From Socialist Voice, August 2009

Bankrupt politicians and ideological charlatans

The weather may be disappointing and a constant topic of conversation when people meet in the street or in their place of work, when the only semblance of summer is the month on the calendar. Yet if you look at the newspapers or listen to the news on radio or television you will also know it’s summer because we are bombarded with the goings-on at the various “summer schools.”
     Most of these “schools” are nothing more than a refuge for bankrupt politicians, has-been journalists and academics cadging cheap hotel breaks paid for by gullible punters, who wander in out of the rain believing that they might hear something sensible imparted by the learned speakers.
     This summer has been no exception. They have been going on constantly about the dire state of the economy and how we all need to pull together to get the ship of state off the rocks as the hole in the public finances grows by the day.
     These schools in the main take the names of important historical figures or prominent local individuals from the past who may have written important works of literature. Few are genuinely run by local people; most are run by charlatans.
     The most outrageous so far this year has been the Patrick McGill Summer School in the Glenties, Co. Donegal, held in mid-July and run by the former RTE hack Joe Mulholland. This year the theme was “The Irish economy: What went wrong? How will we fix it?” All the speakers—including a representative of the trade union Impact—dutifully followed the Government line that the decisions being taken by this Government are the correct ones and indeed the only possible ones.
     This “school” was a platform for almost the whole of the Government from which to promote the McCarthy Report, launched a few days before the opening of the school. It would seems that more members of the Government were available to speak at this event than probably attend Government meetings. Of course the Government deliberated long and hard about whether it would publish the report in the first place. Yet the agenda for the school had been published well before the date. Clearly the McGill school was chosen as the venue to maximise the effect of the report, and the necessary speakers had been lined up well in advance.
      Speaker after speaker—including McCarthy himself—championed the report, which amounts to a wholesale assault on public services and the taking of more than €5 billion, in the form of cuts in public spending, out of the economy next year. Not a single critical voice was given a platform, nor were any alternative proposals allowed to be presented. The national broadcaster, strapped for cash though it is, had a full crew in attendance all week to report on the “consensus” on the importance of the McCarthy Report and it being the only way forward.
     Over the last three or four decades these summer schools have played an important ideological role in attempting to shape public opinion on a whole range of matters, including economics, the Northern conflict, and social and cultural policies, many deeply reactionary. The majority of speakers have been pro-imperialist, whether of the British or EU variety.
     The supreme irony is that Patrick McGill from the Great Glen, born in 1891, the eldest of eleven children on a small farm, left school at twelve and emigrated to Scotland at fourteen as a tattie-hoker and an itinerant labourer, becoming a plate-layer on the Caledonian Railway. He wrote many books, short stories and poems about the life of Irish migrant workers, his most famous being Children of the Dead End and The Rat Pit. He described the forgotten Irish—the children from small farming families forced to seek work in Scotland and England.
     McGill was scathing about the Irish capitalist class. His writings and ideals are a million miles from the gombeen men and women who run this event in his name. He would have understood and felt the great hurt and suffering now being experienced by tens of thousands of working people throughout the country and would have shown the same disdain and contempt for the present crop of gombeen Irish capitalists as he did for those of his own time.
Dr Peter Bacon, the brains behind the National Asset Management Agency, speaking at the Patrick McGill Summer School, 2009, declared that we need to cut wages to become competitive. “Reductions in the order of 10 to 15 per cent is the kind of adjustment I am talking about, across the economy,” he said.

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