Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Getting Better?

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday June 1 2018.


I recently purchased the 50th anniversary remastering of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I am enjoying hearing Paul McCartney optimistically sing “It’s getting better all the time” with John Lennon cynically commenting in the background, “Couldn’t get any worse”. Is it getting better?

Sometimes the unkindness of humankind makes me weep. A gang of disreputable dogs hangs around the shopping precinct near my home. I would not blame the shopkeepers for chasing them away. If you are trying to make a living by selling food, you do not want a pile of dog turds covered in flies in front of your establishment. Most of the shopkeepers tolerate the dogs and even feed them. Anonymous strangers see that the dogs get veterinary attention when necessary. There is kindness. I am thinking of the sort of mentality that would allow someone to dump a dog on the street.

There are many who lament the state of the world today and bemoan the cruelty of modern humans. Steven Pinker is not one of them – he is an optimist. In his new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Pinker, a Canadian cognitive scientist who teaches at Harvard, covers similar ground to that trodden in his 2011 book The Better Angels of our Nature.

In the 2011 book, he argued that violence in the world has declined. He specifically rejects the view that humans are inherently violent, but cites reasons for the decline in violence, reasons which have to do with controlling human behaviour: the rise of the modern nation-state and judiciary “with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force”; the rise of “technological progress [allowing] the exchange of goods and services over longer distances and larger groups of trading partners,” – people tend not to want to kill their customers; increasing respect for “the interests and values of women”; the rise of forces such as literacy, mobility, and mass media, which “can prompt people to take the perspectives of people unlike themselves and to expand their circle of sympathy to embrace them”; an “intensifying application of knowledge and rationality to human affairs,” which reframes “violence as a problem to be solved rather than a contest to be won.”

The books were generally very well-received (fans included Bill Gates and Peter Singer) but there were dissenting voices. John Gray described Enlightenment Now as “embarrassing and feeble”. Statistician Nassim Taleb wrote:  “Pinker doesn’t have a clear idea of the difference between science and journalism, or the one between rigorous empiricism and anecdotal statements.”

Jeremy Lent, author of The Patterning Instinct, agrees with much of what Pinker says but finds the books dangerous because of his unearned influence with the world’s movers and shakers –  a “coterie of neoliberal technocrats “. “His work offers an intellectual rationale for many in the elite to continue practices that imperil humanity.” Lent accuses Pinker of being blasé about the fact that humankind is destroying the planet. When Pinker does address the issue, he relies on a combination of market-based solutions and technological fixes, ignoring the fact that “Transnational corporations, which currently constitute sixty-nine of the world’s hundred largest economies, are driven only by increasing short-term financial value for their shareholders, regardless of the long-term impact on humanity.”

Pinker claims that “racist violence against African Americans… plummeted in the 20th century”. Lent dismisses this: “Instead, it has become institutionalized into US national policy” with African- American males six times more likely to be arrested than white men and one in every three African-American men can currently expect to be imprisoned in their lifetime.

The greatest flaw is Pinker’s assertion that “income inequality is not a fundamental component of well-being”. In 2017, the richest 10 percent of Americans owned 77 percent of the nation’s wealth. The wealthiest 1% experienced nearly 65 times the absolute income growth as the poorest half of the world’s population. Economist Mujeed Jamaldeen has calculated that it would take over 250 years for the income of the poorest 10% to merely reach the global average income of $11/day. There is enough evidence that inequality is harmful. In blithely dismissing it Pinker undermines his whole case.

Another economist, Ganesh Sitaraman, in his book The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic , argues that inequality brings “an erosion of trust as people become more dissimilar, interact less, and begin to see themselves as different from others in society. In political terms, the elites soon begin to believe they are more capable of governing society. This kind of thinking is inherently at odds with republican government, which is rooted directly in the right of the people to govern themselves.”

The Trump presidency is increasing inequality and class conflict. Throughout the US, young people are sinking into addiction and jobs are disappearing. Gun ownership is increasing and people are joining militia groups. Armed confrontations have taken place in Montana, New Mexico, Texas, and California. There were more than fifty attacks on Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service employees, including two by snipers, between 2010 and 2014.A militia leader from Utah was arrested in 2016 after trying to bomb a BLM outpost in Arizona. How will these people react if Trump is ousted?

Someone was evil enough to mercilessly and persistently beat a dog that lived rough near our shops to the extent that the poor creature’s spine was damaged. Another human was good enough to take the dog home and care for it. It is now happy and healthy. Evil people carried out the Sri Lankan pogrom in 1983; decent people were courageous enough to risk their own lives to protect Tamil strangers. During every disaster, including the current flooding, individuals take risks to help their fellow humans. Let us be optimistic about the altruism endemic to what Isaiah Berlin called “the crooked timber of humanity”. Keep an eye open for the



Cutting to Spite Part Two

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday May 25 2018.


The National Health Service is already chronically understaffed – even before Brexit comes into operation. In many sectors of the British economy there are labour shortages. Net migration to the UK fell by 106,000 to 230,000 in the year following the EU referendum. The number of EU citizens leaving the UK has increased – up 28,000 to 123,000. Professor Jonathan Portes, a former chief economist for the Cabinet Office and senior fellow of the group UK in a Changing Europe, said: “Whatever your views on the impact of immigration, it cannot be good news that the UK is a less attractive place to live and work, and that we will be poorer as a result.”

Rotting Crops

The NFU (National Farmers’ Union) monthly labour survey showed a 29 per cent shortfall in seasonal workers for horticulture businesses in September 2017. Low unemployment rates and the seasonal nature of farm work makes it difficult to attract domestic pickers, which means the UK farming industry is heavily dependent on pickers from the EU. The UK has become less attractive to workers from Romania and Bulgaria because of the fall in the value of sterling against the euro since Britain voted to leave the EU. Fruit and vegetables are being left to rot on British farms. A soft fruit farmer in Scotland who grows 350 tons of blueberries had to leave between 50 to 100 tons to waste at a cost of £500,000 because of a labour shortage. A Kent soft fruit farmer couldn’t find enough labour to pick 100 tons of raspberries, out of a total of 2,000 tons, and lost £700,000. Farmers were reluctant to speak publicly about this for fear that supermarket groups would think they were not running their businesses effectively.

Service Sector

It is not just manual labour that is in short supply because of government policy. Research by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) showed 71% of businesses in the services sector are finding it difficult to hire the right workers – the highest figure ever recorded. BCC director general Dr Adam Marshall said: “Labour and skills shortages are set to be the biggest potential drag anchor on business in 2018, since ultimately it is people that make businesses work.

Entrepreneur Drain

Many skilled people and entrepreneurs are being threatened with deportation. The Home Office sets out in its Immigration Rules general grounds for the refusal of entry clearance, leave to enter or variation of leave to enter or remain in the UK. Paragraph 322(5) of the Immigration Act was designed to tackle criminals and terrorists. The wording is very loose and discretionary and offers everything to the Home Office yet nothing to the applicant. It seems that the Home Office is abusing the discretion which allows them to refuse an applicant by inferring that their “character and conduct” make them undesirable to be allowed to live in the UK. Officials are abusing powers granted to them under section 322(5) by wrongly applying it to those not accused of any crime. HMRC (Revenue) takes a fairly relaxed view about errors in notifying financial details for taxation purposes. The Home Office uses such errors as grounds for deportation. Home Office officials themselves introduce errors where there were none and the innocent applicant is punished.

The impending deportation of Saleem Dadabhoy would directly lead to the loss of 20 jobs, all held by British citizens, and the closure of a British company worth £1.5m. What is his crime? The Home Office says that discrepancies in the financial documents he provided show that he has fraudulently provided false evidence. Dadabhoy’s lawyer says the discrepancy is the result of Home Office incompetence. Officials made two basic accounting errors, comparing gross income to net income, and comparing a tax return from an April to April tax year to a return from a December to December accounting year.

Taxing Discretion

There is no real guidance that the public can examine about how the rules should be applied by Home Office staff. What level of tax discrepancy can amount to a threat to national security? Immigration barrister Paul Turner writes: “there are stories in the press of doctors in hospitals where there are shortages of doctors being deported probably as a result of a tax error”. Turner says: “I have seen Freedom of Information Requests where the government has refused to answer how many people have been granted under 322 (5), remember it is discretionary, and how many refused.” Turner says a doctor could be saving lives in the UK one day and deported the next on the basis of someone’s else’s error of over five years ago.

Sidarth Vijay is a specialist computer programmer, a profession on the government’s list of shortage occupations. He arrived in the UK in 2011 and has never earned less than £50,000 a year. He has been employed full-time by companies including Toshiba while running his own IT consultancy company.

In 2014, Sidarth Vijay was sent a 2012-13 tax calculation by HMRC. He spotted an accounting error which meant he owed £4,000. He contacted HMRC and paid the shortfall. Despite his amendment being made in time, he has been refused indefinite leave to remain (ILR) by the Home Office under paragraph 322(5) of immigration law. He is nearly destitute after paying £15,000 in legal costs and Home Office fees.

His Home Office casework notes show he was found to be “credible” and that his refusal in February 2018 under 322(5) was entirely triggered by figures obtained from the SA02 tax documents submitted by the applicant. This is odd because he did not submit SA02 documents because they are only issued when a tax amendment has been made late, which his was not. He has a letter from HMRC which says: ““I can confirm, as discussed today, there has been no out-of-time adjustment to any of your previous years liabilities and therefore no issue of a SA02 at any point.”

He has a letter from the Home Office dated August 2017 which refers August 2017, which refers to an interview they state he attended and again refers him giving them an SA02 form. “I never attended an interview with the Home Office,” he said.


What is the sense of deporting people when the UK needs workers?

Cutting to Spite Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday 18 May 2018.

My readers may be familiar with the expression “cutting off your nose to spite your face”. In the 12th century it was associated with legends of pious women –  Saint Eusebia, Saint Ebba, Saint Oda of Hainault and Saint Margaret of Hungary – disfiguring themselves in order to protect their virginity. Why is the UK government in 2018 so determined to cut off its nose to spite its face? Is their immigration policy worth all the hassle?

The National Health Service is already chronically underfunded and understaffed – even before Brexit comes into operation. A study by the Health Service Journal showed that 96 per cent of hospitals failed to meet their own safe nurse-staffing levels for daytime shifts in October 2016 and 85 per cent did not hit their targets for night-time shifts. For years, Conservative and Labour governments have not trained enough nurses to care for an ageing population. Hospitals have tried to deal with shortages by recruiting overseas staff.

There is also a severe shortage of home-grown doctors. Professor Jane Dacre, President of the Royal College of Physicians, wrote: “There are huge gaps in rotas. As a result, doctors are unable to deliver the standard of care they were trained to, and patients are at risk… We may wish there were more homegrown doctors, but there simply aren’t. At the same time, the future remains uncertain for doctors from the EU, and the number of doctors who are able to train in the UK for two years under the medical training initiative (MTI) is capped.

Antonia Moore is a general practitioner in Rochester, Kent. She writes: General practice is collapsing. There aren’t enough GPs to provide safe care. GPs are good at managing risk but overload means that risks are less manageable… I am working in a system that isn’t safe: no longer a balance of risk but a balance of least harm.”

The official Quarterly Performance Report of the NHS Provider Sector: Quarter 3 2017/18 warned that staff shortages are affecting performance. Saffron Cordery, NHS Providers’ director of policy and strategy, said: “These figures show how the NHS has been pushed to the limit. Despite working at full stretch with around 100,000 vacancies and a real risk of staff burnout, and despite treating 6% more emergency patients year on year in December, trusts cannot close the gap between what they are being asked to deliver and the funding available.”

In the immediate post-war years, Britain tried to deal with its acute shortage of labour by inviting people from the Commonwealth to become citizens and to help run the health service and the transport system. There is still a labour shortage but it is now government policy to force people to leave the country.

Overall, 12.5% of NHS staff say that their nationality is not British. 62,000 NHS staff in England are EU nationals – 5.6% of all staff. Nationals of other EU countries make up almost 10% of doctors in England’s hospital and community health services. They also make up just over 7% of all nurses and 5% of scientific, therapeutic and technical staff. The percentage of doctors and nurses with EU nationality grew between 2009 and 2016. 36% of hospital doctors gained their primary medical qualification outside the UK. 20% qualified in Asia and 9% qualified in the EU. For GPs, 4% qualified in the EU and 13% qualified in Asia.

In November 2017, data published by the Nursing and Midwifery Council showed a 67% year-on-year increase in EU staff leaving its register – as well as a precipitous fall in new EU registrations.

The government has made a pledge to increase the number of GPs by 5,000 by 2020. The NHS plans to spend £100m bringing in doctors from abroad. Recruitment agencies will earn about £20,000 for each GP they succeed in placing in a family doctor practice in England. This surprised Dr Luke Ong, who had worked in the NHS for five years and was five months away from becoming a GP, when he was told he was being deported because of an error in his visa application.

The NHS confederation said seven London trusts had reported that 53 foreign doctors had been denied visas. More than 30 health trusts in the North-West have written to the Government demanding that around 100 junior doctors from India be allowed to work in their hospitals and health centres.

The UK has to compete globally for clinical talent. There is no point in spending taxpayers’ money on foreign recruitment while at the same time maintaining a hostile environment on immigration. Doctors born in Britain will emigrate if UK hospitals cease to be regarded as international centres of excellence, which is what will happen if foreign talent is kept out and standards fall because of understaffing.




Windrush Part Three: Justice Denied

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday May 10 2018.

For every horrific case of detention and the denial of rights there is a public policy decision that delivered the hostile environment in which such injustices thrive and become normal. David Lammy MP.


Motes and Beams

The British government, whether Conservative or Labour, never tires of criticizing Sri Lanka’s human rights record. Nearly ten years ago, David Miliband condoned horrible tortures while calling on Sri Lanka to let LTTE butchers off the hook. Today, Conservatives support calls for the release of Tamil political prisoners. I hesitate to engage in whataboutery, but the Windrush affair brings to light a lot of mote and beam stuff.

Former Labour Home Secretary John Reid famously said the Home Office as he found it was “not fit for purpose”. What is the purpose of the Home Office? The Home Office website says this: “The first duty of the government is to keep citizens safe and the country secure. The Home Office has been at the front line of this endeavour since 1782. As such, the Home Office plays a fundamental role in the security and economic prosperity of the United Kingdom.”

It has kept some of its citizens “safe” by detaining and deporting others without due process of law.

The Lies and Incompetence Continue

The Windrush issue is no longer hitting the headlines, but the lying liars are still lying. Immigration minister Caroline Nokes told the Home Affairs Committee on May 9 that she did not know of any wrongful deportations. Immigration Enforcement chief Hugh Ind said he knew of a ‘handful’ of cases. The truth is that the Home Office is now investigating 8,000 cases. The previous Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was an embarrassment when up against the lethal forensic questioning of Yvette Cooper. On May 9, Nokes and two officials were not able to answer basic simple questions about the system. This is such an important issue and the people who are supposed to be in charge haven’t got a clue what’s going on.

Contempt for Rule of Law

As well as Yvette Cooper, David Lammy has been one of the most impressive of British politicians in recent months. The Labour MP for Tottenham has spoken with passion and reason about  knife crime, the Grenfell disaster (he described the fire as corporate manslaughter and called for arrests to be made) and the Windrush scandal. The British government criticized IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps in Sri Lanka but now hauls off innocent grannies in the middle of the night, puts them in detention centres and sends them off to the West Indies in handcuffs on secret charter flights. Lammy says “Each case is directly linked to a policy that ignores the principle of habeas corpus by imprisoning innocent people without reference to a judge, jury or evidence of guilt.“

Lammy voted against the 2014 Immigration Bill, the codifying of Theresa May’s “hostile environment”, and described it as “a stain on our democracy”.  He was born in Britain and his parents were from Guyana. Despite great adversity (his father deserted the family when David was a child) he has been successful. He is a Lincoln’s Inn barrister and a graduate of Harvard Law School (the first black Briton to be accepted at Harvard). In the debate, he quoted from the Magna Carta: “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled. Nor will we proceed with force against him except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.”


The “hostile environment” policy on immigration was devised during the time of the coalition when Cameron was prime minister. It caused a fierce battle in the cabinet room between Home Secretary May and Nicky Morgan, then Education Secretary. Morgan had, along with the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, raised concerns that May’s new policy for illegal immigrants would turn teachers and health workers into immigration officials. Morgan questioned the very principle behind the “hostile environment” and expressed fears that it would turn teachers, health workers, employers and landlords into immigration snitches. There is something Nazi about the idea.

Stubborn May

Many Tories would love the government go beyond changing the name of the policy from “hostile environment” to “compliant environment” and would urge them to abandon the idea of deportation targets altogether. It is a hostage to failure – providing quarterly reminders that the government is not achieving its targets. However, what seemed to some as a virtue in May – her dogged determination to get a job done even if she did not much agree with it – is now seen as stubbornness where pragmatism might be more appropriate.

Is the deportation policy worth all the hassle? The NHS confederation said seven London trusts had reported that 53 doctors had been denied visas. More than 30 health trusts in the North-West have written to the Government demanding that around 100 junior doctors from India be allowed to work in their hospitals and health centres. There was a Financial Times story suggesting overseas students were wrongly deported over language tests. At time of writing, I had not been able to confirm this but there is a rumour going around that Home Office civil servants were paid cash bonuses to hit deportation targets.

New Brooms

A fifth of May’s Cabinet have departed since the June 2017 general election. None of these resignations has been Brexit-related. It is hard to find quality replacements from lower down the ranks. Look at the poor quality of the personnel handling Brexit. The new man taking the poisoned chalice of the Home Office is Sajid Javid, described as the first BAME to be appointed to one of the great offices of state. Like David Lammy, Javid overcame many disadvantages to become very successful. His father arrived in Britain from Pakistan, so the story goes, with just a pound in his pocket. He became a bus driver in Rochdale but the family moved to Bristol to run a shop. Javid was educated at a comprehensive and borrowed money to begin investing in shares at the age of 14.  He graduated in economics at Exeter University and then went into finance. His first job was with Chase Manhattan and he became a vice president at 25. By the time he left Deutsche Bank in 2009 to pursue a career in politics he was earning £3 million a year.

Casino Culture

The Conservative party spins Javid’s ‘emerging markets’ experience as, ‘helping raise investment for developing countries.’ The reality is somewhat different.  Bryan Appleyard wrote: “Mr Javid seems to have been one of those bankers who, in a just society, would now be languishing in a prison cell picking oakum and humming Emmylou Harris’s Broken Man’s Lament.”

He was at the heart of the credit trading business and was responsible for structuring an emerging-market synthetic CDO that incurred millions of dollars’ worth of losses for investors. A former Deutsche Bank colleague said Javid “is spinning his former career” to show himself as a sober investment banker. In reality, he was a structured credit trader at the heart of the business that precipitated the global financial crisis.

Javid defended his practice: “As long as investors understand the risk/rewards of an emerging-market CDO, they are very appropriate. Investors are getting a huge amount of leverage and they are comfortable taking the risk”. Moody’s downgraded the ratings when by May 2009, they discovered that losses on defaulted assets in the Craft EM CLO 2006-1 pool stood at $32 million. Arco Capital tried to take Deutsche Bank to court in September 2012 over the $37 million in losses it incurred by investing in the deal.


Javid left Deutsche Bank in 2009, just as the full extent of the firm’s credit-related losses were becoming apparent. In 2010, he ran for safe Conservative seat of Bromsgrove.

Javid’s Illiberal Record

Gary Younge (the veteran black Guardian journalist) thought it sloppy liberal thinking to hope that Javid’s appointment would make a difference. He described the new Home Secretary as: “a man who extols his own story as an example of what is possible, even as he actively seeks to ensure that this story should be denied to those who come after him.” Looking after number one and his like.

When the UK’s top tax rate was reduced, Javid spoke to Goldman Sachs bankers in person to ensure that bonuses at the firm in London weren’t delayed. In 2012, he urged Britons not to “slam the City,” saying it represented some of the best of capitalism. In Parliament he has voted for reducing the rate of corporation tax; for reducing capital gains tax.

He has voted consistently against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices; consistently voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability; consistently voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits; generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights; consistently voted for mass surveillance of people’s communications and activities.

He has voted against a right to remain for EU nationals already in living in the UK; voted against UK membership of the EU; voted for stronger enforcement of immigration rules; consistently voted for a stricter asylum system.

Will this man make the Home Office fit for his purpose?

Compassion and the Cruelty of Robots

Gaby Hinsliffe wrote in the Guardian that “The common thread in so many of the crises now engulfing Theresa May’s government is policy that completely fails to recognise the complexity of people’s lives: a sort of rigid, soulless, unthinking bureaucracy that leads to casual cruelty.” She called it the “dogged pursuit of bad ideas”.


UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has often had harsh things to say about Sri Lanka. In a recent speech he could have been thinking about what we are seeing in the UK. “The indifference of a large part of the business community worldwide, who would still pursue profit even at the cost of great suffering done to others. The indifference of a large segment of the intelligence and security community, for whom the pursuit of information eclipses all the rights held by others, and who describe challenges to terrible, discriminatory practices as treachery…. Our world is dangerously close to unmooring itself from a sense of compassion, slowly becoming not only a post-truth but also a post-empathetic world. “






Windrush Part Two: Brilled and Grilled

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday May 3 2018


Sir Alan Duncan, foreign office minister, was brave, foolhardy or arrogant enough to allow himself to be interviewed by Andrew Neil (known to Private Eye as Brillo Pad). Duncan had the gall face to try to ingratiate himself with a flippant approach.  Duncan blathered about “administrative cock-up”, “quirk of history”.

Brillo would have none of that. “Not a quirk, it happens because of an uncaring government that’s prepared to lock up people in a detention centre who’ve lived here all their lives … you took away their right to work, you took away their right to welfare, you took away their right to a pension. How were they meant to live?” He finally impaled Duncan with: “The government has required people to produce four documents for each year that they have been living in the UK. Could you produce such documents?” The little man admitted that he couldn’t. Most of the people who were threatened had lived in the UK and paid taxes for decades. They were firmly in the system. Big Brother could easily prove their bona fides without documents.

It Weren’t Me Guv

Baroness Warsi claims to accept some responsibility because she was part of the government, but it was not really her fault. What could she do? Warsi said that there was bitter opposition in cabinet to some of the policies May pursued while she was Home Secretary between 2010 and 2016. “We were wedded to unrealistic targets, targets that we still haven’t met unfortunately a decade on, and yet we continue to remain wedded to targets. And what we ended up with was, I think, the unintended consequences of the policy we are now implementing.”


In spite of what Baroness Warsi said, current Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, told MPs: “We don’t have targets for removals”, adding “that’s not how we operate”. Her chief immigration official Glynn Williams also told MPs such targets did not exist. A 2015 report soon emerged showing there were targets. “We were gobsmacked by what she said, and that she stuck to her guns,” a Home Office source told the Guardian. “It is inconceivable that Amber Rudd did not know about the targets.” At one point, Rudd was telling the Commons she would scrap removals targets that she had the day before said did not exist.

Rudd had leadership ambitions and had been trying to undermine Theresa May and construct an image of herself as the good guy. She herself has been embarrassed by a document obtained by the Guardian in which she set out her “ambitious” plan to increase removals and focus officials on “arresting, detaining and forcibly removing illegal migrants” while “ruthlessly” prioritising Home Office resources for the programme.

You Just Can’t Get the Staff

Rudd  tried to blame her civil servants, portraying them as faceless bureaucrats who misinterpret the spirit of the government’s intentions. Dave Penman is the head of the FDA, the trade union for senior civil servants. He says: “The Home Office is not a sentient being, so this was implicitly a criticism of her staff. If she’s serious about understanding why this might be the case, she would do better to consider the political strategy and rhetoric adopted by her government over many years, rather than suggesting it is individual civil servants who have lost their focus.”

Unintended Consequences

The Guardian on April 29 published a private letter from Amber Rudd to Downing Street sent in January 2017 in which she sets an “ambitious but deliverable” target for an increase in enforced deportations. She said that she was refocusing work to achieve the “aim of increasing the number of enforced removals by more than 10% over the next few years”. Home Office sources told the Guardian that Immigration Enforcement has been working all year to reach the target of 12,800 enforced returns in 2017-18. They were worried about failing. To meet the goal, they needed to deport 250 people a week, but were “only” deporting about 225 a week. Poor show! “At the Home Office we work in a target culture. The civil service is completely target-based. That’s all we do. It is shame-faced nonsense for Amber Rudd to say otherwise.”

Rudd has now done the “decent” thing and resigned but she is still lying in her resignation letter to the prime minister and May is supporting her lies.









WindrushPart One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday April 26 2018.


A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect. WEB Du Bois.

Hostile Environment

The Queen recently announced that Prince Charles will take over from her as Head of the Commonwealth. Anitha Sethi shook his hand recently at a Commonwealth function. Her ancestors were from Guyana and her skin is brown. The future Head of the Commonwealth said: “Where are you from?” She said “Manchester”. The Prince retorted jovially: “Well, you don’t look like it!” The Commonwealth summit was meant to project an image of a ‘global Britain’ open to the best and brightest once the UK is free of the shackles of the EU. future.

When the Queen formally opened the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting on April 19, revelations relating to what has become known as “the Windrush generation” were casting a cloud over the proceedings. A large number of people who went  legally to the UK have found themselves wrongly caught up in the “hostile environment” Theresa May said in 2012 that she wanted to create for illegal immigrants. Legislation passed in 2014 required employers, NHS staff, private landlords and others to demand evidence of people’s citizenship or immigration status. An estimated 50,000 people face the risk of deportation if they had failed to formalise their residency status. Many have lost their benefits, jobs, homes and access to health care.

Even before 2012, people were being deported in murky circumstances. According to The Scotsman, since 2010, more than 7,600 people have been forcibly, fitted with restraints and escorted by security personnel, sent to Pakistan, Nigeria, Ghana, Sri Lanka and Jamaica on charter flights in secret, in the middle of the night.

Welcome to Britain

In June 1948, the ship Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Dock, east of London, with 492 migrants from the West Indies. They were responding to an advertisement in a Jamaican newspaper offering cheap transport for anybody wanting work in the UK. Acute labour shortages led Britain to encourage mass immigration and the British Nationality Act of 1948 gave UK citizenship to all people living in British colonies with full rights to settle in the UK. Successive governments wooed workers from the Commonwealth and even the white supremacists’ hero, Enoch Powell, when he was Minister of Health recruited thousands of black employees into the NHS. The transport system would not have operated without Caribbean personnel.

Where Are You From?

Leighton Joseph Robinson had been living in Britain since he was six. He went back to Jamaica for the first time for his 50th birthday. He was stopped at the airport and was told that he did not have the correct paperwork to get into the UK. He was stuck in Jamaica for 21 months, separated from his family in Northampton and living in squalid accommodation. When he returned to the UK   he was evicted from his flat because he owed £4,500 for unpaid rent and council tax.

Albert Thompson, 63, arrived in the UK from Jamaica as a teenager in 1973, and has lived there without a break ever since.  He needs radiotherapy for his prostate cancer but an administrator at the Royal Marsden Hospital told him unless he could produce a British passport he would be charged £54,000 for the treatment. He was evicted because of suspicion about his status and he was homeless for three weeks.

Paulette Wilson once worked in the House of Commons restaurant serving meals to MPs. More recently, she has made and served meals to homeless people at her church. She is a 61-yer-old grandmother who has lived in the UK for over 50 years. She left Jamaica when she was ten and has not been back since. She received a letter saying she was going to be sent to Jamaica. This meant she lost her housing and sickness benefits and she was rendered homeless. She spent a week at Yarl’s Wood detention centre before being sent to the immigration removal centre at Heathrow. Her forced removal from the UK was only prevented by the last-minute intervention of her local MP Emma Reynolds and the Refugee and Migrant Centre in Wolverhampton. Many organisations dealing with such cases say that cuts in legal aid make their job very difficult. Ms Wilson will have to report again to the Home Office in December. The application to process leave to remain documents costs more than £240, money she does not have.

A Times editorial said that the prime minister’s policies had their foundation in “the corrosive assumption that immigrants are a problem rather than a benefit.” More next week on what this issue says about multicultural Britain and the moral standing of British politicians.


Sri Lanka and Oil

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday April 19 2018.


In his treatise Petroleo y Dependencia, Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo, principle architect of OPEC, wrote: “Oil will bring us ruin. It’s the devil’s excrement. We are drowning in the devil’s excrement.”

Groundhog Day

Oh no! Here we go again!

Sri Lanka is once again toying with the idea of exploring for oil. Apparently, an “interested investor” has made a proposal which has led the Sri Lankan government to believe that it can award exploration rights to at least two shallow water blocks off the north east coast. The two blocks, identified as C1 and M1 are in the Mannar Basin to the West, and the Cauvery Basin surrounding the Jaffna peninsula. A competitive bidding round for exploration of a deep-water block where gas has already been found will begin in May.

One can see why the Sri Lankan Government would like to have its own oil. Each year, Sri Lanka imports nearly 30 million barrels of oil at a cost of US$ 2.2 billion, Oil is used to generate electricity as well as for transport. One can add to this the cost of subsidies, and the knock-on effect of transport and electricity costs on the price of everything. Back in 2015, I reported in these pages that the minister for power and energy, Patali Champika Ranawaka, had announced that Sri Lanka will stop importing fuel by 2020. Way back in August 2007, the then Petroleum Resources Development Minister AHM Fowzie met a slew of representatives of oil companies on a junket to Baku. According to Mr Fowzie, Sri Lanka was going to produce oil by 2010. Still waiting.


Muddy Waters

The current government (specifically Ranil Wickremesinghe) has hit on a spiffing wheeze (or cunning plan, as Baldrick might call it) called “Swiss Challenge”. This wheeze has been tried out in the Philippines, some African countries and India. The idea is to formalize unsolicited proposals from prospective investors by allowing others to bid on the proposal and then ask the original proposer to match the best bid. If the original proposer does not match the best bid, it is awarded to the best bid. It has been reported that there is growing concern in the Sri Lankan business community about this new policy. This is another of those dirty tricks associated with public /private finance scams that I have written about so often. Swiss Challenge, according to the Sri Lankan government, “allows for an innovative unsolicited proposal by a company to the government to be made public, to allow other competitors a chance to match it.” The Vijay Kelkar committee was set up to evaluate public-private partnership (PPP) models in India. The committee’s report said that Swiss Challenge proposals must be “actively discouraged” as “they bring information asymmetries in the procurement process and result in lack of transparency and in the fair and equal treatment of potential bidders in the procurement process”.

The Trouble with Oil

The trouble with oil is that it encourages corruption. The trouble with PPP is that it encourages corruption. When you put oil and PPP together you get a lot of trouble. As long ago as 2004, Transparency International estimated that billions of dollars were lost to bribery in public purchasing and oil seemed to absolutely guarantee corruption. Saudi Arabia, Angola, Azerbaijan, Chad, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Libya, Nigeria, Russia, Sudan, Venezuela and Yemen were highly corrupt.

Mr Fowzie’s friend, the president of Azerbaijan, long ago promised to cut poverty and create 200,000 jobs, but about half of Azerbaijan’s population still lives below the poverty line. A ruling dynasty has been established and oil-rich families from the clan networks of Nakhichevan retain their power base by resorting to arrests, torture and media suppression. Do we want a despotic ruling dynasty in Sri Lanka?

Oil generates US$ 17 billion each year for Nigeria. If that were shared it would provide 15 years of wages for every man, woman and child in the country. The proportion of Nigerians living in poverty rose to 66 per cent by 1996. Nigeria has emphatically shown that oil can bring poverty, corruption, environmental damage, conflict, foreign exploitation, and erosion of human rights

New Zealand

The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, recently announced that her government will ban new permits for offshore oil exploration to “protect future generations from climate change”.




Fighting Them on the Beaches

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday April 5 2018

It is reasonable to argue that, in order to grow and prosper and to be secure, a nation needs to have control over its infrastructure. Who could argue against the view that British railways, roads, water, electricity, telecoms, airports, ports, broadcasting financial institutions should be British-owned or UK government-owned

In pursuit of the voodoo economics of privatisation the great and the good who steer the good ship Britannica, Labour as well as Conservative, have contrived a situation in which British citizens depend on Russia to heat their homes while that nation’s leader is poisoning people in Salisbury and Russian oligarchs are making it impossible for ordinary Londoners to afford homes.


Many years after UK state energy market was privatised, much of the industry remains in state ownership. The thing is that it is owned by foreign states not Britain. EDF Energy one of the largest distribution network operators in the UK after taking control of the UK nuclear generator, British Energy. It is owned by the French state. npower is owned by Innogy SE, a subsidiary of the German company RWE. ScottishPower is a subsidiary of Spanish utility company Iberdrola. E.on (formerly Powergen) has its HQ in Dusseldorf.

About 60% of the UK energy supply comes from foreign countries including Russia, Norway, Qatar, Sweden and the Netherlands. Around 60% of the UK’s natural gas imports come from Norway, and 30% of it comes from Qatar. Around half of the UK’s crude oil imports come from Norway, and just over 30% comes from OPEC.


Few other EU states opened their vital services to foreign competition the way Britain did. Most of the water that Britons use to make their tea or flush away their excretions is controlled by foreign companies. After the UK water industry was privatised in 1989, several new companies were formed and many were sold off. There are now 12 water companies, out of the 23 in the UK, which have foreign owners. Thames Water was bought by a consortium which included the Australian investment group Macquarie and a Chinese wealth fund. Yorkshire Water was acquired by a consortium including Citigroup, HSBC, and the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC. Northumbria Water was bought by the Hong Kong-based company Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings.


It would be impossible to take a rail journey anywhere in the UK without putting money into the pockets of foreign shareholders. Chiltern, Cross Country, Wales & Borders, London Overground and Grand Central services are run by Arriva which is owned by the German company Deutsche Bahn. MTR shares the South West Trains franchise with a British company FirstGroup plc.  MTR will also run Crossrail. Hong Kong state owns MTR. Trenitalia, an Italian company, runs Essex Thameside. The French state firm SNCF owns Keolis, which runs numerous franchises in joint ventures. SNCF, as part of Govia, operates Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern, Southeastern and London Midland and with Amey it runs the Docklands Light Railway.  ScotRail and Greater Anglia, and Merseyrail are run by Abellio, which is owned by the Dutch state.


Transport minister Chris Grayling visited Felixstowe and proudly boasted of Britain’s history as a “great global trading nation”. An empty boast because, as Private Eye pointed out, Britain’s ports are owned by “a medley of foreign governments, billionaires and tax-avoiding conglomerates”.

Felixstowe is owned and run by a Chinese conglomerate listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange and incorporated in the Cayman Islands. Southampton and London Gateway are run by a UAE government conglomerate called Dubai World controlled by Dubai’s ruler. In 2013, a judge ruled that the company had used “an elaborate trick” to avoid paying £14 million in UK income tax.

Liverpool, Glasgow and Great Yarmouth are run by Peel Ports which is joint owned by Deutsche Bank. In 2013 the parliamentary public accounts committee accused the company of tax-dodging. Associated British Ports is established in Jersey to avoid taxes and  is owned by Singapore’s foreign reserve fund and Kuwait’s sovereign wealth fund.

The rhetoric of many Brexiteers was that the UK had to get out of the EU to restore national pride. A similar mindset persuaded Americans to vote for Trump to make America great again. Unfortunately, this is an untenable viewpoint in a globalized world. It is particularly ludicrous in the UK where the very people who called for the UK to be freed of the shackles of Brussels were selling off the nation’s assets for a mess of pottage – well, a mess of something and an expensive one at that.


Blood and Money and Markets

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday September 14 2017


Sri Lankans have grown cynical about the number of public commissions and inquiries which have failed to shed any light or improve anything. Perhaps Sri Lankan politicians have learned from their former colonial masters that a good way to defuse a controversy is to set up an inquiry to delay any need for real action, at the same time providing a good living for lawyers and the great and the good who sit on these commissions.  On 30 January 1972, British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians in Derry during a peaceful protest march against internment. Fourteen people died.  There were inquiries that did not convince anybody. The Saville Inquiry was established in 1998 to reinvestigate the incident.  Saville’s report was made not made public until 2010.

On July 11 2017, The UK government announced a full inquiry into how contaminated blood products gave thousands of people hepatitis C and HIV. Fourteen people died as a result of Bloody Sunday. As many as 2,400 people died as a result of the tainted blood scandal. Andrew Evans of the pressure group Tainted Blood commented: “Had haemophiliacs all died on one day, there would have been an immediate investigation and we would not have endured this silent scandal”.

Tainted Blood

Haemophilia is a genetically acquired disease in which the blood does not clot properly. It was once popularly called “the royal disease” and figured prominently in the history of European royalty in the 19th and 20th centuries. Queen Victoria, through two of her five daughters (Princess Alice and Princess Beatrice), passed the mutation to various royal houses across the continent, including the royal families of Spain, Germany and Russia. Victoria’s son Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany also suffered from the disease.

The first blood-clotting products were produced in 1966 and from the 1970s the UK imported vast quantities from the US. In the 1970s, sufferers took products known as Factor VIII and Factor IX concentrates, which were made by distilling and concentrating the plasma of large groups of donors. Factor concentrates were seen as a revolutionary treatment and a surge in demand led to pharmaceutical companies seeking substantial supplies of blood. Unfortunately, the blood was acquired from tainted sources. Convicts, drug addicts, prostitutes and people known to be infected with HIV or hepatitis were paid to donate their blood. The WHO warned Britain of the dangers of using these imported products. Large numbers of people were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C because of blood products supplied by the NHS. Of the 1,243 victims who were co-infected with both hepatitis C and HIV, less than 250 are still alive as I write.

In 1982, the first UK haemophiliac patient was diagnosed with Aids. Dr N Galbraith of the Public Health Laboratory Service warned the Department of Health that all blood products imported from the US should be withdrawn. A DoH official deemed this “premature” and “imbalanced”.


Those who campaigned for 30 years for an inquiry were not pleased at the recent announcement because the proposed inquiry was to be overseen by the Department of Health, the government department to blame for what happened. The main groups representing victims and their families lack trust in the department because they believe its officials were complicit in covering up the scandal for decades. There is even evidence that children were used as guinea pigs to test blood-clotting products. There was secret monitoring and failure to inform patients and families of the results. Documents were destroyed and medical records altered.

The mayor of Greater Manchester, former Labour health secretary Andy Burnham (surely, he was complicit also), has urged Theresa May to step in to save the inquiry. “I’m appealing to the prime minister to salvage the process before trust gets corroded on all sides.” He said the government could help solve the impasse by simply switching oversight to the Cabinet Office.

Commissions and Omissions

When the British magazine Private Eye reported on the issue in 1987, the death toll of haemophiliacs stood at 23 but the Tory government, despite repeated warnings, continued to use imported blood from skid row donors. The magazine points out that there are 2,000 surviving haemophiliacs whose lives have been ruined by the government’s failure to fund the production of safe blood-clotting products in the UK. In early 2000, safe but more expensive synthetic clotting agents were made available for children but not adults. Some adults found that they had been given products that may contain the fatal neurodegenerative variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease – remember mad cow disease?

Much was exposed by an inquiry led by Lord Archer (the former Solicitor General for England and Wales – not Jeffrey). This was a privately-funded independent inquiry set up in 2007 and concluded in 2009. Archer had campaigned for an inquiry with Lord Owen, who was the Labour Health Secretary from 1974 to 1976, Lord Jenkin, former Shadow Health Secretary, and others. The inquiry had no legal status and could not subpoena witnesses or demand the disclosure of documents. It did address the issue of missing evidence and documents relating to the scandal. For example, the ministerial papers of Lord Owen had been destroyed. “We have been unable to ascertain who carried out the destruction of the papers, and who gave the instructions. But the conclusion appears inescapable that some official made a decision which he or she had no authority to make, or that someone was guilty of a serious error of judgement. The consequence is that Lord Owen has done his best to recollect details of events a quarter of a century ago, but both he, and we, have been deprived of the primary sources”.

The current Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, claimed that the government could be “proud of our record in support of those who suffered from this injustice to date, both financially and in the search for truth”. To add further insult to the many injuries already inflicted, Hunt announced that proposed increases in payments to those with HIV and advanced hep C or both would be cut to better help those with first stage chronic hep C – robbing one set of victims to help another.

The Gift Relationship

Richard Titmuss, British social researcher and teacher, published The Gift Relationship in 1970. He compared blood donations in Britain (entirely voluntary) and the US (some bought and sold). Titmuss’s conclusions concerned the quality of communities where people are encouraged to give to strangers. When blood becomes a commodity, he argued, its quality is corrupted (American blood was four times more likely to infect recipients with hepatitis than was British blood). Titmuss helped preserve the National Blood Service from Thatcherite privatisation.

Privatisation and Outsourcing

Titmuss wrote about the value of altruism, reciprocity and social duty symbolised by donating blood free of charge in order to benefit the sick. I worked in the Department of Health in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the so-called “reforms” were introduced in order to impose market considerations on the care of the sick. Under Labour and conservative governments, this had brought about a corrosive commercialisation.

Harvard Philosopher Michael J Sandel has written a stimulating book entitled What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. Sandel’s argument is that markets and finance are taking over everything and in the process, are creating a moral vacuum. It is interesting to see that with Vision 2025, the UNP is still trying to drag Sri Lanka along with the delusion that privatisation and outsourcing are the panaceas for all evils despite all evidence to the contrary. The launch of V2025, the blueprint for the future of a “rich Sri Lanka” at BMICH gave an opportunity for old clichés to be trotted out.  The president and the prime minister said that in Sri Lanka Finance Management was poor; perception of corruption was high, infrastructure inadequate; many laws were outdated and institutions were weak. “Reforms are needed on all these fronts and we must revitalise both governance and economic management.” Privatisation and public private finance initiatives will solve all Sri Lanka’s problems apparently. This conveniently ignores the fact that privatisation and deregulation give license to corruption. The railway system in the UK is an utter shambles as a result of privatisation. So is the water “industry”. Many questioned whether it was morally justifiable for a God-given basic commodity like water to be traded for profit. Will they buy and sell the air that we breathe? They would if they could. I will explore the morality of markets further next week using Professor Sandel’s book as my guide.

Atonement and Redemption

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday September 2017


Sean O’Callaghan was once a killer for the Provisional IRA. He died on 23 August 2017. His death was not a violent one. He died in a swimming pool in Jamaica, probably of a heart attack, while visiting his daughter, Tara. For many years, O’Callaghan himself had been expecting a violent death because, after becoming disillusioned with the IRA, he turned informer and was a fierce critic of his former comrades. He put his chances of dying a natural death at less than 20%. He wrote: “As the years went on, I came to believe that the Provisional IRA was the greatest enemy of democracy and decency in Ireland”.

Early Life

He was born in Tralee, County Kerry in 1954 and was part of a family with a long tradition of nationalist rebellion. In his teens, he gave up Catholicism and became an atheist and a student of Marxism. He saw the unfolding events in Northern Ireland as an indictment of British Imperialism and joined the Provisional IRA in 1969 at the age of 17. He went to prison after accidentally detonating a bomb he was making and completed his sentence.


He claimed to have been responsible for two murders in 1974:  in May, a “Greenfinch” Ulster Defence Regiment soldier, Private Eva Martin aged 28, the first female from the security forces to die in the Troubles, was killed in a mortar attack on the British Army’s base at Clogher in County Tyrone; in August 1974 O’Callaghan murdered Detective Inspector Peter Flanagan, an Ulster Catholic officer of the RUC Special Branch, by shooting him repeatedly with a handgun in a public house in the town of Omagh in County Tyrone. On more than one occasion O’Callaghan confessed to killing John Corcoran, another informer whose body was found in a sleeping bag by the side of a road in Ballincollig, County Cork in March 1985. No-one ever stood trial for that murder and there has been speculation that the state colluded in the murder and did not want its dirty linen to be displayed in court.

Taking Responsibility

When he was 21 in 1976, O’Callaghan left the IRA, and moved to London where he established a successful cleaning business.  In May 1978, he married a Scottish woman of Protestant unionist descent. However, he could not settle: “In truth there seemed to be no escaping from Ireland. At the strangest of times I would find myself reliving the events of my years in the IRA.” In 1979, the IRA contacted him and he decided to work against the organisation from within. He claimed this was his chance for atonement and redemption. He did not see himself as a traitor. “I had been brought up to believe that you had to take responsibility for your own actions. If you did something wrong then you made amends. I came to believe that individuals taking responsibility for their own actions is the basis for civilisation, without that safety net we have nothing”.

Charles and Diana Assassination

Although he wanted to subvert the IRA, he still did not want to work with the British government. He returned to Tralee in 1979 and offered his services to Detective Sergeant Seán O’Connell of the special branch of the police of the Irish Republic, the Garda Síochána. He met Kerry IRA leader Martin Ferris and participated in a number of attempted robberies. O’Callaghan claims to have foiled these attempts “by a whole series of random stratagems”. In 1984, after a tip-off from O’Callaghan, the Irish Navy and the Garda Síochána intercepted an arms shipment from Boston to the IRA. O’Callaghan claims that he foiled the assassination of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1983 by alerting the authorities to a bomb planted in the Dominion Theatre before a Duran Duran concert.


On 29 November 1988, O’Callaghan walked into a police station in Tunbridge Wells and confessed to the murders of Eva Martin and Peter Flanagan. He served his sentence in prisons in Ulster and England, during which time he foiled several planned escapes by IRA prisoners. He was released as part of a Prerogative of Mercy by Queen Elizabeth II in 1996. In 1999, he published an account of his experiences entitled The Informer: The True-Life Story of One Man’s War on Terrorism. After his release, he lived openly in the UK after repeatedly refusing offers of witness protection and a new identity.


It is not surprising that Sinn Féin questioned his account; The Sinn Féin paper An Phoblacht concluded an article about O’Callaghan: “No-one likes informers. They tell lies.” An Phoblacht said: “During almost eighteen months in Crumlin Road Sean O’Callaghan’s mental health was a cause of concern to the prison authorities. He tried to commit suicide on at least two occasions and he was taking regular medication”.  The paper dismisses the claim that O’Callaghan gave himself up out of remorse. “An Phoblacht has learned that throughout 1988 O’Callaghan was drinking heavily and becoming increasingly depressed at the turn his life had taken…  MI5 had cut him loose. … He realised he had outlived his usefulness for his British handlers – that was why he did not offer his super grass strategy to MI5 – and he could not return to Ireland”.

O’Callaghan’s former IRA colleague, Martin Ferris, is now a member of parliament in the Irish Republic. He is derisive about O’Callaghan: ““His many attempts at self-aggrandisement were highly fanciful and despite the attempted lionisation of Sean by some, his obvious fabrication of the truth is clear for anyone that has delved into his claims and counterclaims.”

Others with less of an axe to grind have doubts. Some said the reason for O’Callaghan’s release was so that he could express the views of Conservative politicians who opposed the peace negotiations that led up to the Good Friday Agreement. Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe interviewed O’Callaghan during the time of peace negotiations and he insisted that Sinn Féin was not serious about peace: “His cynicism about the process was badly misplaced.” Nevertheless, Dean Godson, the biographer of David Trimble the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party who fought hard to push the peace process through found O’Callaghan’s counsel helpful: “O’Callaghan’s advice was particularly important to Trimble, giving the latter extra confidence to join the first power-sharing Executive between Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein in 1999”.


Historian Ruth Dudley Edwards wrote in the Belfast Telegraph: “One of the many reasons that despite coming from a Dublin Catholic nationalist background I came to form great friendships with Ulster Protestants was their astonishing ability to forgive.” O’Callaghan told the Los Angeles Times in 1997: “The IRA wasn’t really after the British,” “It was the guy down the road who had the better land that his ancestors had taken from the Catholics. The bitterness was there all the time, rooted and deep. What they really wanted to do was to murder their neighbours. It was tribalism.”

Ruth got to know O’Callaghan well when he worked with her to seek justice for victims of the Omagh bombing in 1998. I wrote about that in these pages.

Those who seek to question O’Callaghan’s account and his motives often cite him as being under the influence of those who seek to question the mythologies of Irish nationalism. Ruth Dudley Edwards is one of those people as is Conor Cruise O’Brien and Eoghan Harris. I myself have been greatly influenced by Ruth’s writings and those of Professor Liam Kennedy, who coined the acronym MOPE about the Irish “Most Oppressed People Ever”.

I sought to apply what I had learnt from them to the Sri Lankan situation and encountered a great deal of abuse as a result. As Michael Clifford wrote about O’Callaghan in the Irish Examiner: “His testimonies of the sectarianism, the wanton criminality, the expedient killing, all gave lie to the bright shining image of selfless freedom fighters protecting their families.”

When someone has committed terrible crimes is it possible to put that behind us as we move to the future? Many who did terrible things for the LTTE still walk free. Eoghan Harris wrote on hearing the news of O’Callaghan’s death: “O’Callaghan committed terrible crimes. But, unlike other republicans, he showed remorse and sought to make restitution by laying his life on the line. His moral rigour forbade him to seek forgiveness either in counselling or in Christianity. He sought absolution by risking a dreadful death, as an unpaid agent inside the IRA. To meet Sean, or even see him on TV, was to be struck by the simple truth of his testimony.”


Ar dheis De go raibh a anam uasal. May his soul be on the right hand of God.

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