Taking the “dum(b)” out of Referendum

The democratic process in Ireland has shown a new face, a new vigour, a renewed belief in the power of One-ness. We should now, in gratitude, turn to face the rising Sun of change.

In the lead-up to the Referendum, I had struggled with how I might vote. Neither “Yes” nor “No” in itself would or could solve the problems we face. The public debate and commentary was too rigid but I sensed an energy and a movement that was hard to pin down. The same old self-satisfied and smug posturings seemed to dominate the media. For the first time in my life, I deliberately abstained from voting, because even though my sympathies were with the “Yes” campaign I found the public arguments too simplistic and I feared that some of the allegedly “feminist” rhetoric was too phobic towards men. I do not believe in the mythology of virgin birth so how could I support a cause that was apparently excluding men from the solution as well as implicitly vilifying them as being part of the cause?

I am Irish, I live in Ireland and we have just voted in a referendum that has shattered the old political structures and brought world-wide attention to the Emerald Isle. Nostalgia for an old romantic view of Ireland has been dispersed by a wind of change and a new confident electorate is emerging from the chrysalis of romantic Celtic dreams. I needn’t have worried, This convincing win for the “Yes” vote was not carried by the old politics no matter how hard they may try to convince themselves. This battle for a new Ireland was not planned nor fought in the old “smoke-filled” environment of political parties. It was fought hand-to-hand, doorstep-to-doorstep, street-by-street with courage and conviction by people who must be trusted.

The impetus came from a groundswell of grass-roots activism, dominated by younger people and by some new women and men who were not shackled by the old political system or personal religious convictions, but who brought a vigorous and vibrant force to bear. “A terrible beauty is born” (W.B.Yeats). It has brought activism to the fore and relegated old fashioned revisionist politics to “crying the catch cries of the clown”. It has gone further than the now-hackneyed phrase of “new politics” dared to go.

The democratic process in Ireland has shown a new face, a new vigour, a renewed belief in the power of One-ness. We should now, in gratitude, turn to face the rising Sun of change.

Eurovision 2017 as a barometer of change?

I have grown up with “the Eurovision” as an annual “festival of entertainment” in my life. In the early days of the competition I revelled in the performances that were rooted in the European cultures from which they sprang. A kaleidoscope of the shared cultures that made Europe unstable yet inspiring of a dream – a Europe of the People. It inspired me and encouraged me to walk and hitch-hike around the Continent of Europe, meeting other young people and their families in youth hostels or on campsites, struggling to understand yet hungry for the stimulation of the diverse cultures of Europe. Over the years I have begun to despair at the way that commercialism, dumbing-down, and the force-feeding of a homogenised, skin-deep world of entertainment and communication has become the unchallenged norm.

That is why, in anticipation, I was dreading what the 2017 Eurovision contest might bring. The first semi-final round last Tuesday night was awful in my view. Monotonously pallid, and pallidly monotonous. Of the 32 countries in the Eurovision finals, the following sang in their first or home language and performed in relation to their own cultures: Portugal, Hungary, Belarus, Italy, France. The other 27 sang in English. Of those only the U.K., Australia, and Ireland speak English as a national language.

The second semi-final on Thursday night was an improvement. But the banalities of the Irish commentators wheeled into action in our radio and television studios left me sickened and depressed. They seem forever to tug the forelock in remembrance of their Irish mentors in scoffing at “foreignors and their strange ways” and generally promoting and living off a John Bull attitude that “wogs begin at Calais”. I felt sorry for Brendan Walsh, the Irish contestant, a young man with potential but one who, in my opinion, was squeezed into the mould of a “remember Johnny Logan” campaign. I am sure that when he develops his own persona he will succeed. But not when he is being used to promote and recall the dreams of former glories still treasured by those who were behind the scenes for former winners.

Tonight’s result, however, with Portugal’s Salvador Sobral “ag snámh in aghaidh an easa” (swimming against the flow), celebrating his victory with his sister, Luisa, and stating that music must be reclaimed for the people, for their cultures and for their emotions, was an indicator, a straw in the wind, a wind of change that hopefully will sweep across Europe when the U.K. leaves the EU or wakes up from its dream of empire and comes to its senses. Let’s get back to our roots and start planning now.

I have met too many Irish people abroad in my forty years of overseas work, whose way of surviving was snail-like, carrying their home and their culture on their backs, using the life-buoys of Irish pubs to help them survive in an artificially secure environment. Their insecurity showed in their apparent unwillingness to participate in other cultures for fear of losing their own identity. The world is a big place and we must learn to open ourselves to the anxieties and insecurities that it brings. No roots, no growth! In an interesting way I found this Eurovision encouraging for the future of Europe. Those people who are not afraid of change and of difference cast a vote tonight. The theme of this years event was “Celebrate Diversity”! What diversity? There is still a lot of work to be done, in Eurovision, in the EU, and here at home in Ireland.

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.



#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.




A Fairy-tale for NOW

Long ago, and far away, in the time before Time began, there was a beautiful lush-green valley hidden in the folds of a range of lofty, snow-capped mountains under a deep, blue sky. Think of it as being There, and we are Here. That was Then, and this is Now.

In that valley, resting below the mountain tops, is a peaceful Village. It isn’t sleepy though. In fact, it is far from sleepy, it is very active. The grown-ups in that village remember all they have been taught by their Teachers in the local school, at the centre of the village, near the Temple and make sure that their children learn what they have learned. The men and women of that village work hard, each according to their abilities, and their special individual gifts and skills are respected by their neighbours. In return for that respect, services are given and exchanged. The interlocking web of their lives moves smoothly in a cycle of birth, growing, harvesting and saving. Sometimes that wheel of life trundles peacefully along. Other times, the road of life is rough and the turning of the wheel is difficult. The villagers celebrate their joys and mourn their sorrows together, as One.

As we visit the Village today, the Sun is shining and the gentle breeze has a cold edge to it, carried down from the mountain snows. A little Girl, with a basket swinging on her arm, makes her way out to the fields to collect herbs and wild fruit for the family meal. As she works her way along the hedgerow surrounding the big field she is aware of the Spirit of Nature around her. She smiles at the little Robin who dropped down to check who is on his patch. Rustles in the undergrowth tell her that the other living creatures around her are busily going about their daily chores also.

So absorbed is she in her work, she does not notice the big, black Cloud gathering overhead until the Sun disappears and she feels the splashes of the first big drops of rain. Looking about her she recognises the old Oak tree in the middle of the field and runs to it. She is just in time. She stands panting next to the tree, with her basket on the ground next to her, and looking up sees the branches of the tree swaying hither and thither as the rain begins to pour down steadily. She settles down to wait for it to pass. She tastes some of her harvest. A few berries go nicely with the hazelnuts, she thinks. She waits for the rain to clear away. She waits. And waits.

Then she notices a Man plodding steadily along the road that lies beside the field. He is bent under the weight of the load of heavy boughs he is carrying and doesn’t see her until she calls out.

“Father, Father”.

The man stops and looks around. “Daughter, what are you doing there, out in the rain, you’ll get wet and we will worry about you”.

Looking thoughtfully at her Father the little Girl says: “But I’m not getting wet. I am quite dry.”

And then adds: “Why am I not getting wet, Father?”

Her Father, with a slight smile on his weathered face, says: “Oh, Daughter, you are always asking questions when the answers should be clear to you. Haven’t I already told you about your Grandfather’s grandfather. He and others from this village planted trees in this field so that they and their children and their children’s children to the ninth generation would reap the benefits in the times that were to come. He tended his tree carefully, watering it when it was dry and protecting it from the snows and ice of winter with the straw he had gathered. That is why that Tree stands proudly now in this field and protects you from the rain. You should be thankful to your grandfather and his children,” adding, with a chuckle, “including me, your Father. Now don’t delay, run home as soon as the shower goes.”

He picks up his load and he continues his journey. The little Girl looks thoughtfully about her, feeling the care and love of her Ancestors about her.

The rain lightens and the Sun struggles occasionally to peer through gaps in the Cloud. As the little Girl checks again so see if she might leave her shelter, she notices an Old Man coming down the road towards the field. He picks his way carefully between the puddles of water, using his long staff to balance himself. The little Girl recognises him as a Teacher.

She calls out: “Please, Sir, why am I not getting wet even though it’s raining?”

The Teacher stops, looks around and sees the little Girl under the tree. He think for a while, and then, in a gentle voice, says: “Why do you ask me, little Girl? Surely you can see that you are standing under a big tree and the wind and rain are coming from the other side of the tree. That means, the tree and its beautiful foliage, are blocking the rain from reaching you. Isn’t that simple, now?”

To which the little Girl replies, “Thank you, Teacher”. The Teacher carries on his way, carrying his learning lightly, and picking his way carefully.

The little Girl checks her basket and sees that she has collected enough to add to the dinner. Just as she was about to go to the road and run home, she thinks out loud: “Why, that’s strange, Father and the Teacher gave me different answers! How can there be two different answers to the same question?”

A puzzled frown comes over her face as she ponders.

“That’s easy, they forgot the third answer”.

She turns quickly but sees no one there. The wind blows, the branches above her sprinkle more rain. She looks around the back of the tree but sees nothing.

“You won’t find the third answer there, little Girl”.

Then she laughs out loud. “Oh, it’s you, great Oak. I thought you were sleeping”.

“I was”, replies a deep, resonous voice, and again raindrops fall as the Oak tosses its head with impatience. “I was, until you woke me up asking your questions.”

“Well, what is this third answer you mentioned, great Oak?”

The Tree lets out a deep sigh, and seems to relax a little as the Sun comes out again. The Robin hops by, twittering “just checking, just checking, don’t mind me” as it peeks worriedly under every leaf and twig.

“Little Girl, just think now. One answer you got depended upon Cuimhne, or Memory, upon things that happened in the Past. The second answer depended upon Léargas, or Analysis, of the things that are happening Now. Each of those answers gives a satisfactory answer to the same question and together they both help you understand what is happening. But the third answer is based upon Fís, or Vision, and completes the picture. Cuimhne, Léargas, agus Fís. Memory, Analysis, and Vision are required when you want to solve a problem. Never forget that. Now, away home with you. The rain has cleared and I wish to resume my thinking”. The little Girl, who is polite and never rude to grown-ups, at least not out loud, mutters to herself – “Resume your sleep, Old Friend”- and laughs!

She doesn’t need to wait for a reply for there is none, just a gently soughing of wind through the branches, or perhaps it is a gentle sigh. The Robin, hops past again, tut-tutting busily. She runs home to share the delicacies she has collected and to share her story with her family. The valley rests. The great mountains stand guard. The Wheel turns. Now.