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Tony Kinsella and the Irish Times – Fact-Free Political Debating for Lisbon!

category national | eu | opinion/analysis author Tuesday August 25, 2009 11:58author by FSB! - Annoyed No-voting citizen Report this post to the editors

An opinion columnist and partisan of a Lisbon Yes vote makes a right bloody hypocrite of himself!

Newspaper opinion pieces are naturally partisan in content and often aim for controversialism, but such is the display of imposture in one from Tony Kinsella in the Irish Times of the 24th of August 2009 that it takes a whole plateful of biscuits.

'I don't have to imagine myself back in some dark age in order to be subjected to fact-free arguments. Tony Kinsella is doing it to people right here and now in the early 21st Century. He's wrong if he thinks it's going to go unchallenged or be accepted unquestioningly, though.'

He kicks off with a glorious howler of a title:

"Fact-free political debate can have lethal consequences."

He should have stopped just there. But no, he just kept going flat out for another 973 words of fact-free doublespeak and compounded his initial error. I could stop just there too, but I'm just getting warmed up to my theme, and Mr. Kinsella has used too many dishonest arguments in this piece alone for it to be ignored or to be dealt with glibly. It is also an exemplar of one protagonist in a debate 'preaching water while drinking wine' as the old phrase goes, therefore a close look at this piece may serve as a specimen of analysis of what I'd call Lisbon Yes informal propaganda being disseminated through a mass media largely either friendly or indifferent to the enterprise. Therefore, I should go on even though it obliges me to write an article considerably longer than Mr Kinsella's.
His text starts with a heavily-worked appeal to sympathy – the exposure of an old old wound. It's a distraction, but an eye-catching and arresting one. It is intended to get you reading the article, but it's also there to try make you go easy on poor Tony as he attempts to simultaneously lecture and hoodwink you. Lockerbie, Bernt Carlsson and Mr. Kinsella's incidental connection to an old atrocity that is currently newsworthy again after 21 years is of no relevance to the Lisbon Treaty debate at all. The most charitable thing I can think of as his reason for this rhetorical approach is maybe inspiration under the tyranny of a looming deadline for those 980 words.

I would say most of us have had tragedy visit our lives once or twice but few of us use it as a debating point at random, a rhetorical flourish or some kind of plea for leniency from his audience (us, presumably). In fact I think it's a dubious practice and I dislike it that he's probably getting paid for that. Does he go in for teaching this type of 'argument' to politicians? I ask this because he's prepared to stand over such a non-argument in print and on the web, in the middle of an important referendum campaign debate, and he is of course asking for honest debate for this campaign's duration. He has also may have taught several of the participants in this 'democratic dialogue' earlier in his working life, which I think is relevant .

"...one of Bernt’s many valuable lessons seems particularly apt. He argued that in approaching any conflict it was vital to remember that the actions of those involved, however horrendous and however inexplicable, formed part of what constituted, to their perpetrators, a rational approach.
Any attempt to engage the protagonists in a dialogue that might one day lead to peace had first to accept the validity of the combatants’ actions – at least in their own eyes – a validity that often flowed from interpreting apparently self-evident “facts”."

It's a crass juxtaposition being passed off as an 'analogy'. Yes, the independence of Namibia (mentioned earlier while introducing Bernt Carlsson; for more see Mr. Kinsella's article) and the referendum we're having are momentous events but it's going very far indeed to suggest that rejecting the Lisbon Treaty is a horrendous or despicable action like making war or blowing up airliners. You'd swear people will die in the streets of Ireland, France, Greece, Wherever on the back of a Lisbon No vote. While we're at it let's forget that the Namibian independence war happened over twenty years ago, when Lisbon signified merely the capital of Portugal and the Maastricht Treaty was still many all-expense liquid lunches away from being drafted. Any connection between these two events is entirely in Mr. Kinsella's imagination, and the conclusions he's inviting us to draw are completely fallacious.

His next models for comparison, loyalists and Ronnie Reagan's Iran-Contra plotters are also plucked from out of the air for maximum effect, or so Tony thinks. Are the UVF or the UDA out canvassing for a No vote? They're not, so they have damn-all relevance. Reagan and his co-plotters knowingly broke laws; we are supposed to believe that voting No is a similar sort of enterprise because of Mr. Kinsella's unwarranted act of juxtaposition. Those boys were politicians too (Oliver North subsequently became one, and largely off the back of his illegal exploits!), just like the ones here asking for us to trust them on a treaty document written as to be deliberately impenetrable. Something of a flawed example I'd say.

"This belief in our own convictions leads us to select those facts that best serve the arguments we seek to make. In a democratic dialogue the role of those on the other side is to reinsert the deleted facts into the debate. The media should recall the facts to help the rest of us reach a judgment."

O crucial Deleted Facts™ so mendaciously left out! Selecting those facts that best serve the arguments we seek to make is the standard practice (and 'best practice' even) of rhetoric and of the production of propaganda. It's hardly sinister, it goes on all the time, and citizens are presumed to be intelligent to enough to realise this and allow for it in their consumption of mass media, advertising and publicity material.

The second sentence presumably means that say, during the Lisbon Treaty referendum campaign that there's some onus placed on him and other Lisbon Yes proponents by 'democratic dialogue' to 'reinsert' (sic) 'deleted facts' by Lisbon No campaigners. I know it could be given too in the reverse direction, but I'm wouldn't be so grandiose (or even pretentious) as to style myself bound by rules of 'democratic dialogue', especially when the side he's backing rejected the result of an exercise in direct democracy, however flawed and limited it was, which was taken part in by a plurality of the qualified electorate. I'd call that a Deleted Fact™ myself.

I won't waste much time parsing the third sentence – going by the example Tony's setting so far it appears the Irish media are falling down really badly at the job he's set for them.

He asserts in the next paragraph that the Lisbon Treaty is significantly different from the EU constitution that fell with the rejections in France and the Netherlands. I'd agree with him that the major difference between the two is that the Lisbon Treaty is not proposed to us as a constitutional text. Now comes a Deleted Fact™ that Tony left out – this was done by the Lisbon Treaty's draftees in order to circumvent the need for referendums (and that consequent pesky citizen involvement) in many EU member states that would be required for another document styled as a 'constitution' to get ratified. Ireland merely happened to be the odd one out – that dodge couldn't get round the Crotty v An Taoiseach judgement of 1987 from the Supreme Court. That's why we had the first referendum on Lisbon. We're having the second referendum because our government, the wider Irish political establishment and the EU institutions have refused to accept the result of the first referendum as the Irish people's verdict on the Lisbon treaty. Deleted Fact™ follows on from Deleted Fact™. Democratic Dialogue how are you indeed!

Another Deleted Fact™ by Tony is that the only other significant difference the Lisbon Treaty text has from that of the rejected constitution is that the Lisbon text is designed as to be totally unreadable. The rejected EU constitution may have been abstruse, it may even have been boring, but at least it was in a readable structure and the document's status as a constitution text meant that the language used held to some standard of clarity and unambiguity. There is no such requirement for either clarity or lack of ambiguity on a mere Treaty it seems.

The EU's leaders took the weakest possible option too in my view – a 'self-amending treaty', a series of amendment clauses, re-namings etc. to previous EU treaties to give like effect as the rejected EU constitution but drafted hastily and with the intent of dissimulation. Not only was it decided to get rid of the constitutional terminology etc., it was also decided to dispense with the older document's concept of supersession of previous treaties in favour of article-by-article amendment of existing treaties. The Lisbon text was cobbled together in under six months – from a 16-page framework document on the 23rd of June 2007 to agreement on the final draft text on the 19th of October 2007. This compares poorly with the time taken over the original EU constitution's drafting – December 2001 to June 2004. I'd wonder if the Lisbon text is in fact fit for purpose. The speed of its drafting would give me doubts. Perhaps Mr. Kinsella might be interested in my concerns and observations but then maybe I'm not using enough 'facts' for him, only his Deleted Facts™.

Mr. Kinsella has already asserted that France's and Holland's rejections of the EU constitution don't count as rejections of the Lisbon Treaty because of the differences between the two. But now he goes on to claim that No campaigners have 'skipped over the awkward reality that voters in Spain and Luxembourg did endorse the constitutional treaty by referendum.' I for one have never based my opposition to the Lisbon Treaty on the history of the EU constitution, so what's awkward about a piece of history? It might well be awkward for Mr. Kinsella that the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe is now obsolete and unimplemented. However, is he supposing to mean that those two countries' electorates have already voted on the Lisbon Treaty in some indirect, mystical sense? That Spain's and Luxembourg's voters would vote Yes to Lisbon, if only their governments would let them? Was the Irish Times article written by a man who wishes to not carry on a fact-free political debate?

Mr. Kinsella's criticism of Edward Horgan is yet another dishonest misrepresentation. Ed's questions regarding the 'triple lock', the future of Irish 'neutrality' and Irish Defence Force participation in NATO missions are perfectly valid and worth asking in the context of the Lisbon debate. I don't think Mr. Horgan is so innocent as to think that United Nations approval and 'triple locks' can prevent Ireland from participating (or abetting, as in Shannon) in NATO-led wars of aggression like Iraq (they invaded the place on the back of lies) or Afghanistan (Osama Bin Laden was NATO's proximal excuse for invading the place, he's definitely not what's keeping them in there now). The fact that these things are happening already Lisbon or no Lisbon is outrageous anyway and shows us how far politicians here have travelled in the opposite direction from the 'traditional policy of military neutrality' Ed clearly supports. I believe that Ed's right to express scepticism about the EU assurances on neutrality, especially when they're being sought and accepted by a political establishment already embroiling us in foreign wars of aggression in sneaky and vicarious ways.

Yet another false argument by Mr. Kinsella - Finland's or Austria's presence in ISAF is not a good enough basis for waving away questions about Ireland's participation in military adventures in Afghanistan in the light of the Lisbon Treaty debate, and what is proposed in the treaty by the way of changes to the EU's foreign policy/security competencies.

If it wasn't for people like Ed the Irish government would have gotten away with lying about rendition flights transiting through Shannon, the government here hiding behind an uncritical acceptance of the United States government's lies, sorry 'assurances'(sic). Very many Irish people have a strong attachment to that 'traditional policy of military neutrality', and like Ed I'd have grave reservations about giving mainstream Irish politicians a 'common foreign and security policy' to either play with or hide behind. I'd say too that I'd object right out to giving British, French, German etc. political elites the same toy. Article 28(3) of the Lisbon Treaty simply frightens me – I cannot trust any politician or government with progressively-improving military capabilities, especially ones with the imperialist and warmongering heritage so many of our EU 'partners' have. And the politicians from here have demonstrated themselves unworthy of that same trust as can be witnessed today by the fruit of their decisions, from Shannon to Afghanistan.

"We now face what is either a new challenge, or one recycled from the dark ages of human ignorance and illiteracy – fact-free arguments. Protagonists now feel free to advance arguments that have no basis whatsoever in reality in the belief that nobody can, or will, challenge them. More worryingly it seems that numbers of our fellow humans unquestioningly accept such fabrications as truth."

I don't have to imagine myself back in some dark age in order to be subjected to fact-free arguments. Tony Kinsella is doing it to people right here and now in the early 21st Century. He's wrong if he thinks it's going to go unchallenged or be accepted unquestioningly, though.

Mr. Kinsella's managed in the whole article only to get James Reynolds' misinformed comment about Turkish accession and the Lisbon Treaty about right, but only at the cost of exposing himself as an even worse and more persistent (and irritating) offender. He cites Mr. Reynolds and his crimes against Democratic Dialogue as illustrative of the debased standards of his adversaries. Is Mr. Kinsella not aware how much more credence his own example gives to No campaigners' claims that Yes campaigners like him are not interested in arguing for the Lisbon Treaty at all, but instead are concentrating on smearing No campaigners as liars?

Coda 1: 'Flock Dispersal'
We won't be getting Yes to Lisbon messages (even if you could call Tony Kinsella's lying confection Yes propaganda – it's anti-No propaganda by a strict definition) solely from the usual suspects and means. We've got folks like Tony this time round, and fake grassroots organisations like Generation Yes to add to the smearing din of pro-Lisbon campaign actors. We're also getting sly Yes propaganda disguised as 'news reports' of government ministers' speeches at summer schools on RTE radio. Mercifully it isn't going much further at the moment because most of the elected politicians and lots of journalists are on holidays. The loudness of the Yes campaign could be well-nigh ear-splitting by the time mid-September comes. Mr. Kinsella will be only one of a multitude of Yes partisans favoured with opinion column inches in the Irish print media, who are under no obligation to give equal space to opposing points of view (yet another Deleted Fact™ by our Tony!). I hope other Yes campaigners don't take his bad example as a lead to make arguments that have no basis in reality in the belief that nobody can, or will, challenge them.

Coda 2: Who is Tony Kinsella?
"Tony Kinsella is an Irish writer, journalist and political commentator who divides his time between Dublin and South West France. He has worked in Ireland, Belgium, France, Greece and the UK, in and around European and national politics since the early 1970's as a political advisor, leadership trainer, print and broadcast journalist. For nearly a decade he trained young political leaders from all of Western Europe, giving him an instant access network across the continent today. He coordinated the Zurich Initiative, an East/West strategy thinktank, built on a personal network of European WW2 resistance operatives. He was a member of SIDAC, the Socialist International Security Policy committee under then SI President, Willy Brandt.
He has co-written 'Post Washington' with Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole. Tony and Fintan have been friends since they first worked together in the Irish Union of School Students (IUSS) in the early 1970s."

Above quote sourced from the website of a 'think tank' called Tasc. They do quangocracy-style stuff like write policy analyses to commission. Mr. Kinsella is profiled in their publications page: he co-wrote a book with his old friend Fintan O'Toole – 'Post Washington'.

Coda 3: The article, Ed Horgan's letter and some reaction to Mr. Kinsella
Ed's letter. I hope he doesn't mind me not calling him 'Mr. Horgan' as often as I did to 'Mr.Kinsella'!
The outrageous article from Tony Kinsella, Fact-Free Political Debater Extraordinaire!
Finally, to give a flavour of the reaction to Mr. Kinsella's ill-judged opinion column, a link to a well-known Irish politics debating forum:

Related Link: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2009/0824/1224253135989.html
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