The Gist: 2021, A look back

The year when we all, public and politicians alike, seemed to be trapped in a loop, repeating and rehashing the same experiences over and over again. This was the Gist.

The Gist: 2021, A look back

Jan 2nd:

The GistThe Gist: The Worst Lock-In EverThe new year has dawned and never was there greater consensus that everyone was glad to see the back of an old one. And, as its a new year, let’s do a little run around to see what we can expect for early 2021. Firstly, let’s acknowledge, it gets better. Secondly, there will still be fuck-ups…Read morea year ago · 1 like · Simon McGarr

What’s most galling is that ‘saving money’ by reopening early always ends up costing the state more money because of the severe economic effect of the subsequent lockdown. We get the worst of all worlds, simply because the State’s impulses are to treat economics as if it was book-keeping.

Jan 5th

The GistThe Gist: Can't spell Pandemic without Panic“We’ve always wanted schools to remain open.” That was Josepha Madigan’s final, weak, response to a series of questions she chose not to answer, at length. The questions, from Philip Boucher-Hayes on RTE Radio’s Today programme, were straightforward- should the schools remain open when the evidence for the safety of schools was based on a tracing system…Read morea year ago · 1 like · Simon McGarr

the Government ran a PR campaign attacking its scientific advisors for not seeing the bigger picture when it comes to pandemic containment.

Sometimes the reason why politicians make these decisions, is because we're the ones who can see the bigger picture. It's not just about a virus and statistics around a virus. - Leo Varadkaar, 6th October 2020

The bigger picture now is simply that there is nothing more critical than the virus and statistics around a virus. You might wish that not to be the case. You might really want to go for some drinks, a meal out, or to not have to pay another few months of PUP payments to furloughed staff. But none of those wants will change the facts.

Jan 7th

The GistThe Gist: Any news?There was too much news today so we’re just going to try to sprint past a bunch of it really fast, gathering whatever we can from our peripheral vision. US and them Two major political events happened in the United States today. One will strip major political figures of their power and will hugely empower others. The other was a spectacle, made for TV…Read morea year ago · 2 likes · Simon McGarr

Trumpism is now a political dead-end, snuffing out every political career it touched. It ended its eponymous proponent’s career. It ended the Georgia Republican candidates’ careers. It has ended Mitch McConnell’s power over the US legislature.

Expect lots of Republicans to start sprinting away from its rotting corpse and keep going as far as they can, to try to shake the smell off.

Jan 13th

The GistThe Gist: A bad confession on Mother & Baby HomesMother and Baby home survivors. That was the topic the State wanted to discuss this week, even as the questions mounted about the fatal consequences of the Government’s decision to depart from medical and scientific advice in suppressing Covid. The Well-Trodden Road…Read morea year ago · 4 likes · 1 comment · Simon McGarr

On the Mother and Baby Homes report “The State, if cornered, will sometimes Admit something seems awry. But it doesn’t like the radical transparency and truth-telling of Confessing. Its reports become evasions, like a three thousand page ellipse, marking where the absent truths should be. Then it plans for sealing and deleting records that might let people find the truth for themselves.

This is all with the aim of avoiding Penance- to compensate those the State wronged, at the full value of the harms done to them.”

Jan 17th

The GistThe Gist: Drop the Dead DonkeyThe Mother and Baby Home Commission of Inquiry spent six years and €11 million or so euro compiling a report which, like Dracula when the blinds are pulled back, has crumbled to ash the moment it was exposed to sunlight. The report did ensure that a stack of documents were dug up and it will be valuable midden for future researchers to mine. But as to i…Read morea year ago · 3 likes · Simon McGarr

Senator Regina Doherty kicked off the new position, calling it ‘cold’ and ‘callous’ and backpeddaling on the now-failed Plan A of accepting the report.

“we accepted the report and I think that's wrong”

… Nobody who doesn’t hold the title of Bishop is going to stand behind this Commission report now, and its members can look forward to an unfamiliar experience of being asked to account for their choices as the last leg of their participation in this public issue.

Jan 24th

The GistThe Gist: Seeing DoubleAmerica, in stereo The birds, now keenly watched by a housebound and event-starved populous, seemed to sing a little sweeter this week with the departure of human migraine Donald Trump from the US Presidency and his timely replacement by the personification of two aspirin and a short nap, Joe Biden…Read morea year ago · 3 likes · Simon McGarr

The US is often described as a divided nation. But it might be more useful to think of it as simply two different countries which happen to share the same location. They are superimposed on each other, each imperceptible to the other on a day to day basis. The two populations have different broadcasters, entertainments, authors, leisure activities, school curricula, religious expression and career paths.

…One country is more populous, richer, has a much better educated citizenry and is preferred by foreign allies. The other country is increasingly authoritarian, riddled with disinformation, has a standing army of ill-controlled militia and cannot win in a fair head to head electoral contest.

If we were to hear about a developing conflict between two nations described so we might expect trouble ahead.

Jan 28th

The GistThe Gist: Musings for AirportsIn May 2020, expert group NPHET sent its advice to the Government; “a mandatory regime of self-isolation for 14 days at a designated facility for all persons arriving into Ireland from overseas (with limited exemptions to include supply chain workers and those in transit to other jurisdictions, such as Northern Ireland…Read morea year ago · 2 likes · Simon McGarr

We’re looking at the impact of system exhaustion. Border controls and hotel quarantine are a genuinely difficult administrative system to introduce. And the existing system has been operating at full stretch for nearly a year now. The actual people who would have to turn a policy into reality just have not been able to countenance that they will have to bike up another mountain when they’re still halfway up the first one, their thighs screaming.

Feb 5th

The GistThe Gist: Picking Up The PiecesTales of Two Congresswomen A violent mob storms the Capitol building at the losing President’s instigation and roams the halls looking to kill senior members of the incoming government party. It’s a pretty big story. This week saw two women dealing with the fallout from that event in public…Read morea year ago · 2 likes · Simon McGarr

The following day, the Minister for Health came back and explained what he’d said was right, but also this other thing that was different to it was right too. This had the reassuring quality that you would expect on the electorate.

Feb 16th

The GistThe Gist: Public Service Broadcasting, the red herring editionThe world is continuing on much as before, but moreso, so it might be worth paying a small moment’s attention to a thing that is never quite topical but is still significant all the same- What on earth is Public Service Broadcasting and why should we care about it…Read morea year ago · 2 likes · Simon McGarr

If you’ve ever wondered why the RTÉ Player was an unwatchable train crash, while every other channel, from TG4 to Channel 4, could deliver a streaming platform without the angst, consider this observation by RTÉ’s Director General

RTÉ says that “11% (and growing) of households” don’t pay the TV licence because they don’t have a television, but can still watch RTÉ programmes on the RTÉ Player.

“This means a further loss of €20 million in public funding annually,” it said.

The better the RTÉ Player is, the fewer TV Licence fees RTÉ fears it will get.

Feb 22nd

The GistThe Gist: Demanding AttentionThe Irish Government continued to start new Covid communications conflagrations into which to throw a tired nation’s goodwill, while questions piled up, unanswered on the doorstep of the Mother & Baby Homes commission, not least from the Minister for Children…Read morea year ago · Simon McGarr

the Australian Government proposed a binding arbitration panel that would assign values that ‘should’ be paid to the old media by the new platforms and then enforce those values as debts, under pain of millions of dollars of fines.

The problem with this is that G&F don’t rely on ‘news’ to make their money. As Facebook swiftly demonstrated by blithely cutting Australian news sources (and a lot of other things too) out of its platform as a response. Old media sold its stories to readers (or viewers), so that readers could be sold to advertisers. But Facebook is full of little economic units who are making their own stories- pictures of their grandkids, walks in the wood, tales of their day. News is less than 4% of Facebook’s feed content.

Which leaves the same problem the Aussies tried to solve still in play- the output of trustworthy media has never been so socially valuable. But if they don’t understand the way Internet platforms work, they can mistake that social value for a commercial value it just doesn’t have to those platforms.

Feb 28th

The GistThe Gist: Far-left Riots And Other Tall TalesGrafton Barbarism Fascism loves violence. It draws its power from involving and implicating increasing numbers of people in the transgression of violence, which they then struggle to justify to themselves and each other rather than reverse course. To that end, it chases the heat of public disquiet- emphasising division, amplifying distress and then goadin…Read morea year ago · 4 likes · Simon McGarr

On fascism’s tactics for gathering support:

once fascism has gathered enough adherents it will use them to commit acts of violence. Remember, very many of those adherents would recoil at the thought they were fascists. ‘I am solely motivated in ensuring a high-quality reliable train network’, they would explain, ‘and have never been as interested in the genocide side of our party platform.’

The problem for society at large is that, once people are adhered to a fascist platform- whatever the reason that was originally used to draw them in- they will continue to justify that past decision by rejecting any evidence that they were wrong as false.

On Drew Harris’ quickly withdrawn claim that police had been attacked by ‘far left and far right’:

the Irish Garda Commissioner’s career background in Northern Ireland leaves him seeing political divisions as zero-sum games. In policing them he instinctively balances everything between two extreme poles. Any blame for one is reflexively accompanied by blame for the other, for balance, in case he be accused of supporting one side over the other.

But this is a reflex born of Northern Ireland’s particular political circumstances. It doesn’t map onto the difficulties of policing a radicalised right.

Mar 13th

The GistThe Gist: FF, the Coalition's Biggest Small PartyIt’s the single most consistent factor in Irish coalition politics. If you join a coalition as the small party, you risk anything from brand damage to full-scale electoral wipeout. Even the PDs, in the end, couldn’t save themselves from the fate of the littlest co-bo…Read morea year ago · 2 likes · Simon McGarr

Without a clear sense of social aims beyond an aspiration at technocratic competence, FF can’t loom large in the national imagination. But if they plump for that one clear reactionary path their TD’s find so attractive, they’ll shrink even further.

Which means Fianna Fáil may have to get used to a future of coalitions as the smaller party in more ways than one.

Mar 27th

The GistThe Gist: Autistic children and other enemies of the StateThe notification chimed at 9am on Friday morning. “Department of Health built secret dossiers on children with autism” And with that began the latest, worstest sorry tale yet of our scofflaw state’s abuse of citizens’ data. The children’s families had sued in their name to get the state to follow its statutory duty to give them an education. The Departmen…Read morea year ago · 6 likes · 3 comments · Simon McGarr

Re Autistic Children and other enemies of the State

The department said that, under data protection legislation, it was entitled to share and store information for the purposes of getting legal advice or to defend court proceedings.

This is a reference to Section 8(f) of the 1988 Data Protection Act.

  1. That’s not what the section allows and;
  2. That Act was repealed when the GDPR replaced it and';
  3. It doesn’t matter what’s in our national laws if it breaks the EU law above it.

Apr 10th

The GistThe Gist: FF hits rock bottom“There needs to be a conversation”. As anyone whose boss has popped their head around the door and said this to them will tell you, this is never a happy statement to have delivered to your face. But, for the Taoiseach to hear it from one of his previously loyal supportive TDs, it must have sounded like a tolling bell…Read morea year ago · 3 likes · Simon McGarr

No Fianna Fáil grandee or would-be leader has advanced a compelling explanation of what the party is meant to be for now. The closest we’ve heard is that it is The Centre Party- the party for people who don’t like their porridge too hot in Sinn Féin or too cold in Fine Gael.

The appeal of the Tepid Porridge Party has not yet triggered the frenzy of public excitement its proposers seem to have expected.

May 8th

The GistThe Gist: A Cold House for VotersIt was a busy week for the Government. As the Covid situation rattles forward on the rails laid down earlier in the month it was time to talk about all the other things that are annoying the voters. Specifically, it was Housing Week! And, like everything to do with its housing policy, the experience did not leave the public (or Government parties) feelin…Read morea year ago · 6 likes · Simon McGarr

Like the legendary Roc, the Minister has sat upon his nest, labouring mightily for a year to lay this week’s egg of a housing Bill. But instead of hatching into a plume of praise, the news that an international investment company had bought up a whole estate of homes in Kildare saw the government’s policy immediately tumble from its nest and be dashed on its own TDs terror.

May 18th

The GistThe Gist: Attack of the Cyber-MenLife in a pandemic is a funny old bit of business. Vaccines become household names, with their own national fandoms. The act of looking at things you don’t need in shops becomes an obscure object of desire. Academics and doctors assume the role of national figures…Read morea year ago · 2 likes · Simon McGarr

the post of Director of the National Cyber Security Centre was so modestly funded that the position had lain vacant for months due to the uncompetitive salary.

Given that Ireland might have expected to attract unwelcome levels of attention from state actors thanks to its election to membership of the UN Security Council, coupled with the general criminal honeypot of increasingly centralised systems running on well-advertised old software it might seem that cheeseparing the salary of the person intended to keep us secure might not have been the best idea.

But, regrettably, it is all of a piece with the funding priorities of a government which spends more on subsidising Greyhound Racing than on the most significant data protection regulator in Europe.

May 29th

The GistThe Gist: How Did I Get HereThere is a moment, late in the evening when the Sun has gone down but the world hasn’t quite gone dark. The deeds of the day are done, but we don’t yet need to start on the next. That’s the time to take a breath and reflect. The Jabs keep going into people’s arms, racing the threatened vaccine-busting mutations that need unvaccinated hosts to develop…Read morea year ago · 2 likes · Simon McGarr

Ireland’s institutional thinking resulted in a fatal blind spot. But the UK’s administrative culture examined the range of options and decided in advance on the mass death of its citizens.

A survey of Irish people released last week reported that only 12% of Irish people would trust the current UK Government. Given what we’ve learned, the only wonder was how high that figure remains.

Jun 12th

The GistThe Gist: Survivors refuse to stay on MuteThe Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman started off looking like he might have a quiet fortnight. By the end of the first week, he found himself on air arguing that he might have to withhold redress from Mother & Baby Home survivors…Read more10 months ago · 2 likes · Simon McGarr

At the same time that Prof. Daly was giving her talk to Oxford University’s blessed few, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth was issuing its first, belated responses to survivors’ data access requests for their records.

It did not go well. Redactions continued to bedivill the releases of survivors’ access to the records of their own lives. However, there was one astonishingly obtuse bloc of refusals. Health records- particularly critical for survivors who may have been used as test subjects as infants as part of vaccine trials- were simply not released. The Department sent a letter citing an unspecified regulation in a statutory instrument from 1989 which, they said, obliged them to give the records to a doctor and not directly to the survivor.

This was both mind-bogglingly patronising and paternalistic, but also (as I set out in this sample letter available to anyone who got this reply) completely at odds with the Minister and the Department’s obligations under EU law to give survivors access to their records.

Jun 21st

The GistThe Gist: Whose National Maternity Hospital?A shudder ran through the week, like the return of a familiar bad dream. The Government want to build a new National Maternity Hospital, the current one being too small and too old. They have a problem, however. The last Government (which, Greens excepted, the same parties either supported or led) allowed a mad deal to be done with the nuns who own St Vi…Read more10 months ago · 4 likes · Simon McGarr

Things took a turn for the institutional after the Department of Health told politicians they’d tried to buy the land but then the nuns said nobody had ever asked them about purchase.

The Dept then couldn’t put their hands on any evidence of this effort, beyond- apparently- reading a declaration from St Vincent’s that they wouldn’t sell.

This approach to making wishes come true will be familiar to anyone who has tried to lose weight by just thinking about losing weight but then not done anything about it. And, predictably, both approaches have demonstrated an equal degree of success in achieving their aim.

Jul 10th

The GistThe Gist: Reading the Bay LeavesThe Result: Ivana Bacik (Lab) enters the Dáil. But let’s take a moment to look at what the campaign can tell us about some of Ireland’s political parties. Fine Gael The most striking thing about Fine Gael is that, despite the electoral success the party inherited from Enda Kenny, they have absolutely no idea what a political campaign is. They just don’t g…Read more10 months ago · 2 likes · Simon McGarr

Fine Gael wants to make every election about the thing FG wants it to be about. Last time, they wanted an election about Brexit. Nobody cared about Brexit- the voters cared about housing. But for FG that didn’t matter. Brexit was what they wanted the election to be about and they didn’t see why everyone else didn’t just get with the programme. Anyone who has found themselves being talked at by a 7 year old boy with an enthusiasm for dinosaurs or Pokémon will recognise this conversational gambit.

This time, they wanted to run a campaign about the menace of Sinn Féin. It didn’t matter that the chance of Sinn Féin winning a single seat election in Dublin Bay South was so slim FG might as well have built their campaign around repelling a Dalek invasion.

For FG, a campaign is like a game of squash where they continuously smash their chosen messages against the uncaring wall of the electorate.

Jul 24th

The GistThe Gist: Grabbing a Quick Byte / The Once and Future PDsPints Policy The question of getting people into pubs again has taken on totemic importance as the pandemic has ground on. Hospitality, as an industry, has never been shy about making its political voice heard. So, when, at the end of June, the Government postponed reopening, it was the…Read more9 months ago · 1 like · Simon McGarr

The PDs were the model for the ending of the Civil War split by identifying a set of policies- economically right wing, but uninterested in the restrictions of the Catholic Church on personal freedom- that a large bloc of the supporters of FF and FG felt good about.

For much of his time as party leader, the PDs were in power. Indeed, that power lasted long after the initial surge of electoral support had ebbed, as they remained in Government as ideologically influential coalition party members.

But their power also came from speaking for the interests of a class (rich people) who themselves wield power in society and could amplify their ideas, turning them into assertions of political common sense.

Aug 5th

The GistThe Gist: Fifty 1 Hour Party PeopleIt would probably all have just blown over. Katherine Zappone had been nominated for a freshly minted position as a part time Irish representative for Human Rights and that hadn’t been exactly adroitly handled. FG forgot to mention it to the Taoiseach or the other party leader fella they’re in government with before Cabinet. But the Cabinet, in their co…Read more9 months ago · 2 likes · Simon McGarr

On Katherine Zappone’s Fifty 1-hour party people:

There was never a 5k limit for travel, it was just advice. There was never a legal requirement for older people to cocoon. It was just advice. And, as we can see, right now, Organised events are not forbidden. The problem is that for the past year, the Government has consistently relied on health advice to the public and to businesses to shape what the social norms should be- not on the legislation.

It may be that after this week’s events, the government’s ability to advance public health advice which goes beyond what it can legislate for has ended.

Aug 19th

On the IPCC report on Climate Change

This is a problem for those of us planning to stay living on Earth for the next few decades and hoping not to have to hand it to the current generation of children like a box marked Fragile that rattles distressingly when you move it.

As with the Cold War, the institutional requirements of the society we live within mean we continue to hesitate to take the steps needed to mitigate (there is no longer a reverse option) the worse consequences of climate change to come. We can change them collectively, as the Cold War stand-off was suddenly changed by the collapse of the USSR. But we can’t do it fast enough without a radical alteration of the underlying assumptions of the society we’ve inherited.

On regime change in Afghanistan;

Certainly Ireland knows all about the long-lasting troubles of fusing an armed overthrow of a foreign-backed government with an oppressive theocratic ideology that represents itself as the only natural expression of the nation’s true soul.

Sep 5th

The GistThe Gist: The Roof Over Our HeadThe beginning of September is a liminal time of the year. School terms restart. Political and court terms likewise start to think about what will happen next. But this year, this anticipatory element has an extra sharpness. The world has been on an extended sabbatical from business as usual thanks to Covid lockdowns and close downs. The political system…Read more8 months ago · 5 likes · Simon McGarr

The Government’s problem with dealing with unattainable housing and even more unaffordable rents is that the institutions of the state have been stymied by the requirement to meet two aims- to protect the asset value of property owners and to allow people to find somewhere they can afford to live.

It is anathema to the government parties to ever try to cause a drop in house prices- or rent. And that is why our current policy machinery had failed to solve this social crisis for over a decade. It is also why we can expect to have no more to show from Housing for All than we got from Rebuilding Ireland.

There is a clash of short to medium term interests between those with property and those who need places to live securely. Helping one is contrary to the (short to medium term) interests of the other. Our state (more than most) has been designed and been run by the former since its creation.

Oct 10th

The GistThe Gist: Made of MoneyThis week, the Budget has been the talk of… well, not of the town, because that would suggest that the general public is discussing a financial planning exercise of deliberate opacity. Like every year, however, it’s been the talk of every vested interest and their lobbying group. Which, given that paid lobby groups are a substantial source of press rele…Read more7 months ago · 4 likes · Simon McGarr

Fianna Fáil just wanted to get back into Government. In years gone by, they never needed to worry about what they’d do when they got there. The Civil Service ensured a continuity of political policy and the patronage powers of the state delivered for the party. Now that it no longer functions as a patronage machine, its elected members are becoming ghosts at their own Cabinet table, looked through instead of at.

For example, ask yourself What will the Department of Education do because Norma Foley is their Minister that they wouldn’t do if left entirely without any Minister at all? If the only answer is ‘do up more primary schools in the Minister’s constituency’, you’ve already recognised FF’s problem.

Oct 23rd

The GistThe Gist: Political EntropyThe 2nd Law of Thermodynamics says “spontaneous change in a closed system always proceeds in a direction that increases randomness or disorder.” Or, as Yeats put it, “Things fall apart.” And yet in political circles there is a powerful presumption that politics works in the opposite direction- that, over time, the arc of history bends towards justice (o…Read more6 months ago · 3 likes · Simon McGarr

Today’s Sunday Business Post publishes a Red C poll that sees each of the three being lapped by their main rivals. FF by FG. FG by SF and even the Labour Party slipping behind the recently-constructed-in-flight Social Democrats.

The Irish state is going through its decade of centenaries, with the final 100 year markings of the state’s foundations yet to come. 100 years is a long time for any organisation to endure, and for good reason- it’s just hard to attract talent for multiple generations when you’ve become the status quo.

Nov 7th

The GistThe Gist: Facebook goes MetaRumours of a rebrand of the entire Facebook enterprise appeared only a week earlier. Then the announcement came. Facebook, the company, was no longer going to refer to itself as Facebook. It was now Meta. Mark Zuckerberg, the Sun King of the Palace of Menlo Park, appeared in a series of hallucinatory video segments to explain that this was part of the c…Read more6 months ago · 1 like · Simon McGarr

But as long as people continue to get their information about the world outside their home from Facebook’s properties, Facebook cannot escape the political consequences of its actions. And those problems are not restricted to the US. Let us not forget that Facebook’s European headquarters sits on Misery Hill (no, really).

So we come back to their change of name this week. If Facebook can’t escape what it is, it will try to do something else. It will try and escape being Facebook.

Nov 21st

The GistThe Gist: A Round UpSave the Children, unless it is inconvenient The Data Protection Commission of Ireland is an unusual beast. A government entity of a small country, whose funding only just exceeds the state subsidy to the Irish Greyhound Board, which has the job of regulating the largest and most powerful companies in tech…Read more5 months ago · Simon McGarr

The Government’s 2021 plans were not complicated.

1.     Get adults vaccinated.

2.     Keep children going to school

3.     Reopen the economy and stop paying the PUP

The problem has come now that they have actually achieved each of these stages and the result is widespread infection.

They didn’t have another plan, and the first plan was simply too simple. It wasn’t going to work without the mitigations that would have cost money and stretched the imaginations of the authorities. They were unwilling to do either.

Dec 6th

The GistThe Gist: Ireland under InvestigationA bit of a Gist exclusive story this week; the European Commission opened an investigation into the Government’s refusal to give Mother and Baby Home survivors GDPR rights of access to their health records. It wrote to the Government, raising the issue on foot of a complaint by one survivor. The complaint and investigation were triggered when the Minist…Read more5 months ago · 1 like · Simon McGarr

The European Commission opened an investigation into the Government’s refusal to give Mother and Baby Home survivors GDPR rights of access to their health records. It wrote to the Government, raising the issue on foot of a complaint by one survivor. The complaint and investigation were triggered when the Minister for Children refused to set aside a piece of 1989 domestic law in order to give effect to the GDPR, as he is obliged to do.

Furthermore, the new Heads of Bill for the Government’s much heralded Birth Information and Tracing Bill have also been submitted for investigation, as they provide for a fresh statement of the same restriction as the 1989 law.

For survivors, a right that everyone seems to acknowledge they have—to access their medical data under the GDPR—continues to be blocked.