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Ferriter has before exhibited many of the faults he found with Coogan’s work

24 November, 2015 Leave a comment

Diarmuid Ferriter may be right about everything he has to criticise Tim Pat Coogan for, but should Ferriter be the one to say it? Too many of his comments brought to mind Ferriter’s own 2004 book, “The Transformation of Ireland, 1900–2000”. This was a book badly in need of an editor, or at least another set of eyes before it launched itself on the Christmas market. At several points he makes reference to people by their profession or position but without identifying them, as if he had written an incomplete note in his research, “a leading Irish MEP suggested racism was endemic” (who? I’d love to know!), “In January 1980, Latin America’s leading Catholic theologian suggested” (what was their name?). Other times he quotes someone without giving an endnote citation, such as a line proposed by Tom Johnson, omitted from the final draft of the Democratic Programme.

At various points, he uses inaccurate descriptions for the name of the state, “Irish Republic”, “Southern Ireland”, at times when it was not appropriate to do so, or the “Free State” of a statistic in 1944. He inaccurately describes the substantive question in the 1992 abortion referendum. He mentions incidents more than once (the abolition of the industrial school system in Britain decades ahead of its abolition in Ireland; Magill’s Supreme Court victory in the prostution story); on other occasions he presents his chronology through the book in a confusing manner (writing about the resignation of Ó Dálaigh, and then the formation of the Cosgrave government; discussing Carson’s position as a Dubliner working for Ulster Unionists when discussing the formation of Northern Ireland, without any prior mention when discussing 1913; writing about talks in 1986 with the IRA two pages before talking about the hunger strikes; discussing how de Valera drafted a new Constitution without mentioning the prior deconstruction of each significant element of the Irish Free State up to 1937).

He criticised Tim Pat Coogan for inaccuracies in his dates. Yet Ferriter gives Article 44 rather than Article 41 as including a section on the life of woman in the home; he describes the Fianna Fáil as 1992-95, where in fact it was 1993-94; he gave the Progressive Democrat seat total in 1987 as 15, where in fact it was 14. He writes that university representation in the Dáil continued until 1934, where it continued up to 1937 (after an amendment in 1936). He talks of the seaside town of Bray in County Dublin, rather than County Wicklow. He describes Jack Lynch as the first Taoiseach with no Civil War baggage, without acknowledging that John A. Costello was chosen in 1948 for that reason (Lynch was the first FF Taoiseach was had not been involved in the Civil War).

There are points of lacking in clarity or precision, like referring to Holles Street, rather than calling it the National Maternity Hospital; writing in 2004, he mentions of the PDs in government from 1989-92 and 1997-2002; at one point, it seems like he’s referring to Costello as leader of Fine Gael. On what happened in Dublin at the end of the Second World, he writes, “Trinity students displayed the flags of the Allies, to which nationalist students, including future Taoiseach Charlie Haughey, responded by burning the Union Jack”; someone reading that could be forgiven for thinking Haughey went to Trinity. His discussion of the First Dáil would have been the perfect time to explain what a TD was; instead, we find it in parenthesis several pages later as “James Collins, a member of the Abbeyfeale IRA and future TD (member of parliament)”. Or even include it in a key to terms. It just looks out of place randomly there.

Some obvious points of context are lacking: for example, mentioning Mary Robinson as a presidential candidate simply as “a liberal academic lawyer from Trinity College”, without specifying any of the causes she was involved in, or that she had a career in the Seanad, or that she had left Labour in 1985, or anything else. He writes that after 1977, the electorate rejected single-party government for the rest of the century; though there were no further single-party majorities, it ignores Haughey in 1982 and 1987-89. He mentions that the 1982-87 government spent time on cultural questions like abortion and divorce, but without mentioning that there were any referendums, let alone what the result of them was. He mentions the Anglo-Irish Agreement parenthetically, while discussing the relationship between Dublin and nationalists, without explaining what it was, who signed it, who opposed it, what led to it. He talks of the response to the hunger strikes and the success of Sinn Féin in the 1980s without mentioning their change of leadership and policy on abstention.

Aside from this, there are structural problems with the book. He divides the century at decade points too rigidly at times, so that for example the discussion of the outbreak of the Troubles in the 1960s is set apart from the rest of the events that follow from it. Within each chapter, the length of any section seems to be dictated more what he can group with an amusing quotation.

There are sections of the book that read like a collection of quotations from other historians and analysts. Again and again we have lines like, “as pointed out be Laffan…”, “In the words of sports historian Paul Rouse…”, “Colm Tóibín asserted…”, “Similarly, Fintan O’Toole pointed out in his survey of Ireland…”, “Tom Garvin maintained that…”, “His alternative to the Treaty was, maintained Joe Lee…”. The occasional intext reference to other historians is fair enough, but we read a text to read the author’s interpretation of events, not see how much he likes quotations from Laffan, Lee or Jackson. He even does this doubly so once: “Michael Gallagher quoted David Thornley…”. Were it simply to survey the existing research before presenting his own thesis, it would be fair enough. But such lines are peppered throughout the text, often without any separate analysis from Ferriter.

And a few pages of an overarching conclusion would be good, to justify the title, to explain how and why he believes Ireland was indeed transformed.

Anyway, these are just a few points I noted on the margin of book at various points when I first read it, such that I thought it a bit rich for Ferriter to find the faults he did with Coogan’s book. Especially so as Coogan is a popular historian; though Ferriter writes for a broad audience, he is an academic historian, and standards of referencing and accuracy apply all the more.

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Categories: General

Winning the Marriage Referendum: A Simple Message

As part of Dublin Pride, GLEN hosted a meeting in Wood Quay entitled, How to Win a Referendum. It was great to see such a large turnout, full to capacity, and a meeting focused on getting us over the line.

It will be a tough eleven to sixteen months (based on different estimates of when the poll will actually be). With a good campaign, I’m confident we can win this. But we need this good campaign, and to be prepared for all that could emerge. Tiernan Brady, who hosted the proceedings, closed by saying that if each of us can sleep easy when polls close knowing that there was nothing more we could have done, no one else we could have talked to, then we can look forward to the result the next day. That is no small task.

We need a simple, clear message. There is so much that could be said about the marriage question and the history and development of the acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Ireland and across the world, moving to a place where we can be integrated as we wish in society, while also celebrating our distinctive identities and culture. We could go on at length, having what would doubtless be worthwhile discussions. Some of this will emerge over the course of the campaign, and I wouldn’t seek to repress it.

But most of the voting public will hear but a fraction of the debate. We need to ensure that there is a dominant message in the campaign, one which they can relate to and understand. Why it matters that they vote Yes to this proposition.

I see three prongs that should be emphasised, to different degrees. The extent or the order we might emphasise these would depend on the platform, who you are engaging with, what they are raising, and how long you have with them. Marcella Corcoran Kennedy spoke of a conversation with a fellow passenger a train journey; that might give someone half an hour. On an evening canvass, you might be lucky to get ten seconds with someone at their door.

First, we should establish why marriage matters. Media debates on this question get caught up sometimes with a definition of marriage. But marriage has changed over the course of human existence, it is as varied across time and place as societies themselves have changed or continue to be different. Nevertheless, there are certain elements that remain true, certainly within generations in Ireland. Marriage both creates and extends a family. It is a public statement of the commitment of two people for each other, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health. It means being there for someone, looking out for them. If we get the chance to engage with people who are themselves married, ask them what it means to them.

Then we have the substantive issue, why it matters for us. The significance of being able to celebrate your lives together and love for each other in a way that has such universal understanding. Or if not you personally, your gay friend, your lesbian sister, your bi neighbour. That there should not be a distinction between the love and commitment of one couple and that of another. We need to hear whole families talk, parents talking about the love each of their children have found, and that what matters is not whether the person who their son or daughter wishes to marry is a man or a woman, but that it is someone who will be there for them. Not only will the uncertain voter connect more with a personal story than about a more generic message about a tolerant society, they will also be brought much closer to understanding the question and its meaning. The focus should not just be on the couples either, but also on the children currently raised by gay couples. Focus on the opportunity it gives them, that their parents could be treated just others, not to grow up with society making this distinction.

Third is the reassurance. That the second does not in any way detract from the principle of the first, but enhances it. That this is an opportunity to reaffirm the value of marriage in society. And also to engage with the question of religious marriage. We cannot ignore the fact that the vast majority of people in the country are either religiously observant or retain instinctive attachment to their faith. This should not be approached from a perspective of church against state. Each denomination and faith will of course continue to be free to make their own decisions about marriage as a religious sacrament. All the referendum seeks to do is to allow gay couples wed in the civil institution of marriage. Allowing this will improve the lives of these couples and their families, without in any way affecting marriage for anyone else.

But all this is has been far too long. We need to continue to find ways to distil the essence of these elements of the case in shorter, more concise forms. And that is but one part of the work ahead.

Categories: General

Best of luck to the liberals in Fianna Fáil

Yesterday I wrongly anticipated that Fianna Fáil would let Brian Crowley remain within the fold, despite his membership of the Group of the European Conservatives and Reformists. Earlier today, the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party approved a motion stating that Crowley had resigned the whip through his actions. He remains a Fianna Fáil member, as it is the National Executive who would have to decide he should be expelled for conduct unbecoming.

While the motivation for moving against Crowley today might have had as much to do Micheál Martin standing against a challenge to control of his party as any interest in parliamentary groupings or ideology, it could have the indirect effect for those members of Fianna Fáil so minded who are enthusiastic about their membership of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party as a proof of their party’s commitment.

The events would not make me more or less likely to see Fianna Fáil as properly placed within ALDE. But to the extent it encourages those who are enthusiastic about promoting some form of liberalism within their party, as I have seen from some I know, I do wish them well.

As to what they will do between now and the 2019 European elections, so much in Irish politics could change between now and then.

Fianna Fáil’s liberal adventure

23 June, 2014 1 comment

A little over five years ago, I wondered how long Fianna Fáil would last within the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party, now the Alliance of Liberal Democrats for Europe. It looks like we have our answer.

Brian Crowley’s recent European election leaflet (party logo on reverse) Image from Irish Election Literature

As we all heard this morning, Brian Crowley left the ALDE Group to join the European Conservatives and Reformists. While probably most identified here with the British Conservative Party, it has expanded since the elections to cover a spectrum of conservative nationalist parties, with a variety of unpleasant and nasty parties, and those with regressive social attitudes. A dominant feature of these parties is a resistance to immigration, whether from the Danish People’s Party, the Finns Party, the Independent Greeks, or indeed most of them. We’re talking about actual thugs here, complete with criminal records. They also recently added to their numbers the explicitly theocratic Dutch Reformed Party, which until 2005 did not allow women hold offices within the party.

Crowley was always an anomaly within a liberal democrat group, and as Fianna Fáil’s sole MEP since the May elections (despite managing to outpoll Fine Gael, which got four seats!), it was very easy for him to switch groups unilaterally. Crowley was fond of the old Union for Europe of the Nations Group, of which he was vice president until 2009, and is probably more at home in ECR than in any of the other groups.

Most Fianna Fáil members I know would not support the ideology of the ECR. Most of them would variously sit comfortably in any of ALDE, in the European People’s Party (of which Fine Gael is a member), or the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (if, like the Italian Democrats, not actually joining the Party of European Socialists). And Micheál Martin is understandably furious.

But will they forego their only MEP? Probably not. They might have described his actions as ‘unacceptable’, but we’ll soon see if they are in actual fact accepted. Just as there was fluster about the possibility of Mary Hanafin facing disciplinary action, which all came to aught, this will probably blow over. Even most of the Fianna Fáil members who would not go anywhere near the ECR would be unlikely to see it as a principle worth losing a poll-topping MEP for, though I certainly know a small few who will stick to that stand.

All of which will surely make Fianna Fáil’s membership of ALDE untenable, if they can’t prevent an MEP from joining a group antithetical to theirs on so many levels. In the short term at least, Dick Roche will certainly have an awkward time at the next meeting of the ALDE Bureau, in his capacity as Vice President.

Rational optimism

7 June, 2010 5 comments

Last week, I attended a lecture by geneticist Matt Ridley, hosted by the Irish Skeptics Society. I have before read his books The Red Queen and The Origins of Virtue, explaining the genetic origins of human instincts and society. Politically, he is a proponent of free trade and small government, having written for The Economist from 1984 to 1992, and he served as non-executive chairman of Northern Rock from 2004 to 2007. His understanding of science and human nature leaves him open to the accusation of an attempt to justify his politics, but it is not with Ridley that we’ve first seen a convergence in views on the market and evolution. Charles Darwin saw the parallels between the simplicity of natural selection and Adam Smith’s invisible hand, while Friedrich Hayek saw the same processes of emergent order in nature as in many human endeavours such as the market, language or societal customs, none of which were ever formally instituted.

Ridley’s thesis is that what makes homo sapiens fundamentally different from all other species is our capacity to trade. Recent studies in the genome code have shown that even our closest relatives, homo neanderthalensis, probably had language, and excavations have shown that they had burial customs, but no neanderthal tool has been found more than two hours from where it was made. Of course, even if we have been trading as a species for 120,000 years, the acceleration of the benefits of trade only began to take off in the relative recent past, some time in the mid-eighteenth century. As a sign of the improvements to the common man from trade in those years, Ridley compared the situation of Louis XIV of France, who had nearly 500 people to prepare food for him, to any of us today, who have hundreds of people working for us, if we want to think of like that. Once we pay them for what we want, what difference is it to us that they’re also working hundreds of other people too?

Read more…

Harper’s Index

25 January, 2010 Leave a comment

I came across a fun internet tool, Harper’s Index. Put in any term and it will try to find some interesting statistics.

I found that

  • West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd quoted all 37 of Shakespeare‘s plays in both 1995 and 1997.
  • In November 2001, The Economist apologized for implying that President George W. Bush had been elected.
  • The Oscars love tragic stories: the last year in which no film, screenplay, or performance relating to mental illness was nominated was 1953.
  • 22 of Thomas Jefferson‘s slaves fled to join the British Army during the American Revolution.
  • There were ten page references to ‘vanity of’ under Kissinger in a 1992 biography.
  • 28 of the brands mentioned in James Joyce’s Ulysses were extant at the Bloomsday centenary in 2004.
  • Mary, Jesus‘ mother, is mentioned 19 times in the Bible against 34 times in the Koran.
  • Child injuries declined by an average of 46% on the weekend of the release of books in the Harry Potter series

Introduction

18 October, 2009 Leave a comment

During the months of August and September, I was working on the Ireland for Europe campaign to secure the passage of the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. It was a privilege to be part of this effort, and I got on very well with those I was working with.

One of the areas in which I worked on was as a contributor to the blog. Now that I’ve finished there, I think I’ve into the habit. I’ve long posted items on Facebook, using it in ways as a blog between friends, but posting a public blog makes a connexion with the wider internet. I’ll see what I can make of this anyway.

My main interests are political, between Irish, American and elsewhere. Ideologically, I’d class myself as a liberal, in the way The Economist uses the word.

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