What the Union Loathes and Fears

By Jason Michael

An independent Scotland with Elizabeth Queen of Scots as its head of state sounds positively repulsive. For many of us Yes is as much about rejecting London rule as it is about rejecting the monarchy. But “republicanism” gives them nightmares.

“We’re not really enemies, you know,” I responded to Trevor Moore – one of the few unionists I follow on Twitter, “pretty sure in the real world we have plenty in common.” The polarisation of Scottish politics has created a false sense of deeper conflict, which to some degree most of us buy into. He and I have at least one thing in common; neither of us actually lives in Scotland. Presumably, as his online profile begins with the words “Wage slave,” he moved to Texas for the same reason I came to Ireland – work. No doubt had we to meet in a pub in Dublin or Houston we’d get on like a house on fire. He’s wearing Mardi Gras throws and a Stetson in his profile picture – what’s not to like?

On social media there has always been a level of hostility towards that faction of the “other side’s” belligerents who live abroad; the International Brigades – as I like to call us. Rev. Stuart Campbell, the controversial figure behind Wings Over Scotland, gets no end of grief for living in Bath in the south west of England. His “outsider” status is always used as a stick with which to beat him for his “interference.” While I have never asked him, the same must to true for the Union’s outside interferers like Trevor. It’s certainly true in my case. But I have the feeling the response to my own interference is different. My interference is Irish, and that is not the same as Bath or Houston.


Unionists can’t think of Ireland without popping a haemorrhoid over “republicanism.”

Even though we are all Scots – I am presuming Trevor is, the criticism of our involvement hinges primarily on the fact that we don’t live in Scotland. It has nothing to do with us. Of course it does, of course. Scotland has always had an involved diaspora community, and no matter where we are in the world we will always be Scots. Yet Ireland has a special significance in unionist mythology. Ireland is an idea they fear and loathe in almost equal measure. Be it the old guard’s detestation of Irish Catholicism – the “Fenians” – or unionism’s more recent memories of imperial humiliation and the reluctance of the Provisional IRA to take British domination lying down, Ireland troubles their waters.

Where other Scots abroad get slapped down with the tort of not living here, those of us in Ireland are subjected to the “Oh, you’re living there?!” Britain spent so long dehumanising the Irish as subhuman apes in magazines like Punch it began to believe its own racist propaganda. The Irish of British imperial invention were drunken, lazy, stupid, and feckless. It came as a shock then when these “inferior” people decided they had had enough. At the apex of the British Empire its never setting sun was plucked from the sky and smothered on the streets of Dublin, Cork, and Galway. Before Gandhi liberated India the Irish women of Cumann na mBan and the boys in the ranks of the Óglaigh na hÉireann were busy showing British soldiers – hardened on the Western Front – how to discharge a rifle.

British imperialists have never forgiven Ireland for forcing them to strike the Union flag from Dublin Castle. Its establishment mindset that Ireland has a tenuous claim to independent statehood – à la Melonie Phillips inter alia – is testimony enough to the bitterness of this grudge. In the world of respectable diplomacy it is never stated outright, but it trickles down and seeps out whenever Britain is reminded of its vulnerability to the peoples it has likewise subjugated; the rebellious and restless Scots and Welsh. When we kick off the spectre of Ireland haunts them. It is Ireland’s republicanism they have in mind – and not that of France, Italy, or the United Stated – when they waspishly spit out this word as us. This republicanism is London’s primal fear. I can understand why a Scottish independentista living in the Republic of Ireland really whizzes on their cornflakes.

I am a republican. For this I make no apology. Before anyone gets over excited and before the British secret service come knocking on my door, this does not mean I condone violence. It means only that I believe – in the political sense – that hereditary monarchy is as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike. This said – it is also important to stress that I am not presently engaged in a plot on Mrs Saxe Coburg und Gotha or any member of her family’s life. As a Scottish nationalist and a republican all I want is Scottish independence and the dissolution of the monarchy in my country. I’d be quite happy to have any member of the by then former Royal Family as my neighbour and follow citizen.


Discussion on Britain’s monarchy and Republicanism

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Every Blackmail Letter Stinks of Desperation

By Jason Michael

Dear President Tusk, writes Theresa May, we realise we have nothing to offer, but we do have a hostage and unless we get what we want we will pull the trigger. Of course, a hostage situation and a blackmail letter won’t fly very far across Europe.

Given the obvious weakness of Mrs May’s negotiating position, her Article 50 letter, addressed to the President of the European Council – Donald Tusk, is a truly remarkable document. On the surface, whilst lacking entirely of grace, it is a cordial and diplomatic statement of intent, but it is impossible for the reader to fail to notice the subtle belligerence of its tone and the fact that it is quite a petulant attempt at blackmail. At its heart is Britain’s proposal of a “bold and ambitious” Free Trade Agreement of a “greater scope and ambition than any such agreement” without the inconvenience to the United Kingdom of the European Union’s fundamental freedoms. As such it is no better than the previous deal David Cameron had already failed to achieve.

Theresa May outlines three bargaining chips in her frankly delusional bid to bring the EU to heel; economic and security stability, and of course Northern Ireland – where, other than Gibraltar which she neglects to mention, the UK and the EU share a land border. All of this is naturally couched in the language of the “deep and special partnership” she intends to maintain with the bloc once the negotiations are over, but – deal or no deal – it is evident Britain will be going to Brussels shortly with a list of demands.

She has made it perfectly clear – knowing well the changing mood on the continent towards Scottish independence – that neither Scotland nor the other devolved administrations will have a seat at the table. “From the start and throughout the discussions,” she reiterates, “we will negotiate as one United Kingdom” – a refrain that sounds so much more hollow after yesterday’s decision by the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh to seek a second independence referendum as a direct consequence of England’s decision to leave the EU.

As was voiced in the United States when she went there crawling for a get-out-of-jail-free card, the British Prime Minister has almost nothing of any real substance to offer Europe. The EU will not, as Switzerland has already learned, entertain the possibility of free trade without a mutual concession to the other freedoms of the union Britain has utterly foresworn in Brexit. Yet, undaunted by this hard reality, May imagines she has a couple of aces up her sleeve. So she dangles the carrots of shared economic prosperity and security before Mr Tusk before making a veiled threat to the peace and wellbeing of the Republic of Ireland.


The idea that Britain cares about Northern Ireland is beyond ridiculous.

Indeed, Mrs May writes about the unique relationship between Ireland and Britain and the need to preserve the peace process in the North, but – if her complete indifference to the political crisis in Belfast of late is anything to go by – she and the British government couldn’t care less about Ireland or the Good Friday – or Belfast – Agreement. To keep the Brexit agenda on track the Westminster Brexiteers have demonstrated both their contempt for the Irish Republic and their callous willingness to return Northern Ireland to a state of civil war. No, Ireland is not a priority for Britain. It never has been. All the same, they know that – as a member state of the EU – Ireland, and therefore by extension Northern Ireland, is a serious concern for peace and stability in Europe. For Brexit Britain they are little more than pawns in a high stakes trade negotiation.

London has, at best, a marginally better chance than a snowball in hell of securing an agreement with the EU that will safeguard its economy, and of course this too will have costs for the EU. Still, everyone has accepted that the Brexit process will result in certain and unavoidable losses. It is now only a matter of ascertaining which side can bear the cost better – and that isn’t going to be Britain.

Security is the only other offer the UK is making in this its opening gambit, but even this is a transparently ridiculous bluff. “We want,” the letter says, “to play our part to ensure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats.” Like every other offer this is conditional. Britain will continue to work with Europe against all the bogeymen it has helped to create on condition it gets what it wants – unprecedented access to the market without obligation.

The bottom line is that this is no offer at all. In such an interconnected world Britain knows that the security of Britain depends every bit as much on the security of Europe as the security of Europe depends on the security of Britain. Twenty-one of the EU’s member states are members of NATO along with the UK, a common defensive alliance that links Britain to the security of the EU regardless of EU membership – not to mention the obligations all involved have to peace and security as members of the United Nations. No, the security carrot is a piece of nonsense and everyone knows it.

What we have in this letter is a feeble crack at blackmail, and one that is already doomed to failure. Having realised this – even as it was being formulated – the British government has resorted to the desperate measure of using Ireland as a human shield. Where Britain continues to speak of a “unique relationship” with Ireland, Ireland – outside its official discourse – sees all of this as a hangover of its history as a British colonial possession, and Britain shows in this ransom note that it still thinks of Ireland as its plaything.

Just how this pathetic note in which the UK is trying to impose the rules of engagement will go down in Brussels will not become fully apparent until the talks begin. Tusk did, by expressing his regret, give us a hint as to how other EU leaders have received it – and that does not bode well for Britain. Starting from the position of weakness that it so obviously does, and with nothing much to offer other than an Irish hostage; perhaps a blackmail letter was not the best way to begin a process that will play a massive role even in the future existence of the United Kingdom.


Theresa May’s full address to the House of Commons

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Theresa May is Determined to Undermine Irish Peace

By Jason Michael

Enda Kenny, An Taoiseach na hÉireann, invited Theresa May to address Ireland’s elected TDs at Dáil Éireann while she is in Dublin. Today the British Prime Minister snubbed the invitation because she doesn’t have time for real diplomacy.

Ireland has learned through hard and painful experience that Britain’s arrogance makes it impossible for the Westminster government to treat the Republic of Ireland as an equal partner in dialogue. Between 1919 and 1921 the people of Ireland were forced to take up arms against the brutality of the British occupation, and even after defeating the British Empire in Ireland the London government still refuses to acknowledge, to their fullest extent, the respect that is due to Ireland as an independent and sovereign nation among nations. In the North of Ireland the UK has a proven track record of collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries to wage a dirty war against Irish nationalists; it has denied people civil and political rights, detained them without charge, and shot them on their own streets.

As the old Irish proverb runs: “Beware of the hoof of the horse, the horn of the bull, and the smile of the Saxon,” Irish people – north and south – have an intuitive caution about them when it comes to their dealings with Great Britain. It was only with the intervention of the United States and its envoy George Mitchell, the Irish government, and the work of countless Irish intermediaries that the Good Friday Agreement – the concordat that ended a century of violence – could be hammered out. Yet Britain seldom recognises this. It sells its Tony Blair model for peace. More worrying is the reality that London has never taken the importance of the Good Friday Agreement for the whole of Ireland seriously. The reason for this is simply that Britain refuses to take Ireland seriously.

Now that yet another British Prime Minister is posing a direct threat to the welfare of Ireland the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, extended to Mrs May and invitation to address Dáil Éireann – the Dublin parliament – when she is in the city later this month. Ireland has made all the concessions in the process of normalising relations between the two countries. When it was Britain’s Crown forces that demolished Dublin in 1916 and waged a nationwide terror campaign until independence was won, it was Dublin that had to swallow hard and welcome the Queen herself in 2011 on a state visit. Irish people had to watch their president, Mary McAleese, laying a wreath with the Queen at the 1916 Garden of Remembrance honouring even the British soldiers who fell.


Bloody Sunday, 30 January 1972: 14 civil rights demonstrators murdered by British soldiers.

A hard Brexit brings a great deal of uncertainty to Ireland. Ireland’s economy, as the United Kingdom’s closest EU neighbour, depends heavily on trade with Britain, and Theresa May’s hard line position on leaving the single market has worried many in Ireland. Moreover, and by far more seriously, her recklessness threatens to upturn the Good Friday Agreement – bringing the shadow of the Troubles back over the whole island. Seeing as Mrs May will be in Dublin by the end of the month Mr Kenny reached out to her in good faith, and asked if she would address the Dáil chamber. But she can’t. She does not have enough time on her schedule – that’s diplomatic code: “Sorry Paddy, I don’t have time.” Irish people don’t need to be told that England doesn’t take them seriously.


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Life in Ireland’s Emergency Accommodation

By Jason Michael

At the turn of the last century the poor of Dublin were crammed into single room tenement dwellings. Nothing much has changed. Now the poorest people in Dublin are being crammed into one room hotel suits because… well, just because.

Everyone knows the solution to Ireland’s homeless crisis. We might as well stop beating about the bush on that one. The government knows the answer and we know the answer, and the government knows that we know that they know the answer. The answer is quite simple and affordable; as the homeless crisis is fed by the housing crisis we have to solve the housing crisis by building affordable and council owned homes. What stops this from happening is the particularly disturbing reality that the Irish government is dominated by landlords and others who are invested in the housing property market who stand to lose financially if and when the housing crisis is ended. Instead of actually addressing the problem the policymakers use public money to put homeless families in “emergency accommodation” and let others rot on the streets.

As the name implies, emergency accommodation was never intended to provide people with a home. It is envisioned more as a temporary stopgap measure much like Direct Provision was intended for the asylum seekers the last Fianna Fáil regime hoped to hide from public view. Yet, like Direct Provision, the now more than 6,000 people in Ireland’s emergency accommodation are trapped in a semi-permanent – one room per family – provisional measure. It’s not free, of course. These families are being billeted in hotels and bed and breakfasts all around the country – but certainly not in conditions that can, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as luxurious. In 2015 the government spent €25m on this temporary-cum-permanent solution, handing over huge sums of our money to private hotel owners who profit by providing the bear minimum to the families living in their rooms.

Most of us have stayed in a hotel before, and we know what we can expect from a reasonably decent hotel – one that we might consider visiting again. Clean sheets, a television perhaps, a nice lobby and a bar. Maybe even a pleasant restaurant. What we don’t expect is the complete absence of these basic requirements. We definitely don’t expect to be shouted at or face being kicked out because our children were running along the corridor or playing in the elevators. The paying customer can expect a little better than this from the management. Not so for the residents living in emergency accommodation contracts in these hotels, regardless of the fact that they too are paying customers – the State is paying for them. What they get from the hotel experience is a frosty reception and institutional treatment not unlike a minimum security prison or a reform school.

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN SPOKEN TO IN BOLD CAPS? It’s infuriating. It’s patronising and controlling, and this is exactly how it is used against people living in emergency accommodation. Notices are pinned on doors and hallways – hidden from the regular clientele – reminding these most unwelcome guests in bold capitalised letters that they are not to use the front door. Their presence is to be hidden from decent guests. They are also threatened with eviction if their children are caught playing in the corridors. It goes without saying that these families have no recourse to complaint. There is no shortage of others in need of their room, and they are where they are at the discretion of the management. Beggars can’t be choosers, right?

One hotel room for an entire family! What makes them obvious from the outside is the conspicuous placement of ornaments on their window ledges and families coming and going from side and back entrances with shopping and school bags. No one goes shopping in the supermarket when they are staying in a hotel. These people have to. This is their home – for the foreseeable future. What they are forced to call home is a single room, taken up for the most part with beds, in which there can be nothing approximating privacy. Children have nowhere to play or do homework and the adults can forget about the intimacy that is needed to keep them together. Not everyone has sex in hotel rooms it would appear. Nothing of this will change until we build more houses, but we all know that that isn’t going to happen any time soon. It’s easy money for the hotel industry.


Mother and her children forced to live in hotel room as emergency accommodation

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Homelessness: But when I ask why…

By Jason Michael

It is so wonderful that the misery of those sleeping rough this winter is making it to the news again. Maybe this Christmas Santa will come with a sack packed full of homes for everyone sleeping on the street. More than likely he won’t though.

Days before Christmas, as if right on cue, homelessness is at the pinnacle of Ireland’s news cycle. Every year it is the same thing; the members of comfortable class get squeamish as they elbow their way from shop to shop looking for the ideal gift for the perfect Christmas at the sight of shivering bodies wrapped in sleeping bags in doorways. Human beings dumped on the litter heap of society are more easily ignored during the more pleasant months and from the distance of the leafy suburbs, but at this – most wonderful – time of the year they are forced to come to town in the cold and they are confronted with the detritus of Irish living – the rough sleepers.

What is gossip among ladies who lunch, the world over, becomes human interest on the five o’clock news. As though from nowhere a plea is made for the poor unfortunates who have been left, like Jonathan Corrie and scores of others, to die on the streets. What makes it to the news, what pricks the conscience of the propertied class, makes it to the Dáil chamber and ministers and TDs clutch their pearls and talk about change – change that never comes. Every year it is the same thing, the government responds to the news and the pleas with eloquent words and everyone hopes to ride the story out until January when the well-to-do are planning their summer vacations.

Talk of the homeless and “action” for the same has become the nearest thing in Ireland to a winter Olympic sport. But, like all games, it has its season and their whimsical minds wander off to more interesting things… until next Christmas. Talk of the homeless, that part of the talk that makes it to the evening news, is about facts and figures; it is concerned with what is being done to keep people warm and fed over the holidays. No one – bar no one – is ever allowed to ask why our sisters and brothers are out on the street, and when we ask they why the answer is always the same: “That is not for us to answer.” We can ask why we ended up in recession because it threatened their wealth and privilege. This is a thing we can inquire into; why this happened to them, but all is quiet when we ask why this is happening to those on the street.

Yet every now and then we get a glimpse into their thinking on homelessness. You won’t get this from a government minister or a news caster, and you won’t get this from the refined ladies at lunch or the bankers. You will get it from their younglings – the uncompleted chips from the old block. Be it the YouTube famous Foxrock “KPMG Girl” or one of the kids from the €5,000 a year Belvedere College out earning his social conscience get-out-of-jail-free card shaking a bucket to “help the homeless.” In their world “success” is the education their parents can buy and the career their mothers and fathers can hook them up with. “Failure” is something one does all by one’s self.

How else can pubescents trained thus make sense of women and men sleeping rough than personal failure? They are, to quote KPMG Girl, “Losers.” Indeed they are losers. They have lost everything we in our homes can imagine – and not even their lives are safe from this loss, but the reasons are not on the official script. Had the reason for Sharon being set alight while she slept in a doorway be her lack of a decent education and her failure to find a well-paid job then the Social Welfare’s gallant attempts to teach the unemployed of the inner city computer skills would make perfect sense.

That the reason for all economic and social inequalities is the wealth of the privileged is a truth the privileged simply cannot allow themselves to accept. A home for Sharon or one for Jonathan before he froze to death would require equitable taxation, it would mean a little less for Christmas – and that just won’t do. So what will happen is this: The Christmas shopping will get done, a few coins will get thrown into the buckets, and the politicians will get paid to talk a while longer, and eventually January will come. Sharon might make it through the winter. God knows, she might even get turkey and ham at the RDS. But she’ll be waiting until hell freezes over before a home for her gets built.

Belvedere College Sleep Out 2016

Author: Jason Michael (@Jeggit)

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