Government

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Republicanism and Nationalism; What Have They Ever Done for the Workers?

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Fluther (angrily): What th’ hell do I care what he says? I’m Irishman enough not to lose me head be follyin’ foreigners!

Sean O’Casey ‘The Plough and the Stars

Sean O’Casey ‘The Plough and the Stars

In the Monty Python film the ‘Life of Brian’ one of the discontented lefty proletarians asks a very pertinent question – What have the Romans ever done for us?  The answer was apparently quite a lot.  Much of the humour in the scene derives from the questioner being reduced to a dumbstruck silence. Nevertheless it was a question well worth asking.  In the run up to the centenaries of the rising, the war of independence and the civil war the question, what have they ever done for the workers, needs to be asked again.

Republicanism in History

Republicanism has a long history stretching back to the ancient roman republic.

It was far from a harmonious state but riven by class conflict between patricians and plebeians.  Attempts at land reform and wealth redistribution ended with the respective murder and suicide of its two advocates (Boatwright et al, 2004).  Beyond that point the republic was dominated by an oligarchic gang of large land owners until its demise under the emperors.

Republicanism was to raise its head again in Britain between 1649 and 1660.  Cromwell had come to power through an alliance with middling disaffected landowners, merchants and artisans.  Yet he was aghast when the republican revolution and the associated political ferment spawned groups, such as Levellers, Diggers and 5th Monarchy Men, some preaching and attempting to practice a primitive form of millenarian communism.  Levellers demanded complete religious toleration, democratic control of the army and bi-annual parliamentary elections while the Diggers claimed that the land belonged to the whole people of England.  The republican Cromwell was having none of it and told his bourgeois supporters ‘you must cut these people in pieces or they will cut you in pieces’ (Morton, 1938)

After 1789 some of the French revolutionaries looked back to the roman republic as an exemplar. They abolished feudalism and the divine right of monarchy, proclaimed the rights of man and citizens and that great slogan Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.  Almost immediately a difficulty arose as to how these slogans could be given a concrete realisation and were they to apply to those outside the ranks of the middling classes.  The answer was not long in coming.  In 1791 the convention passed a law (Loi Le Chapelier) outlawing combination of workers or trade unions (Hepple, 2010).  The ongoing conflict between bourgeois and proletarians was temporarily halted by Napoleon.  Dictatorship preserved the social and economic conquests of the revolution for its main beneficiaries – the middle classes (Goodwin, 1963).  Nonetheless the class conflict stirred up by the revolution was to figure prominently in the politics of the French Republic for a century and a half (Hampson, 1989).

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The Garda Inspectorate Report is Just One Small Part of More to Come

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In April of last year, former Irish Independent journalist, Gemma O’Doherty did something that no journalist appropriately indoctrinated is supposed to do: She dared to question the received orthodoxy. The dogma in question related to prominent figures in Irish society having penalty points and Fixed Charge Notices (FCNs) cancelled. O’Doherty discovered that the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, had penalty points of his own cancelled and dared to approach him about it. Not long afterwards she was brought in front of an internal committee of Independent News & Media (INM), the company which owns the Irish Independent, and reprimanded for her approaching the Commissioner. By August she was made compulsorily redundant. Her former boss, Stephen Rae, also happened to have penalty points cancelled and was the former editor of Garda Review magazine, “the professional voice of the Garda” according to its website. This is just one part of the larger story surrounding the penalty points scandal which has been slowly coming to a boil over the last two years. The only reason that the cancellation of penalty points has been thrust into the public sphere is because of the actions of two whistleblowers; retired Garda John Wilson and Sgt. Maurice McCabe.

There has been much obfuscation on the part of certain elements of the media and amongst the political echelon. The two gardaí have been labelled as “uncooperative” and “disgusting”. Character assassinations of this kind are nothing new and neither are the reasons for their characters being attacked. They, like O’Doherty, also dared to tell the truth and challenge the status quo. Wilson related that he first became aware of the level of the cancellation of penalty points in 2012 when one of his colleagues was transferred to a particular district in order to “clean it up”. There were numerous problems there relating to discipline, lack of proper investigatory procedures, and in general “shoddy practices”. Wilson’s colleague contacted him and informed him that he felt isolated and unsupported by his superiors. It was this colleague of Wilson’s who informed him of “strange patterns in the penalty points system”, with “clusters” of cancellations being found. What this meant was that the same people were having penalty points cancelled on multiple occasions. Wilson decided to do his own investigating and began “mooching around” the PULSE system in order to “garner full knowledge” of what was taking place. He soon discovered that the cancellation of penalty points was widespread, i.e., countrywide. What’s more is that the same type of “clusters” described above were also discovered around the country.

Wilson then decided to make a complaint to the garda Confidental Recipient regarding a small number of the penalty point cancellations. The person in question contacted the offices of various government ministers, including the Taoiseach’s, in which he made it clear that there were serious allegations being made regarding corruption in the gardaí. Concurrent to this, Sgt. McCabe wrote to the Taoiseach in July, August, and September outlining his concerns with reference to the cancellation of penalty points. From here the Taoiseach passed the issue on to Alan Shatter who in turn contacted Garda Commissioner Callinan about the issue. Not long afterwards, Callinan appointed Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahoney to head-up a report on the subject. This report was apparently preliminarily completed within one month, in November 2012. In the meantime, months had gone by and neither Wilson nor McCabe were contacted. Wilson, fed up waiting, then approached TD Clare Daly with his findings. One month later in December of 2012, Sgt. McCabe was visited by Chief Superintendent Mark Curran who had arrived at McCabe’s station in order to issue him a directive from the Commissioner. Callinan claimed that McCabe was a directed to cooperate with the investigation being carried out by O’Mahoney. The transcript of the conversation, which was surreptitiously recorded by McCabe, says otherwise. McCabe was ordered to “desist searching PULSE” and from handing over information regarding the penalty points issue to a third party. This interdiction also included handing over the relevant information to the garda Confidential Recipient and the Taoiseach. It was mere weeks later when Daly was arrested on suspicion of drink driving, a suspicion which turned out to be completely unfounded. By the time Assistant Commissioner O’Mahoney’s report was finalised in March of 2013 neither Wilson or McCabe had been contacted by the report’s author.

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The Cuban 5: Obama is On the Wrong Side of History

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Here’s a true story. It’s about a Chicago born US citizen who has dedicated his life to fighting terrorist attacks against his country. It’s about a man that left his wife and 1 year old daughter to infiltrate renowned terrorist groups who have planned and executed many bombings and killed innocent victims, including tourists. This man worked assiduously and brilliantly in this anti-terrorist endeavour and put his life at risk to save others on many occasions. As well as providing evidence to the US state forces that helped catch and jail drug dealers and crooks he was a major part of a unit which presented a very thick file to the FBI about embedded terrorists on US territory. His reward?

He, along with four fellow members of his intelligence unit, were turned upon by a highly politicised US judicial system in South Florida and jailed by the USA, in his case for 15 years. He spent the early part of his incarceration in a solitary confinement unit usually reserved for the most violent prisoners and yet the man has never been accused of, let alone found guilty of, any violent act. Confused? Well the story is true, current and, if you are the man’s colleague Gerardo Hernandez – sentenced to two life terms and 15 years – an outcome that involves freedom in his lifetime is not planned. When I tell you that Rene Gonzalez and his four colleagues were working for Cuban intelligence to protect Cuba from terrorists based in Miami perhaps you will be less surprised. But you should be no less appalled.

There is something about sitting in the English Law Society in London’s Chancery Lane listening to this case that makes it’s facts all the more remarkable. That the facts were last week put to an International Commission of three esteemed Justices from France, South Africa and India is a good thing, for international justice has miserably failed these men to date. That the evidence includes contributions not only from the participants and their families, but from people of unquestionable international diplomatic and legal renown must surely mean that the USA will soon see sense and free the Cuban 5. We will return to the evidence later but for now, what is the case, and the International Commission about?

First let us imagine a small island of 14 million citizens just 90 miles from the Florida Keys and the southernmost coast of the world’s only remaining superpower, at least in the traditional sense. This island, Cuba, went from being a Spanish colony to an American plaything and, eventually the playground of the mob and America’s leading gangsters. Cuba was the mobs Las Vegas before Las Vegas was developed. All that changed in 1959 when Fidel Castro led a peasant revolution that, to the surprise of the watching world, drove the mob, their prostitutes and their drugs back across the Florida Straits to South Florida and Miami. Castro then declared the revolution to be a socialist revolution, some would say communist, and began to forge alliances with China and the Soviet Union, right on America’s doorstep.  Those that stayed and backed Castro have remained remarkably loyal in very trying circumstances. These circumstances include a US blockade that has stymied the Cuban economy, is denounced every year in the United Nations but which America’s UN veto allows it to maintain without UN sanction. Those that left, especially those who left in the immediate aftermath of the revolution, remain hate filled and bitter towards Castro, socialist Cuba and the revolution which they are determined to overthrow using whatever means is necessary. Despite their efforts Castro’s revolution has outlasted eleven US Presidents.

It is in this context that terrorism against Cuba has been a fact of life almost since the very start in 1959. While Castro’s victory at the Bay of Pigs and the infamous missile crisis of 1963, when Khruschev and Kennedy brought the world to the nuclear brink in a game of bluff, have been written and reported on voluminously the small island’s fight against ongoing terrorism is a lonely and often silent one. And while it would be wrong to blame the US as a nation for this terrorism, the fact remains that the terrorists live, fund raise and plan their acts from South Florida and have done so for over fifty years. It is probably the case that most readers have not heard about this terrorism against Cuba, about the long list of hotel bombings, crop poisonings including precious tobacco plants, infrastructure sabotage efforts and the never ending and bizarre attempts on Fidel Castro’s life that range from exploding cigars to beard poisoning agents.

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Lies and Obfuscation Have Been the Name of the Game in the GSOC Bugging Scandal

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Lying is ingrained into Irish politics. There is nothing new in politicians lying but in the case of Ireland, it has become so commonplace that instead of anger there is only apathy or indifference to it. In Ireland, both politicians and the average person consider it so par for the course that Pat Rabbitte is able to go on national television and declare that lying in the lead up to a general election is something that you “tend to do”. The case of the bugging of the headquarters of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) is no different in this regard. We have seen government ministers, high-ranking members of the Gardaí, and journalists, lie and obfuscate. The facts are clear and are uncontroversial. The reaction to the revelations have been anything but uncontroversial, however.

First off, Alan Shatter and Enda Kenny were more concerned with the fact that they weren’t informed about GSOC carrying out an investigation into suspicions that their HQ was bugged than the fact that bugging had potentially, and likely, taken place. The government claimed that under Section 80 subsection 5 of the Garda Síochána Act, GSOC were obligated to inform the office of the Minister of Justice of their investigation. Shatter was still claiming this last night in the Dáil. The problem is that no such obligation exists, with the supposed obligation of GSOC to have informed the minister’s office of their investigation being purely discretionary. This position was backed by former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness on the February 18th edition of Tonight With Vincent Browne. This particular claim continues to do the rounds, no doubt to the government’s advantage, in order to beat the GSOC around the head and inevitably sully their public image.

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Is emigration state policy? – LookLeft magazine investigates

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Is emigration state policy? – LookLeft magazine investigates

The new issue of LookLeft magazine, Ireland’s leading progressive media outlet available in newsagents country wide, includes articles on emigration and how it has benefited conservative forces in the Republic and an in-depth look at the events and impact of the 1913 Lockout.

In an article investigating the impact of emigration on the Republic, British and Irish civil service documents are quoted which back up the argument that successive Governments’ have tacitly supported the export of our youth.

These include one quoting civil servant Alexis Fitzgerald, an advisor to Taoiseach John Costello commenting that, “High emigration, granted a population excess, releases social tension which would otherwise explode, and makes possible a stability of manners and customs which would otherwise be the subject of radical change.”

In his in-depth look at the 1913 Lockout’s importance ‘then and now’ historian Brian Hanley asks is the establishment really interested in commemorating the ‘divine gospel of discontent’ as preached by James Larkin.

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The McAleese Report on the Magdalene Laundries (2013)

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Yesterday the McAleese report on the Magdalene Laundries was published. Like many others, I expected that the report would be a whitewash. Why did I expect that?

Martin McAleese is the husband of former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese. She was chosen for election by reactionary forces who sought to undo the advances achieved during the presidency of Mary Robinson, who was seen by them as a left-wing president who sought to advance dangerous causes such as feminism (she had been a highly successful feminist lawyer before her election). For an interesting insight into the selection process within Fianna Fáil read this article.

During her tenure she made many appearances at Catholic Church events. Her most controversial moment came, typically enough, when she took communion in an Anglican Church of Ireland cathedral. That her only controversial action should be theological is characteristic of her presidency which was marked by outward expressions of piety.

In 2010, then President McAleese gave the opening lecture at a conference of the right-wing Italian Catholic movement Comunione e Liberazione in Rimini, Italy. This is how The Italian correspondent of The Irish Times described that organisation:

“Founded in 1954 by Italian Monsignor Luigi Giussani, Comunione e Liberazione (CL) is, to some extent, an Italian version of the influential Spanish lay movement, Opus Dei, although it has no formal connections with Opus Dei. Throughout its history, it has received both public and tacit support from at least three popes – Paul VI, John Paul II and the current pope, Benedict XVI.

The current papal household is run by consecrated members (Memores Domini) of CL. Generally perceived as right-wing, conservative and integrationalist, CL has often been politically active in Italy. In the 1970s, the movement played a prominent part in failed campaigns to prevent the legalisation of both abortion and divorce. CL has always counted important shakers and makers among its public supporters, including most notably the seven-times prime minister Giulio Andreotti.”

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Six Points in Croke Park

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As talks for a new Deal begin here are a half-dozen things you probably know about the Croke Park Deal that should stop the unions extending it.

  1. The Croke Park Deal seems to set up a conflict between pay and job security, on the one hand, and services to the public and the needy on the other. (Of course the real conflict is between pay, job security and services on the one hand and the billions given to the banks on the other. Nevertheless this does not stop the media head fixers from using the structure of the Croke Park Deal to pitch services against pay, job security and conditions. The alternative is for the unions to fight against cuts in services and jobs, wages and conditions.)

  1. The Croke Park Deal seems to accept cuts in services in return for a jobs and pay guarantee. (This impression is reinforced by the lack of union resistance to the cuts and, indeed by point 3 below).

  1. The Croke Park Deal facilitates the cuts in services through co-operation with restructuring and transferring to cover for the reduced staffing.

  1. The Croke Park Deal agrees to massive reductions in (decent and unionised) jobs at the very time when every job is needed and in contradiction to the trade union policy of state-led investment in growth and jobs. (“Public Service Numbers are now [September 2012] 28,000 lower (at 292,000 approx) than their peak (of 320,000 approx) at end 2008”(Progress on the implementation of the Government’s Public Service Reform Plan, 6th September 2012]).
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Be Glad You’re Not Living in One of the Those Terrible High-Tax Countries

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The Government seems to have done a U-turn on the issue of tax exiles.  Despite the Programme for Government’s commitment on the issue, the Sunday Business Post reports that following an avalanche of submissions from the likes of the American Chamber of Commerce, etc. the Minister for Finance looks to do nothing.  Why?  Because it would undermine investment.

Minister Brian Hayes was also at it – claiming that tax increases were effectively over. Minister Lucinda Creighton backed up her party colleague.  And Minister Richard Bruton also warned against further tax increases on high-income groups; again, because of that ol’ investment problem.

Do we see a pattern?  If we increase taxes on high-income groups or the business sector we will lose out on investment.  How valid is this argument?

Let’s bottom-line this:  if maintaining a low-tax regime, whether on high-income earners or the business sector, is the key to ensuring high levels of investment in the economy, then that policy has already been judged to be an utter and absolute failure.

Okay, now let’s work through some arguments.

First, Irish high-income earners pay a lower tax rate than equivalent earners in most other EU-15 countries.  The following is from the OECD Tax and Benefits Calculator, using a two-income household example where one person is earning twice the average wage and another person earns 1.67 the average wage.  In Ireland, this equals €118,750.

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Winning Back the Public’s Trust

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The public outpouring of self-pity by politicians during the holidays would make you think that it’s a hard life being a TD and even harder being a Minister.

Yes the hours are long and the work load heavy. But with a start off salary of €92,000 per year for TDs, a Ministerial salary of €169,000 per year and a lavish system of expenses even after the reductions announced in December’s budget, clearly the financial rewards are good.

In fact they are amongst the best in the entire world.

Nobody is forced to be a politician. We do it out of choice. Many of us do it out of conviction. And we enjoy our work.

Yet, following the debate through December and January it seemed as though our politicians, particularly those in Government, were the victims of a massive smear campaign by a motley crew of anti-political journalists and abusive social media trolls.

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte went so far as to say that all of this negativity was undermining politics itself. What rubbish!

There is no doubt that public trust in politicians and the political process is at a low ebb. But to suggest that this is down to media criticism or negative tweeting is not just nonsense, it is a cynical attempt by some politicians to shift the blame for the problem on to others.

So what is the cause of the growing public mistrust of our political class and the political process?

Back in 2010 public anger was focused on Fianna Fáil. People had come to realise that the governments of Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen were driven by political corruption and economic incompetence.

In the 2011 general election they voted overwhelming for change.

While nobody expected the problems created by politicians such as Michael Martin, Willie O’Dea, Billy Kelleher and Michael McGrath to be fixed overnight, they did believe that the cause of the problem –Fianna Fáil- had been surgically removed from the body politic and a long slow recovery could now begin.

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Ireland’s Leftward Movement

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I spent a few hours analysing election results and the Red C Opinion Poll of Sunday Dec 2rd, 2012. This was done to see whether or by how much the left is getting stronger.

In my method I’ve categorised the Labour Party as left for the analysis, based on their potential to be so in the main, and by virtue of their stated policies in the past. I've also categorised  independent TDs and TDs from smaller parties as either part of the broad ‘left’ or as part of the broad ‘right’, depending on their ideology.

I’ve obviously categorised FF and FG as one on the right. I've done this for four elections (elections 81, 87, 97, 07, 11) and the opinion poll of Dec 2rd, 2012. This has yielded some very interesting results, as follows:

1981: Right 81%, Left = 19%
1987: Right 85%, Left=15%

1997: Right 76%, Left=24%
2007: Right 75%, Left=25%
2011: Right 60%, Left = 40%
2012: Right=57%, Left 43% (Red C Poll Dec 2nd)

Here are just a couple of observations: The tide has turned towards the left progressively since 1987 and particularly since the 2007 election, just before the recession started. However, this move started from 1987 to 2007 (15% to 25% left) and not during another tough and protracted period of austerity from 1981 to 1987, the question is why?

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The System of Allowing Asylum Seekers to Languish in Ireland is the Magdalene Laundries of Our Time

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Gavan Titley has an excellent article in the Guardian which makes a comparison with the Irish state’s responsibility for the conditions suffered by the occupants of Ireland’s gulag system of laundries and industrial schools and the immoral inadequacy of the direct provision system for asylum seekers and the regularity of deportation.

“At present, approximately 6,000 people live in direct provision accommodation centres in Ireland while their asylum claims are processed. Originally introduced as an “emergency measure” in 1999 to speed up asylum determination procedures, over a third have been in this system for more than three years, and waits of seven or eight years are not unheard of. Unable to access education, employment or frequently even to cook for themselves, asylum-seekers are accommodated and fed, and granted an adult weekly allowance of €19.10 (rates that have not changed in real terms since their introduction over a decade ago). For this other population, also corralled and controlled outside of society, it is unsurprising that anxiety, depression and ill health are widespread.

No comparison should obscure the particular forms of violence and suffering that mark different experiences. But the parallels are politically important. Ill health scarred the lives of children in industrial schools – a recent report has documented the appalling conditions and health problems of the children of asylum seekers, who constitute one-third of the population of the direct provision system. According to O’Toole, thousands of people died each decade in the neglectful conditions of psychiatric hospitals – in September Emmanuel Marcel Landa became the latest person to die in the direct provision system, and as Sue Conlon of the Irish Refugee Council noted, “the impact of long delays, lengthy residence in direct provision accommodation and the real threat of deportation may well have been a contributory factor in Mr Landa’s untimely death”.

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Corruption and Dishonesty at the Heart of Government

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The James Reilly Affair is nowhere near from over. Róisín Shortall may have gone, but big questions remain. How they are answered will have significant consequences for the Government, the two men at its helm and the parties they lead.

James Reilly has yet to provide a credible explanation for the addition of locations in his own constituency to the primary care centre priority list. Paul Cullen’s article in last Saturday’s Irish Times clearly demonstrates that Minister Reilly’s explanations to date simply don’t stack up.

Róisín Shortall’s matter of fact description of the decision as ‘stroke politics’ on RTE radio last Saturday demands a response from Minister Reilly. Ministers Varadkar and Creighton clearly concur, as do Labour party backbenchers such as Arthur Spring.

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