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 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 Considering that homosexuality was only decriminalised in Ireland in 1993 and the prohibition of divorce wasn’t repealed until 1996, the overwhelming endorsement of same sex marriage is an impressive victory for progressive forces in the country.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.

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“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

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.

Loyalist protesters demonstrate against restrictions on flying Britain's union flag from Belfast City Hall in central Belfast

After three months of intimidation, sectarian hatred and disruption, the protests surrounding the removal of the union flag from Belfast City Hall appear to be slowly ebbing. Before the council vote in December to fly the flag on designated days only – in line with England, Scotland and Wales – few would have thought the discontent would have lasted as long, particularly when there are more pressing issues at hand. Those taking part in the protests have been treated with a mixture of fear and ridicule. In the distinctly insular society of Northern Ireland, many believe the situations we face represent a departure from the real world.

In the run up to the flag vote, the DUP and UUP distributed thousands of leaflets around east Belfast attacking the Alliance Party for supporting the Sinn Féin/SDLP measure. It was a sinister ploy by the main unionist parties to oust Alliance MP Naomi Long from the East Belfast Westminster seat, which she took from Peter Robinson at the 2010 general election. Historically, when crises arose, bourgeois unionism whipped up sectarian tensions in order to deflect criticism from the failures of their misrule and incompetence. This was cynically played out again in December. Previously, the DUP and UUP raised no concerns about the union flag being flown on only designated days in Lisburn, Craigavon and, indeed, Stormont itself. It proved useful in diverting attention from the DUP’s dismantling of the Housing Executive.

The mainstream unionist parties quickly lost control of the “movement” which sprang up around the flag issue to more radical and, at times, fascistic elements. Residents in Short Strand have borne the brunt of loyalist intimidation and violence, with illegal parades being facilitated by the PSNI on a weekly basis. Yet, there is nothing overly uniquely “Northern Irish” about these protests. A quick glance at news and election results from around Europe show an alarming increase in support for the far-right, with disadvantaged and alienated people seeking simple solutions to complicated problems. The rise of the Greek Golden Dawn party is perhaps the most disturbing. Notable, too, is the popularity of Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the Netherlands, the True Finns and the National Front in France.

The Belfast flag protests are symptomatic of the shift to the right of small, yet not insignificant, sections of the working class across Europe. The far right are able to provide easy answers to people looking for them and can dangerously redirect their anger towards the wrong targets, whether they are immigrants, native Muslims or, in the Irish case, the “other side”. It highlights the dangers which lurk in the background if the political conversation continues to be dominated by the right. Failure by the left and trade unions to provide a radical alternative to austerity and corporate domination of public affairs leave open the possibility of people’s anger being harnessed by more reactionary forces.

The response to naked sectarianism on Belfast’s streets by the four main parties has been, at the very best best, unimaginative. Backin’ Belfast, a £600,000 publicly funded advertising campaign, was set up to reverse the losses made by businesses in the city as a result of the protests. Little has been done to challenge the anti-democratic, fascistic nature of the protests. Even less has been done to challenge the sectarian nature which lays the basis of the northern state. Instead, people have been encouraged to do their drinking, dining and shopping in Belfast. The alternative to sectarian hatred, apparently, is mass consumerism.

The public faces of Backin’ Belfast have been pub owners and retailers, such as Michael Deane and Colin Neill,who have lamented the loss of trade suffered by city centre bars and shops. They want an end to the protests, not because of the sectarianism on display at the demonstrations, but because they want to get back to ‘business as usual’. The fact that the pub and retail trades in Belfast are notorious for their gross exploitation of young workers goes largely unnoticed. Perhaps people would be able to afford to eat in Deane’s restaurant and shop in River Island at the weekend if bosses in these sectors paid their staff a living wage. Student blogger Aisling Gallager articulated this point excellently when she wrote:

“I am not #BackinBelfast- I can’t afford to. Neither can most students. Whilst students were not the main focus of this article, I’ll stick to what I know best- students are struggling to get by as it is, and with £9k fees for GB students in Queen’s University, halls that are more expensive than the basic loan, and a severe lack of part-time jobs (and those employed taken advantage of horrendously by their employers), students shouldn’t be shamed into spending more money than they can afford.”

The peace process should be about more than facilitating the needs of business owners; it should be about creating a better society, free from both bigotry and exploitation. It won’t be easy, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. But what’s absolutely certain is that tacky PR gimmicks such as Backin’ Belfast will not overcome the sectarianism which exists in the north.

This article was published in the Morning Star

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Armed republicanism has once again raised its unwanted head in my home town of Lurgan, defying the will of the vast majority of the people in the area and the rest of Ireland. 54-year-old David Black was gunned down on November 1 while traveling to his work at Maghaberry Prison. Mr Black’s killers are believed to have driven alongside his car on the M1 before opening fire with an automatic weapon, hitting him several times. He died at the scene.

The latest murder comes 18 months after 25-year-old PSNI officer Ronan Kerr was blown up by an Oglaigh na hEireann car bomb in Omagh, a killing which was as pointless as it was callous. Murders such as these achieve little besides satisfying the bloodthirst of the perpetrators and increasing state repression. Given the devastation which the families of the victims experience as a result of these groups’ actions, the lack of public explanation is striking. They are devoid of a greater strategy for achieving their professed goals and appear to possess little or no political understanding. For them, Perfidious Albion is the source of Ireland’s ills. The use of ‘armed struggle’ is just as central to the existence of these groups as the achievement of full Irish independence. For them, the means is an end in itself.

The methods of these groups also reveal a deeper disturbing tendency. In recent years, particularly in Derry, dissident republicans have attempted to present themselves as the moral guardians of the nationalist community. Under the guise of Republican Action Against Drugs, they have embarked on a self-appointed crusade against the drug problems plaguing working class areas, doing so by mutilating teenagers and young men through the act of shooting them in the kneecaps. For all their “revolutionary” pretentions, these groups have adopted a distinctly reactionary and thoroughly unenlightened response to recreational drug use.

Predictably, David Black’s murder was widely condemned by politicians, trade unionists and other public figures. The likelihood of dissident republicans heeding this outrage, however, is low. Bland condemnation was hypocritically articulated by British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose army is currently involved in the rapacious occupation of Afghanistan. He is consistently silent, of course, about the terrorism perpetrated by his erstwhile allies in Washington. The use of unmanned drones in Pakistan to murder “suspected militants”, often a euphemism for defenceless children, goes without comment. This episode also highlights the double standards which exist in our media. David Black’s death was rightly described by the BBC as “murder”. However, on the rare occasion when civilian deaths at the hands of western forces are reported, the words used invoke a more humane and clinical version of slaughter, such as “air strikes” and “raids”. In the eyes of our media, British and American soldiers do not murder – they are merely involved in “military operations”. Terrorism is only wrong when it occurs on a small scale, it seems.

And so, for all of this, another family is torn to pieces and yet more alienated working class youth tied up in the activities of these groups will, in all probability, face lengthy prison sentences. All part of a futile campaign with no possibility of succeeding. The heavily armed Provisional IRA, with its considerable communal and international support, ultimately failed to achieve a British withdrawal from Ireland. A campaign of sporadic murders with no end game in sight carried out by a number of tiny groups with miniscule support is highly unlikely to achieve the same goal.

This article was published in The Morning Star

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There are many issues which lay bare the subservience of Ireland’s political elite to the edicts of international capital. The bank guarantee of September 2008; the handing over of natural resources to multinationals; the miniscule tax rate levied on corporations; a crippling austerity agenda which continues to stunt the country’s economy – the list goes on.

This week saw yet another bleak day in the state’s history when gombeenism ran roughshod over common decency. On Monday (October 1), €1 billion was handed over to unguaranteed, unsecured bondholders of Allied Irish Bank, which is 99% owned by the state, as part of a pitiful bid to appease “the markets”. The Fine Gael/Labour coalition has claimed ignorance over the identities of these and other similar recipients of Irish state funds, although the list is widely known to include financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Barclay’s. By the end of this year, a total of more than €19 billion will be paid to speculators who gambled in the boom years and now refuse to take a loss. In 2013, more than €17 billion of state money will be squandered in the same way.

This enormous transfer of wealth takes place against the backdrop of the largest spending cuts in the state’s history. In the demented political sphere of Ireland, where the nation’s economy is seen as a mere tool to service the needs of multi-national corporations, closing A&Es, reducing the wages of teachers and slashing allowances for disabled people are seen as “tough” decisions. Increasing corporation tax and forcing the super-rich to take a loss on their gambles are, apparently, weak decisions. A 15% unemployment rate on top of mass emigration, it seems, is the tolerable price to pay in the appeasement of “the markets”. Sacrifices must be made to save the European financial system, we have been told.

For all their talk of “injustice” and “unfairness” earlier this year, the GAA stars who rallied behind disgraced former billionaire Séan Quinn have remained remarkably silent on this particular issue. The handing over of scarce public funds to nameless professional gamblers merits no public demonstration of anger from Joe Kernan, Mickey Harte or the others who chose to support a corrupt billionaire. Nor were they as outspoken when Ireland’s economic sovereignty was handed over to the IMF in 2010.

Diarmuid O’Flynn, a hurling reporter for the Irish Examiner, has filled the void left by these sports stars and, of course, many other journalists. RTÉ, the national broadcaster, failed to report on Monday’s €1 billion bond payment. O’Flynn is one of the organisers of a weekly demonstration in his home village of Ballyhea in County Cork against the bondholder bailout. Now into its 84th week, the Ballyhea protest is a small glimpse of indignation among a population which has been renowned globally for its tame acceptance of harsh cutbacks. O’Flynn’s blog, Bondwatch Ireland, is an excellent source of information for those seeking to find out the true scale of the toxic debt plunged onto the nation’s shoulders. A result of meticulous research, the site details on a weekly basis the upcoming bond payments due at Ireland’s state-owned banks. Irish journalists should be well advised to consult the site.

Many of the attempts to explain what caused Ireland’s economic collapse have been muddled, causing much confusion around the issue. Some commentators point to the “cute-hoorism” prevalent among the Irish ruling and political class, while others highlight the outright criminality which existed at the top of Ireland’s banking sector. All of these arguments carry weight, but ultimately fail to provide a thorough explanation.

Ireland’s problems transcend its own national boundaries. Although all of the above were certainly contributing factors, the country’s collapse was part of a global calamity. Since the 1970s, capitalism was transformed from its Keynesian model towards a more radical neo-liberal one. Trade union influence diminished, financial markets were deregulated and public assets were privatised. Ireland was long touted as the “success story” of this economic arrangement.

The rise of neo-liberalism saw an unprecedented concentration of the world’s wealth into increasingly fewer hands. The demise of trade union movements in much of the west resulted in falling and stagnating wages for most workers. In order to make up for the loss of income, people were forced to take on ruinous amounts of debt to secure some of life’s basics, most notably in Ireland’s case, a home. The bursting of this credit bubble was inevitable.

In 2011, the British TUC released a report revealing the extent to which the incomes of workers had stagnated. It was found that UK workers would be earning a combined total of £60 billion more had wages increased in proportion to the growth of the wider economy. The same is true in many other countries. In the United States, the Irish bourgeoisie’s ideological home, this inequality occurs to an unnerving degree. The poorest 50% of Americans own a mere 1% of their country’s wealth, while the richest 1% own more than 34%. Or, to put in another way; the richest 1% of Americans own 34 times more wealth than half of all the American population combined. One family, the Waltons, who own Wal Mart, now possesses more wealth than the bottom 40% of Americans. Such is the economic model our rulers aspire to.

During the boom years, with its unregulated financial markets and low tax rates for corporations, Ireland was held up as the poster boy of neo-liberal capitalism. The Celtic Tiger ran riot as the worst off in society were left behind. On 24 September, the Simon Community reported that homelessness has increased in Dublin, with more than 2,600 people seeking the housing charity’s assistance. This situation continues alongside the sordid spectacle of up to 400,000 empty homes scattered around the country – many of them owned by the state’s ‘bad bank’, NAMA.

Just as many of Ireland’s problems were rooted in a global system, so too do the seeds of a solution lie in other parts of the world. Although afflicted with a notoriously parochial political system, the population would do well to note the actions of people in other parts of Europe. Following its own crisis in 2008, Iceland refused to repay the debts accumulated by private banks, to the fury of the neo-liberal “experts” and “the markets”. Depositors’ money was guaranteed but private investors were forced to take a loss. These are real “tough” decisions. Iceland now has an unemployment rate which is less than half that of Ireland’s, and a growth rate of 3%. This political courage needs to be combined with the resistance of the kind shown by trade union movements in Greece, Spain and Portugal. Neutered as it is by a subservient ‘social partnership’ model, the Irish trade union movement, with honourable exceptions of course, has so far failed to inspire mass action. The leadership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions even refused to take a position on the EU Austerity Treaty in May.

Ireland’s socialisation of private losses is a national scandal which remains so far under-reported. It’s astounding that many fail to make the connection between this and the array of cuts to public services taking place right now.

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On August 9, an article in the Belfast Telegraph warned readers that Northern Ireland faced an impending economic “meltdown”. Accountancy firm KPMG’s Eamonn Donaghy, described in the report as “a top financial expert”, argued that the region’s economy was not sustainable without reducing corporation tax to 12.5%, in line with the Republic of Ireland. Mr Donaghy is one of a long list of “experts” regularly carted out by the local media in support of the tax cut.

Unimaginatively held up as the saving grace of a battered economy, all four main parties in the Stormont Assembly have rallied behind the appeals of these “experts”, whose collective failure to foresee the worst economic crisis in 70 years should, by all rights, consign them into obscurity. The prevalent narrative of the issue is a pleasingly simple one – low taxes will attract business to the region, and this investment will create jobs.

Reporting of the issue has been extraordinarily one-sided. Representatives of banks, finance firms and other multinationals are given considerable space in the Irish News, the Newsletter and, of course, the Belfast Telegraph. In the article mentioned above, Mr Donaghy was treated as a well-informed, unbiased commentator. Nothing was said of the fact that his firm, KPMG, would stand to gain a great deal from the tax break.  “In every other country where corporation tax rates have been significantly cut,” Mr Donaghy said, “positive economic benefits and job creation has happened.” The names of these countries were not mentioned and no evidence was provided to back this up.

Pot of Gold or Fool’s Gold?, a thorough report carried out by Tax Research UK’s Richard Murphy, demolished the case for cutting corporation tax. Promises of job creation were shown to be a hopeful gamble with a large immediate cost. As a result of a previous EU court ruling, a minimum of £300 million will have to be cut from Stormont’s block grant from Westminster if the tax rate is reduced. On top of that, not a single new job can even be guaranteed. Murphy’s findings were given little attention by the local press.

Parties from both the unionist and nationalist sides, notorious for inter-communal bickering, have been remarkably united on this particular issue. The conventional wisdom states that north is “over-reliant” on a “bloated” public sector, which requires a “rebalancing” of the economy. However, the private sector-led recovery promised by David Cameron has not happened in Britain, and there is little reason to believe it will occur anywhere else anytime soon. It marks a curious juncture in Irish politics when nominally centre-left parties, Sinn Féin and the SDLP, adopt a distinctly Thatcherite economic platform.

The blueprint of Dublin’s notorious tax haven, the International Financial Services Centre, once dubbed “Lichtenstein on the Liffey”, looks set to be replicated north of the border. “For Northern Ireland,” Murphy wrote in the Guardian, “the problem will be that of all tax havens: fly-by-night companies that have no intention of creating real jobs, and whose sole aim is to park profits in the province before moving them on to another tax haven as quickly as possible will be those attracted by this policy.” He continued: “That policy has virtually bankrupted the Republic. Why on earth would anyone want to replicate it?”

Advocates of this corporate welfare have, on occasion, been surprisingly candid. When he addressed the Northern Ireland Affairs committee in 2011, CBI NI chair Terence Brannigan admitted: “There is no guarantee [of job creation] and it would be totally misleading of me to sit here and say that I could guarantee you. I couldn’t guarantee you anything.” Former unionist MP – and millionaire – John Taylor, now Lord Kilclooney, told the House of Lords that “95% of the population of Northern Ireland who are not company directors would be worse off”.

Recently described by Taoiseach Enda Kenny as the “cornerstone of the economy”, and deemed politically untouchable, the 12.5% corporate tax rate has long been a solid feature of southern Ireland. Claims that it “attracts jobs” are easily dismissed. Dell’s abandonment of its Limerick plant in 2009 and the current unemployment rate of 15% testify to this. The country’s reliance of foreign investment merely underlines the failure of our economy to develop in a sustainable way. Conor McCabe, in his 2011 book Sins of the Father, rightly points out: “Given such a modest effect on the Irish economy – 7% of total employment and approximately €2.8 billion in corporation tax – why is foreign direct investment constantly put forward as the prime objective of the State’s economic policies and strategies?”

Suggestions by proponents of the tax cut that the Celtic Tiger was fuelled by the 12.5% rate, too, are groundless. It was, at best, a secondary factor in causing the boom in the south of Ireland. The Irish state had an overall lower tax base with many loopholes which could be exploited by big business – something the North could never duplicate while it remains under the jurisdiction of the UK.  More important to foreign investors than a low corporation tax during the boom years was Ireland’s highly educated, English-speaking workforce, its proximity to mainland Europe and its lack of government regulation (along with widespread corruption carried out in the interests of capital).

The refusal of multinationals to pay their fair share should be challenged, not accommodated. A race to the bottom serves only the interests of the super-wealthy. Reducing what is already one of the lowest corporation tax rates in Europe is not going to stem the effects of the Great Recession, no matter what business “experts” contend. Tax cuts don’t develop economies or create employment – they create tax havens.

Neo-liberal solutions will not solve a neo-liberal problem.

– This article was published in The Morning Star

I’ve never really understood the world’s fascination with Irishness. During my time living abroad I have found telling people that I’m from Ireland automatically leads to a reaction of respectful awe. Many in the English speaking world seem to believe the notion that being Irish, a mere accident of birth, is somehow “cool”. Maybe it’s our attitude towards alcohol. Maybe it’s the music. Or maybe people just find the place curious. And a curious place it most certainly is.

Since 2008, the life of the Irish economy has been battered by austerity, imposed on the population by two successive governments on behalf of the world’s richest people. Much of the international commentary on the collapse of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ has focused on the seeming passivity of the Irish populace in the face of deep cuts in public spending, starkly contrasting with the heroic resistance of the Greek working class.

Last week, thousands of ordinary people rallied in support of former billionaire, now bankrupt, Seán Quinn in county Cavan. A number of well-know GAA faces attended the event, including Tyrone manager Mickey Harte, former Armagh manager Joe Kernan and former Meath manager Seán Boylan. Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew described the treatment of Quinn as “disgraceful”, while, on the other side of the border, Mary-Lou McDonald was quick to distance the party from the disgraced businessman. The vile Michael O’Leary also voiced support for the convicted criminal.

Judging by the large crowd which had gathered in Ballyconnell, one would be forgiven for thinking that this was a man of upstanding character who had been gravely misunderstood. The facts, however, show an entirely different picture. The BBC’s Jim Fitzpatrick has detailed a considerable list of Quinn’s dubious actions, which is well worth looking at. Not only did he trade in “dangerous” derivatives to bet on the value of Anglo-Irish Bank, among other shady financial dealings, he borrowed money from Anglo-Irish Bank to buy shares in – you guessed it – Anglo-Irish Bank! Now, you don’t need to be a financial wizard to realise this is deeply corrupt.

Although he was already obscenely rich, Quinn had the sheer reckless greed to gamble billions in an attempt to make even more money, destroying his own empire in the process. His actions and the actions of his class of incompetent, selfish moneybags destroyed the Irish economy. Surely the people who attended this rally could muster up the wit to make the connection between the bitter austerity measures being imposed the most vulnerable people in Ireland and the activities of the likes of Mr Quinn?

The Ballyconnell rally reflects the rampant gombeenism and blind local loyalty that still infects Ireland. So long as one is seen to be a GAA fan, a mass goer or simply “one of our own”, serious misdemeanours, even crimes, are ignored. The significant minority in the country who have chosen to back Quinn should be reminded that, since Anglo-Irish has been nationalised (though it is now called IBRC), the debt he ran up is owed to the Irish taxpayer.

The spectacle of working people demonstrating in support of a billionaire whose class helped bankrupt a nation and force an entire generation to shoulder a colossal debt is not only puzzling but is, indeed, quite pathetic. “Bring back Quinn and let him create jobs”, read one ill-informed placard with the air of a grateful serf paying homage to his master. The working people who attended this rally would be better served demonstrating for the interests of their own class.

“Ireland is not Greece,” Finance Minister Michael Noonan once said. Indeed it’s not.

This article was published in The Morning Star

Ever since the bank guarantee of September 2008, there have been countless attempts to explain the implosion of the Irish economy. Most of these explanations have taken a moralistic attitude, laying the finger of blame at the greed and recklessness of those at the tops of the financial institutions which laid waste to a decade of prosperity. There may well be some merit in these views, but the roots of the current crisis run much deeper than a handful of people behaving badly.

This week I finished reading what was undoubtedly one of the best accounts of what happened to the Irish economy four years ago. Published last June, Conor McCabe’s Sins of the Father takes a thorough and serious look at the causes of the country’s economic collapse. Although I own a copy signed by the author himself, Sins of the Father had been sitting on my bookshelf for almost a year before I bothered digging into it. Upon finally reading it, I regretted putting it off for so long.

Sins of the Father is much more than a mere chronological description of how the Irish economy imploded; In the book, McCabe charts in an easily accessible manner the deeply flawed and deformed way in which the Irish economy developed since the partition of the country, taking the reader right up through the bank guarantee, the creation of NAMA and the humiliating EU-IMF bailout of November 2010. Although Fianna Fáil was politically butchered by voters in last February’s general election for their role in the crisis, this book shows how successive governments since the state’s foundation laid the foundation for Ireland’s catastrophic economic collapse.

The book, which is less than 300 pages long, is divided into five subject areas, all of equal importance; housing, agriculture, industry, finance and lastly, the Fianna Fáil/Green Party government’s response to the financial crisis.

The chapter on housing, I found, was a particularly fascinating one, which convincingly demolishes the myth of a ‘property-owning’ gene in Irish DNA. McCabe correctly points out that the high rates of private ownership was a direct result of the political decisions taken by successive governments which consistently prioritised private ownership over much-needed decent public housing schemes. The fundraising organisation Taca, set up by Fianna Fáil in the 1960s, brought into light the shameless cronyism that existed between the political class and property developers, speculators and landlords.

Also wonderfully detailed in Sins of the Father is how Irish governments helped to fuel the rampant property speculation and booming house prices which plagued the country for the last number of decades. High prices opened up a new debt market for banks, while Irish people were forced into taking on ruinous mortgages in order to secure a home. A booklet issued by the government in 1967 advising citizens on home ownership told readers that “the amount you borrow should not be more than the 2½ times your annual income”. By 1998, house prices were almost eight times higher than the average industrial wage. At the height of the boom, McCabe found, “Irish property prices were between eleven and fifteen times the median wage”.

Another aspect of the book which I found not only interesting but profoundly relevant is the author’s criticism of Irish governments’ obsession with foreign investment, to the detriment of the state’s own indigenous industry. He points out that the benefit of having multinational companies based in Ireland was much lower than is often portrayed, stating that the “profits are repatriated to their country of origin”. He continues: “Given such a modest effect on the Irish economy – 7% of total employment and approximately €2.8 billion in corporation tax – why is foreign direct investment constantly put forward as the prime objective of the State’s economic policies and strategies?”

Sins of the Father, McCabe’s first book (and hopefully not his last), admirably challenges many of the lazy myths which pass for economic discussion today and should be seen as a vital resource for those seeking to understand why the Great Recession has had such a profound effect on Ireland.

Conor blogs at www.dublinopinion.com/