Empires are far from benevolent creations. Their natural instinct is to pillage, steal, oppress, torment and kill. As institutions of great power, they have no inclination to heed reasoned arguments put forward by those who wish to end or at least ease their apparatus of repression. This is the obvious lesson taught by the history of empires, be they British, French, German, Belgian or American. Empires only treat subjugated peoples like human beings when they are forced to do so. Sometimes this comes from peaceful mass movements. More often than not, it comes from violent resistance.

Two events taking place thousands of miles apart – the Easter Rising centenary celebrations and Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba – reveal much about liberal attitudes to empire and the refusal to recognise these lessons. A recurring theme in both cases is that of “reconciliation” – the idea that the conqueror and the conquered are moral equivalents, both of whom are deemed to have committed wrongs that should be set right. This can be seen in recent media coverage of the US president’s visit to Cuba, which has been lauded as a “cooling of relations” between the two countries, as if the reality was anything other than one side subjecting the other to invasion and economic sabotage.  In this narrative, Cuba and the United States had a mutual falling out in the past and now they are starting to get along.

In the Irish scenario, the official line is that there was a peaceful alternative at the time that could have avoided the unnecessary violence of the Easter Rising and the War of Independence. We did horrible things to gain our partial independence, so we need to be “mature” by displaying remorse for these actions and honouring on an equal level as the people who set out to establish Irish democracy the British soldiers who fought to crush it at birth. Both sides have made mistakes; it’s time to apologise, and it’s time to move on. Or so the story goes.

In the case of Cuba, the supposed crimes of the socialist state are amplified in order to justify the creation of a blatant false equivalent. Socialist Cuba is apparently a nasty dictatorship that imprisons its citizens on a mass scale, where the police run roughshod over human rights and where elections are rigged in the interests of an unaccountable and powerful elite. Unlike the US, obviously.

The treatment of political “dissidents” – most of whom receive funding from the CIA, as well as other agencies that are openly aggressive towards the socialist system – are routinely invoked by western media outlets to underline this point. The Guardian this week uncritically quoted leading “dissident” Guillermo Fariñas on a story about the visit. It wasn’t mentioned that his first imprisonment was for beating a female health care worker, while his second term came after he attacked an elderly man. In the article, he described Obama, a man whose drones have killed thousands of defenceless civilians, many of them children, and arms Apartheid Israel to the teeth, as “the principal defender of democracy in the world”.

This is not to mention the litany of crimes perpetrated against Cuba. Since 1959, the US has invaded Cuba, attempted to murder its president on hundreds of occasions and sabotaged its economy. America’s terrorist campaign against Cuba, which included the bombing of a passenger jet in 1976, has killed more than 3,000 people.

Using the visit to show that Manifest Destiny is still alive, Obama asserted America’s divine right to decide the internal affairs of other countries when he demanded that Cuba reforms its political and economic system. The implication behind this is obvious; Cuba is the wrongdoer, not America; Cuba’s socialist system is the one that has to change, not America’s capitalist system; When the US and liberals call for “free elections”, what is actually meant is voting contests that occur every five years between superficial corporate-funded candidates; When they call for a “free media”, what they actually mean is a media controlled by a small number of oligarchs, like Rupert Murdoch or Denis O’Brien.

It’s Cuba that’s expected to change, not America.

In Ireland, these double standards have emerged in the state’s official 1916 centenary celebrations, which have been widely derided for frantically attempting to airbrush the country’s anti-imperialist history from existence. It recently attracted ridicule when a banner depicting Henry Grattan, Charles Stewart Parnell, Daniel O’Connell and John Redmond was erected in College Green. None of these figures had anything to do with the Rising or the democratic republican tradition that led it. In fact, Redmond actively opposed the Rising, denouncing it as a German plot and was at the time goading tens of thousands of Irish to their senseless deaths on Western Front. O’Connell, a rabid reactionary who opposed trade unions and fought against the mildest of restrictions on child labour, was harshly criticised by James Connolly in his seminal book Labour in Irish History. These are uncomfortable truths for Blueshirts.

The latest assault on history and the ideals of the 1916 revolutionaries has come in the form of a two-part RTÉ documentary written by Bob Geldof in which he contends that the Easter Rising “represents the birth of a pious, bitter and narrow-minded version of Ireland I couldn’t wait to escape”, while lauding IPP leader John Redmond as a “genius”. Geldof’s arguments are reflective of a broader viewpoint prevalent among Irish liberals and conservatives, in which the role of British colonialism is painted as benign while Ireland’s national liberation movement is seen as something parochial, fanatical and undemocratic. This view, often presented as the pinnacle of critical thought, sits comfortably with those like Geldof who prefer to genuflect to great power rather than challenge it. For them, Redmond is a safe symbol. He was a sensible moderate who nicely asked the British for a mild form of Home Rule. That he opposed voting rights for women and enthusiastically cheered on the slaughter of 11 million people is beside the point.

Contrary to the claims of Geldof and others, the southern state is not the product of the Easter Rising or the revolution which followed, and it’s precisely for this reason that so much effort has been put into rewriting the history of this period. The state that exists today is the product of a counter-revolution that began in 1922, which saw the Free State army crushing strikes, the rights of women shredded and the establishment of an oppressive Catholic theocracy. During the revolution of 1916 – 1922, women were active agents of change, playing a key role in both the national liberation and labour movements. Under Free State rule, their position was one limited to child bearing and housework, a product of Catholic fanaticism. The modern Irish state exists in its current form despite the revolution – not because of it.

Reconciliation should not involve fawning over the British monarchy or pretending that there is a moral equivalent between James Connolly and the men who tied him to a chair and shot him to death. True reconciliation would not be with the remnants of the British Empire, as fighting for independence is nothing to apologise for.

The only people who are owed an apology are those who have never been cherished equally as promised in the 1916 Proclamation. An apology is owed to those who have suffered as a result of the counter-revolution and the regime that has run the state ever since; the thousands of homeless made to sleep on the streets lest they interfere with the profits of landlords and developers; the women forced to travel abroad to safely terminate unwanted pregnancies; the unbaptised children denied access to education by intolerant religious institutions; the low-paid workers denied union representation; those who are denied proper health care because of the size of their wallets; the refugees forced to live in direct provision; and the travelling community that endures structural racism and is pushed to the margins if Irish society.

These are the results of a rigid class system that has benefited the Irish regime and its supporters. When James Connolly wrote in 1898 that revolutionaries “are ever idolised when dead, but crucified when living”, he could have added that their ideas are often killed and buried with them. For it was a similar type of system that exists today in Ireland that Connolly, Roger Casement and Helena Moloney railed against 100 years ago.

It’s little wonder that their ideals are being killed and buried yet again.

 In the aftermath of the Second World War, governments across Europe began the task of creating their first universal health care systems and welfare states, spurred on by the demands of working class people determined to ensure that the poverty and unemployment of the 1930s, which provided such fertile ground for the rise to fascism, would never again be repeated. Even by the standards of a continent that had been ravaged by Nazism and six years of total war, Ireland’s standard of living for the majority of people was appalling. Its infant mortality rate was the worst in Europe. In 1949, one out of every 16 children died before they reached the age of five.

In 1950, in a bid to reverse Ireland’s abysmal public health record, Clann na Poblactha Minister Noel Browne introduced the Mother and Child Scheme, a programme that aimed to provide free health care to all mothers and children up to the age of sixteen. It was a modest proposal when compared to the British National Health Service, introduced by Aneurin Bevan two years earlier. The Mother and Child Scheme came up against the determined opposition of the Catholic Church, which hysterically claimed that free health care was “communist”, an “invasion of family rights” and “would constitute a readymade instrument for future totalitarian aggression”. In April 1951 John Charles McQuaid, the Archbishop of Dublin, penned a letter to then Taoiseach John A Costello outlining the Church’s disapproval of the scheme. Such was the power the hierarchy had over elected governments in Ireland, the bill was immediately scrapped and Browne was forced to resign. Universal free health care was never achieved in Ireland. The bishops cared greatly for the spiritual well being of the poorer sections of Irish society. They would ensure that their souls were well nourished and cared for; their physical bodies, on the other hand, were free to succumb to sickness, hunger and disease.

The success of the Yes side in last Friday’s referendum marks a continuing shift in the attitudes of Irish people towards the Catholic Church, with appeals from priests and bishops for people to vote No going largely unheeded, particularly among the urban working class and the young. Considering that homosexuality was only decriminalised in Ireland in 1993 and the prohibition of divorce wasn’t repealed until 1996, the overwhelming endorsement of same sex marriage is an impressive victory for progressive forces in the country. It was a welcome defeat the likes of the Iona Institute who revel in spewing hatred against people based on their sexual orientation or anyone who dares to diverge from their Victorian definition of what they believe constitutes a ‘family’.

Although this victory is an important step towards becoming a more equal and progressive society, Ireland still has a long way to go. Hospitals, although publicly funded, are still controlled by the church and religious institutions, including the Bon Secours nuns who were responsible for the appalling abuse that saw 800 dead babies buried in a septic tank behind a Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway. Schools continue to be controlled by the church, with systematic job discrimination practiced against LGBT and atheist teachers.

The equality espoused by the Fine Gael/Labour regime and business groups during the referendum campaign represented a distinctly neoliberal vision of equality. Their equality is one in which everyone can equally compete in the marketplace without hindrance. Their equality doesn’t extend to the 138,000 Irish children living in poverty or those forced to sleep on the streets because of landlord vermin charging extortionate rents. The Irish regime only supports equality providing it doesn’t negatively impact on the interests of capital.

Equality in Ireland also does not yet apply to women, who continue to forfeit control of their own bodies to the state once they get pregnant. Life-saving abortions are denied because the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution equates the life of a foetus with the life of a woman. As a result of this amendment, “pro-life” Ireland allowed Savita Halappanavar die of septicaemia rather than abort a miscarrying foetus. “Pro-life” Ireland denied Miss Y, a rape victim, access to abortion. Instead, she was forced to undergo a caesarian section against her will.

The Irish Constitution, a key author of which was Archbishop McQuaid, displays a medieval attitude towards women. Article 41.2 states that “by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.” It continues to say that: “mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.” To the Catholic hierarchy, the bodies of women are special arenas for church control. They are mere vessels, whose role in life is to marry, have children and tend to housework. Historically in Ireland, childcare was seen as the sole responsibility of the mother – a worldview that proved convenient for a state that refused to properly invest in public services. The life of the mother was to be defined only by childbearing, drudgery and mass on Sunday. Any hint of diverting from the Church’s puritanical decrees on when and how she could engage in sexual activity would see a woman condemned to the Catholic slave camps known as the Magdalene Laundries. If a child happened to be born out of wedlock they were cast into the mother and baby homes, segregated from society and branded “illegitimate”. The Church’s fixation on the sex lives of others arguably reached peak creepy when, following intense discussions among some of the most senior of bishops in Ireland, a ban on tampons was issued in the 1940s, with Archbishop McQuaid expressing concern that they “could harmfully stimulate young girls at an impressionable age”.

Just as opposition to social progress in Britain– votes for women, the creation of the NHS, the introduction of minimum wage – stemmed from the Conservative Party, the bulwark of reaction in Ireland was the Catholic Church. This institution denied Irish people access to universal free health care; it physically and sexually abused children in a systematic way; it supported fascism and condemned those who fought against it; it told gay people they were evil and perverted, leading to thousands of LGBT school children having to endure horrific bullying; it practiced industrial scale slavery in the Magdalene Laundries and it dumped at least 800 dead babies – starved, neglected and abused – into a septic tank full of shit. All of these horrors were allowed to occur in Catholic “pro-life” Ireland.

This “Catholic” Ireland, with all its ingrained sexism, misogyny, violence, cruelty and creepiness, is fading away, but not fast enough. The victory of the Yes side last week is just another step towards us achieving a socially just, secular society, free from the domination of religious establishments weirdly obsessed with sex. Only a small minority of Irish Catholics attend mass every Sunday (11%), compared with 1984, when over 90% of Catholics did so. Working class communities, who suffered the lion’s share of the Catholic Church’s brutality throughout the twentieth century, last week resolutely rejected their message of bigotry. The Church’s hold on our country is weakening.

Long may its demise continue.


In recent weeks, two events that appeared on the surface to be unrelated have put the role of charity in tackling global and domestic problems into the public mind in Ireland and Britain in two starkly different ways.

On Monday morning, 43-year-old homeless man Jonathan Corrie was found dead in a doorway just yards away from the gates of Dáil Éireann after years of sleeping rough in Dublin. Jonathan’s death was the inevitable result of a severe housing crisis that has gripped Ireland, particularly in the capital city. Fostered by years of austerity, vampire landlords charging ruinous rents and the government’s refusal to properly invest in social housing, this crisis has seen more than 400 Irish families losing their homes in the past year alone. This is the everyday structural violence of capitalism, rarely discussed in the corridors of power.

Last month, Band Aid 30 released an updated version of its 1984 single, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ which, unsurprisingly, turned out to be equally as awful as the original. The release of the single prompted an unintended, though much needed, debate about the role of charity, particularly the type championed by graceless pop stars such as Bono and Bob Geldof.

Just like the original “Do They Know Its Christmas” single, the lyrics depict Africa as a single homogenous place blighted by poverty, starvation and disease. As many have already pointed out, Africans are portrayed in the song as helpless victims who have had only minimal experience of culture and who need to be “saved” by the good will of middle class Europeans. The song’s title ignorantly asks if anyone in Africa – a continent that is home to 500 million Christians – knows it’s Christmas in December.

To people like Bono and Geldof, it is the role of the West to “develop” the Third World, regardless if the people there asked for it or not. This vision of “development”, naturally, corresponds with the neoliberal vision of an emaciated welfare state, privatised services, low tax rates for the rich, rampant consumerism, weak trade unions and soaring wealth inequality. A modern incarnation of the White Man’s Burden, Rudyard Kipling’s infamous 19th Century poem justifying the European colonisation of Africa as a “civilising” mission, this worldview sees “the poor” as a faceless, nameless mass begging for scraps from their betters. They are mere objects of “our” generous charity; not human beings who can collectively fight on their own behalf, pursue their own struggles or improve their own societies without Western interference

Much of this was discussed in depth by a number of newspapers, websites and independent blogs. No such honest debate took place in Ireland following the death of Jonathan Corrie, however. The solution put forward by politicians, commentators and much of the general public has been to call for further donations to charities providing services to the homeless. Ignoring the structural reasons for the outrageous levels of homelessness in Ireland, such as rip-off rents, lack of social housing, lousy wages, cuts to public services and the rolling back of the welfare state, many believe that a basic human right such as housing can be obtained by relying on the good will of other, slightly better off, individuals.

Ireland’s long infatuation with charity has its roots in the Great Hunger, but the central role charity plays in Irish society in delivering vital public services stems from the theocratic domination the Catholic Church had over the country after independence. Charity was a means of power for the clergy and had the effect of limiting Irish citizens’ expectations of what social rights they viewed they were entitled to. Hence, many Irish people don’t view housing as an inherent human right and the current government clearly doesn’t consider a functioning public water service as one either. Ireland’s dependence on charity was clear to be seen when Tánaiste Joan Burton, the leader of the country’s ostensibly social-democratic party, opened a food bank in Cork just days before the death of Jonathan Corrie. That the citizens of one of the richest nations on earth should have to rely on food banks to eat is rarely perceived in political discourse as the disgrace that it so obviously is.

It’s notable that in western nations charity as an institution is often above criticism, while many activists in the Third World are scornful of it. Uruguayan historian Eduardo Galeano spoke for millions of people long patronised as weak and helpless by Westerners when he wrote: “I don’t believe in charity; I believe in solidarity. Charity is vertical, so it’s humiliating. It goes from top to bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.

Charity is seen as wholly acceptable and totally unquestionable. That’s why its seen as polite to fundraise for the homeless, research into various diseases and those caught up in war, but it’s not polite to question why a parasite class of landlords are allowed to destroy people’s lives by charging rip-off rents, it’s rude to point out the fact that David Cameron is privatizing the NHS and it’s utterly crazy to state that war and imperialism are inevitable outworkings of the capitalist system. Charity as a whole, excluding honourable exceptions such as War on Want, never challenges power. It fails to address the causes of poverty, war and disease and never mentions the political context in which these things occur. Therefore, Bono and Geldof never mention the role international capitalism has played since the 1970s in destroying public services and preventing progress in Third World countries. They never laud the achievements of great Third World leaders like Patrice Lumumba, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara or Salvador Allende. Their idols are the war criminals of Washington and London.

Decades of neoliberal policies enforced on Africa, Latin America and Asia by the IMF, the World Bank and the US Treasury, have stripped countless millions of people of basic services such as food, healthcare and education and condemned them to debt slavery. Years of cozying up to George Bush and Tony Blair and providing justifications for neo-liberal capitalism may have clouded the judgment of Bono and Geldof. Or maybe the explanation is more innocent. Perhaps it’s just that ‘IMF’, ‘Structural Adjustment Programmes’ and ‘Washington Consensus’ don’t make for good lyrics in a Christmas song.

In short, charity deals with symptoms and ignores the causes. As Richard McAleavey rightly said on his blog, Cunning Hired Knaves: “Charity seldom requires conflict with the established order. In many cases, charitable organisations serve to reinforce the established order. They dignify the rich, and the way the rich make their money, whilst condemning those people who end up having to depend on charity to a subaltern status.”

Charity is not a solution. That is not to belittle the genuine work many charity volunteers do, especially in times of unpredictable natural disasters. However, charitable giving is no substitute for properly funded public services, a fair tax system, equality, decent wages, the repudiation of all illegitimate debt, the right to decent housing, and free heath care.

The problem is not that working class people don’t give away enough of whatever little money they may have to satisfy the insatiable egos of people like Bob Geldof. The problem is the entire, rotten system.

This article was published in the Morning Star

David Cameron visits NuneatonWhen the British Conservative Party announced at its 2013 conference that it had the interests of “hard-working people” at heart, they invoked a mantra long propagated by an out of touch political class. “Hard-work”, we’re often told, is a positive thing in and of itself, regardless of its social effects or the impact it has on the individual actually carrying it out. The term, employed in the rhetoric of both the left and the right, is rarely challenged and forms much of what is viewed as “common sense”. Hard work is seen as a virtue, a service to the nation and an ideal to aspire to.

Yet, when we are honest with ourselves, most of us hate work. It’s why Mondays are grim and Fridays are awesome. It’s why we spend most of our week days watching the clock in eager anticipation of 5 o’clock, all the time wishing our lives away. The person who claims to enjoy “hard work” is either a liar or intensely boring. A recent Gallup poll found that, across the globe, only 13% of people actually like going to work. This is unsurprising, given that work for most people under capitalism is often low paid, unrewarding, stressful, degrading and tedious.

There is nothing noble about coming home from work mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. Neglecting your friends and family in favour of helping your boss make more profits is not virtuous. And restricting the time you spend on developing talents such as music, art or sports because of your excessive working hours is not only detrimental to you personally, but is also detrimental to wider society. How many people with the musical potential of Jimi Hendrix have been unable to develop their talents because they had to spend the majority of their life in a factory? How many potentially great writers have been unable to express themselves like George Orwell or Oscar Wilde because the bulk of their energies were channelled into working in a supermarket?

Since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, trade unions and the left have argued for the creation of more jobs to tackle unemployment. Yet, in doing so, they have failed to highlight one of the most absurd contradictions of capitalism; the fact that there are 200 million people unemployed across the globe, while those who are in employment are generally overworked. Rather than increasing the number of jobs, we should be arguing for existing jobs to be shared out while simultaneously reducing the length of the working week.

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) recently outlined a strong economic, ecological and social case for reducing the standard working week to 21 hours – something that has the potential to resonate in the 21st century. Less work can assist in the fight against climate change and allow us to live more sustainable lives. The fast-pace of our working lives forces us into many environmentally and socially destructive habits. We drive cars because they are deemed to be more “convenient” instead of using less carbon-intensive public transport. And instead of growing our own food, many people consume nutritionless ready meals and packed vegetables which, as the NEF shows, are grossly more damaging to the eco-system.

Trips abroad can also become more ecologically friendly than the carbon-intensive short-term holidays of modern capitalist society. As it stands, most people can only avail of two or three weeks away from their jobs at any one time, meaning slower modes of transport, such as trains, are not a viable way of visiting a foreign country. If workers were given the opportunity to take a number of months off at one time, in exchange for working extended hours at another time of the year, what is to stop them getting a train to Beijing or a ship to New York? The mass use of airplanes merely emphasises the sheer rush and intensity of modern life, as people seek to maximize the amount of leisure they manage to squeeze into the meagre time they have away from work.

In 1930, British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that technological advancement would allow people in the 21st century to enjoy a 15-hour work week. Leisure time, it was suggested, would become so plentiful that people would struggle to find enough activities to occupy themselves. Yet, despite a rise in productivity and the abundance of material goods, these predictions failed to materialise. Across Europe, the average working week stands at 41.6 hours, and that doesn’t include time spent commuting to and from work.

The ‘work ethic’

Negative aspects of any class society, such as inequality, ecological degradation and social deprivation, need to be justified or excused by widely propagated myths in order to be sustained. The excessive working hours endured by most people is justified by the work ethic, as exemplified in the Conservative Party’s condescending slogan lauding “hard-working” people (the inference being that those deemed not to be “hard-working” are less deserving and less eligible for political representation).

The worship of work is as old as capitalism itself, and it is under the unique characteristics of capitalism as a mode of production that the work ethic takes hold. Under slavery and feudalism, work was seen as a negative thing, something that was bestowed upon humans from God as punishment for ‘original sin’. Ancient societies in Greece and Rome saw human labour as something to be avoided at any cost. Work was for the slaves — the lowest rungs of society. Before capitalism, most labour was done out of necessity. In feudal Europe, for example, peasants produced their own food and the surplus was passed onto the lord who owned the land. Since the production of huge surpluses was not necessary, people enjoyed extended periods of leisure once they produced what was needed. Work did not define individuals, as is the case today; work was merely a means to an end.

The Protestant Reformation challenged the traditional idea of work, with Martin Luther arguing that God’s Will could be fulfilled by individuals working hard. Labour was seen as a service to God, an outlook which helped to normalise the long, gruelling working hours which defined the Industrial Revolution. These ideas proved useful for an economic system which was based on, as Marx wrote, production “for production’s sake”. Max Weber, who coined the term ‘the Protestant work ethic’, argued that the rise of these ideas ensured that capitalism would surface in Europe before it would in any other part of the planet.

The work ethic transformed over time, gradually becoming more secular to reflect societal values. Where people once served God, we now aim to be seen as “contributing” to society, a perverse form of social Darwinism under which humans beings must justify their existence through “hard work” before they can benefit from the fruits of civilisation. The unemployed, the elderly and the disabled are seen as a “burden” on society, living a life of luxury at the expense of the mythical “taxpayer”.

In the United States, the ‘American Dream’ played on the unrealistic aspirations held by many working people, who were conned into believing they could one day be millionaires, provided they put in the work. During the World Wars and the subsequent recovery, the population was called upon to work in the ‘national interest’, a term which has been resurrected by the right following the global financial collapse of 2008. Today, as Sharon Beder pointed out, “the work ethic is promoted primarily in terms of work being a responsibility both to the family and the nation”. She went on to explain:

“As we begin the twenty first century work and production has become ends in themselves. Employment has become such a priority that much environmental degradation is justified merely on the grounds that it provides jobs. And people are so concerned to keep their jobs that they are willing to do what their employers require of them even if they believe it is wrong or environmentally destructive.”

The capitalist work ethic is often used as a vicious weapon of class warfare. It dehumanises us and commodifies our very being. We are not seen as individuals with aspirations and interests; we are mere beasts of burden, with the sole life purpose of “working hard”. Our lives should not be defined merely by productivity nor should we have to justify our existence by proving to others our ability and willingness to “work hard”. Human progress is about overcoming the need for human toil as much as is practicable, and this is a case the left needs to make. As the great Scottish trade unionist Jimmy Reid once quipped: “A rat race is for rats. We are not rats. We are human beings.”

This article was published in the Morning Star

haassThroughout its existence, the Irish peace process has been defined by seemingly endless negotiations aimed at resolving outstanding issues stemming from our recent 30-year conflict. In December  we witnessed another month-long apparent talking shop when US diplomats  Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan, notable for her involvement in and support for the criminal invasion of Iraq, were summoned to Belfast by Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson to broker a deal on flags, parades and dealing with the legacy of the past. The widespread illusion that the US government – one of the most violent and aggressive on earth – can play a progressive role the Irish peace process is one that is continuously promoted by a passive local media and a generally incompetent and unimaginative political class.

Following the negotiations, Richard Haass outlined a number of modest proposals, including a code of conduct for parades and “limited immunity” for ex-combatants, all of which were promptly rejected by the unionist parties. The lack of agreement was greeted with a mixture of derision, disappointment and frustration. But having occurred after twelve months of unionist disarray, which began in December 2012 with the intimidating Belfast flag protests, followed by serious sectarian violence in North Belfast during the summer months, it should have come as little surprise that the Haass talks ultimately failed to deliver as expected.

2013 was a year in which unionist intransigence led to unionist crisis. Having stoked up a climate of hatred and encouraged throngs of angry working-class people onto the streets following the decision of Belfast City Council to fly the Union flag on the same number of days as it is flown in Britain, the middle-class DUP and UUP quickly distanced themselves from the inevitable violence which followed – a common feature throughout the history of the six county state.  

Subjectively, unionism has changed little in 50 years. Infatuation with empire, social conservatism, homophobia and sectarian supremacy reflect the reactionary nature of unionism’s main representatives, the DUP and UUP. The Progressive Unionist Party, misguidedly lauded by many on the left, fares little better under any serious examination of its politics. PUP leader Billy Hutchinson was present at a loyalist demonstration against the ICTU’s anti-G8 protest in Belfast last June. His associates heckled trade union speakers with sectarian chants and flaunted Israeli flags. Accusing the ICTU demonstration of being “anti-British”, Hutchinson displayed the bizarre paranoia inherent in the peculiar ideology of Ulster Loyalism.

Objectively, however, unionism has transformed dramatically in recent years. In the past, ‘Big House’ unionism – consisting of industrialists and leading politicians – managed to cultivate an alliance with working class Protestants to form an opposition to Irish nationalism and republicanism, as well as “rotten Prods” deemed to be too left-wing. Secure manufacturing jobs and slight economic advantages over their Catholic counterparts ensured the loyalty of many working-class Protestants to the sectarian Orange state and their wealthier co-religionists.  This cross-class alliance has proven more difficult to maintain under neo-liberalism, as the previously secure well-paid manufacturing jobs in Loyalist areas have now been replaced by precarious employment or, in many cases, none at all. Harland and Wolff – once the largest shipyard on in the world, employing thousands of people – is now the facade that is the Titanic Quarter.

In 1992, economist Francis Fukuyama wrote that the collapse of the Soviet Union marked the “end of history”. Likewise, the Good Friday Agreement was meant to mark the end of Irish history. Everyone was to “move on”, cast aside their contending national aspirations and forget about Ireland’s bitter past. The economic strategy of successive governments in Dublin which promoted low tax rates and enticed foreign investment at the expense of sustainable indigenous development was to be rolled out in the north. A new, bland “Northern Irish” identity was to be created which attempted to normalise the abnormal, beginning a process of political disengagement on the part of the general public. This was a distinctly neo-liberal peace process.

Fifteen years on from the Good Friday Agreement, the poison of sectarianism continues to thrive. Hideous “peace walls” – now collectively longer than the Berlin Wall – snake their way through working class districts in Belfast, carving out areas designated for the rival tribes.  Religious segregation is part of everyday life: our children attend different schools, we live in separate housing estates and we play different sports. Dissident republicans, to the irritation of almost everyone, continue to cling to the immoral, dead end strategy of an unwinnable and unjustifiable armed struggle, which can achieve only the imprisonment of its members and yet more senseless deaths.

That the Good Friday Agreement failed to eradicate sectarianism is common knowledge. The unspoken truth, however, is that that Good Friday Agreement was never intended to put an end to sectarianism. The aim was to institutionalise it and make it manageable. Elected representatives are required to declare which religious group they belong to, with each tribe possessing a veto over the other – a mechanism that was wrongly used recently to prevent an inquiry into alleged corruption between the DUP and construction firm Red Sky.  

Despite being more than half a decade into the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, left-right politics have not taken hold in the north.  An impotent Assembly, which is entrusted with the same powers as a local council in England, is unable to fully tackle the insidious effects of capitalist collapse. The most contentious issues of the day do not arise from the fact that the region suffers from growing unemployment and a mass exodus of young people who see no future in an economy offering only lousy wages, debt and precarious work. Flags cause a bigger uproar than a crisis at an A&E. Parades still anger people more than welfare “reform”. The past has not gone away. The past is the present.

Faced as we are with two apparently irreconcilable interpretations of the past, the conflict will continue to be a contentious issue. For mainstream unionism, ‘the Troubles’ was merely a spontaneous outbreak of mindless criminality against a legitimate state. Accepting no responsibility for the outbreak of the conflict, unionist leaders have modelled themselves as defenders of a normal western democracy, methodically denying the systematic discrimination in employment and housing allocation which existed under unionist rule as well as disregarding the attempted suppression of a peaceful civil rights movement.

A recurring theme in recent Irish history has been the unwillingness of both mainstream and extreme unionists to accept a society in which sectarian domination of one group over another is no longer a reality. They have failed to embrace that reality. Amidst fantastic myths of an imaginary “cultural war” being waged against them, many unionists seem unable to realise that the union with Britain is stronger than it has ever been at any time in history. Republicanism and nationalism have changed. They are now incorporated into the northern state. Indeed, most Catholics, many of whom would even consider themselves to be “nationalist”, support the north remaining part of the UK.

Partition is here for the foreseeable future, something neither sections of unionism nor republicanism can admit. There is, however, little to suggest that this strange six county state will ever be anything other than a dysfunctional, sectarian colonial outpost.

This article was published in the Morning Star

Scores Of Travelers Depart For Long Holiday Weekend

Like many other aspects of society under capitalism, the automobile appears to be a standard part of life; something that has been and always will be with us. Learning how to drive and acquiring a car are viewed as obligatory stages of our lives, through which we all must progress in the process of growing up. Almost everyone has a car. Many households even have two or three.

I hate cars, and I always have. However, due to the nature of my job, I am required to own a car, and I hate having to own one. I hate the impact mass car ownership has had on society: motorways clogged with oversized vehicles grinding by at a snail’s pace during “rush hour”; petrolheads driving at reckless speeds endangering their own and others’ safety; ever widening roads encroaching into the countryside; horrendous pollution caused by the expulsion of toxic fumes; countless road fatalities; wars started by great powers to secure extra resources for oil companies, such as the bloodbath in Iraq. I also detest the impact it has on individuals: people atomised into vehicles designed for five passengers but, more often than not, containing only a solitary occupant; the financial hit people are forced to take to fork out for fuel, insurance, vehicle testing and engine faults; the health effects of sitting inactive in a driver’s seat for several hours a day; the misery of navigating through heavy traffic and the hassle of finding a parking space in urban areas. Most of all, because of an expensive, underfunded and inefficient public transport system, I hate the fact that I have little choice but to own a car.

Our reliance on these bulky, awkward, impractical, expensive, dirty and exceptionally dangerous machines is rarely brought into question.  According to the World Health Organisation, cars cause the deaths of at least 1.3 million people a year, a major health crisis by any standards. It is one, however, which goes largely unmentioned. Even without counting the hundreds of thousands of people killed every year as a result of traffic pollution, the automobile is still the ninth largest cause of death worldwide. What an indictment of a supposed symbol of “success” and “progress”.

It was no mere accident that the rise of mass car ownership in the second half of the twentieth century coincided with the demise of public transport. Huge profits for auto companies and oil cartels were there to be made, and cheap, clean public transport stood in the way of that. This is clear to be seen in the United States, among other places. Before 1945, Los Angeles had an efficient system of streetcars, which was later scrapped to make way for cars and busses – all at the behest of General Motors. Since citizens were forced into switching over to private cars, the city now has the dubious distinction of being one of the most polluted in the United States and one of the most congested in the world. Similar processes took place around the world with the aim of adopting cities to the needs of the automobile.  Decades of under-investment in public transport have led to trains and busses becoming more infrequent and notorious for their steep prices.  Car use was increasingly, and still is, seen as a more affordable and practical method of transport. On a planet that is warming every year, this is a perilous state of affairs.

In 1986, Margaret Thatcher revealed her attitude to public transport when she said, “a man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure”. This was an outgrowth of an ideological dogma which preached that all things private are good and all things public are bad, a dogma which still influences political decisions today.

The automobile is a symbol of everything that is rotten about an ever increasingly nihilistic capitalism. Rabid individualism takes precedence over the common good. Advertising companies manipulate people into believing that consumerism is the path to fulfillment. The planet is destroyed so a few people can make astronomical amounts of money. Wars are waged to ensure our fuel guzzling engines stay full. Through the construction of roads, motorways, traffic lights, car parks, and road signs the auto industry enjoys continuous subsidies courtesy of the public purse – a parasitism that has become endemic under neo-liberalism.

It can be argued that car ownership has, in part, helped to politically shift large swathes of the population to the right. As Guardian columnist George Monbiot wrote: “I believe that while there are many reasons for the growth of individualism in the UK, the extreme libertarianism now beginning to take hold here begins on the road. When you drive, society becomes an obstacle. Pedestrians, bicycles, traffic calming, speed limits, the law: all become a nuisance to be wished away. The more you drive, the more bloody-minded and individualistic you become. The car is slowly turning us, like the Americans and the Australians, into a nation which recognises only the freedom to act, and not the freedom from the consequences of other people’s actions.”

There is nothing inevitable about road deaths, congestion, pollution and all the other nasty side effects that come with mass car ownership. Political choices were made which got us into this predicament. Political choices can get us out of it. Enormous investment is required to boost public transport. That almost goes without saying. Train and bus fares have to radically drop to incentivize people to use these much cleaner, more comfortable and safer modes of transport. Cars should be seen as a last resort, not as an essential to everyday life. They should only be used when travelling to a more remote place not serviced by a much expanded rail and bus system. Cars could be rented from state owned depots when required. City centres should be off-limits to private cars, with exceptions made only for those with disabilities. Priority in urban areas should be given to busses, trams, cyclists and pedestrians. Cities need to be designed for people rather than clumsy machines. Instead of using public money to widen motorways and arterial routes, funds should instead be directed to expanding the rail network. These are just a few steps we can take with the view to eventually phasing out use of the car.

Cheap, safe and clean public transit should not be seen as a leafy aspiration. With rising global temperatures, planetary contamination and carnage on our roads, it should be viewed as nothing less than a social necessity.

This article was published in the Morning Star


“The island of saints and scholars and gombeens and fucking arse-lickers.” 
Christy Moore on Ronald Reagan’s visit to Ireland

Ireland has always had something of an affinity with the United States. Decades of mass emigration to the States created a powerful Irish-American community, so influential that presidential candidates are always keen to highlight whatever tenuous link they have with this tiny island.

The visit to Belfast by Barack Obama before the G8 Summit was, like all other presidential visits, a circus of sycophancy and flattery, revealing much about our media and political class. Politicians, dignitaries and journalists appeared infatuated as the charismatic, photogenic war criminal took to the stage at the Waterfront Hall to instruct us how to build a peaceful society. The crowd giggled and cheered when he used a common local phrase, handing an easy “news” angle to an obedient local media.

The pomp was absurd and the conduct of our politicians, who are supposed to constitute a government, was embarrassing. United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly put it well when she attacked Enda Kenny for “prostituting” the country to the Obamas “in return for a pat on the head”, for which the Taoiseach attempted to rebuke her in his characteristically dull and mumbling way.

As ever, the local media in the north was devoid of any real analysis. Irritating clichés such as “feel good factor” and “putting Belfast on the map” were brandished about by hacks who had clearly run out of things to say after violence predictably failed to materialise at the ICTU’s anti-G8 demonstration last Saturday. Obama’s apparent support for the northern peace process was hailed by many. No mention was made of the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan or the thousands of civilians murdered by CIA drones. Nor was the incarceration of Bradley Manning, who has spent over three years in solitary confinement, deemed worth discussing.  

The Obama visit exposed the insular, provincial mindset which is dominant in the north of Ireland. Despite the mutilated corpses of nearly 200 children murdered by US drones in recent years, the president was treated like a demigod, whose infinite wisdom on peace and harmony was to be bestowed upon us mere ignorant Paddies. This was in keeping with our political leaders’ peculiar fixation on seeking approval from the most violent and aggressive government on earth for the Irish peace process. SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt described Obama’s speech in the Waterfront as “inspirational”. No acknowledgement was made of the countless crimes committed by Obama’s administration. The SDLP appear to oppose political violence only when it happens on a small scale here in Ireland.

This is part of an alarming tendency which has taken hold in the west. George W Bush was rightly despised by most people around the world, unlike Barack Obama. He still enjoys a considerable degree of popularity. Yet, in many respects, Obama is worse than Bush. Not only has he continued Bush’s wars, he has escalated them with enthusiasm. At the minute, he is seeking to arm gangs of Islamic fundamentalists in Syria, a prospect which promises to make the bloodbath there infinitely worse. His administration has persecuted more whistleblowers than all other previous administrations combined, most recently, Edward Snowden. And, in a disturbingly Orwellian fashion, Obama sits down every Tuesday with a team of national security advisors to draw up a list of people, no matter where they are in the world, to be summarily executed by US forces. Did he take time out of the G8 Summit last Tuesday to draw up a similar list? Did he ponder about who would be on his list this week after speaking with school children in Belfast? Questions such as these are deemed unmentionable by our obedient media.  

Obama’s charm has deceived many. It’s no accident that he was awarded ‘marketer of the year’ in 2008 by Advertising Age. As well as being a war criminal, Obama is also a brand. His supporters don’t want to accept that he has continued Bush’s wars, filled his administration with Wall Street lobbyists and spies on American and foreign citizens. All of this is brushed aside by his liberal apologists who suggest he is unable to do anything different. The fact that he is less blatant about his imperial crimes than Bush was appears to have absolved him in the eyes of trendy middle class liberals. Where is the popular indignation against Obama that we saw when his predecessor invaded sovereign nations?  Where is the outcry about the plight of hunger strikers in the Guantanamo Bay internment camp? Why do we not hear calls for his arrest for war crimes, as we did with Bush?

It’s of little shock that the gombeens and arse-lickers who packed out the Waterfront Hall – similar to the ones referred to by Christy Moore – fail to see beyond Obama’s sinister propaganda.

This article was published in the Morning Star


Next month, the leaders of the world’s eight richest countries will convene in County Fermanagh to hammer out how meddlesome foreign policies and a destructive economic doctrine known as austerity will be implemented over the next twelve months.  The G8 summit has been accompanied by an imposing mixture of merriment, glee and propaganda, revealing much about the state of Northern Ireland’s obedient local media.

The propaganda takes both a positive and a negative form.  On one hand, “business leaders” hail the summit as an enormous boost for the local economy, the silver bullet needed to rejuvenate a rural county long forgotten by policy makers. Absurd claims of a tourism boost go largely uncontested in a buttering-up process intended to encourage the population to notice only the pleasant side of deficit hawks, war criminals and a mafia gangster.

On the other hand, a malicious smear campaign has been orchestrated, lumping entirely peaceful protesters together with dissident republicans and fictional “anarchists”, who are said to exist in their thousands. The purpose of this is obvious. People are being intimidated with the threat of arrest and imprisonment if they take part in any counter demonstrations. The ‘liberal’ local Justice Minister, David Ford, has set aside an entire wing of the maximum security Maghaberry prison for “rioters” while the PSNI have employed the use of surveillance drones, remarkable by the fact that no main party in Stormont has so far voiced any concerns.

Press releases issued by the PSNI and local government have, predictably, been regurgitated by a local press eager for an easy news story. In a bizarre front page article earlier this month, the Irish News reported that “thousands of anarchists” were intending to take over buildings in Belfast during the summit. The scaremongering is blatant. Yet, any analysis explaining why many people feel the need to protest against the G8 is glaringly absent in the vast majority of news reports. Of course, little of this is surprising.

Since the end of the conflict in the north fifteen years ago, a new “common sense” has taken hold. The public sector is said to be “bloated” and the only remedy for our weak economy is to lure foreign investment by radically slashing taxes for the rich. The politics of green and orange is overlapped by an economic consensus which contends that “the markets” know best, taxes should be minimal and the role of the state is merely to facilitate the successful operation of private business.  Dublin academic Conor McCabe, author of Sins of the Father, describes this as the “double transition” – a transition towards both peace and neo-liberalism. “Eastern Europe, South Africa and Northern Ireland,” he wrote, “are all unique in terms of the dynamics of their history and geography. What they have in common is that they found themselves as societies in transition at a time when economic thought had solidified around neo-liberal principles.” To oppose an administration which has overseen a doubling of unemployment in six years is to oppose the ‘peace process’. “Sure it’s better than the Troubles,” is the popular reaction.  

The adherence to neo-liberalism is clear to be seen in the approach of politicians and mainstream commentators. “I think this will be a brilliant advertisement for Northern Ireland,” gloated David Cameron when the announcement about the summit was first made. “I want the world to see just what a fantastic place Northern Ireland is – a great place for business, a great place for investment, a place with an incredibly educated and trained workforce ready to work for international business”. Northern Ireland is no longer a country (not that I ever accepted that it was); it’s a business and should be run as such. The economy should be, above all else, “competitive” – a euphemism for low wages and high profits. So goes the conventional narrative.

Despite this apparent negativity, the G8 summit is an opportunity to challenge this tedious narrative. On Saturday, June 15, thousands will pack the streets of Belfast to demonstrate their opposition to the policies of those attending the summit. On the following Monday, another rally will make its way from Enniskillen towards the Lough Erne Hotel where the summit is being held. The smears and intimidation shouldn’t discourage anyone from attending either protest.

As well as these demonstrations a four-day festival of political discussion, comedy and music will take place in Belfast. Organised by activists from ICTU Youth and the Belfast Trades Council, the ‘Another World is Possible Festival’ is an opportunity for discussion, debate and activism. Highlight speakers include George Galloway and Tariq Ali, as well as trade union leaders from Nipsa, UNISON and Unite. I feel honoured to have taken part in the organising of this festival, particularly since we have received solidarity greetings from John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Richard Wolf and others. The potential is there to inspire people to become involved in trade unionism and socialist politics who wouldn’t otherwise do so. The festival can begin to challenge the trite politics of Stormont, confront the dogma of “the markets” and build a movement for change. Ignore what is claimed in the media. This is not about damaging property or throwing bricks at the police. This is about the age old working-class principles of action; education, agitation and organisation.

We deserve a better kind of politics – and a better media, for that matter. If you’re angry at unemployment, cuts, bank bailouts, austerity, emigration, the divide-and-rule tactics of conservatives, racism, war, imperialism, inequality, the destruction of the environment, lousy wages, over work, immoral corporations, poverty, hunger or unrepresentative politicians, this festival is for you. No one’s political activity should be confined to sitting on an armchair screaming at the evening news. Everyone has the ability to change society. We don’t need to wait on odious sycophants such as Bono and Bob Geldof to raise the issues which affect the bulk of humanity. We have the ability to empower ourselves.

Another world is possible.

For a full listing of events, visit or follow the festival on Twitter @AntiG8Protest

This article was published in the Morning Star


Violence, disruption and intimidation have been common features of the on-going loyalist flag protests in Belfast. For most people, the movement that sprang up in December has its roots in a sectarian ideology and represents a deep crisis in unionism. Coming at a time when it is particularly relevant, a new book written by Pittsburgh University professor Tony Novosel has begun to challenge many commonly held preconceptions about Ulster loyalism.

Northern Ireland’s Lost Opportunity: The Frustrated Promise of Political Loyalism, published earlier this year, charts the development of working-class loyalist politics in the 1970s. Novosel’s book contends that, rather than fulfilling the stereotype of “neo-Nazis and bodybuilders”, a significant group of Loyalist prisoners in Long Kesh began to formulate their own political programme, independent of middle and upper-class unionism. At the centre of this were UVF leaders Gusty Spence and Billy Mitchell. “The basic idea of the book is that the stereotype of loyalists being nothing more than neo-Nazis does not hold up,” said Novosel. “Sure, like all stereotypes there’s some truth in it, but it doesn’t hold. The book looks at this question. The book argues that there was a progressive political strand within Loyalism. This point tends to throw people off, I find.”

Novosel first visited the north at the height of the conflict in 1973. He admits he knew very little about the causes of the war, but set about to study it. Since then, he has visited Ireland more than 50 times and began researching his new book in 2006. Before carrying out his research, Novosel admits going into the project with a negative view of loyalism. “I thought of loyalism as nothing more than fascism,” he said. “To outsiders like me, they were Neanderthals. We thought of them as being similar to the Afrikaners in South Africa. This is very much a common opinion. For instance, I remember at the beginning of the project, a friend of mine asked me what I was researching. I replied ‘loyalist political thinking’. His immediate response back was, ‘do they think?’. That’s the general attitude that’s out there. However, when I started speaking to the people involved, I saw a very different picture. It’s something that’s difficult to take in at first.”

In researching the book, Novosel conducted extensive interviews with leading Loyalists such as David Ervine, Billy Hutchinson and Hugh Smyth, as well as combing through documents produced by the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando. Clearly written and free of academic jargon, Novosel’s book is an intriguing study of a subject area that has previously been largely neglected by historians of Ireland’s recent conflict. Indeed, the lack of information available about loyalism initially prompted Novosel’s interest in the topic. “I was fascinated by loyalism precisely because I knew so little about it,” he said.

At the outset of the book, Novosel condemns the hundreds of atrocities committed by loyalist paramilitaries, but presents the “progressive” wing of loyalism in a largely positive light. “Understanding does not mean condoning,” the author keenly points out. The second chapter of the book details how mainstream unionist parties “manipulated” loyalist groups for their own aims, accusing elements within the Official Unionist Party of conspiring to resurrect the UVF in 1966. He also reveals a number of remarkably progressive documents formulated by the UVF in the mid-1970s, which advocated power sharing between unionists and nationalists – a position mainstream unionists would have rejected outright at the time.

Novosel even goes as far as claiming that there were “socialist” and “social democratic” currents within loyalism. However, considering the majority of the UVF’s victims were Catholic civilians, as well as the group’s flirtation with fascist organisations such as Combat 18 and the National Front, it’s possible to argue that Novosel is guilty of reading at face value the claims of Billy Hutchinson and others with deeply reactionary past records. Despite these uncomfortable facts, along with its uncritical support for the British army and empire, Novosel insists that there is “no contradiction” between loyalism and progressive politics. “Going back even before the Battle of the Somme, there had always been that military tradition among working class Protestants,” he said. “They were prepared to defend the empire on the same basis that Old Labour supporters in Britain were prepared to do the same. They felt that the social gains were greater in Britain than in Ireland and wanted that to remain within that state. There was a feeling that the welfare state and everything that came with it would disappear in a United Ireland. Many loyalists saw themselves very much as Old Labourites. It’s not hard to reconcile that with socialist values, in my view.”

The arguments in Novosel’s book are well developed and present a thought-provoking view on a complex and a very much under-studied subject. Although it can be viewed at times as overly sympathetic to an ideology which uncritically supports monarchy, empire and imperialism, Northern Ireland’s Lost Opportunity is a valuable piece of research on an interesting – and important – aspect of recent Irish history.

Northern Ireland’s Lost Opportunity: The Frustrated Promise of Political Loyalism, by Tony Novosel. Published by Pluto Press (2013)

DublinAirportT2DeparturesGeneric_largeThis week, rivers were dyed green, tricolours hoisted high and rebel songs passionately belted out as millions around the world celebrated whatever tenuous link they have with Ireland. On Saint Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish. Yet, for me, and many others, the festivities over the past number of years have been marred by a bleak spectacle all too common in Ireland. Mass emigration has returned to the country at levels higher than they were during the 1980s. More than 87,000 people left the south of the country last year, bringing the total number of emigrants since 2008 to more than 200,000. With youth unemployment currently hovering at around 25%, this is hardly surprising news.

Those of us still living in Ireland don’t need figures to confirm what we know from first-hand experience. The impact emigration has had on places such as my home town, Lurgan, can be clearly seen in the half-full local bars, boarded-up shops and hallowed out sports clubs. On a personal level, emigration has taken a considerable toll, with some of my closest friends now living in Australia, Scotland and England, having escaped the depressing prospect of unemployment. Celebrating your Irishness can be a somewhat empty affair when those who you grew up with are scattered around the globe.

Last year, I left Ireland to teach English in South Korea. My departure was not so much a result of unemployment, but the result of another crisis affecting the country – the low wage crisis. Despite working full-time, I made just enough money to pay for heating, groceries and rent. Like thousands of others, my disposable income was non-existent and, consequently, I had no savings to speak of. In contrast, my South Korean employer paid me a handsome salary as well as the rent for a furnished apartment. I earned enough money to save, travel and enjoy life. Why would I not make the move? Thousands of others around the country face similar choices.

At a time when the austerity zealots are looting the economies of Europe, the imposing fact that wages have not risen in real terms since the 1980s remains the great taboo, largely unspoken in political discourse. Along with Thatcher and Regan’s suppression of trade unions came the predictable fall in the proportion of the planet’s wealth owned by working people. A example of this was starkly laid out in a report commissioned by the TUC in 2011, which found that had wages in the UK grown at the same rate as the wider economy, British workers would collectively be earning £60 billion more than they earn today. Similar results can be found in countries across the globe, not least in Ireland. Combined with the extortionate rents or crippling mortgages which line the pockets of landlords, bankers and property developers, it was only a matter of time before repressed wages became a wider societal problem.

Yet, the ‘solutions’ being proposed on both sides of the border address none of these issues. The Fine Gael/Labour coalition in the south has shown itself to be disturbingly obsessed with the will of the markets, proving themselves to be the Troika’s ‘model students’. In a society where reactionary Catholicism is rightly being marginalised, money has become the new religion. “The markets” are the new gods to be appeased, economic “experts” the high priests to be obeyed. The language used by those who worshiped the gods of Olympus is resurgent, with daily media reports on how “the markets” react to global events. Like Zeus, “the markets” can be “upset” by or “approve” of the actions of us mere mortals. “Sacrifices” must be made to please the gods or we could incur their wrath. In his St Patrick’s Day address to the US Chamber of Commerce, Taoiseach Enda Kenny boasted of these “sacrifices” made by Irish people at the altar of austerity. In a letter to the Irish Times last month, just after the Croke Park II negotiations, one university lecturer explained the impact these “sacrifices” have had on him and his family:

“Once again the government and the unions have betrayed us – as it happens as a public servant I earn exactly €65,0000. Currently with all the deductions from my salary I take home €29,000! From that figure – just to be able to get to pay my mortgage and get work and back each day it costs me €14,900 a year – that leaves my family with €14,100 to live on.

“The new pay cut of 5.5% will reduce the €29,000 by €3,575 this means I will take home €25,425. So I will now have the grand total of €10,525 for my family to live on! In the next 2 years I will have 2 college age children – the average registration fees will be about €3,500 each per year! This means that as a college lecturer I will not be able to afford to send my own children to college. I haven’t been able to tell them that there’s little point in them studying hard in the leaving cert as no matter how well they do it will take a miracle for them to be able to go to college.”

This is the reality for many in the south of Ireland today. It is the inevitable result of the fanatical dogma which recoils in horror at the thought of billionaire financiers suffering losses on dodgy gambles while, at the same time, not batting an eyelid at the spectacle of a generation of young people fleeing a country which offers them no opportunities.  In the north, where the situation is little better, insecure, depressing, low-paid jobs in call centres and supermarkets are presented as the pinnacle of economic development, the dividend of a decade of peace. While our political classes busily applaud themselves for their ‘peacemaking’ and being the ‘good boys’ of Europe, young Irish people now find themselves in a situation where they are more welcome in far off places like Sydney, New York and Seoul than they are in Dublin, Cork or Belfast.

What a disgrace.