One of the greatest shames of the modern world is that, despite all our progress, there are still people who would deny the holocaust, there are still groups who preach religious hatred and violence and there are still those for whom racial and ethnic slurs are a part of their common vocabulary. This lack of compassion, lack of tolerance and lack of understanding of the world around us is undoubtedly a great concern, but of even greater significance is that there are governments the world over who think that the best way to deal with these people is to fine them, throw them in jail, or otherwise use the weight of government to silence them. In Minister Ahern’s proposed amendment to the Defamation Bill, he wishes to add Ireland to that group, with a fine of up to €100,000 for “publishing or uttering blasphemous matter”.
The case for restriction of freedom of speech, in any manner, rests upon a fundamental distrust of the populace at large. It assumes that those of us who hear or read such material will be swayed by its very existence. It assumes that we are incapable of reasoned argument, of factual rebuttal and compassionate defense. It attacks the very basis of a liberal democracy, that out of disparate views a society can wield oratory, persuasion and debate to reach a common ground of respect and tolerance.
The appropriate means with which to combat extremism and hatred is not to shut down discussion, but to promote it. It is to allow the great majority of the public to act as defenders of peace and decency; to argue the case of those who have been attacked and offended, and to condemn those arguments which would breach any reasoned morality. Above all, it is the government’s duty to trust its citizens to have these debates and emerge on the side of compassion and sense. If a government ceases to have that trust in its citizens, as ours has indicated with this amendment that it does not, then I would suggest that they are no longer deserving of having our trust in return.
The attitude toward alcohol of many people in Ireland is, unfortunately, an irresponsible, unhealthy and antisocial one. We have some of the highest rates of binge drinking and alcohol-related violence in Europe, yet perhaps the greater problem is that the entire basis on which our government attempts to ‘tackle’ drinking problems, from the intoxicating liquor bill of 1927 to its most recent amendment last year, has been to forego the carrot in favour of the stick, and ‘crack down’ on excessive drinking rather than encourage people to drink more responsibly. This view is not just held by the government itself, but also by opposition parties who routinely compete to look tougher on binge drinking and alcohol problems, with rarely a whisper on how to deal with them as the social and public health issues which they are. It is this fundamental misunderstanding, and even denial, of the realities of the situation by every political party in the country that has led to increasingly short-sighted and counter-productive attempts to address the problems.
We are in dire need of a new approach to the matter of alcohol licensing and alcohol laws, and how they affect the attitude the public has towards drinking. We must avoid the overly-simple view of young people’s attitudes towards alcohol that dominate current debate and look at the facts as they are to come up with a solution that accepts the realities of our current situation rather than glosses over them. Above all, we have to accept that there is no quick fix for the alcohol-related problems affecting our society and that it could be a generation before any truly progressive reform brings us to where we need to be. Our society and our culture will need a seismic shift, and that can only be achieved by a similar shift in the way in which the government approaches our problems.
Continue reading >>
The Lisbon Treaty referendum last year could be described in pretty much every way as a complete and utter mess. The government put a long and complicated international treaty to referendum, through an unintelligible constitutional amendment, then completely failed to convey the actual implications in a clear and concise manner. The No campaigners proceeded to engage in scare tactics on a myriad of topics almost completely unrelated to the treaty, while the European institutions themselves showed a shocking lack of understanding of the Irish electorate throughout the campaign. The voters, understandably, refused to vote for something they couldn’t possibly be expected to understand, and the Lisbon Treaty has been in limbo ever since.
Oddly enough, the person most responsible for the whole debacle isn’t in fact any of the above, but rather a man who died before the Lisbon Treaty was ever written; Mr Charles J Haughey.
Continue reading >>