By TANA FRENCH
DUBLIN — FOR the past month, Ireland has been outraged by tapes of Anglo Irish Bank officials, back in 2008, discussing lying to the government about how big a loan they needed, and how they knew there was no chance that the loan would ever be repaid. That loan was the first domino in a sequence that ended with the whole Irish economy flat on its face.
It’s not the bankers’ actions that have outraged people — pretty much everyone had a fair idea that this was what had gone down. It’s the overpowering sense of amorality revealed on the recordings, which were released by the Irish Independent newspaper. The bankers have a great laugh about the situation. It genuinely never seems to mean anything to them that the taxpayer is going to be forced to pay their bills, to the tune of tens of billions. More than that: it never seems to occur to them that their actions might harm people.
I write psychological crime, so I spend a fair amount of time thinking about morality and amorality and what underlies them. And it seems to me that this amorality could be a symptom of something deeper: a total disconnect between action and consequence.
Ireland’s population is just over half that of New York City’s. Our ruling class — including many of the politicians, bankers and property developers who wrecked the economy — is a tiny community, interwoven by friendship, marriages, education, sports and financial transactions to a degree that would be unimaginable in a bigger country. That interweaving has created a safety net that won’t let any of the ruling elite fall. If you’re a banker and your golf buddy’s kid wants to be a banker, then it doesn’t matter if the kid is an idiot, or if he kills cats for kicks: you’ll take him on, and you’ll keep him on.
For many of these people, action and consequence don’t apply; their lives are mapped out from birth, and nothing they do will alter that map. It seems to me that that would be intensely disempowering, even terrifying. Instead of being a series of interlinked actions, life is made up of a scattering of events that have no discernible relationship to one another and that you don’t influence in any real way. In that climate, it would be difficult to develop the sense that your actions make any difference, that you have any responsibility for the consequences. Without cause and effect, there’s no foundation for morality.
I’m not saying this is an excuse. It isn’t. But, like everyone in Ireland, I want answers — for the taxes piled on taxes, for the enormous cuts to essential services, for the dole queues and the flood of emigration, for the desperation in the voices of people who are trapped in ghost estates and don’t have the money to buy their kids shoes. And I wonder if this could be one small facet of one of the answers.
Another question, maybe a more interesting one, is how people who weren’t part of that powerful elite got sucked into the property pyramid scheme that fueled the boom. Some commentators have implied that the answer is basically the same: people got deep into credit-card debt, or took out mortgages for 10 times their income, because they were temporarily sucked into the psychosis of the powerful and it didn’t occur to them that there might be consequences.
But I wonder if, for these people, the truth might actually be the opposite.
Throughout the economic boom, the politicians and bankers and property developers, along with the news media, were telling all of us that cause and effect were perfectly, inextricably linked: “If you buy a vastly overpriced and shoddily built house in the middle of nowhere, the economy will keep growing, and in a few years your house’s value will have doubled, and you can sell it to some other sucker and buy something you actually want and live happily ever after and UTOPIA!!!” It was as simple and certain as sticking a coin into a vending machine: insert Action X, and the life machine will inevitably whir and beep and spit out Future Y.
THE Irish are notoriously cynical, but the Utopia myth hit at exactly the moment when we were most open to unquestioning belief. The majority of Irish people were so desperately poor, for most of the country’s history, that when suddenly we weren’t broke any longer, the cynicism was washed away by the flood of prosperity. We needed to believe that the Celtic Tiger hadn’t simply wandered in, because that would mean it could wander out again. We needed to believe that we had somehow made it happen, and that therefore there were things we could do, like buying overpriced houses, to make it keep happening. We needed, basically, to believe in that chain of action and consequence.
And so the Irish tendency to raise an eyebrow at anything that’s presented as certain paradise dissolved just at the moment when it was needed most.
A lot of my generation believed that chain was unbreakable. When it shattered, so did they — not just financially (although that too), but also psychologically. Their whole sense of a world governed by coherent cause and effect, of their ability to have any agency in their own lives, came under attack.
Those people, the ones who trusted too deeply in action and consequence, were the ones who got utterly, shamelessly destroyed by the people who had no such belief. I’m pretty sure the effects of that betrayal, for Ireland, will take decades to fully unfurl.
Tana French is the author, most recently, of the novel “Broken Harbor.”
The following editorial in today’s Irish Examiner is worth reproducing in full.
The header asks: Why are we pathetically complacent?
I don’t’ think the Irish people are complacent. I think rather they have, over the decades, being rendered totally powerless by the sheer weight of corruption within the political/administrative system.
Irish citizens can see the corruption, they are extremely angry about it, particularly since September 2008, but because the governing system is so infected with the disease it is, short of a revolution, almost impossible to make any serious challenge to the power of state corruption.
Challenging corruption – Why are we pathetically complacent?
Friday, July 26, 2013
It is not an exaggeration to say that the country was convulsed in the run up to the passage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill through the Oireachtas.
Tens of thousands of people marched, every media platform was dominated by debate on the issue. Croziers were dusted off and swung like broadswords in a way that once commanded obedience. Taoiseach Enda Kenny showed an unexpected ruthlessness to get the legislation passed.
We had, in Irish terms at least, a spectacular and almost unheard of form of protest — politicians risking careers on a point of principle.
It was, whichever side of the debate you stood on, a matter of right or wrong. A position had to be taken, remaining neutral was not an option.
Yet, and though the ink is barely dry on the abortion legislation, another manifestation of this society’s justice system’s dysfunction and ongoing failures, our seeming indifference to allegations of corruption — or the innocence and good name of those accused of it — presents itself and there’s hardly a game-changing ripple across the public consciousness.
There is certainly no prospect of 40,000 people marching through the streets of our capital to protest at yet another Irish outcome to an Irish problem.
Is it that we don’t care? Is it that five years after our banking collapse and not a single conviction to show for society-breaking years of Wild West banking that we are a beaten, abject people who have come to accept that for some people accountability is as remote and unlikely a prospect as levitation?
The collapse of the planning and corruption trial earlier this week because a witness is too ill to give evidence has served nobody well, not even the businessman, the councillor and the two former councillors in the dock. Though the principle of innocent until proven otherwise must always apply, too many important questions remain unanswered.
This one case may put the issue into a sharp, if fleeting, focus but there are myriad examples of our failure to adequately deal with the whiff of corruption.
Speaking to the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee, former financial regulator Matthew Elderfield put it in the gentlest terms when he chided that we do not have a system capable of holding individuals to account or tackling white-collar crime.
How could it be otherwise? A report from that committee suggests that fewer than 60 state employees are focussed on white-collar crime. This figure includes all relevant gardaí, Central Bank officials and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement staff assigned to the problem. We probably have more dog wardens.
It is surely, despite the occasional protest from cornered politicians, naive to imagine this is accidental. If it is, like our tribunals, it is profoundly under-whelming and utterly unequal to the challenge. More likely it is another example of our enthusiasm for rules but our fatal distaste for implementing them.
There is great, chest-filling talk about political reform, about a new political party even and changing the culture of how a citizen interacts with the state. Sadly, all of that will stand for nothing more than a cynical diversion unless we have a policing, regulatory and justice system capable of, and most importantly, enthusiastic about, investigating allegations of corruption.
It is said that a society gets the politicians it deserves and that may well be true, but it is absolutely certain that a society must suffer the consequences of the behaviours it tolerates. The evidence is all around us.
In the survey, the Irish showed top ratings in the sub-categories of helpfulness and strength of social networks. Photograph: PA
While economic hardship can drive a society apart, the study noted smaller states such as Ireland, Switzerland and Austria demonstrate a more resilient sense of cohesion than larger neighbours. Using data collated over 25 years, the study attempts to quantify the levels of social cohesion, defined as the level of solidarity exhibited by people living and working in a geographical community.
The researchers studied data from 34 countries including 27 members of the EU – before Croatia’s accession – and seven other members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. They found the strongest social cohesion in Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden. After Australia and New Zealand, Ireland belonged to the next-best group.
The Irish showed top ratings in the sub-categories of solidarity, helpfulness and strength of social networks but only average ratings regarding overall fairness and civic participation.
Researchers noted one negative trend: declining trust in Irish institutions. Looking at the data going back 25 years, researchers suggest the idea of solidarity remains strong in Ireland while respect for social rules, having dipped in about 2008, is again on the rise.
“We have great data protection laws in Germany but if Facebook is based in Ireland, then Irish law applies”
Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday the ongoing Snowden controversy made clear that EU members should force US companies to explain what happens to user data when it leaves European computer servers
The Government faces pressure from Germany this week to improve oversight of how Irish-based companies like Google and Facebook process data they collect on European users.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday the ongoing Snowden controversy made clear that EU members should force US companies to explain what happens to user data when it leaves European computer servers. She has ordered her interior and justice ministers to adopt a “strict position” on data protection in Brussels talks on Thursday and Friday of this week and to end a stand-off over new common EU data protection rules.
“We have great data protection laws in Germany but if Facebook is based in Ireland, then Irish law applies,” said Dr Merkel on public television last night. “We wish that companies make clear to us in Europe to whom they give their data. This will have to be part of a [European] data protection directive.”
This turns the spotlight on the Portlaoise-based Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) which has front-line responsibility for policing whether companies based in Ireland adhere to EU data protection rules.
In recent years the DPC has been flooded with complaints from citizens around Europe that Facebook and other technology companies are collating information in violation of EU law.
Dukes says he was briefed on Anglo tapes by lawyers
Bank’s former chief in UK living in dream lakeside home
When people ask me, “what is the most important thing you learned about Bobby Sands?” I tell them one simple thing. The most important thing about Bobby Sands is not how he died on hunger strike, it is how he lived.
New York – Bıa news agency, 5 November 2012
The hunger strikes of 1980/1981, in which ten men including Bobby Sands died, are the most famous use of that political weapon. Yet hunger striking has a long history in Irish political culture. It is said that the ancient Celts practiced a form of hunger strike called Troscadh or Cealachan, where someone who had been wronged by a man of wealth fasted on his doorstep. Some historians claim that this was a death fast, which usually achieved justice because of the shame one would incur from allowing someone to die on their doorstep. Others say it was a token act that was never carried out to the death – it was simply meant to publicly shame the offender. In any case, both forms of protest have been used quite regularly as a political weapon in modern Ireland.
The history of Irish resistance to British colonialism is full of heroes who died on hunger strike. Some of the best-known include Thomas Ashe, a veteran of the 1916 “Easter Rising”, who died after he was force-fed by the British in Dublin’s Mountjoy Jail. In 1920, three men including the mayor of Cork City Terence MacSwiney died on hunger strike in England’s Brixton Prison. In October 1923 two men died when up to 8,000 IRA prisoners went on hunger strike to protest their imprisonment by the new “Irish Free State” (formed after the partition of Ireland in 1921). Three men died on hunger strike against the Irish government in the 1940s. After the IRA was reformed in the 1970s, hunger strikes became common once again. IRA man Michael Gaughan died after being force-fed in a British prison in 1974. And Frank Stagg died in a British jail after a 62-day hunger strike in 1976.
Unlike in Turkey, the Irish make no distinction between a “hunger strike” and a “death fast,” although many hunger strikes have started without the intention of anyone dying. In 1972, IRA prisoners successfully won status as political prisoners after a hunger strike in which no one died. They were then moved to Long Kesh prison camp, where they lived in dormitory-style huts and self-organized their education (including guerrilla training), work (including cooperative handicrafts production), recreation, and attempts to escape and rejoin the conflict. The prisoners used their relative freedom to raise their collective and individual consciousness about their struggle against British occupation of Ireland. They read international revolutionaries like Che Guevara and Irish socialists such as James Connolly. This was, in turn, a foundation for rebuilding the IRA on a basis that included a less hierarchical and more participative structure, with a higher emphasis on community politics as a part of armed struggle.
As the IRA rebuilt their organization in prison the British government also changed strategy. The main pillar of the new strategy was a “conveyor belt” of security operations that included widespread arrests of young Catholic males, heavy interrogation including torture, and juryless courts in which a single judge pronounced guilt often on the sole basis of verbal or written statements under interrogation. At the end of the process was a new prison structure. All prisoners found guilty of offences committed after March 1976 were stripped of political status and committed to cellular confinement in the newly- built “H-Blocks” of Long Kesh prison. There were eight cellblocks built in the shape of an “H” (later copied on Robben Island in South Africa), with 25 cells on each wing and an administrative area on the crossbar of the “H”.
Eventually, this new cellular prison structure -as in Turkey in 2000 after operation “return to life” and the violent transfer of prisoners to F-type prisons – would lead to an intense hunger strike with the deaths of ten men including Bobby Sands.
Here the similarity with the 2000-2006 Turkish hunger strike ends. Instead of embarking immediately on hunger strike, IRA prisoners went through five long years of intense struggle against cellular confinement. Their conditions of confinement were horrific: when an IRA prisoner refused to be criminalized by wearing a prison uniform he was thrown into a small cell without clothing, reading materials (only a bible and a few religious pamphlets), pens, paper, or any appliances such as a radio. The cell included only basic furniture – a bed, a desk, and a locker. The only personal items the prisoners were allowed were soap, toothpaste, a toothbrush, a hairbrush, and four small packets of tissues a month. Having no clothing, the prisoners wore their blankets around their shoulders and waists and, thus, became known as “blanketmen”. The blanketmen were kept in bare lockup 24 hours a day, seven days a week for five years. They were allowed out of their cells only on Sunday to attend religious mass in the block cafeteria and to go on one monthly half-hour visit with family or friends.
In these bare conditions, an incredible thing happened. The prisoners began several years of collective resistance to the regime. Each act of protest was followed by horrible new punishments and deprivations by the authorities. The guards stopped letting the prisoners go to showers. They refused to take away prisoners’ “slop buckets” even though they were overflowing with human waste. They took away all of their furniture except a foam mattress. All the men were allowed to receive from their families was a packet of tissues each month.
When the prisoners tried to slop their urine under their cell doors, the guards pushed it back in and they woke up each morning on foam mattresses soaked in urine. When prisoners threw their feces out the window, the guards threw it back into the cells. Eventually the men were reduced to lying naked in their cells, with their excrement smeared on the walls and their food waste heaped in the corner.
Surprisingly, each new punishment made the prisoners stronger. They went on monthly visits to their relatives and smuggled back small comforts including tobacco, ballpoint pen refills, cigarette papers (for writing on), educational materials (tiny writing on cigarette papers), and plastic wrap (to keep everything protected from bodily fluids when they were hidden inside the prisoner’s body). By smuggling, the prisoners also maintained contact with the outside movement. Their smuggled accounts of prison conditions became the raw material for a public support campaign.
Most importantly, over five years the prisoners built a publicity campaign that ensured that everyone in Ireland knew what was happening in the H-Blocks, despite a ban on supporters of the IRA or its political party Sinn Fein appearing in the public media. They built a “propaganda factory” where each prisoner wrote several letters a day on cigarette papers, and then smuggled them out to be sent to influential people the world over. Bobby Sands smuggled a message to the movement outlining a massive publicity campaign to support the prisoners. He wrote:
The idea to reach people is to pass a simple message to them. Our simple message to everyone will be “Smash H-Block” . . . We want to get this message to everyone, we want to make it impossible for people to forget it, no matter who they are or where they are, they shall see it, hear it. Backing this will be material on H-Block to stir people’s emotions and to arouse them and activate them.
Sands suggested that the movement would put up “millions of posters” and that the slogan “Smash H- Block” would be written and then re-written on every wall and bridge in Ireland and even in Britain, on highways and public buildings. People should see pictures of children in t-shirts or carrying signs that read “Don’t Let My Daddy Die in H-Block.”
And this is what happened. Despite the media blackout in Britain and in Ireland, the message of the IRA prisoners on protest was soon known by everyone. They saw it everywhere they went, even on the money that they spent in their local shops (people wrote “H-Block” on money before they spent it). And then the message spread through the huge Irish emigrant communities in North America, Britain, and Australia.
I spent six years researching a biography of Bobby Sands. When people ask me, “what is the most important thing you learned about Bobby Sands?” I tell them one simple thing. The most important thing about Bobby Sands is not how he died on hunger strike, it is how he lived. Through his energy, he built a movement and a community inside of the H-Blocks that the world could not ignore.
THEN, in that terrible time beginning in late 1980, Irish prisoners began to go on hunger strike to the death. A first hunger strike ended in failure in December 1980, when its leader told the prison authorities to feed a hunger striker who was dying. By the time Bobby Sands began a hunger strike in March 1981, the men who went on it knew that they would likely die.
There was no pressure on any prisoner to participate. Quite the opposite. The Commanding Officer of the IRA in the prison sent a letter to every man and woman who volunteered for the hunger strike, trying to talk them out of participating. The letter stated that if they began a hunger strike death was the likely outcome. They had to be sure of themselves because if they “backed down at the last minute,” they would do irreparable damage to the other hunger strikers. The letter said that there was no shame in withdrawing their name and that the hunger strike was entirely voluntary. Each prisoner should be sure that if they started to hunger strike they would continue, if necessary until death.
Ten prisoners died on the hunger strike, led by Bobby Sands. They won a clear moral victory. The world’s media overwhelmingly supported them. The New York Times said that Bobby Sands, who won election as a member of British parliament before he died, had “bested an implacable British prime minister.” National parliaments honored the hunger strikers with resolutions and moments of silence. Political prisoners in Chiapas in Mexico, who would later form the Zapatista movement, went on hunger strike following the Irish example in the summer of 1981. Nelson Mandela and young ANC prisoners in South Africa did likewise. This all happened because of dozens of Irish prisoners went on hunger strike, including the ten men who died. But it also happened because of the five years of struggle and building that the blanketmen and their supporters on the outside had accomplished, in spite of a hostile media and a ban on their representatives appearing in the public media.
After the hunger strike finally ended, the Irish prisoners regained political status. They soon had control over prison spaces in the H-blocks, which they ran again on collective lines. After they left prison, many prisoners took their politics into their communities, creating and participating in alternative Irish schools, housing projects, cooperatives, development organizations, arts groups, and the like.
And the Irish hunger strikers were remembered around the world. The street in front of the British embassy in Tehran is still called “Bobby Sands Street.” Turkish prisoners conducted a horrific death fast between 2000 and 2006. They tell me that the code word they used for their action was “Bobby Sands.” In the US state of Ohio in 2011, three death-sentenced prisoners had been kept in total isolation for nearly twenty years. They read about Bobby Sands and the Irish hunger strikers and were encouraged to organize their own hunger strike for the right to have contact visits instead of visiting their loved ones behind security glass. They won their struggle after 12 days. In California, later in the same year, 6,000 prisoners went on hunger strike. Again, they read about Bobby Sands and his comrades in Ireland and they became convinced that they, too, could do something about the horrific conditions of isolation in which they had been held, some for more than twenty years. In both Ohio and California, the prisoners took an important message from Bobby Sands and his Irish comrades: they mobilized a public campaign outside of prison that would support them emotionally and put pressure on the government to listen to their just demands.
Hunger striking is a horrific thing. It is a slow and painful way to die. Those who choose to do it, do so because their conditions have become so intolerable that continuing to live in them is worse than going through this horrible ideal. It is their last step of resistance. They are moved by feelings of solidarity and love for their fellow prisoners, to a degree that the rest of us cannot imagine.
Fidel Castro perhaps came closest to expressing the enormity of the act of hunger striking, when he praised Bobby Sands and his comrades:
Tyrants shake in the presence of men who have such strength as to die for their ideals through sixty days of hunger strike! Next to this example, what were the three days of Christ on Cavalry as a symbol of human sacrifice down the centuries?
And now hunger strike has once again returned to Turkey. The experiences of Ireland and North America show that there is only one thing that can help them win their struggle: public knowledge and public support. Without it, they are on their own.
* Denis O’Hearn is Professor of Sociology at State University of New York – Binghamton and author of the definitive biography of Bobby Sands, Nothing but an Unfinished Song: Bobby Sands, the Irish Hunger Striker Who Ignited a Generation.
Michael Noonan the Minister of Finance said
Ireland is emerging from its economic crisis, Finance Minister Michael Noonan has declared in this opening remarks of the Budget 2013.
“the economy could soar like a “rocket” next year as new figures showed that the country’s goods-trade surplus jumped 20% in January compared to the same month last year”.
Following the release of tapes of Anglo staff discussing how they present their case for support, in the lead up to the bank guarantee, there are more revelations in todays Irish Independent (which has been breaking the story). You can listen to the tapes via the Indo’s website (at the links above), but here are… read full article
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