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Billy King

Number 193: October 2011

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Flawed Fianna Fail finally fatalistically failed and flayed
D’ye see the programme or series on TV3, presented by Ursula Halligan, on the rise and fall of Fianna Fail? Certainly one of the most successful political parties in Europe is now laid low (19 TDs when before the last election it had 78) without any immediate prospects of making it back to the top of the greasy political poll. Ruairi Quinn was quoted that in many parts of the country FF stopped canvassing after a few days of the last election campaign, the response they were getting was so brutal (my adjective, not his).

The first programme identified FF’s previous success as emanating from two major factors; the local cumann (branch) which would rub together different classes and people and have power within the overall structure, and the party’s nationalist/republican appeal (which the programme also said it did virtually nothing about). Well, if the latter is thought of in conventional terms then it went out the window by the time of the Good Friday Agreement and the removal of Articles 2 and 3 in the Constitution. The former was portrayed as disappearing with the emergence of individualism and individual fundraising (rather than the cumann collectivity) and other aspects of the loss of grassroots power. Bertie Ahern came across in the first programme as being on a different planet to the rest of us at this stage whereas according to letters in the newspapers, the only people supporting that he should run for president are those who would use it as an occasion to not vote for him!.

In terms of the corruption in the party at the end of the 20th century, I don’t think the first programme dealt fully with the contrast to the earlier part of the 20th century (though this did come in somewhat in the last of the 3 programmes). Why was there a stack of corrupt chancers in Fianna Fail at the end of the century? It seeing itself, and to some extent being, the ‘permanent party of power’ is one answer, because power and the chance of preferment obviously brought people in. Of course there were many ordinary, decent people involved but the chancers were having a field day.

I think the post-independence generation, while socially conservative in most ways (and there was a competition among all the political parties to prove themselves ‘most Catholic’), had a revolutionary morality which stood them in good stead in not being corrupt – though I hadn’t heard before that the main money used in setting up the FF-supporting ‘Irish Press’ newspaper was appropriated from pre-independence republican funds in the USA by Dev, a fairly dodgy move. The clientelist nature of politics in the 26 counties, rather than a rights based approach to state services, also played into the hands of the corrupt politician; I’ll get you what you need if you a) vote for me and/or b) slip me a brown envelope with some banknotes inside. Option b) may only have come to the fore later on but it was common.

By the time we arrived at the Haughey generation, some perhaps following the example of ‘Chief’ Charlie (he was christened Cathal), then morality was out the window, and without any guiding political philosophy beyond a vague conservative populist pragmatism, there was space for the chancers to take their chances and they didn’t leave it to chance – Haughey accumulated well over €40 million in his corrupt political career. The wonder is that Fianna Fail did not get its comeuppance in the 1980s or even 1990s – it did suffer at the polls a bit at that point in that it had to have coalition partners to be in government. But it didn’t get the verdict it deserved until the last election when people knew that it had brought the country to the verge of ruin by cavorting with the developers and then bailing them and the bankers out of the hole which Fianna Fail had encouraged (through tax breaks and encouragement of a reckless, heedless building boom and grossly inflated property prices).

Will Fianna Fáil recover? The jury in the programme was divided but even those who thought it could or would felt it would take quite some time, and if it did it would not easily regain its pre-eminent position of heretofore.

Maybe ‘Up Dev’, that old slogan short for ‘Up de Valera’, came instead to mean ‘Up the Developers’ or ‘Up Dev(elopment at any cost)’. But, by the verdict of the electorate, the feckless FF-ers were clearly told to FF off.

A decade of war and lies in and on Afghanistan
You can rely on our sister publication in Britain, Peace News, for excellent analysis of the Western war machine and its machinations (as well as great coverage of the goings on in the neighbouring island). In three points in the September 2011 issue it summarised the decade of deceit regarding Afghanistan.

The first lie it identifies is that war was inevitable, “that it was the only way of bringing the perpetrators of 9/11 to justice.” As PN (abbreviation for Peace News) points out, the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan had in October 2001 offered in principle to extradite Osama bin Laden to a third, Muslim, country if there was evidence against him and in fact had agreed to extradite him to Pakistan.

The second lie covered is that the Afghan war has reduced the threat of terrorism. PN quotes from the statement of responsibility for the 7th July 2005 terror attack in London which specifically mentioned Afghanistan, and from an official British government report also identifying the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a driver of ‘extremism’ (but when oh when will invading countries be seen as extremism????). Even the CIA has identified the same factors.

The third lie PN identifies is that the war is being fought ‘for the people of Afghanistan’ when polls show that most people there, while strongly opposed to the rule of the Taliban, want a negotiated settlement “in which the Taliban would become part of the government, to bring about a nonviolent resolution of the current war.”

Excellent and concise stuff. For Peace News see http://www.peacenews.info

Urban oases
If you know where to look, there are some amazing and relatively unknown urban oases around. In Dublin you can search out Blessington Street Basin, a start-of-nineteenth century reservoir just a few minutes from Parnell Square (and if walking out Phibsborough direction from town it is a brilliant way to go). All right, so it’s like a rather large pond, but with bird life, paths, flower beds and quietness it is a real sanctuary, to while away a while or just pass through. Alternatively, in Dame Street you can go into Dublin Castle and find the Dubh Linn gardens towards the back, or go right in to the Chester Beatty Library there (the library itself a must see for anyone interested in culture or religion) and go to the roof garden on top, just keep going up the stairs. This isn’t an amazing garden but it’s an amazing spot, in the heart of the city and yet dignified and quiet, a place to refresh yourself like a real oasis – and if you need physical refreshment there is the pleasant cafe on the ground floor. For further info see here.

I came across a new oasis in Belfast recently which I wasn’t aware of, travelling from the north of the city to the east along Airport Road West (north of the ‘George Best’ Belfast City Airport). This is the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) site and hide at Belfast Harbour Lagoon. With just ten or fifteen minutes to spare before needing to cycle on to my meeting, I dropped in and talked to an enthusiastic and informative volunteer and saw, among other birds, little egrets (now common enough in Ireland and they have come as far north as Belfast) and lots of curlews. Not to mention the ducks, shucks. All in sub-industrial Belfast with a ferry (the HSS) at the bottom of the garden, so to speak. Amazing and well worth a stop if you’re in the vicinity or fancy a bit of bird-and-nature watching. For further info see here or here.

Art at the heart of humanity
I have written before in these pages about how I think everyone is artistic, it is just a matter of realising it, and in what way. In addition, the more we find out about our distant ancestors, the more fully human we discover them to have been. The idea that life was nasty, brutish and short in the dim and distant past is simply inaccurate; short it may have been, with life spans which might be shockingly short to our eyes but presumably were thought ‘normal’ then, but it may have been anything but nasty and brutish.

So it was of considerable interest, even joy, to discover more about stone age art and children’s involvement in it. Young children were encouraged to express themselves by finger painting in caves in the Dordogne in the Palaeolithic age, 13,000 years ago, and it is clear that adults helped children with their art. In this report Jess Cooney, a Cambridge University PhD student, is quoted as saying “What I found in Rouffignac is that the children are screaming from the walls to be heard. Their presence is everywhere. And there is a five-year-old girl constantly shouting: 'I wanna paint, I wanna paint'." That may be a trifle overinterpreting the situation but you get the point.

It is amazing to think about this discovery, and what they have been able to work out, from 13,000 years ago. If a generation is 25 years then this is 520 generations ago, quite some time, and yet what we see, technology aside, could be seen today. Creativity and nourishing talent – that is basic to our humanity.

- - - - - - -

That’s me again. Before I go I’ll tell you the story about the extremely generous and helpful local, a man who could not do enough to help neighbours, young or old, if you needed something he would always be the first to offer, often before you had even got around to asking. One day he was arrested by police at home and charged with handling millions of pounds/Euros worth of stolen goods and it was clear that he had had a very successful criminal life in that business. “Ah yes”, another neighbour said, “It just goes to prove that good fences make good neighbours....”

I hope the autumn is treating you well. The warmest day of the year may have come on 28th September in Dublin but these couple of warm days, amazingly late in the year, still don’t make it an Indian summer, not much of a sunny summer at all if the truth be told. It was straight into autumn wind and rain with September, not so much mellow fruitfulness as fellow ruthlessness. Still, it’s an ill wind.....News of a €75 million Google investment in a new data centre in Dublin (only 30 full time permanent jobs though) included the Google comment in favour of here that “Ireland's cool climate means outside air can be used to cool the computers instead of air conditioning units.” That’s cool. Anyway, until we meet again, fare well (which is a better valediction in these recessionary times than ‘welfare’), Billy.

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

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