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Problems Problems
From: Irish Political Review: Editorials
Date: February, 2011
By: Editorial

Melting Down Ireland?

The Opposition parties have been gifted with the opportunity to win the Election and save the economy, which has already been saved by the discredited Government.  That's democracy.

Having saved the economy the discredited Government consolidated its arrangements with a Finance Bill, which the Opposition Parties disagree with and oppose.  But the Opposition Parties are facilitating the passage of the Finance Bill through the Dail, while voting against it.  They might have subjected the Bill to a thorough scrutiny in the ordinary way, dwelling on the grounds of their opposition to it with a view to amending it, or even defeating it.

They chose instead to facilitate the rushed passage of the Bill through the Dail while voting against it for the record.  They did not want the Bill which they opposed, and which they think (or say) is bad for the country, to be defeated.  They did not want the country to be saved from a Finance Bill which they say is damaging to it.  The wanted the Bill passed, with them voting against it, so that it would be an accomplished fact before they won the election and became the Government.  That's democracy.

Why have they acted like this?  Because subjecting the Bill to proper Dail scrutiny would have delayed the Election for a few weeks, and they had the nightmare vision of the Election victory slipping away from them if they clarified the basis of their disagreement with it by mounting serious opposition to it.

The Fourth Estate (which in Ireland consists of the Irish Times) laid it down months ago that Fianna Fail—a corrupt, incompetent, irresponsible party—must be allowed by the Opposition to put the country back on a sound footing before being brought down, and destroyed if possible.  And what could the Opposition do but obey?

It is said that Cowen "didn't do perception", meaning that he was careless of how the Irish Times perceived him.  The Opposition Parties are all perception.  They are a gleam in the eye of the Irish Times.  They were told that Fianna Fail must be allowed to save the economy before being destroyed, and what could they do but obey?

According to the latest figures the Irish economy is set for modest growth in 2011, while the British economy is shrinking.  So the time is ripe for destroying Fianna Fail.  That's democracy.

The economic crisis is being used as an opportunity for creating a sense of Constitutional crisis and demanding a new Constitution.  But the crisis had nothing whatever to do with the Constitution—at least not with the Irish Constitution.  It is a crisis of globalist finance capitalism, and of a European Union that has lost its bearings through random expansion, merging with the offensive militarism of born-again NATO, and descending into free-market capitalism under British influence.

Ireland threw itself into this free-wheeling, globalist, post-Cold War capitalism—and came to grief with it.  It lost control of itself by doing so.  It is hard to see how it could have kept control of itself while participating in this globalist binge, and profiting from it.  And, while it was profiting from it, we do not recall the Opposition Parties urging the country to hold back and hang onto the ideals of De Valera's Ireland.

The crisis was international.  In dealing with the crisis, the country was thrown back on its own resources.  And it was the resourcefulness of Fianna Fail—the only substantial political party in the state—that stabilised the situation.

The Irish Times—the purpose of whose existence in recent decades has been to destroy Fianna Fail—did not avail of the crisis in the first instance to attempt to give the coup de grace to Fianna Fail.  The Irish Times personnel and its backers are among the wealthiest people in the country.   In modern times wealth cannot be saved up, as in olden times.  It must be invested at a profit in order to be saved.  And the wealth of the Irish Times and its clientele was in the banks that, left to their own devices, under the British influences that led them on, would have failed.  But the Irish Times knew very well that there was only one competent governing party in the state.  Fine Gael and Labour were to it only a means of subverting Fianna Fail.  So they were instructed to let Fianna Fail sort out the economy before being brought down.

As Bernard Shaw's capitalist in Major Barbara said:  "Give me deeper darkness:  money is not made in the light".  And the Irish Times, as the effective Irish Fourth Estate, is in the happy position of bringing things to light or losing them in the dark as its interests suggest.

Its object now is to use a passing economic crisis as a means of throwing the State into the melting-pot.  It editorial on January 11th was a manifesto of dissolution:

"Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
…The Trees, Philip Larkin

"…

"The sense of helplessness that gripped Ireland in the last months of 2010 was not irrational…  The EU/IMF rescue package undoubtedly involved a loss of sovereignty…  Events seemed to spiral beyond our collective capacity to… influence them…  We now know the worst about ourselves.  The things we have feared most have come to pass…  The IMF has come in.  Our cherished institutions of Church and State have disgraced themselves.  There is little more the new decade has to teach us about Irish venality, cronyism and amorality…  Having now fully absorbed the shock of the crash, we have the opportunity to ask the question:  who and what are we as a people?  One of the exciting things about the present moment is that more and more people are talking… about that question.  It is the topic of the dinner table…  Almost a century ago, in a time of similar ferment, W.B. Yeats wrote that 'there is a moment in the history of every nation when it is plastic, when it is like wax, when it is ready to hold for generations the shape that is given to it.  Ireland is now plastic and will be for a few years to come…'  He was right…  It is now fluid again.  The form it will take for the next generation will be decided in the coming decade.  That is a large responsibility…"


But the Irish Times is eager to take on the responsibility of determining the shape of our future for us.  And one of the worst things we need to know about ourselves is that we allowed a situation to be brought about in which the Irish Times can say "we" in these matters without being laughed out of court.

"The ferment has yet to find concrete forms, but there is every reason to believe that it will feed into a revival of our democracy."   If it is acknowledged—other than for the sake of argument—that we ever had a democracy, and if this democracy is to be "revived", then the new will be much like the old in its essentials.  Democracy is conservative—though perhaps not quite as conservative as the trees which, "afresh, afresh, afresh", begin every new year to reproduce themselves exactly as they were last year.

But that is not what the Irish Times wants at all—any more than a hundred years ago it wanted the shape that it now affects to lament the passing of, as a means of ensuring the passing.

How did this old Ireland—the democratic Ireland of "venality, cronyism and amorality" that all of a sudden we now cherish—come about?  Through the Home Rule conflict that came to the brink of war;  through deluded participation in the Great War, also known as The War That Will End War;  through the 1916 rebellion which the Irish Times saw as the expression of a cancer that needed cutting out of the body politic;  through the electoral rebellion of 1918, which the Irish Times saw as a joke in poor taste;  through Britain's war against the electoral rebellion;  through the 'Treaty' imposed at the point of a gun;  through the 'Civil War' that Britain insisted the Treatyites should fight and supplied with the means of fighting;  through years when the Treatyite authorities sought to exclude the large and rapidly-growing Anti-Treaty electoral movement from the Dail by means of the British Oath;  through the Anti-Treaty electoral victory of 1932 and the Treatyite lurch into Fascism in response to it;  through the long series of Fianna Fail victories by which the Fascist movement was worn down and the Parliamentary system founded;  through the Economic War of the 1930s that ended British occupation of the Irish Ports;  and through the neutrality in Britain's Second World War of the 20th century, which is now condemned by the best people.

And where was the Irish Times in that long series of conflicts with Britain through which sovereignty and democracy were established?

In order to encourage the idea that the State is in Constitutional melt-down, the paper fosters Utopian notions of democracy.  Ten years ago, when Professor Foster was cock of the academic walk, he regularly dismissed the independence policy of Sinn Fein as "visionary", meaning that it was inherently impossible—mad.  But all that stood in the way of it was British militarism.  Now, however, the Irish Times is encouraging a visionary mentality in earnest.

Its corruption expert, Elaine Byrne, quoting Kinsey, proposed a sex test for politicians, and seemed to be in earnest about it (Jan. 11).  She thinks that the young are better at sex and that politics should, therefore, be handed over to them.  She was writing in place of Garret FitzGerald, who was on leave.  We don't know if he returned and commented.  

An apt comment would be Freud's view that civilisation is founded on sexual inhibition.  The context of the free sex activity of the young in very recent years was not brought about through free love.  It is probably a symptom of the decline of European Christian civilisation in which sexual inhibition played a prominent part.  And its Islamophobia is probably soundly based on a sense that, despite its cult of youth, it is old and is declining in the presence of a purposefully inhibited youthful civilisation which it failed to crush—But we tried to crush it, didn't we?  Remember Gallipoli!

Vincent Browne joined in the mostly inane Irish Times constitution-mongering, for instance proposing on 19th November that it should be made unconstitutional to 'whip' party members into line for Dail votes, and proposing that a third of the Dail should be able to prolong parliamentary debates indefinitely.  As though the Dail and individual TDs could have averted the international crisis of finance capitalism, in which Ireland is caught as a small cog.

However, he redeemed himself to some extent on 26th January with the following crisp analysis:  

"The fact is that Fianna Fáil has bought into the neoliberal consensus:  that the state has no place in the economy, that economic growth is paramount and free markets are the engine of growth, that monetary incentives are indispensable to economic success, and too bad about inequality but we will do our best to deal with consistent poverty!  So too, incidentally, has Fine Gael and the Labour Party bought into that consensus, however much the latter may now protest this is not so…"


He might have said that any alternative to the Cowen-led Government will probably increase the neo-liberal bias, with the exception of a Sinn Fein-led administration.

But Fianna Fail is ultimately flexible on such matters. What it bought into, it might sell off again. Listen to what Ray MacSharry had to say recently:

"Mr MacSharry, dubbed 'Mac the Knife' because of his sharp cuts of public expenditure in the 1980s, gave the Government 'two' out of 10 for its handling of health and warned that the HSE [Health Services Executive] which controlled one-third of the entire budget, had to be taken back under ministerial control. 'I would never allow a situation where €15 billion or € 16 billion of taxpayers' money would be handed over to an organisation to spend in whatever way they like. That is wrong, it’s not democratic and it will have to be changed', he told a seminar in the Dáil of former parliamentarians. He also said the National Roads Authority and the Higher Education Authority should be back under ministerial control" (Irish Times, 22 January 2010).


Fianna Fail having been around since before Protectionism, and before the fashion for Privatisation and Globalisation can therefore put these things in perspective—they are policies to serve the nation and if they do not serve that purpose they need to be changed. Reports of Fianna Fail's death might be exaggerated. 

Fintan O'Toole has refused to put the Irish Times view of things to the electorate by contesting the election.  He says he is an opinion-former.  He is there to judge the populace, not to curry favour with it.  But he says that he put fifty ideas on the Internet and that it would be a good idea for people to get together in groups and discuss them. We have not heard so far of any Fintan-Groups being formed.

But Fintan has published a rebellious pamphlet,  Enough Is Enough.  How To Build A New Republic.  On the cover it has a picture of the old order overthrown outside the Dail and the Financial Services Centre, and Kathleen Ni Houlihain trampling over them with a Harp in one hand and a Tricolour in the other.

The pamphlet consists of Five Myths, Five Decencies, and Fifty Ideas For Action.  Three of the Myths are that Ireland is a Republic, that it has a representative Government,and that it is a Parliamentary democracy:

"Irish people believe they live in a parliamentary democracy.  Until they grasp the rather obvious fact that they don't, they have no hope of creating a republican system of government"  (p61).

"A new realism has to begin with the reality that the economic disaster has deep roots in Irish political and institutional culture.  Nothing will change unless politics are reinvented.  That reinvention begins with the realisation that five underlying truths of Irish politics are not true at all"  (p10).


Three of these false truths have been given.  The others are the Myth of Charity, which is the belief that there are no rights, only gifts from the Church;  and the Myth of Wealth, which is a belief that the country was wealthy a few years ago.

Four of the Five Decencies are conventional.  We should have Security, Health, Education and Equality.  But the fifth, which is the means of achieving the other four, is novel.  It is Citizenship, to be achieved through Ethical Austerity.  So bring back De Valera?  Not at all.  Dev's austerity was Catholic.  What O'Toole seems to have in mind is something like the stoical austerity of the collective republic of ancient Rome, in the days when Cincinnatus could be called from the plough to be Dictator for a season, save the State, and then return to the plough—centuries before Rome became a prosperous and cultured Empire, and centuries before the Empire became degenerate and was preserved by Christianity.

OK Fintan.  We're game.  Just lead the way!

(But has your secret Directory approved?)

A great weakness in this pamphlet, which wants us all to stand up and pull down the house, is that it was issued in another house.  It is published as a book by the elite English bourgeois publisher, Faber & Faber.  ("Shall I part my hair behind? /  Do I dare to eat a peach? /  I shall wear white flannel trousers and walk upon the beach!")

Coming from that source, who was it likely to influence?  The Financial Times.  Wolfgang Münchau of the FT is one of the handful of writers quoted in it.  The FT policy for the finance crisis in Ireland was default.  And, as far as we could grasp, O'Toole's policy too was for a default.  And this FT editorial of January 23rd might have been inspired by O'Toole's bookish pamphlet:

"Irish meltdown

"Ireland’s coalition has become the first eurozone government to fall as a result of Europe’s debt crisis. That is unsurprising. Yet, the justifiable anger of Irish voters at being saddled with the debts of their reckless bankers cannot itself explain the extraordinary implosion of Fianna Fáil, the party that has long dominated Irish politics.

"Brian Cowen, the prime minister, was forced into calling early elections on Thursday, to resign as party leader on Saturday, all after winning a confidence vote from his parliamentary party on Tuesday. His discredited leadership had been challenged after undisclosed meetings with Sean FitzPatrick, the banker at the heart of the financial crisis, came to light. What followed was utterly cynical.

"Six members of the cabinet resigned and Mr Cowen tried to give an electoral leg-up to lesser-known Fianna Fáil MPs with scattergun offers of ministerial portfolios. This reshuffle—and eventually the government itself—was scuttled by the party’s Green coalition partners, leaving Fianna Fáil in meltdown and mutiny.

"These factional antics, as Ireland faces arguably the worst crisis in its history as an independent nation, could turn the expected Fianna Fáil rout at the polls into electoral annihilation.

"That may be richly deserved. This is, after all, the party that through its cronyism and incompetence artificially prolonged the boom of the 1990s into the credit and property bubble of the past decade, and then gave a blanket guarantee to its banker friends that has ended in the humiliation of Ireland becoming a ward of the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

"Fianna Fáil will almost certainly be replaced by a coalition of the centre-right Fine Gael and centre-left Labour parties. But it will be vacating a lot of political space, some of which will be taken up by populists, including the Republicans of Sinn Féin, now poised for a breakthrough in the south.

"It is thus vitally important that the campaign now opening properly addresses the issues of governance and accountability raised by the crisis. Whether creditors of the banks should share the pain of the bail-out with taxpayers will—and should—be a dominant theme, and the mainstream parties must take ownership of this and not leave the field to the populists.

"This should also be the occasion for the independent voices clamouring for a new politics in Ireland to come forward and lay out their stalls. Irish voters, and the future of the republic, need no less."


The call by the Financial Times editorial for the independent voice to join the electoral fray can only have been directed to Fintan O'Toole, who has profitably made himself the voice of Ireland to the international world of papers and broadcasting.  On January 29th, after a week of silence, he spoke again, to say that he would not come forth and lead the people.  He had given the matter serious thought, as one should after a call from the City of London, before deciding not to.  He gives a bunch of reasons, which can only be described as lame excuses in the light of what he has been preaching.  There is, for example, the difficulty of finding a party to join, after offending them all.  How could he even have thought of joining one of the parties of the bogus and bankrupt system he has been denouncing?  He should have presented himself as the leader of a campaign of righteous renewal which would sweep all those compromises aside—as the O'Connell of a new dispensation.  

Having refused the call, can he now resume his lavisly-rewarded career as prophet with a safe job, in the midst of the catastrophe and corruption that he preaches—a timid, self-serving Savanorola?

To conclude, we assert the realities which O'Toole denies.  Ireland remains a republic, despite O'Toole's hankering for the Commonwealth residue of the British Empire.  It has representative government.  It is a Parliamentary democracy.  Its elected Government has coped remarkably well with a crisis for which its main responsibility was that it participated willingly in the globalist economy according to international standards.

Democracy is not some general principle of harmonious government.  It is a highly artificial system of conflict, arrived at through particular historical development in certain situations.  It is a system of egoism, made functional by the combination of individual interests into collective vested interests.  In ideal, it is an individualist system in which each competes against all in a medium of perfect equality.  But it is not practicable on that basis.  And its weakness in Ireland is that the workers are not present in it as an effectively organised vested interest.

If the nature of the Constitution contributed to a worsening of the effects of the international crisis, the fault did not lie in the formal official structure as laid down in the book called The Constitution, but in the de facto political system, the arrangement of political parties.

The Proportional Representation system of political representation, imposed by the Treaty, was intended to weaken the State by preventing strong government.  De Valera understood that when reforming the Free State system in the 1930s, but he reckoned that, if he had included a reform of PR in the new Constitution, that would probably have caused the whole Constitution to be lost.

Subsequent attempts to reform PR by referendum were lost because of a vested interest in it by the Opposition parties.  Fine Gael and Labour presented reform of PR as an attempt by Fianna Fail to establish itself in dominance.  But it had already established itself in dominance despite PR, and De Valera's purpose was clearly to encourage the development of an effective two-party system, in place of the system of one and two halve.  His concern was for the viability of the State of which he was in great part the creator, but that was not admissible in the heat of party conflict.  So PR  remained, and Fianna Fail continued to be in office most of the time.

What made the ending of PR unacceptable to the two half-parties of the Opposition was that it would have encouraged the growth of one of them at the expense of the other.  By retaining PR, the two half-parties guaranteed themselves their niche half-lives, but made certain that neither of them could of itself become the Opposition with the prospect of winning an election.

A two-party Opposition is necessarily ineffective, particularly when one of them is to the Right of the governing party and the other is to the Left.

When the logic of PR caught up with Fianna Fail, and it was no longer able to form a single-party Government, the complexion of its Coalitions was going to be determined to some extent by the party it was in Coalition with.  Being the national party, it was made up of a broad spectrum of opinion, from Right to Left, and was capable of making a consistent Coalition with a party on either side of it.  The Labour Party refused Coalition with it, except for one brief period which was ended by the Irish Times.  Fianna Fail Coalitions have therefore been with the Right.

It seems that the two half-parties of the traditional Opposition, who cover up their disagreement with each other in the hope of gaining office, are about to have their stint in office.  In order to get it, they have set policy aside completely, relying on Fianna Fail having sorted out the crisis with measures that they opposed.

They also hope that Fianna Fail has been scotched and will self-destruct.  That is certainly a possibility.  Instead of going to the country as the Government that managed the crisis, and making the case for itself, it is running away from itself under a new leader chosen to please the Irish Times.  So it could be that the Right/Left coalition will this time be governing without a strong Opposition.  And it could be that there will be four parties of more or less equal size elected, along with a welter of Independents—which is what PR was intended to bring about in the first place.

The Greens dissgraced themselves at the end, and we assume that they will suffer for it.  Neither Fine Gael nor Labour stands for anything much, apart from not being Fianna Fail.  Fianna Fail was making historical nonsense of itself long before it was overtaken by the bank crisis and deserves a shock, whether it collapses or not.  Bertie Ahern made some awful speeches on important occasions.  Micheál Martin wrote a history of the party in Cork and accepted Peter Hart as his authority. Brian Lenihan lauded the same discredited guru in his Beal na Blath oration.    

The only party with a sense of purpose that is not mere scrambling for office is Sinn Fein.  It is a historic name, which counts for something.  It was the name of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael before they became what they are.  It is capable of putting a scare into Europe, which is badly in need of a scare.  It is itself, and not a mere reflection of 'focus groups'.  And it has grown despite the general hostility of the media.  We can think of no better outcome, in the circumstances, than a very strong vote for Sinn Fein.

The country cannot lose itself in Europe—which was the fashionable expectation a few years ago.  Europe is losing itself, so Ireland has no alternative but to be itself.

PS

As we go to press it is announced that Democracy Now!, a secret group led by Fintan O'Toole, Eamon Dunphy, David McWilliams, and Elaine Byrne, had intended to contest the election but did not do so, allegedly because it was caused at such short notice.  It seems to us that these commentators were glad to have an excuse to deprive the electorate of a chance to reject them.  After all, these were the very people who insisted that a March election was a denial of democracy—presumably because they feared that Fianna Fail would have time to mount a defence that would recover at least some of its lost support.  A Fianna Fail meltdown is what they wanted.

These media personalities are a froth on the substance of political life—it is not surprising that the bubbles burst when it was time for practical application.  This was the moment for the media pundits to show what they were made of—and they have.



C O N T E N T S
Melting Down Ireland.  Editorial
Sarkozy Puts The Boot In.  Jack Lane
Remember Milton Freedman.  Angela Clifford
Readers' Letters:  Islandmagee and 1641.  Stephen Richards
What Germany Really Thinks.  Philip O'Connor
Israel No Democracy.  Philip O'Connor  (Report)
Shorts from the Long Fellow (Base & Superstructure; Ideological Superstructure;  Alternative Narrative;  Emigration;  Employment;  Performance; Politics)
Pay And Europe.  ETUC  (Report)
Gerry And The Hunger Strikers.  Seán McGouran
When Hacks Catch Hindsight.  Wilson John Haire
The Missing Middle In Ireland.  Jack Lane
Psywars.  Wilson John Haire  (Poem)
Es Ahora.  Julianne Herlihy  (Culture Ireland And Fintan O'Toole;  Roberts & Co;  Callaghan;  Mario Vargas Llosa)
Casement:  Forgery Or Fact?  Jeff Dudgeon  (Letter)
What Is The Cost Of Academic Freedom In Ireland.  Editorial
The Second Greatest Event Of 1916?  Manus O'Riordan
Naval Warfare.  Pat Walsh  (Part 7)
Protestants In Cork In The Early Twenties.  Niall Meehan (Report)
Past And Present, Prof. Walker and Gerard Murphy.  Brendan Clifford
Biteback:  Was It For This…?  Eugene McEldowney (Unpublished Letter)
"For It Is Written . . .  Ruairí Ó Domhnaill on the Swiss Constitution
It Won't Be the PIIGS Who Ruin The EU.  Nick Folley (Report)
Does It Stack Up?  Michael Stack (Celtic Tiger;  Academic Jobs)

Labour Comment, edited by Pat Maloney:  A Tale Of Two Countries