Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: colonialism

The Price of a Cup of Tea

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday November 7 2014

The causes of the Haldummulla mudslide lie in the history of colonialism and globalisation.


A few weeks ago, I wrote in these pages about Colombans inhabiting a different planet from we hicks in the “outstations”. Now “upcountry” and in particular Uva province, even more particularly Badulla District, where I live, is getting attention, not only from Colombo, but also from the whole world.

After many days of torrential rain, a mudslide descended on Meeriyabeddawatta tea estate near Haldummulla around 7.30 a.m. on October 29 and buried houses and people under thirty feet of mud. Cracks appeared in the ground and goats ran down the slopes just before the slide.


Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said interviews with survivors and officials found the number of victims was far below early estimates of 400 or more. Many of the people thought to be missing were at work or school when the mud destroyed their homes. The number of houses destroyed is now 66, revised from an earlier figure of 150. The authorities say they are able to name 38 people who died. Although one is relieved that fewer perished than had been feared, that is still too many dead. One driver told how his wife, two sons, daughter-in-law and a six-month-old baby girl had been swallowed by the mud.


Politicians have reacted to the disaster, as politicians will, by saying it is all someone else’s fault. Politicians were recently courting the votes of plantation workers in the elections for Uva Provincial Council.

Managing yet another Disaster

Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said that his ministry had issued warnings but the victims had not heeded them. Perhaps they were afraid of losing their jobs. Cabinet Ministers WDJ Seneviratne and Mahinda Samarasinghe said they would investigate why the plantation company employing the workers who perished had not acted upon warnings given by the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) with regard to landslides in the area. Mr Samarasinghe is co-chair of the Permanent Standing Committee on Human Rights in Sri Lanka. Mr Samarasinghe also heads the Ministry of Plantation Industries whose vision is “achieving national prosperity through development of the plantation industry”. The mission statement of the plantation company says:Our strength is in our people”.

History of Tea Production

The 38 who perished were workers on a tea plantation. In the 1870s, one monoculture replaced another in Ceylon. George Bird was the first to start planting coffee on a commercial scale and in the “coffee rush” of the 1840s, speculators cleared around 386 sq miles of rain forest to pave the way for coffee plantations. “Devastating Emily” (the coffee blight Hemileia vastatrix) was first identified in the Madolsima (I can see it from my front garden) area in 1869. In the 1870s, of 1700 coffee planters, only 400 remained on the island. Most of those remaining turned to the cultivation of tea. By 1900, only 11,392 acres were still under coffee cultivation.

Tea was first introduced to the island in 1824 at the Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya with a few plants brought from China. In 1867, a Scottish planter, James Taylor, cleared 19 acres of forest in the District of Hewaheta Lower to plant the first seedlings in what is now known as the No.7 field of Loolecondera Estate. The first consignment Taylor exported to London was 23lbs, this rose to 22,900 tons by 1890. Today, tea plantations cover 188,175 hectares, approximately 4%, of the country’s land area. The crop is best at high altitudes of over 6,890 ft, and the plants require an annual rainfall of more than 39 inches.

This sounds like a recipe for disaster – clearing forests, which held the soil together, to grow a crop that needs heavy rainfall, which washes soil away.

Indentured Labour

The plantation system as we know it in Sri Lanka today developed in colonial Assam to facilitate tea production on a large scale with a division of labour and financial arrangements more typical of industry than agriculture. I was surprised to hear Sinhalese people disparaging themselves by saying that the British had to import labourers from India because local people were too lazy to work. It seems more likely that local people were reluctant to be exploited and the British wanted a docile labour force.

In 1827, Governor Sir Edward Barnes, at the request of George Bird, initiated the recruitment of workers from Tamil Nadu to work on the coffee plantations of Ceylon. Immigration of Indian Tamils steadily increased and by the end of the coffee era, there were 100,000 Indian labourers in Sri Lanka. The numbers increased as tea cultivation became the country’s main industry.

The Indian labourer community remained separated up in the hills from Sinhalese villagers who lived in the valleys. In 1949, the UNP government disenfranchised Indian Tamils. As they had no means of electing anyone to Parliament, they ceased to be a concern of parliamentary politicians. The Srima-Shastri pact of 1964 and Indira-Sirimavo supplementary agreement of 1974 paved the way for the repatriation of 600,000 persons of Indian origin to India. Another 375,000 became Sri Lankan citizens of Sri Lanka, and through trade unions became a significant force in politics.


Commercial agriculture, including most tea production, requires as much of the land as possible to be planted with a single crop. This does not happen in nature, where a balance is maintained between different kinds of plants and the animals and insects that live among them. In an intensively cultivated monoculture, there is no natural ecosystem and pests will gobble up the abundant food supply unless chemical pesticides are used. Chemicals are essential for most commercial growing enterprises, including most crops certified as “organic”.

Many countries have banned Glyphosate, a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds. A scientific study showed  that Glyphosate is linked to chronic kidney disease as well as many other health problems including cancers, infertility, along with neurotoxicity, reproductive problems, and birth defects.

A World Health Organization report estimated 15% of the population in North Central and Uva Province, about 60,000 people, had kidney disease probably caused by chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and that 22,000 had died from it from it in the past 20 years in Anuradhapura alone. The prevalence of the disease is estimated at 15 % affecting 400 000 people.

The Sri Lanka Agriculture Department claim that they have not found conclusive evidence linking kidney disease to agricultural chemicals. They are reluctant to institute a ban on glyphosate saying that a ban will drastically affect tea and paddy cultivation as it is the only effective herbicide for commercial crops.


Prasad Dharmasena and MS Bhat of the University of Kashmir did a study of the Uva plantations, focusing on Passara, where I live. They found that 80% of the land is old seedling tea, poorly managed. About 30% of the entire tea land is marginal or uneconomic. Steep slopes and poor management practices are responsible for severe soil erosion. The research found more abandoned lands in the Passara area than in other tea growing areas of the district.

The land was compromised when planters cleared forests for tea. They are further compromised when tea is cleared to make way for vegetables. “These tea estates were once natural forest, which is best for river flow,” said scientist DK Pushpakumara, of the World Agroforestry Centre. “Cultivation of vegetables threatens the heart of our water system.” The Regional Resource Centre for Asia and the Pacific notes that one-third of the land suffers considerable erosion. “Poorly managed tea lands as well as abandoned tea lands lose sediments 15 times more than in a homestead, and 20 to 22 times more than in the wet zone forests.”

Workers’ Conditions

Cheap labour was one of the essential ingredients of the success of the tea industry. Immigrant workers were bonded and underpaid. In 1921, workers were allowed to break ties to the estates; trade unions with political power helped improve wages. Nevertheless, poverty levels on plantations have consistently been higher than the national average. Overall poverty in Sri Lanka has declined in the last thirty years, but what poverty remains is concentrated in rural areas. Poverty in the estate sector increased, rising from 30 percent in 2002 to 32 percent in 2006/07. The welfare system within the estates and job security used to offset poor working conditions, but this no longer applies, as employment is no longer secure in the tea sector in Sri Lanka. Tamil workers are trying to better their lot by voting with their feet.

Sri Lanka is losing international markets because Ceylon tea is expensive. The cost of production is high because the large tea plantations in this country are the most inefficient in the world with the lowest yields. There is a labour shortage because what used to be captive Tamil youth are leaving to find a better life in urban areas.


I do not need academics to tell me about erosion, pesticides and poor estate management. For twelve years, I have been surrounded by tea and have consumed vast lakes of the stuff. I have talked to many people connected with the tea industry: veteran estate managers, current young superintendents, brokers, SDs, labourers and pluckers. Many people seem to take a pessimistic view about the future of the industry. Retired managers visiting our home look at the tea fields abutting our property and remark on the abysmal state of maintenance and the poor quality of the tea bushes. Most estate roads are dilapidated as managers say they do not have the funds or labour to maintain them. We do notice labourers in the field right next to us spraying chemicals. They are not wearing masks and they do not care about contaminating our water supply. We often see labourers hacking away at the roots that hold the soil together and scraping soil and rock from the embankments. It is no surprise when landslips block the main roads. Small inconveniences easily grow into disasters. Mother Nature fights back.

Reconciliation in Ireland Part 2

Cromwell’s Genocidal Legacy

During the negotiations towards the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921, which eventually led to independence and today’s modern republican state of Ireland, Lloyd George was heard to express his exasperation at the Irish team’s  reluctance to discuss current mundane issues such as borders and policing. “They  only want to talk about Cromwell!”
Jonathan Powell in his book on the more recent Northern Ireland peace process, Great Hatred, Little Room, said that he and Tony Blair had the same problem with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness. With them it was Cromwell,  with Reverend Ian Paisley it was the Siege of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne.

Winston Churchill was not loved by the Irish. My father described him as the man who sent the Black and Tans into Ireland to shoot civilians and burn villages. Churchill described the impact of Cromwell on Anglo-Irish relations thus:
“…upon all of these Cromwell’s record was a lasting bane. By an uncompleted process of terror, by an iniquitous land settlement, by the virtual proscription of the Catholic religion, by the bloody deeds already described, he cut new gulfs between the nations and the creeds. ‘Hell or Connaught’ were the terms he thrust upon the native inhabitants, and they for their part, across three hundred years, have used as their keenest expression of hatred ‘The Curse of Cromwell on you.’ … Upon all of us there still lies ‘the curse of Cromwell’.”

History lives in the present. Cromwell was a hard act to forgive and forget.

Plantations and Genocide

In October 1641, after a bad harvest, Phelim O’Neill launched a rebellion, hoping to rectify grievances of Irish Catholic landowners. Once the rebellion was underway, the resentment of the native Irish in Ulster boiled over into indiscriminate attacks on the settler population. Recent research suggests  4,000 settlers were killed directly and up to 12,000 may have perished from disease or privation after being expelled from their homes. Ulster was worst hit. The atrocities committed by both sides further poisoned the relationship between the settler and native communities and arguably the wounds still fester. Does this remind anyone of Palestine?

Cromwell with the New Model Army by 1652 had effectively re-conquered Ireland. Cromwell held all Irish Catholics responsible for the rebellion of 1641. The Irish Catholic land-owning class was utterly destroyed and Cromwell achieved the logical conclusion of the plantation process. Over 12,000 New Model Army veterans were given Irish land instead of wages. They were required to keep their weapons to act as a reserve militia in case of future rebellions.

Cromwell has his defenders among modern historians but a recent book, God’s Executioner by Mícheál Ó Siochrú, is a forceful restatement of the prosecution case. The 1649-53 campaign lingers in the Irish psyche for the  huge death toll (possibly 40% of the population).There was  wholesale burning of crops, forced population movement and slaughter of civilians. The post-war Cromwellian settlement of Ireland has been characterized as “genocidal”.

The fifty years from 1641 to 1691 saw two catastrophic periods of civil war in Ireland  which killed hundreds of thousands of people and left others in permanent exile. Some Irish were sent to the West indies as slaves. The first recorded sale of Irish slaves was to a settlement along the Amazon in South America in 1612 but early arrangements were probably unofficial although encouraged by James I. In 1637, a census showed that 69% of the inhabitants of Montserrat in the West Indies were Irish slaves. The Irish had a tendency to die in the heat, and were not as well suited to the work as African slaves, but African slaves had to be bought. Irish slaves could be kidnapped. After the 1641 rebellion, an estimated 300,000 were sold as slaves. In the 1650’s, 100,000 Irish Catholic children were taken from their parents and sold as slaves, many to Virginia and New England. From 1651 to 1660 there were more Irish slaves in America than the entire non-slave population of the colonies.

The wars, which pitted Irish Catholics against British forces and Protestant settlers, ended in the almost complete dispossession of the Catholic landed elite. The Plantations had a profound impact on Ireland in several ways. The native ruling classes were destroyed and replaced by the Protestant Ascendancy.

Sir William Petty

William Petty (1623-87) – mathematician, mechanic, physician, cartographer and statistician – devised a public-private partnership for “fusing science and policy”. Petty is best known through his connection with the Cromwellian settlement of Ireland. Arriving in Ireland in 1652 as physician-general to the army, he set about making himself useful by  surveying the boundaries of holdings and assessing relative values. This became known as the Down Survey, which commodified Irish land. It standardised the measure of estates, in size and in value, and, as, Petty himself was a major holder of these debentures, he became very rich. When he arrived in Ireland, he had maybe £500 in assets, but  he came to own 50,000 acres in County Kerry alone. John Aubrey estimated Petty’s  rental income at its height at £18,000 a year – perhaps £27 million in today’s money.

Petty anticipated Henry Ford’s methods (Ford’s father was from County Cork) of division of labour and economies of scale. He divided complicated tasks into bits that could be handled by men “not of the nimblest witts”, that is, by the soldiers themselves, who were also tough enough to deal with angry landowners and “with the severall rude persons in the country, from whome they might expect to be often crossed and opposed”.

One way of preventing Ireland from being a haven for terrorists was to transform it  by social engineering into a peaceful and productive land. Ireland could be seen as a laboratory in  which a new, rational and virtuous society might be developed. Petty wrote: “Some furious Spirits have wished, that the Irish would rebel again, that they might be put to the Sword.” He had some scruples: “I declare, that motion to be not only impious and inhumane, but withal frivolous and pernicious even to them who have rashly wish’d for those occasions.”

Eugenics and Ethnic Cleansing

Petty explored the idea of breeding the “meer Irish”  out of existence by deporting 10,000 Irishwomen of marriageable age to England every year and replacing  them with a like number of Englishwomen?  “The whole Work of natural Transmutation and Union would in four or five years be accomplished.” The Englishwomen would run Irish households on much more civilised lines: “The Language of the Children shall be English, and the whole Oeconomy of the Family English, viz. Diet, Apparel, &c., and the Transmutation will be very easy and quick”.

Cromwell’s genocidal campaign had been financed through promises of confiscated Irish land. Rebels were executed and others were sent as slaves to the West Indies. Irish soldiers were given the opportunity of going abroad to fight in foreign armies and became known as the Wild Geese.

All land east of the River Shannon was claimed by the Crown. About 8,400,000 acres were reassigned from Catholic to Protestant owners. The former Irish owners could either accept transportation to poorer land reserved for them in Connaught or be tenants of the new Protestant owners. Catholic ownership plummeted from 60%  of the land before the Rebellion to less than 10%  after 1652. It was a great experiment in the movement of populations and transference of social power.

There has been speculation  that Irish travellers  were descended from ancestors who were made homeless by Cromwell.

Petty may have provided some useful ideas to Hitler and Mengele.. While I deplore the activities of conflict junkies who are only happy when the fires of hatred are constantly stoked, one cannot understand contemporary Ireland without knowing where the divisions in Irish society originated.

Reconciliation in Cyprus

Many of the conflicts that I have described in these articles on reconciliation have not been helped by  colonisation. In 1878, Britain was granted control of Cyprus in exchange for giving military support to the Ottoman Empire against Russia. The first British High Commissioner was  Sir Garnet Joseph Wolseley. The indigenous Greeks of the island, who in the 1881 census formed 73.9% of the population, desired enosis,  to unite with Greece.

Cypriots initially believed  British rule would bring  prosperity, democracy and national liberation. However, the  British levied severe taxes to cover the compensation which they were paying to the Sultan. All powers were reserved to the High Commissioner and to London, thwarting hopes of participatory democracy for Cypriots.
The First World War ended protectorate status and Cyprus was annexed to the British Empire. Britain offered to cede Cyprus to Greece if they would fulfil treaty obligations to attack Bulgaria, but Greece declined. Britain proclaimed Cyprus a Crown colony in 1925 under an undemocratic constitution.
Under the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 the new Turkish government formally recognised Britain’s sovereignty over Cyprus. Greek Cypriots continued to demand  enosis ,which had been  achieved by  many of the Aegean and Ionian islands following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The  British opposed enosis and unrest  developed rapidly during the 1930s. There were riots in Nicosia in 1931 during which Government House was burnt down.
The Governor, Sir Richmond Palmer, took a number of suppressive measures against the  Greek population and prohibited trade unions and limited freedom of association. In spite of this more than thirty thousand Cypriots joined the British armed forces during the Second World War.

After the war, there was increasing international pressure for enosis and a delegation from Cyprus submitted a demand to London. The demand was rejected but the British proposed a more liberal constitution and a ten-year programme of social and economic development.
When international pressure did not suffice to make Britain respond, violence escalated with a campaign against the colonial power organised by EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston). Its leader, Colonel George Grivas created and directed an effective campaign beginning in 1955. The first bombs were set off on April 1. Attacks on police stations started on June 19. The Governor proclaimed a State of Emergency on 26 November.

For the next four years EOKA attacked British targets and those Cypriots it accused of collaboration. Archbishop Makarios and other Cypriot clergy and political leaders were forced into exile. The Cyprus emergency cost the lives of 371 British servicemen, more than have died in Afghanistan.
Turkish Cypriots in 1957 responded to the demand for enosis  by calling for  taksim, partition.  Taksim became the slogan which was used by the increasingly militant Turkish Cypriots to counter the Greek cry of ‘enosis’. In 1957 Fazıl Küçük, who represented Turkish Cypriots and later became vice-president of independent Cyprus, declared during a visit to Ankara that Turkey would claim the northern half of the island.

The British were forced to take a different attitude after the Suez fiasco demonstrated that they were no longer a convincing imperial power. Britain  decided that independence was acceptable if military  bases in Cyprus could be an  alternative to Cyprus as a base. However, Governor  Sir Hugh Foot’s plan for unitary self-government alarmed the Turkish community and violence between the two communities became  a new and deadly feature of the situation.

On August 16, 1960 Cyprus gained its independence from Britain. Archbishop Makarios was elected the first president. In 1961 Cyprus became the 99th member of the UN. Independence  did not bring reconciliation. Greek Cypriots argued that the complex mechanisms introduced to protect Turkish Cypriot interests were obstacles to efficient government and tried to exclude Turkish politicians. Both sides continued the violence. Turkish Cypriot participation in the central government ceased on December 23, 1963, when all Cypriot Turks from the lowest civil servants to ministers, including the Turkish Vice-President Dr Fazıl Küçük, were out of the government. UN peacekeepers were deployed on the island in 1964, effectively recognising the Greek Cypriots as the government. UK PM Sir Alec Douglas-Home said international intervention was essential: “There would probably have been a massacre of Turkish Cypriots” which were confined in enclaves totaling little more than 3% of the island.

In July 1974, Makarios was overthrown by a coup carried out by the Cypriot National Guard which supported the military dictators who had seized power in Athens. Turkey invaded Cyprus on July 20 and  took control of 38% of the island. 200,000 Greek Cypriots fled the northern areas and  60,000 Turkish Cypriots were transferred to northern occupied areas by the UN. Since then, the southern part of the country has been under the control of the internationally recognised Cyprus government and the northern part occupied under a Turkish administration and the Turkish army. Turkey relocated 40,000 Turkish civilians to the occupied part of the island through coercive measures, meaning that now only 45% of the Turkish population were actually born on Cyprus.

Many have accused Britain of its customary divide and rule tactics. Nicos Koshis, a former justice minister, said: “It is my feeling they wanted to have fighting between the two sides. They didn’t want us to get together. If the communities come together maybe in the future we say no bases in Cyprus.” Martin Packard, a naval intelligence officer, told Jolyon Jenkins of the BBC that in 1964 he had to take US acting secretary of state George Ball, around the island. Arriving back in Nicosia, says Packard, “Ball patted me on the back, as though I were sadly deluded and he said: That was a fantastic show son, but you’ve got it all wrong, hasn’t anyone told you that our plan here is for partition?”
Historians such as Brendan O’Malley, Ian Craig, Lawrence Stern and  William Mallinson have argued that the U.S. had a continuous, decade-long plan to partition Cyprus through external military intervention and that this plan was based on the strategic value of Cyprus as a military base and source of intelligence. Caroline Wenzke and Dan Lindley  disagree: “While the U.S.’s rationale was not always commendable or favourable to the Cypriot people and at times the State Department’s
decisions may merit criticism, the U.S. did not orchestrate a decade-long conspiracy to protect its own interests on the island.”

When Cyprus applied  to join the EU in May 2004, members of both communities (and citizens of EU) have been able to cross the buffer zone. A UN-sponsored referendum on reunification was held on 21 April 2004. Turkish Cypriots voted to accept the UN plan as stated in the referendum, but Greek Cypriots rejected it by a large majority.

The first elections to take place after Cyprus’s accession to the EU and the failed referendum, were in 2008. Dimitris Christofias of the communist party became president and  started talks with on the reunification of Cyprus as a bizonal federal state. His hopes for Greek Cypriot approval of such a plan were thwarted  by the nationalists’ victory in the 2009 parliamentary elections. Turkey’s own bid for EU membership has constantly been thwarted and they may now have given up. EU membership was a strong factor in reconciliation for the island of Ireland but that avenue seems to have closed for Cyprus.
Although Northern Cyprus has been a de jure  member of the EU since 2004, EU law is “suspended” there. Cyprus currently holds the EU presidency for the first time. President Christofias has stressed that the Cyprus Presidency will be a European Presidency, that it would only promote the EU’s interests as a whole, working as an honest broker. Cyprus is the fifth state to ask for a EU bailout. Standard and Poors estimate 15 billion euro will be needed. There is growing fear that the main victim of the Cyprus EU Presidency will be the ongoing re-unification talks.
On July 19 2012, Christofias welcomed an agreement which will continue the identification process of exhumed remains, believed to belong to missing persons in Cyprus. The President announced that soon the first 280 samples of remains, believed to belong to about 70 missing persons, will be delivered to the International Commission on Missing Persons. He also said that the remains of 330 missing persons have been identified, 66 of whom are Turkish Cypriots and the rest Greek Cypriots. He stressed that the healing process for the families of missing persons will only end when the remains of the last of those victims are identified, on the basis of international law. The European Court of Human Rights established that there had been continuing violations by Turkey of Articles 2, 3 and 5 of the Convention concerning the right to life, liberty and security and prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment. Turkey was found to have failed to conduct an effective investigation into the fate of the Greek Cypriot missing persons who disappeared in life-threatening circumstances or were in Turkish custody at the time of their disappearance.
Mehmet Ali Talat, a leftist like  Christofias, was  president until 2010 of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. He said  he wanted a Cypriot federation with a central government and a shared flag  but “the Greek Cypriots aren’t cooperating.” The north has increasingly attracted undesirable elements. Turkish Cyprus attracts fugitives seeking sanctuary in a territory without extradition arrangements, smugglers, human traffickers and gamblers. Electricians, plumbers and bricklayers cross the border to work in  EU territory. Some 80,000 Turkish Cypriots, or about one-third of the population in the north, now have EU passports. They can obtain health insurance and medical treatment in the south, and board direct flights to other countries.
Nicosia is internationally recognised as the capital of Cyprus but buffer zone runs through Ledra Street dividing Greeks and Turks, although the street was re-opened on 3 April 2008.
Eleni Mavrou, a Greek Cypriot MP said in 2005: “Reconciliation means facing our past. It involves accepting the mistakes of  the other side and accepting that both sides have suffered in one way or another and through this process facing the future. It means understanding that we cannot continue living in the past so we should concentrate on the possibility, the capability of creating something together for the future. In the political realm, it means a dialogue that should lead to an agreement on the future constitutional, territorial, settlement of the Cyprus problem.

NGOs Speak with Forked Tongue

This article appeared in Lakbima News on April 1. It has disappeared from the paper’s website. This was not an April Fool’s joke because I have the print edition in front of me. I did not imagine seeing it on the website because someone e-mailed me about it only today, April 10. I saw it on the website and a few people commented. Where has it gone?


Susantha Goonatilake called his 2006 book on foreign-funded NGOs in Sri Lanka Recolonization. In his conclusion he wrote: “Sri Lankan NGOs emerged in the late 1970s when the then government cracked down on democracy, transparency and accountability and killed locally-grown civil society… Sri Lanka thus became a partial NGO franchise state, with the NGOs attempting to erode the country’s sovereignty.”

Neo-liberal imperialism leads to the assumption  that poor countries cannot modernize without foreign help. In the 1990s this “help” meant blackmailing developing countries into accepting the Washington Consensus – deregulation and liberalisation of markets, privatisation and severe cuts in the public sector and undermining sovereignty. The World Bank learnt  obfuscatory cant  from its NGO partners and NGOs reciprocally learnt to be “businesslike”. By stressing citizen “participation”, institutional “transparency”, respect for “the rule of law” and the flourishing of “civil society”, the bank was camouflaging its authoritarian preference for imposing its  doctrinaire free-market policies which can be lethal for the weak economies of developing countries.

In my recent article on the subject of cant I gave passing mention to the strong showing that NGOs are making in the jargon department. I now want to give NGOs the more detailed attention they so richly deserve. Much NGO language is verbiage  that is never translated into action, aphasic gobbledygook  that displays the arrogance of the outsider and is not designed to communicate. NGO workers themselves like to joke about  language like “Successful Good Practice Related to Local Ownership and Crosscutting Holistic Gender Empowerment for Excluded Adolescent Girls based on Positive Deviance Methodology”. This is in-crowd humour displaying group solidarity against the funny “locals”.

Let me remind you that Dr Johnson defined cant as: “a whining pretension to goodness, in formal and affected terms”, “a particular form of speaking peculiar to some certain class or body of men”.

For NGO condescension in abundance check out this blogsite:

I know a lot of this stuff is intended as self-deprecatory humour but it still comes across as arrogant and esoteric. A blogger on that site called D (none of these people are prepared to use their real names) finds armed militias a source of humour. “Rebel presence means that the EAW (Expatriate Aid Worker) is doing some hardship living (and getting hardship pay!). Rebels remind the EAW that he is living in a dodgy place. And we all know EAWs like dodgy places.” If only Tamil civilians in the north could have got some “hardship pay” for their proximity to the “rebel presence”! “Rebels, militias and freedom fighters — what would the hardcore EAW do without them?”

Bit too close to the truth, what?

During the Sri Lankan conflict there were many accusations of NGOs supporting the LTTE rebels beyond a reasonable boundary of humanitarian neutrality. Two employees of Care International were arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate defence minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. It  is interesting to note that Care is based in Atlanta, Georgia but in its mission statement specifically excludes itself from doing any poverty alleviation work in the USA. Is there no poverty in the USA?

A blogger called J finds sexual exploitation amusing: “Few things say, ‘I am one with the people’ like nailing the hot, local office manager or getting nailed by the suave local driver.”

There are those who argue that foreign aid is bad for recipients and donors. William Easterly , who is  the main proponent of this view, sent out a twitter call for aid workers to help him compile a dictionary of AidSpeak.

Here is a selection of the contributions:

 “beneficiaries” : the people who make it possible for us to be paid by other people

 “civil society involvement”: consulting the middle class employee of a US or European NGO

“community capacity building” : teach them what they already know

“entrepreneurial” : vaguely innovative and cool, but definitely nothing to do with the hated “market”

participatory stakeholders” : people who should solve their own problems

 “participation” : the right to agree with preconceived projects or programs

“Global North” : White academics; “Global South” : Indian academics

“pro-poor” : the rich know best

“outreach” : intrude

 “sensitize” : tell people what to do

 “tackling root causes of poverty” : repackaging what we’ve already done in a slightly more sexy font –

I wrote in these pages about 27-year-old  Joshua M Schoop, who spent three months in the Northern province while studying for a Masters in International Development at Tulane University, Louisiana. He wrote: “Natives are suffering immensely from the impacts of the war”. Does anyone use the word “natives” anymore? “Several international and community-based organisations are operating in the area, assisting where they can, while further perpetuating  a dependence on foreign aid.” Josh, are you not planning a career based on such dependence? Today, Louisiana has poverty, crime and health indicators, particularly for blacks, equivalent to  third- world nations. Most of Sri Lanka’s social indicators are better than Louisiana’s. America’s  civil war lasted four years and ended 145 years ago. I have been to Louisiana and the war does not seem to have ended. Sri Lanka’s civil war lasted 30 years and ended less than three years  ago. The Reconstruction era was a difficult period in American history. Progress is already being made in Sri Lanka but we are too slow for Josh.

It was good of Josh to take the trouble come over here to Sri Lanka to help us out when there is so much for him to do back home. How does Sri Lanka benefit from twenty-somethings with little experience of life bringing their jargon over here?

A couple of years back I had some e-mail exchanges with a fellow Irish citizen who had made her career with a US-based NGO whose speciality was fostering democracy. A previous posting had been in Bosnia. Now she was bringing democracy to Sri Lanka. I  wondered how  a young Irishwoman would, in practical terms, address the particular nature of Sri Lanka’s democratic deficit. Would she walk into a local Pradeshiya Sabha and disarm the politico-thugs? Would she go to the parliament with a whip and drive out all the thieves, murderers and rapists? Would she use her Irish charm and eloquence to persuade the president to repeal the 18th Amendment? Would she sort out the leadership crisis in the UNP?

I think it more likely that she would sit in a Colombo office dispensing cant.

A young  British woman posts on Facebook to her friends abroad jottings about life as an NGO intern in Sri Lanka. She finds there are often stupid things in Sri Lankan newspapers. It seems that train journeys can be uncomfortable and fellow passengers smell and have unpleasant eating habits.  Batticaloa and Vavuniya leave something to be desired compared to Didsbury. At one point she did have the grace to describe as  this as “spoiltwesternwhinings”. There are compensations: “Swimming in the Indian Ocean, cricket on the beach, blagging a press pass for the Galle Literature Fest, stalking Richard Dawkins, surfing, fancy beach party….”

I am reminded of something that Gomin Dayasri wrote about the unhealthy symbiosis between NGOs, the Bretton Woods agents of neo-liberal capitalism, foreign journalists and what he calls “Colombians” –  the western-orientated English-speaking elite:“Such comfortable digs are not in the market in the recession-stung home country. There is exotic food and groovy watering holes at affordable prices. NGOs provide the freebies and roll out the red carpet…With the LTTE gone where will they go? After few more horror stories to demean the Security Forces and back to the west to face the shock treatment of recession. War is an investment relief to the Foreign Correspondent. The order will soon come to pack the flak jackets and return to a not so sweet home and to wait patiently for a call to another exotic destination?”

Simon Akam reported from Sierra Leone for the Literary Review that NGO-speak has  infected broadcasting and government in that benighted country and is being absorbed into the local language, Krio: “The national dialogue is framed in the vernacular of NGOs…. What Sierra Leone needs is a functioning central government to deal with the allocation of resources, both domestic and those provided by aid. The issues at stake are too large to be dealt with by smaller institutions…. Instead, numerous foreign NGOs – a surfeit of white people in white Landcruisers – surround a weak central bureaucracy. None of them has the means to perform the grand functions that are needed; even if they did, concern about sovereignty would probably prevent them.”

Humanitarianism is a multi-billion-dollar business. Analysts at Development Initiatives estimate that the humanitarian aid sector globally was worth at least $18 billion in 2008. World Vision International, spent over $6.5 million on relief assistance in 60 countries that year, distributing over half a million tonnes of food to 8.5 million people. NGOs  are huge corporate businesses and they offer a career structure. NGO workers can build up an image of saintliness as well as developing a lucrative CV.


Privatisation – Provider Profits, Public Pays

This article appeared in the Sri Lankan newspaper The Nation in November 2011 but seems to have disappeared from their website.


In 1977,  J.R. Jayawardene cried, ‘Let the robber barons come!’  Peter Mandelson said New Labour had no problems about people being seriously rich. “Liberalisation” of the economy made some people seriously rich.

It has been claimed that the term “privatisation” was first used in the 1930s by The Economist to describe Nazi economic policy. In my lifetime, it has generally been seen as a right-wing kind of concept.

One of the foundation myths of Thatcherism is that the Iron Lady  banged down a copy of Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty and declared “this is what we believe”. However, Hayek was no Thatcherite.  He wrote: “probably nothing has done so much harm to the liberal cause as the wooden insistence of some liberals on certain rules of thumb, above all of the principle of laissez-faire capitalism.”

Despite the nostalgia of some on the left, nationalised industries were not easy to love. I tried hard, snoozing over the works of Ralph Miliband (father of David and Ed) in Manchester Central Reference Library, but I did not learn to love British Gas or British Steel.

After privatisation, UK public utilities  initially became more efficient and customer-friendly. A customer service ethos briefly crept into public services previously noted for their surly sloth. The man on the Clapham omnibus bought shares and was encouraged to offload  them instantly to make a quick profit. Controlling blocks of shares were snapped up big institutions, many of them foreign. The cliché changed  from “a nation of shareholders” to “selling off the family silver”.

I was a management consultant in the NHS in the early days of the health service “reforms”, which aimed to introduce market discipline. Imposing artificial distinctions between providers and purchasers on a sensitive area like health care seemed to me a crazy idea even then. Dr Hamish Meldrum told a BMA conference: “End the ludicrous, divisive, expensive experiment of the market in healthcare in England. Never has there been a better time to abandon the wasteful bureaucracy of the market”.

It was unfortunate for the UK and the NHS in particular that Blair and Brown were fixated on the idea of PFI (Public Private Finance Initiative). Let Carlisle NHS Trust Hospital stand as an emblem of PFI in the NHS. Reports told of  sewage bubbling out of theatre sinks when nurses were scrubbing up. Sir Stuart Lipton, head of the government’s Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, said: “The present round of PFI is effectively sub-contracted obligations. It is not that the buildings are being built inefficiently, but the contractor has got nothing to do with the medical process – they are two separate functions, which effectively should be one”.

When the conservative government was ousted, the Blair government pursued PFI with even greater zeal. In the UK, the partnership has been one-sided – the provider profits, the public pays. Despite propaganda about the risk-taking adventurous spirit of the private entrepreneur, the private side of the public-private partnership cannily avoids risk. The government, or rather the taxpayer, carries the risk.

The British Empire imposed western institutions and Christianity on the savages. In recent times the Bretton Woods institutions have imposed the voodoo economics of neo-liberalist orthodoxy on the “developing” world. Because debtor governments are in a relatively weak position and international banks, backed by the World Bank and the IMF, in a much stronger one, complex currency deals invariably produce knock-down sales of state assets to foreigners

World Bank documents recognised that re-building the damaged Sri Lankan infrastructure after the tsunami “may strain public finances” and suggested that governments consider privatisation. “For certain investments,” noted the bank’s tsunami-response plan, “it may be appropriate to utilise private financing.” So money donated nominally to help tsunami victims was actually used to inflict a “second tsunami” on them, handing over their land to foreign corporations and ending their historic lifestyles for ever.

Neo-liberal imperialism leads to the assumption  that poor countries cannot modernize without foreign help. In the 1990s this “help” meant blackmailing developing countries into accepting the Washington Consensus – deregulation and liberalisation of markets, privatisation and severe cuts in the public sector and undermining sovereignty. Health and education are cut  and essential utilities like water are handed over to foreign entrepreneurs. These policies have been imposed without concern for the social effects on the target economies and has left the Bank open to charges that its main objective is to further US interests.

It is bizarre that, in spite of  the crash, some people are still calling for more deregulation and privatisation. In India, the Planning Commission’s Approach Paper to the Twelfth Plan claims to have consulted civil society organisations for six years, but seems to have been deaf to reason. PV Rajagopal, president of Ekta Parshad,  a Gandhian social movement struggling for the rights of landless and economically marginalized people, told the Chennai magazine  Frontline that the slant in the Approach Paper towards more privatisation and PPP was not what he had in mind when he participated. Bill Clinton has been criticising Obama’s financial policies. Although the Clinton years were prosperous, he  helped precipitate the present crisis by deregulating banks and encouraging the mortgage binge.

It surely was not too much regulation or not enough privatisation that caused the world’s financial woes.

The Toxicity of Taxonomy- Stereotyping the Irish

One of my favorite quotations is from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “All generalizations are dangerous including this one”.

The most dangerous generalizations are those about race.

Can’t you take a joke, you Irish thicko?

A very dear friend of mine keeps sending me e-mails with titles like “You’ve got to love the Irish”. These e-mails are compilations of “Irish jokes”.  My secondary response, after the initial “racist bitch” was: “Why have you got to love the Irish?” Her reply was: “Because they are so dumb”.

I patiently explained to her that, although the jokes did indeed illustrate elements of  stupidity, they were actually made-up stories and were not evidence of stupidity in the real world.

Call me literal-minded, pedantic if you must. “Political correctness gone mad” some will cry.

My very first (and very mild) comment on an Open Salon  post over three years ago caused the poster to call me a nasty little troll in public. His ‘real-life-friend’ (RLF)  applauded him and, when I objected, said that I was mentally ill. As evidence on OS of my unsurpassed genius became  unassailable, RLF began to court me with endless praise and urged others to read my brilliant work. He called me wise and witty. Unfortunately, he found it impossible to address me without adopting a stage-Oirish accent. I asked him why he did this, why my mere Irishness was so irresistibly risible to him. I asked him if he would ever contemplate addressing his hero Obama in the tones of a nigger minstrel. He fell out with me again and called me “prickly”.

Where is my sense of humor for God’s sake!?

George Bernard Shaw, in his essays, warned English tourists not to visit Ireland because the Irish were determined to resist English illusions about them: “it is a point of honour with the Modern Irishman to have no sense of humour”. Modern Ireland was in full reaction against both servility and the construct of  the “stage Irishman”.

In this essay I will mainly be concentrating on the fraught Irish/British relationship, but there is a good deal of literature about  Irish identity in the USA.

In an essay entitled “Passing from Light into Dark,” in the Journal of Multimedia Studies, John McClymer  set out to “deepen and complicate the ongoing scholarly conversation about race, ethnicity, acculturation, and their interrelationships”. He compared the acculturation of other European immigrants in the USA with the Irish experience. “Becoming ‘American’  meant entering a culture in which European and other nationality groups contended with each other — as well as with their Yankee ‘hosts’ — for pride of place. It was a culture which insisted upon the salience of ethnic stereotypes. In 1883, for example, the first Swedish Directory, a compilation of all the names, addresses, and occupations of Worcester’s Swedes, contained this joke, in Swedish. The priest asks:

‘Patrick, the widow Murphy says you stole one of her best pigs.
Yes, Father.
What have you done with it?
I slaughtered it and ate it up, Father.
Oh, Patrick, what will you answer on Judgment Day when you stand face-to-face with the widow and her pig and she accuses you of having stolen it?
Father, did you say the pig will be there?
Yes, of course I said that!
Well then, I would answer: ‘Mrs. Murphy, now you have your pig back!’

Few of the Directory’s readers had been in the United States for more than a couple of years. Yet they were already learning ‘Pat and Mike’ jokes. This suggests that ethnicity itself was a form of acculturation rather than an alternative to it.”

Seeing the funny side of genocide

Someone called David Price did a post on Open Salon titled “Solution to the Irish Problem”. Please  join his imaginary friends  and read it for your enlightenment.

The solution to the “Irish problem” was to send all the Irish to Holland where they would be incompetent enough to flood the place and subsequently perish by drowning. Imagine someone writing a post entitled “Solution to the Jewish Problem” or “Solution to the African-American Problem” in which the solution consisted of extermination of a race by drowning. Hitler had a “Final Solution” to the “Jewish Problem”.

I did a response to show why Irish people might not be amused by jokes about extermination.

Racism and misogyny

People who are prejudiced against one group will probably be prejudiced against another.
An Open Salon  blogger calling himself  XJS and Me (who had written posts about his friendships with “negros” and his sexual relations with an under-age girl)  weighed in with remarks like “Don’t worry- Padraig is having his period”. “I also attempted to find pics of Plaidrag C and was constantly directed to sites listing proctologists.”

“plaidrag mumbles and whines: ‘I don’t love misogyny, homophobia, racism, plagiarism and bad grammar.’ Proof that the whiny little baby hates itself’.”

“I’m surprised that an Irishman wouldn’t understand when someone is teasing them and think they’re attempting to pick a fight. I guess your mind doesn’t work without a sufficient amount of I spell my name with the letters of the alphabet.”

I replied: “There you go again with the racial stereotyping. You have no idea whether I take alcohol or not. Many Irishmen take a pledge of abstinence by wearing a Pioneer pin. I am living in Sri Lanka where Buddhist precepts forbid alcohol. You assume things about me without any knowledge because of my racial origin. That is what is called racial prejudice.

Why should an Irishman be expected to take it? The Irish sense of humor is meant to include taking insults from ignorant bigots. If they object they are lacking in a sense of humor, like those uppity ‘negros’.”

History of the Irish stereotype.

Although he was Irish, Edmund Burke was no Irish separatist. Nevertheless, he  questioned the common English view that the Irish were rebellious and emotional children. He saw in English stereotypes of the Irish, projections onto a neighbouring people of elements which the English denied or despised in themselves. He empathised with India and prophesied the end of empire even before it had fully formed.  In the House of Lords,  he said in 1794: “I do not know a greater insult that can be offered to a man born to command than to find himself made a tool to a set of obscure men, come from an unknown country, without anything to distinguish them but an usurped power…”

Matthew Arnold opposed Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill because the “idle and imprudent Irish” were too infantile to govern themselves. According to Declan Kiberd, Arnold did not allow lack of knowledge to prevent him considering himself an authority on Ireland. “He was the ultimate surveyor, the Celt the consummately surveyed”. Even those who actually studied the Irish at close hand in later years were often guided by his unsubstantiated theorising. The stubborn complexities of real life had to be shoe-horned into Arnold’s simplistic schema. As Declan Kiberd put it recalcitrant reality  “had to be converted back into a more familiar terminology of books over facts. And yet it was with the tyranny of facts that Arnold had proclaimed the Celt quite unable to cope!”

Anti-Irish behaviour was a part of British life from the Middle Ages and the stereotype was a long time in the making (remember Shakespeare has a comic Irishman, Captain Macmorris,  in Henry V). The mid-Victorian years – between the Famine and the emergence of the Home Rule movement – witnessed by far the most intense examples. In his book, The Eternal Paddy, Michael de Nie examines anti-Irish prejudice, Anglo-Irish relations, and the construction of Irish and British identities in nineteenth-century Britain. The Eternal Paddy offers a detailed analysis of British press coverage of Ireland over the course of the nineteenth century. This book traces the evolution of popular understandings and proposed solutions to the “Irish question,” focusing particularly on the interrelationship between the press, the public, and the politicians.

De Nie claims that British press opinion about the Famine was profoundly influenced by ideas about Irish incapacity. The very Irishness of the Irish was the reason for their problems. The remedy was to encourage the Irish to be more British. Ireland needed to become a country of industrious, well-fed farmers, free of peasant superstition and fecklessness and of grasping, wasteful landlords.

Declan Kiberd has written: “The stereotypical Paddy could be charming or threatening by turns. The vast numbers of Irish immigrants who fetched up in England’s cities and towns throughout the 19th century found that they were often expected to conform to the stereotype: and some, indeed, did so with alacrity…Coming from windswept, neolithic communities of the western Irish seaboard to the centres of industrial England, many found it easier to don the mask of the Paddy than reshape a complex urban identity of their own. Acting the buffoon, they often seemed harmless and even loveable characters to the many English workers who might otherwise have deeply resented their willingness to take jobs at lower rates of pay”.

The stage Irishman

The “stage Irishman” made an appearance in the novels of Charles Lever  and Samuel Lover (sitting alphabetically on my bookshelf – Lever and Lover) as well as in the theatre. Mackatawdry, Mackafarty,  Phaelim O’Blunder and  Bet Botheram O’Balderdash were characters created to portray the Irish as buffoons.  Playwrights from Ireland itself created similar  characters to ingratiate themselves with the London audience. However, a recurrent strategy of the Anglo-Irish writers was to subvert the stereotype by allowing their characters to defeat others with comical aplomb while pretending to be stupid.

Dion Boucicault developed a more sympathetic stereotype in his sentimental melodramas (one of his characters provided Flann O’Brien with one of his many pseudonyms, Myles na Gopaleen).  Somerville and Ross  wrote a series of books set in the 1890s  that became a TV series starring Peter Bowles in the 1980s. My Irish father did not live to see the series but would not allow the books in the house. It is significant that the TV series was a co-production of Ulster TV and Radio Telefís Éireann, epitomising the complicity of the Irish in their own stereotyping. In one episode at a servants’ ball,  a groom called  Slipper says  that ‘The English and the Irish understand each other like the fox and the hound,’ to which a lady replies, ‘But which is which?’ The answer is, ‘Ah well, if we knew that, we’d know everything!’ Somerville and Ross provided a rural buffoonery  that pre-echoes some of the attitudes of affectionate indulgence combined with  amused superiority that one still finds today in some jokes about “the Irish”.

My enjoyment of one of my favourite films, Bringing up Baby is somewhat marred by the “comic” antics of Barry Fitzgerald.

Irish people did not take these distortions lying down. A movie called Smiling Irish Eyes (1929) was taken off at Dublin’s Savoy after demonstrations led by the actor Cyril Cusack and a future president of Ireland. Hitchcock’s version of Sean O’Casey’s  Juno and the Paycock   was burnt by crowds in Limerick in 1931. Cusack’s daughter Sinead, Mrs Jeremy Irons, is currently appearing in that play at the Royal National Theatre in London.

There have been protests in Ireland recently about a video game  called Red Dead Redemption . One of the characters in the game,  the town drunk, is called “Irish” and is, the game says, “usually found stumbling around and getting into trouble with sober townsfolk while attempting to talk his way out”.

Anti- Irish cartoons.

In his essay “Paddy and Mr Punch”, Irish historian, Roy Foster, describes how the satirical magazine Punch from the 1850s on, in its cartoons, described the Irish as bestial. “Bestial”  was closely related to races with darker skins  and John Beddoe’s ideas on skin colour were influential in finding “negrescence” in the Irish and Welsh.

A charming piece in Punch: “A creature manifestly between the Gorilla and the Negro is to be met with in some of the lowest  districts of London and Liverpool by adventurous explorers. It comes from Ireland, whence it has contrived to migrate…When conversing with its kind it talks a sort of gibberish. It is, moreover,  a  climbing animal, and may sometimes be seen ascending a ladder with a hod of bricks…The somewhat superior ability of the Irish Yahoo to utter articulate sounds, may suffice to prove that it is a development, and not, as some imagine, a degeneration of the Gorilla.”

When a scheme was hatched in 1852, to set up an Irish sugar beet industry, Punch compared the Irish  with the “lazy West Indian Negro”.  “See vomited from hundreds of ships , to crawl like wingless vermin over the country, tens of thousands of Irish, the sons and daughters of beggary; the blight of their own land, and the curse of the Saxon”.

Perry Curtis in Anglo-Saxons and Celts, published in 1968,  just as the British army was moving into Northern Ireland, offers the thesis that Victorian caricaturists had a deliberate intent to portray the Irish as subhuman and therefore deserving of oppression. Punch’s cartoons became more virulent as the Irish turned to violence in response to their oppression. An Irish  beggar approaches John Bull: “Spare a thrifle, yer Honour, for a poor Irish lad to buy a bit of…a Blunderbuss with”.

In 1971 Curtis published  Apes and Angels: the Irishman in Victorian Caricature (1971). Its central thesis was that Victorian anti-Irishness was fundamentally racist. According to Curtis, an American, images of the Irish in political cartoons underwent a change from  harmless, whiskey-drinking peasants to  apelike monsters threatening  law, order, and middle- class values.

Mass Irish migration coincided with industrialisation, Catholic emancipation, Fenianism, Irish agrarian violence and the struggle for political independence. All of these made the Irish Other appear threatening. The incoming group provided a ready-made scapegoat for the disease, overcrowding, immorality, drunkenness and crime of the urban world.

Catholic chapels were attacked in 1882 and Irish ironworkers driven from Tredegar in Wales. “Every Irishman who showed himself out of his house was stoned, and his house, in many cases, gutted, his furniture being thrown out and destroyed,” according to one police report. Similar incidents have occurred in more recent times in reaction to the Birmingham and Guildford pub bombings. I recall sitting in the Irish Club in Gloucester  with my sainted aunt who was on a visit with her son and his wife. Our pleasant evening was marred by a brick being thrown through the window.

Patronising preconceptions

Even in high-flown literary criticism, patronising stereotypes can be found. The fiery Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin (he has been called an anti-Semite for his strong views on Palestine) takes  the highly esteemed Canadian critic, Hugh Kenner, to task. “For Kenner, Ireland is a paradise of speech, a land flowing with soft and honeyed words. He believes ‘that the mind of Ireland is held by the reality of talk,’  … What Kenner terms ‘an Irish Fact’ .. is something that exists only in the mind of the beholder or on the tongue of the talker. The result of this conception of Paddy the Big Mouth is a critical prose which first wraps itself in a rebarbative stage-Irishness and then tries to insinuate that it is really ironizing its own loquacity”.

Paulin’s view is that Kenner is adopting a prose style that “exports Irishness to Britain and America, an essentially comic and servile style that reduces all Irish people to clowns falling about in the darling haze of barroom chat and overworked anecdote.”

Yeats’s stated mission for the Abbey Theatre was, Paulin believes, more noble than this exalted Paddywhackery. Yeats’s mission statement: “We will show that Ireland is not the home of buffoonery and of easy sentiment, as it has been represented, but the home of an ancient idealism. We are confident of the support of the Irish people, who are weary of misrepresentation, in carrying out a work that is outside all the political questions that divide us”.

Contemporary representations of Irishness

Mary Hickman of London Metropolitan University  and Bronwen Walter of Anglia Ruskin University have done extensive research in this area, some of it commissioned by British and Irish government bodies.

Professor Hickman has argued that the Irish have been victims of the myth of a British homogeneous white society, that all people who were “white smoothly assimilated into the ‘British way of life’ and that all the problems resided with those who possessed a different skin colour. Different skin colour was taken to represent different culture.” According to Professor Walter: “Hybrid identities of people of Irish descent in England are denied by the ‘white’ mainstream but persist in private interstitial spaces of resistance”.

The myth of white assimilation  ignored the problems that the Irish could encounter in Britain as they, when it suited the host population, they  were perceived to have the same advantages. Johnny Rotten’s autobiography is entitled No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish a sign which appeared outside many lodging houses. . My father encountered prejudice when he first went to England in the 1930s. Prejudice persists today as the difference of the Irish is demonstrated by representing them  as drunks and fraudsters in newspapers and  television programmes. Retail entrepreneur, Phillip Green, head of the BHS and Top Shop empire, said of The Guardian’s financial editor, Paul Murphy, when he carried out an investigation into Mr. Green’s accounts, that the Irish were illiterate.  Paul Murphy was born in Oldham and was brought up in Portsmouth. This is an example of  continued racism against the Irish in Britain and stereotyping by name.

Hickman argues that the negative perception of Irishness throughout the years in Britain has created a lot of pressure on the Irish. Their need to assert their identity and their difference has been largely ignored in mainstream British society. Living in the country of the ‘coloniser’ and the negative imaging around the former ‘colonised’ have contributed to their  difficulties. Frantz Fanon wrote  that colonialism must not be understood simply as an economic or a political process but also as a psychological and an ideological one.


Like Roy Foster, Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton recognises that “not all stereotypes are pejorative or patronising”. “The Irish were never just gorillas with gelignite.” “When the English middle classes of the day desired a mode of sensibility less martial and frigid than that of their autistic rulers, it was often enough to the Celtic fringes that they turned”.

Although the Irish might have been seen as a threatening Other their closeness to England could make them unthreatening given the right circumstances. As Eagleton says: “It would be surprising if people who have shared roughly the same cultural and material circumstances over long periods of time did not manifest some psychological traits in common.”  Just as  an English visitor, if not dissuaded by GBS, would find Ireland ineffably foreign but also at the same time reassuringly familiar.

All in all, it is a complex fate to be Irish. England is seen as the old enemy and oppressor but many of us have English as well as Irish blood. The proximity of the two nations means that their history and culture are intertwined. Most Irish people living in Ireland speak English and watch English TV. England is covered with a rash of “Irish” theme pubs.

Irish Historian Diarmaid Ferriter is not sympathetic to the protests about Red Dead Redemption.  “Irish emigrants developed reputations for drinking too much, be it in London or in America. Most Irish characters in early 20th century film were fiery and drunk, and that was 100 years ago. Even in the late 1950s, [Sean] Lemass [Irish PM ]made an official complaint to the BBC about plays and television programmes portraying the Irish as drunks. I don’t see how we can get all pious with it. The difference now, though, is that Ireland trades on the drunken stereotype and therefore should not be surprised when it is picked up by popular culture.”

Prejudice certainly does still exist even on Open Salon. It is of that sneering kind which sets out to condescend and humiliate and then says “can’t you take a joke”. On the other hand, there was a period, it may have passed, when it was fashionable to be Irish.

A Puppy Is Not Just for Christmas

Sentient beings are disposed of in the same way that a supermarket chain might reject misshaped fruit.

The English Delusion

The English like to think of themselves as animal lovers. Some English people look down on other nations for their behaviour to animals. A couple of years ago,  an English animal welfare activist was interviewed by Sri Lankan newspapers who allowed her to voice her view that as a nation Sri Lanka is  particularly cruel to animals because of the number of and condition of street dogs.

The Sunday Leader quoted her: ‘”We were overcome by the quiet despair, misery and silent suffering of thousands of strays, pets, wildlife and livestock alike.”

There is work for her at home in England.

Here we are, well into September  and soon the Christmas shopping season will be in full swing in the British Isles. The Christian festival of Christmas in the UK is the traditional season for abandoning pet dogs.

The National Canine Defence League, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, says older, bigger dogs are the main victims. The league’s spokeswoman, Louisa Bracking said: “These dogs are being kicked out to make room for newer, younger models.”

North Clwyd Animal Rescue, in Trelogan, Flintshire, Wales say their sanctuary becomes “full to bursting” with unwanted pets thrown out between Christmas and the New Year. The centre finds new homes for 850 animals a year. There are similar reports from Devon and other areas of the UK.

Dog dumping has got earlier every year since the early 2000s and now starts well before Christmas. Barking (no pun intended) and Dagenham Council covers a borough in Essex which is thought to have the highest dog ownership in the UK. Data collection company Experian released a survey showing one in ten households in Barking and Dagenham owned a dog. The council says the number of dogs being abandoned is soaring because of the financial crisis.

According to Kirsty O’Sullivan, a volunteer with animal welfare groups, Scruffy Angels and Animal Action: “I don’t believe it’s the credit crunch. I think they’re using it as an excuse.” ‘Essex man’ and ‘Essex girls’ are stereotypical figures of fun in England. Perhaps in America, rednecks might be a rough equivalent. A pit bull terrier would be the dog of choice for this stereotype. O’Sullivan highlights the number of Staffordshire pit bull terriers that are being abandoned. Adverts for puppies have been placed all over the borough. Because they are a very popular breed and can be sold for between £250 and £750, many Barking residents have decided to breed them.

Litters are typically between six and ten puppies. “But people need to realise the work that goes into looking after them. Once they’ve gone past the cute puppy stage is when they dump them.”

The English Reality

It seems that, in reality, the UK is not the animal-loving nation that it was thought to be or that it thinks itself to be. The European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals has been signed and ratified by 18 European countries, but not by the UK.

There was an investigation in the Independent newspaper into cruelty in rearing pigs and another one on the horrific conditions endured by battery hens.

115 horses and donkeys, some severely emaciated, had to be rescued and removed from Spindle Farm at Hyde Heath in Amersham, Buckinghamshire during a huge operation in January 2008. Hooves and body parts of horses that had been left to die were scattered around among rotting corpses and a mound of bones and skulls was discovered. Convictions for cruelty to horses rose 33% in 2006, and a further 13% in 2007. This indicates that Spindle Farm was not an isolated incident.

In September 2003, 26 RSPCA (Royal Society for the Protection of Animals) officers rescued 269 animals from a single house in Lancashire. The rescue of 244 dogs, 16 parrots, seven cats, a rabbit and a chinchilla, from the house in Silverdale, near Carnforth, was the biggest single seizure in the charity’s history. The haul of dogs included shih-tzus, dachshunds, Lhasa apsos, bearded collies, corgis, chihuahuas, poodles, pekinese and Yorkshire terriers.

In November 2008, Phil Bishop, a TV executive who directed Top of the Pops and Game for a Laugh during a decades-long career, shot his neighbours’ dog, Foggy, a Bedlington terrier, in the heart with a single shot from an air rifle after becoming annoyed at its early-morning barking.

I was once involved in a case where a man in Sussex reacted to his neighbours’ complaints about his dog by cutting off the dog’s testicles and nailing them to the neighbours’ front door.

There were 137,245 RSPCA investigations for cruelty to cats and dogs in 2007. There have been so many examples of cruelty to animals in general in the UK that I had better restrict myself to dealing with cases involving dogs.

The RSPCA has reported a 24% increase in the number of people convicted for animal cruelty. Convictions for cruelty to dogs were up by more than a third. There was a 42% rise in the number of custodial sentences. We are not talking about negligence here. This is vicious torture and sadistic violence.

Dog Fighting in the UK

Operation Gazpacho conducted by the RSPCA revealed a sickening increase in organised dog fights in the UK. Dog fighting has always been there, but its nature seems to have changed. According to Becky Hawkes of the RSPCA: “It used to be an activity for people who were very into dog fighting, who prided themselves on having the most macho dog, coming from a strong lineage of champions, you know, the champion of champions. There was a hard core of about 100 people involved in this country, it was very underground, and it tended to be people involved in other criminal activities as well. Now we’re seeing more hard kids on street corners, using their hard-looking dog to intimidate people. This is predominantly in urban areas, among young people. There seems to be an increase on that level, where maybe rival gangs are having their dogs fight. It’s less structured, certainly.”

Chief Inspector Mike Butcher of the RSPCA, who directed Operation Gazpacho, said that in the past, “The fights would be in a regulation-sized pit with fixed rules and a referee, and would be stopped when one of the dogs had clearly won … betting didn’t really play a major part in these fights, it was more about the prestige.” Today, the fights have become more commercial and even bloodier, with young men and their tough-looking dogs meeting each other in parks.

“The emphasis [now] appears to be more on betting and fighting the dogs to the death,” said Mr Butcher. Dogs’ jaws are strengthened and trained on car tires and wooden sticks in preparation for fights. The injuries sustained to the head, neck and front limbs of the animals are therefore serious, and can include crushed and broken bones and torn muscles. It is also common for dogs to die from heart attacks prompted by severe pain or distress, sometimes hours after a fight.

Further gory details can be found at

Dogs as Consumer Accessories

It’s not just the criminal underbelly of British society that is inflicting cruelty on dogs.

Happy Dogs is a UK charity which re-homes abandoned dogs. Founder Lyn Williams estimates that there are seven million dogs in the UK.

Some people buy cute little dogs as fashion accessories and get bored with them. Some people think of themselves as ‘dog lovers’ so they believe they must have a huge hound, even though they live in a small apartment in the middle of a big city and are out at work all day and socialising in the evenings, leaving the dog locked up at home alone.

A British Sunday newspaper reported that staff at the Leigh Animal Sanctuary near Wigan in Lancashire killed healthy greyhounds after their careers on the racetrack were finished.

An expatriate living in Turkey writes about fellow Brits adopting Turkish stray dogs and then putting them back on the streets because they don’t want to pay travel and quarantine costs to take them along when they return to the UK. “This of course, also applies to those who bring their animals from the UK, then abandon them here on the streets, which has also been done many times in the last few years.”

Pedigree Mutants

The same English activist mentioned above was horrified to see German Shepherd pups for sale in Sri Lanka when there were dogs roaming the streets. She seemed to think Sri Lankans were unique in liking pedigree dogs.

“The attitude of a majority of locals who prefer to turn a blind eye to the suffering of an innocent stray and instead pay thousands for  a purebred that they take care of like their own children has also contributed towards the suffering of these animals.”

Mark Evans of the RSPCA described Crufts dog show as a “parade of mutants… Breeding deformed and disabled animals is morally unjustifiable and has to stop.” Sentient beings are disposed of in the same way that a supermarket chain might reject misshaped fruit.

To coincide with the start of Crufts 2006, the world’s biggest pedigree dog show, Advocates for Animals released a scientific report examining the health problems caused by pedigree dog breeding. The report condemned irresponsible and unethical practices in dog breeding, including close inbreeding and developments in cloning.

In 2008, following a BBC documentary on the genetic disabilities of pure-bred dogs, the RSPCA and the Pedigree pet food company withdrew their support from Crufts. The BBC has been covering the show for 40 years but may not do so again.

Mark Evans chief veterinary advisor to the RSPCA described dog shows as “parades of mutants”.

Dr. William Schall, a genetic specialist at Michigan State University estimates that there are more than 300 separate genetic disorders that subject dogs to enormous pain. German shepherds and golden retrievers frequently suffer from hereditary hip and elbow dysplasia; pekinese and basset hounds from inherited eye diseases; pugs and cavalier King Charles spaniels from heart and respiratory disease; West Highland white terriers, cocker spaniels from skin diseases; dachshunds, chihuahuas from inherited skeletal problems; rottweilers, great Danes from bone tumours; dobermans and border collies from hereditary deafness. Labrador retrievers are prone to dwarfing. At least 70% of collies suffer from genetic eye trouble, and 10% eventually go blind. Dalmatians are often deaf. Newfoundlands can drop dead from cardiac arrests. English bulldogs have such enormous heads that pups often have to be delivered by caesarean section. Irish setters, according to veterinarian Michael Fox, a vice president of the Humane Society of the U.S., “are so dumb they can’t find their way to the end of the leash.”

Five million purebred dogs in America are afflicted with a serious genetic problem.

The best way to produce a puppy with a specific look is to mate two dogs with the same look. As with any species, though, the closest resemblances are found among the closest relatives. Breeders often resort to the mating of brothers and sisters or fathers and daughters.

“If we did that in humans,” says Mark Derr, who wrote a scathing indictment of America’s dog culture for the March 1990 Atlantic Monthly, “we’d call it incest.”

The chairman of the Kennel Club, which organises Crufts, was filmed by the BBC voicing his approval of incestuous inbreeding, as long as it took place between mother and son. Oedipus?

A prize-winning Cavalier King Charles spaniel was shown writhing in agony because it suffered from syringomyelia, a painful condition that results from the animal’s skull being too small for its brain. A pekinese, bred to possess a perfectly flat face, and winner of Best in Show in 2003, was found to have had surgery — a soft palate resection — to enable it to breathe.

David Balding is professor of statistical genetics at Imperial College London and co-author of a report on inbreeding. “Because you’re mating animals with similar genes,” says Balding, “you’re getting a big loss of genetic diversity and that has bad consequences in terms of your ability to resist disease. Breeding has gone too far. It was something that started getting organised and became systematic in the 19th century, and it didn’t do much harm for a long time. But now we have reached the point where the harm is starting to show more and more. We are now doing genetic damage to the dog.”

Mark Evans, of the RSPCA said: “Breeding deformed and disabled animals is morally unjustifiable and has to stop.”

Britain’s leading canine charity, the Dogs Trust, pulled out of Crufts show. Clarissa Baldwin, its chief executive, told the London Times that her organisation had called for an end to the killing of puppies that do not meet dog show breed standards. “We are horrified by the culling of dogs,” she said. “That has to stop. The culling of the Rhodesian ridgebacks that don’t have the ridge, the Dalmatians whose spots are in the wrong place.”

Puppy Farms

I would not characterise the Irish as especially cruel to animals but it is a fact that factory farming of puppies has been a profitable industry. The Dog Act is  intended for pet owners, not commercial operations.  Cheap, poor quality purebred dogs are mass-produced by the hundreds in cages, bitches bred and bred successively until they drop. Dogs in dreadful conditions, often ill and unkempt and filthy in their own faeces, held in wire crates or makeshift kennels in cold, damp farm outbuildings, some held inside in dark, windowless rooms. They are sold through brokers to pet buyers, at premium prices but always just below what reputable breeders charge, in Britain and North America, and to a lesser extent, Europe. Profits can be huge. “Ireland is synonymous with puppy farming. It is the most vile despicable trade in misery,” says one reputable dog breeder in Northern Ireland.

Ireland also has the highest per capita rate of stray dog euthanasia in the EU, with 23,000 dogs put down annually.

Irish dogs are also used to stock US puppy mills because, unlike dogs that come from reputable breeders, they carry no breeding restrictions (a “neuter” clause). US sources feel some reputable Irish breeders are unknowingly selling dogs to mills and brokers in the US, believing they are for American families.

Says one US breeder:”Here in Minnesota area Irish dogs have such a bad rep that if buyers find out your foundation stuff came from Ireland they class it with trash.” Another reports her friend’s sickly, Irish “champion-bred” dogs bought from a puppy farm broker had worthless, forged Irish Kennel Club papers. Such dogs are frequently offered on US websites by known brokers who claim “Irish relatives” send them the dogs. The trade is hugely damaging to the many reputable professional Irish dog breeders.

Puppy farming is also prevalent in Australia. One puppy farmer there wrote to me to express his outrage at being victimised: “similar to what happened to Jews in the beginning of Hitler’s rein [sic] of terror.

Peter Singer and JM Coetzee have compared the treatment of animals with the way Nazis dealt with Jews. It is very odd to see a puppy farmer comparing himself to the Nazi’s victims.

The pictures her are of a dog we found playing with the traffic in Bandarawela. She attached herself to my trouser leg and came home with us. We called her Honeybup. She is happy but keeps us awake at night barking at phantom grease yakas.


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