Irish Sun columnist Oliver Callan asks why political activism is being left up to the celebrities in Ireland
POLITICAL activism in this country is falling increasingly to our celebrities.
It was such a slow slip that we hardly noticed.
Student and worker demonstrators fill the streets in protest
Drag act Panti Bliss provoked the first real debate on equal marriage. Then the Rubberbandits and Bressie led the charge on mental health spending.
And singer Glen Hansard has fomented a public discussion about Nama and homelessness.
It wasn’t always like this. Political agitation once began at student level.
They were to the fore during the civil rights movement in the late 1960s.
And students in the 1980s were zealous campaigners against apartheid.
Irish college campuses were heartlands for feminism, anti-capitalism and secularism in a papal state. More recently, anti-Bush protests emanated from colleges against the Iraq war.
These were hardcore political issues that spoke about how young people viewed and feared the direction of the world.
These days, university campuses are mostly agitated about who gets to use what toilets. It’s the off-Broadway issue in a nation where homelessness is worsening.
Where the Government facilitates the tax avoidance of huge corporations at the expense of public services and fairness.
Where inward-focused nationalism is on the rise across an EU of which we feel an increasingly insignificant part.
Last month, Bob Geldof, yet another celebrity, was the first to really highlight this malaise in Irish student life.
He told a group of undergraduates at Trinity College Dublin to get active in politics and not on social issues.
Bob said: “The reality is many hadn’t had a pay rise for eight years and you’re banging on about transgender toilets . . . You guys are inheriting a deeply significant moment . . . I can’t stand the lack of radicalism, the lack of fresh thought in colleges . . . I don’t understand it.”
He’s dead right. Student politics has fallen into a stupor at a time the world is in its first real turmoil for half a century.
Geldof cited the campaign over transgender toilets, but he also means debate about abortion and consent. Students are mostly active on social and moral issues and by “active” we mean sitting behind keyboards, venting in online feeds watched by people who share the same opinion. The light-touch of student political culture is to hone in on moral fads.
Transgender issues are far down the pecking order in the realpolitik but high on the student agenda. Even in gay politics, the ‘T’ comes last in the LGBT umbrella movement. The trans community’s plight is sad and deserves attention, but it’s not today’s burning issue.
Opening unisex toilets won’t matter if society continues to be dominated by corporate agendas and far-right country-first parties win votes across Europe.
Homeless people are homeless first, refugees are refugees first, their sexuality or gender identity utterly insignificant when shelter or survival is a basic need.
The crisis in journalism is a major issue that hasn’t exercised students much either. Since they are most affected by the fake news problem, journalism and trusted news sources should be a huge issue for them.
The absence of rage in the sector is bewildering and worrying.
It’s not for the lack of complete bastards worldwide that students are no longer showing outward evidence of rage.
As people enter adulthood, there is less time to be active on issues. This is why the student phase of one’s life tends to be the most telling period for how much they care about society.
To substitute street marches, fiery debates and good old-fashioned noisy rows with huddled lone tapping on keyboards is the mark of a world turning more individualistic and less caring.
I’ve argued here before that Apollo House is not just about homelessness, but about the aftermath of our austerity years. It’s about Nama and its dealings with vulture funds.
Anyone who cares a whit about Ireland should focus squarely on connections between big business and politics here.
That’s where student anger should be directed, and we should hear about it too.
They have the time and the influence to concentrate on this nest of scandals, and solving it could in turn help the moral and ethical causes with which they seem overly concerned at present.
Our government system bends the knee to corporate forces that have no concern about Ireland’s betterment or direction.
They facilitate tax avoidance and disguise it as job protection.
They flog taxpayers’ assets and pass it off as a recovery.
They smother a broken media with stats and charts that show our quality of life is improving in every way except the reality citizens feel.
Politicians, their parties and policies are PR-polished and spun so much that words lose all meaning and truth is rarely glimpsed.
The world is run by corporations and its shareholders and they are mostly faceless and hidden.
Many of our students will end up working for these firms.
It’s important they just don’t sit through life looking at a screen, never questioning what the company is actually doing for society or the future of the planet. If students don’t find their voice in this tumultuous time of the embattled truth and misplaced anger, future citizens are doomed to be disengaged from the world at their own expense.
Bastards will win the day.
Foster doing it for herself
THE good news for Northern Ireland is that it’s finally normalising politics by getting into rows about wasting taxpayers’ money and good old corruption claims.
The bad news is that its First Minister Arlene Foster has set women’s rights back decades by crying ‘misogyny’ every time someone tries to hold her to account.
Before Foster became First Minister she brought in a renewable energy scheme which was so badly run it is almost half a billion pounds over budget.
There are allegations of potential corruption and every party has called on her to step aside during a probe.
The timing of the scandal couldn’t be worse, with NI facing the challenge of Brexit over its border issues and the ongoing investigation into Nama’s Northern loans and Project Eagle.
The statelet’s becoming more dysfunctional by the day and the British and Irish governments have never been so disengaged from the region.
Its situation is made worse by having a rather ignorant First Minister who is abusing the feminist cause to try to save her own skin.
Not for the first time in Northern Ireland, trust is the issue of the day. Her attempts to run from the scandal are born of desperation.
Those with nothing to hide don’t usually flee fair questions and try to portray themselves as the victim. The row isn’t going away and Foster might not only bring herself down, but the last smidgen of stability and respect in NI too.
IREXIT to follow Britain’s example
NIGEL Farage has said if Brexit goes well for the UK, then pressure will mount on Ireland to leave the EU too.
Farage, below, is right, of course. If things were to end up well for the Brits, getting their fishing waters back and dismantling all the laws they don’t like, naturally the Irish might like to follow suit.
There are a lot of ifs in there, and Ireland’s economic reliance on Britain might be a more pressing factor in that eventuality than any annoyance with the EU itself.
However, the Ukip leader’s Brexit optimism is rather premature, and so too might be his belief that Ireland could be the second member out of the EU.
Many EU states are having vital elections in 2017 that could well see them exiting over the next decade.
The most likely is the Netherlands where the anti-EU Party for Freedom has a clear lead in the polls ahead of March elections, with the promise of a referendum to leave Brussels.
A little less likely but not impossible scenario is the French presidential election where the far-right France-first Front National leader Marine Le Pen is currently a close second in the polls.
She is staunchly opposed to the EU and rather worryingly has called on Russia’s Vladimir Putin for support to win the race.
The French election could well be decided on security issues, and another terrorist attack like the Paris or Nice atrocities would favour Le Pen’s anti-Muslim agenda.
Pro-European Irish watchers might resent Farage’s comments, but the reality is there might not be much of an EU left to consider leaving by the time the tumult in European politics has settled at the end of this decade.
IT’S 2017 and already it feels like every New Year since the beginning of time.
TV is filled with programmes making you feel guilty for enjoying the last fortnight and the papers are filled with food-related stories that fill you with anger and cake.
There are ads for new sofas and those collectible binders that help you build a model of a ship over the course of 118 weeks for the price of an actual ship. Who are these things aimed at? People who have taken 2017 off work? There are also predictions for the year which will turn out to be as wrong as last year’s.
The Guardian’s 2016 forecast was false on almost all counts, especially that the new US President and UN Secretary General would both be women.
What no one expected was the news this week that diet drinks are no healthier than sugary drinks.
Scientists say people who switch to diet soft drinks tend to eat more because they feel they are being healthy and still crave sweet foods.
Scientists, though, are also more likely to be fat people who live alone and eat their dinner out of tins surrounded by cats.
Why should we listen to them and miss out on the weird non-sugary guilt-free sweetness of Diet Coke while eating a full-fat chicken curry and chips at the office desk?
It’s followed by a Mars bar for the afternoon slump which you only noticed as you watched Sherlock episodes on your PC and began to feel sleepy and lost grip of the ALT+TAB buttons you need to flick back to the spreadsheet if anyone walks by.
Scientists, get some sugar in your blood and stick to what you know, like making bad predictions about 2018.
Shove your polar ice caps. January is cold, so I’m putting on the heating all day even when I’m not there, just to be sure.