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This is the law

November 20, 2012 Leave a comment

  The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

 

That is the law in my land. That is the law in the land where I was born.

These are the words of the constitution, designed to ensure abortion was never permitted in Ireland.

This is the law that stopped a fourteen year old rape victim from seeking an abortion in the UK in 1992.

This is the law the Supreme Court was forced to interpret.

This is the law that does, generously, allow women an equal right to life as that accorded to a foetus.

This is what the Supreme Court said: that this law allows an abortion if the life of the woman is at risk; that this law allows an abortion if the life of the woman is at risk from suicide.

This is the constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion that accidentally allowed abortion in limited circumstances.

These are twenty years of politicians too cowardly to write legislation that would enshrine in law the Supreme Court’s interpretation. These are the elected representatives afraid to write the words that a woman is legally entitled to an abortion in Ireland if her life is at risk. This is the vast swathe of public opinion that resents the suicide clause they never foresaw in the law they wanted.  These are the politicians that have never confronted this black hole of hypocrisy.

This is the country that’s okay with this unspeakable and vicious stupidity.

These are the women who leave every year. These are the women who book flights and ferries, who require a passport to avail of their medical rights in Britain. These are the women who can get an abortion if they have money. This is class-based abortion. This is the terrible deal Ireland accepts.

This is the country that doesn’t want to open up old wounds.

This is the country that doesn’t want a divisive debate.

This is the country that believes abortion is something that happens in Britain.

This is the law Mississippi voters rejected last year when it was put to them in a referendum.

But this is the law in Ireland.

This is the woman who died because there was still a foetal heartbeat.

This is my old country, making international headlines.

These are the politicians who say, now, after everything that has happened, we mustn’t rush into anything.

And this is not, contrary to all evidence before you,  the fucking dark ages.

Irish police launch sitcom. Nation not entirely amused.

April 10, 2011 1 comment

Back in Atlantis, in the Middle Ages of last week, reports came to light that our police are medieval cretins.

At an environmental protest camp in the west of Ireland, two young female protesters were arrested. Their video camera was also arrested. Because the video camera was still switched on, it captured the ensuing comedy stylings of these professional guardians of the peace as they joked back and forth about raping the two women. The transcript of the pilot for the Father Ted-esque sitcom can be found here.  

Unidentified garda: “Sounds like a Yank or Canadian.”

Garda B: “Well whoever, we’ll get Immigration f**king on her.”

Garda A: “She refused to give her name and address and told she would be arrested.”

Garda B : “…….and deported”

Garda A: “And raped.”

Garda B: “I wouldn’t go that far yet….. She was living down at that crusty camp, f**k sake, you never know what you might get.”

(Laughter) 

Garda A: “Give me your name and address or I’ll rape you.”

(Laughter) 

Unidentified garda: “Hold it there, give me your name and address there, I’ll rape you.”

(Laughter) 

Garda A : “Or I’ll definitely rape you.”

Unidentified garda: “Will you be me friend on Facebook?”

Now, before you become enflamed with righteous rage, the thing to remember is that this was harmless banter. It was mates having a laugh and telling funny, funny jokes.

This, from what I can gather, has been a significant contribution to the ensuing debate about standards one might expect from police, about violence to women, about whether we take rape seriously. Lots of people whinging that ‘they were just having a laugh.’

Sure they were. Frustrated stand-up comics, both of them. And the material! It’s almost as funny as Frankie Boyle. No, that’s not fair. I’m going to try to be fair.  It’s funny like Beavis and Butthead. In fact, if I really put my prejudice aside and try to objectively evaluate its comic potential, I am forced to admit that it’s probably almost as funny as Abu Ghraib.

 If we were to become so politically correct as to outlaw such simple, innocent office banter, that’s the sort of comic genius that would be lost to future generations. If you’re honestly going to tell me I can’t have a laugh about raping people, where will you go next? Tell me I can’t joke with blindfolded prisoners that they’ll be electrocuted if they step off the box? Oh, the hilarity of punching the powerless; where would frustrated, inadequate little wankers be without it?

But outside of the comic merits or demerits of their script is the context of the conversation. Two policemen joking about raping two women they have just arrested does not send a message that rape is taken particularly seriously as a crime. Mind you, prosecution stats provide enough evidence of that without the puerile soundtrack of two gobshites revealing themselves in all their troglodyte glory.

An Irish Solution to an Irish President

March 17, 2011 1 comment

Back in Atlantis, they are going to elect a new president this year. I know, they just got a new government – how much democracy can one bankrupt country afford in a single year? But they’re going ahead with it anyway – constitutional requirement and whatnot – and it will lead to a new president. Which is deeply, deeply unimportant, because the president of Ireland is a ceremonial sort of head of state role, a figurehead and nothing more. What usually happens is that each of the main (three) political parties nominates someone worthy but thoroughly unexciting, and one of them gets elected, and then everyone gets on with their lives.

But this year something mildly interesting is happening, in fitting with 2011’s resolution to really make its mark in the history books. This year, someone is being nominated by a facebook campaign. And that someone is David Norris.

David Norris is what they call ‘a well known character’ back in the old country, but I’ll provide some background notes for those who aren’t from the old country.

David Norris is a Joycean scholar of international renown. He is probably the most famous campaigner for gay rights in Ireland. He is the man who took Ireland to the European Court of Human Rights in 1988 and won, and is the reason that homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993. (No typos there, seriously. That is actually what happened.) He has been an elected member of Ireland’s ‘upper house’ for twenty years. He is also famous for not much liking the IRA. And he’s very, very funny.

This sounds good, you’re thinking. Someone with intelligence, the ability to think, to speak in complete sentences maybe. Someone with political passion and integrity. Someone with the guts to take on the overwhelming and oppressive cultural norms of the day and emerge victorious. Someone who isn’t a fan of terrorism. These are good things. They’re the sort of things I check for when I meet new people.

And yet lots of people are making funny little squeaky noises about not quite being sure they’d vote for him. I’ve been trying to translate their funny little squeaky noises into arguments because these might be easier to address than the nebulous sense of discomfort. Let’s see how I do. Let me know if I’ve missed anything.

Problem: Well, he’s too academic, you see. He’ll never get elected because he’s too academic, elitist, smart, intellectual, and other words we’ve been taught to mistrust.

Solution:  Well, we sure as hell wouldn’t want to be represented on the public stage by someone with a brain and the education to use it. Instead, always choose honest-to-god folks who can’t write their own fucking names. Start a facebook campaign demanding Bertie Ahern and George W Bush throw their hats in the ring.

Problem: It’s not that he’s gay of course. In the 18 years since his extraordinary victory in the European Court of Human Rights was made statute, Ireland has travelled an impressive distance. Just the right distance to ensure no one will admit they won’t vote for him because he’s gay. But it might be difficult for heads of other states to take him seriously, you have to understand. Because, well, he’s kind of camp. What if having to talk to a camp man offended the delicate sensibilities of Berlusconi or Ahmadinejad? 

Solution: Presumably a sixteen year old girl in full burqa would be an acceptable compromise for the gentlemen in question. I’m not sure this is actually how we should pick a head of state, but I suppose it must be considered.

Problem: Not liking the IRA is, it turns out, quite a big issue. Not that per se, of course, because we’re all very grown up now. But a man who has called the martyrs of 1916 ‘terrorists’ isn’t a suitable head of state to lead the flag-waving centenary celebrations which I personally will be avoiding like the plague unless Mr Cameron deports me before then.

Solution: Choose a head of state based on their ability to wave a flag. Better yet, save money and elect a flagpole. This would be indistinguishable from several former Irish presidents.       

Problem: We’re actually rather uncomfortable about not wanting to vote for an intellectual gay man with a noted disapproval of terrorism. We know this doesn’t paint us in quite the progressive light we’d now like to be seen.

Solution: Congratulate yourselves on just how far this country has come in thirty painful years. Then vote for Mr Norris. Shake off the coyness, the shoulder-shrugging, the lingering sense of unease about an intellectual gay man as your head of state. And please, please, vote for Mr Norris.

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How to explain Irish politics to people who didn’t grow up there (without mentioning the recession)

February 23, 2011 3 comments

To begin with, set aside any traditional notions based around twentieth century political norms. Most people will assume that political divisions in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century are based along left/right economic grounds. Toss that now. Or maybe you’d assume that a country known for a fairly fundamentalist religious past – which didn’t legalise divorce until 1995 and which still has no legal abortion – divides its politics along the fault line of socially authoritarian versus libertarian instead. That would also be untrue.

Irish politics doesn’t work like that. It works as follows:

In 1921 a treaty for independence was negotiated with Britain. It contained a number of unpopular aspects – Northern Ireland, oaths of loyalty to the crown, etc. One side supported the treaty, the other opposed it. This led to Civil War. It also led to the two dominant parties in Irish politics.

On one side was Cumann na nGaedheal, who grew up to be Fine Gael. And on the other was Fianna Fail, who grew and evolved to become…. Fianna Fail.

Ninety years ago, an emerging western democracy was divided over a treaty. There were some differences between the parties in the early years – in their attitudes to nationalism and republicanism and religion, in their economic views. Its two main parties are still identified according to this ancient divergence. There is a strangely cult-like sense of loyalty to whichever of these two indistinguishable parties an Irish person feels aligned. Political allegiance is passed down in families, and seats in parliament seem to do likewise. But their only differences now lie in the individuals who choose to continue voting for them. These differences cannot be observed or verified by science. I’m not even sure they can be hypothesised. They are both economically centre-right and socially centrist*, with a 10% swing to the left in good time and 10% to the right when times are bad. With appropriate respect to Phil Ochs, this should not lead to any suspicions of liberalism.

Two parties? But there are loads of parties…..

There are, or have been, three major parties in Ireland for the last forty years – Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour. Two of these have formed every government in the state’s history.

Wiki provides a nice table of all Irish governments, right here. You can see that every government since 1923 has been led by either FF or FG (called Cumann na nGaedheal before it merged with fascists to become FG). You can also note that FF have been in government for 20 of the last 23 years. And for 55 of the 88 years of the country’s existence.

People assume that I come from a cynical perspective when I say that FF and FG are politically indistinguishable. They assume that such a statement is taken from the ‘Blair is as bad as Thatcher’ or ‘No difference between Labour and the Tories/Democrats and Republicans’ school of rhetoric. This is something I’ll leave others to discuss, but that I personally think requires an element of myopia or despair. And generally speaking when politics divides between a social or economic left and right wing, you can discern, if you try, a difference.

Where politics divides along lines that no one understands or remembers, it is genuinely difficult to find that difference.

Before you reach for the calendar, I can confirm that it is now 2011. Some would say that it is time for Irish politics to grow the fuck up and stop basing what passes for political identity on a Civil War most people under thirty don’t understand and many have never even studied in school and pretended to understand for the traditional half hour. I’d imagine I could find a few who have never heard of it. So it would make sense for two major centre-right parties to just merge – and perhaps reveal this illusionary nature of their disparateness to the electorate. Or maybe this would only go to show that Ireland has elected the same politics if not the same politicians for 88 years.

The Irish Labour Party

There is a Labour Party in Ireland. It has been known to get as much as 20% of the vote, or as little as 6.4%. In this election it is running at 22% support. This election, in which the Irish people have chosen to slash and bash the traditional FF ~40% down to a possible 14%, Labour are expected to get 22%.

The Irish system has the added benefit of maintaining a spare centre-right party, for those times when the country wants to punish the centre-right party that has just been in power. Thus Fianna Fail can be meted an electoral battering this year but Fine Gael can keep their seats and most of their politics warm for a term or two. Many countries do not keep a spare centre-right party for these sorts of emergencies. This is very poor planning.

If you don’t keep a spare centre-right party handy, you might have to vote Labour, and that has never happened in Ireland.

Electing the Opposition

The important part of an Irish general election is Electing the Opposition. This is based on Fianna Fail as the self-proclaimed ‘natural party of government’ – an impressive title in a multi-party democracy, or really anywhere outside of a banana republic. The result of this is the idea that a general election is the people’s opportunity to appoint the opposition. Government takes care of itself, like the sun rising and setting, and nuclear waste from Sellafield.

Due to Single Transferable Vote and multi-candidate constituencies, there is a strong history of forceful Independents – single issue candidates and otherwise – as well as small political parties who may gain 2-10 seats in a given election. Thus the Greens, Sinn Fein, Democratic Left (before joining Labour) and the Progressive Democrats (before coalescing once too often with FF and bearing the brunt of political fallout) can gain a small but significant number of seats.

Localism

It is impossible to address Irish national politics without dealing with the local nature of it. The party from which a candidate hails may, for example, be viewed as ‘a shower of little bollixes’, however there’s a decent chance that you may know him or her, spoken to them personally, or remember that time when they organised for a cat to be rescued from a tree. Maybe you wouldn’t want to vote for Fianna Fail because you blame them for recently ruining the country, but that nice John Murphy was wonderful when the pub down the road started attracting a very noisy crowd and he got that all sorted out for us. You couldn’t let the fact that he’s standing for a party you currently hate trump that. A party’s policies, even their most abhorrent policies, are often ignored in favour of these anecdotal tales of bonhomie.

Charlie Haughey was known for paying constituents’ milk bills as he canvassed. He’d bring the receipt up the door and tell the person ‘Oh, don’t worry about that. I got it.’ This approach to canvassing was very popular with the electorate.

Cronyism

This leads us to cronyism. Sometimes just known as ‘corruption’. This has been very expensive, because Ireland in the boom years had to fund any number of near-endless national Tribunals to investigate it. The history of the last fifteen years is one of Tribunals. There’s the Mahon Tribunal (Payments for ‘Certain Planning Matters’), the McCracken tribunal (Payments to politicians by a leading Irish businessman) which became the Moriarty Tribunal (same subject, remains ongoing).

Out of these Tribunals, spanning two decades, came the endless stream of effluent which runs through Irish politics, and which is usually packaged neatly in brown envelopes. If you want something done, it emerged, pay a politician hard cash.

The tribunals are estimated to have cost the tax payer £700 million to date and each of them investigated institutionalised corruption.

There is a general feeling – based only on their having dominated national government for the history of the state – that FF win in the cronyism and corruption stakes. This is open to argument, and no one could ever say that FG don’t try their darndest. But the party that has been in power for more of Ireland’s 88 years has more to offer the corrupt and the opportunistic, and so they come out ahead.

Much of their current popular damnation is linked to this.

There is a seam of genuine admiration running through Irish society for what is colloquially known as the ‘cute hoor’. If you can side-step the spelling and latent misogyny, this term could be roughly translated as ‘smart or canny bastard.’ The politician that everyone knows runs a land rezoning racket; the late alcohol licences that go to friends and well-wishers of particular councillors. The Taoiseach who sternly tells the nation to tighten its collective belt while wearing designer shirts funded by tax-evasion. The other Taoiseach who apparently didn’t own a bank account in his own name for several years. The number of leading politicians who had houses bought or renovated for them by concerned friends, and sometimes friends of friends. These little traditions are often regarded fondly and related almost approvingly – the actions of an adorable child acting the rascal.

This admiration is offset by occasional periods of puritanism, in which everyone is shocked – shocked! – to discover that their elected leaders are morally vacuous criminals.

Never underestimate the years of therapy that may be required to sort out the national psyche in this regard. And therapy is expensive, so this is unlikely happen in the immediate future.

In the meantime, a country facing economic ruin, unprecedented unemployment, and still waiting for a medical system that functions on the most basic level, will be going to the polls to punish a party that they blame for destroying them. They will do this by electing that party’s identikit twin brother, cunningly disguised in a cheap Halloween mask.

PS – best of luck to Eygpt.

*Well, Bertie Ahern claimed to be a socialist some years ago. This was widely regarded as somewhat disingenuous. It was also widely regarded as really very funny. However, the poor man was later found to be telling the truth, when the country realised his was the first Irish party to nationalise the banks. Unfortunately the banks were, well, bankrupt at the time, and so this single act of socialism is now widely regarded as one that has done more than any other to ruin Ireland.

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A story about someone who had sex.

December 13, 2009 1 comment

Back in the country where I come from, a long time ago, this would have been a story. An almighty scandal of a story that would haunt that individual until the day that individual died or emigrated. It would have affected their career, their place in society, their ability to carry on a normal life. It was not a civilised land, the country I come from, back in the good old days. It was a land where pugnacious moral custodians stalked the parishes, careful to mark any and all who night deviate from a strict – and usually unwritten – ethical code with the mark of the beast.

But time rolls on and I live in London and I work in the public sector. At regular intervals I look around and find that life is quite remarkably civilised. Fair hiring practices, transparent firing practices, and an absolute understanding that if you live your life within the boundaries of the law, your behaviour will not be noted down, used against you and gossiped about by vacuous creeps. We have laws about it and everything. It helps, of course, that we are ten years into a new millennium and no one who could conceivably call themselves civilised would create a massive public commotion over a person having consensual sex. No one would really say that this was a horrific betrayal of the trust we so naively placed in them, unless that person was the betrayed partner of the sex-having person in question. We have decommissioned the pillory and the public stocks, and we’re mighty chuffed with ourselves, unless we’re Mail readers. We, as a society, don’t judge a person’s ability to do their job on how they manage their private life.

Unless they’re really, really good at their job. Unless they’re famous for their ability to do their job. Because if they were so spectacularly good at their job that they had become world-renowned for doing their job then it would be very, very important that we know who they had sex with.

Halleluiah, I’m back in 1950s Ireland. I missed it the first time round what with not having yet been born, but now though public obsession with media figures I, too, can begin to imagine what it was like to live in a thoroughly nauseating moral autocracy.

The lovely thing about our particular moral autocracy is that we don’t have to believe in the values it espouses. Not really. We certainly don’t have to make claim to living by them. No, we just have to follow the tabloid-esque stories and spend our godforsaken lives ruminating about them like the bovine cretins we apparently are.

Conceive of it, if you will: a teacher in this country, in this year, publicly denounced and mocked in the press for what I believe is known as ‘marital infidelity’. Named, photographed, stalked, harassed. Career prospects in doubt because no employer will wish to be associated with so degenerate a monster.

Switch the picture: it’s a doctor now. Does that make it any better? If it was an actor? A politician? Now we’re getting places. Or, say, maybe, a figure in popular sports. Ah, why didn’t you say so? Yes, that provides ample justification for bored commuters to turn what passes for their attention to the lessons learnt so well from Arthur Miller. He’s a fucking witch!

And so we end the first decade of the twenty-first centaury with the news headline that a man had sex. Don’t worry – it’s not as though much else of note happened in the last ten years. Fin de fucking siecle indeed.

Pass me a drink.