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Irish poll gives grist for the mill of endless political speculation

February 29th, 2016 Comments off

Unfortunately for Ireland, it’s not all over bar the shouting.

The 2016 general election was held on Friday February 26, but when and how the new government will be formed is anybody’s guess, and the guessing is going to be prolonged and probably wrong.

That other cliché, about “the people have spoken, but we don’t know what they’ve said”, has been over-ventilated in the days since the election. However Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times had a crack at decoding, and his analysis is worth reading.

Ireland, as most readers would know, was hit savagely by the Great Financial Crisis. Over-reliance on property lending and purchase, particularly by small banks who should have known better, meant that the whole economy came crashing down in 2008. This, post the failure of Goldman Sachs, could be traced back to the spread of derivatives and mortgages for people who could never pay them back, as best described by US author Michael Lewis.

So in Ireland – famously described as “the Wild West of European finance” by The New York Times – imprudent and unregulated behaviour in the banking sector eventually led to the impoverishment of the nation.

However, not all pigs are created equal, and the wealthier pigs generally got off very well. But if you were an Irish person on a small fixed income, with a disabled child, trying to make a living in third-level education or the building industry, you were in trouble. Government cuts appeared to fall mostly on the poor, and the imposition of universal water charges caused a rage and refusal that became durable.

After the crash of 2008, unemployment soared to 15 per cent – and that was only what was admitted. Many people could no longer pay their mortgages, and, seven years later, the full fallout of this was only becoming apparent as more and more families sought emergency accommodation.

So what was happening in Kildare Street, home of the Irish Lower House, the Dail?

The government which presided over the property madness, the “Celtic Tiger” boom, was turfed out at the 2011 election by a furious electorate.

Five years later, however, the party which comprised that government, Fianna Fail, has come back from its decimation and now, two days after the election, holds 43 seats in the 158-seat lower chamber, the engine of government.

The previous incumbent, Fine Gael, holds slightly more seats. The two parties are old enemies dating back to Ireland’s civil war in the 1920s, and once it would have been unthinkable that they would join forces to govern.

But that was then: this is now, with an array of small parties and independents taking a third of the seats in the new Dail – a refreshingly democratic but unworkable mixture. The two big beasts will have to bury their tusks and talk about working together. This is what the pundits have been saying on talk shows in the lead-up to the election, and what the paper of God, The Irish Times, says, not too forcefully, in its editorial on the election result.

Much has been made, almost gleefully, of Ireland possibly joining Europe in a new way, by being one of the countries (see Spain, Belgium) which in recent times have struggled for months to form a workable government following elections.

From this observer’s point of view, the thirst for power, or office, is so strong in the professional politician that, most of them, would sell their mothers to get a toe in any administration.

And that is one of the reasons why the rise of the Independents, on one hand, is a very good thing: such people know they have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being in government , or running a Ministry. But they still want to be there, representing their constituents and making short those who are in power do not ride roughshod over the rights of all.

If democracy is sought, the roots of the word have to be respected: demos, the people, and kratos, rule.

When the people speak, they don’t always do so in neat joined up sentences. That is something we all have to accept.

 


 

 

 

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He was our Hero, and not just for one day

January 11th, 2016 Comments off

(A version of this article appears on www.headstuff.org, the culture, comment and news website.)

TOO beautiful to live; to elegant to grow old – but David Bowie is dead.

The pop superstar/artist’s passing took millions by surprise on the morning of January 11. The news led bulletins around the world, including the serious BBC morning programme. When I caught the tail end of the headlines I thought I must have misheard – it must have been a reference to the musician’s birthday, 69 last Friday, or the release of his latest album, Black Star.

Bowie was one of the most famous people in the world – if you doubt it, check out the international coverage of his death from cancer, in the cliched phrase “after a long battle”. In Melbourne last August, I went to the big exhibition about Bowie which has been touring the world since its premiere at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2013 – currently it’s at the Groningen Museum in the Netherlands.

Mentioning this visit to a relative later, she vaguely asked “What does David Bowie do?”

That response, apart from eliciting mirth and incredulity, poses a question that the same exhibition literature attempted to explain: “one of the most pioneering and influential entertainers of modern times,” it summed up, adding “Bowie’s work has both influenced and been influenced by wider movements in art, design, theatre and contemporary culture”.

But apart from all that, he was our Dave.

Read more…

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Now we don’t even have Paris

November 19th, 2015 Comments off

It was the movie line that earned its place in cliché history – Ingrid Berman to Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca: “We’ll always have Paris.

Often paraphrased down the years as “At least we had Paris”, or “But we’ll always have Paris”, it summed up nostalgia for a perfect time, an interlude of love and beauty.

Perhaps it was sometimes used ironically or mocked, but used it was, with all the attendant mental pictures of the Eiffel Tower, bridges over the Seine, candlelit dinners and accordion music in the streets.

Now we – in the West, or wherever people felt love or awe for the French capital – don’t even have that.

The summary random murders of 130 people (and don’t forget the dozens left with that chilling description, “life-changing injuries”) has cast a grim shadow over Paris, at least for current generations.

The brillian Robert Fisk, jorunalist and historian, is right to point out that the Friday 13 attacks were not the worst atrocity in modern times: 200 French Algerians were slaughered by Maurice Papon’s police in 1961. And mass media should also make sure that other Islamist terror attacks, such as the one which killed 43 people in Beirut only days before November 13, should be recalled. To give balance and begin to answer “why?”, the continual loss of life in public places such as markets in Iraq and Afghanistan since the Western invasion of 2003 were also individual human tragedies – in their thousands.

But for now, the notion of Paris as a beautiful, romantic, sensual monument to modern achievement, especially French, is in dreadful abeyance. Perhaps it’s another step in mankind’s journey, or a contemporary society’s journey, from hope and innocence to grim realisation; life is beautiful, but it is more often terrible, and there will always be zealots and criminals who seek to bring illusions of peace and tranquility to a bitter end.

Personally, I am not a Parisophile – give me Madrid or Barcelona. My most abiding, unfortunate memory of Paris is what we shall delicately term a hygiene lapse in the bathrooms of a busy, not cheap, restaurant on the Boulevard Saint Michel. And my husband, an architect, spent much of a weekend visit some years back muttering that our chic boutique hotel was a firetrap. Paris is expensive, not always so clean, and it’s hard to appreciate Haussmann’s masterful radius plan when queuing in the rain for the Louvre.

But there is nowhere like Paris, for the dreams, aspirations and ambitions of countless people all over the world, for centuries. The beauty of the language, both spoken and written, the fabulous quality of the food at all levels, the style of the people, the exquisite fashions, the grandeur of Les Invalides – they all remain. But the City of Light as we look to 2016 has a dark shadow over it, with an assault weapon in his bloody hand.

 

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Universities might stop slipping if they did what they are supposed to

October 5th, 2015 Comments off

 

Oh dear Trinity, you have slipped. The august college in the centre of Dublin is now rated only 160 in the world, according to the latest league table compiled by the Times Higher Education organisation, publisher of the famous Supplement.

UCD is improving, but still lurks at no 176, while NUI Galway lies in the 251-300 group, and University College Cork, embarrassingly, is only in the 351-400 cohort.

These league rankings obsess the managers of Irish third-level institutions, but clearly to little effect. Even though the THE emphasises teaching and transfer knowledge, that doesn’t appear to have transferred to third-level management.

So what does this mean for the much-vaunted claim that Ireland has a young, energetic and well-educated population? The first two are true, largely. But the third …

What’s wrong with Irish universities? As someone’s who’s both taught and studied at third-level institutions here in the past few years, my answer is that nobody cares much about the students.

The “student experience”, as one long-time staffer said sadly to me this week, is the last thing on management’s mind. Read more…

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Corbyn’s in the frame – so watch out

October 1st, 2015 Comments off

PETER MANDELSON didn’t like the question.

It was 2010, and he’d come to Dublin to plug a book, and consented to a public interview at the concert hall.

“Lord Mandelson, do you think conviction politics have come to an end in Britain?”

A fair enough question from the audience, but touching a deeper and more serious place than the interview – a fluffy thing featuring probing posers such as “do you like wearing the ermine cloak of a Lord?” – which preceded question time.

Snarling ever so slightly, the Prince of Darkness dismissed the idea as tedious and irrelevant.

And now, there’s Jeremy Corbyn!

I strive to be heard above all the sniggering and horrified intakes of breath. A man of priniciple, someone who has stuck to the hard road of old-fashioned socialism, who has kept the red flag flying in his heart: not really one of the political class of the 21st century, is he?

Since Corbyn crushed the other identikit centrist candidates for leadership of the British Labour Party on September 12, there have been all sorts of agitated ripples from that mighty stone being chucked in the pool.

The heirs to the shameful legacy of Tony Blair – just so you know where I’m coming from – in Labour are only now coming out of goldfish mode and recovering the powers of speech.

The Tories, somehow not perceiving that this is probably actually a good thing for them, are having multiple orgasms of horror/delight. The Spectator magazine has been particularly entertaining in this regard, as columnists and contributors from both right and left line up to choke on their porridge and explain that this is The Worst Thing That Has Ever Happened in British politics.

Okay, so Corbyn is a humourless old trout, but it is as refreshing, as bracing, as a shower in a mountain waterfall, to see one of his ilk centre-stage in mainstream politics. Read more…

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