Ireland’s history and relationship with Europe

The Europe that subsequently developed from those raw beginnings, and the way that we Irish related to those changes tells a lot, about the European leaders and about the Irish people.

I wish people would differentiate between Europe and the EU. The EU has been hijacked from its origins as a Coal and Steel Community after the Second World War. It was originally supported by idealists on the one hand, who thought that developing trade ties and prosperity between the warring factions of Europe would be preferable to regular wars in Europe. On the other hand it was supported by the US as a way of exporting their trade surplus and developing American hegemony in Europe as their global role developed. The EU is now a prosletiser for the neoliberal agenda spanning the US and Europe and undermining democracy on both sides of the Atlantic as well as extending its economic and trade tentacles into the Pacific Rim area. Global institutions, both corporate businesses and national governments, wield power in an increasingly undemocratic way. Can nothing stop this behemoth from destroying our world?
Let me address this reply to Nóirín Gannon who responded to my original Facebook comment. I deduced from her reply to my comment that she is equally as aware as I am of Ireland’s history and relationship with Europe. But there was something in her comments that resonated with me and deserved more than a quick Facebook reply.
Let me recap a few points and please forgive me in advance, because I am not as polite and forgiving as most of you, my readers. I also need to explain for the sake of those who do not know me, that I was born, raised, and educated in Ireland, roughly half my ancestry on each side of the family coming from Gaelic Ireland and the other from Central and Eastern Europe.
dreamstime_m_33348151I am now 76 and I have lived through WW2 (as a young child when sugar sprinkled on bread and butter was a real treat), through the Cold War with the threat of nuclear destruction on a scale that was difficult to comprehend, through the emergence of the European Coal and Steel Community  (ECSC) when as a teenager and young adult with pen friends in Germany, Greece and other European countries fanning my curiosity about the world around me, then through EEC and more recently the EU. Back in 1964, I attended a Conference of European Teachers in Milan as an Irish representative. We were young, enthusiastic and undoubtedly idealistic in our expectations for Europe as a result of what we and our families had experienced in Europe from WW1, through the rise of Fascism in Europe, through WW2, to the promise of a new Europe. I remember vividly to this day my reaction to one speaker after another speaking of a Common Market and the future of Europe as it was then unfolding. I declared to my colleagues “Europe must be for everyone, from barmaid to bishop, from chamber maid to chancellor. We want a Europe of the People”.
The Europe that subsequently developed from those raw beginnings, and the way that we Irish related to those changes tells a lot, about the European leaders and about the Irish people.
“Nobody understands the workings of the EU”. I agree. But the situation was not like that in the “Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy”, the famous trilogy (in five parts!) by Douglas Adams where the application for planning permission for the removal of planet Earth to make room for a hyperspace bypass was displayed for one million years on a remote planet in the Andromeda galaxy that no earthling bothered to consult. We, however, in the planning stages of the new Europe had newspapers, we had radio, we had commentators, we had politicians, who collectively behaved like gombeen businessmen, interested only in what they could get out of doing a deal. The Fianna Fail government under Jack Lynch, aided and abetted by Foreign Minister Paddy Hillery, demanded a better deal for Irish farmers, dumping Irish language and culture prerogatives that would have proudly proclaimed our heritage in Europe extending back over a thousand years and which was expected from us by the Brussels bureaucracy at the time. No, we got a deal for farmers which has led to the destruction of rural Ireland, the industrialisation of farming in favour of big agricultural interests and the destruction of rural Ireland. The sniff of grants from Europe was already enough to beguile a population that had lost respect for itself and who had an acne-ed version of its cultural identity.
You are also right, Nóirín, about the way that a craven national government allowed itself to be bullied by Brussels and whose members were too arrogant, too ignorant, too lacking in courage, to stand up for our country and our people. European bureaucrats, bankers, financiers and other low-life forms of capitalism were responsible for what happened, but we had already sealed our fate over decades by dumping malfunctioning TDs and other officials that might cause problems at home on Europe as Commissioners and high ranking officials. We, as a country have behaved irresponsibly over the years, fighting to suck up as much as we could in localised grants and aid to pave boreens, and build commercial principalities, tossing brown envelopes to local officials and big wigs to get their support. Meanwhile, no one in the population cried “stop”, because too many lived in hope that their turn would come to suck on the hind tit of the European pig.
pollution and waste

The other ills you list, the butter mountains, the beef mountains, the spilt milk, and the crocodile tears of regret, were all part of that reality. A reality of greed, a dream of easy money, a non-functioning democracy raised and perverted on a distorted nationalism and a bowdlerised version of religion. Anyone who dared to question what was happening, was vilified and ignored. Having been actively involved in left wing socialist politics in Ireland, in the sixties and seventies, I found myself unable to get work here during the recession of the 1980s. I was fortunate to find work on development aid projects overseas, in Indonesia, in Africa, in the Middle East, and from 1989 onwards, in East Germany, Poland and Russia. But at that stage, international capitalism and the new religion of neoliberal economics had infiltrated the EU. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US and the EU conspired to deconstruct the countries of the former Soviet Union so that they would never recover to threaten them again. The IMF blocked the renewal of my contract in Russia because, as they alleged, I was “anti-American”.

dreamstime_s_46142943I had worked hard in the Russian Oblast of Nizhny Novgorod to develop rural consultancy centres for the new private Russian farmers who were being given private farms in a kind of mad lottery, with skeletons of rusted agricultural machinery, no access to banks or financial aid, and land that was so polluted by abusive use of fertilisers, that in some areas, the use of fertiliser had to be banned and in others up to a metre of top soil had to be removed because of chemical contamination. My work was appreciated by the Russians, however, and I was acceptable to them as one who had their interests at heart, as a result of which I was appointed Team Leader in Moscow of the Russian Bureau for Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS), working with Russian and European experts to prepare the annual request for an EU development aid programme until that was again subverted by the oligarchs and the EU bureaucrats to provide aid to Yeltsin in his exploitation and domination of Russia. And I had to move on!

six-of-pentaclesIt is not the sole fault of the EU bureaucracy, that global corporations stole our oil and gas from us in Ireland, that farmers had to pour their milk down drains, that our government polluted our country by breaking environmental regulations, that our political leaders conspired with our tormentors to prostitute our country to foreign investors and vulture funds. As Connolly said, “the great seem great because we are on our knees”. It is we though who must arise from our knees. It is we who must take responsibility for our actions. It is we who must now question the authority that was delegated by us to our leaders and we must get answers and an account for their stewardship. It is we who must demand that our self-styled left wing leaders today put their petty differences to one side, that they subdue their lust for small rewards and inflated egos, that they lead us and stand with us.
We live in interesting times. We have inherited a political, economic and social structure that is no longer fit for purpose. Admittedly we have gained some benefit in the form of dreamstime_s_29860986technical, scientific, medical and other developments but we have paid a heavy price for these. Our society has been reduced to an aggregation of isolated, lonely, dispossessed, sick, angry and alienated individuals that can no longer provide community support for one another. Our politicians and other corporate and institutional leaders have carved up the system so that they can continue to make their fortunes and control a country that is now in hock to foreign investors, whilst our young people are exported to provide fodder for other countries to exploit. Yes, again, you are right, Nóirín, the EU is a corrupt and corrupting institution. It must change or it will collapse. Yet, despite that, there are still people in Ireland and in Europe who do care, who do see what has to be done, and who will, I believe, win through eventually. But it is going to be a bumby ride. And as we tread that pot-holed road to the future, together, we must ensure that we remain in step. We must differentiate between dreams and reality, between friends and betrayers, between fact and fiction. Yes, these are certainly interesting times. May we be blessed rather than cursed by the way we live them.
day 1 sun in the glade

Are you one of the 70 million?

Well, if you are one of those lucky ones, how much do you know about the land of your ancestors?

The Irish seem to pop up in the most unlikely places. It has been estimated that there are approximately 70 million people worldwide of Irish extraction. Because Ireland is a trading nation but a small country, this has led to periods of emigration in search of work whenever the global economy took a downturn. Let’s not worry too much about the precise figures but I know from my own experience working abroad that there are many people around the world who feel a kinship with Ireland because they believe they have at least one ancestor from the Emerald Isle.

dreamstime_m_58494533Well, if you are one of those lucky ones, how much do you know about the land of your ancestors? We all inherit traits from our ancestors and if you have Irish ancestors can you recognise anything particularly “Irish” in your make-up? Well, to do that youwill need to learn more about Ireland and its people. And I am not limiting that to those people who now, today, live in Ireland. I am thinking back over the long history of the country. That is why I am building my web site slowly but with the specific purpose of presenting information from the old manuscripts, dating back over 1,000 years.

It has been said that history is written by the conquerors after a war, but mythology is the “people’s” history. Ireland is lucky in that it has a very rich heritage of these stories, originally part of our oral tradition, where stories about the heroic past were told around camp fires with the purpose of emphasising and imparting knowledge down the generations about what it meant to be Irish, how our ancestors saw their lives, the principles by which they organised their society. Mythology is a record of what is important in the spirit of the people, their beliefs, their values, their aspirations.

Ireland was the third country in the region that we now call “Europe”, to develop a written story of their country, the other two being the Romans and the Greeks. Those three countries preserved the old oral tradition in the written records of the manuscripts. From them we learn about the Heroic Age of Ireland, of Cúchulainn and the Red Branch Warriors, of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna, and of the various tribal leaders who have been recorded in those ancient tales. But those manuscripts were written in Old Irish and in Latin. Many of the manuscripts have been translated into English and other modern European languages but they have been the preserve of scholars mostly and it has not been easy for ordinary folk to access accurate information or even read those tales.

That is why I am embarking on developing a web site with a focus on presenting those tales in an easily accessible medium, with commentaries to explain the background to each. Even more importantly, I want to show how nearly 2,000 years ago, on a small island which was then deemed to be at the edge of the known world, had developed a sophisticated society, with a unique legal system, and its own way of resolving social and political issues that still have relevance today. One example of that is the story of “The Law of the Innocents”.

In 691 A.D. the Abbot of the Monastery at Iona, organised a Synod in Birr, Co. Offaly to which tribal and other leaders from the region now described as Ireland and the United Kingdom were invited. Remember that in those days these two islands did not have a system of national and regional governments as we have today but were organised on the basis of tribes and clans. These tribes were regularly at war with one another over a variety of issues. Nevertheless over a thousand representatives attended the Synod as is recorded on manuscripts of the time. They passed a law outlawing violence against women. Those attending the Synod contributed to a fund to enforce that Law because there was no central authority to do so. This was done over 1,000 years before the “Declaration of the rights of Man and of the Citizen” was passed by France’s National Constituent Assembly in August 1789, or before Thomas Paine published his “Rights of Man” in which he explored the idea that government based on true justice should support not only mankind’s natural rights (life, liberty, free speech, freedom of conscience) but also its civil rights (relating to security and protection).

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Standing stones

Other stories from the ancient manuscripts describe how the Irish people organised their society, how they coped with spiritual issues as well as those temporal ones. For instance, in the time of the Druids, we read that there were  comprehensive rules governing society. The Druid was similar to the Shaman in other indigenous cultures. They had the power to step between tribal armies on the point of war and impose a cessation of hostilities while they adjudicated on the merits of each side. Even before the introduction of paper in Europe, it appears that the Druids had memory sticks long before the computer industry stumbled on the idea. Yes, they used memory sticks as an aide memoire for the oral tradition of remembering and recalling the ancestral stories! I am at present preparing that story with details about how you may use their technique with investing in computer peripherals!

For those reasons above, I am keen to investigate how relevant the learning from those ancient times is for us today. The web site is aimed at the general reader and will provide resources in response to requests. I hope that you will find information there to whet your appetite enough to learn more about your Irish ancestry, and even if you have no Irish ancestry, I am sure that you will find something there to interest you.

Learning Curve!

Who can Ireland know, who only Ireland knows?

I have been experiencing difficulties in developing my web site, <www.wolflander.ie>, because I didn’t really plan it sufficiently in advance, and, like Topsy, “it just grow’d”! I had a fairly good idea of what I wanted to do, but as it developed, I began to find difficulties in achieving the layout and the content that I had planned. This was partly because the hosting program that provides all the gizmos and bits and pieces that I needed was apparently designed for people with a different mind-set to me. That’s not meant as a criticism of them but more of me. I had underestimated the amount of planning that it needed. I am now trying to rectify that and will transfer my web site to WordPress as soon as I have done this course. I hope that I can link the two, web site and blog, together more easily and thereby create a consistent and recognisable image.

For that reason I am now following a WordPress course in “Learning the Fundaments” of blogging and generally writing on line. They send me a small task each day and I must try to implement it following their guidelines. This should help me to achieve what I am aiming for,  by giving me a more structured approach. It will also allow me to test the capabities of WordPress before I jump ship! So, here goes.

My name is Tony Pratschke. I was born and reared in Ireland and I am aware of how deeply the culture of Ireland has shaped me. As you might guess from my surname, my father and his line of ancestors came from Central Europe, mainly from what is now the Czech Republic, Austria, and Hungary, but the fact that his mother was Irish is masked by her marriage name. More about that later. On my mother’s side, her family name was Pumphry, which also has connections with France and the Channel Islands, but most of her ancestors were O’Gorman, O’Sullivan, and some other Irish clans that I have yet to verify.

You may have noticed that I wrote that I am aware of the influence of Irish culture on me. That may seem to some a strange statement. But it is accurate. You see, with a surname like “Pratschke” most people who don’t know me, assume that I am Central European. Even when they have heard my accent, a few have remarked upon my ability to speak English! And have treated me like a foreignor as a result. Because of that, I have grown up like a stranger in my own country and much of my experience of Ireland has come to me in the way that it comes to other foreignors who have come to Ireland. But having been born and reared in Ireland, attended school and university here, as well as working here for many years before then living abroad for extended periods working on projects, I have also had the privilege of experiencing Ireland, as it were, from the inside out. That has the components of a unique viewpoint. As a poet once wrote: “Who can England know, who only England knows?”. I would echo that and say: “Who can Ireland know, who only Ireland knows?” I hope to expand on these aspects in later blogs.

Poverty in life and poverty of spirit

I find that this article (The Upsetting Reality Of Modern Day Poverty.uploaded in an earlier Facebook  piece)) gives a clear , even bleak, introduction to what poverty means to many people. It set me thinking about poverty in Ireland and about the other problems we face and prompted me to push my ideas a bit further and try to clarify them.

I am speaking here of a poverty of thinking as well as a poverty of circumstances. I wish that those who pontificate about their respect for electoral mandates and their dedication to working for the people who elected them, will read this and then recalibrate the urgency required in forming a new government. You asked for a mandate to govern and implement your policies. No party has reached the line to implement their mandate so it is doubtful that your mandate now extends that far because a coalition, an inter-party, a partnership, or any other arrangement will of necessity limit your mandate. Perhaps it would be wise to temporarily interpret your mandate from your share of the electorate as instructing you to negotiate a part for yourselves and them in whatever arrangement is eventually adopted. Any expectations greater than that is pushing it and would appear somewhat arrogant or chancing your arm.

Don’t keep telling us that “the numbers” dictate that it has to be EITHER a Fine Gael OR a Fianna Fáil minority government supported by a few tame independents whom the winner hopes that they can buy off. That is wishful thinking. The “numbers” you speak of are just like squiggles and blobs on a page, like a Rorschach test, and of themselves they have little or no meaning, other than that the electorate is as confused as you are. We are all in new territory. And that requires working with a new map. Any psychologist using the Rorschach (or Inkblot) Test will tell you that a candidate, asked to describe what they see in the random shape of blobs in the picture, will project the contents of their unconscious mind onto the chaos they see and organise it into a picture that they recognise and feel comfortable with based upon the information in their unconscious mind (See note #1 below). Like seeing meaningful shapes in the random pattern of clouds in the sky or of tea leaves on a bottom of a cup. Other observers may decipher different shapes but of you are right – from your own viewpoint.

Our devoted public representatives, suckled for generations on the spiteful milk of unkindness curdled by begrudgery, fraternal strife, clientalism, and political inbreeding, and at the same time remembering with satisfaction the successes that were gained on different occasions in the past, are now looking hopefully into the chaos of the new parliamentary galaxy of stars, and are scanning hopefully the fortunes and recipes of yesterday. They are seeing only the patterns that worked for them in the past and that once helped them to hold on to power and achieve their goals. The Independents, the Alliances, and the embrionic Parties in today’s Dáil are behaving no differently.

four-of-cupsHas none of them the vision, the imagination, and the character to seize the moment? Is there no one with the courage to break new ground, to show us a new vision of society? A revolutionary vision that will respond to what the electorate is yearning for, a better Ireland, a fairer and more egalitarian Ireland that will treat all the children of Caitlín Ní Uallacháin, both young and old, equally. An Ireland which, though small and struggling, has the heart, the creativity, and the spirit to do better, even to taking its place among the Nations of the Earth?

We have done it before and we can do it again. Digging deep and remembering the richness that lies at the roots of our history, we know that the people of this island once played a crucial role when, together with the Greeks and Romans, they rescued Europe from the Dark Ages. As was pointed out in a recent documentary on RTÉ 1 which was presented by former President Mary McAleese, that period in our history is more appreciated and remembered by continental Europeans today than it is recognised by Irish people. At various stages over the centuries since then, our country has contributed in many and varied ways to the development of a unique culture and community that has not baulked at taking and holding a world view, and is now ranked as number one for our peace-keeping efforts under the United Nations. We have gained recognition from those who valued what our ancestors both recent and ancient have contributed on the world stage. In the past week, a documentary on RTÉ, described eloquently how the 1916 Rising had provided the inspiration for the people of India and Pakistan to fight for and assert their countries’ independence from the British Empire. A respect shown by the people of India and Pakistan which is considerably more real and appreciated by them than is our awareness of their gratitude.

We are at a strengthpoint now where we need to form a government. We need a period of stability but not the static equilibrium of a ladder leaning against a wall. We need the dynamic stability and balance of a body moving swiftly and adapting with awareness, intelligence, and co-ordination to meet our changing circumstances, like a thoroughbred horse under a skilful jockey, like a skier on an icy downhill run, or perhaps more aptly, like a bare-footed person picking their terrified way over red-hot coals!

To achieve that, both we and our representatives must move out of our respective comfort zones; we must inhabit the visions of our youthfulness and not linger with the consoling dreams of old age. Poverty of vision and lack of courage are not the coinage for the journey we must undertake. And undertake it, we must.



 

References

#1: If you are not familiar with the Rorschach Test, you might like to try a fun version available online at Rorschach (or Inkblot) Test (click here).  I hasten to add that the clinical version is for serious use, but don’t worry about this one. Nevertheless, if you understand how the test operates then you will have a clear understanding of what I mean above. These were my test results:

Test Results:

Congratulations! At a 49% “Sickness Quotient”, you’re almost well-adjusted.

Detailed Diagnosis

  • Interpersonal Insights
    You have trouble being friendly to others, especially people who hate your guts and want to hurt you. You complain about everything regardless of what it is. You wouldn’t be happy even if you were hit by a new car.
  • Job Performance & Attitude
    Your attitude towards work is that you could watch others do it all day long. Although your work can upon occasion be very good, remember that even monkeys can be trained to do what you do. And they don’t call in sick.
  • Personality Insight
    Your personal motto is “If you can’t make them think, make them wonder.” Trust us – you’ve succeeded beyond your wildest dreams.

 

 

 

The Upsetting Reality Of Modern Day Poverty.

I find that this article (#1 below) gives a clear , even bleak, introduction to what poverty means to many people. I wish that those who pontificate about their respect for electoral mandates and their dedication to working for the people who elected them, will read this and then realise the urgency required in forming a new government.

kathleen kerridge

This is a post about a subject very close to home.  My home.  It is about politicians who wouldn’t know poverty if it chewed on their overpaid arses.

It’s about, in part, Jamie Oliver.

Now, to put this out there, I love Jamie.  For years and years, I idolised the man.  He taught me to cook, when I could barely operate a Pot Noodle and we lived off Smash (dehydrated potatoes) and pasta (we even overcooked that).  I would watch all his shows and learn, slowly, from the TV.  In less than a year, I was able to cook a three course meal for 15 people.  Gourmet became easy and I was soon laughing my way through 3 meat roasts and cooked-from-scratch curries.  I owe my skill in the kitchen to Jamie.  I have a lot to thank him for.

Jamie Oliver was good to watch, when I had money.  Before…

View original post 1,702 more words

Into the Wilderness: A Story for our Times.

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Crab Nebula

When societies developed their own Creation myths they went to enormous lengths to perpetuate them and build their lives around then, giving them and their leaders a stable reality rather than question the Myth and thereby undermine their Dreamworld. We in Ireland have been living in a Dreamworld that is largely a sustaining stew of old fashioned capitalist theories, disabling colonial memories, with a tad of jaded Celtic Twilight to spice it up. It is a Story that was fed to us with our mother’s milk. It is difficult to break from that story when one has been reared on it. It is a landscape littered with signs, such as “Here be dragons” and “Thou shalt not” because for so long our ancestors lived in a society where Authority, the right to exercise Power, resided in either London or Rome. It provokes great anxiety in society when the basis for that Dream is challenged. It is on a par with the mythic fear of the ancient Celtic warrior king who, when asked by Alexander the Great, was there nothing that the Celts feared, admitted after a pause, that he sometimes feared that the sky would fall on him. For each of us to question ourselves about our existence and about our way of behaving is a challenge and for most it appears to be too threatening to even imagine. “Better to brave the ills we have, than fly to other that we know not of”.

Many people who are disadvantaged by their role in prevailing Dream of Reality feel a strong need to rebel. They have two main options. The first option is to act out their rebellion while maintaining a role in the Dream World. This satisfies their need for psychic security but enables them to vent their anger. It is a futile approach but has its compensations. In the words of MacBeth:

        “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.”
Many will dismiss this description as a poetic boreen, a literary device, but strangely it is an explanation that is being confirmed by modern science that is telling us that there are such things as parallel realities, that we unknowingly construct our own reality. To update that analysis, merely read the ranting and raving, the aggression, the braggadocio and the mock-heroics of the contributions on social media and imagine “Just hold me back or I will…” preceding the statements.
The alternative option they have is to create a new Story, a new Dreamworld, a new way of looking at our world and at our roles in that alternative story. The creation of that new Story is a collective work, It must start with each of us taking responsibility for our own thoughts as well as our own actions. We must then develop a new Story that describes the kind of story in which we wish to live our lives, how we should relate to one another, how we should organise our society. It will not be developed by shouting invective and obscenities at those who oppose us, by vilifying those who try to offer a thread to the new fabric of our Dreamworld. It will require us to produce a story that integrates all (and I deliberatelyRodin - The Thinker emphasise ALL) our citizens into the one shared world of the story. It will be an act of real revolution. To bring this home, just read again the Story that the leaders of the 1916 Rising spoke about and upon which they based their insurrection. The Proclamaton of 1916 is a good summary. They were often ridiculed by those whose lives were embedded in a different Story. Their Story has been twisted and turned since the Civil War. Over recent years, the central characters and settings in the Story have been changed from “Society”, “Commmunity” and their relationship to the “Citizen”  to “the Economy” and the role of the “Consumer/Customer”. Each story line built a different interpretation of what one should do, what one should think, how one should behave, and fundamentally of Who one is. In recent weeks, candidates in the general election produced manisfestoes, ostensibly promoting their versions of the Story, or of selected parts of it, in which we should live and the roles availbable to us.
The results of the election have, as it were, drawn back a part of the veil that hid the mechanics of the system, the Ghost in the Machine. The electorate is beginning to show signs that they are worried and do not like what they see. The political actors in the lead roles are dashing about, trying to repair the rift in the curtain, and pretending that nothing has really changed. But things are changed, changed utterly, and what is being laid bare is far from beautiful. The threat of the ugliness we see is such that it may terrify some, but hopefully it will give courage to others to ask “if not, why not”. As Rudyard Kipling once wrote:
“I keep six honest serving men
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who”
Before it is too late, perhaps our political leaders would introduce us to their honest, serving people and share with us their views. What’s the Story, lads? Why do you want to be our leaders? When are you going to let us share in the work of building our counrty? How will we do that together? Where will that lead us? Who am I going to be in the new Story?
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Enlightened voter (Homo selectus)

Do not expect them to answer these questions now because it is clear that they are very busy doing “grown-up things” and we should wait to be told. We don’t need to wait. We have told them what we want. Let us examine, and even more importantly, let the media, acting on our behalf, help us to interpret the answers implied by their posturing,  positioning, and pretence. Would that be too much to ask? Or do the media prefer the perilous security of their roles in the present Story to navigating the wilderness where we might together constuct a New Story for a Risen People? Aye, there’s the Rub!

The times and the winds, they are a-changing

Our political party leaders met in a free-for-all, that would have had them thrown out of any self-respecting pub in Ireland.

dreamstime_m_58494533On Thursday night (11th February, 2016)I watched a debacular political sketch on TV3 that was worthy of ranking with the most offensive cartoons ever printed in Punch magazine in the early 20th century deriding the Irish people as simian and savage. Our political party leaders met in a free-for-all, that would have had them thrown out of any self-respecting pub in Ireland. I learned nothing new from the politicians with one small exception, but I learned a lot about the political orientation of the political experts and self-proclaimed political elite now scavenging the back lanes of politics. It wasn’t the fault of TV3 or of their two presenters who appeared shell-shocked by their inability to cope with the job on hand, apart from the evidence that they did not know how to control the mob antics they faced. It led me to reflect on something that I have been mulling over for some time. I am disgusted and dismayed by the regularly provocative refrains from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Labour alluding to Sinn Féin’s earlier links with militant republicanism. I am surprised, but then again, not really surprised, that no one has as yet commented on the following.

  1. Gerry Adams and his colleagues succeeded in doing what no other politician in the Southern three-and-a-bit green fields of Erin ever tried to do. They “bit on the bullet” (my apologies for such a relevant analogy), got their supporters and erstwhile freedom fighters/guerrillas/terrorists to put their arms and military equipment beyond use, to sit down with their enemies and begin a peace process. I say “begin” because I believe that there is a lot yet to be done, as there is in most peace processes negotiated internationally and legalistically.
  2. But we seem to overlook the elephantine figure next to the TV in the sitting room of Irish families today and that is, Sinn Féin is not the only Irish political institution to come from a blood-stained past.
  3. Fine Gael’s origins were in a proto-fascist militaristic tradition, with some of their leaders having fought for Ireland’s independence, with one of their favourite founders leading and carrying out assassinations and murders not dissimilar to those we now condemn in other current world conflict.
  4. Fianna Fáil’s origins were in militant republicanism, equally murderous, equally divisive, and equally spiritually squalid.
  5. The Labour Party grew out of the early Labour and Trade Union Movement assisted by the Citizen’s Army, another militant movement, that used open violence.
  6. Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael went on to cry havoc on Irish society with a civil war that destroyed families, and communities, and individuals and perverted the growth of normal politics in Ireland right up to today. Many Irish trade unions have supported the Labour Party unquestioningly for decades with the result that it is now sucking on  the dried tits of the present neoliberal establishment, and there is hardly a murmur from the mouths of many trade union leaders or their members.
Since I first qualified to vote as a young man, I have never voted for either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, and neither will I do so now until their current respective leaderships apologise to one another and to the Irish people for the damage and killings and distortions their founders and ancestors imposed on our country and on our political institutions. We demanded that the British Government and Establishment do us that honour and lapped it up when the British Prime Minister and the Queen bowed to our history. Why not expect the same now from the descendents and inheritors of our own internal war and destruction? I have been a Socialist in the European and International tradition since my younger days, and spent some years with the Irish Labour Party, but they have deserted the little socialism they ever had when their earlier leaders subjected their principles to ecclesiastical nihil obstats, and they morphed into political opportunists.
But there is another, equally important dimension to this history. Last November, I launched a low-key project from my web site (www.wolflander.ie), calling on the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to institute a parallel peace process at citizen and community level. In the past 4 months, almost 1,000 people, both Arab and Israeli, have registered on the web site and shared their approval and support for my project which I called the Adomnán Project in recognition of the achievement of Adomnán, an Abbot of the Iona Monastery. In 697 A.D., long before there were international Rights of Man, of Woman, or of Child, Adomnán brought tribal and religious leaders together from what we now call the UK and Ireland, for a peace synod in Birr, Co. Offaly. There they passed the “Law of the Innocents”, protecting women from family and social violence, as well as protecting all non-combatants in tribal wars. This happened in Ireland, a small island on the edge of the world then known to the tribes of Europe, including Greece and Rome, and regarded by them as a barbarian place outside of the civilisation they knew as the Roman Empire. The intervention worked, because the law was supported at local levels and backed by the tribal leaders and was implemented by the tribal and religious leaders.
Whilst I accept the need for international negotiated legal treaties and processes at the level of governments and international institutions to provide a framework for the growth of peace, these are not sufficient in themselves to bring peace and reconciliation at the level of the citizen and the community. A parallel process of community reconciliation is also required and funds must be found to prepare individuals and families and communities to come to terms with the differences between them and to begin together on the journey to a peaceful existence together. This  is still true of the peace process in Northern Ireland and much work still needs to be done there at various levels of the society and the administration.
I believe now, and I admit that it has taken me some time to reach this decision, that a Sinn Fein party in Government in the Republic of Ireland could herald a new era in Irish politics. In words adapted from Samuel Beckett, I suggest that “we can’t go on as we are, we must go on, we will go on”. Our ancestors are now calling to us on the winds of change. It is time that we responded and invited them to sit and warm themselves by our fires and help us to repair our links with an Ireland that we have all but lost. For this reason, I believe that the Irish electorate must examine and evaluate the parties that are vying for our support in this election from a new perspective. The TV debate last Thursday night followed by the various media comments and judgments since then, have led me to the conclusion that a Sinn Fein led government after the next general election has the potential to herald a new age in  Irish politics and should be given that opportunity. The current political establishment with its divisive Civil War wounds and hatreds appears to be fanning the flames of anger to an extent that will blind us to that possibility and merely re-inforce the current fault lines in our society. The choice will be ours. And only ours.

A Count-down to (S)laughter

Now that the count-down to our General Election is getting closer, I would like to appeal to all those angry people on social media who are advocating either spoiling their votes, or plumping, that is, just using their vote for number 1 and no others. I know what it is like to feel that Irish politics is just a charade and changes nothing. If you doubt me cast your mind back over the past century. I have also been tempted to spoil my vote, but I believe that democracy is necessary even though big improvements are needed in the system to make it appropriate and usable in today’s world. [Ed: Now that’s enough of the po-faced introduction! Get on with the message.]

There is a better way and it is a little game that I invented for my own amusement back in the 1970s. It is designed to keep the spirit of democracy alive whilst giving a stiffly raised finger to those who would subvert it for their own sakes. I think of it as:

The Bored Game of Noble Knights a-Pricking on the Plain People of Ireland
A fantastical mediaeval Age of Austerity board game without the gory bits, nor a maiden in distress, and not even a board!

Introduction:

First of all, you must remember that unless your vote is for one of the major parties, under our system of Proportional Representation, you may as well vote on toilet paper, because your vote will have no effect after the first count and you will be the one left with shit on your hand. In a situation such as we face today in Ireland, however, where there is very likely not going to be a winning party with a clear working majority, it is important to vote right down the list if you are to have any effect on the outcome. That is a difficult task, when you look at the list of candidates and see just a bunch of arse holes smiling back at you. This game counteracts the nausea you would feel.

Equipment required:

All you need is a legal voter’s card and a borrowed pencil. The game may also be played with the voter’s cards of the deceased, the incapacitated, and the deranged (but these will require a handbag of disguises as provided by the agents of the registered contesting political parties). For the final stages of the game, a flask of soup, a bottle of wine or a crate of beer, and any “thou” beside you giggling in the wilderness having made the sandwiches for you, will do.

A strategic approach:

So if you are like me, and you are pessimistic about the future of Irish politics, then try this strategy. It means that you can at least have fun throughout the election campaign, right up to the end of the entire count, And you will also have had the satisfaction of seeing where your vote trickles down … and if enough voters participate in this game, we could make the eventual winners sweat long enough to make them think again. Of course, if all of the great unwashed electorate participated then we would have a Dáil that might elect a Government that could terrify the Bejaysus out of  the EU and have trembling despots on their knees crying for forgiveness. It is a simple game for simple minds and simple natures. It is for the childlike amongst us who know that the Emperor was always starkers.

Rules:

This game is played in real time. The game starts once the election is called by the Great Panjandrum himself. During the run up to the polling day, you must listen assiduously to every election broadcast and make notes. Collect all election literature dumped in your mailbox. That information will be a source of invaluable information and ribald comment later (see notes below about the night of the count). If you can catch the departing canvasser(s) before they depart and engage them in pointless debate for at least half an hour, you gain “Lustre Points” (calling them “Bluster points” might tarnish the mediaeval atmosphere of the game).

On Voting Day dress well for the outing. Greet all the one-eyed party minions who have been bluffed into canvassing those entering the building, with a gentle but knowing smile and a wink. Then, bestill your trembling heart as you identify yourself to the officials who will provide you with the voting paper. Don’t panic about the pencil, that will be tied to the voting booth. Neither should you forget about the pencil being tied to the polling booth, because in your haste to escape there would be nothing so embarrassing as dragging the booth after you as leave. Then, take a deep breath, contain your laughter, and just vote Number 1 for the candidate on the ballot paper that you believe will be THE FIRST TO BE ELIMINATED, then continue with the next most likely to be eliminated, and so on down (or is it up?) the list, leaving the last candidate standing with no vote (it won’t be needed, and neither probably will they). Do not write or depict your anti-establishment views by scribbles or cartoons, because that will disqualify you. Then fold the ballot paper neatly like every other sucker (sorry) voter, but knowing that you are actually a revolutionary in disguise, smile at the returning officer, at his/her assistant, at any Guard hanging around, and pop your voting paper in the box. You may,  at this stage, wish to try a little visualisation, such as the ballot box going up in flames when your ballot hits the bin, but do so only if you are sure that you won’t give the game away. As you leave, tell all the party ToaDies outside that you gave them a vote, and smile, damn you, smile gently. Hysterical laughing at what you have done will destroy it all. Then go home and treat yourself to your favourite treat and wait for the early results to come in. Be prepared for a Long Knight at the Count. The latter title is again merely to justify using the word “mediaeval” in the title of the game. It may also give someone the opportunity to remark later about the Long Count of the Night.

This part of the game can also be expanded into an Election Count All Night Party if you persuade your friends to join you for a Party of Parties.  Those participating in the Party might like to prepare victory / defeat speeches in advance, based upon the party literature mentioned above, to bring some light relief to otherwise banal solemnities. This could even rival Eurovision parties as the last resort of contrarians! Do take care, though, and make sure that all sharp objects are removed before you start and that all drinking vessels are of plastic. You may have a closet Party Member attending and we don’t want to upset them unnecessarily , do we!  I do not wish to encourage gambling in an Age of Austerity, but if enough people participated, then the various Turf Accountants in the business might be tempted to give odds. (Note to the unitiated: Turf Accountants are not bog-trotters counting sods. The latter are the current tally-men for the political elite and the former are those who never lose in the long term. And neither is a qualified accountant – or, at least, admits to it).

Above all, have fun. It will be your only chance to have fun at the expense of those whose expenses are guaranteed by making fun of you. And may the Seven Signatories turn over in their graves joining in the laughter.