Tag Archives: Mercille on Monday



From top: UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with Rabbi Pinter after delivering a speech on anti-semitism at the weekend: Dr Julien Mercille

How sound are claims that antisemitism is rampant within the British Labour under leader Jeremly Corbyn?

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

Any pretext appears to be valid to justify attacks on Jeremy Corbyn on the part of the media and his right-wing political opponents.

The Daily Telegraph criticised him by comparing him and his beard to his supposedly over-grown garden while the Daily Mail had a headline  saying that Corbyn “sits silently in meetings munching noodles and granola bars”—OMG. (Ronan Burtenshaw wrote an excellent piece here  on how the British media demonises Corbyn).

But another loud criticism that has surfaced periodically over the last few months is that under Corbyn, the Labour party has become more antisemitic.

Media commentators have said  that Labour is now attracting “antisemites like flies to a cesspit”, has “become a cold house for Jews”, and within the party these are “difficult times to be a Jewish member”.

In short, “Labour is a racist party now”.

But in fact, when one investigates the actual evidence, if any, one finds nothing of the sort. Jamie Stern-Weiner, a dual British-Israeli national based in the UK, wrote several outstanding articles on the subject (here, here and here) in which he carefully researched every allegation of antisemitism in the Labour party under Corbyn.

His conclusion:

“Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have been blamed for rising antisemitism in the Labour party. These claims are baseless”.

His articles are systematic and comprehensive and should be read in full, but below I summarise some of his points.

The core evidence for claims that antisemitism is rampant within Labour comprise of statements made on Facebook and Twitter by eight low-to-mid-level members and an MP, as well as allegations of antisemitism in a university Labour club.

To put this in perspective, recall that Labour now has hundreds of thousands of members, so even if the above were true, it would apply to a very small minority of members.

But when one looks at the actual tweets and Facebook posts, the evidence is laughable. Sure, some contain inaccurate or inappropriate language towards Jews or about Israel.

But if those standards of evidence were applied to tweets and Facebook posts regarding other ethnic or religious groups, a lot of social media users would be found guilty to say the least.

A few examples: a Labour party member posted on Facebook, “ISIS is run by Israel” and shared a picture of a rat with a Star of David and the caption, “the real plague”.

Another one tweeted “Zionist scum”. One could discuss the appropriateness of such posts, but to elevate that claims that the Labour party is antisemitic is to create a storm in a teacup.

Also, Naz Shah, a Labour MP, shared on Facebook an image suggesting to relocate Israel into the United States (the image and caption can be seen here.  Again, a storm in a teacup.

The claims surrounding alleged antisemitism in the Labour club at Oxford University, as far as we can tell, seem to be of the same order as the above – if they can even be verified as true.

The accusations of antisemitism were made by the club’s vice-chair, Alex Chalmers, in February 2016, when he resigned. But Chalmers is a former intern at BICOM, an Israel lobby group, so there might have been ulterior motives at play.

Nevertheless, in every case that allegations of antisemitism were made against a Labour member under Corbyn, they were immediately suspended or expelled, and therefore it cannot be said that Labour is too tolerant (on the contrary, one could make a case that it reacts too harshly).

In any case, the above allegations motivated Labour to commission a report to investigate the claims.

The report of the Chakrabarti Inquiry was released a few days ago. It basically concludes exactly what you would expect: there is no significant racism in the Labour party against any minority groups, but the party should nevertheless make efforts to be careful in its use of certain words, expressions, and stereotypes—a conclusion that would hold for virtually any institution in Britain or elsewhere.

For example, the report recommends that “there must be greater inclusion and representation of black and minority ethnic people on the staff and at every elected level within the Party”, and “racist epithets” should not be used in the party.

One wonders how much harsher such conclusions would have been if the report had been about the Conservative party?

Also, as Israel/Palestine Jewish expert Norman Finkelstein reminds us, we should not believe that antisemitism is rampant in Britain – other ethnic or religious groups suffer much more discrimination, yet there is no equivalent scandal about that.

Indeed, opinion polls show that only about 7-10% of Britons don’t like Jews. In contrast, 40% of Britons don’t like Muslims and nearly 60% don’t like Roma.

Finally, while a few Labour members have been suspended over social media messages, many Labour and other MPs have actively defended and facilitated Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands with all the oppression that comes with it.

But calling to suspend or expel them would probably be decried as being antisemitic…

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



From top: Jeremy Corbyn; Dr Julien Mercille

UK Labour Party rivals blame leader Jeremy Corbyn for the referendum vote.

But they helped create the conditions for a Brexit victory.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

We are witnessing an attempted “coup” on Jeremy Corbyn by a “cabal” led by the right-wing of the Labour Party – those are the words of the Financial Times, which doesn’t like Corbyn at all.

We’ve heard over and over that Corbyn “lacks ideas” or “has the wrong ideas for Britain” or “is not a good leader”.

And that, by implication, those seeking to remove him would provide “good leadership” and “a strong opposition to the Conservatives”.


A quick look at the policies espoused by Corbyn and his allies versus those supported by the anti-Corbyn gang should settle the debate quickly.

Let’s compare how the Corbyn camp voted on the Iraq War, Trident nuclear renewal, and austerity, key policies for Britain.

I’ve chosen to compare, on one hand, Corbyn and two of his strong allies (John McDonnell and Diane Abbott) and those leading the charge against him and who are trying to convince us they’d be better leaders for Labour (Hilary Benn, Yvette Cooper, Angela Eagle, Margaret Hodge, Liz Kendall, Owen Smith, Tom Watson).

First, let’s take the Iraq War, a criminal enterprise by any account.

In March 2003, a vote was taken in the British Parliament to go to war with Iraq. The Corbyn team all voted NO to war on Iraq, while the anti-Corbyn team all voted YES to war on Iraq:

Corbyn: NO
Diane Abbott: NO
John McDonnell: NO

Hilary Benn: YES
Yvette Cooper: YES
Angela Eagle: YES
Margaret Hodge: YES
Tom Watson: YES
Liz Kendall: not an MP yet
Owen Smith: not an MP yet

The Chilcot investigation on the British government’s involvement in Iraq will be released this Wednesday. Hopefully it will strongly attack Tony Blair and the Labour MPs such as those who now want to oust Corbyn for taking the country into an illegal and immoral war.

The Chilcot report should act as a cold shower on the anti-Corbyn team’s efforts to pretend they’re sensible leaders.

It is also plausible that they launched their coup ahead of the report’s release, hoping to unseat Corbyn before the bad press of Chilcot tarnishes their reputations.

Second, the British government has sought to replace the Trident nuclear system based on submarines with a modernised system, at a cost evaluated at anywhere between £25 billion and £100 billion. Think of what could be done with those funds if they were not spent on nuclear weapons.

The Corbyn team has opposed the replacement of Trident, while the anti-Corbyn team has supported it. For example, let’s look at this vote on 20 January 2015 to scrap Trident:

Corbyn: YES, scrap Trident
Diane Abbott: YES
John McDonnell: YES

Hilary Benn: (absent for this vote but voted to renew Trident in other votes)
Yvette Cooper: NO, renew Trident
Angela Eagle: NO
Margaret Hodge: (absent for this vote but voted to renew Trident in other votes)
Tom Watson: (absent for this vote but voted to renew Trident in other votes)
Liz Kendall: NO
Owen Smith: NO

Third, on economics, Corbyn’s team has a strong record of opposing senseless and cruel austerity, while the anti-Corbyn team has endorsed it to a greater extent.

For example, in 2015 the David Cameron government proposed a big austerity bill to cut £12 billion in welfare.

The bill sought to reduce the household welfare cap from £26,000 to £23,000, abolish legally binding child poverty targets, and cut child tax credits, cut housing benefits for young people, and cut the Employment and Support Allowance.

The Labour Party leadership (Hariett Harman was interim leader at that time) directed its MPs not to oppose the Tory bill in order to show that Labour understood that government had to restrain spending.

But 48 out of 216 Labour MPs rejected that directive and voted against the austerity bill while the other Labour MPs did not oppose it (they abstained). The vote was as follows:

Corbyn: OPPOSED austerity bill
Diane Abbott: OPPOSED
John McDonnell: OPPOSED

Hilary Benn: ABSTAINED
Yvette Cooper: ABSTAINED
Angela Eagle: ABSTAINED
Margaret Hodge: ABSTAINED
Liz Kendall: ABSTAINED

In other words, the anti-Corbyn team blames Corbyn for the Brexit victory, but in fact, it is those who have supported austerity who have created the conditions for the Brexit victory.

Indeed, Brexit was driven in large part by anti-immigrant feelings which could only take root in a climate of economic recession where people are more likely to blame immigrants for lack of employment opportunities and public services.

At the time of the vote, John McDonnell, annoyed by the speeches in Parliament trying to justify the cuts, declared:

“I would swim through vomit to vote against this bill. And listening to some of the nauseating speeches in support of it, I might have to”

The above exercise of comparing the record of Corbyn’s team to that of the anti-Corbyn team can be replicated for other policies to obtain a more systematic picture. In this short article, I’ve chosen a few that were central to governing Britain.

But the lesson seems clear. Next time you hear in the media that “Corbyn has the wrong ideology” but that its challengers are “impressive” and “level-headed”, ask yourself this question:

Should we support team Corbyn, or those who sided with war criminals, the tools of war, and austerity?

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

Top pic: Reuters



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


From top: Graham Linehan and Helen Linehan; The couple on the Ray’ D’Arcy show on Radio One, October 19, 2015; Dr Julien Mercille

Talk of ‘balance’ is usually used to push the media further toward the conservative end of the spectrum.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

Last week, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) upheld a complaint against RTÉ’s The Ray D’Arcy Show over an interview on abortion.

In October, Ray D’Arcy interviewed the creator of Father Ted, Graham Linehan, and his wife Helen. The couple talked about their decision to have an abortion because their foetus had a fatal abnormality.

Two people made formal complaints to the BAI that the show was not “balanced” because anti-abortion views were not given enough weight.

It’s not the first time such complaints were made.

This brings up again the issue of “balance” in journalism. Do we need it? Should it be something that is measured by an authority like that BAI, with powers to sanction broadcasters that do not balance their shows with two opposing viewpoints when an issue is discussed?

In Ireland, those matters are regulated by the BAI’s Code of Fairness, Impartiality and Objectivity  that draws on the Broadcasting Act 2009.

It is stipulated that broadcasters must present news in a way that is “impartial”, “independent” and “objective”. In other words, when a viewpoint is presented, it needs to be balanced with an opposing view.

However, it is not difficult to show that such rules are completely misplaced. The job of journalists is not to report in a “balanced” way—it’s to report the truth, as far as possible.

Think about it. Imagine RTÉ broadcasts a one-hour show on World War 2 and insisted on the inclusion of 30-minutes on the pro-Nazi view.

Or, during a hour-long show on nature, do we need 30 minutes about creationism so that we are told how the Bible understands the evolution of species to provide “balance” to the scientific consensus on evolution? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

Opposite viewpoints should be presented when there is a legitimate debate to be had on a given topic, but that’s in cases where the truth is disputed or murky.

In any case, there’s no balance at all in the media. It presents mostly viewpoints that reflect the interests of economic and political elites. This is why it was strongly pro-austerity and never bothered questioning the housing bubble seriously.

And by the way, you don’t need to be a so-called “radical” to observe this. Journalist Pat Leahy said not so long ago in the Sunday Business Post exactly the same.

He wrote:

“Newspaper proprietors are usually rich men whose chief political agenda is to see governments make the world safe for rich men to become richer.”

But the BAI won’t hold the media to account because it doesn’t present enough progressive viewpoints. In fact, talk of “balance” is usually used to push the media further toward the conservative end of the spectrum.

In any case, two other issues are rather outrageous about the Broadcasting Act 2009. It states that broadcasters should not present anything (1) that “undermine[s] the authority of the State” or (2) anything that is “likely to promote, or incite to, crime”.

The first is beyond belief.

It amounts to saying that broadcasters cannot challenge what the State does (sure, you’ll hear all sorts of denials that “no, journalists can still challenge the government”, but just read the line above again, it’s plainly obvious).

So here the whole rhetoric of “an aggressive media holding the government into account” crumbles. It’s amazing that the State is arrogant enough to state explicitly that it doesn’t allow journalists to challenge it.

The second is also dangerous when one considers that what is deemed “legal” and “illegal” is in many respects decided by the powerful.

The implications are revealing. It means, for example, that the media cannot promote abortion, since it is a crime in Ireland. It cannot either promote illegal drugs, I suppose. Nor can it promote any form of civil disobedience such as challenging the water charges.

Sure, you’ll hear that in practice, we do hear all sorts of views about abortion and illegal drugs. But the principle that the media must uphold the law across the board is very revealing about the sheepish character that is expected of journalists.

In short, codes of conduct like the BAI’s have a chilling effect on media organisations and journalists who would like to take a more dissenting stance toward the establishment.

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

Top Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

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Garda Commissioner Noiriin O’Sullivan and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald; Dr Julien mercille

The O’Higgins report and the prosecution of water charges protesters illustrate the double standards in policing in Ireland.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

Last week, the O’Higgins report was released. It marked the culmination of an investigation into garda practices emerging out of allegations made by whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

The report details instances of incompetence and failings by gardai in handling a number of cases under their remit. Of course, those who ultimately paid the price were the victims of the crimes and operations described in the report.

The report is important because it brings a modicum of accountability to the police. Yet, as a number of observers have noted, while the report pointed to a number of failings, in essence, the leadership of our police forces walk away absolved, unfortunately.

As the Sunday Business Post summarised it, the O’Higgins report “establishes what we already knew — several garda investigations in the Cavan/Monaghan division were mishandled”.

Yet, no findings of corruption were made. “The former garda commissioner Martin Callinan and former justice minister Alan Shatter walk away absolved. Senior gardai emerge broadly unscathed”.

Fintan O’Toole also noted that we are yet again paying the price for the lack of accountability in our country as the O’Higgins report concludes that disciplinary proceedings that might arise out of its findings “would not be helpful”.

Really? Why?

Reports of police corruption surface every now and then. On one hand, they are important because they highlight malpractice or incompetence within the police.

However, one thing should be underlined. It is that whatever “failings” and “corruption” one can find by individual guards, their superiors, or politicians overseeing them, there is a more fundamental issue. It is the fact that in many respects, the police forces are used by the State to control and repress dissent.

The behavior of those who challenge power is invariably closely scrutinised. But a blind eye is often turned to crimes committed by those in power, such as their involvement in war crimes by allowing US military aircraft to go through Shannon airport, or “failings” such as cutting funding to women’s shelters, rape crisis centres, and a range of vital support services on which we depend. There’s also little accountability for those who have completely mishandled the chaos in the health care system, which leads to deaths.

A few examples of the ongoing cases related to the prosecution of water charges protesters illustrate the double standards in policing.

Sean Doyle and Eamon McGrath are two elderly men who took part in a water protest in Kilcoole last Monday.

The two men, who are in their 70s, went to court, both on crutches, and were put in custody until they appear before Cloverhill District Court on 24 May.

We thus have a situation where two men with health issues are detained by the “Justice” bureaucracy for protesting austerity measures.

A few politicians have issued a statement condemning the imprisonment of the two men. They are Clare Daly TD, Cieran Perry (Deputy Lord Mayor), Mick Wallace TD, Eoin O’Broin TD, David Cullinane TD, Gino Kenny TD, Jonathan O’Brien TD, Thomas Pringle TD, Joan Collins TD, Richard Boyd Barrett TD and Catherine Connolly TD.

Their statement reads: “We condemn the criminalisation of protesters and the imprisonment of two elderly people who were the victims in this incident”.

Moreover, only a few days ago, a 16-year-old boy became the first Jobstown protester to be jailed, for 6 months. He was 15 at the time of the Jobstown protest.

There have been other arrests of water charges protesters, including the case of Joan Collins TD and a group of nine others. Joan Collins’ case was recently dismissed; the judge rejected the State’s charges and criticised gardaí’s handling of the protest.

But the charges against the remaining defendants continue.

This comes on top of the prosecution of Paul Murphy TD and 17 other protesters in relation to the events at Jobstown when Joan Burton remained stuck in her care for two hours in November 2014. Their trial is set for May 2017 and will then take place over four weeks.

This means that the whole process will have lasted at least two and a half years.

Think about all the money, energy and human resources spent on that. Yet, our politicians constantly call for “efficiency” and “belt tightening” while in fact the government is big waster of resources. Prosecuting water protestors is political and there is never any shortage of money to repress dissent.

In short, inquiring about garda corruption and failings is one important task, but we must also understand the role of police forces in protecting this country’s power structure.

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




From top: Cabinet group shot; Dr Julien Mercille

The make up of the new government is terrifying for any progressives.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

We have a new government and it is, once again, a right-wing government. It almost makes you miss Labour.

In fact, Ireland now has the distinction of being the first Eurozone country to re-elect an austerity leader, Enda Kenny. Other countries understood that a leader who attacks its own population with austerity cuts is better thrown out of office.

The shape of this government fulfills the long-term goals of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to dominate government and alternate in power.

Now, they control both the government and the opposition, as was recognised across the political spectrum, from People Before Profit to Michael McDowell  They will implement right-wing policies, from housing and health care to education and labour.

A quick look at the listof Ministers drives the point home directly, and will be frightening for any progressive.

Fine Gael will now control, for example, Education and Social Protection, which had not happened for years.


The media reacted by welcoming the new government with a mixture of relief and fanfare. The Irish Times editors warned Independents that they would have to toe the line and support right-wing policies.

Indeed, Independents “will have to curb their populist instincts” because “to govern is to make choices which involves taking tough and unpopular decisions in the national interest”.

In other words, according to this, to govern is to ignore the population and do things that elites want, while being ready to push policies against popular opposition. Politicians should not be “populist”—they should be “elitist”.

As Vincent Browne wrote, the new government will be all continuity with the previous one, not change. It will make a few symbolic moves here and there towards vulnerable groups like the elderly, the sick and children, even though their sorry condition was created in the first place by the establishment parties themselves.

Other than that, the fundamental blocks on which this country is governed will stay the same.

Ireland will remain a tax haven, the health care system will move further on the road towards privatisation, tax policy will favor the corporate sector and the rich, etc.

However, there is still reason to be optimistic. There are now many good progressive politicians in the Dáil and Senate, including from the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit, Sinn Féin and Independents.

They will have a stronger voice than before and will have to use it to move progressive ideas into mainstream discourse, which is key to social change.

In this respect, my take is that progressive Independents in the Dáil who are not members of a party should seek to form one.

Clare Daly, Joan Collins, Mick Wallace, Thomas Pringle and others are all doing excellent work, but separated they can’t reach their potential as a progressive force.

The Irish establishment loves Independents, because they are relatively weak and divided and cannot challenge elites as much as if they were united and more coordinated. T

his party, of course, would coordinate closely with PBP/AAA and Sinn Féin, but at least it would focus progressive forces to a greater extent than at present.

Secondly, the counterpart to this parliamentary coordination has to be, as always, the development of progressive forces in communities. The water charges movement has been very inspiring in this respect and must give rise to a mushrooming of similar activity. Much is already going on and hopefully more activity will spring up and develop.

In other words, the pieces of the puzzle are largely all there in the country. What is needed is more coordination between like-minded individuals and groups.

Parliamentary coordination must interact with coordination in the communities and the streets. Those two aspects of politics must be constantly talking to each other and act towards loosely agreed objectives. They must feed on and reinforce each other.

Those in Parliament must give voice to communities and be responsive to them.

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



From top: A room for refugees at a shelter in an abandoned government building in Athens, Greece; Dr Julien Mercille

In Athens, Greece the author visits a shelter for refugees displaced by conflicts in the Middle East.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

There are currently 53,000 refugees stuck in Greece, but you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t look for them.

So I decided while in Athens this week to see what the current situation was.

I heard about a volunteer-run project in the city providing accommodation for refugees and made my way there to check it out.

When I get there, two or three Afghan and Syrian families are at the reception desk and want to check in. The place is  a makeshift hotel in a former government building.

The hotel’s receptionist is a middle-aged woman of the authoritarian, don’t-mess-with-me type, who constantly looks at you over her glasses. She communicates with the migrants through a younger female Middle Eastern volunteer who translates whatever goes on in the lobby.

The atmosphere is a bit chaotic but gives a good idea of how difficult it is to deal with a massive influx of refugees.

One Afghan family of eight (or two families of four, I’m not sure) is asking for a room. The receptionist is trying all possible combinations on the large spreadsheet on her desk.

“Room C6? No, there’s too many Syrians in that one. Room D11? No, there’s already three babies in there and only one mattress. Room B9? No, the Afghans there are already taking up all the space.”

The translator asks, “What about C6?”

“No, I told you—it’s full of Syrians in there!” replies the receptionist.

“What about B9 with the Afghans?”

“No, it’s too crowded, I just told you!”

The receptionist loses it easily, but they eventually find a room. Everybody is relieved.

Next is a Syrian couple.

The receptionist lets them know that they’re now full for tonight and that there are no rooms left. But the Syrians are determined and proceed to go down the list of progressively crappier options.

“Can we get a tent then?”

“No, the tents are all occupied for tonight”.

“Can we get the couch so?”

“No, the couch is already full for tonight”. I wonder how many people they can really pile up on that couch anyway.

“Can we get sleeping bags and sleep on the floor?”

The exasperated receptionist calls a volunteer who, a few minutes later, comes back miraculously with two sleeping bags. Sorted.

It’s now my turn. The receptionist is now in a sensitive state, and I’m suddenly reminded that it’s not only Broadsheet commenters who don’t like me.

I say I’m a journalist and I’m here to have a look around. Her reaction is instantaneous: “Journalists, no way! You have to leave! No journalists inside, the mass media is bad!”

I tell her not to worry, I write for Ireland’s least read mainstream publication,

It doesn’t work.

“Journalists are not allowed in, they have hurt what we do.”

I’m asked to leave without knowing what journalists have written about the place. I wonder if they insinuated there were terrorists in the place, or drugs, or something else. It could be any of those things. But if one needed an example of how low people’s trust in the media has sunk, regarding refugees or anything else, this is it.

As I walk back to my hotel I decide to go through the Parliament’s park for a change of scenery.

I see a few people walking their dogs and their weasels. Yes, weasels.

A weasel walker explains that there is a weasel party organised in the park today.

Life goes on in Athens.

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

Top pic: Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera



From top: Michaella McCollum; Dr Julien Mercille

In the phoney war on drugs what is the purpose of creating  “monsters” like Michaella McCollum?

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

By now every Irish person should know that Michaella McCollum is a criminal, a liar and a bad hair stylist, right? That’s pretty much the message that the media, in particular the tabloid press, has conveyed for the last week.

Michaella McCollum got caught trying to smuggle cocaine from Latin America to Europe in 2013. She spent two years in a prison in Peru and just got out but must remain there for the time being, before she is eventually allowed to come back here.

Her demonisation in the media is interesting. It is indeed remarkable that all of the island’s investigative journalism resources seem to have been mobilised to find the latest minute detail about Michaella’s past.

Did she really leave Belfast because of sectarian problems? Was she drunk or stone or a bit of both or none when she boarded the plane from Spain to Latin America? Did she go to Spain because she is just a party girl or for some other reason?

All this aggressive questioning by the media is quite ironic. Remember, Ireland is the only country in the world (to my knowledge) that explicitly brands itself with reference to a commercial drug. That’s right, and Ministers are very proud to associate themselves with that drug to promote tourism to Ireland and the country’s overseas image.

That drug is Guinness. Those unfamiliar with drugs will start complaining that Guinness is not a drug, because it’s just a stout. But alcohol is a drug, and it’s a much bigger killer than all the cocaine carried globally by mules like Michaella.

And the same goes for tobacco. Together, alcohol and tobacco kill about 8 million people worldwide every year—and all illegal drugs (like cocaine, heroin, etc.) kill 200,000.

There’s therefore no debate as to which are the killer drugs. So when are we going to see journalists attack tobacco and alcohol executives in the way they attack Michaella?

Michaella tried to smuggle cocaine across the Atlantic. Does that make her a criminal? Under the ridiculous regime of drug prohibition under which we live, yes. But if drugs were decriminalised, she’d be cheered as a canny business woman.

It’s worth asking why drugs like tobacco and alcohol are legal but drugs like heroin, marijuana and cocaine are illegal. There’s an important article  that came out only a few days ago which says it pretty bluntly.

It features an interview with John Ehrlichman, who was US President Richard Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser. Nixon is the president who launched the “War on Drugs” in the late 1960s and that has been with us since then under different tactics.

Ehrlichman said that the war on drugs was just a mechanism for social control, used to criminalise minorities or any group that those in power wish to control more easily.

In Nixon’s time it was blacks and the antiwar left:

“You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying?

We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.

We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

What is the effect of creating “criminals” and “monsters” like Michaella? The effect is that the public focuses laser-like on those individuals but doesn’t hear news about other crimes.

For example, it was reported  last week that the shortage of hospital beds in Ireland translates into 300 avoidable deaths per year—that’s 3,000 over the last 10 years.

But that wasn’t covered extensively at all by the media. So who should be blamed for those deaths? The Minister for Health? Some bureaucrats?

Unfortunately, the details are lacking. Why? Because our journalists are so busy researching whether Michaella dyed her hair blond or bleached it? And what is her REAL favorite hairstyle? And does that contradict what she said three years ago when hanging out at her local pub? And actually, what pub was it, EXACTLY?

In short, the media has gone all-out on Michaella McCollum calling her a “criminal”, however that only holds if one believes that the drug prohibition regime is legitimate.

But the fact is that it has been a total failure for decades and just about every example of decriminalisation that we have (for example, in Portugal) has proven to be rather successful. By creating monsters, the media diverts attention from the real problems.

Sure, crimes have a place in reporting, and we could criticise Michaella for making bad decisions etc. But isn’t it interesting how some crimes of ordinary people receive so much more aggressive and negative reporting than other crimes, like letting people die in hospitals?

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



Yesterday’s Sunday Times



From top: Zainab Heaney from Ireland during a protest over France’s ban on women wearing the Islamic Niqad, Hijab, Abaya and Burqa; Dr Julien Mercille

Anti-extremism statements and pledges are not the way to go. They are against freedom of speech and implemented in a biased fashion against specific groups but not others.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on Brussels, Muslims are often asked the question, “Do you reject the acts of terrorism committed in Europe?”

However, Muslims shouldn’t have to apologise every time a Muslim does something wrong.

To repeat the obvious: an act of terrorism committed by a Muslim has nothing to do with the 1.7 billion Muslims in the world. Terrorism is almost always a political act, not a religious act.

Sure, religion may or may not be used to wrap terrorist acts into some kind of ideological garment, but the roots are political.

In any case, it’s easy to see the double standards at play when we ask Muslims “to apologise for terrorism”.

For example, when it was revealed that the Irish Catholic Church had been involved in the mass abuse of Irish children, did we drag every Irish person in front of the cameras to ask them, “As a Catholic, do you unequivocally reject those actions?”

Or imagine that in Africa or Asia, a news presenter had asked a Christian, “As a Christian, do you dissociate yourself from the abuses committed by the Irish Catholic Church?”

And since terrorism is very often committed by men, why not ask every man on the planet, “As a man, do you reject in all your manliness those acts of terrorism?”

And why not require that customs officials of all countries ask Irish travellers, “As an Irish person, do you reject all acts of violence ever committed by the IRA and all its splinter groups?”

Of course, that would be laughable and demeaning and we would never think about doing this.

Yet, for Muslims, it seems to be different.

Two dangerous developments in Belgium and in Ireland are related to this.

Belgium just announced a plan to make all non-European visitors to sign a pledge to accept “European values” if they stay longer than three months in the country. If they don’t sign the pledge they won’t be allowed in Belgium.

This is because the Belgian government said that many people are coming “from countries with other values”. “If they want to build a life here in Europe [we have] no problem with that but they have to sign this statement that they accept our values”. Among other things, the statement will include a pledge to prevent and report any attempts to commit “acts of terrorism”.

In Ireland, leaders of the Irish Muslim community introduced an “anti-Extremism Declaration”  that should be signed by any foreign Muslim speakers who come here to give speeches. It was even suggested that the Irish government should incorporate the signing of this declaration as part of the visa application process to visit Ireland.

Such policies are very misguided. They are against freedom of speech and will only serve as another tool for excluding immigrants and whoever governments don’t want to see in their countries. They will reinforce the demonization of immigrants and Muslims.

Just consider the Belgian proposal and see how absurd it is.

If the Belgians are worried about expelling violent extremists, the first thing they should do is to expel NATO—the military alliance of Western governments that has its headquarters in Belgium.

NATO has unleashed so much destruction in Afghanistan and Libya, let alone the destruction caused by the military forces of its individual member states, notably the US. If this doesn’t qualify as violent extremism, nothing does. Remember that perhaps one million people died in the Iraq War.

Next in line, they should expel all politicians who have supported those military adventures, and that includes a lot of European politicians. And while at it, why not expel anybody who votes for the political parties of those politicians.

Then, if the worry is to protect values of tolerance, why not expel members of far-right groups, including the National Front in France, UKIP, Pegida, etc.?

And why not expel members of the clergy who oppose gay rights, abortion, etc.?

In short, it is clear that none of this makes any sense whatsoever.

Therefore, anti-extremism statements and pledges are not the way to go. They are against freedom of speech; they are implemented in a biased fashion against specific groups but not others; and even if they were implemented objectively, they would be absurd..

The way to fight extremism is by enabling more freedom of speech and more democracy. Those who are scared of that are usually those who seek to prevent others from speaking.

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

Yesterday: Declare And Present Danger

Rollingnews and IMPIC


From top: Tyrrlestown, Co Dublin; Dr Julien Mercille

Property vulture funds are circling Europe.

Have we any protection?

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

Up to 200 Tyrrelstown residents now face eviction from their homes.This is because Goldman Sachs bought from Ulster Bank a loan to property developers Michael and Richard Larkin. The loan is secured on their Cruise Park development.

The key aspect of the deal with Goldman Sachs is the sale of 208 houses, which means that families that have rented these homes for up to ten years must now leave.

In short, when vulture funds like Goldman Sachs buy loans tied to properties, business-friendly regulation leaves occupants vulnerable.

An interesting element in this story that has not received much attention is the fact that it is a pan-European issue. In other words, the situation we face in Ireland is similar to that in a number of other countries.

How did we end up there?

When the financial crisis struck in 2008-2009, banks throughout Europe realised that they had made a bunch of bad loans. We’re familiar with the likes of Anglo Irish and a string of bad loans to developers and builders, but the phenomenon was replicated elsewhere, in places like Spain for example, which also saw a massive housing bubble grow to dizzying heights before collapsing abruptly.

In the wake of the crash, European governments set up ‘bad banks’ (NAMA is ours) to buy the bad loans of the banks.

The ‘bad banks’ are now trying to sell those loans to global private investors. Because a lot of the loans are tied to properties, when a global investor buys a package of loans, some control over the properties comes with it.

In Europe as a whole, ‘bad banks’ like NAMA hold about €264 billion of real estate assets that will be sold to private investors within the next decade. It is estimated that 51% of these assets are residential properties, 31% commercial properties, and 18% development and land. The bulk of the assets are located in Spain, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

There is a very good short report here  describing all this.

It surveys ten of the most important bad banks, which are, in order of value of the real estate assets they hold and will sell to investors: SAREB (Spain, €107bn), UKAR (UK, €107bn), NAMA (Ireland, €73.4bn), IBRC (Ireland, €21.9bn), FMS (Germany, €19.7bn), EEA (Germany, €15.9bn), Propertize (Netherlands, €7.4bn), KA Finanz (Austria, €3.6bn), BES bad bank (Portugal, €2.9bn) and DUTB (Slovenia, €1.3bn).

All those are at various stages of selling their assets, a process which is expected to continue strongly in the coming years.


The map (above) shows all the sales of such loans for the year 2014. The UK, Spain and Ireland account for 83% of the sales.

The main buyers of the assets are private equity firms, mostly from the United States, but also from Europe.

Examples include Lone Star, Cerberus, CarVal, JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank. The assets are also purchased by Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), which are real estate companies in which global investors can take shares and receive dividends from the rental income generated by the properties owned by the REIT.

REITs are attractive because they pay little or no corporate taxes. Spanish and Irish REITs have been particularly active recently to channel investors’ global funds into European property.

But this is not all. In fact, the total value of real estate assets available in Europe for investors to grab is about €531 billion.

This includes the €264 billion above but it also adds the assets held by banks not formally part of bad banks. There’s a very good short report on this here.

When global investors capture properties anywhere in Europe, there is a risk for the occupants. Some countries offer more protection to them than others, however.

For example, the Sunday Business Post mentioned that what is happening in Ireland, with tenants facing eviction in Tyrrelstown and elsewhere, would never happen in Germany, where they are better protected.

Once again, it all boils down to the balance of power between people and corporations: Ireland caters to the needs and interests of global investors; but it should look after the needs of the people instead.

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