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.

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Brexit, Trump and the Dangerous Condescension of Liberal Elites

This extract from Thoughts on the Sociology of Brexit by Will Davies over at the PERCblog provides an alternative take on Brexit and the role of ridicule and condescension that is so often overtly heaped on the culturally and economically marginalized in England:

By the same token, it seems unlikely that those in these regions (or Cornwall or other economically peripheral spaces) would feel ‘grateful’ to the EU for subsidies. Knowing that your business, farm, family or region is dependent on the beneficence of wealthy liberals is unlikely to be a recipe for satisfaction (see James Meek’s recent essay in the London Review of Books on Europhobic farmers who receive vast subsidies from the EU). More bizarrely, it has since emerged that regions with the closest economic ties to the EU in general (and not just of the subsidised variety) were most likely to vote Leave.

While it may be one thing for an investment banker to understand that they ‘benefit from the EU’ in regulatory terms, it is quite another to encourage poor and culturally marginalised people to feel grateful towards the elites that sustain them through handouts, month by month. Resentment develops not in spite of this generosity, but arguably because of it. This isn’t to discredit what the EU does in terms of redistribution, but pointing to handouts is a psychologically and politically naïve basis on which to justify remaining in the EU.

In this context, the slogan ‘take back control’ was a piece of political genius. It worked on every level between the macroeconomic and the psychoanalytic. Think of what it means on an individual level to rediscover control. To be a person without control (for instance to suffer incontinence or a facial tick) is to be the butt of cruel jokes, to be potentially embarrassed in public. It potentially reduces one’s independence. What was so clever about the language of the Leave campaign was that it spoke directly to this feeling of inadequacy and embarrassment, then promised to eradicate it. The promise had nothing to do with economics or policy, but everything to do with the psychological allure of autonomy and self-respect. Farrage’s political strategy was to take seriously communities who’d otherwise been taken for granted for much of the past 50 years.

This doesn’t necessarily have to translate into nationalistic pride or racism (although might well do), but does at the very least mean no longer being laughed at. Those that have ever laughed at ‘chavs’ (such as the millionaire stars of Little Britain) have something to answer for right now, as Rhian E. Jones’Clampdown argued. The willingness of Nigel Farrage to weather the scornful laughter of metropolitan liberals (for instance through his periodic appearances on Have I Got News For You) could equally have made him look brave in the eyes of many potential Leave voters. I can’t help feeling that every smug, liberal, snobbish barb that Ian Hislop threw his way on that increasingly hateful programme was ensuring that revenge would be all the greater, once it arrived. The giggling, from which Boris Johnson also benefited handsomely, needs to stop.

As this version of Brexit indicates it’s not just people’s pockets that can play a part in decision-making (a view that massively oversimplifies human and social complexity) but an array of emotions informing a sense of dignity and related socially-situated perspectives. A similar vibe is apparent among Trump supporters as detected by the work of Arlie Hochschild and in this fascinating piece by a former member of a rural community where Trump support is strong. Inequality and exclusion it would seem are no longer things the liberal cultural elite can afford to ignore, or worse, ridicule.