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27 November 2017 Edition

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Guests of the nation

IT’S ALMOST TIME to add another star to the flag. The cloth, needle and thread are ready. Shannon became a warport while people slept; American corporate business arrived unseen; Irish industry adopted American methodology; and huge chunks of the media have swung so far to the right, they’ve nearly fallen off the edge. The Americanisation of Ireland is spreading, ROBERT ALLEN believes. 

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‘The traditional tasks also remain: to challenge and unmask illegitimate authority, and to work with others to undermine it and to extend the scope of freedom and justice’ – Noam Chomsky

THE late industrialisation and subsequent globalisation of Ireland brought a reaction from the population, with the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s seeing opposition to virtually everything that was considered ill-thought-out, toxic, undesirable or plain wrong. 

This was manifest in emotional responses to the failure of the state to control the flood of hard drugs in working-class communities, its health service cuts regime, plans to close sub-post offices, and the continuous issues about child and elderly care, educational cost and equality, gender rights, public infrastructure and transport, road deaths, and taxation. 

And not forgetting all the single-issue campaigns and protests involving electronic masts, fish farming, pirate radio, the rod licence, toxic development, the extraction industry and the dramas about farming inequality, genetically engineered crops, land use and abuse, meitheal systems, organic farming, pot holes, the EU, water charges, water quality . . .

The events of the past half-century provide evidence that Ireland has still not broken free of the chains that have bound it since the arrival of the Anglo-Normans, Saxons, English and others during the period between the mid-1100s and the turbulent years through the 1200s and 1600s. 

There is a dominant paradigm in Irish society and the names of those who control modern Ireland are faceless. It does not resonate with the ideals of those who have fought and died for an Ireland where apathy, greed and selfishness are not the driving forces in society.

On the counter side we know the names of the other people and we give them labels that stigmatise – anarchist, blow-in, tree hugger, hippy, loony left, neo-Marxist, rebel, agitator, wrecker! 

Are they not citizens – men and women, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces – people with hopes and fears, desires and dreams, people with intelligence and humanity?

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• Environmental activists: Challenging authority and fighting to preserve the land

Apparently not. They are alien ‘others’, people who should be marginalised because they want a different Ireland. The strange aspect of this stigmatisation is that it cannot apply to those who challenge, protest and resist because this is usually everyone, at some stage of their lives!

Anyone taking the time to see what is happening in modern Ireland will witness a people who are generally not cynical or selfish or fascistic, who are altruistic and caring and sharing. They are the dispossessed but they are not weak. 

Tom Collins sees the nature of the society that is emerging amongst the dispossessed on the fringes of Irish society as “one which has a renewed interest in traditional Irish society but has rejected its caricature; it equates personal growth with social commitment; it espouses spirituality but discards religiosity; it is committed to democracy but distrusts politicians; it has fundamental commitment to work but is likely to be unemployed; it is locally committed but globally oriented; it is coming from the outside in rather from the inside out”.

During the 1990s, several ‘expert’ commentators noticed this activity, this seemingly invisible energy arising from community resistance and struggle. Much of this energy was quickly dissipated and the focus became blurred as the country went mad for money. 

The consequence of people working and living and creating in their own communities received no external affirmation; their activity was given little or no credence. 

Those who understood what was happening blamed the centralised power held by faceless bureaucrats and compliant politicians in Belfast and Dublin.

Bureaucrat Tom Barrington was not alone in his optimistic 1960s view that a new Ireland would only emerge with the unbinding of local authorities and the release of the energy pent up in the ‘new social movements’ that emerge with each generation. An Ireland unbound is not an idealistic notion. It is just naïve.

Writing in the 1980s, Michel Peillon, the Maynooth-based French sociologist, challenged the assertion that Ireland was going through a transition during the latter half of the 20th century:

“It is not so much transition as a profound mutation. And it is this that makes difficult the task of describing and giving an overall picture of Irish society.”

Since the mid-19th century, Ireland – significantly, the west of Ireland – has been caricatured by anthropologists, sociologists and other commentators as a place out of step with the so-called modern world. Anthropologists, as Adrian Peace and Michael Viney in particular have stressed, have been among the worst culprits, portraying Ireland, Peace noted, “as a dying society, a culture in demise, a social system characterised by pathogenic tendencies”. 

The problem these academics faced was the changing society around them. They could either ignore it or involve it. And they had a tendency to do both, usually with an agenda. 

This has been seen in the studies by ethnographers in the west of Ireland, who travelled and made assumptions that travel and observation was an elite activity. Travel was not only for the ethnographers, as anthropology’s harshest critic James Clifford would confirm, it was also for those being studied in their native environments. They too had a commentary on the world.

Unfortunately in modern Ireland, the liberals hold the high moral ground and, because they are usually third-level educated and in well-paid influential jobs, they are actively able to articulate their biased views. The mainstream media reflects their world and their world of commerce and entertainment dominates the media. The problem is that their worldview is flawed.

An example of this took place when the American linguist Noam Chomsky lectured in Ireland in the spring of 1993. 

Chomsky placed Ireland’s struggles in a global context when he discussed the rules of world order. These rules, he argued, dictated neo-liberalism for the weak, state power and intervention for the strong.

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• US armed forces: Using Shannon to impose their authority in other people's lands

“Within the culture of respectability, the traditional tasks remain: to reshape past and current history in the interests of power, to exalt the high principles to which we and our leaders are dedicated and to file away the unfortunate flaws in the record as misguided good intentions, harsh choices inflicted on us by some evil enemy, or the other categories familiar to the properly educated.

“For those who are unwilling to accept this role, the traditional tasks also remain: to challenge and unmask illegitimate authority, and to work with others to undermine it and to extend the scope of freedom and justice.”

Would those who turned up to listen to Chomsky have made the same effort to listen to an Irish commentator of the same ilk, one who could have told them the impact of the rules of global power on their community? 

And did any of the people who heard Chomsky attempt to go away and unmask illegitimate authority, and to work with others to undermine it and to extend the scope of freedom and justice? 

If they did, there is little evidence of it in Irish society today. 

The people who might have benefited from Chomsky’s wise words are those in the ‘live’ schools, down among the dispossessed, and they are always being shunned by those who hold the power, in Dublin and in Belfast, people who probably heard ‘the great man’ back in 1993.

Ireland remains in the top three of the most globalised countries (after Hong Kong and ahead of Singapore!) but it is no longer as attractive as it once was to global capital. 

Since the early 2000s, investment has been heading eastwards and to Russia. Foreign investment in this new century has come from the corporations who make money from web activity, and so far this industry has not attracted unwanted attention despite the flight of their profits.

There are those who claim this profound mutation is about Ireland’s membership of the EU and about an over-protective state with a bureaucratic mentality that stifles and fails to support Irish enterprise and industry. The success of global capital (the import-export nexus) in Ireland must be compared with the failure of local capital, and the blame for that lies with the state, especially the bureaucrats who have shown they are a law onto themselves and care little for mandates given to politicians by the electorate. 

A protester who was told by a senior official with the IDA that he “would have a referendum for everything” had to laugh because the Constitution is now the last defence against the total globalisation of the country.

Ireland has been in the midst of a fire-sale for several decades and now it is over. The former guests of the nation have become the new rulers; just like before.

Welcome to America.

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