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Bertie's 'loolas' unite!:-) Can the Lisbon No campaigners form a new Irish opposition movement?
Thursday June 26, 2008 20:12 by Brian
A look at the political thinking of the various groups that campaigned or voted No to Lisbon, with a view to seeing if it was possible for these groups to form a new united Irish opposition movement.
As the dust settles on the Lisbon verdict I think a lot of observers on the No side are beginning to feel that there is something radically wrong with the body politic in Ireland. Virtually all Irish political parties, and the representatives of the 'social partners', allied to nearly all the media organs, were in favour of a Yes vote while the majority of the Irish people were in favour of the No side. It just seems that these political parties etc no longer make much of an effort to represent us anymore, instead it seems that all these groups operate as PR agents for the EU as that body seeks to control us. Anyway a lot of people are clearly thinking this way now, the question is what are we going to do about it?
Clearly we need some kind of new political party or movement to properly represent the kind of people who voted No, and hopefully will go to make the Irish state genuinely accountable to its people, many of whom are suffering from disastrous public services, ruinous personal debts, and now high unemployment and even emigration. The good news here is that by some miracle or other enough sincere and committed activists were able to come together in the No campaign and carve out a victory in the teeth of massive odds against them. The point is that this demonstrates that there is a critical mass of activists, enough to make a real political difference, if they could only unite like that on other issues. I think anyway that these groups are just too small on their own normally to make any difference to the political climate in Ireland, if they remain fragmented. Obviously then the plan is to somehow get all (or most) of these groups into one room and come up with some unified group structure that could go on to support many of the other important issues around Ireland that are also neglected by the main political parties and the established media.
Of course the first objection that everybody would raise to that proposal is that these groups are so unalike that any kind of unity between them is impossible. But are they so incompatible? If you were to really get down to it and figure out the core values that motivated the activists in the No campaign maybe it might be found that unity is possible? If it was the case that those core values proved to be compatible with one another then you would simply create a unified new party that would incorporate all the core values of these currently separate streams of thought in Irish politics. Here is my assessment (for what its worth, I am sure there are plenty out there who could do a much better job of this!) of the kind of genuine dissenting opposition that is out there and was manifested in the No campaign:
1) Republican Groups
I think its obvious that a lot of the energy in the No camp came from various Republican groups. There is Sinn Fein obviously (which is of course already a well funded political party with a large media profile which probably doesn't need to join with any new group) but also the various non SF Republicans, many of whom feel misrepresented by that party and who seem to be coming together and growing in numbers in parts of the North. Republicanism, I suppose, is a distinct and long term Irish political ideology which doesn't always feel the need to join with any other group but maybe the merit in forming a wider nationalist grouping with these other parties could be contemplated? After all isn't it true that Irish political movements have succeeded best when people were united together like this e.g. in Sinn Fein before the Civil war, in the Civil Rights Movement, and even maybe in the first Inter Party Government which founded the Republic of Ireland while Sean MacBride was Foreign Minister, only 10 years after he was Chief of Staff of the IRA? Anyway trying to guess the core values here, possibly any new grouping they might contemplate joining would need to:
a) be forthright in defending Irish sovereignty against whatever party hopes to impinge on it, including the UK (or US) govt, the EU and any too powerful international organisations;
b) recognise that the basic unit of what we consider Ireland would be the whole island of Ireland and that this grouping would be organised accordingly;
c) agree that full cooperation with the organs of the state (both states), particularly the police, would be withheld until such time as the group is satisfied that they are not just operating as the eyes and ears of international intelligence agencies who have been found to support, rather than oppose, terrorist acts in the past;
d) undertake to support the civil rights of Republican (and indeed all) prisoners and work to ensure their timely release, bearing in mind that we now know that senior intel figures in the UK (and maybe NI govt ministers) are just as guilty as these prisoners and are not being punished for it.
As against that there are also obvious dangers to other groups being associated with Republican ones, so maybe a few rules would need to be set out on that score:
a) that this new group would be dedicated to achieving its aims by peaceful means (which of course includes actions like strikes, protests, boycotts etc), and in no way whatsoever would the organs of this party be linked to any paramilitary group; (Its got to be as clear as a bell that no paramilitary group is associated with this new party, for the obvious reason that it would put off other groups joining in, and secondly because it would be an excuse for the powers that be to close it down.)
b) that the question of the Troubles, and indeed the Irish Civil War, would be left to historians to contemplate, this group would not take an agreed position on who was right or wrong during the Troubles. I only say that because I am hopeful that maybe some ex SDLP people, for example, might get involved in this grouping and would not wish to be seen to agree with the stance taken by Republicans during the Troubles. I am sure the same is true vis a versa and hence it'd bog down the whole new party in endless, ruinous, arguments about Enniskillen, Ballyseedy, and the whole panalopy of historic reasons why Irish people should not cooperate with one another.
2) Catholic Groups
Anybody observing the No campaign surely has to agree that a large part of it was down to Catholic groups like Cóir, with their very successful poster campaign for example, and newspapers like the 'Irish Family Press' and especially 'Alive!' which I think were the only Irish owned newspapers to come out in favour of a No vote. I know a lot of people probably haven't thought to include Catholic groups in any new party, but I don't see why not. This is a large category of sincere and energetic Irish activists, (to be fair) completely central to the success of the No campaign, who should be approached to join a new party? More than any other group they seem to have got a huge dose of blackening from the established media but I notice some felt that they do not deserve this bad press, for example here is a comment from politics.ie:
My guess as to the core values here:
a) That traditional Irish Catholic moral teaching should take that place in the political dialogue of the country which is commensurate with its position as the ethos and heritage of the vast majority of the population. While that may sound wafflish I would say that these Catholic groups oppose two prevailing viewpoints which would therefore need to be absent from any new party that they would wish to join:
i) The prevailing establishment viewpoint which is that Catholic moral teaching is old fashioned, intolerant, uninclusive and has nothing to offer modern day society. Bear in mind that any new grouping would obviously be open to all faiths and none, and that opinions contrary to Catholic moral teaching would of course be totally permissible, openly debated, and indeed passed as the established policy of this new group if a majority of this new party in an Ard Fheis so decide. I am just saying that this overt, in your face, insulting atmosphere towards that teaching would need to be absent in this new party for this group to wish to join it.
ii) Also that Catholic moral teaching should not be brushed aside as just one group to be dealt with alongside Islam, atheism etc in a 'tolerant' society that treats all faiths equally, because in that atmosphere, in practice, the ethos of the vast majority is systematically crushed to accommodate the others. To illustrate that kind of viewpoint consider the debate over primary schools for example. Obviously many are saying that the Catholic Church should not run those schools, because it is seen as intolerant in the context of a multidenominational and multicultural Ireland, whereas Catholic groups would say that this is an example of where this concept of 'tolerance' is just been used to strip out of Ireland all trappings of its traditional Catholic faith and heritage. In the eyes of a lot of Catholic groups, and commentators, this prevailing concept is a constant stick used to beat them with. Hence I think a core value that they would have is that 'tolerance' of other faiths and cultures should never be implemented as a process of watering down or crushing the faith of the majority. Getting back to the schools question, they would feel I think that 'tolerance' is already accommodated by the fact that we have Moslem, Jewish, and Protestant denominational schools and that destroying the Catholic denominational schools, for its own sake, is actually the aim behind some parties who are crying 'tolerance'. This viewpoint occurs in all areas now, and is nearly always to the detriment of Catholics which is why I think it would be a core value for Catholic groups. To clarify then, this new party could of course take the view that Catholic denominational schools are bad and should be scrapped on whatever grounds like administration issues etc, its just that this idea that we have to water things down for the majority to accommodate the minority - as opposed to other ways of being inclusive - is the concept that this new group would need to avoid IMHO for Catholic groups to agree to join it.
I would leave the actual social policies to be decided by the new group by majority vote at an ard fheis, so people can argue the toss on abortion, contraception etc on a case by case basis, and bear in mind that no one group would have an in built majority in this new party.
3) Pro Immigration Control Groups
I know no significant political grouping campaigned on this issue in the Lisbon debate but I think it obviously was an underlying hot political issue, and probably central to the high No vote in working class areas of Dublin and Cork. Also there is much talk in the air of a new political party being formed on this issue which no doubt would attract many political activists energised by this topic. I know its obviously the case that Republican groups traditionally, and the smaller left wing and campaign groups especially, are very sympathetic to the problems that immigrants face and are generally bitterly opposed to groups like the UKIP in the UK. Hence its obviously a tall order expecting these entities to cooperate with the immigration control activists but I wonder if this situation is changing somewhat.
I think it is clear to everyone that Ireland has serious infrastructural problems that are clearly being worsened for everybody by the large immigration inflow that we are now receiving. This is true of schools, hospitals, transport, housing etc. Surely its irresponsible to keep inviting in such large numbers of international citizens when we have no schools etc to serve them? Also is it not irresponsible to invite people into Ireland during the bubble boom years and then have both immigrant and national form larger dole queues during the recession years which are now upon us? In otherwords isn't this pro-immigration to fuel pro-growth policy only a short term thing, when the bust comes what then happens to the immigrants and to the native Irish? I think too that a lot of people on the ground in working class areas can see that this immigration flow has led to serious economic hardship for some native working people, like taxi drivers, and maybe now elements within Republicanism and the small campaign groups (the Catholic groups were there already) might be beginning to see the merit in some kind of tightening of the rate of immigration into Ireland. Anyway the core value that I think this constituency is looking for is:
a) a statement that Irish people have a right to their own homeland in Ireland and that just like the Swiss in Switzerland or the Manx on the Isle of Man etc they are entitled to limit immigration into their country to a rate that doesn't overwhelm the ethnicity of the native population and doesn't bring with it undue resource or unemployment pressures;
b) a recognition that the present rate of immigration into Ireland has now reached or exceeded that limit and therefore should be curtailed.
4) Smaller Left wing and Campaign Groups
There are obviously many small left wing parties and groups currently out there campaigning on the various issues like Shannon, Tara, Shell to Sea, hospitals etc etc who I think are getting increasingly disillusioned with the powers that be in the established parties and media. These groups were also prominent in the No campaign and represented by groups like CAEU. Maybe as the Celtic Tiger brainwashing :-) wears off people the underlying poverty that currently exists in large parts of Ireland (and was disguised by the rate of personal borrowing) will come more to the fore and possibly will politicise an increasing number of Irish citizens. This more socially aware group will then probably grow and is also I think looking for a new home in a larger Irish political movement. Its core values might be:
a) similar to the Republican groups in looking for proper sovereignty over Irish natural resources, and airports, and respect for Irish heritage;
b) an overall aim to improve those services which are essential to peoples lives (e.g. housing, transport, health care, education etc) and provide them free from the state or affordable from the private sector;
c) also a recognition that (b) is not currently true of modern Ireland, where many public services seem to be run with a view to extracting extortionate charges from the general public (a simple example might be parking charges at hospitals), and where many other essential services are hugely unaffordable to ordinary people (e.g. housing, car insurance for young males) and in some cases run for profit by large private monopolies (e.g. telecommunications).
So thats it, thats my take anyway on the core thinking of the main groups that campaigned or voted No in the Lisbon referendum and who feel disenfranchised and excluded from the current political setup. I'm sure most people would say that its impossible for these groups to work together but they did over Lisbon and if they don't work together again then the chances are that each group on its own will go nowhere? Obviously you need a critical mass of supporters to achieve anything? Look at Shell to Sea, the most successful grassroots political campaign in Ireland before Lisbon afaik. It was supported strongly by the various smaller left wing parties, alongwith the anti-war groups and Justice campaigners, and also was backed by a large Republican contingent. These in turn were allied to the ordinary Irish people of Rossport who said the rosary in the face of state and Shell oppression and who were also led in part by a nun, Sr Majella McCarron (1), and are now supported strongly by the local priests.(2)
The simple mechanism that I would propose to form this new party would be for the above interested parties to prepare some kind of statement of their core values and that these collected statements would be incorporated into a new statement of principles for the new political grouping. Then they would organise some kind of joint Ard Fheis and take it from there. The question is can these various groups live with the kind of core values outlined above? That is the real question, if this was possible (an admittedly big 'if'!) that would be the basis for unity in this grouping. Obviously you don't have to believe all that the other groups believe, you just have to respect those core values. No doubt many people would regard this as a pointless exercise but I don't know how a large genuine Irish opposition movement can be formed without trying to bring together these sincere activists in these various groups. And I respectfully submit that at least people should start thinking about how they can work together to build on their great success in the Lisbon referendum.
1. http://www.corribsos.com/index.php?id=232 .
2. http://www.corribsos.com/index.php?id=1768 .