Archive for Politics

Meanwhile, in Ireland…

Posted in Covid-19, Education, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on June 17, 2020 by telescoper

It seems an eternity since we had the 2020 general election in Ireland on February 8th because of the intervention of the Covid-19 outbreak, but it’s still been over four months. Now however it seems we might have a new government fairly soon, as a deal has been agreed to form a coalition between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party; between them these parties have 84 seats (not counting the Ceann Comhairle), enough to create a majority in the Dáil Éireann. It’s not quite done and dusted, though, as the Green Party has to ballot its membership and a two-thirds majority is needed to endorse the agreement. We should know next week.

In case you think this delay means that Ireland has been in political crisis since February, it hasn’t really. The constitution makes it clear that if a new government can’t be formed the old one continues until one can (or until another election can be held). Leo Varadkar has continued as Taioseach in the mean time. His popularity has increased in this period, at least partly because as a trained medical person, he is perceived to have handled the Covid-19 crisis rather well. It seems that incumbents have generally received the backing of the public when they have coped reasonably with the pandemic. Whether that continues in Ireland remains to be seen. When the truth comes out about how many patients were transferred from hospitals into nursing homes where they were left to die perhaps opinions will change.

It has taken over four months for the the parties to agree a `draft programme for government’ which you can find here. That document is 139 pages long but largely devoid of concrete commitments and indeed devoid of anything other than vague discussions, platitudes, and `reviews’. At a quick reading I’d say the Greens have been far more effective at getting their agenda into it than Fianna Fáil, perhaps because the latter don’t really have an agenda other than wanting to be in power. The Green initiatives are in my opinion the strongest parts of the programme, but the rest seems to me to be just “more of the same”.

I’d say that the one redeeming factor is the document is the emphasis on stimulus rather than austerity as a way out of the current crisis but of course that may turn out not to be what actually happens.

From the point of view of Ireland’s universities and research community there is little to rejoice. On page 114 you can find this:

Higher and Further Education have been greatly affected by the COVID-19 crisis and we will support the sector through these challenges to ensure that educational opportunities remain and are made more accessible to everyone, particularly the most vulnerable in our society. In addition, we will continue to support our research community to tackle the social and scientific problems posed by COVID-19 now and into the future.

We are committed to addressing the funding challenges in third-level education. We want a Higher and Further Education sector that sees education as a holistic and life-long pursuit. We will continue to build strong connections with other education sectors and wider society, while recognising our global and environmental responsibilities. It is vital we invest in our Higher and Further Education sectors so we can continue to tackle inequality based on race, gender, and socio-economic background. We recognise the potential for our Higher and Further Education institutions to be exemplars regionally, nationally and internationally.

At a time of great economic uncertainty, when so many people fear for their future employment, we will ensure that Higher Education plays a vital role in our recovery. We will equip students with the skills necessary to secure employment, while preparing for the opportunities and challenges posed by a changing economy, the move to a low-carbon future and disruptive technologies, as well as offering retraining and reskilling opportunities to help people into employment.

Warm words at the start and then a worryingly blinkered emphasis on universities simply as providers of skills training. We do that of course, but we do so much more that Irish governments seem not to recognize.

Later on we get a commitment to

Develop a long-term sustainable funding model for Higher Level education in collaboration with the sector and informed by recent and ongoing research and analysis.

Sigh. There’s been an OECD Report (2004), the Hunt Report (2011), the Cassells Report (2016), etc. How many times will this issue be kicked into the long grass?

The Fianna Fáil `pledge’ to introduce a Minister for Higher Education and Research has, needless to say, fallen by the wayside in the negotiations.

The plan for the new Government is that the plan is as the leader of the largest party in the coalition, Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin will take over as Taoiseach for two years, after which Leo Varadkar will return. This is being referred to as a `Rotating Taoiseach’, which is a pretty apt given that the programme has more spin than substance.

This Violation

Posted in Film, Politics with tags , , , on May 31, 2020 by telescoper

A typically perceptive and powerful piece in the Guardian by Fintan O’Toole about dignity, violation and the Dominic Cummings has been turned into a short film by Mark Cousins. It features a hundred people, from all walks of life, each reading a line of it to camera. It’s very well worth watching.

Change in Northern Ireland

Posted in History, Politics with tags , , on December 17, 2019 by telescoper

One of the potentially most significant outcomes of the 2019 General Election, but one barely mentioned in the English media, was what happened in Northern Ireland. For the first time ever, a majority of the MPs elected in the six counties were nationalist. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) gained two seats to add to the seven of Sinn Féin (including a significant gain in Belfast North) while the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lost two to finish with eight. The remaining seat went to the Alliance, originally a moderate unionist party but now basically a liberal centrist (and anti-Brexit) party.

Here’s how the electoral map of Northern Ireland changed:

Sinn Féin seats are dark green, DUP orange, SDLP light green and Alliance yellow.

In terms of the popular vote, the DUP+UUP got 42.3% whereas SDLP+ Sinn Féin got 37.7. Both SF and DUP lost vote share compared to 2017 (by 6.7% and 5.4% respectively) at the expense of the Alliance (up 8.8%) and SDLP (up 3.1%).

Incremental differences, perhaps, but significant nonetheless – especially as Brexit hasn’t yet happened. After Brexit there will be a border in the Irish Sea, which will bring the end of partition one step closer. The probability of seeing a United Ireland in my lifetime has definitely increased.

It was no surprise to see the hashtag `#UnityPlan’ trending on Twitter immediately after the election. Irish unification will only happen if there is a public vote and a majority on both sides of the border agree. For that vote to be fair it is vital that there is a definite plan on how to proceed in the event that the vote is in favour, so the public know what they are voting for. The Irish should not make the mistake that Britain did over Brexit.

For many unionists religion was the primary reason for wanting to remain in the United Kingdom at the time of partition in 1921: Protestants felt that their identity would be threatened if they were made to join the Catholic South. Maybe they were right to feel nervous, as the original constitution of the Irish Free State enshrined “the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church”.  But the section including that phrase was deltd from the Constitution way back in 1973 and the Roman Church has far less influence in the Republic than it did. Ireland is now an open and progressive country, so I hope those fears have receded.

Just to confuse matters even further I should mention that my Grandfather, the one born in Belfast, to whom I owe my Irish citizenship,  was a protestant republican…

Those in the North who wish to keep their British passports should be able to do so in a United Ireland, just as those of us who were born in Britain but now live in Ireland can keep ours. I’ll be keeping mine, at least until it expires…

P.S. It is worth mentioning (primarily for British friends) that there are three counties in Ireland that belong to the province of Ulster but are not part of Northern Ireland as it was formed after partition: these are Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal. The northernmost point of Donegal, Malin Head, is actually the northernmost point on the island of Ireland.

No More Poppies

Posted in Biographical, History, Politics with tags , , , , on November 9, 2019 by telescoper

Over the years I have written quite a few pieces on this blog, around the time of Remembrance Sunday, about the wearing of a poppy, the last being in 2016. I have worn a poppy at this time of year for most of my adult life, but in 2017 I decided to stop.

For one thing, there is no pressure to wear a poppy here in Ireland. Indeed, many Irish people see the poppy mainly as a symbol of British militarism and colonial oppression. At a concert to mark the Armistice last year I saw only a few audience members wearing a poppy, and most of them were the shamrock version commemorating the sacrifice of Irish soldiers during the Great War.

But I don’t think I’ve ever really been that susceptible to peer pressure, so that’s not the main reason for my not wearing a poppy. The main reason is that over the past couple of years the poppy has been appropriated by the likes of racist thug, career criminal and founder-member of the EDL, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (also known as Tommy Robinson):

I simply cannot bring myself to wear the same badge as this horrible racist gobshite, nor can I stand the hypocrisy of those politicians who make a show of wearing it while happily encouraging the rise of nationalism that caused all the suffering just a century ago. The message of the poppy is supposed to be `Lest We Forget’. I’m afraid far too many have already forgotten.

I have a lecture on Monday 11th November at 11am, when the traditional two minutes’ silence to mark the 1918 armistice is observed. Fortunately, lectures at Maynooth run from five past the hour until five to, so I will be able to observe this on my own before I start the lecture. But I won’t be wearing a poppy.

Is it disrespectful to the war dead to refuse to wear a poppy? No, of course it isn’t. What is disrespectful to them is to seek to reoeat the mistakes that led to wars in the first place.

Supreme Predictions

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on September 24, 2019 by telescoper

This morning the Supreme Court delivered a ruling that the UK Government acted unlawfully in its recent prorogation of Parliament and so Parliament is consequently no long prorogued. After its decision in this case that the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament with the intent of stopping it carrying out its duties, I look forward to a similarly shocking ruling in the vexed matter of whether or not ursine mammals defecate in forested areas.

I have noticed over the years that everyone on Twitter is – or at least thinks they are – a legal expert, so not to be outdone I last night posted my own prediction of the Supreme Court ruling:

My legal acumen having been established beyond any reasonable doubt, I mention for the record that I posted this tweet at the same time:

This is the correct way to make predictions in the age of social media.

Diana Ross is 75.

 

 

University News

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , , , , on April 28, 2019 by telescoper

As we stagger towards Week 11 of this twice-interrupted Semester I’m back in the office preparing stuff for another set of lectures. This term seems to have gone on forever, largely because of the two breaks (one at half-term around St Patrick’s Day, and other other for Easter). Now, though, the end is in sight. Or at least the examination period is: there are just two more weeks of lectures, ending on 10th May then a short break, then examinations start (on 17th May). Then, of course, there is marking, checking, conflating exam grades with coursework marks, examination boards, and all the other stuff that go on behind the scenes.

I noticed that this weekend’s edition of the Irish Times included a hard copy of a report called Delivering for Ireland: The Impact of Irish Universities which was produced by the Irish Universities Association. In fact the thing given away with the paper is just a summary report (you can download it in PDF format here). The full report (all 86 pages of it) can be downloaded here.

The report is full of interesting information, including this (which I didn’t know before):

The report was produced with the aim of making the case for further investment in Ireland’s universities. It remains to be seen whether the current Irish government will be persuaded. I’m not holding my breath. right-wing governments never seem to be interested in investing in the future. I think the best we can hope for is that Ireland does not continue its policy of slavishly copying English Higher Education policy, especially with the introduction of student loans and high tuition fees.

And talking of the idiocies of the English University system, there is a story going around that the UK Government is planning to make EU students pay full `Overseas’ fees after Brexit. Actually, Higher Education policy is a devolved matter so this can only be directly enforced on English universities. It will, however, be hard for Scottish Welsh and Northern Irish institutions to resist the consequences.

In fact I’ve long felt that the existing system – in which Home and EU students have to be treated the same way as a matter of law but non-EU students can be charged different (i.e. higher) fees is completely immoral. Once at university students are all taught the same way so why should some be charged more than others because they happen to come from China? What would you think of a shop that tried to charge people different prices for the same goods depending on the nationality of the customer?

This decision is of course an inevitable consequence of Theresa May’s interpretation of the EU referendum result as a mandate for policies of extreme xenophobia, as is the withdrawal from Erasmus. It is just another symptom of the UK’s descent into narrow-minded insularity. The message this decision sends out is that Britain hates foreigners but it likes their money so the rich ones who can pay extortionate fees will be graciously allowed to come here to get fleeced. Does the government really think that EU citizens are daft enough to come to a country that identifies itself in such a way? I don’t think they are. They’ll just find somewhere else to go, and the consequence for UK universities will be severe. I am confident this will push more than one UK higher education institution into bankruptcy.

Anyway, even if the the Irish university continues to be under-resourced, it will at least continue to welcome students from the EU on the same basis as before. So if you’re a European student who was thinking about studying in England, why not come to Ireland instead? It’s far cheaper, and we even have the same weather…

Brexit: What’s the Indicative Mood?

Posted in Pedantry, Politics with tags , , , , , on March 27, 2019 by telescoper

If you are confused about today’s `Indicative Votes’ in Parliament on Brexit let me provide some helpful information about the indicative mood, and how it relates to Brexit.

The English word “exit” is derived from the third person singular of the present tense in the indicative mood in the active voice of the Latin verb “exire” (“to go out”) i.e. it means “he/she/it leaves”, though the noun form it usually has in English derives from the supine form “exitus”. I feel it is important that we all get used to the grammar of Brexit, so here is a fairly complete list of the parts of the verb `Brexire’ in the active voice of the indicative mood, some or all of which may be relevant in the forthcoming debates, complete with accents to assist punctuation. At least these may prove useful in following any contributions from Jacob Rees-Mogg.

First let’s start with the basics:

Infinitive: Brexīre
Present participle: Brexiēns; Brexiéntis
Future participle: Brexītúrus
Gerund: Brexeúndum
Gerundive: Brexeúndus

And now here are representative examples of the conjugation of the verb Brexire in various tenses of the Indicative Mood in the order: first, second and third person singular followed by first, second and third person plural:

Present:

Brexeō,
Brexīs
Brexit
Brexīmus
Brexītis
Brexeunt

Past Imperfect

Brexībam
Brexībās
Brexībat
Brexībāmus
Brexībātis
Brexībant

Past Perfect

Brexiī
Brexīstī
Brexiit
Brexíimus
Brexīstis
Brexiḗrunt

Pluperfect

Brexíeram
Brexierās
Brexíerat
Brexierāmus
Brexierātis
Brexierant

Future Simple

Brexībō
Brexībis
Brexībit
Brexībimus
Brexībitis
Brexībunt

Future Perfect

Brexíerō
Brexíeris
Brexíerit
Brexiérimus
Brexieritis
Brexierint

The last tense here is not really relevant, but I’ve included it anyway.

No doubt when the Indicative votes are over, the House of Commons will proceed to the Subjunctive Mood – or even directly to the Imperative – but I shall leave these to a future post.

A Very British March

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , , on March 24, 2019 by telescoper

I’m back in Maynooth now after yesterday’s wonderful demonstration in London. Sources are claiming that about 1.4M people attended. I met filk from all round the country, many of whom had never been on a march before. It’s also worth saying according to the Metropolitan Police that there was not a single incident that they had to deal with.

I’m not very good in big crowds (to say the least) so I stood for a while a little distance from the main body of the demonstration as it assembled in Park Lane. I was astonished to see how many people were joining. It was certainly larger than the previous one, last year.

I eventually joined in when it started moving (very slowly). The people were very friendly and despite the numbers I didn’t get at all panicky. It struck me as being a quintessentially British demonstration, in that it was basically just some very nice polite people waiting politely in a very long queue..

The march was due to start at 12 noon but i didn’t get going until well after 2pm. I had to leave at 4pm, by which I had only got halfway along Piccadilly. Instead of going all the way to Parliament Square I headed back to my hotel, picked up the bag I had left there and took a packed tube to Heathrow. I made it just in time. The plane began boarding just as I ckeated the security checks.

I didn’t take many pictures of the march, but here are a few:

Hyde Park, the Statue of Achilles

Philosopher A. C. Grayling and I..

Beards against Brexit!

It was a wonderful experience to be in the company of so many extremely nice people and I was sad I couldn’t make it all the way to the end!

P. S. The petition on revoking Article 50 has reached almost reached 5 million signatures.

Put it to the People!

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on March 23, 2019 by telescoper

Well, that was a very enjoyable and informative couple of days in London celebrating the 60th Birthday of Alan Heavens, but my trip to London is not yet over. Before going to Heathrow Airport for the flight back to Dublin this evening, I am taking part in a demonstration in Central London demanding a referendum as a last chance to avert the calamity of Brexit, halt Britain’s descent into nationalistic xenophobia, and prevent the social and economic harm being done by the ongoing madness. I have a feeling that Theresa May’s toxic speech on Wednesday evening in which she blamed everyone but herself for the mess that she has created will have galvanized many more than me into action.

I’m not sure whether this march – even if it is huge – will make much difference or even that it will be properly reported in the media, but one has to do something. Despite the short delay to the Brexit date agreed by the EU, I still think the most likely outcome of this shambles is that the UK leaves without a proper withdrawal agreement and thus begins a new life as a pariah state run by incompetent deadheads who know nothing other than the empty slogans that they regurgitate instead of answering real questions.

The only sensible response to the present impasse is to `Put it to the People’, but there is no time to organize a new referendum – a proper one, informed by facts as we now know them and without the wholesale unlawful behavior of the Leave campaign in the last one. I dismiss entirely any argument that a new referendum would be undemocratic in any way. Only those terminally gripped by Brexit insanity would argue that voting can be anti-democratic, especially since there is strong evidence from opinion polls that having seen the mess the Government has created a clear majority wishes to remain. If there isn’t time for a new referendum before the deadline – and further extensions by the EU are unlikely – then the best plan is to revoke the Article 50 notification to stop the clock.

I know I’m not alone in thinking this. An official petition demanding the Government revoke Article 50 has passed 4,000,000 signatures in just a few days. I’ve signed it and encourage you to do likewise, which you can do here.

And if you’re tempted to agree with the Prime Minister’s claim that people are just tired of Brexit and just want it to be over, then please bear in mind that the Withdrawal Agreement – which has taken two years to get nowhere – is only the start of the process. The UK is set for years of further negotiations on the terms of its future relationship not only with the European Union but also all the other agreements that will be terminated by the UK’s self-imposed isolation.

If Brexit does go ahead, which I’m afraid I think will be the case, then my participation in today’s march will not have been a waste – it seems a fitting way to say goodbye to the land of my birth, a country to which I no longer belong.

Anyway, I may be able to add a few pictures of the march in due course but, until then, here is an excerpt from Private Eye that made me laugh.

A Suspension of Hostilities

Posted in History, Politics with tags , , , , on November 11, 2018 by telescoper

Among all the images produced during this weekend’s commemorations of the centenary of Armistice Day, this image of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron struck me as particularly moving.

Part of the reasons is that it reminded me of this photograph, of President Mitterand and Chancellor Kohl, taken in 1984:

Exactly one hundred years after the truce that effectively ended the First World War, these images remind us how much suffering took place before Europe reached a point at which war between France and Germany became unthinkable. That peace now looks increasingly fragile as the forces of nationalism, spurred on by populist demagogues, and funded by greedy disaster capitalists, threaten to tear apart the institutions that have brought Europe together in a spirit of mutual cooperation for so long. All that has been achieved could so easily be lost.

As Fintan O’Toole has written in a long article in this weekend’s Irish Times, the First World War is, in many ways, still being fought. The Second World War was certainly very much a continuation of the First, after a break of just over twenty years, to which the short-sightedness of Western governments in their treatment of Germany was a contributing factor. The end of the First World War saw not only the disintegration of the German Empire (and the abdication of the Kaiser), but also the collapse of Tsarist Russia, and the end of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires to boot. We are still living with the consequences of that upheaval.

All this reminds us – or should remind us – that the word `armistice’ means `a truce’ or `a suspension of hostilities’ rather than a lasting peace, and it is by no means impossible we could be sleepwalking to disaster once more. As President Macron put it in his speech today

Les démons anciens resurgissent : des idéologies nouvelles manipulent des religions, l’Histoire menace de reprendre son cours tragique. Faisons une fois de plus ce serment des Nations de placer la paix plus haut que tout, car nous en connaissons le prix.

Frankly, I fear very much for the future and take solace only in the fact that I am no longer young.

I have found the pomp and ceremony of this year’s official Armistice commemorations very difficult to endure. Perhaps there are some people, including some in high places, who have learned the lessons of history, but it is also clear that there are very many who have not.

Which brings me to the poppy. I have written quite a few pieces on this blog, around the time of Remembrance Sunday, about the wearing of a poppy, the last being in 2016. I have worn a poppy at this time of year for most of my adult life, but I decided last year to stop.

For one thing, there is no pressure to wear a poppy here in Ireland. Indeed, many Irish people see the poppy mainly as a symbol of British militarism and colonial oppression. Even at Friday’s concert to mark the Armistice I saw only a few audience members wearing a poppy, and most of them were the shamrock version commemorating the sacrifice of Irish soldiers during the Great War.

But I don’t think I’ve ever really been that susceptible to peer pressure, so that’s not the main reason for my not wearing a poppy. The main reason is that over the past couple of years the poppy has been appropriated by the likes of racist thug, career criminal and founder-member of the EDL, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (also known as Tommy Robinson):

I simply cannot bring myself to wear the same badge as this creature, nor can I stand the hypocrisy of those politicians who make a show of wearing it while happily encouraging the rise of nationalism. Enough is enough. The message of the poppy is supposed to be `Lest We Forget’. I’m afraid far too many have already forgotten.