tag: Law



22
Jul 2013

A new age of censorship

David Cameron gave a speech today in which he called on British Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to implement filters on the internet in order to block pornographic content. Certain types of pornography would be banned entirely (obviously those that are already illegal, but also “simulated rape” imagery) while other legal forms of pornography would require a person to explicitly “opt in” with their ISP in order to be able to view it.

Now, this is obviously a sensitive subject (particularly when we’re talking about something like “simulated rape”) and it’s not something I want to spend a huge amount of time on – the blogosphere is full of commentary on the subject and I probably don’t have a great deal to contribute to the debate. However, I do want to add my voice to the calls for extreme caution with regards to this issue.

I’m not going to deal with the moral issues surrounding pornography. They are ably covered, from all sides, by a myriad different writers. However, I would like to request that those who are calling for filters and bans, define their terms. Because nobody seems very willing to do so. A ban on “simulated rape imagery” would obviously cover some deeply depraved stuff. The kind of stuff that would turn the stomachs of most of us.

SRIBut such a ban would also ensure that a whole host of films and TV shows are banned from our screens. Jodie Foster’s powerful Oscar-winning performance in The Accused would clearly never be permitted in Cameron’s Britain. If you claim the film does not contain “simulated rape imagery” then you have not seen it. The same is true of Platoon, Pulp Fiction, A Clockwork Orange, The Outlaw Josey Wales and dozens of other excellent films (plus probably thousands of films that are less excellent but I’d argue are a long way from being worthy of a ban).

Hell, even Akira Kurosawa’s acknowledged masterpiece, Rashômon, while showing very little of the crime that forms the heart of the film, nonetheless contains what can only be described as “simulated rape imagery”. The entire film – as with The Accused – centres on the aftermath and consequences of a rape. Are we suggesting the subject is entirely off limits? Or that it can only be obliquely referred to as an off-screen event?

On the (very few) occasions that defenders of the proposed ban have tried to define exactly what it is they are banning, they fall back on the “intent” of the film or scene. If the simulated rape is intended to titillate or arouse a viewer, then it should be banned. Which means these people are willing to allow – nay demanding – the government be given the power to ban films based on their interpretation of the film-makers intent. If that’s not close to the definition of a slippery slope, then I don’t know what is.

I know, I know, there will be clear cases where a simulated rape scene is obvious pornography. But how do you write that into law in such a way as to ensure that the government cannot decide to use that same law to ban The Sopranos, Twin Peaks and Breaking Bad from our screens? And as someone has already pointed out on Twitter, David Cameron himself owns the TV series ‘24‘ on DVD. Yep, you guessed it, “simulated rape imagery”. Nobody is arguing that there aren’t deplorable things out there; things I don’t want to see and I suspect the vast majority of those reading this don’t want to see either. But I want to be able to draw that line for myself. I certainly don’t want David Cameron or Enda Kenny or any politician drawing it for me.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


25
Feb 2013

Comparative losses to Irish exchequer

Earlier this month, a chap called Andrew Fisher posted a diagram to Facebook demonstrating the relative losses to the UK treasury produced by tax evasion / avoidance and benefit fraud.

Rather shamelessly, I decided to nick the idea wholesale and use it to illustrate the same point in an Irish context. The Irish government, however, makes the exercise far more difficult than their UK counterparts. They do not publish any estimates of unclaimed social welfare entitlements. Nor do they publish any estimates of income lost through tax evasion / avoidance. However, they do publish estimates of social welfare fraud. This fact alone is extremely revealing and seems to answer the question… is our priority to balance the books? Or to demonise the poor?

However, an international organisation called the Tax Justice Network does publish a country-by-country estimate of revenue lost to tax evasion / avoidance. So that figure is available despite the best efforts of the Irish government to hide it from us. The amount saved in unclaimed payments, however, is not – to the best of my knowledge – available anywhere. If someone has a reliable source for this figure, then please do let me know in the comments.

So the next time you hear a government minister lambast welfare fraud, or see a tabloid headline shrieking about “benefit cheats”… well, the diagram speaks for itself.

Priorities

Total social welfare budget: €19.797 billion
Estimate of “fraud and error”: 3.4%
(average of lower and upper estimates – 2.4% and 4.4%)
Proportion of “fraud and error” attributed to fraud: 31%
Proportion of “fraud and error” attributed to error: 69%

Tackling Social Welfare Fraud (an Irish government publication)

The estimate by the Tax Justice Network of amount lost in tax evasion / avoidance is reported in the Irish Examiner.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


22
Feb 2013

The UK Bedroom Tax

Here in Ireland the government is waging low-level war on the poor and vulnerable. Hiding behind the utterly false claim that their “hands are tied” by the conditions of the bailout, they inflict death by a thousand cuts on those least able to sustain those cuts. A few million off disability allowance here, a tax on child benefit there… a property tax here, a reduction in the rent allowance cap there… pretty soon the poor are even poorer and even those on middle incomes find themselves bled dry. Which in turn, of course, means the vast majority of people are spending less, with inevitable negative consequences for the local economy.

Meanwhile, Enda Kenny and Fine Gael along with the traitorous Labour sycophants who toe the right-wing neoliberal line (in return for a few years with their snouts in the trough) steadfastly refuse to impose any meaningful austerity on those who can actually afford to shoulder a greater share of the burden. Profitable corporations and high income individuals remain untouched by the vicious cuts imposed elsewhere. Ireland remains a wealthy country, but the wealth is all concentrated in the hands of a small minority who are not expected to contribute to the well-being of the rest. As much as I’d like to see genuine socialist policies enacted in Ireland, I don’t expect it to happen given how much the political spectrum has narrowed over the past few decades. I do expect a modicum of basic fairness though… but it seems even such a humble expectation is thwarted by craven politicians without an ounce of decency or honour among them.

And yet, despite this betrayal of the vulnerable by those entrusted with representing their interests, we Irish merely have to look to our nearest neighbour to see what happens when a low-level war on the poor turns into an outright assault. I genuinely don’t understand anyone who votes for the British Tory party. Seriously, I just don’t get it. Those who defend the Conservatives generally mutter something about “sound economic policies” or how “business friendly” they are. Or maybe they’ll use the phrase “the party of law and order” or mention “family values”. But all of this ignores the fact that choosing a Conservative government is choosing to be ruled (and the way they run the government definitely merits the word “ruled”) by a bunch of vicious bastards without a shred of compassion who appear to genuinely enjoy inflicting suffering upon those they consider “less deserving” than themselves (a category that includes damn near everyone in the country).

David Cameron’s party consists of a bunch of small-minded, nasty little shits. Every single one of them. And even if they did have “sound economic policies” (which incidentally… they don’t!) it wouldn’t compensate for them being small-minded, nasty little shits.
Small-minded nasty little shits
The latest wheeze being introduced by the Tories is the “bedroom tax”. Leastways, that’s how it’s now known. Essentially this slice of undisguised cruelty applies to anyone in designated social housing, or receiving rent allowance. If they have an unoccupied bedroom in their house, their social security is reduced by 14%. Two spare rooms results in a 25% reduction. These are people right on the very edge of poverty (hell, many of them are already over that edge). Cutting their social security benefits is likely to leave them either cold or hungry (probably both). It is quite deliberately inflicting extreme hardship on people whose lives are already pretty damn hard. Meanwhile the British government continues to spend more on their military than all but three other nations. They continue to allow large corporations evade tax and they reduce taxation on the wealthiest individuals… they even go so far as to heavily subsidise some of the most profitable companies in the country by offering them a large, free workforce (an utterly self-defeating strategy, incidentally, and one that’s about as far from “sound economic policies” as it’s possible to get).

Bedroom taxOf course, the bedroom tax will hit certain people disproportionately. People who require carers (i.e. those with disabilities or health issues) are likely to get the most vicious kicking. I guess the Tory Party (along with their obnoxious enablers, the Lib Dems) can at least claim to be an Equal Opportunity Bully. And while it’s completely understandable that organisations who represent carers and those with disabilities will campaign on behalf of their interests, it seems to me that this is a much wider issue of social justice. Of course it’ll be a good thing if the most vulnerable manage to win themselves an exemption, but it won’t be cause for celebration. It will merely be a further example of a right wing government successfully pitting one group of vulnerable people against another. Everyone in the UK should be angry about this tax being imposed on even one person; carer, disabled, ill, healthy, able-bodied, it doesn’t matter… this is a fundamentally evil policy and its imposition will make the UK a fundamentally less just place.

For a party that claims to be all about “small government”, it’s difficult to imagine anything more intrusive than a policy aimed at stipulating the number of rooms a person may have in their house based upon their economic circumstances. People who have perhaps lived for years in a house or flat with an extra room will now find themselves forced out of their homes (or go hungry… can’t say they don’t have a choice I suppose) by a government that insists it hates interfering in the lives of people. What they really mean, is they hate interfering in the lives of people who matter. In other words, the rich.

But if you’re poor; they’ll tell you what house you can live in, they’ll tell you what job you must do, they’ll take away your healthcare and force you into debt if you want an education. Small-minded, nasty little shits. And I’m sorry to say this… but if you vote for them, then so are you. There are no longer any excuses.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


6
Jan 2013

Irish newspapers demand ridicule

Thanks to a tax-regime designed to encourage international investment (some would suggest “exploitation” as a more appropriate word), Ireland has successfully positioned itself as one of the world’s leading locations for high-tech and new media corporations. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter (and many others) have located their European or non-US headquarters in Ireland. The nation has derived some economic benefit from this, primarily with the provision of several thousand well-paid jobs, but less than might be imagined (thanks to that aforementioned policy of low corporate taxation).

Nonetheless, despite the emergence of Ireland as a major internet hub, there are large sections of society who have yet to fully enter the digital age. Most notably of course, our political establishment, but also certain commercial organisations that should really know better (I don’t expect our political establishment to know better because – quite frankly – I don’t have an awful lot of faith in the intellectual ability of most who inhabit it).

Fine Gael: Searching for the Off switchThis ignorance of things digital within the political sphere was wonderfully illustrated on a recent news report on RTÉ news. It concerned the government announcement of an investigation into the abuse of social media (online bullying – or “trolling” as it was mistakenly called). This follows at least three recent suicides in Ireland which have been linked – either directly or indirectly – to online bullying. While those affected by these tragic deaths have my deepest sympathies, I was extremely uneasy when a member of the government appeared on the news to suggest a possible crackdown on online bullying by dictating how social media should be used in Ireland. His announcement that he would personally chair the committee which would recommend new “social media legislation” was accompanied by some stock footage of him at his computer. There he sat, staring at this thing on his desk as though it were an unexploded bomb, tentatively prodding the keyboard with a single finger. And I thought, so this is the guy the Irish government have chosen to set policy in the area of new media… no wonder the place is a fecking disaster area.

But then a few days ago, it emerged that the Irish government is positively ahead of the times when compared to the Irish newspaper industry (sorry for the bad pun, but it was impossible to resist).

All Your Links Are Belong To Us

Simon McGarr is a Dublin-based solicitor. His clients include Women’s Aid, a registered charity dealing with the issue of domestic violence against women. National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) is an organisation which represents pretty much every newspaper in the country (national and regional). Recently, Women’s Aid was mentioned favourably in several newspaper articles (both online and in print). And as you would expect, they posted links to those online articles on their website. As you probably wouldn’t expect, however, they then received a demand from NNI that they pay a fee for each link to a newspaper website. Read Simon McGarr’s blogpost on this issue.

Now, you might think it perfectly reasonable that NNI should protect the right of their members to assert copyright over whatever content they publish. And you’d be correct. Everything I write on this blog is “copyright me (followed by dates)”. Though, as I mention on the About Me page, I’m generally more than happy to be cited in part (or even in full) so long as the citation is credited. Indeed, this is how online discourse tends to work and you’ll find this blog littered with extracts from newspaper articles, blogs and books along with a credit (and a link to the original source if it’s on the web). I know Irish copyright law doesn’t have an explicit “fair use” clause, but frankly I consider “fair use” to be an intellectual principle that transcends national laws and which – were we to lose it – would have an actively damaging effect on society as a whole (as well as pretty much bringing academia to an end).

All the same, I can just about accept the argument that permission should be sought prior to quoting someone else’s work. The argument is wrong, let me point out, and I won’t be bound by it unless you can demonstrate why it’s right… but nor will I think you’re completely insane if you attempt to forward it. However, that’s not the position of the NNI. No, their position is somewhat different. And it is completely insane.

The NNI is asserting that hyperlinks are themselves covered by copyright. That is; if I simply link to an article online without prior permission (like this) I have breached the copyright of the site being linked to (in this case The Irish Times). The NNI suggests that I now owe The Irish Times €300 (their cost for between 1 and 5 links). Although I have linked to more than five Irish Times articles during the lifetime of this blog, so I actually owe quite a bit more (€1,350 for between 26 and 50 links). And that’s an annual fee, let me point out, for a licence to link to those articles.

The Daily NewsNow, the NNI very graciously inform us that they are prepared to waive this licence fee if the links are “for personal use”. But that doesn’t alter their claim that they are legally entitled to such payment, and doesn’t prevent them from withdrawing the waiver on a whim should they choose to do so. They are effectively saying to bloggers and users of other social media platforms that they may, at their discretion and on a date of their choosing, take legal action to recoup money from anyone who has ever linked to one of their articles.

Foot shooting and rampant extortion

Not only is this patently absurd, not only does it completely violate the spirit of the web, but it displays a quite stunning self-destructive tendency. Most online newspapers generate income from advertising. Therefore, it is entirely in their interest to maximise traffic to their site. If a website is republishing entire articles, then I understand the NNI and individual newspapers may lose traffic and as a result lose money. So it is understandable that they should seek to prevent this happening. However, by asserting that the simple act of linking to a newspaper article potentially places a person under threat of future legal action, they provide a massive disincentive to link to them. Given that those links are generating traffic, and therefore revenue, for newspapers; the NNI appears to be insisting that the online community act to reduce the revenue of their members, under threat of legal action and/or a hefty fee.

And no, their claim that they voluntarily waive the fee for personal websites is not as reassuring as they clearly think, as it still suggests that some future change in policy could land bloggers in their debt. Part of me wants to remove all links to Irish newspapers from this blog and begin actively campaigning that other bloggers and users of social media do the same. Get a big enough snowball rolling and I suspect the online community could significantly reduce traffic to newspaper websites. However, such a link boycott would also mean engaging the NNI on their own terms rather than dismissing their claim as the absurd nonsense it actually represents.

Personally I can’t exactly afford a protracted court case, but I would love the NNI to demand payment from this blog for the many links I have made to Irish newspapers. Because – as I pointed out at the start of this article – they clearly don’t have a robust understanding of how the web works. If they did, they would realise their position – if taken seriously – effectively means that the majority of, if not all, Irish newspapers are engaged in extortion.

“How so?” you ask. Well, it’s pretty simple really. Like almost every online newspaper on the planet, Irish newspapers place social media buttons on each of their articles. They actively invite you to click these buttons. However, not a single one of them includes a legal disclaimer to the effect that clicking on these buttons creates a copyright-protected link for which the reader may be charged a substantial fee. Even if that fee is waived, the NNI is insisting that a person clicking the “Facebook Like” button on an article in the Irish Times has placed themselves in debt to the newspaper and it is only the discretion of the NNI that prevents this debt being recouped.

I’m no lawyer, and perhaps “extortion” is not the correct legal term, but I’m pretty certain that tricking someone into debt by inviting them to perform an action without first telling them it incurs a charge, is probably illegal (yes, even in Ireland, where we seem to have made a national sport out of tricking the populace into paying large amounts of money to private corporations).

It seems to me that the NNI really hasn’t the faintest idea what it’s doing and is running the risk of damaging the very industry it seeks to protect. It is providing us with a significant incentive to stop linking to Irish newspapers – actively driving down traffic and revenue for their members – while at the same time is stating a legal position which appears to place their own members very much on the wrong side of the law.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


2
Nov 2012

Sean Quinn jailed for nine weeks

Sean Quinn: looking down on the rest of usIt’s only a few years ago that Sean Quinn was Ireland’s richest man. Today he starts a nine week jail sentence. How the mighty have fallen.

Of course, it’s possible to argue that Mr. Quinn – along with the rest of the “mighty” who helped plunge Ireland into decades of crippling debt – hasn’t fallen nearly far enough. For years, it was impossible to switch on an Irish television without being assaulted by adverts for ‘Quinn Direct’, Sean Quinn’s insurance company and flagship of his business empire. These days… not so much.

All the same, despite his declaration of bankruptcy and his very public fall from grace – and despite the fact that nine weeks in prison is a bit more than just a slap on the wrist – Quinn’s punishment hardly seems sufficient given his part in our downfall. Because while nine weeks is indeed more than just a slap on the wrist, it’s not much more. And surely he deserves much more.

At least, morally speaking he does. Legally? Well, the best the court could do was hand out a custodial sentence for various charges of contempt of court. See Quinn’s real crimes aren’t actually “crimes”. That is – in a world driven into the abyss by a neoliberal ideology little short of psychotic – a shameful cabal of bankers, politicians, property developers and financiers can destroy the very fabric of our nation and yet still not be seen to have broken any laws. So we trip them up on technicalities and get to see them poke their heads briefly behind bars before emerging to a life of continuing luxury. And nor does Quinn’s version of “bankruptcy” amount to worse than a slap on the wrist either. By passing tens – if not hundreds – of millions of euros in assets to family members, despite owing billions to the Irish people, Quinn once again avails himself of a corrupt system set up specifically to ensure contemptible men like him always land on their feet.

Meanwhile the rest of us eye the forthcoming budget with concern as we wonder whether it’ll be the home heating or the grocery shopping budget that will need to be slashed this winter.

3 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


29
May 2012

Just Say No (to the Fiscal Treaty)

During the late 1960s when the anti-Vietnam War movement in the United States began to gather pace, peace activists coined the phrase “Against the war, but For the troops”. They wanted to make it clear they understood that individual soldiers weren’t the problem and were not the target of their protest. That actually those soldiers were, in large part, victims of a political class ideologically hell-bent on violent confrontation in Southeast Asia. Quarter of a century later, when talking about the first Gulf War, the late great Bill Hicks (possibly the finest stand-up comedian to have ever lived) turned that phrase on its head when he claimed to have been “For the war, but Against the troops“. It’s a wonderfully mischievous introduction to a great routine.

Vote 'No' in the Fiscal Treaty referendumOddly enough though, and without any comedic intent, I find myself in an analogous position right now. With the referendum on the European Fiscal Treaty being held on Thursday, I find myself “For austerity, but Against the treaty”; an isolated position given the Yes camp generally claim to be “For the treaty, but against long term austerity” (an essentially contradictory stance, but doublethink is hardly a new phenomenon in modern politics). Meanwhile the No camp are largely against both austerity and the treaty… a coherent position at least, though not one that reflects the realities of a society consuming far beyond its means.

Of course, when I say I’m in favour of Austerity, I most certainly do not mean I’m in favour of the policies currently being pursued by the Irish government; the policies being insisted upon by the German government backed by the IMF and ECB; the policies which this Fiscal Treaty aims to enshrine in the Irish constitution. Those policies are fundamentally and disastrously flawed. They are completely incompatible with any notion of social justice and – as such – should be opposed on those terms alone. However, what’s also important to realise is that those policies fail to even address the issues they claim to solve and are thus flawed even on their own terms. With unemployment spiralling out of control in many European states and the threat of social disorder looming over some, the notion that governments should be slashing public spending while simultaneously pumping billions into failed private financial institutions is clearly absurd. It is a policy that benefits banks and wealthy investors at the expense of average citizens. Voting ‘Yes’ on Thursday will be – to fall back on an overused metaphor – like turkeys voting for Christmas.

Because actually, when you look closely at these “austerity” policies being adopted wholesale by short-sighted, incompetent governments – these “austerity” policies we’re being asked to endorse on Thursday – you find they are nothing of the sort. Yes, those on low incomes are being forced to tighten their belts. But the rich are actually getting richer. Let me repeat that because the phrase has been blunted through familiarity, but it’s one that merits a moment’s reflection; in these times of so-called austerity, the rich are getting richer.

In fact, in the case of Ireland, the most recent figures show that while those on the lowest incomes experienced a decrease in disposable income of more than 26%, those with the highest incomes saw an increase of more than 8%. This widening gap is, in truth, the very reason for these “austerity” measures. And enshrining this wholesale redistribution of wealth – from the poorest to the richest – in the Irish constitution would be the most shameful act ever carried out by the people of Ireland (and I’m including our decision to inflict Jedward on the people of Europe twice in that calculation). Not only that, it would fundamentally rewrite the constitution so that it expressly contradicts the ideals of social justice which were enshrined in that document many years ago. Ideals which have not become less relevant over time and are needed now just as much as they were back then.

I urge anyone considering a ‘Yes’ vote to read Article 45 of the Irish Constitution. I will reproduce that article in full at the foot of this post, but in summary it quite explicitly demands that the government intervene to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor.

The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing: [...] That, especially, the operation of free competition shall not be allowed so to develop as to result in the concentration of the ownership or control of essential commodities in a few individuals to the common detriment.

To endorse this Fiscal Treaty is to endorse an economic system that utterly betrays both the word and the spirit of the Irish constitution. More than that, it betrays future generations by ripping from them a constitution designed to promote social justice and protect them from exploitation, and replacing it with a treaty that deprives them of the ability to make vital choices about their own lives and future. If you vote ‘Yes’ you are clearly stating (though you may be unaware of this fact) that you are happy with today’s bankers stealing the wealth of tomorrow’s children. The Fiscal Treaty has been written by a self-selected elite of the wealthy and powerful to ensure that their interests are forever placed above the interests of the general citizenry. And it seems they may be about to pull off one of the greatest con-tricks in history by frightening the general citizenry into voting for it.

Christine Lagarde

Christine Lagarde's message to the poor

Surely there can be no greater demonstration of the attitude of this self-selected elite than the staggeringly arrogant pronouncements of Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, earlier this week. As it happens, I’m of the opinion that her astonishing broadside against the people of Greece was actually a calculated tactic to accelerate the process of Greece leaving the Euro. I assume she feels that process is inevitable and has come to the conclusion that it should happen sooner rather than later. Otherwise her comments make little sense, given that they will inevitably alienate the Greek people and strengthen the hand of the anti-austerity parties.

When Lagarde was asked about Greek parents unable to afford medication for their sick children, she insisted that she felt little sympathy and that this could all be solved if the Greeks paid their taxes. Let me make two observations… firstly, if someone can’t afford medicine for their kids, they probably can’t add all that much to the national coffers; so as a solution, taxing them doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And secondly, Christine Lagarde pays absolutely no tax on her annual salary of almost €450,000 (including expenses). So maybe she’s not the best person to be lecturing the already poverty-stricken for failure to pay enough tax.

Which brings me back to my original point about being “For Austerity”. The sad reality is, western levels of resource consumption – even in these times of austerity – are essentially unsustainable. Simply put; collectively speaking we need to consume less. However, and this is the most important point to take away from this; those who currently consume most need to do the most cutting-back. The belt-tightening should start with those whose belts are already far, far too big for them. It is people like Christine Lagarde who need to be paying more tax. People like her who need to be experiencing some of this austerity, rather than imposing it on those already at breaking point.

Please please please, vote ‘No’ to this Fiscal Treaty. A ‘Yes’ vote is an endorsement of the right of the rich to force the poor deeper into poverty. A ‘No’ vote will have negative consequences certainly. To suggest otherwise would be disingenuous. But those consequences will be as nothing compared to the long-term damage that the treaty will inflict upon social justice in Ireland and across Europe. Those who can afford to pay, should pay. A transition to sustainability demands we must all play our part in reducing our resource consumption, but some of us have far greater scope in that regard, and it is they who should be leading the way.

Finally, a note of hope for those in Greece who despite already being deep in poverty, Legarde thinks should be paying more tax… a note of hope for all of us affected by these unjust and incompetent policies, and a note of warning to those imposing them. You can’t get blood from a stone – that’s true – but they who squeeze the stone hard enough eventually discover that the stone gets blood from them.

And as promised, this is Article 45 of the Irish Constitution in full…

DIRECTIVE PRINCIPLES OF SOCIAL POLICY
Article 45

The principles of social policy set forth in this Article are intended for the general guidance of the Oireachtas. The application of those principles in the making of laws shall be the care of the Oireachtas exclusively, and shall not be cognisable by any Court under any of the provisions of this Constitution.

1) The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the whole people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice and charity shall inform all the institutions of the national life.

2) The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing:

i. That the citizens (all of whom, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood) may through their occupations find the means of making reasonable provision for their domestic needs.

ii. That the ownership and control of the material resources of the community may be so distributed amongst private individuals and the various classes as best to subserve the common good.

iii. That, especially, the operation of free competition shall not be allowed so to develop as to result in the concentration of the ownership or control of essential commodities in a few individuals to the common detriment.

iv. That in what pertains to the control of credit the constant and predominant aim shall be the welfare of the people as a whole.

v. That there may be established on the land in economic security as many families as in the circumstances shall be practicable.

3)
1° The State shall favour and, where necessary, supplement private initiative in industry and commerce.

2° The State shall endeavour to secure that private enterprise shall be so conducted as to ensure reasonable efficiency in the production and distribution of goods and as to protect the public against unjust exploitation.

4)
1° The State pledges itself to safeguard with especial care the economic interests of the weaker sections of the community, and, where necessary, to contribute to the support of the infirm, the widow, the orphan, and the aged.

2° The State shall endeavour to ensure that the strength and health of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children shall not be abused and that citizens shall not be forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their sex, age or strength.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


18
Jan 2012

and the shirts off our backs!

The boys are back in town. Sadly not them wild-eyed boys referred to by Phil and the rest of Thin Lizzy. Nope, it’s the guys from the IMF, EU and ECB that are tearing up the city. And while they may well be dressed to kill, I doubt they’ll be spending much time down at Dino’s bar and grill. Instead it’s the Department of Finance and the luxurious Merrion Hotel where these boys will be spending their time. And the destruction they’ll wreak will make the best efforts of the wildest rock band pale into insignificance. What Phil and the lads might have done to a couple of hotel rooms, our current visitors will do to the whole country.

The Boys Are Back In Town

I wouldn't be the world's biggest Thin Lizzy fan
but I know who I wish was back in town

The reason for their visit is to “oversee the progress” being made by Ireland. That’s right; they’re checking up on us. They want to make sure that we’re following orders. Otherwise they’ll deny us access to the “bail-out” funds. The standard response to any hint of indignation about this is, “Well, it’s only fair. They are giving us money to keep the country afloat and in return we agreed to some conditions. They have every right to visit every three months and make sure we’re keeping to our end of the deal”.

Except it’s not fair. Not in the slightest. They’re not giving us money, they’re lending it to us. And one of the conditions we agreed to (or rather, our political classes agreed to) is that a huge chunk of those loans be used to pay off the debts run up by private financial institutions. And who are those institutions indebted to? Why, it’s the French and German banks (among others). So private corporations run up debts. The EU and IMF loans the Irish State money to pay back those debts. Leaving the Irish State in debt. What is described as an IMF/EU “bail-out” of Ireland is nothing more than a mechanism to trick the Irish public into bailing out French and German banks. It’s farcical. It’s obscene. And it’s as far from fair as you’re likely to get. How is heaping private debt on the shoulders of as-yet unborn Irish citizens even remotely fair?

The fathers have eaten bitter fruit and the children’s teeth are set on edge. The whole point of that proverb is as a metaphor for injustice!

And look, I’m not saying the Irish State didn’t run up debts of its own. I’m not saying the financial policies of our governments for the past decade haven’t been a bloody disaster. They have been. What I’m saying is that a combination of IMF and European bureaucrats along with the Irish political establishment, driven by an ideology that seeks to redistribute wealth from poor to rich, have decided to compound those disastrous years of financial irresponsibility with the worst possible response. A response that will ruin this country unless we resist it strenuously.

And the first line of resistance should be to prevent the sale of State assets. That’s the next stage in the process, you see. We’ve borrowed the money and are paying off the gambling debts of fools. Fools, incidentally, who show no remorse for their actions. Seán Quinn, David Drumm and the rest of them shouldn’t be in the bankruptcy courts, they should be in the criminal courts for the reckless behaviour that drove this country over a cliff. That they “didn’t technically break any law” is only because our law-makers were criminally incompetent. The very first article in the Irish Constitution states:

The Irish nation hereby affirms its inalienable, indefeasible, and sovereign right to choose its own form of Government, to determine its relations with other nations, and to develop its life, political, economic and cultural, in accordance with its own genius and traditions.

These men and their ilk have undermined the most basic principle of Irish nationhood. In a very real sense, their actions subverted the constitution. Haul them up for treason and throw them in Mountjoy for 20 years. No, it won’t get the money back, but it might just give pause to those in our banks and governments who even as I write are dedicated to continuing this madness.

And there’s a real urgency about this. Not only because each day that passes sees more debt piled onto the Irish people. But because we are soon to sell off our stake in our own energy infrastructure, our ports, our stake in our airline… even our forests and natural resources. All at fire-sale prices.

This massive wave of privatisations is being done at the behest of the international puppet-masters now pulling the strings of the Irish government. Not content with heaping a mountain of debt on the shoulders of future generations, they intend to take the family silver with them when they leave. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the outcry about this should not be confined to these shores. Because if these thieves are allowed to get away with this in full view – as is happening – they will not stop with Ireland. You will be next, wherever you live, and they won’t be satisfied until they have laid waste to the world.

In my previous post I argued that the inequities within western society are nothing next to the inequity that exists when you compare the west to the rest. But I also made it clear that I fully support opposition to that inequity (I’m just not keen on all of the language used by those doing the opposing). We can do little about the greater problems of the world if we’re forced to our knees at home. To solve the larger problem we need the power to do so. And whatever small amount of power we may have had is being systematically stripped from us.

My solution is a radical one. And one that will be popular with nobody. So we clearly need to find a different solution.

But if it came to it… sure, sell off the assets. Then once the cheque has cleared (metaphorically) announce a huge wave of nationalisations. Just take it all back (and that includes the offshore resources we let go for a pittance). Implement a hefty wealth tax. Raise income tax for everyone above €60,000; with increasing levels as you rise above €100,000. Cut whatever public spending we can afford to without putting anyone into poverty. Essentially, balance the budget in one fell swoop. Then unilaterally default on our debt and leave the euro. Hell, leave the EU if we’re forced to. Devalue our new currency and begin large training programmes in agriculture and engineering. Get back to basics. Make sure we can feed ourselves and maintain our national infrastructure. Expand our renewable energy and public transport systems. By all means continue interacting with the global economic system, but on our own terms.

Yeah. As I say, popular with nobody. It’s a strategy that will produce hardship and require sacrifice. Crucially though, those who can afford to contribute the most will be expected to. Given Ireland’s population and resources, I don’t believe that anyone need go hungry or without shelter; but we’ll have to say goodbye to most of our luxuries for the foreseeable future. And let me just say this while you’re thinking of a better solution… such a manifesto will be a far better preparation for the future than anything being proposed by any political party, or by the IMF, the EU or any financial institution. It would offer unborn generations a sustainable society instead of an unsustainable debt.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


19
Dec 2011

Security (by Philip Challinor)

The War Against Terror has brought death, kidnap, rendition, torture and destruction to an already weary world. It has resulted in an ongoing erosion of civil liberties, human rights and the rule of law. It has also partly unleashed and partly revealed the moral vacuum at the heart of western society. The War Against Terror has done more damage to the notion of enlightened, liberal democracy than any terrorist could hope to have achieved. By fighting fire with fire we have merely succeeded in burning everyone. In my search for a silver lining – and it is a very narrow one indeed – I’m forced to fall back on that old cliché about harsh times providing inspiration for writers and artists.

Security (by Philip Challinor)It is The War Against Terror and consequent loss of civil liberties that form the heart of Philip Challinor’s 2010 novel, Security. It’s a story told with wit, skill and an unsettling dollop of resignation… a sense that humanity is more than willing to allow terrible things to happen if they’re scared enough, and sometimes just because they’re too lazy to do otherwise.

Readers of Security spend 24 hours with a mid-level bureaucrat – Anderson – working for National Consolidated Solutions, to whom the UK government have outsourced a number of security contracts. Any novel about the work of a bureaucrat is going to be leavened with a certain amount of existentialism, but Challinor chooses to downplay this aspect of Security by turning the inner world of his protagonist into an abstract mystery story… Just what is it that Anderson does? The central character suffers from that terrible and slightly paradoxical combination of boredom and stress that anyone who has ever done a job that didn’t interest them, yet found themselves with a petty tyrant as a boss will recognise. Partly because of this – and partly due to the nature of his company’s business – Anderson forces himself to plough through his daily routine by focussing purely on the mechanics of the task at hand. As a result, the bigger picture takes some time to come into focus and although the entire novel is steeped in a sinister atmosphere, it takes a while to work out exactly why.

All the same, there’s plenty of humour to be found within the pages of Security, but it is both bone dry and extremely dark, so don’t expect too many chuckles. And the inevitable existentialism of a bureaucrat’s story hasn’t been completely eradicated – despite the attempts of Anderson’s unconscious mind to roboticise himself. This existential aspect is most obvious in Anderson’s encounters with and thoughts about his family. We can only assume that these sterile relationships did not start out this way and are a direct result of the toll taken on his psyche by the job he performs. Perhaps.

Ultimately Challinor successfully avoids getting too bogged down either in the monotony of bureaucracy or the opaque family relationships of the protagonist. And he creates more than enough intrigue to prevent Anderson’s monotonous life turning into a monotonous novel. Like the great Leopold Bloom, while Anderson is a passive participant in his own life, his passivity does not weigh down the story he tells. Over the course of the (relatively short) novel Anderson’s conversations begin to reveal precisely what is going on around him – even if at some level he would rather they didn’t. And fittingly, his final significant conversation – with the wonderfully objectionable Eric Munt – reveals everything in the most explicit terms while also hinting at an even worse future to come.

Security, like Ken MacLeod’s excellent The Execution Channel, paints a bleak picture of a future that threatens to engulf us all should we allow it. A future that has already begun to creep backwards into the present (as the inmates of Guantanemo Bay, Abu Ghraib, the cells at Bagram Airbase or a dozen other places whose names we don’t know can attest to), and which must be resisted at all costs. The alternative, as illustrated by Anderson, is too chilling to contemplate outside the pages of a novel.

3 comments  |  Posted in: Reviews » Book reviews


14
Jul 2011

14th July 1789: The Storming of the Bastille

Head across to On This Deity to check out my new post.

14th July 1789: The Storming of the Bastille.

Today we celebrate, though not without a small note of reservation, the Storming of the Bastille in Paris on this day in 1789. Commemorated with a public holiday in France, Bastille Day has come to mark the beginning of The French Revolution. Of course, France has had a number of significant revolutions – notably the July Revolution of 1830 and the revolution in 1848 that gave rise to the Second Republic – but it is the one that began in 1789 and lasted a full decade that has earned the definite article. It is The French Revolution.

The Bastille (or Bastion de Saint-Antoine) was originally a fortress built in the 1370s – during the Hundred Years’ War – to protect eastern Paris. By the 17th century the expansion of the city meant the Bastille was no longer on the outskirts where it could serve as an effective fortification against attackers, and Louis XIII re-purposed it as a prison. For the next hundred and fifty years the Bastille provided French royalty with a secure facility into which political prisoners and social agitators could be thrown with little or no regard for legal due process. As such, in the eyes of many it soon came to represent the oppression of the monarchy and although it only contained seven prisoners on July 14th 1789, the Storming of the Bastille was a hugely symbolic act, demonstrating the rejection of arbitrary royal privilege by the people of Paris.

read the rest…

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Announcements


5
May 2011

To AV or AV not?

I’d intended writing something about the Osama bin Laden assassination, but figured I’d wait until the US government get their story straight. The lovely Citizen S seems to think that these daily revisions of what happened are all about sowing confusion and deliberately creating a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theories. I don’t see what Obama’s administration gains from that strategy, but I must admit that I can’t come up with a better explanation for their inability to stick to a single version for more than a few hours.

So I’ve decided to hold off on that issue until things get a bit clearer (which may never happen of course). Instead let me take a few moments to urge my UK readers to consider voting “Yes” in the referendum on the Alternative Voting (AV) system. Those of you who were paying attention in the run up to the last UK general election will recall that I advised voting for the Liberal Democrats on the single issue of electoral reform. Given how disastrous they’ve been in government, I can only apologise for that. In fact, they’ve been so disastrous that I’ve heard people seriously argue for a “No” vote on the grounds that it would punish Nick Clegg. While I completely understand the level of betrayal that many feel (remember, I voted Green in the 2007 Irish election!) “punishing Nick Clegg” is an absurd rationale for rejecting electoral reform.

Don’t get me wrong, if after careful consideration you decide that First Past The Post (FPTP) is a fairer and more democratic system than AV, then by all means vote “No” in the referendum. Frankly I consider that a mystifying position to take (you can pretty much prove on an etch-a-sketch that while AV is far from a perfect voting system, it’s definitely better than FPTP if fairness and democracy are your chief concerns) but we’re all entitled to our opinion, however ridiculous.

Thus far I’ve heard the following arguments in favour of a “No” vote…

Punish the Lib Dems

Yes, the Liberal Democrats have betrayed those who elected them. The notion that they were anything other than a bunch of free market capitalists was always deluded. That they embraced conservative economic policies and propped up a right wing government shouldn’t surprise anyone who cast an informed vote in their direction last year. So if you voted for them because you thought they were “of the left” (as many people apparently did) then you’ve not been betrayed. You were simply ill-informed. However, that the Lib Dems have so cravenly backtracked on unambiguous promises, without putting up a fight or making any sustained public objection, is a clear betrayal. And they deserve to be hung out to dry as a result.

Nonetheless, it would be utterly insane to “punish” the Liberal Democrats for breaking promises by turning your back on the one promise they kept. They secured a (desperately watered-down) referendum on electoral reform. It’s the single good thing to have emerged from this coalition of the craven. Be a shame to waste it really. After all, if you want to punish Clegg because he’s accepted a role as Cameron’s lackey, then it implies it’s Cameron you have the bigger problem with. Right? So why not punish him instead? He wants you to vote “No”.

Besides, this referendum – the first direct say you’ve had in national policy since 1974 – isn’t about Nick Clegg, or about any single political party. It’s about the political system itself. It’s about making it fairer and more representative. Allowing personality or party politics to influence your decision on this is surely defeating the whole point of a referendum. This is a free vote. No party whips. It transcends the petty grievances of today and its effects will be felt long after Nick Clegg has been consigned to an historical footnote in a dull book.

FPTP is better at producing strong, stable government

Well, let’s break that down shall we? It was the current, FPTP system that gave Britain this rather unsavoury coalition of arseholes. If you look at Cameron, Osbourne and Clegg and the words “strong and stable” are the first to come to mind then may I suggest you get yourself a more expansive vocabulary. But that’s not really the point. See, while I dispute the fact that FPTP tends to produce strength and stability, let’s assume for a moment it’s true. It begs the two word question… so what?

See, there’s no doubt that having a strong and stable government is a bonus. But it’s very much a secondary concern for those who want their democratic elections to be… well… democratic. Isn’t it obvious that the first concern should be electing a government that’s actually vaguely representative of what the people voted for? If “strength and stability” are your primary concerns, then fascist dictatorship wins that particular race every time. Seriously, if you see the production of strength and stability as being the function of an election, then why not check out Saddam Hussein’s version of democracy. It’s the same one they use in North Korea. Every few years the population shows up at the polling booth and votes for the one name on the ballot paper. Pretty much guarantees you won’t end up with a coalition.

So if you like the idea of narrowing choice and reducing representation, then it makes sense to follow the advice of the BNP and vote “No” tomorrow. Strength and stability before proportionality. It’s a fine, if slightly unwieldy slogan I guess.

AV is too complex

Perhaps the most bizarre claim of all. The “No” campaign is apparently insisting that British people are too thick to list things in order of preference. Now, I lived in the UK for a fairly long time and while I met my share of thick people there, I wouldn’t say it was more than I met anywhere else. No doubt there are people in Britain who, when asked to list their top five albums of all time, don’t agonise over whether The White Album is better than Astral Weeks but instead agonise over what the word “list” means. But there can’t be that many of them surely. Certainly not enough to warrant making them the central demographic for a national political campaign.

Here in Ireland we’ve got a semi-proportional Single Transferable Vote system with multi-member constituencies. That’s waaay more complicated than AV. But except for the people who stare at their ballot paper wondering what number comes after “1″, we all pretty much grasp it. So when someone tells you that AV is too complicated for you, they are lying to you and they are insulting you. Which means it’s unlikely they have your best interests at heart.

AV is more expensive

Nope. It’s really not. Leastways, it doesn’t need to be. Yes, the referendum itself is going to cost money, but that money’s being spent whatever way it turns out. It’s not like the treasury gets a refund if the nation votes “No”. And the notion that voting by AV will require expensive voting machines, or expensive counting machines, is complete nonsense. Sure, you can invest in those things if you want, but they’re not a prerequisite for an election under the AV system. Here in Ireland, with our even more complicated system, we manage perfectly well voting with a pencil and counting by hand. Sure, we still elect terrible governments, but sadly no voting system can stop that happening. That’s down to the quality of the candidates and the willingness of the electorate to believe any old bullshit.

Bullshit like how expensive, complex and unstable AV is.

It’s not Full Proportional Representation

No, it’s not. AV should produce a more proportional result than FPTP because it will reduce tactical voting and increase the number of “swing seats”. But it’s far from fully proportional. It won’t eliminate tactical voting completely, and there’ll still be safe seats and swing seats. But rejecting a better system because it’s not the best system doesn’t make much sense. Especially since there’s no evidence that sticking with FPTP will increase the likelihood of full PR. In reality the opposite is probably true. Rejecting AV will allow those in favour of FPTP to insist that the British people don’t want change. And some of those in favour of electoral reform will decide it’s a vote loser.

A vote for AV will strengthen the position of those who claim that Britain wants a fairer system. A vote against AV will weaken that position.

Ultimately though, it’s in your hands Britain. You have it in your power to make your democracy marginally more representative. Alternatively, you can voice your support for ‘politics as usual’. How’s that working out for you?

8 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion