Thursday, March 30, 2006

John McGahern Passes Away

It has just appeared on that John McGahern has passed away suddenly at the Mater Hospital in Dublin. Mr. McGahern was one of my favourite writers and of course one of the country's finest literary voices. His short stories are a masterclass in symmetry and meaning and his recent Memoir reminded us that at its best, a literary work should not only reveal to us something of the human condition, where the particular illuminates the universal, but should also be a prose poem. I was thinking only last night as I browsed the works of another of my favourite writers that it wouldn't be long before people of our generation began to say goodbye to the artists whose new works we've looked forward to seizing on with gluttonous excitement. Artists who were producing as we came of age and who continued to produce and inform as we grew into our adult estates. And I thought "it will be strange to find that I have started to become upset at the passing of individuals I didn't know at all". Well, I'm a little bit upset today.
UPDATE: The Boston Globe carried an interview with McGahern two weeks ago which explained that he could not travel to America because he was receiving treatment for cancer. While I'm at it, the pages of a recent edition of the Irish University Review are devoted largely to the great man and the Dublin Review also carries an article about Memoir (not to mention a fine short story by Colm Toibin and a very sobering but enlightening piece on the Ferns report).

Monday, March 27, 2006

Tut tut

I notice that a couple of the blogosphere's most adolescent and daft contributors have decided to blacken my name on their websites, merely for disagreeing with their points of view. Of course, the fact that comments I've posted have been deleted means it is impossible for independent persons to make up their own minds. It is quite disgusting in the circumstances that wulfbeorn's attack implies vague and sinister reasons behind his decision. Richard goes straight for the vicious lie and accuses me of leaving regular invective on his site, which isn't true although I have pointed out a couple of his more hypocritical flights of nuttiness in disapproving terms. His site of course is littered with personal attacks, and most bizarrely includes a lengthy post about the need for the gloves to come off more in Irish politics. It is actually breathtaking to see how it doesn't even occur to him, a person with pretentions to influence public policy, to square this with his own hysterical reactions to robust criticism. Richard's attack on my anonymity is particular hilarious as he condemns mine in one breath while cheering on the, er, anonymous wulfbeorn in the next. Regular readers of his mental drivel will, of course, be familiar with this level of "analysis". I'm particular disappointed in wulfbeorn, who let us remember has recently added yet another scary nutjob to his ever growing sidebar of dementia - Daniel "Prince Charles has secretly converted to Islam and by the way chaos in Iraq is what America wants" Pipes. While nearly everything wulfbeorn knows is wrong, I always enjoyed going back and forth on the arguments on his blog. When he went into hibernation I expressed the pious hope in an email that he hadn't been offended by my robust engagement with his views and he responded in a civilised manner, even saying he looked forward to arguing with me when he came back. I even said something nice about him on gavin's blog. The love didn't last long, unfortunately. Well, I hope they enjoy the sound in the echo chamber when they've finally policed all alternative points of view out of their tragic, torture apologist, politically and economically illiterate bubbles. Meanwhile, back in the real world, we can get on with addressing the politics and economy we've actually got here in the Republic of Ireland, a member state of the EU, a political geography factoid which appears to have been entirely lost waaaay over there on the loony fringe. Happily, my banning coincides with a personal pledge to cease reading the horribly compelling (in that Leprechaun in the Hood way) nonsense these whinging mummy's boys have been spouting. It behooves us, as responsible citizens who face the various challenges of global warming, globalisation, terrorism, European integration, infrastructural deficits, educational deficits, house price inflation, social disintegration etc. etc. to begin to make positive contributions to mainstream discourse, rather than to point out the hypocrisy and irrationality of arguments on the distant right. Whenever I despair at reading some fresh rabid horror on Sillyman's Notes, I need only think of the generality of Irish people to get my blood pressure back down again. If they knew what was being written with a straight face on the Interwebs, they'd never stop throwing their eyes up to heaven. Anyone who has attempted to engage these punters will of course have realised that rather than pause, contemplate the ways in which their arguments are undermined by the facts and adapt their positions to the contingency and nuance of life, they simply ignore and misrepresent what has been said, add in a little spurious ad hominem rubbish about commie malcontents and carry on regardless. This approach, of course, deserves contempt rather than earnest engagement. For the record, I am not some crazed, anarcho-red malcontent but a liberal, educated, middle-class professional. And unlike some, I don't live at home with my parents while poo pooing the poverty of opportunity of the gruesome oiks at the bottom of the social ladder. I don't recognise the ultra right assessment of what constitutes left on the political spectrum as having anything to do with the reality of socio-political history in Ireland, or Europe for that matter. And I'm pretty sure, as one in a unusually strong professional position to observe, that 99% of the electorate wouldn't recognise it either. On a final note, I'm sure I'll see these gentlemen around Dublin some time, at which point I hope they have the moral courage to justify their villainous character assassination to my face.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Sua Culpa

Kudos to the producers of the Late Late Show who took an interesting theme and presented an interesting set of guests to the nation on Friday night. Top honours go to Brendan Gleeson for his impassioned expression of the rage many - though not nearly enough - people in this country feel about the state of the health service. The panel discussion with Joe Duffy, David McWilliams, Eamon Dunphy and Gerard Mannix Flynn, however, was poorly overseen by Pat Partridge and as a result was not nearly as useful as it might have been. Still, the impression overall was that perhaps things are starting to change in the Celtic Tygger and people are ready to begin to question what one might call the management of our prosperity. Alas, that most baleful Irish political disorder, populism, was on display at every turn during the discussion. Dunphy was particularly disgraceful and when Pat detected the mood of the audience as encouraging of Eamo's hectoring drivel, he too decided to pretend he was there to stick it to the Man. As a result, instead of observing a timely, necessary and sober debate on where our society needs to go from here, we were treated to an unedifying scramble by the middle-class, establishment gentlemen - Pat and Eamo being remunerated at a rate perhaps ten times the industrial average - on the panel to position themselves as ordinary, daycent Dubs. Interestingly and tellingly, there was not one woman or non-Dubliner on this segment of the show. Only David McWilliams had the decency to characterise this as populist posturing, but he wasn't permitted to get a word in edgeways. While in no way endorsing his citizen charter thing - I'm certainly not signing it - at least McWilliams was prepared to understand that as a privileged and educated citizen, he has a responsibility to help shape his society and to contribute to the debate in a mature fashion. The others were interested only in gratifying their egos by banging on about how wonderful they were for standing shoulder to shoulder with the man on the Clapham Omnibus. It tells you a lot about how in love with themselves these gentlemen are that they think people want to sit through their smug, self-promoting rants instead of to have the barometer of our society assessed by important media professionals. It's worth noting in passing that Mannix Flynn who said he was "on the streets" trying to make a living is in receipt of Arts funding of at least two different types despite telling the Late Late audience that he doesn't get any grants. Check out Bob Byrne's free comic for details. Dunphy and Partridge, establishment media figures with significant audiences, played the usual Irish game of pretending that the establishment is someone else. Fianna Fáil has been at this since time immemorial despite being in Government for the last 20 years, excepting the two years of the Rainbow Coalition. The Taoiseach's recent remarks to the effect that "life should be life" are a case in point. I always think of Joe Walsh who headed up the Department of Agriculture for almost 20 years, which is incredible in a parliamentary democracy. A civil servant could have started his career under Joe as an eager young graduate and now be the Secretary General of the Department or at least SG in waiting. It would be an unimaginable state of affairs in business and it hasn't exactly been a wonderful period for Irish agricultural, diversity etc. Gleeson's anger about the state of the health service was timely and it is good that someone public has finally seen fit not to be polite about it. It should be remembered that at the start of its 20 year run at Government, Fianna Fáil burdened the Irish people with a nightmarish level of debt and, in order to help pay it off, set its eye on the hospital service budget. They have had 20 years to sort it out, but instead have consistently suggested that it has nothing to do with them. In the meantime, our small, open, EU economy has benefited substantially from the progressive improvement of global trade conditions, but the unprecedented prosperity this has brought has been very poorly managed. If the bad times come again - and price of shares is sufficiently divorced from the turnover, profitablility and asset holdings of the companies in which they are held for that to be a distinct possibility - we will have done nothing to position ourselves to ride them out. Our hospital service is a disgrace and our infrastructure remains poor due to the initial failures in constituting the NRA, the piecemeal development of roads and the failure to redress underfunding of the railways. Tertiary education is disgracefully underfunded (I have never been able to understand why society shouldn't pay to create - as opposed to perpetuate - its middle-class who pay more taxes and are in a position to add value to and administer the economy and State) as is education in disadvantaged areas, and Government remains too centralised. Without proper broadband roll out and a Western Corridor (Cork-Limerick-Galway) ballast to the bloated Greater Dublin nightmare, an economic downturn will have much more severe consequences than it should especially as property prices will end up falling in a time of rising interest rates. Alas, the Late Late could have started this debate, but it didn't and apart from Brendan Gleeson calling Michael Martin a moron, the Government got off very lightly.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Statements on the Lourdes Report

The Midnight Court will shortly be moving to better appointed digs and focusing on taking a less rambling shape for itself. 2,000 word posts will be out and something a little more wieldy will be in. Today, I'm linking readers to the statement of Senator Geraldine Feeney who spoke in the Seanad yesterday of the experiences of the women who had their wombs unnecessarily removed by Michael Neary. While Ms Feeney has normally appeared as mere FF Seanad fodder, her experience as a member of the three-year Medical Council inquiry lends her statement a passion, conviction and eloquence we cannot but admire. She is not afraid in this case to tell it like it is and it is visceral and heart-breaking:
The first woman I want to talk about delivered a little baby girl on 18 August 1986. One might ask how I can remember the date; I remember it because my fourth baby, a daughter, was born the very same day in the north west in Sligo General Hospital. I was ten years the woman's senior - she was 19 and I was 29. My baby was born perfectly healthy at 7 a.m. and the woman'’s little baby girl was born at 2 p.m. Her baby, who was called Eileen, had spina bifida and died six weeks later. I will never forget the mother's tears and those of her husband as they told us their stories. She is still married to her lovely husband but her life is a living hell. She has been robbed of the most vital thing any woman has, that is, the facility to procreate.
The extreme degree of Neary's malpractice is captured succinctly too:
I was told by Dr. Eamon McGuinness, an obstetrician-gynaecologist who sat on the inquiry with me, that in his 30 years of practice he had carried out one caesarean hysterectomy on a woman in her mid-30s who had five children. He worked on that woman for eight hours. He massaged and packed the uterus and did everything medically possible to try to preserve it. She received 11 or 12 units of blood and, after nine hours, the doctor called in one of his senior colleagues to help with the operation. I tell this story because Dr. Neary never called in any of his colleagues to help. He proceeded to perform a hysterectomy within minutes of delivering babies.
Neary of course never spent the night with a patient but frequently lied about the extent of his efforts in chillingly contemptuous notes:
He wrote in their charts statements such as "Lucky to survive the night"”, "“Thank God I was able to save her"”, "“Got away with this one - baby and mother alive"” and "“Uncontrollable bleeding, couldnÂ't stop it, spent all night in theatre"”. I know that none of this was factual. Dr. Neary never spent all night in the theatre and there was never any uncontrollable bleeding.
The Midnight Court agrees with Senator Feeney that whatever about Neary - and in any normal State he would never have been left to develop his particular brand of medicine - the people responsible for allowing him to continue should be dealt with most severely:
The people to whom I really point a finger are Dr. Neary’s senior colleagues, the pathologists and anaesthetists, who were not and should not have been afraid to address the matter. The anaesthetists were in the delivery rooms and operating theatres and saw there was no raised blood pressure or increased pulse rates and they knew the women would not die in 15 or 20 minutes. The pathologists who examined the uteri and sent them back to Dr. Michael Neary saying no abnormality could be found in them have many questions to answer.

The “three wise men” sent to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital by the Irish Hospital Consultants Association - Drs. Prendiville, Stuart and Murphy - issued a report giving Dr. Neary a clean bill of health, as implied in Judge Harding Clark’s report. She adduced that they did so out of congeniality and compassion for Dr. Neary. They must have told her so. Shame on those men. If I had a stronger word or if I were permitted to use offensive language in this Chamber, I would certainly use it in respect of them. Shame on them.

If a man had a minor procedure carried out on his reproductive organ and he emerged from the operating theatre minus that organ, there would be outrage. It might happen once but would never happen 188 times. The women in question were vulnerable and were robbed of their internal reproductive organs. There is no other word but “robbed”.

We are all to blame. Tribunals of inquiry should not blind us to the fact that we continue to be happy to live in a society in which the first reaction on seeing something untoward happening is "Oh fuck. Do I not need to know this." Sean Fortune is another example of a man allowed to abuse his position of trust because the people around him, including agents of the State, were paralysed by the refusal to take responsibility.

While we like to joke as a nation about our inability to complain in restaurants, the sobering fact is that we all ignore the petty venality of our social and political structures, which refusal to take responsibility is far more insidious and, ultimately, dangerous than rampantly criminal corruption involving brown envelopes and the like. The criminal justice system can take care of things like that if they come to light, but anything covered by a spurious "code of ethics" in this country is a dead loss. A code of ethics seems essentially to be a licence to break its particulars. It is suggestive of a polity in which appearances are much more important than reality. The sanction is the humiliation of being caught, but never any genuine loss. Having read Ms Feeney's contribution, readers might also like to read Senator [Dr.] Mary Henry's remarks as a member of the medical profession which was found so wanting in this case. The irony of her remarks on the imposition of a certain "ethos" in our hospitals will not be lost in a nation which has made piety something of an art. Or maybe they will.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Stay Tuned

Last week was a tough one and it left me quite dazed and exhausted by the weekend; a weekend which co-incided with the visit of herself's crumblies to our bijoux, minmalist pad. I also spent the weekend pickled in claret and chianti which left me disinclined to blog. There has also been the somewhat ironic problem of constant broadband internet access through work, college and my domestic connection and as there is a neverending supply of lovely text to devour online, I seem never to be away from the computer, which is not good. The veins and nerves in my right eye have begun to flutter and pulse lately from what I suspect is overexposure to computer screens and a failure to get a reasonable level of kip. But last night I fell asleep amid the cushions and goose down pillows of our low-backed japanese chaise at about 11.30 p.m. and, having been relocated by my kindly girlfriend, gave myself unto the arms of Morpheus until 11 a.m. this morning. Consequently, the Midnight Court is rearing to go.

It is time to get down to serious law blogging and as such Midnight Courtiers can expect forthcoming posts on Mooting (the moot court is a mock appeal which pits student counsel representing appellant and respondent clients against each other on a point or two of law), litigation on virtual property held in online fantasy (RPG) worlds, barriers to entry to practice at the Irish Bar and, if we are feeling especially ambitious, the need for a Second Republic, French style. Today, I'll be pointing courtiers in the dirction of the American "blawg" May it Please the Court on which are posed occasional legal teasers based in real life US jurisprudence. Today's poser is quite a toughie but will be of compelling interest to anyone who's concerned with balancing the rights of victims and those accused of crimes. Let us not forget that the criminal law is not simply a matter for discussion by law students, academics and practitioners but every member of society. In fact, Eamon Leahy SC implies the emphasis is quite the other way around in his article Crime and Punishment; Rehabilitation or Retribution:

Donning the gown of advocacy does not remove the responsibility of citizenship. Lawyers, no less than any other group in society, have a duty to constantly question the criminal law. We have a duty to question its substance, its intentions, its operation and its consequences.

What's interesting about May it Please the Court is that the problems posed there are ones it is likely the Irish law may soon have to face itself. Not only do we share a common law legal system with the US but, not least on foot of our shared language, our society is as heavily influenced by it as by Britain's. On 26 November last, MIPTC posed the question of whether or not a stabbing incident should be re-enacted in court, which raises all sorts of questions about prejudice, the prosecution's approach to and understanding of its job and the influence of sensationalist journalism on the legal process. Again, qua Leahy:

The criminal law reflects a facet of civil morality. To have any rational justification it must remain contemporaneous.

It's worth noting at this point that a number of unrepealed post-Norman statutes remain on the books in Ireland and Midnight Courtiers might find it amusing to read through this list of them and supply the comments and opinions about these laws which are encouraged by the Office of the Attorney General here. As the Irish Examiner puts it in its recent article on the review and repeal of antediluvian statutes:

THE way to prosecute a thief? Tie the suspect to a millstone, deep him or her in water, and if they sink, they’re guilty. And no, this is not Taliban-style justice, but Irish law.

One might be forgiven for thinking that Road Traffic enforcement which appears to concentrate on motorways rather than on the more dangerous secondary routes is based on the statute from the year 1342; (16 Edw. 3) c. 3 Officers Ride in Force, with a View to Fees. Sadly, however, the fate of William Nugent in 1449 who on foot of (27 Hen. 6) c. 17 was fined 20 marks for failing to build a castle at Dardistown in Meath, and had his letters patents (i.e. planning permission) annulled has not been met among those contemporary developers who have been facilitated to hold banks of land with putative PP in spite of the provisions of the Planning and Development Acts.

On the other hand, I think it is possible to be too contemporary, especially where the result would be to reflect the populist mores which seem sadly to be in the ascendent of late. What is of concern however is a point echoed by Mr. Leahy who says:

Few in society could give a comprehensive list of the activities proscribed by the criminal law. Fewer still could state the potential sanctions adhering to those proscribed activities.

But which was earlier stated eloquently by the then DPP, Eamonn Barnes, at a meeting of the Incorporated Law Society in Killarney in 1989. Mr. Barnes addressed himself not least to the regrettable, continued influence on the Statute Book of Victorian draftsmen and said:

[W]hile with experience a criminal lawyer can find his way with resasonable confidence through the jungle, the criminal law remains an impenetrable mystery to the avearge citizen. And this should not be so, particularly when one of the fundamental propositions on which we operate is that ignorantia juris neminem excusat (ignorance of the law is not a defence).

The law, especially the criminal law, should be clear and accessible to all if all are liable for breaches of it. The scourge of legislative amendments, of amendments of amendments, or substitutions, insertions and deletions and of cross-referenced definitions has made the task of ascertaining the current status of some offence and penalty sections a nightmare.

The Midnight Court is inclined to agree and, furthermore, to identify the problem across the Statute Book and in every area of the law. There has been little momentum for change in the 16 years since Mr. Barnes made his statement and the legislative process remains unsatisfactory and the law inefficient. As such, the Midnight Court will aspire to be informed by the sentiments he expressed. As society and the economy become increasingly complex, diverse and exponentially larger than they have been previously, the legal and legislative communities will be forced to respond and address matters with which they have thus far appeared reluctant to engage.

It is difficult to see, for example, an expanded corporate and business sector continuing to put up with a courts system so inefficient that it permits the briefing of so few barristers. Of which more anon. Suffice it to say, the number of practitioners in the Law Library has only recently exceeded the number who had a living from it prior to the famine and in the time of well-got advocates like Daniel O'Connell, which tells you as much as you need to know about the state of the economy over the last 150 years.

Barely a wet month in the game, I responded to MIPTC on 26th November (the court having allowed the stabbing reenactment the question was whether "the facts [number of wounds inflicted] have that kind of an influence on the ruling):

It seems there are plenty of facts on which the prosecution can happily rely to convince a jury without the need to resort to penny-dreadful theatrics. This kind of prosecution could become a real problem in the States and elsewhere - populism has spread like wildfire in the west - if the Peterson trial as captured by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade in The Staircase is any indication. While Peterson looked pretty guilty, I think a lot of lawyers would agree he should not have been convicted on relevant facts, evidence and points of law.

The methods of the prosecution suggested a regard for personal vanity rather than for the law. Surely, it is better to protect the procedures of trials in due course of law - and by extension any innocent person who may undergo them - than to secure a conviction at any cost. Furthermore, allowing into procedings evidence like Peterson's gay liaisons and a death from the past, especially one which had not resulted in indictment, and the Wright courtroom re-enactment suggests a prejudgement of guilt. The courtroom demonstration has only been allowed to go ahead due to the extreme and horrible circumstances of Mr. Wright's death. That suggests the facts have already been decided, which cannot but influence the jury who are, of course, there to decide those facts. A court-permitted play of Mrs Wright killing her husband will doubtless suggest to the jury that the fact of murder is not really at issue.

It seems the prosecution are playing to populist sentiment and outrage at a woman's killing of her husband. I don't see a place for moralising in their job myself. Judges aren't immune to popular sentiment either - we are definitely in a period in which politicians seem to do well with ideas which suggests that criminal justice procedures protect evildoers when they are actually strict because the sanctions imposed on conviction are so awesome. Of course, people nowadays don't seem to think that terms of imprisonment constitute an especially awful punishment.

When the rules are bent or changed for what one might consider a justifiable end, it is only a matter of time before an unscrupulous or corrupt person in a position to do so uses the new dispensation for personal gain and wilful abuse. Then innocent people get screwed.

On a first-aid course I attended recently, the instructor explained that multiple stab wounds suggestive of a crazed frenzy on the part of the attacker are actually the result of the panic induced when the victim fails to go down on the first blow. You can fight on having been stabbed quite a few times, which is obviously not as good an idea as playing dead, as in "ugh, knife-wielding attacker, you got me, your work here is done...I fall, unthreateningly, to the ground". I think that's relevant to the Wright facts.

Today, MIPTC has a tougher problem but I encourage Midnight Courtiers to tackle it here. As we saw recently in the Wayne Donoghue trial, the place of the victim in the criminal process is extremely pertinent in Ireland at the moment. There is also the issue of the treatment of women as both victims and witnesses in cases of rape and sexual assault, the pendulum on which seems to swing backwards and forwards all the time. In brief, the facts are as follows:

A sixteen-year old, now 20, was [allegedly] gang-raped at a drunken party in Chicago in 2002. She was drunk, too, and apparently unaware of the sexual activity. The gang rape was videotaped, and at the trial of the defendants the tape was entered into evidence this past week. Not surprisingly, the woman has not watched the tape, and she doesn't want to watch it.

The defence attorneys submitted that they wish to cross-examine her and that this would require the woman to first watch the video tape. They wanted the court to force her to do so. The law on this is unclear as the matter has never arisen before, but given the current state of a certain segment of male society, the frat mentality and the backlash against feminism it may well arise in future over and over again.

At first, the trial judge agreed with the defence and when the woman refused to comply with his order that she watch the tape, threatened to hold her in what we would call contempt in facie curiae and put her in jail. However, he has now changed his mind and so the question must stand to be considered again in the inevitable appeal if the defendants are convicted. Shamus Twomey (no doubt one of our own, Midnight Courtiers) quotes in an article for the Chicago Sun Times John Corkery (another Mick?) acting Dean of John Marshall Law School who says the question will be:

Were they significantly impaired in their ability to cross-examine and impeach the [woman] . . . or to bring out some fact that they couldn't otherwise get by the judge's ruling not to force the woman not to watch the tape?

The article is well worth looking at if you're interested in formulating a response. And don't forget Article 38.1 of the '37 Constitution which states:

No person shall be tried on any criminal charge save in due course of law.

A sentence which contains multitudes, as you can see from the instant case. The MIPTC poser:

You might be tempted to focus on the traumatic effect of watching the tape instead and to the exclusion of the Constitutional rights to confront and cross-examine your accuser, but don't be tempted, and don't react with a purely one-sided viewpoint. You're in the position of an appellate judge, and you have to balance these two issues. Which one do you give more weight? Who wins? Can you fashion a remedy where there are no losers?

The Midnight Court is puzzling over its answer. What say you?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Book 'em Dano, murder 1...

It appears to be world book day, which explains the little green €1.50 tokens my secondary school teaching girlfriend has been trailing in her wake of late not to mention the various posts which have sprung up about the blogosphere. Well, we are all about the books here at the Midnight Court so a contribution is in order. I have the kind of job that a lot of people would kill for. I work in an unusual place and carry out an interesting, but relatively undemanding function among a manageable cohort of pleasant, discrete and educated people. I'm left to my own devices as long as I get through what it is I am required to get through on time and to a certain standard. I work in the city centre but in five years in my current employment have yet to witness the Dublin rush hour. We don't keep to that particular schedule. Oh, and the money comfortably exceeds the average industrial wage. Not unlike the teaching community, my summers are pretty much my own and when I was 27 and barely a year into the job, there was a period of six months during which I was paid to sit on my hole and do nothing. It was a glorious and halcyon period. I would rise in the afternoon, shower, dress and leave my city centre digs to embark on a circuit of town which took in brunch with excellent and frothy capuccino over the day's paper and, subsequently, every bookshop either side of the Liffey. My first stop was Dawson Street where I'd take in the usual suspects, H&F, Waterstones and Easons, but also, if I was in the mood for something a little exotic, Murder Inc. and the religious text emporium beside the Café Insane. Thence to Cathach Books with its window of Joycean and Yeatsian delights wherein I would drool over the Flann O'Brien first editions and marvel at the shocking price of Banville novels. With the sun high in the afternoon sky I made my way west to the Georges Street Arcade which contains two troves of goodly tomes, one a more august antiquarian repository and the other a fine selection of second hand modern literature. I'd love to know where they get this stuff, as I am loath to ever part with anything. Next up comic books, Sub City, the Third Place (latterly) and Forbidden Planet to pick up scary Swamp Thing volumes, kooky Kevin Smith joints, and edgy Warren Ellis tpbs (trade paperbacks). The Dublin city book trail wends south to north over the Ha'penny Bridge, though the Winding Stair (gone now, and never really my bag to be honest) and on to Chapters of Abbey Street a great shop to be sure (despite certain staffing issues) and the place to go to pick up first editions of John Banville's Book of Evidence. I've got about three out of there alone, with which I intend at some point to flood the market. If it wasn't for the fact that my pockets were awash with cash, I would probably have had great fun taking them back across the river to sell them for instant profit. At the back of the shop, great military history bargains are to be had while the second-hand stacks downstairs have populated my jax with all sorts of essay, article, obituary and letter collections including, inter alia, the Bedside Guardian '91 and '92, Spectator Annuals and any amount of stuff from the Times. Many's the hour has been whiled away over their pages and a good poo. Last stop of the day would typically be Easons on O'Connell Street which also houses a Tower records branch and then back to the Epicurean Food Hall for tea. The great thing about the book shops in the city centre is that they're all a bit different and specialise in different material. I don't think I ever came home with less than four or five books. Heading south from the city centre, the book shop at the top of the Stephen's Green Shopping Centre used to be a great place for certain groovy bargains, especially if you were into the esoteric works of Colin "spooky" Wilson. It seems to deal exclusively in children's books now though. Before I moved to my current address, I lived in Rathmines which has Portobello books, the second-hand bookshop beside the Stella and the mindbogglingly superb Oxfam Books. While Portobello books is a tad expensive for a second-hand place, the owner is amenable to bargaining. Oxfam is just insanely good. I have never been able to pass its door without popping in. And having popped in, I have never left without a purchase. I'm only telling people this because I no longer live in the area and so am no longer competing for good titles, but the stock in there is quality. Who is liquidating their libraries into this place? It seems to be especially strong on modern lit - Irish and English - and economic history. A Penguin paperback is usually about €3. My all time favourite bookshop would have to be Kenny's of Galway as it was in the early to mid 1990s, winding upwards through narrow stairs, nooks and landings which opened onto large booklined rooms, higgledy-piggledy with stacks through which one had to pick a very careful way. I spent hours in there lost among some of the oddest old books ever printed, although I could rarely afford to buy. I once read in there cover to cover a book from the 30s about how to be a Duke. I wonder how much money it made for its obviously beleagured, death-duty saddled author. Sadly, the Kennys have their shop down and moved exclusively online. I was once in Shakespeare and Co. on the Left Bank too, which was nice. Never got a dukedom though. BONUS LINK: A dude's top ten bookshops.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The dogs on the blogs

Deputy Cuffe of the Greens referred during Statements on Public Order Offences in the Dáil yesterday to the fact that the dogs on the blogs knew there would be trouble on Saturday. Check out the various contributions at if you're in the neighbourhood feeling daffy. It rather reminded me of my time in Spain some years ago as la lengua Castilano gradually impressed itself on my cerebelum. Whenever I learned a new word, I would suddenly begin to hear it everywhere, strewn liberally throughout almost every conversation. I concluded therefore that it was obviously the case that words I didn't know, I simply didn't hear. I wonder how many of Deputy Cuffe's parliamentary colleagues heard him use the word "blogs".

Sticks and Stones...

[As we are still building traffic over at Cruiskeen Eile, this is a cross-posting. Enjoy] To dig what Saturday's riot tells us about our society, Jack, you also need to know that that while the average house price in Ireland is approximately €300,000, the average mortgage held is a mere €100,000. Bear with me. Kevin Myers made much of the sectarianism of Saturday's events, attributing that vile motive not only to the particular mob in the instant mayhem, but to the denizens of the southern polity as a whole. If memory serves, he called the outbreak of disorder an anti-Protestant riot, a curiously historical charge with not a little whiff of the 19th century and Punch magazine if not the Wars of the Three Kingdoms about it. I didn't know, for example, that Charlie Bird was a Protestant, but according to Kevin that was what particularly exercised his attackers in their assault when they called him an Orange bastard. It's a good thing Charlie was the loin fruit of happily married individuals, or Myers might have had it in for the "bastard" himself. While Kevin might well be technically correct about the facts of the assault, his implication is that a) we all knew Charlie Bird dug with the other foot and b) any one of us would have been delighted at the opportunity to give him a good Fenian hiding. (I have strong views on the notion of coterminous religious and national identity in Ireland, but that is the stuff of another post.) However, as Richard Delevan can attest, Charlie was not the only journalist threatened or physically assaulted on Saturday and the reason for that is related, not to the endemic sectarian colour of the State but to the same circumstances which led to the murder of Veronica Guerin. Yes, there is a sectarian element in our society, and yes, the State in particular and the population in general have not always covered themselves in glory in embracing the minority denomination, but this is a republic and efforts have been made, belated and inadequate though they may occasionally have been. Protestants live happily among us, practice their religion, enjoy the benefits of the Block Grant in education and on occasion adorn with aplomb and elan the chambers of our bicameral parliament. Seymour Crawford, this means you. It should also be remembered that there are natural contingencies in our history which divide loyalties and cloud issues. I, for example, find it poignant but intellectually stimulating and evocative of the essence of the human condition to stumble upon the graves in the grounds of St. Mary's Cathedral in Limerick of Right Honorable young O'Briens, killed flying Spitfires in the Battle of Britain, listed in Burke's Peerage but Dalcassian princes still; old Etonians, sure, but descendants in primogeniture of Brian Boruma himself, High King of all the Gaels. Article 44 of our Constitution guarantees not only the free profession and practice of religion, but not to endow any religion in particular. And the State shall not impose any disabilities or make any discrimination on the ground of religious profession, belief or status. Across the water, however, the heir to the throne - in whom is made flesh the will of the divine and through whom the realm itself finds its corporeal expression - is prohibited from contracting a marriage with a person of the Roman Catholic persuasion. The Prime Minister of the self-same sceptred isle appears to head up a Roman Catholic household, but has refrained from taking the plunge into that particular Jordan, perhaps on grounds of conscience (he has reportedly taken the RC sacraments), perhaps on foot of more temporal considerations. The point is that Myers himself wrote in 1995 in respect of the hideous Parachute Regiment having watched being beaten himself in turn a 16 year old boy with whom he was attempting to assist a victim of that outfit's red-beret-wearing thugs:
What happened to that 16-year-old boy? Did he join the IRA, as I suspect I would have done if I had been him? Is he now dead in Milltown Cemetery? Did he find himself doing 15 years on terrorist charges because of what happened to him that night?
If Kevin could reach those conclusions and recognise the villainy of the Parachute Regiment, especially on Bloody Sunday, why can he not admit the possibility that certain of Saturday's protestors had engaged in a similar intellectual process in respect of the injustices of the past 30 years? I don't agree with them either by the way, but that's not really the point. Instead, Myers sought at the expense of the truth of what Saturday's riot has to tell us - and compels us to understand - to bolster others of his hobby-horse arguments. And that's not very cool. The political fallout from Saturday's public disorder is disproportionate and unilluminating because of administrative failures on the part of the authorities rather than the inevitable result of a sectarian tendency in Irish society. The lesson we should learn involves the complacency and incompetence of the State at every level; senior Garda management who not only failed the public but their own officers whom they exposed to an unacceptable level of risk; the incompetence of the local authority which authorised the intended route through the O'Connell Street building site and the Government itself, to whose members it seems not to have occured that these were significant events with a potential public order dimension. Of course, there are intolerant, ignorant and short-sighted elements in our society, but we have a right to expect the Government to ensure not only that limb and property are protected but that the likes of Kevin Myers does not have the excuse to tar us all with the same brush at the expense of peace on our island. The other lesson we need to learn from the riot is that we have complacently allowed to develop among us a poisonous and dangerously thuggish element because people with glass houses have generally kept them in leafy suburbs and away from any stones; unlike O'Connell Street. Gay Mitchell reacted on Six One directly after the riot, correctly to my mind, by referring to the fact that the behaviour we witnessed in the city centre on Saturday afternoon is the quotidian stay of those whom we have, by the corruption in our planning process and our disdain for the lower orders (despite republican pieties of a classless society) relegated to the peripheries of our socio-economic imagination. But they don't vote, or if they do, trouble the polls in insufficient numbers to attract the extensive attentions of the political classes. The lack of services, educational opportunity and diversity of experience and expectation unfortunately coincide with a reactionary drugs policy which has enriched and empowered criminal gangs who communicate their lack of values and inculcate in vulnerable, blank-slate youths a casual attitude to violence and authority the fruits of which we see in the throwing from point-blank range of a Molotov cocktail at a garda officer in broad daylight in the commercial and social centre of our capital city in full view of the media and a hundred mobile phones and digital cameras. Attacks on journalists also took place in an implicit assault on free speech and the right to know, very seriously compromising all our rights to help effect criminal activity. It is something you would scarce see in parts of the world in which order has broken down almost entirely, and of far greater concern than the fact that there are a couple of hundred bigots among us with whom the authorities, if motivated, could easily have dealt. If someone had asked you on Friday if you would see looting in Dublin city centre the next day, what would you have said? We are all responsible for how the country is run. We vote, or don't vote, to allow the parties of complacency to enact their narrowly focused, populist, lobby-influenced agendas. In the same way that working class areas are left to deal with anti-social elements (I'm not in favour of ASBOs by the way), the underrepresentation of young people at the polls means that any party which attempts to address the difficulties of getting on the housing ladder will inevitably be taking approximately €200,000 (in equity) from middle-class, middle-aged people who do vote and can punish them at the polls and giving it to people who don't vote and affect very little various party political careers. To be honest, a politician would be mad to do it. We should remember that the Minister for Finance in office for the greater part of the Celtic tiger's development prescribed for its beneficiaries a rather vulgar, undignified existence about as far from Plato's examined life as it is possible to get without entering the same philosopher's cave and chaining oneself to one's fellows with one's back forever to the light. In the same way, we were all responsible too for the way in which the likes of Fr. Sean Fortune were permitted to conduct their repulsive abuses as the rest of us faffed about, unwilling to upset the status quo and deal with the undignified hassle which would inevitably result. But the chickens have come home to roost. It is no longer the working poor who have to deal with the consequences of the nihilism the rest of us have incubated among them by our neglect, complacency and corruption. Imagine wanting desperately to join the tygger world and leaving your west-Finglas, terraced abode to go to work only to find that for the umpteenth time your car has been stolen, joy-ridden and burnt out. A police officer might easily have been killed on Saturday as a journalist has been killed before. It was not for want of trying that one was not. And that should terrify us more than a few embittered, misguided flagwavers whose greatest wish is to fight and die for an Ireland which never really existed.