Tag Archives: Bryan Wall

From top: Image obsessed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; Bryan Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He opens his book, Propaganda, by writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He wrote that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Bernays wrote:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top pic via MASI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pic: RTÉ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOI Request, Pro-Isreal Lobby Documents


From top: Leader of the Labour Party Brendan Howlin (centre) following his keynote address at the Labour Conference in the Ballsbridge Hotel, Dublin 4 on Saturday night; Bryan Wall

Over the weekend the Labour Party held its annual conference in Dublin. As is standard, a number of motions were put forward to be debated, amended on occasion, and voted on. Brendan Howlin, their current leader, opened the proceedings.

Asking whether the current government’s record was worse on housing or health, he described them as “‘conservative’ in every sense of the word.” But “Labour”, he said, “is different.”

The theme for the conference being “A New Republic”, it demonstrated “Labour’s vision of a better Ireland”, with Labour themselves being the “party that always strives for a better future for all our people.”

Mr Howlin went on to say that “Michael D [Higgins] represents so much that is good about the Labour tradition” with his “Unflinching commitment to his principles”.

Apparently not being bothered about the monetary cost of such “Unflinching commitment”, Higgins has “genuine concern for the welfare of others, [e]specially the most vulnerable.”

Not wanting to rest on their laurels though, Mr Howlin also declared that the success of the Yes vote in the 8th amendment referendum meant that Labour was “vindicated”.

In the vaunted “New Republic”, “People will be able to afford to buy or rent a decent home”, with Labour “tighten[ing] regulation of private landlords” instead of introducing tax breaks and incentives for them. “Labour”, he says, “has a lot to offer.”

His party “has done so much to advance decent jobs and decent living standards for ordinary people”, and he is “proud of our long-time members who are the backbone of the party”.

These same members “kept Labour going through the hard times”, the only reference he makes towards Labour’s time in coalition with Fine Gael and the disastrous aftermath for the party.

During his keynote speech on Saturday, Mr Howlin reiterated Labour’s principles of fighting for equality and justice.

Labour “will not allow people to suffer homelessness, depression or chronic pain because the services they need are not made available” and that “Labour has consistently championed decency, justice and equality.”

They have “always delivered real social progress” in the areas of greater workers’ rights, women’s rights and gay rights. Labour also reduced poverty and introduced free education. Labour intends to “take back the State” and use it, amongst other things, to “regulate private rents”.

Ending with the rhetorical flourish that Labour offers “Unity, Not division [sic]”, and they will therefore “build a new Republic”, Howlin’s vision is astoundingly, yet unsurprisingly, ahistorical.

Their current policies, out of the appropriate and recent historical context, sound enticing yet Labour’s record when in government was downright appalling. With a functioning memory it becomes difficult for Labour to justify their posturing given the policies they enacted and supported when in power.

Hence they rely on an ahistorical frame of reference to engender success at the polls. Of particular importance, given the current housing and homelessness crisis, is their record on housing when they were in government.

Joan Burton at the time said she was “proud” of her party’s record on housing. At the same time the Simon Community reported “a 20% increase in the number of people seeking help from its services since this time last year [2014].”

In 2015 the Irish Examiner reported that the previous year Alan Kelly, then Labour’s deputy leader, was against the introduction of rent controls.

He believed that such regulation “would run the risk of encouraging a large number of so-called accidental landlords to leave the sector, thus exacerbating the supply problem and leading to yet higher rent levels.”

Kelly also pushed for a tax reliefs that “should help landlords, including relief on borrowings and capital gains tax relief”. In an irony that only politics can provide, the proposals were “shot down” by the then Finance Minister, Michael Noonan.

Almost identical proposals were introduced by Noonan’s successor in Fine Gael just last month. Landlords can now “write off 100% of their mortgage interest repayments on loans used to buy rental property”, along with a four per cent capital gains tax relief. Such background was obviously lacking at the conference over the weekend.

But the history of Labour’s time in government does on occasion pop up. One delegate vociferously told his fellow delegates that Labour “did our best to save the working people from the harm of the neo-liberal policies of Fine Gael”.

Happy to become Christ-like martyrs, the delegate declared “we would do that one more time if we went in to coalition”. Labour, he said, “would sacrifice our movement just to achieve small little crumbs on the table.”

On the other hand, they “would be taking part in the harm” that would be inflicted on ordinary people, which would therefore also result in the further erosion of the Labour Party in Ireland. The party “need to survive in order to defend” the working class.

What the delegate did not ask, nor presumably did any of the other delegates, was does Ireland need the Labour Party? Are they even wanted?

Despite all the self-aggrandising over the weekend, Labour’s recent history is replete with broken promises, contempt for the working class, and an ability to use the language of the Left in order to undermine it.

Labour are political chameleons, who will change their appearance on a whim in order to increase their share of the vote and therefore get back into government. Given the current crises in Ireland, their most obvious political tactic is to set themselves aside from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Here they can pretend they will fix things; if only they had the power to do so.

Their actions when in government a few years ago are to be forgotten about as otherwise their proposed solutions to the housing and homelessness crisis would be seen as deeply hypocritical. And when they bring up their time in government with Fine Gael, they portray themselves as martyrs for the working class.

This cross was theirs to bear alone. By attempting to set themselves up as the only “Left-Wing” alternative to the dominant parties of the Right in Ireland, they are trying to undermine and pre-empt the policies of parties who are genuinely of the Left.

Councillor Dermot Lacey unintentionally verbalised this when he said that “the Extreme-Left… don’t want to achieve things.” What they want, he said, is “to condemn people to poverty so that they can build their campaigns.”

But it is Labour who have condemned people to poverty. And it is now they who are trying to use this to build on their campaign.

It was not Paul Murphy who broke a pledge not to increase university fees. It was not Clare Daly who questioned the phone-purchasing habits of the working class.

And it was not Mick Wallace whose recommendations regarding housing were identical to those implemented by a party supposedly further to the Right than himself. Labour’s call for unity is nothing more than an attempt at rehabilitation via association with genuinely morally upright and consistent movements of the Left.

Seeking power for power’s sake, they are attempting to realign themselves by also using the language of the Left.

For Labour to call for a “New Republic” is obscene. Labour’s policies when in government ensured that equality and justice have become even more difficult to obtain. Besides, they already gifted us a “New Republic” in the form of a society where inequality and injustice are rampant.

Labour have clearly nothing but contempt for actual parties of the Left in Ireland. Any calls for unity emanating from them are nothing but cynical political exercises in trying to regain some semblance of power. Brendan Howlin can quote Karl Marx as much as he wants.

His party showed their true colours in 2011 when they were happy to enter government with the neo-liberal Fine Gael. They may attempt to downplay this but the people should not forget it any time soon.

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


From top: President Michael D Higgins speaks on his re-election victory on Saturday at Dublin Castle in front of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (right) and Presidential candidate, Peter Casey (far left); Bryan Wall

Across Europe the rise of movements of the Right has been especially noticeable in recent years. What binds them together, in spite of the geographic distances between them, is a worldview based on a number of recurrent themes.

Distress at the apparent loss of national identity, anguish for the loss of religious belief and institutions, fear or dislike of modernity and the resulting atomisation of society due to the prevalence of technology and neo-liberalism, and an overriding contempt for what they view as a form of coddling liberalism which pervades the industrialised world.

For those on the Far Right, this list of grievances is not sacrosanct but it is nonetheless a basis upon which their actions rest.

Economic conditions for the last decade have proven to be fertile ground for the rise of movements which give a voice to people with these beliefs. Their rise in the polls should come as no surprise yet, like the election victory of Donald Trump, it often does.

How do we explain this surprise?

Firstly, the source of much of the surprise comes from the mainstream media. Content to ignore the proliferation of right-wing movements, the Left often comes in for much vilification and degradation on the part of pundits in the media.

Reading any of the most popular British publications for the last two years would leave one with the impression that Jeremy Corbyn is the next Adolf Hitler and Karl Marx rolled into one. Such an obvious contradiction is not enough to deter his most vociferous enemies in the press.

All the while the rate of hate crimes has risen. Insinuating that Jeremy Corbyn and actual anti-Semites are cut from the same cloth undermines the whole notion of social justice, does damage to legitimate movements of the Left, and only emboldens those on the Right who relish in the muddied waters of confused ideologies.

This latter aspect allows them to brand themselves as “alt-right”; an alternative to, and sometimes ironic undermining, of mainstream institutions such as political offices and the media itself. A label like this allows them to market themselves as an “alternative” to the mainstream, as opposed to using the more appropriate term of fascist.

Others, such as the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) have no such concerns when it comes to their marketing policies.

Most recently, for example, they called on students in German schools to report their teachers for political bias using an online tool that the AfD designed. The bias in question would be “bias against our party”, according to an AfD spokesperson.

Since their creation, the AfD have campaigned on the basis of fighting against immigration, the supposed Islamisation of Germany, alongside restoring German cultural values, amongst other things. Given their policies one would hope that they would not be successful.

But they are just that. In the federal elections in 2017 they won 97 seats which in turn made them the third largest party in the German parliament.

What explains the success of the AfD, and others like them, is they have tapped in to the concerns of many people who feel they have been ignored by the mainstream. It is also explained by the support of people who feel alienated from the Left, or at least what passes as the Left in some quarters.

These concerns, enumerated above, are not always based on the idea of a form of racial supremacy or an authoritarian takeover of society. On occasion, as is the case here, some of their concerns warrant attention if we take them at face value.

Alienation from the Left and social justice movements more generally, is one element in particular on which we should focus our attention. I

n the American case, not every single person who voted for Donald Trump is a racist, gun-toting, misogynist. In the German case, the same applies.

What has made movements of the Right more prolific in recent years has been the previous ten years of economic austerity and hardship in Europe. In America, these hardships have lasted for decades.

And a movement of the Left more concerned with gender-neutral bathrooms and racial diversity in a corrupt political system than with economic realities, lived in and experienced daily by millions, has been a blind spot used by the Right to its advantage.

Social justice without economic justice is meaningless and this has been noticed by the Right who promise both.

Anger at mainstream politics and politicians has been utilised by elements of the Right at the expense of the Left. In Ireland it has often been noted that a Far Right movement has never taken off. There are no easy explanations for why this is the case.

One possible reason has been the dominance of parties of the Right and Centre-Right in Ireland for most of its history which have offered a pressure valve release of sorts. In this sense, a movement of the Far Right has been forestalled given the traditional social conservatism of the two major political parties here.

Nonetheless, there is a sizeable contingent of the population who are apparently unhappy with the current state of Irish society who are finding an outlet in elements of the Right that are not associated with mainstream politics.

When Sam Harris, Douglas Murray, and Jordan Peterson gave a lecture in Dublin in July of this year, they spoke in front of a crowd of thousands.

Mr Harris is a well-known defender of U.S. foreign policy and is a staunch defender of Israel. He is also known for his defence of racial profiling along with his general writings on Islam and the supposed threat it poses to the West.

Mr Murray is a neoconservative and criticises Islam along the same lines as Harris, arguing that Islam poses a threat to Europe in particular and therefore immigration must be stopped.

Mr Peterson, for his part, is beholden to the idea that a postmodern Marxist ideology has infiltrated universities and politics. From here it undermines all that was good about society in the past where it also insists that truth no longer matters.

All three speak the language of the Far Right; lamenting the destruction of aspects of modern society they consider important, a dislike of modern politics and culture, a wish to return to the golden days of the past, the Marxist infiltration of our institutions.

At one stage Peterson had planned to launch a website which listed university departments and courses which were “indoctrinated” by postmodern Marxist views. The plan was eventually scrapped — for reasons other than Peterson’s complete misunderstanding of both Marxism and postmodernism — but it bears a striking similarity to the AfD’s current initiative.

The appearance of these three men here and the fact that it was so well attended should be a wake-up call for many of us.

Despite the liberal facade that now covers the country, there is a sizeable portion of people who are unhappy with the current functioning and structure of society. Spokespeople for the Right are capitalising on this.

What will follow not long afterwards is a political movement of the Right that likewise capitalises on the real discontent that is felt and experienced and utilises the same inroads made by the Petersons of the world. Peter Casey’s result in our own presidential elections over the weekend is a symptom of this.

Yes, his comments about Travellers were contemptible and some of the many people who voted for him likely did so because of these comments.

But many are just as likely to have voted for him given the lack of coherent candidates, the clear bias shown against Gemma O’Doherty in her attempts to gain a nomination for the elections, and the very real and serious questions that were raised, and still need to be answered, surrounding the expenses of the incumbent Michael D. Higgins while in office.

Many on the Left in Ireland were in lockstep with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in their support for Higgins and his re-election. An alignment such as this should have given them pause for thought.

And now that Casey has placed second in the election, their own lack of comprehension of how this was possible is demonstrable of an even more serious problem.

They simply do not understand why people are unhappy, angry, and how the Left’s lack of self-awareness feeds into this.

Support for Higgins by Leftist parties and the hypocrisy this entails should be self-evident. It is apparently not. People voting for Casey as a result of this is currently too much for them to decipher.

This result, then, should be a warning that unless moral consistency is shown alongside an understanding of why people are deeply unhappy with modern society, the Right will continue to win at the expense of equality, justice and those on the Left who dedicate themselves to the pursuit of both.

What we will end up with if this continues is an Irish version of the AfD. With no coherent or consistent response to them or their supporters, their victory is assured and the Left will continue to fail to understand some very basic truths through either incompetence or unwillingness.

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


From top: Former Garda Commissioners Martin Callinan and Noirin O’Sullivan in March. 2012; Bryan Wall

With the publication of the Charleton Tribunal’s findings the public can apparently sigh with collective relief.

Maurice McCabe and John Wilson — the latter having been forgotten about in most reporting — have both been vindicated.

Both men risked their careers and health in order to publicise Garda malfeasance and corruption.

Penalty points were wiped, cases improperly investigated, and suspects released on parole when they should never have been released in the first place.In the latter case the person in question went on to commit murder.

Justice Charleton excoriated both former Commissioner Martin Callinan and former Garda Press Officer David Taylor.

The two men, Justice Charleton found, were essentially working together in order to denigrate the characters of Mr. McCabe and Mr. Wilson.

Justice Charleton wrote that “Superintendent Taylor completely understated his own involvement” in the campaign against both whistleblowers.

Mr Callinan’s denial of reported statements he made to various people, in which he called Maurice McCabe a paedophile and rapist, were themselves disbelieved by Justice Charleton.

All in all, the reporting of Justice Charleton’s findings has been one in which the idea that the truth has been ferreted out by a thorough investigatory procedure is accepted at face value.

Therefore, we can all rest assured that the guilty either have been or will be punished.

But is that really the case?

Justice Charleton’s report reads as an inconsistent investigation whose limits were not only set legally, but also it seems ideologically. Scapegoats had to be found and they were.

Martin Callinan and David Taylor provide both. The evidence against both men was too large to ignore and simply too well known by politicians and journalists.

On the other hand, limits as to who could be blamed were clearly set.

John McGuinness TD gave evidence that after a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Martin Callinan had approached him in the chambers and told him that Maurice McCabe and John Wilson were “fucking headbangers”.

He also told TD McGuinness that McCabe “fiddles kids”. In his evidence TD McGuinness also pointed out that David Taylor and, Martin Callinan’s eventual successor as Commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan “were present when these remarks were made.”

David Taylor, in his evidence, confirms this. Callinan would the next day meet TD McGuinness in a car park for the now infamous meeting in which he reaffirmed his statement regarding McCabe and Wilson. In his report, Justice Charleton writes that “The conversations as described by John McGuinness TD took place.”

Yet, he also states that “There is nothing to show” that Nóirín O’Sullivan knew anything about former Commissioner Callinan’s comments.

This is despite the fact that two witnesses, one of whom the Tribunal considered to be completely honest in his evidence, placed her at least within earshot of the comments made after the PAC meeting.

It is also despite the fact that on other occasions Justice Charleton says that evidence given by former Commissioner O’Sullivan is, quite literally, unbelievable.

“The tribunal cannot accept her evidence”, writes Justice Charleton, regarding her claim that she did not take any phone calls from her counsel in the aftermath of their cross-examination of Maurice McCabe during the O’Higgins Commission; a cross examination during which Maurice McCabe was described by some as having had his character “traduced”.

Nonetheless, in the report it states that this “had nothing to do with Commissioner O’Sullivan.”

There is, of course, also the issue of missing phones. As stated in the report, “six phones used by Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan during the relevant period” were requested. Only one of those phones was received.

The lonesome phone that she did turn over was used “intermittently”, with her son coming to use it on “a basis personal to him”.

Martin Callinan also used six phones during the relevant period but like O’Sullivan, a number of them were missing.

The Tribunal received only two of the phones in question. As egregious as this may sound, however, David Taylor had previously told TD Clare Daly that phones and SIM cards were regularly destroyed in order to get rid of evidence but this is not linked in the report to the issue of the missing phones.

Instead, the fact that a number of phones belonging to both Martin Callinan and Nóirín O’Sullivan have gone missing is accepted as is and without much comment on the part of Justice Charleton.

All of this is just one aspect of a report which reads more like an exercise in bureaucracy than an investigation into malfeasance and corruption on the part of some of the most powerful people in the country.

Coincidences abound, questions remained unasked let alone unanswered, and the evidence of witnesses who are considered to be completely honest and reliable is accepted on a basis of when it suits the investigation.

ohn McGuinness is reliable when he gives evidence regarding what he was told by Martin Callinan. When he states that Nóirín O’Sullivan was there when the comments were made, however, this part of his evidence goes ignored.

The furthest that Justice Charleton goes in assigning culpability to Ms. O’Sullivan is when he writes that it was “improbable that she did not have an inkling at the very least about Commissioner Callinan’s views.

Blame needed to be assigned to someone. Martin Callinan and David Taylor meet this description and have been duly sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.

Of course, I am not arguing that what both men did was not contemptible and slanderous.But there is more to the entire story than just two men who set out to denigrate the characters of Garda whistleblowers.

It appears that a hierarchy of plausible deniability was created in order to protect individuals the further up the chain it went. And the only reason Callinan and Taylor have been duly sacrificed is that they were too vociferous in their methods.

Subtlety is the bedfellow of intrigue. In this regard it was easy to point the finger at these two given their complete lack of subtlety.

Yes, Maurice McCabe and John Wilson have been vindicated but there are people who participated in their vilification who remain unscathed and in some cases unidentified.

In the Charleton Report, the concept of a constructed plausible deniability among the upper echelons of the political and social worlds has shown its purpose and value. In this sense then, for the rest of us at least, vindication has come at the expense of justice.

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


Previously: Legal Coffee Drinker: Charelton Report Conclusions

From top: Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan (centre), who has said unless regulated social media poses “one of the biggest threats to western democracy” with Minister for Finance  Paschal Donohoe (left)  and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at a Project Ireland event in the National Gallery last April; Bryan Wall.

What is not debatable these days is the general collapse of the standard and traditional style of media organisation which came to dominate our lives throughout the 20th century and the early years of this century.

Newspaper circulation numbers have plummeted over the last decade and a general mistrust of the media prevails. This has been inevitable given the rise and ubiquity of the internet alongside the rise of social media.

Now the traditional media hierarchy, in which people were the consumers at the bottom of a chain with the content creators in the media at the top, is no longer predominant. With the internet and social media it is now possible to bypass this top-down hierarchy.

People have been able to find other non-mainstream sources of information which carry stories and ideas that would struggle to find light in traditional media outlets.

Media has become more democratic in the sense that now anyone can become a reliable source of information with a minimal amount of resources.

Presumably given this ubiquity of social media, there are now calls to have it regulated.

Josepha Madigan, the Fine Gael Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, has stated that unless social media is regulated, it “could pose one of the biggest threats to western democracy”.

Her reasoning for this is the “growing body of evidence that the Brexit vote and the last US presidential election were significantly influenced by foreign bodies through spend on social media.”

Therefore, she has called for regulation of social media and has asked her fellow ministers to “prioritise the introduction of legislation and regulation in this area at both a national and EU level before the end of the year.”

When I contacted her office regarding her claims of the “growing body of evidence” that the US.presidential elections and the Brexit vote were influenced by “foreign bodies” — undoubtedly she means Russia — via social media, I received no response.

Further to this, it was reported in The Irish Times in late August that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (D.E.AS.P.) is currently “seeking tenders for media monitoring”.

Included in this is the monitoring of social media for “‘keywords’ that may flag issues to it” along with providing “details of what people are discussing in public threads on Twitter and Facebook, and other platforms.

A representative of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICC.L) told me the organisation was “perturbed by reports that DEASP is soliciting tenders for social media monitoring.”

They are also “concerned by the power and privacy implications of this same agency potentially monitoring and collecting data about the personal and political opinions of those dependent on the its essential services.”

On the issue of social media regulation, the ICCL is in favour of such a move given the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the ability of Google to track its users at all times regardless of what privacy settings have been selected.

The ICCL spokesperson stated that regulation “would encourage increased transparency from these corporate entities, including how they human rights proof their policies and procedures.”

The Press Ombudsman also supports the latter move.

When asked, their spokesperson told me: “that it is time for social media to accept its responsibility” and “abandon[…] the argument that social media isn’t a publisher.”

This means that social media groups must “put in place transparent self-regulation processes that can be scrutinised for their effectiveness.”

If this self-regulation does not work or meet previously set standards, the Press Ombudsman believes “national governments and international agencies such as the EU need to put in place statutory frameworks whereby social media that fails to live up to acceptable standards can be brought into line.”

Nonetheless, “considerable caution” has to be shown in order to “avoid the accusation of censorship or restriction of freedom of expression.”

To that end, governments and agencies tasked with the regulation of social media “must recognise that there is a balance to be achieved between freedom of expression and the need to protect people from the misuse of that freedom.”

Fianna Fáil has also published a report on the issue of social media and its effect on journalism.

Arguing that “Professionally produced journalism is an essential condition for the survival of modern democracies”, the report goes on to call for the government intervention to support journalism and publishers given “the significant erosion of publisher revenues” due to the proliferation of the internet.

Among other things, such intervention would take the form of a Minister for the Media, who “would have overall responsibility for media including news publishing”, along with expanding the role of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (B.A.I.), Ireland’s media regulator, to also encompass social media.

In Paschal Donohue’s budget speech last week, one recommendation of the report, reduction of VAT rates on newspapers, was introduced. Now the rate of VAT has been lowered from 23% to 9% for digital publications and digital versions of physical publications.

The report also calls for “innovative new schemes to support the work of journalists, through the dispersal of Grant [sic] aid” and providing bursaries, fellowships, and “training and educational opportunities”.

One of the ways this could be funded is by imposing a “digital advertising levy” which would ensure “that the success of online platform does not come at the cost of independent public interest journalism.”

In an apparent case of good timing, early last month the European Parliament voted in favour of the so-called Copyright Directive.

In the directive proposal it is suggested that a “licensing market between rightholders and online content sharing service providers” is developed.

If passed in the final vote next year, the directive, specifically Article 11, would allow for publishers to demand the creation of this market in which licence fees are paid to them in return for links to their publications being shared online.

Both the decrease in VAT and the European Parliament voting in favour of the Copyright Directive were welcomed by Newsbrands Ireland, “the representative body for all national newspapers, print and online” according to its website. Their chairman is Vincent Crowely, who was previously chairman of INM.

Newsbrands wrote that the directive will “safeguard the future of journalism in Europe” and that the VAT decrease will “reduce the cost of access to quality, independent Irish journalism for people who access their news online.”

Clearly this aligns with the recommendations in the Fianna Fáil report.

One could argue that this seems to be an attempt to legally codify censorship and prop up the publishing industry at the same time.

But the former explanation ignores the fact that social media companies already take steps to limit the access of certain groups and organisations to their websites and services.

They appear to have their own regulatory system in place but whose details are not known to those outside the companies in question. Plus technology companies and governments often work hand in hand already when it comes to monitoring and censoring people and organisations.

Last year ‘The Intercept’ reported that both the Israeli and US governments were directing Facebook to delete certain accounts, including those of Palestinian activists.

More recently, Facebook deleted the English-language account of teleSUR, the television network based in Venezuela whose regular reporting tends to be highly critical of American foreign policy and the actions of other Western states.

And just last week Facebook and Twitter deleted the pages of hundreds of alternative media organisations.

On the surface, then, it may seem as if regulation of social media will be of benefit to underfunded newspapers and publishers, given the power that social media already holds in terms of their ability to block information as well as spreading false information.

But government intervention in this case must be questioned.

This is especially so when governments have a history of spying on journalists and pushing false narratives to their mouthpieces in the media.

Judith Miller of The New York Times is an egregious case of the latter, with her role in cheerleading the 2003 invasion of Iraq now being infamous. With the revelations of Edward Snowden there can be no doubt that journalists are prime targets.

Even as far back as 1982 the Irish government was discovered to have been wiretapping the phones of a number of prominent journalists.

This would eventually result in the resignation in 1992 of the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, given his role in approving the wiretaps nearly ten years earlier.

With this in mind we should be wary of any government intervention in the realm of social media and the internet more generally.

Along with the proposal to directly fund journalists, as laid out in the report issued by Fianna Fáil, it is now apparent that there is a move underway to further tighten the reins on all media. Social media giants are themselves already playing a part in this.

But with government intervention the possibility of censorship and a chilling effect on political activity and media no longer seems an abstract that only applies to those we consider “others”. It could very soon become a norm that applies to all of us and which will have untold deleterious and detrimental effects on our societies and our ability to dissent.

And although social media in its current form is far from perfect, it is far preferable to a state of affairs in which both technology companies and governments are aligned against those who demur and question orthodoxy.

Unless media is free and open, and that includes social media, it is a tool of propagandists and nothing more.

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


From top: The launch of the Labour Party’s alternative Budget 2019 yesterday with from left: Alan Kelly, Joan Burton, party leader Brendan Howlin, and Jan O’Sullivan;  a tweet from Ms Burton during the Raise The Roof protest; Bryan Wall

Class politics still matter. The fact that this statement is being written in 2018 would likely have given Marx and his acolytes conniptions had they known this in the 1800s.

For them, class politics would eventually resolve itself in the victory of economic and social equality. Eventually, what this would engender, so Marxist theory goes, is a classless society.

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” would be the basic economic premise on which this new society would rest.

Worker control of the means of production in such a society also secures social equality in the sense that the property-owning class, factory owners, etc., are unable to socially reproduce.

There is no longer any inequality because the economic and social hierarchy has been either completely destroyed or extremely constrained.

Given that none of this has come to pass — for various reasons — it is argued in some quarters that this demonstrates the superior applicability of capitalism to the functioning of advanced societies.

Capitalism has lifted millions out of poverty, therefore its superiority to all other economic and social forms is self-evident, so the argument goes.

Of course this ignores the fact that the economic prosperity of the West has been built on the backs of the poor peoples of the world.

Within individual states there has also always existed a similar hierarchy upon which the economic successes of a few rested on the subjugation and exploitation of the many.

From this arises the Marxist critique of capitalism and also the solution. This solution lies in the advocacy of class politics via the party system in order to ensure an economic and social revolution further down the road.

With the continued rampage of capitalism around the world, including in Ireland, class politics is probably more important than ever before.

Any party which claims to represent the interests of the trampled-upon-classes, then, must be held to a strict moral consistency.

The needy and exploited are not baggage to be discarded at the first sign of trouble or the first sign of political power. Unfortunately, the latter has too many times been the case.

Parties, having once claimed to represent the downtrodden and economically enslaved, at the first scent of political office being offered to them, too often engage in their own form of moral expediency.

And the ones who pay for such moral calculations are the very people who put their faith in the said party in the first place.

When the Labour Party went into coalition government with Fine Gael in 2011, it was seen as a victory of working class politics in the mainstream political arena.

In the midst of a recession and mass unemployment, Labour’s election victory was seen in a positive light. Their advocacy for equality in society over the previous decades meant that their clout as an apparent voice for the voiceless, at least in terms of political parties, was well established in Irish society.

Having received 19.5% of first preference votes in the general election in 2011, it was called a “democratic revolution” in the opening paragraph of the Statement of Common Purpose document issued by the newly formed coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour.

When Eamon Gilmore, the then Labour leader, went before party delegates to secure permission to enter into coalition with Fine Gael, The Irish Times quoted him as saying that “The ‘last place’ people who voted for the party wanted it to be was in opposition.”

Joan Burton, who after the coalition was formed would become the Minister for Social Protection, said that it would be an “act of folly” for Labour not to go into government with Fine Gael.

In the Dáil, on March 15th 2011, Gilmore would lay out Labour’s goals when in government. He stated that “Those most at risk of poverty will not be made to suffer further” and that “Family incomes will be protected.”

They planned to “build up the economy again”, ensure that the workforce “is supported in gaining the skills that match the jobs of today and tomorrow,” and advocate for the creation of Irish jobs. Undergirding this would be “A fair and balanced approach to fixing our public finances.”

Admitting to his fellow TDs that “there will be some very difficult days”, it was his intent “to hand a country on to our children that is better than when we found it.”

Along similar lines, just days before their electoral success, Ruairí Quinn, Labour’s education spokesperson and soon-to-be Minister for Education, signed a Union of Students in Ireland (USI) pledge agreeing not to reintroduce or increase third level fees of any kind. Even before Gilmore’s speech was given however, portents of what was to come were already in the public realm.

Jimmy Kelly, the then Regional Secretary of UNITE, the second largest union affiliated with Labour, called on the party to abandon coalition talks.

He argued that Labour would be better positioned as the “official opposition” and would as a result be able to lead an “expanding parliamentary Left”. He was, of course, ignored.

The Statement of Common Purpose document mentioned above also showed the path that Labour would willingly trod down.

Mr Gilmore admitted as much when he told fellow Labour members, as reported in The Guardian at the time, that although the “document outlining the agreement was not the Labour manifesto, it was driven or moderated by Labour thinking.”

Logically then, it could be construed that Labour were making the argument that they played a moderating role on Fine Gael’s policies.

By moderating said policies, Labour would be protecting “Those most at risk of poverty”.

But as far back as 2004, under the leadership of Pat Rabbitte at the time, the signs of political expediency were already apparent. Labour had agreed to the so-called Mullingar Accord, in which the two parties , Fine Gael and Labour, “committed themselves to begin negotiations for an alternative Government”.

Labour’s rightward drift was not an overnight tactical manoeuvre. It was a calculated move in order to attain power.

During their tenure in government their policies, or those they had a hand in “moderating”, would result in pain and penury for large swathes of the population.

Between 2009 and 2015, the Economic Social and Research Institute (ESRI) reported that the “biggest losses are to be found among those who are of working age, but not at work: those who are unemployed, non-earning lone parents, and those who are ill or have a disability.” Along with the introduction of water charges,

Labour were now seen as apologists  for — and defenders of — the increasing neo-liberalisation of Irish society. A profound betrayal of the most vulnerable in society had taken place.

When questioned about this, along with Labour’s inability to keep its election promises, Pat Rabbitte, Minister for Communications, admitted lying to the electorate is something “you tend to do during an election.” But probably the most powerful example of the anger that was felt was the now infamous protest at Jobstown.

On November 15, 2014, Joan Burton, by then leader of Labour and the Tánaiste in the coalition government, was attending a graduation ceremony in Jobstown. Upon leaving the ceremony she was met with dozens of protestors and was trapped in her car as a result.

After the Gardaí attempted to remove the protestors by force, Burton and her advisor, Karen O’Connell, were moved to a Garda SUV.

After more back and forth jostling with the protestors, Burton and O’Connell would be moved to another Garda car which eventually managed to make it out past the protestors. In all, the entire event lasted roughly three hours.

Afterwards a number of people would be arrested and put on trial for their participation in the events of Jobstown, including TD Paul Murphy and a teenager. It took until June of last year before Murphy and six others were found not guilty of “false imprisonment”.

Jason Lester, the teenager mentioned who has only 15 at the time when arrested, would later have his own guilty verdict overturned by the Circuit Court.

With the arrests and subsequent trial being seen as politically motivated, it further ensured the demise of Labour as an entity of the Left.

It would emerge during the trial that O’Connell, Burton’s adviser, referred to the protestors as “fucking dregs”. Just one month earlier Ms Burton had commented on the use of smart phones by the anti-water charge protestors.

She stated that the protestors she had seen all seemed to have “extremely expensive phones,” presumably, in her mind at least, negating the argument made by many of the protestors that they would unable to pay a new water charge.

With their decimation at the polls in the 2016 general election, Labour were punished by the electorate for their behaviour in supporting massive cutbacks and the resulting inequality.

The party and its members, however, seem to have paid no heed to their critics or the people they once claimed to represent.

Brendan Howlin, the current Labour leader, was recently quoted as saying that the housing movement, Take Back the City, is “not something I would be associated with”.

And just days ago, on October 3rd, members of Labour made a rather unsuccessful appearance at the Raise the Roof protest in Dublin.

Organised to highlight homelessness and increasingly unaffordable rents, the protest attracted members of Labour, including former leader Joan Burton.

At one stage when members of Labour in the body of the crowd rose their flags, they were immediately shouted down.

Chants of “Labour, Labour, Labour, Out! Out Out!” could be heard. The small contingent would eventually be surrounded by Gardaí for their protection and were then escorted out of the march, again by Gardaí. Optically this was not entirely dissimilar to Jobstown. It played just as badly.

Ms Burton, who was not part of the contingent that was shouted down, took the opportunity to post a photograph of her appearance at the protest on Twitter.

She wrote that she was there to support the protest and “highlight homelessness”. Like the above, it  was not received well. Labour’s history when in government has ensured that they are now “toxic” to the electorate.

A change in leadership and engaging in ideological window dressing by showing up to the Raise the Roof protest is not going to change that. It showed the lack of understanding the party and its supporters have.

Turning up to a protest like Raise the Roof is seen as nothing more than political opportunism by most people. Labour’s record when in government was appalling, betraying their constituency and their core beliefs all for the allure of power.

What is even more damming damning is comments that Ms Burton made on the issue of housing when she was in government.

As reported in The Times in December of 2015, the government was seen to be financially propping up landlords given the latter’s increasing profits because of rent allowance.

Instead of tackling the issue of the cost of rents spiralling, as Minister for Social Protection at the time, Ms Burton also ruled out increasing the amount of rent allowance payable.

In the same article the Simon Community reported “a 20% increase in the number of people seeking help from its services since this time last year [2014].”

The seeds of the current rental and homeless crisis were well and truly sewn. Burton, it was reported, said she was “proud” of her government’s record on housing at the time. Is it any wonder that Labour and their message is toxic?

During the Seanad elections in 2016, two candidates who ran as independents had in fact strong links to the Labour Party. One, Luke Field, has held various roles in Labour Youth over the years, and is currently Labour’s Local Area Representative in Cork South Central.

Laura Harmon was the second “independent”, who was once President of the USI and would later hold an “advisory” role in Labour. She would go on to become Labour’s Women and Equality Officer in September 2015.

Yet during the Seanad elections, both her and Field ran as independents.

Regardless as to whether this was a move devised by senior Labour officials or decided by Mr  Field and Ms Harmon themselves, it speaks volumes to the tactics Labour and their supporters are willing to use. This includes turning up to the Raise the Roof protest.

Given Labour’s deceitful and all too recent history, any attempt by them or their supporters to rehabilitate themselves and their party must be resisted.

Any fight for equality must include denying a platform to those who have willingly deceived and harmed others, especially the most vulnerable, which is what Labour’s term in government did.

Ideological unity must not come at the expense of moral consistency. Labour’s attempt at entryism, a tactic used by movements such as the Social Workers Party and People Before Profit and who both have strong authoritarian impulses at their core, must be fought.

Otherwise any movement with a social conscience and heart is likely to be diverted by those attempting to appropriate the movement for their own, and not entirely honest or legitimate, purposes.

In the case of Labour, having lost the power they so assiduously planned to attain, it is obvious that they seek to align themselves with whatever group they can in order to erase their past grievances and rehabilitate themselves.

On Wednesday it was shown that their attempts are failing, and rightly so given the price we are all paying for the decisions they made and supported when in government.

Bryan Wall is a PhD candidate in the departments of sociology and philosophy in University College Cork. His interests are in citizenship, human rights, democratic and political theory, and the history of Zionism. Read his work here


From top: Gemma O’Doherty (left) with independent Cork County councillor Diarmaid Ó Cadhla (centre) and Michael Collins (right), an independent TD for Cork South West outside Leinster House on Wednesday morning; Bryan Wall

When Gemma O’Doherty announced her plan to seek a nomination for the presidential elections here, a collective guffaw emerged from certain quarters of Irish society.

Ms O’Doherty has made a name for herself, and powerful enemies, over the years by pursuing the truth no matter the cost.

When she confronted the issue of corruption in the Gardaí, specifically the issue of penalty points being wiped from the driving licences of high ranking members of the Gardaí, politicians, and even fellow journalists, her career with the Irish Independent was summarily ended by her superiors.

Having discovered that the then Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, had penalty points wiped from his own licence, she, as any decent journalist knows to do, made sure to check the information that she had was correct.

This involved verifying the address she was given. She duly called to the address, knocked at the door and asked the woman who answered if this was the address of Callinan. When the woman, Callinan’s wife answered yes, Ms O’Doherty left.

Following this she was reprimanded by her superior at the paper, Ian Mallon, who told her that “the Commissioner was furious and had made a complaint of harassment” against her.

Mr Mallon was the deputy of the then editor-in-chief, Stephen Rae, who had recently been given the position after Independent News & Media’s (INM) acquisition of the paper.

Mr Rae had previously been the editor of Garda Review, the monthly publication of the Garda Representative Association (GRA).

As Ms O’Doherty herself would later relate, after she verified Callinan’s address and published her story regarding his penalty points being wiped, Mr Rae “had been ordered down to Garda HQ”.

It would later emerge that Mr Rae himself also had penalty points wiped from his licence.

Not long after the publication of her story regarding Mr Callinan, and having turned down a “request” to stop working on Garda corruption, she was made “compulsorily redundant”.

Ms O’Doherty sued INM, which owns the Irish Independent and whose largest shareholder is Denis O’Brien. She settled out of court, with INM paying her an “undisclosed sum” and covering her legal costs.

INM also issued a statement, in which they “acknowledge[d] the exceptional work of multi-award winning investigative journalist Gemma O’Doherty for the Irish Independent during the course of a lengthy career.”

Her career with the Irish Independent over, she nonetheless continues to comment on and investigate instances of corruption in Irish society, most particularly surrounding the Gardaí and their involvement in the case of the disappearance of Mary Boyle.

She has also been an ardent supporter of the whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and John Wilson, the two Gardaí who raised the issue of the wiping of penalty points in the first place.

When Ms O’Doherty earlier this  Summer announced her intention to seek a nomination for the presidential election, with her goal of running on a platform of anti-corruption and of being a “voice for the voiceless”, she was met with derision and contempt.

Kitty Holland, the Social Affairs Correspondent with The Irish Times, took particular issue with Ms O’Doherty. The latter has consistently pointed out that Ms Holland’s paper continues to engage in “property porn”, in spite of the last 10 years of austerity; much to the former’s chagrin.

Ms Holland responded to this by calling O’Doherty a “fantacist [sic]” for pointing out that her wages are likely paid by the money the paper earns from advertisements from property companies.

Ms O’Doherty is of course correct in her assessment, however.

Much research has been done on the issue of the Irish media’s role in inflating the property bubble during the Celtic Tiger, with the work of Dr. Julien Mercille of University College Dublin being second to none in this regard.

Also, during the banking inquiry the former editor of The Irish Times, Geraldine Kennedy, described in detail the paper’s reliance on advertising revenue from property companies.

She also mentioned the subsequent pressure her and her paper came under from these same sources of revenue after her paper published an article critical of the housing boom.

She told the inquiry that, “People from the property sector were saying it would rock the foundation of The Irish Times, we would never get an advertisement again and it was damaging the credibility of the country.”

That Ms O’Doherty was correct in her assessment was irrelevant. She had placed herself outside the bounds of acceptable liberal journalism and could be denigrated thusly.

Ms Holland continued her attacks, claiming that O’Doherty “Promises much and delivers little” and, more recently, calling her “delusional”.

This has been the pattern for the past two months in which O’Doherty has been accused of being everything from transphobic to an anti-vaxxer.

All of this, begs the obvious question: Why has there been such a reaction against Gemma O’Doherty as a candidate?

Part of this stems from her work uncovering corruption in Ireland. Corruption in Ireland has always gone on just under the surface. We live in a wink and nod society where malfeasance is regularly covered up and oftentimes not reported in the media.

That Jonathan Sugarman, for example, is not a household name puts our mainstream media to shame. Instead, people like Bertie Ahern, infamous for his corrupt dealings, are rehabilitated on the national broadcaster without comment or question.

Ms O’Doherty’s work in uncovering corruption puts many people in Ireland, who hold positions of influence in the government and in media, and the role that they play in ensuring that the status quo is upheld, on the defensive.

The fact that Kitty Holland can go from congratulating Ms O’Doherty on her victory over INM to lambasting her on social media shows how close to home Ms O’Doherty’s comments and work have hit.

In the case of Ms Holland and The Irish Times, it has to do with the role the paper played in inflating a property bubble during the Celtic Tiger and how it continues to do so today whilst we are in the midst of a rental and homeless crisis no less.

And while this may not be corrupt as such, it is a corrupting influence to have to defer to powerful groups for advertising income, as is the case with The Irish Times and the property sector.

Ms O’Doherty’s work on corruption also explains why the big parties consistently blocked her nomination at the council level.

Her work hits extremely close to home for many a stalwart of the two big parties. Her questioning of the received orthodoxy of the nod and wink culture made her a heretic in the eyes of many a loyal party member.

Granted, it was to be expected that she would come up against attempts to block her nomination and intransigence in general. But the political wall she ran up against must be almost unheard of.

Throughout the country her nomination was obstructed by voting blocs of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Labour. So while those who exemplify predatory capitalism are perfectly fine as nominees for the presidency, someone of O’Doherty’s ilk must instead be made to pay for the temerity of daring to be a good journalist.

During her appearance on a Broadsheet.ie special livestream on Wednesday the 26th, she made the point that “The party system has failed Ireland.”

She is correct in the sense that given her inability to receive enough votes for the nomination due to the big parties, it shows up the democratic institutions for how hollow they really are.

As has always been the case, representatives took it upon themselves to decide for the wider population instead of deciding with them.

Hence, we have the inherent contradiction of modern representative democracy in which elected representatives pick and choose which aspects of the public interest they themselves deem worthy of political attention.

A filtering mechanism such as this is a fundamental aspect of modern forms of democracy. It allows the leaders to encourage advocacy and debate within strict limits, which ensures the security of the system they oversee.

Any person who goes beyond these borders though is filtered out as a deviant or miscreant.

Ms O’Doherty falls into this latter category given her work and statements over the years. Therefore, the idea of her name appearing on the ballot paper next month could not be countenanced.

Politicians, the media, and journalists all played their part in ensuring that she would be unable to get the required votes for her nomination.

The media’s role in all of this is particularly egregious. For example, The Irish Examiner went so far as to publish a piece questioning her journalistic work over the years.

Enough has already been said about Kitty Holland, a journalist of high rank and large influence. Her former colleagues in the media also played the role of stenographers when they unquestioningly publicised Jimmy Guerin’s comments in which he described Ms O’Doherty as a “conspiracy theorist”.

Mr Guerin, the brother of murdered Journalist Veronica Guerin, was responding to Ms O’Doherty’s comments regarding the role the state may have played in the murder of his sister.

What the media failed to mention was that in an investigation 16 years ago for Village magazine, Vincent Browne and Frank Connolly revealed that the person who likely shot Veronica Guerin was given immunity from prosecution by the state.

In return for this immunity, evidence against John Gilligan was sought; Gilligan being the crime lord the Gardaí were convinced was behind the murder.

Charles Bowden, who it is likely “actually perpetrated the killing — firing several shots into the head and body of Veronica Guerin as she sat in her car” according to Mr Browne and Mr Connolly, also admitted to “having the gun that killed Veronica Guerin, admitted to preparing the gun for the killing, to seeing it after the murder.”

None of this damning information was reported by the media in the last two weeks in spite of its obvious relevance and importance.

Ms O’Doherty’s campaign was torpedoed by those intent on upholding the current political and social orthodoxy.

Her views being warped beyond recognition, along with beliefs being attributed to her which are completely at odds with the work she has done and the statements she has actually made, was enough to ensure the fact that her name won’t appear on the ballot paper next month.

In the society we currently live in, certain questions and topics can be raised, others cannot. So, while it might be perfectly acceptable to question the idea of the financial allowances that politicians receive, it is not permissible to question the very system that allows for such a lucrative structure to be created in the first place.

It means that we can question the excesses of society and our politicians, but never the framework or basis on which it all rests.

And while you may not agree with her views whatsoever, what Ms O’Doherty has endured over the last two months should at the very least give you pause for thought.

Her treatment at the hands of politicians and their friends in positions of power in the media demonstrates to us all the contempt that the media and political orthodoxy hold outsiders in, especially outsiders like Gemma O’Doherty.

Bryan Wall is a PhD candidate in the departments of sociology and philosophy in University College Cork. His interests are in citizenship, human rights, democratic and political theory, and the history of Zionism. Read his work here