Once more, Irish media silence and elision as Minister’s Gaza visit deemed barely newsworthy

Kevin Squires in the first of a three part series on the coverage of the Irish foreign affairs minister to Gaza. Kevin Squires is a Palestine solidarity and political activist based in Ireland. A frequent contributor to various Irish leftist publications, he blogs about music, comedy, comics and politics at Citizen Partridge.

Citizen Partridge

unrwa-flan-gaza Charlie Flanagan in Gaza (Photo: UNRWA)

Of the three Irish media outlets that deemed it newsworthy to mention the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan’s, visit to Gaza yesterday, none of them deemed it necessary to go beyond reporting what was in the government press release on the matter.

Well that’s not entirely true, while the Irish Examiner managed to omit entirely that he was in Gaza, and just reported the €4.7m blood money thrown at UNRWA, the Irish Times gave a little bit of background, noting that:

“[Last summer] Seven weeks of Israeli bombardment from air and sea, and rocket attacks on Israel, left more than 2,200 people dead – the great majority of them Palestinians in Gaza. More than 10,000 Gazans and some 700 Israelis were wounded while some 20,000 homes in the strip were estimated to have been left uninhabitable by shelling and air strikes.”


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The Silence of the Liberals

On Monday morning the Gardai began a highly political series of dawn raids which have so far seen 17 people, including two minors, arrested in force. The raids began on Monday with the arrest of three politicians, two local and one national, Paul Murphy TD. The arrests are concerned with a protest last November at which the Minister of Social Protection Joan Burton was delayed for up to two hours. No arrests were made on the day of the protest itself.  So what has the Irish Times had to say about this affront on democracy and the right of protest, not much it seems, the print edition between Monday and Wednesday has produced a total of four articles (including a letter) with just over 1,000 words and no editorials. at the time of writing the arrests continue, it will be interesting to see if D’Olier St. has anything to say on the issue over the next number of days and if so what it is, watch this space.

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Media, Crisis and The Making Of Common Sense – The Live Register

The Live Register hosted a podcast discussion on the Media, Crisis and the making of common sense between Henry Silke of this parish and Julian Mercille of UCD.

From the Live Register:

Why is the vast majority of Irish media dominated with an undoubting and uncritical attitude towards a single theory of the ‘crisis’? What role does it play in legitimising, rather than challenging, the structural causes of growing inequality? And what does this mean for radical interpretations of democracy, public space and the remaking of common sense?

In this Live Register podcast, we’re joined by Julien Mercille and Henry Silke, two academics who have been carrying out separate research relating to the Irish media.

Julien Marcille lectures at the School of Geography in UCD and has recently published research on how the Irish mainstream media have covered the Irish “crisis” from a pro-austerity position over the last five years. Henry Silke is a postgraduate researcher at the School of Communications DCU, who has been examining the political role of the Irish press during the crisis.

We used their research to frame a wider discussion of the real role of mainstream media in Ireland today, exploring how market ideology is central to how mainstream media frames public discourse, very much at odds to the perception of mainstream media holding truth to power.

Ragbags and Reactionaries: A comparative analysis of the treatment of the ULA and Reform Alliance in five newspapers – part one the ULA


On January 25th 2014 coming, ex Junior Minister Lucinda Creighton, and the newly formed Reform Alliance are to hold a launch meeting in the RDS. The meeting is expected to draw 300 to 400 people and has been dubbed a ‘monster meeting’ (Sunday Independent 5 January 2014) and an ‘Ard Fheis’ style rally (RTE.ie 6th January 2014). The meeting has received quite a lot of media attention, including a long one-to-one interview with Lucinda Creighton on RTE’s flagship television current affairs programme Prime Time  to discuss the new formation (RTE 7th January 2014), a full three weeks ahead of the rally (see Broadsheet.ie for a transcript here). The alliance is made up of seven ex Fine Gael TDs and Senators who split with the Party in opposition to last years abortion reform. The Alliance can be described as socially conservative and economically liberal; some have dubbed it a Progressive Democrats mark II, (for example Rory Hearne here). A type of party that certain sections of the media, especially the Sunday Independent,  have been calling for for some time.

The Reform Alliance, however, seems to have neither the intellectual grounding nor the popular appeal of the Progressive Democrats and its long term viability is not certain. Moreover, the PDs were first and foremost a neo-liberal party which allowed for social liberalism on issues such as divorce and contraception. The Reform Alliance seems to more be more akin to the US right, which combine social and religious conservatism with economic liberalism and it is yet to be seen how much popular appeal exists for such an ideology here, or if the alliance has legs. Already some prominent economists and independent politicians, most notably David McWilliams and Stephen Donnelly have declared that they will not support the Alliance as it is too socially conservative. (See Cedar Lounge Revolution here for more declines).

Two Alliances and Two Launch meetings

While watching some of the media coverage, it occurred to me that another alliance launched in 2010 didn’t seem to get anything like the coverage of the Reform Alliance: The United Left Alliance was launched on the 29th of November 2010 with a meeting of three to four hundred in the Gresham Hotel, but was not described anywhere as a ‘monster’ or ‘Ard Fheis’ style meeting. In fact, as memory serves, there wasn’t much coverage of it at all.

The ULA launch on the 29th of November 2010 - not a 'monster' rally.

The ULA launch on the 29th of November 2010 – not a ‘monster’ rally.

The ULA was an alliance between the already existing left groups: the Socialist Party; the Socialist Workers Party; the Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group; and the People Before Profit Alliance. The ULA had  a similar political weight to Lucinda Creighton’s Reform Alliance with one MEP, and numerous councillors , this was evident by the election of 5 TDs in the following election. The United Left Alliance didn’t last very long and split within two years, some details on this can be found here.   In 2010, however, the split was not a foregone conclusion and indeed there was serious potential  for the alliance to develop into a new party to the left of Labour.

This post is concerned with the print media treatment of the two political groups The Alliances are broadly similar in terms of  political representation and support, though the ULA probably had more activists and some  parts of the ULA have sunk roots into their communities. The launches too are similar in size and style as political rallies rather than voting conferences.

ULA potentialTo compare the two alliances we will look at the press coverage of both groups and launches in five newspapers: The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Irish Examiner, The Sunday Independent and The Sunday Business Post. The period chosen is the month in the lead up to the two launches and two weeks thereafter (The launches were/will be held on 29th of November 2010 and on 25th of January for the ULA and RA respectively), we look primarily at the number size and position of the articles and secondly consider some of the treatment. To gather the data the Lexis Nexis newspaper database is being used with similar search criteria (see below). What we are interested in is whether the two Alliances get equal treatment or generally equal treatment both in terms of quantity and quality, and if either Alliance receives any support or opposition.

Politics and the Mainstream Media

This is of interest as the mainstream media, while not being the only source of political knowledge for the general population, is still a key. The print media remains an important part of the media sphere most especially in terms of agenda setting and the development of political themes and frames over time. In normative terms the media should offer equal access to various sides of the political and economic debate, however, as long pointed out by critical scholars, due to issues of ownership, institutional work practices, the class makeup of journalists, and sometimes target audiences, alongside wider ideological processes, there is less than equal access in the mainstream media between what can be termed conservative or mainstream voices and left or alternative  voices.

 In political terms the media may play an important role in developing support for or opposition to political parties or groupings by either publicising, supporting, opposing or ignoring their existence. This is not to be overly deterministic around the mainstream media as political movements can built through ‘boots on the ground’ and how they relate to various events and issues and ‘objective conditions’.  Also materially wealthy groups can bypass media by use of advertising, or develop a media presence by the use of public relations.  It is, however, important to recognise the role of the media in constructing political discourse, agenda and debate which is of particular importance in the media’s role in disseminating information about a new formation on a national level. In short the media remains both a key battleground and source of soft power in the political sphere and its treatment of various political groupings is important.

The ULA and the Reform Alliance, almost identical in terms of political support,  offer an opportunity to test the Irish media on this point.This first post will consider the treatment of the ULA, while a second later post will look at the treatment of the Reform Alliance.

UL who? – The Coverage of the United Left Alliance and launch meeting in five newspapers

A search was performed on the Lexis Nexis print media database between the first of November and the 13 of December 2010 using the search terms ‘United Left Alliance’ or ‘Richard Boyd Barrett ‘or ‘Joe Higgins’ or ‘ULA’ or ‘Seamus Healy’ to appear anywhere in articles of the five newspapers. This uncovered 12 articles of relevance. A further search using the words ‘Higgins,’ ‘Daly’,’ Collins’ uncovered a further 11 articles (3). 13 articles were found to non applicable; that was articles that may have named politicians such as Joe Higgins or Richard Boyd Barrett but didn’t mention the ULA or the formation of an alliance. In fact three articles that discuss a ‘surge’ to the left  managed to do so without any mention of the ULA or left regroupment at all (1). There was a total of 5 articles about the ULA itself (2), a further 2 articles where the ULA made up a considerable part and finally 3 articles where the ULA was mentioned in passing. The 5 articles solely on the United Left Alliance appeared in the The Irish Examiner, The Irish Times (twice), The Irish Independent and the Sunday Business Post. All of the articles were straight news stories and neutral in orientation. Each article was short and appeared deep inside the respective newspapers. (An exception is the Sunday Business Post where a page number was not found). The 5 articles on the ULA made up a total of only 1173 words. The launch meeting in the Gresham hotel on the 29th of November was not covered by any of the newspapers and no article appeared before the 26th of November, three days before the meeting. Of the five articles where the ULA made up a substantial part or were mentioned in passing 3 were neutral and 2 were negative, none of the articles expressed any support for the Alliance. The one article that seemed to take the ULA in any way seriously and offered any analysis was an article entitled ‘The Old Order Swept Away’ in the Sunday  Business Post on November 28th (1174 words) .This article was  primarily on the demise of Fianna Fail.  In the article acceptable  parameters  of political policy were quickly established, firmly placing the article in an orthodox frame:

The cacophony of voices which say that the individual measures of the plan are not necessary tend to be quieter in explaining where the money should otherwise come from – beyond infantile sloganeering.

The notion that most Irish people – who are, let us not forget, among the best-paid and most lightly-taxed in Europe – won’t have to pay anything if we can somehow get Dermot Desmond and Denis O’Brien to open their wallets is hardly worthy of serious debate.

The main issue of the article is that  political cultural change is underway:

The disregard for our established politics is spreading. Last week, the TEEU trade union promised a campaign of civil disobedience against the four-year plan. One senior and experienced politician reflected privately that ”there will be civil disorder”.

There has been a huge inflation in the incendiary language that is being used of late. In the Dáil last Thursday, Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín O’Caoláin – actually following a speech by Eamon Ryan asking for some civility and calmness in the debate – accused the Greens of ”treason” and ”betrayal”, ”criminality” and ”treachery”

And on the ULA:

But Sinn Fein in are far from the only people using this language. A few minutes earlier, Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins launched a new United Left Alliance across the road in Buswells Hotel.

Higgins is a sincere and committed politician and, unlike most of his colleagues in the last Dáil, chose to accept only the average industrial wage, devoting the rest of his salary to political activities.

That does not make him right or wrong about anything. But it is the language used at last week’s launch that was notable. He spoke of the government ”draining the lifeblood of the poor”; of the ”vultures in the markets”; he accused reporters present of accepting ”the dictatorship of the markets”. This is the language, not just of right or wrong policy choices, but of good and evil. And if you believe your political opponent is not just wrong, but evil, that adds a whole different dimension to politics

While the article was respectful of the Alliance and took it quite seriously its final sentence leaves no doubt to its view of the alliances political orientation:

The movement of economic forces is having a profound social and political effect. It always does – economic forces are the tectonic plates of the political landscape. Political change is certainly on the way. Not all of it may be welcome

And that we can say is it; a total of 10 articles with any mention of the Alliance in six weeks, and nothing before the 26th of November, one article of interest, and certainly no expressions of support in any article in any newspaper. One is reminded of the quote attributed to Oscar Wilde:

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about

We can conclude with certainty that the print media did little to inform the public of the processes taking place around the formation of the United Left Alliance nor publish  anything in the build up to the launch meeting; meaning that most people outside of the organised left probably knew little of either the launch meeting or of the Alliance’s existence. How this compares to the coverage of the Reform Alliance will be investigated in part two of this blog.


(1) Sinn Fein’s by-election win heralds surge to left  Sunday Independent (Ireland), November 28, 2010, POLITICS, 469 words; SF and left-wing Independents set to burst out of blocs  The Irish Times, December 11, 2010 Saturday, OPINION; Opinion; Pg. 16, 879 words; SF swing can make Gilmore Taoiseach  Sunday Independent (Ireland), December 5, 2010, POLITICS, 973 words) (2) United Left Alliance to run in 14 constituencies  The Irish Times, December 7, 2010 Tuesday, IRELAND; Other Stories; Pg. 8, 392 words; Left-wing groups call for 24-hour strike to reverse budget cutbacks  Irish Examiner, December 11, 2010 Saturday, IRELAND, 339 words; Higgins hopeful of progress of left-wing group  Sunday Business Post, November 28, 2010, IRELAND, 482 words; Socialists aim for six seats in next Dail  Irish Independent, November 26, 2010 Friday, NATIONAL NEWS, 91 words; Higgins and Boyd Barrett to contest election under left-wing alliance  The Irish Times, November 26, 2010 Friday, IRELAND; Pg. 10, 469 words

(3) Summary Analysis

23 13 0 5 2 3 1773 8 0 2

Journalism, Ideology and the Markets: The Irish Media and the Property Crash

The role of the Irish media in the property crash and following economic crisis is again hitting the headlines with a Sindo special edition promised this Sunday (10/11/2013); the Irish Left Review has also recently published an interesting piece on the role of the media by Bryan Wall on the fifth anniversary of the banking guarantee, while research from UCD’s Julien Mercille into the media’s role in the property crash continues to attract interest here. In light of this renewed interest CMR will post an article previously unavailable online on the role of journalism, ideology in market crises published in Look Left. This article considers the role of communications and media in crises of capital focusing on the Irish crash. Other articles on the property crisis by the author are available here.

First Published in Look Left magazine, September 2012

Click on the images to enlarge

look left cover housing article cover

Silke 2012 Journalism, ideology and the Markets  pg 1

Silke 2012 Journalism, Ideology and the Markets pg2

Silke 2012 Journalism, Ideology and the Markets pg 3

There’s Blood in the Stone Yet!

blood stone

In a particularly strange and positive framing of the economic situation today, the Irish Times website reports:

1.18 Million adults have E50 left after bills paid

Note the omission of the word ‘only’ before the number of 50 euro a month. And just in case you weren’t sure of the positive framing, it adds the sub-heading:

Financial position improving for many, credit union study finds.

it online

In fact in the Print edition of the newspaper the subhead is the headline – leaving out the 1.18 million adults and their fistfulls of 50 euro notes. In the print edition we are greeted with the news that where there was 600,000 with nothing left at the end of the month, now there’s only half a million (where’s those emigration figures again?). While average disposable income has increased a whopping nine euros a month from 163 to 172 euro a month!

irish times

We are told that the number of people with nothing left to spend after bills are paid are falling drastically and now that we are in the happy position of having an extra tenner a week to spend. Overall the position on disposable income is ‘continuing to stabalise’, this is due we are informed due to citizen consumers cutting back on luxuries such as food. Other luxuries like a single visit to a GP, half a school uniform, smiling at a dentist or two thirds  of a school book will also have to be avoided. Finally we are reminded that of course this is all mainly an issue of confidence, indeed the Times is doing its bit on that front. On a brighter note it means that’s another 50 euro begging to go into that pit they call the private banking system via water charges, broadcast charges and sure maybe another pay cut or two, and this news should be the final nail in the coffin for all those strategic defaulters cheating their banks and bondholders out of pocket for frivolous luxuries like light and heat.

Normal Service Has Resumed

On Today’s Irish Times news-wire Ireland’s best known Homer Simpson impersonator and ex politico John Bruton has returned to that old pre-crisis trope of ‘over-regulation’.  Needless to say the Times doesn’t offer any contrasting opinion, such as the possibility of let’s say under regulation; rather the piece focuses on Bruton’s call on Ireland to become a ‘centre of excellence’ on tax dodging, or what our more creative accountant friends like to call ‘tax compliance’. Veteran Irish Life and Permanent Banker and Irish Times chairman David Went was not quoted on whether he thought that Irish banking should be rid of pesky regulations, but he was probably busy.

BRUTON regulate

John of course didn’t event the trope of ‘over regulation’, here’s an interview with everyone’s favorite entrepreneur and all round genius Sean FitzPatrick of Anglo Irish Bank from back in the good ‘ol days of 2007:

Q We need regulation?

I don’t think corruption is endemic in Irish business. We may have had a few bad apples but … we aren’t attracting the brightest like we did in the seventies and eighties because the banks just don’t have the respect…because of the banks themselves…and we have to work hard. It will take some time to regain the respect and trust that is very important for any society to have and not just with banks because banks are very fundamental to the infrastructure of any society…


Q You have given out a lot about regulation and over-regulation, do you have a sense that the entrepreneurship that created the Celtic Tiger, with all our Tribunals and new standards that we are somehow choking business? Do you think Irish business is corrupt or endemically corrupt?


Its not. We don’t have the Enron’s or anything like that. We never had the scandals that have taken place elsewhere. Of course you need regulation. But you don’t need over regulation. What we need is appropriate regulation. The danger is, ever since we have had scandals, do you know what you get..as non-executives on boards?  You get middle aged accountants…on boards because they will be good for the audit committee. That can’t be good for business. What we need are a board who represent the stakeholders and are real people with real experience and that relate to the customers that you are actually dealing with and maybe relate to the shareholders. But if we are all going to run for the umbrella of safety with regulation, then what we have achieved over the last ten or fifteen years will be easily brushed away. I’m not looking for a free-for-all. We don’t have a free-for-all here. What I’m looking for is some sense and balance in regulation … [Bad practices] are not endemic and if we are going to change the whole regulation for all of that, then I think that you are mad.

Interview from TV interview with Aine Lawlor ‘One to One’ RTE December 2007, read the entire transcript here

Privileged Access: An Insight into Source Bias in the Irish Press

On  July 14th 2013 the Irish Independent published a fascinating article by Tom Lyons entitled The Gloomsday Book: who was there on the night of the guarantee; the article is not  interesting so much for the narrative of who met whom and when but more so for the journalist’s normative judgement of who should be listened to in times of key economic crisis.  The article while expressing the usual journalistic class biases about ‘bearded trade unionists’  offers an illuminating insight into journalistic sourcing; that is who and what organisations the press speak to in terms of policy decisions and crisis and who they consider relevant. The article discusses the diary of the Minister of Finance on the day of the decision of the banking guarantee with a normative discourse on who was worthy of the state’s attention on that most infamous of days.

As an aside the article declines to remind us of the newspaper’s own support of the guarantee at the time nor its role in publishing at least one article lobbying for the guarantee in advance of its proposal and another in advance of its implementation; but as with the press and the housing bubble we are well used to institutional short memories. What is interesting in this article is that it expresses to us some illuminating thinking about who they believe  it was relevant to talk to on the day of the blanket bank guarantee, a blanket bank guarantee that has had negative aspects throughout all of society.

Guests signing in to see Mr Lenihan himself, however, had nothing to do with the banking crisis which that day saw Anglo Irish Bank on the brink of collapse and other toxic banks such as AIB and Irish Nationwide not that far behind…

…At 4pm, six representatives of different charities including Protestant Aid, the Children’s Rights Alliance, Cori and St Vincent de Paul all sign in to see the minister. These charities are more relevant to Ireland in the years following the bank guarantee than in the hours beforehand.

Then at 4.50pm David Begg, the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions who sat on the board of the Central Bank during the boom turned up for some reason or other. He was accompanied by Paul Sweeney, the trade union economist. A few minutes later, another three ICTU officials showed up, though it is not clear who they were planning to visit. At 5pm, Jack O’Connor, the president of ICTU, showed up – another bearded trade unionist with zero banking expertise is there to see the minister.

It seems beyond the newspaper’s conception to what trade unionists, or a trade unionist economist might have to do with lobbying the minister for finance at a time when working class wages and conditions are under constant attack and what a blanket guarantee paid for all of society might have to do with those other than business interests.  As he puts it:

The fact that neither Mr Lenihan nor his civil servants thought it wise to clear his schedule so he could focus on the banks again underlines how out of their depth they all were.

So if the state shouldn’t be dealing with pesky bearded trade unionists who should they be speaking to?

Just after Mr O’Connor bustled in, Padraig O Riordain, the managing director of Arthur Cox, showed up in the department – finally, someone who knows about banking had signed in.

So there you have it, an expert, not that such an expert could possibly have any special or vested interests or hold any conflicting brief – this question is not considered at all. The fact that this law firm while advising the state also represents elite groups in Irish society, especially banking and finance is not alluded to.  We can only conclude in the Independent’s view that when this societal crisis was in process, actors from society outside of the world of finance and banking had no role to play. As I said at the beginning of this piece this is an illuminating insight into the thinking of journalists that explains somewhat their own practice.

In his Master’s Voice?

In a sourcing analysis* of the week before and after the bank guarantee itself in 2008 this attitude was replicated in both the Irish Times and the Irish Independent. The research found that in stories covering the bank guarantee  business and finance made up 23% of total sources while non business elements of civil society only made up 2%; trade unions made up none. In terms of politics, while state and party political sources made up about half of the total, Fianna Fail alone made up half of that. Non mainstream political parties got a total of two lines in one article, (a mention of an email from Socialist Party rep. Joe Higgins),  the ratio to pro-anti guarantee political parties was around 8 to 1. In terms of frequency or how often people were sourced the trend is repeated. In fact in the news section of the Irish Times about a third of articles only sourced government or state representative.


Figure One: Percentage of complete sources by type in the Irish Times and Irish Independent on the issue of the 2008 blanket bank guarantee 21/09/2008 – 5/10/2008. NB this chart is of complete sources but not frequency of sources, that is numerous sources may appear in a single article. For example although media makes up 8% of sources it does not appear in 8% of articles, it is made up by few articles with numerous sources in each.



Figure Two: Frequency of sourcing by article by type Irish Times and Irish Independent on the issue of the bank guarantee 21/09/2008 – 5/10/2008. NB while many articles contain numerous sources a source type is only counted once. The chart can be read as such ‘In 57.98% of articles at least one political source appeared’

A Single Narrative?

The fact that the newspapers came out in such support of the guarantee is hardly surprising considering the narrow nature of its sources, the research found that while the 81 articles published about the guarantee could be described as supportive only 16 and 22 could be described as negative and neutral respectively. Apart from some honorable acceptions most articles seemed to accept mainstream political and business sources without serious critique.  Why does this matter? Because politics, political policy and ideology in general is often a battle of conflicting narratives, and here the evidence clearly shows, as does Tom Lyons’  illuminating piece, one narrative dominates the Irish press, and that put simply is a class and market based narrative which serves elite sections in society, and while the press continue to have a somewhat influential role in the media and wider society this is deep concern.

*This research is part of an ongoing PhD thesis on the Irish press and the financial crisis.

Photo from Anglo not our debt


Still Writing Out the Resistance: The Irish Times and the Household Charge

Critical Media Review on the Irish Times continued  de-politicisation of the household tax controversy.

In a previous article critical media review looked at the framing of the household charge controversy in the Irish Times and Irish Independent concluding that much of the coverage has  written out the anti household tax campaign. In doing so they have effectively written out political discussion and debate focusing on either technical issues or mistakes of the Government. Today in the Irish Times a rather bizarre piece completely omitting any political considerations continues this theme.  The piece begins with:

DESPITE BEING imposed by a Government with healthy polling figures, at a time when every Irish citizen is aware of the financial challenges facing the State, almost half of all Irish householders have avoided paying the €100 household charge to date.

A number of issues here: primarily the authors conceive of politics as the game of polling, and presumably if polls are up all is well in the world. Politics presumably does not go beyond this representation of representation and certainly should be kept off the streets. Secondly they seem to have a complete unawareness of the financial position of much of the Irish working and middle classes. At the same time they also omit the wider political implications of the boycott.Thirdly and  most incredibly the authors state:

Without any large-scale protests, a near majority quietly and almost peacefully failed to pay a tax. Even in the worst days of the 1980s, this level of tax avoidance was unthinkable.

We can only surmise that the (now slightly embarrassed?) authors wrote the article before last Saturday’s large demonstration at the Labour Party conference in Galway; a protest which ended with 1,000 protesters breaking through police lines. For  the first time in the Republic of Ireland pepper spray was used by the Police (cue media bias on protester violence here).

He obviously didn’t get the ‘no protests have happened’ memo

However they must have written the article since the large scale protest outside the Fine Gael conference, and the literally hundreds of local campaign meetings and protests involving tens of thousands over the last few months. The anti household tax campaign has been the biggest national political campaign in the Irish Republic for decades. This lack of political awareness is especially poor given that the article was written by academics specialising in regulation and governance in one of Ireland’s most prominent universities.

We can only  speculate that they are either political novices or have chosen to omit the campaign for ideological reasons. The fact that they use the term ‘tax avoidance‘ rather than the term ‘boycott‘ would certainly betray an ideological bent. However that is not to say it is impossible for one to be both ideologically bent and politically unaware at the same time.

The large scale protest that didn’t happen outside the FG conference

But the bizarre elements of the article only begins. The authors ask:

Why the massive failure to comply? Are we witnessing a disaffected public flexing its combined “muscle” in response to a Government imposing more and more austerity measures on the average family?

And answers:

Lessons from regulatory governance – the study of what makes people choose to follow or break rules – suggest otherwise.

And now begins the entire de-politicising of the entire issue. The authors offer a number of reasons why people have not paid, in doing so the authors offer absolutely no evidence of any kind, relying on what can only be described as pop-academic suggestions.  Firstly they tell us of an experiment by ‘behavioural’ economists:

 Seeing other people “get away with murder” can create a “coalition of the unwilling”. Behavioural economists have conducted experiments where individuals work together to win cash prizes. Participants could work together to build a bigger pot to divide, or free load on the work of others. In these simulated games they showed that most people are willing to go to great lengths to see cheaters punished – even to the point of giving up their own winnings just to make sure another person doesn’t get away with more than their share.

And then jump immediately to the conclusion:

People preferred to join those not paying the household charge than to see others get away without paying it.

Behavioural psychology is in itself quite controversial and in no way universally accepted but even leaving this aside; the idea that some individuals (most likely students)  taking part in simulated games to win cash prizes, somehow equates to people suffering in the fifth year of austerity measures, (while watching the wealthy being bailed out and become wealthier) is quite frankly ridiculous and has no scientific validity. They also betray an extremely narrow conception of why people don’t pay. It is not people acting collectively or even individually in protest (or  being unable to afford the charge)  but not paying  so as to ‘not see others got away with it’.  Collective solidarity seems to be anathema to this line of thinking.

Second, be transparent about your figures – but do it afterwards. Being told that you’re the last person on your street not to pay the charge is very powerful, but knowing you’re the first doesn’t rush you. Everyone knows there is strength in numbers, and the Government kept telling us how big those numbers were. If you are going to give constant updates about your figures, you had better hope they are on your side.

A certain hint of authoritarian and propagandistic thinking here. Surely not in the paper of record?

Third, social pressure matters. While many people pay their taxes because they think it is a patriotic duty or they wish to contribute to the State, others do so because of the social stigma attached to non-payment. The Revenue Commissioners figured this out a long time ago and started publishing lists of tax avoiders in newspapers.

Hearing your neighbours gossiping about your dirty laundry can be much more effective than a fine. By failing to make a strong case for why the charge was necessary, the Government failed to bring this social pressure to bear.

This is entirely consistent with the ‘dole scrounger’ line of thinking. Or better known as blaming the victim. The article certainly is starting to betray an authoritarian line now, which continues with:

Finally, a threat needs to be credible. When it was a week before the deadline and three out of four people hadn’t registered for the charge it was possible to believe that non-payers would not really be punished.

After writing an article dripping in bias they offer a little faux-objectivity:

Whether the household charge is a good idea or not  it’s clear that the Government really didn’t give it the best chance for success.

Finally they finish with their entire position and the reason for the article:

While it’s important that people are taxed at fair levels, the response to the household charge shows that it’s equally important that money is collected in a way that makes people confident that everyone will pay their fair share and if they don’t that they’ll be punished for it. To mistake technical weaknesses for mass revolt would also be an example of policy failure.

Let’s repeat that last line to make sure we get it:

 To mistake technical weaknesses for mass revolt would also be an example of policy failure.

Now repeat after me:  There is no opposition, there is no political resistance, there is no opposition, there is no political resistance, there is no opposition….