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Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Fein posted the following on Facebook and in a few hours, i.e. by midday on April 1st 2015, it had been shared over a thousand times.

“There was some mention earlier on that the Taoiseach and the Fine Gael/Labour government want to rewrite the Proclamation as we head towards 2016.

The Proclamation of the Irish Republic belongs to the people of Ireland. No government, not least the current government, has any right to alter or rewrite it.” – https://www.facebook.com/MaryLouMcDonaldTD/photos/a.498206116331.275763.58340031331/10152707553836332/?type=1&theater

Clearly it is ridiculous to suggest that a document produced a century ago could be rewritten. Three things, however, need to be said. Firstly, it is important that no document be elevated to the status of sacred text to be placed beyond examination and criticism. In the case of the 1916 proclamation its opening lines for example about Ireland summoning her children to her flag are incompatible with citizenship of a republic. Summoning children is more deeply daft and offensive than the UK monarchic tradition of referring to citizens as subjects.

Secondly, MLMcD is taking the familiar authoritarian line of speaking for the people. To say that the wording of a text belongs to the people of Ireland is meaningless other than in reference to the constitution where that ownership involves not stiffened preservation but vesting the power to change the text in a referendum. While the claim that the 1916 proclamation belongs to the people is meaningless, the devious intention behind the claim is not. This is an incident in a longer power play. It is a device that has been used many times. The trick is to put matters beyond discussion, to create blinding loyalty, respect and willing obedience. A person or group is to be insinuated as the true representative of the people and/or interpreter of special texts in opposition to an elected government, parliament or indeed the entire constitutional state. It is profoundly undemocratic relying on a perverse understanding of “the people”.

Thirdly, if the Taoiseach or anyone else wants to open a discussion on some sort of Proclamation for a New Republic, then let a debate begin. However, it must be emphasised that the discussion is essentially about choosing between contested political values. To be effective it will be a fraught discussion because Ireland is unused to contests over values, setting priorities and limits, and marking behaviour and beliefs as unacceptable – with the intention of change from time to time.

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The most popular post-referendum view seems to be that the result foiled an attempted constitutional “power grab”. The sudden decision by the Taoiseach to abolish the Seanad was nothing of the sort.It was Enda together with his advisers looking at a fast growing political constituency in Ireland and thinking, “We could attract them. Look at them: they despise politics, politicians and the state, they’d love the idea of an attack on all three and we could easily market senate abolition as just that.” * Given that survey data suggest that “savings” was the most common reason for voting Yes, Enda and co. may have been relatively successful in wooing that ASAP (Anti-state/anti-politics) constituency. That the outcome was rejection of the proposal may be due less to support for a reformed senate and more to do with a bizarre consistency among ASAP voters, many of whom – as DDI advocate – will vote against anything proposed by the government. In other words the referendum split the ASAP vote between a Yes side which confirmed the Taoiseach’s analysis and delighted in the prospect of fewer politicians, and a No side which would prefer to line up what they see as the elite rather than be on the same side as the government.

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* https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/the-taoiseach-intends-to-sacrifice-the-seanad-to-feed-the-growing-anti-politics-constituency/

I was never in favour of abolishing the Seanad. My reasons were to do with mass political communication which many would dismiss with one of censorship’s favourite labels: “academic”. Now, however, there is a more pressing reason to vote No.

I won’t go on too much about the communication aspect but some explanation is required. My interest is political communication and the information – i.e. data and argument – that a citizen requires to participate in public controversies. One of the requirements is access to a range of viewpoints. The Seanad wasn’t designed with this in mind but in its design there was a suggestion of comprehensive debate, something rare and something that could be altered to do the job.

Election to the Seanad is by way of some universities and by way of industrial panels – agriculture, labour and the like. Commentators have pointed to the quality of Seanad speakers delivered by the universities but also to the exclusion of any particular industrial component to the panel elections which came to be dominated by routine inter party competition. There have also been nominations by Taoisigh which sought to recruit particular perspectives. In summary, the Seanad is designed for the most part to institutionalise and deliver sectional perspectives but this simply hasn’t happened.

Had it happened, it would not have been a great success for political communication – or rather for the kind of political communication which the republican or participative citizen needs. It is corporatist thinking. The assumption is that all political debate is based on self-interest and competition for resources. It is the traditional Fianna Fáil way and has become the standard media perspective in Ireland. It has indeed an appealing democratic veneer. Its notion of representation is that voices must be heard from regions, classes, industries, NGOs, lobbies etc. The problem of course is that they may all be saying the same thing: “Me! No, me! No, no, me, me!” This is an intensely conservative position which can often give the appearance of radicalism as when a bit of extra resources for a “deserving” group is championed.

It could be different. Think about this as a specification to be handed to the designers of a new Seanad: It is required that the Seanad reflect not the interests of select groups but that it publicly and fully thrash out all issues on which it deliberates. In summary my long standing position on the Seanad is that it has a promising design which needs to be changed.

Enough of that. We are facing a referendum to abolish the Seanad. The reason we are facing this now has nothing whatsoever to do with arguments put forward over the years that the Seanad is elitist, undemocratic or unnecessary. No, this is happening because the Taoiseach and his advisors can see clearly that there is a growing, right wing, anti-state, anti-politics constituency and he has decided to feed it by sacrificing the Seanad. The cusp of competition for political support now is this large group (There’s no knowing its size yet.) of angry people. It is certainly odd that FG which prides itself on defending democracy should now be prompted in this direction. With the exception of revolutionaries seeking a crisis which might be exploited, the desire among leftists to attach to – even to lead – such people borders on incomprehensible. It seems to be based on a belief that anyone or group opposing austerity and willing to take part in protest is progressive – even socialist. In other words, the very people that might be expected to stand in the way of a populist move to the right are competing to lead it.

Two things remain to be addressed. Firstly, a no vote might be equally attractive to a member of the anti-state/anti politics (ASAP) grouping; “no” would be a rejection of a government proposal. However, there doesn’t seem to be anyone on the No side canvassing support on this basis.

Secondly, ASAP may be nothing of consequence. My concern with it grew slowly. I watched Occupy and spoke to some of its adherents. I attended anti-property tax meetings. I live an ordinary social life and take part in conversations. On this anecdotal level ASAP gives cause for concern in terms of what they say, the aggressive stance taken and their numbers. There’s more, however. Published polling data shows firm support for right wing parties, that parties seek ASAP support suggests the existence of data that make that course worthwhile and the utter dominance of the ASAP perspective in the media all combine to support a case for treating ASAP very seriously.

The Taoiseach has reduced this referendum to a question of for or against cutting the number of politicians. That proposal is close to the hearts of the ASAP people. In these particular circumstances people who have been in favour of abolishing the Seanad for other reasons should consider voting No. A Yes gives encouragement to an extremely individualist brand of politics and many of those that I’ve heard advocating abolition of the Seanad over the years certainly don’t belong on that side.

All the indications are that the McAleese report on the Magdalen Laundries is a disgrace. Criminals are hiding behind the familiar device of highlighting the formal responsibility of the state. Moreover, discussion of this awful report is diverted into guff about whether or not the Taoiseach should apologise now or next week.

Look at and listen to the woman at 08.30 here: http://www.rte.ie/player/ie/show/10108232/ She is owed wages and pension contributions by people who hid her from factory inspectors. She was kept away from school. She was beaten. She is not old. It is certain that at least some of the perpetrators of the crimes against her are still alive. The state has a responsibility alright: to investigate these crimes and to apprehend the perps. There is a role too for the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Yesterday (Nov. 2nd 2011) on RTE Radio 1, Pat Kenny interrupted his morning radio programme to bring us “breaking news”. The news was that SF had left the Dáil until the afternoon in protest at the lack of parliamentary debate on the payment of hundreds of millions of Euro to bondholders at the now defunct Anglo Irish Bank. The SF finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty, was brought on air to protest that there was little on no debate on handing over so much money when there was no moral or legal obligation to pay.

So far, so true! Indeed it is so true that there couldn’t possibly be a debate in any conventional sense of the word because absolutely no one is arguing that there is a moral or legal obligation to pay. On this point An Taoiseach, An Tánaiste, Fine Gael, The Labour Party and Sinn Fein are in agreement. However, on radio Pearse Doherty was allowed to pretend that there was disagreement on this. Indeed he said that the Taoiseach had been forced to admit that this was the case, whereas the Taoiseach couldn’t possibly have said otherwise.

Where there is disagreement is over the likely consequences of refusing to pay. SF of course is well aware of this but the last thing they want to do is engage in the real controversy because that turns on debating and considering risks. You see, the European Central Bank want Ireland to pay up. One response might be, “How dare they?” Well, the difficulty is that they keep Ireland supplied with the money to pay welfare recipients and public service workers. Because of this the government and many others feel it is prudent to pay up. In short, though there is no obligation to pay, Ireland is forced to pay. Should Ireland refuse to pay in full or in part, it is possible but unlikely that there will be no negative consequences. However, it is also possible that the money to keep Irish society going would be stopped. Essentially the difference between the government and SF is that the former don’t want to risk the livelihoods of many Irish people, while the latter want to run that risk.

This difference certainly does need to be debated. A public service broadcaster has an obligation to bring public controversy to the citizens. In this case a newsworthy event – a dramatic parliamentary walkout – was covered at the expense of an obligation to inform citizens. Sure, they were informed of the walkout but from then on they were subjected to lies and not the slightest attempt was made to call attention to the real – the only – debate.

I don’t want to say a word about Garret FitzGerald’s political career or his political perspective, his journalism or his other writing. I hardly knew him and became an acquaintance only after he retired. You see, I began bumping into him at all sorts of gatherings but what these gatherings had in common was political conversation. This was when I began to appreciate Citizen Garret.

Here was a former Taoiseach who turned up and stayed for hours. He didn’t need to be invited, didn’t need to be THE speaker. He was a far cry from a typical star political attraction who breezed in on time, delivered an anodyne speech, took polite applause and left. No, Garret took citizenship seriously.

He wanted to take a full part in national debates and “full” meant listening as well as speaking. He was looking for a persuasive argument and willing to change if he heard one. He disagreed and he required that you disagree with him.

Two little stories from the fairly recent past:

Tom Garvin was speaking in one of the large lecture theatres in UCD. Garret was in the audience. I heard a man in front of me whisper to his friend, “Poor Garret is lookin’ shook; he’s nodding off.” A couple of seconds later Garret looked up, “Tom, have you considered …?” Citizen Garret was very much on the ball!

On another occasion at a smaller gathering (It might have been the one at which I realised I was on nodding terms with Garret.) I was talking to two young women, students. They noticed Garret and one told me of a question she’d love to ask him. I advised her to go ask him but she was young and in awe, and anyway he was deep in conversation. Then he moved off in search of a seat. I gestured encouragement and over they went. They must have addressed him as Dr. because I heard him say “Garret”. All three sat and conversation began. They were still at it when I waved them goodnight.

Garret showed that Active Citizenship is the highest rank in society.