Fintan O’Toole

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An Israeli soldier on the outskirts of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, during the Six Day War, 1967. Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

If war is supposed to be the continuation of politics by other means, Israel’s assault on Gaza seems to be the continuation by other means of the absence of politics. It does not seem that Israel understands what its endgame is. Without a clear sense of an ending, there can be no answer to the most crucial moral and strategic question: When is enough enough? Even in the crudely mathematical logic of vengeance, the blood price for Hamas’s appalling atrocities of October 7 has long since been paid. The body count—if that is to be the measure of retribution—has mounted far beyond the level required for an equality of suffering.…  Seguir leyendo »

An officer from the Palestine Police Force examining uniforms, equipment, and signs captured during fighting with members of the Irgun, a Zionist paramilitary organization, at a police station in Jerusalem, November 7, 1945. Jack Esten/Popperfoto/Getty Images

One of the privileges of being civilized is that it gives you the right to do very uncivilized things to the barbarians. In his public address to Joe Biden in Tel Aviv on October 18, Benjamin Netanyahu remarked, “You’ve rightly drawn a clear line between the forces of civilization and the forces of barbarism”. History suggests that the clearer that line is said to be, the easier it is to justify large-scale violence. This is the secular equivalent of the absolute divide between believers and infidels that allowed Hamas to massacre Jews without restraint. In its mentality, there could be no such thing as Jewish civilians.…  Seguir leyendo »

Photographs from 2021 of boxes of documents in storage at Mar-a-Lago, included in the Justice Department’s indictment of Donald Trump. Department of Justice

Secrets are a kind of currency. They can be hoarded, but if kept for too long they lose their value. Like all currencies, they must, sooner or later, be used in a transaction—sold to the highest bidder or bartered as a favor for which another favor will be returned. To see the full scale of Donald Trump’s betrayal of his country, it is necessary to start with this reality. He kept intelligence documents because, at some point, those secrets could be used in a transaction. What he was stockpiling were the materials of treason. He may not have known how and when he would cash in this currency, but there can be little doubt that he was determined to retain the ability to do just that.…  Seguir leyendo »

King Charles III waving from the balcony of Buckingham Palace on Coronation Day, London, May 6, 2023. Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/Getty Images

Is the third time the charm? Charles’s first coronation was at Gordonstoun school in November 1965, when he played Macbeth. There is a photograph in the Royal Collections of him in a get-up nearly as strange as those he is wearing at Westminster Abbey almost sixty years later, sporting a bad fake beard and what seems like a horse harness around his neck and chest as a breastplate. The recently updated online catalog describes the “people involved” in the image as “Charles III, King of the United Kingdom (b. 1948)” and “Macbeth, King of Scotland (c. 1005-1057)”, as if this seventeen-year-old boy is floating somewhere between the eleventh and twenty-first centuries and between real and theatrical performances of kingship.…  Seguir leyendo »

Disunited Kingdom

In September 2022, the body of Queen Elizabeth was driven across Scotland from Balmoral Castle, where she died, to the royal palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. The coffin was draped in the Royal Standard of Scotland and carried by members of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, who wore tartan kilts. For the first six days after her death, the queen’s passing seemed a very Scottish affair indeed. Only then was her body flown south to London, where the rest of the United Kingdom got to show its respects.

This last journey echoed another royal passage, prompted by the death of a previous Elizabeth, that can reasonably be taken as a point of origin for the United Kingdom itself.…  Seguir leyendo »

Johnson with Charles Michel, president of the European council, in Schloss Elmau, Germany, 27 June. ‘Boris Johnson’s Britain has made itself a source of further disruption and uncertainty for Europe.’ Johnson with Charles Michel, president of the European council, in Schloss Elmau, Germany, 27 June. Photograph: Reuters

It seems rather apt that Boris Johnson pocketed a huge advance from a publisher for a book about William Shakespeare but never got round to writing it. Johnson’s rise and fall hovers between cheap farce and theatre of the absurd. It has none of the grandeur of tragedy. The only line of Shakespeare’s that came to mind at his political demise was the first bit of Mark Antony’s elegy for Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them”. If the good that Johnson did in his public life is to be interred with his bones, the coffin will be light enough.…  Seguir leyendo »

A sticker reading “No Border, No Brexit” on a road sign near the “Hands Across The Divide” sculpture, Derry, Northern Ireland, July 22, 2018. Mary Turner/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

So, at long last, it seems that the negotiations on Brexit between the United Kingdom and the European Union have produced a draft agreement. We do not yet know what it contains but it will be a compromise that falls far short of the high expectations of June 2016 when the British voted to leave. It will tie Britain to the EU’s customs union and single market for an indefinite but probably very long time. Instead of making a glorious leap to independence, Britain will become a satellite orbiting the European planet, obliged to follow rules it will have no say in devising.…  Seguir leyendo »

On June 5, there were audible gasps in the House of Commons in London. The UK parliament was discussing the anomaly of the realm’s abortion laws: while Britain legalized abortion in 1967, Northern Ireland, though subject to the same parliament, still operates under an extremely restrictive Victorian-era law banning all abortions unless the mother’s life or health is at serious risk. The subject has recently come to the fore because the Republic of Ireland’s landslide vote last month to repeal its constitutional ban on abortion has made the situation in Northern Ireland seem all the more egregious.

Heidi Allen, a Conservative member of parliament for an English constituency, had just given a highly personal and emotional speech in favor of change:

I was ill when I made the incredibly hard decision to have a termination.…  Seguir leyendo »

Just before lunchtime on Monday, European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: “Tell me why I like Mondays!” He had just gotten off the phone with the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar. Varadkar told Tusk that Ireland was happy with a formula of words the British government had already agreed to: that, after Brexit, there will be “continued regulatory alignment” between both parts of Ireland. Behind this technocratic phrase, there was a great retreat by the British.

They had previously insisted that Northern Ireland is as British as Yorkshire and thus could have no special status after Brexit. The Irish government, with the full support of the European Union, had argued that this would mean the reimposition of a hard border on the island of Ireland and a real danger of undermining the Belfast Agreement of 1998 that ended the Troubles.…  Seguir leyendo »

Are the English Fit to Govern Themselves

In the long and tangled history of relations between Britain and Ireland, it has generally been the Irish who seemed troubled. British identity was fixed, solid and self-confident. Britain had, after all, imposed itself on much of the world. Ireland, on the other hand, was anguished, uncertain and divided. Brits could look across the Irish Sea with a mixture of perplexity and patronizing disdain: Why can’t the Irish settle down and stop being so obsessed with those maddening questions of nationality and identity?

So perhaps some of us in Ireland can be allowed a moment of schadenfreude as we look across the same sea and ask a similar question.…  Seguir leyendo »

British Prime Minister Theresa May on her way to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen’s permission to form a minority government, London, June 9, 2017. Toby Melville/TPX/Reuters

To understand the sensational outcome of the British election, one must ask a basic question. What happens when phony populism collides with the real thing?

Last year’s triumph for Brexit has often been paired with the rise of Donald Trump as evidence of a populist surge. But most of those joining in with the ecstasies of English nationalist self-assertion were imposters. Brexit is an elite project dressed up in rough attire. When its Oxbridge-educated champions coined the appealing slogan “Take back control,” they cleverly neglected to add that they really meant control by and for the elite. The problem is that, as the elections showed, too many voters thought the control should belong to themselves.…  Seguir leyendo »

Can a government be re-elected after imposing harsh austerity on its citizens? If you were to pick one to succeed, it would surely be Enda Kenny’s centre-right coalition in Ireland. It came to power in 2011 and pushed through big cuts in welfare, health, education and policing. It raised taxes and raided pension funds. But over the past year, the Irish economy has palpably improved. Growth is the highest in the European Union. Emigration has slowed down. At least in Dublin and the other main cities, the buzz of boomtime Ireland is back.

The governing Fine Gael and Labour parties are promising to reverse some of the tax increases and begin to repair the damage to public services.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ireland’s Marriage Equality Moment

On a Sunday in May, a reporter for The Irish Times went looking for religious people who might be expected to oppose same-sex marriage. The issue is a hot topic in Ireland because on Friday the nation votes in a referendum that, if passed, will enshrine marriage equality in the Constitution.

The reporter engaged an older woman after Mass at Dublin’s main Catholic cathedral. “I’m just going to vote for gay people because I have nothing against them,” the woman, Rita O’Connor, told the journalist. “I can’t understand why anybody is against it.” And she dismissed the church’s opposition: “It’s a stupid carry-on.”…  Seguir leyendo »

The Irish Rebellion Over Water

In the west of Ireland, they say that if you can see the mountain, it’s going to rain. And if you can’t see the mountain? It’s raining.

Ireland may have its troubles, but drought isn’t one of them. Which may be why proposed charges for household water have brought tens of thousands into the streets in protests that have deeply unnerved the political order.

If the Irish are finally catching the mood of anti-austerity anger that has been rolling across much of the European Union, it may be a case not so much of the straw that broke the camel’s back as the drop that caused the dam to burst.…  Seguir leyendo »

I was talking just before Christmas to a young man who sells shoes in a department store in Dublin. He told me that a television news crew had filmed interviews in the store the previous day. They wanted to know if sales were picking up during the vital holiday period, indicating that the battered Irish economy was, after five grim years, on the rise at last.

Most of his colleagues said that, actually, sales were rather sluggish. One was more hopeful and said that there were signs of improvement. When the young man watched the TV news that night, he was not entirely surprised to find that the only interview that had made the cut was the one with the optimist.…  Seguir leyendo »

A voter in County Clare, not content with putting an X beside the no option on the simple ballot paper in the Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty, included a long letter of protest. Its message to the Irish government, which had campaigned desperately for a yes vote, was: "You forgot us in Shannon." The anonymous voter was using the opportunity of a vote on the structural reform of the European Union to protest against the withdrawal by the newly privatised state airline Aer Lingus of its regular service between Shannon airport and Heathrow. You would have to pity the poor Eurocrats contemplating the wreckage of the results of eight years of negotiation and compromise.…  Seguir leyendo »

The quickest way to understand the uncertainty that holds sway as Ireland prepares for tomorrow's referendum on the EU Lisbon treaty is to think of the “what have the Romans ever done for us?” scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian. On the one hand, there are the equivalents of the People's Front of Judea and the Judean People's Front - a fissiparous array of small groups ranging from right-wing Catholics to Trotskyites - all anxious to strike a blow against the big boys in Brussels.

Like French and Dutch voters, who rejected the abortive EU constitution, of which Lisbon is a low-tar version, the Irish seem instinctively inclined to listen to dissonant voices, to rebel against their own political establishment and to scupper the best-laid plans of the Eurocrats.…  Seguir leyendo »