So much for Irish artists sharing ideas without interference . . .


OPINION:A cultural boycott is no substitute for the power and solace of human contact

EVERY GENERATION creates the right monsters to destroy itself. A baker I once knew said that to me.

Now let me suggest the monster of our time is a device that creates the perfect human. This human hears what he wants to hear, sees what he wants to see and already knows everything he needs to know. The machine’s primary attribute is a shield through which nothing can penetrate that suggests what our man hears and sees may not be the whole truth.

In short, this machine provides him certainty in a world that, if left unfiltered, is otherwise an arbitrary, capricious and infuriating place. Behavioural economists call this phenomenon the psychology of denial, and it can result in an uncompromising and sometimes dangerous delusion that brooks no interference.

This newspaper has already reported on my experience at the hands of Dr Raymond Deane, cultural liaison and sporting boycott officer of a group that seeks an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, regarding an event I had cancelled months beforehand due to the lingering effects of cancer.

My comments are on the record.

I have always had a mistrust of organised mobs. I marched against one in the 1970s beside my father, who was active in the Itinerant Settlement Committee, along with a handful of others. Our family used to get bullets in envelopes, and my father made the front page of The Irish Times getting himself beaten up. Everyone has certain memories branded on to their young minds – that day is one of mine. Even if those mobs have in time changed to keyboard warriors expressing a more cultivated umbrage, the threats are still threats.

My brother Richard, a high-profile figure in the ultramarathon world, reached out to Dr Deane by email and phone.

There followed an exchange of emails. I would have imagined that Dr Deane would have welcomed dialogue with a leading sports figure. Instead, he terminated my brother’s polite and thoughtful points, including the obvious one that sports and politics should never mix, with the following response: “This discussion, as far as I am concerned, is hereby terminated. And further reply from you will go to spam.”

So much for dialogue.

In another email, Deane states: “That your brother sees himself as an enemy is clear from the article in today’s [May 15th] Irish Times. It is unfortunate that he has lent himself to that paper’s steady campaign of defamation of human rights activists . . .”

Say what? This is the philosophy of a perfect man, who sees a grey world in black-and-white: you are either with us or against us. I grew tired of listening to that mantra in the United States under the Bush and Cheney administration, and I’m tired of listening to it now.

To go from minding my own business and recovering from illness to being someone who has defamed human rights activists by daring to stand up for myself – and all in a day!

After the open-letter incident, I went online and found another open letter written by Margaretta D’Arcy, a member of Aosdána, which began thus, “Who the hell do you think you are, interfering with Irish artists, prescribing what we may or may not reflect upon?”

The letter continued, “Our ideas, imagination, and the skills to implement them, are there to be shared, that is what we do.”

Excellent, I thought. Someone else is telling Dr Deane where to insert his boycott – and someone from Aosdána, no less. But wait. It was addressed to the Israeli ambassador and was penned in 2007 in support of Dr Deane. The author of that letter is also a signatory to Dr Deane’s present proposed boycott.

So what happened to Irish artists sharing their ideas without interference? What happened to “that is what we do”?

Aosdána is a State-sponsored academy of creative artists, numbering 250 people, of whom 40 have signed this boycott. Dr Deane was elected in 1986. There is no process for expulsion. He may be eligible for an annual stipend in five-year renewable increments, called a Cnuas, which is tax-free.

In 2010 it was set at €17,180, and he is on record as having accepted payment in 2011. The purpose of the money is “to assist them in concentrating their time and energies in the full-time pursuit of their art”.

I somehow doubt the originators of Aosdána envisaged having as a recipient of this Cnuas a man who actively intimidates an Irish writer from pursuing his art in a venue to which he has been invited (possibly unlike some of the signatories to the boycott) and who spends so much of his time and energies on political activism.

To paraphrase a man well-used to making and receiving threats, I say this to those 40 members of Aosdána who have remained silent at my treatment – I say that you have sat there too long for the good that you are doing.

I can think of many young, promising writers and retired sculptors-in-the-making who don’t have two shillings to rub together who could do with that money. Give them a thousand each and let them create art, not trouble for other artists. Let them be stars, not black holes.

Building is difficult, destroying is easy. Irish Literature Exchange, operating on a shoestring budget, does more bridge-building in a month than Dr Deane’s group undermines in a year. Give them the money.

And yes, literature and sport do make for contact between people of different persuasions. The generals had to break up the football match between the British and the Germans on December 25th, 1914, before it got out of hand. That wouldn’t do, would it?

There is an abundant supply of elite athletes who come up every four years with their dreams of glory who can make the sacrifice for a political cause. The US boycotted the 1980 Olympics because the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Need I say more?

There may be a legal issue with regard to the Government funding Dr Deane. Let me explain. I am a citizen of the Republic of Ireland. I have personal rights. Specifically, under article 40, section 3, subsection 2 of the Constitution: “The State shall, in particular, by its laws protect as best it may from unjust attack and, in the case of injustice done, vindicate the life, person, good name, and property rights of every citizen.”

By funding Dr Deane, the State is enabling the very intimidation to which I have been subjected. I deserve a level playing field.

There is another problem. Dr Deane, a professed human rights activist, had his music performed at the ICSM World Music Days Festival in Hong Kong on October 14th, 2002, which I believe was after the British handover, and a long time after the occupation of Tibet.

There he is at the head of the programme: Raymond Deane (Ireland). A case of “do as I say, not as I do”? How could he have allowed his music to be performed in China, given the situation in Tibet? Or is this the “Deane Exception”? Or a typographical error?

Let us travel to China, to Argentina, to Israel, to Russia, to wherever we want. Nothing substitutes for the power and solace of human contact.



THE IRELAND-Palestine Solidarity Campaign began a “cultural boycott” of Israel in August 2010. Since then 225 Irish artists have pledged not to perform in that country.

The campaign attracted controversy earlier this month when the traditional group Dervish cancelled a planned tour of Israel, having been urged to do so by the campaign.

Novelist Gerard Donovan subsequently described an open letter to him by Dr Raymond Deane of the campaign, advising him not to attend a writers’ festival in Jerusalem, as “outright intimidation”.

Donovan had already cancelled his planned visit to Israel on health grounds.

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