Tag Archives: Julien Mercille

From top: Dublin city centre yesterday; Dr Julien Mercille

We’ve been facing a big problem in the Covid pandemic for a while now. There is a lot of confusion and debate about how to respond to it.

In order to address a problem properly, the first step is to look out for successful solutions – what have others done that actually worked to tackle the virus? Then, we can try to adapt those solutions to the situation in Ireland.

But it has been difficult to do that in Ireland because the public discourse about the pandemic, coming out of both government and the media, has neglected to examine and discuss seriously examples of successful responses to the virus in other countries – of which there are many.

Instead, we’ve spent a lot of time debating the details of the government’s approach even if it keeps failing and has thrown us all into yet another lockdown, with additional lockdowns to come periodically if the virus is not stamped out of the country for good.

Radio and television have been saturated with endless talk about questions like, How many minutes should people be allowed to sit in a pub? Is €9 the right price for a pub meal, or should it be €10.25? Should we be at level 3, 3.5, or is it 2.5? Should we allow 15 or 20 people at a wedding? And what about funerals? Can hairdressers play a role in improving their clients’ mental health?

Another problem is that proponents of “herd immunity” who have no solution other than let the virus run rampant keep getting invited on television programmes to create a false sense of “balance”.

But we wouldn’t need to ask any of those questions if we could simply eliminate the virus from Ireland (or get near that point) – and that’s what we need to focus on. An effective and widely distributed vaccine will be of great help there, but we’re not at all there yet.

In the international quality press one can see many stories about an obvious fact: Asia-Pacific countries have done so much better than Europe and the United States and many have virtually eliminated the virus.

One can read about the many economic benefits flowing from that, with country after country in Asia releasing positive economic data because their economy can now operate more normally. It is even suggested that Asia’s more effective response to the virus could propel it to lead the world in the years to come.

For example, the Wall Street Journal recently ran articles entitled “Covid-19’s Global Divide: As West Reels, Asia Keeps Virus at Bay” and “As Coronavirus Surges in US and Europe, Other Countries See One Case as Too Many”.

They explained how the Asia-Pacific region completely out-competed Europe in eliminating the virus, showing clear graphs of Covid cases contrasting European with Asian countries making it unmistakeably clear that policy answers must be thought in Asia- yet such graphs haven’t appeared very often in our own media.

The articles explained, in reference to the Asia-Pacific region, that…

“…Life in these parts has returned to normal in most ways. Bars and restaurants are bustling. Rugby games and marathons are widely attended. Food festivals are sold out. Soap operas can film crowd scenes. Even mask-wearing has relaxed in many areas.”

And they reap the economic benefits: China’s GDP expanded by 4.9% in the third quarter; Taiwan’s growth was 3.3% thanks to a rebound in domestic consumption and strong exports; Vietnam is one of the few Southeast Asian countries expected to witness positive growth this year. One important reason? “All three have crushed the virus”.

Of course, a few articles make similar points in the Irish press, but they are exceptions. More often, what we hear are horror stories about the US, UK, Italy, France or Spain, with the implication that Ireland is doing well in comparison.

Also, we have articles implying that Ireland’s leaders are on the right path, even if compared to countries in Asia, they have, like Europe, failed completely.

A sample of headlines illustrates the point – all from the Irish Times:

“Ireland ‘Outperforming Almost All European Countries in Controlling Spread of Covid-19’”

“Ireland Ranked Among Best for Covid-19 Innovative Solutions”

“Ireland Has the Fastest Improving Incidence of Covid-19 in Europe”

Comparing ourselves to countries that have failed might give us false confidence but it won’t drive the virus away from the island. For those serious about dealing with the pandemic, Asia-Pacific countries are a better source of inspiration.

Some are islands, others not; some are democracies, others are authoritarian; some have communist traditions, others market-based economies. They provide plenty of creative examples to deal with the virus.

For example, one of Ireland’s key issue to address to achieve elimination is the border with Northern Ireland. It is often presented by politicians as an insurmountable obstacle which seemingly prevents them from doing anything other than their yo-yo strategy of repeated lockdowns.

However, the border is entirely manageable by drawing creatively from successful examples of border management that have stamped out the virus.

Australia’s border management is probably the most relevant and applicable case, but there are also interesting stories in Singapore-Malaysia, Vietnam-China, and Thailand-China to name a few. They have used “border community bubbles”, special arrangements with employers, special permissions for cross-border commuters, etc.

We should have a discussion about how these cases can be applied to Ireland, rather than ignoring them or dismissing them because they have differences with our country. Otherwise, we’ll keep making mistakes.

Julien Mercille is an academic at University College Dublin and member of ISAG—Independent Scientific Advocacy Group.




From top: Nigel Farage during the Brexit campaign; Dr Julien Mercille

The Leave side attracted many who are not Little Englanders but people who simply have been denigrated and attacked economically by the establishment — both British and European — for decades.

Julien Mercille writes:

The UK voted to leave the EU.

The respective coalitions backing “Leave” and “Remain” were comprised of unexpected bedfellows.

The Remain forces gathered a significant portion of the Conservative Party led by David Cameron and George Osborne, as well as much of the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. Important segments of the British corporate establishment also backed Remain, just like EU officials and institutions.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, backed Remain, but was careful to distance himself from the Conservatives.

The Leave camp was also heterogeneous. It was dominated by the Eurosceptic hard right of the Conservative Party such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove (nearly half of the Conservative Party MPs supported Brexit), and they also had big business supporters. They were allied with UKIP, led by Nigel Farage, riding on a strong anti-immigration platform.

On both sides, however, could also be found left groups, although they remained marginal in relative terms. On the Leave side was the Lexit group led by the Socialist Workers Party and other small groups.

Their counterpart on the Remain side was the Another Europe is Possible (AEiP) group, which called to democratise the EU from within (for a summary of the forces involved on both sides, see this piece.

There were thus a lot of roads leading to either one of two diametrically opposed alternatives. Indeed, there has been a lot of debate on what progressives should have voted for.

From my perspective, the first thing to say is that, as Bertie Russell and a number of analysts have noted, both options were “shit”.

The problem with voting to Leave is that it empowers the likes of Nigel Farage, the UK’s Donald Trump. The Leave campaign was so dominated by xenophobia that it’s very scary to head into a Brexit on those terms.

Some on the Left said we should have voted Leave no matter what because the EU is anti-democratic, hard core on austerity, pro-privatisation, and so neoliberal that it acts as a cage for progressive change (see, for example, Giles Fraser, Richard Tuck and in Ireland, Kieran Allen).

And so, the argument goes, British people are better off if they only have to fight their own right-wing politicians.

Those criticisms of the EU are all true, but the problem is that Nigel Farage is even more conservative than the mainstream of the Conservative Party, so things could well get worse in the short-term.

One solution to this dilemma is what people like Paul Mason and Ed Rooksby have suggested: progressives should prepare to leave the EU, but not now, as this would be a gift to the extreme right-wingers.

When and if there is a government led by, say, Jeremy Corbyn, then the conditions are more favourable for an EU exit, the time would be then more appropriate for Brexit.

On the other hand, voting Remain was not a great option either. It would have meant to stay within a very neoliberal EU, with a reinvigorated Conservative Party led by David Cameron and George Osborne, the two austerity czars.

In any case, people voted to Leave by 52% to 48% for Remain. For those disappointed with the results, it’s important to understand why this happened.

There’s been a lot of rather self-righteous commentary from the liberal commentariat looking down on ordinary people who voted to Leave. “Why would they be so stupid as to believe that Brexit would protect us from immigrants, Muslims, terrorists, whatever?”.

Sure there’s been plenty of racist tropes in that campaign. But let’s not forget that the Leave side attracted lots of people who simply have been denigrated and attacked economically by the establishment—both British and European—for decades, especially since the emergence of neoliberalism in the late 1970s.

Those towards the bottom of the income scale are rightly pissed off at government and elites which have failed them completely.

Therefore, while it is easy for those who are well off and comfortable to be outraged at those who fell for the idiocies of Nigel Farage, we should remember that Farage’s rhetoric gets traction specifically because he’s right on one important thing: the system is crap for a lot of people.

Same thing for Donald Trump and other far-right rising stars. They wouldn’t be there if there wasn’t so much justified resentment toward government in the first place.

For example, when Margaret Thatcher took power in 1979, manufacturing accounted for nearly 30% of the UK’s national income and employed 6.8 million people; but by 2010, it only accounted for 11% while employing 2.5 million [].

Similarly, why are there so many people unhappy with the EU?

As economist Dean Baker noted, because of the EU’s brain-dead austerity policies since 2010. Their consequence is that a number of countries have yet to reach their pre-recession level of output and employment.

Mr Baker remarks:

 “GDP is still down from its 2007 level by almost 6.0 percent in Portugal and 8.0 percent in Italy. Employment in Spain is down by more than 2 million, which is more than 10 percent of its pre-recession employment. In Greece, employment and GDP are both down by more than 20 percent, a track record that makes the Great Depression look mild by comparison”.

In the UK, as Aditya Chakrabortty wrote, it shouldn’t be a surprise that places like “inner London voted so strongly for the Remain status quo.

“it’s one of the few places that is doing well out of it. Likewise, it’s no wonder south Wales mutinied, when all the status quo has offered people there for the past four decades is broken promises and rolling immiseration. The shame of it is that all these justified resentments were mobilised by the racists and the hard-rightists”.

In short, as John Harris summarised it “If you’ve got money, you vote in… if you haven’t got money, you vote out”.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille

Picture: Press Association

Julien Mercille

PodcastCover Tunein

From top: Dr Julien Mercille; William Campbell

Journalist William Campbell’s excellent Here’s How current affairs podcast this week features pillow-lipped, Gallic-accented, elite-basher Dr Julien Mercille, often of this parish but known to ‘wander’.

William writes:

Is ‘pink pricing’ – charging higher prices for women’s products than for largely identical men’s ones – real?

Does it count as discrimination? Should it be made illegal?

And if women choose lower-paying careers, should society try to persuade them to do otherwise?

To hear two men debate this, listen here


Here’s How


From top: Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri [founder of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council]; The launch of an ‘anti-extremism declaration’ by the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council in Trinity College Dublin on Thursday night; podcast of yesterday’s Talking Points

Newstalk’s Talking Point with Sarah Carey yesterday morning, discussed the response to ‘Islamic terrorism at home and abroad’.

The panel included Declan Power, security analyst and former soldier who has worked in support of UN missions; Roja Fazaeli, lecturer in Islamic studies at Trinity College Dublin; Carol Hunt, Independent Alliance Seanad candidate on the NUI panel and Sunday Independent columnist; and Julien Mercille, lecturer at UCD and ‘sheet columnist.

Earlier this month the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council [IMPIC] released  an ‘anti-extremism declaration’ stipulating that it should be a visa condition for foreign speakers.

IMPIC held a meeting in Trinity College Dublin last Thursday in which visiting muslim speaker Shaykh Fakhruddin Owaisi, chairman of the Council of Sunni Imams in Cape Town, South Africa, signed the declaration.

Both Declan Power and Carol Hunt had attended the meeting alongside diplomatic staff from France, Egypt, Turkey and Iran, and the Pakistani and Belgian embassies to Ireland.

Grab a tay…

Sarah Carey: “Declan Power, you were at that seminar in Trinity during the week about preventing radicalisation and, at it, a statement was produced. The person running it was Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri [founder of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council] and it’s a statement that he wants all visiting Muslim lecturers to sign and it says things like, ‘I unequivocally reject, disown and condemn all terrorism committed in the name of Islam by any militant group… I believe that terrorism is never a legitimate and honourable act of war, but is always a cowardly act of indiscriminate murder’ and it goes on. Now, I can see what they’re trying to do. That if radicalising lecturers are coming in, they want them to sign this and, if they don’t, we’ll know that they’re one of the bad guys. But could you imagine, in the 1980s, going to the UK, and you want to give a lecture somewhere and somebody produces this statement that you have to sign…”

Power: “Yeah, yeah.”

Carey:Is it not really insulting?

Power: “Well now hold on…”

Julien Mercille:Yes.”

Power: “There’s a number of…”

Carey: “It was brought up..”

Power: “It was brought up, yeah, and there’s a couple of points here that we can’t gloss over and, just to take what Carol [Hunt] was saying, just to take it a stage further. Despite the repressive era, I wouldn’t dispute anything you’re saying, but that didn’t produce terrorism in Ireland in itself. Not to get bogged down in that..”

Carey: “I’m… yeah..”

Power: “But there were a number of other factors and this kind of links in with what both Roja and Julien were saying and the varying factors. We can’t ignore it. The former Australian soldier and practitioner and theorist in counter insurgency David Kilcullen talks and wrote about the accidental terrorist. And an awful lot of people in this current iteration of terrorism have found themselves becoming terrorists by a combination of bizarre and unusual factors of disenchantment, of a whole variety of things. Like, for instance, IS prospered largely because the Iraqi officer core were disestablished and they weren’t ideologues so much themselves. But they were mad as hell that their prestige had been taken away from them, their rank in society and they gave IS their military prowess, the planning and the execution of the military operations that gave them success. They’re not the guys you see cutting people’s heads off or roaring and shouting. They’re not into that side of things. And we kind of forget some of the factors. And, you know, Kilcullen is scathing in his criticism of the US in terms of how they misinterpret it, things and they did, so it comes back to, in terms of dealing with terrorism what you’ve got to do is, first of all, not alienate those who are on your side which now brings me to your point. Eventually, I apologise. But I think it was important, maybe, just to give context.”

Carey: “Yeah, that’s OK.”

Power: “I hear, I don’t know about the rest of you, but every time there’s an attack of an outrage of some sort there’s usually some very hard-nosed people who will say, oh, you know, ‘why don’t they give out about it, we don’t see the muslims standing up for it’. And I will usually counter it and say, ‘well I’ve heard X or Y’. Now here in Dublin we’ve seen Shaykh Al-Qadri and a number of others, you know, he’s not just talking of his own benefit, stand up, a muslim-driven initiative within the muslim community and where they’re not asking the State to do it, they’re attempting to give leadership to their own community to say, ‘well this is what we stand for’ and they’re using this as an exhibit, like it or lump it, this declaration. They’re not asking all muslims to have to sign it or even all mosques. They’re talking about people coming into our lives..”

Mercille: “There’s a bit of a trap there though.”

Power: “Hold on, I support the concept of that..”

Hunt: “There were muslim people there who supported this absolutely.”

Power: “They’re damned if they do and they’re damned if they don’t.”

Mercille:There’s a trap there.

Talk over each other

Hunt:By saying that you’re infantilising them, that they can’t make their own decisions.”

Mercille: “As Sarah was saying to ask muslims, ‘oh, do you, do you oppose this act of terrorism?’ Like you said we don’t do that to any of us when some of our states bomb Syria and Iraq right? Muslims are not responsible.”

Carey: “Roja, how do you feel about this statement?”

Roja Fazaeli: “To be honest, well I wasn’t at the talk so I suppose the discussion that went on is important to understanding it as well. I read some part of it, I read the Irish Times. The statement itself I don’t have a problem with and I agree that, you know, there is always talks about the muslims themselves doing it even though I have a problem even with saying ‘the muslims’ because who are these muslims? The diversity and so on. You just take so much away from even lumping everyone as ‘muslims’. I know Shaykh Al-Qadri and I know where his heart lies and I don’t think it’s a negative thing for this to be out. I don’t know how it’s going to be implemented, it will be interesting to see where it goes…”

Hunt: “He did say it was a work in progress.”

Fazaeli: “And  I think that’s important.”

Carey: “But say, if you had a colleague from a university over from a university in the UK and you were inviting them over to give a talk to your class and this statement was produced and they were asked to sign it. I mean would you ask them to sign it?

Fazaeli: “Who is going to implement this? Who’s going to…”

Carey: “Ok, let’s say..”

Talk over each other

Mercille: “It’s very insulting. I would never go to a talk if I was asked, ‘do you renounce the violence of Ireland?‘”

Power: “Sorry, Sarah..”

Carey: “Do Julien, do you understand why they’re doing it. That they’re afraid of radicalised lecturers coming in here to sell a message.”

Mercille: “Maybe politically it’s a good thing because everybody is asking him to do it but it’s a trap that you don’t want to fall into. You don’t want to have to set a standard by which muslims have to apologise for everything…”

Hunt: “They’re not apologising…”

Mercille: “Well, they’re saying, ‘I renounce..'”

Power: “No, hold on a second, the key thing and I heard Dr Al-Qadri talk about this, I think, in this station. The key thing he’s asking is that visiting clerics would sign a declaration that they wouldn’t attempt to radicalise while in this country. That they wouldn’t preach against the values of this country. And this is coming from a muslim voice. And there’s one other point I wanted to give: a parallel. It’s not that long ago I can remember reading letters to the Irish Times signed by various worthy academics wanting academic boycotts of Israel and various other types of limitations in Israel. Now I’m not saying that Israel doesn’t have issues to answer, at times, but I’m always very uncomfortable about things where you’re trying to limit people. So I did give this whole thing consideration. And, at the end of the day, if I was an Irish academic in the 1980s going over to lecture in history or something like that and the British state asked me to sign a declaration…”

Hunt: “But it’s not the state, it would be…”

Power: “Well sorry, yeah..”

Hunt: “Fellow Irish..”

Power: “Even if the British state had asked me to sign it I would sign it because I would understand how important it was for Irish people at that time to be able to stand up and say, ‘I’m an Irish citizen and what they’re doing, this group, is nothing to do with me and I don’t want to be seen as an instrument of radicalisation’.”

Carey: “I want to let Roja back in on that.”

Fazaeli: “You said something there Declan about this being signed by muslim clerics because I hear kind of contradicting, is it clerics? Or lecturers? There’s a huge difference. So…”

Power: “As I understood it was aimed primarily at visiting clerics who are coming to preach who would be in a powerful position to influence.”

Talk over each other

Hunt:The analogy that was given that there are in universities in Britain, they said they had heard very extremist talks given in lectures and that’s what they tried to stop.”

Carey: “But Carol do you not see how it’s setting up a dichotomy? That there’s us and them and they have to declare themselves…”

Hunt: “No but they, and this was actually brought up at the discussion and the muslim representatives, the clerics there said no, it’s not us and them, it’s us. This is all us. This is what we are trying t do.”

Carey: “So the fact that it’s coming from them, from the muslim community…”

Hunt: “From them, yes, they said this is what they are doing, this is the important thing.”

Talk over each other

Hunt:Not me that’s what they said, the same arguments came up and that’s what they said.”

Fazaeli: “As I said I wasn’t there that night but there is something to be said again, saying that, you know, Shaykh Al-Qadri is speaking for all muslims in Ireland because there is..”

Power: “But he’s not..”

Hunt: “No he’s not..”

Fazaeli: “He’s not, no but we shouldn’t think that he is or..”

Power: “I agree, I agree..”

Fazaeli: “And he is a good voice, it’s not that he’s not but he’s…”

Power: “He’s an alternative voice.”

Fazaeli: “He’s an alternative voice, exactly.”

Power: “I agree. The best thing, I think, to come out of this is that it reminds us, this goes back to the earlier points that Roja was saying that there are layers and nuances and differentiations within the Islamic community in Ireland and elsewhere and it’s giving a platform to a debate within the muslim community being had in public. And I, for one, welcome it and I endorse it…”

Carey: “So Julien does it make any difference to you that this is coming from within the muslim community, it’s not, you know, Christians in Ireland imposing this.”

Mercille: “Well it’s OK but for the reasons you said I agree with you, it’s setting up this us and them thing. In Ireland, you know…”

Carey: “But it’s coming from them, this statement is coming from them…”

Mercille: “It’s ok yeah, it may be better than non-muslims forcing them to do it but it doesn’t mean I think the statement is amazing or anything like that. I don’t think it’s the worst thing ever.”

Power: “But do you not welcome the bit of discussion and debate that it’s giving rise to…”

Talk over each other

Mercille: “But when you force people…Look, the thing is, let’s say you want to talk about Ireland, what we should do. We talked about the muslims now for 45 minutes, right? We should talk about what the Irish government can do…Shannon Airport hasn’t been mentioned yet on this show.”

Power: “Well do you want to mention Shannon? I read your piece about Shannon…”

Talk over each other

Power: “And I noticed that you left out the two UN resolutions.”

Talk over each other

Carey: “Let him make his point about Shannon.”

Mercille:Shannon Airport is the one contribution Ireland has made to allow US troops to go bomb the Middle East, right? So if there’s one thing we could do to reduce the threat of terrorism on Ireland it’s to close Shannon Airport to US troops.”


Mercille:Because terrorists react to foreign policy. If you don’t understand that you shouldn’t be part of the discussion…”

Hunt:No they don’t. No, no, no, no, no, actually”

Mercille:Yes, they do.”

Hunt:No, no.”

Mercille: “Intelligence agencies agree with me, right? It’s not just me. CIA knows that very well. If you bomb the country and there’s a response to it you shouldn’t be surprised and there will be more on Europe, there will be more on the US…”

Power: That’s very irresponsible.”

Talk over each other

Power: “I have to come in there because there’s a degree of, Julien, with all due respects, I read your piece. It was in The Journal and again everyone’s entitled to their opinion but I’ve a concern here Julien because you’re kind of doing this from the luxury of not giving full context. First of all, the reason that Shannon is in use, there are two particular points here that are very relevant. The reason Shannon is in use is not because of some little secret agreement between the Irish government and the US – there are two UN resolutions that underpin the reconstruction and stabilisation of both Iraq and Afghanistan. And as part of that it’s facilitating those US, those UN resolutions. If it was another…”

Mercille:So Shannon is being used for the reconstruction of Iraq, is that what you said?

Power: “Hold on a second..”

Mercille: “That’s what you said.”

Power: That’s not what I’m saying, it’s not what I’m saying, it’s what the United Nations are saying and we’re members of the United Nations and we can’t pick and choose..”

Mercille: “That’s just not true, look.”

Power: “Oh you want to dismiss…”

Mercille: “If you don’t understand that Shannon is used to bomb the Middle East..”

Power: “You’re an academic, I suggest you get your facts right…”

Mercille: “If you don’t understand that Shannon is used to bomb the Middle East just go talk to soldiers or something..”

Power: “Hang on a second, hold on a second. I was, let me finish this. I was a soldier, I’ve gone beyond the lofty halls of academia.”

Mercille: “You’re arguing that Shannon Airport is used to reconstruct Iraq? That’s…”

Power: “Hold on, hold on, no there’s an important point here Julien, I don’t mind you disagreeing with me but let’s stay in the realm of fact. For a start, the aircraft that fly through Shannon are transport aircraft, they have troops on them, they have a certain degree of their personal weapons and whatever else. And they’re flying out as part of UN-sponsored, UN-endorsed missions. Now, do you accept that fact?”

Mercille: “The US military there…”

Power: “Do you accept the fact?”

Mercille: “The US military there is going to…”

Power: “Because we’re going to be arguing at cross purposes here…”

Mercille: “…Afghanistan right and operations in the Middle East right. If you want to pitch that under a UN fig leaf or some…”

Talk over each other

Power: “You seem to think I’m making this up as I go along. Ok, we’re not going to get anywhere on this. You don’t accept that there are two UN resolutions underpinning the use of Shannon Airport.”

Mercille: “I don’t accept that Shannon Airport is used for peaceful purposes by the US military.”

Listen back in full here

Previously: Clash Of Civilisations

Pic: Rollingnews. Carol Hunt

Journalist Carol Hunt. 11/12/ 2015. Picture by Fergal Phillips.


From top: Carol Hunt and Dr Julien Mercille

Further to Independent Alliance seanad candidate Carol Hunt’s article on ‘defending Western values’ and challenging ‘those who do not unambiguously oppose Islamist terrorism’ in last weekend’s Sunday Independent, Dr Julien Mercille’s piece on Islamaphobia and the media in these quarters on Tuesday, and the subsequent tweet-off

Tomorrow. At 9am. On Newstalk’s Talking Point with Sarah Carey.



Thanks John Gallen


From top: Chair Of The Irish Muslim Peace and Intergration Council Shaykh Dr Umar Al Qadri addressing an Anti-racism rally at the GPO last year; Dr Julien Mercille

It’s time reach out to Muslims in constructive and peaceful ways to counteract ISIS propaganda.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

And here we go again. Another terrorist attack on Europe claimed by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), on Brussels this time. This post explains the strategy that ISIS employs and two types of reactions in the media and commentary.

The first, and dominant, response puts oil on the fire. It is xenophobic and Islamophobic. And in fact, it plays into the hands of ISIS because it is exactly what the terrorists want: a divided people.

The second type of response, in a minority unfortunately, is to react by rejecting the black and white view that ISIS seeks to propagate and to reach out to Muslims.

The strategy employed by ISIS is simple:

1. Create chaos where there is calm (for example, by hitting unsuspecting targets in cities like Paris and Brussels).

2. Use vicious methods to polarise populations. Most Muslims live happily in secular societies. They live in what ISIS calls the “grey zone”. The objective is to drive them toward extremism either by attracting them through displays of power or by instilling fear in them or by scaring non-Muslims into taking revenge on them: in short, the “grey zone” needs to be transformed into a black and white world of “Good” versus “Evil”.

We can react in two ways to ISIS attacks and propaganda: either we support their Machiavellian plans, or we counteract them.

The first option is to fall into their trap and put more oil on the fire and thereby help ISIS spread chaos and boost their recruiting drive.

That’s what politicians like Donald Trump are doing by claiming that there is some sort of divide between the “fanatical Muslim world” and the “reasonable Western world”.

In the wake of the Brussels bombings, Trump said: “I would close up our borders” to prevent dangerous Muslims from getting into the US. Previously, after the Paris attacks, he had called for a temporary ban on all Muslims who wish to enter the US. He also promised to use waterboarding and even go beyond that when interrogating terrorists.

Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister who was a strong ally of George W. Bush in the invasion of Iraq, is also of that mindset.

He wrote an article this weekend in which he declared that. “We are at war with Islamist extremism” and need to be, “preparing for a conflict that is longer than anything we have seen in modern times”.

Because what we face are extremist Muslims of which there are, “many millions… across the globe”.

Blair says that we need to be ready to send Western military troops on the ground in the Middle East. In short, we must “rediscover our muscularity”.

And we must also use our allies.

But who are they?

Blair says: “Saudi Arabia is our ally” and “Israel is also our ally”.

The fact that Israel and Saudi Arabia are two extremist forces spreading chaos in the Middle East is irrelevant for Blair.

In Ireland, some commentators seem also to have fallen into ISIS’s trap.

For example, Carol Hunt, who is running for the Seanad for the NUI panel, wrote in the Sunday Independent that we shouldn’t be scared of criticising Islam and all its problems.

After all, we have “to protect Western values” of openness and plurality against the bad Muslims. She asks suggestively: “Can we be unambiguous in our belief that some cultures are indeed superior to others”?

And: “Can we admit that a culture which espouses universal human rights is indeed superior to one which treats some individuals as lesser beings because of gender, sexual orientation or religious belief?

In short, Western culture is superior to Muslim culture.

However, this assertion works only if you remove the part that there is a big culture of militarism in the West in which a lot of people are cheering on their militaries to invade other countries; and if you remove the fact that Western governments don’t care about “universal human rights”; etc.

But there is a second option: reach out to Muslims in constructive and peaceful ways to counteract ISIS propaganda.

For example, Juan Cole, the professor of history who specialises in religion and Islam, wrote an excellent piece in which he made the following remarks on how to react to the tragedy in Brussels:

1. “Stop suggesting that there is something wrong with Muslims that they keep producing terrorists. All the major world faiths produce violent people. In the Rwanda genocide of the 1990s, Christian Hutus murdered between 500,000 and 1 million other people, and the Christian churches were deeply involved in enabling this slaughter.”

2. “Muslims are a sixth of humankind and hail from all sorts of backgrounds, ethnicities, and languages. There are 40 million Chinese Muslims. There are 23 million Russian ones. Ethiopian Muslims and Senegalese Muslims have little in common despite being African, and neither has much in common with Bangladeshi Muslims. To tag all of them with the actions of some violent Brussels slum-dwellers of North African heritage is weird. It is exactly like assuming that all American Christians want to kill Tutsis, just because Hutu Christians did.”

3. “Show your Muslim neighbour some love. ISIS does these horrible things to get people of Christian heritage to be beastly to the Muslims in their midst, spreading hatred and anger and a sense of victimization. ISIS is hoping to use *you* to drive other Muslims into their arms. They want to make you a recruitment officer. They want you to hate and they want you to fear. There is only one way to combat this tactic of sharpening contradictions. Refuse to hate and refuse to be afraid. Bend over backwards to be nice to Muslims.”

So we must choose: Do we want to be on the side of ISIS by supporting Islamophobia and throwing oil on the fire?

Or are we ready not to fall into their trap and reject their ridiculous black and white view of the world?

Julien Mercille specialises in US foreign policy and terrorism and is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille



From top: Chairperson of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) Ann Marie Gill, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop, Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald at a DRCC event last year; Dr Julien Mercille

Is Enda Kenny a feminist?

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

Enda Kenny’s speechwriter wrote a piece in yesterday’s Sunday Independent declaring her boss a “feminist intellectual” and that he “went the extra mile to help women and do them justice”.

The article is so poorly written that it offers one more clue as to why Fine Gael did so badly in the election.

The speechwriter, Miriam O’Callaghan (not RTÉ’s Miriam O’Callaghan)  “admire[s] his compassion, his insight, his ordinariness, his warmth, his feminism and huge intellect”.

Is Enda Kenny a feminist? And what is a feminist anyway? I’ll define it for this piece simply as someone who is in favour of improving conditions for women as a matter of principle.

Therefore, a feminist can be a man or a woman (that will be obvious to feminists, but it’s still misunderstood in public debate). Conversely, anti-feminists can also be either men or women.

So is Enda Kenny as feminist? Well, no he’s not. It’s easy to see that he hasn’t done much at all to improve conditions for women in this country. Let’s look at a few examples (there are many more, of course).

First, abortion rights are still a scandal Abortion is criminalised even in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal impairment, as Amnesty International explains . T

he 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act leaves this restrictive legal framework largely intact. As a result, Ireland is still an outlier—an island of conservatism within a European sea of liberalism.

Second, a number of austerity cuts have affected women negatively. Cuts to the lone parents’ payments implemented by Joan Burton’s department hit women disproportionately.

Another cut that I think represents very well the way in which this government has mistreated women is the overall 21% cut to the Rape Crisis Centres between 2008 and 2014. That’s called a direct attack on women.

In Ireland, 87% of victims of rape or sexual violence are women or girls. If you’re not a feminist yet, that statistic alone should make you one. And what about the perpetrators of those crimes? 98% are men.

But few care: try to find a single story in the media documenting in detail the cuts to the Rape Crisis Centres. The only ones I’m aware of are my own, published on Broadsheet and in the Irish Times. To this day, I have not received a single request for a media appearance or interview to talk about those things.

Third, there are fundamental issues, such as the fact that in Ireland, the gender “pay gap” is 14%. This means that on average, for one hour of work, women in Ireland are paid 14% less than men (the data is based on surveys of employees at companies with 10 or more employees—so it doesn’t include women who don’t work).

Those who think that it’s not too bad should consider that this means that women work on average seven weeks per year “for free” compared to men. And according to the available data, the gender pay gap has been widening over the last few years of austerity.

Moreover, if we look at the “earnings gap” faced by women, it is 35% (this compares the annual earnings of men and women, and so considers the fact that women on average work fewer hours and have a lower employment rate, for example because they interrupt their career to take care of children).

There are many causes for this pay gap. According to the European Commission, they include: “Management and supervisory positions are overwhelmingly held by men”; “men are more often promoted than women, and paid better as a consequence”; “less than 4% of CEOs are women”; “women spend more time than men on important unpaid tasks, such as household work and caring for children or relatives”; “pay discrimination, while illegal, continues to contribute to the gender pay gap”.

To my knowledge, the gender pay gap was not exactly a big issue on the government’s agenda.

A real feminist government would focus on issues like those just mentioned, and on a range of others.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow Julien  on Twitter: @JulienMercille


Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.18.11 Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.18.35Overall-Tone

From top: Panel on last night’s Tonight with Mick Clifford, and graphs from early findings of a study by the Institute for Future Media and Journalism at Dublin City University

Last night, on TV3’s Tonight With Mick Clifford, the show’s panel discussed the media’s impact on the general election.

The panel included director of the Institute for Future Media and Journalism at Dublin City University, Jane Suiter; our own Julien Mercille; Sinead Carroll of the Journal; and John Devitt, from Transparency International Ireland.

At the beginning of their discussion, Ms Suiter presented the preliminary findings of an unfinished study by FUJO which is looking at the coverage of the election by the Irish Times, the Irish Independent and the Journal.

She explained that the study’s findings to date are solely based on coverage up to a week before the election and that the final week has yet to be investigated. She also said FUJO will be looking at the coverage of RTÉ and TV3.

Several graphics from the study were shown (see above), prompting Ms Suiter to explain:

“The [Irish] Independent was taking the Government line of ‘Stability v Chaos’ so ‘stick with [Enda] Kenny and it’s stability, go with [Gerry] Adams and it’s chaos’, whereas the Irish Times weren’t taking that line because they were saying, ‘well no it’s Kenny versus [Micheal] Martin’ so it was kind of the old choice that we’re used to. And then the Journal just took a very, sort of straightforward one between the three of them.”

Further to the study’s findings presented by Ms Suiter, the panel discussed the coverage as a whole.

From the discussion…

Julien Mercille: “I think there is maybe some differences between the various outlets but, by and large, the mass media gave a very favourable view for the Government. I mean you didn’t have much of a challenge to the Government parties. You did have that, maybe in a tactical way but not in a fundamental way. Take, for example, the best issue to illustrate this is healthcare. We know it’s the number one issue for voters. Exit polls show, and polls before, this is probably the most poorly reported issue in the whole country, healthcare. There isn’t a single article that calls for an Irish NHS for example which is the thing we need. It’s cheaper…”

Mick Clifford: “I saw a few…”

Mercille: “…and it’s also better for health.”

Clifford: “Absolutely but I saw a few of them, I have to say, I saw…”

Mercille: “Oh really?”

Clifford: “I did.”

Mercille: “Calling for an Irish NHS? Maybe once every now and then, but that’s not very…”

Clifford: “Well, universal health care, they didn’t necessarily say…”

Mercille: “It’s very different, it’s not the same thing. It’s not the same thing at all. It could be but it doesn’t have to be.”

Clifford: “Right and there’s one other thing there that I would suggest and that is that, despite that being shown, in previous elections and admittedly this turned out to be different, in previous elections, people concentrated on the economy, they concentrated on tax cuts and spending increases..”

Jane Suiter: “But actually they didn’t because we…”

Clifford: “Not in this, no, but in previous..”

Suiter: “Yeah, well in the previous election, it was all about the bailout and the Troika programme, that was the whole focus of it but actually in this one, in many, actually the focus was on party politics. So which party is up and down in the polls? Which party is going to go into coalition?”

Clifford: “Rather than the issues?”

Suiter: “Rather than the issues. So there was actually very little focus even on macro economic issues or on on micro, on tax and spending…”

Talk over each other

Mercille: “There were articles about Enda Kenny and his wife, as if this was any way important…”

Clifford: “Aaah Julien…”

Mercille: “Nothing, it is true. Nothing about..”

Clifford: “Enda Kenny and his wife.”

Mercille: “Nothing about the main policies, such as healthcare, poverty, the fact that Ireland is a tax haven. You didn’t have much of that. It was all about the person and the looks and all that.”


Sinéad O’Carroll: “Because we didn’t know, we knew that there wasn’t going to be anyone that would run away and be able to get an easy majority, we knew there was no-one able to get that magic number, so it did become, then, a game of looking at who was going to go in with who and, because no-one was giving definitive answers, that became the narrative.”

Clifford: “Was that to the detriment of, was that to the detriment of examining policies?”

O’Carroll: “I think so, absolutely, and I think, but I think also, there was, the Irish Times had a really beautiful feature on their, online, and they had absolutely every issue covered and you went into it and you could see the party policy on every single issue. Not many people talked about that feature that they had.”

Suiter: “The other interesting thing was how little focus was on any of the smaller parties or the Independents.”

Clifford: “John [Devitt], did you find it balanced, imbalanced? Or how?”

Devitt: “Well, it’s difficult to say but I think the broadcasters appeared not to have planned much of their coverage of the election, they were led by the news cycle. So, in the first week, we had wall-to-wall coverage of the Kinahan-Hutch feud and the shooting in the Regency Hotel, in the second week there was a lot of talk about fiscal space and Kenny and Adams grasp, or lack thereof of financial, their own financial data and then, in the last week or so, there were two days coverage of the Taoiseach’s comments around whingers in Castlebar. So it appeared there was little focus on, as you say, on the issues themselves.”


Devitt: “In Cork there was coverage around, or there was a lack of coverage in the national media, about and interview I think, on Cork local radio [Red FM] of Enda Kenny and there were allegations by the, was it Neil Prendeville, he had alleged that Kenny’s advisors, or his media handlers were putting him under pressure to wrap up a rather intense interview with the Taoiseach. We didn’t see that kind of questioning of Martin or Kenny elsewhere in the mainstream media.”

O’Carroll: “There’s a certain politeness, I think, that goes along with Cabinet ministries, positions and with the Taoiseach and I think, obviously, I think sometimes a lot of people, say the Vincent Browne style questioning, if you’re not answering a question, you don’t get away with that. I think, in other studios, people do get away with not answering a question because the impoliteness isn’t there and I think that is to the detriment of getting answers to questions.”

Mercille: “I agree. It’s also to do with the ideology. I mean Gerry Adams will be questioned a lot, whatever he is…”

Clifford: “Should he be questioned more than the other leaders?”

Mercille: “Not at all, I mean he’s not in power, he didn’t make the policies, he didn’t create the mess we have. He could be questioned, he should be questioned on other things, if you like, but I mean the imbalance is just blatant. I mean people were even saying, my god, if the Indo keeps going like that, they’ll backfire on their own terms..”

Clifford: “Just to make a few distinctions here. I think, and I think it is fair to say, and I think an awful lot of people feel that the Independent group in particular covered Sinn Fein in a manner that perhaps a lot of people felt was imbalanced. That doesn’t mean that the whole of the media did that. That’s the first issue…”

Mercille: “Well the media is very…”

Clifford: “Julien.”

Mercille: “The Indo was more explicit and I’m actually more comfortable with that because, actually, there is a view there and you can disagree with the Indo’s view. Sinn Fein is never covered positively in any media, any mass media, except for exceptions all right. You see the problem with Sinn Fein and the coverage is that let’s say when Gerry Adams was on Sean O’Rourke, people were making fun of his math and all that. Fine, you want to talk about the issue of economic policy, fine, but then you have to criticise Enda Kenny and Fine Gael for their austerity.”

Talk over each other

Clifford: “Hang on there’s a difference between, hold on, there’s a difference between criticising somebody for their grasp of the issues, and criticising somebody for the nature of their policies. Absolutely you…”

Mercille: “Well Fine Gael doesn’t understand economics because if you understand economics, no, if you understand economics, if you understand economics, the first thing you do is not austerity in times of recession.”

Clifford: “I know, that’s one side of it. That’s a different issue, that’s one side of an argument.”

Mercille: “It’s a more important point than not knowing about the math of this budget or something.


Mercille: “The reason Sinn Fein is attacked so much is because it’s the only force in this country that can challenge the establishment. Whether you love Sinn Fein or you hate them.”

Clifford: “Oh, so Sinn Fein are not the establishment?”

Mercille: “They’re much less establishment than Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.”

Clifford: [Inaudible]

Mercille: “Oh you think? Oh really. When’s the last time they were in Government?”

Clifford: “They’re in the Government in the North, they’re the biggest party in the…”

Talk over each other

Clifford: “They’re the biggest party in the local elections…”

Mercille: “I’m not saying they’re a bit part of the establishment. But they can challenge Fine Gael and Fianna Fail much more than let’s say…”

Clifford: “You’re suggesting that questioning Sinn Fein has absolutely nothing to do with other elements, apart from their socioeconomic position?”

Mercille: “Do you have other aspects you could question? You could talk about the North, if you like, you could talk about anything, you could talk about nationalism, you could talk about Gerry Adam’s past. That’s all fine. But you have to do it, not in a double standards way. If you want to talk about the economy, fine. But then talk about austerity. If you want to talk about…”

Clifford: “Has it not been talked about?”

Mercille: “Not in the right way. It hasn’t been challenged, the media endorsed austerity all the way, across the board and they’ve said it explicitly themselves.”

Clifford: “Jane, just to, in fairness, because it is an issue, I’m not singling out one party but it is an issue as to whether or not Sinn Fein got a fair shake. What do you think?”

Suiter: “Yeah, absolutely, in the other ones, because the coding we used is coding that’s been used in Greece and in Spain and in Portugal and in Germany, so it’s developed in a pan-European group. And when we looked at it, and looked at the tone of coverage, there was a negative tone of coverage for Gerry Adams compared with the other leaders but it was driven by the Indo. And the tone of coverage for Gerry Adams, in the Journal and in the Irish Times, was neutral. It wasn’t positive, but it was neutral. And the tone of coverage for all of the leaders, in all of the newspapers was broadly neutral.”


O’Carroll: “A lot of talk was about how they [Sinn Fein] wanted to abolish the Special Criminal Court and I think a lot of people might have thought that that was kind of at the forefront of their manifesto. It was in fact mentioned once on page 46 of their manifesto. It is, you have to put it to them when it’s, exactly…”

Clifford: “Because, a couple of weeks before it…”

O’Carroll: “Exactly…”

Clifford: “Slab Murphy was convicted… Gerry Adams introduces the Special Criminal Court..”

O’Carroll: “I’m not saying that that was something that was done in error. I’m just saying it’s a manner of the news cycle, that’s how it happens. So it wasn’t a vendetta about picking out something that may not have been on the top of their agenda and making it so in front pages, it was because it happened to come up.”

Devitt: “I think broadcast media, in particular, have a responsibility to manage the election coverage very carefully and not be so reactive to the news cycle. Print media also need to be very careful, or more careful I should say…”

Clifford: “The broadcast media though are restricted by the BAI and they have to literally measure balance…”

Devitt: “Oh absolutely but, by the same token,  they were still very much led by what was in the newspaper, in the news, that day…”

Clifford: “The actual topics, yeah.”

Devitt: “And when you look at the questions that were asked of the leaders during the three debates, on RTE and on TV3, they were still very much led by what was in, or influence by, what was in the newspaper that day.”

O’Carroll: “Well it’s not only what’s in the newspapers, it’s what’s people, in general, are talking about and what people have questions about.”

Devitt: “Well, I mean there were issues like climate change or corruption – which was a big issue just in December – that were barely mentioned during the leaders’ debates.”

Suiter: “Or Repeal the 8th wasn’t mentioned much in the leaders’ debates. I think a big thing is that fact that the smaller parties, and Independents,  weren’t covered much by the, you know, we saw in the poll afterwards…”

Clifford: “It’s a proportionate thing though..”

Suiter: “No, but they have a huge proportion of the vote now, as we’ve seen and they didn’t get it and, the same thing in the leaders’ debates. They had a huge proportion of the vote and they weren’t there.”

Watch back in full here


Former Socialist Party MEP Catherine O’Neill and Paul Murphy TD at an  Irish Water demonstration in 2014; Dr Julien Mercille

The Irish Water model wants to shift the burden onto ordinary people via water charges. But a better option is to fund water services via progressive general taxation, like any other public service.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

Irish Water and water charges have resurfaced as the political parties are attempting to form a government.

Some in Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have even suggested that they would be open to consider scrapping the charges and perhaps even Irish Water itself.

Of course, a lot of that is probably just fluff to pretend they care about what the electorate wants, but nevertheless, it is possible that the next government might have to adopt a more lenient approach towards water charges if it hopes to generate the required popular support to govern with some stability.

This remains to be seen, but the debate of the last few days has been very interesting.

It reveals that people power does work, and it shows once again the hypocrisy of the establishment and the media in covering water issues. The points I would make are as follows:

1. Protest and civil disobedience do work: the reason why the main parties are now reconsidering charging us for water is because they don’t want trouble in the streets.

So we can thank all the community groups and people like Paul Murphy TD and Joan Collins TD who participated in the protests. It’s interesting that some on the Left, even the radical Left, have been reluctant to support civil disobedience.

But guess what: this is how rights are won. Marches and speeches could be organised every day of the year but it wouldn’t change a thing. Those in power can live with that and will even encourage marches and speeches since they’re quite ineffective and they give the impression that the government is open to hear different points of view.

Also, over the last few days, there has been a flurry of hypocritical arguments from the government and media about the dangers of abolishing Irish Water and scrapping water charges, such as:

2. “If we abolish Irish Water we’ll go back to the inefficient system of running water services by the 40 or so Local Authorities, which is an uncoordinated and costly system”:

This is so ridiculous that you can be pretty sure that whoever says that is being disingenuous. The truth is that abolishing Irish Water has nothing to do with going back to the Local Authorities. It means keeping a centralised, national system, which does provide better coordination and efficiency.

But that national body should be a public body, not a semi-state commercial body like Irish Water. The difference is that Irish Water is commercial and charges for water, whereas a simple public body, which could be called the National Water Authority, is not commercial in nature and remains in public hands, and can’t be privatised down the line, as Irish Water could be.

3. “If we abolish Irish Water, its workers will have to be fired and we won’t be able to invest enough in our crappy water infrastructure”.

Oh wow. Since when does the government actually care about people losing their jobs and the lack of investment in our infrastructure?

Since 2008, under austerity, the main parties have raised the unemployment rate and cut public spending. Now that their beloved Irish Water is under threat, they suddenly pretend to care about those things…

In any case, if Irish Water became a public body, its staff with expertise in running a water system would stay. It is the useless marketing bureaucrats, legal advisors and overpaid executives who would have to find a job elsewhere.

The issue of investment is important, however. It is true that our water infrastructure needs investment. The reason is because under austerity, the government has refused to fund it adequately.

This is the standard tactic to privatise public assets: first, underfund a public body; second, when it is collapsing because it is underfunded, cry out loud that it’s a scandal that our infrastructure is so bad and that we need the private “efficient” sector to fix it; third, privatise it, even if there’s usually not much difference at all in efficiency between the public and private sectors—in fact, the private sector is in important cases less efficient (e.g., health care).

The central issue is: How should water services be funded? The Irish Water model wants to shift the burden onto ordinary people via water charges. But a better option is to fund water services via progressive general taxation, like any other public service. The reason why the government never mentions that is because it means taxing the rich to fund services for everybody.

If the provision of water services remains in public hands, the government could also borrow cheaply on the markets to invest in infrastructure via a National Water Authority. However, the proponents of Irish Water say it would be better to set up Irish Water as a commercial semi-state and have it borrow on the markets and keep all that off the government’s balance sheet.

The problem with this is that it would mean charging us all for water instead of using general taxation. It is therefore better to make general taxation more progressive, to implement a wealth tax, and to tax businesses a little more (to bring them on a par with the norm in Europe, so we’re not talking about being unfair to businesses here) and to use that money to fund water services.

The Right2Water movement has a detailed explanation of how this could be done here and the economist Michael Taft has a similar explanation here.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille



From top: UCD lecturer Julien Mercille, Irish Independent columnist Dan O’Brien and founder of Hibernia Forum Eamon Delaney

And that’s it.

You may recall the publication of the 456-page Banking Inquiry report during the week.

The report contained a chapter entitled The Property Sector, which included a section on Property Valuation which, in turn, contained a sub-section on Property Sector Relationships with the Media.

It was 1½ pages long.

And it concluded uncontroversially:

Revenue from the property sector was a significant source of income for some media outlets, accounting for as much as 14% or 17% of all revenue for some newspapers. Editors denied that editorial independence was affected by their advertising relationship with the property sector.”

Further to this…

UCD lecturer and dreamboat ‘sheet columnist Dr Julien Mercille; chief economist at the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin, Irish Independent columnist and former economics editor at the Irish Times (2010 to 2013) Dan O’Brien; and former diplomat and founder of right-wing think tank Hibernia Forum Eamon Delaney spoke to Sarah Carey on Newstalk this morning’s Talking Points show.

Specifically, they discussed the media’s role in pumping up the boom, promising pillow soft landings and supporting austerity when their analysis proved faulty.

Grab a large tay.

Sarah Carey: “Julien Mercille, I’ll start with you because you laid out quite a coherent case against the media at the banking inquiry. Will you give us the elevator pitch on how it’s our fault?”

Julien Mercille: “Well, it’s against a certain type of media. I mean the case I make is that the media reflects the interests of its owners and that’s very, very easy to understand from other media. We don’t have a problem saying that the UCD student paper reflects the interests of the students, by and large, or a union paper reflects the union interests. It’s kind of obvious. But when we come to corporate media or State-owned media you say well that reflects the interests of the State, the Government or the corporate world, people sometimes say, ‘oh no, you’re a conspiracy theorist’ or something. And again it doesn’t mean that because it reflects the interests and views of the corporate world, it’s wrong. It can be right, it’s just a matter of saying it’s a certain interest and it’s a narrow range of interests that we see in the media. So, in relation to the housing bubble and the banking inquiry, the media was very much supporting the housing bubble.

There were some voices of dissent but we can name them very quickly because there’s probably only one or two people – David McWilliams is the most prominent one but everybody else was saying there either was no problem, there’s going to be a soft landing or what happens often is also they wouldn’t talk about it. So if you don’t talk about a big problem, a big bubble that’s growing and growing, that’s a kind of passive support so sometimes the media works more in that way. People don’t know there’s something important so they keep buying houses. And then there’s a problem and everybody says, ‘oh, we never saw it’. Whereas if you looked just across the sea, The Economist magazine had warned about the bubble in 2003. And not just a vague warning, a very precise warning saying house prices are overvalued by 40% I think and there were many housing bubbles at that time in the world so Ireland was not unique in that respect.”

Sarah Carey: “Are you saying that journalists were consciously bending to the will of what they thought their corporate bosses wanted or was it just something far more subtle in their neglect of the topic?”

Mercille: “Sometimes there were, at the banking inquiry again, we know that property industry called The Irish Times, for example, and said, ‘listen you better have good coverage because, you know, we’re not going to sponsor, we’re not going to advertise with you’,  so there were a few explicit threats like that. But mostly I don’t think journalists were, every day, like, ‘ok, I cannot talk about the housing bubble’. I think the media is like any institution. People who work in the media mostly internalise the rules and they come not to think about them so much. It’s such a fast-paced work anyway and you don’t sometimes have the time to think about it. It’s the same thing for any institution, whether it’s the military or academia.”

Carey: “So, Dan O’Brien, the media internalised the problem and therefore were incapable of seeing it clearly?”

Dan O’Brien: “Well, can I come back to the first, the specific issue of the bubble and the property thing and then there’s the broader charge that Julien makes about media organisations doing their corporate owners’ bidding and Julien says that media people do what the corporate and Government interests want. Now I would really suggest to Julien that he get out a bit more because if you talk to politicians, most politicians hate the media, particularly Government politicians. They say that the media doesn’t report their achievements, it only looks at trivial things, it looks at their fights, it tries to catch them out all the time. The notion that the media is supportive of a government, like politicians just would laugh at that proposition. That’s politicians. Corporate, like the amount of times I’ve talked to people in business who believe the media are full of left-wing, anti-business people. They think the media is anti-profit, anti-business.

Again, they would just laugh at the notion that the media is dominated by pro-business cheerleaders. So, you know, different people have different perspectives. Julian, from his perspective, believes that, you know, the media is all dominated and basically just does business and Government’s bidding, I just think that’s fantasy. OK, so let’s move on to the bubble. I have two hats – I have one as an economist, I have one as somebody who contributes to the media. As an economist, I think we’re the people who deserve blame for missing out on the bubble, OK? Journalists are generalists, they can’t be experts on everything, that’s one of the great difficulties of media. If the majority of the economics community either thought there wasn’t a bubble or, as Julian said, didn’t raise it enough and I was guilty of that. I didn’t, I wasn’t living here so, you know, I should have said more in hindsight about the risks and that the failing of the economics profession when the average journalist was looking at what was going on and saying, ‘well look, most economists, who know more about this stuff than I do, say there’s not a problem or the risk is relatively low, well then, what are we going to write everyday. Somebody’s talking about a risk, are we going to put this on the front page everyday? No.’ So I, in my view, there were some failings in the media around the bubble and there are things that could be changed but did the media contribute in any big way to the inflating of the bubble? No. It was the banks, it was the columnists’ intellectual failings…”

Carey: “But what about property journalism specifically? I mean you know like that was, first of all, you had the revenues from property advertising, which were hugely significant. Julien pointed out that both INM and The Irish Times actually bought property websites and then you had the property porn, all those wonderful articles. You know no house ever had a flaw in it, the lovely advertorials, you know…”

O’Brien: “The notion that a journalist ceases, becomes a property editor for a newspaper and then puts aside the normal journalistic rigour and scrutiny and then writes, as you say, only positive stuff – you know, personally, I don’t think that’s the way to go. And, you know, that still happens. I don’t, you know, make decisions on how newspapers are run. Certainly, I don’t think that’s a good thing. But, you know, in terms of papers taking adverts for the sale of houses, now the last time I looked, selling a house was legal. If somebody comes to you and says, ‘I will pay to advertise to sell a product’, why would a company in an industry that’s in big trouble turn away those revenues? There’s nothing wrong with advertising if businesses want to advertise. Now when this issue of whether advertisers influenced editorial content, you know, I’ve read Julien’s work very closely – I don’t see evidence where he’s put that, where there’s definite evidence that advertisers actually influenced editorial content. I’m not saying it didn’t happen. I don’t know. But I certainly haven’t seen any convincing evidence from Julien’s work showing that advertisers influenced editorial content.”


Carey: “So Julien, the problem here is just going back to that issue of confirmation bias in that we’re each seeing, you know, what we think is a bias in the media from a different perspective. So Dan’s question about evidence, you know, how much evidence were you actually able to compile on quantity of articles say not challenging the boom or challenging the boom or whatever?”

Mercille: “Well I have to say, before that, whenever you hear something from Dan O’Brien, you have to remember he has no credibility whatsoever, right? And I’ll tell you why.”

Carey: “Well I…”

Mercille: “I’ll tell you why, very clearly. From 2002, or something, until the bubble burst, he said himself, he didn’t see that. After that, 2008 until today, he was a cheerleader for austerity which doesn’t work – he doesn’t understand that. So 15 years of failure right there. So whenever he says something it has to be taken with a big grain of salt. Now his other, latest accusation – that in my work there’s no influence about advertisers – I don’t know what he’s reading, this is out there in the open. There’s good papers, interviewing journalists, saying, ‘we had pressures from the property sector telling us don’t do this, don’t write that’ and that’s fine.”

Carey: “Have you specific cases of that happening? Like you, do you know specific cases where journalists were explicitly told… now I’m…”

Mercille: “Yeah.”

Carey: “I’m very open to the idea of self-censorship and group think but in the case of specific examples…”

Mercille: “Of course there…”

O’Brien: “But so what? What difference…”

Mercille: “Look, she asked me the question, right?”

O’Brien: “Oh, sorry.”

Mercille: “There’s a paper published, I think it’s from DCU [sic], and they’ve interviewed journalists and they said exactly what I just said, ‘the property sector would tell us this and that’. Now the other thing that is important, it’s not, the media doesn’t work in a way that property people call every journalist and editors call every journalist, ‘hey don’t do this, don’t do that’ – people know what they have to do. So when the editors came in the banking inquiry and said, ‘I never felt any pressure from my owners’, I kind of believe them because they share the same values. They wouldn’t be in the position they are, if they didn’t share the same values. Now if the editors were really critical people, who were thinking for themselves and challenging the establishment, they would lose their job right away. So because they are there, of course they don’t feel any pressures from them, they’re as a team. So there’s a truth to that.”

Carey: “Ok, now what about Dan’s point though, that the overwhelming majority of the economics profession didn’t call the bubble. They were, there was a large buy into the idea of the soft landing.”

Mercille: “That’s true.”

Carey: “So, you can’t blame journalists…”

Mercille: “Yes, I can.”

Carey: “When they were being told, all round them. So, fine, you’re quoting one article from The Economist but I think even the IMF, you know, weren’t aware of all the risks. So, you know, what else were journalists to do?”

Mercille: “It’s interesting that I’m sitting here, and every time I go on the media, as the person on the panel who doesn’t like the media and journalists but actually I have much more respect for journalists than sometimes what Dan is saying. He’s saying that journalists just listen to economists and then they just copy what the economists said, it’s not their fault.”

O’Brien: “I never said that.”

Mercille: “You’re a journalist, right?”

Carey: “Yeah.”

Mercille: “The journalist should be robust. Just copying down what the economists? Journalists have to do more and be critical.”

Carey: “But they don’t. That’s the problem.”

Mercille: “Well, yeah, that’s why… I mean I respect the profession a bit more when I say they should. I don’t say they’re journalists, it’s not their fault. No, you have an obligation to research. Of course, the economics profession is also very pro-establishment, so it’s no wonder that they didn’t see the housing bubble. Now Dean Baker, who is one of the best economists in the world, in 2002, wrote a very good paper about the US housing bubble, warned about it very clearly, not vague speculations. Dean Baker writes papers with Paul Krugman, he’s not a backwater economist…”

Carey: “I’ll come to Dan now on that….”


Carey: “So Dan, do you want to respond…”

O’Brien: “Look, I don’t, I don’t feel the need to defend myself. Whatever, but…”

Mercille: “Maybe you can’t defend yourself, Dan. That’s why.”

O’Brien: “I will actually, Julien. I actually worked at The Economist that you talked so glowingly about from 1998 to 2010. Some of the reports that you…”

Mercille: “You should have read the articles then that warned you about the bubble.”

O’Brien: “I was involved in the survey of Ireland, as it happens, that you’ve cited and you don’t quite seem to understand. The bottom line is, I did warn about risks, I came on TV here. I said, in 2006, I said, ‘don’t buy a house unless your income is guaranteed’. I said, ‘there’s a real risk, there’s too much debt’. I didn’t live here, I was asked, I was back and I was asked to go on a Prime Time show, exactly 10 years ago, so I did warn of risks. And, in terms of the post-crisis, I’ve been living here since 2010, I have taken a view that there was a need for fiscal consolidation. The economy is now growing again, it’s recovering. You say austerity doesn’t work, I don’t put it like austerity works, it doesn’t work, we had no choice in terms of bringing our budget back into balance and that was my view. So that’s you know, just, whatever in terms of [inaudible]..”


Carey: “Eamon Delaney, obviously there’s a lot of concern in Ireland around media ownership and cross media ownership. But I’ve often wondered, as well, about cross media employment, you know, where you have journalists, like you and I who are, say, working for Newstalk and maybe writing for the Independent or maybe writing for the Sunday Business Post or writing for the Sunday Times occasionally – that how are journalists supposed to call out each other if they’re worried that the paper that they might be criticising or the broadcasting organisation that they might be criticising might be a future employer that they might need?”

Eamon Delaney: “I think that’s just something to navigate individually. You see, I don’t…”

Carey: “But do people navigate it individually by holding back?”

Delaney: “Like common sense, I think yeah.

Carey: “Define that?”

Delaney: “Well I think that, look, you know, I would be critical of some journalists who’ve written for Independent newspapers, over the years, but I wouldn’t do it in a way that was disloyal to the paper. I mean I’m actually one of those people who believes, you know, if I worked in a restaurant as a waiter, I wouldn’t badmouth the chef. You know? I don’t get this kind of phenomenon that we had a few years ago of a certain Sunday paper attacking the main owner of the paper, the main owner of this radio station as well – I thought it was insane. If I was employing someone, I’d want them to be kind of loyal to the owner and to the general ethos. But I do think, and it does happen, that journalists do disagree greatly even though they work with the same organisation – Patsy McGarry and John Waters used to have great scraps, they were both employed by the Irish Times, I think it’s just something you navigate and it’s a matter of common sense, you know?”

Carey: “Dan what about you? Or sorry, Julien, you want to come in on that…”

Mercille: “I think it’s very interesting what Eamon said. I mean, you’ve said very clearly what I’ve been saying for ever. You said, I’m expecting to be loyal to my owner. I mean this is very, very, very obedient. I mean…”

Delaney: “They’re employing you, I mean…”

Mercille: “It’s very obedient, a real journalist would say, ‘this guy hired me to find out the truth’, whatever it is.”

Delaney: “He can do that as well.”

Mercille: “Well you just said ‘I would be expecting that someone would be loyal to me and I’m always loyal to my owner’. I mean this is very, very revealing. People ask me for examples all the time, that’s it, there’s just one right there…and unconsciously you said it.”

Delaney: “Yeah, and I’ll say it again, I do think one should be loyal to one’s employer.”

Mercille: “Well again, that’s an ethos of journalism in Ireland: we should be loyal to our employer. What is that?”

Delaney: “Julien, you’re one of these people that thinks journalists are paid for by…the media needs…”

Mercille: “What is that? This is the best quote since I got to Ireland. And he repeats it, you know, he’s very proud of it.”

Carey: “Julien, to be fair, maybe to Eamon, I mean in the last four months you’ve written for the Independent, Sunday Business Post…”

Delaney: “Everybody, yeah.”

Carey: “The Daily Mail, yeah, you’re writing for everyone…”

Delaney: “Yeah.”

Carey: “So even taking into account the loyalty of the owner, which you did say, my point is that by writing for each one of them, you know, does that mean you can’t criticise each of them for failures?”

Delaney: “But I do, but I’m careful. I don’t, you know, yeah, I’m not gonna…”

Mercille: “So you criticise on the things that are not too important but you remain loyal.”

Delaney: “No I do criticise on things that are important…”

Mercille: “But that’s what you said, you have to remain loyal…”

Delaney: “No I’m loyal, I don’t believe in attacking the owner of the newspaper…”

Mercille: “You don’t believe in attacking the owner of the newspaper?”

Delaney: “Absolutely not.”

Mercille: “Ok, but that’s very obedient, you’ll get a job anywhere in journalism.”

Delaney: “If I was employed as a diplomat I wouldn’t sit down and start writing tracts against the minister…”

Mercille: “A diplomat is also, they’re also parrots, they’re also parrots, they talk for the government and get fired, they get fired if they don’t say the government line. That’s the PR industry.”

Delaney: “I can honestly tell you, on a personal level, I do have strong principles, on many things..”

Mercille: “Loyalty is one…”

Delaney: “Well, no, if I could just finish, there has never been an issue where I was writing for someone or I was avoiding something that I felt, never…”

Carey: “Right.”

Mercille: “Because you’ve internalised the principle so much that you don’t even feel the principle of attacking…”

Delaney: “You see this is like, you’re now telling me, this is like psychiatry like, I’m not internalising, you’re gonna tell me that I’m subconsciously self-censoring myself…”

Mercille: “No people can hear it very clearly.”

Delaney: “No, no..”

Carey: “Well Julien, if Eamon is saying that’s he never had a moment where he thought he wanted to criticise someone…”

Delaney: “Or a thing…”

Carey: “…but held back and didn’t out of fear of the consequences, is that what you’re saying, Eamon?”

Delaney: “Yeah, I’ve never, never…now I may have the same views as the owners of papers in that way we differ, you know, duly, we do differ, in the same way as someone say you were happy writing for the Irish government, yeah because I shared most of their views and still do, as a state. But I’ve never been stopped. I have been told I can’t write about something – interestingly one was to do with trade unions in which a paper, let’s not say what it was, was friendly to this particular trade union movement. So there you go that’s censorship from the left and a few other things to do with a few individuals and libel but not on any issues.”

Listen back in full here

FROM BOOM TO BUST: A post-Celtic Tiger analysis of the norms, values and roles of Irishfinancial journalists (Declan Fahy, Mark O’Brien,Valerio Poti, Dublin Institute of Technology)

Previously: For Those Who Shouted Stop He Salutes You

No Regrets