Tag Archives: Sinn Fein

Martin McGuinness & dispelling sectarianism

On my way back to Dublin with a parcel of other 13-year-olds from a three-month stay in the Gweedore Gaeltacht in 1961, I paid my first visit to Derry to switch from bus to train.

Even for a boy who was well used to seeing the Dublin tenements, Derry was like something out of the distant past. No sign of development or modernisation but all the signs of poverty. I particularly remember a street of single-storey cottages of the sort featured in old photos of 19th century evictions, maybe mud-walled. Hovels. Ragged children, and ragged mothers. Another country.

My parents had told me about that other country. During the war, freshly married and with no ready employment in Dublin, my father had got work with Thompson & Nutt’s motor works in Garvagh in Derry, reconditioning truck bodies at a time when no new trucks were available because of the war effort.

Son of a 1916 Volunteer, and a committed republican, he worked with a mainly Protestant work-force without any problems at all. When he was the subject of a serious external death-threat, it was his Protestant workmates who sent out the message that not a hair on his head was to be touched, and that was the end of the matter.

He stayed in touch with Thompson, Nutt and his workmates for decades after, and he and my mother made regular trips north of the border from then on.

So, they made sure their children knew from an early age what the set-up in the Protestant State for a Protestant people was, and the conditions I saw in Derry in 1961 confirmed that there was no place at the table for Catholic nationalists.

The six-counties didn’t have to be a sectarian state. That was a choice, and it wasn’t made just by six-county unionists, it was a choice made in Westminster, and sustained by Westminster. And it was a choice made in Dublin and sustained through studied neglect by Dublin. Better a hegemonic conservative Catholic 26-county state than a 32-county state in which Protestants would have to be accommodated.

When the civil rights marchers were assaulted by the RUC and Loyalists at Burntollet Bridge in 1969, no surprise. When Sammy Devenney died as a result of a gratuitous beating from the RUC in Derry, no surprise. When Bombay Street in Belfast was burned to the ground in the same year by a Loyalist mob with RUC support and we had a refugee family living with us in a normal three-bedroomed house in Dublin, no surprise. When Harold Wilson sent in the British Army and it turned on the nationalist community, no surprise. When that army slaughtered civilians on Bloody Sunday in Derry, no surprise. When internment of nationalists, and torture, were carried out, no surprise. When the RUC, British Army and Loyalists colluded in the murders of nationalists, no surprise. When the Orange Order repeatedly paraded their bigotry on the Garvaghy Road and Drumcree Church year after year, without state sanction, no surprise.

When Martin McGuinness and others stood up to that repression having, of necessity, armed themselves to defend their people, no surprise.

And there is no surprise either in the brutality that ensued. That is war, wherever it occurs, and civilians always bear the brunt of it. The real crime is that it lasted for decades. That was the politics of failure. Or, more exactly, it was the politics of imperialist obduracy. Westminster was going to beat Irish nationalists back come hell or high water. Hell came and went, and high water too, but the republican movement was still standing its ground, still undefeated but without the possibility of fighting the sort of decisive battle that would drive the obdurate imperialists from Ireland. And even if that had been possible, full-blown civil war would have ensued, and the imperialists would have stoked that. They have form on this island in doing that.

Stalemate is not a solution. Achieving your ultimate ambition is a solution. For republicans, that ambition is the establishment of a true 32-county republic.

Every year republicans go to Bodenstown, to the grave of Wolfe Tone, one of the principal architects of Irish republicanism. They don’t go as a single body of republicans, but in separate groups because they have fallen out with one another. Internecine disputes become more important than realising the republican ambition.

Wolfe Tone, and the other Protestant men who founded the republican movement in Ireland, left a fundamental tenet of republicanism for us to follow. The constitution of the Society of United Irishmen stated in its first article its intent as “forwarding a brotherhood of affection, a communion of rights, and an union of power among Irishmen of every religious persuasion”.

There is no other way to create a true republic encompassing all of this island than by following that tenet. No republican could over-ride the will of unionists by imposing a republic on them without their assent. No republican could even contemplate expelling the unionist population from the land so as to create a republic. If they did either of those things it would be self-defeating. It would not be a republic. It is therefore necessary to persuade unionists that they have nothing to fear from the sort of republic that their Protestant ancestors laid out in Belfast in 1791, but that they have much to gain from it.

That is the project that Martin McGuinness and the rest of the willing republican leadership and rank-and-file set out on over two decades ago. Others had and have a right to a different opinion and a right to resile from that decision. Many of us have had to swallow very hard when symbolic gestures were made by republicans that went against the grain, other than as part of an overall strategy of moving towards a ‘brotherhood of affection’, or to put it the other way a ’parity of esteem’.

As Sinn Féin engaged with the political process, the party was rightly criticised for not being sufficiently ‘of the left’. Republicanism is intrinsically of the left. James Connolly stated that to be republican was to be socialist and to be socialist was to be republican, that the two are the same in terms of the social, economic and political outcomes that they should produce if they are true to their doctrines.

But political progress depends on public support, and the fact is that on either side of the border the population is conservative in outlook and cautious in the face of change, the result of a century and more of exposure to right-wing, anti-republican, anti-socialist propaganda from church, state and press. Many of the social and economic problems that people on both sides of the border endure would be solved by the left, but still the left struggles for support.

One reason for that is the presence of often bitter internecine disputes across the left, between socialists and republicans but also within socialism and republicanism. The right unites to hold power, the left fractures all over the place to avoid power. Another crucial reason is the absence of any form of progressive national media, not just now but since the imposition of partition and the creation of two sectarian states. Solving the latter is probably far easier than solving the former.

Has progress been made north of the border over the past two decades? Have attitudes changed? Has sectarianism diminished? Have the two sides moved towards better accommodating one another? Has Brexit made a difference to the question of the border? Could Scottish independence play a part in moving the border question on? Would the English ditch the six-counties to concentrate on their own post-Brexit situation? Has the 26-county political class been forced to engage with the border question in a realistic way for the first time since 1922? Is it within the left’s capability, republican and socialist, to make significant political advances over the next five or ten years on either side of the ridiculous border? Is it more possible than it was twenty years ago to imagine that republican vision that Tone and the other Protestant republicans had, coming into being?

For me, the answer to each of these questions is yes.

Are we significantly closer to “forwarding a brotherhood of affection, a communion of rights, and an union of power among Irishmen of every religious persuasion”?

Yes.

His detractors will not acknowledge Martin McGuinness’s contribution to that progress, but I do.

That snapshot I saw of a filthy sectarian six-county state in 1961, and the filthy sectarian 26-county state that I was going home to, are memories.

It is a very different country.

And I am grateful for that.

Work done, Martin McGuinness. Rest in peace.

Work to do, for the rest of us.


Clarity, Trust and Cooperation required for Left victory

It would have been helpful if today’s explanation by the Socialist Party of its position on supporting a Left government had been issued much earlier, and in this detail.

Writing in the Irish Times today, Socialist Party TDs Paul Murphy and Ruth Coppinger say – “The Anti-Austerity Alliance wants to be part of a left government that can mark a fundamental and radical shift away from a society dominated by the profits of the 1 per cent to one where the needs of the 99 per cent and the environment come first. Such a left government will have to exclude Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour as they would clearly act in a coalition to block any significant change taking place.”

They go on to say – “If it is possible after the next general election to form a government without the traditional establishment parties, the Anti-Austerity Alliance will discuss with others to see if a left programme for government can be agreed.”

Further, regarding Sinn Féin, they say – “Unfortunately, we have major doubts as to whether Sinn Féin would agree to such a programme. As one of the architects of the “Fresh Start” agreement in the North, it has demonstrated that it is willing to implement austerity, agreeing to welfare cuts and 20,000 job losses, while also cutting corporation tax. In the North, they are based on one community and the party’s actions deepen sectarian division.”

And this – “In the case that no left programme for government can be agreed, but a government could be formed without the establishment parties, our TDs will vote in the Dáil to allow the formation of that alternative government.”

It should go without saying that any group within the broad Left can have reservations about any other group. However, to stand aside from the first real opportunity to be part of bringing down a 92-year corporatist-fascist regime, in any combination of the three parties of permanent misgovernment – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour, on the basis of a mistrust of another Left party or group, represents for me a failure of imagination, a failure of ambition, and a failure to grasp the dynamic of a broad Left campaign and the dynamic that would become apparent should that campaign be successful to the point of entering into government.

Sinn Féin has committed to the Right2Change policy principles, repeatedly. Prominent spokespersons for that party have constantly said that Sinn Féin’s preference is to be able to form a progressive government with other Left parties and groups and independents. The best way to avoid any other scenario is to work hard, together, to make possible the election of enough Left TDs to form such a government. If that is achieved, Sinn Féin will be as tied to the rest of the Left as they will be to Sinn Féin, and the formation of a government and the prioritising of policies will of necessity be a joint decision.

It is very unlikely that anyone on the Left would want to collapse such an arrangement if it showed itself to be a genuine advance towards a far better society and state. That includes Sinn Féin.

Murphy and Coppinger worry that “Its recent talk about coalition with Fianna Fáil and Labour will cause concern among those who look to Sinn Féin to bring about change. If Sinn Féin truly wanted to see an end of the rule of the establishment parties in this country, it would rule out coalition with them and instead declare for an anti-austerity government based on non-establishment forces.”

As I see it, Sinn Féin is engaged with trying to win over loose Fianna Fáil votes to bridge a vote-transfer gap that has been a problem in the past, and my view is that that, and an effort to show how useless Fianna Fáil with its stand-alone stance would be to potential FF voters, is the reason for letting the notion hang out there that maybe, if, possibly, Sinn Féin would coalesce with Fianna Fáil so long as Sinn Féin was the senior party.

Sinn Féin strategists are renowned for knowing their power-base, and planning for the medium term and long term. They will be very well aware that many Sinn Féin supporters from outside the party would walk away from the party at any sign of an alliance with Fianna Fáil, and that that break would in many cases be permanent.

The best way for the broad Left to make certain that any alliance with Fianna Fáil doesn’t happen (Fine Gael being several bridges too far and Labour being probably of no consequence post-election) is to create the far better option by winning enough Left seats, thereby creating the ideal scenario for Sinn Féin – a decisive break with the past 93 years of counter-revolutionary government and a fresh start for the people of this country, and to do that in the centenary year of the 1916 Revolution. It is only within a progressive government that Sinn Féin can achieve that.

Using Sinn Féin’s position in the Six Counties as a marker of its stance in the Twenty Six, is specious. The comparison doesn’t stand up given the carefully fostered, deeply sectarian history of the past 200 years and the control that London exerts over all aspects of life in the Six Counties. To pretend that the Stormont Assembly and Executive represents government in the real sense of democratic control is wrong and disingenuous. The forces that operate on Sinn Féin, or the DUP from its side, some internal to the Six Counties and some from London and to a lesser extent Dublin, and that render compromise compulsory and not voluntary, are not replicated south of the border. Here, our democratic deficit and our social and economic problems are of a different nature.

Opposition to Sinn Féin comes from a very diverse set of actors – Loyalists, Unionists, anti-Sinn Féin republicans, British Tories, the southern political class and counter-revolutionary parties and the mainstream media across Britain and Ireland – north and south.

That opposition or suspicion may be based on valid or imagined reasons – imagined reasons can be just as potent as real reasons in fueling opposition. Some of it is ideological, or party-political, or about control, or protecting a political patch, or about differences in strategy around the Peace Process and the ending of armed confrontation, or about the armed confrontation that lasted for three decades and/or about the social or personal fall-out from that, or about that most potent force – identity.

And then there is that body of citizens south of the border alienated, perhaps forever, from Sinn Féin, for a variety of reasons. These include Fine Gael and Renua supporters, and some Labour supporters.

Add to that the suspicions of the Socialist Party, the Workers Party and various independent socialists and republicans.

But here is one indisputable fact – without the presence of Sinn Féin as part of a progressive movement we are consigned to suffer yet another corporatist-fascist regime, and the ones who will suffer that most are the ones who simply cannot afford having to endure any further punishment.

It is for that reason that many on the Left have put aside their differences with others so as to advance the prospects of real political change and progress in the Twenty Six counties.

This latest statement from the Socialist Party, expanding on previous ones, and offering more clarity and some modification in stance, is welcome. It would be good if Sinn Féin responded to allay fears, and even better if direct discussions took place between the two parties to clear the air. Unnecessary misunderstandings weaken the Left and strengthen the Right.

It would be advantageous to the Left campaign if the Socialist Party could go further and play its full part in a concerted effort to end the tyranny of the Right and to put in place a government that would rule for the benefit of the masses and not for the beneficiaries of our never-ending kleptocracy, the political class.

Imagine the progressive republic. Imagine the boon that would be to a majority of the people of this failed state. We have one golden opportunity to put it in place.

Go the extra mile.


Irish Water: washing away the mandate fiction

I need to amend the prediction that I have been making since 2011 – that the next General Election would not take place in 2016 (politically dangerous, given the centenary) but in autumn 2015.

Who would I do that?

Because this government has all the signs of one that could implode at any time. It may limp on but it is in terminal decline, just as the Cowan coalition was in 2010.

Not just fractious backbenchers, but fractious coalition ‘partners’. Labour is the new Greens – facing disaster at the polls and with nothing to suggest that the situation can be retrieved. Searchers may comb the shipwreck, but the most they will find is a handful of survivors clinging to life in pockets of foul air.

Fine Gael backbenchers and local authority office holders are talking openly of leaving the party. Fine Gael cabinet ministers, just as previous ministers in the Fianna Fáil-Green coalition like Noel Dempsey and Dermot Ahern did, are issuing holding statements that bear no connection with the reality of the situation. Labour ministers are operating as if they were deciding policy around water charges, without reference to the senior coalition partner.

This is a shipwreck, for sure. The hole below the waterline is too big to be patched. The rusting hulk will not make it to dry-dock. Even if it did, the shipyard workers are in open revolt.

The sensible thing to do three weeks ago would have been to announce that the Irish Water scam would be mothballed for six months while a new plan was drawn up to be presented to the people. That would have bought time, and might have defused the situation. But arrogance is a blindfold.

This government talks of mandates to implement policies arising from the 2011 election. These are largely a fiction. Fine Gael secured 36.1% of the vote, Labour 19.4%, giving a majority of 55% and a larger majority numerically in terms of parliamentary seats, given the vagaries of the PR-multi-seat system.

That’s a mandate, isn’t it?

Not on water charges, it isn’t. Fine Gael’s policy since 2009 was for the corporatisation (and ultimate privatisation as an ideological consequence) of water, predating any appearance on the scene by the EU-ECB-IMF Troika and their austerity programme. Labour’s pre-election position was the opposite. Both parties offered these commitments in their manifestos. The Fine Gael position secured 36.1% support. That is not a mandate to create Irish Water. Combining it with Labour’s 19.4% for the opposite course of action does not, by any stretch of the imagination, make it a mandate from the people to implement a policy of such far-reaching importance.

Any tinkering around with  water charges, or with Social Welfare vouchers, or with tax credits – which we will pay for anyway through other taxes, will not work. It is too late now. This government is hated. There is open revolt on the streets throughout the country. The most recent opinion poll gives a combined support for Fine Gael-Labour of just 29%. In other words, 71% of the electorate will not, on that indication, support these parties next time out. That is rejection of this government by the people. Add in Fianna Fáil, the third of the parties of permanent government since 1922, and the poll figure is still less than 50%.

My advice to the alternative parties and independents, for what it is worth, is to burn the midnight oil now. Put policies in place now. Talk to one another now to see if a common platform can be created – those policies on which there is broad agreement to implement in the interest of the people who have suffered most, that can point a better way to deal with noxious debt, that can shift the burden of taxes onto the rich, that will put public services including housing, health and education onto a sound and equitable footing, that will protect public utilities within the framework of public ownership and without the possibility of privatisation, and so on.

In other words, a different, enlightened, progressive vision of this country to the corrupt, brutal, counter-revolutionary three-party hegemony that we have endured since quasi-independence.

If those parties and independents of a potential alternative government really do care about the people, and see the State as the servant and the administrative implement of the people, then they will be able to put a programme of essential policies together. If they can’t do that then we will know that, once again, party or personal ego is more important than the needs and demands of the people.

Let us have, for the first time in 92 years, an opportunity to vote for a viable government that is not some combination of the same old corrupt counter-revolutionary parties – Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil and Labour.

In the meantime, on the street, let’s keep up the relentless pressure on this rotten, incompetent, dictatorial government and its hangers-on.

The people are winning. Consolidate the last victory and move towards the next. Gather together the voices of dissent. There’s a change coming.

Be unified, be determined.

Bí ullamh! Be ready.


Killing hegemony with a ballot box in both hands

And so, May 23rd 2014 may indeed turn out to have been a red-letter day in the politics of the 26-county spurious-republic of Ireland.

Local and EU elections have seen very significant shifts in voting patterns with serious repercussions for the three parties which have exchanged power over the past 92 years, and this result may indicate the imminent demise of hegemonic counter-revolutionary misrule that has lasted since 1922.

The quaintly-named Irish Labour Party – a misnomer, since that party substantially represents the interests of middle-class voters, has experienced a virtual wipe-out at the polls. Its first preference vote (19.5%) in the General Election of 2011 plummeted to just 5.3% in the EU elections, with a loss of its two European Parliament seats. In the local elections its share of first preferences was a slightly better 7.2%. The immediate outcome of this was the resignation of party leader Eamon Gilmore, Tánaiste (deputy prime-minister) and Minister for Foreign Affairs.

It is quite likely that in the shake-up to elect a new party leader, and its aftermath, that the old guard in Labour will be shown the door in a feverish effort to ‘renew’ Labour, although it is hard to imagine that anything will save the seats of many of the party’s TDs in the General Election, likely to be called well before its Spring 2016 deadline. While Labour might pull back a percentage point or two, it looks like a party that will need to spend some years finding itself – if it can. Its future may be out of its own hands by now.

Its senior partner in coalition, Fine Gael, now stands on the same EU election percentage as Fianna Fáil – 22.3%, down from 36.1% in 2011. Fianna Fáil, the other cheek of that ideological arse formed out of the Civil War, saw its share go up from its disastrous 2011 percentage of 17.5%, but it can draw cold comfort from that 4.7% rise, being now reduced to just one MEP.

On the EU figures, cumulative support for Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour stands at 49.9%. In other words more than 50% of those who voted have turned their backs on the three misruling parties. That, to anyone accustomed to the monolithic control of those parties, constitutes profound change.

But more!

In the EU election, in which it stood just one candidate in each of the three EU constituencies, Sinn Féin saw its support go up from 9.9% in 2011 to almost double that in 2014 – 19.5%. Not only that, each of the Sinn Féin EU candidates either headed the poll or was elected in early counts.

In the local elections Sinn Féin trebled its tally of representatives on the County Councils to 157. This pool of public representatives will provide new candidates in many Dáil constituencies in the General Election. They will, in the meantime, learn their trade, create local networks through highly-organised offices and the strong team-work that Sinn Féin is renowned for. The likely outcome of that is a further rise in the percentage of the poll that Sinn Féin will receive next time out, and a greater number of TDs in the Dáil.

Alongside that, various independents and smaller socialist parties and anti-austerity campaigning offshoots, together with other independents including some conservatives, received massive support in terms of percentages of the EU vote – 30.6%! Working against the big party machines, the independents still managed to win three European Parliament seats. The Socialist Party lost a winnable seat due to the intervention of a Socialist Workers Party candidate in the Dublin constituency, which victory might have been at the expence of Fine Gael’s high profile candidate, Brian Hayes, who barely scraped in.

In the local elections the various independents and the socialist/anti-austerity candidates combined won 237 seats out of 949, another remarkable result.

These results do not guarantee that we will not end up with yet another combination of the three parties of permanent misrule after the next General Election, but they do open up the possibility that we may, for the first time since quasi-independence in 1922, see the possibility of real choice for voters between the right and the left. For that to advance there needs to be an attempt at establishing a rapprochement between Sinn Féin and socialist parties, groups and individuals.

It is possible that the Labour Party, forced by the shock of its decimation at the polls, might sufficiently re-evaluate its stance and policies to reflect, in part at least, the core values for which that party was created. If so, it might be that Labour would also be available to achieve the numbers to form an alternative government, although the current candidates for leadership – one an accountant and the other a senior barrister – do not inspire confidence in any attempt to return to those values, but would appear opportunistic and cynical given those candidates’ track records in the current government.

It might be in Sinn Féin’s interest instead to look to the smaller socialist parties which have done well in these elections and show signs of further growth if properly organised for the next campaign and if election pacts can be put in place to avoid losing winnable seats.

In a post-election article on the Socialist Workers Party website, J O’Toole wrote “Socialists want to relate to Sinn Fein supporters and work alongside them in the South to battle the water charges. We want to emphasise people power as the path to change and that struggle is the stage upon which different approaches to change will be tested.”

At a pre-election ‘Arms around Moore Street’ event, held to protect the historic GPO 1916 Battlefield Site, Socialist Party EU candidate Paul Murphy made a stirring contribution, reminding those present of James Connolly’s last days of freedom in those buildings, and of Connolly’s relevance to the peoples’ cause today.

These are promising signs which should be built on through dialogue between Sinn Féin and socialists. It would be interesting to know if, for example, there was to be contact between the three new Sinn Féin MEPs and Paul Murphy, outgoing MEP and likely to be a candidate in the upcoming General Election, on advice on relevant issues and potential alliances in the EU Parliament. Not only would that contact be valuable in itself, but it would also send a positive signal to socialists and their supporters, and to voters interested in new possibilities. No doubt the new MEPs will also receive advice from Nessa Childers, independent leftist MEP and granddaughter of Erskine Childers who played a decisive part in the lead-up to the 1916 Revolution and the proclaiming of the Irish Republic, and in the defence of that Republic in the Civil War.

It is certain that Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour will attempt to claw back support to prevent the Sinn Féin and socialist surge from gathering further momentum. But there are lessons in historical experience, one such being the Berlin Wall. In just one year, 1989, what seemed like an impregnable fortress, part of the Iron Curtain that separated the Soviet Union and its satellite states from the West, was virtually destroyed. Once the first crack appeared in it, its destruction seemed as if it might become inevitable but happened faster than most might have thought possible. That crack in the Berlin Wall first occurred in the imagination of a few determined dissidents, then spread until the imagining was unstoppable and became reality.

It is possible that a similar phenomenon is at play in this State, where hegemonic power has seemed impregnable during all of the years of this State’s existence. It may be that a sufficient number of voters have been so sickened by abuses of power, by institutional failure and corruption, by a system that ignores the fundamental needs of the many but panders to the excessive wants and desires of the few, and by the signs of a failed State, that they are prepared to take a chance on something different and not yet capable of being fully understood or predicted, overriding fears and prejudices in the process. It may be that this first crack in the fortress of hegemonic power cannot be covered over with political class PR Polyfilla, but that the crack will deepen until the wall falls and profound change comes about.

That might happen sooner than most people think possible. Too early to tell. But we live in interesting times!


Vote to kill the counter-revolution

If recent opinion polls are to be believed, Friday 23rd of May 2014 may turn out to be a red-letter day in the politics of the 26 counties, and by extension in the politics of the island as a whole.

For 92 years, since the narrow ratification of the Anglo Irish Treaty by Dáil Eireann under the British threat of terrible war if not voted through, the Free State has been continuously ruled by three counter-revolutionary parties – Cumann na nGaedheal-Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour – either as single-party governments or in various permutations as coalitions.

Far from creating a republic which this state is often erroneously described as, these three parties have worked assiduously to avoid creating any of the conditions that would allow the state to take the form of a republic. Instead, what these parties have created and presided over has been a theocratic state for much of the past 92 years, combined with a combination of plutocracy and oligarchy. That is entirely at odds with the aims of the 1916 Revolution as espoused in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, endorsed and expanded by the National Programme of the First Dáil in 1919.

The culmination of all of those years of misgovernment has been to produce a failed state. The price for that has been counted in untold misery for millions of women, children and men. The prize, for the few, has been to maintain a privileged class who divided the spoils between themselves, making sure to maintain those three parties as their permanent political arm.

Current opinion polls, taken in the run-up to the European and Local elections, and the two bye-elections, indicate that support for Sinn Féin, smaller socialist and republican parties, and independents of various hues stands at between approximately 43% and 50%, depending on the poll. If that tallies with the count results then it indicates that majority support for the three parties of permanent misgovernment has either disappeared or has been very considerably weakened. With a General Election to take place probably before the end of 2015 such a result, if built on by the alternative political forces in the intervening period, could lead to the potential for a fresh political dispensation in the form of an ideologically different government to what we have known since quasi-independence.

With an electorate that appears increasingly willing to try something different, it is important that that potential is exploited by parties and individuals who claim to be different, who seem to offer a different ideology, a different vision of the future in political, economic and social terms to that imposed by the counter-revolutionary parties.

Whether those parties and individuals ultimately measure up is not the immediate issue. What will be important about a result that would show a marked abandonment of support for the combination of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour, and a shift towards other possibilities, will be the psychological effect it can have on the way people think about possibilities for the future.

If there is a decisive shift, the sky won’t fall. Life will go on, god will not smite the unbelievers, the seas won’t rise to engulf the island, the economy won’t collapse. Instead, more people may become emboldened, more engaged, more optimistic. It is important to use Friday’s vote to help that process. The most certain way is to try to ensure as many defeats as possible for those three parties of permanent misgovernment by voting for potential winners among the alternative parties of the broad left including republican parties, and worthy and potentially successful independents.

Inflicting defeats on the counter-revolutionary parties will lead to them changing their strategies – but not their core beliefs although they will try to spin new messages to hold ground. But that will be finger-in-the-dyke stuff. Once the first crack appeared in the Berlin Wall there was no going back.

“There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Vote! Vote strategically! Say goodbye to counter-revolution. Say hello to the Republic.


‘Republican’ – a much abused word

Media reports of a range of violent attacks – the shooting of three men in a Blanchardstown public park, recent bomb attacks in Derry and Belfast, a double murder in County Armagh, the conviction of a drug dealer in Ballymena – all have one thing in common, the use of the term ‘dissident republican’. This attribution by the media quite literally comes out of the ‘blue’ – out of police press releases and statements north and south of the border. It makes for a neat package, everything nicely parceled up. No further explanation is required as to who these ‘dissident republicans’ are, what their possible motivation for each separate act is, whether the individual perpetrators share common political objectives, or whether any of the perpetrators is actually a ‘republican’ or even understands what the word means. The public, informed by the media, can take note of the explanation, park the story, and move on with neatly primed prejudices reinforced.

There is nothing new in this. Over the past 40 years the term ‘republican’ has been abused by police, media and politicians. Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA are the linked bodies most often referred to as ‘republican’ both by members of those organisations and others. While it is undoubtedly true that many members of both organisations were and are genuine republicans in the Tone/Connolly tradition, it is also patently true that many members were motivated by Catholic nationalist sentiment, a not insignificant factor in the splits that occurred during and after the Peace Process.

The differences between nationalism and republicanism have been the subject of two recent blog posts on this site. There is no reason other than convenience and prejudice for the failure of the media in general to separate these two distinct ideologies in the public mind over the past 40 years, and that failure persists in the current use of the blanket-term ‘dissident republican’.

There is no evidence at all that those who carried out these recent crimes have a republican bone in their bodies. On the contrary, those ‘dissident republican’ organisations – the ‘Real’ IRA and the ‘Continuity’ IRA – demonstrate nothing more than a desire to prolong the ‘armed struggle’ against the British enemy that is well on the road to practical disengagement from the six counties. This is a stupid and futile gesture by narrow-minded men and women who refuse to understand what Irish republicanism is really about, explicit in the intent of the United Irishmen of “forwarding a brotherhood of affection, a communion of rights, and an union of power among Irishmen of every religious persuasion” and reinforced by that incisive line from the Proclamation of the Irish Republic …oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past”.

That the shooting of three men in a public park in Dublin, allegedly for ‘anti-social activities’ could be labeled as an act by ‘republican dissidents’ demonstrates at best laziness on the part of journalists and editors and at worst a further attempt to attach a pejorative meaning to the word ‘republican’ that it does not deserve. Whether or not those who ordered the shootings, or those who carried them out, want to gratify themselves by describing themselves as ‘republicans’, that does not make them republicans. They are not. They are criminals.

But there is no evidence offered, and a police briefing to journalists is not evidence, that so-called ‘republican dissidents’ were indeed involved in these shootings, which brings the spotlight to bear on the media. It is important that citizens who understand and commit themselves to republicanism are vigilant and vocal in opposition to the easy abuse of the term ‘republican’ through laziness, ignorance or to promote ideological prejudice on the part of the media for its own ends and to suit the political class which is essentially anti-republican.

Those of us who have taken the trouble to understand what Irish republicanism is and what it signifies need to reclaim the concept, not just from so-called ‘republican dissidents’ (and from the utterly discredited Fianna Fail party), but also from those disseminators of information and misinformation, those moulders of public opinion – the Irish media – abusers of language and of ideas.

 



Democracy’s Child, Dictatorship

Contrary to what the German ‘elite’ think of the Greeks at the moment, we can generally expect to find the pearls of wisdom we need there, even if they have to be excavated from 2,500 years ago.

Plato had something to say that might sound warning signals about the Fine Gael-Labour coalition: “Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty”.

With a combined strength for the Coalition of 113 Dail seats, just 52 TDs will occupy the opposition benches, and several of those are likely to be sympathetic to Fine Gael on a range of issues and policies, with Fianna Fail already indicating that it will be supportive where government policy is in accord with the previous administration’s. That leaves fewer than 30 Dail Deputies between Sinn Fein, the United Left Alliance, and left-leaning independents, who are ideologically opposed to the stated programme for government.

In these conditions, there can be no expectation of close-run votes in the Dail, even on the most contentious of issues. When it comes to the matter of standing orders in the Dail where these affect issues like speaking time and order of business it will largely be in the gift of the governing parties to make concessions and not because it is right, or equitable, or fair, or indicative of parity of respect for the voters who put those Deputies there to give voice to their concerns.

Between the parties that make up the Coalition there will undoubtedly be tensions, and within the parties too. But given the likelihood that the opinion poll ratings for both parties will drop substantially there will be little appetite for publicly expressed discord within or between the parties. Despite Eamon Gilmore’s closing oration at the Labour Delegate Conference when he presented a rosier outcome for Labour at the next election than history would indicate, many of the newly elected Labour TDs will have a serious fight on their hands to hold their seats. It is likely that Fine Gael’s position will be little different. The need for survival is a great gagging device.

It is quite likely that we will see legislation or regulation proposed that under normal conditions would either not be proposed or would be modified because of tight voting conditions that normally prevail in the Dail. With the majority it will command this government need not be so restrained, and those who think that Labour would guard against the introduction of repressive legislation don’t know their recent history. Section 31 of the Boradcasting Act is one example, introduced by a Labour Minister, Conor Cruise O’Brien, and there are others.

It is likely that Sinn Fein will shine in opposition. The party has seen returned as Dail Deputies not just a cohort of intelligent and highly articulate TDs but also a leader who has demonstrated exceptional political skills, is a good communicator, and is a person with considerable international stature. There is no doubt that Sinn Fein is ready in the starting blocks, rarin’ to go.

The United Left Alliance too will shine. Again, they have a group of intelligent and highly articulate TDs, with street ‘cred’. They will relish the thought of getting stuck into Labour from the word ‘go’.

It may well be that the most effective opposition will have to be fought on the streets outside Leinster House, and the United Left Alliance and Sinn Fein will be primed for that too. That may well be the place that dictatorship will be denied, and democracy enhanced. The republic is after all, according to another Greek, Cicero, “the property of the people”.

So it must remain.


Election Mania: notes from the asylum 5

There they go again! ‘We must have stable government’ says the political class – more specifically the Labour leadership and the bourgeois press.  ‘We need a broad-based government to send a message to our partners in the EU and the international financiers’, they say.

What they mean of course is that Labour must do its ‘duty’ – again. It must, for the Labour leadership, get into power. For the bourgeois press, Labour must prop up the hegemonic right-wing political system, or the sky might fall.

We have had stable government for 14 years, with a minority Fianna Fail government relying either on small parties or a number of compliant independents, so stable that the government was able to bankrupt the country in broad daylight with the assistance of the small parties and independents without any significant protest from them until Black November when the IMF and EU were gifted our sovereignty by that government.

And what of Labour’s claim that its presence in government will make it more ‘broad-based’? A glance at the profile of the Labour TDs elected this time will reveal very few TDs from the working class, self-employed manual workers, small farmers, the unemployed, working mothers, carers, people with disabilities. Oh, but Labour lawyer-TDs, and Labour economist-TDs, and Labour academic-TDs, will, they say, ‘represent’ those people. The truth is that a ‘Labour’ party that does not have a healthy cohort drawn from the working and lower middle class among its parliamentary representatives is just another bourgeois party.

A Fine Gael – Labour coalition would have upwards of 115 seats in the Dail, leaving about 50 seats to the opposition. Such an imbalance, far from being just ‘stable’, would amount to a parliamentary dictatorship, free of the possibility of dismissal from power, and capable of governing without the need for accountability.

It makes no sense to read the voters’ intentions in this election as an endorsement for this sort of ridiculous coalition of Left and Right, particularly when it is obvious that there could be a very stable government formed between Fine Gael and the remaining rump of Fianna Fail, thus really ending Civil War politics. The two parties are in complete ideological agreement, are two sides of the same coin.

A proper reading of the voters’ intentions is to be gauged by the massive increase in support for left-wing parties, which in the mind of the electorate includes the Labour Party, Sinn Fein, The United Left Alliance and leftist independents. Matched by a significant decline in the number of centre-right and right-wing TDs coming out of this election, this is not just an urban phenomenon but is spread around the country.

The appropriate response of the Right to the wishes of the electorate is a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, and some in those two parties may already be discussing this option. That would leave us with a powerful opposition, the first left-wing opposition in the history of the State.

This election has been revolutionary in its outcome. It cannot be, for the convenience of a few, turned into a counter-revolution. The next election will be even more important. It will likely take place in 2015 in the run-up to the centenary of 2016, the most appropriate moment to finally create the sort of Republic envisaged by the revolutionaries of 1916. It would be a travesty if the Labour Party, so central to that revolution, should, by its actions in going into government with Fine Gael, ensure that a rejuvenated Fianna Fail and a burgeoning Sinn Fein have their hands on those levers, to the exclusion of the Labour Party.

Labour – listen to the voters. Their intent is clear, that Civil War politics must end, and that we should finally have a democracy mature enough to take seriously the Left as well as the Right. It is called democratic choice!


Election Mania: notes from the asylum

With five days to go to polling in the general election, momentum appears to be with the Fine Gael party which may attain power without the need for Labour in coalition. That is a daunting prospect both for Fine Gael and for Irish people who are struggling to survive the economic disaster that has been visited on them – those dependent on social welfare, on inadequate incomes or who are burdened with excessive levels of debt including mortgage debt, on those out of work and students waiting to take their place beside them in the dole queue or, more likely, the emigrant ship.

The upside for Fine Gael in taking power on its own or with a number of independents is having a free hand to introduce its policies without the need for compromise, but this brings with it the significant downside of having sole responsibility for the failure of those policies, and there will be failures. Despite its PR literature, Fine Gael is not a centre-right but rather a right-wing party. Its roots are an interesting reminder. Born in 1933 out of the remnants of the regressive and repressive Cumann na nGaedheal party which joined forces with the  quasi-fascist National Guard – better known as the Blueshirts, Fine Gael has always been on the right of the Irish political landscape. Broadly speaking it is a ‘law and order’ party with a strong impulse towards ‘Thatcherite’ economic policy and a marked subservience towards the ‘European project’.

The upside for Irish politics is that Labour would be placed in opposition, which it would lead for the first time in that party’s existence, but would be under pressure from other opposition parties of the left – Sinn Fein and the  ULA, and leftist independents. That would force Labour to rediscover the core values of the party and to re-engage with its principal founder, James Connolly, with his socialist republican analysis and ideas, and with the values of the Irish Republic of 1916. This would become even more necessary with the attempt by a greatly diminished ‘new’ Fianna Fail to reconnect with its early radicalism so as to challenge Labour and Sinn Fein in the subsequent election.

Ultimately this scenario, while creating additional short-term suffering for those currently experiencing hardship, would lead Ireland away from the Tweedledumb-Tweedledumber politics of the past 80 years and towards a politics that spans from left to right – the norm in western parliamentary democracies. In the run-up to the centenary of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic this would be a boon for the citizens.

In the project of creating the enlightened, progressive Irish Republic it is not this election that matters, as much as the one to follow. Wishing for short-term right-wing success this time out is not as crazy as it seems!


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