Tag Archives: human rights

Left must refuse to let political class off the hook

It seems that the electoral system is the problem, now.

Feverishly flailing around to identify a culprit for its own abject failures over decades past to allow a genuine democracy to flourish, instead manipulating public opinion to keep two rotten parties in power, the political class is pointing its accusatory fingers in every wrong direction so as to shift the blame for that failure onto the Left, and onto the citizens.

PR is a problem, some of them say. Independents are the problem, others say – and that we need to adopt some European model or other that requires independents to register with a political party! I kid you not.

Some other clown started talking about the need for a d’Hondt system, without bothering his arse to discuss that with the one TD who has more knowledge of that system than the entire southern political class combined, the great untouchable beast, Gerry Adams.

Others have adopted the ridiculous position of shifting the onus onto the opposition, and more precisely onto the Left, as if Sinn Féin and the AAA-PBP are the ones who must suspend principle and mandate, and not the fraudsters of the Right, for whom priniciple and mandate have never mattered once power is at stake.

Never mind that Sinn Féin and AAA-PBP have been the target of sustained assault by the propaganda arm of the political class, the media, in whose interest it is that the status quo is maintained intact, and to whom ethics and other journalistic requirements such as fairness and balance are simply a nuisance and an irritant to be avoided in pursuit of their own selfish and anti-democratic ends.

Never mind the insults and the injuries, the lies and dodgy half-truths relentlessly pursued to skew debate in favour of the Right – with the ultimate victim not being simply the parties of the Left but the people themselves, the citizens, the voters.

Whatever the people say is right when it suits and wrong when it doesn’t. And when it’s wrong, then let’s set up a situation where the people must vote again until they learn to get it right – as the political class sees it. Lisbon, anyone? Maastricht, anyone?

The Left is being unreasonable, these political class clowns and fraudsters say. But that is what they have consistently portrayed the Left as being, unreasonable and therefore unworthy of power. But now they want the Left to exercise power – on behalf of the political class and so as to put back in control the parties of the Right, the very parties who bear responsibility for this current mess, and all previous messes.

Short answer to the political class, and particularly the parties of the Right and their propaganda arm, the media – “Shove off”.

Shove off, go back into your bunkers, switch on your brains, think about what you have done and what you have constructed and the trust you have deliberately destroyed to maintain a rotten crooked system.

Now you go figure. And when you have learned the meaning of that word and that concept ‘Democracy’, and the other concepts that come with it – the Fourth Estate, dignity and respect, fairness and balance, and truth, then come back and speak to the Left, not as a temporary fix to the problem that is entirely of your own making, but as a valid force in Irish democracy (if only we had such a thing).

And let the Left hold firm, and let the Left not indulge in in-fighting, because at this moment of real power to engineer change by forcing realism on the political class, sowing division will be simply unforgivable.

Hold your council, button your lips, talk between yourselves, stay calm, let the Right stew. There is no rush.

This process is part of the revolution.

 

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General Election result positive for Left

Reasons to be cheerful, one, two, three.

One. It was always an impossible ask to replace an entrenched two-and-a half Right-wing party regime with a progressive government in one fell swoop, but the creation of a Right2Change movement to draw allies together and directed towards a bedrock of principled rights-based policies has demonstrably worked even in the face of an antagonistic hegemonic political class propaganda machine.

Two. We now have concrete evidence that the electorate is on the move and that a sufficient proportion of voters are open to persuasion, if only the means of effective persuasion are there. That means that the valiant efforts of Right2Change to open up new lines of communication that bypass mainstream media both in public meetings and via social media, and in the distribution of a progressive newspaper packed with exciting and accessible ideas on the ground and online, have been validated. We need now to imagine the potential effect on the electorate if that magnificent effort is sustained and enhanced.

Three. It may be that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will at last be forced to coalesce, leaving the ground open for a progressive opposition for the first time ever. The clearing out of the reactionary detritus within a discredited Labour Party will likely force that party to return to the Left under a new leader as part of a progressive opposition. The potential for a radically different opposition to anything that has gone before to offer a coherent progressive alternative for government, is there to be exploited. That would mean that at the next election the capacity of a corrupt propagandist media to rubbish progressive ideas would be greatly diminished, particularly if the Right2Change movement vigorously challenges and exposes the anti-democratic nature of State and corporate media.

If the progressive Left maintains discipline and resolve, acts intelligently and in a principled way, keeps a strong presence on the streets and in communities, holds onto those policy principles as the basis of a just and equal society, then I have no doubt that we can put in place a progressive government at the next election.

What an achievement that would be!

But fundamental to success will be the continuation and enhancement of the involvement of the progressive unions via Right2Change.

I would urge all Right2Change activists to make that a priority, and to rally around the movement.

That is the best guarantee that our dream of a progressive government and the creation of the true republic will come to pass.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.


Full commitment to Right2Change vital – GE2016

So, the 2016 General Election is underway.

We could spend our time reading the bones of electoral history since 1922 to try to foresee the future, or we could scatter those bones to make a different future.

That is what the Right2Change initiative allows us to do. But it only allows us to do that if we fully buy into what that initiative is about, what its potential can be in effecting radical ideological change, and how voters can be brought to engage with its promises and to vote accordingly. But we cannot expect voters to believe that this initiative can work if we don’t believe it ourselves.

Right2Change is not a badge of convenience. Those who have signed up to it – have pledged to it – cannot be half-in and half-out when it comes to its central theme of a set of easily understood policy principles.

They are principles, not mere aspirations. And a pledge is not a promise you make at election-time, to discard later.

No person, group or party that self-describes as progressive, socialist or republican and is part of Right2Change can have any reservations about the fundamental rights of those who live here to water, jobs and decent work, housing, health, debt justice, education, democratic reform, equality, a sustainable environment, and ownership of national resources including public works and services. All should willingly agree on those basic rights, or else redefine themselves and withdraw any pledge made – which includes a commitment to work to create a progressive government with those same principles as its policy priorities.

Those individuals, groups or parties that have refused the second part of the pledge for their own reasons are at least being honest about where they stand. They are not, of their own volition, part of the Right2Change movement. That is unfortunate, but lets move on.

Individuals, groups or parties that have signed up to the full package, the policy principles and the intent to form a progressive government should that be possible, now need to fully engage in selling two ideas to the voters; that the combined numbers of Right2Change candidates are capable, if supported, of producing 79+ TDs and that such a progressive government will work in their best interests by creating a fair society based on equality, democracy and justice.

To support the first of those ideas there must be a sense of solidarity among Right2Change candidates. The practice of using the Right2Change banner or logo, and of referring to Right2Change and to the principles, is an important part of that idea. It is not hard to see that that practice is not universally applied. That must change.

To support the second of those ideas, the past springs to our aid. We need to constantly refer to the grave damage that has been done to society in general, and to so many individuals and families, most notably by the outgoing government and its Fianna Fáil led predecessor. While we must use our economic arguments well, it is with the suffering and the waste of human resources and the hollowing out of society that the great mass of people will empathise.

There can be very few among us who have not had some close encounter with the ravages of austerity and neoliberalism – from the suicide epidemic to the housing crisis or health service failures, emigration, under and un-employment, poor wages and salaries, poor child-care services, lack of care for the elderly, sub-standard education for all but the rich, and the list goes on and on.

We will not win votes from hardcore supporters of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour, and other status-quo parties, so let’s not waste time and energy on those. But they are not the majority, and it is to the majority that we must make our appeal.

Right2Change supporters need to enter into the fray in a positive mood. Of course, we might not be successful on this occasion. But if not, we will have introduced a set of enlightened principles into the debate, and we will have shown the people that there is not just one ideological position at play.

If we don’t succeed in putting in place a progressive government then we can put in place the best opposition the people have ever seen, with an increased possibility of success next time out. Putting that opposition in place depends on the commitment and integrity of all Right2Change parties, groups and individuals to the policy principles and the urgency of creating real change and holding power to account, which must rule out a coalition of convenience for the sake of short-term power on the part of any Right2Change party or individual.

We do not know the inner workings of the minds of the mass of people coming out of a period of so much oppression and so much suffering and so much destruction. No opinion poll or focus-group can mine that sort of information. But we can work to show that there is another way that is eminently viable and that it will benefit the great mass of the people.

Things will be different, yes. But they will be far better.

But only by voting Right2Change.

 

 


Another Time, Another Place – Alleviating The Housing Crisis

Providing adequate housing for all – a human right – is a problem in all capitalist societies where sensible solutions based on the notions of the common good and simple decency are discarded in the interest of speculators and landlords. Private wealth triumphs over human rights and higher human instincts, but more than that private wealth shoots itself in the foot, repeatedly.

Just as maintaining a numerically significant cohort in society in a state of permanent educational disadvantage and consequent inhibited development makes no economic sense at all, maintaining a significant number of individuals and families in a constantly precarious position with regard to housing makes no economic sense either.

With an ever-aging society where lower birth-rates do not provide a hedge against future demands for health-care or pensions, the idea that it makes sense to discard perhaps 20% of the population – potential earners – based on social class is simply insane. Further, stealing the potential happiness of men, women and children is simply naked brutality at play.

Homelessness brought about by repetitive capital-driven boom-bust is equally insane. It is impossible for those who are homeless to harbour any realistic ambition to seek and find satisfying and productive work or further education or training. Where they are eligible, decent human beings are forced to rely on social security payments or on the charity of strangers to survive. They are not allowed to advance their position, to be productive, to be healthy, to be even moderately happy, to contribute to the exchequer or to have dignity.

In 1970, living in a Notting Hill bedsit in London and with a baby due, my wife and I needed more suitable but affordable housing. Fortunately we lived within the Kensington Burrough Council area, and that council had an enlightened, pragmatic solution that worked.

It was relatively simple. Where a house lay unused, or where a landlord failed to maintain a house in proper order for existing tenants, the council had a procedure for taking control of those houses, carrying out any necessary refurbishment or repairs, letting the units to those on its housing list or to existing tenants, and using the rents to pay for the cost of any works necessary to render the buildings habitable and to a good standard. When the costs of works had been recouped the properties would revert to the owners.

The policy worked on a number of fronts. It provided additional quality housing to the council, it pressured landlords to maintain their buildings to a good standard and to ensure occupancy as opposed to dereliction, it enhanced the appearance of the urban environment, and it made use of existing housing assets to alleviate homelessness.

According to An Spréach housing action collective “…there are over 270,000 vacant houses, flats and apartments scattered around the country, and over 30,000 in Dublin alone”, and “There are over 90,000 people waiting on the social housing list in Ireland”.

There is a short-term solution. It was tried at another time, in another place, and it worked. It was not a permanent fix. One downside was the gentrification of the Notting Hill area a few years later – a boon for landlords and speculators. But there were some housing protections for tenants that made it more difficult for landlords to clear tenants out so as to profit from the property boom.

Adopting that solution runs up against an ideological problem of our own construction – the constitutional right to property. In this non-republic property rights trump human rights. But a creative approach could get around that issue pending a change in our constitution, preferably by scrapping it completely and offering the citizens a new constitution fit for a 21st century republic in which human rights trump property rights.

And it runs up against the problem of an institutionalised belief in local and central government and among the political class that capitalism rules, that no interference can be countenanced in the supremacy of capital to earn unencumbered profit regardless of social or human costs.

So, the homeless crisis is ideologically driven. Worse than that, it is fueled by a brutal indifference on the part of each of the three counter-revolutionary parties – Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil – to the suffering of a significant part of our population and to their under-development or, worse still, un-development.

That is why it is so vital to build a progressive alternative to brutish government dedicated to helping the disadvantaged to move towards not just prosperity, but also happiness, and dignity. Stable decent housing is a component of that.

It’s about humanity. It’s about society. And it’s even about the economy.


A Presidency With Enormous Potential

Yes, at the end of a tortuous journey, made all the more tortuous by a deeply flawed ‘journalism’, we have a President. In choosing Michael D Higgins to be President, over a million voters have given the wealthy Irish, and the rest of the political class, grounds for real unease.

In his early reactions to his election, Michael D has made clear his intention to work towards the creation of a true republic, something that will require real change – “This necessary transformation which has now begun will, I hope, result in making the values of equality, respect, participation in an active citizenship, the characteristic of the next seven years. The reconnection of society, economy and ethics, is a project we cannot postpone”.

Equality, respect, active citizenship, society and ethics are words that do not fit into the neo-liberal lexicon. They are words that have long been absent from the discourse of the southern Irish political class, other than for their propaganda value in which their use is entirely cynical. This absence is not a recent occurrence, but is part of a nine-decades-long counter-revolution, the central aim of which has been to defend privilege by maintaining a right-wing political hegemony in which lip-service was paid to the notion of a ‘republic’ while the principles upon which a genuine republic must be based – liberty, equality, community and justice – were consistently thrashed.

The maintenance of that right-wing political hegemony has been achieved by co-opting a willing corporate and state media – itself right-wing and hegemonic, complete with its token regard for ‘other views’ so as to present the necessary illusion of an impartial/balanced face to the public. Even the most cursory analysis of media content across the entire mainstream spectrum reveals the values that are given primacy, values consistent with the needs and desires of the wealthy and the rest of the political class, values which have no regard for those principles that underpin a republic, values that are contrary to the best interests of the vast majority of the Irish people.

So,  Michael D Higgins has lined up powerful people and powerful institutions as necessary targets and, wise man that he is, is very well aware that they will set their sights on him as a target. We should expect subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to undermine his project of creating a real republic with an active citizenry as its owners.

But President Higgins will not be an easy target, or a willing fall-guy. Over a long political career he has demonstrated courage and consistency of belief, often having to suffer the jibes of fools, and almost always winning at least the political and moral arguments, if not the logical outcome of winning those arguments. He has very significant public support based on a published manifesto in which the true republic and the citizen were integral parts, and that public is substantially the readership and audience for the media which would have to provide the theatre in which attempts to undermine him would play out. Readership and audience brings advertising, and the media would do well to remember that you lose one and then you lose the other.

Drawing on both his academic and political careers, Michael D will be a formidable opponent for the ‘commentariat’, particularly if the role of the media in a democracy comes up for examination – which it must do as an important byproduct of the discussion around creating a true republic. He was very much prepared to tackle powerful vested interests during his successful period as Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, a brief which included broadcasting policy and with which he engaged in an intelligent and resolute manner. He was very much prepared to draw on his deep convictions regarding justice, civil and human rights, opposition to imperialism and to war, to take up often unpopular or little reported causes and issues, on national and international fronts, and to withstand attacks from misguided, or ignorant, or malign commentators, including powerful governments.

Why would a man like Michael D put so much emphasis on a project – that of creating true republic – that has been buried for 90 years? A look at his background reveals at least part of the answer. He is the son of a man who fought for the Irish Republic of the Proclamation of 1916, not just in the War of Independence, but in the brutal and divisive Civil War that raged after the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty and its ratification in 1922. His father, being on the losing side in that Civil War, suffered in terms of his health as a prisoner, and found it very difficult to find employment after his release in an Irish Free State ruled by anti-republican counter-revolutionaries. That was an experience common to very many on the republican side, both men and women, and through his father, Michael D. knew some of those people too. The Higgins family suffered greatly because of this, and so Michael D carries memories of not just his father’s sacrifice and of the damage his courageous participation in the struggle to establish the republic caused to him, but of the entire family’s sacrifice and suffering. It is a very emotional area for him.

In occasional private conversations, some short and others more substantial, mostly relating to modern Irish history, culture and society, Michael D has always come across to me as someone who is inspired by James Connolly to a far greater extent than anyone else in top echelons of the Labour Party. Perhaps it is this that has had him at times at the margins of the Labour Party. He is sometimes referred to as being the left-wing of the party, although there are a small number of other TDs who also occupy that position – but far too few.

Arising out of his presidency, the centenary celebrations of the founding of the Irish Labour Party which will occur in 2012 may become far more interesting than they might otherwise have been. In opening up public discussions on what sort of republic we want to build, and on the role citizens will have in that republic, Michael D may influence, from outside the Labour Party, the ideological direction that the party moves in over the next few years. And then in the following year we will have the centenary of the 1913 Lock-out in which the Labour Party’s founders, James Connolly and Jim Larkin, took the leading roles on the workers’ side, adding yet more pressure to today’s Labour Party to move towards the left.

Then, coming closer to the end of Michael D’s term in office there will be the big centenary in 2016, that of the revolution of April 24th 1916 and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. James Connolly was central to both the revolutionary action and the ideology of the Republic that that action sought to bring into being. Paragraph four of the Proclamation is, without doubt, Connolly’s work. It is, in effect, the Workers’ Republic, or at least provides the space in which that republic could be created by free citizens.

Michael D, fortunately, is the President who will, should he remain in good health, preside over the commemorations. There are few people who understand so well the deep meanings that lie in the text of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, and fewer still so able to mine those meanings and ideas, and to articulate them to the citizens. While most citizens have probably not read the Proclamation – a document that was virtually suppressed because of the counter-revolution – and fewer still have delved into the deeper structure of it in terms of what it means, there is a great emotional bond between a majority of Irish citizens and the Proclamation, even if they don’t fully understand it. This emotional attachment is something that, no doubt, Michael D will draw on over the course of the next four years in the run-up to 2016. After all, the sort of true republic that he has indicated he wishes to speak about is contained, substantially, in the Proclamation.

It will be intriguing to watch how all of this plays out. There is no doubt that Michael D has thought deeply about these things and these opportunities, and about how he might influence events through the power of his ideas and of his words. He knows that there is an enormous amount of goodwill for him out there among the public, that Sinn Féin, a party on an upward curve, will support him in his efforts to create a true republic and to face down a corrupt political class of which top media operatives are a part and which Sinn Féin has no love for, that in his former party, Labour, many among the parliamentary party but especially among the ordinary membership hold him in special affection, and that, crucially, history has given him significant centenaries and commemorations during his term in office.

The future looks brighter now for those who have been waiting a lifetime for a real republic, owned, as Plato suggested it must be over two thousand years ago, by the citizens. He will need allies as he sets about his project. As the ramifications of what establishing of a real republic entails become more apparent to powerful vested interests, including among those main-stream media operatives and commentators who act as spokes-men/women for the so-called ‘elite’ and the wealthy, President Higgins will need those allies even more, and will need them to make their voices heard.

This is a presidency with enormous potential. It demands steadfast commitment on the part of Michael D to see it bear fruit, and it demands equal commitment from those of us who believe the Irish revolution of 1916 must be brought to completion, and that the Irish Republic must stand proudly in the world as James Connolly wished it would-  a sovereign, enlightened, progressive republic acting as a beacon of hope to the oppressed people of the world. Its day has come.


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