The controversy over Galway City Council’s proposal to erect a statue to Che Guevara to commemorate his family links to the city (his father Ernesto Guevara Lynch had Galway connections – see comment), is indicative of a wider discourse in Irish society.
It has drawn the ire of, among others, multi-millionaire Declan Ganley, founder of the right-wing, pan-European Libertas political party. Ganley is chairman and CEO of USA-based military communications specialist Rivada Networks (‘Total interoperability’). He appointed Richard Myers, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and George Bush point man for Iraq, to its board. He has many ties with the USA military and multinational corporations, and he has mustered a motley crew of Republican politicians, right-wing academics, businessmen and CEOs to make the simple declaration that a statue to a ‘terrorist’ is likely to damage American multinational investment in Ireland. The crew includes Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, of Cuban extraction and chair of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. This is enough to cause a ripple in the space-time continuum that is American-Irish croneyism.
Why should such a relatively minor local event – I passed through Nice recently and had a meal on Blvd Stalingrad, and every town in Italy has its Via Gramsci – cause political and economic apoplexy, especially at a time when Western capitalism is in economic meltdown? In passing it is worth noting that the statue will be paid for jointly by Argentina and Cuba, and will therefore cost Ireland nothing except a patch of grass or concrete on Eyre Square.
The Irish economic system is a kind of quisling capitalism since it’s central tenet is not the free market or human capital theory, or any of the other tenets of the loose discourse we call neoliberalism, but the simple sycophantic need to pander to foreign direct investment, mainly from the USA. Of course, the presence of foreign direct investment serves the interests of powerful elites, captains of service industries and financiers and the tight group of people who reap the downstream benefits. Very often these compradors, as Conor McCabe calls them, produce nothing themselves, add no value and employ very few people. They bring nothing more than local knowledge of the vagaries of planning, oil and gas contracts, corporation tax, and, of course, the peculiar requirements of politicians and political parties. Tony O’Reilly Junior expressed this function well when he called his company Providence Resources ‘a local partner to help them (multinational oil companies) navigate through particular issues that may come before them’.
In fact, Ireland has been particularly successful at making itself dependent on direct investment from the USA, to the extent that the total US investment in Ireland is greater than its investment in Brazil, Russia, India and China combined. Multinationals account for approximately 70% of Irish exports but only 7-9% of the jobs. Most of these ‘exports’ are not manufactured in Ireland put merely pass through the economy in bookkeeping terms. Out of an approximate 110 billion in sales, these companies pay approximately 3 billion in tax – less than 3%. They account for 78% of merchandise exports and 96% of service exports (financial services mainly). Thus, the 70% figure is essentially an exercise in making Ireland’s GDP look good. (See this analysis.) But the multinationals need local subalterns to smooth their way. And this is where companies like Providence Resources come in.
Tony O’Reilly Jnr, whose father owns a 40% stake in Providence, and, incidentally, a 28% stake in Independent News and Media (owner of the Irish Independent), had this to say about the role of Providence in attracting US oil investment in the free-for-all that is Irish oil and gas exploration:
I think what they see is a local partner in Providence Resources the company that has actually been operating in off-shore Ireland in various corporate guises for over 30 years and its current incarnation is Providence. We’ve been around since 1997 so we have extensive knowledge of the basins off-shore Ireland, the fiscal regime, the licensing and operating conditions, and I think that’s what these companies like when they come to a new country.
Of the tax and royalty situation:
I think the fiscal regime in Ireland is very positive. It’s attractive. It’s purposely created to try and entice inward investment … it is one of the more attractive fiscal regimes in the world. No royalties.
So the Irish ‘fiscal regime’ is purposefully designed to attract ExxonMobil and Shell. Citizens of Ireland might, with some justification, expect that the fiscal regime of their country was designed to meet their needs. Apparently not. No direct revenues accrue to the state from the exploitation of gas and oil, but the comprador class does very well thank you.
However Young Tony is not in it for the money but for Ireland. The Telegraph, in a 2010 interview discerned ‘a clear patriotic bent to his hopes for finding oil and gas off his home shores.’ I think we can take this patriotism at face value, since O’Reilly Junior belongs to a class of people that identify Ireland (or Ireland Inc as they are fond of calling it) with themselves. The country is their personal field of dreams, a nation designed to make them great, or at least rich.
So the O’Reillys and minnows like Ganley act as quislings for the interests of multinationals and play a significant part in public affairs in Ireland. O’Reilly Senior has long been associated with the now ruling right-wing Fine Gael party, and his newspaper The Irish Independent is regarded as an unofficial organ of that party. Ganley and his brainchild the Libertas party, campaigned against the Lisbon Treaty. He himself ran for election to the European Parliament. He has campaigned against the occupy movement. An exhaustive list of quislings would include most of Ireland’s rich, their companies, the companies that do their accounts (Arthur Cox, is an example) and the bulk of the companies in the Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in Dublin, effectively an offshore tax-haven for multinationals.
A great deal of what happens in Irish politics can be accounted for by this quisling relationship. The fact that Ireland consistently ranks first in Europe on the Heritage Foundation’s Freedom Index is an indicator of just how compromised the country is. Although ‘the level of economic freedom in Ireland fell slightly last year’, the Industrial Development Authority declared in 2010 when our economic collapse was in full swing, ‘Ireland still remains freer than other European countries’. Freer, that is, than those countries of Europe that are not in thrall to the IMF.
To achieve this high level of freedom it has been necessary to keep corporation tax at 12.5% at a time when the country is carrying, for one example, a one-year waiting list for treating children with the painful and crippling disease rheumatoid arthritis. Naturally enough the 12.5% tax rate is deeply resented by less free countries like Germany and France which have higher rates. To achieve this level of freedom it has been necessary to apply minimal regulation to the financial industry and the result has been the collapse of all Irish banks and their assumption into a form of state ownership that is carefully hedged around with promises that it is not real state ownership but a kind of caretakership pending return to the rightful owners in better shape. The caretakership has meant that the Irish state, and therefore the Irish people, have assumed the debts of the gamblers who ruined the banks in the first place. Cuts in wages and public services have followed – innocuous enough until one realises that these cuts include cuts in disability services, extensions to already long hospital waiting times, and cuts in services to the elderly. That the people have taken the sins of the banks upon themselves has also been done in the cause of freedom as defined by The Heritage Foundation.
So widespread is the myth of economic freedom that a newspaper like The Irish Times, the ‘paper of record’ in Ireland, but rapidly becoming Ireland’s Daily Telegraph, could blithely report in 2012, as we drift towards a second IMF intervention, that:
Ireland’s economic freedom score was 76.9, down 1.8 points from last year, when it was the seventh freest economy in the world. Ireland was then the second-freest economy in Europe after Switzerland.
This reflected poorer management of government spending and reduced monetary freedom, the foundation said. Ireland was just ahead of the US in the index. The least free was North Korea, in 179th place.
Whatever the view from Beijing, Ireland is only free in the sense that it is free of constraints on the super-rich and the multinationals. In every other sense Ireland is a client state of international capital, even freer than the USA on the Freedom Index, and the O’Reillys and Ganleys are the local quislings who have persuaded the political class of the necessity of accepting the rule from overseas.
It is not surprising, therefore, that erecting a statue to a man dedicated to overthrowing the South and Central American client regimes of the USA should cause stirrings of anxiety in the comprador class. As I write, it seems likely that Galway City Council will yield to the pressure, with Hildegard Naughton, the city’s right-wing Mayor distancing herself from the project. After all it was never a political thing in the first place, just another branch of the great Irish family tree industry. His mother was a Lynch, a good old Galway name. If Che were alive today and came on a state visit some genealogist would have found the cottage that his ancestor emigrated from in the days when we were clients to a different empire. There would be photographs of him standing at the door, shaking the hand of the present occupant, whose children, no doubt, would be working on a building site in Qatar.
Note on sources
Most of the source material for this article comes from the work of indefatigable researcher and writer Dr Conor McCabe whose posts at Irish Left Review and Dublin Opinion represent a wonderful source for anyone interested in scratching at the fine glaze that is Irish common sense. His book Sins Of The Father is an indispensable genealogy of present-day politics in Ireland.
Thanks to James Harrold for putting me right on the extent of the Galway connection and also alerting to the fact that the O’Reillys no longer own the London Independent – a fact that had escaped my notice.
The Che Festival
There is already a controversial – and popular – Che Guevara Festival in nearby Kilkee, County Clare, now in its second year. The name puns on the Irish phrase for ‘welcome’ ‘Sé do bheatha’.
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