Tag Archives: Eamonn Kelly

Eamonn Kelly’s criticism of JobPath he says lured in the ‘trolls’ and ‘shills’

I don’t always read the comments below my articles. Like a school inspector I turn up occasionally, unannounced. I’m often shocked by the insulting remarks some of the anonymous trolls post. Occasionally, I’m almost equally shocked by complimentary remarks. It can be a mood-altering experience. In general, your wiser to minimise contact with the output of online trolls, because many of them have nothing good to say about anything.

Trolling is a kind of digital bear-baiting and has become a wildly popular blood-sport these days, played by teams of players with no identities against tall poppy contributors to various digital news sites.

I mention this now only because I scanned the comments of a recent article and found that one of the trolls who attached themselves to my articles and made it their business to pooh-pooh everything I ever said, apparently in an effort to quell the generally leftist views expressed in my articles, showed his hand a bit on the article concerning Leo Varadkar’s “end of the queue” ultimatum to people feeling iffy about taking the Astra-Zeneca vaccine.

The comment by this troll had the effect not only of stopping in its tracks the emerging discussion below that article, but also had the effect of misrepresenting both the article in question and my earlier articles on JobPath.

Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but it was the resurrection of JobPath that I found odd, because I haven’t written about JobPath in well over a year or more. I doubt I’ve even mentioned it in that time. Clearly this anonymous person had some kind of JobPath agenda.

Why JobPath?

I began writing for Broadsheet as result of the bullying and intimidation I saw taking place in the JobPath “service”, as they like to call it, after the welfare services normally delivered by public service bodies were privatised to two British companies, each with bad reputations at home, each with corporate backgrounds in private prison services.

The irony that this was taking place in the centenary year ’16 was embarrassingly striking. I was amazed that the mainstream media barely noticed this glaring historical/cultural anomaly.

“Lads, I’ve a great idea for the centenary of the rebellion. Let’s hire two private British companies specialising in prison services and set them loose on welfare recipients.”

There was a good response to those articles, because a lot of people, particularly arts practitioners, were having similar negative experiences with JobPath. Explaining your artistic tendencies to your family and yourself is difficult enough. Explaining them to a corporate body with a bounty on your head is very 1984. The service was later discredited and shown to be ineffective in its aims, succeeding only in turning a profit for the private companies contracted by the DEASP.

The pandemic pretty much obliterated the whole thing as an issue, but it is likely that payments are continuing to be made by the DEASP to the private companies as per their private contractual agreement.

Political Trolls

On closer examination this particular troll who had brought up JobPath was different than just your common or garden troll, derived as many of them tend to be from the pre-digital Irish-begrudger model, now armed with laptops and “handles” instead of names.

This troll had a particular political bias. I looked up his comments beneath other Broadsheet articles, by myself and by other writers. He doesn’t appear to socialise the way many of the anonymous Broadsheet commenters do. He only turns up when people are expressing leftist or progressive views, which seem to rile him the way daylight riles vampires.

Basically, he’s a quintessential sniper with a right-wing bias posing as a troll to avail of trollish anonymity in the hope, I guess, of somehow controlling narratives that muss up his ideology.

But on whose behalf is he anonymously trolling leftist views? Is he a shill for one of the government parties, pushing a privatisation of public services agenda? Does he work for one of the JobPath private companies?

JobPath Again

It’s clear that JobPath will be up and running again as soon as the pandemic is under control, and I guess the way is being paved for that as great economic minds draw up their plans for a whole new try at austerity. Clearly, for some, they didn’t do it properly the last time. There were far too many survivors.

Given the current youth unemployment rate, few could argue with even the most kack-handed job creation attempts. But really, is JobPath the answer?

JobPath didn’t just fail, it failed spectacularly, with a 3-7% success rate, depending on who you believe. In any other business a 93-97% failure rate would raise more eyebrows than a conference of sceptics. But with JobPath that kind of failure is apparently just fine with the men in suits. Give the JobPath companies more money and the benefit of the doubt, they say. Let them fail better while they find their feet.

Willie O’Dea of Fianna Fáil once described JobPath as “sinister”. Naturally he was hedging his political bets a bit on the terrible off-chance that Fianna Fail might do the unthinkable and go into government with Fine Gael. At the same time, others were describing the “service” as a system of coercion and private profiteering, with profits generated through the commodification of society’s most vulnerable people.

Anonymous political shills posing as everyday trolls, actively mispresenting the views of critics of JobPath, simply reinforce the idea that JobPath may indeed be a sinister operation.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

RollingNews

From top: Taoiseach Micheál Martin (left) and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar; Eamonn Kelly

Leo Varadkar’s and Simon Coveney’s threat to deprive people of vaccination if they refuse the Astra Zeneca vaccine has raised some interesting questions which no one can seem to answer.

Firstly, unvaccinated people are a potential health risk to the wider community. So, by refusing to vaccinate some if they choose not to opt for the blood clotting risk – and remember, Denmark has completely dropped Astra Zeneca for that very reason – the FG politicians are basically holding the entire community to ransom to force a targeted cohort – the over-60s – into taking what is actually the cheapest vaccine option.

For The Plebs

Of the available vaccines, the Astra-Zeneca appears to be the budget variety. The yellow pack vaccine. It is cheap and easy to store. It is unlikely, though this is not proven, that people of say a better class, would actually take this stuff. But it’s ideal for the plebs and is the cornerstone of the UK’s efforts to control the spread of the virus. Sure, you might lose a few plebs in the process, but what’s a lost pleb between high-born notables?

However, Soren Brostrom of the Danish Health agency told a news conference that results of investigations into the Astra-Zeneca vaccine “showed real and serious side-effects.”

That was Wednesday April 14. What did the Irish government do? Did they rush to protect the public from these real and serious side-effects? Of course not. The following day the two Fine Gael head honchos, Varadkar and Coveney, issued a general threat to the over-60s to take their budget medicine or get no medicine at all.

The over 60s are coincidentally the same cohort of people whose pensions Fine Gael have been targeting for so long now as “unaffordable” in Ireland’s generous multi-national tax haven.

And what happened to the my-body my-choice idea so central to claims of gender equality? Does that not apply on a medicine with a proven health risk? Does it not apply to over-60s? Is it only a feminist and LGBT thing? Can Fine Gael simply dictate that fundamental right out of existence on a whim?

Telling It Like It Isn’t

I watched RTÉ news to see how they might handle this story. The short answer is, they didn’t. They mentioned it, twice, in headlines, and David McCullough even gave it a raised eyebrow which, in fairness, is hardly investigative journalism. They mentioned the tánaiste twice in the course of the show, and didn’t mention the taoiseach at all. Eventually, way down the play list, they put the question to Paul Reid of the HSE who swallowed lumpily on a few occasions as he managed to wriggle out of giving an opinion on the matter.

RTÉ have a cute way of dealing with news items that can’t be avoided but have to be mentioned anyway. The Irish Times does something similar. It’s like a magician’s trick, you simply slide away from the story into another story. The Irish Times tends to slide from stories that make Fine Gael look bad into somehow criticising Sinn Féin.

But RTÉ have a different set of subjects to slide into which could be generally described as trendy right-on subjects such as gender and racial equality and people doing something positive. These get everyone looking the other way while the magic happens.

Watching it is like being cheated with the same cheap trick time and time again in the unspoken understanding that you will pretend not to notice in order to be agreeable.

I waited until Prime Time where at least the presenter got the problem, the take it or leave it attitude, but Stephen Donnelly simply couldn’t see what the fuss was about. And no one, neither politicians or journalists, could apparently see that by refusing to vaccinate unless the person accepted Astra-Zeneca unconditionally, that this neglect could have an adverse effect on the wider community.

Budget Threats

Stephen Donnelly said that the decision to vaccinate over-60s with the Astra Zeneca vaccine is based on best current medical advice. But he should have been more specific by saying, best advice as it pertains to Ireland. In Denmark, clearly, best medical advice is to avoid the Astra Zeneca vaccine.

Neither was there any problem seen by Donnelly with the spectacle of a pair of privileged right-wing politicians essentially dictating an ultimatum to a section of the public. The fact that none of the politicians could see a problem in this is actually a major problem.

From the people who brought you low wages, privatisation, no housing, deprivation of public services and blame, they now offer a direct authoritarian dictate to either take your medicine or walk.

At least the mask is finally off.

The Real Taoiseach

By the way it now seems certain that Micheál Martin, taoiseach, doesn’t actually exist, but is merely a clever Fine Gael hologram used as an occasional decoy to distract the public from the activities of Leo Varadkar, tánaiste, who is actually the real taoiseach, operating under an assumed title and groomed by the RTÉ news department, which is really a cover for Varadkar’s private public relations unit.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

RollingNews

 

From top: The Irish Times clock; Eamonn Kelly

“Quote Mining: a situation in which a passage is removed from its surrounding matter in such a way as to distort its intended meaning.” Wikipedia

In Britain the BBC was considered by many to be the one grounded reliable source of news. Other sources had obvious agendas, but it was said that the BBC was the greatest example of the ideal of journalistic objectivity, reporting the facts in as unbiased a manner as is humanly possible. That was the story anyway.

During the World Cup in Russia BBC’s opening sequence to each match episode climaxed on an animated camera plunging into the Moscow metro and coming to rest on a man on a bench who looked remarkably like Jeremy Corbyn, the then Labour leader. The subliminal implications were clear. Corbyn spends his leisure time hanging out underground in Moscow.

The Irish media landscape is like a small brother of the British one. Many people turn to British news sources for a more detailed look at the news of the day, whether Beeb or Murdoch, because even these are more like reliable news sources than the watered-down news you often get in Ireland, ever careful not to offend.

Quiet Please

It was said for a long time that the apparent gag placed on Irish journalists, preventing them from asking difficult questions, was due to unusually stringent libel laws.

But the suspicion was always there for some, that Irish journalists in the main were more public relations professionals, pragmatically concerned for the most part with protecting their own careers in the small and incestuous Irish professional world of business, politics and media where seemingly everyone is on first name terms, if not actually inter-married.

Irish politicians naturally got used to this kid glove journalism and even now they are forever complaining about the so-called barbarians of social media holding them to account on poor performance on such issues as homelessness, the pandemic, mad rents, historical abuse inquiries, tragedies of privatisation and so on.

But even in this relatively polite media landscape, there was one news source that was sometimes regarded in much the same way as the BBC was regarded in Britain, and this was the Irish Times, the so-called paper of record; a news source that proudly promoted the ideals of objective journalism unsullied by political bias or cronyism.

But like the BBC, the Irish Times seems now to represent not so much the objective truth as such, as it represents a narrative that suits a certain clientele. Where the BBC seems Tory at root, the Irish Times seems Fine Gael at root: the paper not of record, but of the property owners, the landlords; the business, political and professional classes.

But news sources are politically biased, and always have been. It would be naïve to think that the Irish Times or the BBC are totally objective. The best you can hope for is that an ideal exists within the heart of a news organisation to aspire to objectivity and journalistic ideals.

Composing Deceptions

In the most recent Village magazine there is an article about a story run by the Irish Times in December 2020 when Pat Leahy, an Irish Times journalist, wrote that inequality was falling in Ireland.

This article’s claim was cited a week later in the Seanad by Senator Buttimer of FG as a “fact”. This “fact” was supported in Leahy’s article by a direct quote from a 2020 report by TASC, the think tank for action on social change.

But the quote chosen by Pat Leahy was only a partial quote, according to Village, giving the impression that the TASC report had found that inequality in Ireland was falling, when the report suggested that inequality was actually rising.

Brendan Ogle of Unite the Union wrote an article in response, pointing out this anomaly, but Village reports that the Irish Times refused to print his piece dismissing the article as being “too long”. Irish Times editors are apparently only in the business now of shortening long quotes, not long stories.

Quote Mining

The reversal of meaning achieved by Pat Leahy in his article is unlikely to have been an editorial accident. And since this reversal of meaning was achieved by the omission of the rest of the quote, as shown by Village, the resulting “fact”, which was then eagerly picked up and disseminated by a Fine Gael senator, makes the entire exercise seem like an odd departure from the ethos of journalistic objectivity that the Irish Times is said to represent.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Out Of Time (Village)

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

RollingNews

From top: Natalie, who lives in a tent beside Dublin’s Grand Canal, featured in RTÉ Investigates Homelessness: Stuck In The Rough

In a way it was fitting that the RTÉ Investigates programme on homelessness used a golfing metaphor for its title, “Stuck In The Rough”. Because, like golf, the game of homelessness is played by a higher class of person than those unfortunates placed under the microscope in the RTÉ documentary.

There seems to be a core misapprehension in attempts to discuss homelessness. The problem is not seen as a symptom, but rather as a problem arising directly from character deficits in those who are homeless. There is of course a degree of truth in this, but the “blame” is often overloaded to such an extent that other contributing factors escape scrutiny.

The first half of the RTÉ programme concerned itself for the most part with the character deficits of the three homeless people it was studying. After an ad break and another bout of investigative questioning of an unfortunate woman called Natalie who was asked to the point of brow-beating to describe the experience of homelessness, she put her hands over her face in despair saying there are no words.

It was unfair. The woman is not a poet capable of articulating a profound human experience of suffering at the drop of a hat to facilitate the needs of a TV show. She’s just a woman with no home.

The motive for believing that the homeless caused their own condition, is perhaps society’s way of letting itself off the hook for not caring for them. Like “sinners” in another era there is a perceived moral debt due.

Commercial Reasons

Halfway through the programme something happened that should really have been the main thrust of the investigation, but instead was quickly bypassed, as if in embarrassment.

The presenter Kieran Dineen informed us that public expenditure on homeless services had risen from €10million to €22million in a few short years. The question was, where is the money being spent?

The programme had sent a Freedom of Information request to the The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DHRE) DHRE, but the request was turned down, the DHRE citing “commercial reasons”.

Mike Allen of Focus said that it would be interesting to see where the money was actually going.

There were many natural follow-on questions to pursue on this, but instead, the RTÉ Investigates team returned to the preferred, increasingly lurid, examination of the lives and character flaws of their homeless people “samples”.

The money angle was clearly too politically sensitive to be properly probed. It was much more comfortable to probe the homeless subjects instead.

What appears to have happened is that under Varadkar’s watch of privatisation and loosening of regulations, the homeless services sector has become a free-for-all, allowing private entities to easily siphon off public funds on the pretext of offering charity.

Agency Capture

In an article in Village magazine (August 2020) called “Agency Capture”, Mannix Flynn, citing Accountancy firm Mazars, wrote that there are over 75 housing and homelessness services in Ireland.

Mannix Flynn writes:

“…Not-for-profit does not indicate non-commercial. Scandalously, homelessness is a business like any other, except when it comes to accountability and transparency. Many of these entities have become fiefs in competition with each other for clients and real estate…”

“Clients” in this context means the homeless. Yes, to someone, usually private profiteers offering meagre services, the nameless homeless are important-sounding “clients”.

This is not to suggest that all homelessness charities are insincere. What appears to be happening is that private operators, alerted to the boom in public investment in homeless services, are flooding the sector with “help”, ably facilitated by the coalition’s ongoing support of neo-liberal privatisation of services, twinned with FG-inherited disdain for social housing.

But this fairly naked exploitation of the housing crisis is being concealed behind the idea that the homeless are the architects of their own condition, which is simply not true.

Recovery

In the second half of the programme Kieran Dineen spoke to a public body in Helsinki where the homelessness problem was solved by providing homes to the homeless – yes, this method actually works, along with the provision of social workers to assist those who may need assistance in getting back on their feet.

Here in this small section of the programme all the questions posed in the first half were answered. No, it’s not just alcohol and drug addiction on the part of the homeless that made them homeless. In fact, there is a more understandable idea behind drink and drug abuse by the homeless. That drink and drugs are often taken for comfort, a futile attempt to alleviate the misery of homelessness.

This idea of drug and alcohol dependency being comforts in homelessness was also put forward by Tony Walsh of Feed Our Homeless.

The conclusions reached by the Helsinki people were, like the public money for private services question, not really pursued to any satisfactory conclusion by RTÉ Investigates.

Nevertheless, what did emerge is that homelessness is largely due to a deficit of single-bed accommodation; and that a permanent home is the solution to homelessness, since permanency of tenure has the effect of drawing on the homeless person’s own capacity for achieving personal stability.

Helsinki found that problems such as drug use and alcoholism tend to dissipate once the formerly homeless person is in permanent accommodation.

To counter the argument that vagrancy is an insoluble problem, the city of Ulm in Germany, provides sleeping pods for the destitute.

Parking Blame

Sadly, the RTÉ Investigates programme kept bumping into the walls of its own political limitations, always bobbing back to the comfortable thesis that homelessness is caused by character flaws in the homeless.

By choosing to concentrate more on the personal problems of the homeless rather than on the inadequacies of the housing system, the programme, despite its best intentions, may have inadvertently cemented in the public mind the false idea that the homeless are the cause of homelessness.

The inescapable truth is that a huge industry, built on diverting public money in the name of homelessness, has evolved in the vacuum created by the established political parties’ unwillingness to build social housing.

The irony of all this is that there is so much business being generated by the housing crisis that actually solving homelessness must result in job losses in the homeless services sector.

And that right there is as neat an encapsulation of neo-liberal and Fine Gael social policy as you are likely to find: generate employment and wealth in one sector by cultivating immiseration in another.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

 

From top:  Taoiseach Micheál Martin listens as Independent TD Catherine Connolly delivers a response to the Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation report in the Dáil last week; Eamonn Kelly

Micheál Martin looked genuinely baffled, even allowing for his mask, when Catherine Connolly lit into the report upon which the grand apology was constructed. He looked to his right a couple of times during Connolly’s dismissive tirade as if to say, Wasn’t this supposed to have been a good thing? Wasn’t this supposed to have been a win-win? A brownie points bonanza?

That was certainly the feeling. So much so that Leo Varadkar rowed in with all his titles to claim some of those brownie points, adopting a succession of suitable important hats in which to apologize from. He apologized as Tánaiste, as former taoiseach, as the leader of his party and, most notably, it being a wimmin thing, as a man. He couldn’t find enough titles to adorn himself in. He might have added that he was apologising as founder member of the Subbuteo boy’s club.

Many things happened when Catherine Connolly spoke. Many assumptions were swept aside as the cosy consensus of the political establishment was cracked open by her speech. It was like that scene in Fawlty Towers where Basil, having berated the assembled guests in the lobby, demands to know if any of them are unsatisfied with the service, banking on terror alone to win silence. And it does for a moment. But then one quiet voice says, I’m not satisfied.

Disrespect

The problem of course was that the apology was more about the giver than the receiver. As Catherine Connolly pointed out, the report itself was shoddy and lazy, and the manner in which it was leaked and in which none of the victims received a copy seemed to incorporate the very attitude that had under-pinned the attitude of the authorities at the heart of the report. An attitude of gross disrespect. And here it was again, posing as a saviour extending apologies.

Worse, the same official attitude refused to take responsibility, instead literally flinging all of “society” under the bus rather than owning up. And on top of that, claiming there was no evidence that the things which the witnesses had said had taken place had actually taken place. Meaning, the witnesses’ testimonies counted for nothing. Meaning, the witnesses still have no voice and are expected to simply do as they are told, and, presumably, be thankful that they have an apology at all.

What emerges is the sense that the same elite name-checked by Connolly, comprising the political class, the clergy, acquiescent media figures, GPs and county councils, is still essentially calling the shots, and that the politicians delivering this apology were doing so in such a way as to protect their former counterparts while also perpetuating a system of elitism and class disrespect into the brave new Ireland of official apologies.

Connolly described the report as an abuse upon abuse. The political gamesmanship surrounding the delivery of the report and the apology also revealed a “sure it’ll do” attitude. Connolly listed the various reports that have been issued down the years by the political class, as if each one was just another empty gesture. But with this one she apparently had seen enough.

Shoddy Work

While Catherine Connolly’s main criticism was what she saw as a betrayal of the women who had come forward in trust to share stories which, for most of them, they would prefer to keep buried; the litany of flaws concerning the report itself and the manner in which it was delivered, added up to a picture of an elite protecting a previous elite while short-changing those it was purporting to be protecting.

She criticised the language and writing of the report which she described as amateurish and inconsistent. This alone could be teased out as indicative either as an attitude of carelessness, or worse, as evidence of mediocrity in high places due to the natural outcomes of a rigged system.

The seemingly slapdash way in which the report was apparently cobbled together and in which copies were not delivered as promised to the victims, who had each gone through a personal trial of uncertainty and trust in deciding to tell their story, reeks of the disrespect that the elite of a former time had shown women and children imprisoned in reform homes and orphanages in the first place.

The sense is that there was only one result expected from the entire gesture: easy political brownie points accruing to the establishment.

Connolly in her quiet but angry speech described how county mangers got to decide that a woman becoming pregnant for a second time would be sent to a Magdalene laundry rather than the “care” of a Mother and Baby home; the desire to punish, unmistakable in the official act.

As if to underline the fact that the entire system was as much an unaddressed problem of class division and disregard as it is a problem of institutionalized misogyny, Connolly in her speech cites an arrangement where middle-class people could buy their way out of the system.

The Buck Never Stops

Overall, the effect of the report and the manner in which it was delivered, including even a leak for good measure, demonstrated that Ireland’s establishment does not in any way feel obliged to give voice to the voiceless. Instead, the entire show, like the system it was purporting to apologize for, had the air of adults talking above the heads of children. And like their counterparts before them, this political establishment blamed the victim, which, in this case, is us, “society”, the gillies still paying for the banking collapse.

As Una Mullaly pointed out in her article in the Irish Times, when “society” is to blame, no one is to blame, thus letting off the hook the entire establishment structure, which still exists, albeit in relatively truncated form. If it changed, when did it change? When Micheál Martin claims that “society” did this, what he really means is that today’s establishment and their historical counterparts are not responsible.

Connolly rejected the entire gambit out of hand. By doing so she revealed that very little in the relationship between the establishment and its victims has changed. For instance, where once we had stigmatized single mothers, we now have stigmatized homeless people, who are actually dying on the streets courtesy of government policy on social housing. Providing raw material for future reports and apologies.

Catherine Connolly’s honest and heart-felt dismissal of this political sideshow unmasked the game while also revealing that the report itself was an empty gesture, taken mainly for the political gain it might accrue to a shaky coalition of the old guard. A throwaway thing by an establishment that still sees itself as being above the reach of the people it purports to represent.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

From top: Comedian and broadcaster Tommy Tiernan; Eamonn Kelly

One of the tragic things about arts and creativity is that these activities have been monetised. Not in real terms of course, but in the expectation that they should earn profit, otherwise they are deemed “useless”.

Monetising creative activity is regarded as one of the major problems of creativity, particularly for those individuals who feel naturally inclined to create anyway, no matter what the circumstances. The received wisdom is that you shouldn’t do anything until such time as you have a deal in place. Then, the money assured, you can go to work.

But those who feel driven to create know that not practising leads to not creating. Creativity is not a tap that you can turn on and off in response to the vagaries of the economic system.

And that right there is the problem, not just for creatives, but for that aspect of humanity that is nurtured by creative works; which is essentially, everyone. Because creative works are a food of sorts. But in a system focused on the bottom line above all else, the very act of creativity becomes devalued to the point of inactivity by those who might otherwise practise a creative discipline.

Such people may eventually surrender to the cultural wisdom of getting a “real” job, ending up working in some oligarch’s factory where all respect for workers has been stripped away in the interests of profit. Places where the souls of creatives tend to wither and die.

Welfare Arts Grant

I happened to catch Tommy Tiernan’s show on RTÉ the other night. It’s not something I would normally watch, since I happen to know him personally, but I catch parts of it now and again. He was talking to Andrea Corr about the driven aspect of creativity.

He told her, a little boastfully I thought, that after he had earned his money and had plenty in the bank, that he still felt the urge to gig. He seemed puzzled by this outcome, endearingly failing to realize that he has just inadvertently admitted that he was only ever in it for the money.

His is an unusual story of creativity monetised. All the stars aligned and somehow made him an earner. The last time I caught the show he was telling a guest how he used to hang out on the “dole” in Galway doing nothing. I could see by the way he presented this that it was some kind of bootstraps legend he had created for himself.

The guest, horse-trainer Ted Walsh, said that Tiernan’s success was a great advertisement for the dole, but that under normal circumstances he would regard someone hanging out on he dole as a “a waster”.

Annoyingly, Tiernan’s “dole” narrative isn’t even true. Or is only partly true. I was an advocate for basic income in the 1980s, and I was one of the people in Galway who deliberately regarded the welfare payment as an arts grant. Tiernan is in fact a great advertisement for a basic income, particularly in the manner in which such payment might facilitate arts practise and production, as it accidently did in Galway and elsewhere in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Back then, when you worked part time on a CE scheme you could earn what you liked elsewhere. I and others used to do this and put our time into producing shows; in my case lunchtime theatre and late-night comedies.

Tiernan was part of this scene, which was absolutely entrepreneurial in spirit. Many of the people on the scene later went working in TG4 and in the Irish film industry, such as it is. Far from sitting around on the “dole” eating spuds, as Tiernan now presents it; he, like the rest of us, was gigging and learning his trade. He was appearing in theatre and comedy productions, including shows I produced, and even back then was getting regular RTÉ gigs in children’s television.

He is the product of what was a thriving arts scene in Galway, so it is disappointing to see him now airbrush out the scene that served him so well and replace it with a mean-minded, even neo-liberal “dole” origin story that makes it look like he monetised his art through sheer individual will. It is also a missed opportunity to make a convincing argument for a basic income, since, as Ted Walsh observed, he is a great advertisement for such a payment.

Pareto Distribution

For anyone who manages to monetise an arts practise in a capitalist society, there are a number of factors that need to align for this to happen. Jordan Peterson goes into this in a YouTube clip “The Scary Truth About Success and Wealth Distribution”, where he looks at the Pareto Distribution curve and Price’s Law to describe the factors that go into achieving a success, and how success then begets success.

The upshot is that in a capitalist system the laws of distribution and chance combine to have the effect of all activity eventually being concentrated in one place. It’s a really interesting observation which makes even more problematic the need for social equality and income redistribution, since there appear to be natural laws that have the effect of naturally creating distribution imbalances and wealth concentrations over time.

But that’s getting away from the point of creativity, though such an observation is itself creative. Rather than trying to figure out how to monetize the arts by the rules of a distorted system that eventually and inevitably pulls all profits to one source, and leaves creative activities like a lottery, with very few winners, the question becomes: how do you go about nurturing creative activity?

The first step has to be in recognizing that creative works, both the creation and receipt of them, are as vital to human existence as food and water. The actor Ethan Hawke gives a good Ted Talk on this in “Give Yourself Permission To Be Creative”.

The next step has to be to decide how to ensure maximum productivity in the creative sector. Because monetizing an arts practice in the present economic paradigm, even before the pandemic, was always a long shot, with very few real economic winners.

The answer to the problem really is two-fold: social housing and basic income, allowing for those who feel so inclined to give their relatively limited resources to creative activities.

There is also a profound change of attitude towards the arts required here, seeing these “assists” not as handouts but as investments, much as investment in farming is justified on the basis of food production. Until these mind changes are achieved, the waste of talent will continue, at a time when, as the autistic savant Temple Grandin observed in her Ted Talk “The World Needs All Kinds Of Minds”: we need all kinds of different problem-solving minds, not just bottom-line economic pragmatists.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

From top: Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (left) and former Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan; Eamonn Kelly

There was a story in the Indo after Christmas about councillors working from home but still claiming mileage expenses. Presumably they’re putting in strong mileage trundling in their pyjamas from the kettle to the laptop.

The point is though, that if the story is true – and I’ve no reason to doubt it, it appears after all in the anointed mainstream press – is that in order for such claims to go through they must be processed by a bureaucracy, whose agents must surely be aware that the claimants are working from home.

If this is the case it makes the whole thing seem like an official scam to siphon off public funds under a false pretext.

However, the defence claims that there is an allowance of mileage which can be claimed without receipts and that this is the money that the story is referring to. I can see how that might be the case. There is often that spectacle of departments being allotted a budget and finding themselves with surplus near the end of the budgetary period leaving them with the option of either using it or losing it.

But it doesn’t read well in a news context which also carries stories of underpaid medical staff and three homeless people dying in the last nine days, among the usual stories of want and neglect. In that context the claimed mileage story screams perks, mismanagement and waste.

Flexibility

In a sense it’s just another example really of “flexible” Irish laws. The comedian Dara O’Brien described this flexibility in a three-step application of the law. There are things that are “Fine”, there are things that are “Kind of okay”, and then there’s “Ah, now you’re tearing the hole out of it.”

The mileage claims for stay-at-home officials on Zoom calls seems to belong in the tearing the hole out of it category. But the situation also begs the question, Do Ireland’s flexible laws become even more flexible the further up you move on the social scale? It certainly often seems that way.

A few weeks ago The Examiner published a story saying that “several public officials, including Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, are to be investigated for allegedly failing to protect a whistle-blower, now retired prison officer Noel McGree, after he made a protected disclosure.”

The Examiner story is necessarily technical in its description of the unfolding story, opening with, “The Public Accounts Committee has agreed to recommend to justice minister Helen McEntee that she launch an external investigation into the standards of financial account-keeping at the Irish Prison Service.”  The story continuing in that relatively bloodless manner.

But over on the Echo Chamber Podcast on the website Tortoise Hack, the presenters Tony Groves and Martin McMahon spoke directly to Noel McGree and the human aspect of the story came out in all its shuddering glory.

Shooting the Messenger

Apparently, McGree felt encouraged by Leo Varadkar’s attitude towards whistle-blowers in comments Varadkar made following the Maurice McCabe affair.

But when McGree acted on what the Examiner describes as “issues surrounding catering procurement within the Prison Service” and an allegation that the Irish Prison Service (IPS) had been “penalising or discriminating against whistle-blowers…” the then Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan sent McGree’s complaint directly back to IPS management, the people McGree was complaining about.

The situation became even more complicated when McGree then sent the complaint direct to then taoiseach Varadkar, the very man who’d spoken up for whistle-blowers, along with a complaint against Charlie Flanagan for having sent the initial report back to the IPS, making McGree a target.

So, what did Taoiseach Varadkar do when contacted by an actual whistle-blower? According to McGree on the Echo-chamber podcast, the then taoiseach sent his file, a “protected disclosure” back to the IPS, and the complaint against Charlie Flanagan to Charlie Flanagan, allegedly breaking confidentiality and failing to protect a whistle-blower.

Noel McGree claims he was subsequently forced into early retirement, from where he watched with interest as the Dáil gathered to vote on a no-confidence bill against Tánaiste Leo Varadkar on the question of the sharing of confidential documents, the very act that had cost Noel McGree his position and had caused such trouble and heartache to his family.

He watched with a sinking heart as the Dáil voted confidence in the Tanáiste, desperately papering over the cracks of an increasingly creaky crony system, sanctioning at government level a system of “flexibility” that serves some and makes collateral damage of others.

Whistle-Blowers

But Ireland has a profound problem with whistle-blowers anyway, and there is little public sympathy for them. The very idea of a whistle-blower, given Ireland’s largely unexamined post-colonial trauma, is complicated by the implicit suggestion that someone reporting to the authorities is by definition a “snitch” or “informer”.

This is very dodgy territory for Irish people to get their heads around. So whistle-blowers tend to be regarded with suspicion and are more likely to end up being the losers in situations of Irish legal “flexibility”.

Politically, it is wiser in such a system, to condemn the whistle-blower. Otherwise, you have to condemn the system of “flexibility” that produced the whistle-blower. This is arguably the same dilemma that the shaky coalition government had to contend with in the Varadkar no-confidence vote.

There is a kind of shared experience among whistle-blowers. They appear to act when their own moral standards are expected to be “modified”, let’s say, to facilitate a desired legal “flexibility” by management.

In other words, they find themselves placed in a position to become complicit in what they perceive as illegal activity – and in what is often actually illegal activity – leaving the whistle-blower no option but to report on the situation, with all the risks that this entails. This dilemma is typical of many whistle-blowers in the Irish context, a place where honesty is often not the best policy.

Councillors claiming mileage for sitting at their home computers may be more than some weird bureaucratic quirk, an isolated incident of tearing the hole out of it. It may be a fractal of a wider system of institutionalised “flexibility” that appears to be punitively tight at the lower end of the social scale and extremely relaxed at the top.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

RollingNews

From top: Irish Times columnist and critic Fintan O’Toole; Eamonn Kelly

Fintan O’Toole stepped into the Patriarchy/Trans minefield on December 1 triggering a succession of small explosions on Twitter. The piece in question is hidden behind an Irish Times paywall and comments are disallowed, which is not terribly democratic, but perhaps wise under the circumstances.

But wokes will not be denied and the response to Fintan’s musings was taken up on Twitter. By close of business Fintan’s name was trending fiercely as the experts of patriarchal argument poured forth with woke jargon at the ready to participate on the specially created #fintan thread.

Twitter replies came in battalions; essays hidden in long lines of numbered tweets taking Fintan to task for all manner of infractions, many of which went over my head. What is a TERF? I had to resort to Wikipedia.

A TERF is a “trans-exclusionary radical feminist” who hold that trans people are not women, but men, which they are, actually. But they are men who identify as women and Fintan was clearly taking their part, needlessly embroiling himself in an awkward woke squabble and getting absolutely no thanks for his troubles from anyone.

But though Fintan appeared to be writing from a woke position he still managed to raise ire on all sides, and even ire on some sides I didn’t even know existed. If there’s one thing about wokeness, it’s got no shortage of ire. Fintan, it seemed, was raising ire simply by being there.

Wrong Bodies

Some tweeters discerned in Fintan’s article an unconscious white male construct being smuggled into wokeness under the pretext of being pro-woke or pro social justice or pro whatever it was Fintan thought he was being pro.

One commenter accused Fintan of writing an article that only a man would write and that by doing so he was implying that women and trans people can’t write for themselves. That he was in essence attempting to supplant women and trans and their various woke affiliates by doing what he does for a living. That his article was in reality a prime example of over-educated and entitled mansplaining.

The writer of this comment was also a man. It was nice of him to take the time to mansplain Fintan’s political objectives.

Another commenter accused Fintan of blaming feminists for what was the fault of the Patriarchy, while yet another accused him of blaming the Patriarchy for what was the responsibility of feminists.

The existence of the Patriarchy was accepted on all sides without question, even by Fintan himself, one of our leading cultural critics, who never for a moment considered the possibility that the idea of the Patriarchy might itself also be a theoretical construct.

Another commenter pitied Fintan in making the mistake of writing such an article, regarding the act as a kind of mental aberration in an otherwise apparently healthy mind and healthy political position. Implicit in this comment was a kind of threat that Fintan’s infractions, and there appeared to be many of them, would not be forgotten.

Tweeter after tweeter wrote knowledgably and confidently in similar impenetrable woke jargon that you begin to suspect is not meant to be understood. The idea seems to be that you will surrender to the endless flurries of academic concepts and buzzwords and just agree, if only to make them stop re-phrasing the same general ideas in jargon laden sentences so that you can run away and find an aspirin.

Newspeak

Woke language is eerily similar to Orwell’s Newspeak, and like Orwell’s Newspeakers, the ones who can speak the jargon rapidly, without the aid of full stops, are considered the wisest of the wise by other wokes.

However, Orwell’s Newspeak was designed by authoritarians to stultify original thinking, to replace thought, which can be dangerous, with a mechanical substitute that people will believe is intellectualising, but which is actually just parroting set phrases without thinking.

A couple of days later, one of our multi-award-winning writers, (his wins including a Booker), the precise and exact John Banville, was also being pelted in a woke twitter storm for expressing a negative opinion of wokeness in an interview for the Hay Festival Winter Weekend.

His comment, that he “despised” wokeness, was held up as hate speech, inspiring social justice warriors to go to war in the name of equality to attempt to deny that writer freedom of opinion, and not one of them capable of seeing the irony of this crazy double-standard.

Instead, one commenter remarked that Banville’s motive for despising wokeness was a fear of losing status and that any loss of status he might suffer was justified in recompense for the privileges he had once enjoyed, until, presumably, wokeness came along to save the culture from his like.

This is a common charge, that the perceived privileged deserve to be demoted and denied, raising the suspicion that much woke uproar is driven by simple spite.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

RollingNews

 

From top: Covid testing at Dublin Airport; Eamonn Kelly

There is a small percentage chance of dying from Covid-19. The exact percentage is hard to pin down because the risk is age and health related too. But when all is weighed and measured it seems to be somewhere around 1-3%. Here is a link to a study that has gone into this in tremendous detail, offering charts and graphs and all the rest relating to risk assessment.

Generally, it’s safer to be young than it is to be old – old being over 40, hah! – and it is better to be healthy rather than unhealthy. But even allowing for these generalisations there is still a risk of dying from Covid no matter what age you are or how healthy you are. In other words, there are known unknowns to be factored in when assessing risk.

For instance, no one person can know for certain how their particular metabolism will respond to the virus, regardless of what they may think or “feel” or believe about this. In a similar way as no one knows for sure how they’ll react in a crisis until they’re actually in a crisis.

A few months back it was reported in the US that a young man who had attended a so-called Covid party in order to deliberately catch the virus in the belief that this would build immunity, ended up in intensive care. Shortly before he died, he told a nurse that he had “made a mistake”.

His mistake was that while he believed that he was stronger than the virus, he simply had no way of knowing how his metabolism would react to the virus. He was not in possession of all the facts and all the risk factors, and was tricking with something that killed him.

Dosage

Another unknown is the long-term effects of the virus. It seems that people who caught the virus and recovered are still feeling the effects of the virus months afterwards. Does this mean the virus is still in their systems waiting for an opportunity to go deeper?

Related to this possibility is yet another unknown. Early in the pandemic it was thought by some experts that catching the virus may be related to dosage. This would explain why some health workers succumbed. That a lethal dosage had accumulated in their systems over time.

Might people who have already had the virus and still experience return of symptoms have within them a certain “dosage” which could be topped up by catching the virus a second time? The jury is still out on this as well.

The Stakes

The point of all this being, there is a percentage gamble when exposing yourself to the virus that could result in death. To put it another way, by not observing recommended precautions you are staking everything on winning. The odds are really good that you will win. But if you lose, you lose everything.

There is also the possibility that by not taking precautions you may pass the virus to someone who is susceptible – most likely a close friend or family member – and they may lose everything, due to your choices.

This gamble can be offset by observing recommended guidelines; wearing a mask and washing your hands, until such time as a workable vaccine is available.

The irony of all this is, if you’re the type of person who feels they are resisting an unjust government directive that you believe is infringing on your rights and freedoms, your refusal to participate in protecting yourself and the community may have the effect eventually of forcing the government to implement more stringent laws than might otherwise have been the case, laws that may restrict your rights and freedoms.

Because of the nature of the virus and its opportunistic infection capabilities this has to be a team effort. The whole world could mask up and lockdown, and it would only take one Covid dissident to undo all the good work.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

RollingNews

 

From top: Tanaiste Leo Varadkar leaked confidential documents to his friend and political supporter Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail (right), a president of the now defunct National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP); Eamonn Kelly

The Village article saga will likely dominate the news this week. Following the article and the statement by the Tánaiste in which he acknowledged that he “had provided a government document to a medical organisation through informal channels,” as reported in The Journal, the next question is, Is that illegal?

Village contends that it is illegal, while the Tánaiste rejects this and admits that it was “not best practise”. This line “not best practise” has been taken up by the taoiseach and others like a shield to deflect the awkward legality angle.

The ins and outs of whether or not this practise is or isn’t illegal is way beyond the scope of my abilities to discern or decide and will be thrashed out over the next week by better informed heads. But the story is fascinating on a number of levels, not least the level of unprofessionalism involved.

It would appear that the recipient of the confidential document is a social friend of Leo Varadkar and was the beneficiary of a favour. It is almost as if one of the perks of being a friend of a politician is that you may have access from time to time to confidential documents which might normally only be available to certain people in government.

The gesture of sharing the document might also be a form of showing off to a friend the reach of your powers. Whatever the motive, the act itself, the sharing of the document, is basically unprofessional, whatever about its legality or otherwise.

Unprofessional Standards

This kind of unprofessionalism is not uncommon in Ireland. People often appear to break from their roles for the sake of interpersonal showing off or advantage.

The point though is not so much the legality or illegality of such actions, as it is the casual abandonment of the person’s role, position, duties and obligations by the standards of professionalism, which you would imagine are held in high esteem by those in high positions.

But as was demonstrated by the church scandals, that may not necessarily be the case, while the current mother and baby controversy seems to amount to a form of human trafficking in which the state is implicated.

And it is here that the Varadkar story is both very Irish and very average. Because here is a former taoiseach who apparently, while taoiseach, by his own admission, abdicated on basic professional standards in order to facilitate a friend.

A friend who was engaged in establishing a rival union to an already existing union representing people in the same sector. The fact that unions are involved, coupled with Varadkar’s neo-liberal ideology, makes the whole affair seem even more intriguing.

The careful repetition by other politicians of the phrase the Tánaiste used in his defence, “not best practise”, while being politically wily, manages only to project a suspicion of complicity in the practise, suggesting perhaps that the practise is fairly common in day-to-day political activity.

Certainly, the general view of politics in Ireland is that it is rife with cronyism. But what hasn’t been made so abundantly clear until now is the likelihood that one of the perks of governing is that you may share inside information with friends and acquaintances, presumably for any number of reasons: from a desire to impress with your power, to even perhaps issuing subtle business tip-offs. Who knows?

The point is, the impression given is that there doesn’t seem to be any moral reason why you wouldn’t engage in such practises. On the contrary, by Irish standards, it seems almost expected of you. You might even argue that the only reason for acquiring political power in the first place is that it gives you access to the inner sanctums of government from whose secrets you and your immediate circle of friends may derive benefit.

Again, such an attitude, which might be framed as “clever” by a certain type of person, is actually a lack not only of professionalism, but also of even the belief that professional standards matter. It’s an acknowledgment that cute hooerism is the accepted Irish professional standard.

Whose Government?

There was an article recently published in the Irish Times by the American writer Richard Ford which oddly sheds some light on this. Ford described Americans as being affected by “a deep, colonial-inherited suspicion of government.”

A similar suspicion due to colonialism perhaps exists in Ireland too, where the acquisition of political office often appears to be seen more like a hi-jacking of the levers of power than an acquisition of power to benefit the wider community.

This sense of an Irish politician using their position to facilitate a crony is what makes the Varadkar story so tawdry, so familiar and so disappointing.

Prior to this there were many who believed that Varadkar was a break with the kind of brown envelope past which, despite Michael Lowry and his supporters, was a culture (or lack of) that was always most strongly associated with Fianna Fáil.

Now it appears that this parish pump form of cronyism is not confined to one party, or even to the occasional cross-party bad apple, but actually appears to be a standard of unprofessionalism that informs much of Irish political life.

Rogue Element

The next week may be less about interrogating a system that encourages clientelism, less about finding out whether or not the Tánaiste’s actions were legal or otherwise, and more about a display of political manoeuvres designed to extricate Varadkar from this awkward tangle, without him having to resign, and without inadvertently implicating the entire system in the lack of professional standards that gave rise to the situation in the first place.

This kind of game has its place in our dysfunctional system, and a ready audience eager to admire the escapology of the rogue, which is how we, as post-colonials possibly understand the true meaning of politics.

Was it illegal? is not the question. Will he manage to get away with it? That’s where the sport is to be found.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet