Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thatcher and Merkel: enemies of the Irish

On the last day of Margaret Thatcher's life, I walked in the footsteps of an Irish rebel.

Saint Enda's School is tucked away in a tranquil park near the Dublin mountains. It was here that Pádraig Pearse taught from 1910 until he was executed by British forces for his leading role in the 1916 Easter rising. Pearse wanted his pupils to marvel at nature, believing it was the only thing in Ireland to be truly free. His final poem The Wayfarer attests to his joy at seeing "little rabbits in a field at evening, lit by a slanting sun".

The 1916 revolution took place at a time when Britain was at war with Germany. Pearse and his comrades stated that they bore allegiance to "neither King nor Kaiser". As the centenary of the rising approaches, it is troubling that the independence for which Pearse fought and died remains elusive.

Thatcher only exercised power over six counties in the north of Ireland. Her ideological acolyte Angela Merkel exercises power over the other 26 counties on this island. Though the circumstances differ, there are many parallels between these two leaders. (The fact they share the same gender is of little consequence; to paraphrase the comedian Russell Brand, they are icons of individualism, not feminism).

Cruel inflexibility

Thatcher displayed a cruel inflexibility towards the north. When Republicans went on hunger strike to demand they be treated as political prisoners (which they clearly were), Thatcher let ten of them die. Her stance helped to foment sectarian strife and exacerbate the causes of conflict. Numerous lives - not just those of the hunger strikers - were lost as a result.

Merkel is now displaying a cruel inflexibility towards the rest of Ireland. In order to protect German banks which lent recklessly to Ireland during a property boom, she has insisted that ordinary Irish people pay the gambling debts of their country's bankers. Public services are being eviscerated and industries privatised in Ireland to placate the German political establishment.

Perversely, those who did not benefit from the boom are the ones who are being required to make the highest sacrifices. The austerity measures being undertaken have resulted in people with disabilities having less home help and fewer special needs assistants being available to children with learning difficulties. Both the spirit and letter of the 1916 Proclamation of the Republic - which contained a pledge to cherish all of Ireland's children equally - have been violated.

The first news story that I read during my current stay in Dublin informed me about how the "troika" - the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund - has "imposed a new requirement" on the Dublin government. Soon, Ireland will have to issue monthly reports on cutbacks to its health service. This "requirement", apparently, follows the troika's observation that not enough people on low incomes have been deprived of medical cards entitling them to free prescriptions. The troika's recommendations on Irish health expenditure will soon be discussed in the Bundestag, readers of The Irish Times were told.

Because that journal of record reported these things as if they were the normal or sensible, it took a while before the enormity of what is happening sunk in. German law-makers have a greater say in whether or not my compatriots get medical care than those elected to Ireland's parliament, the Oireachtas.


It is embarrassing, to say the least, that the destruction of Irish sovereignty has encountered little resistance. The massive street protests in Spain and Greece have not been replicated here, even though we Irish are also victims of the EU and IMF's diktats.

This year marks the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lock-Out, an industrial dispute in which employers tried to starve their workers into submission by locking them out of their jobs. The leading employer in the dispute, William Martin Murphy, was a major investor in The Irish Independent. Today, that newspaper - particularly its Sunday edition - continues to side with the captains of industry.

The same can be said of the entire establishment. The Irish Labour Party - supposedly the heirs of the trade unionists who defended workers so valiantly in 1913 - has been reduced to rubber-stamping measures demanded by the EU and IMF.

There is a tacit understanding among Irish people living in Brussels that we should "wear the green jersey" abroad and not talk down our political representatives. This is especially so when Ireland holds the EU's presidency, as it does now.

Yet I abhor the behaviour of the two Irish people who have held the highest-ranking posts for EU officials. Catherine Day, the European Commission's secretary-general, was instrumental in watering down the EU's new anti-smoking law. Letters that she has written to colleagues indicate that she was more concerned with protecting the profits of cigarette makers than in reducing deaths from cancer.

Her predecessor in that position, David O'Sullivan has gone on to head the Commission's trade department and play a senior role in its "external action" service. In both those jobs, the Dubliner has served British politicians - Peter Mandelson and Catherine Ashton. After trying to bulldoze African and Asian countries into becoming vassals of Western corporations, O'Sullivan is now paid handsomely to advance a militarisation agenda, shaped by weapons manufacturers.

There are many reasons to be proud of being Irish. The conduct of our representatives in Brussels is not among them.

•First published by New Europe, 14-20 April 2013.

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