Tuesday, 17 December 2013

David Cameron "Mission Accomplished"

Prime Minister of England, David Cameron has announced the end of the war in Afghanistan during a pre-Christmas trip to troops. Cameron's claim of "mission accomplished" came after being asked if basic levels of security provided since the beginning of the international coalition invasion in 2001 were sufficient to prevent terrorist training occurring in the country. He responded "That is the mission, that was the mission and I think we will have accomplished that mission". His predecessor, Tony Blair, had stated in 2001 "We act for justice. We act with world opinion behind us and we have an absolute determination to see justice done and to see this evil of mass international terrorism confronted and defeated". So what's happened in the past decade to allow this claim of 'mission accomplished'?

The invasion of Afghanistan, spearheaded by the US and the UK brought the 'Coalition of the Willing' to attempt to oust Taliban influence from the country and disrupt various terrorist groups' training activities. Since then, calculations relating to the number of wounded and killed have been difficult to verify. The challenges in verification are caused by the lack of security and that violent action can go unreported in the remote areas of rural Afghanistan. In the 2013 Mid Year Report from the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA), found that the number of civilians dying violent deaths has increased every year for the past five years. The deaths have been primarily caused by anti-government/coalition forces carrying out car-bombings and targeted killings. Unexploded ordinance from coalition air-strikes will be a legacy issue for decades into the future.

Increased access to health care, education and improved women's rights are cited as the positives of the war. Couldn't these aims have been achieved without killing an estimated sixteen to nineteen thousand civilians? Tony Blair cited the need to provide stability of the UK economy in going to war with Afghanistan. The Nato mandate on constructing the Afghan armed forces is set at $4.1 billion dollars per year until 2024. This is beneficial for the two of the world's largest weapons exporters: invade a country, then sell their new, self-imposed government forty billion dollars of military equipment.

In achieving the aim of defeating the ideology of terror, an oft-repeated refrain from the British media is addressing the threat of "Muslim terrorism" around the world. Rather than viewing the action of terrorist actors for what might could be a perspective of anti-imperialism in reaction to British involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, it is easier to cast terrorists as irrational actors who suffer from religious delusion. Participants involved in violent acts in the United Kingdom have sought to refute this portrayal. Looking to the comments from the men involved in the killing of Lee Rigby and the 7/7 bombers, they see themselves as participants and soldiers fighting in the "war on terror". The process of othering is engaged in to provide a socially-accepted distancing of radicalised and violent young men and can legitimise a decade long incursion into the Middle East and Central Asia.

In the past ten years, the establishment of prisons such as Guantanamo Bay and extraordinary rendition programmes have become normalised. The devaluation of law and human rights has been accepted and facilitated by the British government through its persistent use of the 'Five Techniques' in detention facilities abroad, alleged assistance in the United States' assassination programmes and the possible prosecution of journalists who exposed government spying. A long lasting campaign of inhumane and degrading treatment, Geneva convention breaches and aggression against one of the poorest countries in the world is now being considered by David Cameron as "mission accomplished". This, apparently, is the new meaning of justice.

The true lasting legacy of the war in Afghanistan will be a nation with a future of instability, fractured governance and a traumatised population. The language and rhetoric being used by those in power should be considered with the realities of the situation on the ground, for those most closely affected by an international coalition of those with the power and capacity to perpetuate the military industrial complex.

The Swans are Asleep

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Law is not a Quiet Subject

This piece was written for the essay competition on 'First Impressions' of the recently opened Sutherland School of Law at UCD. It has also been published here.

‘Sutherland’, in firm, clear letters; placed on the front wall of the building. That wall surveys the whole campus; a grand view. It is a bright and spacious building, being gently filled by the soft murmur of friends gathering, colleagues and mentors all working in the field of law. It is a solid building, of mild colour and calm lines of steel and glass. A vista flows from its upper levels.

The new school of law goes far beyond a grand view though. It acts as a symbol of what Ireland now stands for as a country. It is a new and strong emerging representation of the Irish persona. The Sutherland building reflects the social structures of more than just modern Ireland; it is a succinct landmark of the world today. In a global sphere, the Sutherland building marks out the new challenges facing the Irish Law student: change in the Irish legal professions, multipolar power structures all in a globalized market and this new school of law stands as testimony to UCD’s endeavours to compete at an international level. Yet it is only a building. Its passive nature subverts its subject.

The building stands quiet, modest. The law is not a quiet subject. The law is the most fundamental merit and signifier of who we are as a community. It represents deeply-held beliefs and values, the most fought over aspects of life. The law is the hard won dignity and respect of the oppressed, the minorities. We shall never forget the justices and injustices perpetrated in the name of the law. It may be a modest building but it is not a modest subject. It is the manifestation of the core ideology of a society.

Written on south facing windows of the Arthur Cox courtroom on the first floor are the names of “activists”, “advocates”, “agitators”; they are the names of those who refused. They rose up against injustice in their societies. They fought and angered, struggled and resisted. They roared into an encroaching darkness and dreamed and dared to live for a better world. We mark their names to remind ourselves. Our actions make us what we are and we too must work to honour their lives, to live free and ever present and consciously working towards a more fulfilling humanity. We write their names in glass to let us see clearly.

The law is not a quiet subject.

The Sutherland building represents today’s world; a bold, proud structure of the Irish persona. It stands to attention and draws us into its space. In this building is the New Ireland: people who dare to think beyond these borders, beyond a nation or identity or flag or business. We look at what it means to be human today and strive in our work, to dare to live in a better world, tomorrow.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Photo Consciousness 12

Front cover photograph from the 5th edition of the 2013/2014 University Observer

Rachel Moran. This photo was originally published in the University Observer on the 15/10/2013

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Rise of the Right

This article originally appeared in the University Observer. Published 29/10/2013

The extremes in society have been the source of malcontent and unease in social commentary throughout history. The Blueshirts in Ireland, Il Duce in Italy and the Fascists in Spain and still today, nations around the world have right wing elements convinced of the need for strong nationalist policies. In various forms, the agendas and ideals of the conservative and protectionist groups in society have filtered into the mainstream political discourse. In today’s democracy, is there value to be had in engaging with these groups?

The basic psychology of group behaviour demands strong social bonds within groups and a fear of others. Economically and socially, the acceptance of others has never been easier. The physical barriers to cultural integration are more accessible and have allowed for the movement of ideas and people faster than ever before. The fear of the unknown isn’t irrational or unhealthy until there’s a failure to engage in challenging your own prejudices.

Here in Ireland, the political right has yet to emerge in as strong a force as elsewhere. The United Kingdom’s colonial past has influenced its political development. Parties such as the UK Independence Party and the British National Party have gained significant media attention for their long-held views on immigration and viewing England as ‘a Christian nation’ for white Christians. Their support base is built on the white, low-income earners of England and have taken advantage of social dissatisfaction with unemployment rates and crime, often promoting an oversimplification that if England had less social and economic migrants, England could return to its “glory days” of the mid 40’s, where patriotism was not just accepted but a necessary tool for bringing a nation together in an era of crisis.

Globalisation of labour and Thatcherite policies created a vacuum of jobs for those in the unskilled labour market and led to the establishment of a “two-tier” workforce – those in professional services and those in part-time, poorly paying service jobs. In the absence of long-term opportunity, discontent and pessimism grows. The political ideals held by nationalist groups such as UKIP seem attractive: a great, proud nation. The appeal is understandable when prospects are bleak. The basic tenet of being able to “be proud of something underscores a part of human dignity and contentedness. A lack of recognition, fostered by disparities in wealth have allowed for the disaffected and unengaged to be challenged and encouraged to voice their discontent. Their anger is being misdirected by right wing political groups at immigrants; a group who are largely underrepresented politically and from diverse backgrounds so as to lack a shared voice and vision. Lacking a comprehensive defence provides an opportunity for xenophobia in the public discourse to go unchallenged.

The political goals of anti-immigration policy and of homeland values being “under threat” are the mainstay of those on the right. The visible nature of high-profile crimes such as the London tube bombings gave groups such as the English Defence League and the British National Party a clear enemy – Islam. Media sources sympathetic to the days gone-by of “Great” Britain offer up a regular diatribe of suspicion and distrust of anyone who fails to fill the criteria of white, having a traditional English name or who immigrated to Britain. The media’s acceptance of the interchangeable nature of the word ‘Islamist’ and ‘terrorist’ serves the goals of right-wing political parties. It is easier to label and identify some sort of spectre than it is to dive into the realities of the sources of terrorism – the political disengagement, social marginalisation and economic failures that are too complicated and unappealing to short-form media. By grasping one aspect of an actor’s characteristics and using that to define them harms both the actor and the viewer. It allows uneducated and misguided information to proliferate and is damaging to social cohesion. It is in this paradigm that right-wing parties grow.

In the absence of a method of engagement with groups who have feel underrepresented or ignored, political radicalism occurs. In a process that has occurred throughout Europe and the US, the political right emerges. Golden Dawn, the various Tea Party groups and Front National in France have succeeded in solidifying anti-immigrant sentiment and prospered on their protectionist policies. The free trade agreements found in the World Trade Organisation and the EU help economic development in many regards; what they fail to do is recognise that the financially least well-off are left behind by big business. In a surprising clash of ideologies, the Marxist left and the Republican right both have a mistrust of strong powers going unchecked.

In what could devolve into a discussion of political outlooks, the most telling, visible aspects of political extremism are the crimes carried out in the name of politics. The political manifestos claiming immigrants are the causes of a nation’s problems are translated into the racism encountered by ordinary immigrants and foreigners. Groups such as the English Defence League and Golden Dawn claim their civil liberties are at threat when they’re prevented from marching and chanting abuse in areas that have high concentrations of immigrants living there. The freedoms of democracy may only be healthy some of the time.

The opportunities presented by a liberal society lend themselves to those who can take advantage of it; that is, the wealthy and intelligent. Systemic failures by government to challenge levels of inequality in society are only worsened in a globalised world. As political power is increasingly challenged by international influence, the power of the common man is diluted. A feeling of hopelessness and marginalisation are the breeding grounds for violent polarisation. Extremism in all its forms comes from a disparity in wealth, authority and control; it has been seen in the past and will be seen in the future. Until the social dynamics of inequality are challenged, the rise of the right will continue. 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Arms Race to the Bottom

My article about Syria and Iran's non-conventional weapons and the true sources of instability in the Middle East has been published by the University Times. You can read it here.

Monday, 21 October 2013

UCD Literary and Historical Society's Abortion Debate

Daniel A. Dombrowski 
Donal Ó Mathúna, Norella Broderick, Lorcan Price
Suzanne Lee

Muireann O'Dwyer

Lorcan Price


Making music to watch girls by

The Feminist Element in the Syrian Conflict and Beyond

The video purports to show two anti-tank missiles being fired at an armoured vehicle in Syria. Immediately after the missiles explode, in stark contrast with other videos from conflicts, the combatants shout, cheer, and most surprisingly clap after the missiles strike their target. The voices of women can be heard in the audio of the video which is a difference from most pro-rebel propaganda. The video's most startling difference is the complete absence of the Takbir, the chanting of 'Allahu akbar" or "God is great" which is similar to the multi-purpose English phrase "Oh my God".

Aron Lund, a journalist who tweeted the video has speculated that the person filming the clip is probably from the Kurdistan Workers Party (KPP) who are now sending fighters to help anti-Assad forces. It's believed that the video was shot in the oil-rich areas of Northern Syria near Girke Lege. It's in a disputed area that could be called Western Kurdistan, depending on which side of you the colonial border fell.

The KPP have a core Marxist ideology at heart and have allowed women to join their fighting units. It's a similar approach to the involvement of women as held by the IRA during the heights of the conflict in Northern Ireland who used feminist propaganda in their literature and had women in their active service units. It's the logical progression for groups who demand equality.

"It's not freedom until there's freedom of women" - Copyright...err, the IRA?

It can be seen as a shrewd movement by the organisations' leaders. Centralising the role of women solidifies relationships and ensures that 50% of an isolated community perceive some of the events in the same way as the men who are usually more heavily involved in violent action. Women have been serving in the armed forces of armies around the world for a long time in various roles. It's often forgotten that they appear in illegal groups too.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Sustainable Funding of the Arts and Guinness

Elevated to status of sainthood, Arthur Guinness and his newly formulated 'Arthur's Day' is the deleterious celebration of a man who created the social lubricant of Irish people. Next Thursday will provide the gentle reminder of who is keeping us down and letting us pay for the experience. Additional frivolities have been brought to the corporate embellishment by this year's 'Arthur Guinness Projects'; a scheme run under the banner of 'Championing the talent and creativity of Ireland', allows hopeful, creative people to be in with the chance of winning funding from the burgeoning pockets of Diageo. The requirement being that they have their friends, colleagues and community vote online to show true commitment to the Dear Leader of Irish society.

The positives for Guinness are clear: their brand is associated with young talent, further ensuring that Guinness stays alive in the Irish psyche. The project takes advantage of the lack of funding being provided to the Irish Arts Council. Successive cuts have taken place to the council's budget, damaging the hopes of an Ireland to be known for its imaginative dreams, rather than for poor financial market regulation.

All the while, various projects further enrich the cultural wealth of Ireland, such as the annual Westport Arts Festival and next Friday's Culture Night without corporate branding. While their funding has primarily come from the state, these projects receive sponsorship from local businesses. They remain true to their artistic ambitions: provide the means for art to flourish organically. Sustainable development of the arts, and art funding as it has been up until now, have been locally funded artists creating and performing among their communities. While the fears voiced by Una Mullalley and Emer O'Toole are reasonable responses to the encroachment by a large multinational on culture and national identity, they have forgotten the fundamental nature of art to human psychology and development. What Guinness will not be able to achieve is any embodied connection with art. The projects emerging from the voting competition will achieve far more with the help of funding and will be seen for what they are: projects that would have worked without any connection to Diageo. The fund will certainly aid projects' development and decrease the effort involved in sourcing financing for the drivers behind the projects.

Culturally-valuable art will continue to be sustained and supported by the Irish community, regardless of corporate sponsorship because, as a group, Irish people hold art, culture and heritage dear to their hearts. Our make-up and vibrancy as a nation comes from our shared belief that self-expression and exploration of identity is full of merit. The engagement with the world around us will be as thorough with or without an attempt by a drinks manufacturer to sidle its way into new areas, especially as pressure mounts to end sponsorship of sporting events by alcohol companies.

The vibrancy of Ireland's heritage will continue to develop from determined individuals living out their ambitions. For young, social entrepreneurs to take benefit from a private company's shrewd business plan makes perfect sense. For Diageo however, the project appears as a vain and insecure attempt at strengthening their marketing power.

'When money's tight and is hard to get,
And your horse has also ran.
When all you have's a heap of debt,
A pint of plain is your only man'.

Flann O'Brien, 'At Swim-Two-Birds', (1939)

While Flann's wistful poem of pints of plain getting us through tough times, Arthur Guinness will not be providing the lasting legacy of art in Ireland.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Chemical Weapons are a Precursor to Genocide

Calls for international intervention in Syria have been called for since the breakdown of recognisable government and the outbreak of civil war almost two years ago. The international community has stood by and watched as Syria disintegrated into a failed state with a fleeing population and an internationally armed and financed insurgency. These issues were previously reported on by Skríobh here and here.

The use of chemical weapons was described as Barrack Obama in August of last year as the decisive action that would 'change his calculus' in the United States' stance on the war in Syria and was thought to be reflective of the global stance towards the conflict. Since then, the stream of violence, targeting of civilians and war crimes have been recorded by both sides of the conflict. The United Nations have been steadfast in their resolution to delay intervention, by Chinese and Russian veto and a resounding public apprehension. In Britain, the fear of public dissatisfaction with the drawn-out and unpopular war in Afghanistan and the French government's fear of furthering claims of neo-colonialism since its quelling of an insurgency movement in Mali.

Public discourse has been loudest on the subject of intervention by the international community. However, the current international legal framework gives rise to a number of clear limits to the relationship between states. Under the United Nations Charter, which all recognised states are party to, is that each nation is its own sovereign state, capable and free to deal with its own domestic affairs as it sees fit. Historically, intervention has been the usurping of small, developing nations by the global superpowers such as the United States of America and Russia. These illegal actions damage the quality of governance, democracy and the free development of independent nations.

In the Syrian context, initial public protest and social reform are part of an emerging, more liberal Middle Eastern outlook sparked by the 'Arab Spring'. In a grand scale, public protests being met with authoritarian government force do not warrant international intervention. Isolated cases of police brutality, such as firing into crowds or the targeting of political groups by government-backed militias do not meet the threshold of warranting outside involvement. Even with the spread of weaponry through a nation, the armed uprising and outbreak of civil war is seen as within the scope of the independence of each nation. While individual tragedies may occur in this armed conflict, such as the death of civilians in airstrikes or destruction of important infrastructure, these acts can be easily be argued by the government as inadvertent or collateral damage in the quelling of armed uprising. Where this threshold changes is when there is a prolonged, government-sanctioned attack on an identifiable group of people. This occurs when isolated or sporadic deaths move in the direction of sustained targeting. These are crimes against humanity.

There is a spectrum of international law, varying from the denial of some human rights to the most heinous acts of genocide. The use of chemical weapons in a non-evacuated area shows an intention to specifically target non-combatants and would have limited military value. It is the most basic denial of the right to life and shows wanton disregard for the shared humanity of all people. It is the precursor to carrying out a genocide. For the United Nations, it takes such an act or the intention to carry out such an act that breaches this threshold. At this stage the use of force is a proportionate response. In the aftermath of NATO airstrikes in Kosovo, Kofi Annan said "It is indeed tragic that diplomacy has failed, but there are times when the use of force is legitimate in the pursuit of peace".

International involvement will invariably bring further suffering to the people of Syria. In doing so, there will be a need to deny both sides the possibility of carrying out further attacks, followed by the suppression of armed conflict and the beginning of peace-keeping operations. Social and political reform can only take place when the basic building-blocks of civilisation are put back in place, when refugees can return to their homes and attempt to put life back together. The peace-process will involve the decommissioning of both sides' weaponry to prevent further proliferation of arms and skills to neighbouring nations. The violence in Syria can be contained through appropriate military action in combination with the provision of humanitarian assistance. The Al-Assad regime has shown flagrant disregard for the value of human life and it is for the United Nations to act in a concerted effort to protect and provide for the shared values of its members.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Ancient Ireland: The Bohea Stone

The West of Ireland is a humble place. Amongst the crags and clefts of rocks marking the hills, its barren land shows no wealth. The beauty of Ireland is in its understated treasures. The Bohea Stone is a most modest reminder of Ireland's mixed heritage between Celtic and Christian traditions.

Discovered in 1987 by the late Gerry Bracken, the monument bears concentric circles and has a small crucifix engraved on its side. The most remarkable feature of the stone is its alignnment with Croagh Patrick twice a year, on April 17th and on August 24th when to those standing at the monument that the sun appears to roll down the northern edge of Croagh Patrick. The significance lies in the ability of those who lived in Ireland before the coming of St. Patrick and Christianity to align their lives with the positioning of the stars. April 18th marking the start of the growing season and August 24th the start of the harvesting season. The complexity of the alignment is startling, considering it was done before 400 AD. The marks are still clearly visible on the surface of the rock and serve as a reminder of the wealth of Ireland's ancient, unwritten past.

The Christian influence on Irish society can is also engraved on to the surface of the rock. A small, neat crucifix can be seen on the right hand side of the stone, indicating that the stone could have been used as a Mass Rock during penal times. The rock also lies on the route of the Tóchar Phadraig, the pilgrimage from Balintubber Abbey to Croagh Patrick. This is said to have been the route taken by Patrick and his followers in his time spent converting the Irish people. The strong connection between Celtic and Christian times can be seen as the Bohea Stone is also called 'Patrick's Chair', indicating that the conversion the Pagans to Christianity was done by the appropriation of local traditions to suit the aims of Christian priests.

The rock has an air of 'Magic Rock of Kiltibbert' about it. Situated between a derelict design studio and the outhouses of an unused farm, the Bohea Stone leaves a lot to the imagination. Small, rounded white stones on the surface of the rock mark the locations of concentric circles and cup marks. On bright, clear days the circles are clearly visible to the naked eye and leave wonderful marks on tracing paper. On cloudy days when the light is poor, the rock appears to be very much just like a big rock in between a house and an abandoned Volvo with no wheels on.

The Bohea Stone can be found just off the N59 from Westport to Leenaune. Leaving Westport, travel 6km from Westport through Knappagh, passing by the water filtration plant and the filling station on your left. Take the first left turn after the filling station. Travel uphill and turn right at the fork in the road. The Bohea Stone can be found behind the derelict design studio on the right, 200 metres from the fork in the road. It is marked by a sign in the garden.

Friday, 12 July 2013

"This is a Catholic Country"

An elder generation of Irish people would consider themselves Irish first and Roman Catholic second, and so to a young person who has grown up in a nation where the power of the church has weakened and the number of practising Catholics has fallen, the introduction of abortion, presumably, should be relatively easy. It's difficult to understand why the protection of the life the mother, avoiding the trauma of foetal abnormalities being carried to full term and the other valid arguments allowing for abortion failed to sway the vote decades ago.

Parents who have stopped going to mass, empty churches and broadening educational horizons have led to an awakened youth; aspiring to the independence and liberal freedoms of our European counterparts. While promising, it marks the stark contrast between young people and older generations in Ireland. For those who grew up in Ireland in the 1950's and 60's and even earlier, Ireland was an island of persecuted Catholics in the north, and subservient Catholics in the south. Comprehending such marked divisions along religious lines is challenging for the left-wing socially aware movement of today.

What highlighted this embodied faith was the prevalence of shrines to the Virgin Mary throughout the countryside. Travelling through the the townlands and countryside of Mayo, it was possible to see 9 Marian Year shrines positioned on the sides of roads, surveying junctions on country lanes and watching over communities. Built to celebrate the Marian Year of 1954, the various grottos and statues of the Virgin Mary were to strengthen "Marian values" at the behest of Pope Pious XII. Only in a country so indoctrinated in one faith could the Marian Shrine statues have been built, maintained and widely accepted. Their presence today reflects the underlying strength of the Roman Catholic Church that has remained within Irish culture.

The opposition to the introduction of legislation accommodating abortion has come as a surprise to many young people. The largely religious-based argumentation opposed to the introduction is as confusing as it is unpredictable. Faith-based groups have been deceptively silent in the psyche of young Irish people until the death of Savita Halappanavar and the now infamous quote "This is a Catholic country". For young Irish liberals, hoping for equality and the protection and upholding of bodily integrity for women, breaking free from the shackles of the imposition of religion in their lives is the challenge of their time. What must now be done, is to approach the opposition in a way which adequately challenges their way of thinking. The TD's carrying the voting responsibilities have the power to perpetuate religious dogma or enable and enrich the lives of Irish people

This idea, of enlightened parliamentarians is a challenge to entertain with the behaviour of TD Tom Barry, who during a break from voting on the introduction of abortion, pulled TD Aine Collins on to his lap in the Dáil Chamber. Such embarrassing misogyny from an elected representative is indicative of the difficulties faced by women in Ireland in breaking a male-centric culture and ensuring adequate protection for their freedom from harassment. Where the Irish medical profession and the government impliedly agree, is that women are unequal and undeserving the limited protection of their rights.

The full album of Marian Shrines is on the Skríobh Facebook page, available here.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Westport Festival's Róisín Dubh Stage Preview for Sunday *With Updates*

Sunday afternoon is going to power through any sort of cloudy-headedness that might linger on through the morning after the night before. With a mix of punk, indie and electro, the Róisín Dubh stage is offering more great music after a solid lineup on Saturday.

Kid Karate, the twosome from Dublin who pride themselves on their fearsome noise, are going to challenge those of a nervous disposition with their live show on Sunday afternoon. Anyone who saw last year's performance by The Minutes at the Westport Festival should definitely make it to the Róisín Dubh stage for these two. Pure energy and talent.

Go on, annoy the neighbours. Turn this one up.

Kid Karate 'Two Times' from AntidoteFilms on Vimeo.

The multi-talented Not Squares are also playing Sunday evening. With a musical range from Aphex Twin to Bloc Party, there's a visceral carnage to their sound. 'Release the Bees', the opening track from their album 'Yeah OK' is a proud display of their capacity to delve into different genres, and to excel within them. With cowbell and synths grappling with bass and vocals, Not Squares are one of the most exciting bands of 2013. You can buy their album for the unreasonably reasonable price of €2 here. They're playing 20:25-21:05 at the Róisín Dubh stage.

The timetable used for yesterday's preview has been changed. Updates are as follows:
Sleep Thieves, Saturday, 17:40-18:10.
Tieranniesaur, Saturday, 19:25-20:05.
Le Galaxie, Saturday, 21:30-22:30.

You can find the official timetable for the festival and all other important details on the official Westport Festival website.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Westport Festival's Róisín Dubh Stage: Saturday

A wonderful mix of Irish music is being offered at this year's Westport Festival. With the three musical stages presenting a mix of all the flavours of Irish and international music this weekend, it's worth taking a look at the smaller stage, the Róisín Dubh stage where the gems of the growing Irish music scene will be found.

The lineup for Saturday afternoon offers great promise in the form of the melodic synths and epic orchestral scores in the form of Sleep Thieves, Tieranniesaur and La Galaxie.

In some Crystal Castles-esque waves, 'Spirit Animal' is the standout track of Sleep Thieve's album 'Islands'. It's available to download here for €5. They're on 17:30-18:00.

The upbeat pop from Tieranniesaur is the complex musical musings of the six-piece band who're aligned with the Popical Island collective. Three female vocalists are to the fore amongst sharp drums and defiant bass. 'The Changeling' is seductively easy to hum along to. Watch them do cool music at 19:30.

Taking their well-earned place as the headliner of Saturday's electro offerings, Le Galaxie are providing the powerful finish to Saturday's events. With new music on the way, and great reviews coming from their show at Forbidden Fruit, their live show is going to be an exciting way to see the sunlight fade out from the grounds of Westport House. Catch them from 21:30-22:30. They have generously put their album available to download for free on Bandcamp.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Militarisation of Singaporean Society

There's part of Singaporean psychology that's occupied by its military. There's a daily flyover by various attack aircraft or troop transport planes and the sides of buses are plastered with soldiers pacing through jungle, weapons readied. All part of the advertising campaign for the obligatory national service of two years for all men. Singapore embraces its armed forces.

Since its establishment as a nation independent of Malaysia in 1965, Singapore's military has grown in strength, size and influence. After its inception as a new country, it faced similar challenges to that of Israel. It was a small nation with a small population, surrounded by ethnically and ideologically different neighbours. Singapore quickly established ties with Israel and began putting together its military strategy. It now ranks second in the world on the Globalised Militarisation Index, following only to its mentor, Israel.

Throughout the city are advertisements for the armed forces. Some of these depict children taking part in faux-military activity; playing with toy-helicopters, riding in airplanes and on first sight seem largely innocent and reflective of some boyish childishness. However, when they're examined more closely, the boy in the rear of the plane has his arms outstretched, fore-fingers pointing outwards, palms clenched, depicting a pointed gun. It's detached from the reality of military action and the effects of violence against the human body. The uncomfortable normalisation and sanitisation of the wretched aspects of human behaviour is difficult to understand.

The advertisements seem unnecessary, especially when you consider that there isn't any choice involved. Failure to complete training means a prison sentence, followed by compulsory service. Young men leaving Singapore for more than three months before are required to post a bond to ensure their return. The advertisements are guiding and encouraging public support for conscription. It's as if no one's read 'Dulce et Decorum est'.

Other promotional materials for the Singaporean armed forces reference Angry Birds and World of Warcraft. As the world's 2nd busiest port, Singapore has an understandable concern for its naval affairs. There's a sense of preparedness and willingness to deploy aggression in the posters though. 'Torpedoes that hunt' and imagery of special forces units emerging from the tide are indications of the underlying sense of international threat that Singapore feels.

Singapore has remained at peace since its founding, free from some of the insurgency and terrorism that have affected its neighbours. The Pedra Branca territorial dispute was the closest the nation came to an international conflict. It occurred when its closest neighbour Malaysia began naval patrols of a cluster of rocks that support a lighthouse and a military communication facility in the South China Sea. The difficulties were dealt with civilly at the International Court of Justice. If the disputes that Singapore are involved in are being solved with at court, and there is no actual conflict, why does Singapore feel so threatened?

The economic disparities between Singapore and its neighbours provide an unfavourable backdrop in a changing social atmosphere. The nation-state has been criticised by NGO's such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for its stance on freedom of expression, labour rights and civil liberties. Last December, the first strike in 26 years took place after a dispute by foreign workers over pay and living conditions. In combination with a mass demonstration against the government's White Paper plan to increase the city's population by 2020, there is a marked difference between the outlook of the state and how citizens feel. The distinction between security and paranoia is unclear in a nation with as little history of violence as Singapore.

The threat from abroad remains unclear. Domestic terrorism is still an issue for Indonesia, a decade on from the Bali Bombings. The separatist movements of Thailand and the Philippines are confined to their own regions, with their own political wrangling and violence. Their scope of operations is focused against the governments of what they consider as an opposing force and the issue of piracy in the straits of Malacca has been largely resolved. The region has been free from the violent uprisings and unrest which has seen dramatic change in the Middle East and so Singapore's efforts to arm itself appears to be an overreaction.

The extent of its military force is comprehensive. With a sophisticated navy and an equally well equipped air-force, Singapore is capable of wielding its might from within its own borders. However, the emphasis of promotion and acceptance throughout society seems needless, for a nation which has never seen armed conflict, has no resources and has been unharmed from terrorist activities. The reality of its situation is rather sedate; a small city-state, with strong manufacturing and business industries, quietly engrossed in research and development. The glorification of its army is out of touch. Perhaps it could only occur in a nation with so much money, that they didn't know what else to spend it on and the advertisements from Saab were too slick. An air of readiness pervades in Singapore. The biggest question though is, ready for what?

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Ancient Ireland: The Harry Clarke Windows of Newport

In this second instalment of the weekly series 'Ancient Ireland', Skríobh paid a visit to the Harry Clarke windows in St. Patrick's Church in Newport.
Harry Clarke is Ireland's premier contributor to the world of stained-glass. He was born on North Frederick Street in 1889 to Joshua Clarke, who ran an ecclesiastical decorative workshop. Harry left school at 14 to help with the running of the family business and took art classes in the evening. As his craft developed, Harry spent time studying abroad, travelling to Paris and London several times. His talent flourished, with national recognition at the age of twenty one when he won the Board of Education's Gold Medal three years in a row. At this stage, Harry's work was being exhibited around Europe, in Dresden and at the Louvre. In 1915, Clarke won his first piece of commissioned stain glass, completing the eleven windows of Honan's Chapel in County Cork which won him widespread acclaim and further work.

His skill as an artist allowed him to work in other areas. He provided the illustrations to Hans Anderson's 'Fairy Tales' as well as Edgar Allen Poe's 'Tales of Mystery and Imagination.'  Aubrey Beardsley, Gustave Moreau and Joris-Karl Huysman have been cited as amongst the strongest sources of inspiration for Clarke. Their work, which dealt with the grotesque, the morbid and the realistic, allowed for an era of artists to dwell and consider the human condition at the turn of the 20th century. The naturalist movement was coming to an end as the symbolist aesthetic gained in popularity. This meant that there would be a greater emphasis put on the artist's melancholic outlook on life, which may have been reflective of a period of social discontent and strife.

The windows of St. Patrick's Church of Newport were commissioned by Canon McDonald of the Burrishoole parish. The same priest was responsible for the construction of St. Patrick's Oratory at the summit of Croagh Patrick. Situated at the top of Barrack Hill, the Roman Catholic church forms an imposing landmark on the countryside. The stained-glass was ordered for the new church in 1917, and would be paid for by the priest's own life insurance policy of £800.

The windows are situated in the east wall of the church and are known as 'The Last Judgement Windows' and also as 'The Three Sisters'. Three, equal sized windows stretch from behind the high-alter to the ceiling of the church. They depict a scene from the apocalypse, as the souls of the mortals are cast into hell. Harry's eclectic style can clearly be seen in the intense visuals, breaking from the traditional, conservative style of Roman Catholic stain glass.

The almost cartoon-style imagery is most clearly seen in the window on the right, which contains the tormented faces and skulls of the condemned. A long running trend of Harry's was to insert a self-portrait into his work, and at this stage in his life he was suffering from the aftermath of an almost-fatal bicycle fall and chronic tuberculosis. In what could be seen as a reflection of his own state, his image can be seen in the green upside-down face, descending into hell.

Harry Clarke died at the age of 42 in Switzerland after a long illness. His work can be seen throughout Ireland and in Geneva at the International Labour Organisation building in Geneva. More information about the artists can be found on this thoroughly informative website. To visit Harry Clarke's stain glass windows, travel to Newport along the N59. The town is situated 10 kilometres north of Westport. St. Patrick's Church is found in the centre of Newport, 200 metres north of the Black Oak river, just off the main street at the top of the hill. St. Patrick's Church is open to the public with mass on Sundays at 10am.

Photo Consciousness 9