The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Paranoia is Healthy: Michael O'Connell's Right Wing Ireland?


Seaghán Ó Murchú • 30 July 2004

UCD lecturer in social psychology O'Connell analyses, according to his book's subtitle, "the rise of populism in Ireland and Europe." (ISBN 1-904148-34-4; Raheny, Dublin 5, © 2003, 12 euros) Part of The Liffey Press' series "Pressure Points in Irish Society," this monograph looks all too familiar. Graphs, charts, lots of chapters not on Ireland itself but the European far-right at first led me to treat much of the contents as padding up the thin paperback to its 148 pp. Having all the appearances of a supplemental reading for a sociological course, I wondered what Dr O'C's pricy publication would teach me.

Well, the European comparisons did take up a precious thirty pages, but they do afford the curious reader a context within which to place an increasingly multi-cultural nation beset or blessed by economic turnabouts that previously unsettled continental countries.

Most apropos to The Blanket's audience, O'C's brief considerations of republicanism raise provocative concerns, given last month's results of the referendum on Irish citizenship and the European Parliament results for the more Euro-sceptic constituencies.

He claims: "Irish conservatism is shifting-indeed has shifted-from a traditional Catholic clericalism to a radical right-wing populism." (3) Radical-its proponents "often reject important elements of consensus politics." Right-wing-for it "includes a component of hostility to foreigners or outsiders." Populist-"in that its rhetoric seeks to exploit an alleged chasm between an unrepresentative political elite and an unrepresented general public." His chapters elaborate his thesis. The first summarises recent "slump politics," Euro-scepticism, and immigration and minority debates. The second looks at declines in church attendance, educational levels, and economic income by charting these factors that make-up "the Irish authoritarian." Positions against minorities have hardened, O'C asserts, despite the gains attributed to the Celtic Tiger, for the same boom has brought Irish who have not benefited so much from the past decade's profits into increased contact with competition from immigrants, such encounters often having been resisted by those fearing undercutting of wages, cultural decline, and unfair competition.

Chapter three compares nativist reactions to earlier ones in Western Europe, offering then a recipe for "populist success in a nutshell." Among the ten ingredients: putting "people, popular, or freedom" in the movement's title; employing an eccentric leader taking on the people in grey; oppose further integration with the EU; advance religious liberty but denounce Islam's intolerance; resist immigration in the name of defending tradition; blame a crime wave on immigrants and those too blinkered by PC thinking to notice this; keep stressing the costs of such immigration, the fake asylum seekers, and call for deportations. How many diners relish this slumgullion? O'C responds that gains from 1997-2002 for far-right European parties prove the appeal of such a dish. Earlier, he defends his extended investigation because "paranoia is healthy" when it comes to spotting proto-fascist elements. He denies any "value-free" coverage is possible. I counter that Dr O'Connell's justification undermines his scholarship. He objects. Citing a racist lynching: "Apparent academic calm in the face of such an event already suggests a political commitment." (131) I can separate editorial advocacy from critical analysis, and any charged content, in my opinion, speaks here for itself. (We'll agree to disagree.)

Consequently, two subsequent chapters on Irish far-right prospects and how to counter them propel O'Connell's argument. He finds that the wealthier European countries-Ireland ranking third in this particular standing of PPPs (purchasing power parities)-number among them those "in which right-wing populism has been relatively successful in recent years." (89) He intersperses field interviews with focus groups from a variety of Dublin neighbourhoods having undergone significant change towards heterogeneity. Manners vs. ignorance, the accommodations and grants given asylum-seekers, and the amount of non-nationals arrested and incarcerated all find voice among the poorer Dubliners interviewed. Middle-class informants denied racist attitudes and called those who resented the entry of newcomers 'hypocrites.' (93) O'Connell predicts the reactions found among the working and poorer classes will become even more common.

The expansion of the EU will bring more immigrants to Ireland; skepticism towards such integration will worsen attitudes of those who will blame their declining fortunes on these arrivals; nostalgia will appeal as right-wing elements address this discontent. These three factors, O'Connell explains, might introduce one of four situations. Based on recent European far-right reactions, he extrapolates possible scenarios for the Irish. First, "Innovation," or a sudden shake-up. Rather unlikely, he estimates, with Áine ní Chonaill's Immigration Control Platform in Cork as its spokesperson, who O'C finds "not overburdened with charisma." (101) Second, "Transformation," as a marginalised party shifts to shake up (down?) fresh votes. Along with Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats, Dr O'Connell considers Sinn Féin.

Although he finds such an about-turn unlikely "under the current Northern leadership," SF could spin about if its later momentum took it further in the other direction. "A Dublin-based leadership might find a radical anti-immigrant nationalist-populism playing well on the doorsteps." I might add that audacious as such step-dancing seems to us, that this jiggery-pokery over a century of this very party has appealed to anti-semitism, protectionism, chauvinism alongside its anti-British raison d'étre, from Griffith on. O'Connell adds a disclaimer: "Against that likelihood are the historical leftist and anti-fascist (anti-Blueshirt) traditions of republicanism, from the 1930s as well as their current anti 'big-capital' posturing." (103) Posturing, as many readers of The Blanket might agree, remains a key description here for the current Northern leadership and those like Mary Lou McDonald--given her background--who hoist the tricolour southwards.

The third, "Absorption," might appeal to a rightward move by Fianna Fáil, who often calls itself "the populist party of Ireland"-the fourth, a "Split" (which every Irish political model apparently demands) could be "nominally independent" FF campaigners playing the "race card" to widen their appeal. (104) The final chapter's title repeats Lenin's question "What is to be done?" but offers gentler solutions. In a Socratic dialogue, this lecturer refutes ten objections. He concludes that the numbers of newcomers are exaggerated, that appeals to humanity can trump those to weakness, and that EU policies need to be improved along with Irish procedures to handle the inevitable transformation away from insularity. He contends that his anti-populist bias promotes transparency to open up bureaucracies and to defeat demagogues. Dr O'Connell here offers a valuable and concise introduction to a crucial issue for 21st century Irish debate.







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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

8 August 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

An Ireland of Equals!
Kathleen O Halloran

A Socialist in West Belfast
Anthony McIntyre

A Living Tapestry of Tongues
Sean Fleming

Paranoia is Healthy: Michael O'Connell's Right Wing Ireland?
Seaghán Ó Murchú

'The Labor of Reading'
Liam O Ruairc

Seamus Costello, Joe McCann and myself...
Liam O Comain

Anti-Semitism at the World Social Forum?
Cecilie Surasky

4 August 2004

Tommy Gorman, Radical Thought
Anthony McIntyre

The UnHung Hero
Dolours Price

State Republicans and Totalitarian States
Kathleen O Halloran

Informers Everywhere
Mick Hall

Now Here's A Political Platform
Fred A Wilcox

Political Theatre
Danielle Ni Dhighe

Energy Crisis in Argentina, FTAA Goes One Game Up
Víctor Ego Ducrot and Martín Waserman
translated by Toni Solo



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