Why do people defend the Quinn family?

Earlier this month an estimated 4,500 people gathered around Balleyconnell, Co. Cavan, in the rain and cold, during hours of speeches to a rally in support of Sean Quinn and his family. Why would people be so happy to jump to the support of a family holding onto a half a billion euro of public assets?

It hasn’t been legally proven what exactly the Quinns have done, but an absolute barrage of accusations has come out about them. Among these are that they have lied to courts, forged and fraudulently backdated legal documents, destroyed computer files which could have been used as evidence, and seemingly have deceived the public and the justice system in every conceivable way. Yet instead of blaming the family that have caused the country so much grief, large sections of the public instead are jumping to defend them. Instead, the public are pointing their fingers at the media, claiming they’re on a ‘witch-hunt’ and that they’re all but declaring ‘war’ on them.

Since time immemorial there have been conflicts between the rich and poor; the lower and upper classes; the proletariat and the capitalist. In most popular philosophies and religions the rich are despised; whether it’s Christianity, Marxism, and even old-school conservative populism. Why is it then that now, even after the economic disaster that began in 2008, caused by the foolish and dangerous practices of well-paid politicians, bankers and corporate leaders all the way from Wall Street to Dame Street, that some sections of the public are jumping to defend the most privileged and unharmed amongst us? Surely by all comprehensible logic, it should be these people we should hate for wrecking the country.

It should of course be noted that it would be unfair to blame only the very rich. There is no doubt that some corporate leaders did act responsibly, and that they do not deserve to be lumped in with the ‘wanker banker’ stereotype. The Quinn family however, as evidence suggests, do not belong in this category of the benevolent good-natured elite. Why, in that case do people defend them?

There are two possible reasons, and quite possibly both are true. One is that many will stand up against blaming the most affluent no matter what, perhaps in the vain hope that they will join that group someday. They don’t want to see them as bad people, but rather those who were worked hard, and fully deserve their wealth. The second type are those who fall for loyalist theories and localism. These are those people who know the Quinn family from around the community and in spite of all the evidence, have a soft spot for them.

The first type, the phenomenon of standing up for the corrupt wealthy elite, is not confined the Quinn family, or even in Ireland. In the United States, Tea Party Republicans have stood up against tax cuts for rich ‘job creators’, a new term that has cropped up out of the minds of right-wing spin doctors since the economic crisis. In Syria, loyal supporters of Assad stand to defend them despite the obvious injustice and inequality they face at home. Thomas Frank, an American author and journalist has said of this phenomenon of ardently defending rich who do not pay their fair share in society that “the great goal of the backlash is to nurture a cultural class war.” This may explain why the Peter Quinn told the crowd at Balleyconnell that the media have been insulting his family’s supporters, calling them “morons and gobshites” and “culchies and idiots”; as he labelled journalists as “bastards”.

In Ireland, we do quite often turn a blind eye to corruption and law breaking among the white-collar classes, while being far quicker to place blame when it comes to petty crimes. In any other European country, with certain obvious exceptions like Italy, could Charles Haughey and Bertie Ahearn have stayed in charge, when just about everyone knew of their corruption, lies and criminal activities?

It’s likely that the Quinns’ most ardent supporters are the same crowd that defend corrupt public figures, claiming to be standing up for fellow Irish citizens against some sort of witch-hunt by the courts and the media, as Ciara and Peter Quinn have both seemed to suggest. One would suspect they really know full well that there isn’t any kind of truth to what they’re saying.

There seems to be a kind of bizarre nihilism among the most ardent defenders of the Quinn family. While some of them support and defend the Quinns despite their wrong doings, others deny they ever happened at all. Surely, with all the reporting on their legal affairs it must be obvious to everyone that there has been a huge lapse of justice here. It seems many would rather not know what the evidence suggests, but would rather go on some passionate instinct and assume that the Quinns are good people, that have done great things for the community, and any evidence or facts that conflicts or contradicts that view of them must just be mistaken.

In Ireland we often are unwilling to condemn the immoral and even illegal actions of public figures. If someone has done something positive for the local community in the past (for example, Michael Lowry et al.), they will probably be forgiven for massive corruption and dodgy dealings. This ‘Ah but he fixed the road’ mentality is fundamentally harmful to a functioning democracy. It makes a mockery of the Irish justice system. This sympathy for those that abuse their power, wealth and privilege must end. If it doesn’t, they will never be held accountable for their actions.

This article originally appeared in the University Observer: http://www.universityobserver.ie/2012/10/31/defending-the-elites/

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Ireland’s new dissident conservatives

This originally appeared on Liberal Conspiracy

All of Ireland stood and stared in confusion last month when a backbencher MP stated that ‘fornication’ was the main cause of unwanted pregnancies, as a defence against bringing in legislation that would allow for abortion under certain circumstances.

Michelle Mulherin, A TD (MP) for Fine Gael, the mainstream centre-right party, said: “abortion as murder, therefore sin … which is no more sinful than … greed, hate and fornication. The latter, being fornication I would say, is probably the single most likely cause of unwanted pregnancies in this country.”

Most were shocked; having not seen or heard this kind of language since Ireland was ruled by Bishops in the Catholic Church.

The last several decades have been mostly those of progress, with contraception being legalised in 1980, divorce in 1996 culminating with the passing of the Civil Partnership Act in 2010.

It is often that for this reason Irish people tend not to identify openly as politically conservative. Most parties both the right and left prefer to use words like liberal and progressive despite their actual place on the political spectrum.

While in other countries, Conservatism has prouder traditions, in Ireland is associated with reactionary Catholicism that plagued the country for too long in the twentieth-century.

This hasn’t the only incident of this nature. Irelands Minster of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton last year sparked controversy when she commented she was against same-sex marriage, due to marriage being ‘primarily about children’, and its main purpose to ‘propagate’ [sic]. This led to her party leadership having to distance themselves from Minister Creighton and comment that her views are ‘her own’ and not those of the party.

But a poll conducted in 2010 showed that 67% of Irish supported gay marriage. Despite this public support, and the support of all other party leaders including, the deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his party have not moved on the subject.

The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network has said that Kenny has missed a “great opportunity” in not following President Obama’s lead on this issue following the recent announcement of his support for same-sex nuptials.

It seems that the Christian-Democrat Fine Gael party, who at this time hold a majority in the Irish Parliament (Dail Eireann) are the main instrument in Irish conservatism, and despite the fact that they, as a party, hold the majority support of the country, most do not identify with their socially conservative faction.

A war has been waged on certain members of the party with the Irish media and consensus. Fine Gael TD and Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar commented in March that RTE (Ireland’s public broadcaster, the equivalent of the BBC) has a bias towards ‘liberal’ and ‘centre-left’ parties.

Largely, Ireland has secularised and liberalised, with church attendance majorly in decline for the last several decades. The ‘non-religious’ are now the largest group after Catholics according to the latest census taken last year.

Despite this an ugly Christian-right resurgence has begun to bubble, although, perhaps it will die out quickly before coming to light in a major way.

Sinn Fein and the Left

This originally appeared on Liberal Conspiracy

With polls showing support for the Irish Labour Party plummeting amidst poor performance as the junior-party of the current coalition government (akin to the liberal democrats across the sea), some in in the Republic of Ireland are looking to Sinn Fein as a credible left alternative.

A Sunday Times and Behaviour and Attitudes poll has put Sinn Fein’s support at 25%. Though, is it wise to trust that the Shinners will stick to their promises of equality and solidarity, or is there newfound commitment to equality simply for electoral reasons?

What is interesting about Sinn Fein is their ability to campaign.

They are essentially a political body in three different places. In Northern Ireland, where they are performing very well and Martin McGuiness is leading them in power-sharing with Peter Robinsons DUP, in the Republic where they have a small number of seats in Dail Eireann but whose popular support is rising day by day, and in the United States where members regularly campaign to win the support and funding of Irish-Americans (who bizarrely tend in some cases to be the most nationalist of all).

In Northern Ireland, it’s easy for them to blame all the countries woes on partition and the government in Westminster, likewise in the south they blame the current government, and often evoke the name of Thatcher to attack right-wing economic policies (whose dislike is one place who republicans and socialists share); while in the US they downplay their ‘left-wing’ policies and speak strictly about reuniting Ireland.

For this reason, the party has support from members of the ultra-right Republican party, all of whom who would most definitely disagree with Sinn Fein’s ‘progressive’ ideals.

There may be some within the party that are genuinely committed to these principals. The parties Finance Spokesperson in the South Pearse Doherty has complained about allegations in The Irish Times that the party are adhering to populism and are acting in a cynical and underhanded manner. He argued that Sinn Fein is “committed to building a prosperous and equal Ireland”, and this is the real reason for the latent success in the Republic.

However, at the party’s annual conference last weekend a motion was called to add a modest 2.5 per cent temporary levy on Ireland’s low 12.5% corporation tax. Delegates unanimously immediately rejected this motion, and finance spokesman Doherty argued against it citing that it would “increase the tax burden” on companies trying to survive.

While he may have a point the fact that, as Paul Galvin of Limerick who argued for the motion pointed out, 63 per cent of Irish companies paid no tax in 2010, and of those who did many paid as low as 4 per cent due to various loop holes and deductions.

The fact that a supposed party of the left unanimously is rejecting modest tax increases on wealthy corporations shows to this writer that perhaps Sinn Fein are not exactly as committed to equality as they claim to be.

Adams and McGuinness talk about equality and changing the status quo of neoliberalism and austerity now, but will they stick to their word and fundamentally change things in office? Some progressives may be able to look past their previous violent endeavours in hope of a change in government policy but will they be able to stick to their promise? Time will tell.

Pathways to Work won’t create jobs.

This article was originally written for politco.ie in February of 2012.

Last Thursday Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton launched Pathways to Work, “a radical new plan to get unemployed people back to work.”  Those at ‘high risk’ of remaining unemployed over the long-term will receive priority treatment and intensive support as part of new measures outlined in the plan.

Those receiving payments from the Department of Social Protection will be required to actively seek work as part of this new proposal, or risk having their benefits cut or being “dropped off the register completely”, according to Burton.

The National Employment and Entitlement Service (NEES) will offer personalised support to jobseekers, in order to “ensure active case management with scarce resources targeted at people most in need of assistance.”

Getting tough with the unemployed

But why now – with unemployment at 14.5% and job vacancies at a low – is such a thing being proposed? Bríd O’Brien, Head of Policy and Media for the Irish National Organisation for the Unemployed (INOU) says she supports the proposals to ensure jobseekers receive personal assistance, but dislikes the “getting tough” approach the Government has taken. “This is something that a lot of people have been calling for, for a long time, including ourselves. [This being] a system that can interact with people and engage with them, and offer them support and advice, rather than a system that gets tough with people, because ultimately that’s not going to work.”

The scheme has been heavily criticised by opposition TDs. Sinn Féin has branded the scheme the ‘Pathways to Poverty’ programme, and the party’s social protection spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh has accused the Government of “punishing the unemployed”. Socialist Party/ULA TD Joe Higgins has referred to the proposal as a “cynical Tory ploy of blaming the victims of the crisis”.

Media reaction and the ‘lazy feckers’

Sinead Pentony, Head of Policy at TASC, says that incentivising job-seeking by threatening to cut welfare will be ineffective, due to the fundamental lack of employment opportunities in the country, with 26 unemployed people for every job vacancy.  “At the end of the day, people can be trained up to the oxters, but if the jobs aren’t there the jobs aren’t there. The undertone in a lot of the media coverage is, it’s getting the lazy feckers back to work, get them off the dole, it’s a lifestyle choice.”

O’Brien, too, is critical of the media’s attitude to the unemployed, saying, “There’s a key element in the media of people saying, ‘Oh let’s hit them over the head and make them go off and do this and blah, blah, blah.’ We [at the INOU] would argue this is a complete waste of money, it is demoralising for people, and it’s the wrong way around to be doing things. What we need to do is to improve how they engage with people, and improve the service they provide people, and to make sure people get their payment or entitlement ASAP.”

Supply and demand

Pentony does not believe the plans will have a profound effect on job creation.  “[The Government] are not dealing with the elephant in the room, which is the need for investment, for the purpose of job creation. There’s a whole range of projects that are labour intensive that could be supported by the Government to try and create demand for labour. From an economic perspective, there’s too much focus on the supply.”

Bríd O’Brien echoes this view, saying “They also need to bear in mind that they need to service people that currently have a good skill-set and experience, and really the problem is the lack of jobs. It’s very important that the system has something to offer them.”

Alternatives

The Government has been criticised for not taking a more proactive role in job-creation through state investment and stimulus.  “In a recession, because there’s lack of confidence and stability, the private sector won’t invest in this type of climate, with all these issues with credit and finance. When private investment is not there, the state has to step in, in terms of job-creation. Our economy has been starved for investment for the last four years, and that’s what we’re seeing. We’re flatlining at the moment in terms of unemployment,” says Pentony.

“If you took all of the National Pension Reserve (NPRS) money and looked at utilising the State-companies [for] balance-sheet borrowing. You know, there’s different ways of securing the financial investment we need, what’s lacking is the political will. [The Government] are clearly committed to a particular path, and I’m wondering how bad things are going to have to get, that people are going to start realising that. We cannot succeed on the path we are building.”

It’s a view shared by Socialist/ULA TD Joe Higgins, who wrote last month that “There is an obvious way to drastically cut unemployment, that is by creating real jobs as opposed to harassing the unemployed into makeshift programmes that simply make the figures look better. The Fine Gael/Labour Coalition has refused to contemplate the radical measures that could be taken. They opt instead to capitulate to the diktats of the troika that billions of our people’s resources be funnelled into the vaults of the gambling bondholders of the former Anglo Irish Bank.”

Occupy Dame Street: Not quite the revolution

This article was written over a year ago and appeared in the University Observer

On Saturday the 8th of October 2011, several hundred people gathered outside the Central Bank of Ireland on Dame Street for the latest of several ‘Occupy’ events. This now global phenomenon began with the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protest in New York City last month and has since spawned many copycat demonstrations. However, many wonder what the actual aims of the demonstrations are, and what the agenda of its organisers is. What exactly was ‘Occupy Dame Street’ and what were they looking to achieve?

According to its Facebook group, the event sought to “show solidarity with those [abroad] and express a growing sense of frustration with social inequality and corporate greed among the people of Ireland”. Having spoken to protesters at the event, it would appear that this description of their aims is relatively accurate.

“It’s all about togetherness” says Tom, who requested that only his first name be used. “I feel the aim of assembly is to bring people to gather in a public area, and see what it is that comes out of that.”

Sebastian Van Ooijen, another volunteer, agreed with Tom but felt the protest could go further still. “First of all I think awareness. To share our ideas, share our knowledge about what’s going on,” Sebastian stated before explaining that in his view, the biggest problem is the European Union’s involvement in the country’s financial affairs. “We need to get out of the EU, not just Ireland but other countries too, so we can control our own money.” No matter what they manage to achieve, he emphasised that the demonstration in Dame Street aimed to “serve the rest of the people, not just to serve the wealth of a few bankers and corporate elites”.

The event was not publicised in the traditional sense, and relied on word of mouth and social networking. “I’m familiar with the assemblies internationally, it’s a transnational movement,” says Tom, before continuing that word being spread by ordinary people was what gave the event its “popular legitimacy”.

In a similar vein, Sebastian discovered the event via Facebook and was motivated to join in after “watching the protests in the United States, in New York, the police were spraying [the protesters], there were a lot of things going on that were not being reported in the mainstream media.” Despite Gardaí presence on the day, there were no problems in this regard.

Beyond national laws, there were three self-prescribed rules for the protest. These were that no political party or trade union banners be represented at the march; no violence be allowed; and no alcohol or drugs may be consumed. The gathering is purely independent and, to ensure it is truly for the ordinary people, has no affiliations with political parties or organisations.

Tom agrees with this apolitical sentiment. “What’s happening over the world is people are gathering around the same banner, and generally that being an apolitical banner. We’re setting aside previous sectarian identities and freely associating as people, and I consider that in the world, [to be] historically important.” Neither he nor Sebastian are involved with any political parties or organisations, as the online event page suggests. However, this has not stopped some organisations, such as the ‘Enough Campaign’, trying to get involved.

While over seven hundred people clicked ‘attending’ on the Facebook event page, it appeared that only half as many actually turned up. Nevertheless, Tom remained positive. “Many protests such as this start off small” commented Tom. “The important thing in a lot of countries is that it has gone beyond a narrow chasm of activists, primarily essentially leftists, but this is a movement that welcomes all regardless of politics.”

Sebastian also felt the demonstrations were likely to create a positive outcome. “I think it will be a [success in the] long run. It needs to [gain] momentum but once people realise that this is a global thing that’s going on, and not just confined to Ireland, I think we will see not just an Irish revolution, or a European revolution or an American revolution, but I think we will see a worldwide revolution.”

Before this can happen, Sebastian believes that the public need to reassess their priorities and understand what the real issues in our societies are. “People … need to start self-educating. Most people pay attention to Coronation Street, or rugby, football, The X Factor. This is not helping us; this is distracting us from the important issues.”

Occupy Dame Street, while not quite being the revolution that some were hoping for, does reflect a growing apathy with mainstream politics and a demand for change. After years of politics focused on parties and individuals, it is somewhat refreshing to find Irish people who are willing to put personal politics aside and stand up against what they believe to be a common injustice.

Censorship happens in the west too.

The Italian Wikipedia has recently closed in protest against an attempt by everybody’s favourite Euro-deviant, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, to bring in a new law requiring websites to correct any content deemed harmful to a person’s image. This bill was first conceived after the leaking of wiretapped conversations featuring the Italian leader admitting that he is only the prime-minister in his “spare time” and making sexual insults about German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. The seventy-five-year-old Premier is no stranger to controversy; he has long been known for his alleged affairs with underage prostitutes, offensive remarks about other politicians and connections with the Italian Mafia, among an entire stream of other accusations too long to list.

This does beg the question, why, in spite of all of this, would people continuously vote this man back into power? The answer is simply to do with media control. The Berlusconi family have long controlled the ‘Mediaset Empire’ which includes the top three national TV channels in Italy. He has also been highly involved with the ‘public service’ national broadcaster, Radiotelivione Italiana, effectively monopolising Italian media control. Can you imagine if Enda Kenny controlled RTE, TV3 and TG4, and in his spare time slept with prostitutes and took money from gangs in return for political favours? Apart from that image being completely hilarious, it would be shocking to think that he could actually get away with it.

Of course while Berlusconi has been able to control the televised media, he has not been able to control the web; that is, until recently. Unfortunately for Silvio, he doesn’t own the internet, which is why he is bringing in new laws to stop Italian websites such as Wikipedia from being able to inform the voting public of the gargantuan list of crimes and misdemeanours attributed to him.

Wikipedia themselves released an open letter to the Italian people reading “Today, unfortunately, the very pillars on which Wikipedia has been built – neutrality, freedom and verifiability of its contents – are likely to be heavily compromised…”

What is most worrying about this story is the mere idea of internet censorship being imposed by a government. The Italian Wiki-folk were right to shut down the site before this legislation went into place. It is greatly damaging to the idea of individual freedom, which appears to now be in jeopardy in Italy, unless this law is withdrawn and the it.wikipedia.org site is reinstated.

This isn’t the first case of Internet censorship on a national scale. In China, Google is heavily self-censored in order to comply with the rulings of Communist leaders and allow the corporation to do business in the state. Looking up Chinese history for instance, on google.cn, China’s port for Google, will return largely different results than the rest of the world’s version of the search. Searching ‘Tiananmen Square’ on google.com brings up sites about the massacre at the top of the first page, however searching “Tian’anmen Guangchang” on the Chinese Google portal returns pages from Trip Advisor among others, none of which mention one of the most violent tragedies in China’s history. In other countries such as North Korea and Cuba, the internet is more or less banned altogether, for fear that freedom of information would lead to a breakdown of the political systems in place in the respective countries.

Ireland is also no stranger to web censorship. In 2009 Irish internet service providers were given legal warnings by several major record labels including EMI and Universal to implement a system which would cut off the broadband connections of people found to be downloading music illegally. This led to Eircom’s ‘3 strikes’ policy, and the blocking of the popular torrent site ‘thepiratebay.org’ to Eircom users. The company’s actions were criticised by many as infringing on the liberties of Irish people.

The United Kingdom is also embarking on a course of censorship, with four of the UK’s biggest internet service providers set to make customers have to ‘opt in’ to viewing sexually explicit websites when they register their internet, as part of a government attempt to crack down on online pornography. While this writer is of course not defending or condoning pornography, one must look at the wider picture and realise that if governments and service providers continue to interfere with the web, it may be soon enough that they have much more control over what websites people view on a daily basis, for better or for worse.

Restriction of web-pages in countries with democratic systems, although far rarer than in dictatorships, is now beginning to become a worrying issue. The Italian Wikipedia fiasco must be taken very seriously if freedom of information is to be respected across Europe and the wider world. Instances such as this could lead to further information being suppressed by governments, if we remain apathetic towards the decisions to remove pages they deem ‘inappropriate’ from the World Wide Web.

Part time college courses may more cost-effective, but they just don’t give you the full experience.

Since the economic recession began in 2008 there has been talk of increasing tuition fees in universities all across the world. Our own little island is no different, where this year we all had the good fortune of paying an extra five hundred quid or so in order to attend this very university.

In the United Kingdom college was always free under the welfare state until 1998, when tuition fees were introduced at £1,000 a year. This year they were brought up to maximum fees of £9,000, which is now the cost of attending many top-ranking universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. This increase has already taken its toll on UK education, with university applications falling by twelve per cent in 2011.

In order to try and combat this new system, which is leaving many without third level education, Coventry University College are offering full-time evening courses from 7pm to 10pm, and on weekends until 4pm, for half the price of usual fees. Their students get the same degree for less money, and have more freedom to work during the course of their studies. While some may feel that this solves the problem, allowing people to work and fund their own way through a degree, it does raise the question: is there more to attending university than just the degree and the education itself?

How many times have you thought, ‘I love college, but wouldn’t it be so much better without all the academic stuff?’ If only we could just hang around all day drinking weak SU coffee and eating chips in the student bar without having to worry about silly things like assignments and exams.  From the minute you walk into college on the first day, you are bombarded by an overwhelming array of extra-curricular options. There are posters everywhere for various societies, and people are handing you countless flyers for gyms that you won’t be joining since you are not planning on doing anything remotely healthy or constructive for the next few months. Many students move away from home and have to learn to manage without their parents for the first time in their lives. Through the endless array of clubs, societies and excuses to drink you meet new people, develop new interests and have new experiences. There are so many different aspects to university life that it’s all too easy to briefly forget about its educational purpose.

The problem with this new discount-degree proposal is that it offers education with virtually no authentic university experience. The wider college experience prepares people emotionally as well as educationally, and helps develop skills that will last a lifetime.

It also prompts the question, if students are to work five days a week in order to pay for their education as well as doing night classes, then when exactly are they supposed to have time for any kind of a social life? Are we to believe that in order to compete in the jobs market students will now essentially have to turn their life off for three or four years and come out at the end forgetting how to actually live?  It also leads you to wonder how anyone is supposed to be able to pay attention to lectures and classes past seven o’clock in the evening, having already worked a full shift. Usually by four o’clock I’m no longer able to remember what day it is, let alone when Germany was united under Bismarck.

Any proposal which would extend higher education to a wider base of people is always welcome, whether it’s perfect or not. However, this latest proposal seems to be a half-baked apology for the considerable damage done to the economy by politicians who introduced increased university fees in the first place.

The student fees situation has become more and more of a problem as of late. In the ‘Occupy’ protests that are taking place all across the world, many students are beginning to take to the streets, enraged that they must struggle in order to pay for college. While the concept of students working full-time is relatively new in Europe it has long been commonplace in the US, where there is less focus on state funded third level education.

While receiving the bare bones of a degree in order to compete in the jobs market may seem like a happy medium for some, it may ultimately leave many others justifiably dissatisfied.