I regularly update this blog with reflections on current events, issues I’m dealing with in the parliament or important trips I make. I welcome feedback, and encourage you to comment on the blog posts.
Last night the European United Left (GUE/NGL) officially presented Edward Snowden as its nominee for the European Parliament’s human rights award, the Sakharov Prize.
Despite seeing the brutal way in which Chelsea Manning has been treated, Edward Snowden has made a courageous stand in exposing the global surveillance techniques. He has lifted the veil on the spying networks in the USA and also across Europe. The British and French governments have been exposed for spying as have a range of multinational companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook.
It is important that this nomination is used to step up the campaign for him to receive the justice he truly deserves. He should not
be used as a pawn in the games between the US and Russia. Currently the Russia has only granted him one year’s temporary asylum.
Those of us who oppose the attempt to silence and criminalise whistle-blowers need to put pressure on governments, such as the Irish government, for him to be given full asylum.
This government has been at war against working people since it came to power. It is clear that we need to oppose this government and its austerity policies. However, the majority of trade union leaders have utterly failed to do this.
Many on the No side in the Seanad referendum say that the Seanad could frustrate this government and be a ‘watchdog’ for ordinary people. It is very clear that the Seanad in its current form, populated with elitist university seats, party hacks and appointed cronies cannot serve such a role. But could a reformed Seanad stand up to unpopular governments and be a voice for ordinary people?
The proposed reforms of the Seanad are severely limited; university seats, Taoiseach nominees and archaic ‘vocational’ constituencies will remain. The reforms will not be anywhere near enough to prevent the Seanad from remaining a place where the political establishment dominates.
The key question however is can we trust the political establishment to deliver democratic reforms?
The established political parties do not represent our interests. They are tied in a thousand different ways to the richest and most powerful capitalists in the country and fundamentally represent their class interests. We saw this in the votes to bail out the banks and to vote through ruthless austerity budgets year after year. They took these decisions not because they were mistaken, foolish or ill advised but because they are the measures that were in the interests of big business.
The crisis has seen an assault on democratic rights, unelected ‘technocratic’ governments have been installed in Italy and Greece, the unaccountable EU / IMF troika dictates economic policies and the austerity treaty attempt to tie the hands of elected governments. Basic democratic rights such as the right to protest, organise political activity and be active in a union are being chipped away at. The millionaire owned media is also less and less objective and is openly partisan to anyone challenging the status quo.
For the capitalist class increased democratic rights mean an increased challenge to their system and their ‘right’ to maximise profit at all costs. History has shown us that the capitalist class will not give rights and allow working people a greater say in the running of society without a struggle.
The right to vote was won after monumental battles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The right to form and join trade unions was fought for and won after battles such as the 1913 Lockout.
Likewise with the Seanad, the establishment will not give us a second chamber that could genuinely act as a challenge to their interests. Any reforms offered will be minimal and ineffective.
When people stand up and get organised that they have tremendous power and can win victories. Pensioners and people with disabilities have won reversals of some cuts. The mass boycott of the household tax pushed the government back and made the tax uncollectable.
Working people getting organised and fighting back is what can really hold this government to account, not the undemocratic institutions like the Seanad.
Article by Finghín Kelly published in ‘The Socialist’ September 2013
This afternoon a debate will take place in the European Parliament about the war in Syria and the possibility of a US led military intervention.
There can be no doubt that ordinary people in Syria have been experiencing hell on earth for the past two years. What started as a popular uprising against a brutal dictatorship has turned into a sectarian civil war, with no side offering any solution for the majority of working class and young people. One third of Syria’s population has either fled the country or is internally displaced.
People across the world were horrified upon seeing the images of young children dying as a result of a chemical attack. However, people across the world correctly have no trust that a military intervention would ease the suffering of ordinary people in Syria.
People remember the lies they were told about Iraq, Afghanistan and the recent military attack on Libya. The mass opposition to the war is the main reason behind the votes in Westminister, opposition in the US congress and Obama’s support for Russia’s proposal for a so-called diplomatic solution.
However, military intervention is not off the table and an strong anti-war movement needs to be built. I believe that a democratic, non-sectarian mass movement of the Syrian people is needed to end the horrors and atrocities of both the brutal Assad regime and the increasingly reactionary opposition groupings.
According to the latest figures by the European Commission, 6.8 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian aid. This is more than the entire population of Ireland. Between 2011 – 2013, the EU and its Member States have given just over a €1bn in humanitarian aid to Syria. This amounts to a meagre 20 cents per refugee per day! This is peanuts and demonstrates that the EU’s concern for the Syrian people is hypocritical.
Eamon Gilmore as Minister for Foreign Affairs needs to clarify reports that the traffic of U.S. troops and military aircraft has increased in Shannon Airport. The Irish government must commit that Irish airspace and Shannon Airport will not used in any way to facilitate the efforts of warmongers.
Government Exploiting JobBridge as 228 interns ‘never had even the slightest chance of being kept on’
JobBridge becoming widespread in Education; Unions must act
The latest figures published in today’s Irish Times show that we in the Scambridge.ie campaign were correct when we said that the government would use this scheme to plug holes left in the public service by their austerity measures and the recruitment embargo. Of the 228 government jobsbridge interns, not one was taken on. Even the Taoiseach’s own department has been engaged in this exploitation.
One of the key arguments which supporters of the scheme used to promote it was that an intern could use it as a chance ‘to get a foot in the door’. We were told that if they worked hard they could get a job in the company. What these figures do is blow that argument out of the water. These interns never had even the slightest chance of being kept on, they were there to fill a hole and then thrown back out when no longer needed.
The Government have cynically used this scheme and exploited the unemployed to try create a yellow pack public service. They have implemented cuts, and redundancies in the public sector while stopping replacements being hired. They have used JobBridge to try to replace paid labour with free labour.
Over the summer period we have seen an increase in the number of schools looking for teachers and other staff through JobBridge, while universities like UCD are also looking for staff through the scheme. It looks like the scheme is beginning to take roots in the education sector. The trade unions need to act to stop the use of this scheme in undermining their members pay and conditions, but also parents should engage with the school to ensure JobBridge isn’t used in a school and organise to demand proper funding for education.
This afternoon there will be a debate on youth unemployment in the plenary session of the European Parliament. I will raise this gross exploitation when speaking in this debate. Young unemployed people need real jobs schemes not exploitation schemes like JobBridge. I have tabled an alternative resolution which calls for a significant increase in the funding allocated by the EU to the Youth Employment Initiative as the €6bn which is largely redirected from other funds is nowhere near enough to have any real impact.
Note – A video of Paul’s speech is now available here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_S8pW-B4y9w
In a cynical political stunt, the government has proposed a referendum on the abolition of the Seanad. The Socialist Party is calling for a Yes vote. Not because we agree with the government’s hypocrisy or general attacks on democratic rights, but because the Seanad is an undemocratic, elitist, conservative body that should be scrapped.
Abolishing the Seanad must go hand in hand with a struggle against austerity and the undermining of democratic rights which is pushed in the Dail and Seanad by all the establishment parties.
Fine Gael and Labour have no credibility. Their proclaimed “Democratic Revolution” has become a counter-revolution, using the crisis to significantly undermine democratic rights. Power over the key economic decisions in Ireland now effectively lies with the Troika of the unelected European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF. Even to the extent that decisions are made by the government, the powers are increasingly centralised in the Economic Management Council. With the Fiscal Treaty and
other European legislation, significant powers have been handed over to the European Commission – all in a plan to enshrine right-wing austerity policies in law.
It is no wonder that people are inherently suspicious of the government’s intentions in trying to abolish the Seanad. Correctly, people are opposed to the further centralisation of power and believe there needs to be a check on the power of the government. The Seanad is not that body, however. People power is the only real check on the government’s agenda. The Seanad is a fundamentally undemocratic, elitist body designed to be a conservative check on any progressive change.
In the past five years of the economic crisis, the Seanad has acted as a rubberstamp on austerity. In its entire history, it has only twice voted down a government bill. Its electorate is a tiny percentage of the population as a whole – 11 are simply nominated by the Taoiseach, 6 are elected by graduates of NUI universities and Trinity College and 43 are elected by Councillors, TDs and outgoing senators in one of the most undemocratic fashions imaginable.
Potential Senators must be nominated by four TDs or a so-called ‘nominating body’. These bodies include some genuine cultural organisations, but are dominated by big business organisations such as IBEC, Chambers of Commerce, the Construction Industry Federation, the Irish Exporters Association, and the National Off-Licence Association. While some politicians have more than one vote – the vast majority of working class people have none whatsoever.
This isn’t an accidental feature of the Seanad that could be resolved with reform – it is the purpose of the Seanad from its inception – a more limited franchise is designed to ensure a Seanad that is more conservative than the Dail. None of the proposals for a reformed Seanad change that reality.
Hypocrisy abounds on all sides on this issue. On the No side, Fianna Fail’s bleating about a reformed Seanad is just as hypocritical as the government’s talk about democratic change. The collection of right-wing politicians and journalists that makes up the so-called ‘civil society’ group, Democracy Matters, is just as guilty. If Fianna Fail was serious about reform of the Seanad, it could have driven it during its dominance of politics over the past decades.
It took 20 years and the death of Savita Halappanavar for the political establishment to legislate for the X Case, and even then it did it in the most limited way that was possible under the Supreme Court ruling. The idea that any serious progressive reform will come from any of the major parties is laughable.
Real democratic change
A fundamental democratic problem is that there is no significant party which represents the interests of working class people. All of the establishment parties fundamentally represent the bankers and big business – and they share the same right-wing economic policies. The cause of the deep economic crisis is not because of the ‘whip system’ or because of an absence of ‘experts’ in the Dail. It’s because all of the major parties agreed with the policies which created the housing bubble for the benefit of the developers and defend the crisis-ridden capitalist system. They all agreed with bailing out the bankers at the expense of the rest of us.
The banks and bondholders have numerous political parties to represent their interests in Ireland. Working people need one – representatives of working people to oppose the austerity agenda, to promote a socialist alternative and to assist the organisation of the opposition in communities and the trade unions.
Fine Gael Minister Richard Bruton in defending the abolition of the Seanad asked the question: “Can you imagine any other situation in your life where you would be happy to have 1pc of the people making a decision on behalf of the other 99pc?” This is precisely what happens in the capitalist system that he defends. Working people in Ireland and across Europe are feeling the impact of this now. Austerity makes no sense from the point of view of the vast majority of people or the economy as a whole. It does make sense for the 1% however, the rich bondholders who want to maximise their return and the bosses who want to drive down wages to increase profits.
In reality, we do not live in a genuinely democratic society. The key decisions about what happens in our economy are not even made by the politicians – they are made by the ‘financial markets’ (banks, bondholders and hedge funds) and by the directors of big business. Their decisions have caused a calamitous collapse of investment in Ireland, with the consequently very deep crisis.
Real democratic change is not just about the institutions of the state – it is also about economic democracy – the public ownership of the key resources and corporations in the economy under the democratic control of workers in those industries and working people generally. Then, rather than being ruled by short-term profits, a plan for sustainably developing the economy for people’s needs could be developed.
Real democracy also means a state not built on the model of electing people once every four or five years in elections dominated by money and right-wing media coverage. Instead, a socialist democracy means power being taken out of the hands of ‘professional politicians’ and into the hands of ordinary working class people – through popular assemblies and Councils in workplaces and neighbourhoods, making decisions on the matters affecting them and delegating representatives on a workers’ wage and subject to recall to higher bodies.