Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Category

Debt and what should be done about it.

April 23, 2013

For what i consider to be a few no very preposterous suggestions, read  Robert Kuttner‘s The Debt We Shouldn’t Pay which appears in the current issue of the New York Review of Books.

Public debt was not implicated in the collapse of 2008, nor is it retarding the recovery today. Enlarged government deficits were the consequence of the financial crash, not the cause.1 Indeed, there’s a strong case that government deficits are keeping a weak economy out of deeper recession. When Congress raised taxes in January at an annual rate of over $180 billion to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, and then accepted a “sequester” of $85 billion in spending cuts in March, the combined fiscal contraction cut economic growth for 2013 about in half, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Moreover, some of the causes of public deficits, such as Medicare, reflect to a large extent inefficiency and inflation in health care rather than profligacy in public budgeting.

Here comes a point that’s now been lost sight of both in most countries tha are now been fed the austerity cure: 

It was private speculative debts—exotic mortgage bonds financed by short-term borrowing at very high costs—that produced the crisis of 2008. The burden of private debts continues to hobble the economy’s potential. In the decade prior to the collapse of 2008, private debts grew at more than triple the rate of increase of the public debt. In 22 percent of America’s homes with mortgages, the debt exceeds the value of the house. Young adults begin economic life saddled with student debt that recently reached a trillion dollars, limiting their purchasing power. Middle-class families use debt as a substitute for wages and salaries that have lagged behind the cost of living. This private debt overhang, far more than the obsessively debated question of public debt, retards the recovery.

We may think that debt – however incurred – has to be repaid: it a moral duty on us as individuals and as a society. Then again maybe there is a time when we have to think again.

In the case of a broad downturn,2 debt ceases to be purely a moral question, and becomes a pragmatic one: Will it help the overall economy for the law to demand that debts always be paid in full? Was it economically sensible to throw debtors into jail? Is it sensible now to force troubled corporations or banks to liquidate? To compel sales of millions of homes in a depressed market? To destroy the economic potential of entire nations so that they can service old debts that were incurred corruptly by previous governments or banks? Society properly discourages borrowers from taking on imprudent burdens, and the prospective loss of property or even liberty functions as a deterrent. But in a general collapse, debt forgiveness may become necessary if the economy is not to sink further.

He reminds the reader that debt relief and forgiveness has not been unknown, even in recent history. During the Great Depression and Roosevelt era

… the US government became serious about debt relief, with a series of policies that refinanced distressed home mortgages, reformed and recapitalized banks, extended relief to bankrupt consumers, financed a huge war debt at below-market interest rates, and wrote off some of the international debts of allies and enemies alike. (Britain, America’s closest ally, received near-total forgiveness of wartime Lend-Lease debt.)

Germany, today’s enforcer of Euro-austerity, was the beneficiary of one of history’s most magnanimous acts of debt amnesty in 1948. The Allies in the 1920s made the catastrophic error of helping to destroy Germany’s economy with reparations and debt collection policies. In the 1940s, after a brief flirtation with World War I–style reparations, the occupying powers agreed to behave differently: they wrote off 93 percent of the Nazi-era debt and postponed collection of other debts for nearly half a century. So Germany, whose debt-to-GDP ratio in 1939 was 675 percent, had a debt load of about 12 percent in the early 1950s—far less than that of the victorious Allies—helping to produce postwar Germany’s economic miracle. Almost every German can cite the Marshall Plan, but this larger act of macroeconomic mercy has disappeared from the political consciousness of Germany’s current austerity police.

Kuttner is wise enough to know the chances of countries such as Ireland having their debts relieved are remote.

The question of who gets debt relief reflects the distribution of political power—and power normally lies with large creditors such as banks.

 Just so.


Ireland, 1641 and all that.

March 10, 2010

As the result of what is thought to be a historical decision by academics at Trinity College,  Dublin, historians, linguists, and specialists of all sorts –  as well as  members of the general public – are being invited to examine  newly transcribed witness statements taken after the Irish rebellion and massacres of 1641.

It was this rebellion that was used by Oliver Cromwell to justify his slaughter of the defeated garrisons at Drogheda and Wexford, and it is therefore important, even at this late date,  that any documents dealing with the rebellion be made available for full scrutiny.

For much of the first half of the 20th century,  the Irish government was actively discouraging publication of any historical research into the rebellion because it well knew that  some of the evidence emerging suggested that there was some basis for Cromwell’s allegations,  and that the widespreadmyth that Cromwell and supporters had always exaggerated the ferocity of the 1641 rebels was just that, a myth. .

This is how The Guardian reported reported the Trinity decision:

In what has been dubbed as the ultimate in cold case reviews, historians, linguists, software specialists and the public are being invited to trawl through newly transcribed versions of the original documents held in Trinity College, Dublin.

The 350-year-old writing is barely legible, the spelling across 19,000 pages of text erratic. The events they chronicle, however, poisoned Anglo-Irish relations for centuries, focusing attention on atrocities inflicted predominantly by dispossessed Irish Catholic rebels on Anglo-Scottish, Protestant settlers. The barbarities are still emblazoned on Orange Order banners and loyalist murals in Northern Ireland.

As late as the 1930s the Irish government intervened to prevent publication of historical research about the accounts of arson, communal murders, mass drownings, lynchings and robberies because it was deemed to contain such incendiary allegations.

Academics from Trinity College, Aberdeen and Cambridge Universities are now co-operating on a series of research projects that could not only help bring resolution to ancient quarrels but will open up a treasure house of genealogical, linguistic and census information.

Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, one of the principal investigators at Trinity, believes that new language analysis methods will allow the documents to be explored “in a way we couldn’t have done 10 or 15 years ago during the Troubles”.

The rebellion, which broke out in October 1641, was a significant moment in the formation of identity in Ireland, she told the Guardian. Estimates of the numbers killed vary from 4,000 to up to 200,000. It began in Ulster but spread across the country.

The depositions were ordered by government commissioners, many of the Church of Ireland clergymen, who recorded the victims’ testimonies.

“They did it in the hope of obtaining evidence against the rebels and also as a crude form of insurance claim against lost property,” Ohlmeyer said. Cromwell’s commissioners were still taking evidence in the 1650s and the records form an extraordinarily detailed portrait of contemporary life, occupations and possessions in every Irish county.

The volumes were eventually donated to Trinity College in 1741, where they languished, rarely seen.

“In the 1930s a group of Irish scholars tried to publish them,” Ohlmeyer said. “But the Irish government blocked them because it was too contentious.

“There are about 4,000 claims altogether. Nine times out of 10 they are not far off the mark because we have other sources we can check from the period. Now we can systematically analyse how accurate they were.

“There were clearly some atrocities such as the drowning of Protestants at Portadown where around 100 people lost their lives. That year was on record as one of the coldest winters and people died of starvation and cold.

“I was most moved by the account of one man who escaped to Dublin where he heard that his wife and children had been killed. He was reported to have died of grief. There’s a lot of evidence from women, especially widows.

“The bloodletting was on both sides but Oliver Cromwell used this as justification for his [massacres at] Drogheda and Wexford. There were also a series of war crimes tribunals held by Cromwell in the 1650s.”

The multi-disciplinary project has been funded by both Irish and British research councils. Students of the Holocaust and more recent genocides – such as Rwanda and the Balkans – as well as groups supporting peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland have been among early users of the resources. It is hoped to have all the documents available online by the end of this year.

Another lead researcher, Barbara Fennell, a senior lecturer in language and linguistics at the University of Aberdeen, said: “These depositions tell us a lot about what English was like at the time.

“We hope to be able to synthesise some of the voices and make recordings of what they would have sounded like. They will be real echoes of the past.

“We know that different commissioners had different manners of speaking and writing. The language analysis software should be able to match up styles of speaking and writing … so it may give us insights into any bias of evidence being introduced by a third party’s influence. The historians say that Cromwell exaggerated the accounts to justify his actions. Is there any evidence of that as it was being written down?

“These collections are unique in early modern times. It is like doing a cold case review in the sense that we are using modern technological advances to provide insights into old evidence.”

An illustration showing images from the 1641 rising by Catholic rebels of an alleged massacre of Protestants during the Irish rebellion known as the Depositions. Photograph: Board of Trinity College/PA

Thinking about tinkers.

September 29, 2009

Although in my youth the traveller community was a familiar feature of the Irish landscape,  I’ve not read any books that have focused attention on the community, its history,  or the relationship – often a fraught – between it and the settled community. Nor do I have I read anything about the relationship between the state and Ireland’s oldest minority group.

The only major studies of any aspect of tinker life are those of are those of anthropologists Sharon & Geoge Gmelch. Their books (The Irish Tinkers;The Urbanization of an Itinerant-People & Tinkers and Travellers: Ireland’s Nomads), although I have seen them on the shelves, never got on to my required  reading list.

 A bad conscience about not having even dipped into the Gmelch’s books and about knowing so little about the travelling community,  together with some little prompting from a  person close to the author, has made me think I could do worse than cure my ignorance by dipping into  maybe José Lanters tome The Tinkers in Irish Literature: Unsettled Subjects and the Construction of Difference might a book worth starting with.

The Tinkers

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

August 9, 2006

Having seen Ken Loach’s excellent The Wind That Shakes the Barley, the Palme d’Or winner at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, a few days ago, I have been wondering ever since whether or not the Black and Tans’ action in Ireland could have possibly have been as brutal as Loach and his screen writer Paul Laverty would have us believe.

Of course, having grown up in Ireland, I was encouraged to believe that  the Black and Tans, or Tans as they were sometimes called, were probably the most brutal force ever to set foot in Ireland since the Cromwellian campaign of the mid 17th century.

To confirm that what I’d always believed was true, I’ve just dipped, as I always do when I need examine something like this, into A Dictionary of Irish History Since 1800 (Gill and Macmllian) to see what my friend Jim Doherty, one of its editors, had to say on the subject:

Black and Tans During the War of Independence, the Royal Irish constabulary became a particular target of the Irish Republican Army and recruitment into the regular police force suffered. The government recruited a new force in England from among the demobilised which was intended to supplement the RIC. The body was placed under the new Commander in Chief of the forces in Ireland General Sir Neville Macready. There was a shortage of RIC uniforms for the new force and accordingly they were issues with khaki trousers (military) and dark green tunics (police). The combination reminded people of Munster of the famous County Limerick hunt, the Scarteen Black and Tans. The Black and Tans were located principally in trouble spots of Clare, Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny, Limerick, Mayo, Meath and Tipperary. The notoriety which they have earned stemmed from the ferocity of their reprisals to IRA successes. Some of the incidents with which they were associated included the burnings of Buff, Co. Limerick; Killmallock, Co Limerick; Balbriggan, Co. Dublin; Cork City; Milltown Malbay, Co. Clare; Lahinch Co. Clare; Ennistymon, Co, Clare; Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo; Midleton, Co Cork and Trim, Co Meath. They were also responsible for the murders of Tomas MacCurtain, George Clancy and Michael O’Callaghan, and the killings in Croke Park on Bloody Sunday 21 November 1920.

Considering that they were only in Ireland from 1920 to 1922, they appear, from Jim’s account, to have done some considerable damage. I’ve also discovered, from checking up on another reference, that here is no reason to believe that this was a force out of control. This is the advice given by the force’s Munster divisional commander:

“If a police barracks is burned or if the barracks already occupied is not suitable, then the best house in the locality is to be commandeered, the occupants thrown into the gutter.Let them die there – the more the merrier. Should the order (“Hands Up”) not be immediately obeyed, shoot and shoot with effect. If the persons approaching (a patrol) carry their hands in their pockets, or are in any way suspicious-looking, shoot them down. You may make mistakes occasionally and innocent persons may be shot, but that cannot be helped, and you are bound to get the right parties some time. The more you shoot, the better I will like you, and I assure you no policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man.” 

(Lt. Col. Gerald Smyth, June 1920)

So there is no reason to think that Loach or Laverty are exaggerating all that much when they portray them as a ferocious bunch of thugs bent on making the rebellious Irish pay the highest prices possible for their attacks on the Crown forces.