Is Fine Gael’s Track Record in International Equality and Social Justice a Bowl of Moral Cowardice?

Before being president Trump is here welcomed in Ireland by Michael Noonan and a red carpet, singer and musicians as Ireland grovels for a bit of investment

The presentation of a bowl of shamrock by Irish ambassadors and Taoisigh (Irish prime ministers) to the US president on St Patrick’s Day has been an ongoing tradition for over 60 years – doubtless for to invoke some false sentiment and curry favour. However, several politicians have argued strongly against continuing the act this year. Thousands have signed a petition against it. People are asking that we stand up for our integrity as a nation and in solidarity with those who have been aggrieved by the demagogue Trump’s antics and hastily drawn executive orders.

However, this was never going to happen. While Trump might possibly be on the path to becoming the worst US president in history, it is early days yet. Remember, past Irish dignitaries have handed over shamrocks to carpet bombers and warmongers and recently to Bush who used false information to invade Iraq and whose administration re-edited scientific reports on climate change to make them appear less certain. Even the sainted Obama had his drone strikes and his support for the TTIP, so Trump has a lot of work to do before he takes that nefarious mantle.

Perhaps the main reason, however, that this was never going to happen is the fact that Fine Gael (FG) are in Government. Since coming to power with a coalition Government in 2011 and then a minority government supported by Fianna Fail (FF), FG have demonstrated contempt for matters of integrity and social justice.

Take for example:

How FG presided over Ireland’s failure to endorse  a Draft Resolution proposed by Bolivia in the UN General Assembly for dealing with  ‘vulture funds’ and the nefarious manner in which they extract from distressed countries a much higher price than they’ve paid for their bonds. We were one of 11 countries to vote against it while 124 countries voted in favour.

And in 2012 the Fine Gael-Labour coalition rejected the introduction of the Tobin Tax for fear of weakening its hold over its multinational financial sector. EU leaders proposed the tax as a means of minimising the volatility of market speculation. The tax offers the potential of raising billions for use in fighting climate change and funding global carbon reduction .

Speaking of which, in 2016 Climate scientist Prof. Sweeney described Ireland as a ‘delinquent country’ on climate change due to our ‘pathetic’ contribution to the Green Climate Fund in aid of helping developing countries reach their climate targets. While Sweden had contributed €46.65 and Denmark pledged €9.33 per capita, prof Sweeney has written that Ireland “with the second highest GDP per capita in the EU and one of the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita, has pledged €0.53,”

The government has also been trying to promote Irish agriculture as the saviour of the world due to its beef being partially grass-fed in an attempt to not have to deal with the sector’s high emissions. Ireland’s beef will feed the world FG say despite the fact that it is a luxury product out of economic reach of most of the earth’s inhabitants.

Let’s not forget that FG continue FF’s policy of being a tax haven with the country at the head of a global race to the bottom. They have both even appealed against the EU’s ruling that Apple should pay €13 billion in unpaid taxes most of which is owed to this state.

Added to all this moral cowardice there’s been the continued Government’s complicity with the stopover in Shannon of US planes carrying military personnel  to war zones and the abandonment of asylum seekers for years in direct provision centres – i.e. human warehouses.

What all this has in common – from the bended knee to Demagogues to the deference to Vulture funds, to the hypocrisy on climate change, perhaps even to the asylum seekers with the economic threat apparent in politicians’ repeated reference to the ‘floodgates’  – is the fear of loss of competitiveness. The Irish state is a ‘competition state’ that puts foreign investment and agricultural exports before global citizenship, social justice and humanity.

So it would seem FG and FF have been up to far worse things than handing over a bowl of shamrocks to a Demagogue. It might be best not to forget our own governments’ more furtively crafted evils as the world looks on gob-smacked by a president who has all the subtly of a shotgun.


Inequality still costing lives in Cancer services

An in-depth survey of GPs finds that public patients may have to wait up to 25 times as long as private patients for tests to diagnose cancer. This two-tier system kills. This adds to the existing inequalities in cancer already made visible by previous research here and here. While it is good this stuff comes to light it is unfortunate that the continuous nature of this problem will all too easily be lost again in episodic media reporting and campaigners will continue to be obsessed with the biological existence of the disease while overlooking the additional crucial and deadly social elements.

Other findings point to potential inequality of access based on social networks, which 1 in 5 GPs believe exists. They perceive certain doctors as having greater pull for getting their patients bumped up on waiting lists for CT scans and MRIs through their established connections elsewhere in the health service. This sort of pull reminds me of the penalty points scandals and the clientelism and brokerage that has(possibly still does) existed in Irish politics. If the GPs’ suspicions are correct it serves as a reminder of how inequality isn’t just economic but – as Bourdieu has demonstrated– social, cultural and status-based as well as deadly.

Irish General Election 2016: What Party Manifestos say about Migrant, Asylum & Refugee Issues

Someone over at Doras Luimni has done some nice work collating what party manifestos say about ‘migrant, asylum & refugee issues’. I wonder if similar work has been done by somebody with regard to content on environmental issues. Of course from past experience we cannot simply take their manifestos at face-value. Instead a deeper analysis is required such as comparing manifesto content to previous party (non)implementation of manifestos and voting records. That said it does show where the emphasis lies in party concerns or at least where it is they feel a need to appear concerned.

I have uploaded the four images of the manifesto collation here so that they can be got at via the one link. Again nice work to the person behind it and thanks.


Climate Change and Depolitisation in Ireland

This piece is from a section I wrote for my 2014 thesis – Power, Society and Climate Change: A Social Critique of the Public Receptivity to Climate Change in Ireland. It illustrates how State and Civil society relations shape the public and their role in climate change mitigation.(1) The chapter this section is from is centred around establishing how climate change fits into the symbolic order of Irish society. The “symbolic order” (Bourdieu, 1994: 14) is that projection of everyday reality wherein much of the world appears to operate in a sort of self-evident harmony. In such an order unexamined notions of priority and ways of being are supported by how they are complimented by the existing objective structures. The school system, for example, reproduces the separation of the disciplines into distinct school subjects, sheering them of inter-relational interdisciplinarity, appearing as a self-evident part of the natural order by not being seen at all. The chapter argues how the order supports a reformist version of climate change. This position seeks change within the current institutional and economic system rather than recognising climate change as a product of that system.

The state-endorsed response to climate change, which has entered much of Irish civil society, in many ways mirrors the pre-existing economy of practices and classifications of that society. The ensuing objective relations of a heavily centralised democracy and a largely depoliticised civil society favour an economy of practices where commitment to social change, political protest and engagement is minimal. The relations veer instead towards the paradoxically elevated positions of solidarized (English, 2000: 88-9; Kirby, 2010b: 10) and individualised configurations of responsibility (Cronin, 2009; Allen, 2010: 29), sectoralism, the poor visibility of class and an emphasis on service provision rather than actual social change (Meade, 2005; Varley and Curtin, 2006). Continue reading

A Summary of My Research on Public Receptivity to Climate Change

SmallerA strangely metaphorical photo of an oil tank that blew over during an extreme weather event: when ‘Storm Darwin’ hit Ireland at the start of 2014.

Somehow I have whittled down my doctoral thesis of over 300 pages on public receptivity to climate change  into a two-page summary which can be found by clicking here on the following link: Executive summary of a study of Irish public climate change receptivity.

As this is just a two-page summary it but touches on the substance of the thesis. For example I had to leave out the work on how broad societal power relations manifested within the focus group discussions, which was too complex to reduce to one or two sentences. For a more in-depth reading of the research an online copy of the thesis itself can be found by clicking here. For a quicker route through the thesis I would recommend reading the findings chapters 5 to 8. I would argue that chapter 4 is also an essential chapter while sections 2.3 to 2.3.5 provide my interpretation of Bourdieu’s main concepts which are used throughout. Chapter 1 may have to be read if you find yourself getting lost.

Checkout Girl and the Media’s ‘Middle-class Society’

Moffat (2010) writing in Ireland of the Illusions points to an emergent “cultural shift”, accompanying the Celtic Tiger wherein Ireland is increasingly explained as a “middle-class society”. He finds the media is complicit in this privileging of the middle-class experience wherein “what might be seen as exclusively middle-class events or experiences are projected as ‘the normal’ experience of all Irish people” conveniently sidestepping “the issue of structural social exclusion”.  He cites their obsession with university enrolment issues despite the fact that chiefly it is the middle classes who attend university whereas a majority of the overall population do not attend. Therefore “middle-class expectations are being projected onto all people” (Moffat, 2010: 242). Thus they engage in legitimating their own social space while alternative experiences and social spaces are marginalised. In the media there exists no representatives for the builders; cleaners; residents of deprived inner city estates etc.

This is perhaps why I found the Guardian’s What I’m really thinking: the checkout girl article Continue reading

‘Gay’ priests and a herd of elephants

The recent comments by Mary McAleese, a former Irish President, on ‘gay priests’ have created a bit of a stir over here in Ireland:

She said that “a very large number” of Catholic priests are homosexual and that the church had been in denial about homosexuality for decades. “It isn’t so much the elephant in the room but a herd of elephants.”

The popular Sean O’Rourke RTE radio1 show took up the issue devoting a large section to discussing ‘gay clergy’ with several contributors including priests. Despite all that was discussed I found the absence of one particular narrative quite telling as to the devalued position of social critique in public discussion. The absence pertained to the socialisation and social construction of sexuality through social conditions and relations of power. In short heterosexuality remained unquestioned throughout as the norm for human sexuality with homosexuality – despite the generally liberal approach towards it during the discussion – treated as the deviant Other. It was basically a liberal essentialist narrative that people are (in the words of Lady Gaga’s essentialism) Continue reading