Magill - Five Years On; A Re-Assessment
Five years ago we started Magill with four central editorial themes in mind:
- the redistribution of wealth.
- womens' rights.
- civil liberties.
- the Northern Ireland problem.
Now five years on, it is appropriate that we should review these themes.
1) Redistribution - The rich must pay for the crisis.
This issue is particularly relevant in the light of the cuts in public expenditure which are currently underway
and generally in the context of the economic crisis. We in Magill played some part in defining the nature of the economic crisis and in alerting public and political attention to it. However, in so far as we did we share the blame for having allowed concentration on the seriousness of the crisis to distract attention from the impact of the crisis and of the proposed measures to deal with it on the deprived sections of our community. It is time we redressed the balance.
But first of all there can be no denying that there is a crisis and it is of a potentially catastrophic nature. For the fourth successive year running now the Department of Finance and the Government of the day have underestimated the size of the current budget deficit by a wide margin. This year it will be of the order of £IOOOm, over £300m larger than targeted. The opening deficit for next year will be around £1600m which will mean that the budget of January 1983 will have to aim at paring about £700m off that figure - almost the entire cost of the health services. Given the record of Government performance over the last several years, the likelihood is that corrective action of the scale demanded will not be taken either now or in 1983, leaving us with an opening deficit of around £2000m for 1984, which will be when the roof caves in.
If this happens, and all the indicators suggest that it will happen, then the action required will be of such a scale as to cause widespread public and social disruption. It will involve the firing of thousands of public servants, unemployment at least of 20%, massive company failures, huge cut backs in essential public services etc. etc. On any rational grounds there is just no avoiding severe corrective action now but there is legitimate debate on the nature of the corrective action to be employed.
Our criteria would be that the cuts in public expenditure should fall on those programmes which favour the middle classes and the rich in our society and leave intact those services which predominantly benefit the poor. Were there never an economic crisis there would be a case for doing this anyway but that case is overwhelming in present circumstances. We therefore call for action along the following lines:
- the saving of £70m out of £90m on third level education by the immediate abolition of all subsidies to this sector and their replacement by a loans scheme which would help students get through university and institutes of higher learning. The vast amount of money spent every year on this area represents a massive subsidy of the middle and upper classes from where the vast majority of third level students come. A limited scheme of scholarships should be instituted on a means tested basis to help students from deprived backgrounds.
- the massive re-organisation of the health services, which now cost 7% of GNP, as compared with 4.4% in 1971. The main beneficiaries of this huge jump in health service costs have not been the population at large in terms of better health (average life expectancy of a middle aged man is now actually lower) but doctors, who get £21m per annum, the pharmacists who get £llm and the drug companies who get £7Om. In addition the failure to rationalise the hospital services, for political reasons, has cost the country some hundreds of millions of pounds annually, again with no benefit to the health of the community.
- the ending of mortgage interest subsidies, which benefit only those who are in a position to acquire mortgages in the first place.
- the swift reform of the taxation system, along the lines specified in the recent excellent report of the Taxation commission, whereby the loopholes through which the rich avoid paying a fair share of tax are sealed off and the whole system is simplified. Also the indexation of all tax bands and rates, including indirect tax rates.
- the review of all capital expenditure programmes, most of which have the effect of benefitting the rich (e.g. subsidies to Aer Lingus and CIE trains).
- the immediate abandonment of all white elephants, including NET, Irish Steel, Whitegate, Knock airport, the Aer Lingus North Atlantic run, the Dublin rail electrification scheme etc.
- the freezing of all public service pay over a limit of £10,000 for the duration of the crisis - across the board
curbs on public service pay are not equitable, given the disparities of pay within the public service.
- the immediate implementation of the reforms in the public service proposed by the Devlin report of 1969 (yes, 13 years ago) to ensure that the vast resources allocated to public service pay are used as productively as possible.
- the immediate reform of the Oireachtas to give it meaningful control over public expenditure, before it is spent and to ensure the proper accountability of all public bodies. There should also be a mechanism whereby the Dail is informed, prior to a debate on any public expenditure proposal both how it is to be financed and what the redistributive effect of the expenditure in question would be.
2) Women's Rights - Equality for women is a profound and upsetting concept - it threatens to change people's lives.
Recently in The Irish Times, Mary Maher pronounced the death of the women's movement. Here Pat Brennan, deputy editor of Magill, replies to that article and, in the process, raises the issues which are central to women's rights today.
In an unequal world, the demand for equality is a radical one. And this is an unequal world. Inequality is part
of our cultural fabric. That's why equality movements, which appear reasonable, aren't instantly successful. They threaten to upset and rearrange the cultural fabric. Generally, the more inherent the particular inequality is to the cultural fabric, the more threatening is the proposed equality. Sexual inequality is not the only inequality. Neither is it always the most unjust or oppressive. But it is among the most inherent to the way society operates. And, that's why equality for women is a profound and upsetting concept. That's also why it has yet to be realised. Recently in the Irish Times, Mary Maher has argued that the women's movement is dead. First, she argues, that the movement's death is a natural one - a kind of historical progress to a second stage of feminism. However, she also argues that the movement was murdered by the antics of radical feminists who alienated those who would have otherwise supported it.
The first argument is absolutely right. The movement for women's equality today is very different from the original women's liberation movement of a decade ago. In fact, it would be a very odd political movement that didn't change its character, tactics and priorities in the space of a decade. However, the second argument - which incidentally would seem to contradict the first - is a facile one. It totally underestimates the profound nature of the demand for women's equality and the subsequent resistance to that equality. People quietly living their lives in the cultural mainstream didn't shy away from the women's movement simply because a handful of women burned their bras. They shied away from the seemingly reasonable demand for equality because it threatened to change their lives. The mass demonstrations of the women's movement of the 1960s and early 1970s are obviously long gone. They were part of the response of that era to inequality. Women weren't the only group involved in public protest. But the women's movement as such remains in everything from the Rape Crisis Centre to the women's training programmes in AnCO. It also exists in the more personal "second stage" which involves men and women attempting to sort out lives of equality and shared responsibility.
Women's anger a decade ago was fueled and justified by obvious legal discrimination. There were laws and customs that limited what any woman could expect to do with her life. These same laws did not limit men. Thankfully, some of these laws have been removed, some of the perceptible means of discrimination have gone. And still women haven't got equal responsibility for the running and the shaping of the world. That, it would seem, is the next stage. And Mary Maher is absolutely right. This stage is harder, it involves changing the institutions of power and the nature of power itself and it involves men and women.
All this should have been obvious a decade ago. In fact, the implications and problems of equality were appreciated by two groups of people - those who fought or shied away from the seemingly reasonable demands of feminism, and the radical women who knew they had overturned a very big stone. Contrary to the argument put forward by the Irish Times, it is the first group, not the second that caused the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States. The majority of Americans also support cutbacks to programmes aimed at ensuring equality for poor blacks, not because of the antics of the black extremists, but because all demands that were "perfectly reasonable" in the liberal climate of the 60s are now seen to be quite threatening to the fabric of American culture.
That's why the ERA failed. The leadership of the women's movement in the States totally underestimated the resistance to ERA simply because they totally underestimated the profound and therefore threatening nature of the demand for equality. And this is where the Irish Times argument does radical feminists a particular disservice.
Whereas some of the solutions offered by radical, separatist feminists are unpalatable, unrealistic, and indeed reactionary, they are at least an attempt to face the difficult questions raised by the women's movement. These same questions have been raised and left unanswered since the 1960s.
Why doesn't the removal of visible discrimination create equality? To what extent are the institutions of society so exclusively male that they remain foreign to women? Is it any great step forward for women to join previously all-male armies? Why do some men imagine that sex might be used as an act of violence against women? Has the equality movement meant women conforming to male norms that they should in fact ignore or change? Mary Maher uses the example of the extremist claim that "All men are potential rapists". Certainly that statement is both untrue and also a simplified answer to the problem of sexual violence. But it does get at something. Sexual violence is too widespread and too well-defined (male against female) to be written off as the perversion of a few lunatic individuals. It has to do with power and the position of women in relation to power. It is possible, in these days of reaction, that it even has to do with the threat of equality.
The women's movement shouldn't censure its radical wing for raising and pursuing the uncomfortable problems raised by equality. These problems have to be faced, teased out and debated, particularly now in this "second stage". This stage, after all, is much more difficult than the first. Its not simply a matter of bringing condoms from Belfast to Dublin, or carrying placards. It's now a matter of seriously getting on with the business of rearranging the way the world works. The extreme right wing was always correct. We do intend tampering with the fabric of society. In pursuance of equality we can't avoid it.
3) Civil Liberties - The circumstances of the death of Michael Lynagh underline that little progress has been made
This has been a consistent theme of Magill since the first issue but little progress has been made politically on the issue. The fingerprint affair, which we reported on at least six times, has never been resolved. Indeed a further victimisation arising out of that affair has occurred of late and we expect to be in a position to report on that before long. But to sum up that affair: a concerted and deliberate attempt was made by two senior fingerprint experts to fabricate fingerprint evidence against an innocent man for the murder of the British ambassador in July 1976. When the fabrication was exposed by two other fingerprint experts, these latter two were victimised and a massive cover-up operation went on involving senior echelons of the Gardai, officials in the Department of Justice and two Ministers for Justice, Paddy Cooney and Gerry Collins. While the two culprits were eventually moved out of the fingerprint section, both were subsequently promoted.
We have also devoted some time and space to reporting on allegations of Garda brutality. In spite of overwhelming evidence that a section of the Garda force was engaged in 1976 and 1977 in systematic and premeditated brutality against suspects to force them to sign confessions no enquiry was instituted. Not alone that, the officers who were named again and again in connection with these allegations were promoted, some to very senior positions, without ever having had their names cleared.
One of the worst cases of Garda brutality involved the IRSP four, one of whom Nicky Kelly, is still in jail, having been given a 12 year jail sentence on the basis solely of his own "confession" taken in circumstances after which two doctors found he was suffering from injuries consistent with having been beaten up. A commission was set up to propose how brutality against suspects could be avoided, the 0 Briain commission. Its recommendations have gone entirely ignored. Meanwhile, perhaps largely because of these official failures to enquire into these allegations of Garda brutality or to institute procedures to prevent it, an element has grown up within the Garda force, which represents nothing more than the naked face of thuggery.
We report in this issue of Magill the death of Michael Lynagh. While he was clearly suffering from a serious psychiatric complaint, it is clear that his condition was greatly aggravated by Garda thuggery and this may in the end have given rise to fears in his mind which caused him to take his life. Anyone who could be in any doubt about the existence of this ghoulish element within the Garda force should have been in Monaghan town on the day of, and during the days immediately before, the burial of Michael Lynagh and witnessed plain clothes Gardai do mock strangulations in an attempt to taunt relatives and friends of the dead man.
We need an independent complaints procedure to handle allegations of misconduct on the part of the Gardai, one which will command broadly based support across the community. What we certainly do not need is any legislation giving the Gardai additional powers in present circumstances. There is so much evidence that they have abused the powers they already have that it would be irresponsible to accord them any more powers. Also the increase in the crime wave, is partly attributable to the incompetence of our police force as a profession to advance their skills to meet modern conditions. There is also the point of course that as conditions for the poorer sections of the community become harsher, alienation from society and its laws becomes all the greater. But that's another day's work.
4) Northern Ireland - The Northern State is unreformable. We will have to radically reform our own state as a prelude to a solution to the Northern problem.
As will be reported in the next issue of Magill, sectarianism remains as endemic to Northern Ireland as at any previous time, especially in the critical area of employment. The fact remains that sectarianism is inherent in Northern Ireland society - the Northern state was created on a sectarian basis, it is maintained on a sectarian basis and any attempts to diffuse its sectarian character will inevitably fail.
We would be in favour of an internal solution, were one likely to succeed in terms of providing a fair, just, equitable society within Northern Ireland, one that would not be prone to violence, repression, discrimination etc. Such an internal settlement would have many benefits, not least that it would provide the neatest and least disruptive solution - least disruptive not only to the people of Northern Ireland but also to the people of the South. The frustration of the romantic ideal of the four green fields would be a small price to pay - indeed the frustration of that ideal would probably be preferable in itself. But that is not a realistic option - because of the inbred sectarian character of the state. The sooner we face up to this unpleasant reality the better and the sooner the British Government faces up to it the better also.
Facing up to this reality involves the acknowledgement that there may come the day when a solution may have to be imposed - by the British Government for no other agency could impose anything - which would not have the support of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. There would be nothing inherently wrong with such an imposition for the normal tenets of democracy do not apply in Northern Ireland because of the undemocratic manner in which the state was created. But facing up to that reality also involves acknowledging the sectarian character of the southern state and a commitment to remedy that forthwith. It is reckless and irresponsible to be talking about a united Ireland when we down here show no willingness to make the changes that would be necessary politically and in justice to secure that.
As a start we should abandon the crazy proposal to amend the constitution to outlaw abortion. There is no means of amending the constitution in a way that would not heighten sectarian tensions and as the only possible gains to be made from such an amendment, even in the eyes of its most fervent protagonists, would be to provide "cover" in the event of a very unlikely occurrance (i.e. the Supreme Court finding the present laws against abortion unconstitutional), there is no conceivable gain to come from the amendment which would offset the damage that would be done.
Then we have to take on the issue of divorce. This issue has a special symbolism in the context of the sectarian nature of the southern state. Quite apart from the very real alleviation of needless hardship which such a change would bring with it, there is also the very critical political significance which such a change would have.
And finally, we have to use whatever political and personal pressure we can mobilise to get the Roman Catholic Church to change its stance on mixed marriages and on integrated education. On both these issues the Catholic church is a major contributor to sectarian tensions and no progress of any honest character can be made without such an acknowledgement.
Conclusion - You, our reader, can help us through the next five years.
We have managed to survive the five years largely because of a loyal readership, supportive advertisers, and our very committed staff. We have felt our relevance to our readers by the volume of tip-offs, "leads", scandals and injustices which have come our way. Indeed, we have often been overwhelmed by the volume of requests we get to investigate injustices, abuses, scandals etc. We will continue to respond as much as we can to these demands and to the editorial guidelines we have set ourselves. You our readers can assist us by your continued loyal support and, more particularly, by availing of our subscriptions offers on page 59 and by purchasing our books advertised on page 13.
At some future date we expect to be coming back to you for further support - but more of that then.