Tag Archives: citizens

Occupy The Citizens

The primary objective of anyone or any group who want to promote a new way of seeing the world in which they live, of effecting change, must be to galvanise support, to rally citizens to the cause, to bring not just a moral force to bear on an issue but to show that a numerical force of citizens exists in support of the argument advanced for change.

One of the contentious positions occupying the Occupy movement, and particularly, it seems, the Occupy Dame Street pioneers, is that of whether to allow an involvement in the protest by various groups, from political parties to other pressure groups including trade unions. That is not surprising given reasonable fears that attempts may be made to ‘take over’ what has been begun by a collective of  individuals who have roused themselves to make a stand and have shown courage and commitment to do so when others who might have been expected to live up to their own rhetoric failed to recognise the opportunity and step forward themselves.

There are sound reasons for being wary of political party involvement. It would be ridiculous if the three main parties, Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil, were to show up to pretend support for the aims of the occupiers of the Central Bank Plaza, given their support for the very institutions and ideology that the Occupy movement opposes (and Labour is no different on that to the other parties other than possibly on the scale of neo-liberal inspired austerity).

There is a case to be made, however, not to exclude other parties who have a track record in opposing both the power of the same institutions, and capitalist ideology – of which neo-liberalism is a particularly pernicious form, especially those parties that have advanced proposals to restructure politics, the economy and society in favour of the mass of ordinary citizens and who have expressly opposed the various world and regional bodies such as the IMF and ECB and their policies. Ground rules could be laid down for the inclusion of supporters of these various parties, such as on the use of party banners and on the issue of the right of the Occupy Dame Street pioneers to control their protest themselves and the ground they occupy, without any attempt by any third party to take over on either front.

There is another body that represents a massive number of people on the island, the vast majority of whom are ordinary citizen-workers (and by extension their families and dependents). The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has a combined membership across the island of  over 800,000, with in excess of 600,000 in the 26 Counties. A significant percentage of those members, and their dependents, are suffering from the effects of the insane policies of various right-wing governments from the 1990s to today, with many suffering very badly.

There are valid criticisms to be made of the way trade unions operate. But it must be pointed out that there has been a sustained campaign in the right-wing corporate and state media against the trade unions and against trade union leaders, much of it grossly unfair and unreasonable, all of it inspired by an anti-worker agenda fuelled by vile neo-liberalism, a regressive, brutal ideology that seeks to reverse the gains made by workers through trade union activity over the past century or so.

The reasons for that campaign are obvious. After all, without the unions it would be very easy to drive ordinary workers’ pay and conditions down even more than has been the case over the past four years, thus enhancing the wealth of the corporations and the privileges that those who enjoy high salaries and perks – the professional class – enjoy. The freedom to fire those who do not enjoy the protection of a trade union is exemplified in the case of the Talk-Talk workers in Waterford, whereas the Aviva workers, with trade union representation have at least had some concessions to their dignity and their rights as workers. There are many more examples on both sides. Without the backing of a trade union the power relationship between the employer and the worker works entirely in favour of the employer.

On the issue of criticisms of trade union leaders, there is certainly a case to be made that union leaders should receive a salary commensurate with the work they do as leaders of large organisations but in tune with the pay that their members receive – much as should be the case with public representatives in the Dáil and Seanad – the parliament, and with public servants on the higher scales. Contrary to the picture painted of them, most in the leadership of the trade unions, and the Congress, are good and decent men and women, whose ethics and standards compare more than favourably with those of media owners and their hacks, and politicians, business leaders, bankers, bishops, lawyers and other members of the political class.

Another point worth bearing in mind when considering criticism of trade union leaders is that they, in theory at least, are the servants of their membership. Who are their members? Contrary to what one might imagine, their members are not, in general, left-wing by nature, although many are. A significant number of trade union members support, and may even be members of, right-wing parties such as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and of Labour which has consistently enabled right-wing parties to achieve power. It is right to expect trade unions to be radical, and left-wing – since that is consistent with their origins and their expressed ethos – but the leadership is not autonomous, it must have the support of the membership from which it cannot alienate itself.

What the trade union movement can bring to the Occupy Dame Street campaign, and other affiliated campaigns around the country, is a numerical backing that protests and marches need for public impact, and also a valuable and free publicity machine to spread the essential message of the Occupy campaign to a wider audience in the absence of a media that is fair, balanced and interested in real democracy. The unions may also offer practical assistance on-site and with printing and distribution, etc. They should be asked to do so.

For the Occupy Dame Street pioneers to succeed in bringing about change it is necessary to make their movement a mass movement. Nothing will be achieved by avoiding worthwhile publicity and consciousness-raising among the wider population who, as citizens, deserve to be made aware of the arguments being put forward by the campaigners for revolutionary change. If the movement does not expand by gaining the support of a mass of people it will wither on the vine, to the delight of the political class. That is what they are hoping for, far preferable from their PR point of view than sending in state police to clear the site.

There are other organisations who would also be helpful, including community groups, unemployed workers’ groups, various anti-poverty bodies and those who work for the rights of older people (whose capacity to protest successfully is proven), etc. These are well worth encouraging to become involved. They represent citizens, after all, and citizens who might be very sympathetic to the cause.

Decisions on these matters are entirely for the pioneering campaigners down at the Central Bank in Dame Street to resolve. Anyone who believes in what they are trying to achieve will hope that the decisions they make will be wise and will lead to success. Occupy Dame Street owns the Dublin campaign at the moment. The decisions they make will decide if they can sustain that ownership into the future.

All revolutions start in the imagination, all begin with a small body of committed revolutionaries. But all successful revolutions depend on the support of a significant mass of citizens who come to the ideas that the revolutionaries originate and develop. For that to happen then dissemination of those ideas and the arguments that support them is vital, using every available medium.

Occupy The Citizens!

Occupy The Republic

The publicity surrounding the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ campaign, and its offshoots across the USA and similar movements in other countries across the world, suggests that politics is being parked to one side so as to attract a diverse range of individuals in support of the campaign’s central aim – of taking control back from the powerful and super-wealthy 1% and redistributing both the power and the wealth among the other 99% so as to create some form of genuine democracy and much fairer and more equitable societies.

These aims are entirely laudable and rational, and, despite the constant assertions from various right-wing ‘elites’ (their self-serving word) that only they have the expertise and knowledge to govern and to administer public policies and programmes, these aims are also entirely sustainable. After all, is it not the case that responsibility for all of the major military, economic and political disasters over the past century and beyond can be laid right at the door of the various ‘elites’ and their ‘expert’ advisers? Only a self-serving, powerful social deviant or a supportive fool would suggest that human beings who manage very complex personal and community lives do not have the capacity through acting in alliance with others for the common good to make decisions that are at least no worse than the calamitous decisions made by the existing ‘elites’, and likely far better.

Many older political activists and agitators will have been pessimistic over the past decade and more at the prospects for the development of new radical social movements willing to shake off the illusion of increased personal wealth and ready to tackle the problem of political and economic neo-liberal hegemony in North America and Europe. They need not have been pessimistic since if history teaches us anything it is that history is composed of cycles, of highs and lows, of periods of apparent peace and of periods of conflict, of oscillations between what we describe as the politics of the left and of the right.

So certain were neo-liberals and neo-conservatives of their ultimate triumph over the forces of the left following the fall of the Iron Curtain that one of them, Stanford University academic Francis Fukuyama, was prepared in 1992 to declare the following nonsense with a straight face, and was lionised in many quarters for it – “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” That sound that we can hear in the background is of furious back-pedalling, but too late – the hubris of the political right is the cause of their undoing as will become apparent as this latest cycle unfolds.

Many of those older political activists and agitators will shake their heads at the notion of a de-politicised or apolitical movement for fundamental reform (in other words a revolutionary movement). They need not worry. What is going on is a process of attracting support from populations that have been subjected to many decades of media-delivered propaganda, populations that are unsure of the consequences of challenging authority, of stepping ‘over the mark’. That is how hegemony works most effectively through what Elisabeth Noelle-Neuman described as a Spiral of Silence in which individuals, confronted with potentially contentious issues, scan the horizon to determine what they think is a social consensus out of which they are disinclined to break because of fear of social isolation or physical injury. The Spiral of Silence is broken, and with it hegemony, when voices begin to challenge authority and increase and magnify as more people find their courage. That process can be very rapid. The fall of the Iron Curtain is one case in support of this, Tunisia another.

Canadian blogger Shafeen Charania writes that “Things don’t suddenly hit the fan, there is a lead up that gets to the point when people, despite the risk, say “Enough.” It is at this point that revolutions are born, that causes are formed, that the Man is made to pucker. As the unjust disparity grows, the people’s desire to hold on to the status quo shrinks to the point where what was once unthinkable becomes thinkable. Unjust disparity is the gap between being controlled and being in control”.

If the ‘Occupy’ movement is successful in maintaining and then expanding its support then that may take care of the question ‘how are we going to get there?’. But that leaves unanswered the question ‘Where do we want to go?’. In effect it is the ‘the cart before the horse’ scenario. As things stand the movement has some nebulous idea of the need for a transformation in the way political and economic power is wielded and its effect on societies and individuals, but that revolutionary idea needs to have a focus, a destination, a ‘place’ where a majority of people are prepared and interested enough to go, and it must be a journey that has the possibility of a successful conclusion in as short a space of time as is possible to avoid the potential for a political vacuum that may be filled by malign forces. History can illuminate that journey.

At another time, in what seems like a strange land, the then ninety-niners lived in conditions not dissimilar to but very much more exaggerated than those that today’s ninety-niners rebel against. They were governed by a succession of tyrannical kings and governments that constantly shifted wealth from the poor to the rich, stole the ninety-niners’ lands and resources, used famine as a genocidal tool, and the noose, the sword and the gun as a means of suppressing dissent. The tyrants did all they could to destroy the indigenous laws, culture and language,  used the ninety-niners as slaves at home and abroad, ensured that living conditions were, for the vast majority, utterly sub-standard and that hope for a better future seemed an impossible illusion.

Eventually, just as today, a small number of ninety-niners determined that change must come, that they would attempt to transform the lives of all ninety-niners in their land by creating revolutionary change. A journey would be required, and all involved knew that it would be an extremely hazardous one, that some would make it to the destination but that others would fall in the making of the journey. But what would be the destination? It surely had to be one worth reaching, if the human cost was to be high. No point in making a journey that ended up, more or less, at the point of departure.

What those ninety-niners did was to draw up a set of requirements for a new society, which are, again, not dissimilar in many respects to the requirements that today’s ninety-niners are articulating – justice, equity, freedom, genuine democracy by ownership of government by citizens, and prosperity. Oh, and for good measure, those ninety-niners of old added a truly revolutionary notion, that the government would work, not just for the prosperity of its citizens, but for their happiness!

Now, not only did the ninety-niners of old know they had a journey to make, but that there was a destination worth arriving at. If today’s ninety-niners are to be successful then it is imperative that they set down the broad requirements of the renovated societies that they wish to achieve – only then will they have the potential to attract the mass support needed to overcome seemingly impossible odds. To do that they must lay out some sort of vision for their particular society in the country in which they are campaigning.

In their deliberations, today’s ninety-niners might examine the template for a better society drawn up by the ninety-niners of old. It may be that they might find ways of improving on it, but that is doubtful. Here is the essence of it – “The Irish Republic is a Sovereign Independent State and is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of all citizens. The Republic declares the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally”.

No privileged ‘elite’ outside of the rule of law; no preferment for corporate interests over the citizens’ interests; religious and civil liberties enshrined; absolute parity of esteem for all citizens without qualification on grounds of gender, race, religious persuasion, intellectual or physical ability, social class or profession/trade, etc.; control of national wealth and resources by the people; ownership of government by the citizens and not vested interests; prosperity and…happiness.

Today’s ninety-niners might well consider these ideas – would they be satisfied with a society in which these were the rule of law and enshrined and underpinned in a costitution? If not, how are they to be improved on? It is reasonable to suggest that the vision of the ninety-niners of old represents an achievable destination, and that the journey need not take an inordinate amount of time to complete.

Occupying Dame Street is a worthwhile and admirable thing to do. It could be the first step towards a bigger objective with a slightly different slogan – ‘Occupy The Republic’.

No Privatising of the Rising

The plans were made behind closed doors, the preparations pursued in secret and the mobilisation orders delivered in sealed envelopes. So tightly controlled was the event that on the day just 3,000 people mobilised on the streets outside the GPO – and many of them were accidental observers, with tourists and foreign nationals making up perhaps half of the assembly.

If those people thought that they might play a meaningful part in commemorating the 1916 revolution on its anniversary at the epicentre of the revolution they were wrong. The State had its plan, and ordinary people would play no part in it other than as curious and distant observers. Far better had a countermanding order been issued so that citizens would not be present as insult after insult was heaped on them and on their dreams.

Barriers, barriers everywhere. Private security men patrolled the streets of what passes for a ‘republic’, vying with the State’s own police to hold back sparse numbers of citizens and tourists. It was, of course, necessary to preserve a 100 metre buffer zone between them and that other class of citizen, the political class, so that their private entertainment at the GPO, paid for by the excluded, should not be disturbed in any way.

A large prime viewing area between Abbey Street and the GPO was corralled off, bearing the sign ‘Defence Forces Guests’. It remained empty for the entire proceedings. The only area to which citizens could gain access required being subjected to body-frisking and bag searches. None of that for the ‘dignitaries’ of course, although many of those present had done grievous damage to the State and to the Nation. Not content with that, now they would do grievous damage to the dignity of the occasion.

A contingent from the combined Defence Forces, pathetically small in numbers, marched to the GPO, some unable to keep in step to the drumbeat. Their counterparts of 95 years ago would not have been impressed. Another insult to the occasion.

The Military Band ditched well established Irish marching airs in favour of twee music hall ditties such as ‘Step it out Mary’. The musical director evidently doesn’t know the difference between commemorating the revolution, its participants, and the Irish Republic of the Proclamation, and entertaining the fans in the Aviva Stadium before a football match. Yet another insult to the occasion.

Not content with restricting a view of the proceedings to a couple of medium sized screens so far away from the citizens as to be almost useless, the organisers provided a sound system that was inaudible to all but the chosen few, the ‘dignitaries’. But, perhaps to occupy their minds in case the ‘natives’ became restless, an expensive glossy folded programme informed them about what they were missing, in Irish and English – at the citizens’ expence, of course.

Proceedings over, the man responsible for this debacle, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, thought it appropriate to engage with reporters on the subject of the Queen of England’s visit at the point outside the GPO where Patrick Pearse, accompanied by James Connolly, had read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic 95 years ago to almost the precise minute. Enda Kenny obviously has no sense of propriety. He might have waited five minutes and delivered his thoughts on that subject on the way into the private reception for the ‘dignitaries’ in a nearby hotel (again paid for by the excluded citizens). Another insult to the occasion.

A small group of citizens made their way past the GPO, pausing with their banner at the Portico. Its legend stated that “April 24th is Republic Day”.  Some remaining ‘dignitaries’ and State apparatchiks looked on as  if unable to understand what these gatecrashers were about, while some citizens, now free to approach their GPO, took photos of this phenomenon and expressed interest in the banner’s statement.

The Republic Day citizens made their way from the GPO to the almost derelict National Monument at 16 Moore Street, the last outpost of the 1916 GPO Garrison and leaders prior to the surrender. The State has, of course, failed to secure the integrity of this battlefield site and to give it its dignity as a place of immense historical significance. Another studied insult to the revolutionaries of 1916 and the Republic that they created but which still has to be put in place.

At 16 Moore Street this small band of citizens held a meaningful, dignified and proper commemoration of the revolution, its participants and of the establishing of the Irish Republic. In attendance to support the Republic Day campaign were relatives of executed leaders of the revolution – James Connolly’s grandson Roddy Wilson, and Connolly’s great-grandson James Connolly-Heron, Joesph Plunkett’s grand-niece Honor O’Brolacháin, and Thomas McDonagh’s grand-daughter Lucille Redmond.

An address on the relevance of the revolution and the Irish Republic to today’s Ireland and its citizens was followed by the trooping of the flags – the Tricolour, the Starry Plough and Connolly’s Irish Republic flag – as the Last Post and Reveille were played by trumpeter Danny Healy. A wreath with seven Easter Lilies to signify the signatories of the Proclamation was laid at the building by Roddy Wilson. A short explanation that the origins of the Irish National Anthem were in the GPO as the building burned around the revolutionaries was followed by Frank Allen leading the citizens in singing the anthem outside the building in which those revolutionaries spent their last hours together as an army.

The contrast between the official State ceremony, held for the private gratification of a self-styled ‘elite’, with the few citizens present on the perimeter to be satisfied with crumbs from the table as insult after insult was heaped on them and on the participants of the actual revolution, and the unofficial citizens’ ceremony at Moore Street, could not have been more marked. On the one hand a dishonour was done, on the other honour was restored to the occasion.

The State owes its citizens an abject apology for the cack-handed, segregationist affair on O’Connell Street on the 24th April 2011 – Republic Day. It should also withdraw from any future commemoration of the 1916 revolution, its participants and of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. It is not up to the job. Those future commemorations will be in safe hands, the citizens’ hands. The citizens understand respect, dignity and honour, the so-called ‘elite’ – the political class – regard these concepts as obstructions on the way to the Banana Republic.

On Republic Day 2012 there will be no sign of the political class at the GPO. They only do Easter Sunday, if they must. On Tuesday 24th April 2012 the Republic Day campaign will hold a dignified ceremony at the GPO. Citizens who care about the establishment of a proper republic – the Irish Republic – should mark their calendars and get ready for the day.

Bank Crisis – take to the streets.

It just won’t work, some ‘experts’ say, while other ‘experts’ line up to chorus ‘oh yes, it will’.  €70 billion so far to ‘fix’ the banks, with, we can be quite certain, more to come at great cost to every citizen. Well, not quite every citizen – there are of course those tax exiles and tax avoiders and evaders who never ever pay their share of taxes, facilitated all of the time by politicians, senior civil servants, lawyers, accountants, bankers and the rest.

The current estimate is that every tax compliant man, woman and child in the Republic of Ireland will each have to stump up over €16,000 as their individual contribution to rescuing the banks, with no alternative to this other than to set out for distant shores, and forced exile.

The new government has decided on its ‘solution’ to the banking crisis. The Bank of Ireland will be scaled back, divesting €30 billion of assets by 2013 and will provide the first ‘pillar’, while the Allied Irish Bank will merge with the Educational Building Society, shed €23 billion of assets by 2013 and form the second ‘pillar’. Irish Life and Permanent TSB will be taken into State ownership, also entailing shedding many assets.

What we will end up with is fewer banks competing for customers, the end result of crazy, criminal banking policies pursued without hindrance by the State, without adherence to sound business practices, without compliance with the law, without ethical consideration of their actions by the bankers, cheered on by politicians. The citizen will foot the bill for the losses in the banks and for the ‘solution’, and will be at the mercy of a duopoly – effectively forced to deal with just two competing banks, with little prospect of foreign banks wishing to provide any level of competition.

That is the sort of ‘progress’ that comes about as a result of consolidation, synergies, amalgamations – all, we are sternly warned, necessary to compete in the ‘real’ world. It wasn’t always thus.

Up to the 1960s Irish customers had a choice in banking between the Bank of Ireland, Hibernian Bank, Munster & Leinster Bank, National Bank, Provincial Bank, Ulster Bank and Royal Bank. All of these were run on serious lines, operated to sober  business standards by men (not in those days women) who knew their duty was to protect the assets of the bank and its customers, to deliver a profit to the shareholders, and to hand on a sound business when the time came for them to move on.

There were also the Agricultural Credit Corporation to finance agriculture, set up by the State in 1927 but sold to the Dutch Rabobank in 2002, and the Industrial Credit Corporation, set up in 1933 but sold to Bank of Scotland/Halifax in 2001 and closed down with the Halifax operation in 2010. Two good effective State banks, gone.

In the 1960s Ireland had about 40 building societies providing mortgages for house buyers. These were merged over time into the Irish Nationwide, Educational Building Society, First Active and ICS. Even with the mergers there was choice for consumers.

In 40 years we have gone from seven good general banks and two specialist strategic banks, and four solid building societies, to two ‘pillars’ with another, Permanent TSB, in some sort of half-life. No real choice anymore for customers, and a huge bill to pay for the privilege. That is ‘progress’, that is the ‘real’ world – progress for crooks and gamblers and a world of real misery for the citizens.

The people spoke in the General Election, just five weeks ago, and voted, we were subsequently told, for parties that promised change for the better and rational solutions to our financial crisis. It is patently clear that the new crowd in government is as incapable of bursting out of the bubble in which politicians, economists and other ‘experts’ live and think and talk to one another, as was the old crowd. We cannot rely on them to see the world as we see it, and  to take on the neo-liberal Euro-imperialists who will quite happily do this country down to protect their banks and their half-baked Eurozone.

It is time to take off the gloves and take to the streets. No-one is riding to the rescue. No solution but by ourselves. That is how it has always been. The Greeks know that, and so, by now, should we.


First Principles Fundamental To Constitutional Reform

‘There needs to be real political reform’ was the mantra of all parties in the last General Election. Judging by the text of the Coalition’s Programme for Government constitutional reform can be taken to mean tinkering around with the existing Constitution. But this reform needs to go far deeper. Real change requires the scrapping of the 1937 Constitution – a flawed, misogynistic, sectarian, anti-egalitarian document which has institutionalised inequality and injustice under a range of headings, making it anti-republican in a country that claims to be a republic.

The tone of the current constitution is set in its  preamble which states:

In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,

We, the people of Éire,

Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial,

Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation,

And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations,

Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution.

It is legitimate to argue that this preamble is inappropriate to today’s Ireland in which reside many citizens who worship a different version of ‘God’ to the Christian one, or who are non-believers, including Atheists. It is not for the State but for the citizen to pay homage to a ‘God’ or not to do so. There is a valid argument that the State should guarantee religious liberty while maintaining a strictly secular stance of not seeking to interfere in the personal beliefs or practices of the citizen with regard to religious or spiritual belief or lack of same.

A more appropriate preamble in the constitution of a republic would be one which lays out the founding principles and ethos of that republic, and names the republic, and that from this preamble all subsequent articles of the constitution and all legislation by parliament both past and present should flow in accordance with the principles and ethos of the republic. By way of comparison with the existing preamble here is one option:

The Irish Republic is a Sovereign Independent State and is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of all citizens. The Republic declares the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and all of its natural resources and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible, and will strive to achieve this in full by peaceful means. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights, respect and opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts.

This is of course a reconstructed synthesis of the key points of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic which takes into account  the political reality of partition and divided allegiances on the island now, and the need to redress these physical, cultural and psychological divisions through dialogue in parallel with the practical application of progressive enlightenment republicanism, and through this the construction of a State and society worthy of realising the ambition of the unification of the island and its people to the advantage of all.

It is worth using that proposed preamble as a way of gauging how any of the key issues that affect citizens would have to be determined either in the Constitution or through legislation. For instance, there are two words in that preamble that are significant in their own right – one is ‘happiness’, and the other is ‘all’ which is repeated a number of times. The use of ‘all’ with respect to citizens removes any qualification of or diminution of citizenship and fundamental rights by reason of religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, social class, disability and so on. The use of ‘happiness’ has significance if it is applied to the State’s duty in providing for the fundamentals of life – sustenance, health, education, housing, care of children and the elderly, human respect and dignity, and so on. It is a word that is subversive to authoritarianism and corruption – the ‘happiness of the whole nation and of all of its parts’. What a great concept! It is time to make those words work for the citizens and by extension for the nation.

If we are to reform the Constitution then we must start at the beginning and define precisely what sort of Republic we want to have. That is what the signatories to the Proclamation intended, and left the template as their legacy to us.

It remains to us to live up to that legacy. The time is right to do it now. We, the citizens, must take control of reform away from the sectional interests of political parties, and must settle for nothing less than our full legacy.

Listen To The Dead

Graveyards are usually associated with sadness and loss, and Glasnevin Cemetery is no exception to this. But there is one part of Glasnevin that has the power to evoke very different emotions – the Republican Plot.

It would be difficult for any person who knows that part of the history of Ireland from around 1900 to 1922 not to be moved, not to feel a sense of awe, not to be inspired by reading the headstones and markers in one small area near the main entrance. There, gathered together side by side are revolutionaries who were not afraid to dream a beautiful vision of the future for the people of Ireland, and not afraid to take on the might of the most powerful empire in the world to achieve that vision.

Countess Markievicz grave, Republican Plot, Glasnevin

Consider these names: Countess Markievicz, Maud Gonne MacBride, Cathal Brugha, Thomas Ashe, Eamon de Valera, Michael Collins, Erskine Childers, Roger Casement, Peadar Kearney, Dick McKee, Elisabeth O’Farrell, Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington, Helena Molony, Kevin Barry, Harry Boland, James Larkin. There too lie James Connolly’s wife Lillie and three of their children, Nora, Ina and Roddy. And there are more.

Imagine the Dublin of that time with these people moving about the place and developing avant-garde transformational  ideas – feminism and equality, citizenship, secularism, trade unionism, socialism, republicanism and the very nature of the republic-to-be. Imagine what it must have been like to be party to their conversations and their meetings as they debated their ideas with one another and found common ground and brought more people on board, and as they started the process of moving to full-scale revolution.

Think of the number of women who were centrally involved in all of that, of the relatively young age that many of the revolutionaries were, of the number who had families depending on them, of the fact that the revolutionaries included heterosexuals, gays and lesbians among them, that they encompassed various religious persuasions and none, and were spread across the social classes from the lowest to the highest. They would fight, be prepared to die, to be free and equal citizens of the Irish Republic. All sane, rational people. Generous people.

A few miles away at Arbour Hill cemetery lie the executed leaders of the revolution. Seven of them signed their own death warrants by putting their names to the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, the others through their actions in  the revolution. Their mass-grave is rarely visited. Most citizens know little of Arbour Hill or what it stands for. There is no eternal flame there, no army guard of honour, no line of school buses waiting for their young occupants to come out of the cemetery with an understanding of the sacrifice – and the prize.

1916 Leaders' Grave Arbour Hill

And what if the occupants of those graves in Arbour Hill and in Glasnevin could speak to the people of Ireland today? Would they speak of their despair at the mess we have allowed the political class to make of the country while we stood watching? Would they regret their sacrifice? Would they admonish us? No!

They would tell us that we have it in us, just as they did, to transform the future for ourselves and for generations to come. And if we asked them for a plan, a ‘road-map’, they would turn, in unison, and point to the limestone wall at the grave in Arbour Hill on which is carved the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. It is all there. The ways and the means to achieve it lie in ourselves. It is time to do it. Let’s get to work.

Proclamation Arbour Hill

Election Mania: notes from the asylum 3

The outcome of the election won’t be known until the weekend, but if the last Red C poll is reasonably accurate in forecasting the likely support for parties and independents some observations are valid.

With 40% support, Fine Gael could get close to 80 seats in the Dail which would allow that party to govern with the support of a number of independents, or with the Greens and fewer independents. If that were to happen we would have a government with a first preference support of, perhaps, only 42% of the electorate who cast a ballot.

Another possible outcome would be for a minority Fine Gael government with the support of Fianna Fail in a ‘Tallaght 2’ type situation. Despite protestations that Fine Gael would not enter into coalition with Fianna Fail, Fine Gael could opt for this ‘hands off’ relationship in order to achieve power on its own so as to pursue its policy objectives, undiluted.

The third scenario would see Fine Gael and Labour in an agreed government, but with Fine Gael holding the whip hand in terms of policy and the allocation of ministerial portfolios. On that note, it is pitiful to observe a panic-stricken Labour leadership virtually pleading with their Fine Gael counterparts for seats at the government table, and explicitly pleading with the electorate to rescue them from the opposition benches.

Labour has been badly served by its strategists, by a loutish, hectoring Joan Burton, by a lethargic Pat Rabbitte, by a grumpy, jaded Ruairi Quinn, by its foolish attempts to distance itself from the left in the mistaken belief that that was necessary to hold on to middle-class votes. Even more so, it was badly served by the absence of a recognisably distinct ideology – a set of values and beliefs, and by its consistent distancing of the party from its key founder James Connolly and his model of a republic that should be Labour’s strongest selling point. Fine Gael is talking  about creating a ‘new’ republic – what is certain, given Fine Gael’s record and ideology, is that it won’t be the Irish Republic of the Proclamation.

Should Labour succeed in entering coalition, the new government would likely command 100-110 seats, with a much-reduced opposition of roughly half that number – not a recipe for government being held to account. The opposition would, almost certainly, be led by Fianna Fail, which would use that opportunity to rebuild the party. In that case, Labour would revert to being the buffer between the two rightist parties, with Fianna Fail selling itself as back-to-its-roots radical, and challenging Labour as the voice of the working man and woman. From that, it is back to square-one for another 10 or 20 years.

Labour’s duty is to look to the next election, not this one, as the route to achieving power on behalf of all of the people. To do otherwise would be an indelible mark of failure. There is a very slight chance that Labour will opt for leading a strong opposition, but little grounds for optimism on that score. Perhaps electoral fortune will force that on the party, to the benefit of the citizens and the republic.

Property of the People

The Property of the People

We will reform parliament, they say! Abolish the Senate, bring in a list system, change to single-seat constituencies, re-write the constitution or write a new one, create the Second Republic. All slogans floating about on hot air before they settle onto shifting sand, destined to disappear before the existing order can be upset or even overturned.

We live in what we are told is a republic, and it seems that most citizens prefer the notion of a republic to any other form of government. But if, according to Cicero’s description, the republic is the property of the people, then how is it that the citizens have been rendered powerless to alter events and decisions that led the ‘Republic’ of Ireland to cede national sovereignty to foreign institutions, both private and public, and to beggar the people in the process? And how is it that most citizens, with all of their natural tendencies towards fairness and justice and decency intact, have been unable to shape a fair and just and decent State in what they believe to be a republic?

It is reasonable to assume the following about a majority of Irish citizens. That they would happily settle for a republic to which citizens would pledge their allegiance in exchange for: guarantees on civil and religious liberty; equal rights and equal opportunities; the State’s commitment to seeking happiness and prosperity for all citizens and to cherishing them all equally; a commitment to maintain the independent and sovereign ownership of the territory and of its resources for the benefit of the people of Ireland; and that the people will exercise sovereign control over the destiny of the nation.

If the central assumption is correct, that citizens would enter into that contract with the State, then surely this should be the basis for proceeding with the creation of a ‘Second Republic’?

But why create a ‘Second Republic’ when these conditions and this contract with the citizens already exist in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic of the 24th April 1916? That Irish Republic has never been extinguished or un-proclaimed since it could not be, but simply covered with layers of constitutions, laws and regulations designed to frustrate the creation of the conditions of a true post-Enlightenment republic, and denying the citizens their rightful control of the republic.

The Proclamation contains within it all of the first principles of any new constitution, and the Irish Republic must be the centre of all discussion and debate if there is to be meaningful reform of the political system and the State itself – and there must be.

The progressive Irish Republic stands as a rebuke to regressive politics and 90 years of failure. It is for all of the citizens to rally to the cause of working for the Irish Republic so that it can work for all – that at last we will have, not a plutarchy that only works for the benefit of an ‘elite’, but instead a republic that is the property of the people.

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