Brexit and borders: why Europe badly needs Euro 2016

Football fans can be tedious at the best of times, but we’re rarely as sanctimonious as when discussing the social, cultural and political importance of our game.

You thought that 22-year-old’s inability to clear the first man with a corner kick was down to poor training? I’m sure we can find somebody to tell you it’s symbolic of the colonisation his ancestors faced. Somebody, somewhere, is writing a blog about how the Syrian conflict could be ended through a robust game of three-and-in.

American Football has the Superbowl but Association Football has the Hyperbole.

All that notwithstanding, it really does feel that Europe badly needs Euro 2016. Not since the RAF was the main airliner in German skies has the continent been quite so dysfunctional.

Britain wants to leave. Austria and Slovakia are building borders. Poland and Hungary’s democracies look about as legitimate as a Fifa expenses claim. Greece is collapsing under EU-imposed austerity and a union-wide belief that a country’s obligation to protect refugees is entirely dependent on its geographical proximity to them. Across the continent, political forces are rising that are so archaic they make Martin O’Neill’s sense of humour seem forward-looking and progressive.

These are relatively grim times to be European. Opinion polls in Britain suggest that by the time we reach the knockout stages only 15 of the 24 countries taking part in Euro 2016 will be members of the EU. The fact that the Brexit vote is scheduled for just the day after the group stages end leaves open the tantalising prospect of England crashing out of Europe twice in a week. Those campaigning to remain in the EU will be hoping the count doesn’t go to penalties as that would surely seal their fate.

brexit-poll-leave-is-now-level-with-remain-and-its-support-is-growing

For once many in England will be relishing an early exit from Europe.

Of course, the EU and the European Championship are not linked — one is a temporary coming together of independent nations which critics argue has grown too commercial and too large and the other is a sports competition — but the situation does highlight the extent of European disunity. Two countries taking part in Euro 2016 — Russia and Ukraine — are essentially at war with each other and could meet in a second round match in the Paris stadium where militants from one of the other competing countries — Belgium — attempted to massacre supporters of two others — France and Germany.

In the midst of all of this, football can play a positive role. Twenty-four countries, with a combined population of about 720 million people, will take part in a sporting celebration over the coming weeks. A significant number of the participating countries — including the hosts, France — are increasingly internally divided. It is difficult to think of anything with a greater unifying potential than an international football tournament simply because football is the one thing that people from all backgrounds and cultures participate in. That may sound like a line from the sanctimonious football fan playbook, but it’s the truth.

According to the online NetBet Multicultural Championship tool, Romania is the only country in Euro 2016 whose squad is entirely comprised of players neither born outside of the country nor born to immigrants. Thirty-one players in the competition are representing a country other than their country of birth, while a further 96 are sons of immigrants. The website calculates that 65 per cent of the French squad have non-French backgrounds, while the figure for Belgium is 57 per cent.

Having both recently been victim of appalling acts of terror that have brought religious and ethnic differences to the fore, the streets of Belgium and France will, over the coming weeks, see immigrants and natives rally under one flag. The lasting impact that this will have is debatable — the feel-good factor generated by the multicultural French team who lifted the World Cup in 1998 did not appear to last — but it does give an opportunity, at least in the short-term, to foster a sense of unity.

On a wider level, Euro 2016 may just rekindle that sense of European identity that has always seemed a bit vague but over recent times has begun to vanish entirely.

Of course, there is always the chance that the sporting rivalry will serve only to remind us how much we hate each other — that Austria’s clash with Iceland will reopen old wounds over the awful war of 1235 we’d all forgotten about, or that by Wednesday evening the streets of Tirana will be thronged with people burning croissants after another Gallic handball. Stranger things have happened. Greece won the bloody thing in 2004.

euro-2004-greece

Euro 2004: the most unlikely event in European history, and arguably the most tragic.

But maybe this can be a tournament to bring us together. Maybe this can be a tournament where a Belgian of Arab descent, an Austrian forward born in Pakistan and a Muslim midfielder wearing the blue of France can make people realise that diversity is strength.

It’s a long shot, but sometimes in football that’s all you have.

First published on TheTimes.ie on June 9th, 2016.

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This isn’t a revolution. It’s a mess.

Richard Boyd-Barrett says it’s a political earthquake.

He made the claim having just been elected to the new Dáil in the Dun Laoghaire constituency, a constituency which saw the combined vote for centre-right parties rise from 28,223 in 2011 to 34,261 in 2016 and the combined vote for left-wing parties fall from 25,579 to 21,612 over the same timeframe.

Even taking Labour out of the equation – for he would doubtless claim that Labour are not a left-wing party – the combined vote of the Anti-Austerity Alliance and Sinn Fein was 12,942, roughly one-third that of the two conservative giants of Irish politics.

Boyd-Barrett’s own result was exceptional – he increased his vote by almost 50% – but that doesn’t disguise the fact that Dun Laoghaire is in no danger of being declared a Soviet. That is perhaps something he can reflect over when sharing a taxi to the Dáil with his three constituency colleagues, all of whom are members of Fine Gael.

Filipino student protesters wearing masks raise their clenched f

Voters in Kildare North do their part for the revolution by putting two Fianna Fail TDs back in the Dáil.

He wasn’t the only person losing the run of themselves. Fintan O’Toole declared the election a victory for social democracy – yes, that’s right, the same election which saw the loss of 31 social democrat seats – while Twitter was ablaze with people hailing it as a victory for the Repeal the 8th campaign, despite the fact that the only party to commit itself to that campaign was almost completely wiped out.

I wrote recently about how people look back at the 1916 Rising and see only what they want to see. It seems that the same is also true of current affairs. People look at the election results and see a complete vindication of whatever agenda they are trying to push.

The truth is that this was not a very good election for the Irish left.

Let’s look at the figures.

In the 2011 general election, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the deputies who would later form Renua attracted 1,188,986 votes. This time around, that figure was almost identical: 1,110,148.

Meanwhile, the number of people who voted for left wing parties (Labour, Sinn Fein, Green Party and the deputies who would go on to form the AAA/PBP and Social Democrats) over the two elections fell quite significantly from 741,817 to 642,478.

(The hard left will argue that Labour is not a left-wing party but they have also spent the last five years arguing that the people who voted for them in 2011 were, so no matter which way you look at it their voting figures should be included in this summary.)

While Sinn Fein and the AAA/PBP can be reasonably happy with their returns, overall the picture is quite grim for the left.

Following the 2011 election the left-wing parties had 55 seats. Today, they have 41.

Compare that with the other side of the ideological fence and you see that in 2011 the centre-right parties had 96 seats whereas today they have 94.

Sinn Féin has over 20 Dáil seats but the rest is divided between Labour, Social Democrats, AAA/PBP and the Greens. Between these groups there is an almost total lack of trust, which in many cases boarders on sheer hatred. The stated goal of the AAA/PBP is to destroy Labour, not Fine Gael, which is why their supporters spent the weekend celebrating as though they’d just taken down Ceausescu and not, in fact, secured the possibility of an Enda Kenny / Micheal Martin rotating Taoiseach.

Like a group of bald men fighting over a comb, the Irish left is entirely subsumed in pointless internal bickering. Nowhere was this highlighted more than in the Dublin Bay North constituency, where a collection of left-wing candidates fought each other for the spoils while Richard Bruton and Sean Haughey sailed into the sunset like newly weds.

I have previously written about how ridiculous all of this is.

couple-fighting-on-couch

Date night was going so well until Rory told Sinead he believed in a state interventions to fund social justice but not necessarily a full workers’ republic.

The only logical way forward is for this squabbling to be put to one side and for the parties to work together. Sadly, however, the open hostility which exists between some of the people involved means it is probably more likely for Basher al-Assad and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to go for Sunday lunch together.

The end result is that we have a centre-right block enjoying sustained levels of support and a left block who can’t agree on what time of day it is, let alone an economic platform.

This isn’t a revolution. This isn’t a victory for social democracy. This isn’t a win for feminism.

This is a mess.

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The sad tale of Roberto Mussi and the Labour Party

In his hometown of Massa, Roberto Mussi is still viewed with hatred and derision. People spit on him when he walks by. Shopkeepers refuse to serve him, and little children cry when his name is mentioned.

Mussi played right-back for Italy in the 1994 World Cup Final. Although he had a solid career, he wasn’t celebrated and few people would have selected him for a starting position.

Mussi will always be remembered for Roberto Baggio missing a penalty kick, thus handing the World Cup to Brazil. From his position at the bottom right of the pitch, Mussi spectacularly failed to prevent Baggio from missing the penalty.

When the tournament ended, his career limped on by nobody could forgive him for his role in Baggio missing the penalty. Today, across much of Italy, Roberto Mussi is still regarded as a hate figure for failing to stop Baggio’s error.

This story isn’t true.

MUSSI

Roberto Mussi: his failure to single-handedly win the World Cup will never be forgotten.

Roberto Mussi is, for all I know, a very nice and respected man. To be honest, I’d never heard of him until I Googled “Italian right-back 1994 World Cup final” a few moments ago.

The point is that it would be ridiculous to blame Mussi for Baggio’s missed penalty. While both were ultimately responsible for the result of the match, clearly Baggio had the greater influence.

If we can agree that right-backs are ultimately less influential in football matches than strikers, why do we continue to blame junior government parties for the decisions of senior government parties?

The debate around this week’s general election has ignored the fundamental truth that the Irish political system is based on compromise.

Ireland has a coalition political system. It’s a system of government that ensures nobody is really happy – the bigger party has to tolerate some things it doesn’t like in return for most of the things it does, while the smaller party has to tolerate a lot of things it doesn’t like in return for some of the things it does.

It’s ridiculous, but so is life.

Only twice in the last 43 years has one party ruled – one of these governments bankrupted the state and the other lasted for eight months. Both were Fianna Fáil.

The only certainty we know about Friday’s election is that it will result in two, three or four of the seven parties currently in the Dáil being forced into relatively unhappy lives together. None will be able to get their way all of the time. None will be able to do all of what they are telling you they will.

Our elections determine which parties will be forced to compromise with each other, and what weighting they will be given in those negotiations.

Why do we continue with the lunacy of pretending all government parties agree with all of government policy when the entire system is designed to ensure they do not?

pushing-a-rock

This boy is clearly responsible for this boulder rolling down the hill. Like the Labour party, he is a monster.

More importantly, why do we insist on repeatedly battering junior coalition members over the head when the simple reality is a) they can’t get everything they want in government, and b) they have to tolerate decisions they don’t like simply because they are outnumbered in cabinet.

Labour is currently being punished for not being able to implement 100% of its policies with 20% of the national vote. Our failure to grasp the problem here suggests that perhaps the Silicon Valley executives are right when they say Ireland needs to invest more in the teaching of mathematics.

Regardless of which party you vote for, we know three undeniable truths:

1) The best they can hope for is to be sitting around a table with another party they don’t particularly like trying to figure out a compromise government.

2) This compromise will ensure that they will not be able to implement all of what they are telling you they will.

3) When the next government ends, we will all lampoon them for failing to implement 100% of their policies.

Why are we so determined to ignore the simple reality of the system that governs us?

Why are we so determined to give Roberto Mussi the Number 2 jersey and then blame him for not being able to beat Brazil on his own?

 

 

 

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Let’s not pretend the 1916 Rising was about water charges or smashing the patriarchy

Which moment of the 1916 Rising will you most celebrate: the bit when The O’Rahilly charged down Moore Street shouting about Irish Water, or the bit when Padraig Pearse used his last breath to berate the British for the lack of gender balance on the firing squad?

As we get closer to the centenary of the 1916 Rising, the list of causes the Rising leaders stood for will steadily grow.

We got a taster of this last year when it was claimed that the passing of same-sex marriage would be a fitting way to pay tribute to the Rising. The passing of the referendum was a hugely important moment in Irish social history but it does seem questionable to claim it as the legacy of former Ancient Order of Hibernians member Sean MacDermott.

The coming months will see the patriot dead unwittingly intervene in a range of policy debates and current affairs. The Government will tell us that the Rising leaders fought for employment and economic prosperity, while the Opposition will declare that Plunkett and MacDonagh would have opposed the property tax and probably not liked Denis O’Brien very much.

Without doubt an election candidate in a rural constituency will contrast the importance of the GPO with recent government policy towards their local post office. Somebody will probably reveal Thomas Clarke’s opinion pedestrianisation of College Green.

post office closures in ireland

The 1916 commemorations will reopen old wounds about the closure of rural post offices.

The difficulty with commemorations is that we tend to use them in order to publicise the bits of history we think will best serve our current agenda. How closely this tallies with what actually happened is a secondary concern.

That is why we will hear much about all the good stuff in the Proclamation and not so much of the ultra-nationalistic jargon that accompanied it. Don’t expect to see “#bloodsacrifice” trending any time soon.

The new RTÉ series Rebellion, which is based on the events of Easter Week 1916 in Dublin, provides a glimpse of this. The main characters in the series are all Irish Citizen Army members (i.e. socialists) and predominantly female, promoting an interpretation of the Rising as a gender-equal popular revolt against the ruling class.

Rebellion is a thoroughly enjoyable series and an excellent dramatic production but we have to accept that the main characters are not representative of most people who manned the barricades that week.

Just over 2,500 pensions were given to people acknowledged to have actively participated in the 1916 Rising. Of these, roughly 250 were Irish Citizens Army and 230 were women. In other words, approximately 10 per cent of the Rising participants were socialist and 10 per cent were women. How any of them felt about same-sex marriage or Irish Water is unknown.

It would give me great pleasure if the 1916 Rising had been dominated by the Irish Citizen Army and jointly led by women, but it simply isn’t the case.

Despite this, there appears to be a growing belief that Patrick Pearse marched into the GPO with the Proclamation of the Irish Republic in one hand and Caitlin Moran’s ‘How To Be A Woman’ in the other.

The 1916 Rising was essentially a nationalist insurrection. The over-whelming majority of those taking part simply sought national independence. Some were socialists, some were feminists, a handful would later go on to become fascists, but the vast majority believed in the traditional nationalist craze that was sweeping European battlefields at the time like some sort of insane ideological Macarena.

The 1916 Rising was a seismic moment in Irish history, one which undoubtedly changed the future course of this island. Some of those changes were positive, while others were profoundly negative. Any analysis that air-brushes this fact has as much credibility as a North Korean opinion poll.

Even discussing the legacy of the Rising is to lose sight of the fact that historical events are precisely that: moments of their time that should not be viewed through modern lenses. The Europe of the early 20th century was dominated by nationalist thinking, which is why Patrick Pearse could say things like “the old heart of the earth needs to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefields” and still be regarded as a suitable school headmaster and not, for example, an ISIS recruiter.

The simple truth is that you can’t leap inside the minds of the patriot dead to find out their take on the woes of a liberal, democratic state floating in the ocean of an integrated EU and globalised economy because Ireland of 2016 is so completely alien to what they knew.

And, of course, the fact that they were all killed (as per their plan) meant that they never had to stand over any actual policy decisions, which is probably for the best because, let’s face it, Patrick Pearse was an iconic revolutionary but probably nobody’s first choice Minister for Trade.

benetton-madness

This is a Benetton ad and not, as some would believe, a portrait of the 1916 leaders.

Remembering the 1916 Rising as a gender-equal people’s rebellion led by liberal poets may make us feel all fuzzy inside but it also does a disservice to our history by deliberately misremembering an historical moment to comfortably fit in with a modern view of how we would have liked it to have been.

We want the Ireland of 2016 to be a liberal, egalitarian paradise and so we construct a simplified interpretation of the Rising to promote that agenda, ignoring the fact that those who took part came from a huge range of backgrounds and would not all have been considered natural Guardian readers.

The Rising is important because of its place in our history and that’s why it deserves to be commemorated, but those commemorations should not feel the need to glorify it, criticise it or put modern interpretations on it.

Mark it. Reflect on it. Think about it. Celebrate it or complain about it as you see fit.

Just don’t tell me it was about the need to improve cycling lanes in Dublin.

Posted in Dublin, History, Ireland, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Does anybody care about the end of the world?

Armageddon movies generally involve flames, guns and lots of panicked people running through the streets as buildings collapse around them.

There’s usually a pretty girl, a heroic man (American, naturally) and occasionally a loveable dog. The threats facing humanity vary but all these movies share one common theme: the people in them are really, really worried about the end of the world.

What you don’t usually see in Armageddon movies is a completely disinterested population flicking through their iPhones and generally doing their best to ignore the impending collapse of civilisation.

The dramatic moment the world’s leading scientists confirm the scale of the threat facing the planet would be sometime diminished if the lead characters read about it on the lower half of page 17 of the ‘world news’ section the following morning and quickly flicked through to check the football results.

Bizarrely, this is the situation we find ourselves in.

Last year the world’s leading experts on planetary health got together and produced this assessment: “Climate change is projected to increase…heat stress, storms and extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought, water scarcity, sea-level rise and storm surge…The risks [include] substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, consequential constraints on human activities and limited potential for adaptation.”

Dr. James Hansen, who has spent the last 20 years trying to generate public interest in our own impending doom, was even more blunt when he said that the current levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – unprecedented in 800,000 years – is no longer compatible with the planet “on which civilisation developed and to which life on Earth is adapted”.

This is remarkably strong language for scientists to use – probably the strongest since Ms. Geoghegan ejected me from biology class and demanded I report to the headmaster’s office in what was, frankly, a stunning case of mistaken identity.

While Ms. Geoghegan proved that scientists can sometimes be wrong, it’s highly unlikely that all of the world’s leading experts who have signed-up to statements like the one above are mistaken.

But we’re just not bothered. There is no other issue in the world so serious that inspires such apathy.

Bored by climate change

The world reacts to the news that we’re completely screwed.

The global apathy towards our own doom is currently being played out in Paris, where political leaders from over 190 countries are meeting to attempt to come up with an agreement to lessen the impact of climate change.

The very fact that they are “attempting to come up with a solution” is illustrative of the fact that many of them really aren’t bothered and would rather push ahead with the destruction project. Like a group of psychopathic nihilists in suits, most of them seem to be using this as an opportunity to water down an agreement that could save us from the fiery pits of Dr. James Hansen’s hell.

The apathy was evident when the President of Tuvalu got up on stage and said that failure to reach a suitable agreement would mean that his country would cease to exist, only for most of the delegates to look like they were being subjected to a Powerpoint presentation at a sales meeting in the Red Cow Hotel. He asked them to “put yourself in my shoes”, which they might have were they not liking each other’s Instagram shots at the time.

climate summit 2.jpg

Some of the poor countries have tried to ruin the Climate Summit by talking about their problems. Thankfully, this hasn’t spoiled the party.

Sometimes being a climate activist in Ireland feels a little like being one of those people who wear sandwich boards predicting the end of the world. You end up watching the hands of people you’re talking to in case they’re reaching under the desk for the security button.

Some of the problem is semantics. “Climate change” is isn’t exactly a term that inspires concern. It doesn’t summon our inner Will Smiths. “Change” isn’t always a bad thing. South Africa underwent “Apartheid Change” and everyone was fairly happy about that.

It’s far too understated a word to describe “substantial species extinction”. Maybe if the UN Climate Summit was called the ‘UN What The F*ck Have We Done Summit’ it might have got a bit more buy-in.

It’s not the seriousness that puts people off. People are worried about a whole host of serious things but climate change isn’t seen as an immediate threat, which is of course nonsense. If ISIS ever figured out how to kill as many people each year as climate change does they’d celebrate by kicking back with one of their famous musicless, joyless 6th century cave parties.

Yes, the finer details of climate change are complex, challenging and a little bit boring but so was the Hunger Games trilogy and people still flocked to that like mice onto an unattended slab of Dairylea.

Just because the ultimate effects of climate change – the show-stopping, end-of-days scenario outlined by our scientist friends – is perhaps a century away doesn’t mean that the impacts today are not causing absolute havoc. Tell a farmer starving to death in a barren field in Malawi that climate change is the next generation’s problem and see how he reacts.

Thinking climate change is a far off distant concern is a like saying there’s no need to worry about vomiting blood because it could be years before you actually die from it.

We’re absolutely terrified about disease epidemics and terrorists because they are what we have been trained to be scared of. The side-effects of our slow poisoning of the atmosphere? No thanks. Maybe if carbon dioxide realised awfully produced movies where it paraded the flags of all the countries it plans on drowning we might sit up and pay attention.

Maybe if thought this was a film we might actually show some interest in it.

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Paris to Malawi – can the world grasp its moment of hope?

We drove for two hours from the nearest town, canoed down a crocodile-infested river and took the last few kilometres of bumpy dirt track by motorbike to reach the village.

This was the Chikwawa district of southern Malawi; the remotest part of a remote land, a place where you stand on a hill and see nothing but barren, dusty landscape for miles.

News from the other side of the world still travels slowly in places like Chikwawa and so it was the following morning, powered by patchy wifi back in the town, that we learnt of Paris. The Malawians we told reacted as we had: a stunned silence and a look of horror, sadness and utter bewilderment.

We had come to Malawi with Paris in mind. From November 30th to December 11th the French capital hosts the UN Climate Summit. Malawi is a country with a lot riding on that summit and in the villages of Chikwawa we wanted to see just how high the stakes are.

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Children in Chikwawa use a water pump amid the dry and barren landscape

The people of the villages welcomed us warmly. They sang a traditional song, danced a traditional dance and then slowly and calmly told us of their fears.

They’re hungry in Chickwawa. Not the sort of hunger felt by you or I – this is real hunger, where the stomach, the table and the fields are all empty and nobody knows when any of them will be full again.

They’re farming people. They have seeds and tools and land but they are missing one vital ingredient. It used to fall from the sky like clockwork, starting in November and ending in February, but these days it comes late if at all.

It’s rainy season in Chikwawa right now, but there’s clear blue skies and it’s almost 40 degrees Celsius. In the searing heat of southern Malawi, almost three million people do not have enough food to eat while they wait for the rain.

These are people experiencing a different sort of terror. They also worry about the lives of their children but what they fear is not zealots armed with Kalashnikovs but the continued changing of the natural environment on which they depend.

One farmer, Sydreck, told us: “We are under a lot of pressure. The rain does not last long enough. I used to be able to grow enough food to support my family but now I cannot. We do not have enough food to last us. Something has to be done to get the climate back to the way it used to be. If it went back to how it was we would be OK but the climate keeps changing so we are trapped. I feel like there is no hope.”

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Sydreck Kanyakwira has used a water pump to get water to one of his fields but the rest are in need of rain before they can grow anything.

As it searches for meaning and tries to mend its broken heart, this is the message Paris must reach out and grab, not simply because it is the right thing to do but because now, more than ever, is the perfect time to do so.

Hosting this summit so soon after the horrific attacks gives Paris the opportunity to once again become a symbol of hope for the world.

Striking an ambitious deal to tackle climate change would be about everything November 13th was not: unity not division; compassion not contempt; hope not despair. It would be about building a bright future, not trying to recreate a medieval past; about saving the world through togetherness and harmony, not trying to enslave it to bitterness and hate.

The people who open fire on concerts in Paris, blow up markets in Beirut and cause unimaginable suffering throughout the Middle East don’t care for any living thing. They want a world where people are voiceless, powerless and filled with hatred.

What better way to reject them than by standing in the city they tried to slaughter and declaring that we will do what we must to protect the vulnerable, regardless of where they are, who they worship or what their background.

Security restrictions have unfortunately led to the cancellation of public demonstrations in Paris during the climate summit, but this Sunday (November 29th) people in more than 150 cities all over the world will take to the streets to urge political leaders to seize this moment.

In Dublin, Cork and Belfast, people will gather that lunchtime to say that the best way to defeat ideologies of destruction is to create futures of hope.

It has been a dark number of weeks but we can’t let the actions of a murderous minority distract us from the fact that the majority want to live.

Amidst the tears of Paris there is still a world worth saving.

Sunday’s climate marches start at 2pm at Dublin’s Customs House, Cork’s Grand Parade or Belfast’s Writers’ Square. 

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Let’s stay together: Why can’t Irish people just get along?

Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour party has led to sniping between the ‘New’ and ‘Old’ wings of the party. While this has been a touch unedifying, the remarkable thing is that both wings exist under one umbrella in the first place.

It is inconceivable that two groupings with such an ideological gulf and intense personal dislike of one another would stay together in Ireland. They would have long since exploded into 16 parties, 12 alliances, 11 working groups, 45 independents and six armies.

Despite what the marriage statistics say, Irish people are predispositioned to splitting up. We live on a tiny island and we even managed to partition that. If we can’t agree whether we want to be independent or part of multi-national kingdom, what hope do we have agreeing on the water charges?

The meeting of left-wing activists was going well until somebody mentioned a joint policy platform.

The meeting of left-wing activists was going well until somebody mentioned a joint policy platform.

The partitioning of the island, and the civil war which followed, is the most famous split in recent Irish politics but it was following a centuries-old trend. Irish people have been splitting since before Cúchulainn knifed Ferdia. Despite our small size, our ancestors conspired to divide the island into four kingdoms, all of whom hated each other with such intensity that one of them decided it would be a good idea to invite the Normans over to help. The hired hands from across the Irish Sea proceeded to play the Irish factions off each other until all four kingdoms suddenly found themselves humming Rule Britannia and wondering what time Bake Off was on.

Not only did political infighting lead directly to Ireland’s colonisation and eventual partition, it has continued unabated ever since.

The split has long been a hobby of the Irish left who have drawn inspiration from Jim Larkin’s famous quote, “the great appear great only because we are on our knees, let us divide into small sub-sections and attack each other viciously”.

Jim Larkin: knew that the best way to defeat capitalism was through endless sub-division and attacks on social democrats.

Jim Larkin: knew that the best way to defeat capitalism was through endless sub-division and attacks on social democrats.

Today, the Irish left displays the unity of a classroom of 9-year-olds asked to pick their favourite member of One Direction. Five TDs were elected under the ‘United Left Alliance’ banner but that grouping soon split between the Socialist Party and People Before Profit, both of which had two TDs each before they themselves both subsequently split. Remarkably, all five members of the United Left Alliance are now under separate political banners. This was a united alliance in the same way as Congo is democratic and a republic.

The biggest left wing party is now Sinn Fein, who are themselves a split from Official Sinn Fein who went on to become the Workers’ Party (some of them became Democratic Left but we won’t even go there…) One of the reasons Sinn Fein left Official Sinn Fein was in a dispute over how left wing the organisation had become. Sinn Fein don’t talk about that now, preferring instead to discuss their enthusiasm for the very left wing policies they originally split over.

The various left-wing factions in Irish politics occasionally collaborate but these outings have as much unity as a Guns ‘n’ Roses reunion tour. It’s less In The Thick Of It, more Game of Thrones.

The one policy which unites all the more radically socialist members of the Dáil is their firm belief that the real enemy of the working people are moderate socialists. This has also been agreed by other moderate socialists, who have formed the Social Democrats to provide an electoral alternative to Ireland’s social democratic party.

The political right has generally been more successful at staying together but recently there have been cracks there, too.

Slash and Axel: exploring common ground ahead of a joint bid for Meath East.

Slash and Axel: exploring common ground ahead of a joint bid for Meath East.

We now have Renua, a party for people who think Fine Gael has gone a bit soft, and the Independent Alliance, a non-formal formal group of people who think the constitution should be replaced by a series of Shane Ross’s Sunday Independent columns.

Britain, of course, operates under a very different electoral system, one which makes it virtually impossible for smaller parties to gain a parliamentary presence. It could, therefore, be argued that the likes of Corbyn had little choice but to stay within the party since leaving would be the electoral equivalent of arriving at the Falls Road Celtic Supporters Club Christmas dinner dressed as Gazza.

As true as this may be, the fact remains that had Corbyn left Labour he would currently be preparing for Islington Council meetings, while the hopes of ordinary Britains rested on Andy Burnham’s shoulders. Instead of endlessly sub-dividing into ideologically purer groupings, Corbyn has brought the left in the UK – in theory at least – within striking distance of Number 10.

Perhaps the real lesson of Corbyn’s win is that plurality of opinion is a good thing and that political parties don’t have to be a constant state of internal purification. It is a lesson Ireland’s warring factions would do well to heed.

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