We will have a General Election in the next few months, no later than April 2016 but very possibly before the end of this year. With signs of a dramatic shift in public attitudes that election represents the first opportunity since quasi-independence in 1922 to fundamentally change the politics and the ideological basis of government in this state, and to create a better society for all.
Instead of capitalising on that opportunity we are still, at this late stage, witnessing a war of words between socialists and republicans and within both socialist groups and republican groups.
For some in either camp it seems far more important to hurl abuse or to issue weasel words against prospective allies than to work assiduously on a set of ideas to present in common to the people in the hope that they will take the opportunity as rational autonomous citizens to radically transform the sort of society we live in for the better.
What ideas are there that should be capable of finding broad agreement on the political left among socialist groups and republican groups, and between socialists and republicans? As a socialist-republican straddling those categorisations, here are 15 policy areas that I think should be relatively noncontentious.
1 Adequate, affordable, secure housing as a right, where necessary through public provision.
2 A single-tier publicly funded, secular and excellent education system with no provision from the exchequer for private fee-paying schools with exclusive enrollment policies. Religious instruction outside school-hours. Ending the university-controlled points system for third-level entry. Free third-level or vocational education/training subject to contractual obligation to work within the state for any three of first five years post-graduation with debt-related penalties for non-compliance.
3 The right of all children to adequate housing, nourishment and provision of health and care according to need, guaranteed by the state.
4 The right of workers to employment, or to further education or training as required, including those who wish re-enter the labour ‘market’.
5 A living wage, the ending of oppressive zero-hour contracts, workers’ right-to-organise and right-to-negotiate guaranteed by the state.
6 Full equality for women including pay-rates, personal autonomy and dignity including reproductive rights. Repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Provision of supports for mothers and carers commensurate with their contribution to society for that work.
7 State ownership of essential services, natural resources & physical infrastructure. Constitutional provision for public ownership of water and protection of Mother Earth.
8 Empowerment of communities, starting with disadvantaged communities – rural and urban. State support for community initiatives to achieve personal and community empowerment.
9 Strong laws against public and private corruption with strict sanctions. Ending political appointments to judiciary. Curbing legal costs for citizens. Equal access to civil courts regardless of means. Refocusing criminal justice system and penal system. Taking politics out of policing in favour of civic obligations.
10 Realigning taxation system to shift burden towards wealthiest. Ending tax-exile status, tax loopholes and tax-havens. Enforcing Corporation Tax.
11 Properly codifying the state’s position on neutrality, opposition to war, concentration on international and intra-national conflict-resolution and peace-keeping. Adherence to international codes on prevention of torture, refugees, humanitarian obligations, etc.
12 Proper commitment to reunify the people of the island through concerted, direct, rational dialogue with the objective of creating a fully representative all-Ireland parliament based on equality, respect and civil and religious freedoms.
13 Greater local and regional democratic control as appropriate. Making government fully accountable to parliament and the people. Creation of a democratically elected upper house to speed legislation and as a counter to excessive power of parliament. Installing a publicly accessible online register of lobbyists and a publicly accessible tendering system for state acquisitions, both updated daily.
14 Regulation of media in terms of ownership and the public’s right to essential information, fairly and accurately delivered. Active fostering of ideological diversity in media in the public interest. Insistence on journalistic ethics in the public interest. Higher values of Public Service Broadcasting a requirement for state media.
15 A commitment to expedite a widespread public consultation process towards creating a new constitution for a genuine republic.
Written-up in a little over an hour, this list could be contracted to be a 10-point or 12-point plan, or expanded to include further ideas. Of course, it may be that socialists would take issue with some elements of the list, and republicans with others, although it is hard for me to see where that would apply. But that is what sober discussions should be able to tease out.
The upcoming election should not be about disputation between potential allies but about disputation between conflicting ideologies – on the one hand the over-arching ideology of the state’s ruling parties since 1922 and on the other an ideological alternative that is being demanded by upwards of 50% of prospective voters in the next General Election.
Meanwhile, on the ground, grassroots political activists and mobilised communities are developing their own ideas. Leftist parties of all stripes would do well to understand the price they will pay if they fail to reach agreement to provide an alternative to the hegemonic tyranny of the right by providing a different road-map that would make a better-functioning society possible.
As paragraph four of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic points out, the republic is not just about the prosperity of the people, but about their happiness too.
And who, other than the wealthy, is happy with the state we live in – the political state, and the psychological state?
Stop sniping, stop hurling insults, sit down and discuss. And show us the list. We want to be able to vote for something worthwhile.
Like the prospect of a decent future.