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Catalonia, too often misunderstood

By James Falconer

After spending a period of time in central Spain I started to become increasingly aware of a persistent mentality and felt it was time to make note its aspects. The view of many Spaniards, with respect to Catalonian identity and possible independence, appears to lack much-needed historical context. When questioned about why Catalonia has a feeling of autonomy, there is common perception that Franco moved a lot of industry there during his dictatorship, thus giving them their sense of autonomy. However, tensions between the Spanish centralist state and Catalonia are centuries old. This simplistic view is one that seems to persist in many circles in Spain. It dismisses so much of the history that its blinkered view should be classed as a popular misconception. It is worth appreciating the full gamete of historical complexities in order to attain a deeper understanding of the situation.

The region of Catalonia was, and is, one of the most distinct of the Iberian Peninsula. In 988 A.D. the counties of the region of Catalonia broke from the Frankish Empire and became attached as a self-governing principality under the Counts of Barcelona. In 1137, Catalonia united with Aragon and became the main base for Aragon’s naval power and expansionism, which spread to Valencia, the Balearic islands, Sardinia, Sicily, Naples, and even as far as Athens for a short time. This led to the development of a distinct Catalan culture under the auspices of the Counts of Barcelona. However, as a result of this unity with Aragon it would gradually become subsumed and later dominated, by Castile.

Not many know that Christopher Columbus actually spoke Catalan. Spain has always hidden this by maintaining that he was Genoese. Castile had monopolized trade links with America and used the port of Seville to keep commerce out of Catalonia. It wasn’t until the 18th c that the trade blocks were lifted from Catalonia. In 1640, King of Spain Felipe IV forced the Catalan peasantry to give food and shelter to 20,000 Spanish soldiers when they were at war with France. To say that these soldiers abused their hospitality would be an understatement. They robbed, raped and laid waste to properties throughout Catalonia. In 1641 there was a revolt by an “army of harvesters”. These peasant bands mobilized and sacked many garrisons before entering Barcelona disguised as harvesters. Once inside, this latter day Trojan horse managed to rout the city garrison, after a brief, bloody struggle. Thus it was that a rebellion, infused by hostility to the government in Madrid and their army, which had metamorphosed into a social revolution against a coercive and unrepresentative authority. Moreover, the local aristocracy in Catalonia had become increasingly disaffected by Madrid’s constant demands for more money.

At the beginning of the Catalan revolt, which had its roots in the continuing presence of Castilian soldiers prosecuting Spain´s Thirty Years War against France, the 94th president of Catalonia Pau Claris (later poisoned by Spanish agents), managed to turn the social unrest into a political cause and proclaimed a republic in 1641. This was done under the protection of France and independent of the crown of Aragon. However, in 1652 a Spanish offensive captured Barcelona and brought the Catalan capital under Spanish influence again. At the turn of the 18th c there was a power struggle between the Hapsburgs of Austria and the Bourbons of France due to Charles II’s (King of Spain) ill health and inability to create an heir to the throne. The golden allure of unique opportunity to inherit the vast Spanish Empire must have been immensely attractive to rival powers.

In 1701, the centralizing Bourbon dynasty, represented by Philip V, became King of Spain. This new shift in power culminated in a fourteen-year war, which became known as the War of the Spanish Succession. What is the relevance of this internecine jousting to Catalonia? Well, the Principality of Catalonia, which previously fell under the Crown of Aragon, officially became part of Spain on 11th of September 1714. This occurred only after the fall of Barcelona. After been let down by their fair-weather allies (the English), Catalan troops capitulated. Subsequently, Philip V enacted the Nueva Planta decrees, which outlawed all the key Catalan political institutions and rights. The Catalan administration was then incorporated into Castile as a province. Philip V abolished the ancient privileges of all Spain’s medieval kingdoms, with the exception of the Basque Country.

The turbulent history between Spain and Catalonia has gone through many different phases. In the 18th and 19th centuries there were a number of modest attempts at nation building by the Spanish. These overtures were made whilst the Spanish Empire was essentially crumbling. In the late 18th c Catalonia experienced a rise in commercial activity when the Bourbons ended Castile’s trade monopoly with Spain’s American colonies. The shockwaves generated by the Napoleonic occupation and subsequent war in the early 19th c rocked the superstructure of Catalonia and precipitated a lengthy period of political and economic disorder. In the latter half of the 19th c Catalonia managed to generate the first industrial revolution in southern Europe. Furthermore, a Catalan renaissance reinvigorated the identification of Catalonia’s inhabitants with their perceived common history.

This helped to modernize the Catalan language and the regional culture became immersed in Catalan literature, music, and theatre. Catalan was now a language at the very centre of everyday Catalan life. This cultural renaissance can be compared to the Gaelic Revival in late 19th c Ireland. As in Catalonia, the Irish language was revived through the energetic work of an organization called the Gaelic League. It wanted to fight back against the seemingly ineluctable erosion of Irish culture, language, and traditional sports. The League also wanted to reintroduce the language back into schools. The leadership of the League insisted that it stay apolitical and in so doing the movement initially attracted significant support from Protestants and Unionists. However, given its obvious political overtones, there were differences between Nationalists and Unionists. League members played a prominent role in the 1916 Rising (Irish revolution against British rule) and in the subsequent growth of Sinn Féin (‘We Ourselves’) and the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Just like the imperial crown of England suppressed the Irish language through its Penal Laws, the Castilian crown and lawmakers systemically tried to eliminate Catalan by introducing Spanish as the language of instruction. This was part of a gargantuan effort to centralize the state in Madrid, introduce large-scale Castilianisation and propagate the idea of a common Spanish identity. Through its administration, laws, and education the Spanish language was enforced upon Catalonia, just like the English language was in Ireland. Successive Spanish administrations ordered decree after decree in order to curtail the use of Catalan. In 1881, it was banned on legal documents; in 1896 it was banned in public meetings and on the telephone, and in 1900 it was banned from the theatre. After the bloody Spanish Civil War, 1936-39, the Fascist dictator General Franco prohibited the use of all regional languages and identity-establishing symbols. This was a harsh attempt to finally solve the perceived problem of Spain’s diversity through brutal homogenization. One of the worst victims of this policy was Catalonia. Throughout the long winter of Franco’s dictatorship, which lasted from 1939-75, the use of the Catalan language was forbidden throughout all sectors of society, was banned from the sphere of education, and forcefully ousted by Castilian.

Another noteworthy point is that, during the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona underwent the greatest anarchist experiment of all time. Due to the harsh economic conditions workers and peasants faced, the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism were embraced in the belief that all the workers would be stronger in one grand union. Moreover, they believed that the strength of the union could achieve more than just reforms, but could also be the catalyst for the overthrow of the capitalist system. The Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) was an industrial union formed in 1910 in Barcelona. It grew so rapidly that by the outbreak of the Civil War it had almost 2 million members. The workers instantaneous mobilization in the face of Franco’s coup was a testament to the CNT and its non-allegiance to a rigid hierarchical structure, which could have impeded the ability to react expediently. The workers mobilized and formed militias, which became the units of the revolutionary army. One of the best-known columns was that of Durruti.

Some Spaniards feel aggrieved that Franco moved industry to Catalonia during his dictatorship and they believe that this relocation helped to foster a feeling of autonomy there. However, if we consider the fractious history between Catalonia and Spain, and Franco’s consistent and outright repression of the region, we may come to a better understanding. Was the industry moved there out of love and respect for Catalonia? No. Based on evidence at hand, one cannot believe that, unless of course one is unequivocally biased. Franco did, however, manage to relocate a large amount of Spanish speakers to the region. One can infer that by firstly outlawing and suppressing the local language, and then strategically moving Spanish industry and a Spanish-speaking workforce in tandem to Catalonia, the Franco dictatorship was as imperialist as it was tyrannical, dictatorial, and despotic. One may argue to the contrary and try to maintain that Franco was well intentioned. Personally though, I prefer to err on the side of skepticism.

From my experience Spanish people generally can’t seem to have a serious discussion about, or countenance the possibility of, a part of Spain becoming independent. The emotions run high and it is quickly dismissed as “It is Spain, Catalonia is Spain”. Spanish nationalism appears to be fractious and reactionary when confronted by other nationalist sentiments. When Franco died in 1975, Spain found itself going down a democratic road. So, how would the political elite handle the challenges of the various regional, cultural, and linguistic identities? A new constitution was proposed and realised. The necessity for compromise was paramount as wounds were still open from the Civil War and the subsequent dictatorship. However, the partition of Spain wasn’t open for debate. To safeguard against any nascent separatism the new government tried to bring as many political parties to the table as possible. The outcome of the muddled inception of the new Spanish state was nothing but puffs of ambiguity. The reality is that the Spanish state purported to recognize the existence of several nationalities within its boundaries, but failed to recognize or attest to the differences between them.

This problem persists today, as Madrid continues to deny Catalans acknowledgment as a distinct entity. In November 2014, when Catalan politicians were vocal in their intention to hold a referendum on independence (the neo-fascist Popular Party wouldn’t grant them permission), the Spanish government deployed tanks and squadrons of Guardia Civil (Franco’s men) to Catalonia. The Falangist yoke and arrows never went away, you know.

A thought for the still suffering

By James Falconer

‘How’s your Salmon, baby?’ asked Séamus, dipping a chunky wedge into his tartar dip. ‘Si, muy bien. Mmm, it’s so good. A friend said I should try the fish in Ireland.’ It was Carolina’s first time in Ireland. She’d been living in Madrid for the past three years doing her specialisation. Séamus, who went to university in Galway, was both excited and nervous to be back in the city of the tribes. He was glad she liked the salmon. Séamus really wanted her to enjoy Ireland.

The hotel was immaculate and the food delicious. The restaurant had pretty wooden floors and the walls decorated with warm colours. A plasma TV was affixed to the wall to the left of the bar. Along the bar were a row of brown leather high stools where two men sat enjoying a pint. They’d already had a good gawk at Carolina. They both wore football shirts, though by the look of them, it had been a while since they’d been anywhere near a football. Séamus noticed that they were both clad in different colour Liverpool shirts. ‘Home and away’, he thought. They were loud, and one spoke with a cockney accent. ‘You know it, mate’, he exclaimed.

Séamus and Carolina continued munching on their dinner. After a day spent hitch hiking around the winding roads of west County Clare, with nothing to eat apart from a few bags of salted crisps and some contused fruit, they….were…starving. The delightful food dispelled much of the nearby mawkishness. At one point Carolina enquired, ‘What language do speak’? Just as Séamus smiled, and whispered ‘English’, the door opened and an old man shuffled in. He used a walking stick and had a sombre look about him. He pulled up a stool at the bar and looked morosely at the two football fans. They gave him a quick glance while still talking, ‘The Reds ‘re goin’ to do it tonight, mate.’

After scanning the restaurant the old man spoke to Carolina and Séamus. Carolina smiled at him and said, ‘Excuse me?’ He muttered something again. This time she got up and went over to him. Carolina loved the elderly, particularly old men. ‘Are yis on holiday?’ enquired the man. ‘Hmm, I suppose we are. Séamus…’ said Carolina, pointing at her boyfriend…‘studied here, and I’m from Colombia.’ The man extended his hand and said ‘By God, you’re a beautiful looking girl.’ Carolina smiled over at Séamus, still eating his dinner, and then back at the man, who now had his hand on her shoulder.

‘What’s your name?’ asked Carolina. ‘Paddy, Paddy’s my name… I want to order some dinner’ he said to the barman, without warning. ‘Sorry, I’m afraid the kitchen’s closed.’ Séamus appeared in front of Paddy, ‘How are ya doing, nice to meet you.’ ‘Jaysus, she’s a great girl. You’d better mind her well.’ The volume on the TV intensified and the two football fans became animated. They shuffled around for a better view of the match, ‘C’mon you Reds.’

Paddy looked at the floor, ‘Jaysus, I’m starving. I have to go and get something to ate.’ Séamus felt sorry for him. He was drunk, sad and using a walking stick. ‘C’mon Paddy, I’ll take you to another place.’ Carolina beamed and said, ‘Goodbye, Paddy. Take care.’ ‘Ahh, you’re a fine lassie. The best of luck to ya.’ Carloina moved closer to Séamus, ‘I’ll get nice cake and some green tea. I may even watch some of this game!’ ‘Okay, I’ll see you soon.’ They kissed.

As they left the bar Paddy had a bit of a stumble, but he hung on tight to Séamus’ arm. ‘You’re alright, Paddy. Take your time now.’ ‘Ahh, you’re a grand lad. Where are you from?’ asked Paddy. ‘I’m from County Meath, Paddy. What about yourself?’ ‘Meath ha, I’ll tell ya, fierce tough men over that way. I’m from Mayo meself.’ Something troubled Séamus. It was Paddy’s accent. It sounded more northern than Mayo.

They went out onto the street and passed through the sentinel shroud of cigarette smoke, an omnipresent miasma, which along with the redoubtable pariahs generating it, was a reliable marker of licenced premises across the land. ‘Are you a smoker, Paddy?’ ‘Ha? Not anymore. I’m off them near thirty years. Me father, Lord have mercy on him, told me that if I didn’t give them up before I was fifty, they’d kill me. So, I gave up when I was forty-nine, and I’m still alive!’ ‘Fair play to you, Paddy. You’re as fit as a fiddle’. As they crossed the street Paddy clung on to Séamus tighter. ‘Uffff’ thought Séamus, ‘He could do with a wash.’

They entered a bar which, Séamus remembered, had an all-day menu. A band was setting up in the front bar, ‘C’mon Paddy, we’ll go down the back. It’s more like a restaurant.’ Séamus barely recognised the place. ‘Have a seat here, Paddy.’ Séamus approached the bar, ‘Excuse me, where’s the menu?’ ‘No menu’ grunted the young fella from behind the bar. ‘Not even a sandwich?’ The barman had gone. ‘Ignorant prick’ muttered Séamus. He turned around and had a good look at the place. He realised that it had turned into a kind of sports bar with awful mainstream music. However, it was neither a sports bar nor a disco bar, but a compromise of sorts. It had TV screens showing sport accompanied by loud music which blared over any commentary. Paddy sat gazing into the crowd. He looked out of place amongst the young party goers. Séamus shouted, ‘It seems I’ve been away too long, Paddy. They’ve changed everything; there isn’t a sandwich in the place.’ Paddy looked at the ground and said ‘Ahhh, fuck it anyway. I’m tired now. Jaysus, I think I’m going to die.’ ‘Paddy, relax; we’re all going to die. We’ll get you something to eat soon. C’mon let’s go.’

As they left the pub Séamus thought ‘Paddy’s a lot more pissed than I first thought.’ This realisation only meant that he was even more committed to looking after his new friend. Paddy was a slim, likeable man, with a charming face. ‘What line of work were you in, Paddy?’ ‘Well now, I spent a lot of time in Fermanagh. I was in the cattle trade.’ ‘Ahh, I thought your accent sounded more northern than Mayo. C’mon Paddy, there’s another hotel across the road.’

Paddy took hold of Séamus’ hand and they crossed the road again, ‘Ahh, you’re a great young fella. I hope one day I can return the favour. Where are you from?’ ‘County Meath, Paddy, don’t you remember?’ ‘I do, I do indeed, tough men, fierce tough men.’ ‘Look Paddy, there’s plenty of people eating in here. We’ll get you fixed up now.’ Upon entry to the hotel restaurant they were confronted by a waiter. ‘Excuse me; I’m afraid if you don’t remove this gentleman from the premises, I’ll have to call the Guards.’ ‘What are you talking about?’ asked Séamus. ‘This man has been in here on more than one occasion today. Ordering food and drink with no money to pay for it.’ Paddy became cantankerous ‘Ahh, it’s only a fuckin’ kip of a place anyway.’ ‘You see, this is the kind of language he uses.’ The waiter quickly looked around, lowered his voice, and leaned in close, ‘When asked to leave earlier, your friend here threatened to take a shit on the floor.’ Séamus burst out laughing, looked at Paddy and said, ‘Right Paddy, let’s go.’

Two women were stood outside the hotel smoking, ‘Sure, I’ve got two brothers in Australia, and one in Canada. Sure, there’s nothing here for them. Mammy’s hoping they’ll all be home for the Christmas…’ Séamus walked Paddy down the street a little. ‘Paddy, did you really threaten to shit on the floor?’ ‘Not at all, yer man got it wrong. I must have asked him for the toilet and when he didn’t let me, I may have made that proposal. Sure we all say things we don’t mean.’ ‘Indeed we do, Paddy. What about your family?’ Paddy’s eyes were tired, and filled with sadness. ‘Ah, the wife’s dead this years. I’ve two daughters, a son, and a rake of grandchildren above in Mayo.’ ‘Paddy, would you not go back home and see them.’ ‘Ah, I will soon enough.’ I’ve to eat something first. I’m starving with the hunger.’ Séamus smiled, ‘Look, there’s a small supermarket up the street. C’mon, I’ll get you a sandwich. What d’ya want in your sandwich, Paddy?’ They took off up the street; people were good to give way on account of Paddy’s instability. ‘Jaysus’, said Paddy, ‘I’d love a bit of ham in it.’ ‘Ham it is, Paddy.’

They stood outside the supermarket. ‘Paddy, where are you going to sleep tonight?’ ‘Jaysus, I’ve no idea. I’ll find an auld corner somewhere.’ ‘Ahh, Paddy, how about I put you in a taxi home?’ ‘Sure, I haven’t a penny to me name.’ ‘Yeah, but you can pay the driver when you get home. You probably have a few bob around the house, or one of your children can help you out?’ Paddy placed his hand on his stomach, ‘Jaysus, did you hear my belly rumbling?’

Séamus began walking idly around the shop thinking about Carolina, ‘she’s waiting for me in the hotel.’ He thought again, ‘oh, sure she has the little Liverpool supports club to keep her company, great.’ He wanted to take her out to some traditional music and show her Galway at night. Carolina, a doctor specialising in neurology, had a lot of patience. She worked predominantly with stroke victims, most of whom were elderly men. ‘She might wonder where I’ve got to’, he thought. When Séamus took his place in the queue he couldn’t see Paddy standing at the door anymore. After quickly paying for the sandwich and a bottle of water, he dashed outside. Paddy had wandered down the street. ‘Paddy, are you okay?’ ‘Jaysus, I’m not. I need to sit down. I think I’m going to die.’ Séamus took hold of his arm and motioned him in the direction of Eyre Square. ‘There’s a bench across here, and Paddy, you’re not going to die…yet. Sure you’ve to eat this sandwich first!’

They both sat on a bench in the square. ‘Where are you from?’ asked Paddy. Séamus laughed, ‘I’m from Meath, Paddy. You must remember!’ ‘I do, FIERCE tough men over that way. Jaysus, hope I’ll be able to return the favour someday.’ ‘Ahh, Paddy, sure it was a pleasure to help you out. How are you getting on with the drink this weather?’ He looked at the ground, ‘It’s only an auld nuisance. I think I got bad whiskey in a pub earlier today. I’m not right after it at all.’ Séamus looked at him and said, ‘I haven’t had a drink in over six years, Paddy. I realised that I was powerless over alcohol, and that my life was unmanageable.’ Through this journey Séamus learned to spare a thought for the still suffering alcoholic. It was not in his interest to judge if Paddy was, or wasn’t, an alcoholic. It made little difference. He wholeheartedly identified with Paddy’s plight. He’d been there, lost, lonely, hungry, penniless and confused. He saw himself in Paddy when he first sat at the bar. ‘Ahh, I’ll tell ya, you’re a fine young fella. Well done, you’ve a great life ahead of you. Mine’s all behind me now. Where’s that sandwich gone ta?’

‘I got you Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato, Paddy.’ ‘Good lad, fair play to you.’ Séamus handed him the sandwich. Paddy ate it as if he hadn’t eaten in a week. He only had a few teeth left, but did his best to chew it. Mayonnaise was soon smeared around his mouth. ‘Here Paddy, have some water.’ Séamus thought about how we enter the world confused and messy and often arrive back at that stage upon our exit. ‘Paddy, I’ll leave you this tissue so you can wipe your mouth.’ Paddy was unable to speak. He gave a wink, and raised a thumb.

Séamus felt a wobble in his stomach. He knew this warm sensation. The sight of Paddy eating the sandwich was too much for him. He looked away. He looked at Paddy again, drew a deep breath and said, ‘Paddy, it was great to meet you. I’ve to get back to my girlfriend now. I hope you get to see your family soon. Mind yourself, and take it easy.’ He put his hand on Paddy’s shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. Paddy looked at Séamus with his gracious, sad eyes, and with his mouth half-full said, ‘God bless you. You’re a great man. I hope one day I can return the favour.’

About an hour later, Séamus was taking Carolina out to some traditional music. He had already told her what happened with Paddy. When they walked into the main square, he said, ‘You see that bench over there? That’s where I left him.’ The empty sandwich box lay on the bench.

Irish apathy to global banking scam: 2+2=5

By James Falconer

Where is the revolution in Ireland following the political and banking scandal? Since the bubble supernovae in 2008, there has been a campaign of fear orchestrated by the political class and elements of the media against the people of Ireland. It is aimed to demoralise the spirit of ordinary citizens who are not responsible for the reckless gambling of speculators, politicians and bankers. If the European Central Bank wants to cover professional investors’ losses, let it do so with its own money. We’ve been led to believe that we, the ordinary taxpayers, are actually responsible for the mess we find ourselves in today. It is time we tried to educate ourselves as much as possible. The right answers only come on the tail of the right questions. The biggest problem is our collective apathy.

Why have we not faced up to the endemic corruption inherent in our culture? When the house of cards collapsed in 2008, where was the mass mobilisation, the huge protests on the streets, calling for, in fact demanding, not only the resignation of the whole government, but the imprisonment of those guilty of corruption? The massive problem in Ireland has been that the bacillus of corruption has too long been tolerated by a janus minded public that are capable of self-delusion and a jaded apathy. This has all culminated in the rule of law being gravely undermined. There has been a substantial proportion of the public willing to put up with it. Why hasn’t there been a Garda or Revenue initiated investigation into corruption by a senior political figure except in response to prior media or tribunal investigations. Inexplicably, those investigations have been consistently ineffective at putting those responsible behind bars.

The Mahon tribunal dismantled the whole edifice of lies constructed by Bertie Ahern and his cronies. Following this, many people felt deceived by a master dissembler. But in order to be fooled, you have to believe. Corruption in Ireland is the result not of innocence, but wilful ignorance, not just wrongdoing but passive collusion. What happened was not belief in Bertie Ahern’s lies but something more subtle and more characteristic of Irish culture: a suspension of disbelief.

The Mahon tribunal cost the Irish taxpayer €300 million to find out what most informed people already suspected. Essentially, it cost us a huge amount of money to find out we’d been robbed of a huge amount of money. What really should be turning stomachs is the complete lack of accountability – where’s the justice? The Mahon tribunal was a legal affair, where are the prison sentences for those found guilty of defrauding the state? There is very little thirst for real justice in this country. If you go into a shop, steal something and are apprehended you will face the consequences in a court of law. However, if you happen to be in the ‘golden circle’ you can defraud the state of millions or more accurately, billions, and get away with it. This smacks of nothing other than white collar crime. Yet, we still accept it.

Politicians have been let away with murder and there is a fatalistic sense that nothing can change. Why have no politicians or bankers being imprisoned for causing the collapse of the economy? There seems to be a feeling amongst a lot of people in Ireland ‘ah sure, what can we do?’ Iceland is the perfect example, but we’re not told anything about Iceland in our mainstream media. Iceland fundamentally refused to socialise private debt, the people gathered outside their House of Parliament in Reykjavik until the whole government were jeered and heckled out of the building. They had to do ‘the walk of shame’. Have a look: You’ll see that a revolution doesn’t have to be bloody and nasty as is commonly perceived. Furthermore, people are very quick to take to the streets in Greece and Spain in outright disgust at the public appropriation of private debt. Where’s the Irish resistance?

The political system in Ireland is dysfunctional. It is the primary cause of the debacle we are still experiencing. The country needs to get up off its posterior and take back the Republic, which exists in name alone. Irish apathy to austerity is a frightful reality. Wake up Ireland.

Indeed misery has a short memory. Does 2+2=5? Fianna Fáil is now the most popular party in Ireland. There’s a perfectly coherent sentence, ‘the most popular party.’ Who could have predicted this back in 2008? It seems that the Irish didn’t react to the financial catastrophe with anything revolutionary. Instead, we elected practically the same party only with a different name and colour (Fine Gael) – somehow expecting different results? Sadly, it looks like we’ll see the old treacherous brigade return to their snug nests in the Dáil sooner rather than, never.

It can be claimed that we’re a very patriarchal society, and it too often appears that the masses have neither the time or respect for any radical intellectual thought or even much reasonable/rational thought. Why are we so conservative? We are generally dismissive of anything that we don’t hear on the Six One News, or read in the Irish Times/Irish Independent; intelligence in Ireland often appears graded on one’s ability to understand and in some cases, to recite, what we see or read from these outlets.

It was Montesquieu who observed that ‘Those who govern have a power which, in some measure, has need of fresh vigour every day.’ This fresh vigour is released through the various forms of media which have wilfully given a disgraced party like Fianna Fáil a regular platform. Representatives of Fianna Fáil have been repeatedly invited on RTE talk shows, been given front-page articles in leading newspapers and have slowly but surely crawled back to the summit of Irish politics. Hold on a minute, isn’t this the party that’s left us almost €70,000 billion in debt to our European and International masters? This is not our debt. Are we going to vote them back in again? How about a widespread disengagement from representative politics? Does misery really have such a short memory?

2 + 2 = 5 is often used as a succinct and vivid representation of an illogical statement, especially one made and maintained to suit an ideological agenda. Its common use originates from its inclusion in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, where it is contrasted with the true, mathematical phrase 2 + 2 = 4. Orwell’s protagonist, Winston Smith, uses it to consider the possibility that the state might declare 2 + 2 = 5 as a fact; he ponders that if everybody believes in it, does that make it true? One might shudder to think that if there was a general election tomorrow Fianna Fáil would most likely be elected into government. This is our present reality and at this point, one may be unable to get de Tocqueville’s ‘People get the government they deserve’ out of one’s head because let’s face it, every people deserve the regime it is willing to endure. It seems that in most other countries governments are afraid of the people; conversely, here, the people seem afraid of the government. Fianna Fáil have very rarely lost their grip of the Irish electorate since there succession to power in 1932. Their occasional loss of power seems to come in widespread cycles, boom and bust.

Essentially, what happened in the Celtic Tiger era was that it all became unstuck and many segments of society realised how they were being played and abused. Séan Lemass said that Fianna Fáil’s achievement was to manage to juggle a whole series of balls (segments of society) and not drop any of them; Brian Cowen dropped them all and other parties grabbed them.

The major flaw with the Irish electorate seems to be that we are on the whole, apolitical, and appear so unconscious of anything other than the same old tripe. However, at the same time, manage to appear so entrenched in ignorant meaningless righteousness that there’s undoubtedly a long road ahead before we awaken from our dogmatic Fianna Fáil slumber.

Do you love me?

By James Falconer
What exactly is love? The word is often thrown around at leisure: ‘I love your hair, I love your shoes, oh and by the way, I love you.’ Indeed, love has many guises; what’s its real face and where did it all begin?
How did the ancients interpret love? It appears they did so in a variety of ways. The Greek term Philia was understood as a deep, non-sexual intimacy between close friends and family members. Is this the type of love many of us show to our family at weekends when they cook, clean and taxi us around? How do we repay this love? Do we raid the presses and ask for money? Imagine if we were told to fend for ourselves, would we still love them? Is the love we have for our family and friends unconditional? Philia was also interpreted by the deep bond which was forged by soldiers as they fought alongside each other in battle. The Latin term Ludus describes a more playful affection found in flirting. The act of Ludus can be witnessed in bars, clubs and generally any social space where members of the opposite sex, and indeed the same sex, congregate. Agape, is another Greek word for a love that is found frequently in the Christian Scriptures (the New Testament). It is different from erotic love in that it is supposed to be the characteristic attitude of Christians toward one another; let’s hope that certain people in the north of Ireland are reading this. Love one another, irrespective of the colour of your flag.
Metta is a Pali term and derives from the Buddhist tradition. It is best defined as a loving-kindness which recognises friendliness as its chief characteristic. It is manifested as the disappearance of ill-will. Metta is based on an outlook of kindness. When it succeeds it eliminates ill-will. When it fails it degenerates into selfish affectionate desire. Careful now!
Pragma is another Latin term which means a reality which is concrete. In the case of love, it basically represents the type of love that develops over a long period of time between long-term couples and involves actively practising goodwill, commitment, compromise and understanding. This is the love that my parents seem to have cultivated after 40+ years of marriage. Pragma appears to be the love we should all strive to emanate – love for all humanity. This can be very difficult when there are so many terrible things happening in the world. Philautia is self-love, which isn’t actually as selfish as it sounds. As Aristotle discovered, in order to care for others you need to be able to care for yourself. Lastly, and the one which causes most trouble is Eros. This is about sexual passion and desire, which can be witnessed in many niteclubs usually after midnight! Unless it morphs into Philia and/or Pragma, Eros will burn itself out. Easy does it.
As there are so many variants of love, how can we possibly know what it is? Love may or may not be an illusion, but it can sometimes disappear overnight whether we want it to or not. However, people have to try to remove these doubts when they believe they are in love. They must try to do this because it will greatly increase their contentment. In spite of all the effort we make in keeping love alive and fresh, it may not last. If love does not last, was it really love? If love comes and goes like a gust of wind, what was it?
It is unrealistic to expect to experience all types of love with only one person. This is why family and community are important because it creates more harmony and unity for us to experience a wider range of love. This does not mean that you have to go off and start a family! Lovers are breaking up all the time, some get back together and others do not. Moreover, some people go from being madly in love to the other extreme of absolutely hating one another. How can this be possible? The love they felt surely cannot have been love. Love appears to be about understanding, forgiveness and accepting your lover for who he/she is: ‘Warts and all’, as they say!
Love to you all.


The important role of school teachers

By James Falconer

Teachers are role models. It is widely perceived that having good role models in a young person’s life can make a positive impact. As teachers/educationalists we can help students make informed choices, instil confidence and thus empower them to reach their full potential in adulthood. However, children are vulnerable and can be subjected to various forms of abuse by negligent teachers.

Shouting at children is a form of emotional abuse. As a Language Assistant in a secondary school I have a perfect vantage point from which to observe teaching practices. If a teacher is shouting at children one doesn’t have to invest much analysis into the methodology of this type of “teaching”. Have you ever walked in on two people having an intense argument? You know that feeling of wishing you weren’t there? Welcome to my world! How should schools correct inappropriate behaviour for students and teachers alike?

There is a system of punishment in place for children who misbehave. If a teacher is having problems in his/her life they may unconsciously punish students for spurious reasons unrelated to inappropriate behaviour. Teachers are given the power to judge if a student’s behaviour is inappropriate. On the other hand, who is the arbitrator of a teachers conduct when they have behaved in an inappropriate manner towards students? It appears that students don’t have a voice. Although each class has an assigned student representative, they still have to find the courage to report the matter. Many teachers seem to expect students to behave like adults. We all make mistakes, but as adults in responsible positions shouldn’t we be more conscious that mistakes are an ideal opportunity to help children learn, and become wiser? Children will behave better when teachers love them, treat them with respect and consistency, and consider their needs and emotions.

Recently, I saw one of my students in the corridor repetitiously writing out the same line. What was his crime? A teacher caught him standing on a desk before class and had doled out the following punishment: he had to write out “I will not behave like a monkey.” This he was compelled to do for the duration of that class for the whole week. Teachers should not evoke hatred in children. The teacher unjustly imposed his view of a monkey on the young student, quite possibly connecting with his Darwinian self, but a 12 year old boy all the same. There is likely a hidden reason behind this student’s behaviour. It is the teacher’s job to try to discover it, and enlighten the student. Positive disciplines are much more productive than negative punishment. Upon seeing the student on the desk, the teacher could have laughed and said “Get down quick; desks are for writing on!”, or something to that effect. After speaking to the student in the corridor I reported the matter to the principal and highlighted the punishment as being useless and humiliating. He agreed, duly intervened, and the punishment was ended. You may ask whether I am trying to be a hero. Well, not exactly.

I was a dysfunctional child in school, or at least I was led to believe that I was. I was possibly a functional child in a dysfunctional school. Irrespective of that, I can wholeheartedly identify and empathise with the student being punished. Did this type of punishment do me any good? No, it just exacerbated my dysfunctionality, caused me to hate others, hate myself, and restricted my development in many ways. The influential Swiss psychologist Carl Jung propagated Lao Tzu’s, ‘what you resist persists.’ With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that many teachers fought me at school and the more they resisted me, the more I persisted with my rebellion.

I left school at a young age, was coaxed back by my parents, got into more trouble, changed schools, repeated a year, and eventually clambered over the line. Was I interested in going on to university, which meant more school – not a chance! It was the working world for me. I worked as a painter & decorator when I left school. There were, of course, rules at work, but I was relieved that I could actually talk to my colleagues whilst doing some creative and practical work, and get paid! Earning money was a reward for my efforts and it also gave me the means to abuse certain mood altering substances, which may or may not have been subsequent fallout of the aforementioned dysfunctional educational system. That, I suppose, is another article of itself!

It seems that the incentive to work in school is based on a carrot and whip marking system which encourages a kind of a herd mentality. Knowledge often gives people a great degree of freedom. Should students not be motivated based upon knowledge, not marks? Students appear to be conditioned to work for a mark, rather for the level of knowledge the mark is intended to represent. But, then again, institutionalised education is a breeding ground for competitiveness, not cooperation, which generally seems to result in more inherently self-interested pawns for the neo-liberal project. All this was far from my scope back then as my competitive drives were channelled towards the sporting field.

Compared to academic achievement, I was far more interested in playing sport at school. I found that by excelling at sport it compensated for my rebellious streak in the classroom. Moreover, I got out of class to go and play various games around the province. I enjoyed the encouragement and praise from a few teachers who admired my prowess on the sporting field. I am not maintaining that all of my teachers were bad. In fact, if it wasn’t for the clutch of teachers who respected me, I may well be dead now. This, I believe, is how crucial the role of a school teacher is.

When I say ‘respect’, I mean that they treated me with kindness and disciplined me in a positive manner. They didn’t shout at me, or humiliate me in front of the class. When I behaved well, which like all kids I was capable of, the teacher reinforced this with praise and a positive attitude. The result was mutual respect. The illusion that a teacher can stand before a class of students and shout “I’m the teacher and I demand respect” needs to be smashed. This sort of attitude is more suited to military sergeants. What sort of an example does that give to a student? Nobody has the right to demand respect, you should earn respect. How can you respect someone who is cruel to you and attempts to garner your respect through fear?

It only takes the cruelty of one teacher to hurt a child. For the most part, I was being taught, in Ireland, by adult children of a repressive Catholic regime. Some of these teachers dished out corporal punishment to students. I remember my woodwork teacher once hitting me with a stick because I was messing with a friend. I pulled the stick out of his hand and told him not to hit me again. He sent me to the school principal for my defiance. It wasn’t a case of me challenging him. I was standing up for myself. Like all bullies, they don’t like when their victim stands up to them. Children, in particular, should be admired for standing up to unjust punishment. The poet Philip Larkin once wrote, ‘Man hands on misery to man.’ However, handing it on is as a result of ignorance, a lack of awareness, and very likely a degree of suffering.

What ultimately inspired me to write about these dubious “teaching” methods was the suspension of one of my students. He accumulated the requisite number of negative comments from teachers (teachers can email parents with comments), thus earning him two days at home. Is this going to teach the student a lesson? He was given his final nail in the suspension coffin for calling one of his teachers an idiot. I believe he had grounds for such an insult. Here’s what happened: when giving back exam papers the teacher tore his paper into pieces in front of the whole class. ‘How humiliating’, I hear you cry. Well, you see, he failed the exam, and this was his correction. Surely, the teacher could’ve being more supportive of the child’s efforts. A quote from a prolific German writer comes to mind here: Goethe said that, ‘Correction does much, but encouragement does more.’ The humiliating act of ripping up of a student’s exam paper can hardly be considered “correction”, but a few words of encouragement wouldn’t go astray. This punishment was yet another form of humiliation and the student responded in a hostile manner. Many teachers seem to value obedience and docility in children and do not tolerate them arguing or answering back. In this environment, it is likely that children will become indolent, dependent, and lose their passion and appetite for study. I have witnessed this very result recently.

Another one of my students was suspended from school. In this case, the suspension was not set for two days, but for one whole month. What sort of lesson does that teach a student? She did punch another student in the face. However, it cannot be pleasant to be singled out in a group of more than 20 students, publicly labelled as a misfit appearing too stupid to fit in to the group and isolated at home with an angry parent/s for one month? Is that the best punishment there is? Where is the compassion, the understanding? What made her lash out at another student? Is keeping her suspended from school going to enable us to get to the root of the problem? Sociologist Robert Merton said that we get our self-image in part from the way others see us. If we think that others see us as some stupid failure then that is how we are going to see ourselves. I have noticed how dejected the student has become since she found out she was to be suspended. Will this 12 year old child benefit from being taken out of her social group and isolated for one month? She’ll miss the final month of the year. This will inevitably have a negative and distressing impact on her. Speaking of negative impacts, I would like you to imagine two 12 year old girls chatting in a class.

The teacher had already asked them to stop talking. She seems to pick on one of these girls a lot. Sophia confided that she doesn’t like the class because she feels that the teacher picks on her. I believe she has a case. The whole class could be talking, but the teacher focuses the correction on Sophia. I suppose you could classify her as a scapegoat. The solution to this problem is blatantly obvious; the teacher has only to separate these two girls if she deems them to be talking excessively. Too many teachers seem to allow the best of friends to sit beside one another. Students, I feel, should be moved around every couple of weeks as it keeps the learning process fresh. Unfortunately, only a couple of teachers do it. There seems to be no universal methodology, or code of discipline in place. Some rules appear to be simply dreamt up, created out of some umbrage that a teacher has picked up. This too often leads to teachers carrying out their own spontaneous forms of discipline as happened in this case.

The teacher snapped, went to the drawer and took out a roll of toilet paper. I looked on in wonder as it all seemed to happen in slow motion, like witnessing a car crash. The teacher was very angry – I saw the look in her face. She unravelled a length and proceeded to wrap it around Sophia’s head, yes, gagging her mouth. Initially, there was a deafening silence around the class until someone laughed thus igniting more laughter. I was sitting there in disbelief as I looked at Sophia, red-faced, trying to make some sense of what was happening to her. The widespread laughter didn’t quite manage to obscure the mist of humiliation which emanated from the teachers scorn. I cringed.

A few minutes later the teacher did the exact same thing to Sophia’s accomplice. It didn’t appear quite as shocking on this occasion as onlookers had been somewhat anesthetised by the first act. This time the laughter was more widespread as if the act had been, to an extent, normalised. I looked on in disgust, wanting to shout “Stop, this is wrong.” I refrained because I didn’t want to scare the children by inflaming the situation even further. Whilst I looked on my conscience rattled out the following, “I’d be furious if someone did that to my child.” When the class ended I went over to both girls and asked them were they OK. They both replied “yes” in a nervous, timid way. I couldn’t get out of the classroom quick enough. I can see how I have been affected from witnessing this unorthodox act of discipline. It was in my head for much of the weekend.

No one asked me “are you OK?” after the class. I can unequivocally say that my answer would have been, “No, I’m not.” I filed away in a trance, dejected and confused with what I had witnessed. I think it was only after I exited the school did I start to get a clearer perspective on what happened. These children were humiliated in front of the class. I don’t think that the teacher consciously intended to do this. But, like many of us, her emotions were stirred more quickly than her intelligence. However, publicly shaming someone in an attempt coerce them to perform is abuse. I find it fairly shocking that a lot of teachers seem unaware of the basic psychological research relating to this area. The research shows that this kind of treatment undermines creativity, damages productivity and causes social problems. Instead of singling them out and gagging them, why not separate them before class begins? Considering they had already proven themselves to be chatty when together. Why not move into the solution?

After the weekend, still unsure of the best course of action to take, I decided to speak to the two girls in the presence of a different teacher. I told them what happened was wrong and that I reported it to the principal. I asked them had they told their parents and they said ‘no’. A few days later, I spoke to the teacher in question and she tried to reassure me that the two girls had told her they weren’t happy with the treatment. The teacher said that she explained to them that what she did was a joke. As it turns out, the children’s parents told them to deal with it! Without parent intervention it is very likely that no disciplinary action will be taken.

When the class began, the teacher told all the students that the girls and I were not happy with the incident. She maintained that it was a joke, just a bit of fun, and apologised. Later in class, Sophia was sitting with me (probably feeling safer) discussing her project, separated from her friend. Seeing that the two girls were separated and still talking, the teacher, in another attempt to justify her actions, exclaimed “Look, they’re separated and still talking. You see, separating them doesn’t make a difference.” Oh how I wanted to retort, “Of course, because wrapping toilet roll around their mouths does the trick.” I avoided the confrontation.

Admittedly, this article has not been entirely even handed in acknowledging the often fraught and difficult job that teachers face on a daily basis. Teaching is a tough job; we only need to replay some of our own childhood memories in order to reach an almost unanimous consensus on that point. However, the job does, for all its undeniable trials, offer an abundance of rewards, which is the primary motivation for entering the profession. If a teacher does not wish to be a role model and instil confidence and trust in their young charges then you may rightfully enquire, what are they doing in that position in the first place? Mutual respect is something which is built up over time. Respect cannot be demanded or forcibly extracted. It certainly will not develop in an atmosphere where a teacher is shouting at, calling a student a monkey, ripping up their exam paper, suspending them for a month, or gagging them with toilet roll. The question one must ask oneself is this, is it possible to have a genuinely warm and respectful aspect towards a person in a position of authority that uses intimidation and humiliation as their stock-in-trade means of maintaining order in their realm?

I, as you may have gathered, do not think so. In the words of Pink Floyd, “Hey teacher, leave those kids alone!”


Hector Goes nowhere

By James Falconer

This is a review of Hector Ó hEochagáin’s TV show called ‘Hector Goes Holy’. I was shocked and surprised to see that the obvious [clerical child abuse] was not mentioned or even hinted at. The 40 minute programme lacked any significant content and presupposed that all viewers knew about the Church. Surely viewers could expect some background to what faith and Christianity are, or any variant therein, to be at least grounded in something other than Hector’s opening line: “There was a time in Ireland when there was a picture of the Pope, JFK and the Sacred Heart in every kitchen up and down the country”. Of course, we can all remember and relate to this!

The show was clearly aimed at a particular audience – broadcast after the 9pm news on RTE1. However, with the luxury of realplayer, more and more people have the opportunity to see a wider range of shows. Hector’s journey, or “pilgrimage” as he calls it, begins on top of Croagh Patrick where he says: “The Church used to be the boss, but for many, me included, it has become a great irrelevance […] I stopped going to mass and confession – I don’t know why. I stopped engaging with the Church years ago.” Hector travels to Knock, Maynooth and Navan to speak to trainee priests (seminarians) and members of the clergy. He bordered on the insulting towards the young seminarians by chiefly focusing on the perks of the job: “Lads, do yis have Sky Sports; petrol in the car? Dinner on the table?” There was a nervous feeling from “the lads” which seemed to say: “Well there’s a lot more to it than that Hector, you muppet!”

The central theme of the show was why the Church had lost its grip? Hector must have been aware of the huge elephant following him across the country. How on earth was there no mention of clerical child abuse, or even an allusion to it? Considering the absolutely shocking chronicle of rape, torture and cover ups which are contained in both the Murphy and Ryan reports, it seems preposterous that this could be completely overlooked. In all the interviews, there was an air of mystery about why the Church had lost its grip in Ireland. It seemed so elusive to all concerned and was met with much speculation; however, no one could seem to put their finger on it. It’s hard to believe that not one single church-goer or random member of the public was interviewed – exclusively priests?

Of late, we’ve been preoccupied with the grossly unjust socialisation of private debt [bailing out European banks], but let us not forget that Bertie Ahern and his government made a deal with the Catholic Church which saw taxpayers pick up the bill for compensation to victims of clerical sexual abuse, which came to over €1 billion. How could anyone possibly claim that the Catholic Church don’t have the funds to pay compensation to victims of abuse; it is the wealthiest and strongest political institution in the history of the world.

Recent “revelations” show how the Church’s international portfolio, which lies camouflaged behind a massive offshore company structure built up over many years, was actually created by money donated by Mussolini in return for papal recognition of the Italian fascist regime in 1929. Imagine central London and upmarket streets such as New Bond Street, or the nearby headquarters of the wealthy investment bank Altium Capital, which stands at the corner of St James’s Square and Pall Mall. These office blocks in London’s most expensive district are part of a startling secret commercial property empire owned by the Vatican.

Is there no end to scandal in the Catholic Church? It appears that the Redress Board in Ireland was set up by the government and the Church to pay out as little compensation as possible. If a victim wants proper compensation he/she would be best advised to go to the High Court or the European Court of Human Rights. Isn’t it time the Pope was brought before the Hauge? As head of the Catholic Church he is responsible by law for the crimes committed against children placed in their care. However, the Catholic Church appears to be above the law and their silence is deafening.

To be guaranteed protection from civil prosecution in Ireland, the religious orders agreed in 2002 to contribute €128m in property and cash to the compensation fund; ten years later, only €105m has been transferred to the state, with orders retaining a fifth of the properties they promised to transfer. At the time of the 2002 deal, the estimated cost of redress was €500m. However, the horrifying revelations in 2009 in the Ryan Report more than doubled the estimated cost to its current €1.36 billion. Victims of clerical sexual abuse are now left in a situation where the government is trying to compensate them with healthcare benefits. This is absurd and an utter disgrace.

One can only imagine that Hector had been briefed from upstairs in RTE and it’s likely that “don’t mention abuse” was agreed upon. The Catholic Church has received a hammering in the media and rightly so. It seems that this programme wanted to explore reasons why people have drifted away from the Church. Instead of simply acknowledging the horrendous reports of abuse at the beginning of the show and then examining other aspects from there, it came across as a complete whitewash. Talk about any other topic, but whatever you do, don’t talk about what’s really going on. The show seemed to represent the ethos of the Catholic Church itself – say nothing.

Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ 100 years on – Galway Arts Festival

By James Falconer

Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky was a Russian, and later French and American composer, pianist and conductor. He is widely considered to be one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century. His ‘The Rite of Spring’ was an extremely controversial ballet back in the early 20th century. However, nowadays it’s lauded as a classic, and is currently on in the Black Box at the Galway Arts Festival.

Almost no musical work has had such a powerful influence or evoked as much controversy as Stravinsky’s ballet. The premiere in May 1913, at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, was scandalous. In addition to the outrageous costumes, unusual choreography and bizarre story of Pagan sacrifice; Stravinsky’s musical innovations tested the patience of the audience to the fullest.

One of the reasons that the Paris premiere of ‘The Rite of Spring’ created such a furore was that it shattered everyone’s expectations. The evening’s program began innocently with a performance of ‘Les Sylphides.’ However, as the follow-up piece, ‘The Rite of Spring’ turned out to be anything but spring-like. One of the dancers recalled that Vaslav Nijinsky’s shocking choreography was physically unnatural to perform: “With every leap we landed heavily enough to jar every organ in us.” The music itself was angular, dissonant and totally unpredictable. Despite its inauspicious debut, Stravinsky’s score for ‘The Rite of Spring’ today stands as a magnificent musical masterpiece of the twentieth century.

The production, along with another Stravinsky ballet, ‘Petrushka’, will receive its Irish premiere at the Black Box Theatre on Monday July 15th during Galway Arts Festival, which runs from July 15 to 28. The show is a major international co-production by the Galway Arts Festival; Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre; Sadler’s Wells, London; Movimentos Festival, Wolfsburg; Brisbane Festival; and Melbourne Festival. The production will tour Europe and Australia throughout 2013.

The show is choreographed by Michael Keegan-Dolan, whose extraordinary interpretation of Giselle was one of outstanding shows of the 2008 Galway Arts Festival. Keegan-Dolan’s production of ‘The Rite of Spring’ premiered at the London Coliseum in 2009 to critical acclaim and an Olivier nomination. The Times called it “inspired” and “exhilarating”.

The Galway production will feature concert pianists Lidija and Sanja Bizjak; the Tony and Olivier Award winning designer Rae Smith (War Horse); lighting designer Adam Silverman, whose work was last seen in Galway in Misterman in 2011; while the costume designer for Petrushka is Doey Lüthi.

Paul Fahy, the Galway Arts Festival artistic director, said that “We are thrilled to work with Fabulous Beast and our co-producing partners on what promises to be one the most exciting dance productions in Ireland this year. Michael is one of the most imaginative and brilliant choreographers and directors working on the international stage.”

Get down to the Black Box for a truly wonderful show, not to be missed.

The Union Jack is everywhere

By James Falconer

If one were to travel extensively one would see the British flag on many different objects throughout the world. These range from items of clothing, phone covers, wallets, bed sheets, bags/suitcases, mugs, umbrellas, food items, corporate TV stations etc. Is this flag simply fashionable or is there more to it?

The common belief is that Britain once had an extensive colonial empire, and there used to be a saying that “The sun never sets on the British Empire.” They had [still have] major interests around the entire world; the British had a mandate to “Make the World British.” Many historians maintain that the Suez Crisis of 1956 saw the end of the British Empire. It appeared that with the rise of “superpowers”, the old imperial empires began to decline as they lacked the man power to continue to subjugate other countries. The Suez war proved that the British ruling class found it very difficult to suffer defeat and see their interests diminish.

What exactly does the Union Jack represent? Considering the upcoming and much debated Scottish referendum for independence, it seems ironic that it was King James VI of Scotland, subsequently King of England (King James I), who decided that the union of the two realms under one king should be represented symbolically by a new flag. Many Scots want to break the union and if this becomes a reality, the blue colour will be taken out of the Union Jack. Originally known as ‘the Union Flag’, it was usually restricted to use at sea. However, when the two kingdoms of Scotland and England were united in 1707 it was from this use at sea that it got the name “jack”. It was flown at the bow end of the ship – the jack staff. The Union Jack represents the union between England, Scotland and subsequently, Ireland. Incidentally, in 1801, after the Union with Ireland [which was, for the most part, broken in 1922], King George III added the cross of St Patrick to the Union Jack which remains today. Upon the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922 no alteration was made to the Union Jack. There is no Welsh symbol as Wales was already annexed by the English prior to the creation of the flag. The name Union Jack became official when it was approved in Parliament in 1908. It was stated that “the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag.”

In popular culture the Union Jack initially became an iconic symbol with rock band, The Who. This was during the Mods v Rockers craze in Britain in the 1960s; the Rockers considered Mods to be weak, feminine snobs, and Mods typically saw Rockers as rough, alien and scruffy. The Rocker subculture was centred on motorcycling, and their appearance reflected that – Rockers generally wore black leather jackets and motorcycle boots. The Mod subculture was focused on fashion and style. Mods wore suits and other clean-cut outfits. They preferred music genres such as soul, rhythm and blues and many Mods rode scooters. The Union Jack certainly became a fashionable symbol at this time.

Today, it seems that the flag is more fashionable than ever. But, is it simple fashion that is driving this phenomenon? The Union Jack is displayed on a wide range of clothing, merchandise and accessories. I first became aware of this new ubiquitousness while traveling around Europe extensively over the past few years. I questioned some people who were wearing this flag and I got similar responses “oh I like the colours […] it’s just fashion”. The colours may be appealing to some, but the fact is that the Union Jack is a symbol of colonialism, imperialism, slavery and bloodshed.

To the majority of those colonised the Union Jack is commonly known as the “Butchers Apron”. Britain colonised over 57 countries with often brutal and violent force. This mostly took place in the 16th and 17th centuries. None of these countries requested to be invaded and conquered by a foreign power. They commonly reacted with bloody and intense insurgency in an attempt to drive the British out and regain their independence and original way of life. Britain boasted that the sun never set on the British Empire; however, Professor of History at Bath Spa University in England, John Newsinger gives an additional assertion “The sun never set and the blood of innocents never dried.” After throwing off the shackles of British rule, the vast majority of these countries became part of the British Commonwealth – an intergovernmental organisation of 54 independent member states, all but two of which were formerly part of the British Empire – a great wealth flows back to London.

We are led to believe that the Commonwealth brought peace and equality to these nations. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The “wealth” was only made “common” to the rich and all that changed for the working classes of these countries was the colour of the flags that fly above them and the accents of their superiors. In the late 19th century, Irish socialist-revolutionary James Connolly believed that “If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted.” How succinct a description of British imperialism this is.

Throughout history the British have invaded almost 90 per cent of the countries around the globe. However, we can think of recent military adventures in Iraq (oil) and Afghanistan (opium). In the wake of the 2001 US bombing of Afghanistan, the British government of Tony Blair was entrusted by the G-8 Group of leading industrial nations to carry out a drug eradication program, which would, in theory, allow Afghan farmers to switch out of poppy cultivation into alternative crops. The British were working out of Kabul in close liaison with the United States DEA’s “Operation Containment”. The British sponsored crop eradication program is an obvious smokescreen. Since October 2001, Afghan opium poppy cultivation has skyrocketed. The presence of occupation forces in Afghanistan did not result in the eradication of poppy cultivation – quite the contrary. Heroin is a multibillion dollar business supported by powerful interests, which requires a steady and secure commodity flow. The manufacture of consent for such imperial agendas is orchestrated via the mass media and consumer marketing which endeavours in branding the Union Jack as something to be celebrated – it is not.

Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. The first European nation to engage in the Transatlantic Slave Trade was Portugal in the mid to late 1400’s; however, by the time the British became involved in the Slave Trade they undeniably dominated it for over 250 years. The Union Jack flew on British vessels which despatched about 10,000 voyages to Africa for slaves, with merchants in other parts of the British Empire perhaps fitting out a further 1,150 voyages. Historian, Professor David Richardson, has calculated that British ships carried 3.4 million or more enslaved Africans to the Americas. The money made on the Transatlantic Slave Trade triangle was incalculable and poured into Britain transforming their landscape forever – the Industrial Revolution. In Britain, those who had made much of their wealth from the trade built fine mansions and established banks such as the Bank of England – you couldn’t make it up!

By labelling the Union Jack on a wide variety of consumer goods, almost unbeknownst to them, people are advertising and advocating a British agenda. It appears that a major objective is that we’ll become so familiar [see Freud’s theory of the subconscious] with this flag that we’ll see little wrong with the actions of those in power; they’re the good guys, the liberators. It’s a great trick, pretend to be a saviour when in reality you are an outright tyrant. Don’t be duped, the sun hasn’t set on the British Empire. If you or your friends are wearing the Butcher’s Apron, pose this simple question, ‘why’?

The Irish oil situation

The Irish oil situation

By James Falconer

What’s going on with Ireland’s natural resources? Many people believe that our government have given our oil away, and that ownership and control of the oil belongs completely to the various oil companies. Have our government really given it away? There’s so much speculation and spin around the whole topic – no one seems to be able to give a clear assessment of the situation. When confronted, politicians do what they do best – avoid answering questions. Isn’t it time we had some transparency?

On a recent trip to Oslo, I spoke with an engineer who worked on the first oil finds in Norway. Before Norway began producing their own oil, it was a poor country which mainly produced timber and fish. The illusion that the Norwegians initially knew how to produce oil needs to be smashed. There is a distinction between a drilling/exploration licence and a licence to extract/produce. When Royal Dutch Shell declared itself capable of producing oil in the North Sea, the Norwegian government said “great, now it’s a joint venture”. Essentially, they said “this is Norwegian oil and if you’re going to take it out of our territory – it is going to be a joint venture – we’re in.”

Norway didn’t become a wealthy country overnight. When the oil industry was in its infancy in Norwegian waters back in the 1970s, the Norwegians paid dearly; people don’t work for free. For example, each barrel worth $109, Shell say “we want $87 of that because we need to recover our huge investment.” This is where government need to be strong in their negotiations and get the best deal for the state. The Norwegians learned quickly and invested heavily in education and over time have become leading experts in oil exploration and production. Where did they attain this knowledge?

In the 1970s, engineering professionals from the Gulf of Mexico (the birthplace of off-shore drilling) and Britain came to Norway with their expertise. It wasn’t long before Shell and other companies were in the North Sea. The Norwegians participated; they watched and learned the techniques of the industry and since the 1980s have been exploring and producing around the globe with their own company, Statoil. Their main political objective has been to ensure that the values on the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS) benefit the entire country.

It appears that a country would be better off to put out contracts to drill and extract the oil out to tender; however, the industry is not structured this way. Off-shore oil production by its nature is very costly because the crude oil extracted has to be refined. To save on transportation costs, the oil company builds a platform to refine the oil at sea. It takes three years and costs billions to complete this project. Once the oil is refined, it can then be piped to the mainland or more favourably into huge tankers, which can then be shipped across the globe to the highest bidder.

Who makes the lion’s share of the profits? Of course, the company who makes the biggest investment into the research, scientific work, development, drilling, production, and when they get the oil up and out of the sea bed, the share that the country gets depends on the contract made between the oil companies and the government of the country. Shell is a company who often invests 100% of the costs of exploration and then leases out drilling rights to companies who come in and produce. Shell and the government negotiate the terms. The Irish government appear to be gravely inept at bargaining with multinationals. One only has to look at the IFSC and the minuscule rate of tax they pay the state. Why don’t we demand more?

If we want to emulate the Norwegians success, we must be willing to invest wisely in ascertaining the necessary knowledge and educating professionals in the field thus creating our own company, which we could appropriately name, Emerald Oil. However, this will be impossible for us to do because we are paying billions of euros to unsecured bondholders in Europe, and to our International bailout masters.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has given us a bailout package along with European financial institutions. The IMF has a reputation for being repaid through the sale of a country’s natural resources; asset stripping is their forte. Their ability to manufacture and offload massive debt onto countries, and then take control of their state assets has been fine-tuned over the last 50 years, from Latin America to Africa to Asia. Our energy reserves alone are worth potentially trillions and anything else is a bonus for them. They succeed via complicit government and elite that is thrown a few bones to keep them accustomed to the life they live. What they don’t like is a well-informed, educated public, capable of engaging in critical thinking. Let us be critical, vocal, resolute and disobedient, and demand more.

One hates to be pessimistic, but it looks like we’ve been set up and are about to be completely robbed of our natural assets. Wouldn’t we be better off to leave our oil in the ground until we’re ready to profit from it? The IMF and co are expecting to be repaid with the sale of Ireland’s forests, cheap oil, and cash payments in the form of further cuts in public spending. Austerity doesn’t work; it has never worked anywhere, ever. We should have already repudiated this toxic debt, which is not ours, and left the euro. Only then can we create better opportunities for future generations on this abused island. Support the campaign to Own Our Oil

Sweden and its racial policy

By James Falconer

When we think of Sweden we are likely to think of a country which is affluent, democratic and liberal. On a recent visit to Stockholm I noticed that police were asking “suspected” illegal immigrants for their papers on public transportation. I was curious as to how they decide who is a possible illegal, but the police refused to comment. One is left to wonder, is the selection process purely racial?

Swedish police have been carrying out an operation called REVA together with the Swedish prison service and migration service. The abbreviation REVA stands for Legal Certainty and Effective Enforcement (Rättssäkerhet och Effektivt Verkställighetsarbete) and seeks to advance the effectiveness and enforcement of deportations; REVA was co-funded by the European Return Fund (ERF).

All EU countries, with the exception of Denmark, participate in the ERF and have allocated €676 million for the period 2008–13. Specifically, it seeks to improve return management as well as to encourage the development of cooperation between EU countries and with countries of return. Put simply, EU countries pay for flights and accommodation of those who are deported.

Under this operation, which has been running for some time now at the behest of the Swedish Government, ‘right of residence’ checks are carried out along with ticket inspections in the Stockholm underground. These checks have led to a wide-ranging debate in Swedish society and it seems certain that they are based on people’s skin colour and appearance.

The Swedish media have reported that cancer sufferers without a residence permit do not dare to take the underground to go to hospital for fear of being caught in one of these checks. The Swedish police claim that the checks are carried out only for justifiable reasons and are not based on a person’s appearance, language or name – really?

Gonzalo Munoz, born and raised in Sweden by Chilean parents, was approached by a police officer while waiting for a friend inside a Stockholm metro station. The officer spoke to Munoz in English: “I’d like to see your passport because you are suspected of being in Sweden illegally”, the officer said, according to an account offered by Munoz to Swedish TV station. When Munoz was able to produce his Swedish passport, the officer apologized and released him, but the incident nevertheless left him angry. He said “It’s discriminatory and it feels like all of this work going on at Central Station is based on prejudice and racism.” Munoz’s story is one of many that have emerged in recently.

This new measure by the police in Stockholm is a reflection of the Swedish government. The current inhabitants of the Swedish parliament have been decimating many of Sweden’s public services by selling them off to private companies. This short-term vision has angered many Swedes and the situation of racial profiling on the city’s public transport system is yet another representation of the government’s right-wing objectives. The targeting of “foreign-looking” commuters is an effort to deport illegal immigrants.

In 1994, Ikea founder and Sweden’s richest man Ingvar Kamprad, revealed his youthful Nazi sympathies. He confessed to a nine-year friendship with Per Engdahl, the openly pro-Nazi leader of the Neo-Swedish movement. Kamprad claimed he couldn’t remember if he’d joined the Nordic Youth [cough cough], Sweden’s equivalent of the Hitler Youth. Are there still fascist elements in Swedish politics?

Commentators from across the political spectrum have reacted angrily to stories of police engaging in questionable tactics to enforce deportation orders. Speaking about the police activity on the Stockholm metro system, the Green Party’s migration policy spokeswoman Maria Ferm said that “This has turned the metro turnstiles into a life-threatening danger zone for the most vulnerable people in our society.” Centre Party MP Johan Hedin said police should be more careful in deploying ID checks, warning that police’s unwarranted controls “Are not only a crime against good taste, but also against the law and should stop immediately.” Migration policy spokespeople for the Christian Democrats and Left Party also condemned the behaviour of Stockholm police, with the Christian Democrat MP Caroline Szyber calling it a “witch hunt”. Of course, the national police spokesperson defended officers’ methods, explaining police were simply following the mandate given to them by the government.

To counter these excessive racial policies, activists are tweeting to alert people where the police are working on any given day: “Police at Högdalen metro station checking IDs, be warned,” read one tweet recently. An informant network has also sprung up in other social media.

Here we are, in a globalised world – the 21st century. It still seems that if one does not look Caucasian in Europe – he or she is perceived as a foreigner in the eyes of these policies, which exist in most European countries.