Sunday 18 August 2019

Halligan and radical left really are anything but 'well meaning'

John Halligan's treatment of a civil servant and cosying up to a dictator reflect a deeper truth about Ireland's radical left

John Halligan. Photo: PA
John Halligan. Photo: PA
Dan O'Brien

Dan O'Brien

Mussolini came to power in 1922 and gave Italy its first extended period of stability since unification 50 years earlier. Hitler came to power in 1933 and dragged Germany out of the Great Depression.

Extreme-right apologists make these points. Right-thinking people do not. Anyone who looks at the historical record knows that Nazism and fascism did infinitely more harm than good. Mass murder and genocide, the invasion of other countries and the crushing of all kinds of liberties make their "achievements" insignificant and irrelevant.

Thankfully, apologias for Hitler and Mussolini are not heard much in Ireland. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the other major anti-democratic political tradition of the past century.

Last week, the extreme left TD Ruth Coppinger tweeted that the Russian Revolution was "still [an] inspiration today". To describe the event that started 75 years of Soviet dictatorship as an "inspiration" is a gross insult to the millions of its victims. It is as offensive as saying the same thing about Hitler's coming to power.

Given all that is known about the record of dictatorial state socialism - including mass murders, mass abuse of human rights, and the snuffing out of civil rights - it is astonishing that a member of the Dail could make such a statement, and for it to go largely unremarked upon.

Coppinger represents a lunatic fringe in Irish politics which has low single-digit support at election time and in opinion polls. If those who are "inspired" by dictatorship and mass murder were confined merely to a lunatic fringe it would be one thing. But they're not. There remains a widespread form of radical-left chic in Ireland which too often gets a free pass.

The decision by An Post to put Che Guevara on a stamp is one example. The Argentine was no democrat. He was involved in taking life throughout his life. For a postal service in a country on a distant continent to give him the status reserved for significant national figures was not only wrong but bizarre.

The only other state that gives Guevara official recognition is Cuba, where people have to live with neither freedom nor prosperity in part because of his role in the regime's founding.

That Caribbean island is another example of how extreme-left chic casts a spell on more than a few Irish people, including the head of this State, as was to be seen when Fidel Castro died a year ago.

The Cuban regime's long record of human rights abuses is well documented. Indeed, so bad is the record that it has been one of the few countries upon which Ireland has imposed sanctions in recent years. In 2003 the regime arrested dozens of journalists and human rights activists. Despite pressure from the international community, it refused to free the dissidents. Ireland, along with all other EU countries, imposed sanctions and maintained them for most of the remainder of the decade.

Despite all of this, President Michael D Higgins was quick off the mark to pen a long and glowing tribute to Castro when he died a year ago. The first citizen of this State wrote of the dictator: "He will be remembered as a giant among global leaders whose view was not only one of freedom for his people but for all of the oppressed and excluded peoples on the planet."

There was no mention of the decades of human rights abuses inflicted on the Cuban people or of the recent sanctions the State, of which he is head, imposed on Castro's dictatorship. The President disgraced himself, the office of President and all Irish people who see dictatorships for what they are.

Adding insult to injury was his marked silence when a true political giant died a few weeks after Castro. Mario Soares was one of the architects of Portugal's peaceful transition away from dictatorship in the 1970s. While the 500-word shower of praise for the dead Cuban dictator still besmirches the Aras an Uachtarain website, the President did not deem the passing of the great Portuguese democrat worthy of a single line of acknowledgement. The absence is all the more curious given that Soares was a member of the same European political family as Higgins's Labour Party.

The latest bout of the hard left's fascination with dictators over democrats came from the Minister of State John Halligan. For a member of an Irish Government to propose going to North Korea on a supposed "peace mission" beggared belief.

The utter absurdity of Halligan's delusions have been rightly lampooned and derided over the past week. But an aspect of the now-cancelled trip that received less attention was Halligan's insult to the wishes of a democratic part of the Korean peninsula.

While Halligan made contact with the North Korean embassy in London which is accredited to Ireland, a spokesperson for the Independent Alliance confirmed that no contact had been made with the Foreign Ministry in Seoul or with its embassy in Dublin. No effort was made to hear from that friendly nation whether the proposed trip could help of hinder the de-escalation of tensions on the peninsula. Halligan has no interest in Seoul's views on whether members of the Irish Government going to Pyongyang could make the situation worse.

Ireland has a long-established relationship with South Korea and there are few East Asian countries with which relations are better. One reason for this is South Korea's thriving democracy, well illustrated recently by the removal from power of the sitting president for abuses of power.

Many other countries in the region are not democracies. North Korea is an extreme case. Despite this and Halligan's professed interest in Korean affairs, his interest has always stopped at the 38th parallel which divides the peninsula's dictatorship from its democracy.

Halligan's hard-left vices do not stop at cosying up to dictators. A pose common among the demagogically minded of both left and right is to trumpet their support for the downtrodden. Halligan is a classic example, always setting himself up as a champion of the little guy. But, as is so often the case with posturers of his ilk, the rules which protect the weak, and which apply to everyone else, need not apply to him.

"I know I shouldn't ask you this," Halligan told a civil servant he was interviewing for a job before going on to ask her whether she was married or had children. There are many depressing aspects to the discrimination case taken against the junior minister, but his apparent belief that his innate virtue means he can flout rules designed to protect others from discrimination is among the most depressing.

Over the centuries, mechanisms of accountability have become more commonplace and more effective across the world. From the absolute power leaders always wielded in the past, checks and balances of various kinds now exist and are being strengthened. Abuses of power that until recently were deemed acceptable are increasingly being called out.

Those of a hard-left mindset have been slow learners in this regard, as in so many others. But because they are supposedly "well meaning", they are too often indulged. The authoritarian strain in the hard left is anything but well meaning. It should never get a free pass.

Sunday Independent

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