The Ayahuasca Brouhaha

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An account of a relatively recent experience of the Amazonian psychedelic/entheogen/ecodelic ayahuasca, also known in Colombia as yagé.

In this podcast, I provide a basic introduction to what ayahuasca is, for those to whom it’s new; I try my best to recount the visions it brought to me; to make sense of how to think of them; and to some small extent to make sense of it in its European and South American contexts. I come clean that I don’t think one is experiencing a simple hallucination, but that something is superintending the trip; while leaving open the possibility I’m wrong about that. And I admit I failed to convey things in the podcast. Enjoy.

Untitled design



9/11 in the Time of Trump, part one

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Sources, notes, and selected salient references:

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General: A Review of the FBI’s Handling of Intelligence Information Related to the September 11 Attacks (unclassified edition). Completed November 2004, published June 2006.

Contains the following references:

  • “pls hold off on the CIR…” p. 240
  • an account of the Islamabad source’s identification of Khallad bin Attash in January 2001, pp. 262-278.
  • Corsi’s inability to recall becoming aware of identification of Khallad bin Attash, p.296.
  • “We question the amount of time that elapsed between [Gillespie’s] assignment and her discovery of the important information.” p. 360.

U.S. Congress, Report of the Joint Inquiry into the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.

Contains the following references:

  • CIA officer read March 5th cable about travel of al-Hazmi and a companion to Los Angeles “with interest”, p.147, p.199 of PDF.
  • CIA rejected a request from foreign authorities to become involved in search for al-Mihdhar, p. 147.
  • NSA reported information from San Diego to Yemen calls to CIA and FBI, p. 157, p. 209 of PDF.

The 9/11 Commission Report. W.W. Norton, 2004.

Contains the following references:

  • Richard Blee told his superiors that surveillance of Kuala Lumpur meeting went on past 8th January, p. 354.
  • Sherry Sabol’s denial she gave the advice Dina Corsi represented her as giving, that a criminal agent could not participate in an interview of al-Mihdhar, p. 538, endnote 81.

United States v. Zacarias Mouassaoui,

  • Defence Exhibit 939, “Substitution for the Testimony of John”
  • Defence Exhibit 682 [Corsi’s email to Bongardt saying FBI criminal agents may not be present at an interview of al-Mihdhar, Bongardt’s email saying, given there is no FISA, the “wall” does not apply.]

Guantanamo Detainee Assessment of Hambali, which calls Khalid Sheikh Mohammed by his detainee number K10024, and refers to his attendance at the Kuala Lumpur meeting in January 2000, with al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi, on p.8.

George Tenet, At the Center of the Storm. HarperCollins, 2007. (Refers to Richard Blee’s comment that “They’re coming here”, p. 158)

Kevin Fenton, Disconnecting the Dots: How CIA and FBI officials helped enable 9/11 and evaded government investigations. TrineDay, 2011. (Book Depository [does not reflect subsequently changed subtitle] / TrineDay)

Lawrence Wright, “The Agent”. The New Yorker, 10 July, 2006. (An account of Ali Soufan’s requests for information to the CIA about a meeting of bin Laden associates in southeast Asia.)

David E. Kaplan and Kevin Whitelaw, “Pieces of the 9/11 Puzzle”, US News and World Report, March 7, 2004. (Contains NSA claim that neither contents of physics of the San Diego to Yemen hub calls suggested U.S. link.)

Who is Rich Blee? Podcast on Alec Station (source of the clips of Mark Rossini on Margaret Gillespie and Richard Clarke on arresting the alleged hijackers).

People Who Poo Podcast #3 Shaman Eric and Cecile: music used in my podcast recorded at the end of this podcast.

Irish neutrality was indeed chancy, but we should keep it

There were four pages in the Irish Times on Saturday about interviews given by Seán Lemass, Taoiseach from 1959-66, in retirement to a friend, which have since been lodged in UCD. And some parts of these give me food to write a little more knowledgeably about something I might have written based on an intuitive assessment about anyway: the continuance of Irish neutrality.
People who are against it talk about what a lot of humbug there is around neutrality. After all, they say, the only reason it came to be government policy was partition, and a stance that Ireland could not be allied, during World War Two or the Cold War, with a country that was “occupying” the northeastern part of the island. The government had sought a bilateral military alliance with the U.S. Above all, military neutrality was not moral neutrality: Ireland had been on the side of the Christian civilisation against Godless Communism, and, more quietly during de Valera’s ascendency and a hot war with the risk of IRA subversion, against Nazism. Not to put men and resources where our mouths had been was a contradiction where it was not hypocrisy, and almost unpardonably blind in the context of broader European history.
The Lemass snippets pictured above are the beginnings of a more detailed and, whichever way you slice it, ironical view of matters. Lemass says that Sean MacBride, minister for external affairs in the first inter-party government, replied to a communication asking whether Ireland wanted an invitation to NATO by saying partition made this impossible. Lemass’ comment: “That letter, which was typical of him, was based on a very shallow view of our situation, but as a result of it, no invitation was issued…”
If partition was the only reason stopping Ireland joining, the political facts bear Lemass out regarding MacBride having a “shallow view of our situation”: privately, the government as a whole in 1949 did not unbudgeably oppose NATO membership on these grounds and had pronounced itself in sympathy with the aims of the alliance, questions were asked of MacBride in the Dáil, and obviously Lemass himself, in opposition at the time and a future Taoiseach, did not agree. The Fine Gael-led government’s hands had effectively been tied by a left-leaning republican minister.
There is a little dispute about what the motive for MacBride’s reply was. Garret FitzGerald has written that MacBride was attempting to blackmail the UK into giving up Northern Ireland in return for NATO membership and access to what he wrongly believed to be crucial Irish bases. MacBride, after all, had been IRA chief of staff as recently as 1937. And his journey to the U.S. the following year, seeking a bilateral alliance (such as Spain got in 1953), was the result of his disappointment at the failure of this plot.
But Ben Tonra, a UCD academic, has said that in an interview before his death, MacBride “insisted his opposition to NATO was principled but he used partition as excuse with cabinet, knowing that would tie their hands.” It is fair to say MacBride’s insistence should be taken on board, but not taken necessarily as Gospel truth. By the time Sean MacBride died in 1988, the world had turned, MacBride had been working for many years as a slightly trendy internationalist, and there was a more vigorous left in Ireland which was trying to make a normative value of neutrality. From the points of view of reputation, morale, and retroactive continuity, there was good reason to say he had initiated post-war neutrality as a principled stance on global affairs. On the other hand, it is possible he knew the exchange of the six counties for NATO membership was an unlikely calculation, and it is plausible that joining a fearsome pact in the newly minted atomic age could give anyone pause.
Either historical irony here – either that one man initiated a policy on a false pretext in the face of broad and continued political disagreement, a policy which still exists with broad popularity; or that he believed only in its chauvinist and territorial underpinnings, and came to justify it on “principles” – is pretty captivating. For those who support neutrality, after the changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, it is also fairly chancy.
How much does all that matter? Well, it is very nice to have the policy’s originator supporting it as a principle, even if possibly only after the fact. But neutrality’s detractors cite its chancy origins, which finally are impossible to deny, to undermine it. And on a rhetorical level, it could undermine it, especially in a changed world – even if the changes they are thinking of is not the end of the Cold War, but the changes to Articles 2 and 3, and the alleged Russian threat; even if, surely, the potential for Ireland effecting any kind international change, having any kind of impact is surely bigger as a neutral country.
(The last word about Irish NATO enthusiasts – that word chosen carefully, because there is something a bit boyish and fresh-faced about them all, though even when they’re presenting their allegedly hard-headed analyses – is that they know we don’t matter, and what really motivates them is schoolyard morality, hackneyed historiography, and a wish to be part of the club. Garrett FitzGerald even acknowledged our non-importance in ridiculing Sean MacBride’s bases-for-the-North proposal. What is important is showing willing and good will when it comes to defending the Baltic states, not precisely adding our military muscle on the front line… Apart from that, what is surprising is how many of them there are, and that is why I am writing about this slightly esoteric subject. It is fair to assume that even those only banging the drum on European defence integration have no problem with NATO. They congregate around the Irish Times, the European Parliament, and international relations professorships.)
So, as a baseline prescription, what people who believe in neutrality ought to be doing – and maybe they do – is stressing neutrality as a component of anti-militarism, rather than, as the government at the time of the Nice Treaty had it, a “traditional policy”. They ought to say that neutrality at least allows us no certainty, but a greater potential, to say the right thing, if the right thing does not redound to the credit of the west, on the world stage, at any difficult future stage. It is worth valuing the section of the Constitution saying Ireland will resile from any EU-based common defence. And it is worth keeping a watching eye on the EU’s Permanent Structured Co-operation, perhaps understanding why it is hard, probably wrongly, to get too excited about something that by most appearances is a technocratic move. Without the whiny tone justifiably associated with the left, they ought to point out that it is a racing certainty that any future conflict in Europe will not be solely, or even most likely mainly, the fault of Russia. In sum, we ought to make of a historical contingency, a moral necessity.
I must admit I have occasionally allowed myself to think that an unpowerful neutral country should be a tribune of truth. Ireland, in my low-grade fancy, would have set up a small intelligence agency, whose employees read official reports, newspapers and books, and then make public comments about suspicious covert and military activity throughout the world. To the extent this annoyed the west, the country would be, on the analogy of Gladio, a kind of “stay-behind” operation. (Gladio being another historical reason to keep out of NATO.)
But in reality it is the job of individuals, not States to tell truths. For example, I am pleased that Denis Halliday resigned over the Iraqi sanctions regime in the late 1990s, and delighted that he gave a blurb to a book making the case for a domestic conspiracy in the 2001 American anthrax attacks. It is for individuals to say that neutrality allows Ireland to keep its nose clean and its powder dry.

May Diary: hiding out, failing, the Fatima Mansions, ayahuasca, male violence, moments of reprieve

Lately I started writing little entries on Facebook, with the idea that I was ready, as I have not previously been, to write somewhat personally, but also about things as they arise, without needing to be an expert or have done much research (I considered calling them “six Easy Pieces”). I don’t know much the whingy stuff is actually appreciated, but I have occasionally felt some catharsis. And I believe they have some value, so here they are.

29 April

I did a good deal of hiding out from life this weekend… which is fine. What I did do yesterday evening and early today, was listen to Cosí fan tutte, with libretto in hand, and I followed the plot and words for the first time; so happy with my music hall Italian. And I watched the dark fourth part of Wild Wild Country, with a Sheela-style middle finger to the sun.

Yesterday I spent a good part of the day vegetating in bed, with my phone. Amazing how that device can distract you very effectively from the task of deciding to do anything difficult, or even worthwhile, and doing it.

The weather… I think of Philip Larkin’s poetry less and less, but the lines, “If the worst / Of flawless weather is our falling short, / It may be that through habit these do best, / Coming to water clumsily undressed / Yearly…” I think of more and more. The rest of that stanza too; but “falling short” of great weather brings me up short. I do that. Swimming would be great, and I’ve been meaning to do some lessons (because it would be great to be better at it) for ages. So why do I not? Loads of reasons, but none good enough!

Loads of other possibilities too.

And so I have planned tomorrow pretty meticulously, because it’ll mean I’ll get things done, and by the time the next looooong weekend rolls round, I’ll be doing the fun stuff too. If this all sounds like a whinge, maybe that’s because it is. But actually I have a bizarre amount to be happy about these days, so I’d hope to start talking about that in the next while. Because I can’t help thinking, despite the evident possibilities of boredom for us all, that it might be worth writing personally a little more. So that’s the plan.

May 3

My father recently said, very nicely and with the best intent, that he wanted the journalistic work I’m doing to be a success. Internally I gasped, because not long before I woke up that morning, I was doing something like (I cannot remember precisely this hypnopompic state) pleading my case to someone or something about this topic.

That I already was a success; that the recent Canadian stuff was brill; that I only need to continue; and probably, what I sometimes think in broad daylight, that it doesn’t matter if no-one pays attention (or me!), because the clarifying I fundamentally believe it does, has some imperceptible effect on the world; that I have only to hold on. Things along these lines. Also that success was a mirage; that provisioning ought not to depend on it. And of course I drew in my breath, and didn’t mention a word of my dream to my dad.

I had woken up reasonably happy.

I have come to realise a little that what I think of as any unhappiness I feel at the moment, is actually fear. Why fear, when I can enjoy the ongoing moment? Anyway it is real. That I will fail. That I will fail myself. That I will fail others (again?). It’s different from the raw dread I felt seven years ago, under which lay the perception that life was unlivable and pathetic (for me). “The contradictions cover such a range.” This fear, I guess, is knowable as illusory; is a nice blend of my own and others’ limited perspectives as interpreted by me; and doesn’t slow me too much, which I’m glad about. But it’s there.

Sorry if difficult to read. This is only worth doing without worrying about getting right, or taking any pains. It was very nice that people liked (I mean in the Facebook sense; whether they liked it or not!) the last thing. Encouraging, and not to be relied on. As I may have said, I did often feel the pull of, and sometimes have started, just writing about stuff without rehearsal, even on pain of being found to be droning on about mé fein. It is nice to be a little more sure these days that all perspectives are valuable, and that includes mine.

May 6

Cathal Coughlan and his bandmates have reformed Microdisney. I just don’t know Microdisney’s stuff very well, nearly at all. But somehow, somehow, the band Coughlan led after that, from 1988 till 1995, The Fatima Mansions, hit me.

What Coughlan’s lyrics did was: bring together extremely challenging material of both personal and political natures, without compromising either of those things; and without deciding what that material is precisely in the first place. Is the voice in those songs that of a madman, or of an average man? That of an extremist who these days would be brought to the attention of Prevent, or of someone who just sees politics too clearly? All of them.

It might seem a little po-faced to put it like that, but what it adds up to is that, beyond the immediacy of the mind-blowing music and lyrics, Coughlan was reacting intensely to every facet of life; the stuff is brilliant and so funny.

It is worth ever so briefly noting that the music also summoned up a nihilism and a sense of evil well beyond its explicit targets. Coughlan surely had the Catholic stuff bet into him, and he turned it to exhilarated use. Our generation is good-natured, well-intentioned, and not actually challenging quite enough of the explicit targets, for reasons obscure. I wish more of us listened to the Fatima Mansions, or even knew who they were. Every article about them mentions their slogan, “Keep music evil”, but there was a reason beyond the pun to use the phrase.

The guitar sound matters a lot. That was for the most part the work of Aindrias Ó Gruama, who died in 2007, so there can’t quite be a Fatima Mansions reunion. But there probably couldn’t have been anyway: there is too much driving aggression in the Fatima Mansions sound plausibly to have a nostalgic, “middle-everything” concert in the National Concert Hall, the way Microdisney will be in June.

If grabbed by “Only losers take the bus”, some recommended follow-up: “Shiny happy people” (because of the resonant title); “Broken Radio No. 1” (because it’s not political) “Belong nowhere” (“10 civil wars unended” never truer); “It will be cold” (I don’t know if there are any others, but the best song about journalists); “The day I lost everything” (for Talking Heads fans).

May 9

Mike Cernovich is, to quote Wikipedia, an “alt-right social media personality” who bigged up Trump, and wrote a book called Gorilla Mindset about how men should be gorillas. More recently, he has been hymning ayahuasca. This meant I was recently lolling at a tweet that went: “The fact that Cernovich has taken ayahuasca and is still Cernovich is probably a pretty good sign that it’s not the miracle soul-changing drug that upper class white people keep convincing themselves it is.” With a bathos I will not be able to convey writing briefly here, Cernovich calls it “mindset material”. There was another enjoyable tweet which went: “The deeply profound change ayahuasca seems to cause in people is a complete inability to shut up about doing ayahuasca”.

So, clearly there are lots of potential pratfalls and false starts in this part of the jungle. But I would still want to argue a little with the tweeters. To start with, psychedelic doesn’t mean soul-changing but “soul-revealing”…

At any rate, I was glad to attend an ayahuasca ceremony recently. The shaman who minded us lives in Colombia, and calls it yagé, so I will too. I’m writing about this briefly now, because it’s one of the things I can point to and say I’m grateful for. Despite the ease with which one could be cynical about the brew, I tend to a maximalist view of its possibilities. I agree with the kind, earnest man, not attending for the first time, who said to me before things started: “Everyone should do this.” With the caveat that most likely not everyone needs to.

Why do it? A lot to say, but start here: the same man catechised me slightly at the end of the weekend: “Where should we make decisions from?” And I simply touched my heart. What does it mean to make a decision from the heart? Does it not only make sense to make decisions based on the supposed facts before us? No. That would limit anyone. Yagé opens the heart. One response to the second tweet quoted before was, simply, “Sharing is caring.”

For me the experience of yagé was so alien, and for a time I became to myself so alien yet intimately familiar, that it seems that bit less wise not to treat life as fundamentally playful, its sternest duties and tests as opportunities for expansion. For this to be a collective experience… would be good.

A plate that’s also a mandala…

Even the limited recreational, tripping-balls (I laughed so hard when I heard someone use the phrase) aspect of the experience is not to be discounted. It was wild fun playing with colours and sounds. The shaman cautioned us to be reasonably quiet during the night, so as not to disturb others. I wasn’t too bad. Still, typically, at one stage I jumped on to the mattress, calling out a phrase, and was laughing quite a bit. But I probably needed every bit of that.

The darkness that is encountered is temporary, manageable and informative, and help ought to be available.

If all that’s not quantifiable enough, I’ll add this:

In the past two years I had developed a habit of going for a pint or two, two, three, or four times a week, on my own. At the end of the day, frazzled as I was, to keep me reading: so went the rationalisation. Not a problem necessarily, but a pattern. I was always conscious that it slows you down. Yagé has entirely stopped that, with only minimal exertion of the will since. The pub just lost its thrall. And there is a baked sweet shop that hasn’t seen me since. (It’s worth saying that all this was not due to the explicit content of the visions: it’s been surprising.) Lost a few pounds. It’s hard to argue with this.

About the visions: I have been writing them down, with huge delays. It’s been entirely worthwhile, but I’ll keep them to myself (unless I can find a really compelling way of using them). They’re fascinating for me, but for others probably only as interesting as they find other people’s dreams. What I always found most interesting in other people’s accounts of their experience with yagé was their enthusiasm. The enthusiasm comes out, from people who likely have gone a lot further than me, in the film, DMT: the Spirit Molecule, on Netflix, which I watched during the weekend. It is justified.

May 22

A tweet I remember vaguely, and have no hope of finding: not a great place to start, but bear with me…

I guess it was a couple of months ago, maybe after a school shooting, or maybe just at some pointed juncture in the ongoing gender furore. A number of female tweeters were making light-hearted fun of guys who can’t get a date, very likely in an amusing way (given that I was tracking this). And then there was this guy with a pseudonymous account, symbol for a profile pic, saying something like, (no quote marks seeing as I can’t quote it), Why are you all making fun of guys like me? I’m trying to not hurt myself and stay alive (he may have mentioned his family) and be positive. Stuff like this just hurts.

The reason it stuck in my mind was because my first thought was: No girl or woman would think like that, wisely so. I’ve been meaning to write about this theme, and this sweeping generalisation, and the main thing that might have caused me to revise my thought was the sad news in yesterday’s Irish Times that suicide rates among women in inner city Dublin had caught up with men’s. Still I think: No girl or woman would think like that, wisely so.

I considered getting back to this dude, meant to even two days later, and I should have done. (There was no reply from the hurtful coven lol.) It’s possible my guess that this was what it sounded like, a late-teen-early-twenties emo spasm, was wrong, and he has or will come to harm. How much good would it have done? How often does a lad like that, in the grip of frustrated desire, see the value in an invitation to sincerely concentrate on something entirely different for as long as possible? That would be the best advice.

I am fairly sympathetic to his situation. But how shocking even to consider the idea of harming yourself, even unto death, because of a girlfriend deficit, or (a different thing, and perhaps it was really this that bothered him) a sexual deficit. Very shocking also to suggest that jokes, not directed at or mocking him, ought not to be made about this. I can get bored quickly when popular quotes on gender relations get bandied around, which may and may not just be a defence mechanism of my own. But it does put me in mind of the Margaret Atwood quote: “They are afraid women will laugh at them… We’re afraid of being killed.”

Violence directed towards self and towards others have a different moral value, but in this instance surely the same root. If anyone has any special solutions to this mess I’m all ears. There are ideological and limiting learned and personal reflexes in our culture both to overvalue and to undervalue both “nature” and “culture” in why it’s like this… Apart from the necessary decency, maybe a certain lightness of touch and irony about our desire, not impossible to learn or teach, would help; a kind of self-forgiving too. An androgyny, perhaps only of the mind, for those so inclined. All more fun than a hanging or a shooting. But actually, I must admit, the violence, horrific as it is, is not what has me writing about this. There are too many variables when violence manifests. It’s the (male) pattern of thought that has my attention.

Anyway, I was glad recently to read Amia Srinivasan’s LRB article, “Does anyone have the right to sex?” (Free but you have to give an email address.) Some people might be tempted to call her proposed experiments and exercises on attraction almost utopian, but they are refreshing. I ought to reread the article, but, fresh from the tweet I started with and the surrounding arguments, the following passage stood out, and I remembered it ever since. I was not surprised when Rebecca Solnit quoted it in her most recent Guardian article: “It is striking, though unsurprising, that while men tend to respond to sexual marginalisation with a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, women who experience sexual marginalisation typically respond with talk not of entitlement but empowerment. Or, insofar as they do speak of entitlement, it is entitlement to respect, not to other people’s bodies.”

It is worth recording the experiences of those inner city female suicides: “Among one group the women have had ongoing issues including ‘poverty, early school leaving, domestic violence, criminality, homelessness and adverse childhood experience” with a history of problematic drug use. A second group has ‘a history of weekend-focused substance misuse’ as well as the similar ongoing issues including poverty and homelessness.” Of course, many men have the same experiences, and die in the same way. This is the difference between frustration and despair.

May 31

Cannot help writing something briefly before ploughing on with a podcast script I started writing on Monday. It is the mere discharge of fear and frustration; but then peeps seem to discharge their fear and frustration on the Twitter, without ever coming to the point, and involving themselves in what they are saying. Or maybe they aren’t discharging, maybe they just care about what they’re saying. I do not know.

I get dread in the summer, the year marches on, things are so nice, I seem to be getting nowhere, no I don’t have holidays planned…

I was walking up a long road yesterday evening, and everything went nice. It’s far far too weighty given its origins in Primo Levi, and I know it’s not the Italian title of his book, but I like the phrase “moment of reprieve,” so call it such a moment.

And it was because things had got empty. The world was no longer the world of doom, and I didn’t need or want to call it lovely or hopeful either. I no longer contained essence of loser, slowcoach, failure. And so on.

This was enough to get me to stop dreading the idea of disinterring some element of my past, and giving it a little airing. I’d actually still be fine doing that, but with a less doom-laden mindset. Just for fun. But sometimes it can feel that to write about that stuff, you gotta feel it again…

Why the feeling of doom anyway? Because I am stuck in my ways, and they are no good. Writing about a period that I associate with thinking that way of being was, for me, essential, might be useful at some point.

Really I do not want to be otherwise… So, this week, but not yesterday, nor, so far, today, I’ve been writing a podcast script, almost shamefacedly, about the CIA protection of the alleged 9/11 hijackers Mihdhar and Hazmi. Shamefacedly, because I’ve gone over this stuff before a jillion times… and I wonder if I ought not to just be working faster, assimilating new material and producing new stuff quickly… and who cares… and lots of other reasons.

But for lots of other reasons, this is unfinished in my mind, and this is one of the things I’d rather be doing than anything else… even if I get slowed down by a sense of futility day to shining day. So why do something else? It’s been going well. And I’ve decided to allow myself to talk personally about my relation to the facts, why it’s unfinished in my mind, to be passionate… And demarcating all that from the facts and analysis, which I want to stand for themselves, and be — what they are — convincing, devastating, bouleversing, is a nice technical challenge.

So, having now written this, it becomes enticing enough to sit at a desk for. Just about. Just a-fucking-bout. Weeesh me luck. Ta-ra.

Why, literally, every vote counts

Read, as we have it today, article 40.3.3, which will be amended in toto. (We will be repealing, as superfluous, the thirteenth and fourteenth constitutional amendments too.) For practical purposes, it secures a right of abortion already, in “another state”. It was passed by 62% of voters in 1992, on the same day as 65% of voters rejected a horrible proposal, called the twelfth amendment, to outlaw abortion in cases of a suicide risk.

There was a high turnout for those referendums, because they were held the same day as a general election. 68% of the electorate voted on those proposals. By stark contrast, 53% of the electorate voted on the eighth amendment.

These referendums arose because of the X case, where the government had obtained an injunction to prevent a rape victim, now pregnant, a 14 years old, who was suicidal, from travelling for an abortion in England. The public had been sensitised by this. So yes, pretty natural that a proposal to ban abortion when there is a risk of suicide was rejected; and that a right to travel was guaranteed.

What gets me is the following: the right to travel was an acknowledgement of personal autonomy; or bodily autonomy if you prefer. My guess is, what was going on in voters’ minds was pretty visceral: you don’t tell a person where they can and can’t go. You don’t trap them in a country.

Tomorrow’s vote is an extension of that acknowledgement: you don’t trap a person in a situation, which, knowing their own mind, they know they do not want, and which they wish to change. It ought to be as visceral as the right to travel.

“Acknowledgement”, “a person”… this is a deliberate use of some of the No campaign’s language. I notice they say to read article 40.3.3, but they never quote the acknowledgements put there by a high proportion of Irish people in 1992 (which in theory they must want some day to repeal). “The baby in the womb is a person too.” Arguments from etymology are slippery; I would not want to rely very heavily on this… but person comes from the Latin persona, the actor’s mask… A large part of morality happens face to face, between people of complex interests, and different views (given artistic expression on stage). That’s what makes it personal. Having the No campaigners look those seeking the acknowledgement of their autonomy in the eye, and say they know there is a better option for them, has been the most chilly, impersonal element of this process.

(I’ve been keeping track about lies too, and while there has been some Yes fibbing, the No people are much bigger, ballsier liars.)

In 2002, a second attempt to outlaw abortion on the grounds of a suicide risk was defeated very narrowly indeed, by 10,500 votes. And the turnout was low: 42%. Because the “pro-life” people were split on that amendment, they all later claimed there was a “pro-life” majority in the country.

So there is a trend here. A large turnout calls forth people with a respect for autonomy, a sense of the personal, and a knowledge of real life. A small turnout brings out the ideologues. That’s one reason to vote.

The other is that a strong majority for the amendment will send a signal that the Oireachtas should legislate in line with its proposed Bill on termination of pregnancy, which is a reasonable piece of proposed legislation. Even if we could be 100% sure of a Yes vote, when it comes to the legislation to follow, every vote literally counts.

On voting yes (after a very brief wobble)

Safe to say, the great majority of women of child-bearing age want this constitutional amendment passed, want a yes vote. It is not really to pass on the argument, or be populist, if we say: that ought to settle the matter.

This referendum is about these women, their say in their lives.

Some of them have been quietly devastating and (which helps) funny about how many men are treating this as a thought experiment, a debating motion, or a ballot on liberal bigotry. I have had two experiences in which I have asked for a more serious consideration of the referendum than I was hearing at that moment. And then came acknowledgements that the law at present is too rigorous, too restrictive.

To be fair, given the sharpness of the about-turns, they had probably already used their imaginations: and at some level also listened.

Listening is all-important: to women who wanted to dedicate themselves to their education; to women who knew this was absolutely the wrong man to have a child with; to mothers and non-mothers; to women who regret to an abortion, but want a yes vote; to old women who have “seen enough” in their lives; to young women who can’t vote in this election, but know in their bones that the law at present is an oppression in their lives. These are just examples.

To be honest, over the past three days I had my male period, if you can forgive the phrase. I wasn’t seriously considering changing my mind, but there was some strange chaos there related to the upcoming vote. For brief moments, I have wanted to duck this one.

The no campaign has dismissed and made light of arguments about “hard cases” (risk to the mother, children who will not survive outside the womb, rape), as if the current law is not about them too. I can see their ethical consistency, but there is nothing admirable in its practical pitilessness towards those it affects.

The “hard case” in my mind (what coloured it for a time) was that of the disabled. My own experience and reason tell me that our lives are enfolded in gOd’s, and souls are eternal. What can we say about those souls who need, choose, do come in to the world with a physical or mental disability? If it is true that fewer such people are being born, I regard that with sadness. But I think it is impossible to say there is no resolution to this at the hand of the infinite. These considerations might seem off the beaten track, but they have recently mattered to me.

From my limited experience of the matter, my impression is that we don’t do enough for those born mentally disabled that we have with us. Someone I know has been waiting 18 months for an appropriate job near where he lives.

It does not settle things, but it does help to remind myself that, internationally, almost all the people who have a vision of, and drive for, social amelioration that I can get behind will be wondering why (legal necessity apart) we are even having this discussion. And the anti-abortion people? Their only real considerations on social questions, which are moral questions, are: “What does the Pharaoh of Rome advise? What do the markets require?” David Quinn? John Waters? A thick Fianna Fáiler?

It was a fine irony that Love Both released an advert saying “Real men protect children”, with a photo of a model in combats hugging a child, on the same day that real soldiers — Israeli, this time — were performing their immemorial function of slaughtering kids without a second thought. They are not living in the real world. And, morally speaking, we have enough work to be getting on with in that real world. To a great extent, that work will be done by women who bring their consciences to everything they do, and who want to see this amendment passed.

What is all this about? On an individual level, it’s about the ability of individuals to have control in their own lives. And on a social level, it’s about the removal of laws that keep (and have kept) women in a (historically) subordinate position in society. It has been boiled down to legitimately simple, purposefully combative slogans: “Not a vessel”, “Get your rosaries off my ovaries”, “If you don’t want an abortion, don’t have one”. But if you don’t like those ones, I have others: Back off. Get it? Back off out of it, bud (or budette, come to that). Mind your own business.

The current situation is an ostrich-in-the-sand one: Irish abortion happens in England, and lately in Irish homes. It was useful to be reminded recently that anti-abortion forces in Ireland did not campaign strongly in 1992, at the time of the Right to Travel and Information referendums. The right to travel was a welcome social release valve, keeping Ireland pure. There is nothing respectable in this, even if it ticks all the legal boxes. It is ludicrous.

Rejecting the amendment would be another ostrich move: the pressure for safe, legal abortion will not let up in Ireland, because living, breathing, kicking, screaming women see it as a necessary option. Ten years (which quite possibly it would be before another referendum) is not a long time in the life of a nation, but it is a long time in the lives of those women it would affect. Better to get it right first time.

Some of us Irish need to get over ourselves: English journalists and Irish oversensitivity

Every so often an English journalist says something about or merely touching on Ireland, and a bunch of Irish people misconstrue it as something either bad, or worse than it was. These Irish people ought to get real or grow up.

Instance #1: A general subtweet on Thursday, May 10th, precipitated by Julie Bindel’s UnHerd article on the referendum on the Eighth Amendment:

This was much liked and retweeted, which is how I saw it.

Here is the Bindel passage that got the man’s goat: “That’s why, in my view, asking an entire country to decide whether women should be ‘allowed’ to terminate a pregnancy is abhorrent. Fifty per cent of the referendum’s votes will go to those who cannot get pregnant, cannot give birth, and who have no fear of becoming pregnant either by accident or by rape. Men given the right to vote can choose not to take responsibility for any pregnancies they may cause, with no fear of any consequences.” Note that it’s not about Ireland. It’s making a much broader point.

Elsewhere in the article, Bindel writes: “The fact of the matter is, that there are many men in countries around the world who consider it their right to tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body. And the Republic of Ireland is no different from Spain, or Poland. This whole debate is about preventing us from taking control of our ovaries, and the whole premise that abortion is wrong is built on misogyny.” Summarised: it’s a disgrace that we are in the position of needing to have a referendum.

Given that Bindel notes that the Eighth Amendment was passed by referendum in 1983, and gives other evidence of knowing the history of abortion law in Ireland, it’s reasonable to think she knows it needs also to be repealed by referendum. So why is this bore waving his green flag in my face?

Instance #2: The affected brouhaha after the ITV presenter Robert Peston said to Jacob Rees-Mogg last week: “You are a student of British history. Ireland, the issue of Ireland, in so many different ways has undermined British governments, you know, going back well over 100 years now.” On and off in the course of the interview Peston focused on disagreements on customs and trade within the Tory Party, and his comment on Ireland was consistent with this. It was part of this interview:

Peston was right. Think of Lloyd George and Churchill proposing Ulster’s exclusion from the 1912 Home Rule Bill, causing trouble in the Liberal government. Think of the split of the Liberal Party in 1886, when Conservatives and Liberal Unionists killed the first Home Rule Bill.

Cue misrepresentation and heavy breathing. A clickbait Irish Times headline: “Ireland has ‘undermined Britain for over 100 years’.” Guardian columnist Dawn Foster’s misquote, giving British left validation to sore Irish feelings: “Ireland have undermined the British government for over 100 years.” Big difference there, and all she needed to do was remove the “s” in governments

None of the smart liberal-minded Irish people who (wrongly) believe the press by and large tell them what’s real-and-important feel the need to check what was actually said. So they get huffy. I’d be huffy too.

Saying all that doesn’t meet the objections of those who feel Brexit is a disaster for Ireland, and saw red at Ireland being brought up as an object in British political debate; nor those who consider it objectifying of Ireland in the first place. But that’s life.

Instance #3: The tizz after the Sky News journalist Adam Boulton saying, “Some of you Irish need to get over yourselves,” after this interview with Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister.

He had been questioning Coveney about some abstruse element of the Brexit negotiations regarding the Border, asking if the Irish government had claimed a victory that week which it hadn’t achieved, thereby annoying the DUP and the British government. Coveney did not escape criticism in Ireland about this, either. And we are not noticeably further along regarding the Border, so maybe Boulton was right?

Irish people on Twitter, with a Brexit itch on the brain, had a go at Boulton, some by his account calling him a “Brit” and a “cunt”, and perhaps the marriage of the two words. These were likely the people Boulton was especially referring to. His full reply was: “Bored now. Some of you Irish need to get over yourselves. Interviewing is about challenging the interviewee not respecting.”

The hashtag after that was not #SomeofYouIrish, but #YouIrish, which makes all the difference in the victimisation stakes. Apart from saying that this instance shows that Irish oversensitivity is not an isolated phenomenon, it’s not worth rehashing this little tempest. Brian Boyd’s Irish Times article has already dealt with the specifics — and diagnosed this problem.

So: the misrepresentation going on in each of these examples is what shows something pathological is going on. It is something more than just an argument about politics. It is bizarrely shocking that modern Irish people seemingly still need to see themselves as a nation demeaned by the English. Particularly funny to me, is how often this anger coexists with a touching belief that the British government is fundamentally decent, and could never believe that it would lie about (say) Skripal: just as their older Irish forebears detected God’s hand in Churchill becoming Prime Minister in May of 1940.

I was glad that both Peston and Boulton remained unrepentant. This is the true British fair play, if not the bulldog spirit.

How to subscribe to my podcasts: a one-off interim note

A literal one-off interim note, inspired in part by my lack of tech-competence (which I am endeavouring to overcome), about how the best ways to sign up for my podcasts.

iTunes and Overcast: search for The Rory O’Connor Podcast and subscribe.

YouTube: go to my channel and subscribe.

Or go to and press follow.

I really appreciate it if anyone is moved to subscribe in the way they prefer. It helps. Thank you.