Author Archives: Eamonn Kelly

Clockwise From top left: Prime Time’s David McCullagh and Miriam O’Callaghan; Aine Lawlor of The Week in Politics; Bryan Dobson of Morning Ireland;: Eamonn Kelly

The RTÉ One Prime Time programme on the rise of nationalism in Ireland (Thursday,  June 25) seemed, from the off, to have another agenda. Two separate issues were collapsed into one, as if they were synonymous.

David McCullagh in his introduction said that similar nationalist groups across Europe “tend to share a deep suspicion of the political establishment and an implacable opposition to emigration.”

This had the effect of casting both issues as being tied at the hip. But many people, who could not in any way be described as racist, are often suspicious of Ireland’s political establishment, and often with good reason.

Nevertheless, the insinuation was woven through the report, and had the effect of suggesting that those working-class people featured in the programme, speaking out for social justice, may be proto racists.

The people featured were mostly working-class people, with working-class accents, concerned with social housing. Everyone knows that working-class accents are the speech patterns of the “other” in Ireland, particularly in Dublin.

In the privatisation of housing under Fine Gael, social housing was neglected in favour of the market, and homelessness soared.

But the victims were mainly those working-class people who traditionally depended on social housing, and are depending on it even more now when two wages can’t afford to buy one house. Those same people who are unable to avail of the pricey educational advantages that middle-class Ireland routinely enjoys and regards as “normal”.

The spin put on this programme, which was ostensibly concerned with Gemma O’Doherty’s and John Waters’ often hare-brained and dangerous escapades, seemed more like political sleight of hand, designed to tarnish those social activists who are neither racist nor hard leftists, but who are interested in social equality and who are often rightly suspicious of Ireland’s political establishment.

To suggest that anyone who is suspicious of a political establishment such as the one led by Fine Gale during austerity, are somehow proto or even covert racists, is really little more than a slippery bit of class politics designed to tarnish opposition to Ireland’s right-wing political establishment.

Sowing Division

The result of Fine Gael housing policy was that there was competition for housing between immigrants and working-class people, setting in train an unfair competition for limited resources. The price of failure in this competition to gain accommodation was homelessness.

But the set of circumstances that caused the conflict arose directly from Fine Gael housing policy, as was repeatedly shown and argued by Fr Peter McVerry.

To imply, as the Prime Time programme did, that those desperate people, placed in such a conflictual set of circumstances imposed upon them by a right-wing political establishment, are somehow proto racists, is a mean and underhanded trick of political spin.

The insinuation also has the effect of protecting the interests of the political establishment that the RTÉ journalists themselves are clearly part of.

Given middle-class suspicion of working-class people, and the routine middle-class prejudices on display by, for instance, Josepha Madigan’s NIMBY activities, it is almost comical that middle-class prejudice towards working-class people should be manipulated in this way to suggest that working-class people are prejudiced against immigrants.

Abstract Austerity

Only a few days earlier, another RTE journalist, Áine Lawlor, made the case on her TV show that austerity had been good for Ireland.

When Áine Lawlor’s views on austerity met with opposition from people interested in social equality, her RTÉ colleagues came out in support of her position.

But these RTÉ personalities are all well paid professionals. Austerity cost them nothing. In fact, austerity often provided the raw material for many of their stories. But none of them were personally bitten by austerity. To them, austerity is an abstraction. It’s just background noise.

But for people on housing lists and hospital waiting lists and working in jobs that don’t pay a living wage and don’t deliver enough to buy or even rent a place in the premium rental market encouraged by FFFG housing policy, austerity is a daily suffering grind. It’s not abstract. It’s real and it’s dirty and it hurts.

And by all accounts there is more of it coming down the line, since the parties who delivered the last tranche of austerity are now back in power in a combination/partnership that no one expected or voted for.

In fact, people were assured by Micheál Martin that Fianna Fail would not enter into coalition with Fine Gael.

This means the new taoiseach has already broken a campaign promise, and he’s still only a wet weekend in the job.

Disappointing Journalism

To be told by the public service broadcaster that those who oppose the current right-wing political establishment, share traits with European racists, seems like a deliberate attempt to deceive the viewer, or to dampen potential dissent.

If this is the standard of journalism in RTÉ we are in real trouble. Because there are those of us who actually look to the established media to behave like “real” journalists, since they are the established face of the profession.

But far from serving the public interest, as real journalists are expected to do, this kind of lazy, politically compromised journalism risks making cynics of us all.

Such journalism gives the impression that the established journalists and the political establishment that they purport to hold to account are all really in the same social club.

Though I am not a journalist by profession, but an arts practitioner, I hold to the ideals of objective journalism, and write from that perspective to the best of my ability.

I am not affiliated with any one party or cause, apart from a general interest in social justice and a particular interest in untangling spun political narratives such as the one described above.

The idea of a journalist not holding to those ideals of objective journalism makes no sense to me, since this would have the effect of abandoning the unique perspective that journalism affords, that space where independent opinion may be expressed.

But this is precisely what these high-ranking RTÉ journalists seem to be doing. In the process of promoting the policies of the political establishment they purport to be holding to account, they are rendering their own professions meaningless.

Complacency

As if to add insult to injury, when Micheál Martin finally ascended to the office of taoiseach, Brian Dobson on RTÉ wondered might the new coalition be described as “centre left”.

Really? I’d regard myself as centre-left. But if Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney are centre-left that makes me Che Guevara. I guess that’s the idea. Shove everyone over in the bed, right-wing becomes “normal” and everyone else is a radical.

It is difficult to decide whether this is disinformation – deliberately designed to deceive – or misinformation: mistakenly delivered, where the journalists themselves are being deceived with disinformation.

Though that’s hardly possible, since it would mean that the RTÉ journalists are lacking in the basics of political science.

Whatever the mechanics, this carefully judged encroachment also came across like information spun in the apparent service of right-wing parties attempting to supplant those parties of the left and policies of the left that many voters, calling for change, favoured in the last election.

Perhaps it’s just institutional complacency.

Certainly, the photograph of Miriam O’Callaghan and David McCullagh (top) that goes with the Prime Time programme on the RTÉ player seems like a study in complacency.

Both look kind of sleepily comfortable and casually condescending, their expressions perfectly encapsulating the sense of unaccountable privilege that appears to inform their journalistic choices.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews

Who are ‘the new nationalists’ ? (Prime Time)

From top: Supermac’s founder Pat McDonagh; Eamonn Kelly

One of the angles frequently used by Irish employers when confronted about underpaying people, is that they have heard no complaints.

Complaining is hard for Irish people, as it must be after holding your tongue for 700 years. You might say that the Republic itself is founded on a letter of complaint in the form of a Proclamation that, simply put, says, we’ve had enough of being second-class citizens.

We all know how that went down.

Irish history is littered with the bodies of people who complained. Naturally many people have learned the wisdom of silence. Irish people tend to be really, really good at not complaining. Even going so far as to stand with authority against those who do occasionally complain. As if to say: ‘Shush, you’ll get us all in trouble.’

Not Complaining

Not complaining is repeatedly relied upon by various authorities to justify the liberties it often so casually takes.

Pat McDonagh of Supermacs when he was asked on RTÉ radio recently why he charged staff for food, whether they wanted it or not, replied that the staff seem “quite happy” with the arrangement. And possibly “quite fired” if they did complain.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty when asked about complaints concerning JobPath said something similar, basing the perception of “happiness” on a carefully worded satisfaction survey, the work of a private contractor, paid gazillions by the taxpayer, which helpfully delivered stats for minimal complaint and maximum satisfaction.

However, there still remained a small percentage of unusually stubborn people who complained anyway. Of these it was generally implied that such people are “trouble”, or just plain contrary, if not mentally retarded.

Diversions

Still, it’s not normal to never complain. To get around this we appear to have evolved ways of complaining without actually complaining by deflecting our attention elsewhere to complain about something else.

Most recently the Dominic Cummings case fulfilled this role by taking all the attention away from the revelation that Fine Gael’s job creation claims seem to be based on 240,000 jobs that don’t deliver a living wage. But that was okay, because the jobs in question don’t deliver a living wage to people who are apparently “quite happy”.

This habit of deflection is like a national tic. In an earlier article of mine on Aosdána, I wrote about Aosdána being largely absent from the local political scene, though some of its members were very visible in international justice campaigns that invited zero personal blowback. The old “the situation in outer Mongolia is getting bleaker,” stratagem.

It was the wrong thing to do, writing about Aosdána, since some of the members felt victimised by the attention. As one poet wildly exclaimed, You’re going to wreck it for everyone!

Really? How? By mentioning its existence? Is it in hiding? Is it like Irish austerity’s Anne Frank?

Aosdána has only 250 members, many of them elderly, and it seemed unkind of me to be harping on about it when it was clear that the artists simply wanted to be left alone.

But the institution stands as a model for arts funding, and it seems clear by now that in the ideal Ireland that Fine Gael would have, there would only be a couple of hundred funded artists, with the rest fed into the JobPath machine, which needs all the bodies it can get to keep its corporations in clover. It feeds on live tissue you see, and will take any old body: writers, musicians, butchers, bakers…

The silence of funded artists in a situation where unfunded arts practitioners are being sent through a process that is chiefly designed to degrade them, sends out the message that the established arts community are in favour of neo-liberalism’s dividing of the arts community along lines of privilege.

This is too familiar, in an Ireland too often defined along such lines.

The Rigged System

The American economist and author Robert Reich in his book, “The System: Who rigged it, How we fix it”, makes a distinction between the old paradigms of “left” and “right” and the situation we find ourselves in today, which he sees as a divide between Oligarchy and Democracy, the two sides currently featuring in running street battles in the US, thanks to real life Goldfinger himself, El Trumpo.

It is a situation where you are either with the systems of economic inequality, the Oligarchy, or you are for Democracy. The two positions are by now mutually exclusive, since, as Reich shows, the Oligarchy acquired the policy-makers a long time ago.

Anyone who goes finger-jabbing about the dangers of “socialism” is badly missing the fundamentals of the new world order.

Quietly supporting neo-liberal policy makers, like our own Fine Gael, who work primarily on behalf of business and corporations, in the hope that political circumspection will guarantee the retention of personal privileges, perpetuates the creation of social inequality through economic systems that are enriching the few at the expense of the many.

The only way to reclaim democratic freedoms lost to neo-liberal policies designed to favour business, is for people to stand unified on behalf of all who are being degraded by the neo-liberal system. Because in time, all will be degraded by that system.

Economic Apartheid

What appears to have happened in Ireland is that an elite inherited not just a republic, but a lower class perceived variously as sinners, rebels, petty criminals and uneducated labourers and skivvies, who were to be watched, managed, corrected and exploited by the elite, much as the vanquished elite had done.

It’s a kind of economic apartheid, helped in its effectiveness by a fee-paying education system that favours the middle-classes, resulting in wealth and privilege being passed on from generation to generation; as poverty and disadvantage is passed on, with unerring precision, further down the social scale.

[Independent Senator] Lynn Ruane, in an article in the Journal.ie from 2018, talks about how difficult it is to even raise the issue of class in Ireland. She writes of how a politician accused her of bringing class into everything:

“This was not the first adverse reaction to raising the issue I had received but I refuse to be made feel like I shouldn’t. The devastating impact of social class in Ireland is not an abstract concept to me and hundreds of thousands of others all over this island. People who have had their lives determined by a class system that they wore born into; by luck and luck alone.”

I met similar resistance following an article on Gerry Ryan when I mentioned, almost in an offhand way, my own working-class background. It was deeply resented. As if I was proffering some unfair gambit.

What came across very clearly to me was the middle-class assumption that disadvantage is totally about cash.

But disadvantage is about living in an environment where no one knows anyone of influence or of academic or business achievement; where university is for “them”; and where no one knows anything really of how the world works beyond finding a “boss” who’ll treat you fairly.

Robert Reich says of structural inequality:

“Today the most important predictor of someone’s future is the income and wealth of the family they are born into.”

And though Reich was speaking of the United States, all neo-liberal states are fractals of the US, and all social inequality works by the same basic globalised monetary principles of neo-liberalism, as was clearly demonstrated in 2008.

Ultimately it is up to those people who are being short-changed by the neo-liberal system to break through their ancestral reticence and start complaining against what is essentially, in Ireland, an entrenched, comfortable cartel of politics, business and landlords that has grown complacent and casually contemptuous in the silence of non-complaint.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews

From top: The GPO, O’Connell Street, Dublin 1 last week as many sought access to emergency welfare payments; Eamonn Kelly

Cheap Labour and Free Money

Ever since Leo Varadkar inadvertently revealed on Newstalk Breakfast last week  that Fine Gael’s job creation claims included almost a quarter of a million Irish people working for wages below the CSO poverty threshold of €235, there has been almost total silence in the Irish media.

Anne Rabbitte of Fianna Fáil burst out on radio and seemed outraged that people were “getting a hell of a lot more than they should be getting”.

Brenda Power bellowed from her Sunday Times pulpit and declared that the people receiving the Covid-19 payment, the same people working for wages below the poverty line, were “scammers”.

The interesting aspect of what has emerged is less to do with pay rates, and more to do with the attitude of these people towards those they clearly consider undeserving of the same benefits and privileges that they enjoy.

This attitude was apparent too a few weeks back when Leo Varadkar invited laughter and incredulity when he told that anecdote about “hearing” about people on part time schemes asking to be let go to avail of the Covid-19 payment.

All of this belittling of these underpaid workers is most likely a deliberate grooming for a fresh round of austerity measures.

Media Bias

Gene Kerrigan, writing in the Sunday Independent (May 24), noticed the general silence of the mainstream media on the issue, and noted that the Irish Times, rather than covering the mysterious case of the quarter of a million Irish workers living below the poverty line, chose instead to report on a story about President Higgins, who had given a short interview to an Italian Communist newsletter interested in the views of a socialist president in a European country.

On a normal day the story wouldn’t make page 7. During that interview, concerning the aftermath of the coronavirus lockdown, Michael D opined that a return to austerity would not be a good thing.

The Irish Times, as Kerrigan showed, drummed this non-story up into a kind of red scare story, insinuating that the president was a troublesome communist who had “raised eyebrows” in government circles with his comments.

But the Irish Times failed to mention anything about the 240,000 people working below the poverty line, who are counted by Fine Gael’s statisticians as job creation successes.

Who are these impoverished workers? Why is the Irish media not interested? Is it the same attitude that saw them described elsewhere as scammers? Why are these people not important enough to mention?

The “Clients”

Many of them are carers working full time for €203 per week, a full €32 below the CSO poverty threshold.

But the majority are most likely part-time workers working for private employers, or on one of the several job-creation schemes, such as CE, Tús, JobsPlus, Yess and similar schemes organized by the government, where employers, organisations and sponsors are paid by the government to take on employees.

The Community Employment schemes employ the most people, 21,500 in 900 schemes across the country. Ostensibly a re-training and work experience programme, the work generally involves caring, maintenance of sports facilities, upkeep of churches, and various arts and cultural initiatives.

The wages for CE are €20 extra on top of the €203 jobseekers’ allowance, coming to around €12 below the CSO poverty line of €235. CE participants used to receive an extra €50, but this was cut during austerity and never restored.

Participants on CE work 20 hours a week, but in practise it is more usual that they are expected to be “flexible” and on call for the entire week to facilitate the needs of the sponsor.

In 2017, following an embarrassing report that showed only a 3-7% success rate for the JobPath employment activation programme, it was decided that CE schemes would be re-classified as “real” jobs, but only for the purposes of live register and job creation statistics, not for minimum wage obligations.

Community Work, Private Profits

The confidential contract that exists between the DEASP and the private activation companies, Seetec/Turas Nua, ensures a payment in increments tied to duration of employment, with 12 months continuous employment qualifying for a payment of €3,718 per “client” under a “sustained” employment agreement.

It is believed that the same contract also involved some kind of quota system where Seetec/Turas Nua would be promised x-amount of “clients” per year, each “client” being worth initially €311 on registration, with the potential for further payments, on a sliding scale, if placed in employment during the term of the “client’s” agreement with Seetec/Turas Nua.

It is thought that there simply weren’t enough unemployed people to meet the quota in the contract, and that the state was in danger of being sued by Seetec/Turas Nua.

The first solution was to keep sending the same people back through the activation system, but even that apparently wasn’t enough, though many people were sent through the system up to 4 times.

So, the CE schemes became “real” jobs, and were tied by the minister to an agreement that all CE schemes must be accessed via Seetec/Turas Nua.

The majority of CE schemes last for 12 months (There are some exceptions), the same period of time that qualifies as a period of “sustainable” employment in JobPath.

Since all CE schemes must now be accessed via Seetec/Turas Nua, it is reasonable to assume that all placements on CE would be regarded as sustainable employments “created” by Seetec/Turas Nua, with each new start-up qualifying for a full payment from the DEASP to Seetec/Turas Nua of €3,718 per “client” assigned to community work.

Community work that those workers could probably have accessed anyway without any help from the middlemen JobPath organisations.

Since there are 21,000 CE places in Ireland at any one time, Fine Gael’s policy change on CE comes to a potential windfall to Seetec/Turas of €86m. And since the majority of CE schemes only last one year, this is potentially an annual turnover of €86m to Seetec/Turas Nua for simply routing new CE placements annually through their system.

Who says there’s no such thing as free money?

Deja-Vu

Here we have a system that compels Irish people to live and work in poverty, serving private organisations, while the elite deliberately turns a blind eye, supporting the injustice with a prejudice that they’re all “scammers” anyway, and don’t deserve any better.

What a strange echo that narrative makes. It’s not unlike the system of industrial schools and Magdalene laundries of old.

But the richest irony is that many of those people working on those schemes, in an act of desperation, like to see themselves as being in “real” jobs; among the elect of Varadkar’s early-rising heroes, they are often quicker than most to castigate “welfare cheats”.

No one wants to be at the bottom of this Irish class system, with contempt constantly heaped on you from above. But this time the low paid workers have not been spared the insults of the elite. They are not on Varadkar’s team after all.

They are still perceived as scammers, no different than the “welfare cheats” they agreed to scorn and condemn in return for pitiful jobs that don’t even deliver a living wage. They’ve been duped and dismissed, their silence and obedience taken for granted, their labour sold cheaply.

It will be interesting to see will that 240,000 votes ever find expression.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews

From top: Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty,  Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Minister for Buisness, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphries; Eamonn Kelly

Leo Varadkar told Newstalk the other day that nearly 40% of Covid-19 payees are better off than when they were working. That is so interesting, given that the Covid-19 payment of €350 was arrived at as being just about enough to live on.

Almost 600,000 people are receiving the Covid-19 payment. 40% of 600,000 is around 240,000. Dare we ask do these include the jobs created by Fine Gael, jobs that don’t pay people enough to live on?

Jobs for All

Job creation is a big plank of Fine Gael boasts. And though the manner in which figures are arrived at is notoriously slippery, Heather Humphries did claim in Dáil questions in March 2019 that 49,900 jobs were created in 2018.

The overall boast is that by 2020 Fine Gael hoped to hit a target of 200,000 jobs created since the launch of the first action plan for jobs in 2012. By 2016 it was a regular claim that 135,000 new jobs had been created since 2012.

But if 240,000 people are now saying that they are better off on the Covid-19 payment than they were at work, and Minister Docherty is saying that less than €350 is not enough to live on, what standard of job has Fine Gael been creating all this time?

If people are working for less than enough to live on, can such an occupation properly be counted as a job?

What the taoiseach’s own words seem to suggest is that the concept of a “job”, as argued by many advocates of basic income, is an outdated fetish favoured by right-wingers who still can’t get beyond the idea of ordinary people being supported with some form of regular basic income, without pain being imposed upon them.

Bullshit Jobs

The anthropologist David Graeber realised that the consequence of this right-wing jobs fetish was the steady and ongoing creation of what he termed “bullshit” jobs. Jobs whose only value was in the existence of the job itself, as perceived by a system that valued the possession of a job.

What the Covid-19 payment demonstrates, is the real face of this entire bullshit jobs cycle that Fine Gael have been busying themselves with all these years to no real benefit to anyone apart from their own statisticians and their employer friends availing of job-creation grants.

And to those who say that there was a surplus created by Fine Gael in government, have a look at where that surplus was drawn from in the frozen lives of the 10,000+ homeless, among other less inspiring stats created by Fine Gael policy.

And that figure of €350 for the Covid-19 payment. How was it arrived at? Was it in any way influenced by the fact that the minister who proposed it had just lost her seat in the general election? Might it have been a tactical act of generosity that might be remembered by the electorate in the event of another quick election, given the hung Dáil?

Free Money

One of the main oppositions to the concept of a universal basic income is that it is free money.

But as Leo Varadkar pointed out last week, not for the first time, there is no such thing as free money. Though Varadkar himself and his cronies appear to live in a world swimming in free money.

In August 2019 the Sunday Independent reported that the new taoiseach…

“…has clocked up a €400,000 bill for food, drink and entertainment since he took office two years ago…”

The report went on

“Mr Varadkar also treats his Cabinet ministers to evening suppers in Farmleigh House, the State’s formal residence, and in the National Gallery of Ireland…Last September, ministers gathered in Farmleigh House, for an evening of dinner and drinks at a cost of €2,075.

In December 2017, the Taoiseach hosted a Christmas dinner for his ministerial team in the National Gallery of Ireland beside Leinster House which cost €2,102.”

With his €185,350 basic salary plus his €118,981 in personal annual expenses, there is clearly no such thing as a free taoiseach either.

In January 2020 The Irish Post revealed that…

“…Leo Varadkar reportedly spent €1.8 million on propaganda during his first year-and-a-half as Taoiseach.

This included €50,000 on videos featuring Varadkar which were designed to hopefully go viral and make the world say, Wow, Leo is cool.

This is in stark contrast to the €16,000 spent by Enda Kenny in his first 18-months in office.”

As Brendan Howlin pointed out at the time:

“Leo Varadkar’s spin unit spent well over 100 times more on PR than Enda Kenny did.”

Howlin went on to say that Fine Gael spent…

“…€7million of public money on glossy advertisements in 2018…They will spend nearly €2billion on the National Children’s Hospital, which will be the most expensive hospital ever built on earth…

Fine Gael gave €700million in 2018 to private landlords because they refused to build homes on public land…They spent €900,000 every day on private agency staff, because they refused to employ permanent public workers.”

Who Pays These Bills?

Where is all that money coming from? Well, it’s coming, in a roundabout way, from all those workers, 240,000 of them, according to Mr Varadkar’s own stats, who are working for less than enough to live on.

It is coming from the poor and the homeless and the pensioners and the tax-payers and the health service and the farmers and the arts workers.

Because Varadkar is right. There is no such thing as free money. It has to come from somewhere, including the free money that he flings around the place to make himself look good, paid for by ordinary people in reduced wages, reduced medical outcomes, reduced life chances and reduced equality of opportunity.

That free money he disposes of so generously is coming direct from the pockets and expectations of low paid workers who, by the admission of his own minsters, are working below the rate of what they need to live on in Varadkar’s Ireland.

The caretaker taoiseach is, for once, perfectly correct: It is not fair. But not in the way that he means.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

DISCLAIMER: Broadsheet does not condone the use of the word ‘shit’ in this article which thankfully does not include other off-colour words like ‘fuck’, ‘diddies’ or ‘wankipants’.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews

From top: Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan at the National Famine Commemoration Ceremony in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, yesterday; Eamonn Kelly

There was a Q&A in the Dáil recently (May 14) between Paul Murphy TD and Minister for Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, on the subject of arts funding.

In his statement Paul Murphy said that Fine Gael seem only to pay lip service to the value of the arts, justifying poor funding for the arts as “realism”.

The first sentence of the minister’s response to Murphy’s question, in true neo-liberal eff-you style, featured the phrase “reality check”, followed by some figure juggling, a false comparison with Britain’s Covid-19 welfare payment, and a disingenuous claim that arts workers are receiving the highest share of Covid-19 payments, “after workers from accommodation, construction, administration and the retail sectors.” So, not the highest.

It was a typical and tiresome neo-liberal dodge. But what was clear was that the question concerning the value of the arts, was being answered from a value system in which the arts and humanities don’t really have a place. Neo-liberalism is “reality” and the Arts are… not reality.

Cultural Eco-System

Arts are part of the cultural eco-system known as the Humanities. Neo-liberalism would have you believe that you can pick the “best” from this eco-system, and promote just those choice parts, for dreary profit. But this, like much of neo-liberal ideology, displays the brute ignorance at the heart of that ideology.

You can’t pick and choose which items to promote and flog off in an eco-system. It’s all interdependent. It’s like saying that, in sport, we’ll only have a Premier league and no lower leagues or school leagues.

As soon as you do that, you destroy the system that feeds and nurtures the “best”. The entire eco-system is the “best”. In the Humanities eco-system, it is the activity of the arts and sciences, at all levels, that is of value, not the best-selling “product” that occasionally emerges from arts and science activities.

Creativity is the foundation upon which the capitalist profiteering engine was built.

This cultural power base formed in a slow accretion of various inventions, discoveries and insights across the ages; the result of an accumulation of imaginative activities that are quintessentially human, from which emerged the multitude of creative ideas, engineered into physicality, that gave rise to the modern world and modern technologies.

Neo-liberal capitalism, standing on the shoulders of this complex network of collective accumulated creative triumphs, often seems as arrogantly blind to that eco-system’s contribution to its own power base, as it is blind to the connection between the perpetual growth ideology it champions and impending climate catastrophe.

Neo-liberalism, in the long game of cultural intelligence, may be just a fancy name for stupid.

To Have Or To Be

Erich Fromm, the humanistic philosopher, in one of his later books, “To Have Or To Be”, defined a neat paradigm to illustrate two broad ways of being that are in conflict with each other in the capitalist system.

He wrote that humanity is oriented either towards “Having”, which is capitalism; or towards “Being” which is, broadly, the orientation that defines the Humanities.

This might explain why many creative people often feel they don’t quite belong in what people like Josepha Madigan are content to call “reality”.

The arts, far from being airy fairy fringe activities, are actually central to the human project. Through the arts, progress is imagined. This has been the case since cave paintings gave every tribe member the opportunity to study the animals they would hunt, aiding in focusing their attention and creating an inner mental picture of the target; the artist providing details that the non-artist may not even see in “reality”.

When artists unwittingly play the capitalist game and set out to justify themselves on capitalist grounds, accepting the capitalist restrictive value system as “reality”, they surrender the one quality that makes art truly invaluable: the ability to explore and think freely and objectify the “reality” that society has chosen for itself.

But in neo-liberal reality, the space occupied by the Humanities is perceived as being without real value. This is dangerous, because it must soon follow that predictions and warnings arising from humanistic studies will be deemed as equally without value as the activities that produce them, effectively blinding the culture to its own future, depriving it of the core intelligence it has always relied on for survival.

Pretty soon no one is working any more until they get paid a capitalist wage or are funded by a government throwing scraps to the sector, and practices become rusty.

Artists may gravitate towards sycophancy, further weakening the cultural objectivity the sector is supposed to provide. The grassroots of creativity begin to wither and die from neglect, not unlike the manner in which a coral reef might die.

Creative Obsolescence

Neo-liberal Capitalism is as wasteful of humanity as it is of any of the other raw materials it crushes and processes to turn its quick profits. In terms of the use and exploitation of native talent, the capitalist system treats human beings like objects of mass production.

It squeezes individuals into tight restrictive imagination-killing “jobs” – because the concept of a job is a capitalist value – and in doing so wastes all that is potentially creative in that individual.

When you devalue the Humanities by assessing their usefulness in a bogus value system, as neo-liberals do so casually and so routinely, you not only devalue that cultural eco-system that includes the arts, you also simultaneously promote ignorance and forgetfulness; the most extreme form of this regression being the Trump administration.

This ushering in of ignorance is a natural end-game for such a market-driven ideology as neo-liberalism.  From neo-liberal capitalism’s point of view, ignorance and forgetfulness are good for markets, since you can re-package and re-sell as new what was already known and then forgotten about.

Neglect of creativity, through under-funding and undervaluing, may be neo-liberal capitalism’s unconscious way of building obsolescence into, not only the products of human creativity, but into human creativity itself.

In this context, asking What use are the Arts? Or attempting to convince neo-liberals of the value of the arts, may be the totally wrong approach, since this approach takes place in the restrictive confines of neo-liberalism’s narrow understanding of “reality”.

Maybe it’s not so much that society needs to support the Arts, nor that the Arts need to become “realistic” by neo-liberal capitalism’s values; Maybe it is that society, if it hopes to avert climate disaster, needs to reorient, as Fromm recommends, and become more like artists and creatives.

Ways of Seeing

The autistic savant Temple Grandin said in a Ted Talk that the world now more than ever needs all kinds of minds, all kinds of imaginations to solve the problems we are facing.

She knew that in the so called “normal” world that her kind of mind, and minds like hers, were being side-lined, measured only by their monetary potential.

But she is a genius in visualising physics. She sees the arcs of physical movement in the natural world as vividly as you or I see objects in the living room. She can visualize the invisible. And yet she is ranked as second-best in a world measured by economic profit alone.

To not support the arts and sciences is to fling away as useless the potential of the human imagination, the same one that invented the civilization now apparently owned by a couple of hundred billionaires.

The real question to be asking, more glaringly obvious since the advent of the coronavirus, might be, what use is neo-liberal capitalism?

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews

From top: Ryan Tubridy (left) and Taoiseach  Leo Varadkar on RTÉ One’s  The Late Late Show last Friday; Eamonn Kelly

Last Friday, May 1, International Workers Day, Caretaker Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, addressed the nation, outlining a wind-down of Covid-19 restrictions. There was consternation in some quarters that the address had not been followed by a press Q&A.

This aspect of proceedings, the questioning, would be taking place on RTÉ One’s The Late Late Show that evening, with Ryan Tubridy acting as a kind of nominated journalist invited to grill the leader.

Varadkar’s spin unit burn up an estimated €100,000 of public money per month to make Varadkar’s neo-liberal Fine Gael look good.It’s instructive that even with that type of funding they somehow always fail to put on an entirely convincing show.

This show was no different. That’s what happens when you don’t value or respect the arts; you think if you fling enough money at it that any bozo can act the clown.

The setup, ironically enough, sounded like something from Chavez’s Venezuela or Putin’s Russia. The great leader cocooned with just one selected media person empowered to ask questions.

A carefully managed Q&A featuring an RTÉ stalwart who, strictly speaking, isn’t really a journalist per se, but more of a light entertainment personality with impeccable political establishment credentials.

Afterwards, social media pounced on the fact of Varadkar having to consult his notes during the interview, which probably pleased the FG spin unit no end, since the moment, whether intended or merely happy accident, acted like a magician’s distraction, sending many critics of Varadkar’s neo-liberalism in the wrong direction.

Because this show was about schmoozing the Irish electorate into swallowing the idea that neo-liberals were the best gang to tackle climate change, despite the truckloads of evidence rolling in from laboratories all over the world that neo-liberalism, the ugly face of late-stage capitalism, is actually an aggravator of climate change.

What Neo-Liberals Do

Neo-liberalism has two main goals: rolling back the welfare state and privatising everything. To sell these goals as good ideas it schmoozes people into believing that the return of “lots of good jobs”, which neo-liberalism is forever promising, and which Varadkar promised on The Late Late Show, will be worth the trade of personal freedoms; potential homelessness; lower wages; higher rents; private medical services and climate catastrophe.

Naturally neo-liberals tend to thread carefully while trying to sell this bag of goodies. Their moves are like the moves of cat-burglars, or comedy camouflage experts, encroaching with minute advances after long periods of apparent stillness.

The surprising thing is, they are often successful in selling the awful package. For instance, in the last election, despite the evidence of mounting social injustice, homelessness, emigration and suicide, a full 20.9% of the electorate still went out, presumably of sound mind, and voted for Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael.

But why would the spin unit think it a good idea to attempt to sell the party as the best bet for a Green future on a light entertainment show?

The Sell

This idea of The late Late Show being a light entertainment show was in fact a bone of contention back in the mid-1960s when Gay Byrne, the innovator of the show, had made it more than a simple light entertainment show, turning it into a forum where the Irish people could meet and talk about issues that affected them and the society.

But, as I mentioned in a previous piece, this aspect of the show was deeply resisted by some, among them Ryan Tubridy’s grandfather, Todd Andrews, who wanted Byrne off the show, intent on making the platform an apolitical light entertainment vehicle.

I mention this now because it was Byrne’s innovative development of the show as a forum for a national conversation that now made it valid for Leo Varadkar to appear on the show, having decided against a press conference, to avail of that understanding of The Late Late Show as a national forum.

The opportunity to sell the big idea opened up when Tubridy asked about the ongoing talks with the Greens to enter coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Leo Varadkar had just begun his answer to the question when Tubridy, who has a tendency, unlike Gay Byrne, to pay more attention to his questions rather than his guests, dived in with another question.

But Varadkar panicked and pulled him back saying that the previous question was important and needed a bit more time for a fuller answer.

And so it proved to be, because the question had opened up the interview to allow neo-liberal Leo to argue that neo-liberal politicians are better equipped to meet climate targets than left wing parties would be.

Because, according to the neo-liberal view presented by Varadkar, the Left would spend their time “fighting” with the business community.

Isn’t that just wonderful? The very flaw at the heart of neo-liberalism, essentially enriching business at the expense of community, and by doing so, contributing to global climate devastation, is offered as the solution to climate change, because neo-liberals get on well with the business community, the same community whose hunger for perpetual growth is contributing to climate change.

And this wonderfully slippery message delivered direct to the Irish people with their guard down, from the cosy homely hearth of The Late Late Show, where the nation had gathered to hear the government plan for the lifting of restrictions, and to sympathise and empathise with the victims of an ongoing health emergency.

We Are…Not the Left

The claim betrays the vacuity of ideas at the core of Varadkar’s neo-liberal ideology.

Lacking the ability to define themselves by any particular standard other than neo-liberalism, which must remain a partially hidden agenda, since its outcomes are so damaging to fundamental social justice, Varadkar’s Fine Gael instead define themselves by repeated reference to leftist ideas.

In other words, what Varadkar’s neo-liberal party stand for is, not being the Left.

Varadkar suggesting, with a straight face, that Fine Gael’s relationship with the business community is a safer bet for meeting climate targets than anything the Left might initiate, is either a statement borne of ignorance of the damage the ideology he champions is wreaking on the environment; or, he simply doesn’t give a damn about the climate, no more than he ever seemed to give a damn about the 10,000 homeless he smilingly helped conjured into existence.

Nevertheless, here he was, claiming that he would somehow out-left the Left, despite being hopelessly Right, and somehow become Green while also creating “lots of jobs”, predicated on the out-dated neo-liberal model of limitless growth in a finite system.

He was, in other words, like old Fianna Fáil, attempting to be all things to all sectors.

The Schmooze

Ryan Tubridy helped with the schmooze like an awkward well-intentioned youth trying to help a blind man across a busy road; but in such a way as to suggest prior briefing.

His contribution was concerned with reassuring those voters who had concerns of a Left nature: specifically, concerns related to social housing and the Covid-19 welfare payments.

When the topic of construction workers returning to work was brought up, Tubridy rushed in to mention social housing. To which Varadkar replied, as other Fine Gael personnel have been doing in recent times, that social housing is continuing and ongoing. Even apparently despite the lockdown.

That must be amazing news for the 10,000 homeless now quarantined in hotel rooms, with their landlords happily exporting buckets of public cash to the Cayman Islands.

The second contribution by Tubridy came when he asked Varadkar about the possibility of extending the Covid-19 welfare payments, to coincide with the return to work of various sectors, as outlined in the resuscitating the economy plan.

The answer was in the affirmative, to which Tubridy helpfully chimed in: and that’s a nice gift for May Day. May Day being worker’s day and a red-letter day for the Left (excuse the pun).

However, as soon as Tubridy had so helpfully underlined the apparent coincidence of a rare Fine Gael promise to condone a welfare payment, the promise delivered on May Day, a backstage light flickered and the Fine Gael spin unit was momentarily revealed in silhouette, pulling levers.

Varadkar’s Neo-Liberalism

Varadkar’s neo-liberal Fine Gael are probably not engaged on some grand plan towards world domination. It’s likely more mundane than that. They have simply chosen sides and basically do all the things that you’re supposed to do when following a neo-liberal agenda. It’s like following a recipe: first you privatise the public services….

Presumably after you’ve dismantled all public services and impoverished everyone but a few billionaires, something wonderful is supposed to fall into place, inaugurating some neo-liberal Shangri-La.

Fine Gael’s particular political machine is designed to pursue these old models based on out-dated and discredited capitalist and neo-liberal ideas. It runs clickety clack on neo-liberal tracks. They don’t seem to understand that you can’t continue with “business as usual” and hope to avert climate catastrophe.

But they do understand simple logistics like “meeting targets”. That’s why they love the Greens’ 7% emissions target. They could politic that kind of thing all day and on through the night.

It’s right up their alley, since it consists of figures that can be bent and twisted and hidden and “re-clarified” until… well, until doomsday. It’s the very thing they do exceptionally well.

Fine Gael entering into a coalition with the Green Party will place demands on the Fine Gael party that the party has never had to face, since such a coalition will require the party to totally reappraise and reform its core neo-liberal ethos, which conflicts so profoundly with the aims of the Green movement and climate repair.

Many people are now coming to the realisation, particularly since Covid-19, that it is time to lockdown capitalism itself for a while, to allow the climate to literally breath and recover from the virus of capitalism. This type of thinking immediately reveals Fine Gael policy as hopelessly out of date and out of touch.

Plus, the last election clearly showed that there is little appetite in Ireland for the ruthless American style brand of neo-liberalism that Leo Varadkar represents.

On this score it might be wise of the Greens to insist, as a condition of entering coalition, that Varadkar steps down from the Fine Gael leadership, to allow his own party to more easily adapt their political model to the rapidly changing times.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews

From top: Gerry Ryan in 1997; Eamonn Kelly

Gerry Ryan: The Legacy (RTÉ One). A Review

If you ever suspected the system might be rigged in favour of an elite, RTÉ certainly offered lots of food for thought for that idea in their tribute – to the late Gerry Ryan who died this week ten years ago.

Gerry Ryan hailed from the middle-class suburb of Clontarf. He attended Trinity and went into pirate radio and then RTÉ. His mother was from a theatrical family, this connection resulting in Eamonn Andrews being Gerry’s godfather.

Gerry went to school with one of Charlie Haughey’s sons and knew Haughey himself the way you’d know the dads of your pals.

Charlie Haughey by the way was the son-in-law of Sean Lemass, taoiseach at the time, who appointed Todd Andrews (no relation to Eamonn Andrews) to the chair of the RTÉ authority from where his first directive to the director general was to “fire that f**ker Byrne” from The Late Late Show.

Todd Andrews disliked Gay Byrne’s journalistic objectivity. Two generations later the same chair of the Late Late Show went to Andrews’ grandson, Ryan Tubridy, leaving Gerry Ryan, the natural successor in any meritocracy, deeply disappointed.

The Ryan Line

What came through loud and clear from this potted history of one RTÉ life was the sheer tightly woven scale of the political connections operating in RTÉ since its inception, and the Fianna Fáil influence over the station, along with the huge monies that were bandied around to keep broadcasters of Ryan’s talent on the books.

Charlie Haughey was presented in the documentary as a kind of role model of style and influence who impressed the young Ryan; not as the taoiseach widely considered to have had a corrupting influence on the country’s political culture, the consequences of which we are still living with.

The man who was implicated in, for instance, the widespread Ansbacher tax evasion scam involving vast numbers of individuals from the church-going professional middle classes. The wily Charlie Haughey who, in the wake of the 2015 TV drama about his life was described in the Irish Times as:

“Charvet Charlie…his stately home, his befurred, entitled mistress, his grovelling Uriah Heep ministers, the phone-tapping, the tails, the threats, all remain too close, too familiar, too infuriating to be classified as fascinating or entertaining…”

Gerry Ryan too was presented in a kindly manner as a victim of over-eating and heavy drinking and lack of exercise rather than just another middle-class cocaine tooter contributing to the criminality that the eternally shocked middle-classes abhor when it suits them.

They conveniently make no connection between the boy that was dismembered several weeks back in some kind of twisted gangland retaliation, and the smug overpaid over-connected middle classes driving the whole nasty underground industry.

Class and Cronyism

Though it would be tempting to conclude that Gerry Ryan was undone by the nepotism at the heart of RTÉ that saw a Todd Andrews heir take the top presenting job that Ryan felt entitled to, it is far more likely that the decision to award the show to someone other than Ryan was taken in the full knowledge of Ryan’s drug-taking.

However, on the tribute programme, innocence of this aspect of Ryan’s life was the clarion call. Like Manuel in Fawlty Towers, nobody knew anything.

So, in the narrative spun by the tribute, Gerry Ryan becomes a lonely victim of success; Charlie Haughey becomes urbane and sophisticated; Ryan’s cossetted middle-class and well-connected upbringing is portrayed as “ordinary”; the reek of nepotism at the heart of RTÉ is blithely ignored; and hardly anyone quite knows what cocaine is.

As a result, what the programme really showed, if inadvertently, was that the three elephants in the Irish living room are class, cronyism and accountability.

Where the only option for any form of social mobility is either through a direct connection to power, or to be endlessly “nice” and “agreeable”, remaining as deaf, dumb and blind to politics and difficult moral questions as the proverbial three monkeys.

Nice Guys Come First

In a sense the Gerry Ryan tribute fulfilled RTE’s commitment to public service broadcasting, albeit more by accident than by design, in that it lifted the lid on the nepotism, the high living, the comfortable connectedness and the big money at the heart of RTE, while also demonstrating the fine art of political spin as it is applied in the creation of anemic cultural narratives.

As a working-class person who has often felt unwelcome and out of place in Ireland’s largely middle-class arts community, (you can’t help but faux pas all over the place, and you are a non-starter in the sugary passive aggressive angles being worked to corner scarce funding opportunities) I long since suspected that the arts, like the other professions, including politics, were all essentially populated by people from the same postal addresses and colleges.

This programme more than confirmed that suspicion, while also shedding light on the arts sector’s largely silent contribution to political matters, along with that sector’s often obsequious behaviour towards government. The idea, it seems, is to “nice” your way into the funding.

This important work involves the maintenance of a hard, permanent smile, through thick and thin, until your rictus breaks your face in half when you realize your funding has been cut by the neo-liberal government you have been supporting with your silence.

As Barbara Ehrenreich showed in her excellent book “Bright-sided”, being endlessly agreeable and polite and calling it “positive”, in the hope of someday being favoured by those already installed in power, only makes a slave of you in the end.

You become so habituated to nodding your head in agreement that you lose the capacity to dissent; inadvertently contributing with your obsequiousness to the ongoing rot of cronyism at the heart of the culture you are, as an artist, purporting to mirror.

It’s not that RTÉ can’t interrogate a subject and spin a meaningful narrative. This is exactly what the Ryan tribute programme did.

The problem was it set out to protect its own class and interests; to exonerate its own tainted champions and to tidy up the neat middle-class world that it serves; re-painting all those pesky moral complications that were littering the place, in nice, fresh, bright, cheerful colours.

And that, more than anything, was a perfect illustration of how the Irish arts and cultural sector has sold out its own function in the interests of maintaining the political status quo.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar claimed  people asked to be laid off so they could claim the €350 Covid-19 payment; Eamonn Kelly

Leo Varadkar told a press conference the other day that he had heard stories of people asking employers to lay them off to take advantage of the €350 coronavirus welfare payment.

He presented no evidence for this and simply used his platform as acting taoiseach to denigrate workers who, it was implied, were looking to turn the coronavirus crisis to their own financial advantage.

There were any number of anecdotes the acting taoiseach might have told to raise a giggle at people angling for an extra buck during a crisis.

Like retailers boosting prices on goods during the coronavirus crisis; or AIB deducting bank charges direct from the accounts of people who had just been laid off due to that crisis; or the plentiful anecdotes of private landlords over-charging tenants during the housing crisis in a private rental market made attractive by a neo-liberal government determined not to provide social housing. Ireland is rife with system-gamers exploiting crises, and we have the social casualties to prove it.

However, minister Varadkar chose to target low-paid workers for his derision, as is his form.

And the manner in which he told the anecdote, that slow grin, as if he had never heard of such cheek, revealed that same old ingrained prejudice against poor people that this privileged man has enforced time and again through social policy and sly insinuation.

The allegation is of course totally anecdotal. But Mr Varadkar, currently acting taoiseach, should really back this public statement up with names of employers and workers who, he claims, were attempting to game the system. In the interests of transparency.

He owes it to those workers who have been working around the clock providing basic services to all during the crisis, to at least identify those among their number who, he claims, were attempting to skive off work under false pretenses and claim the coronavirus welfare payment.

A payment, incidentally, which is striking in its generosity, with the minister declaring that the standard jobseeker’s allowance of €203 just isn’t enough to live on. That’s news.

That the payment is being divvied out by a politician who lost their seat in the last election, but is still somehow the minster for social protection, might cause a cynic to suspect a motive behind such generosity. An upcoming election might favour the politician behind such a generous gesture. A lost seat might be won back. Bought back, even.

The Culprits

There is a clue in Leo Varadkar’s statement as to the identity of the workers and employers at the root of the anecdote. It lies in his reference to 20 hours and an extra €11.

This can only be a  Community Employment (CE) scheme, or something similar, and the employer in question can only be a CE supervisor, who work closely with the DEASP.

So the anecdote most likely has its roots in a CE scheme, with a CE worker, who may or may not have been joking, putting this proposition to a CE supervisor who, apparently, reported it back to the DEASP, from where it was likely passed to Mr Varadkar’s PR representatives, who appear to have used the story in the hope of gaining some political capital by denigrating a target group; this time “lazy” low-paid workers on the make in a crisis.

In this attempt to gain political capital we see once again the familiar Varadkar ploy of targeting a weak group, incapable of political response, in an attempt to turn the anger of their peers upon the target group.

The bottom line being, as in the now infamous welfare cheats campaign, to create division and suspicion among those sections of society most adversely affected by austerity, low wages, premium accommodation costs, a financially crippled health service, and all the other familiar inequalities that are a consequence of the neo-liberal policies pursued by Fine Gael.

But Mr Varadkar lacks the courage of his convictions, holding back from going all the way with his scapegoating.

Rather than leaving those alleged system gamers in quiet community employment anonymity as the subjects of an amusing anecdote for comfortable socialites, he ought to, if he wants to be seen to be following through consistently on his charges, expose the individual culprits fully to public shaming. It’s clear that this is his intent in bringing up the subject. So let him go all the way.

Maybe set the culprits up on a scaffold in Smithfield and have over-worked staff of essential services fling rotten fruit at them. If you’re going to scapegoat, at least do it with a bit of pizzazz and give the public a show. All else is just unverifiable spin with a mean-minded twist and an intent to target the defenceless to gain political capital.

Such a mean-minded attack might even be construed as a deliberate and calculated act of relational aggression. An underhanded mode of behaviour that is not only beneath the office of taoiseach, but is beneath the standards of any decent person.

New Understandings

But we can take it by now that Fine Gael don’t just toss out ideas like this in an idle fashion. There is something behind it. Could it be an attempt to sow divisiveness between workers? Heroes vs lazybones? But why?

The clue might be found in Mr Varadkar’s own manifesto of 2017 when he was hungering after the Fine Gael leadership and the prize of becoming taoiseach by the back door.

In that manifesto was a proposal, based on a Tory template, to prevent workers of certain defined occupations from striking. Such occupations would first be defined as “essential services”, and the proposal would be to ban them from striking, because such strikes would be deemed too damaging to the public good.

Such a ban would of course curtail workers’ options in challenging disreputable employers seeking to exploit them.

Now the coronavirus restrictions have given Fine Gael and their right-wing associates an opportunity to clearly define “essential services”, and the payoff for the right might well be a ban on strikes by those workers they are currently characterising as “heroes”.

Beware the compliments of a flatterer, so said Machiavelli to the Prince.

Such a move would put essential workers at the mercy of government and employers in terms of pay and benefits, with no recourse to protest on their own behalf without breaking the law. To say no to employer exploitation would be a criminal act.

In the future, the only bonuses essential workers might be seeing may be the occasional public round of applause. Like artists and musicians, they may well find themselves expected to work for the experience and the “exposure”, and because they “love what they do”.

Gaming the System

An argument was made in the Irish Times a week or so ago that Fine Gael ministers have governing skills that new ministers might not have, and since we are in the midst of a crisis, it might be best to leave Fine Gael personnel installed in their previous government positions, despite the election results.

That sounds reasonable enough given the circumstances. Though when you consider that the government in question is the same one that ran down the health service in a privatisation drive, among other neo-liberal strategies undermining social equality, the situation doesn’t seem quite as rosy.

A clear picture emerges of a fox smiling in a hen-house and saying, Sure, I’ll take care of everything. You relax. Don’t bother your pretty little heads about anything.

There was also the suspicion that the article in question was one of those fake articles from the Fine Gael spin unit, placed as a genuine article in a reputable newspaper, to help the cause of remaining in power even when some of their ministers have lost their seats.

Writing your own news and op-eds; leaving ministers in place to divvy out generous amounts of public funds; devising new strategies to divide and disempower workers, while cleverly attempting to suspend parliament under the guise of public health concerns.

Now that, is gaming the system.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Friday: Tested Negative And Petty

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews

 

From top: the entrance to St. Michael’s Hospital, Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin where Covid-19 testing is taking place; Eamonn Kelly

The coronavirus impact on the economy is having the effect of achieving something that was only theoretical a few short weeks ago: the necessity to halt capitalism’s perpetual demand for spending, consumption and growth.

The coronavirus has offered an opportunity to radically change the capitalist paradigm.

Cash is the lifeblood of an economy. But if it can’t come from free market trade, as is happening now, where will it come from? Will the economy just bleed out and die?

David McWilliams, in the Irish Times, writes that this problem is exacerbated by panic, leading to cash hoarding, much like shopping hoarding.

He offers a radical solution, sourced to Milton Friedman, for such situations, writing:

“The Central Bank of Ireland should print money and deposit free cash into every citizen’s account and every business account.”

This of course would be a short-term measure, but even the concept opens everyone’s eyes to new economic possibilities, particularly in his analysis of the meaning and worth of cash in a deflating economy.

McWilliams points out that the “normal” way to inject cash into an ailing economy is to inject it into the banks, saving the banks, as in 2008, who then dispense it back out into the economy. Notice that banks get “free money” and no one flinches.

This other method, proposed by Friedman, involves cutting out the bank middle-men and putting cash straight into people’s accounts, to offset panic and a cash hoarding wave that would lead to a runaway self-perpetuating loop, bleeding out the economy.

Obstacles to Growth

What is also becoming apparent through the coronavirus crisis is that the global system of capital has two main problems, identified by Prof Pierluigi Viale, the director of infectious diseases at Sant’Orsola-Malpighi Polyclinic in Bologna, in a different context.

In a warning to other countries to act immediately against the virus he identified the two main obstacles to radical action.

“The problem is politics and economy,” he says.

These are also, coincidentally, (or maybe not) the two main obstacles to action on climate change.

Professor Viale said:

“It is not easy to convince a nation to sacrifice. I am sure that in a few days they too will start moving, they have no choice. Sooner is better than later”.

The exact same conundrum faces the world in terms of climate change, the only difference being that the time frame for action with climate change is longer, offering space for denial and inaction. But the core obstacles of economy and politics are precisely the same ones.

We saw it here and in Britain and the US in the early days of the virus (ten days ago?!) when the politicians were still prioritising the economy over people’s health by seeking to minimise the deadly nature of the virus.

This again is a mirror of the political classes’ reaction to climate change, putting the economy first, when it is patently clear that you can’t have an economy without a world to run one in.

In this respect, politics and economy, as they are currently shaped by neo-liberals, are actually obstacles to growth in terms of fresh thinking, the very thing required to tackle climate change.

The differences between neo-liberal core beliefs and practical common sense have been thrown into stark relief by the pandemic, with neo-liberals initially revealing their natural ideological preference for the health of the economy over the health of the public.

But this ethical miscalculation was corrected by the nature of the virus itself, which immediately began to demonstrate that public health must precede economic health.

That a virus doesn’t observe borders or class preferences. That you can’t have business as usual if public health is under threat. That the economy too will eventually bleed out unless the political class act to protect public health.

The exact same rules apply to action on climate change. Public health and climate health must be prioritised over short term economic measures.

We saw this anomaly here, in its micro form, when the Fine Gael government were pointing to “healthy” growth figures in the economy, yet homelessness was at crisis point and steadily rising and children in hotels were experiencing measurable stunted growth.

That stat-driven type of economic approach has now been revealed as just a clean bureaucratic way of eating your young.

Personal Financial Security

When it finally became clear, even to neo-liberals, that mass closures of businesses for a long period of time – maybe even months – would be necessary to contain the virus, the first realisation was; what are people going to do for money? If capitalism can’t create cash, if only temporarily, how are people supposed to live?

The answer came hot on the heels of the question: State intervention, the very thing that neo-liberals and late stage capitalists had been opposing and rolling back and undermining for so long.

Fringe ideas, like basic income, which had gradually been becoming more mainstream with the realisation of capitalism’s adverse contribution to climate change, now took centre stage as one of the more practical ideas to deal with the necessary closures to contain the coronavirus.

Long-time proponents of universal basic income such as Andrew Yang called for a change of thinking around the concept of economy; identifying, as David McWilliams has done, “personal financial security” as a key measure to deal with the crisis.

Said Yang:

“Treating this as a pandemic is one thing. Treating this as an imminent economic depression and societal catastrophe spurred by a pandemic is another. You should flood the zone with buying power and a sense of personal financial security as fast as possible.”

This concept of personal financial security for all is the exact opposite to the concept of engineered scarcity that the neo-liberal agenda promotes in order to encourage continued and unnecessary consumption and corresponding political weakening of adversaries.

Again, the virus invites, almost as an afterthought, an interrogation of neo-liberal politics that finds its basic concepts desperately wanting when it comes to considerations of the public good.

Once neo-liberalism is disarmed in this way, as it has been in recent weeks, alternative thinking leads inevitably towards solutions based on the concept of social security, which is also a necessary re-think in the inevitable winding down of capitalism to allow for climate recovery.

The coronavirus and the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, offer an opportunity for real change.

A New Paradigm

The virus, with its short time frame demanding immediate action, is a slap in the face to capitalist complacency, in comparison to climate change’s slow deterioration, which can be put on the long finger, seemingly indefinitely, until a restriction is imposed by the elements.

When a disease is slow moving – and late-stage capitalism’s contribution to climate change has been described as a disease by some commentators – it is more amenable to denial.

The virus doesn’t leave any space for denial. Even the drinkers and race-goers who attempted to continue as normal were quickly corrected by the speed of the viral spread.

Every measure employed to combat the virus will be needed to combat climate change, but in a less drastic form. The virus has provided a revelation really as to how capitalism might be amended and curtailed to give the climate some breathing space for recovery.

Old Dangerous Ways

The only problem now, as Naomi Klein has noted, is that the old right-wing orders will be tempted by the virus crisis to behave primitively, by using the opportunity to restrict democratic freedoms and consolidate their economic power.

The old strategies designed to perpetuate the late capitalist business model of endless consumption in a finite system may continue to be pursued; ignoring the valuable lessons demonstrated by the virus crisis and condemning the world to climate catastrophe.

Already in the United States the old corporate models that always result in bailouts for corporations, coupled with opportunistic attacks on social security, are underway in what Naomi Klein refers to as old ideas lying around waiting for the right social conditions to allow them to be enacted.

It could be that the coronavirus is the wake-up call that late-stage capitalism needs to radically amend global financial systems in the interests of climate repair.

A last gasp opportunity to change the capitalist paradigm and to question the twin obstacles of neo-liberal politics and economic prioritising that prop up the old destructive system.

But the danger of being duped by wily neo-liberal politicians into exchanging freedoms for a sense of security will likely continue. That’s the game after all.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews

From top: Sinn Féin rally at the Rochestown Park Hotel, Cork last month; Eamonn Kelly

In an article by the acting taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, in The Sunday Independent (March 1) there was a strange bookending to his innings as taoiseach.

Back in 2016, as Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar launched his bid for leadership of the Fine Gael party, which resulted in him becoming taoiseach, with the now widely discredited welfare cheats campaign.

Here an “enemy” was identified and accused of availing of monies under false pretenses. The accusation was made without a scrap of evidence, and was rejected by former social welfare inspector, Bernadette Gorman, who described the campaign as “Tory” in nature and as “class warfare”.

Ms Gorman told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke show:

“In my book it is all about his aspirations to be leader,” It is a hate campaign. Never was there a campaign like it coming after a period of austerity.”

The acting taoiseach on Sunday did something similar, again accusing a target group of appearing “to live way beyond their means” and calling for an inquiry into their finances.

Again, the strategy appeared to be to target an “enemy” for smearing, in the hope that the target group would be rejected by the larger society. This time the target was Sinn Féin.

The Medium Is Not the Message

Everyone, even those people who invested their trust in Leo Varadkar as a leader of sound judgement, must be more than a little surprised by how petulant and childish he has been in defeat.

His call for investigations into Sinn Féin’s finances on the grounds that they appear to be living beyond their means is verging now on the absurd.

But the most absurd part of it all, and Fianna Fail are equally guilty of this, is that both parties have chosen to ignore the message sent to them by the electorate and have instead embarked on separate campaigns to smear Sinn Féin.

What neither seems to realise is that Sinn Féin, while they were the greatest beneficiaries of the electorate’s dissatisfaction with the outgoing government, were actually little more than the medium by which the electorate’s message was delivered.

By constantly harping on about Sinn Féin, and by now trying to smear that party, the acting taoiseach is essentially ignoring the wishes of the electorate, which was pretty much a core complaint of that portion of the electorate that voted against Fine Gael in the first place. That they were not serving the people or listening to the people.

The message was a call for greater equality of outcome, which would mean amending neo-liberal policy in order to put people first.

But Fine Gael have turned a deaf ear to that message and have decided instead to smear the messenger; namely, Sinn Féin.

Scare Tactics

FG also have a pattern of scare-mongering, which goes nicely with their pattern of scapegoating. Back in February 2016, the Business Post reported a Fine Gael strategist saying of the electorate:

“We’ll scare the shit out of them for the last 10 days.”

The then taoiseach Enda Kenny warned of “consequences” if the Fine Gael-Labour coalition was not returned in preference for a Fianna Fail-Sinn Féin coalition.

He said:

“I do not want to see the flight from this country of either capital or jobs or lack of investment coming in here.”

The current strategy seems similar in terms of the scapegoating and the scaremongering, this time with Sinn Féin cast as the villains that will bring the country to ruin, as well as being now the alleged “cheats” in receipt of money they’re not entitled to.

In its desperation Fine Gael is flinging all it has at the problem. Tellingly, all it has to fling is scapegoating and scaremongering.

While Irish America is stunned by FG and FF’s efforts to keep SF out of government, as are Northern Unionists, what many don’t appear to realize is that this has little to do with Sinn Féin. FF and FG are simply resorting to tactics they have always used.

Ultimately, the real target is the electorate.

It is as if they regard the electorate as a dumb mass to be easily tricked to go this way or that way, much like a mindless herd of cattle to be shunted around the place by threat, connivance and deception.

Now with this election, the usual scare tactics and demonisation have flailed around and found nothing to work on except Sinn Féin’s past, the very thing the entire peace process was designed to move on from. The very thing that Varadkar’s self-righteous Brexit posturing was trumpeting.

But more than that, this focus on Sinn Féin shows that the fundamental disrespect for the electorate still remains. Because it was the electorate that voted for change. But that has been ignored, as if it is of no importance.

RTÉ still refers to Leo Varadkar as “the Taoiseach”. He is in fact an acting taoiseach, and ought to be referred to as such by the state broadcaster. The electorate voted him out.

To not refer to him as the acting taoiseach is just more of the same disrespect. As if the election never happened. As if the electorate doesn’t matter. As if his resignation a couple of weeks back was just an empty gesture.

Bookends

Whatever about leveling false allegations of cheating against defenseless welfare recipients, 70% of whom were old-age pensioners or disabled people, this time Leo Varadkar may have made an error of judgment in attempting the same strategy with a political party of equal weight to his own by casting charges of “cheating” at them.

Welfare recipients, for obvious reasons, had no option but to take the slur on the chin. People of equal social status and political power may prove to be more proactive in their response. While the electorate, because they are the real intended dupes, may prove less inclined to join in the scapegoating this time around.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews