If increasing numbers of rough sleepers aren’t an indication of a housing crisis, then surely the 5000 families in emergency accommodation, the 100,000 households on the social housing list, and the thousands in mortgage distress are. The truth is that Ireland is in the midst of an unprecedented housing crisis.

On 3rd October Liberty Hall provided a venue for the first housing conference where the housing crisis was the only item on the agenda. Individuals across various fields and backgrounds came together with a common aim: ‘a real housing strategy’. These individuals ranged from housing experts, academics in disciplines such as Geography and Sociology, activists and members of the public whom have had direct experience of community representation.

The Crisis
Rory Hearne, Senior Policy Analyst with TASC, introduced the event by providing the latest housing and homelessness statistics. While these statistics described the housing crisis, one number in particular resonated; ‘half a million households are in serious housing difficulty and at risk of homelessness’. Hearne then revealed how Ireland has been branded as a hotspot for investment in residential property markets for international investment funds, which will lead to a more intensified commodification of housing. Without regulation rents will continue to rise, making renting unaffordable for lower and middle income earners, which could force thousands more into homelessness. With the rising pressure from banks issuing court proceedings on households in mortgage distress Hearne pointed out that ‘if only people were treated better than banks there would be debt write-offs for mortgage holders too’. This statement serves to highlight the tendencies of this and past governments to protect bond holders, banks and developers over the majority of the people of Ireland. Hearne believes that Minister Alan Kelly’s national housing strategy is inadequate and advocates for a new housing policy. This could be realised by building a housing movement. (more…)

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New book by by Sean Phelan, Neoliberalism, Media and the Political, some of which discusses Ireland.

Neoliberalism, Media and the Political presents a novel critical analysis of the condition of media and journalism in neoliberal cultures. Emphasizing neoliberalism’s status as a political ideology that is simultaneously hostile to politics, the argument is grounded in empirical illustrations from different social contexts, including post-Rogernomics New Zealand, Celtic Tiger Ireland, the Leveson Inquiry into the UK press, and the climate-sceptic blogosphere. Phelan draws on a variety of theoretical sources, especially Laclau and Bourdieu, to affirm the importance of neoliberalism as an analytical concept. Yet, he also interrogates how critiques of neoliberalism – in media research and elsewhere – can reduce social practices to the category of neoliberal. Against the image of a monolithic free-market ideology that imposes itself on other domains, the book identifies the potential sites of a cultural politics within neoliberalized media regimes.

Table of contents
Introduction: Disfiguring Neoliberalism
1. Articulating Neoliberalism in Critical Media and Communication Studies
2. Neoliberal Discourse: Theory, History and Trajectories
3. Neoliberal Logics and Field Theory
4. Neoliberalism and Media Democracy: A Representative Anecdote from Post-Rogernomics New Zealand
5. The Journalistic Habitus and the Realist Style
6. Media Cultures, Anti-Politics and the ‘Climategate’ Affair
7. Neoliberal Imaginaries, Press Freedom and the Politics of Leveson
8. Media Rituals and the ‘Celtic Tiger’: The Neoliberal Nation and its Transnational Circulation
Conclusion: The Possibility of a Radical Media Politics

New Paper: ‘Urban Governance and the ‘European City’: Ideals and Realities in Dublin Ireland’ by Philip Lawton and Michael Punch published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. Available here (If you cannot access please email philip.lawton (at) maastrichtuniversity.nl)

Absract:

Throughout recent decades, a significant amount of attention has been given to the notion of the ‘European city’ within policy formation and academic enquiry. From one perspective, the ideal of the ‘European city’ is presented as a densely developed urban area with a focus on quality public transport and a more balanced social structure. More recently, however, the particular elements of the ‘European city’ associated with pedestrianized public space, urban design and image-making strategies have become central features of entrepreneurial urban policies throughout Europe. This article undertakes an examination of the notion of the ‘European city’ in urban change in Dublin since the 1990s. Specifically, the article illustrates the degree to which a wholly positive spin on the urban design and image-making elements of the ‘European city’ in Dublin has served as a thin veil for the desired transformation of Dublin according to neoliberal principles.

What can be said about the Anglo Tapes?  That conversations such as those between John Bowe, Peter Fitzgerald and David Drumm, which seem to suggest a concerted attempt to mislead the Government regarding the bank’s levels of debt (an allegation that both Fitzgerald and Bowe deny), must have been happening at Anglo during this period is something most of us had already expected.  In this sense, the revelations of the tapes are perhaps unsurprising.  But should this placate us?

© Eoin O’Mahony 2012

© Eoin O’Mahony 2012

The reaction has been ambivalent.  On the one hand, the aforementioned lack of surprise has left many people slightly cynical about the level of media attention being afforded to the affair, and particularly the Independent’s handling the story as an unfolding soap-opera.  On the other hand, there is understandable shock and outrage regarding the content and tone of these conversations.  One point that has been returned to on a number of occasions is the perceived tone of frivolity with which these men discuss a strategy to get the Government to commit €7 billion of taxpayer’s money to a bank that, at the very least, knew they would need much more than that to stay afloat.  As Bowe describes it:

That number is seven but the reality is we need more than that. But you know, the strategy here is you pull them [the Central Bank] in, you get them to write a big cheque and they have to keep, they have to support their money, you know.

Writing in September 2010, Vincent Brown suggested that the forces that shaped white collar crime in Ireland lay in the “socially illiterate” ethos of the “posh” schools.

“Just think of the thousands of lawyers, accountants, bankers, stockbrokers and others who must have colluded in criminality over the last decade or so… These people didn’t come from nowhere. They came out of our schools, most of them Catholic schools and they came out not just theologically illiterate but socially illiterate as well. Most of them are without any sense of being part of a society; they have no sense or little sense of being social beings, of having responsibilities to others. No sense of sharing or wanting to share. Instead they have a highly individuated sense of themselves, out for their own advancement and enrichment and, if society suffered as a consequence, nothing to do with them… [These schools] went on a lot about character, character formation, that sort of stuff…That Kipling If palaver:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute /With sixty seconds worth of distance run,/Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, / And which is more you’ll be a Man, my son!

Yeah? What is more you’ll be a sociopath, my son! Not a single whisper in the poem about anything to do with social responsibility, just character stuff; and that was (is?) the ethos of the posh schools that brought us the criminal generation.”

The lack of social responsibility of which Brown writes is clearly evident in the taped conversations of the Anglo executives.  Nobody here expresses concern over the level of debt they are about to plunge Irish taxpayers into, other than the concern that if the Central bank “saw the enormity of it [Anglo’s debts] upfront they might decide… the cost to the taxpayer is too high”.  But this is also hardly surprising. Studies have shown that psychopaths often make good CEOs precisely because they lack empathy and a sense of social responsibility, traits which allow them to make ‘ruthless’ decisions in the pursuit of profit.  The neoliberal capitalist system prizes these traits.

But this is just one aspect of the troubling liminal zone between capitalism and criminality.  Much of what constitutes legitimate business is not far from a form of sanctioned criminal activity.  The recent controversy over Apple’s tax record offers a clear case in point.  Whilst applying the letter of the law to their payment of corporate tax, Apple’s position as a transnational company with operations across several countries has allowed it to avail of loopholes to avoid paying tax on profits.  Although this does not constitute ‘illegal’ activity, it very clearly puts the accumulation of wealth ahead of any perceived social responsibility to the countries they operate in, and is obviously part of a well though-out tax strategy.  This is what Bono, in a recent interview with Gay Byrne, referred to as being “tax sensible”.

Gay Byrne: “If I don’t ask you this, I’ll be criticised and if I do ask you this I’ll be criticised but since you’ve touched on the subject now. The subject of U2′s taxation arrangements, whereby people are expressing their wonder at what they call your hypocrisy, not my word, their word, hypocrisy of haranguing us all and asking us to pay for more international aid, at the same time as you shift your company overseas in order to save taxation.”

Bono: “Yeah, but it’s [unintelligible] of Irish people to be critical of this is because the shock horror moment here is U2 behaving like a business. (Fake shock facial and gasp expression). And I mean our, we live in a small rock in the North Atlantic and we would be under water were it not for very clever people working in Government and in the Revenue who made tax competitiveness a central part of Irish economic life.

It is the reason we have companies like, you know, Google and Facebook and, indeed, I helped bring those companies to Ireland. So it’s more than churlish for Irish people to say well we don’t want an Irish company involved in that stuff that we do want everyone else. I mean we do pay a lot of, I want to say, we pay a lot of tax and…but we are, you know, tax sensible. But, as every business is. And why is it because I’m involved in these…some people think as idealistic things but I think as pragmatic things, why can’t U2 be tough in business? This thing of the warm, fuzzy feeling, you know we want you know this…I’d like people to get over that. Because that’s not who I am. I am tough and I may have, you know, I may sing from a very private and intimate place and I make art. But I’m tough-minded and I’m intellectually rigorous, I hope. And, I think U2′s tax business is our own business and I think it’s not just to the letter of the law, it is to the spirit of the law.”

Bono’s line of argumentation here is interesting.  He appears to suggest that the “spirit” of the Irish law is tax avoidance, or to coat this in Bono’s cuddly neoliberal veneer, “tax competitiveness”.  Bono’s broader ideological position is also explicated here.  Bono believes in neoliberal solutions – or at the least he sees this kind of brokerage to be the only pragmatic way to operate in the world, whether that is addressing global inequalities through aid or handling U2 like a business.  Such a position is dependent on the partitioning of the ‘private’ sphere (where the sole objective is the pursuit of profit) from the ‘public’ sphere (where the responsibility for redistribution takes place), the only problem being that ‘private’ sector tax avoidance tends to severely deplete the ‘public’ resources that are meant to be redistributed.  Bono would seek to mitigate the inequalities that this partitioning produces through aid.  While Bono’s work in Africa has undoubtedly materially improved the lives of many people, as Slavoj Zizek argues, charity can also act as a way of easing inequalities while allowing the system that creates these very inequalities to continue.  On this view, Bono is a champion of, and frontman for, neoliberal elites and his political work has, as Harry Browne argues, made the world “worse” [i].

I am not trying here to demonise Bono (who is a clearly complex character), but rather to highlight how the consensus viewing the operations of the ‘private’ sphere as inherently separate from that of the ‘public’ sphere is normalised.  I think that this separation is crucial to understanding our ambivalent attitudes to white collar crime.

In an intervention on the London Riots in 2011, David Harvey makes the argument that the rioters were simply re-appropriating the “feral capitalism” that has become the globally accepted norm.

“Feral politicians cheat on their expenses; feral bankers plunder the public purse for all it’s worth; CEOs, hedge fund operators, and private equity geniuses loot the world of wealth ; telephone and credit card companies load mysterious charges on everyone’s bills; corporations and the wealthy don’t pay taxes while they feed at the trough of public finance; shopkeepers price-gouge; and, at the drop of a hat swindlers and scam artists get to practice three-card monte right up into the highest echelons of the corporate and political world… [The rioters] mimic on the streets of London what corporate capital is doing to planet earth”.

While I don’t necessarily buy the direct line of causality that Harvey proposes, he hits upon an important distinction that is made between the ‘legitimate’ ‘business activity’ of the corporate world and the ‘criminality’ of the rioters.  Moreover, there is a clear class bias in this distinction.  This perspective is wonderfully satirised in a sketch on Chappell’s Show, which inverts the arrest and prosecution trajectories emanating from the investigations into criminal activities of a corporate executive and a cocaine dealer: the corporate executive is raided by an armed SWAT team while the cocaine dealer is phoned up by a police detective informing him of a warrant and politely asking him when would be convenient for him to turn himself in.

We can clearly see such distinctions being made in the discussions about the Anglo Tapes.  As well as the inherent class bias, this stems, I think, in large part from the nebulousness of the border between feral capitalism and crime.  In a world where private sphere companies can pursue the profit motive without recourse to any other considerations, and where global corporations can situate themselves in the interstitial terrain between different legal jurisdictions to minimise tax and maximise profit, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine where capitalism ends and crime begins.  In this sense, it is unsurprising that we are unsurprised by the Anglo Tapes – this is how we expect the corporate world to behave.

The more that the ‘private’ sphere (profit) is partitioned from ‘public’ sphere (society), and the more that this arrangement is rationalised through the kind of cosy neoliberal discourses espoused by Bono, the more that the ‘spirit of the law’ constitutive of each of these spheres diverges.  What is clearly demonstrated through the case of Anglo is that these spheres are not separate at all; the private pursuit of profit at any cost has had devastating impacts on Irish society.  Rather than accepting the inherent partitioning of these spheres, only paying attention when one very obviously bleeds into the other, we should seek to enlarge the public sphere in order to equalise the spirit of the law between the corporate world and that of society.

Cian O’Callaghan


[i] These aspects of Bono’s political work are unpacked by Harry Browne in his recently published The Frontman: Bono (In the name of power) (Verso).

A new paper critiquing how decision-makers have dealt with the Irish crisis is now available on NUIM eprints. It questions how the adherents and practitioners of neoliberal ideas have sought to deal with the contemporary crisis by examining three elements of the Irish state’s adjustment and austerity programme in the areas of property and finance, the labour market and state spending.  The paper contends that the crisis has led to processes of adjustment that deepen and extend neoliberal ideas and practices rather than negate them. It concludes that the various crisis-adjustment strategies are part of a process of disturbance which focuses on shaking the confidence of the working class and ultimately redistributing an even greater share of economic output to capitalists. It can be downloaded via NUIM eprints here. This version deals with events/policies up to May 2 2013 when the final revised version was submitted for publication.

The paper by Alistair Fraser, Enda Murphy and Sinead Kelly is to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Human Geography. The journal is motivated by a need to retain control of the value produced by academic labour. Over the last twenty years, journals that once were owned and produced by universities and academic and professional associations have come to be controlled, in part or in whole, by publishing houses that increasingly are concentrated in a few multinational media conglomerates. This means that the profit produced by (mostly) public funded academic labour ends up with large corporations. The aim of Human Geography is to change that and ensure that any profit made from the journal is re-distributed to young radical scholars.

Abstract

The current economic crisis – the ‘great recession’ – raises numerous questions about neoliberal ideas and practice, not the least of which is whether (and if so, how) neoliberalism can survive it. Our paper takes on these issues using the case of Ireland. This is the first proper neoliberal crisis in Ireland. From the early 1990s to 2008, Ireland was held up by many neoliberal champions as a place that gained from deregulation, openness to inward investment, and low corporation tax rates. But the build-up of contradictions in Ireland exploded rapidly in 2008, when its property bubble burst and private banks and government finances collapsed. Rather than examining what caused Ireland’s crisis, we look at what has happened between 2008 and 2013. We focus on structural adjustments regarding the property, finance, and labour markets and then on the government’s austerity programme as a whole. In addition to demonstrating how these adjustments have been an attack on workers and ordinary citizens, we identify some particularly striking elements, which we use to argue that a new phase of disturbance and restructuring is deepening and extending neoliberalism’s influence in Ireland.

struggles in commonWhat is the political significance of the commons today?

18/05/2013

11.00-17.00

DIT Mountjoy Square, Dublin 1

Struggles in Common: A day of talks and discussions organised by the provisional university featuring acclaimed historian Peter Linebaugh, author of The Magna Carta Manifesto

This event is open to the public and admission is free but booking is advised. RSVP:commonsevent@gmail.com

                         

Across Europe, the dominant response to the financial crisis has been an attack on social life. National governments have adopted policies of severe austerity, resulting in cuts across all aspects of social welfare (health, education, payments to the unemployed) as well as the privatization of public resources (third level education, water, transport). While these policies are carried out by elected governments, they reflect the erosion of democracy and the concentration of power in the hands of financial and European elites.

Against these attacks, people have sought to defend their social rights and the non-market value of vital public resources and services. Recognizing the double crisis in the economy and democracy, alternative social and political experiments have thus emerged. These experiments have recalled the history of the commons and the radical promise it holds for a future beyond the state and capitalism.

This day-long event brings together collectives and individuals involved in excavating the history and contemporary significance of the commons. The purpose is to share our experiences and knowledge in order to develop the concept of the commons in a manner which is directly related to the present political conjecture. The event includes a talk by acclaimed historian Peter Linebaugh and contributions from research collectives based in Spain, Ireland, USA and the U.K.

Location: DIT, Mountjoy Square, Dublin 1

http://bit.ly/Y63mmr

For more information: provisionaluniversity@wordpress.com

Speakers include:

Peter Linebaugh is Professor of History at the University of Toledo. He is the author of The Magna Carta Manifesto and co-author (with Marcus Rediker) of the Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. He is also a member of the Midnight Notes Collective.

Amanda Huron is a researcher and activist based in Washington D.C. She has been working with housing cooperatives in Washington D.C. as well as an “undocumented” (i.e. unlicensed) community radio station.

Observatorio Metropolitano are an activist research group formed by activists and professionals from different fields. They provide critical analyses of the fundamental lines of transformation in the contemporary metropolis. Their most recent book is Crisis and Revolution in Europe.http://www.observatoriometropolitano.org/

Plan C is a UK based political organisation made up of people who are politically active in their workplaces and communities. They work together to support each other, amplify their struggles and think strategically.http://www.weareplanc.org/

Seoidín O’Sullivan is an artist and educator. Her case studies focus on people joining together in action to protect or develop an aspect of their local commons. Her work addresses issues of land use, lost knowledge and biodiversity.

The Free Association are a writing collective loosely based in Leeds. They are the authors of Moments of Excess. http://freelyassociating.org/

The Provisional University are an autonomous research and educational collective based in Dublin. They carry out research and organize educational activities which strengthen social movements and create discussion outside the academic institution. http://provisionaluniversity.wordpress.com/

Update: Please note that the venue for this event has been changed from O’Connell House to DIT, Mountjoy Square, Dublin 1. 

Launched last month, ‘Rap Nuacht na hEireann’ (RNE) is a project by Darragh Kenny which aims to release a series of videos on youtube that combine a television news format with music and a rapping anchor in order to explore “news and views that shape Ireland but are often on the peripheral of the mainstream”. Episode 1 seeks to ask broad questions concerning “who controls the scope of the media debate”. In an effort to extend the level of debate generated, the author of the video has asked a number of people (including myself) to write pieces that comment on issues raised in different episodes. With that in mind, the intentions of this post is to function as a ‘critical plug’ for the project and to provide a space for discussion of both the video itself and the issues it raises.

I have written elsewhere on this blog about how political discussion in Ireland, as filtered through the mainstream media, can be limited in scope. While minor policy issues can be covered in great detail, more structural factors, such as the legitimacy of the form of capitalism currently practiced in Ireland, can be completely excluded from the debate. This continues to be the case even when those minor policy issues are effectively locked in place by the constraints of this overarching system.
The explosion of forms of new social media has significantly altered the media landscape by incorporating a range of new voices and modes of communication. In different ways this has changed how most of us receive and consume news. However, the presence of new voices in the media landscape does not preclude that we are now exposed to more diverse opinions or that our critical capacities have been sharpened. In one sense all the competing voices may cancel each other out. In a different sense, because we are inundated with so much content through new social media channels, we tend to be selective about which sources (websites, blogs, twitter feeds) we get our information from. Hence, the internet has a tendency to turn into an ‘echo chamber’ where likeminded individuals come together in particular corners of cyberspace. Thus, mainstream media remains an important conduit for public discussion, in contrast to the sometimes diverse publics catered to by new social media.
As a media commentary and media product, RNE fits right into the ambiguities of this space. The project aims for a populist appeal by presenting what is perhaps challenging content in an accessible and fun manner. It mirrors the format of a televised news programme, wherein news anchor Seamus O’Dea mediates between a number of other guests (an Occupy protester, an economic correspondent, and an investor) who offer a range of different viewpoints on events. O’Dea is intended to represent an impartial perspective. He is, according to Kenny, meant to be ‘one step ahead of the public’, and hence guides them through a series of issues that are articulated by the other guests. As such, a debate unfolds between the guests and O’Dea that is intended to open up spaces not normally covered by mainstream news.
While RNE draws on mainstream media tropes, it is very clearly a product of the new social media terrain. The project is hosted on youtube and disseminated through twitter and facebook. It also aims to take advantage of the blurring of identities offered through these mechanisms: Seamus O’Dea has his own facebook page for instance.
Whilst O’Dea and co don’t have Mos Def’s flow, the project should be commended for presenting a lot of complex information in a concise and easily digested manner (and in verse!). The news programme format functions as a way of distilling several voices and demonstrating their points of friction. The video isn’t always entirely successful in this regard. At times, O’Dea oversteps the boundaries of his supposed impartiality, and investor Vlad Doich Cuaill comes across a bit of a cartoonish villain.
Nevertheless, the project raises a number of pertinent questions about the shape of the current media landscape. In satirising the television news format, RNE calls attention to the proclivity of the mainstream media to uphold the status quo. When peripheral perspectives are drafted in they are often discursively marginalised as ‘extreme’ points of view and used to play against more minor differences between ‘moderate’ (Centre Right) responses. However, for these very reasons RNE is also perhaps in danger of falling into the chasm of an ‘echo chamber’, preaching only to a left-leaning choir while missing the ‘popular’ audience that it sets out to address.
These opinions are not intended to be a definitive pronouncement on RNE’s successes and failures. Rather they are open questions that need to be addressed through more general discussion. As a socially engaged internet public, the readers of this blog are in a good position to conduct such a debate, to ask questions like: How effective are projects like RNE? How can new social media extend the public debate? How can fragmented ‘online publics’ be reconciled with a ‘general public’? To address these and other issues, please send your comments to Seamus O’Dea below.
Cian O’Callaghan