A RESONSE TO MR. PAUL HEWSON, CLOUD 9 MANSION, DALKEY, CO. DUBLIN

     Mr. Hewson, I write to answer your remarks in The Observer, lauding Ireland’s piddling corporate tax rate as a general boon to the populace achieving, amongst a host of purported miracles, the presence of nurses, firemen and teachers within our ranks, presumably on a scale we couldn’t match should the global aristocracy be taxed at the same level as those self-same nurses, fireman and teachers. Note firstly that I do not call you ‘dear Mr. Hewson,’ nor do I use the familiar ‘Bono’; to do either would imply a degree of affection I frankly don’t feel, and the latter title, being a form of trademark, is one I expect to see copyrighted in due course, the better to screw a shilling with! Not that this coolness should be read as a wish for any bodily harm to come to you. On the contrary, it is precisely your physical safety which motivates this message. Though I understand how you must normally feel impervious to danger, living as you do in a bubble of self-regard, ventilated only by your own flatulence, which doubtless smells to you, if no one else, of lavender and rosewater, but have you seen The Walking Dead? Worlds can change overnight Mr. Hewson, leaving us dealing with a whole new reality! Granted, the odds of any of us waking to a zombie nightmare are thankfully slight, and should it happen you would be uniquely equipped to cope with that environment, as your social circle, encompassing Davos, various corporate boardrooms and sundry neo-liberal shindigs, teems with the greatest bloodsuckers on the planet, the type who routinely extract pounds of flesh from the working poor. In fact, the more I think about it the more convinced I am that you would actually thrive, and that Sheriff Rick would end up sulkily deferring to your leadership qualities. I strongly suspect you believe so too, every time you watch this show, or any other featuring a rough-cut hero! But I’m drifting here, into the realms of gore and melodrama, as I often do when you cross my mind. The point is, things can and do alter, and sometimes in catastrophic ways.


Consider if you will the likely impact of a few large but rash investments, or a dodgy book-keeper (Adam’s your go-to man on this.) Before you know it, you might not be a sawn-off wanker, living on an income to rival the GDP of a mid-sized African nation (you’ll remember them from photo opportunities and ego trips of yore) but a sawn-off wanker struggling on something like the average wage, along with the rest of us! If that doesn’t make you quake in your well-heeled snakeskins Mr. Hewson, it should do, for down here among the masses bitter folk abound. Heaven forbid you should, in your new, reduced, circumstances, come across one of these, such as an actual nurse, fireman or teacher. Because they harbour grudges, especially when they consider the real and actual decrepitude of Irish social services, and how that dreadful condition relates inextricably to the way your buddies in the corporate sector have been favoured by your other buddies in the political elite, all with your blessing! They might take matters into their own hands, or worse still, feet. For some of these people wear heavy safety-boots you know, though in the case of teachers it’s more likely to be a sturdy type of brogue, recommended more by affordability than anyone’s sense of fashion. And as for nurses, forget the image of soft-shod femininity; these are true daughters of the Irish soil, raised via full-blooded field games of a gaelic stripe, in which the art of picking out a soft spot is honed to such a degree a target would end up begging for a steel toecap! I can picture the inevitable outcome of such an encounter Mr. Hewson (I’m tempted to call you PH for short, as I like the caustic connotation,) and I tremble for you, for in this image you are bent-double, in shocked contemplation of your own footwear, freshly vomit-splattered and no longer the handiwork of Milanese artisans fed on caviar and honey, but just a pair of Penny’s finest! Even when the pain has passed you would be left with the long term impact on your musical career, as no longer could you pose as a passable imitation of a rock ‘n roller, seeing as your range would henceforth never dip below that typified by Gladys Knight’s back catalogue. (p.s. Regarding your recent releases might I suggest U2’s next one IS a collection of Gladys Knight covers?!)

As you can see, my concern for your health and safety outweighs my contempt for your persona, such that I can well imagine how you may have drifted unwittingly towards dangerous waters. I mean, if my day job involved looking down on thousands as they bay for my vocal output I too might be convinced millions more breathlessly await my every word while figuratively stretching for my immaculately-distressed hem. Indeed, we might say the God-complex is an occupational hazard for all in your rightly-celebrated field, though in your own particular case it meshes with an unfortunate set of personal traits. So please look on this as a wake-up call, an intervention, if you will. We Ordinary Folk, or The Great Unwashed as we are surely called in your soirees, off-mic, will be more than happy if we never hear from you again, either in a professional capacity or as self-appointed philosopher, wit and social commentator! It’s a bitter pill to swallow I know, but luckily I have developed a re-enforcement which should help. It involves a good old fashioned record player, which I’m sure you have in your possession, as I cannot think of you as anything other than the type of individual who masturbates to his own music, played on every format known to man. Do you have such an item, nestled perhaps beside the life-size replica of your own genitalia, fashioned from a pair of malteasers and a chocolate finger and covered in beaten gold? You do! Excellent, then you may proceed with the re-enforcement; it involves you taking the orifice through which you addressed The Observer, and countless periodicals before it, and placing it firmly on the centre pillar of said device, the one which usually engages the hole in a record. I cannot overstate the importance of pressure in this manoeuver, there’s no point faffing about, you need to make like a fan of ‘60s funk, and break out the Blood Sweat & Tears! At this juncture I would paraphrase The Black Panthers who, like you, built a public platform solely on the basis of Looking Really Cool In Shades, and tell you to turn, baby, turn!

Yours,

                    A Non-Friend.
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FRAMING THE TREATY DEBATE: THE IRISH TIMES PLAYS DIRTY

I’ve never thought much of the editorial line the Irish Times takes on political or economic affairs, but I have always appreciated its cultural weight and the quality of its journalists. If you have a passion for the arts, concerns about medical developments, an interest in education or a curiosity about science, I’ve always felt the Times is the place to go, for you will not only find all those interests catered for, you will also get the whole bundle wrapped up in some of the best writing around. The reason I dismiss its coverage of politics and economics is down to the pronounced rightwing slant it invariably takes, but this is hardly unusual for an Irish newspaper, indeed it’s the norm, at least when we are talking about papers that concern themselves with matters more substantial than the doings of ‘celebs’ or sportsmen. So I don’t begrudge the Times its political stance per se, as only a child would seriously expect any newspaper to be entirely objective or completely fair at all times, human nature and commercial considerations being what they are. I would even acknowledge that the Times, while it courts the same constituency as the Irish Examiner and the Independent, is alone in going beyond that core constituency. By this I mean the way it supplements our cultural diversity, such as it is, by selling itself as the paper of the southern Protestant. This gives the I.T. a distinct place within Irish public life because, even as it stands firmly in the mainstream on most matters, you sense it pays more attention than its rivals to marginal views. I’d wager that you’re more likely to find a dissenter, be it a trade unionist, a feminist, a voluntary worker or a leftist of some hue among the pages of the Irish Times than either of its broadsheet rivals. Though I wouldn’t say that about the paper in the period since the debate around the fiscal treaty began, for the Irish Times is plainly feeling the pressure of getting the ‘yes’ vote mobilised before May 31, if we are to go by the way its objective standards are slipping.

As long ago as March the first, Critical Media Review highlighted an instance of barefaced censorship, when the Times deliberately excluded the thoughts of Paul Murphy, an MEP no less, on the treaty, and in its edition of April 27th I have found two more items which indicate that a very definite pro-treaty line is being enforced, with no thought for objectivity at all. As I’ve said, I don’t expect any paper to be completely fair at all times, but at an historic moment when the prospects of every man, woman and child in the country is in play, to say nothing of future generations, I must cry foul when I see evidence that this paper has crossed a line which separates robust comment from bad old fashioned propaganda.

To support my case I’ll start with an item by Miriam Lord headed ‘Steaming Murphy Calls the Kettle Black.’ And yes, it is THAT Murphy who is being singled out for special treatment ,again. What is it that had the MEP so heated? I’ll let Ms. Lord explain; he had taken ‘…a dim view of remarks made by Xavier Debrun of the IMF, who rejected the notion that Europe’s new stability treaty would destroy the Irish economy.’ So far, so factual, for the MEP had indeed been complaining that; “the IMF is an unelected and unaccountable body that should not interfere with the democratic process in Ireland.” It’s when the Times reporter, normally one of the sharpest and most entertaining journalists in the country, is commentating rather than just reporting however, that she lets her subjectivity run riot. Here’s a flavour of Lord’s spin, for spin it is; ‘A classic case of the pot calling the kettle black,’ ‘[because Murphy] replaced Joe Higgins when he was elected to the Dail and wasn’t even Joe’s sub in the last European Parliament election,’ and to finish off she proclaims the following, ‘Unelected MEP criticises unelected IMF man. It’s a funny old world.’

It is indeed, but I wasn’t laughing when I read those words, and noticed the distortion created. Miss Lord has spun the facts into a travesty of the truth, and she’s far too intelligent not to know it. Let me lay the case out properly. There is absolutely no equivalence between Paul Murphy’s status and that of any mere functionary, even one from the IMF. When Joe Higgins passed his European seat over, in full accordance with the electoral laws of the EU, he also handed on his own democratic legitimacy, complete and intact. And if this reporter or her employers truly have an issue with the law in this regard isn’t it odd that her readers haven’t heard so before now, perhaps when one of the MEPs from the parties of the right passed on their own seats? As for her claim that Paul Murphy ‘wasn’t even Joe’s sub,’ this borders on the libellous. Joe Higgins, like every other MEP had, on election, the option of nominating a replacement from a panel of names, and Paul Murphy was in fact named on the Higgins panel, from the start. So when you work through this nasty little item Miriam Lord’s implicit accusation, that Paul Murphy MEP is illegitimate as a public representative, simply collapses. But where does that nastiness come from in the first place? And I don’t just mean Ms. Lord’s, I’m including the hostility the Irish Times showed him back in March. I think I’ve put my finger on it. In recent days Mr. Murphy has forced the government to remove pro-treaty speeches from its so-called ‘information’ website, and for months now he has been turning in strong performances in the European Parliament itself. Seems to me the Irish Times has identified this individual as a clear and present danger to the Yes campaign, and both the paper and its star reporter have been trying to take him out, by fair means or foul. And another of its big guns are involved in the next item I want to deal with, but this one is aimed, not at an individual but a whole party, Sinn Fein.

Martyn Turner draws cartoons for the Irish Times, so he may not strictly count as a journalist, but his artistic talent, his wit, and his eye for a subject’s vulnerable points certainly make him a media force to be reckoned with. But before I even get to his attack on Sinn Fein I should explain my own feelings about that party. Like a lot of people from the anti house tax campaign (CAHWT), the Socialist Party and the ULA, I am a little uneasy about being in the same camp as SF on the fiscal treaty, or any other issue. It’s not just their sanitised version of past behaviour I can’t accept, but the opportunism they embody now. For instance, they sat on the fence over the household charge because they saw the potentials of a ‘respectability dividend,’ and here we are now, with the Shinners coming over all antiestablishment regarding the fiscal treaty. But having said all that, I firmly believe they were victimised by the Irish Times when it came to that by now famous leaflet, the one that used economists who actually advocate a ‘yes,’ in an effort to win votes for the NO side.

Someone, somewhere within the bowels of party HQ saw this as a clever move, I don’t know why, but the consensus is that it was a typical Irish political ‘stroke.’ But the Times goes beyond this consensus by saying, through Turner’s cartoon; ‘The Provos [are] now murdering the truth.” Is this fair comment, even if we acknowledge that most people, unlike SF itself, accept the use of the word ‘Provo’? Let’s think this through. Sinn Fein didn’t actually misquote the words of Colm McCarthy, Karl Whelan or Seamus Coffey, even though these men were indeed quoted out of context. So it’s simply going too far to accuse Sinn Fein of ‘homicide of the facts,’ and to magnify the accusation by publishing Martyn Turner’s graphics on the front of the April 27th edition, rather than the centre pages, as usual. The worst that can be said of the leaflet is that it commits a moral misdemeanour against three individuals. And that’s the least that can be said about the paper’s own position, for by highlighting this ‘offence,’ such as it is, the Times is consciously misdirecting public attention from government actions which, by comparison, may be called a near-felony against the nation.

I’ve already alluded to the issue, involving a supposedly impartial website launched by Enda Kenny, Lucinda Creighton and Eamon Gilmore, which turned out to be no less than a propaganda platform for the Yes side, and I say this behaviour counts as a near-felony because it flagrantly breeched the Supreme Court’s McKenna ruling. The people were being indoctrinated, not informed, and at their own expense, by the use of money which is explicitly intended to present a rounded, objective view of the issue. And the Irish Times hasn’t had a word to say about this. Yes, the matter has been reported, but nobody, not Martyn Turner, not Miriam Lord, nor anyone else from the paper has given a view of the ethics, or lack of them. Vincent Browne had plenty to say when he challenged Leo Varadkar about it, even the Indo drew attention by featuring a Bruce Arnold piece(April 30th) which was scathing about the coalition’s illegality. Why not the self-proclaimed ‘paper of record’? It can only be down to a hypocritical stance, which allows the Irish Times to distort comments and exaggerate wrongdoing on the No side, while turning a blind eye to anything done in the name of the Yes Campaign. And when you judge this with an eye to the moralising tone of Miriam Lord’s report and Mrtyn Turner’s graphic, only three words suffice; Pot, Kettle, Black.

DEFINING LABOUR’S WAY

I’m feeling slightly troubled at the moment. Not as concerned as Labour Party councillor Jimmy O’Shaughnessy maybe, but troubled nonetheless. I’ll get back to my concerns in due course, but first, what’s eating Jimmy O’Shaughnessy? Well, he’s out there in Wicklow, watching his leaders betray working people and it’s apparently becoming too much for him. In fact, he wants us to know that, if the plan to charge householders for their own water meters goes ahead, he’s off, because as he puts it himself “this is not what the Labour Party stand for!” Which begs the question, what does that party stand for? Jobs, reform and fairness; at least that’s what their 2011 manifesto declared. And when we look at their record since getting into, or should I say close to, power, those three concepts have indeed come into play. Just not in the way people wanted or had a right to expect.

Take Joanna Tuffy for example. As an opposition T.D. she was one of Labour’s Young Turks, always ready to shoot from the hip, as she did when then-minister John Gormley first proposed charging householders, for domestic water. This was in December 2009 and, though she didn’t think to mention that citizens always have bought-and-paid for water through existing taxes, she let the Green One have it with both barrels; the proposal was “a retrograde step,” it was poorly costed, offered nothing to cure our leaking pipes, made a “market commodity” of a fundamental necessity and, above all else, acted as a regressive levy “since such charges don’t take account of people’s ability to pay.” Yet now that the bold Joanna is in government she has nothing to say against Gormley’s replacement at Environment, Phil Hogan, and his measure, which is considerably worse than that proposed back then. How do we explain this? Miss Tuffy is focused on jobs alright, but in this case only the jobs that might be open to her in years to come, if she shuts up and toes the party line. And who can blame her, seeing the plumb positions other one-time militants like Burton and Rabbitte have bagged? Of course people thought her party were talking about jobs for the hundreds of thousands with no work at all, but hey, that’s Labour’s way!

And then there’s reform; and you have to say the reform that came over Ruari Quinn when he bagged his own prize position as Minister for Education was dazzling. Before the election he was signing pledges for the students, saying there would be no increase in third level fees, if he had anything to do with it. Now the votes have been counted and the dust is settled, Minister Quinn is more than prepared to bring in these higher education charges himself. Or course people thought his party meant reforms to an unjust system, not another measure to keep the disadvantaged in their place, but hey, that’s Labour’s way!

But when we come to the matter of fairness, only the words and actions of the leader himself, Eamon Gilmore, suffice to demonstrate the Labour Party’s unique stance. He it was who proclaimed, loud and often, that his party offered a real alternative to ‘Frankfurt’s Way.’ And who can forget how, in the last days of campaigning, he emphasised the fact with finger-wagging sincerity? “First and foremost” the troika deal had to be radically overhauled, not just because it undermined our democracy and made a mockery of justice, but because it was simply unworkable. This was surely a thinly-disguised ultimatum meant for the ears of Enda Kenny, a solemn declaration that, should Kenny fail to renegotiate the ‘bailout,’ and substantially do so, all coalition deals would be off. But as it happened Enda need not have worried, for In Gilmore’s world solemn declarations are merely bargaining points. Now the coalition dealing is done, with Eamon left as both Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs , our smug Taoiseach can baldly state that “no negotiations” have taken place to reflect public opinion, win a modicum of justice from the troika, or make the bailout workable from an Irish perspective. And what has Gilmore got to say? Not a word, now that he has settled for the big job(s), the big salary, and the big pension(s) to come. Well you can’t say fairer than that, can you?! Of course, people thought Labour would act as a brake on Fine Gael’s neo-lib instincts and the troika’s abuses, not play the role of enabler for those instincts and abuses, but hey, that’s Labour’s way!

All in all, you can see why the likes of Councillor O’Shaughnessy might be concerned about this type of thing, but what’s troubling me? Frankly, the way I was so taken by his comments I immediately posted them on Facebook, and called him “a man of principle” too! Now I’m troubled by reflecting on Labour people in general, and seeing their tendency to make big statements and follow them up with cynical actions. Is Jimmy O’Shaughnessy an exception, or will he follow the general rule, sooner or later? I just can’t shake the feeling that, like Tuffy, Quinn and Gilmore, O’Shaughnessy is playing a role, not showing his true character. I hate to think so, but after all, that’s Labour’s way!