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A Year in Polls…Labour, The Left and The Greens December 21, 2010

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Greens, Irish Politics, opinion poll.
Tags: ,
11 comments

Yet another Red C poll for the Sunday Business Post
Fianna Fáil 17 (NC)
Fine Gael 34 (+1)
Labour 23 (-4)
Greens 2 (-1)
Sinn Féin 14 (+3)
Others 10 (+2)

Adrian Kavanagh’s magic Spreadsheet on Politicalreform.ie calculates
Fianna Fáil 27, Fine Gael 66, Labour 46, Green Party 0, Sinn Féin 15, Independents 12 (including 5 United Left Alliance seats)
Whilst Dotski’s magic Spreadsheet on Irish Polling Report calculates
Fianna Fáil 23, Fine Gael 64, Labour 44, Green Party 0, Sinn Féin 21, Others 14.

I may be wrong but I suspect we may have seen the last Red C poll of the year…..

So looking at the poll in the context of the years polls…

Labour Party

In the 31st January Red C Poll they were 17% they are now at 23%.
As the election draws closer Labour are dropping from their high polling figures. That said were they to be reproduced in an Election, their current polling figures would be a record performance for the party.
In the polls Labour hit the heights during the Summer in June and then in October when they hit 27% in the Red C Polls. In September they hit 33% in an Irish Times MRBI Poll. During this time they were on the attack, the ‘Gilmore For Taoiseach’ signs looked to be real rather than folly. At the same juncture Fine Gael were infighting and all the attention on Fine Gael was on Enda Kennys leadership.

Back then Labour were the only party in the Dail doing a decent job of criticising the Government, Gilmore and Joan Burton were saying what most of us felt. Labour were angry and the electorate was angry too. Fianna Fail was still in denial about their role in the mess, an interview didn’t pass only a Minister or backbencher would utter the words ‘Lehmans Brothers’, ‘international factors’ and the standard ‘we are where we are’.

What was clear also was that Labour’s support wasn’t solid…. and sure how could it have been considering some polls had them tripling their 2007 vote.

I wonder though did a false confidence set in?

I was out doing a bit of Christmas shopping at the weekend and what was looking up at me only a book Eamon Gilmore -‘Leading Lights: People who’ve inspired me’. Was he trying to do a “Dreams from My Father” ?

The performance of Frank McBrearty in the Donegal South West By-Election was, despite it being far from a Labour heartland, a disappointment. Labour (and Fine Gael) must be asking, why they didn’t take the court case that forced the by-election? Once the decision to hold the by-election came Pearse Doherty had a headstart. I suspect that the result here took some wind out of Labour’s sails. It also brought home that without a decent organisation on the ground , especially in larger rural constituencies, its going to be hard to translate poll figures to real votes.

Looking at the latest poll and there is an element of wondering what have Labour to do to stay at their current level of support never mind gaining further support. They have fallen behind Fine Gael in Dublin which must be a worry for them.

The IMF coming in has had an impact on the Labour vote. Their (and the next governments) hands are now tied to the IMF and the four year plan no matter what they say.

Gilmore will have to negotiate with Fine Gael or whoever before they even get to renegotiate with the IMF/EU. That’s assuming that that’s a possibility.
So whilst they do anger and outrage well, the reality is that the will be pursuing similar budgetary policies to the current Government should they be in the next government.

Only a fool doesn’t know at this stage that Fianna Fail policies and incompetence were a major factor in leading us to where we are today. Labour and Gilmore have been doing the politics of blame well.
Labour do seem to be getting squeezed between the “Labour won’t tackle the Unions” vote and the voters who want a complete change from the current budgetary framework. The recent Irish Times ipsos/ MRBI poll on the IMF showed a deep divide on the public’s views of the IMF coming in. By accepting the framework of cuts and the 3% budget deficit target Labour are less appealing to those anti IMF voters than Sinn Féin or The Left.
Labour are already refusing to go into government with Sinn Féin (Roisin Shorthall on the Week in Politics) which means they will be going into government with Fine Gael (unless the unthinkable FF/FG coalition happens)
I’m not being anti Labour here but at this stage what real difference would or could Labour in a Fine Gael Led Coalition government make policy wise?
When asking the question I’m also assuming that the state of the banks, NAMA and State Finances are worse than we are led to believe by the current Government.

Which leads on to a strange thought about the dynamic of the next Dáil… Would Labour not be better as the chief opposition party rather than have Sinn Féin (Gerry Adams and all) and the Left with a rump of Fianna Fáilers sniping at them. Yes we know its a Fianna Fáil caused crisis but that won’t matter too much to voters in 3 or 4 years time. They will be creating an opportunity for each element of the opposition to grow.

On balance they are probably better off going into government … but its going to be a very strange Dáil.

Independents/Others

In the 31st January Red C Poll they were 9%, they are now at 10%
This has fluctuated a small bit since the start of the year and as ever its hard to gauge from the polls exactly where the Left are. It’s safe to assume though that a good deal of this vote will go to The Left. In 2007 6% went to Others/Independents of which roughly half went to PBP, Socialist Party, ISN, WP,WUAG and Left Independent candidates.

I’d reckon we are looking at at least 5% and possibly anything between 8 and 15 Left seats. We’ll see.

Green Party

The Greens were at 5% last January, their isolationist policy of looking after their departments and leaving everything else to Fianna Fáil was working. As the year progressed their fall in popularity came as they had to defend the actions of an incredibly unpopular government. They are now at 2%, less than half their January poll figure and as I’ve written before the Local Elections showed their transfer toxicity. It’s transfers that got 3 of their 6 TDs elected in 2007 as Ciarán Cuffe, Paul Gogarty and Mary White were all outside seat positions on the first count. Those 3 must be gone and surely Gormley too. Eamon Ryan and Trevor Sargent are seen as their only chances. I can’t see Ryan getting in and if any of them scrape home it will be Sargent.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Independents and Sinn Féin to come…..

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Speech by Mary White to Green Party Conference March 27, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in Greens.
16 comments

The creation of the new Ministry of Equality, Integration and Human Rights could be a significant step forward. Or it could end up as a whole load of nothing, a bit like the NI Bill of Rights for the last 12 years. Here is the text of the speech of Minister for Equality and Integration Mary White to the Green Party conference. We’ll see how it goes.

Good morning everyone. It’s wonderful to speak to you for a few minutes on the new Ministry of Equality, Integration and Human Rights, which I have the honour to be looking after.
The reconfiguration of Government departments this week saw the creation of a junior ministry in which equality and human rights policy were transferred from the Department of Justice to the new Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs. I will have responsibility for these areas, as well as integration policy, which was already in that Department. Some aspects of social inclusion policy will also fall within my remit.

For many people in this room, the transfer of equality policy from the Department of Justice to a new home, one where social policy is more central to the agenda, is very welcome. The move will allow equality to be given the kind of focus it deserves within Government.

We are all aware of the inequalities which remain in our society – be they economic or social. We know there are the homeless – short-term and long-term – on our streets, day and night. We know many families are struggling with unbearable financial stress. We know there are many travellers living in appalling conditions, with poor facilities and limited access to basic needs. We know many women in this country flee to refuges seeking protection from violence or abuse. We know people are still insulted, ignored or exploited because of their skin colour. Same-sex couples do not enjoy adequate rights. These inequalities require more action from Government, and I will deliver that action.

In this regard one of my aims is to look at how state structures and institutions active in the fields of equality and social inclusion could be better supported, bodies such as the Equality Authority, the Human Rights Commission and the Office for Social Inclusion. We have an opportunity now to create greater links between these organisations of Government policy.

Underpinning the challenge to create a more equal Ireland is the agenda of advancing human rights. The State, at times, has let its citizens down – dignity denied, protection inadequate, justice delayed. Revelations in report after report have illustrated this. I aim to reinvigorate the human rights agenda.

A reflection of secure human rights and equality in society is the real integration of its minorities. Ireland faces many challenges, both now and in the future, to provide our new Irish with the kind of opportunities – economic, social, cultural – which most of us enjoy. This party prides itself on long-term planning policies, and in my new role I want to ensure Government plans now for the challenges which our new learners will face when their school days are over. I want the employment prospects of children of African or Asian heritage to be the same as those of children of Irish parents. In parallel I will use every opportunity available to communicate to our citizens the importance of integration, the benefits of inclusiveness.

I am still in listening mode. To listen is to learn, and I aim to engage with groups of all backgrounds, learning from voices we’re familiar with, and those less often heard. Time is of the essence – we’re all aware of that in this party – but I share the determination and enthusiasm of all in this room to deliver quickly: sustainable policies for a fairer Ireland.

Party rejection of treaty ‘a mandate to support it’, says Gormley as EU Treaty divide firms up. January 20, 2008

Posted by franklittle in European Politics, European Union, Green Party, Greens, Irish Politics, Media and Journalism, Minor Left Parties, Sinn Féin, Socialist Workers' Party, The Left.
26 comments

It’s a great headline to the story that yesterday’s Green Party conference failed to agree a position of either opposing or supporting the forthcoming Lisbon Treaty. It is pretty clear that the majority of Green Party delegates decided to back the party leadership’s call for a Yes vote. Whether it was because they felt that as a party in government they had to do so, or because they had a road to Damascus conversion on the issue like the previously vehemently EU-critical Deirdre de Burca (She wasn’t a Senator then of course), or simply because that always substantial section of the party that supported both Nice referendums and was generally more in line with the European Green movement, now commands a majority.

The Greens are calling for plaudits for the fact that they had an open debate and reached a decision democratically. Leaving aside Gormley’s imaginative interpretation of that vote I suppose, grudgingly, one must acknowledge as much though frankly attempting to lecture other political parties for not doing the same kind of misses the point. No left-wing party would need to debate opposition to Lisbon any more than it would need to debate support for public services or opposition to privatisation. Basic left principles such as support for democracy, opposition to neo-liberalism, opposition to centralisation of unaccountable power and so on make opposing the Treaty a bit of a no-brainer.

It will be interesting to see the practical implications of this for the party though. Since the Green Party does not have a position, can Green Party staff issue press releases in support of the Treaty when they’re supposed to be working for a party that has no position on it? Can the Green Party TDs and Senators use Green Party premises to conduct their Yes campaigning? And as for the No campaign, what organisation or vehicle will they use to advance their arguments? A number are involved already on a personal level in the Campaign Against the EU Constitution, which I am told will be changing its name because the EU has decided to change the name of the document, does this mean they will now move into that structure or will they established a Greens Against Lisbon grouping of some sort?

There might be some suggestion that the Yes side has been undermined by the failure of the Green leadership to get two-third on Saturday, but I’m not so sure. It’s pretty clear that the Green leadership, for whatever reason, carried the bulk of their membership with them and are likely to carry the bulk of Green voters come the referendum. The loss of the Green Party’s organisational muscle is a negligible one. The Greens don’t have the money at the minute to run a major campaign and in both Nice referendums their work on the ground was pretty weak. Where they were key in previous referendums was that in Gormley especially, but also De Burca and McKenna, they had articulate, experienced and educated debaters to be rolled out on the media who could argue for a No vote without being republicans, socialists or working class and scaring middle Ireland too much.

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Meanwhile, among the anti-Treaty campaigns, there has been some frustration that the SWP has established another front entity to campaign against the Lisbon Treaty while aleady being affiliated to the Campaign Against the EU Constitution, established a couple of years ago when the EU Constitution was first being put forward. Happily, in a remarkable display of honesty for one of the most duplicitous political entities in Ireland, the SWP has altered the site since it was first put up to acknowledge that the people identified behind it, Kieran Allen and Sinead Kennedy, are both members of the Socialist Workers Party. Still, there is some ill-feeling that they went ahead off their own bat without consulting other people in the CAEUC.

Also of interest is that it is the SWP that has both established the website and it affiliated to the CAEUC. Firstly, the SWP’s affiliation to the CAEUC is quite a recent one, and as late as early last year a prominent member of the SWP told me they honestly didn’t see the EU Constitution/Lisbon Treaty issue as a priority. Certainly SWP activists were noticeable by their absence from early CAEUC meetings. Yet here we have them setting up a website, publishing a pamphlet outlining he reasons for a No vote, describing it as a key priority in their New Year’s message and affiliating to the CAEUC. Curiously, there is no reference to People Before Profit, their previous electoral front group. The PBP website has not been updated for several months and seems to have no position, good, bad or indifferent, on the Lisbon Treaty. Considering the use that could be made by the SWP out of Lisbon for attracting people to the organisation, it’s a slight surprise to me they’re being upfront about who they are in the campaign and not using the PBP brand.

But more frustrating than the SWP playing ‘silly buggers’ has been the annoyance felt by many, and ably pointed out by Daily Mail columnist Joe Higgins in last Thursday’s Irish Times, about the media’s appointment of Dermot Ganley as head of the anti-Treaty movement in Ireland. Ganley, and his Libertas movement, with no track record on Europe at all, has come from almost nowhere at the start of December to being seen as a key played in the Lisbon Treaty debate. Libertas certainly has money, but no actual organisation as such, though it’s clearly got some smart people doing the media. But Higgins rightly points out that the media, and the Irish Times in particular, has been doing what it can to portray the anti-Treaty campaigns and groups, predominantly left-wing or progressive in Ireland, as right-wing or even fascist. It’s what the media tried to do in both Nice referendums, successfully in the latter case.

But the reason for the Dermot Ganley love-fest has two other aspects. Firstly, if Ganley is the leader of the No campaign, then no other organisation or individual can be leader. With Sinn Féin the only substantial political party to be opposing the Treaty and, at this point in time, the only serious political organisation to be opposing it, the media would find it difficult to avoid handing the mantle of leadership of the No side to Sinn Féin if Ganley wasn’t there. Considering that party’s weakened position, the last thing the Irish media establishment wants to do is give it the shot in the arm of portraying it as leading anything. With Ganley on the chessboard, he can be appointed figurehead, sparing the need to pay attention to what the Shinners are doing.

Secondly, Ganley is a businessman, and a successful one. Most other opponents of the Treaty in Ireland are left-wing, they wear beards, many of them are in trade unions and some have stood on the side of the road holding placards. The Irish media worships business and successful businessmen. A successful businessperson can have his or her opinion taken seriously on any topic in Irish society, whether he or she knows anything about it or not and it’s clear Ganley has some understanding of the Treaty, simply by virtue of the fact that he or she has made a success at business. Ganley is credible in a way that people like Patricia McKenna or Mick O’Reilly, people with far vaster experience of anti-EU Treaty campaigns and a much better understanding of the Treaty than Ganley, can never be.

Apathy on EU ‘Constitution’ among voters and TDs November 5, 2007

Posted by franklittle in European Politics, European Union, Greens.
8 comments

Two interesting pieces today from the Irish Times and the EU Observer confirming what the lamentable lack of comments on EU related articles on the Cedar Lounge has long led us to suspect. The EU continues to be a turn-off for the Irish public, but also the political class.

Taking the Irish Times report first, the opinion poll today showing a drop of almost 20 points in those committed to vote Yes at 25% in the face of the No side remaining largely steady at 13%, up on. A massive 62%, almost two-thirds, said they had no opinion or don’t know. Two things will worry the euro-fanatics in Irish politics. The first obviously is the massive drop in the Yes vote, even though it is not moving to the other side and is moving into the Don’t Know column. The second is the shrinking gap between the Yes and No sides as the general consensus, and certainly my own experience from previous EU referendums, is that No voters and activists tend to be a lot more motivated both to vote, and to turn others out to vote.

The cheery news for the Times, which chose to suspend critical facilities on Europe a long time ago, is that there has been a massive shift in the Green Party voting base with only 2% saying they will vote No. Since until now that party has never met an EU Treaty they weren’t happy to campaign against, it does indicate a shift of seismic proportions in what could be called the Green support base. But there is a difference between a party’s support base and a party’s activist base and with a third of members voting for Patricia McKenna as leader of the Green Party, who has a longstanding track record of opposition, it remains to be seen if Gormley & Co can carry their party members.

Worth noting though that McKenna has only made it clear she will campaign within the Green Party for the party to oppose the Treaty, not what she might do if they voted to back it. Also worth noting that Senator Deirdre De Burca, one of the best informed and more articulate opponents of various EU Treaties and a founding member of the Campaign Against the EU Constitution has been slowly changing direction.

Finally, in terms of opposition, interesting that the strongest support is among the best off and the working class and farmer vote most strongly against.

But if our voters seem uninterested in Europe, so do our highly paid elected representatives. The EU Observer has an interesting story about the lack of reactions received by the EU Commission to draft legislation it sends to national parliaments following an explicit request from Barroso for same:

“From September 2006 the commission received a total of 142 reactions to its proposals, which generally means “only a hand full” of reactions per individual proposal, according to a commission official…..

“Most parliamentary opinions have so far come from the French Senate (36), the UK House of Lords (17), the German Senate (16), the Swedish parliament, (13), the Portuguese parliament (13) and the Danish parliament (12).

“Some member states’ legislatures – such as the Estonian parliament – have not sent any reactions to Brussels so far.  

Jens-Peter Bonde, Danish MEP and veteran campaigner of national parliaments rights, says he is “sad” that national MPs are not more engaged. “For me it was a big personal victory to have the commission send proposals directly to national parliaments – but it now appears this victory is empty.”

“National parliaments have been invited to influence EU-lawmaking but they don’t respond to it. Perhaps because they don’t win any votes with it,” he added.”

Preparation for the referendum in Ireland is underway on both sides of the divide. The line-up though is looking a little one-sided. Every political party in Leinster House, bar Sinn Féin, will be backing the revised Constitution. Outside Leinster House, the Socialist Party and Labour Youth will campaign for No vote, as will Youth Defence and the SWP.

With the possible exception of the ATGWU and one or two others, the union movement in Ireland, unlike in Britain, will back the Treaty, as will the business organisations who no doubt struggle to conceal their delight at the enthusiasm of the turkeys in Liberty Hall voting for Christmas.

The aim of the Yes side will be to portray any and all No campaigns as a right-wing, provo, nationalist, Youth Defence alliance. In that regard the declaration of France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen that he was willing to come to Ireland to campaign for a No vote, rightly and swiftly rejected by Sinn Féin, fits into the story the Yes campaign and the media will be trying to push.

It’s up to the Euro-critical left, to challenge this fundamentally dishonest depiction of the No vote here, and the previous No votes in France and the Netherlands.

“If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear.” August 3, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Ethics, Greens, Ireland, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, Judiciary, Progressive Democrats, Sinn Féin, Technology.
6 comments

The conviction of Joe O’Reilly for the murder of his wife led to an uncharacteristic lapse into idiocy by Fianna Fáil’s Pat Carey TD, now a Junior Minister with special responsibility for drugs. The use of mobile phone data was a crucial part of the Garda case in convicting O’Reilly, leading to Carey suggesting a national register of mobile phones and trotting out the tired old argument that:

“If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear. There may well be confidentiality or civil liberties issues but there are lives of people at stake as well, which I believe overrides any of those.”

I’ll come back to the stupidity of that statement in a moment, but worryingly the commitment to introducing a mandatory register of mobile phone users is in the Programme for Government:

“Require all mobile phones to be registered with name, address and proof of
identity in order to stop drug-pushers using untraceable, unregistered
phones.”

It is, perhaps, a little ironic that this provision won the support of a Green Party that normally has a good record on civil liberties issues, but perhaps no surprise that the PDs want the state out of the economy, but are happy enough to see it gathering data on our mobile phone use.

The explanation for this proposal is that it will enable the Gardaí to track drug-dealers and criminals, by treating the entire population as suspected drug-dealers, providing them with intelligence about the movements of these dealers and potential evidence for constructing criminal cases against them. Or at least it would, if the Irish criminal element was composed entirely of idiots, something regrettably not the case.

A long-time friend of mine is a regular drinker in a south inner city pub. Other regular drinkers include numerous individuals who would fit the traditional Garda Press Office description of ‘being known to the Gardaí’. They habitually carry a number of mobile phone and, aware that they can be used to track them a long time before the Joe O’Reilly case (Some actually believe they can be used to electronically eavesdrop on conversations though I believe that’s mistaken), have an arrangement to leave their phones behind the counter with the barmen when they would prefer the Gardaí not to know where they are. The gents in question are not criminal masterminds, but local scumbags bright enough to know that taking risks about going to prison is a foolish thing to do and that a mobile is basically a tracking device you bought for yourself.

In short, members of Irish drugs gangs are not sending text messages to each other while waiting for customers or for their target of the night to show up.

But do we have nothing to fear if we have nothing to hide?

Well, quite simply no. Digital Rights Ireland (Highly recommend supporting it) has a few articles here showing how common it is for the private information of citizens to be illegally leaked to private investigators or journalists. To steal a couple of quotes:

“NEARLY 50 serving Gardai have been interviewed as part of an internal inquiry into allegations that members of the force supplied confidential information to insurance companies to help them settle road traffic claims quickly.” (Sunday Tribune)

“Two years ago The Sunday Times revealed that at least 72 civil servants accessed the social welfare details of Dolores McNamara, the EuroMillions lottery winner. The department’s system logged over 125 hits on McNamara’s files after she scooped a E115m jackpot. Her social welfare details were subsequently published by a newspaper. (Sunday Times)

“CIVIL servants in the Department of Social and Family Affairs “routinely” leak welfare and employment records to private investigators employed by the insurance industry, an inquiry has concluded.” (Sunday Times. Inquiry carried out by Data Protection Commissioner.)

A few months ago it was necessary for work-related reasons for me to obtain a list of phone numbers I had called or texted. As I have a speakeasy phone, I don’t get an itemised bill but I was also aware that under the law, my mobile phone company is obliged to keep on file a list of every phone number I ring or rings me along with the duration of the call, and also a list of who texts me or whom I text for a period of three years. It also includes where I was when I made the calls or texts and where the people who contacted me are.

This information can be requested by the Gardaí without need for a warrant or judicial oversight or anything other than the signature of a senior Garda officer. They do not need to be investigating a crime to gain access to the call data. No information is given, due to security concerns, to the Oireachtas about how many such requests are made by the Gardaí but the Data Protection Commissioner has estimated a figure of ‘hundreds’ every month.

But when I contacted my mobile provider for information about calls made to and from my phone, I was told I was entitled only to the calls or texts I had made, not those I has received, and only for a period of three months. I had a brief argument with the customer care representative about the discrepancy between what I can find out about my own calls and what the Gardaí can find out but since the information I needed was included in what they were going to provide me I didn’t get too hung up on it.

The law as it stands allows the Gardaí to go on fishing expeditions and can have the effect of bringing people into contact with the Gardaí who would not otherwise be questioned. Three years ago a former co-worker of mine was questioned by the Gardaí about a serious crime. The reason was that the woman in question was a good friend of the wife of the chief suspect and consequently when the Gardaí investigated his mobile phone records they found a couple of calls to my former colleague. She had no information to give and the Gardaí were satisfied with that, assuring her they were questioning everyone on his phone records and she was not being singled out.

The result is that a woman who had never had any contact with the Gardaí before, other than to report crimes, is now listed in Garda computers as having been questioned in relation to a serious crime, and as an associate of a suspected criminal.

Obviously there is a need for the Gardaí to be able to access mobile phone information to solve crimes and to gather intelligence. But if the Gardaí need a warrant to search my house, why should they not require one to investigate my phone records? Why should information about my mobile phone use be available to them, but not to me? Why should the Oireachtas not be entitled to more information about how these laws are being used?

Why, according to the current Phoenix, are people who leak confidential information held by the state to private investigators or journalists given little more than a slap on the wrist? And why, despite all these problems, is a chap like Pat Carey wandering about calling for mandatory registration of mobile phones?

As pointed out when he made the suggestion, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources said in January of this year that such a register was a bad idea:

“The idea for a Register of mobile phones was extensively reviewed by officials in the Department. There were many complex legal, technical, data protection and practical issues to be considered. In theory, a Register of mobile phones might seem like a good idea.

“However, having looked at the situation in other administrations, considered the ease with which an unregistered foreign or stolen SIM card can be used and the difficulties that would be posed in verifying identity in the absence of a national identification card system, and having consulted with the Office of the Attorney General and other interested parties, it was concluded that the proposal would be of limited benefit, in that it would not solve the illegal and inappropriate use of pre-paid mobile phones and was not practical.”

Case closed? Well, obviously not since despite this statement being made in January, the objective still found its way into the Programme for Government. Furthermore, some of the problems listed above could be ‘solved’. Arguably, the fact that without a mandatory ID card system a mobile phone register wouldn’t work is not an argument against a mobile phone register, it can be seen in a certain light as an argument in favour of mandatory ID cards. Remember too that on crime, this is a Government that prefers the cherishs perception. Mandatory sentencing, ASBOs, bigger prisons are eye-catching in a way that tackling the causes of crime, working with local communities and drug rehabilitation are not. The latter however, are more likely to succeed on information from other adminstrations.

And so we return to a core problem in Irish society that I’ve raised before. The lack of a real civil liberties or human rights culture. Outside of the ICCL, hilariously described as having too much power recently in one of the worst posts I’ve ever seen on politics.ie, there is little interest in civil liberties issues and the political parties who could push the issue are reluctant.

Labour has a track record of supporting repressive legislation such as the Offences Against the State Act, Section 31 and Anti Social Behaviour Orders as part of the party’s move to the right and traditional support in protecting the state from ‘subversives’. The Shinners, and Aengus Ó Snodaigh in particular, are excellent on civil rights issues in Leinster House and in opposing McDowell’s criminal justice legislation, but the party’s support for the IRA’s campaign make it hard for many to accept Sinn Féin as defenders of human rights. The Greens have, of course, decided to go into government and administer the criminal justice and anti-civil liberties legislation they have previously opposed.

“If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear.” So we end up back at the words of Pat Carey. For a country whose police force is a regular sight at the Tribunals and which already has repressive legislation on the books this is a pretty optimistic statement to make. With personal data being leaked by Gardaí and civil servants, it is downright ridiculous. I have nothing to hide, but with the Irish approach to data protection I certainly have something to fear.

My glorious career in student politics and what I almost learned from it. July 31, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Greens, Labour Party, Sinn Féin, The Left.
73 comments

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On foot of discussions about the strangely long-lived impact student life appears to have had on Eoghan Harris, I’m reminded of the 1980s. Now the WP was an organisation which really placed no great interest in third level, probably since its grip on USI was by the mid-1980s but a distant memory (the student princes of OSF, Rabbitte, Gilmore etc having decamped to the unions or the public sector) and subject to a fightback by both PSF, fellow travellers of one stripe or another and the Labour Party (always more radical at the more – ahem – youthful fringes). As it happened I was probably one of the very very few reasonably active members of the party at both constituency and student union level, quite a trick considering the demands of the former and the way in which the party was regarded as the most Machiavellian and negative political operator in the latter. Anyhow, in my attempt to radicalise my fellow comrades in the student body I would bring in speakers from the party or try to organise that they might go to party conferences.

This was a project which met with mixed success, which is to say none at all. A small number from the Womens’ Group went to a WP Womens’ Conference but returned entirely unimpressed by the lack of theoretical enquiry and “boring” (I quote directly) concentration on childcare, housing and health.

On a separate occasion Pat McCartan, as Industrial Spokesman for the party, was dragged into the college to lecture on the Workers’ Party plans for dealing with the economy and unemployment. This too was met with a certain disdain by the more radicalised elements amongst my peers, the Maoists (of which there was one) found it insufficiently revolutionary and too detached from the rural (actually the latter point wasn’t the worst analysis I heard), those who were premature SF supporters had already developed a deep and abiding hatred for the WP, while most others found the ideas of large scale factory fishing ‘dull’.

Another time I brought a member of the party who had achieved some significance in the cultural field in to talk about his politics. The posters around the college made this fairly clear. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, after the visitor had waxed lyrical about his political education and the way in which the party had changed him for the better (I kid you not, there was more than a hint of a religious conversion at work here) it was announced by one tutor who had brought an entire year group to see this dialectical education that he had expected to hear about the cultural achievements, not the man.

I sort of gave up after that and ceded the field to the SWM who held meetings no-one went to and which even pity wouldn’t drive me to attend. The CPI-ML met with greater luck. They had one member on site and their TCD contingent would troop up on a weekly basis to be met with some interest by the more Republican on campus. Mind you none of those Republicans ever joined PSF, so perhaps their support was also more rhetorical…

I was never elected to USI, but spent some time on the fringes as a delegate to conferences. All good stuff. Particularly Portrush one year where I wound up in the bar having to listen to the large SF contingent give voice to that traditional song which contains the lines “Up the Provo’s, down the Sticks”. Still, this was after I’d been harangued for an hour or so by another member of the CPI-ML (who went onto much more exalted things) about the revolutionary necessity of the armed struggle. Not that this sort of discussion was restricted to the margins. The raw hatred during debates between some in the Campaign for Labour Representation and Nationalists and Republicans was remarkable and to some degree inexplicable at that point, although not quite so much in retrospect once one realises that the malign influence of the BICO was there…

I never saw that as a terribly important ‘site of struggle’. As a hostage to a perhaps delusional pragmatism I saw the real work as in the constituencies. Now, that view might well be correct although much of that work in retrospect seems to have been about getting certain people elected to a certain democratic institution, and not so much about seeing the ideology implemented.

And this in a sense brings me back to discourse. Because I’m innately suspicious of political parties that centre their activities on students. Or maybe suspicious is overstating it. Perhaps it is that I just don’t believe that it is possible to develop large scale long term political allegiance from such protean material.

And again to refer back to Eoghan Harris, his fears of Ireland slipping into ‘civil war’ seem to me to be akin to the idea that somehow May 68 could be played out on the admittedly smaller canvas of the Republic of Ireland with a students/students alliance spearheading such change, with presumably the SWP or whoever providing the ideological cement. Not that it was ever put in such terms. Both work on the line that you can leverage societal change in the most unlikely of conditions (and this reminds me of a friend of mine who was strongly involved in the bin tax protest who saw it as a means of displaying the true reactionary face of the state and therefore being an exemplar to the working class of the nature of that state. Anyone who has signed on in the dole office around the corner from the Rotunda will already have a fairly good idea as to the nature of the state, for bad and good).

The SWM, later the SWP, seemed to me to be living in a fantasy land (oh yeah, well I remember a certain E. McCann at Portrush bringing a certain star quality to proceedings, or not as the case may be) of mobilising people who didn’t want to be mobilised. This had a specific resonance for me because I was involved in the student administration of the college I went to on anti-Fees campaigns and such like.

From 1985 through to mid-1989 which was the period of my deepest involvement we (the Union) found it impossible to seriously mobilise the student body to combat a continuing process of fee increases. Not that there was no protest. There were sit-ins that disabled the College administration for weeks on end. There were also larger protests in tandem with other institutions in Dublin and elsewhere across the island.

But the point was that it was short lived and a basic problem was the rapid churn of students as one year arrived just as another left. Events from even three or four years previously achieved a mythic quality. I saw Joe Duffy on the back of a truck outside the GPO during a USI protest – or did I? I genuinely can’t be sure one way or another. The wars against OSF in USI were spoken of in hushed tones, but who could tell what were the details? I got my hands on some of the USI reports of the time and it all seemed curiously innocent to me, the sort of petty manipulation that characterised students politics during the period and ever after.

This ‘churn’ of students meant that campaigns would run into the ground too rapidly, would mean that only those outside of exam years, or what laughably were called ‘mature’ students, were really willing to give it their all, and even they were a minority of a minority (incidentally in my one size fits all paranoia it always struck me that the pressure to cut degree course from five to four, or four to three years was in part motivated by a wish to exacerbate the churn). Which meant that that SU activity tended to revolve around general administration and “ents”. Some years later, in the early 1990s, in UCD while doing a post-graduate course I saw almost the same pattern reiterate itself, albeit in somewhat better economic conditions. Oddly enough, for all the supposed sectarianism of the times on the left I found there was a broader comradeship between many of the different left groups I met there, from those who would later be in Red Action, Labour Youth and whoever.

But consider this. The mid-1980s was arguably the time of greatest prolonged economic crisis the 26-county state ever saw. Unemployment was sky-high, emigration was a constant. Yet it was impossible to motivate students to any sort of sustained activity. If not then, when? And if not, why? I’d argue that the reason was two-fold, firstly although students were more clearly middle-class then than now, the situation was so grim it made no difference – all would emigrate a seemingly failing state. Secondly the essential conservatism of the society rubbed off and lent a passivity to people. Revolution was rhetoric and everyone knew it – even at that point. A third possible reason was the sheer blandness of the alternative – Soviet style communism, in whatever variant was fairly unattractive, perhaps particularly in an Ireland that was just emerging from the permafrost of a mildly culturally and socially repressive state itself, and in any event was also a clearly failing system at that point.

This isn’t to argue that there was no capacity for change driven by students (although I’m also innately suspicious of theoretical models which try to reify their agency in political struggle). The late 1960s and early 1970s had seen student agitations which had specific results. Speaking for the institution I was in, moribund curricula were replaced. Tuition was altered. Staff were replaced and buildings and equipment developed. But these were essentially reformist demands, and as such were conceded when funding was available.

Afterwards, almost inevitably, the funding diminished and with it so did the fabric of the buildings, the number of staff and so on.

And I think it is interesting that political parties, such as the SWP, have recognised the necessity to break away – even slightly – from the college over the past decade or so (ironically at the very point where one could argue Third Level education has become somewhat more widely accessible to those from working class backgrounds – that too tells us something about the changing nature of our society and the intriguing ideological frameworks within which certain parties have operated). Again, I wonder if the emphasis on ‘youth’ sections, and students, has in reality been a minor contributory factor to the almost complete failure for radical left projects both in Ireland and abroad. There is a general cynicism about the left in this society, a sense that it is not entirely serious. I wonder how much of that is driven by the sense that ‘ah, it’s just a bunch of students protesting’. Students, rightly or wrongly – and perhaps wrongly, are considered a fairly cosseted group within the society. That the major visual manifestation of further left projects has rested in the past on such groups to provide much of the muscle is unfortunate. And unfortunate as well, if only because there is no reason why students shouldn’t participate fully in political activities. The process of Third Level can radicalise and inform. But can it do much more than that, and if not is this yet another case of the left looking back to partial victories, say the Russian Revolution, say 1968 and trying to crush all future activity and activism into their template?

If one believes in the generally accepted form of the political party, and I know there are those who with good reason don’t, parties have to organise beyond the academic institution. In a way the recent performance by Richard Boyd-Barrett, which was in all fairness quite good, might exacerbate this trend (although, as has been pointed out here and elsewhere he was flying something of a flag of convenience – but at least a convenience that broke away from the traditional image of the further left). Alternatively they might look at Joe Higgins and the Socialist Party and conclude that it really is a little too much hard work and better to wait until the conditions come right. Problem is conditions often don’t come right unless they’re nudged, or unless there is a serious component willing to step up at the necessary moment.

Actually I wonder what effect the most recent election will have on those fractions. Sinn Féin appear to be battening down the hatches and getting on with things. Labour seem to be waking up from the dream that was the Mullingar Accord. But beyond them how will the analyses stack up? No element or even relation of the further left was returned (sure, Seamus Healy did relatively well, and on another analysis so did Joe Higgins, but nowhere near well enough). I’ve spoken to one individual who would broadly be in the further left, although not aligned with a party, who told me a couple of weeks after the result that he was giving up on electoral politics. Good on him, but perhaps it gave up on him.

Yet in the face of the hegemonic grip by the centre centre/right on Irish politics that I referred to previously, where now for those groups? Opposition has its own charms, and we’ve seen various groups survive for decades simply by a sort of activism which bends and shapes itself to whatever is the issue of the day. But it’s unappealing surely? And then there is the instructive example of the Greens. A generous (and not necessarily incorrect) analysis of their words and actions since the election would merely serve to underpin the idea that they too had to accept that hegemony – even once they had stepped inside the tent. That they see no way of altering that until they are given time. It’s not the happiest of prospects, now is it?

The Irish Times, Tara and the M3 and a society where certain issues are ignored…. July 10, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Fianna Fáil, Greens.
10 comments

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Today’s edition of the Irish Times brings us an editorial on Tara. It certainly doesn’t pull its punches.

It is a tragedy for Ireland that the current route of the planned M3 motorway, which is due to snake its way through the valley east of the Hill of Tara, now appears to be accepted as a fait accompli, even by the new Green Party Minister for the Environment, John Gormley.

There is an proposal that:

Over the past several months, the National Roads Authority clearly set out to create so many facts on the ground in its determination to pursue the approved route of the M3 that the hands of a new minister would be tied. It was assisted in this dubious enterprise by the 2004 amendment to the National Monuments Acts championed by Martin Cullen, when he held office in the Custom House; it was specifically designed to facilitate road construction, even at the expense of our archaeological heritage.

My own feelings on this issue have developed over time. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with those lobbying against the road. They appear, to me at least, to have taken a fairly alarmist line, and one which overstated the significance of the site by recourse to a ‘mythic’ discourse rooted in a series of contentious historical assertions presented as fact.

However, having said that I have also been fairly troubled by the almost glib way in which this development has been allowed to proceed. I am entirely certain that every step has been within the processes allowed by law. I don’t share the Irish Times view as regards the NRA. My reading of the situation is that the NRA fulfilled a statutory obligation to release information on sites of interest along the route and to deal with them appropriately through sound archaeological investigation and the rather unfair characterisation of ‘facts on the ground’ is not borne out by the events as they unfolded.

But…there is a genuine dilemma here, because one means of dealing with the archaeology is through “preservation by record” or “(destruction)” as the IT puts it. That’s not entirely accurate. The very process of archaeological excavation is destructive in the sense that it alters that which is there, often utterly. That doesn’t necessitate the destruction of artifacts that are found, but features may well be destroyed. It’s an old problem. To investigate one must engage in a process which will alter.

Frankly, I’m not hugely concerned about the archaeology either. The surveys have been done. There are undoubtedly sites of interest in this landscape, but one could argue that there are sites of interest in all landscapes. Material will be salvaged, some will be destroyed.

I do have concerns about the landscape itself. Knowing people who live beside a motorway I have seen the way it has impacted both positively and negatively upon their lifestyle over the past ten or fifteen years. It is not a disaster, but there are clear downsides. To my mind the original decision to route beside Tara, notwithstanding the reality of a pre-existing road there, seems odd.

Yet my real problem with this is that a broader societal discussion was not engaged in on how we approach these issues, because being pragmatic there should be a much clearer methodology available, one which asks us more broadly to rank our societal goals and take ownership of them. There are trade-offs that have to be made in these instances. The issue of transport for those who live in the general area as against national heritage. The means of determining the actual – as against hypothetical – status of such sites and just what lengths should be taken to preserve, conserve or discard them. The resources afforded to infrastructure and to heritage. All are deeply complex, not to mention controversial. Yet, at no point does it seem clear that those obligated to weigh them deeply – and here I’m talking about government – did so in a clearly rigorous fashion.

Yet, there is no huge outcry amongst the public (although the IT editorial might assist some sort of dynamic there). This is not Wood Quay, where hundreds of thousands were mobilised, unsuccessfully as it transpired. I marched in defence of Wood Quay (I had little choice, I was brung..as they say). I see little equivalent passion today.

Indeed the track record of the Irish Times itself on this matter is intriguing. Checking editorials over the last two years there is a brief mention in one from 2005 about:

While the M3 motorway seems likely to go ahead, against the weight of expert opinion, there is the danger that it could then attract residential or other developments that will further intrude on what the director of the National Museum, Dr Pat Wallace, has described as “a unique cultural landscape”.

In March 2006 there is a stronger one which notes:

The mystical setting of the Hill of Tara, once the seat of Ireland’s high kings, is considerably more important than the fate of the outer defences of a Pale fortress in south Co Dublin. Dick Roche could, and should, have declined to issue his directions on the treatment of 38 archaeological sites on the route of the M3 between Dunshaughlin and Navan. But there was a political impetus to forge ahead with the motorway, whatever its consequences for the Tara landscape.

Nobody could deny that the existing N3 is plagued by congestion, mainly caused by commuters using it every day to travel to and from work in Dublin. But an alternative route should have been found – one that would protect, rather than damage, the Tara landscape – and a much higher priority attached to re-opening the old Navan railway line. This project would provide a real alternative to car commuting for many but is not scheduled for completion until 2015. That is much too long to wait while rushing ahead with a misconceived motorway plan.

Yet, that, as far as I could determine, was that until today, well over a year and a quarter later. Not much to show for something that should, if the IT was being consistent, be a continuing issue. Having said that the IT can largely only reflect. The societal narrative appears to be one of resignation about such things. The forces arrayed against a host of issues are seen as too great, Shannon is stymied by ‘reality’, Tara by the dynamic of development, co-location by the need to do something, anything. That’s a narrative that we on the left, whatever our views regarding individual issues, should abhor. It’s curious to have to make recourse to Nick Cohen on such a regular basis, but his point about corporations and the power of government is absolutely correct and needs only to be slightly adjusted to suit this issue…”…however novel the ability of companies to shift money and jobs around the world, and however restrictive the limits on the autonomy of national governments have become, corporations remain weak. When all is said and done, they are hierarchical associations for the production of profit. They can’t raise armies or levy taxes or enact legislation. Governments can do all three and turn nasty if they have the inclination…’. There is a terrible danger that the left is becoming entranced by the power of its opponents…

John Gormley appears to have tried to shift the debate by appointing a review of the situation and state policy on archaeology. As the IT notes he has said: that if the review was to recommend amending or even repealing the 2004 legislation, he would act on this by taking it to Cabinet. But whether he would be able to persuade his Fianna Fáil colleagues to accept such a recommendation remains to be seen. Certainly, it is difficult to imagine that those who sponsored the damaging changes made to the National Monument Acts three years ago would be prepared to set them aside, in the interest of heritage protection.

A fair point. No government wants to be seen to have taken a wrong decision and that will weigh heavily if the issue ever gets to cabinet. But am I being unreasonable in seeing the IT’s renewed interest as being a convenient stick with which to beat Gormley and implicitly the Greens for their temerity in going into government? And consider this, here is the Green dilemma encapsulated. Remain outside of government and probably there would be no review at all of procedures and a likelihood of further issues like this arising, go in and Tara is most likely lost, but the situation doesn’t happen again. Problem is that those who would oversee the first scenario are those who sit cheek by jowl implementing the second with you. And what would the IT have Gormley do? Leave Cabinet? The very cabinet that would revert to scenario one with clearly no hesitation? A difficult place to be, and on a slight tangent a place where the events of this and the next number of months may reverberate in the public imagination longer than the Green Party (or perhaps Fianna Fáil) might like.

I don’t have the answers. I can see both sides of this argument, but… the original decision, the management of the problem, the way in which the NRA has been hung out to dry and the continuing lack of ownership – or seeming wish to take ownership – of the issue by the broader public is revealing in itself.

Sinn Féin and Labour talk about the Senate. Ah…finally the Opposition stirs… About time. Meanwhile… Tales of the Peace Process – a continuing Series. July 9, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Labour Party, Greens, Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics, Sinn Féin.
3 comments

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Covering some of the same ground that Cian has already discussed today on irishelection it is good to see that Labour and Sinn Féin are talking about a voting pact in the Seanad. The Irish Times notes that:

Sinn Féin and Labour are attempting to agree a voting pact in the Seanad elections that would give Sinn Féin its first ever seat in the Upper House of the Oireachtas.

The two parties have been in discussions about a deal that would see one of Sinn Féin’s most promising politicians, Pearse Doherty, elected to the Seanad with the help of Labour votes.

In return, Sinn Féin councillors around the State would vote for Labour’s Alex White to give the party an extra seat in the Upper House.

The discussions are being led on the Labour side by Joe Costello. The IT reports that:

A Labour spokesman pointed out that there had always been horse-trading in Seanad elections and he added that there was no objection in principle to a deal with Sinn Féin.

Which is nice of them…

Meanwhile there are precedents for this sort of dealing:

Parties have often traded votes in past Seanad elections. In 1992 the Progressive Democrats and the Workers’ Party entered a voting pact that gave each party a senator.

In 1997 and 2002 the PDs voted for Fianna Fáil candidates and in return were given Seanad seats among the Taoiseach’s 11 nominees.

Somehow there is a more pointed aspect to this election. Already there has been the controversy over the Green/FF voting pact for their respective candidates. I’ve mentioned that on IrishElection, and it continues to rumble through. There does seem to be something a tad calculated about that particular pact, as if the Greens are being dragged into a process they are not particularly comfortable with. Which indeed according to the IT, they’re not:

Green councillors were informed that they would have to vote for specified Fianna Fáil candidates and that they would have their ballot papers inspected to ensure that they fulfilled the pledge.

A number of Green councillors expressed reservations about voting for specified Fianna Fáil candidates and said they would not allow their ballot papers to be inspected.

Perhaps it is the inspection aspect of the process which is difficult to reconcile with what should be a partnership. And the obvious implication of any such process is that there is a serious lack of trust that Green councillors will vote the ‘right’ way. And indeed perhaps that is correct. The privacy of the ballot is one of the few places that a political protest at the dynamic of the new coalition can be registered. To be honest I think FFs fears are somewhat unfounded. There is a considerable, and to my mind entirely appropriate, appetite to to bring Dan Boyle back in. It will be interesting to see if the second Senator that is being mooted as an appointee will come from some other section of the party in order to assuage continuing doubts.

Returning to the Labour/SF talks, this is a process driven by the numbers. Labour needs SF votes (all 58 of them) to have a candidate elected on the Cultural and Education Panel. By contrast Labour has 125 votes which should see their candidate sail through to victory on the Agricultural panel and have sufficient left over to see Pearse Doherty elected.

And that means that this is a purely technical process that doesn’t indicate anything much one way or another in political terms. After all, if the PDs and the WP were able to work together then anything is possible. SF has become a significant enough bloc to be attractive to any party in a voting deal. Indeed, and perhaps ironically in view of Aherns quip about ‘ye haven’t got the numbers’ in the Dáil as regards speaking rights being curtalied due to their lack of ‘group’ status, even FF and SF might have (or might still if the talks go sour) struck a deal.

Still, the optimist in me – and I share this I think with Cian (or as he notes “This may end up coming to nought, but to see the logic of seats winning out over a long standing principle of boycott suggests that the principle of boycotting Sinn Fein itself is now quite weak in some quarters and Sinn Fein’s confidence that parties would come knocking if the numbers stacked up was not unfounded”) – thinks that a direct engagement between Labour and Sinn Féin is no harm in itself. It is not as if informal contacts don’t exist on a local basis. I’ve long been at meetings with councillors and TDs from both SF and Labour where there has been a broad meeting of minds, even – dare I suggest – a tinge of leftist camaraderie, although sometimes I think that that is engendered by the process of local government rather than ideological similarity.

A pity that that sort of discourse is seemingly difficult, if not impossible, to replicate at a higher level because it is going to be a long five years and the role of the left elements of the opposition are going to be crucial…

One last thing. I’ve mentioned this before, but it really is remarkable how a number of FG members on Politics.ie are seemingly open to SF being involved at 2012. Now, these are a minority, they may well be unrepresentative. But, political circumstance makes strange alliances, even of those who loathe each other. And I can’t quite shake the echo of Trevor Sargents comments in the Dáil debate a week or two ago where he lambasted FG for not negotiating with SF…

……………………………..

Meanwhile, and perhaps appropriately on foot of the post about Ed Moloney, Alastair Campbell’s diaries indicate a fairly intriguing meeting of minds in December 1997 when Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness arrived. In an excerpt published today in the Guardian Campbell indicates that McGuinness was much less emollient than Adams (a highly entertaining and, worryingly, not entirely improbable take on this meeting is at Dublin Opinion).

Some of the games played are almost laughable:

They came inside and we kept them waiting while we went over what TB was due to say.

Yes, great. Just the way to handle a conflict that had seen 3,500 people die in the previous quarter century. Although he also records that Blair ‘came over as friendly’.

Then there was an interesting admission regarding Martin McGuinness:

I shook McGuinness by the hand, who as he sat down said, fairly loudly: “So this is the room where all the damage was done.” It was a classic moment where the different histories played out. Everyone on our side thought he was referring to the mortar attack on Major, and we were shocked. Yet it became obvious from their surprise at our shock that he was referring to policymaking down the years, and Britain’s involvement in Ireland. “No, no, I meant 1921,” he said. I found McGuinness more impressive than Adams, who did the big statesman bit, and talked in grand historical sweeps, but McGuinness just made a point and battered it, and forced you to take it on board.

Indeed one gets the feeling that Campbell thought McGuinness the more substantial figure, and perhaps more difficult to deal with.

I was eyeing their reaction to TB the whole time, and both Adams and McG regularly let a little smile cross their lips. Mo got pissed off, volubly, when they said she wasn’t doing enough. TB was maybe not as firm as we had planned, but he did ask – which I decided not to brief, and knew they wouldn’t – whether they would be able to sign up to a settlement that did not explicitly commit to a united Ireland. Adams was OK, McGuinness was not. Adams said the prize of a lasting peace justifies the risks. Lloyd George, Balfour, Gladstone, Cromwell, they all thought they had answers of sorts. We want our answers to be the endgame. A cobbled-together agreement will not stand the test of time.

That’s quite an admission regarding Adams and for all those who have already questioned his bona fides it is likely to add a little bit more petrol to the fire. Or is it? Reading the text it is not entirely clear that Adams said that he would ‘sign up to a settlement that did not explicitly commit to a united Ireland’. What it does seem to say is that he implied ‘risks’ were worth taking. A different matter. In any event it made perfect political sense for Adams and McGuinness to run a ‘soft/hard-line’ routine, even at this level of engagement. The British Army has acknowledged that there was no military solution to the situation in the North and that the best they could do was to prod the main players towards some level of non-armed resolution. That was quite a strong hand for SF to be playing and a nuanced negotiating strategy which sought to project a sense that their much vaunted unity of purpose covered a more fissiparous situation would be straight from “Negotiations Strategies 101”.

Campbell notes that:

He [Adams] pushed hard on prisoners being released, and the aim of total demilitarisation, and TB just listened. TB said he would not be a persuader for a united Ireland. The principle of consent was central to the process.

An important, indeed a central, demand articulated by Adams, and consider, this was 1997 when such things were anathema, where the out-going Conservative government would have found them impossible to achieve. A mark both of how far and how relatively rapidly this process has gone. It’s irritating to realise that this is just the level of information considered reasonable to release and that there must be considerably more.

And, of course, all this must be taken with the proverbial quantity of salt. Who knows how much of this is spin to help his Dear Former Leader, or indeed the Dear Former Leaders new ‘best friends’ in the Republican Movement.

Still, an interesting, if clearly partisan, insight into our recent history.

The Left and the EU Constitution. Marianne’s Revenge. June 25, 2007

Posted by franklittle in European Politics, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Greens, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, media, The Left.
3 comments

It was all so familiar. The meetings between diplomats going on behind closed doors to shape our future into the early hours of the morning. Nervous fears among our political elites that they might not this time pull off a deal. The Poles ‘gently’ reminding the world of the dangers of Germany getting too powerful and Blair hovering in the background desperately trying to burnish his rather tawdry legacy.

Nothing like an EU Treaty conference. Of course, as is to be expected, a deal was reached and we now face into a referendum on the Treaty some time next year.

So, what has changed in the newly revised Treaty? And it is a Treaty by the way, no longer a Constitution it seems despite Ahern stating that 90% of the EU Constitution as drafted by him during the Irish Presidency remains in the new ‘Reform Treaty’ and the only significant changes seem to be the dropping of the flag and anthem as reported here last week in the run-up to the summit. As Ahern eloquently put it:

“Beethoven is out and the flag is out. I don’t think that will make a damn difference to anyone in Europe. I don’t think anyone will move it off their cars and their flags, but it does make people feel better that it is out of the constitution. That makes them feel better, so I am thrilled and ecstatic for them,” he said. And considering it will make his job easier in getting it past the Irish electorate, he should be thrilled and ecstatic himself.

So, in essence, it is still a Constitutional blueprint for Europe, a point that should not be lost in the context of what will no doubt be determined efforts by supporters of the Constitution to argue that to describe it as such is inaccurate and more EU sceptic scare-mongering.

So, what now? The last two Nice Treaty referendums saw three distinct blocs organise in opposition to Nice and it is likely those same three blocs will be represented again, albeit in different formations and strengths.

Firstly, we have the right. The Justin Barrett led No to Nice campaign was a key part of the Nice debates, in particular in the first campaign, though I have long maintained that it’s role in the first victory was always overstated, and deliberately so by a liberal establishment media. If one examines the vote constituency by constituency, one sees that the highest No vote was in Dublin South West, and other high votes were recorded in working class constituencies like Dublin Central and Dublin North West. Even the highest rural votes against the Treaty have more in common with a correlation of areas of Sinn Féin strength, than traditional bases of right reactionaries.

That said, without the campaign from the right, as anathema to left values and as ignored by the left as it was, the Nice Treaty would likely not have been defeated on the first occasion, even if attributing the lion’s share of the credit for the victory to them was unfair. This time, there will again no doubt be something similar. The omission of the Judeo-Christian entity known as ‘God’ from the Constitution is already something that has been remarked negatively by the Irish conservative right and in Kathy Sinnot, they have their Dana for the next referendum.

The second bloc consists of the larger radical parties, a phrase that will no doubt drawn it’s own objections. In both Nice referendums this was made up of Sinn Féin and the Green Party who did the heavy lifting in the campaign from the left’s perspective. Interestingly, it was a well-matched double act. Sinn Féin focussed on using it’s party organisation and support in working class areas to turn out that vote. The Greens provided arguably the most articulate critics of the Treaty in Gormley and McKenna and provided a veneer of respectability in the establishment media to a Nice opposition too easily caricatured as combination of the Barrett’s racist Little Irelander’s and the evil Marxist Fascist Provo Death Squads.

This time round, the Greens will certainly not be campaigning against the Treaty. Long prior to the election, even prior to the French and Dutch votes they were toying with the idea of embracing the EU Constitution as a way of proving their ‘maturity’. According to today’s Irish Times (Sub required) the Greens will be consulting their members before making a final decision with Dan Boyle half-heartedly suggesting they could take a neutral position on the Constitution. Possible, in theory perhaps, but extremely difficult, especially for Gormley and Ryan. With the Greens on the other side of the debate, or at best neutral, the anti-Constitution forces are weakened though short-sighted people in Sinn Féin (No shortage of them by all accounts) might see an opportunity to seize political space as the only significant left opposition to the Treaty.

Bringing us to the third bloc. A disparate collection of political parties, groups, organisations and individuals with a track record of opposing EU federalism and neo-liberalism, but not unified in any sense. We can expect campaigns of one type or another against the Constitution from the Socialist Party, the Workers Party, the SWP and it’s People Before Profit front, the Communist Party and so on. Independents like Tony Gregory TD and Cllr Joan Collins, possibly Seamus Healy, might also be involved. Trade Union figures like Tony O’Reilly. Sections of the Labour party such as Labour Youth, which is already committed to opposing the Constitution, whatever about this document, and possibly elements of the Green Party like Patricia McKenna and Deirdre de Burca on an individual basis.

There has been some effort to bring these hugely disparate groups together. The Campaign Against the EU Constitution has been knocking about for some time on the margins of the debate and has called for a meeting on July 7th to begin the job of organising against the Constitution. One of the comments on the Indymedia article in the media refers to the dangers of such a campaign being a “letters to the Irish Times” style campaign and it is a fear that is likely justified. Certainly I get no impression that the Campaign is anything other than a loose alliance of policy types and independent activists based exclusively in Dublin. Useful to a point, but you don’t win referendums that way.

Against this, the political, media, social and economic establishment of this state. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, the PDs and in all likelihood the Greens. ICTU and IBEC will put aside their differences to try and convince their respective members that the deal is best for them. IBEC will be right. The farming organisations will weight in but probably with little enthusiasm. The media will back the Constitution to the hilt. If memory serves, the Star and the Sunday Business Post opposed the Nice Treaty, but I would be surprised if even that level of opposition is maintained in a media either ignorant of European politics or desperately eager to support the EU as a project regardless of what’s on the table. And then we have individuals like Brigid Laffan and think-tanks such as the Irish Institute for European Affairs.

It’s an under-strength David against a refreshed and revitalised Goliath.

Does this mean the fight is hopeless? My boundless optimism refuses to accept such a notion. But it does mean that the left needs to start thinking now about how this campaign is going to be fought. For most of us, this means looking at what the third bloc I refer to above is going to do. The right will do it’s own thing. The Shinners will do theirs. But if the referendum is to be won it will be because over the next twelve months a left-wing version of the 2001 No to Nice campaign is organised and put together.

That’s not a small job of work. But perhaps the Campaign Against the EU Constitution is a place to start.

Gormley contra mundum: In defence of the Greens June 17, 2007

Posted by smiffy in climate change, Environment, Global Warming, Greens, Irish Election 2007, The Left.
17 comments

Like Worldbystorm, the recent negotiations and formation of a coalition government have reminded me of a cold December night in 1994. December 14th, in particular, and the conference to decide whether Democratic Left would enter into government with Labour and Fine Gael, the latter described as ‘neo-fascists’ by one over-enthusiastic delegate (he was opposed, I should make clear).

In particular, I keep thinking about a brief conversation I had with a friend of mine at the back of the conference room in the Gresham, after the decision had been taken. I was disappointed, but unsurprised at the result, and was lamenting the future of the party, the Left … the usual kind of thing. His response was short, but to the point: “Better us in there than the fucking PDs”.

Even though I didn’t agree with him at the time, it was a very hard point to argue against and it’s something which has stuck with me ever since. While it’s easy to stand back and make the argument that parties of the left should stay out of government until they can present a truly left-wing alternative in Irish politics, those who adopt such a position (and it’s a valid one) need to face up to the fact that, in the short-term at least and possibly for longer, it condemns the most vulnerable in society to a worse government than might otherwise have been the case. And it’s for that reason that I’ll try and defend the decision of the Greens to go into government, even if I’m not entirely sure that it’s the right one.

There is something very amusing about listening to the radio, or looking at politics.ie, and coming across the denunciations, the lamentations, the screams of ‘betrayal’ and ‘selling out’. It’s particularly rich coming from members of Fine Gael (as if their policies on important issues were in any substantial way different from Fianna Fáil’s) and Labour (who had the decency to sell out before the election, in their alliance with Fine Gael and particularly with the tax policy announced by Rabbitte at conference, rather than waiting until after the results were in like the treacherous Greens). Sinn Féin members have been a little less hysterical, probably because they were never part of the putative ‘Alliance for Change’ but a nasty part of me might also suggest that a party which is willing to share power with arguably the most reactionary political grouping on the island isn’t really in a position to throw stones.

Frankly, anyone who claims to be all that surprised at the Green’s decision is either extremely naive, or deliberately disingenuous. The party never ruled out the principle of coalition with Fianna Fáil. Why should they? They made it clear in the course of the campaign that they wanted to enter government, and there’s no particular reason why coalition with Fine Gael would be any more favorable, from a policy perspective, than coalition with the dreaded Fianna Fáil.

What the more shrieking of the critics seem to forget is that the choice the Green Party was presented with wasn’t either coalition with Fianna Fáil or coalition with ‘the Rainbow’. It was coalition with Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats or back to opposition and the continuation, in effect, of the current government. One of the Green TDs (I think it was Paul Gogarty) made the point well on the radio yesterday, citing the protesters outside the conference with signs saying “Save Tara – Vote No”. Now, while entering government with Fianna Fáil may very well not save Tara, staying out of government most certainly won’t.

There is, of course, the argument that parties of the left (with the Greens generally, although not always, included in this grouping) shouldn’t let themselves be used by right-wing parties to help them consolidate their hold on power. Rather, they should be looking at building a ‘left alternative’, usually at grassroots level, in order to achieve real and substantial change at some unspecified point in the future.

A couple of problems with this, however. Firstly, none of the left-wing parties (except the Socialist Parties and the micros) actually subscribe to this. Labour’s entire election campaign was based on cooperation with a Christian Democrat party. Sinn Féin remind us that they’re willing to work with anyone. Unless all parties agree to work together in building the elusive ‘alternative’, it’s not going to happen and it’s unrealistic to expect a single party to stand aside from government in the full knowledge that its rivals on the left would jump at the chance if they were presented with it.

More importantly, though, is that the ‘broad left’ strategy is, inevitably, a long-term one, lasting decades rather than years. In the recent election, after much soul-searching, I gave my first preference to the Greens. This was based on one issue: climate change. While it didn’t factor as one of the big issues during the campaign, in my view it’s the single most important issue facing the country (and, indeed, the planet). And, if there’s one issue that can’t be left aside for ten, twenty or more years, it’s this one.

The climate change policies included in the Programme for Government couldn’t, by any standards, be described as radical or mould-breaking. However, they’re unquestionably better than they would have been had the Greens remained in opposition. Similarly, they’re a lot less concrete than they might otherwise have been, substituting rather vague ambitions for specific targets. This presents a challenge for the Green members of government but also, I would submit, an opportunity. While the more cynical (or, perhaps, astute) observers will state that this allows Fianna Fáil to wangle out of any move on carbon emissions, it also provides gives the initiative to Gormley and Ryan, in their respective Departments to drive the policies forward, put specific proposals to Cabinet and insist that they be accepted.
It’s not going to be easy, however. The party already has a bitter taste in its mouth, with Dick Roche’s extraordinarily cynical and disrespectful stunt on Thursday, signing the S.I. to commence work on the M3. It has the imminent difficulty of having to defend co-location (collective responsibility and the fact that they’ve agreed to the presence of the Progressive Democrats at the cabinet table doesn’t allow them to shrug their shoulders and blame it on the other gang). How will they deal with the possibility of Beverley Flynn being given a junior Ministry? It’s also going to have to face whatever fallout arises from the Mahon Tribunal, and think seriously about exactly how bad things have to get before they might consider leaving.

It’s this last question that’s, perhaps, going to be the hardest for the Greens. At all costs, it must not allow itself to become another Progressive Democrats, a mudguard for Fianna Fáil. It must not be afraid of walking away from power if the circumstances dictate. The great myth of PD participation in government is that they punched above their weight, and forced Fianna Fáil to enshrine their views as policy. In fact, Fianna Fáil never had any difficulty with PD policies. They were never led anywhere other than where they wanted to go. This will not, one hopes, be the case with the Greens. If the Greens don’t find themselves fighting to implement their policies, that’s when they need to start asking themselves some hard questions.

If I was a member of the Greens, I have to admit that I don’t know how I would have voted. Despite the considerations above, the agreed Programme for Government is deeply flawed. franklittle‘s criticism of it that it has very little in it to tackle social exclusion is a fair one (although I would disagree with his argument that the environmental policies are ‘middle-class’ ones. The fact that working-class people may not be particularly concerned with an issue doesn’t necessarily making the issue itself bourgeois, any more than the fact that working-class people support Fianna Fáil makes that party the voice of the proletariat).

As I think Mary White said at the conference, not a great deal, not even a good deal, but, ultimately, I think’s probably better than the alternative (the same government formation, but without the Greens). At this point, though, it has the potential to deliver real change on certain vital issues. It’s up to the Green Party to make sure it does.

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