In an article in last Saturday’s Irish Times entitled ‘The water charges fiasco: a lesson in how not to do things’, Kathy Sheridan describes the saga as “an accessible, textbook study of how an unaccountable Government and Civil Service can unite to patronise and insult us.” Drawing on the views of Eddie Molly, she goes on to identify a number of reasons for public anger at the charges: rushed legislation, perceived cronyism in terms of board and management appointments, and, under a deal with the trade unions, the guaranteeing of workers’ jobs at Irish Water. I have to confess that at last week’s mass demonstration against the charges I did not see a single banner bemoaning the fact that workers were being allowed keep their jobs, but it was a very big turnout so maybe I missed one.
However, many banners highlighted other issues concerning Irish Water, including the regressive nature of the charges and the fear that a public asset might be privatised. The vast majority of people on the march were not attacking a claimed bogeyman nexus of civil servants and trade unions. Many were, however, attacking a perceived cosy relationship between decision-makers and corporate interests, specifically those of Denis O’Brien. The story of how an O’Brien-owned company won contracts to install water meters despite not being registered as a company at the time, and had a large chunk of debts owed to the former Anglo Irish Bank (i.e., the public) written off, need not be rehearsed again here, but it was common currency on both posters and in speeches at the demonstration. Kathy Sheridan’s elision of corporate power’s baleful influence over governmental decision making serves a reactionary agenda that places Ireland’s governance problems at the door of public sector workers and trade unions.
On the day of the water demonstration itself, Sheridan was scathing about the fact that the protestors had, she claimed, “hijacked” World Human Rights Day and foregrounded such relatively petty concerns above more pressing rights violations such as those endured by the people of Gaza. Well, maybe there is something in that, though I saw lots of people at the water demonstration who I also see regularly at small Gaza protests (where I am pretty sure I have never spotted Kathy Sheridan). Let us take one example of what is a very urgent human rights concern in Ireland right now – the scandal of Direct Provision for asylum seekers.
Sheridan interviewed the Minister responsible for Direct Provision in November in an article entitled ‘Minister with a mission to deliver’ and in which Frances Fitzgerald is described as “[p]ractical, tireless, sharp and fast-moving”. It was the sort of article that makes one wonder why the Minister bothers with a PR officer when she has the services of Ms Sheridan available to her. In fairness, Minister Fitzgerald is quoted sympathetically as saying that “I think it’s quite tough on families”, but she is referring to the problems faced by the families of politicians, not asylum-seeking families forced to live for years in inadequate and often abusive conditions.
Am I being unfair in singling out Kathy Sheridan? Perhaps, but she exemplifies many of the traits of Ireland’s mainstream journalists. She professes horror at the state of governance in Ireland but ignores the corporate constituencies that have been at the heart of bad government and the current economic crisis. She laments the lack of protest in Ireland and then maligns and distorts the views of those who have the courage to come out on the streets. She claims to be concerned for human rights but, given the opportunity to ask a minister challenging questions about human rights abuses, she opts instead for servile flattery. The status quo is safe in such hands.
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Criticism of the government’s nomination of Phil Hogan as Ireland’s EU Commissioner has tended to focus on his lobbying, in 2012, to prevent a Traveller family accessing social housing. On this basis, independent MEP Nessa Childers has reasonably described the nomination as a “step backwards for equality”. The other main strand of criticism concerns his signing off on bloated consultancy payments for the establishment of Irish Water, an issue that Sinn Fein in particular is highlighting. Again, the criticism is legitimate and important, as is the fact that he spent the summer appointing former Fine Gael and Labour councillors to state boards and that he quashed inquiries into planning irregularities (including in his own fiefdom of Carlow) when he took office as Minister for the Environment.
But the problem with Hogan goes well beyond anti-Traveller racism, the wasting of public money, the dishing out of sinecures to political cronies, and taking a relaxed approach to dodgy planning. Most Irish politicians engage in all of the above. Hogan’s real importance lies in his being a prime exemplar of the noxious nexus between political and corporate power in Ireland.
The Moriarty Tribunal in 2011 concluded that former Minister Michael Lowry had “an insidious and pervasive influence” over the awarding of a mobile phone licence to Denis O’Brien’s East Digifone consortium. In fact, the tribunal described Lowry’s conduct as “profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breath-taking”. Lowry was an honoured guest at Hogan’s 50th birthday party in July 2010, and only days after the publication of the Moriarty report Hogan had an official meeting with Lowry – allegedly to discuss unrelated matters. But then this should not be so surprising, Hogan has form here. As Jody Corcoran has reported, “Hogan was personally engaged in the extraction of at least two significant sums of money from O’Brien, or his companies or associates, for Fine Gael at or around the time of the granting of the licence”. Coincidentally, Siteserv – an O’Brien-owned company that had substantial debts it owed to now state-owned Anglo Irish Bank (i.e., you and me) written off – has won some of the contracts to install water meters in Ireland, water charges of course being another of Hogan’s legacies to us.
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Will the US and other Western countries bomb Syria for its government’s alleged chemicals weapons attack on civilians? It seems likely, despite the compelling case against any such intervention, as set out by Seamus Milne and many others. At the time of writing, it also appears likely that the US will not even seek the fig-leaf of UN Security Council authorization. Richard Haas, president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, has said that “The UN Security Council is not the sole or unique custodian about what is legal and what is legitimate, and, as many have pointed out, it was bypassed at the time of Kosovo.” Indeed, reference to Kosovo is widespread right now with supporters of Western military action arguing that not only was the 1999 Kosovo intervention legal (it clearly was not) but also that it generated positive outcomes. In 2006, I wrote an article, titled ‘bomb the bad guys and save the innocents’, for Village magazine which sought to explain precisely why NATO’s actions vis-à-vis Kosovo did not constitute a justification for Western countries bombing the rest of the world – that article seems worth reprinting now.
What happened in Kosovo in 1999? This may seem like an obscure question, but it’s an important one, because Kosovo is often cited today to justify “humanitarian interventions” by the West, at a time when Iraq is giving Western military interventions an otherwise bad name. According to the official version of events, NATO attacked Serbia in 1999 to stop Serb forces “ethnically cleansing” Kosovar Albanians. And, so this version goes, it worked – genocide was prevented and a dictator (Milosevic) toppled. We (the West) may have gotten it wrong in Iraq, but we got it right back then in the Balkans and we can do it again elsewhere.
The official version has the status of holy writ – questioning it is tantamount to blasphemy. Noam Chomsky is described as one of the “contortionists of the left”, rejecting intervention even in “situations – such as the Kosovan crisis – which were plainly crying out for assistance”, according to Shane Hegarty of the Irish Times (14 January). RTÉ’s Mark Little, wholly in thrall to the official version, engaged in a Prime Time barracking of Chomsky over his opposition to the 1999 NATO bombardment.
But what really happened in 1999? If the real story is not quite as simple as the official version suggests, and it isn’t, then we should be suspicious when the precedent is invoked to justify Western military adventures today.
In the first place, there is a strong argument that the NATO attack need never have taken place. The Yugoslav government refused to sign the initial Rambouillet peace accord, in part because it contained an annex provision that granted NATO troops free access to all Yugoslav territory, a provision later dropped from the final post-war settlement terms. Other issues and suspicions also impeded the progress of the peace negotiations, including legitimate doubts about the extent to which the Milosevic regime would have accepted, or abided by, any deal. But the bizarre volte face regarding NATO access to Yugoslavia raises the suspicion that the provision was simply an excuse to provoke a conflict and thus assert a role for NATO in the post-Cold War world.
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Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, a German MEP with the Free Democrats party has announced that he is resigning from German politics because he is “fed up with German hypocrisy”. Chatzimarkakis was born in Germany to Greek migrants and has dual nationality so his actions and comments are particularly directed towards German-Greek relations. The issue of corruption is the one where he sees hypocrisy as most glaring:
“The Germans in their hearts believe it is OK to bribe if it leads to more profit. They have a totally different attitude to corruption as the donor [party]. Many regard themselves as not guilty if they give… The guilty ones are those who take … this is the sort of hypocrisy that I am personally fed up with.”
A recent report entitled Guns, Debt and Corruption: Military Spending and the EU Crisis, authored by Frank Slijper, hones in on one sector where such corruption is endemic. Greece has long had the highest levels of military spending in the EU and Germany has been one of its leading suppliers of military equipment. In 2011, two former managers of the German firm Ferrostaal were convicted in Germany of paying €62 million in bribes in connection with the export of submarines to Portugal and Greece, and Ferrostaal itself was fined €140 million. The former Greek Defence Minister, Akis Tsochzopoulos, along with several others, faces trial in Greece for taking kickbacks on defence contracts, including an alleged €8 million from Ferrostaal.
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The government proposes to send eight Irish soldiers to Mali as part of a French-led EU intervention force in that country. According to Irish Times opinion writer Fintan O’Toole, this is all to the good – in a column entitled ‘This time it really is a war to save civilisation’, he writes that while the West has often got it wrong in the past, “Western powers… happen to be on the right side in a war in which the cultural stakes are very high”, citing alleged Malian rebel attacks on art and music. Nobody much will argue that these attacks are good things, or that there is not a pressing humanitarian crisis in Mali – the question is whether Western military intervention is an appropriate response to either.
For others, this latest Irish army deployment is seen as particularly positive because it will, for the first time, be carried out in conjunction with British forces (the Royal Irish Regiment). Justice and Defence Minister Alan Shatter has commented as follows:
“I believe that the provision of a joint UK/Ireland contingent is another step in the normalisation of relations between our two countries… In that sense it is a historic step and provides a tangible manifestation of the very positive relationship and the mutual respect that now exists between our countries.”
So what will this manifestation of mutual respect be doing, exactly? It will be providing military training and advice to an army that Human Rights Watch reports to be guilty of torture and summary executions, with the minority Tuareg group particularly targeted for abuses. This is the military that Irish and other European soldiers will be bolstering, though defenders of the deployment claim they will be training them in human rights (as well as map reading and marksmanship). What could possibly go wrong? After all, the leader of the 2012 coup that sparked the most recent crisis had been trained in the US, and look how well that worked out. (A Malian newspaper editor was recently arrested for criticising the salary of said coup leader). For once, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy had it right when he said that the French intervention was “supporting putschists”. When the fluff of ‘human rights training’ is brushed aside, the fact will remain that Ireland and its EU partners are enhancing the capacity of an army that is predisposed to carrying out coups, torture and executions.
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Speech given by Andy Storey at the launch of Ireland in the World Order: a History of Uneven Development by Maurice Coakley, 20th September 2012 In his novel Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad’s imperialist monster…
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This article originally appeared in Transnational Institute. The Irish debt catastrophe arose from a massive increase in borrowing during the 2000s on the part of Irish banks: the 6 main Irish banks borrowed €15 billion from abroad…
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To celebrate the CrisisJam series of articles on Politico.ie published over the last few days which discuss why we should vote no to the Fiscal Compact Treaty Referendum – or the Austerity Treaty I’m posting…
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There has been widespread horror at the rise of the far right Golden Dawn party in the recent Greek elections (they polled 7%), with appalled references to the activities of their “t-shirted thugs”. They are…
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Introduction: a pattern of dependency The collapse of the Irish economy has come as a particular shock to many people, at home and abroad, because of its seemingly remarkable success in the preceding years, the…
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On Easter Monday, the Irish peace, justice and human rights advocacy group Afri launched a satirical version of the 1916 Proclamation at Arbour Hill cemetery, where the leaders of the Easter Rising are buried.
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Invitation – Open to All Debt and Austerity: From the Global South to Europe Global Gathering: Athens, Greece 6th-8th May 2011 We would like to invite you to attend a ground-breaking global gathering in Athens,…
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This article was originally published on CrisisJam. The Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recently reviewed the Fund’s performance between 2004 and 2007 and concluded that, far from spotting the…
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This article was first published in #CrisisJam on politico.ie. In December 2010, Afri published a report entitled ‘The IMF and Ireland: what we can learn from the Global South’. We looked at the record of…
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