decoration on the official literature, the best good cause to offer might be that you were misled into an agreement with a private company that stands to profit from the arrangement.

But the DEASP acknowledging this reason as good cause for refusal of JobPath might have the effect of making all agreements between jobseekers and the private companies void. So therefore, the concept of good cause for refusal can’t be allowed to exist, even though it must exist, to keep everything above board, kind of.

Good cause for refusal is one of those elusive mysteries on a par with Catch-22 and the Holy Trinity.

Equal at Last

The private companies Seetec/Turas Nua (Working Links), who are contracted and rewarded by the DEASP, are products of Tory attacks on the NHS since the 1980s; both companies making their money from Tory efforts to roll back the British welfare state; and both companies the subject of fraud investigations at one time or another in the UK.

Both companies, in a very real sense, are products of the Britain that resulted in Brexit. It may even be that Brexit itself came about as a result of a Tory desire to extricate Britain from troublesome EU human rights laws that were tying their hands in the war on the NHS.

While there is a certain pride afoot that Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson got on so well in the Brexit negotiations, with our man standing as an equal at last with a British Prime Minister, the reality is that, in terms of neo-liberal ideology, both are essentially on the same team.

Varadkar wages his war on the Irish poor – 10,000 homeless is more than sufficient evidence, even for the totally blind – as Johnson’s Tory party wages war on the British poor. Both have even hired some of the same companies to do the dirty work: Seetec/Turas Nua (Working Links.)

And that, in the end, may be the true meaning of JobPath. The subtle changing of politics from familiar class and nationalistic divisions, to what are being called exclusionary economics: the identification and smearing, as a prelude to loss of liberty, of groups deemed “unaffordable” to society. It is the economic method by which the United States fills its private prisons with non-white people, creating, in the process, legalised slavery.

Among the people swept up in the JobPath “service”, were the grassroots arts community, who virtually redundant due to savage cuts in arts funding. T

hey joined teachers and other professionals, all of whom were subject to a revising of their skills, training and achievements in light of austere economic “realities”, identified by the private activation companies, which would necessitate down-skilling to make former professionals more placeable in low grade employments, with the private companies profiting from the projected placements.

A great enforced dumbing down was in operation, sanctioned by the state, and delivered by public service officials in the DEASP, and private sector individuals in the employ of the private companies, in an often spiteful, amused and scornful manner.

For those of us from the arts community, particularly those with a public profile, it seemed as if Irish begrudgery itself had been licensed to express itself through state instituions.

The system is such that the government is effectively placing unqualified persons into the heart of the artists’ creative process with the intention, apparently, of convincing the artist that art is a nonsense.

We can argue forever, which is probably the idea, as to whether a thing is a service or a scheme, or a contract or an agreement, and so on. But the bottom line is: is it okay for a state department in an EU country, signed up to EU and UN human rights protocols, to deliberately intimidate, mislead and deceive its citizenry into entering into contracts/agreements with private companies; agreements that benefit the private companies, irrespective of results, to the cost of the citizenry? Those costs to the taxpayer in paying the private companies via the DEASP; and to the jobseekers in forfeiting their skills and educational status.

Besides, changing the names of things to trick people into signing themselves over to the private sector as commodities, doesn’t really meet the stated aim of social protection, by any stretch; unless, I guess, you see yourself as protecting society from jobseekers, which is pretty much how the welfare cheats campaign was pitched and was so gleefully received by so many.

Continue reading

From top:  The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan TD speaking to the media at Government Buildings yesterday outlining details for her department’s work in relation to Budget 2020; Eamonn Kelly

The budget has not been kind to the arts.

The National Campaign for the Arts said they were “devastated” and feel that the sector is being left behind.

Their head, Angela Dorgan said, in an impassioned press release:

The announcements today are devastating to Artists’ and Arts workers’ incomes and livelihoods. We feel that despite rhetoric to the contrary, this budget is sending a message to artists that Ireland doesn’t value them.”

But rather than slip into despondent musings, there is an energising aspect to all this. Maybe it’s time to borrow from fiction and declare “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore.

Vaclav Havel explained how power works.

“All power is power over someone,” said Havel, “and it always somehow responds, usually unwittingly rather than deliberately, to the state of mind and the behaviour of those it rules over…”

Power is a two-way street and if the Arts are not being supported by power, and if 10,000 people are left homeless by power while property owners get rich, this is because power has been taught and shaped by people’s passivity.

But with regard to the arts it goes deeper than this. Because the arts are gestures of Hope. The workshops where hope is created.

Of hope, Václav Havel said:

“Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed…”

What better summation of the arts could that be? To work on something because it is good. (I am indebted to Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings website for collating these insights.) Arts practise itself is Hope. It takes place in a realm where cynicism is absent.

Angela Dorgan said in her press release that the ongoing neglect of the arts makes it:

“next to impossible for our young creative minds to live and work here. They’re all leaving and when they’re gone, who will write the songs and the books, who will create for the theatres, who will create the artworks? Where will the Taoiseach and all the Ministers bring their visiting dignitaries when there is no-one left here to create and make great Art?”

Good Works

Most people would agree that “good works” are a benefit to society and community. Though I imagine you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of people who could actually describe to you what a good work actually is.

Helping the disabled, might spring to mind. Or visiting the lonely. Those familiar Christian ideas of “good works”.

But Arts practise also belongs in the realm of good works. It is not work that is of immediate apparent benefit to the fast buck understanding of the utilitarian, but arts practise percolates through the culture and enriches everyone.

Why does everyone listen to songs? What could be more useless than a song? A bauble of nothing, loosely chained by a few words and a tune, that drifts on the air? And yet everyone keeps at least one song locked away in their heart, like a treasure.

Paul Simon wrote of this in his song Renee and Georgette Magritte, about the surrealist artist and his wife coming to New York.

Of all the wonders that they witness, they keep hidden in “the cabinet cold of their hearts”, songs by the doo-wop groups of the time; cheap throwaway, worthless pop songs.

In this song Paul Simon identifies not only the spiritual worth of the apparently worthless bauble of a song or a tune among even the finer arts, but also the mysterious value of art itself in a world ruthlessly defined by economy and the bottom line. But not everything’s value can be measured in cold stats.

He shows, in a song, that in the end the simple popular song is often more valuable to the soul than money. Because the song, like all the arts, contains within it, the seeds of hope and love upon which all humanity invests its private, often unspoken dreams.

When you starve out the arts, you ultimately starve out your own soul and the soul of the culture.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Wednesday: Money For God’s Sake

Sam Boal/Rollingnews

From top: Independent TD  Noel Grealish; Eamonn Kelly

Responding to the Direct Provision controversy that erupted in Galway last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that people in direct provision can leave at any time. That staying is not “compulsory”.

But leave to what?

This is of course deliberately disingenuous of him, the same smart-alecky approach that he used about welfare recipients a few years ago, the same dodgy use of the word “compulsory” that Regina Docherty is so fond of.

Varadkar said that we (Ireland) simply can’t give every asylum seeker a house or an apartment, that Direct Provision is the only response we can afford.

Again this is similar to his pronouncement in the Dáil a few years ago on the subject of social housing that people can’t expect a house for “nothing”, leaving hotel accommodation as the only affordable response to the homelessness crisis.

Both situations, homelessness and the problems associated with direct provision centres, could be solved with a believable social housing programme.

But Varadkar and Fine Gael are ideologically opposed to the concept of social housing, which leaves us back with the homeless in hotels and asylum seekers in Direct Provision.

Both groups are of course entitled to leave at any time. Nothing is “compulsory” or “mandatory”. Destitution is a lifestyle choice.

Rules and Flaws

At the public meeting where Noel Grealish made his controversial remarks, Fine Gael TD, and Minister of State Seán Kyne, said that Ireland was obliged under EU and United Nations laws to “accept and process anyone who could prove they had fled persecution and injustices in their own country.”

Fair enough. However, EU and UN laws also state that Ireland is obliged to provide social housing to citizens, many fleeing persecution and injustice by greedy Irish landlords in the private rented sector.

The point is, Fine Gael can’t expect to cherry-pick directives from UN and EU conventions on Human Rights in order to bolster weak arguments for the ideological privatisation of services, without also being held accountable for their lack of observation of Human Rights conventions under EU and UN law.

Especially when such neglect results in measurable harm to citizens, as was shown in the study commissioned by Dublin City Council and published in June this year proving that homelessness – the hotel accommodation variety – causes measurable psychological harm to children.

Such subtle distinctions however have been nicely hijacked by the Noel Grealish comments, though in earlier reports it seemed clear that the people gathered in Oughterard were not specifically opposed to a share of refugees being accommodated in the town, they were opposed to a privately-run direct provision centre in a large empty hotel in the heart of the town.

Filling this large empty hotel with refugees, and thus fulfilling government EU obligations to accept a quota of asylum seekers, may be the real motive behind the government’s interest in a large 60-room empty hotel pitched way over in the wild West of Ireland.

But Direct Provision centres in such hotels, particularly centres run by private companies, have been described as inhumane and are accused of being run on a shoestring to maximise private profit, with the needs of the tenants taking second place.

The private companies who run the centres were paid €55 million by the state in 2017, while the people inside the centres live lives of squalid desperation, according to reports from the Irish Refugee Council, which have highlighted overcrowding, unhygienic living areas, malnutrition, psychologically damaging long-duration stays, and a host of other problems as a consequence of overcrowded and stagnating conditions.

The Refugee Council, in July 2019, also took the government to task for its failure to meet legal obligations in the EU Reception Conditions Directive, warning that Ireland was in breach of EU law.

A press release this year from the council stated:

“Today (Friday 12 July), the Irish Refugee Council called on the State to fulfil its obligations under the Reception Conditions Directive which became legally binding in Ireland one year ago.”

Apparently, Ireland, having opted-in to provide a set standard of conditions, have failed to implement aspects of the agreement, placing the country in breach of its EU obligations. This, more than anything, demonstrates that the privatized Direct Provision concept is a failure that serves no one except the private companies that profit from the system.

Fuelling Anger

Much of the anger in Oughterard was fuelled by a lack of communication by government with the local community on plans for the empty hotel in the town. This type of thing sends out a message to people that government is none of their business, even when decisions impact directly on their lives. It is as if the government simply wanted that hotel, and they were going to take it.

Local Oughterard businessman Rory Clancy told the Irish Times that the town would be “happy to take its quota of refugees in the form of a few families properly accommodated and integrated, but not housed in a direct provision centre.”

While Patrick Curran, described by the Irish Times as one of the main organisers of the public meeting, repeatedly warned during the course of the meeting “that if the politicians would not stop the centre, the people would.”

Catherine Connolly TD said of government’s setting up of Direct Provision centres that “Their lack of communication with people causes hatred and division towards people who have already fled persecution in their own country,” and went on to say that the Department of Justice had not learned from its mistakes.

The Irish Times also reported that many of the speakers at the meeting in Oughterard “accused the Government of ignoring rural towns such as theirs which had only one doctor for a population of 1,600, full to capacity schools, an intercom instead of a Garda station and a social housing waiting list with no sign of any new schemes being built.”

It seems then that much of the anger on display was a response to government neglect of and lack of consultation with the community.

Rights, rights and more rights

The right to asylum appears under article 18 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Just below that is article 24, the rights of the child, which includes “the right to such protection and care as is necessary for their well-being”.

A right which, as the report mentioned earlier showed, is being daily undermined by a government ideologically opposed to the idea of social housing.

This neglect of social services in favour of privatization also runs counter to the spirit of article 34.3 of the European Charter, which reads:

“In order to combat social exclusion and poverty, the Union recognises and respects the right to social and housing assistance so as to ensure a decent existence for all those who lack sufficient resources, in accordance with the rules laid down by Community law and national laws and practices.”

Meanwhile, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 22:

“Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.”

A right undermined by homelessness and the conditions of Direct Provision as described by the Irish Refugee Council.

Rather than combat social exclusion and poverty, Fine Gael policy seems to actually foster these things. Then they contract private companies to “fix” them. (Game: how many definitions of “fix” can you think of in the context of privatisation of services?)

Solutions

It seems clear that the solution to both homelessness and Direct Provision is social housing, and is a solution that might satisfy the people of Oughterard and other Irish towns, if reasonably implemented, as well as fulfilling obligations to housing and direct provision obligations under EU and UN laws.

That the government selectively present themselves as being bound by EU and UN directives when they want something – like a big empty hotel to dump a pile of refugees into – while at the same time clearly flouting EU and UN directives,

in both social housing provision and refugee direct provision, is perhaps the real story here, one that was overshadowed a little by the spectre of racism found in Noel Grealish’s misguided remarks, which, for all anyone really knows, could easily have been just a clever gaming of the public: fling out a couple of offensive Trumpisms and set them all off in a tizzy so they’ll forget where the real game is.

A very handy distraction for a government always determined on privatisation at any cost, regardless of EU or UN laws.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Previously: on Oughterherard:  ‘You Can Leave At Time’

In Galway

From top: Minister for Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs Josepha Madigan flanked by Edinburgh Festival award winners Pat Kinevane (left) and Gina Moxley last week; Eamonn Kelly

When the Republic of Ireland football team arrived back in Dublin airport in the summer of 1990 to be greeted by up to a million delirious fans for their world cup exploits there was a moment when a podium and microphone were up for grabs.

The contenders for the prize of addressing the crowd and basking in the glory were Jack Charlton and Charles Haughey.

Charlton placed a shoulder in front of Haughey and easily left him for dead, as he had done to opponents throughout his footballing career. Charlton took the plaudits.

Contrast this with Josepha Madigan beaming comfortably between Pat Kinevane and Gina Moxley, basking in the glory of Moxley and Kinevane’s deserved separate Edinburgh Fringe wins.

That’s politics.

Even the investment of €680,200 from Culture Ireland for the promotion of Irish arts globally, conveniently touted by the minster at the celebration, a fund to aid artist travel, could easily be regarded by a stretching cynic with a darkly humorous streak, as a fund privately designed to encourage the mass emigration of wacky creatives.

Political hierarchy is perhaps best defined by who stands closest to the public money, with circles of influence extending from the elected few, literally, out into the wider community, where queues of friendly association are formed in a bid to win best position for a piece of the pie.

But what if the elected official you have been grooming for a few years turns up implicated in a possible scam elsewhere? What do you do?

Do you throw out all that networking, all the angles and “chance” meetings, engineered to exchange smiles and first names as you jostle for position? Do you just throw all that away? No. You wait. You sit quiet and you watch and you wait.

Because these are hard times for the arts. In Dublin the arts are being systematically squeezed out of existence, a problem outlined in last Saturday’s Irish Times.

In the The National Campaign for the Arts (NCFA) pre-budget submission, published on July 16, at the height of the so-called swing-gate affair, the arts body went out of its way to congratulate Josepha Madigan on the tweak to welfare law that allows artists to spend the first year of unemployment trying to make their art economically viable.

After that, artists go onto employment activation, which only kicks in after a year anyway for everyone. Still, there is a concession there, that for a year artists may pursue their art rather than pursuing “real jobs”.

But there is no acknowledgment of the miserly-funded arts scene that artists are supposed to knock a living from; nor the fact that commerce has created a cultural wasteland devoid of venues and opportunity; nor the fact that it is widely recognized that art is not a business anyway and depends on subsidy.

Nor the fact that artists are being given a year to make their art a business or go get a “real” job, which amounts basically to a job in the service or hospitality sectors.

Instead the NCFA congratulates the minister on this “initiative”; one which is unlikely to ever really affect the well ensconced middle-class personages that make up the NCFA.

These are the administrator and managerial class of the arts, many who have created funded lifestyles from the activities of grassroots arts practitioners. It makes little difference to them if the infantry of their sector are herded into service jobs after the year’s grace to laughably attempt to make a business from art in this skewed, under-funded environment.

That’s all down there. Up top, the cream of the sector mix with the political and business classes and they are all essentially the same people from similar middle-class backgrounds.

In this kind of culture, criticism of these realties is written off as individual “bitterness”, as remarked upon recently by the playwright Lisa Tierney-Keogh, who got a break with the Abbey in the aftermath of the protests against the skewed representation of women playwrights on the Abbey stage. Note that the break only came after the ‘Me-Too’ outcry. An outcry by a movement, not by an individual.

But the reverse of this idea of criticism being bitterness, is that non-criticism can then become seen as co-operative, even in a situation that is endlessly producing socially unjust outcomes. Non-criticism becomes smiling acceptance and, on the face of it, everything appears to be just fine.

Ireland has a track record in political silence. In Peter Lennon’s excellent social documentary, “The Rocky Road to Dublin”, recently restored by Sé Merry Doyle and the Irish Film Board, the writer Sean O’Faolain comments on this attribute of Irish culture when he describes the Ireland that emerged from revolution as a society…

“…which was without moral courage, constantly observing a self-interested silence, never speaking in moments of crisis… a society in which there are blatant inequalities…”

When you hear that from 1967 and compare it to today’s cultural landscape it makes you wonder have we changed as much as we often like to believe we have.

An idea that is further reinforced when you learn that this Cannes award-winning film and it’s critique of Irish culture has never been shown on Irish television.

On the other hand, there often seems to be thoughtlessness at work in much of Irish social injustice. Thoughtlessness more than malice. Ignorance more than design.

This came to mind when watching Margaretta D’Arcy and Finn Arden’s documentary about wheelchair access, “Welcome to our World”, made to highlight the difficulties the playwright John Arden was facing in later life when confined to a wheelchair; problems which are faced everyday by wheelchair users.

And the defining element of the problems they encounter is largely due to thoughtlessness or a “sure it’ll do” attitude.

But, and here’s the thing, it is assumed that you are “happy enough” if you just endure those thoughtless difficulties in silence. But if you criticise, it is not assumed that your criticisms are valid, but rather that you are, personally, “difficult”.

The result is that the thoughtlessness that is parent to so many Irish social injustices is never unmasked and nothing ever changes. Because to complain is to be “bitter”. And only a few stronger individuals ever complain.

Few enough to be easily isolated and labelled “difficult” or “a bit of a character”. In this way the silence is preserved along with the political inequities such silence encourages and cultivates.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

 

From top Regina Doherty and Josepha Madigan at the Fine Gael Ladies’ Luncheon last May; Eamonn kelly

The latest social services card cock-up has now quietened into a familiar waiting game as the minister goes to ground to wait it out.

Maybe the electorate will forget about it like they forgot about Josepha Madigan’s part in the Maria Bailey scandal.

And it’s a safe bet. Because the electorate do forget. They forget everything.

The electorate has electoral Alzheimer’s and the government knows it and if they just wait a week or two, the electorate will forget everything and no one will have to resign; there’ll be no accountability and the media outlets under government control can go to work on reinforcing the idea that there was nothing to remember anyway.

10,000 homeless? Oh yeah, I vaguely remember that. But wasn’t it all their own fault? Of course it was. How else would they be homeless?

Reacting to Fine Gael is like playing catch up. It’s similar, though not as severe, to the experience of American journalists with Trump. One outrage follows another and after a while it just seems easier to believe the lie. They’re working on all fronts. For instance, there is the insanely active area of stalling legislation.

This negative activity apparently has been keeping Fine Gael occupied over the last few years, devising ways to stop legislation without appearing to lose in the Dáil.

They do this by passing a bill to committee stage and then quietly smothering it there. This is how you end up with someone like Maria Bailey chairing committees on housing and ethics. The goals are not necessarily in the titles.

Then there’s the mining licenses. Mayo county council were sued for 2 million by a mining company when they refused a full license after an exploratory license was granted. The mining company acting like a jilted bride scorned by a broken promise.

Fine Gael, for reasons known only to themselves, then issue an exploratory license for mining in Connemara National Park and one of their TDs declares that this doesn’t necessarily mean that a full mining license will be granted.

However, given the Mayo experience, it would seem that they have put a mining company in a position to sue the state. Still, what’s another couple of million? It’s only public money. Plenty more where that came from.

The public services card. All illegal. 60 million down the drain. The taoiseach, I call him the automatic taoiseach because he became an automatic taoiseach once he was elected to the Fine Gael leadership. Otherwise he has no public mandate.

Anyway, his response to the services card debacle was to suggest looking at the legislation to see could it possibly be re-jigged to make the whole thing retrospectively legal.

A lawyer however pointed out that this wouldn’t work since the taoiseach’s remit doesn’t extend to re-jigging EU legislation. The only influence he has over that is in smothering it, particularly social justice legislation.

The fact that he would even think of changing the law to retrospectively forgive the political mistakes of his own ministers should tell you all you need to know about his priorities.

Remember the children’s hospital over-run? Oh yeah… Still it was nice and thoughtful of the taoiseach to try and build a children’s hospital…It must be them builders. Must be their fault. What can you do?

Remember the 170 million to JobPath for a 7% percent success rate? No. What was that? Are those the people who don’t get up early in the morning?

Remember the people dying on trolleys and the corpses in the corridors? That was all made up. Fake news.

Remember the tax breaks for the wealthy and the property market serving the landlords as people fell onto the streets or emigrated? Yeah well, people like emigrating. Irish people always emigrated.

Remember the UN report about the kids being psychologically damaged by homelessness? Oh yeah…kind of… But wasn’t it all their own fault? Shoulda bought houses. Mustn’t have worked hard enough. Mustn’t have got up early in the morning.

You will recall that with the Maria Bailey scandal the automatic taoiseach screened the whole thing off from public view – essentially privatised the problem – and then finally emerged to assert that there was no problem, no case to answer, no illegality whatsoever, nothing to be concerned about, nothing happening here, move on now it’s time for the Summer recess.

And it worked. Everyone forgot.

Even the National Campaign for the Arts, of which I’m a grassroots member, forgot; deciding in their pre-budget submission to thank both Regina Docherty and Josepha Madigan for the tweak in welfare laws that allows grassroots artists to try for a year to turn their art into a business before being dispatched to standard employment activation procedures.

Essentially, the National Campaign for the Arts agrees with Fine Gael that the arts must survive or die by the market; except, presumably, those middle-class funded institutions that the campaign arguably truly represents, who will avail of shrinking funding by being nice and complimentary towards the ministers they rub shoulders with.

Survival in Ireland, no matter what your game is, depends entirely on being accepted at some level by the exploitative elite, represented in all their cronyism by the two major parties.

As Gene Kerrigan put it, another week another scandal and the same strategy of waiting and doing nothing until the electorate forget, as they always do.

Kerrigan said that Fine Gael had contempt for the public and wondered must Fine Gael call personally to every door in the country and punch the occupants in the face for them to get the message.

But you can hardly blame Fine Gael. They know by now, from stalling and smothering legislation; from concealing and waiting, that the best way to lead a people with Electoral Alzheimer’s is to do as little as possible policy wise, working private angles to divvy public monies to favoured clients while targeting politically inconsequential scapegoats for the sleepy public to gnaw on.

Contempt works! The public forgets everything. How could you respect them?

They get exactly what they ask for.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Top pic via Josepha Madigan

From top: Fianna Fáil Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism John O Donoghue (top front centre) in Dublin Castle with members of Aosdána at the 21st General Assembly of Aosdána on February 5, 2004; Eamonn Kelly

Fintan O’Toole’s recent suggestion in the Irish Times that art should be called sport was yet another jibe at political Ireland’s ongoing neglect of the arts. It seems sport fares better in the funding game. Even greyhounds get a bigger slice of the public pie.

But this neglect may be the fault of the arts sector itself which, on the face of it comes across as politely apolitical.

Another recent article in the Irish Times said that Aosdána was an excuse for low arts funding in the broader sector, Ireland having the lowest arts funding in Europe, despite the oft-heard boast of being the fastest growing economy in Europe.

Aosdána is as quiet as a grave, politically speaking, sending out an inadvertent message to the rest of the arts community that there is a bit of the old I’m-alright-Jackism about the whole thing.

And yet, when it comes to arts funding, the government can point to Aosdána as something supremely progressive. There was an article in The Guardian recently describing Ireland as arts-funding trend-setters because of Aosdána.

But despite this apparent success – Aosdána only caters for 250 artists – the wider arts community is hopelessly under-funded and often more than a little politically obsequious.

Silence is Golden

Declan Lynch, writing in the Sunday Independent of July 28 about the recent spat between Colm Tobín and the Irish light-lit fraternity, for want of a better term, remarked on the customary silence of the Irish arts community. There was that word again. Silence. Lynch wrote:

“There is this terrible niceness about the world of books, in public anyway…”

That niceness runs right through the arts sector and is often equated with positive thinking, in conscious contrast to traditional Irish begrudgery. So, criticism becomes perceived as negative thinking; while sweetness, often concealing acid barbs, is the general tone of the arts world.

We saw some of this acid in Marian Keyes retort to Colm Toibin’s relatively innocent remark about genre literature, when she said, “Sez the lad who wrote the Maeve Binchy pastiche and managed to persuade people it was literary fiction…” Ouch.

The point Lynch makes is that the culture is the lesser for the absence of this kind of barbed repartee. In other words, we could do with more stuff like this coming from the arts community.

Instead, revealingly, this only happens when someone’s patch is intruded upon. Outside of that, everyone is smilingly nice and polite, daggers concealed.

And there are daggers in the arts community, make no mistake. A sector of diminishing funding and respect, it can become very dog eat dog in the arts funding stakes. And the only ploy people appear to have is to be upbeat and smiling. Smiles, it is believed, will eventually win favour.

This erroneous belief, taken apart in Barbara Ehrenreich’s critique of positive thinking in her book “Smile or Die”, also informs worker/management relations in corporate America.

Even as wages go down or stagnate and the unions are destroyed, people keep on smiling that positive corporate smile, in the hope that this will somehow improve conditions. It doesn’t. Things get worse.

The arts in Ireland is employing a similar hopeless strategy, with similarly hopeless results. Neo-liberal politicians will eat those winning smiles for breakfast while smiling back and diverting public funds elsewhere.

Politeness suits the stalling games they like to play while they are seriously busy elsewhere, like selling off Connemara to international gold-mining prospectors.

The Political Arts

While the political silence of the arts sector might suggest a sector that is apolitical, the reverse is actually the case. The sector is deeply political. Aosdána’s very structure and foundations are permeated by political thinking. It’s day-to-day business is political.

An idea given the green light by Charles Haughey, some critics believe that Aosdána was intended to impose political silence on the story-makers and image creators of Ireland. If that was its intention, it worked.

And built into the structure of the institution is a quite brilliant political neutralising dynamic, based on the old principle of divide and conquer. Membership is limited to 250 artists. (It was originally only 200.)

Due to the limited numbers, not only does an aspiring entrant have to wait for a sitting member to die [now there’s a plot for a detective novel] but they also have to win the favour of two sitting members to nominate them.

Think of the smiling and fawning and the secretive manipulations that this encourages.

The entire structure breeds fear, uncertainty, exclusivity and, perhaps most importantly of all, relative political silence.

It creates a divide of haves and have-nots in the arts community, spreading the same political silence in a community where everyone knows instinctively that the only hope in a shrinking sector is refuge in Aosdána.

Even the art produced in Ireland seems politically neutered. Where are the plays pulpit-thumping about social injustice and austerity?

Laughably, one of the few “writer/performers” who had anything critical to say about modern Ireland from the Abbey stage in recent years was the economist David McWilliams.

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised really. After all, we don’t live in a country or a culture anymore. We live in an economy. Economics is the new national drama.

And then there is that annoying subtext running through the culture that art is for kids and students, and that kiddy arts events are designed to provoke childish wonder in adults. To help them rediscover their inner child, I guess. More American positive-thinking bunkum.

This corporate infantilising of the arts is a betrayal of those who believe arts is for grown-ups; a valuable forum for individual expressions of love, liberty and community; and, in times of oppression, a place where people might speak truth to power.

But for many in the Irish arts community, the development of a relationship with a minister for culture is the prime ongoing work in progress, regardless of who the minister is or what their moral proclivities might be.

This is what happens when arts funding is withheld to the stingy level it is withheld in Ireland: the political establishment makes obsequious beggars of everyone, and political silence is the inevitable result.

Arts funding structures as they currently stand, and the networking that goes with them, don’t make artists, they make politicians; and often these political structures produce arts charlatans, whose true art is networking, jockeying for position around the public money pot, becoming the public face of arts practise.

Because of hidden class advantages in the system it is inevitable that only a certain class of people will be funded and represented.

That the wider arts community will become narrow and exclusive and will, despite its perhaps best intentions, end up producing art that reflects the interests of the political elite.

Since politicians and bureaucrats are currently scratching their heads about how to “identify” genuine artistic talent to support – presumably by funding a bureaucracy to investigate the question – the answer is plain to see: fund everyone with a basic income and leave the artists to cultivate themselves.

It’s what they do anyway, even despite the funded professional facilitators politicking for position between the artists and the public funds set aside for them.

Leading the Way

This is the only reasonable way forward, not just for arts, but in recognition of robotics and climate change and poverty and low wages and inhumane jobs and working conditions. The only reasonable way forward is a basic living wage for everyone.

From there, people can make informed decisions about what they want to do with their time. If they want to work to increase their income by taking on a mind-numbing job, let them do so, to the extent that this pleases them. .

But people so inclined or driven to respond to some artistic impulse will likely use the stipend to devote their time to their art, to the benefit of the wider culture.

Given where we are now with climate change and late-stage capitalism, the national campaign for the arts might be best widened to campaign more broadly for a basic income for all, taking cognisance of the growing need for a centralised cultivation of creative and artistic thinking and practice.

Now that truly would be leading the way.

But first…we gotta whup Brexit.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Rollingnews