Dublin

I'm in Dublin and, having finished business here for now, am thinking of taking my girlfriend to see Gounod's Romeo et Juliette at the Gaiety, which is just down the road. I write 'thinking', since we've been walking around all afternoon and, frankly--despite the heights of a shared authentic Oirish Burger King Super-BK in the chilly rain of Grafton Street, we're probably just going to relax and vegetate tonight. Her Korean heart notwithstanding, my girl was raised in Paris, and judging by the okayish quality of the rendition of 'Jerusalem' belted out in Grafton Street this morning by someone who looked like a player, I think I'd be chancing my arm by keeping her away from a chance to relax with a night at an Opera that Vogue is probably not keen on.

Little things remind one of what a different country this is from England. There's a lack of menace and resentment when people wander in the street, and a sense of ownership of the streets and equality that isn't often found elsewhere. It's a small country of course. Some of my past students from Chonching would be amazed to learn that the entire state is about twenty five times smaller in population than their city, which is not that much bigger than Greater Dublin. Small countries always tend to democracy, I suppose, because people see traces of themselves and their own in others.

But there are other things too. I hung around a bookstore whilst idling, earlier, and picked up a copy of the Constitution of Ireland for a couple of euro. It is in a flexible cover that is in Irish state blue, but which reminds me of a small version of the King James Bible. The constitution is clear, simple and straightforward. It sells relatively well. I'm not naive enough to let its spare scaffolding obscure my eye from the mixture of tribalism and comfortable (sometimes virtuous) catholic hypocrisy that wrap around the actual performance of Ireland's sometimes breathtakngly corrupt politics, but I am beginning to think that the document conveys some sort of ownership to citizens. Rules do that sort of thing. It is the anarchy of selfishness and alienation that deprives people of their property in their country.

The British approach, of mixing conventions with discrete laws and nepotistic or obscure nodding heads, clearly doesn't work anymore. Britain has become systematically corrupt, again. I never used to think that written constitutions would work in Britain, but, well, maybe I was wrong.

The full moon, or simple sobriety, have been changing some of my views on other matters too. I've never been convinced of the argument for human rights per se, and at many times I have told myself that the common law was better than yuman rahts as a way of protecting individuals. But that all depended on a sense of fair play and the moral courage that individuals might find ingrained from proper education and faith to defy the craven, didn't it? These days, people are socialised into obedience, and process, and supposedly rational actions which are instead actually just a justification for following the herd and allowing a socially constructed consensus to provide their conscience. Perhaps rights could work as a way of protecting those who need it.

The occasion of this sad epiphany in my mind was the subject of sexual abuse, and specifically two tutorials last week, one on A v Hoare and limitation, and the other on the precise role of the European Court of Human Rights as a tribunal. I won't bore you with the details--you can look the case up if you wish--but A v Hoare was one of a number of cases in which the House of Lords considered what should happen when people attempt to use the courts to deal with awful abuse years before for which forensic evidence has disappeared. It represents a civilised expansion of exceptions to the rule that time for claims should be limited. The pressure seems to have come from old English equity, but also from a remarkable body of law concerned with alleviating abuse across Europe that has emerged from what I would previously have dismissed as the Human Rights Industry. I still get annoyed with the ahistoric and monomaniac drive of the academic law--carpetfitting with calculus, as I once described it--but, well, they have a point.

The ECHR, as a court, is also a remarkable body. What is it? A Supreme Court, a tribunal, an objective interpreter, a court of review, or a facilitator for courts in free countries that have a margin of appreciation? The vagueness of its identity and the greyness of the limits to its power drives the academics nuts, but, again, if it were seen as a body that was always going to speak against egregious abuses that any state would attempt to get away with if it could, from the outside, and to encourage change from within, it fulfils its purpose very well. That British types who hate their own (and, as my friend Martin Kelly says, you should never underestimate the depths of the British distaste for British, especially when officialised) might embarrass the human rights argument sometimes; but the court does not.

So, small but serious switches in my head are being thrown this weekend. No one has yet been hurt.

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