Friday, May 27, 2011

Mismanaged banks? Less pay for shop workers! Sorted!

Minister Bruton: Isolated. Good job too.
Stick him on a desert island to encourage the others

The media here are reporting that Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton is looked “increasingly isolated”. Good job too. I'm getting hot under the collar.  Takes me back to the mother and father of a row
on just this issue when I was a union convenor 10 years ago in York.  When’s the demo that’s what I want to know.  I've heard various union leaders on the radio in the last 24 hrs but can't find any campaigning material yet.  Soon I hope.

Ah yes, I forgot to mention what this whole thing’s about. Bruton is mounting an assault on premium Sunday and overtime pay rates for low-paid workers, and correspondents are reporting that Taoiseach Enda Kenny and cabinet colleagues are distancing themselves from him on the issue.

Kenny called Bruton’s proposals the “publication of a personal agenda". And an RTÉ correspondent reported on the radio an hour ago that Kenny gave Bruton bad body language in the Dáil today.  If the Labour Party who are in this coalition government allow this through … well lets hope not, they are making the right noises at the moment …

I don’t quite follow the technicalities, but it seems Bruton is intending to cut Sunday pay (and maybe other premium rates it’s not clear at present) by monkeying around with the terms of employment rights orders (ERO) or registered employment agreements (REA).  The sectors that will suffer include hotels, restaurants, hairdressing, contract cleaning, security, grocery, retail and tailoring.

EROs fix minimum pay and conditions in sectors based on the deliberations of a joint labour committee of union and employer representatives with an independent chairman. REAs are collective agreements between employers and unions which are registered with the Labour Court and are enforceable in law.

There's a Duffy-Walsh report, which recommends overhauling the basic framework of the existing joint labour committee/registered employment agreement system for setting wages. But Bruton has gone further than this and has announced his assault on premium pay rates.

Explainer in the Irish Times.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mr. Gandhi what do you think of western civilisation?

I imagine we've all sent or received this postcard at some stage in our lives. But is it true?

Gandhi's famous reply to a reporter's question about western civilisation features in any compendium of Gandhi quotations, but none that I have seen supply the time and place where this encounter is supposed to have occurred.

I think it may be apocryphal. On the other hand, the question would be a perfectly sensible one for a reporter seeking a quote, and the answer is one which I'm sure Gandhi would have been delighted to have thought of, even if he didn’t.  It would have been quite in character, since he is credited with an impish sense of humour.

Western civilisation was a frequent theme in Gandhi’s writing and speeches. He did not hold it in high regard. For example, this from a speech to Young India, 8th September 1920. Speaking of the recently ended First World War he said:

“The last War however has shown, as nothing else has, the Satanic nature of the civilization that dominates Europe today.”

I wonder if the what-do-you-think-of-western-civilisation thing appeared in the 1982 Richard Attenborough film.  I doubt it.  Cliché. 

For language nerds, the joke relies on a sort of pun. It may have a special grammatical name, unknown to me. When the Reporter uses the word civilisation, he uses it as an abstract noun, meaning a society which is city-based. When Mr Gandhi uses the word (and I hope I have this right) he is using it as a gerund, that is a part of the verb "to civilise". So it means an action or process, which instils admirable, or acceptable, norms of behaviour.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Royal visit - I got it wrong

I retract my statement about the absence of interest in the queen’s visit. 

Queen Elizabeth lays a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance honouring those who fought against the British crown
It’s been huge news in Ireland. Today’s Irish Examiner leader says “It has probably been the most memorable and successful visit of any head of state since the visit of US President John F Kennedy in 1963” and I've spoken to people who strongly share that positive view. And moreover (to their own surprise) found themselves quite moved by it.

The Queen and President at Islandbridge where world war dead are buried
Principal comments I have heard are
  • We’re so relieved she’s got back without a terrorist incident – it would have been the end of us if that had happened.  For many people this is the number one comment. 
  • Pride in Ireland. We did it well.  Especial praise for President Mary McAleese. Her grace and dignity, her speech at Dublin Castle, and in particular her remarks on her pride in Irish nationalism, and that we meet the Queen as an equal (yes for some that does still need mentioning).
  • The well-judged symmetry of the two wreath-laying ceremonies, one to honour those who fought Britain for Irish freedom, the other to honour those who had fought for Britain in two world wars (more on this theme below).
  • The Queen bowed her head at the Garden of Remembrance. This is the shrine to those who have died fighting against the British for Irish freedom.
  • She said that with the benefit of historical hindsight we can all think of things that should have been done differently or not at all.  This was at the state dinner at Dublin Castle on the 2nd day of the visit. (See video below.)
  • She smiled a lot. The walkabout in Cork just before she went home was hugely appreciated, especially here in Cork.
  • It was right that the GAA welcomed her at Croke Park; and the GAA President was right to refer to Bloody Sunday (more on this below).
  • Frequent comments that Mary McAleese should be allowed to serve a third term (not allowed, to the regret of many, under the constitution).
    A few more words on a couple of themes that have been prominent in the media these past few days. Firstly, the symmetry of the two wreath-laying ceremonies. The first of these was at the Garden of Remembrance (honouring those who have died fighting against the British) and the second was at Islandbridge, which is where the Irish fallen from two world wars are laid to rest.  It has been repeatedly commented that until recently the Irish dead from the First World War have been passed over in embarrassed silence. A bit like Vietnam veterans in America.  Fighting for the imperialist oppressor. Mary McAleese is credited with putting an end to this shameful amnesia and neglect. (This is a big subject which deserves as essay in itself.  RTÉ radio did an excellent series in 2008 called Our War, and you can listen to two episodes that touch on the amnesia theme here.
    Shameful amnesia and neglect is a tendentious term of course, and dedicated republicans might dispute it.   

    Next,  about Croke Park, the national stadium of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). On 21st November 1920 at a Dublin-Tipperary football match, 14 people lost their lives when British forces entered the stadium and started shooting. Included in the dead were Michael Hogan, a player on the Tipperary team. The Hogan Stand is named in his honour. Also Thomas Ryan, shot on his knees whispering an act of contrition to Hogan. Full story on the GAA website.

    In a dignified speech to welcome the Queen, the President of the GAA Christy Cooney referred to this event. The consensus is that the GAA was right to welcome her and that Christy Cooney was right to refer to Bloody Sunday. He didn't, in point of fact, name it. He referred to it oblquely, with the phrase "including those that died in this place".

    However those who oppose the Queen’s visit find it particularly obnoxious that she should have been welcomed at Croke Park.

    Forelock-tugging is another accusation that has been levelled in connection with the visit in general, for example a reader’s letter in yesterday's Examiner from Dominic Carroll, Ardfield, Co Cork. He derided “the forelock-tugging shoneens who this week bent the knee to Mrs Windsor of London” and especially the academic staff of Trinity College Dublin who “lined up like schoolchildren as they awaited a few words of condescension from the royal personage; it was stomach-turning” he says. 

    There will be more letters like this in the next few days but in my neck of the woods my sense is that they are in a small minority of opinion. You may ask if the opinions I hear are taylored out of politeness to my English ears. I don’t think so.

    Here are the videos and full text of the speeches at Dublin Castle on the Wednesday 18th.

    Full text of President Mary McAleese's speech
    Full text of speech by Queen Elizabeth II

    The Queen video. Watch the first 3 minutes in particular. “Differently or not at all” comes at 2:24.

    President Mary McAllese video.  Reflects on difficult centuries, 4:25. Deeply proud, 5:40