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New Year’s Devolutions

As another year draws to a close we are left to look back on the events of the last twelve months, and assess their impact on our lives. Unfortunately, however, due to my reliance on modern technology, I have no memory whatsoever of anything that happened before yesterday. Therefore, until we manage to invent some sort of collated, easily accessible database of news through which we can record our history as it unfolds, any attempt at such reflection is pointless.

Instead, I will attempt to predict what may lie in store for the duration of our next revolution around the sun, which conveniently gives me even more scope for absurd exaggeration and crude humour. To that end, here follows a synopsis of what we can expect in the year 2014…

To domestic affairs first, as Ireland continues its upward trajectory out of the doldrums of recession. Normality returns in increments as shoddily built apartments are bought by the thousand, helicopters are dusted off to head down to the Galway Races, and solicitors start snorting cocaine before midday again.

In politics, Enda Kenny finally gives in to pressure to reform the Seanad, and appoints David Norris to take charge of the transition. Unfortunately, Norris chooses to make no changes whatsoever to the political structures or powers of the upper house, deciding instead to use millions of euro of taxpayers’ money to build an exact replica of an Ancient Roman Senate chamber, complete with annexed bath house, and opulently furnished in marble and gold leaf. The Taoiseach defends the developments by arguing that attendance in the house is at a record high average of 11%, a vast improvement on previous years.

Unfortunately for many of our émigrés, next year will also see Australia suffer a severe economic crash akin to the one that sent them there. Thousands of young Irish people are left floundering in a sweltering, barren wasteland, with no employment and no money to get home. As the last remaining Aussies leave their shores en masse to seek bar work in London, our hapless emigrants are left to fend for themselves in the desolate wilderness. Rule of law breaks down and society devolves into a post-apocalyptic nightmare, like Mad Max with more swearing and Offaly jerseys.

In the US, troublesome Republicans once again force a shutdown of the government, which lasts for over six months. The leadership claims it is due to Obama’s wish to implement stricter gun laws, but House insiders maintain it is predominantly a backlash to the dryness of the muffins in the Congress cafeteria. The country is thrown into chaos as millions are denied access to essential services. A deal is eventually brokered after military cutbacks contribute to a worrying breach in security in an army base in Kandahar, in which an enemy missile lands inside the perimeter. After eliminating the insurgents responsible, the missile turns out to be a football that had come from a nearby playing field, but military intelligence verifies that the deceased 12-year old boys were ‘a lot more terrorist-y than they looked.’

More revelations are forthcoming in 2014 from Edward Snowden regarding NSA monitoring of internet communications. In a somewhat tragic twist, it emerges that an entire subsection of intelligence operatives, who had been tasked with examining comments on YouTube to seek potential terrorists, take their own lives in what seems like a ritual mass suicide by self-immolation. NSA chiefs announce their grief and shock over the lost lives, especially since the group had just started their first day on the project.

In Britain, police continue to crack down on abusive behaviour on social networking sites. This policy reaches its zenith when a student is imprisoned for three months for calling Harry Styles a ‘gobshite’ on Twitter. When the presiding magistrate orders everyone who retweeted the offending message to be given the same sentence, thousands of hardened criminals are released onto the streets to make room for the hordes of potty-mouthed youngsters. This results in an unprecedented crime wave sweeping across the country, which the government announces is ‘probably something to do with immigrants.’ The Daily Mail takes a different approach and blames the situation on Ed Miliband’s dad.

In international news, North Korea follows China’s example by expanding their space program. They spend months ferrying men and supplies to the moon, much to the concern of the international community. When it is revealed that Kim Jong-un has built an enormous moonbase, fears grow over what kind of terrible weapon he might unleash. This alarm is soon allayed, however, when it transpires that Kim was simply remaking the movie Moonraker, starring himself as James Bond, and featuring Dennis Rodman as Jaws.

The winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, take place in February under the shadow of a decree from President Putin that absolutely no gay behaviour will be tolerated. Secret police are stationed around the ground to enforce the law, with security particularly heavy in the figure skating arena for some reason. Putin himself projects his usual uber-macho image by appearing at the games naked, save for the pelt of a bear that he had killed that morning, which he had come upon in the wild and hadn’t been tranquilised in any way, shape or form.

However, events take an unexpected turn at the speed skating track, when Putin’s attention is turned to a young Finnish athlete named Matthias. The Russian premier feels a strange sensation stirring in him as he watches the young man glide over the ice, his golden hair radiant, his enormous quadriceps rippling with every stride. To the alarm of his aides, Putin suddenly rushes onto the track, but trips on his bear suit and falls crashing to the ice. As he rises to his knees, a strong arm appears to help him up, and he finds himself gazing upon a set of chiselled Nordic features. Matthias lifts him into his arms and embraces him, and as the strains of Up Where We Belong begin to play over the PA system, the pair exit the arena to the cacophonous cheers of the assembled masses, and disappear into the setting sun.

Technology giant Apple’s reputation takes a hit next year after it is discovered that its iPhone 6, and its iPad Extra Mini Micro, are in fact the same device. Their PR troubles continue later in the year as a 16-year old worker in one of the company’s Beijing factories hacks the official Apple Twitter account. His strongly worded criticisms of working practices and his uploaded selfie of the effects of an unfortunate smelting accident are Tweeted for the world to see. Unfortunately for him, his revelations are overshadowed by the release of the iPad Pico, a tablet roughly the same size as a postage stamp, which is later revealed to be simply an actual stamp designed to look like a tablet.

Social media continues in the new year in its quest to rid the world of unuttered thoughts, comfortable silences and the last remaining semblances of privacy. Google introduces a controversial new app in which a drone follows the user’s daily movements and updates their Facebook status and Twitter feed accordingly, with observations like ‘Sarah has just been dumped and appears inconsolable’, ‘Paul is masturbating over a fire he just started’, and ‘Sally is bleeding profusely from a head wound caused by my malfunctioning gears’.

As collective attention spans continue to plummet, the fad of six-second long Vines becomes passé. They are replaced by Stems, videos lasting just one second. The most popular of the year is of a 2-year old child from Kansas saying the word ‘jam’ in an adorable fashion, which is shared by millions. The child is later mentioned in Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, which prompts knowing laughter and warm applause from the crowd, followed by an eighteen-minute chant of ‘USA, USA’.

New varieties of the ubiquitous selfie become popular with the babbling, androgynous masses that populate the trendiest corners of the internet, where they smear digital pictograms of the tedious minutiae of their lives across social networking sites, and heap scorn on those of us born before 1994 that still use words like ‘trendiest’. These include the ‘elfie’, a festive self-portrait, the ‘farewellfie’, an inappropriate picture taken at the service of a deceased relative, and the ‘continental shelfie’, photos taken in the shallow waters of the glacially eroded coastal plains of continental land masses. Okay, that last one doesn’t really become that popular.

In Hollywood news, the most anticipated film of the year, the third instalment of The Hobbit, is delayed as director Peter Jackson falls ill during filming. The only director available to take the reins at short notice is Michael Bay, who selflessly offers his services. Upon its release, many critics question the wisdom of Bay’s changes to the original script, including casting Samuel L. Jackson as Gandalf, replacing the eagles with a fleet of Chinook helicopters, and even contriving an entirely new female elven character called Tauriel to spice up proceedings. Well actually, that was Jackson, but it was Bay who decided she should be played by Eddie Murphy in drag as the film’s comic relief.

Most of the criticism, however, centres on the movie’s antagonist, Smaug Mohammed Smaug, who is portrayed as an Islamic oligarch who uses his obscene wealth to arm a sinister band of Yemeni terrorists. The film’s denouement sees the dragon and his insurgent colleagues consumed in the hellfires of US Army drones remotely piloted by a ragtag bunch of wisecracking dwarf grunts, who are all played by Robert Downey Jr. Empire magazine gives the film five stars, their review simply consisting of the words ‘high-octane action’ repeated seven hundred times, followed by an exclamation mark.

In the world of music, Miley Cyrus continues her crusade against subtlety with her new single, Dark Room Full of Middle-Aged Men. The raunchy video becomes a viral phenomenon, and gives rise to a new dance craze among adolescent girls the world over, affectionately called ‘the Miley’. This is much like the Macarena, except with less smiling, and more penetration using household objects. Twitter is abuzz for months with trending topics like ‘doing the Miley’, ‘My tongue is a feminist too’, and ‘late night emergency room visit’.

In hip-hop news, Kanye West releases an experimental 3-hour long album featuring the sounds of his infant child’s bowel movements, set to a snappy bassline from a little-known 1970s adult movie about a Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon who falls in love with a sassy waitress named LaQuanza. It sells eighteen million copies, and is hailed by music critics as ‘the seminal post-racial artwork of this, or any, millennium’.

So ends my forecast for the year 2014. Some of these things may come to pass; some will not; some may even look tame when reflected in the reality that comes to meet us. The future is a puzzling thing; no less a man than George Orwell had a great fear of it, which manifested itself in his works. This sense of foreboding is nowhere better illustrated than in an achingly bleak line from 1984: ‘If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.’

While I don’t think I’ve quite reached the depths of Orwellian cynicism just yet, it must be said that the pain in my face seems to be increasing exponentially with each passing year. Happy New Year you shower of bastards.

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See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Leak No Evil

The Irish government has been rocked to its core this week after thousands of classified files containing highly sensitive information were leaked and published online. Politicians and senior establishment figures are reeling in the wake of the revelations, which implicate many of the country’s ruling elite in various scandals and nefarious activities which allegedly took place over the last few years.

It is believed that the confidential data was released by a disgruntled civil servant earlier this week. Mickey Reilly, a 44-year old Dubliner who has worked in the Department of Transportation for twenty years, is alleged to be the man responsible, and is currently being pursued by the Gardaí. It is thought that a particularly miserable Monday at work is what drove Reilly to take such drastic action. Reports indicate that during the course of the day, already severely hungover and way behind with his workload, he had his hat crushed by an overweight woman on the Dart, got his tie stuck in a printer in a manner found most amusing by his colleagues, and, most worryingly, farted loudly in an elevator in front of an attractive co-worker.

It was this very Monday evening that a humiliated and emboldened Reilly procured the secret files from a government database and published them en masse on his hastily prepared and somewhat unfortunately named whistle blowing website MickeyLeaks. The site received hundreds of thousands of hits in its first few hours online, although Gardaí are investigating the possibility that some of this traffic comprised individuals with a particularly specific sexual fetish mistakenly soliciting Mr Reilly for an activity known in such niche circles as ‘damp squibbing’.

By Tuesday morning the nation’s media had seized on the most salacious of the newly disclosed secrets, bringing disgrace and shame upon many of Ireland’s most recognisable faces. The following is but a brief synopsis of a few of the more shocking stories to be divulged in the MickeyLeaks scandal.

The politicians of Ireland are most prevalent among the alleged incidents, with few currently sitting members of government escaping the sensationalist headlines. Records of expenses claimed by TDs have shown the errant spending of taxpayers’ money that has occurred in recent years.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore and his team of attachés claimed thousands of Euro after a diplomatic trip to Japan, most of which seems to have been spent on alcohol and escorts, with the remainder puzzlingly set aside for a shovel and a bag of lime. It has also emerged that Taoiseach Enda Kenny himself has been skimming extra packets of pink wafer biscuits and purple Snack bars from the Dáil canteen. One of the more troubling disclosures is that Leo Varadkar had a hundred thousand business cards printed that read Leo Varadkar: Politician, Patriot, Amateur Gynaecologist, accompanied by a rather lewd picture of the Minister.

Another startling revelation concerns a directive from Minister for Health James Reilly to remove all the beds from a Dublin hospice last year and relocate them to his house for the weekend so he could have all the Fine Gael lads over for a slumber party and watch some Sex and the City DVDs.

One of the most serious allegations is that a new government jet had to be purchased recently, at massive cost to the taxpayer, after Ruairí Quinn and Pat Rabbitte took it out for a spin after a night in Leggs. They ended up crashing it into a field after running out of fuel while circling around looking for Alan Shatter’s house, so they could land and ring the doorbell, then call him a wanker and run away when he answered.

Another state institution to be damaged by these accusations is An Garda Síochána. One particularly embarrassing story related by the leaked files concerns a Galway sergeant who attempted the off-duty arrest of two young men in a pub who he claimed were ‘acting like feckin’ queers, so they were’. The sergeant was later promoted for his actions.

A separate document details a case whereby a second-year student at the Garda College in Templemore was removed from the course before his final exams after it emerged that he was in fact a sheep. It is believed his unusually high scores in both the cognitive and physical aspects of the training were enough to mask his true identity for such a long time. It is rumoured he is now working part-time as a security guard at a major third-level institution.

Another document pertains to the visit of President Obama last year and the unit of Gardaí that were assigned to chaperone him. It has emerged that three of these officers were suspended from duty after they took the President’s iPhone from his hotel room while he was in the shower, and took dozens of photos of their testicles with it. They then tagged the President in these photos on Facebook with the caption, ‘I hereby award these balls the Congressional Medal of Honour.’ The reports indicate that the President was most displeased, especially since his wife Michelle, on seeing the pictures, briefly changed her relationship status to ‘It’s complicated’.

The Irish clergy, already much maligned in recent years, do not emerge unscathed from these leaks either. One incident concerned the bishop of a small parish in Cork fabricating a supposed miracle in order to garner interest from locals. The deception involved carving crude likenesses of the Virgin Mary onto objects such as trees, walls and rocks. The ruse fell apart somewhat when the deluded bishop attempted to carve the face on a statue that was already of Mary, claiming that it looked ‘even more like Mary than usual’.

A number of alarming cases of alleged child abuse are also recorded in the documents, including one particularly heinous example of a punishment given to an unruly child in a Christian Brothers school in Carlow. The boy was made to perform every single role in the annual Nativity play, which for the sake of realism was scripted exclusively in Aramaic and Latin, and had been extended to over three hours that year. Although he collapsed from exhaustion during an encore, the Carlow Examiner described it as ‘a virtuoso performance’. Remarkably, the priests responsible were not reprimanded for their actions, but were instead simply moved around repeatedly from parish to parish.

Ireland’s legal profession has also taken a hit in the wake of this exposure. The leaks have confirmed persistent rumours that one of the country’s top barristers, Michael O’Shaughnessy Shaughnessy, does not actually have a cocaine habit, and instead prefers to simply enjoy the odd cigarette and a nice bottle of red at the weekends. Needless to say he has already been sacked by the other partners at his firm, Shaughnessy, Shaughnessy and O’Shaughnessy Shaughnessy, who released a statement earlier today remarking that he ‘has brought disgrace upon this noble profession’, and that he was ‘a complete bastard’.

Staying with legal matters, the judiciary has not been spared humiliation as a result of the leaks. A prominent High Court judge, Mr Justice Ulick O’Gogarty, has been incriminated in a bizarre sexual scandal. The sordid details of the case are too offensive to publish, but it is believed that the judge has been banned from Dublin Zoo for life. It is also reported that some of the zoo’s sloths are currently undergoing extensive psychological counselling as a result of the ordeal. A spokesman for the zoo commented that ‘unfortunately sloths are often vulnerable to this sort of abuse, since they are such lazy feckers’.

Ireland’s finance sector has come in for much criticism over the past few years for its craven greed and corruption, and these documents serialise even more serious examples of this avarice. One branch of AIB illegally repossessed an entire seaside housing estate so that the staff could go on a surfing trip over the bank holiday weekend and have somewhere to stay.

Another report indicates that Anglo Irish Bank is partly responsible for massive inflation rates over the last number of years, after it allowed its investors to use Monopoly money instead of real money as part of their property speculation.

One of the most damning indictments of all concerns a bank manager who had his entire office plated in solid gold at the height of the Celtic Tiger. Unfortunately he was found dead in the room shortly afterwards, having suffocated due to the fact that he couldn’t open the door, which now weighed about two tonnes.

Thousands more of these sorts of stories appear in the documents, and the fallout from their shocking revelations is sure to continue unabated for some time. Reilly is already a hero to the ordinary people of the country for exposing the sins of its most powerful citizens.

It is believed that the fugitive civil servant is currently taking refuge in an Ecuadorian fast food outlet in Dublin’s city centre, and is seeking asylum there, which is somewhat confusing since it clearly has no powers to grant such a thing.

Gardaí have surrounded the building and are presently attempting to coax him out. When asked by a journalist if Reilly was facing a long and tortuous incarceration for his crimes, a senior Garda official remarked,

‘Ah no, sure we’re just going to give him a bit of a telling off. What do you think this is, America?’


Éamon de Valera: Zombie Hunter

Another summer has arrived in Hollywood, and with it another slew of preposterous blockbusters aiming to make millions from the slack-jawed, gormless dribblers that pass for young people these days. As everyone now knows, a shady cabal of movie producers has been secretly building a giant particle accelerator under the Hollywood hills over the past few years. Only instead of using boring things like electrons and atoms, the boffins enter variables such as historical figures, supernatural creatures, absurd plot lines, and other such elements of successful films. Nine times out of ten the machine just churns out 3D remakes of ‘80s films with less dialogue and more explosions, toplessness, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Every now and then, however, it produces an inspired, original idea, such as has happened with the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The alternate historical angle is always ripe for entertainment, and coincidentally, this week in Ireland has seen the discovery of a secret journal kept by former Irish President, Taoiseach and very tall citizen, Éamon de Valera. It provides a fascinating insight into a hitherto unknown series of events that took place during the War of Independence. The following are some extracts from that journal.

December 16th, 1920, New York:

I have been over here for eighteen months now, and the effort of raising funds for our revolution back home is taking its toll. I’m feeling particularly dispirited after meeting with the American Secretary of State today, who advised me that there were probably better ways to earn money than performing an Irish dancing set outside the gates of the White House. Now he tells me.

My depression was not helped when I received a letter this morning from my Minister for Finance, Michael Collins, urging me to come home at once. It appears the British have sent a formidable force of soldiers to our shores to crush our rebellion once and for all. I have decided to set sail for Ireland at once, and I must admit to being concerned and puzzled by Michael’s description of this new squad of troops as ‘a bunch of unkillable, decaying feckers. They’re pure weird Dev.’ He even took a whole three pages to recount a rather crude anecdote about one of the British force feasting on poor Arthur Griffith’s brains. I depart tomorrow at dawn, with a troubled heart, a grave fear for my beloved country, and very sore feet.

January 14th, 1921, Dublin:

I have only been home for two weeks, and the situation here grows worse by the day. The British invasion has swept across the city, and ordinary Irish people seem to be joining their ranks for some inexplicable reason. The soldiers wander the streets night and day, groaning and muttering, occasionally shouting things like ‘God save King George’, or ‘It’s so temperate here compared to Calcutta’, although mostly they seem to talk about their penchant for brains. Their eyes are a deep crimson, and have the same glazed, empty appearance that seems to come over my colleagues whenever I speak in the Dáil. The pallor of their skin and their general sluggishness suggests that they are suffering from some ailment or other, perhaps Spanish flu, or possibly Protestantism.

Only myself, Michael, and a small band of men have so far escaped their advances, and we have taken refuge in St. James’s Gate brewery. Although its high walls offer us adequate protection, I fear we may be undone by the nightly seven-hour singsongs the men indulge in after sampling the massive quantities of Guinness, which are sure to attract attention sooner or later.

One among our group is a young man by the name of John Charles, who is studying to become a priest. He says he dreams of one day becoming a bishop, and even carries a giant crosier around with him. I have become particularly close with him since he saved my life just last week. I was on patrol when a young woman, clearly afflicted with the disease, attacked me from behind, shouting something about cockles, mussels, and brains.

As if from thin air, JC appeared, and smashed the poor girl’s head to smithereens with his crosier, all the while screaming ‘God wills it!’

‘Holy first communion Dev, that was a close one.’

‘I don’t know how to thank you JC, you saved me from being transformed into one of these beasts.’

‘To be honest Dev, I didn’t even notice she was one of them, it’s just that short skirt she’s wearing is so inappropriate to be out and about in.’

We walked away arm in arm, each of us content that whatever happened in this crazy war, at least we would have each other.

February 20th, 1921, Dublin:

These past few weeks we have lost many men to the enemy forces, and now only myself and JC remain. It was just yesterday that Michael met his gruesome end. The undead horde had breached the outer walls, and we were fleeing for our lives. With the brain-hungry masses descending on us in their hundreds, Michael turned back suddenly.

‘You go on ahead lads, I’ll hold them here.’

‘No Michael, you’ll never survive.’

With his hurl in his hand and that mad glint in his eye, he ignored our pleas as he sprinted into the frenzied crowd, pucking the heads off the vicious creatures left, right and centre.

‘Holy papal bulls Dev, that’s a brave man.’

‘The bravest,’ I whispered softly, wiping a tear from my cheek as we turned and ran for our lives. Amidst the horrific shrieking of the infected as they closed in on our fearless companion, I could have sworn I heard the proud, plaintive cry, ‘Up Cork!’ I am stricken with grief at his loss, and my only hope is that history will not judge me responsible for the death of my gallant comrade.

March 13th, 1921, Dublin:

Myself and JC have taken refuge in Trinity College these past few weeks after fighting our way across the city. In the college courtyard we were attacked by a group of infected scholars, who chanted bastardised Oscar Wilde quotes as they approached.

‘To love brains is the beginning of a life-long romance,’ moaned one of them, before JC sprang into action and quickly dispatched the erudite fiends.

‘Feckin’ Proddies,’ he muttered to himself as he cleaned the blood from his enormous bishop-stick. And from his crosier.

March 17th, 1921, Dublin:

Having barricaded ourselves into a room in the college, our enemies soon surrounded us, leaving us with no option but to stay here and wait for them to breach our defences. We had become resigned to our fate, and last night as we sat by the window overlooking the infested city streets, I sang a few bars of Come Out Ye Black and Tans, a rebel song that Michael had taught me, in an attempt to lift our spirits.

To our surprise the crowd outside instantly became agitated and began to drop to their knees, holding their heads and screeching wildly. As I continued to sing, one by one the zombies’ heads began to explode.

‘Holy First Vatican Council Dev, the feckers can’t hack the rebel tunes at all at all.’

I smiled wryly to myself as I surveyed the corpses below.

‘Let’s get a good night’s sleep JC, we’ve a big day ahead of us tomorrow.’

‘Fair enough Dev. You want to be big spoon or little spoon?’

And so it came to pass that today, on the day that we celebrate Saint Patrick driving the snakes from our shores, myself and JC set out to bring an end to the British invasion once and for all. We mounted one of the college’s speaker systems on an abandoned car in the courtyard, and crashed through the front gates onto the streets. From every direction came the hordes of enemies, loping towards the car with flesh-lust in their eyes. And then I began to sing.

We drove around the whole city, singing every rebel tune, lament and ballad we could think of, to a chorus of exploding heads and horrific screams from our vanquished foes. We ran out of fuel in front of the GPO, and in the spot where five short years ago we had proclaimed our independence, we finished off the remnants of the British forces with our bare hands.

As the sun was beginning to set, we stood there on the field of battle, breathless, exhausted, but victorious. I turned to my ally and friend,

‘You know something JC, this could be the start of a beautiful republic.’

He turned to me and smiled. ‘God wills it, Dev. God wills it.’ And with that we walked, hand in hand, down the street, towards our future. Towards hope, and freedom. Towards a better tomorrow.


Patriot Claims

Starbucks Ireland found itself in hot, mediocre coffee-flavoured water this week when it mistakenly asked its Irish Twitter followers to ‘show us what makes you proud to be British’. The backlash from the proud people of Ireland was, of course, as prompt and severe as it was inane and littered with spelling mistakes. I am still undecided as to who deserves my respect less: the computer monkeys at Starbucks whose historical gaffe must almost have had O’Connell and Parnell climbing down from their plinths to go up round the corner and crack some heads; or the pathetic group of 2,000 or so self-styled baristocrats who took time out of admiring their MacBooks to follow the pointless tweets of an enormous faceless organisation that serves hot drinks.

This indignation is no surprise of course; we Irish tend to be quite sensitive about these matters, our nationalism usually displaying itself most vehemently when the subject of old Blighty is brought up. In recent times, in particular, a veritable maelstrom of patriotic fervour seems to have gripped our stricken country.

On the one hand we have the defensive, jingoistic wailing of our socialist contingent, lamenting the loss of our sovereignty, our free water, and our jobs for white people to the maniacal fat cats in Brussels. In marked contrast to this we have also seen a much more positive exhibition of our national pride in the euphoria surrounding the impending European Championship. Tacky plastic referendum posters and tacky plastic tricolour bunting have been jostling for our attention, each intent on whipping up a frenzy of patriotism for very different reasons, the only common element being that they both look shite.

Patriotism can be something of a nebulous concept, ranging from the nostalgic fondness of an emigrant for the auld sod, to a convenient label to excuse the ignorance and xenophobia of the ultra-nationalist. Oscar Wilde labelled patriotism ‘the virtue of the vicious’; Mark Twain regarded it as an illustration of moral cowardice. Although it seems that those two spent most of their time sitting around thinking up pithy witticisms and probably should have left the house a bit more often.

While there are certainly elements of truth to their aphorisms, perhaps the most salient description was offered by George Bernard Shaw, who called it the ‘conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it’. This summation captures both the simplicity and the illogical nature of the idea of patriotism.

In this country it is almost impossible to separate our supposed patriotism from a very childish, but deep-rooted anti-English sentiment. An immensely complicated relationship with our neighbours, which has been characterised for centuries by violence and bloodshed, has essentially been reduced to the ritual of celebrating whenever an English sports team loses. The less progressive among us, of course, still cling to a mountain of sectarian prejudice, as evidenced by the bile and invective spewed by many around the time of the Queen’s visit to our shores last year. Hatred and stupidity dressed up in a Celtic jersey does not equal patriotism, but it is unfortunately all too common a sight.

One major problem is that in the current strained economic and political climate, as has always happened throughout history, more reasonable and educated people are turning to the extremist fringes of the political spectrum. Anyone who has a functional cerebral cortex and has ever read a book, other than a pamphlet entitled ‘Methadone: The Easy Way Out’, should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for even considering voting for a party like Sinn Féin. It is when their exploitative, abhorrent republican propaganda begins to seep through to the minds of previously sensible people that you really start to think that evolution might actually be a bell curve, and that we are currently entering freefall from the apex of human civilisation marked by the discovery of nuclear fission, the moon landing, and the revelation that was Angry Birds.

Where flagrant, flag-waving patriotism is concerned, however, the Irish aren’t a patch on our star-spangled friends from across the pond. When it comes to national pride, and as it happens, most other things, the US is rather like that really loud, spoilt brat from your primary school class. He’s a classless, brazen little shit who has to be the best at everything and screams the house down if he doesn’t get what he wants. But you go to his birthday party anyway because you know there’ll be rice krispie cakes, and because his mam has huge cans.

The US is a case study in using the blind patriotism of its lower echelons to its advantage, particularly when it comes to supplying the fodder necessary to flex its military might. Naive, impressionable kids grow up taking the Pledge of Allegiance and being programmed in the ways of idolatry and worship of an intangible idea of America. The chimera of American freedom, under threat from the looming shadow of terrorism, is the product of one of the most successful propaganda machines in recent history, resulting in legions of young men and women who give their lives, and take plenty too, for something they can never hope to realise. This is the most profitable form of patriotism, and its proliferation is a sad indictment of the world we live in.

The sense of wanting to belong to a tribe is very much a human trait, and this explains our affinity with people of a similar culture. However, the fact that this is usually expressed most vehemently at a national level is peculiar. Even small countries like ours encompass countless disparate peoples, religions, personalities, beliefs, and anything else which may define us. To be grouped together due to geographical circumstance, and to have a collective identity and pride, is very much a phenomenon of the modern world.

As easy as it is to be sceptical of the uninhibited, zealous patriotism of others, there is something attractive in its ability to bring people together. Which is why, even as a devoted cynic, a disillusioned, lapsed patriot, and someone who can’t stand that overblown, tedious spectacle of overpaid ball-chasing urchins that somehow passes for a sport, I’ll still be cheering for the boys in green this summer. I might even have a chuckle to myself when the English team inevitably implodes and crashes out of the tournament. I guess old habits die hard.


We Don’t Need Another (Super)Hero

The long-awaited superhero blockbuster The Avengers was finally released this past week after years of media hype, much fanboy salivating, and a series of extended trailers posing as movies in their own right, such as the fairly decent Thor, the tedious Captain America: The First Avenger, and the downright lamentable Iron Man 2.

The movie will no doubt run along somewhat predictable lines: The makeshift team of mercurial heroes are thrown together; sparks fly; personalities clash; Scarlett Johansson flashes some side-boob; Robert Downey Jr. arches an eyebrow and makes a pithy remark; Samuel L. Jackson sends his driver to collect his cheque. All very banal and utterly unsurprising.

What audiences need is an entirely new kind of superhero film, one removed from the tired clichés and overused tropes of the black hole of originality that is the Marvel Universe. Perhaps one set in Ireland, against the backdrop of our economic woe, could be the answer…

The film opens with a sweeping panorama of a ravaged, decrepit Dublin ten years in the future. The once prosperous city, now known as AvivaPolis, has crumbled under the weight of insurmountable debt, massive unemployment, and the closure of that savage little doughnut stall on O’Connell Street. Gigantic toxic banks line the streets, their colossal smokestacks spewing waste high into the grey, lifeless air as they burn the carcasses of household charge withholders in order to turn their remains into miniature European flags.

Cash-for-gold shops stretch as far as the eye can see, interspersed with the makeshift tenements of the legions of citizens who have been evicted from their homes. Their crude dwellings are thrown together using anything that can be found: mountains of now useless 2 Euro coins, posters pleading for a ‘Yes’ vote in the 27th referendum on the austerity package, old issues of the Evening Herald full of pictures of food so people could remember what it looked like.

Towering above all of this misery and desolation lies an enormous glass dome perched on top of the Spire, the headquarters of the evil Troika, a trio of ruthless oligarchs who rule the city with an iron fist. The fist itself is kept out in the RDS and is taken out on special occasions to crush dissidents and small animals, so as to keep people in check. Some say that the Troika escaped from a two-dimensional floating prison in space and came to Earth to conquer it. Others maintain that this is just the plot of Superman II and that the Troika are in fact from mainland Europe.

Marching along the streets day and night, clad in black leather uniforms and EU flag capes, are the Siptuplets, the police force of the Troika. Legend has it that the Siptuplets were once part of the proletariat, but were corrupted after years of pay agreements warped their socialist ideals and turned them to the dark side. Their commander, known only as Dr. Joe, is regarded as the Troika’s right-hand man, and is feared even by his own men. He once found one of his subordinates feeding half a cheese sandwich to a duck that had been ejected from his lake for non-payment of a Credit Union loan. He proceeded to beat the man to death with the bird, then beat the bird to death with the cheese sandwich.

In this dark dystopian hinterland, amidst the turmoil and grief that lies over the city like a dense fog made of turmoil and grief, there is but one beacon of hope for the Irish people. He is a shining light who inspires hope in the face of the city’s oppression. A noble insurgent against the forces of economic subjugation. A daring warrior poet who stands resolved to fight for the fiscal independence of every starving man, woman and child that he represents and holds dear. His name, let it be praised, is Shinnerman.

As night falls in AvivaPolis, our intrepid hero may be seen dashing across a darkened rooftop, or perched atop a vacant block of apartments, broodily surveying his domain as he plans his next strike into the heart of the wicked Troika. Grubby-faced children point and call to him as he swoops from building to building. “Oh Shinnerman, where you gonna run to?” they shout. He turns and answers with a low, sonorous growl, “I go to finish what I have begun.” And with that he is gone, leaving just the slightest gleam of light as the price tag on his tricolour cape catches a glint of the waxing moon.

The Shinnerman is always vigilant, always alert, always looking for a way to end the Troika’s reign of terror with the economic policies he has scrawled on the napkins stuffed into the pockets of his Celtic utility belt. He will not rest until he has restored economic independence to the island. He will not retreat until the hordes of homeless are safely returned to their abodes. He will not waver until the Troika is vanquished and his people can go back to spending their social welfare on essentials like cigarettes. The only problem is…he has no idea how to do any of this.

And so Shinnerman recoils once more into the shadows, vowing to return and liberate the city from bondage, just as soon as he’s figured out a few things. In the meantime, however, he’s heading to the chipper, followed by a trip to the bookies. He got a great tip from a taximan the other day for the 3.30 at Doncaster. Shinnerman, away!


A Furtive Action

A bill has been passed by the Seanad this past week which, if ratified by the Dáil, will introduce gender quotas into Irish politics. The bill requires either gender to be represented by at least 30% of a party’s candidates in a general election. This is set to be raised to 40% within seven years. Parties that do not comply with these enforced quotas will have their State funding cut significantly.

The Seanad is fairly useless at the best of times, having been invented by Bertie Ahern in the late 90’s purely as an excuse to keep David Norris busy so he’d stop bothering everyone at the water cooler with meandering stories about James Joyce. With this proposed change to electoral practises the upper house shows itself to be embarrassingly antiquated and wholly ignorant of any kind of progressive politics in promoting an absurdly limited and simplistic policy of affirmative action. This pathetic attempt at legislation makes two specious assumptions: firstly, that there is a problem with the present situation and secondly, that this proposal will act as the solution.

Conveniently, this decision by the Seanad came just days after International Women’s Day was celebrated. It is difficult to imagine now of course, but there was a time, before the inaugural Women’s Day, when people could appreciate the achievements of women throughout the whole year, or indeed over the course of some, or even many years. God be with the dark days before tokenistic gestures and patronising nonsense shook some sense into us all.

It should also be pointed out that, seeing as this year has but three hundred and sixty-six days, and that the number of causes worthy of remembrance and adulation far exceeds this figure, the eighth of March was also International Uncles Day, International Adopted Orphans Day, International Raccoon Day, International Cat Day, International Dog Day, International CatDog Day, International Day for International Days of  Commemoration, and International Day for Sentences that Have Gone on Far Too Long Now at This Stage.

One of the most vocal proponents of this new legislation has been the 50/50 Group, which advocates a 50/50 split between men and women in Irish politics by the year 2020. This target is referred to on their website as ‘Equal Political Representation’. Of course anyone with a basic understanding of the word ‘equal’, or even the phrase ‘common sense’, will realise that this situation would be by no means equitable.

Leaving aside for a moment the undemocratic systems that would have to be implemented to force such a ratio (beginning with ridiculous bills like this one), let’s examine the idea of a truly equal and representative political body. Numbers would be split practically down the middle along gender lines, as suggested, but what of the many other divisions within our society? To be truly equal would necessitate a certain amount of black candidates as well as white; Chinese and Polish as well as indigenous Irish; gay, bisexual and transgender as well as straight; candidates chosen to represent different religious beliefs, disabilities, and countless other categories of candidate, all in order to appear ‘equal’.

At the moment there are twenty-five female TDs in the Dáil, as well as 18 female Senators. Many more women ran unsuccessfully in the last election, and even more campaigned to be chosen by their relative parties for the ballot. There have been many mutterings about the reluctance of the patriarchal politicos to nominate female candidates for election within the parties, but this is a matter for the parties themselves. It should come as no surprise to people that stagnant, traditionalist parties like Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are implicitly old-fashioned in their views. Any woman, or man for that matter, who doesn’t want to run for a party with these attitudes is free to run as an independent, or to set up their own party.

Interestingly, the fact that women are in the minority in politics is almost exclusively seen as a negative thing. Certainly when it comes to decision-making on topics of national interest, it is important for women to have their voice heard, but this could be said of any sectional interest group, and is the reason why our politicians are accountable to the constituents that they represent.

But when examining the reasons for such marginal representation in the political sphere, there is an argument for women taking a certain amount of solace, and even pride, in their meagre numbers. Politics is far from the noble service it is made out to be. More often than not, especially on a national scale, it is ego-driven, primitive chest-beating; a cacophony of small men with loud voices, wielding instruments of war and economy like a toddler would his favourite toys. In an Irish context, most politicians fall breathtakingly short of even a veneer of competence in most of their endeavours. Many are educated but few are intelligent. The majority of our representatives essentially comprise an old boys’ club of tired hacks who play out petty squabbles while the rest of us look on with a mixture of sympathy and vague disgust.

Politics is very much the construct of men, embodying and in turn magnifying all of our foibles and weaknesses on a grand stage. If I were one among the supposedly marginalised Irish women, I for one would be heartened by such a stark reality.


Indecent Proposals

A report was released by the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group this week containing a number of recommendations to the Government concerning the sale, advertisement and legislation of alcohol in this country.

As would be expected from such an exhaustively researched and ludicrously expensive report, most of its recommendations are of a mind-numbingly stupid, naive and ill-informed nature. Many of these proposals will no doubt go on to be adopted by the Government in their laudable and ever-continuing struggle to prove that  reactionary and unnecessary legislation can actually have a positive impact on society. I suppose there’s a first time for everything.

There is plenty to say on the shortcomings of this particular report, which I will get to presently, but firstly I think it is important to point out that the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group has itself been the subject of some bad press recently. The organisation was chastised in a report released just last week by the Committee for the Regulation of Clumsily Titled Governmental Bodies. It was also included in a list of the worst offenders in last month’s damning report by the Investigative Coalition into Giant Wastes of Taxpayers’ Money. Lastly, and perhaps most gravely, the group was criticised this week by the British Association of NGOs Against Non-Acronyms (or BANANA for short) for adopting such an unwieldy set of initials.

As for the report itself, it concerns itself largely with the issues of advertising and sponsorship practised by alcohol companies, and contains some elucidating statistics on the subject. Apparently 40% of 16-21 year olds own an item of clothing with an alcohol brand on it, with 26% owning a sporting jersey with an alcohol brand logo. In other obvious and irrelevant news, 97% of people have seen a pint of beer at some stage, 78% admitted to preferring drinks with tiny umbrellas in them, and a whopping eleven million per cent of Irish teenagers admitted, while in floods of shame-induced tears, that they ritually drink ten litres of vodka every night before going out, as well as sacrificing a live goat and bathing in its entrails in order to absorb its wisdom.

Forgive my facetiousness, but misplaced hysteria is becoming all too common in our society, and this ludicrous report has just dumped a veritable mountain of it on the Government’s doorstep and expects them to react accordingly. One of its suggestions is to ban alcohol sponsorship of ‘all sporting and large outdoor events’. Obviously they took a good look around the emergency rooms of our country’s hospitals, watching the deluge of young men and women staggering in, getting their stomachs pumped, and assaulting doctors and nurses, and thought to themselves, “That Heineken Cup really has a lot to answer for.” This is a group of people who don’t even understand the basic principles of cause and effect, to say nothing of possessing any knowledge of the cultural or societal or sociological reasons for our multitude of substance abuse problems. The sheer stupidity of commissioning such a group to write a very costly report on the subject is breathtaking.

Another proposal is one that has been talked about recently and looks set to be passed into law in the near future: the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol. This is presumably set to work in tandem with the existing law that forces off-licenses to close at ten o’clock every night, since everyone knows that teenagers usually wait until about eleven to stock up on booze. The ignorance and myopia inherent in these kinds of laws is staggering. Attack the symptoms, not the problem itself; make it slightly more inconvenient for people to drink themselves to death, but whatever you do, don’t ask them why they do it. Then you might actually have to confront an issue head-on for once instead of just being seen to be doing something about it.

The reality is that the publicans wield a massive amount of power in the Dáil. This is why it is consistently being made more difficult and more expensive to buy alcohol outside of a licensed premises. These laws aren’t being passed so that less 16-year-olds end up in A&E on a Friday night. They aren’t being passed because Guinness advertisements are so insidious that they subconsciously instil in you a need to go out and get hammered. And they certainly aren’t being passed to act as the catalyst for a monumental change in our attitude to drink as a country. They are being passed because our politicians are weak, lazy, and completely in thrall to the publicans.

The groups tirelessly searching for a solution to our drinking problem will not find it in prohibition or restriction. A fundamental shift in the outlook and practises of an entire society is not something that can be accomplished in the short-term. One thing is definite: that it is impossible to attack a problem before first understanding it. And the understanding of a complex issue such as this certainly does not lie in how many T-shirts you own that contain the logo of a beer company. When faced with such idiotic reasoning, is it any wonder so many of us are driven to drink?