Author Archives: Eamonn Kelly

From top: The planned €22m white water rafting facility at George’s Dock, North quays, Dublin 1;  Sinn Féin front bench members launch the party’s General Election 2020 manifesto last month; Eamonn Kelly

The various snide remarks about “Venezuela” coming from people in the two former main parties, reminds us, among other things, that there are two Venezuelas.

The one the Right conjure up to frighten people as a means of keeping themselves in power, and the other one that facilitates international finance to the detriment of ordinary people.

On Wednesday’s Morning Ireland, Dr Gavin Jennings, with Aidan Regan, who writes for the Business post, lent some clarifying light to the often-heard Fine Gael claim that Ireland is the fastest growing economy in Europe.

What emerged from the interview is that this wealth and growth is concentrated mainly in the ICTC sector, and most of the workers on the high salaries are not Irish, but are nevertheless having an impact on living standards in Ireland, particularly in Dublin.

For those workers there is no austerity, and never was. The wealth of Ireland’s economic growth, as with so much in Varadkar’s Ireland, is unequally distributed, and ordinary people simply can’t afford to live in the same rarefied economic air that the high-salaried workers in big tech can afford.

Most everyone smelled a rat recently when a white-water rafting leisure facility was proposed, to be located, surprise surprise, in the very district where all these big tech workers enjoy superior economic lifestyles.

Since the price of admittance to the facility was so prohibitive at €50, the thing was clearly not for the ordinary people of Dublin.

And since white water rafting is a quintessentially American leisure activity, and since the thing was planned for the heart of the high-tech district, you didn’t need Sherlock Holmes to figure out who the facility was for.

This is the constituency that Leo Varadkar in particular is serving, the one he rushed to reassure after his disastrous election. Despite the fact that less than 25% of those workers in high tech, according to Aidan Regan, even have a vote here.

This idea of using public money to build structures and facilities that benefit private enterprises is quite common in South America. As is the habit of appropriating people’s water supplies and selling it back to them. As are compliant governments who are happy to issue mining licenses to private interests to tear up a country’s national parks.

Even the language that came from the establishment this past week has been abusive and denigrating in tone, with ordinary voters being castigated by various right-wing party representatives and their media champions as being “stupid” and “reckless”.

It’s the type of language that says; please me, give me my way and we’ll be happy. Thwart me and there’ll be trouble.

But the Irish people, as Fintan O’Toole remarked recently, are quite politically conservative. In this election a preference was made for a fair crack of the whip in matters economic. To which the establishment has responded with barely concealed contempt.

Those of us old enough will vividly remember that this was the attitude of many Church authority figures towards ordinary people. And before that, no doubt, the same attitude prevailed among the colonial rulers. They were the all wise and we were the stupid. That was the deal, with Heaven as the goal. Balancing the books being the new Heaven.

Under Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, many Irish people have been living in “Venezuela” for a long time now, serving a contemptuous elite and taking their insult as their due, in an arrangement designed by the privileged for the privileged.

Varadkar’s Fright

Leo Varadkar was always merely taoiseach by business arrangement. When he finally went to the electorate seeking a mandate, he was seen to be sweating through several counts in the count centre, in real danger of losing his seat.

The answer Varadkar received to his question, Will you trust me to continue with the work I’ve been doing? Was a resounding, No thanks, close the door on your way out!

Varadkar insisted that the onus was now on Sinn Fein to form a government of the left as he rushed away to reassure investors that Ireland was still safe for business.

Determined now to cause a scare as if the armies of Castro were gathering at the gates of the city, he addressed a conference of business leaders and investors and informed them that Fine Gael had created the Republic, wildly placing a stamp of personal ownership on a democratic republic that had all but shown him the door a couple of days earlier.

He told the forum:

“…we were the ones that founded the State. We’re the ones that founded the institutions. We’re the ones that made this country a republic. We stand by the State and republic and if we’re needed in order to give the country political stability with governance then we’re willing to talk to other parties about that.”

Realising, by the simple act of counting, that the Left didn’t have enough seats to form a Left government, he advised Sinn Féin to form a socialist republic government, laughing up his sleeve as he did so, and apparently sent out a directive to all his minions to always, from here on in, pair the Words “Sinn Féin” with the word “Fail”.

He told the audience of investors, financiers and businessmen that Sinn Féin had achieved their historic vote by “making a lot of promises to a lot of people in this country”. Everyone present was appalled to hear of such behaviour from a political party during an election campaign.

“So the responsibility now falls on them,” said Varadkar…

“….to build a coalition, to negotiate a republican, socialist programme for government that keeps their promises and to seek a Dáil majority for it.”

No doubt he was mindful of the aptly named “money message” lever in this regard, which would allow either himself or Micheál to veto progressive bills on a whim, as Fine Gael have been doing for a few years now.

It was a brilliantly impossible task. A sure-fire failure waiting to happen. But because Varadkar owned the Republic he felt entitled to dish out advice on how to establish a losing left socialist government.

And just to drive the point home he told the conference that if Sinn Féin “fail” to form a left socialist government…” (as they surely will if they don’t have the numbers.) “…we’ll consider the matter then. Anything is possible including a second election.”

In other words, Varadkar owned the football and he didn’t want to play anymore and he was going home, taking the ball with him.

Fine Gael’s Hildegarde Naughton was dispatched to Prime Time expressly to place the word “fail” next to the words “Sinn Féin”. But she made a clumsy job of it and everyone saw the workings of the trick.

Fine Fail

Louise O’Reilly of Sinn Féin said on Prime Time that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael appeared to be rigging a situation of returning to government in a realignment of confidence and supply.

FF and FG are both mindful of the electorates’ demand for change, but rather than modifying their own policies, Fine Gael in particular are trying to be cute by saying that it’s Sinn Féin’s responsibility to deliver the more people-conscious policy changes demanded by the electorate, knowing full well that everything they might do in a minority Left will be easily blocked, ensuring “failure”.

However, if Fianna Fáil return to government, with Fine Gael in the supporting role in a modified confidence and supply arrangement, it will be both their responsibilities to deliver the policy changes that the electorate has demanded.

Otherwise it may seem that both have cynically conspired to use “doubts” about Sinn Féin’s past, in order to hold on to power and deny the will of the electorate.

When you couple this with the ongoing “money message” system that allows a taoiseach to effectively veto bills passed by Dáil majority, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the established parties and their media champions already suffer from an advanced form of elitist contempt for their own electorate, typical of elites that flourish in dysfunctional South American countries.

Welcome to “Venezuela”.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

From top: Fianna Fail’s Jack Chambers and Claire Byrne debate climate change on RTE One’s Claire Byrne Live last Monday; Eamonn Kelly

They say you can’t put an old head on young shoulders, but with Jack Chambers someone has succeeded.

The only problem is, it’s not a wise old head, it’s just an old Fianna Fáil head, probably found abandoned in a storeroom after some 1980s cabinet reshuffle.

Jack went to the Parochial Interrupters School of Communications where arguments are won, not by logic, but by creating noise so that nothing is heard.

In Jack’s book that’s called a win. But that tackle he’s sporting is now widely recognised as so last century. The time when shouting at people was regarded as debate is long gone.

Once Claire Byrne got Jack mildly pacified, the conversation turned to carbon tax, a brilliantly vague political football to be humping around the place like we’ve all the time in the world.

The obvious questions were artfully avoided. Like for instance, will the billionaires be paying their fair share, or will it just be retail workers and civil servants footing the bill. Will the multi-nationals be fined, or will it be just families fined for burning the bale of briquettes they were given at the fuel poverty store?

Going on prior form you’d have to suspect the latter, with maybe campaigns launched by local councils involving undercover carbon wardens empowered to impose on-the-spot fines on casual farters.

The real problem with carbon tax was nearly touched on during the Claire Byrne show, but somehow the opportunity slipped away when everyone got distracted again by Jack Chambers yelling incoherently and jabbing his index finger at someone and everyone, making some lost point in a last gasp attempt to drag Fianna Fail back to yelling supremacy.

The problem with carbon tax, especially a carbon tax levelled at ordinary people, is our old friend late-stage capitalism.

Here’s how it doesn’t work.

An extra tax means that people will have to earn more money, which will put more pressure on capitalism to deliver more growth and jobs, which will mean further damage to the climate as everyone expands their operations to increase profits to pay their carbon tax. It’s like a snake swallowing itself.

A carbon tax only makes sense if you heavily tax the hundred or so multi-national corporations who are creating the bulk of emissions. They’re eating up the natural world for private profit, so that they can amass enough wealth between them to build orbiting space stations for themselves when the great extinction comes. Personally, I’d rather go extinct than live in a space station looking at old movies about how Earth used to be.

A crazy stat came up from an audience member on the show. Our sparrow population has decreased by 80%. Sparrows. They used to be the most common bird. Did you miss them? I bet you miss them now.

No matter how you spin the climate change argument it seems to always come back to the same question: do governments have the strength to take on the multi-nationals who are causing the bulk of emissions, or do the multi-nationals own all the governments?

The Long Game

Throughout history there have always been big brains working quietly away on some long game that no one else can see.

For instance, back when it was discovered that the world was round, the big brains realised that if it was round it was finite, as were all its resources, and so the British big brains, by way of the East India Company, set out to find out where everything was, doing an inventory like the world was a larder.

When nukes came on stream some big brains realized that the winners of a nuclear war would be those who first established an infrastructure among the ruins. Maybe print a newsletter declaring victory. To this end they factored into their targeting, safe zones to land engineers after the war.

Big brains of today are likely devising long-game strategies for any old climate extinction that might come along. The key to success in this venture, as any kid who ever played Monopoly will know, is to get all the resources first. Then you’re in business.

Once the apocalypse begins you can build your space station, commandeer Hubble, peer into the void for some other possible habitable planets while your floating around eating your squishy astronaut food.

Then, when the dust settles on Earth and everything is as dead as Mars, you can maybe look at building one of those domes you see in science-fiction movies and away you go again, publishing a newsletter declaring victory. Sound like fun?

The key to escaping climate catastrophe may be in trying to convince the billionaires that letting the Earth die in the interests of private profits might not be such a great idea after all.

And that they might be better advised to use the resources they’ve been squirreling away to do something heroic for a change, like maybe save the Earth, like a bunch of latter-day Flash Gordons, instead of milking all around them until the old sow is dead.

Because when it comes right down to it, if only a hundred or so companies are responsible for the bulk of climate damage, and since these companies are generally authoritarian in nature, it follows that only a hundred or so individuals need to be sold the idea of saving the world.

The hard part, for them, since they are all capitalists, is that this proposition will involve sharing, implicating them in an unholy redistribution of wealth, the very thing they’ve been brought up to condemn with every fibre of their wallets.

But as capitalists are often fond of saying, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. In this case, you can’t save a planet without breaking a few out-dated cherished prejudices about wealth re-distribution.

An early socialist once said, what shall it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his soul? In this case, what will it profit him to gain the whole world only to watch it wither?

But who’s going to tackle the billionaires and sell them the idea of climate heroism? Not Jack Chambers.

Shouting at them probably won’t work. Who’s going to say, it’s time to really invest in the future, men, and start putting the sparrows back in the trees.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Watch back in full here

Yesterday: Horror Of Chambers

From top left to right: Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, Social Democrats joint leader Roisin Shortall, Fine Gael leader, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, Solidarity People Before Profit politician Richard Boyd Barrett and Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin, at the RTÉ leaders’ debate at the National University of Ireland Galway on Monday night; Eamonn Kelly

During a televised debate the Christmas before last, Fr Peter McVerry said, that there was no urgency in the government to address the homelessness crisis.

This official complacency was a feature of the conservative attitude during the leaders’ debate, a complacency that seemed to be echoed by the mainstream media pundits.

The media punditry began on RTÉ immediately after the debate and, like much of the attitude of the conservative parties, was characterised, not by urgency, but by a sense of novelty, of a happy late-night knees up as a “winner” was sought.

The message being that the debate was a bit of harmless sport staged for everyone’s amusement. Not to be taken too seriously. A contest the pundits in the main were happy to declare had not produced a “winner” and had therefore failed to produce anything of interest.

But there was a winner. It was the audience, who showed a clear preference for progressive ideas that are normally associated with the left. Ideas that are usually casually denigrated by the right for just that reason.

Two Ideas of Fiscal Management

What was on show during the leaders’ debate, in embryonic form, was a conflict between two competing ideas of fiscal management.

The view held by the established parties FF and FG, was firmly rooted in ideas of the past, of a Sean Lemass type of approach to economics that involves obsequiously pleasing multi-nationals who will “give” us jobs, and then later, when the books are balanced and good old-fashioned (not to mention discredited) trickle-down economics begins to do its thing, the poor can be housed in the new houses and bandaged up in the new hospitals. Until then, however, some will have to sleep and die on the street.

A by-product of this approach has been the neglect and often penalising of local indigenous business start-ups and a continued dependence on foreign capital to “help” us. Like as if we suffer from some kind of national learned helplessness. It’s awful, and it’s probably why we became such marks when the bubble burst in 2008. Everyone apparently made money out of us, except us.

This now dated approach to fiscal management involves slow, tedious plodding in a situation where the plodders themselves are never likely to be burned by their own policies.

Leo and his merry men won’t be pitching tents down by the canal any time soon, to wait in vain for the promised fruits of trickle-down.

The other view on show, taken mainly by the left of centre parties, is a recognition of changed times, the very thing the conservatives don’t seem to get, or if they do get it they view the challenges in the same plodding manner of “meeting targets” until everything magically aligns, a process that takes leisurely time for granted, the very thing unavailable at this time, particularly with climate change breathing down everyone’s necks, sometimes in the form of a big wind and floods, sometimes in the form of fire.

Changed times call for fresh ideas across the board, and to their credit, the ramshackle left are at least engaging in progressive ideas that take cognisance of the realities of climate change and late stage capitalism, and all that these twin challenges entail in their impact on jobs and wealth creation and distribution. Not to mention life and the survival of the species. Little things like that.

Though the left know they have to be careful with their “wild” ideas, because the Irish electorate, the older ones especially, are quite conservative.

So, for instance, Eamon Ryan of the Greens couldn’t come right out and say “basic income” for fear of causing a scare, even though all progressives realise by now that basic income is a real policy option to deal with a host of problems like climate change, job creation, crime prevention, trickle-down economics (since the tap was turned off by gush up economics), not to mention the timely prevention of out and out revolution and the possibility of your privileged complacent head ending up in a basket.

But the established parties continue to rely on old ideas way past their sell-by date. Ideas which are actually damaging to society, rather than progressive, not only in the effect of the destructive out-dated policies, but also, and perhaps especially, in the determination at all costs to close down fresh thinking in favour of doing things in the safe “old ways”. The ways that created homelessness and hospital waiting lists.

But the enthusiastic response from the Galway audience to the progressive ideas coming from Richard Boyd Barrett in particular, made it clear that a new, young Ireland is emerging that has a far greater grasp of fiscal realities than Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael would give anyone credit for.

Maybe it’s because the young, robbed of a future by the banks, are familiar with the fiscal realities of having to pay an over-inflated rent from a low-paid job because government policy has been to look after the top tier while everyone else stands in line waiting for trickle-down.

Maybe that’s why all the urgency is at the bottom and all the complacency is gathered like thick cream at the top.

Deaths by Policy Omission

One of the high points of the debate was [Social Democrat co-leader] Rosin Shortall’s revelation that in 2011 she had witnessed Fine Gael ministers deciding to cull a range of community projects, as part of an austerity drive, creating inequality as a by-product, which had the effect, in disadvantaged areas in particular, of creating seed-beds for crime. This from a party who present themselves as champions of law and order.

She went on to say that in 9 years Fine Gael had cut garda services by 40%, again causing negative outcomes in social inequality, while providing opportunities for crime.

In other words, Fine Gael policy, as predicted by economists Joseph E. Stiglitz and others, was causing the inequality that was giving rise to the social problems, including crime, which Fine Gael, architects of the growing social rot, were now talking about addressing as the party of “law and order”.

Given that over 200 homeless people have died over the last 4 years, according to statistics from the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, and given that Fine Gael policy in particular has often amounted to an attack on community, creating social inequality, as described by Roisin Shortall during the debate, it is surely only a matter of time before the accepted legal distinctions between lies of commission and lies of omission, are also applied to policy-making and their outcomes.

With outcomes resulting in deaths, as in the case of the clash between Fine Gael’s outmoded privatisation ideology and homelessness, these homeless deaths are, arguably, killings by policy omission.

The Great Appropriators

Micheál Martin, sensing blood being drawn by Shortall, attempted to appropriate Shortall’s attack by saying that Fine Gael undermined community groups.

This was a feature of Micheál Martin’s play throughout the debate and something of a characteristic of Fianna Fail down the years, which can be summed up with, if you don’t have a good idea yourself, grab someone else’s good idea and flog away.

Micheál Martin seemed ever watchful for ideas from elsewhere and brazen about immediately appropriating anything which seemed to be playing well with the audience, so long as it wasn’t too outrageously leftie, such as some of the remarks coming from Richard Boyd Barrett.

When Mary Lou McDonald talked about homeless families living in the box-rooms of parents’ houses as a consequence of Fine Gael housing policy, Micheál grabbed that one too and even had the neck to re-present the story, only moments later, word for word, as his own original thought.

This kind of thing, while it might seem cute, only succeeds really in keeping the non-thinker stuck, because they will never think for themselves so long as they believe that stealing ideas is clever. If they happen to be running the country, well then everyone is in trouble.

By the way, there is a cosmic law of creativity that idea stealers never get. The more you give away the more you get.

Stealers think ideas are one-off commodities found elsewhere, and so they always leave themselves idea impoverished, apparently unaware that if they would just stop and think the ideas would arrive, the first law of creativity being, There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.

Speaking of idea borrowers, Leo Varadkar is interesting in the way he endeavours to cast himself as a visionary of the future, despite his ideas being mainly of the past, even down to the rudimentary idea that anyone who doesn’t agree with his dated right-wing views is “hard-left” and possibly Stalinist in intent who’ll have us all in gulags before you can say “fiscal prudence”.

Again, there can be no room for fresh thinking with this kind of lazy commie bashing that comes direct from the U.S of A., where Leo, incidentally, did his political interning under Republican tutelage.

It’s all just another way of shutting down free thought at a time when fresh ideas are needed urgently. The closing down of ideas under such circimstances is a disservice to the public

Conclusion

The second debate was ultimately a contest of ideas. What was revealed was a total absence of fresh thinking from the government parties, against a sense of urgency and an exploration of fresh ideas from the opposition leaders.

Ideas which were welcomed by an audience clearly more up to speed with the issues at stake than the complacent government parties, whose leaders seem to be going through the motions with the expectation of just breezing back into power in some slightly inconvenient rearrangement of the present Dáil.

It remains to be seen whether or not the Galway audience was a fair reflection of the national electorate. It could be that Galway audiences may be a bit more progressive in the type of crisis creative thinking that is now required.

Life on the West coast of Ireland, due to weather conditions and the rocky terrain, has always offered something of an ongoing climate crisis, often requiring advanced creative thinking to remain balanced under extreme circumstances.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Top pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire

From top: Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar arriving at Virgin Media One HQ last night and in studio with Pat Kenny (centre); Eamonn Kelly

In social employment schemes you work a half a week and another person works the other half of the same week.

This idea has been brought over to government now, with FG’s week finished and Fianna Fáil looking to fill the warm seat.

The Great Debate at least confirmed that sad little fact. That should the voting fall a certain way that FG would be prepared to take the secondary role in a confidence and supply arrangement, with Micheál at the helm.

However, unlike a social employment scheme, this arrangement can be cheated a little and the same person might continue, claiming the whole job at the expense of the other.

This is what election 2020 is about, to decide who wins the work scheme, Leo or Micheál.

And since both parties are agreed to never go into government with Sinn Féin, the other 20+something party according to some polls, it’s clear they can only go into government with each other, with maybe a few Greens to balance their diets.

Which meant that this wasn’t really a debate as such, it was more like theatre, and might well have been considered for an IFTA nomination if it hadn’t been so lacking in drama.

This was not a debate in the accepted sense of the word. That is, two opposing views presenting opposite sides of a clearly discernible difference of opinion in a classical thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis type of way.

This was more like two right shoes deciding on how they might go for walk without looking too awkward. Or two negative charges deciding which of them will adopt the role of positive charge for the sake of appearances.

I’ve heard better debates in the pub, because at least there were honest opposing views, even if both sides were a little bit pissed. Maybe even because both sides were a little bit pissed.

Here the debate was centred on tweaking something that was already taken for granted, namely a centre right position on the spectrum, with accompanying conservative world-view. With both sides shadow-boxing on an agreeing to disagree basis.

Because no matter what happens, both will still either be chief or chief in waiting, and both positions have their perks.

But both are the same sides of the same coin, two horses of the same colour, two peas in the same pod, two flies in the same ointment. And debate as they might they will only ever produce the same thing: an overwhelming neutral.

At best maybe two neutrals of the same neutral collapsing into a singularity, with a great big politician’s smile.

There was no difference between them because there was no representation of even one idea from the centre left side of the political spectrum, the very ingredient that Sinn Féin might have brought to the dead party, to put a little zest in the political sauce.

It was like a house party without the in-laws. All you could do to energise proceedings was talk about them in their absence.

This meeting of same minds was so safely conservative that it’s a surprise that they didn’t manage to nullify one another in some kind of cosmic mutual cancellation, both vanishing into thin air with a loud pop, leaving Pat Kenny alone with only a pair of large contact lenses show-horned into his haggard eyes to afford us a vision of the future.

This was an event so lacking in necessary fundamental oppositions that it was flat stale coming out of the oven, if not dead on delivery, lacking as it was in the complimentary chemical compounds necessary for the animation of even the most basic cellular life forms found on Planet Earth.

As a debate it was a one-legged man, a one-balled dictator, two clones of a clone affecting individuality but determined to remain identical.

Two safe conservative twins glued forever to their centre right positions, singing the same tune, not even in harmony, but in deadly, toneless, monotonous unison.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews

Earlier:Dan Boyle: All Talk

Buzzin’

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this morning at the National Concert Hall, Dublin 2 for an IDA ‘Looking To The Future’ event; Eamonn Kelly

Contrary to the Taoiseach’s contention that homelessness is a complex and possibly insolvable problem, homelessness and other social problems such as worker poverty, high rents and crime are actually predictable outcomes of the neo-liberal ideas pursued and implemented by Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael.

In his book “The Price of Inequality”, Joseph E. Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, picks apart the assumptions and outcomes of the economic ideas of neo-liberalism and shows that while there may, in some cases, be a statistical balancing of the books achieved, as is the current boast of Fine Gael, this comes at a high human cost and such damage to the social fabric that the long-term outcome is social instability.

But neo-liberalism’s destruction doesn’t stop there.

The doctrine, according to Stiglitz, is destructive of Humanity itself, of the idea of who and what we are, since neo-liberalism presupposes that everyone is a cold and rational self-serving strategist, vying for limited resources.

There is no kindness in neo-liberalism, no heart, no humanity. And neo-liberal champions like Leo Varadkar create their policies accordingly, with predictable damage to the social good, which they then try to deny, or frame positively, or, failing that, blame the victims of the unequal social outcomes of their policies, implying a natural order of “fairness” at play, based on survival of the fittest, allowing its practitioners to escape the guilt of the consequences of its inhumane policies.

We regularly see this blame-the-victim mentality in Varadkar’s comments, where he often comes across as a particularly cold-hearted practitioner of what Stiglitz argues is a uniquely cold-hearted economic system.

Apportioning Blame

This tendency of the Taoiseach to evade responsibility and pass the buck, was made immediately manifest in the first week of the election campaign when the homeless man was horrifically injured by an industrial vehicle.

This type of accident is perhaps inevitable under neo-liberalism. Because, as pointed out by Paul Murphy TD, neoliberalism creates an attitude of carelessness towards certain groups of people, where some people are regarded as “garbage”.

This results in the kind of carelessness that saw a homeless man literally picked up by an industrial claw, like garbage, to be disposed of.

Varadkar said that this man had been offered accommodation numerous times. Here we see the Taoiseach implying that the man is to blame, by failing to avail of offers.

Likewise, the taoiseach named the Dublin Lord Mayor as being politically responsible, apparently attempting to apportion blame there too.

Similarly, when asked to comment on the photograph of the boy eating his dinner off the pavement Varadkar implied that there might be familial problems there, again apportioning blame to the victims of a housing policy that creates homelessness.

“There’s no such thing as a free house” he once said in the Dáil, responding to a call for a serious social housing programme to alleviate the then growing numbers of homeless people.

These are not slips of the tongue, or unfortunate PR mistakes. These are true expressions of the neo-liberal belief system that Varadkar holds dear.

And he appears to hold these beliefs with such unquestioning certainty that the effect might on occasion make him seem monstrous; simply because the system he represents and so unquestioningly champions is monstrous in its social Darwinian implications and outcomes.

And it’s not confined to Varadkar. On Prime Time (RTE One, January 16) Simon Coveney said that the story of the 81-year-old woman released from hospital to homelessness was not factually correct.

Keeping it vague, he sought to use this idea of factually incorrect to undermine the basic truth of the story. It emerged that the incorrect fact was that the woman was not 81 but 61, making hospital to homelessness okay, presumably, from the neo-liberal point of view.

Reforming Capitalism

Arundhati Roy in her book, “Capitalism, A Ghost Story” details the destruction inflicted on people in her native India from the pursuit of neo-liberal economic policies and the socially destructive effect of late stage capitalism. She is calling for a more socially just reformation of capitalism, since the system is no longer serving everyone.

Nick Hanauer, the American entrepreneur and venture capitalist, in his Ted Talk “Capitalism’s Dirty Secret”, agrees that capitalism needs reforming and that neo-liberal policies are bad for society. He points out that neo-liberals genuinely believe that the market is an efficiently functioning machine. That when you press X button, you get Y result.

But they are wrong in this. The market isn’t neutral. Stiglitz says that the market, far from being a mindless abstract thing, is actively…

“…shaped by political processes…by laws, regulations and institutions. Every law, every regulation, every institutional arrangement has distributive consequences…” that tend to work “…to the advantage of those at the top and to the disadvantage of the rest.”

Haneur describes neo-liberal economic theory, because of the inequality it produces, as essentially a protection racket for the rich.

This is where blame comes in, since blame works to distract the majority – political democracy still being dependent from time to time on ordinary people casting a vote – as the political and business class seek to convince the electorate that those who are disadvantaged by the seemingly neutral market, have only themselves to blame, when in fact the system is as rigged as a dodgy casino.

Neo-Cruelty

If Leo Varadkar stands for anything, it is that we need not feel guilty for the social casualties of neo-liberalism, because, as is repeatedly implied and inferred in his often heartless and sometimes even cruel utterances, “they” (the homeless, the destitute, the sick) brought it on themselves.

This is raw social Darwinism which, according to Stiglitz and others, leads eventually, through social inequality to social instability, creating desperate environments where crime flourishes, as the cold and inhumane calculations at the heart of the doctrine of neo-liberalism take hold on the social fabric.

This is the outmoded and discredited doctrine that Varadkar preaches and practises, smilingly condemning the victims of unjust social policies to lives of despair, while slyly apportioning blame elsewhere, particularly on to those most damaged by neo-liberal policies.

Given what is now known about late capitalism’s effect on society and environment, and given that Fine Gael are pursuing policies of a particularly virulent unreformed version of this form of capitalism in neo-liberalism, the inescapable conclusion is that a vote for Fine Gael, or any party still pursuing outmoded neo-liberal policies, is a vote for environmental destruction, social inequality and social instability.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Sam Boal/Rollingnews

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.

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