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Conference convened by R2W Unions: Build an active, democratic, principled Left April 28, 2015

Posted by guestposter in Irish Politics, The Left.

The following statement has been agreed between the People Before Profit Alliance, the Anti-Austerity Alliance and some independent activists including Cllr Brendan Young.

The anti-water charges movement, which has seen hundreds of thousands mobilise and become active in campaigning, has transformed politics in this country. It has forced climbdowns by the government and given people confidence and hope that the austerity agenda can be defeated. It has opened a potential to build a significant Left, working class political movement.
We welcome the initiative by the trade unions involved in Right2Water to host conferences in May and June to discuss a political initiative. The fact that a number of significant unions are discussing launching a political platform and considering support for a range of candidates is a very important development. It could create a political pole of attraction for many who are fighting austerity and oppression – and who are looking for a political formation that fights for genuine social equality.

For a democratic, bottom-up, participative approach
In order for this to have the best chance of achieving its potential, we think it is essential that the process of deciding on a political platform and an approach to the general election is participative, open and democratic. The mobilisation and democratic self-organisation of people in their communities is vital to the strength of the movement against the water charge. Their involvement is essential for the development of mass support and participation in any new political initiative which could have an impact similar to Syriza or Podemos.

We welcome the initiative of the unions to organise events in May and June. But it is vital that these events do not remain limited and invite-only. Instead, they should become conferences involving all sections of the anti-water charges movement, anti-austerity groups and those active in fighting for democratic rights who favour taking a political initiative on an explicit anti-austerity basis.

In advance of the 13 June event, we think there should be local open meetings or assemblies of everybody active in the anti-water charges movement or other active social movements, meeting to discuss the issues and to decide on delegates to send to the event. The meeting on 13 June should therefore be a much larger meeting than 200 people: as well as including trade union representatives and political representatives, it should include representatives of campaign groups across the country, selected by those involved in campaigning on the ground. On foot of this, the June gathering should be able to decide for itself the political positions it adopts and how to proceed – not simply endorse previously determined statements.

Non-payment of water charges is key
We believe that this political initiative should complement the crucial struggle against water charges in the coming months – not become an alternative to it. In order to advance the actually existing struggle against austerity – the movement against the water charge – and to draw on its strengths and develop mass support, the political initiative should champion the demands of the movement, openly call for non-payment and use its forces to organise non-payment and active resistance to water metering on the ground. This should be part of a general approach, which is to use elected positions to encourage struggle from below, rather than focusing on elections and parliamentary positions.

Principled positions against austerity and for democratic rights
We think that the initiative should adopt a principled anti-austerity position. That means committing to oppose and organise to fight against any more austerity and for an immediate reversal of key austerity measures such as water charges, property tax, USC for those on average or low incomes, health, education and welfare cuts. It also means developing a strategy for repudiation of the bankers’ debt; for a write-down of residential mortgages; for taxation of wealth and big business profits; and against privatisation of public services and natural resources.

Instead of putting money into bank debt, we think there should be public investment in housing, healthcare, education, childcare, public transport, water services, renewable energy and environmental protection – as the start of re-orienting economic activity to meet social need and provide useful work for young people and the unemployed.

A new political initiative should stand for the separation of church and state; and commit to extending democratic rights to all oppressed groups: women, the young and the old, LGBT people, Travellers, migrants, asylum seekers and people with disabilities. As a first step, it should commit to campaigning for a Yes vote in the upcoming marriage equality referendum; and to campaign for repeal of the 8th Amendment and lift the ban on abortion in Ireland.

We also think a political initiative should champion the right of workers to defend their jobs and living standards. It should support solidarity action with the likes of the Dunnes workers and action to scrap the anti-union laws. Opposition to austerity should not stop at the border: we think austerity must be fought both in the North and the South. The implementation of Westminster cuts by Stormont is no more acceptable than the implementation of Troika cuts by the government in the South.

Reject coalition with Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or Labour
This kind of real change requires a political alternative that will break the rules that impoverish working class people. We cannot do that if we accept the approach of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour – the proponents of austerity, inequality and oppression. So a new political initiative must publicly commit to reject any coalition or deals with Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or Labour.

It should fight for a Left government committed to breaking the rules that impose austerity and that prioritise the restoration of the profits of banking and big business; for a government committed to restructuring the economy and society to meet the needs of people and to protect our environment – including unilateral repudiation, if necessary, of bankers’ debt.
The opportunity to build a substantial political challenge to the rule of the 1% in this country is massive. The initiative by the Right2Water unions can be an important step in building that if it is done on the basis of a bottom-up, participative and democratic approach. If it is based on struggle, non-payment of the water charges and a principled anti-austerity stance, we can have a major impact.

In summary, we think a new political initiative should:

• be open, participative and democratic in its organisation and functioning;
• reject coalition with Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or Labour;
• openly call for non-payment of the water charge;
• have a principled anti-austerity approach that repudiates the bankers’ debt and supports public investment to meet the needs of ordinary people, environmental protection and provide proper jobs;
• campaign against oppression and for democratic rights, including marriage equality and repeal of the 8th Amendment;
• oppose racism and the scapegoating of minorities.

Richard Boyd Barrett TD, Cllr. Brid Smyth, Cllr. John Lyons, Ailbhe Smyth and Brian O’Boyle on behalf of the People Before Profit Alliance; Paul Murphy TD, Ruth Coppinger TD, Joe Higgins TD, Eileen Gabbett and Joe Harrington on behalf of the Anti-Austerity Alliance; Cllr Brendan Young ; Eddie Conlon; Des Derwin; Shane Fitzgerald; Tomas O’Dulaing; Raymond Deane.

Too much focus on SF by the ‘mainstream’ parties? April 28, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.

Reading Miriam Lord’s pen picture of the FF Ard Fheis I was much struck by the following in relation to Micheál Martin’s attacks on SF at the weekend and before. According to her thesis Martin is attempting to broaden (or should that be rebroaden) the appeal of the party to the ‘middle’ which she appears to believe is near enough synonymous with the squeezed middle.

This explained his subtle (as in the references to his party’s commitment to upholding the noble ideals of republicanism) and not-so-subtle (“a sinister movement founded 40 years ago” which “covers-up the sickest of crimes in order to protect their members”) references to Sinn Féin.
In recent months the Fianna Fáil leader has maintained a constant attack on Sinn Féin. He hasn’t held back.

He sure hasn’t, as noted previously, he has been as one with those arguing that there is no connection at all between 1916 and Sinn Féin of the 1970s and after. As has also been noted here that’s an historically dubious argument. But it is also one which is problematic in other ways.

But some observers say this ongoing negative concentration on a rival party could prove counterproductive. Right on cue on keynote night, the latest opinion poll landed with a slight 1 per cent gain for FF and an encouraging 5 per cent boost for SF.

And Lord writes:

As it turned out, Micheál changed tack slightly on Saturday, devoting a very small part of his speech to Sinn Féin. But he made good use of a few paragraphs in the closing minutes to excoriate Sinn Féin and that party’s claims to have links with 1916.
“We will never allow them to rewrite Irish history to legitimise their despicable crimes.”

The response was:

To shouts of “Hear! Hear!”, the audience rose to its feet and noisily applauded in what was easily the most heartfelt and passionate ovation of the night.

And she makes a good point:

Does that sort of stuff play with the wider public? Maybe, maybe not. But it sure gets the grassroots going.
And those leaflets won’t deliver themselves.

That’s probably very true, and indicative in its own way of where the current FF stands and the glue that holds it together (ironic too to some extent in view of past positions). But then FF must be horribly aware of the fate of the SDLP, another party that promoted a form of constitutional nationalism, and where it now stands in relation to Sinn Féin in the North. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. SF is marginally smaller in the Dáil, but continual polling suggests that it will move into the position of third (and possibly second) largest party with relative ease at the next election. Is it simply that were there no SF FF would be doing better? Perhaps not. Hard to know. There’s a deep rupture with the Irish electorate and I’d suspect that support would still be elsewhere even in the absence of an SF. But there is no absent SF and despite the problems that party has had its polling remains buoyant. Attacks don’t seem to work, don’t seem to pull its vote down, appear to be regarded by the electorate as politicised, or – and perhaps tellingly – belonging to a different time and a different place.

For FF this presents them with a massive problem. Their seemingly most potent weapon is blunted. What can they fall back on? Not being FG? Will that be enough?

And you thought Those MFM Posters were bad……. April 27, 2015

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Irish Politics.
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One of a number of leaflets from both sides that I got at the FF Ard Fheis…..

Party Polls in Dublin West and Dublin South Central April 27, 2015

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Irish Politics.

There was a piece in the Sunday Independent on some ‘private polls’ done by Red C using a mock ballot paper. The polls were for Labour and Fine Gael in Dublin West and Dublin South Central.

In Dublin West

Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar (24pc) tops the poll with SF’s Paul Donnelly coming in second (22pc) while Ms Burton and Ruth Coppinger are locked together at 14pc apiece.

The Fianna Fail candidate (11pc) is barely ahead of the Independent David Hall at 11pc and 9pc respectively.

Fine Gael transfers will supposedly take Joan Burton over the line….
Dublin South Central has Catherine Byrne of FG topping the poll at 24pc.
FF at 10% between 2 candidates and….

Daithi Doolan (9pc) is too far behind Aengus O’Snodaigh (19pc) to win a seat. The big surprise in a constituency where Labour has been tipped to lose both current seats is that Labour veteran Eric Byrne, courtesy of heavy Fine Gael transfers, will easily see off the hard- left candidate Joan Collins for the last seat. Brid Smyth will also win a seat for People before Profit.

Of course party commissioned polls can be taken with a pinch of salt and they may well have done other ones with less favourable results. Still interesting to see it as Ruth Coppinger holding her seat and the switch between Joan Collins and Brid Smith.
The issue Sinn Fein may have with vote management is shown as is Labour surviving in places due to Fine Gael transfers.

Childcare and class politics… April 24, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.

A very interesting piece by Virpi Timonen – Professor of Social Work and Social Policy at TCD – in the SBP at the weekend on childcare, and how grand parents are shouldering a considerable weight in terms of child care for parents unable to find affordable alternative childcare. Timonen notes that there is a strong class aspect to this, albeit the term isn’t used that baldly. I’ll quote at length because I believe it is important to consider the point in detail:

The demands to provide childcare fall disproportionately on those who are arguably least resourced to say no: grandmothers with lower levels of education (and in worse health than their better-off peers), whose children struggle most to finance childcare, and in some cases are trying to cope with the added challenges of lone parenting and family breakdown. The pressure to look after grandchildren in this situation can be overwhelming, and the consequences of long-term heavy involvement can put the grandparents’ mental health at risk.
We are now starting to unravel the consequences of this unequal distribution of heavy-duty grandparenting. We already have evidence that intensive grandchild care increases the risk of depression, especially for those grandparents who don’t engage in social and leisure activities. Further work is needed to tease out the factors that bring about the depressive symptoms; but it isn’t hard to imagine the stress and frustration that arise for grandparents in situations where they feel, as one interviewee stated, that she “really didn’t need another child in my life . . . but wasn’t left with a choice”.
Grandparents from higher socioeconomic groups tend to draw boundaries around childcare early on. They are strongly oriented to (and can afford) the ‘Third Age’ activities that are incompatible with time-intensive grandparenting; extensive childminding would not sit well with trips abroad, spontaneous lunches with friends, hobbies and commitment to voluntary work. This is partly facilitated because their adult children also tend to be higher earners and hence better able to pay for formal childcare.

None of this, I suspect, will be a surprise to many of us. The reality of our supposedly ‘flexible’ economy is the work of many at the margins, in low paid employments, with wretched hours and insecurity, and those around them to pick up the pieces of all that that entails. Simply put it is near impossible to have a job without a support structure behind it and given the patchy nature of state structures in these areas clearly that means recourse to family. It’s as if there are layers and yet further layers of exploitation reaching always deeper into families.

Enlightening the masses… April 23, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.

There’s a profile of David Quinn and IONA in the current issue of the Phoenix, and it’s interesting in its own way. All this, naturally, in the context of the marriage equality referendum – by the way the piece itself while one would think broadly positive towards the concept of marriage equality does a little dance in relation to the supposed ‘demonisation [of]’ those who might take a different view. But be that as it may and opinions may well differ, this struck me as telling:

In domestic religious debate Quinn is with Casey in believing that Irish Catholicism is being daily weakened by pusillanimous Church leaders who have wilted in the face of secularism. Three years ago he wrote, ‘the chief reason why many Catholics no longer believe what their church believes on certain issue is that the church itself has neglected to explain to them these beliefs. By the church I mean particularly the church here in Ireland’.

It’s odd, but that seem to parallel a view sometimes found on the left that if only x or y or z was ‘explained’ the scales would fall from people’s eyes and they’d go over en masse to socialism. I simplify, of course, but not by too much.

To be honest I think that is too simple and reductionist an analysis. It suggests that people are in some respects more credulous, or at least passively accepting of arguments made from supposed authority. Whereas my experience of many Catholics across four or more conscious decades is that people are well aware of the teachings of the Church and the rationale behind same but simply do not find the latter credible. Time and again on issues like contraception, divorce, lgbt issues well short of marriage equality, certain gender roles, and so on they have been treated to exhaustive exposure to the attitude of the Church and as time has moved on they have drifted towards different positions. Indeed I find it hard to believe that Quinn and I have inhabited the same state and for much the same time (I don’t know how old he is, I’d make a stab at him being in his forties perhaps?) during referendum after referendum when Church teachings were discussed in forensic detail.

Perhaps he is correct that the Church no longer approaches these matters in quite the same way, but that’s a rather different thing. If the reality is that the Church has failed and comprehensively failed on almost all issues so far, bar – notably – abortion, then that would suggest that Church isn’t going to win hearts and minds by continuing to return to battles fought and lost.

Moreover this isn’t a dynamic unknown abroad either. Few would argue strenuously that the RCC elsewhere in Europe has weathered these socio-cultural and political storms in great shape – at least in the sense of prevailing more than it does not.

I’m sure Quinn must recognise how the world itself has changed, that this is not a deferential era, that people do not unthinkingly or uncritically accept that which is said to them from whatever source. This may, indeed, account for why as the Phoenix quotes he has in the past – as recently as five years ago – written articles under subheadings that include lines like ‘the more equality a society has the less freedom it has’.

What fascinates me as well reading the profile is how class dynamics run through it too, at least in terms of certain expectations and approaches. Another day’s work though, perhaps.

The Minister says no… April 23, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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Thanks to Paddy Healy for this:

Parliamentary Question for Written Answer From Seamus Healy TD
To ask the Minister for Social Protection ,Ms Burton

If she will restore the entitlement of working widows and working loan parents who are respectively in receipt of a survivors pension or a lone parent allowance to illness benefit

And if she will make a statement on the matter?

To which this was the response:

* For WRITTEN answer on Wednesday, 22nd April, 2015.
Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton T.D):
The social welfare system is designed to respond to a range of contingencies such as illness, unemployment, old age and widowhood. In Budget 2012 the Government decided, having regard to the fiscal necessity to contain social welfare expenditure and to protect weekly rates of payment, that it was no longer possible to have a social welfare system whereby some people got more than one primary weekly payment.

So, from January 2013, half-rate payments of jobseeker’s benefit, illness benefit and incapacity supplement for those who get widow(er)’s pensions, surviving civil partner’s pensions or one-parent family payment ceased (for new applicants for jobseeker’s benefit, illness benefit and incapacity supplement). Other concurrent payment entitlements, such as new participants on Community Employment schemes, were also ceased as part of the Budget 2012 measures.

Prior to this, there were a limited number of exceptions in the social insurance system to the general principle of “one person, one payment”. These exceptions usually applied in the context of short-term benefits. For instance, recipients of One-Parent Family Payment, Widows and Widowers Pensioners etc. could, until Budget 2012, also receive short-term social insurance benefits, such as Illness Benefit and Jobseeker’s Benefit at half-rate at the same time.

These overlapping payment arrangements were introduced in the early 1950s when the social insurance system was first established – a time when there were only 10 individual social welfare payments – and the social welfare system has been significantly developed since then.

I am satisfied that the general principle of “one person, one payment” serves to maintain the equity of the social welfare system.

Some Referendum Posters April 23, 2015

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Irish Politics.

Some posters I saw in town this morning and one the AAA sent on to me. Neither FF or SF are using the Yes Equality logo but Labour are. I wonder would Yes Equality have been better to keep their logos off Party material, be it posters and leaflets given the ‘anti politics’ feelings of many.



Ideology trumping all… April 23, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.

A disturbing analysis by Michael Taft here of the approach to public transport by this government where he notes…

One of the more interesting aspects is that the NTA did not model their proposals, did not produce a business impact-assessment, did not undertake a cost-benefit analysis to justify the need for, or benefits from for franchising.  Now just think on that for a moment.  If a private sector company decided it was going to franchise or outsource 10 percent of its business, there would be cost-benefit analyses and business –impact assessments all over the place – upsides, downsides, alternatives.  Any senior management attempting to railroad such a franchise initiative through without such analyses would be clearing out their desks by noon. 


And while – oh yes, Ernst & Young did provide an analysis, as Michael notes, this was based on one academic study. I recommend anyone concerned about this issue, which should be all of us, read what Michael has to say. It points to how ideological considerations trump all else in this area. But Michael also notes that this effort to privatise services is actually running against the grain of a re-municipalisation of public services including transport across Europe. Why so? Well, it’s hardly a surprise to see that ‘poor service and high fares’ have been the outcome of privatisations.

But of this nary a word from our government, and as was asked in relation to another facet of public transport only a week or so back, what of our representative of the Socialist International? What do they make of all this?

One of the worst aspects of living in a state where the left has been marginal for so long is the realisation time and again of just how much our lived environment is shaped by those for whom our goals are anathema – how contingent and partial public provision is, how grudgingly conceded and how rapidly removed. Pieces like this from Michael are essential to reminding us of how blatant that shaping is and how it continues and remains set to continue…

But another aspect of that is how even language itself is distorted, as last night when the head of the NTA refused to concede that the current plans represent a privatisation process.

NTA Chief Executive Anne Graham said privatisation would involve a transfer of ownership and loss of public control, which she said was not the case.

But wait, the whole point of the new policies are that… ‘10% of bus routes are opened up to the private sector’. What does she call that? And what what does she call the following?

She said that any Bus Éireann or Dublin Bus employees who had to transfer to private operators would have their terms and conditions preserved for the duration of the new contract.

However, she acknowledged there was nothing to stop the private contractors from paying new recruits nothing more than the minimum wage.

Geography….. OMOV and Labour April 21, 2015

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Irish Politics.
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One of my favourite pieces of election ephemera are handwritten letters by the parents of a candidate to their neighbours praising their sons work as a Councillor and asking the friends and neighbours to vote for him…..If you can’t get votes from your neighbours and friends then who can you get votes from!!
That , the parish (depending on your faith), the local GAA and other organisations where you belong should be where you get your “personal vote”…….. and then a party vote. Of course sometimes they overlap.
It is mainly outside of Dublin though where wider geography comes into play. There is no clamour for a suburban area to have a TD, where for larger constituencies (Especially ones that encompass a number of counties) the localness of the candidate is vital. The Local paper or indeed the candidate themselves will urge voters to back local candidates with the headlines “Country Town needs a TD” or “County needs a TD” or “North County needs a TD”….
From this you see strange looking transfer patterns, like a large transfer from Fine Gael to Sinn Fein in Cavan Monaghan in 2011, the election of Mae Sexton in 2002 and many others.
Tallyrific Maps have some really interesting maps showing how candidates votes drop the further they are from their base.
One of the things about the forthcoming election is that there don’t appear to be too many Labour TDs that will benefit from Geography. Were Anne Phelan Carlow based she may have survived but Kilkenny already has plenty of TDs. Almost every Labour TD outside of Dublin, Cork and Limerick shares their home base or its hinterland with another TD or a strong rival. … and that’s a fair few Labour TDs. So their ‘Local’ vote will more than likely be down given there is a choice of ‘local’ candidates.
In previous lean times for Labour it was often these bailiwicks that held up amid ruin in Dublin. In 1987 after a spell in government, Labour won 14 seats of which only 4 were in Dublin. It was TDs like Seamus Pattison, Liam Kavanagh, Michael Bell, Brendan Howlin and Dick Spring that won seats.
In 1997 after their spell in government Labour were returned with 17 seats… only five of which were in Dublin. There are currently 16 Labour TDs in Dublin.
In many constituencies in 2011, those occupying the seat positions after the first count were elected, this was especially the case in Dublin. So Labour are trying to run less candidates and possibly put pressure on TD’s to retire. Yet outside Dublin there will be pressure on the likes of Emmet Stagg (turns 71 in October) and Jack Wall (turns 70 in July) to stand again.
Elsewhere we have seen Fianna Fail selection conventions using One Member One Vote, that is all the members in the constituency have a vote at the convention. It isn’t a big issue in Dublin (although the result of the Dublin West convention did end up with David McGuinness announcing that he was running as an Independent), however geography is huge especially in the larger constituencies. To date for instance in Kerry we had John Brassil from Ballyheigue in the North of the Count selected. So it’s likely there will be no Fianna Fail candidate from Tralee or Killarney. In Sligo Leitrim (which now takes in parts of Donegal and Cavan), two Sligo based candidates were selected. There are a number of other large constituencies without FF TDs such as Tipperary, Waterford and Wicklow where it will be interesting to see exactly where the membership select the candidates from…… ands thats before any female candidates are added to meet gender quotas (of the 16 FF candidates selected so far just one is female).


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