Tommy McKearney ✒ It’s becoming increasingly difficult to assess the behaviour of the Dublin government. 


Is it slavishly following a free-market agenda, indifferent to workers? Is it responding to pressure from abroad? Is it simply incompetent? Or is it the fact that there are elements of all three causes in the wretched performance that the unfortunate citizens of the 26 Counties are subjected to by this coalition government?

Inadequate regulation of meat factories and building sites for transnational corporations, the transit of US troops through Shannon Airport and the mismanagement of a pandemic are just a few examples of this sorry state of affairs. Above all, though, there is the unavoidable conclusion that, faced with fundamental change, the Republic’s ruling order simply doesn’t know what to do, apart from holding on to office at all costs.

The coalition’s handling of the covid pandemic exemplifies a government in disarray. This, remember, is the government in which the Department of Health assigned civil servants to check whether the minister’s Twitter account was up to date. Incredibly, while searching for Stephen Donnelly’s Twitter handle, the provision of mandatory hotel quarantine places had reached capacity. This is a government that claims it has worked to balance the needs of health and safety with the wellbeing of the economy but has mismanaged the former and allowed the middle classes to benefit disproportionately.

Several issues or events have emerged over the recent past to unsettle and disorient the old order. There is the covid pandemic, with all its ramifications for the economy and society; there is the impact of Brexit on the cosy relationship with London; add to that the North and the difficult matter of partition stubbornly refusing to go away. Overhanging all this, though, is the consternation caused by the rise of Sinn Féin.

It is this latter point that goes right to the bottom of ruling-class unease. It is not so much the party itself as what its re-emergence on the political scene indicates. After decades of stagnation north and south of the border there is now a sense that not only are the fundamentals changing but that a significant number of people are looking for something different and better.

Over recent decades there has been a welcome liberalisation throughout society. While of itself this does not necessarily challenge the ruling class, it is indicative of a weakening of once-powerful conformist influences. Mechanisms for governance have not changed as visibly or as quickly, yet there is real movement away from the past.

Nothing illustrates this better in the 26 Counties than the very obvious decline of the once all-powerful Fianna Fáil.

With opinion polls consistently showing Fianna Fáil scoring approximately half the Sinn Féin return, the writing is surely on the wall for Micheál Martin and his colleagues. Moreover, the de facto merger between the two conservative parties has shifted the axis away from the old non-choice between two right-wing entities.

This is not to say that Sinn Féin is offering a radical socialist alternative, rather that its electoral progress is indicative of possibilities for a new beginning.

It is north of the border, however, that we are witnessing unavoidable evidence of profound change that will undoubtedly have an impact throughout the entire country. Just as with Fianna Fáil in the Republic, the DUP has lost its touch and is desperately trying to retain a purchase on its core support.

Contrary to some opinion, Arlene Foster and her colleagues are not just politically inept on the wider UK stage: they are also struggling with a losing hand. Just consider the cause of their anxiety. Several of the most influential publications in Britain are now talking about the potential breakup of the United Kingdom.¹ Some of this may be idle speculation, but it is certainly disturbing for Northern unionists, especially when considered in tandem with Boris Johnson’s volte-face on the Northern Ireland protocol.

Still more ominous were the results of an opinion poll by Lucid Talk for the BBC NI’s programme “Spotlight,”² which recorded, albeit not necessarily emphasising, two pertinent facts.³ A majority of those in the age group 18–44 would vote to end partition immediately, while a majority of all respondents said they believed that twenty-five years years from now the Six Counties would no longer be in the United Kingdom.

Clearly, opinion polls are subject to margins of error and may be inaccurate. Nevertheless, these findings are in keeping with such widely verifiable facts as changing demographics and recent electoral results.

While it is not incontestable that the six-county political entity is entering its final phase, no-one could reasonably dispute that fundamental constitutional change is now more likely than not over the coming two or three decades. The DUP, being the party that it is, responds not with constructive proposals or a statesmanlike approach but instead provokes unrest in deprived unionist working-class communities. This time-honoured practice of playing the Orange card may temporarily extend the party’s electoral life, but only at the cost of the overall well-being of the citizenry.

All of which raises the question, What is the Dublin government doing to address such an urgent issue? Not surprisingly in the light of what we mentioned above, the ruling coalition is not only refusing to do anything constructive but is actively promoting a tendentious narrative in order to stifle consideration. The leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin, is attempting to avoid dealing with the situation by talking up the risk of instability and violence if an end to partition is discussed or planned for in any meaningful way. Rather than acknowledge changing realities in the North and launch a programme to address this fact, he is adopting a policy of “pro-actively standing idly by,” a strategy that failed woefully to prevent bloodshed in the North when adopted fifty years ago by his mentor, Jack Lynch.

Without state power there is only so much those on the ground can do to circumvent this state of stasis. Rather than surrender to inertia, though, we can constantly emphasise the reality of the situation when and where we can. There is, moreover, the positive option of campaigning for the building of important all-Ireland institutions of vital necessity to the working class, north and south. There is already a nascent campaign for an all-Ireland national health service. That initiative deserves all our support and energy. What about also launching a drive to address the housing crisis by creating an all-Ireland Housing Executive, modelled on the best days of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive?

The advantage of such a campaign must be obvious to all who care to see. If successful it would address two major issues identified by Northern critics of reunification. It would also allow for a meaningful Northern input into the new republic. Moreover, it would make the ending of partition more attractive to the South’s working people. Finally, doing so would be a significant step towards undermining two major areas of privatisation led by vulture funds in the Republic.

If we could achieve that much I’d almost be tempted to support a campaign for Irish reunification myself!

References
George Parker, “Johnson struggles to find a way to keep the UK together,” Financial Times, 4 April 2021.

Constitutional Change On The Way?

Tommy McKearney ✒ It’s becoming increasingly difficult to assess the behaviour of the Dublin government. 


Is it slavishly following a free-market agenda, indifferent to workers? Is it responding to pressure from abroad? Is it simply incompetent? Or is it the fact that there are elements of all three causes in the wretched performance that the unfortunate citizens of the 26 Counties are subjected to by this coalition government?

Inadequate regulation of meat factories and building sites for transnational corporations, the transit of US troops through Shannon Airport and the mismanagement of a pandemic are just a few examples of this sorry state of affairs. Above all, though, there is the unavoidable conclusion that, faced with fundamental change, the Republic’s ruling order simply doesn’t know what to do, apart from holding on to office at all costs.

The coalition’s handling of the covid pandemic exemplifies a government in disarray. This, remember, is the government in which the Department of Health assigned civil servants to check whether the minister’s Twitter account was up to date. Incredibly, while searching for Stephen Donnelly’s Twitter handle, the provision of mandatory hotel quarantine places had reached capacity. This is a government that claims it has worked to balance the needs of health and safety with the wellbeing of the economy but has mismanaged the former and allowed the middle classes to benefit disproportionately.

Several issues or events have emerged over the recent past to unsettle and disorient the old order. There is the covid pandemic, with all its ramifications for the economy and society; there is the impact of Brexit on the cosy relationship with London; add to that the North and the difficult matter of partition stubbornly refusing to go away. Overhanging all this, though, is the consternation caused by the rise of Sinn Féin.

It is this latter point that goes right to the bottom of ruling-class unease. It is not so much the party itself as what its re-emergence on the political scene indicates. After decades of stagnation north and south of the border there is now a sense that not only are the fundamentals changing but that a significant number of people are looking for something different and better.

Over recent decades there has been a welcome liberalisation throughout society. While of itself this does not necessarily challenge the ruling class, it is indicative of a weakening of once-powerful conformist influences. Mechanisms for governance have not changed as visibly or as quickly, yet there is real movement away from the past.

Nothing illustrates this better in the 26 Counties than the very obvious decline of the once all-powerful Fianna Fáil.

With opinion polls consistently showing Fianna Fáil scoring approximately half the Sinn Féin return, the writing is surely on the wall for Micheál Martin and his colleagues. Moreover, the de facto merger between the two conservative parties has shifted the axis away from the old non-choice between two right-wing entities.

This is not to say that Sinn Féin is offering a radical socialist alternative, rather that its electoral progress is indicative of possibilities for a new beginning.

It is north of the border, however, that we are witnessing unavoidable evidence of profound change that will undoubtedly have an impact throughout the entire country. Just as with Fianna Fáil in the Republic, the DUP has lost its touch and is desperately trying to retain a purchase on its core support.

Contrary to some opinion, Arlene Foster and her colleagues are not just politically inept on the wider UK stage: they are also struggling with a losing hand. Just consider the cause of their anxiety. Several of the most influential publications in Britain are now talking about the potential breakup of the United Kingdom.¹ Some of this may be idle speculation, but it is certainly disturbing for Northern unionists, especially when considered in tandem with Boris Johnson’s volte-face on the Northern Ireland protocol.

Still more ominous were the results of an opinion poll by Lucid Talk for the BBC NI’s programme “Spotlight,”² which recorded, albeit not necessarily emphasising, two pertinent facts.³ A majority of those in the age group 18–44 would vote to end partition immediately, while a majority of all respondents said they believed that twenty-five years years from now the Six Counties would no longer be in the United Kingdom.

Clearly, opinion polls are subject to margins of error and may be inaccurate. Nevertheless, these findings are in keeping with such widely verifiable facts as changing demographics and recent electoral results.

While it is not incontestable that the six-county political entity is entering its final phase, no-one could reasonably dispute that fundamental constitutional change is now more likely than not over the coming two or three decades. The DUP, being the party that it is, responds not with constructive proposals or a statesmanlike approach but instead provokes unrest in deprived unionist working-class communities. This time-honoured practice of playing the Orange card may temporarily extend the party’s electoral life, but only at the cost of the overall well-being of the citizenry.

All of which raises the question, What is the Dublin government doing to address such an urgent issue? Not surprisingly in the light of what we mentioned above, the ruling coalition is not only refusing to do anything constructive but is actively promoting a tendentious narrative in order to stifle consideration. The leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin, is attempting to avoid dealing with the situation by talking up the risk of instability and violence if an end to partition is discussed or planned for in any meaningful way. Rather than acknowledge changing realities in the North and launch a programme to address this fact, he is adopting a policy of “pro-actively standing idly by,” a strategy that failed woefully to prevent bloodshed in the North when adopted fifty years ago by his mentor, Jack Lynch.

Without state power there is only so much those on the ground can do to circumvent this state of stasis. Rather than surrender to inertia, though, we can constantly emphasise the reality of the situation when and where we can. There is, moreover, the positive option of campaigning for the building of important all-Ireland institutions of vital necessity to the working class, north and south. There is already a nascent campaign for an all-Ireland national health service. That initiative deserves all our support and energy. What about also launching a drive to address the housing crisis by creating an all-Ireland Housing Executive, modelled on the best days of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive?

The advantage of such a campaign must be obvious to all who care to see. If successful it would address two major issues identified by Northern critics of reunification. It would also allow for a meaningful Northern input into the new republic. Moreover, it would make the ending of partition more attractive to the South’s working people. Finally, doing so would be a significant step towards undermining two major areas of privatisation led by vulture funds in the Republic.

If we could achieve that much I’d almost be tempted to support a campaign for Irish reunification myself!

References
George Parker, “Johnson struggles to find a way to keep the UK together,” Financial Times, 4 April 2021.

14 comments:

  1. It's good to see that some lessons are being learned from history at last. It has always been quite simple really. Instead of trying to force the population in the north east of the island into a unity they don't want, actually look at why they don't want it and do something about it.
    This cuts across the stages theory of unity, which has held back progress for the last century.
    According to Marx, “The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political, and spiritual processes of life”.

    Beginning to change 'the mode of production' in the 26 county Republic, which is what we'd be doing with the reforms which Tommy mentions, would remove some of the barriers which have prevented a large section of working class in the north from accepting unity.
    A national health service modelled on the NHS (as it was before marketisation was introduced by Blair and co.) and a secular education system would go a long way towards persuading these detractors to break links with Britain.
    The old method of unity first, then we'll see about social change afterwards, has clearly failed, I believe that this was always inevitable. It's now time to try it the other way around.

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    1. Mike - Tommy, as usual, presents a cogent case. The Provisional IRA campaign of armed coercion failedto move the British out of Ireland or move the unionists into an Irish unitary state. That much is clear. Yet, if 50+1 is reached then by your definition the population of the North East will have to leave the UK or will be coerced into living under a partition they do not want. What happens then? I don't know if you have been following Mike Burke's writings on the blog on the question of unity and border polls, but he is well worth a read.

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  2. Thanks Anthony,
    Yes I've seen some of the articles you mention, I will make it as point to go and have another read.

    I dread to think what will happen in the case of a premature referendum which resulted in 50+1.

    I live in hope that things can move before this happens, and I will be 100% behind any initiative which aims to deal with all the issues which Tommy has outlined.

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    1. Mike - what would make a referendum premature? I think there is an argument for having one every ten years rather than leaving it to a British Secretary of State to decide.

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  3. Anthony, because it would be based on uniting the island without any changes being made. I needn't repeat my argument about stageism.
    I'm not interested in what bourgeois nationalists or unionists think is best for us all. Their system has failed and they have nothing to offer working class people.
    Premature in terms of what's in the best interests of the working class from all backgrounds. And just joining the 6 counties onto a neo-liberal state rife with super exploitation through private property, church controlled education and private health etc will only end in disaster. The detractors in the north need to be won away from British rule, and they won't be persuaded by what's on offer at present.

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    1. That would not make it any less a democratic decision by the people in the North who might not be interested in what Leftists think about it. It would be a more democratic decision than one that denied unity if a majority wanted it. These things cannot be treated in the abstract.

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  4. All I can say to that is that 'stageism' is abstract and has been proven to be so.
    Yes, I get your point about a British Sec Of State deciding when there can be a referendum, and I find that sickening to be honest. Perhaps that should be done by an independent international person.
    There's nothing abstract about suggesting that we should look at the reasons why the working class protestants in the north are turned off by unity and do something to remove those obstacles.

    To image that just having a referendum under current conditions, and go with the result, if it should be a majority for unity, that our problems would be over, really is abstract. We'd have to ask, If this would work now why would it not have worked in the past? What has changed?
    Just because a section of society which has been a majority in the north, would suddenly become a minority in the event of a 50+1 vote for unity, doesn't mean end the problem. There would still be a sizeable section of the population which wouldn't want to be part of the current set up in Ireland. This is still coercion. The cycle of tit for tat will continue.
    When we talk about majorities and minorities, we are talking about identities based on nation and religion,- a bourgeois concept, when actually the real majority is the working class. We are never going to progress by doing headcounts based to the divisions which were created by a ruling class in order to control us.

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    1. Is there not a form of stageism implicit in your own suggestion - a UI only being worthwhile if first the stage of making it more acceptable to unionists is completed. This is the sort of thinking that informed stageism.
      There is nothing abstract about looking at why unionists might not want unity. There is everything abstract about uttering the slogan socialism totally abstracted from any strategic socialism, about which Lenin flagged up the futility of waving red flags without the slightest strategic orientation towards reaching the commanding heights from where the flags could be actually hoisted and then seen from afar.
      The problems would not all be over by 50+1 but the partition problem would be. People have a right to end partition and not have it delayed by some Secretary or State or by socialists. And that right exists whether it brings socialism and working class unity or not.
      There is always coercion - government in every society is a mixture of consent and coercion. Fail to stop at a red light and you will discover the law of coercion and the coercive law very quickly. You either legally coerce a Northern minority into unity or coerce a norther majority into partition.
      I don't think many pay attention to terms like bourgeois any longer. The real majority might be men or women, it might be white or black. Trying to imagine the real majority has echoes of Benedict Anderson's imagined communities. If reports about Unite, the union, are right, about half of its membership in the UK voted Tory. And I imagine that is much the same for all the unions.

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  5. We'll have to agree to disagree on this Anthony. In my opinion the only society worth fighting for is a socialist one. Since workers create all value, workers should control society in their interests, and it's not the business of our class to fight for territory which will still be controlled by the class which exploits us. Uniting the island under the current conditions changes nothing for workers. Yes, as you say people have a right to end partition, but wouldn't it be better if we could win those who have resisted this change over to the side of unity?

    I'm not sure that those reports will prove to be right, in any case the significant numbers of Unite The Union members voting for the Tories was probably due to the anti- Brexit line taken by Labour at the last minute before the election, according to activists in the areas of northern England where this happened. It was a protest vote and not indicative of the true picture.

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    1. Disagreeing is exactly what we are doing. At least we can both stay out of the gulag for doing it!
      I think there are plenty of societal types which are worth striving for which are not characterised by socialism: societies that are secular, allow women full control over their bodies; value free inquiry; are not fascist; are democratic rather than dictatorial. So few buy into the Marxist theory of value you describe that it might as well be an explanation of transubstantiation. To insists only on a socialist society as being worth fighting for is what helps send socialism off to the world of the sects. Marx was right in saying when socialism in the hands of the sects there is no socialism. Even if uniting Ireland changes nothing for the workers, the wishes of those workers who vote for that change - are they to be ignored because they don't chime with some socialist vista?
      There is nothing surprising in half the Unite membership voting Tory in the UK. I imagine it is the same for all unions: the working class continuously vote in the Tories or a Tory version of Labour. That is the true picture.

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  6. 'So few buy into the Marxist theory of value you describe that it might as well be an explanation of transubstantiation.'
    I wonder how many have actually considered it or have even come across it. Of those who have, none have offered a rational counter to it, and its logic is so obvious, as we have seen recently during the pandemic. Humans need food, clothing, housing, medical care etc. all of these are made by the hands and brains of humans not by money. 'Socialism' is only a word which depicts a society which is the antithesis of hitherto existing societies which are based on one group exploiting another. I have no doubt that new descriptions will emerge which haven't been tainted by the misuse of the term by dictatorships.
    Of course I agree with you on this 'societies that are secular, allow women full control over their bodies; value free inquiry; are not fascist; are democratic rather than dictatorial.' But are you suggesting that we should still accept a mode of production based on the exploitation of the many by the few?
    Yes the working class still vote in the Tories in Britain just as they do in Ireland, and they will continue to do so while a handful of oligarchs control the media which doesn't afford any space to alternative ideas.

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  7. Isn't that sort of the point - that most are so detached from it that it might just as well be a quaint theological position and defended with the same logic as quaint theological positions - claiming its logic is so obvious if only ...?
    If these things were so obvious people would see them for what they are. Obviously, they are not obvious to those who have a different view.
    I am not suggesting we should accept any mode of production that benefits either entrepreneurs or apparatchiks. But until such times that people decide they want a different type of economy driven by cooperation and generosity rather than by competition and greed, the current system is likely to remain in place. Mum and apple pie socialism sounds great but like promises of mum and apple pie few pay the socialist promises any serious attention, intuiting that at the end of the day no matter what system prevails there will be three types in it - those at the top, the bottom and the middle.
    The working class vote Tory for a host of reasons, not least the inability of socialists to sound any different from sandwich board men preaching on street corners.

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  8. You see, we actually do agree on so many things, and I always find debating with you enlightening and entertaining.
    You are right of course that we will get whatever change or not that people want.
    This whole debate began with me suggesting an alternative view on how Irish unity might be achieved without bloodshed. I'm grateful that you allowed me the space to put that view. Whether anyone agrees with me is another matter, at least here they get a chance to think about it.

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    1. It would be ideal if a united Ireland could be achieved without bloodshed. We have reached the point where those pushing for it are not shedding blood in its pursuit, other than a few who have no consequence to the outcome one way or the other. The focus should not be on achieving a united Ireland without bloodshed but on the current threat to maintain partition with bloodshed. Therein lies the real problem: that a peaceful method is being subverted with the threat of violence.

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