Idirlíon (Internet)

The Irish Government’s Anti-Irishness

Some of the now obsolete materials of the popular website "gaelport.ie" and CNnaG, yet another resource for the Irish-speaking communities of Ireland dumped because of the apathy and hostility of the Fine Gael-Labour government

Some of the now obsolete materials of the popular website “gaelport.ie” and GNnaG, yet another resource for the Irish-speaking communities of Ireland dumped because of the apathy and hostility of the Fine Gael-Labour government

The Irish-speaking citizens and communities of Ireland are under attack. They are under attack from a coalition government of two parties who seem determined to finish the ethnocide of the indigenous Irish language and culture begun eight centuries ago. For how else could one explain the events of the last three years? The rolling back of legislation giving minimal equality to Irish-speakers in relation to public services and the withdrawal of bilingual provisions? The lowering in status of those whose duty it is to uphold the law on behalf of Irish-speakers while neutralising that role through a lack of resources? The regulatory excision or debasement of traditional Irish-speaking communities? The reduction or termination of state support for voluntary organisations and charities operating through the Irish language? The arrest and detention of Irish-speaking citizens for speaking in Irish? The imposition of acceptable levels of inequality between Irish-speaking and English-speaking defendants before the courts, with juries and trials loaded in favour of the latter? It is a catalogue of institutionalised discrimination with the acquiescence of the highest echelons of the government itself.

Now Gaelport, the popular main community website for Irish-speakers at home and abroad, has finally ceased to function following the inexplicable withdrawal of state funding and with no replacement in sight. Or even likely. It is just the latest in a series of recent closures of Irish language media, print and electronic, in each case due to the movement of government resources to elsewhere (like the tens of millions of euros devoted over the last decade to Bord na gCon – the dog-racing authority!). From the Hidden Ireland blog:

“Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge was established in 1943. Its role is to act as a coordinating body for voluntary Irish language organisations.

Gaelport.com was the leading Irish language news and information website listing Irish classes, Irish job vacancies and Irish language events. It was a project of the Comhdháil funded by Foras na Gaeilge. As such it was an award-winning news site for Irish-speakers and indeed those whose Irish was a little rusty as a lot of the material was in two languages.

In January of this year Foras na Gaeilge announced the six organisations chosen to partake in their new funding model. As Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, the organisation who runs Gaelport.com along with many other projects, was unsuccessful in its efforts to secure a place among the six lead organisations there remained no option for the board of An Chomhdháil but to cease the employment of its six staff members in light of its core-funding being completely cut.

It had been hoped to transfer the bulk of the work, including gaelport.com, carried out by the Comhdháil since 1943.  With their almost 71 years of experience they were hampered by the fact that successful organisations were unsure of the resources which would be allocated to them after 30 June 2014. This may still be the situation. (While writing this we understand that Foras na Gaeilge are also withdrawing funding from another website used extensively throughout the world, beo.ie, which will make it very difficult to continue! The unenviable record of Foras na Gaeilge is thus added to as they continue on this incomprehensible destruction, without replacement, of the Irish language media, at least three newspapers and some other periodicals).

The most alarming and disgraceful part of this is the lack of communication from Foras na Gaeilge with the Comhdháil and the other organisation whose employees work is so little appreciated that they have given no advice or shown any concern for the future of these dedicated people.

The board of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge had little choice but to wind down the operation and organisation in an orderly way until the funding was finally withdrawn from it at the end of June.

A metaphor for how the political establishment in Ireland views those who speak or identify with our indigenous language: materials from the forcibly closed website "galeport.ie" operated by CNnaG

A metaphor for how the political establishment in Ireland views those who speak or identify with our indigenous language: materials from the forcibly closed website “galeport.ie” operated by CNnaG

Today we have seen terribly sad pictures being tweeted of a skip being filled with the ruins of 71 years of voluntary and dedicated activity!

Nobody denies that the organisation of the voluntary sector in the language movement should be rationalised but the unthinking bureaucracy which so recklessly wielded the axe leaves an angry and untrusting public. This could be seen when up to 10,000 people marched through Dublin in February, a thousand marched in Conamara later in February, thousands also marched in Belfast in April and smaller gatherings took place in other venues. Part of the reason for these marches was the Government’s policy or lack of policy for the National Language.

The Irish people should be grateful to the staff of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge and their dedicated work over the past seventy years. That has now been lost because a lack of appreciation or indeed understanding of Foras na Gaeilge.

Foras na Gaeilge is the body responsible for the promotion of the Irish language throughout the whole island of Ireland. It is difficult to see how this slaughter may be called promotion. It is difficult to see any logic at all in their actions.”

From 2011 to 2013 the coalition government of Ireland, under Fine Gael and Labour, spent nearly two billion euros of Irish-taxpayers money on overseas aid. They did it to help communities abroad (not to mention the “pet charities” of politically influential friends and supporters domestically, as we have seen with the high-profile scandals of recent months). Meanwhile the politically-powerless Irish-speaking communities at home were being deliberately and knowingly starved of resources. There is a lesson to be learned there.

Power does not grow from the bottom of a begging bowl.

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The Cló Gaelach Or Irish Typefaces

Nuacht1.com

The Irish news and current affairs aggregator Nuacht1.com is a good example of a Cló Gaelach font in contemporary use

Following on from the popularity of a recent post examining some online sources for Irish literary studies I thought a few of you might be interested by information on the Cló Gaelach (literally “Irish Type”), the family of typefaces formerly used in Ireland for Irish language texts. They originated in the 16th century with the creation of a type intended for the new technology of block printing, one partly based on contemporary handwritten Irish scripts (which already had a thousand years of development behind them). The font eventually gave birth to multiple variants, from the ornate to the mundane, and remained in poplar use for the next five hundred years.

Unfortunately from the late 1940s to the early ’60s the government of Ireland, largely for utilitarian reasons based upon costs and pressure from business-interests, decided to phase out the body of Cló Gaelach print types and replace them with the Cló Rómhánach, the Western Latin types we are all familiar with today (these was already in use by some publishers). At the same time the Western Latin script replaced a form of the Irish handwritten script which was being taught in many schools across the country. Predictably this (along with the government-dictated “spelling reforms” of the 1950s) severely impeded the ability of many adult Irish-speakers in the 1960s and ’70s to understand new publications printed after the legislative changes, something of particular significance for those living in rural districts. Inter-generational use of Irish as a vernacular language was restricted in many families as Irish-speaking parents and grandparents found themselves unable to help children who were being educated in a language increasingly unfamiliar to them. Effectively several hundred years of Irish publications in their original form were made obsolete for later generations of Irish-speaking readers, including many editions published in the last two or three centuries. As an act of self-inflicted cultural vandalism it is hard to imagine worse. With one fell swoop of a ministerial pen the centuries-old continuity of Irish language publications was ended. A Year Zero was established from which the language has arguably never recovered.

Two excellent overviews of all this have been written by Mathew Staunton in “Trojan Horses and Friendly Faces, Irish Gaelic Typography as Propaganda” and the shorter “Types of Irishness: Irish Gaelic Typography and National Identity”. I strongly recommend a read but expect some of your preconceived notions about the Irish Type to be overturned. A more upbeat if now slightly dated examination is found in Mícheál Ó Searcóid’s “The Irish Alphabet” who points out the poorer functionality provided by the use of Latin scripts for Irish language texts, especially for native speakers. Michael Everson has probably done more than most in recent years to modernise and popularise in digital form the use of Irish fonts and he provides a very useful record of the development of Irish printing types in “Gaelic Typefaces: History and Classification”.

At the moment several websites provide digitised Irish fonts reflecting both print and written forms, some free some requiring payment. A very wide selection of digital types are available over on Gaelchló and I suspect that this is the most popular source for Irish fonts on the internet (all pages in Irish). As well as downloadable files in also contains useful information on installing fonts and in setting up a Microsoft Windows keyboard for Irish use. The site is owned by the prolific Vincent Morely, another notable moderniser of Irish types. CeltScript from Michael Everson is a series of downloadable fonts in different styles that can be purchased through the MyFonts website (plus another useful guide on keyboard layouts for the Celtic languages). Séamas Ó Brógáin provides a free font, Gadelica, on his wide-ranging (and fascinating) personal website.

The excellent Scríbhinn provides an overview on all of the above with some great introductory articles and links. In a similar vein is Scríobh.ie. The latter in particular is something of a one-stop shop for online Irish resources. Then there is the United States – Gaeilge keyboard layout, another slightly dated guide, for American Irish-speakers. You should also check An Cainteor Dóchais for modern use of a Cló Gaelach font.

Note: The term “type” normally refers to print (as in typography) and “script” normally refers to handwriting (as in calligraphy). Many people seem confused by the technical distinctions between both. So the Cló Gaelach is the “Irish Type” for printing while the Lámh Gaelach “Irish Script” (literally “hand”) is the written equivalent. The advent of computing means of course that both can now be printed which possibly explains some of the confusion in contemporary discussions.

Electronic Irish

A lot of people seem unaware of the two best online resources for historical texts relating to Ireland, both of which are entirely free to use. The first is “CELT, the Corpus of Electronic Texts”, a collection of hundreds of manuscripts and books in digitised form mainly written in Irish and English (of various periods) but also featuring works in Latin, Norman-French, German and several other languages. The 1300+ entries cover nearly one-and-a-half thousand years of literary and scholarly output on this island nation and are incredibly important, representing some 15 million words in total. The project is maintained and regularly updated with new materials by University College Cork (UCC) so you can be confident of its academic credentials. If you prefer the printed word to the electronic kind some of the texts are available through the Irish Texts Society and the School of Celtic Studies which is part of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. Fair warning, many of the published texts are quite expensive (though DIAS has a sale on at the moment with a few good discounts on offer).

CELT is continuously in need of funding so if you have a few euros, pounds or dollars to spare you can donate them here.

A second and a closely related site is Irish Script On Screen, a collection of digital images of Irish and Scottish manuscripts in various languages found in the collections of several universities and institutions in Ireland, Scotland and Australia. It is stored and maintained under the auspices of the School of Celtic Studies at DIAS and is growing every year with scanned images that span the centuries from the early Medieval period to the Industrial Age. I have to admit that I love this site and I’ve spent literally hours searching through it. It will make you ache that traditional Irish lettering is no longer in popular use, either in printed or written form. Like some Arabic texts there are manuscripts here, even relatively late ones, that are almost works of art so beautiful are they to the human eye (trying to link to specific images or pages is almost impossible due to the way the site is set up, so apologies if I can’t provide any ready examples. Take my word for it and explore for yourself).

I should also mention a useful addendum to both of the above which is eDIL: the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language, maintained by the Royal Irish Academy and Queen’s University Belfast. It is a digitised and much expanded version of the early 20th century “Dictionary of the Irish Language based mainly on Old and Middle Irish materials” originally published by the RIA in several parts. The latest revised online edition, again free to use, is fully searchable and is genuinely groundbreaking in terms of research into the earliest literary forms of the Irish language. In a similar vein is In Dúil Bélrai, a less comprehensive but again searchable English-Old Irish glossary from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in Scotland. There is also a very useful list of other dictionaries and resources in general kept up-to-date by the excellent SMO. For comparisons or follow-ups on particular words you can use the Foclóir, the modern Irish-English/English-Irish digital dictionary maintained on behalf of the Government of Ireland along with Focal – Bunachar Náisiúnta Téarmaíochta don Ghaeilge, a more technical database of Irish terms (the former should eventually supersede the latter). Finally there is the now antiquated but still highly useful Foclóir Uí Dhuinnín from the University of Limerick which contains lots of old words and phrases no longer encountered in vernacular Irish (unfortunately).

Hope you might find one or two of those sites interesting over the weekend.

.éire Versus .ie

An Ogham keyboard for a .éire web. If only! (Íomhá: Cléchlic)

The people of Wales now have two national domain names to register their websites with, “.cymru“ and “.wales”, reflecting their nation’s bilingual status. Of course in Ireland we still persist with the “.ie” domain, usually using the “/ga” extension to direct users to the Irish language pages of any particular website (.ie. = “ireland” not “ireland/éire” as some still claim). So for example the Government of Ireland maintains its online presence at “http://www.gov.ie”, all in the English language. However the Irish language version of the portal is maintained at “http://www.gov.ie/ga/”. Because, y’know, we like to treat our own language as a foreign language in our own country. That’s the Irish for you.

From Wales Online:

“Our new domains for Wales are coming this September and we are publishing the rules and processes for .cymru and .wales today. We ran a three-month consultation on our proposals and we believe that the decisions we have made will create a strong policy framework for .cymru and .wales to develop and grow.

We have our own distinctive identity and culture in Wales, and of course our own language. We have worked closely with the Welsh Government every step of the way to ensure that these new domains are good for Welsh businesses, good for Wales and support the Welsh language online.

So we are delighted to announce that not only will there be a restricted launch phase that will benefit businesses active in the Welsh market before the domains are opened up to everyone, but in a unique approach that has been developed especially for .cymru and .wales, both domain spaces will allow the registration of names that use the diacritic marks used in the Welsh language.

Commenting on the announcement, Ieuan Evans, Chair of the  Nominet Wales Advisory Group  said: “The new .cymru and .wales domains are an exciting opportunity for Wales to reach its full potential online by creating a platform for Brand Wales to become recognised worldwide.

We are absolutely committed to making these domains work for everyone in Wales and that they empower people to create and use Welsh language content.”

Jo Golley, leading Nominet’s Wales team says: “Today we have further been able to clarify our commitment to the Welsh language. The extensive technical measures we have put in place to allow diacritic marks to be used have been taken with the full intent of enabling people to use the range and subtlety of the Welsh language online. These important steps will enable a massive increase in Welsh language domain names on the internet.”

Meanwhile in Ireland its business as usual and no sign of a “.éire” now or any time in the future. So we’ll stick with “gov.ie” rather than “.rialtas.éire“. Because we’re Oirish, sure an’ begorrah!

The Logainm Relaunch

Some of the Fiontar team behind the updated Logainm, 2014 (Íomhá: DCU)

A quick (if late) post on the Placenames Database of Ireland or Logainm, a comprehensive topographical index of our island nation that became something of a surprise internet hit upon its official launch in 2013, and which has now been given a major overall by Fiontar, the Irish language studies and research unit of Dublin City University.

“The new version of the Placenames Database of Ireland encompasses a number of major enhancements to its public-facing website logainm.ie. The website has been completely redesigned, making it more user-friendly, more easily-navigable, and more visually attractive.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Ciarán Mac Murchaidh, Head of School, Fiontar DCU, said that “Technological advancements in recent years have enhanced public access to lots of different types of information. In a country of two languages, it’s important that every effort is made to ensure that as much information as possible is available in Irish, as well as English. This is particularly important, not only for students and teachers, but also for people across the world who are interested in exploring their Irish heritage.”

The website has been enhanced by the inclusion of Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi) maps, using English and Irish versions of OSi’s MapGenie Web mapping service.  The Irish-language version, MapGenie Éire, is a completely new map product. It uses map data from OSi and official Irish-language forms of placenames from the Placenames Database of Ireland.

According to OSi Chief Executive Colin Bray, “MapGenie Éire has been made possible through collaboration between Fiontar in DCU, the Placenames Branch, and Ordnance Survey Ireland. The three organisations have worked together on a matching project since late 2010 to link the dataset of the Placenames Branch with the dataset of OSi. This allowed OSi to produce an Irish version of MapGenie based on toponymic data from the Placenames Branch. The project has also involved an upgrade to MapGenie which now resides on a resilient cloud based infrastructure. I want to congratulate everyone involved for their contribution to this very important project.”

Ireland And Scotland, Our Democracies, Our Voices

The recent polls in Ireland and Scotland make for interesting reading in the run-up to the European and local elections (though only the former contest is being held in our fellow Gaelic neighbour). While the percentages for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are within a whisper of each other both parties are expected to do less well than in previous years (though in fairness FF has nowhere to go but up following its 2011 general election drubbing). The Labour Party ship is possibly fatally holed below the waterline with the remaining rats turning on each other while Sinn Féin and the smaller parties of the Left or non-aligned seem likely to secure substantial electoral gains, the former both nationally and locally. No surprise then that the Irish news media have gone into overdrive in an attempt to thwart SF’s challenge at the ballot box to the country’s cosy, decades-old consensus of government by the two big establishment parties with or without the support of minor players (the rearranging of the chairs on the deck of the Titanic as we saw in the aftermath of the Celtic Tiger). During the Irish Revolution the majority of newspapers on this island nation took up a position broadly hostile to the independence movement, most famously in the form of the two big dailies, the Irish Times and Irish Independent, and arguably very little has changed since then in terms of the political ideology that controls our media. The majority of Irish journalists are anti-Republican in their politics since that is the culture of those who would employ them. The Neo-Unionist tendency hire those who echo their own world view while ignoring or denigrating those who would think otherwise (however tentatively).

In Scotland, with the polls predicting a strong showing by the governing SNP and other pro-independence parties like the Greens, a similar Unionist consensus exists within the print and electronic media, and the looming referendum on Scottish sovereignty is sending them into a feeding frenzy. One of the nastier tactics to have emerged in recent months is the campaign to shut down pro-sovereignty voices that exist outside the control of the journalistic establishment. The British media have consistently targeted independent Scottish opinion-makers, particularly those with an online presence (the so-called “cybernats”). A long litany of allegations, the vast majority proven to be unfounded, exaggerated or simply invented for propaganda purposes, have been made damaging personal reputations or worse endangering people’s careers and livelihoods.

The most egregious harassment of recent weeks has come from the “Scottish” Daily Mail (sister to our “Irish” Daily Mail and just as subservient to its London paymasters). Headlined “Cybernats unmasked: Meet the footsoldiers of pro-Scottish independence ‘army’ whose online poison shames the Nationalists” the article vilifies several people associated, in some cases very loosely indeed, with public support for a free and sovereign Scotland. The basis of the allegations are tenuous to say the least. It is simply a good, old-fashioned smear piece designed to punish individual citizens for publicly expressing their political opinions. It is the antithesis of support for a participatory democracy, an attack on individual rights and freedoms which all right-minded Europeans should reject. With some Irish media elders now engaging in similar tactics we should be wary of those who believe that the provision of information in a democracy is the preserve of a corrupt and ideologically-fixated elite who believe that they – and only they – have the right to dictate the future course of events for the plebeian masses.

As our Gaelic cousins o’er the sea contemplate taking the monumental first step in the journey to true nationhood we should give what support we can while being mindful of those at home who would have us retrace our steps back to the days of our servility to others.

Irish TV And Cinema? Some Hope

TG4 - Súil Eile

TG4 – Súil Eile

I was going through my collection of Blu-ray and DVD movies and box-sets over the weekend, not to mention several hundred hours of digital content on my main HTPC, and it suddenly struck me that less than 1% of the total was actually Irish-made. I have a huge catalogue of films and TV shows from (in descending order) the United States, Britain, Japan, China, Canada, Korea, Australia, France, Denmark, Germany and Russia but the number of productions from Ireland is infinitesimal. Six documentaries or drama-docs from TG4 (including “1916 Seachtar na Casca” and “Bóthar na Saoirse”), two comedy-dramas from TG4 (“Rásaí na Gaillimhe 1” and “2”, plus “An Crisis”) and one comedy from RTÉ (the early 2000s’ “Paths to Freedom”). And that is pretty much it. Out of some three thousand hours of cinematic and television entertainment less than twenty hours are actually Irish-made productions for Irish audiences.

In part this is attributable to the availability of domestic productions for the home entertainment market in Ireland which is astonishingly low. Only a handful of the more popular shows are released on DVD and the vast majority of those are from RTÉ which gobbles up most of the licence fee to feed itself. Unsurprisingly they are usually at the lower end of the market, reflecting the culture of Irish television in general. TG4 releases hardly any of its far superior and more Irish-orientated shows on DVD no doubt due to costs. Though why it has not entered the digital market via downloads or streaming on the lines of Amazon or Netflicks is beyond me. It simply makes no sense – but then very little about public service broadcasting in Ireland does.

All of which leads me to the observation most commonly made by Continental visitors to our island nation: in terms of language and cultural references the Irish are indistinguishable from the Americans or British. In fact they seem little more than the mongrel off-spring of both. Given that Irish television and cinema has historically provided almost no output to balance that of the United States and Britain this is hardly surprising. If I were French, German or Spanish one would expect French, German or Spanish entertainment productions to dominate my home library. Even if one were to accept arguments about economies of scale there seems little doubt that the same would hold true if I were Danish, Swedish or Finnish, nations not dissimilar in size to Ireland.

The facts are this: public service broadcasting in Ireland as embodied by RTÉ has failed and failed miserably. It is simply a bad Irish joke. This is widely acknowledged throughout the country where, ironically, most people now recognise that the best TV output stems from TG4, the Irish language TV channel. Even militant hardcore Anglophones critics have agreed that it outperforms every one of its rivals, public or private, and is about the nearest Ireland has to an “Irish BBC”. Yet it receives less than 5% of the television licence fee and a nominal government grant (95% of the TV licence goes to RTÉ which is begrudgingly obligated to produces a handful of shows for TG4).

Funnily enough it seems that I am not the only one who was thinking along these lines. From the Irish Times newspaper:

“Could Irish language movies and songs ever compete in the global entertainment market? Some 70 per cent of Hollywood’s box office revenue now comes from dubbed and subtitled versions of its movies sold in international markets, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. In pop music, Psy’s Gangnam Style represents the first wave of non-English international mega-hits that will sweep in as the commercial pop culture of countries such as Korea, India, China, Russia and Brazil continues to develop.

Currently, most Irish language films and pop songs are not making a major domestic, let alone international impact. So how about establishing a €2 million annual competition to select and film the best Irish language movie script, and to record the best Irish language pop song?

Imagine the film got €1.8 million, with the remaining €200,000 spent on recording and making a video for the song, and on the administration of the competition.

The competition could be open to international screenwriters and song-writers, with the proviso that all production money be spent in Ireland – meaning an annual investment of at least €1.8 million into the Irish media industry.

The Irish Film Board (IFB) used to maintain that it was unrealistic to try competing in Irish against major Hollywood films, but in an increasingly globalised world, things are changing. Ned Dowd, a Hollywood producer responsible for films such as The Wonder Boys and Last of the Mohicans , points to the success of his film Apocalypto , directed by Mel Gibson, which despite being in Mayan earned $121 million dollars (admittedly on a budget of $40 million). Gibson’s earlier film The Passion of the Christ was in Aramaic and earned $611 million. “It’s all about story, universal themes,” Dowd has said. “The language is secondary.”

This whole notion is speculative and aspirational, but if it were to succeed even partially it could prove a key element in keeping the language vibrant for the next generation. Young people are now accustomed to cartoons and soap operas in Irish, but films and pop music are almost exclusively in English. Demand for Irish songs exists, witnessed by the viral success of the Coláiste Lurgan cover versions that emerge each summer.

It seems there’s also an appetite from abroad to help the language. Seven years after broadcasting the No Béarla TV programme, in which I travelled around the country speaking only Irish, I am still regularly approached by Irish-American cultural groups and impassioned individuals, keen to know how they can help the language.

…the benefits of targeted funding can be seen in the Danish media market. “In Denmark the public service broadcaster puts €1 million a year into feature-film production on top of the Danish Film Institute’s €60 million – and that’s a country the size of Ireland.””

The doling out of severely limited funds between RTÉ, TG4, Bord Scannán na hÉireann (the Irish Film Board) and the idiosyncratic Sound and Vision Fund (controlled by that quango par excellence, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) is beyond a scandal. Whether the monies are raised through the licence fee or general taxation millions upon millions of euros are being wasted on projects that are almost guaranteed to have little commercial or popular impact. Most simply appear and disappear without the general public being even aware of their existence. Millions more is going on duplicated staffing and administration expenses. Offices filled with paper-shufflers and seat-warmers. It is this scatter-gun approach to Irish television and film production that has made our nation a cultural vacuum.

If we intend to be serious about our language and our culture, if we intend to be serious about establishing a viable TV and cinema production industry for our domestic market, then it is time to close down the vanity projects and political patronage system of yesteryear. A start should be made by leaving English language broadcasting in Ireland to the private market with all the necessary (and presently missing!) statutory safeguards on quality, standards and ownership in place. Let TV3 and 3e, or the new “ITV Ireland” promised by UTV, provide English language television services along with the dozens of American, British and Canadian channels already available to Irish viewers via cable and satellite. RTÉ should become an entirely Irish language public service broadcaster (and restricted to Irish language advertising in order to level the playing field with its private rivals who survive on English language advertising and sponsorship). After all what is public service television and radio supposed to do but provide what private enterprise will not? TG4 should be rolled back into RTÉ which should be restricted to two TV and three radio channels, as well as internet services. Bord Scannán na hÉireann should be replaced by a cinema production arm of RTÉ, the equivalent of BBC Films or Film4 in Britain, with an obligation to produce a minimum of four Irish language cinematic release a year. Legislation should be introduced to facilitate the showing of these movies in cinemas across Ireland upon release, similar to regulations in force elsewhere in Europe. RTÉ should also take up the old role of Gael Linn, producing and fostering Irish language music for cultural or commercial purposes.

As for the TV licence fee or its replacement, scrap both and instead implement direct government funding via an independent oversight body appointed by the Oireachtas. Given the size of Ireland’s national economy, comparing overseas’ public service broadcasters and the country’s needs a new RTÉ budget of 400 million euros per annum is more than adequate (with 45 million earmarked for Scannáin RTÉ). And if you are wondering where that money is going to come from how much do you think the government already spends on direct funding for RTÉ, TG4, Bord Scannán na hÉireann and the Sound and Vision Fund under the BAI, not to mention the millions that goes to the likes of Gael Linn Records and other Irish language organisations? Believe me there is a mass of money dispersed throughout a dozen state-funded organisations and quangos that could be easily pooled to contribute towards the core budget of a new RTÉ.

More bang for your buck, the elimination of waste and duplication, removing corruption and patronage, introducing public oversight and accountability, levelling the playing field between public and private broadcasters, servicing Ireland’s indigenous language and culture and presenting it to the world, establishing a thriving domestic television and movie industry, employing tens of thousands of Irish people in Irish jobs, generating tax revenue through targeted government investment…? Ok, admittedly all of this is far too sensible. Which is why it will never happen.

Even A Fanboy Has His Limits

Speak no fanspeak, see no fanspeak, hear no fanspeak

Is it just me or is there now a dearth of thoughtful and well-informed websites and blogs on the genre worlds of Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature? Oh yes, the banner-heavy, paragraph-light sites that focus on the latest Marvel or DC movie franchises are in plentiful supply. However most of these flash-happy affairs have as much substance as a stick of candy floss; and are just as forgettable. When it comes to in-depth reviews, essays and analyses by people who know what they are talking about – and who aren’t afraid to break the taboos of fannish devotion – one is left clicking through page after page in search of something with a bit of intelligence and insight (who knew that Monster & Critics was still in existence? And by god is it awful). One longs for the likes of the Cimmerian, the now defunct US-based website devoted to Robert E. Howard, where people of real talent wrote with eloquence and wit on the works of Howard, J.R.R Tolkien and others. Ironically in some cases where good online venues did exist to examine or debate such matters their supposed “improvements” have actually managed to ruin them. Britain’s SF Crow’s Nest springs to mind (that is if you can actually find the current website via a Google search. Talk about SEO unfriendly. Not to mention the dubious honour of creating an internet site that actually looks worse than its pleasingly old school predecessor). Websites specifically focusing on the old reliables, books, comics and graphic novels, have now succumbed to the cult of infotainment-style soundbite-reporting on the latest rumour about the latest superhero flick. It is all so mind-numbingly inconsequential.

Is this the dreaded future of the internet that the critics warned us about? The sinking into the mire of collective mediocrity? How has fandom come to this?

Learn A Language In Six Months?

Since this is generating some internet buzz I thought I’d post it: How to learn any language in six months, Chris Lonsdale at TEDxLingnanUniversity. I’m always suspicious about “fast-track” learning. Most are gimmicks and as I know from experience learning a new language when in adulthood is as much about a person’s intuitive abilities as anything else. Some can, some can’t, and most just fall somewhere in the middle. I’m very much in the “can’t” camp.

Glenn Greenwald On War By Other Means

GCHQ - the spiders web

GCHQ – the spiders web

From Glenn Greenwald a must-read for Republican and progressive activists in Ireland and elsewhere examining how the internet is used and abused to manipulate individuals and groups in the interests of major nation-states. To defeat one’s enemy one must understand (or become?) one’s enemy.

“One of the many pressing stories that remains to be told from the Snowden archive is how western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction. It’s time to tell a chunk of that story, complete with the relevant documents.

By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But, here, I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.”

Congratulations To Wings Over Scotland

Wings Over Scotland busts the crowd-sourcing bank

Wings Over Scotland busts the crowd-sourcing bank

Wings Over Scotland, the influential news and current affairs website, launched an appeal early this morning for funding to keep it going in the lead-up to the referendum on Scottish independence. The Reverend Stu, editor-writer of WoS, asked his readers to pledge £53,000 (€64,000 or $88,000). By this evening, just eight hours later, that goal had been achieved. Whatever happens in September of this year the Scotland of old is dead and buried. A new nation and a new consciousness has arisen.

A Transgender Story Is A Human Story

Transgender rights are human rights. Something so obvious it should hardly need saying!

Transgender rights are human rights. Something so obvious it should hardly need saying!

Until the phenomenon of fandom engulfed popular culture (thanks to Joss Whedon, JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer amongst others) many a hardcore geek like myself found ourselves under much derision for our devotion to all things “genre”. That most of us did not match the thoroughly Americanised stereotypes that were foisted upon us, from Comic Book Guy to Big Bang Theory, mattered not a whit. On several occasions I found girlfriends, actual or potential, perplexed by the contrast between my outward public persona (how I was perceived by others) and what they learned upon getting to know me better. Apparently men who drive fast cars and live fast lives should not read books about alien spaceships and ever-living elves (tell that to the late great Iain M. Banks!). In fairness I always left a clue here or there to the multifaceted nature of who I am. The Converse shoes and Danger Mouse wallet were a dead giveaway, after all (or at least they were until the “mainstream” adopted such visual cues as their own). But then in real life as in drama some people prefer the one-dimensional.

However one thing most Sci-Fi and Fantasy fans could say in the defence of their interests, and rarely with challenge, was the openness of their minds. Not just on fiction or art, or even technology, but on society and humanity itself. Thing is, I’ve never met a racist Sci-Fi fan. No, truly. Nor have I met any homophobic ones. Oh, I’m not saying that such don’t exist. I’m sure they do. We’ve had the debates about Frank Miller and the excoriating of Orson Scott Card (on the latter I’ve always enjoyed the self-delusional rhetoric of “I hate homosexuality but I don’t hate homosexuals”. Which is like saying “I hate the Irish language but I don’t hate those who speak the Irish language”. And we all know what cerebral excrement that is…). However I personally have never encountered discriminatory views on… well, pretty much anything. The laissez faire live-and-let-live attitude of geekdom was one of its greatest merits. No doubt the new-found popularity of all things cult will make it in times to come a more accurate reflection of wider society (as just another consumerist product) but for now I believe tolerant liberalism remains at its core. In Ireland at least. So when it comes to sex and sexuality for instance, well if you’ve read and understood John Varley’s Steel Beach or any of Banks’ Culture series it is a bit hard to become worked up about people’s biological preferences. Honestly, who cares? Or to put it another way, why not?

As always I ramble on but this discursive introduction brings me to a genuinely touching and very personal post by the blogger Aoife Hart which I thought I’d highlight. It’s in the form of an open letter from Aoife to a niece she has never met nor it seems likely will ever do so. The reason for their enforced separation? Aoife is a transsexual woman, a corrective of one of the quirks of nature that her family seem unwilling to accept. To be perfectly honest I find people’s hesitancy with or the inability to accept transgender men and women beyond my comprehension. I wear reading glasses. Should I not do so because my “natural state” is to be myopic? My youngest sister had her tonsils removed because they left her frequently unwell and susceptible to illnesses. Should she have not done so because tonsils are a “natural part” of who she was? Human physicality and physiognomy is constantly subject to artificial change, change to what we want it to be or to what it should be. The female religious fundamentalist who claims that improvements to the human condition are “against nature” is the very one who will dye her hair with caustic chemicals and daub her lips with colours containing fats from a pig’s arse.

I will say no more on the posting for it is a personal matter and it is not my place to do so except to direct you to the letter itself.

Republican Think-Tanks

Saor Éire

Saor Éire

There is a considerable debate going on amongst Irish Republicans and interested observers in Ireland over the future direction of revolutionary republicanism. With a renewed focus on the ideological aspects and political traditions of Republicanism as it pertains in the 21st century some new ideas are emerging as well as much self-analyses (and quite a bit of recrimination, fair and otherwise). The independent Republican website the Pensive Quill has been one platform for airing these debates but there are others. Two recent articles are of interest, this Q&A on contemporary matters with former senior PIRA Volunteer Gerard Hodgins on the PQ and this lengthier examination of recent history from Diarmuid Breatnach over on Rebel Breeze. A lot to agree with in both (some of Hodgins’ points match those I made two years ago and repeated several times since then) and a lot to disagree with in both (I believe that some of Breatnach’s interpretations are open to question). As I have pointed out before the internet has become the primary anti-establishment platform in Ireland, a medium for debating and disseminating progressive republican values and politics to the wider citizenry and beyond. That looks set to only grow.

Does He Mean Us? Yes, He Does

Do they mean us? I think they do!

Do they mean us? I think they do!

At the start of December last year I wrote a brief post marking the achievement of 400,000 views of An Sionnach Fionn in the two plus years of its existence. I also mentioned one other aspect of this website’s success, the apparent ire of newspaper columnist and former RTÉ producer Eoghan Harris at the online growth of progressive Republican politics and opinions in Ireland as represented by ASF and others. He wrote:

“… it seems clear to me that one of the main causes is the manipulation of the internet by the agents of atavistic nationalism.

Increasingly, internet political sites are infiltrated by a band of anonymous fanatical nationalists.

But it won’t be long ironed out if IRA apologists are able to have a free run on the internet…”

And this:

“…there is no sign that the State, the national broadcasters or civic leaders have enough interest acting in loco parentis on the moral side, particularly when it comes to protecting young Irish people from the propaganda of the Recurring IRA which is peddled on the internet.

Right now most Irish adolescents receive their historical education from the internet. By and large, it is dominated by a toxic nationalist lobby…”

At the time I was informed by a “friendly voice” that An Sionnach Fionn has become something of an irritant for some editorial rooms in the Dublin media establishment. Now we have this article in today’s Sunday Independent newspaper by Harris restating (as he does almost weekly) the claims of the discredited Anglo-Canadian historian Peter Hart which contain’s the following:

“Hart was the first historian to fully probe the sectarian dimension of the IRA’s campaign in Cork. This makes him a bogeyman for ultra nationalists. On one website they denounce his work as “central to the ideology of a hardline rump of Neo-Unionist and Pro-British apologist writers and journalists in Ireland”. As I am sure that includes me…”

Which of course is a direct quote from my post here on the controversies surrounding the 2013 publication of the collection of historical essays by David Fitzpatrick. However it’s good to know that I can count Eoghan Harris and co. amongst my loyal following.

It’s All About The Metadata

I’ve written before about the importance of “raw data” in any revolutionary or military struggle and while that may seem obvious the means of collecting and sorting through such information is far from so. While the Snowden revelations have shocked many (although few have altered their online behaviour despite what they learned) they are only the storefront of a far deeper development. The Irish journalist Ed Moloney has reminded me via his blog of a video from the TED convention last September that I meant to post but which slipped my mind. It highlights the importance of “metadata” and how building a web of interactions is frequently the first step in mapping any organisation or movement. Given the frequently amateurish nature of the current generation of would-be Irish revolutionaries versus some of their contemporaries elsewhere in the world it makes you wonder why exactly the authorities in Ireland and Britain are having such a hard time closing down what is still an embryonic insurgency on the edges of mainstream Republicanism (though they are not exactly failing either).