Friends in Slime: Labour’s Jimmy Harte and the Indo’s Greg Harkin

“It’s easy to spot the cyberbully. He’s the one with the small blog.”

— with apologies to Brendan Behan

Bullying, by definition, is committed by those with power against those without it. The current furore over “bullying” on social media was originally, partly at least, grounded in the best of intentions — the need for support and protection of those teenagers and vulnerable people who are hounded to despair and even suicide is self-evident. But who would seek to co-opt this social instinct for their own ends? Who would be venal and self-serving enough to seize on a discussion of the most powerless, the most helpless, and turn it into an appreciation of themselves? Well, have you ever met an Irish politician?

It took almost no time for Senator Rónán Mullen to decide that the discussion of bullying should be less about the actual bullying of lonely and frightened children and more about political criticism and satire at his expense. His partner in the clubbable, cozy, male political establishment, Pat “lying is what you do” Rabbitte, was quick to reach across party lines and provide a shoulder for Mullen to cry on. It turns out, you see, that social media is used to criticize politicians! And to make fun of them! Well, we can’t be having that.

Now, we can make some allowances for Mullen possessing the typical tissue-thin skin of the ultra-rightist, and Rabbitte not understanding what the Internet is or that the days are gone when politicians automatically received the deference they demand, so in itself there’s nothing newsworthy here. What would be unbelievable, though, what would be hard to credit, is the entrance on the scene of a politician who can claim no ignorance of social media, a previously-active Twitterer with a propensity for street brawling himself, a man given to paroxysms of incoherent rage — and, dare I say it, “bullying” behaviour — on Twitter. It is hard to imagine what sort of a man would demonstrate such a combination of brass neck and mendacious hypocrisy.

Jimmy Harte

Labour senator and noted lying hypocrite Jimmy Harte

We first met Senator Jimmy Harte a year ago, when he was conveniently available to speak to an Irish Independent writer named Greg Harkin and provide sound-bites for the notorious “Magda”article, a hatchet-job which maliciously distorted an interview with Gaia Kowalik, a Polish woman living in Donegal, to falsely portray her as a scrounging ingrate contemptuous of her adopted home. The Independent was soon compelled to take down the story as the truth behind the interview and article was easily discovered. The article looked like this:

The Independent's original "Magda" article illustrates the coziness between Harkin and Harte.

The Independent’s original “Magda” article illustrates the coziness between Harkin and Harte.

This is where I come in. I was not the only person who immediately detected a malicious stitch-up from the newspaper of William Martin Murphy, and criticized Jimmy Harte for taking the article at face value and for his willingness to engage in populist scapegoating of an unemployed immigrant. What I did not realize at the time was the cozy relationship between Harte and Harkin, a sordid symbiosis where each uses the other to amplify his lies. In this particular case, Harkin needed assistance in ridiculing and slandering a woman who was alone and unemployed in a strange country, and Harte was on call to help. “Bullying”, we might call this alliance of two smug, privileged men at the nexus of political and journalistic power in Ireland, with staffs and pension funds, directed against a woman trying to get by.

Clearly, then as now, Harte was not expecting criticism. His responses began shortly after Letterkenny’s pubs closed. He did not, of course, address the “Magda” issue or the criticisms I had raised, rather he descended into a fever dream of paranoid ranting about his critics being “sad”, “anti Donegal” and, I don’t know, something about Eamon Dunphy.

Fame at last!

Fame at last!

Let’s note that all this took place on February 2, 2012. In the morning, Jimmy bravely — if, no doubt, sore-headedly — deleted his Tweets and has not Tweeted since. As of now, his Twitter feed clearly shows it has lain dormant since this incident.

After a finger-wag from the Labour Party offices, Harte offered a classic not-pology to the aether — he apologized neither to me nor his other new Twitter friends, nor to Ms. Kowalik. I took the matter in stride, and life went on.

What’s Another Year?

So, who should show up like a bad penny as the Irish political and journalistic establishment works itself up into a phony, pearl-clutching outrage about social media? Well, that would be Jimmy Harte. And who is his associate, enabling and amplifying his lies? If you guessed the Irish Independent’s Greg Harkin, you win!

Whereas before we saw Harkin use his political associate to amplify his newspaper’s xenophobia, now we see Harte use Harkin as his mouthpiece to turn his false claims into reported fact. Here’s what Harkin wrote at Harte’s behest in the Irish Independent just the other day:

Harte tells stupid, easily refuted lies, Harkin uncritically reports them as fact. Journalism!

Harte tells stupid, easily refuted lies, Harkin uncritically reports them as fact. Journalism!

We lead with Harkin simply reporting that “Cyber-bullies behind a vicious intimidation campaign against a Labour senator have forced him to quit social media sites.” He states this as fact, but none of it is true, and he knows none of it is true. A journalist who was told this tale by a politician would have sought to corroborate the facts and investigate them. Harkin, though, writes for the Irish Independent and for his pet politicians, and does what he’s told.

As we have already noted, Jimmy Harte closed his Twitter account — or, more accurately, stopped posting to it; it has still not been closed as of this writing — a year ago. He stopped posting after being embarrassed by vicious, nasty things he had posted on Twitter and then deleted. If Greg Harkin were a journalist, he would have reported on that. But Harkin is not a journalist, he is a stooge and a liar who acts in cozy collusion with Jimmy Harte.

Almost everything else that Harte says in that article is a lie. He claims threats, but there aren’t any. He rails against the “anonymity” of his Twitter threateners — who remain anonymous because he doesn’t name them, not even by screen name, most likely because they don’t exist.

Just How Stupid Do These People Think You Are?

Harkin and Harte speak with one voice in this article to complain: “The final straw came when someone put his home address and personal information online.” Implicit here is that some sort of threat was being made, as if a cabal of sinister Twitter “bullies” had arranged to march on Casa Harte in Letterkenny with pitchforks. Arrant nonsense, of course, no such threat ever existed and if it had then I think a call to the Gardaí rather than your accomplice at the Indo would be in order. But, more fundamental is the absurdity of being  asked to believe that an Irish politician lives in terror of his home address being publicized. Irish politicians live and die by their clinics, their constituency meetings, and being known in their communities. Everyone in Ireland can find their TDs’ home address for the asking, and both Harte and Harkin know this. They publicize their addresses and phone numbers everywhere. On Jimmy’s home page on the Labour Party website, we have this:

"The final straw came when someone put his home address and personal information on line."

“The final straw came when someone put his home address and personal information online.”

Everyone in Ireland knows that this is how the system works. For Harte & Harkin to pretend that the publishing of his home address would represent some sort of vile social media threat is the rankest cynicism.

Where Do They Get Them From?

One might wonder where the Labour Party is in all this. Why do they cozy up to the likes of Rónán Mullen against a satirical Twitter account? Why did they only criticize Jimmy Harte’s intemperate ranting, but have nothing to say about the actual substantive issue — the xenophobic slander of the original “Magda” article?

Why, indeed, do they have Jimmy Harte as a senator at all? He was a failure as a Fine Gael politician, so he left in a huff and became a failure as an Independent politician. The Labour Party, for reasons best known to themselves, thought that was the sort of strong, vibrant leadership they needed so they were happy to invite him in and offer him another chance at a Dáil seat, which he failed at yet again. That, the Labour Party thought, made him the ideal person to parachute in as a Senator. At last, the Oireachtas pension that had eluded him! And the ability to speak under parliamentary privilege! And access to servile Indo hacks on the lookout for opportunities for mutual back-scratching!

Certainly if I were a member of the Labour Party’s grass roots, I would wonder why such preference was shown to an unrepentant Blueshirt failure with a track record in emotional outbursts timed around the statutory closing of licensed premises. The lesson to be learned here is that hard work and loyalty to the Labour Party doesn’t pay off nearly as well as being the right sort of smug, privileged man of the right age who has sufficient establishment credentials.

But that’s today’s Labour Party for you: cozing up to the Independent, tolerant of xenophobia but extremely sensitive about people criticizing politicians on Twitter; not the party of Jim Larkin, but of Jimmy Harte.

UPDATE – Harte and Harkin together in a simpler time …

I just found this; it’s Greg Harkin practicing his Indo-calibre journalism skills for the Donegal Daily back in 2010. Watch as Greg asks Jimmy the tough questions! Truly these two were made for each other.

Donegal Daily "Business Profile" page 1 Donegal Daily "Business Profile" page 2Donegal Daily "Business Profile" page 3

Two Documents Diverged

The Ulster Covenant of 1912 and the Easter Proclamation of 1916 belong to each other.

Ulster Covenant

Easter Proclamation

As Europe fell towards the reckoning of 1914, Ireland learned to broaden its demonstrations of independence. Irishness made more room for louche Anglo-Irish urbanity, and that made the flowering of Gaelic League, Abbey Theatre, and Catholic University all the more exciting. Of course a lot of the people who made much of Irishness had always a bit of Dissenter to them — Wolfe Tone was a Trinity debater, like all the best people. When Ireland started to deploy earnest Anglican church ladies and foppish London-based poets, though, it seemed like it was all over and a resignation set in. The House of Commons, bullied by an Irish National Party that sacrificed gentlemanly convention for cold-eyed manipulation of the numbers, had about conceded Irish independence. The irredentists, the rebels, were the Ulstermen.

Like the proudest and most majestic dinosaurs, the fastest Clipper ships, like the strongest fortifications of the Maginot Line, the Ulstermen set about fighting the last war in earnest. They signed the Ulster Covenant in their droves. It’s a message in a bottle from the world before the Great War, and it’s a confused lament of a certain strand of British Protestantism.

There’s a surprising embellishment of the initial capital “B”, and a flourish around all of the sentences, which has a touch more of the Books of Kells and Durrow and the old Irish Christian church than the Calvinists might want to credit. There is a lot more King-licking than I’ve ever thought the true Low-Churchers really wanted, and there are the red-ink “red-letter day” paragraph marks which are from the Ussher Bible, so there are influences that are both uniquely Irish and strangely ecumenical.

This is a contract that was signed, in a weird pseudolegal context. People believed it counted more when it was signed in blood; they queued up to sign; there is even a blank space for your name: “The above was signed by me at ___________, ‘Ulster Day,’ Saturday 28th September, 1912.” It declares for the King, “His Most Gracious Majesty”, and closes with “God Save the King” while frankly threatening armed resistance to his law. Kipling wrote a poem about it.

There was a different document, a “Declaration”, for the ladies.

Then the Great War. Kipling’s son went — he’d die, unmarked — and the world changed. The Ireland of 1916 was a colder and darker place; we had discovered the carnage and brutality that all of Europe had. Less than four years after the Covenant, the Proclamation was of a different time: For good or ill, now we had disciplined, worldly, uniformed men with guns; we had ideas and ideals and organization and more of an equal engagement in the same sort of politics that applied elsewhere.

The Proclamation isn’t a personal contract. It goes up on hoardings, on walls, in great sheets of cheap paper. There are no flourishes, there’s rough printing. You’ll notice that the pages that make it up overlap weirdly, and there’s a novelty OK-Coral Western typeface in the headline. No red letters, no crests or flourishes. It’s a rush job, a commercial job. Corners were cut. But Ireland doesn’t ask for your signature or allegiance; this is not an act of feudal deference. Instead, here is a nation state claiming its prerogative at a time when that whole notion was roiling Europe, and at times it does so with breathtaking clarity:

“The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman” … “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland” … “We hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.”

There is a cowardice tending towards apophasis in the self-congratulatory bluster that often infects the Proclamation, though. The cringe-inducing mention of “our gallant allies in Europe” was a filthy payment for a boatload of rifles; the sheer cattiness of references to “an alien government”. The Proclamation was not signed personally, the way the Covenant was. But, with one exception, those whose signatures are recorded were all executed by firing squad, and so many Covenant-signers marched towards the Somme.

The Proclamation is often pompous, and grandiose — but that’s part of the nature of the Rising, holding the GPO and being a futile gesture. And it’s often tender — the religiosity of the Proclamation is more Thomas Jefferson than archbishop McQuaid: there is the bold promise that “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens”. The Ulster Covenant doesn’t do that.

In the two documents there’s the frustration of our failure to make a go of it together. Both the Republic and the North are much hurt and much diminished.

Freemen off their Meds

Somehow this “all laws are voluntary” nonsense seems to have gained currency among some Irish people who clearly missed that decade at school. I’ve been seeing it crop up on in various places, on flyposters in Dublin as well as online, where @jmason covered it briefly. In its most basic form we have:

This household charge is a Statute, otherwise known as an Act of Government and only carries the force of law upon you if you consent to it which means that your legally obliged to pay if you consent or in other words go on to householdcharge.ie and register.

Where to begin? Why bother beginning, even? Well, what’s happened here is that a group of loonies in the U.S. have decided that their favoured close reading of Black’s Law Dictionary is how the law is defined — rather than the Constitution, courts, laws, precedent, etc. — and that in particular the phrase “consent of the governed” applies to individual people and individual acts of governance and not to the ordering of society as a whole.

The tedious and obvious stupidity of it is bad enough, but’s particularly awful is the lack of originality here. These people are uncritically (obviously) importing some tendentious American crankery that in turn is supposedly based on U.K. Common Law and the Magna Carta and whatever you’re having yourself. Here’s one of their legal beagles in action on politics.ie:

Courts operate under admiralty law, common law supersedes Admiralty law unless you contract with the Justice (Judge) once you do this you forfeit your inalienable rights under common law.

Anyone who believes this in any way applies in Ireland is, not too put too fine a point on it, a fucking idiot. Actually it doesn’t apply anywhere — unless you’ve actually been hauled up before the Admiralty Court. So, where does this come from? Well, according to RationalWiki, there is a hilarious linguistic antecedent:

Freemen see a distinction between what they call common law and statute law, which they refer to as admiralty law or “law of the sea”, sometimes also known as maritime law or the “universal commercial code” (a distortion of the US-only Uniform Commercial Code). Through a stunning misunderstanding of etymology, they see admiralty law as being the law of commerce, the law of ownership, citizenship, and indeed anything else ending in “-ship”. They see evidence of this in various nautical-sounding terms used in court, such as “dock”, “birth (berth) certificate”, “-ship” suffixes and any other fancy word they think might have a vaguely naval sound. Freemen will take this further by using further nautical terms, referring to the court as a “ship”, its occupants as “passengers” and claiming that anyone leaving are “men overboard”. Their legal arguments thus tend to a hilarious nautical theme.

Why not “Freemen-on-the-water”, then? And, given that the precedence in Ireland of the Irish language, where the word for “ship” is “long”, I’m sure they could have made this more interesting. That’s what makes it so disappointing.

Anyway, that’s the kind of people we’re dealing with here. Fools who believe that patently fake and preposterous contortions of U.S. Law based on misreadings of U.K. Law can be simply imported into Ireland unchanged and just be magically true! Admiralty, made-up notions that debts can be dismissed with incantations of “Acceptance for Value” and “No Contract, Return To Sender” — everything.

A hilarious, if poignant, update from an intrepid Freeman who engaged Bord Gais in this manner reports:

This isn’t helping getting the gas turned on again.

Reality can be tough that way.