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Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Lawful Tyranny


Tyranny is that which is legal for the government to do but illegal for the citizenry. In the recent history of Hitler’s Germany, all Jewish children were banned from public schools, and before the mass murder of Jews became law, even if it was hidden in open view, it was illegal for a jewish person to marry a German. This of course is the most extreme form of what a lawful tyranny means if you discount Stalin, the penal laws of England against Ireland, the slave trade in America and all the other countries that have had a hand in it at one time or another; dictators, monarchies and democracies have practised it and no country has clean hands whether they be Muslim, Christian, Communist, black, white, indian or anything in between. 

In Ireland’s very recent history it was legal to lock up a child that had landed in one of their Industrial Institutions or Magdalene laundries to be beaten, locked up in a lighted cell for up to 24 hours on bread and water; to be schooled for only two hours with manual labour for the remainder of the day. These laws only died when that system choked on its own vomit and the last of its kind closed in 1997. All of the above: Legal, yes, unjust, yes; normal, yes. It is that accepted normality and loss of outrage that can confuse and confound the most. Herd animals, that we are, explains a lot. Yet it is a more modern but still lawful tyranny that exists in Ireland today, getting entrenched almost unnoticed, and that is the law itself and the henchmen that run its well oiled engine. This is what I want to talk about today.

Recently, a student and victim of mistaken identity was handed a legal bill for over €1,600,000 over a small taxi fare in Dublin. His family of course are going to appeal this bill. The people that sunk this country into impossible debt by greed and corruption have not even even seen the inside of a court; it cost even more to keep them out of one. A couple fighting a neighbour over a hedge were landed a legal bill for over €500,000 by one gang of legal eagles, while Irish Water pays over €81,000 every week to another. And there is no point in starting on about what all the various tribunals has cost you and me and what it will cost our children, and our children’s children for the long and unforeseeable future. 

They say there is hope for the citizenry caught in the vice of litigation of otherwise petty cases, disallowing of course for the corrupt politicians and developers, and it may sound like real justice is standing before the light at the end of the tunnel: you can  actually apply to the Taxing Master about that rather high bill. And that is all you can do there and it has nothing to do with tax. A regal and very legal Clarence Darrow cloaked in morality while holding the scales of justice you might expect, trying to save us from all that has served to confuse, frighten and dominate us. Hold your breath.

No, it is not the Revenue department indeed, who it may be said are quite a benevolent lot compared to where you hope be going to sort out that legal robbery. If you feel you are being overcharged, defrauded, or otherwise being robbed, which is really the point of it all in the first place, you can only go to one place of all places and it is not the Taxing Master: It is the The Law Society.

As it says in the small print, this office is made up of more lawyers that judge the merits of any appeal of prospective, impoverished, and indentured slaves trying to get out from them and their secret society. One way or the other you will be shafted unless you, and only you, can find a way out. It starts with the simple knowledge of the law itself  and how the minions work that operate it for their own gain only; and it has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with law.  

Barry Clifford

National grief gives way to indignation

LAST WEEK I was talking to a group of media students when the coverage of the murder of Garda Tony Golden came up. A young woman from Brazil expressed her amazement at the extent of the coverage. Why, she wanted to know, was the death of a policeman such a major deal.
For a second, I was stumped. Then I tried to explain that the gardaí have a special relationship with the community here, and when one is killed in the line of duty it’s as if the whole country is bereaved.
The incident reminded me that we take for granted the close-knit relationship with the gardaí, and the custom of supporting the bereaved to an extent that is practically alien in many other western countries.

There is also the thoroughly modern phenomenon of public grieving, first witnessed following the death of Princess Diana. This involves large numbers of people reacting to a tragedy as if they had suffered a personal loss. The media tends to lead this mourning, but there is little to suggest that the public’s general reaction deviates from the tone of the coverage.

Public grieving was very much in evidence in the wake of the Berkeley tragedy last June. The six students who died in the balcony collapse became the focus of a form of national mourning.
Then last week we had another tragedy with a fire in a halting site in Carrigmines, south Dublin. Five adults and five children lost their lives. Thomas Connors was 27, his wife Sylvia 25. They died along with their children Jim, 5, Christy, 2, and five-month-old Mary.

Sylvia’s brother, Willie Lynch, and his partner, Tara Gilbert, also died along with their children, Jodie, 9, and four-year-old Kelsey. Willie Lynch’s brother, Jimmy, who was 39, was the fifth adult among the dead. Two other children were hospitalised, one of whom remains in a serious condition.
The initial reaction was one of widespread horror. The Taoiseach ordered that flags would be flown at half-mast on the days of the funerals. Books of condolences were opened. A black cloud of mourning settled over the nation.

The scale of the fatalities meant that some of the long standing tensions between the Travelling community and sections of so-called settled people were suspended, as everybody came together to grieve the loss of lives, and particularly those of children who hadn’t even reached the age of reason.
And then… and then the mask slipped. By Tuesday, large chunks of the nation was reassessing its grief. Reality had intruded. Gathering around the survivors, feeling their pain, had become problematic. Grieving was all very good when it was cost-free, but a situation had arisen that shook many from their sympathy.
A stand-off had developed in Rockville Drive, a neighbourhood down the road from the charred remains of the fire site. Emergency plans by the council to set up a temporary site for survivors were being physically blocked. Anger and defiance had replaced mourning.

The surviving nine adults and six children must be traumatised. They were in close proximity when their loved ones perished. Among them are a couple who lost a son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren. Since the fire they have been living in “temporary accommodation”, scattered in various locations, displaced from the bosom of what remains of extended family.
Yet, their plight has now been reduced to a row over where to put them. Their status as victims of cruel fate, requiring the support of a nation, has been withdrawn.

By the middle of the week, some elements of the media had discovered new victims — the homeowners who are objecting to the presence of the bereaved survivors in their immediate area. In column inches and headlines these were portrayed as the new victims deserving of sympathy.
They were being “vilified”, “bullied”, and “targeted” over their “legitimate concerns”. What had happened was an awful tragedy, but the idea of allowing survivors to locate near your own home, well, that’s a step too far.
The stance of the residents of Rockville Drive has tempered the national mourning. Many have asked themselves whether they would have reacted differently, and have elicited from their own conscience a negative reply.

Their opinion on the matter resonates in the upper echelons of Government. The Taoiseach, the national mourner in chief, had this to say in the Dáil when the matter arose on Wednesday.
“This is a very sensitive issue and the funerals involved have not even taken place yet, although to balance that, there has to be an explanation to any community of what a local authority intends to do as an emergency measure,” he said.

Mr Kenny conveniently ignored that the problem with emergencies is there is often precious little time to consult, but we’re in the year of an election and votes are votes, even in the depths of alleged national mourning.
A modicum of decency was struck by Environment Minister Alan Kelly who declared of the blockade that “it says an awful lot about Irish society and in a very disturbing way”. One thing it says is the quality of public grief expressed at a time of major tragedy is skin deep. It also says another national trait —prejudice against Travellers — persists in these allegedly enlightened times.

There is a tendency among representatives for their community to go big on rights, but avoid the issue of responsibilities. The transient nature of the lifestyle engaged by some Travellers sometimes leads to a contemptuous disregard for the wider population. And, as with other sections of society at the lower reaches of the socio economic ladder, there are problems around crime with some elements.
But, in classic racist attitudes, all Travellers are tarred with the same brush among large swathes of the population. They are not regarded as individuals, but members of a collective who are to be feared or treated with suspicion.

The basis for most of the prejudice echoes down through the years with the kind of complaints that were made against all sorts of minorities, anywhere in the world. The Irish at large were regarded in Britain exactly as Travellers are now in some sections of their own country.

Even Traveller children are not given a free pass. Last year, when it was revealed that children from that community had their details recorded on the Pulse garda computer system, there was precious little reaction. Staining children as future potential criminals is all right apparently, as long as they are Travellers.

Last week, we learned a lot about the quality of public mourning when it is put to the test. We also had a reminder of the depressing prejudice that persists in this society.
Michael Clifford

Pretence that wife was still alive enabled €258,000 fraud

Man collected carers, disability and respite allowances for 14 years in respect of late wife

Revenue noted there was more than €100,000 in an account accessed by Thomas Leniston, a former London bus driver, now resident at Cashel Park, Castlebar, Co Mayo. This information was relayed to the Department of Social Protection, which carried out an investigation.
Tom Shiel

A 69-year-old man defrauded the Department Of Social Protection of more than €258,000 by pretending for 14 years that his dead wife was still alive, a court heard on Friday.
The fraud involving Thomas Levinston, a former London bus driver, now resident at Cashel Park, Castlebar, CoMayo, was uncovered last year when the Revenue Commissioners investigated a joint bank account in the names of the accused and his late wife, Patricia.
Revenue noted there was more than €100,000 in the account. This information was relayed to the Department of Social Protection, who carried out an investigation.

19 sample charges
At Castlebar Circuit Criminal Court, Leniston pleaded guilty to 19 sample charges of fraud and larceny between August 2000 and March 2014.
Det Garda Hugh O’Donnell told the court that Leniston continued to collect carers allowance, disability allowance and respite care allowance in respect of his wife, despite the fact she died in July 2000.
The monies were collected weekly at Castlebar Post Office.

Det Garda O’Donnell outlined there were 707 weekly disability payments totalling €116,743.50; 701 weekly carers allowance payments totalling €125,524.50; and 13 annual respite grant payments totalling €16,287.90, giving a cumulative total of €258,555.70.
The Garda witness explained that when the accused was detained at Castlebar Garda station, he was forthright in his interviews.

He said that each week, he went into Castlebar Post Office and handed over his and his wife’s social welfare card, and got the various payments in cash.
Det Garda O’Donnell said Leniston told him he was looking after his elderly mother-in-law (90) and had some health concerns himself.
He added that he felt he was entitled to some payments, but should have regularised these matters after the death of his wife.

Cross-examined by Michael Bowman
an, counsel for the accused, the garda witness said Leniston and his wife, who had Crohn’s Disease, had moved from London to Castlebar in 1995 in the hope she would have a better quality of life there.
Det Garda O’Donnell agreed with Mr Bowman, counsel for Leniston, that the defendant was quiet, inoffensive, did not drink and lived a completely unostentatious lifestyle.

‘Truly enormous’
Mr Bowman agreed the sums involved were “truly enormous”, but maintained “this was a sin of omission as opposed to somebody who engaged in a calculated scheme of deception”.
Mr Bowman said the accused had a considerable sum of money in the bank, which was not ill-gotten gain but resulted from the sale of a family home in 2006.

The court was told Leniston was willing to pay €80,000 in compensation to the department.
In his summing up, Judge MacCabe said the accused had told the probation and welfare services he forgot to notify the appropriate authorities of his wife’s death.
Extraordinary duration

The judge described the fraud as one of extraordinary duration.
He said it would not be in the interests of justice to send Leniston to jail immediately, as this would involve additional expense to the taxpayer and rule out the possibility that the department would recover any more of their loss.
The judge, who noted that Leniston’s mother-in-law was dependent on him, imposed a suspended two-year prison sentence on each of the sample charges to which the defendant had pleaded guilty.

In addition, the judge ruled that the part compensation of €80,000 offered by the defendant be paid to the Department of Social Protection.
Tom Shiel

Oscar Wilde- A Genius For All Times

Richard Ellmann on Oscar Wilde: “He belongs more to our world than to Victoria’s. Now beyond the reach of scandal, his best writings validated by time, he comes before us still, a towering figure, laughing and weeping, with parables and paradoxes, so generous, so amusing, so right.” Photograph: Napoleon Sarony/Getty Images

“ …over our heads will float the Blue Bird singing of beautiful and impossible things, of things that are lovely and that never happened, of things that are not and that should be.” From The Decay of Lying (1889)

On this day, October 16, in 1854 was born one of the world’s most magical and compelling literary writers, an artist of extraordinary wit and learning, whose genius would be countered by his humanity and reckless quest for love and perfection. Oscar Wilde paid a heavy price for his romantic urges and belief in beauty. A wry fatalism certainly stalked him throughout his short life which ended in a hotel room in Paris in 1900, as did an eloquent defiance which he simply could not help. The epigrams flowed. Yet his rich and diverse legacy is as full of sorrow as it is of humour, insight and observation. It is as difficult to move through a day without hearing at least some reference to Wilde – be it a quote from his work or a paraphrase – as it is of Shakespeare or Yeats. Wilde endures as do the respective works of an Elizabethan dramatist and an Irish poet born less than 11 years after Wilde. This trio infiltrate our consciousness; their words shape our responses.

For many readers the first encounter with Wilde could be having once listened as children to a grown-up reading from The Happy Prince. It was published in 1888 in a collection which also includes The Nightingale and the Rose; The Selfish Giant; The Devoted Friend; and The Remarkable Rocket. Wilde speaks to every one, adult or child.
In celebration of Wilde on this the 161st anniversary of his birth, one could return to The Happy Prince or to The Selfish Giant and wonder anew at the art, or, even better, make this the moment to introduce a son or daughter, niece or nephew to the poignant wonder that is Wilde. The Selfish Giant is an all-time favourite. Should your preference move to non-fiction, Notting Hill editions, champions of the essay form, have just published an elegant selection of Wilde’s writings, Beautiful and Impossible Things, which takes its title from The Decay of Lying (1889) which features along with The Soul of Man under Socialism (1891) and The House Beautiful (1882). It casts a sharp light on Wilde’s overwhelming sense of justice. 

Not surprisingly, Wilde defended Parnell in print. As mercurial as Mozart, Oscar Wilde is quick-fire and worthy of pursuit. Not for nothing did one of his most distinguished admirers, biographer Richard Ellmann, concede that writing his study, Oscar Wilde, which was published in 1987, was very difficult as Wilde was elusive: “He belongs more to our world than to Victoria’s. Now beyond the reach of scandal, his best writings validated by time, he comes before us still, a towering figure, laughing and weeping, with parables and paradoxes, so generous, so amusing, so right.”

Flamboyance, theatricality, arch playfulness, a bizarre innocence and dazzling self-belief all share a role in his tragedy. As an artist he has an unusual appeal. Read anything by Oscar Wilde, be it an essay or a children’s story; experience his outstanding novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), or simply absorb his fabulous comedies and it is immediately apparent – he is a complete writer as well as a profound thinker. Central to his marvellous rise and squalid fall is his uncommon genius and his ironic parade of his ego. There is also his apparent confidence that everything was his for the taking, yet even more importantly – consider his humanity; he loved, he suffered, he tried to survive.
Personifying the artificiality of the 1890s, he took immense pleasure in parodying the Englishness of the English. In spite of the charade Wilde remained consciously Irish, and enjoyed satirising English class snobbery. He also lampooned the Americans, but secretly admired them. Ever the creative artist, he was capable of conferring glamour on the large body and plain face inherited from Jane Francesca Elgee, Lady Wilde, his dynamic and impetuous mother.

His parentage played its part in creating the phenomenon that is Oscar Wilde. His father, Sir William Wilde, was a distinguished surgeon with a bluntly colourful personality tainted by sexual rumour and scandal, while also being generous and committed to the poor. He was a pioneering gentleman antiquarian and, confident of his meticulous organisational skills, took on and completed the three-volume cataloguing of the Royal Irish Academy’s archaeological collection in a remarkable five months, as it was obvious that the well-intentioned but hopelessly disorganised antiquarian, musician and painter, George Petrie (1790-1866), would never complete the task. Sir William was among the first of the 19th-century visitors to Newgrange on the banks of the Boyne in Co Meath. An able writer, he published material ranging from travelogues to a study of Swift’s final years, surgical texts and, of course, antiquarian topics.

Wilde’s mother, known to history mainly by her pen name, Speranza, was the daughter of a solicitor and the granddaughter of Archdeacon Elgee. On attending the funeral in 1845 of Young Irelander Thomas Davis, a co-founder of The Nation, Jane Elgee, then 19, read his poetry and promptly became an ardent nationalist. It was as Speranza that she began contributing poems and articles to The Nation.

In 1851 she married Dr Wilde, whose services to the census would earn him his knighthood in 1864. In that same year Wilde senior, by then Sir William, featured in a trial bought by one of his former female patients, Mary Travers, who had accused him of rape. The volatile Speranza complicated matters by ill-advisedly writing a libellous letter about Travers, whose defence lawyer was Isaac Butt. Ms Travers emerged as deranged, but Sir William, in an eerie foreshadowing of his younger son’s fate in a very different, if equally nasty, case, left the court with a damaged reputation.
Oscar Wilde grew up in a household full of rhetoric, books, folklore and interesting personalities. From Trinity College, he set off to Magdalen College, Oxford, winning the Newdigate Prize for Poetry. His flair got him noticed as did his “art for art’s sake” philosophy. Marriage to Constance Lloyd followed in 1884 and he proved an affectionate if distracted husband. By then, he had already lectured throughout North America on aesthetics. Returning to London he established himself as a reviewer. Wilde’s insatiable appetite for books matched his needs in other areas. His restlessness may have been fed by his desire – half-insecure, half-egotistical – for idealised love.

His literary career began with The Happy Prince and other stories which as already noted, was published in 1888. It seems appropriate that an individual, who for all his sophistication was to retain an element of the child throughout his life, would begin his career with children’s stories and fairy tales. 

His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was poorly received on publication in a magazine in 1890, and in novel form the following year. In this Gothic parable Wilde articulates the restlessness and ambivalence which undercuts his life and his work, played out as they were amidst the cynically jaundiced sexuality and opulent decadence of the 1890s. With its echoes of Poe and Baudelaire, it is a remarkable novel based on a Faustian pact struck by an anti-hero who fears the ravages of old age and is prepared to make a deal at any cost. For all the horror of the tale, Wilde exerts immense restraint. It is a skilled performance of imagination and daring. One would almost be tempted to say his literary immortality could rest on it alone, were it not for the fact that Wilde was so gifted, an inspired comic with a sophisticated grasp of tragedy. His comedies are bright and shining, fast moving and hilarious. It is fascinating that even while watching classic contemporary British comedy such as Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, or the same duo enacting PG Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, Wilde appears to inform their timing. Fry was to portray Wilde in the 1997 film. The wit is always present, the sharp retort. The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) remains one of the funniest plays ever written, Wilde’s epigrammatic humour is brilliantly served by the high-speed dialogue. It is a play actors invariably admit to loving. 

He remains one of the masters of cerebral, wordplay humour.
Yet Wilde was essentially serious. A Woman of No Importance (1893), although not as dark as The Picture of Dorian Gray, is nonetheless a sombre work. Wilde believed he was an artist writing for posterity. This self-image dominates his most powerful literary utterance, De Profundis, a long letter written in prison between January and March 1897 and addressed to Wilde’s treacherous lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, degenerate son of the Marquis of Queensberry.

Published posthumously in 1905, De Profundis is an angry manifesto which details the greed of Douglas, his vicious slights and most of all, his ingratitude. “While you were with me,” writes Wilde, “you were the absolute ruin of my art.” The relationship – which as Wilde stresses throughout he repeatedly attempted to end – drained him emotionally, artistically and financially. Wilde’s tone is formal and dramatic. Written, a page a day, on prison notepaper, the letter looks beyond a destructive affair, and reveals Wilde reaching an understanding about life, his response to it and his awareness of the time and gifts he had wasted. He was aware, and history agrees, that he could have achieved far more had he lived longer. His heartfelt letter also serves as a metaphysical meditation about the role of the artist.

“I was a man who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age... Few men hold such a position in their own lifetime, and have it so acknowledged. It is usually discerned, if discerned at all, by the historian, or the critic, long after both the man and his age have passed away. With me it was different. I felt it myself, and made others feel it…The gods had given me almost everything. I had genius, a distinguished name, high social position, brilliancy, intellectual daring; I made art a philosophy and philosophy an art; I altered the minds of men and the colours of things… to truth itself I gave what is false no less than what is true as its rightful province, and showed that the false and the true are merely forms of intellectual existence. I treated art as the supreme reality and life as a mere mode of fiction.”

Tragedy does surround the life of Oscar Wilde, there is pathos and sympathy for a victim of love and betrayal, yet where there is Wilde there is humour and imagination, a joy in language and in its poetry. One of Ireland’s, and international literature’s, finest artists continues to smile at the world through a body of work which shimmers.

Eileen Battersby 

Arthur Miller voiced the hopes and fears of ordinary Americans

                                  Playwright Arthur Miller with wife Marilyn Monroe. 

Anyone fortunate enough to have met dramatist Arthur Miller, who was born 100 years ago today in Harlem, New York, invariably agrees he was a warm, regular guy: no airs and graces, possessed of a sense of humour, a handshake that could inspire confidence and a profound understanding of the problems facing his country, a diverse multicultural society at war with itself.

In common with Nobel Literature laureate Saul Bellow, who, born in June 1915, was a few months older and died some six weeks after him in 2005, Miller was the son of immigrants.
Whereas being Jewish was central to Bellow’s work, which took as its prevailing theme the Jew attempting to assimilate in the United States, Jewishness did not dominate Miller’s art – although he was very Jewish in speech and manner despite having lived in Connecticut for more than 50 years.

Brave and candid, he had honour, and while for many observers the first thing that came to mind when discussing Miller was that he had been married toMarilyn Monroe, more would recall it was Miller who stood firm when called to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Whereas director Elia Kazan named names, Miller refused to squeal on his communist friends, fellow artists and writers. He later denounced US involvement in Vietnam.

Great American
Miller was a majestic playwright, a great American and a man who, when I asked him how he felt about his father, replied: “He was uneducated, you know, we didn’t have an intellectual relationship. I was proud of him, he was a kind man. I loved him.”

Miller was then 82 and when speaking of his mother referred to her death being “too soon”.
His four big plays: All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953) and A View From the Bridge (1955) were shaped by the legacy of the Depression, the central event, in his opinion, of 20th-century US history, the century in which the US came of age.
Through the experiences of his characters he explored the pathos of the collapse of the American Dream.

He looked beyond the romance and concentrated on the reality of defeated idealism.
In his lifetime he was a giant presence; he is and will remain the defining voice of American literature.
At any given moment his major plays are as likely to be in production around the world as are those of Shakespeare and Beckett.

It is his voice: Miller knew how ordinary Americans spoke; he articulated their hopes, fears and regrets. He was a realist in the tradition of Ibsen. If there is one quality in Miller’s plays, and there are many, it is the abiding compassion.
Rejecting the mystique of Scott Fitzgerald’s self-inventing Jay Gatsby, Miller looked to Willy Loman, the central character of Death of a Salesman, and presented him not as a tragic hero but as an ordinary man, a victim of all-too real delusions and a pathetic, fragile ego.
Loman is Everyman and his son, Biff, the golden youth, college-bound and expected to soar, turns out to be a liar.

The play was written in six weeks, it won the Pulitzer Prize and it consolidated the impact Miller had made, two years earlier, in 1947, with All My Sons. Miller’s strength was being able to portray the weakness of strong men.
As he got older, he confronted deafness, which he dismissed as an irritant. “It makes talking on the phone kinda messy.”
Theatre director Joe Dowling's has a good story about Miller on being asked to explain his longevity, pausing to consider, before replying, “I eat a lot of hot dogs.”

Miller, tall and rangy, told me he was double-jointed. I said I was too. That made him peer; he said he would show me a trick with his thumb. I did it better and Miller shook his head, saying: “Maybe I’ve forgotten how to do it.”

The plays speak because Miller believed in speech-as-spoken dialogue. It seems almost symbolic that an earlier pillar of US theatre, Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953) died the year Miller completed The Crucible.

It is great theatre; it is also eloquent polemic. Based on the Salem witch trials, it is about the corruption of a society and the fear imposed by the powerful.
Arthur Miller was an artist and a survivor. In Timebends (1987) he wrote a memoir which is candid, relentless, conversational and emphatic.

It is his story and also that of the US, with his life and his work mirrored and reflected. He was loved, and also liked, a very special teller of truths.
Eileen Battersby

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Media and campaigners did disservice to Michael Dwyer

IN THE months after his death, Michael Dwyer was unfairly traduced across the media. Of that now, there can be little doubt.

Michael Dwyer

Dwyer was shot dead by Bolivian security forces in the city of Santa Cruz in the early hours of April 16, 2009. The Bolivian government claimed that the 24-year-old Tipperary man had been part of an assassination squad intent on murdering the prime minister, Evo Morales. The circumstances of his death have been highly disputed.
On Monday, RTÉ screened Death Of A Son — The Killing of Michael Dwyer. It followed Dwyer’s mother Caroline as she travelled to Bolivia in search of some answers.

The family and the Irish Government have long called for an independent inquiry into the killing, but so far the Bolivian authorities have failed to agree to do so.
Dwyer’s killing was complicated by a number of factors. The summer before his death he had completed a construction management course at Galway and Mayo IT. He then spent a few months working for a security firm, IRMS, employed at the Corrib gas site in Co Mayo. It was here he met an individual who suggested the Bolivian adventure.

He travelled to South America in November 2008 to undergo a bodyguard training course that never materialised. He did not even speak Spanish, yet he stayed on and found himself in the company of men who could be described as dangerous.
These men included one Rozsa Flores, who had fought in the Balkans war and had arrived in Bolivia intent on joining forces opposed to the socialist Morales. Flores and another man were killed with Dwyer, but two others in their group were arrested.

These surviving two were put on trial for allegedly plotting the overthrow of the government. The process dragged on for over five years, until the pair agreed a plea bargain that involved a sentence of time served. Along the way, the state prosecutor defected to Brazil and has claimed that Dwyer and the other two were “executed”.

Central to any examination of the case is the question of the extent of Dwyer’s knowledge about what he was involved in. Did he know Flores’ background or intentions? Was he aware of the political cauldron that existed in the city of Santa Cruz?

Did he know that these men were apparently intent on acts of violence against the government in some form? Or was he on an adventure, spending a few months in South America, his room and board taken care of while he lived it up with other young men?

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, numerous photographs showing Dwyer posing with guns and in army fatigues were widely published.
These were suggestive by their nature, but evidence of nothing. He was described as a mercenary, and the “Irish jackel”.

Some media outlets went further. One Sunday tabloid published a story claiming that four Eastern European men showed up at Dwyer’s funeral in Ballinderry and afterwards issued a Nazi salute at the graveside. There was no evidence whatsoever of this.
Another asserted that Dwyer had been involved in an attempt to blow up the home of a cardinal in the days before his own death. Again, there was zero evidence, but the story fed a prevailing sentiment that this man was involved in acts of political violence.

Monday’s programme addressed some of the innuendo that had been spread. A video which showed Dwyer and others working out on a shooting range in Santa Cruz was, at the time, provided as further evidence as to his intentions. In the film, Caroline Dwyer visited the range in question, which is housed in a public park, and which supplies the guns for practice. It’s the kind of place that young men full of testosterone would find themselves on a jaunt.

Such a setup would appear ludicrous in this country, but not South America, or even in parts of North America.
One of the photographs which was circulated at the time alleging to show Dwyer in an incriminating pose was exposed in the film as a light hearted moment captured in a Galway nightclub while he was in college.
While some elements of the media suspended customary scepticism about anything coming from official sources, there was a further complicating matter. Dwyer’s brief sojourn as an employee of the security firm protecting Shell in Mayo meant that he was held up as a poster boy for the evil that Shell was allegedly doing.

His death and the allegations that emerged about what he was involved in provided “evidence” of links between far right mercenaries and the oil company. This notion was propagated at a time when the Shell To Sea campaign opposed to the on-shore oil refinery in Mayo was losing purchase on the public’s radar.
While the campaigners had a perfectly legitimate — some might say laudable — objective, the use of Dwyer to further their aims was less than edifying. A long article on the now-defunct website Indymedia purported to join up the dots to show the links between Shell, the security firm IRMS, far-right terrorists, and a plot to overthrow a democratic government. The main link in the story was Dwyer.
Some campaigners went further in a demonstration in Galway’s Shop St, displaying the “incriminating” photos of Dwyer at a protest. This occurred in the city where he had lived the life of a typical student until months before his death.

At the time, I wrote an opinion piece in The Sunday Tribune questioning the use of Dywer’s image in this manner at a time when his family were attempting desperately to find out the truth of what happened their son.

The response which issued from Shell To Sea described the Indymedia piece as “a first class piece of journalism” and went on the suggest that I was attempting to bury the real story.
“To plead in this context that Dwyer was an Irishman and his mysterious activities must be hushed up for the sake of his family is nothing less than emotional blackmail; it is a sentimental species of self-censorship, a phenomenon that has plagued Irish news-reporting for generations, destroying integrity and blinding understanding.”

Time and the emergence of some evidence in the interim has shown the Indymedia piece to have been an agenda-laden smear.
Questions about Michael Dwyer’s activities in his final months do remain, but the idea that he transmogrified into a deadly soldier of fortune in a matter of months doesn’t stack up.

It now appears that he was done an injustice by a rush to judgment, the blind acceptance of propaganda from the Bolivian government, and attempts to smear him in pursuit of a separate agenda. Neither his memory nor his grieving and confused family deserved that.
Michael Clifford

The very unlikely story of J. Arthur Rank

The retired major general was apoplectic, his handlebar moustache quivering. These American films with their slang and swagger were an abomination, Sir Alfred Knox snarled at his colleagues in the House of Commons, where he was a Tory MP.
It was time, he thundered, to limit the importation of ‘American talking films’ to ‘protect the English language as spoken by the people of this country’.
At the other end of the Thirties political spectrum, the writer George Orwell similarly bemoaned the growing influence of Hollywood on British culture.

Movie man: J Arthur Rank - the man who took it upon himself to rebuild the British film industry

To the rescue came an unlikely figure — a man who is one of my heroes in the cultural history of these islands. J. Arthur Rank, a flour miller from Hull, took it upon himself to rebuild the British film industry, repel the transatlantic tide and turn popular culture into a gigantic advertisement for British virtues.
His muscled strongman bashing a gong would become one of the most instantly recognisable trademarks in the world. Yet everything about its inventor seemed wrong.

To his film business peers, Rank was a baffling figure, a Victorian relic unaccountably thrust into the modern world.
A man of deeply conservative opinions and with a religious passion, he believed he was being guided by God. Even at the height of his fame he taught his weekly Methodist Sunday school class, and in Hollywood he sometimes cut short meetings with studio executives to write postcards to his Sunday school pupils.

He knew virtually nothing about films and rarely went to the cinema. His greatest dream was not that one of his films might win an Oscar but that one of his dogs might win at Cruft’s.
Yet by the end of World War II, Rank was the most powerful man in the British film industry. He managed it by building his film empire on the principles of manufacturing, from the laws of supply and demand to the importance of presentation and packaging. The truth is that he was not really a film-maker at all. He was a miller. His family had been milling flour since 1825 and his father, Joe Rank, had built up the largest flour business in the country through hard work and self-discipline.

Big noise in movies: The iconic Rank strongman striking the gong - which would become one of the most instantly recognisable trademarks in the world

Like all good Victorian capitalists, Joe Rank had a strong sense of social obligation. The company had a pioneering pension scheme for its workers, while he himself donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to charities.

He was one of the richest men in the country by the time his son, Arthur, was born in 1888.
The youngest of seven, Arthur was not conspicuously bright. His father used to call him a ‘dunce’, a jibe that seems to have cut deep, since he often brought it up in later life.
In his youth, he was not allowed to go to the theatre or to public dances, which were seen as sinful — a strange background for a man who in later life would revolutionise entertainment.

After boarding school there was no question of university. Instead, he started in the mills, sweeping floors and carrying sacks. By the age of 21 he was in charge of his own mill.
At this stage nobody could possibly have predicted his impact on popular culture. Indeed, as late as 1930, when Rank turned 42, he seemed a deeply uninteresting figure, living quietly in Surrey, the soul of comfortable, middle-class respectability.

It was his religious faith that brought him into the film business. He owned a stake in the Methodist Times newspaper, which consistently attacked Hollywood for its ‘cynical pandering to depraved imaginations’.
Talking pictures, argued the paper’s film critic, had ‘stripped woman not only of clothing but of morals, decency, truth, fidelity and every civilised quality or virtue’.
Yet some evangelical Christians believed they could turn film to their advantage. One notable Methodist preacher, the Reverend Thomas Tiplady, saw films as an opportunity to attract younger audiences.

‘The cinema,’ he argued, ‘is the greatest invention since the printing press, and the Church must put aside all moral, intellectual and artistic snobbery and . . . bring this invention into the service of Christ.’
This was Arthur Rank’s kind of talk. For all his piety, he was a man of the world. He had already asked his secretary to find Christian films that he could show to his Sunday school class and been disappointed to hear that there were almost none.
In 1933, he helped to set up a new voluntary body, the Religious Film Society. He even came up with the idea for its first 20-minute film, The Mastership Of Christ (1934).
It was, as he admitted later, ‘lousy’. But he had got the bug. His later films would be rather better.

The secret of Rank’s success was that he saw films as a commodity. Like many evangelical preachers, he believed that spreading the word of God was akin to selling a product. Films, too, could be produced, marketed and sold like flour.
And very quickly the business of making films roused Rank’s competitive instincts. Within barely two years, not content with funding straightforwardly religious films, he decided to make mainstream films for a wider audience, gently introducing them to ‘moral’ and ‘wholesome’ values without subjecting them to a sermon.
Through films, he said, he would ‘help men and women make this world a better place to live in’.

So in 1935, in alliance with the Tory peer Viscount Portal, he set up the General Cinema Finance Corporation. And then, with dizzying speed, the rest of the business fell into his lap.
Year after year, he built up his empire: the Pinewood studio here; a distribution company there; a share of Universal; the Odeon cinema chain; the Gaumont cinema chain; Denham studios; Lime Grove studios. Nobody ever built a film empire so quickly or with such ruthless acumen.

To many people in the industry, Rank came not as a moral saviour but as a capitalist carpetbagger. Fancying themselves as civilised, creative types, far above the tawdry demands of commerce, they hated owing their living to a Victorian industrialist.
His shy manner did him no favours. In a business dominated by cigar-chewing, wisecrack-dispensing showmen, the Methodist miller cut a bizarrely reticent figure.
After seeing Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948), one of the most prestigious films the Rank Organisation ever made, Rank said simply to the star: ‘Thank you very much, Sir Laurence’. This was not good enough for Olivier, who had been expecting a torrent of praise and never forgave him for such an outrageous slight.

To the Left in particular, Rank’s name was mud. The socialist paper Tribune regularly damned his ‘bad taste’, while the Association of Cinematograph Technicians regarded him as the modern equivalent of ‘a monopolistic Victorian factory-owner’.
The actor James Mason, who had made his name in Rank films during World War II, made a blistering attack on his patron after decamping to Hollywood in 1946. Rank, he said, was ‘the worst thing that has happened to the British film industry’.

This was horribly unfair. The Forties were the golden age of British cinema and much of that is down to Rank. He put up the money for classics such as David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945), Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), and for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp (1943) and The Red Shoes (1948).

It was even Rank who paid for the Ealing comedies that have become synonymous with post-war Britain. Without him there would have been no Passport To Pimlico (1949), no Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949), no The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), no The Ladykillers (1955).
Rank himself had nothing to do with writing or making these films. His great virtue was that he gave carte blanche to more talented people.

‘We can make any subject we wish,’ Lean said in 1947, ‘with as much money as we think that subject should have spent on it. We can cast whichever actors we choose, and we have no interference with the way the film is made.’
Time magazine claimed that ‘not since the Renaissance Popes have a group of artists found a patron so quick with his wallet, so slow with unsolicited directions and advice’.

Even Rank’s great rival Alexander Korda believed that had it not been for the Yorkshireman, the British film industry would probably have been dead before the end of World War II. ‘Any who deny what Arthur has done,’ Korda said, ‘know nothing.’

Rank’s empire reached its zenith in 1946. By then, he employed 31,000 people, turned over £45 million a year and controlled five studios, five newsreel firms, a host of production companies and almost 650 cinemas.
What’s more, his goal of rolling back the advance of Hollywood had been at least a partial success, for in 1946, for the first and only time, British films did better at the domestic box office than their American counterparts.

Yet for Rank that was only half the battle. The real challenge, as he saw it, was to take the fight to Hollywood — or ‘Fairyland’, as he called it — and break the American market itself.
The problem was that British films had a terrible reputation across the Atlantic. Americans liked fantasy. The realism of British films went down badly at U.S. box offices.

But, as Rank perceived, British history was a different matter. U.S. audiences would lap up serving wenches, the Tower of London — everything they associated with ‘olde England’.
So, leading his assault on the U.S. market was Henry V, one of the most influential British pictures ever made. Not only did it boast the talents of Britain’s most celebrated actor (Olivier) and its greatest playwright, but there is even an apocryphal story that it was commissioned by Winston Churchill himself, who supposedly asked Olivier to make it as a propaganda boost for British troops fighting the Nazis.

Shakespeare’s play was indeed perfect propaganda, not just because of the subject matter — a plucky band of English and Welshmen overcoming a horde of effeminate foreigners — but because it had become a well-established focus for patriotic sentiment, having been performed at the Old Vic every year during World War I.

As for Olivier, he was a natural choice to star and direct since he had not only played Shakespeare’s national hero at the Old Vic but had recited stirring passages on radio since the outbreak of World War II.
His Henry is the ideal English hero: brave, cheerful and effortlessly graceful. One American critic wrote that he incarnated ‘the public school virtues that were supposed to have built the British Empire’.

The film-makers explicitly drove home the parallel between Agincourt, with the English army alone against overwhelming odds, and the recent achievements of the RAF in the Battle of Britain.

But Henry V was far more than a wartime morale-booster. Its style and structure were sophisticated and the battle scenes as exciting as anything in the history of cinema to that point, the atmosphere heightened by William Walton’s tremendously stirring music.
Stylistic excellence, however, came at a cost. The budget was set at £325,000 but the final cost was nearer £475,000, the equivalent of perhaps £73 million today.

The story of the release and reception of Henry V speaks volumes about the enduring pressures on the British film industry, caught between the demands of making upmarket pictures and the need to make a profit.
Rank was worried about its commercial prospects and asked Olivier to cut it from 140 to around 100 minutes. Olivier refused.

Rank’s anxieties proved well grounded. It would be easy to mock him as a tight-fisted Philistine who knew nothing of the value of art, but he probably had a better idea than Olivier of what most people wanted. Reviewers raved about Henry V but cinemas outside the West End reported poor audiences and even some booing.
Olivier was spectacularly dismissive. His intention, he said, had always been to make an ‘artistically successful’ film, not a ‘financially successful one’ (which must have been news to Rank). ‘I have explained to Rank before,’ Olivier sighed, ‘that this film is for the good of his name, not his pocket.’

What turned Henry V into a money-spinner was the reaction in America. Rank’s men marketed it brilliantly. The film was shown in college towns for one night only, and in small venues, ensuring that they would be packed.
As word spread, the distributors booked bigger halls. After just 12 months, the film had already made a profit of £275,000. It turned out to be an early and enormously accomplished example of an enduring blueprint for British success.

The values that American critics associated with it (and with Olivier’s next Shakespeare venture, Hamlet) — history, tradition and high culture — are precisely the same as those projected by a string of later successful British pictures.
Think of Chariots Of Fire, Gandhi and A Room With A View in the Eighties, or The Remains Of The Day, The English Patient and Shakespeare In Love in the Nineties, or even Atonement, The Queen and The King’s Speech in the 2000s.
Rank had hit on an approach which has come to define British cinema, and perhaps Britain itself, in the eyes of the world.

For Rank, however, the appeal of the film industry was beginning to wane. Making ‘prestige’ films was inherently risky because they were so expensive. Worse still, audiences were turning away. The sight of Rank’s famous gong, one critic said, brought a ‘muffled yawn’ and the thought that ‘oh dear, now we are going to be educated’.

By the end of 1949, the Rank Organisation was making a loss. It switched to churning out cheaper films starring the likes of Norman Wisdom, Kenneth More and Dirk Bogarde, which were guaranteed a fair-sized domestic audience.
And as television ate into cinema attendances, the Rank empire began to do the unthinkable and shut cinemas. By 1962, when Rank retired as chairman, a quarter of his cinemas had closed their doors.

Meanwhile, the man himself had returned to his first love — the flour business. Milling’s gain was the film industry’s loss. Not only had Rank effectively saved it from extinction in the Thirties, he had come closer than anybody before or since to establishing a permanent foothold in the American market.
In this respect, he was one of the most important and influential British cultural figures of the century.
Dominic Sandbrook