[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]
Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –
Well, there are only so many no-shopping days left to Christmas, that annual festival of consumerism. So get busy not shopping. I also hope you have been able to avail of some of the fairly pleasant late autumn weather to go walking and turn over some old leaves, which can be just as exciting as turning over new ones and not as difficult.
Men in the middle
If you wanted to find a stereotypical macho male magazine with images which collectively point to an unobtainable lifestyle for men, Red Bull’s ‘Red Bulletin’ is it (as distributed with various publications including The Irish Times...who included the October issue right at the end of a series of articles on men and masculinities! You couldn’t make it up). In the October issue is a feature on Shane McConkey, who died a few years ago engaging in ski base-jumping (tragically, he got angel’s wings rather than wings). But, let's be clear, according to the import of this magazine - produced to reflect positively on the Red Bull drink - to be a proper man you need to be a skier, a mountaineer, a surfer, a mountain biker or record breaking cyclist, a powerboat racer, certainly an all-action risk taker and extreme sport enthusiast....I could go on. Red Bull – obnoxious in taste, design and impact.
Is it any wonder that men are confused? Most women have moved on but men are pulled every way and it is macho propaganda like this which makes the possibility of positive change more difficult for them. There is nothing wrong with many of the activities featured, e.g. cycling or cycling fast, they can be very positive, it is the unremitting, 'action man' collective message that jars and gives an atrocious model of masculinity. Something like powerboat racing does smack of boys with their toys though.
So that is clear then. Not so much Red Bull as old bull. Please leave it on the shelf. Oh, and if you are buying a publication which has the ‘Red Bulletin’ folded in, I suggest you leave it there in the newsagent/shop, and if there is the opportunity say you don’t want it.
As the Haass talks continue in Norn Iron on flegs, emblems, parades, and dealing with the past, it never ceases to amaze me as to where people bother to mark territory. Our local ‘skip depot’ (recycling or rubbish facility) in Belfast recently acquired a British, Union Jack, flag on the lamppost at the entrance. “This lamppost is British”, “This rubbish depot is British’, ‘British rubbish here’, ‘British rubbish is better’, what does it mean? It sounds a rubbish statement to me in an area of Belfast which is actually very mixed.
Because of the nature of the Norn Iron state and history, it is the British and Unionist/Loyalist identity which is expressed more often in flags and territorial markings. But many republicans do the same. On a visit by Queen Elizabeth, some people did earth writing on the hills to the west of Belfast declaring “Eriu is our queen”. Well, maybe the goddess Eriu (after who Ireland is named) was considered a queen a couple of thousand years ago but today, seriously?
I know there is a dark side to all this, a very serious side. People’s self confidence and self identity in the North is so brittle, and some varieties of sectarianism so rife, that marking territory is seen as a way of bolstering identity and proclaiming belonging. Oh, it can succeed, believe me, you may not want to wander around at night time, or at all, in an area which has the flags of the other sort. And that may be despite the fact that the majority of people in an area may not want the flags there to begin with.....and in some cases the flags may not even represent the majority in the community in cases where there is a mixed area.
I’ll end with a story I have told before, it happened in Belfast twenty-five years ago and more. A photo in the paper showed a man on the edge of the pavement painting the kerbstones red, white and blue. And his tin of paint is visible in the photo by the kerbstones, along with the Guaranteed Irish symbol showing the paint was made in the Republic. There he was proclaiming his British identity with Irish paint. [We have heard that kerbstone story before – it feels a bit like the gutter press to repeat it again.... – Ed]
‘Better off in work’
I have me doubts about governments wielding big sticks to try to get unemployed people into work when the jobs aren’t there. And they certainly aren’t there at the moment. I’m all for helping people attain jobs, giving people whatever assistance possible - I’ve been on the dole a fair while myself. If there was close to full employment it might make sense to be more adamant about people getting jobs – but if there was close to full employment then the amount spent on unemployment benefits would be small anyway so the financial advantage would not be great.
The way I look at it is – if someone is prepared to accept the indignity and poverty that goes with unemployment, and free up a job for someone who does want it, so what? But governments and some media attack work skivers, to what advantage? Maybe there is the odd person unemployed who is not trying to get a job who could be a successful entrepreneur and create a job or jobs but for most, who would be becoming employees, it would be a job that does not go to someone else looking for one.
In the UK the current drive to get unemployed people into work, or deprive them of benefits if they don’t jump through all sorts of hoops, is ideological, and it is backed up by conservative media. In Ireland cuts are instituted because of impoverishment caused by the state taking up developers’ debts to ensure European banks get paid, i.e. Irish citizens bailing out the banks and many suffering very considerably in the process. There is to some extent a conservative acceptance of this but it is not ideological the way it is in Britain – though there is some evidence of tougher approaches to those resisting the lure of work.
So I was interested (Irish Times 22nd October 2013) to see a piece about a forthcoming government drive in the Republic to persuade people receiving social assistance that they would be better off in work. The stats are that only 3% of those on the dole are better off than they would be with a job.
Research commissioned by Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton estimates at least 75 per cent of people on welfare could increase their income by about 50 per cent by obtaining a job.” But there have been different figures from elsewhere, particularly for families with children, which might put some of these stats in question.
There is the risk that the Irish drive to show people that they are worse off on the dole will simply depress people further. But I suppose it has the minimal advantage that it is trying to foster a positive attitude to work rather than beating people up for not having it which seems to be the British Tory approach. The approach of the latter seems to be ‘A rising tide lifts all boats – and if the tide is going out, then throw the poor overboard’.
Direct lack of provision
Meanwhile shame on Alan Shatter and the Irish government for perpetuating the system of direct provision for asylum seekers in the Republic. It came out recently that the government is afraid better conditions will be a pull as Ireland is in a common travel area with the UK. At the moment the push/pull factor is the other way around – the Republic’s woeful direct provision system is a push towards the UK. It is not just that conditions are unsuitable for most but that the delay in processing applications has left many asylum seekers in a terrible limbo, suffering lack of privacy (partly due to overcrowding), boredom, institutionalisation and inappropriate diet for year on year, a veritable prison sentence for many.
No, there isn’t much money to go around but to treat asylum seekers in this way is wholly inappropriate; they are at the very bottom of the ladder, nay, not even on the ladder, and may have suffered considerably before they got to Ireland. The system needs closed down. There may be a need to have new asylum seekers on arrival in a centre or close to a centre for assessment and a period of acculturation, but it should definitely not be more than a couple of months. Other commentators have already said it, but in years to come we will look back on the treatment of asylum seekers in this way with shame and regret in the way that the situation of the Maggies (inmates of the Magdalene laundries) are viewed now. When will we ever learn?
- - - -
Well, that’s a few more things off my chest of drawers. Winter is now here and the calendar year is nearly done, speaking of which, it’s time to get those diaries and calendars for next year. It seems strange to think of it nearly being 2014, a century after the First World War, that incredible disaster and harbinger of other wars to come in the 20th and 21st centuries.
On that bright note I will bid you a fond farewell until the next time, Billy.
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).