Sunday, 16 September 2007

The Conquest of Ireland

The more I think about it the more I believe that the latest proposal from Minister for Integration, Conor Lenihan (that of introducing an English-language requirement in the granting of work or residency permits and citizenship applications) is ill-considered.

I just don't feel that a policy of 'let's be mean to immigrants' works in an Irish context.

The only reason why Ireland is an English-speaking country today is because, beginning about the 16th century, successive waves of foreign hordes arrived on our shores to take up residency, many of them having entered the country illegally it must be said! And despite the best efforts of the native Irish to put obstacles in their way it would seem that they both survived and prospered. Not only did they not integrate with the Irish society that they encountered on arrival, it was in fact we, the Irish, who were assimilated, adopting more and more of their ways until today we find ourselves speaking their language! The same language that Conor Lenihan loves so much.

And now we have people like Conor steadfast in his willingness to preserve and defend that conquest.

16th September 2007

Versions of this post were also published as 'Letters to the Editor' in Irish Independent newspaper of 18th September, 2007 and the website of Village Magazine, 17th September 2007.

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2007

On Religion in Schools

Niall Gormley has thrown his hat into the ring on the current debate about school management in Ireland - Hands Off Church Schools, Northside People, 12th September 2007. In doing so he invokes fiery, McCarthyite rhetoric, suggesting that's it's all a plot on the part of unidentified liberals to ostracise the Catholic Church and take away control of 'their' schools from them.

As a matter of fact the issues at stake are really quite simple so there is no need to convolute the debate. The problem to be addressed is the removal of religious instruction from the realm of public education. This doesn't even entail the end of religious education itself. It's simply the partisan and proselytising aspects of religion that can have no place in a system which, Niall himself informs us, is 95% state funded.

Further to this it is the state which devises the various curricula and issues guidelines that all schools have to follow. So all in all there really isn't much scope for 'choice' in the type of education parents provide for their children in sending them to Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish schools etc. It could equally be argued that the Educate Together model, in offering non-denominational education, does not extend the scope for choice either. From the standpoint of providing 'educational alternatives' only the gaelscoileanna are offering a unique and distinctive brand but even here the same questions to do with school management arise. What is the broad thrust of education in society? What are it's objectives and how does it serve the common good?

There is no rational reason why children of all faiths and none cannot be educated 'under one roof' so to speak (not to be taken as a comment on the general level of provision for education in this country) once the education system in Ireland steps up to the mark and starts to base itself on an ethos that is universal. So why do we persist in this country in funding a system of segregated education? Does Niall Gormley believe that the state has an obligation to teach 'creationism' alongside Darwinian evolution? Well even if he does, simple economic realism will ensure that this will never happen. Are we really going to send a generation of educationally disadvantaged, Irish youth out into the world and still claim that we have equipped them well for whatever the future has in store? It would be a very drastic change of policy and would most certainly signal the end of the so-called 'celtic tiger'. So does Niall Gormley have a better model for development? If so he should tell us. He might just be the saviour we've all been waiting for.

Personally I am sceptical that this debate has anything at all to do with religion, or even education for that matter. However it may well have everything to do with another, far more pernicious form of segregation which exists in Irish society, in common with all societies. Could it be that the 'parents' right to choose' argument is really just a convenient figleaf to disguise a reluctance on the part of certain sections of the rich in society (even if only relatively rich) to send their children to the same schools as the poor (be it relative or absolute poverty)? Is equality best achieved by raising everyone up or by dragging everyone down? That is the real crux of the question.

14th September, 2007

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2007

A Question of Language

Minister for Integration, Conor Lenihan wants to see proficiency in the English language become a prerequisite for residency, the issuing of work permits and ultimately Irish citizenship for people entering the country.

He has even mooted the provision of English language courses as a means of assistance.

I wonder if the minister would himself consider enrolling on one of these courses if and when they come on stream.

Listening to him being interviewed by Mary Wilson on RTE's Drivetime programme today I'm not at all sure I understood what he was talking about. Presumably Conor Lenihan does not propose to make any measures retrospective or to apply to existing citizens.

12th September, 2007

Versions of this post were also published as 'Letters to the Editor' in Irish Independent newspaper of 13th September, 2007; Irish Examiner newspaper of 14th September, 2007 and the website of Village Magazine, 12th September 2007.

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2007

Saturday, 30 June 2007

On Tony Blair: Apres the Downing Street Years

How gratifying it is to see that on leaving Downing Street Tony Blair will step into a new role of peace envoy to the Middle East.

Is this to herald a new era of politicians finishing what they started and undertaking to clean up their own mess after them?

Does anyone know what George W.'s retirement plans are?

27th June, 2007

Versions of this post were also published as 'Letters to the Editor' in Irish Examiner newspaper of 3rd July, 2007; Irish Independent newspaper of 4th July, 2007 and the website of Village Magazine, 28th June 2007.

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2007

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Defining a Role for the Perplexed Rich

I have been following with interest the debate sparked off in the pages of the Irish Independent newspaper by Kevin Myers' exposé of the apparent hypocrisy of Bono lecturing to governments about their overseas aid commitments, while his band chooses tax exile in the Netherlands. (Abject hacks catch the Bono gibbers by Kevin Myers. See also Myers right about Bono's hypocrisy, or for a different opinion Let Geldof and Bono preach.)

For my own part I don't think there is anything necessarily hypocritical in Bono and U2's stance. It all depends on where the money finally ends up. As Kevin Myers rightly points out 'it's a commercial decision'.

Taxation all too often resembles a black hole. The taxpayer has no real say in where the money ends up, unless you count votes given at elections. But this is hardly an effective mechanism. Philanthropy (defining the role of the perplexed rich) on the other hand can be seen as a form of voluntary taxation with the advantage to the benefactor that he or she can steer the wealth in a direction of his or her choosing.

After all, once you've made provision for the basic necessities (food, clothing and shelter), indulged all your whims, secured the health and prosperity of your children (and your children's children and your children's children's children) what else are you going to do with all your money? Bono and U2 represent a small but privileged strata who are can make a difference on a significant scale. They also represent a privileged section of society who can legally evade paying tax. And that's just great if they are willing to use their power and influence to do good.

Why don't Bono and U2 make a public declaration that henceforth they will make an annual donation to the overseas development fund run by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, representing a sum equivalent to what they would have paid in taxes to the Irish treasury had they not chosen tax exile? They could even make the donation conditional on matching funding from the Irish government, or better still, the next time Bono attends a G8 summit he could make such a proposal to the governments of the world.

By funny coincidence just the other day I picked up a U2 CD (The Unforgettable Fire) from my local Xtra Vision's bargain bin. To kick-start what I hope will be a new philanthropic venture for Bono and U2 I have personally written to them (taking care to include a copy of my receipt less they might think I'm some sort of crank) requesting that that portion of the royalty which they will now receive from this sale, instead of having to hand over to the Irish Revenue Commissioners, will be donated to an overseas aid agency or their choice, or some other such worthy cause.

I am publishing this letter in the hope that U2 fans will follow my lead and exert pressure for change at the top.

17th June, 2007

A version of this post was published as a 'Letter to the Editor' in Irish Independent of 19th June, 2007.

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2007

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Towards a United Ireland

Response to an article by Niall Gormley (Let's Make the Unionists an Offer) published in The Northside People (7 February, 2007).

Niall Gormley is drawing incorrect conclusions, albeit from certain correct premises in his piece of 7th February ('Let’s Make the Unionists an Offer'). He talks about promising that ‘a functioning Northern Ireland would never be dismantled’ in order to re-assure unionists. But when is the last time Northern Ireland functioned? Why does it still fail to function eight years on from the Good Friday Agreement? And is it simply a matter or re-assuring unionists? What about those who dissent from the unionist agenda? Are they to be stripped of their political rights and deprived of their voice - again?

As a matter of fact it can be observed that unionists are beginning to question the long-term viability of a Northern Ireland entity particularly in view of the sustained electoral growth of Sinn Fein. Consequently Ian Paisley Jnr speaks not against a united Ireland per se but ‘the type of united Ireland that republicans envisage’? Listen carefully the next time you hear him being interviewed.

Furthermore even so-called ‘hard line’ elements of unionism (Willie McCrea for example) in their public comments are not expressing opposition to the changes that are in the pipeline. Rather they are stating a view that they would like to see changes deferred for a political generation. Maybe it’s all just a ruse but maybe it really is the beginning of a sea-change.

Surely it is no longer sabre-rattling to suggest that Northern Ireland is a failed political entity. This has been observed in practice at least since the time of the Civil Rights Movement but also in more recent times following on from the IRA ceasefires, the Good Friday Agreement and now IRA decommissioning.

Of course Niall Gormley is right when he says that the formulation centred around ‘united Ireland’ is somewhat vague. As a matter of fact for years the standard old battle-cry used to be more along the lines of a ‘united, independent, sovereign, 32 county, maybe socialist (depending on your view) but definitely republic’. This rendition has been quietly dropped in recent years, probably because it irks certain people with a certain disposition to speak in this way. When cold war paranoia operated across the globe there was a fear (perhaps genuinely held) that Ireland could become Britain’s Cuba if the wrong sort of people ever gained too much influence.

Today the task devolves to the Irish and British governments (calling on the support of the international community where necessary) to manage the transition towards a political re-unification on the island of Ireland that will best accommodate all sections of Irish people. This accommodation will of course be bound by the limits of what is practical and reasonable in the prevailing circumstances. But it must always be open to subsequent review. This is in line with democratic principle.

It only serves to debase politics (by negating the role of the individual) if the problem of reaching a settlement is posed in terms of cynical political horse-trading, carving out political fiefdoms etc, etc.

11th February, 2007

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2007

Monday, 29 January 2007

On the Likelihood of a Breakthrough in the Northern Ireland Peace Process

Efforts to broker agreement among political parties in the North are stumbling inexorably towards collapse and all things considered, this need not necessarily be the worst possible outcome.

In truth any agreement that is hammered out would only serve, at the present time, to paper over cracks. Most likely it would amount to a re-run of the previous occasion when the Assembly and Executive was functioning. Constant injections of political support from one or other or both of the two government would be required to keep the it all propped up. The main political forces on the nationalist side see in it anyway merely a stepping stone towards some form of 'united Ireland' - precisely what form deliberately being left vague for the time being. But equally unionist have reached a point where they just cannot bring themselves to do business with Sinn Féin and this clouds their entire political agenda. Paradoxically this is also the reason why their political interests would now best be served within an all-Ireland framework. At least within such a framework they could create a buffer between themselves and republicans. This option is no longer easily available within a six-county or ‘Northern Ireland’ context.

The late Charles Haughey controversially described Northern Ireland as a ‘failed political entity‘. He was probably only echoing the warning of a unionist leader of an earlier era, the Dubliner, Edward Carson who anticipated such an outcome when he turned down overtures to become Prime Minister when Northern Ireland was created. Partition was as much a matter of historical compromise for unionism as it was for Irish nationalism. Exactly where unionist thinking lies isn't always easy to gauge but it's surely apparent to them that their most likely (and reliable) allies in reducing the role and marginalising the influence of Sinn Féin lie across the border and not across the sea. Certainly this is the impression one gets from the ease with which unionist politicians engage and exchange banter with their southern counterparts - Ian Paisley Jnr recent appearance on RTÉ’s Questions and Answers for example.

With strand one of the Good Friday Agreement being put on ice, the public spotlight moving away from the North and relieved of the pressure to reach a settlement, political leaders of the two main traditions will be able to properly engage in dialogue with their respective constituencies on issues like policing, power-sharing etc. In the meantime an opportunity will be opened up to explore other areas of the Good Friday Agreement which have not to date received the same level of (public) attention - what the agreement itself refers to as the ‘totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands’ for example. It is possible that by developing new initiatives in these areas, a momentum could be created to return to the question of government in Northern Ireland at a later date. However it may also prove to be the case that the time for this has passed for reasons already outlined. Cross-border co-operation envisaged in strand two of the agreement may end up superseding those aspects of the agreement outlined in strand one.

The absence of democratic institutions governing Northern Ireland will not of itself lead to a descent back into the violence and anarchy of the past but neither can this be ruled out. Certain measures could be taken now in anticipation of such a scenario. This could entail the Irish government seeking a binding commitment that any future peace-keeping intervention in the North would have an Irish input and dimension. The Irish defence forces could assume responsibilities in areas and communities of the north where their presence would be welcomed over the presence of a British occupying power which would only serve to inflame.

23rd January, 2007

A version of this post was published as a 'Letter to the Editor' in the Irish Examiner newspaper of 31st January, 2007.

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2007


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