How Another Ireland Is Possible

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Dr Rory Hearne

We live in extreme times. Extreme inequality – where the 8 richest men on the planet have the same wealth as half the entire global population. Here in Ireland the top 20% own half of all the wealth.

But it is also a time of extreme insecurity – a deep sense of fear and trepidation about the present moment (and the future) – how can I have some sort of decent life, or even just survive?

Be that trying to access an affordable secure home, hospital treatment or a living wage. And then there is our children – we are deeply worried about how we can ensure they have the possibility of a better now and even more importantly, a better future.

It is also a time of extreme individualism – where people (once known as citizens with rights) have been commodified by corporations into perpetual ‘consumers’ of products.

And the future increasingly looks like it is going to be an extreme dystopia (some of you might have seen this depicted quite well in the recent movie, Bladerunner) of digitisation and automation.

This presents a horizon of unlimited exploitation of the majority – as human consumer-slaves – by the corporate super-elite, global financial markets and their ‘bots’. And within all this is politics which is ever more distant from the people – hollowed out democracies where politicians and government serve their banker, corporate and financial market masters to the exclusion of their citizens.

But there are signs of hope.

New ‘citizens’ movements are emerging to try challenge this age of extreme inequality, and they are trying to create a new politics that actually represents the majority – and not just a wealthy elite and corporate interests.

From the Momentum movement that has been the backbone of the phenomenal rise in support behind the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, to the ‘People for Bernie’ Campaign supporting Bernie Sanders in the US, and the 15M and Podemos movements in Spain (visible also in the Catalan independence protest).

Here in Ireland we have seen new movements emerge to challenge the injustice of austerity and the unequal recovery –from small grassroots groups like the Ballyhea says no to Bondholder Bailout in Cork to the incredible Right2Water movement that involved hundreds of thousands of people from across the country.

We saw it too in the occupation of Apollo House last Christmas that drew attention to the homelessness crisis, the Tesco and Dunnes’ strikes by workers for a living wage and conditions, and, again in the recent Repeal the 8th pro-choice protests.

There are also tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of citizens acting in co-operative and solidarity ways (i.e. not just consumers) across this country in citizen’s movements, protests, community groups, volunteering with an NGO or homeless support groups, helping to build co-operative ‘not-for-profit’ housing, being active in trade unions.

But you are told every day in the media, at work, in universities and school that you can’t change things and so you just have to accept this age of extremism – be it homelessness, high rents, climate pollution, corrupt politicians, child poverty, unaffordable childcare, and contract work.

But these movements, action, protest and politics challenge this consensus of passive acceptance and assert that there is an alternative and better path. Most importantly, they provide an alternative way of living than just being the atomised, individualised and alienated consumer that is the current dominant form of so-called living today.

This co-operative action, where we work with others to help bring about change for ourselves and the community, country or organisation around us, is a fundamental challenge to the dominant economic thinking that sees us as people seeking individual profit maximisation in a Darwinian ‘fight for survival of the fittest’.

But interestingly, psychological studies on people’s well-being show that “engagement in collective civic action toward a common purpose increases connected­ness among individuals in a community, and connections to fellow human beings satisfy a basic human need for belonging….(which) stave off social isolation and depression”.

We have been sold the neoliberal ‘free-market’ myth that happiness comes from fulfilling our individual material consumerist desires -from having the latest technology – from purchasing what we ‘want’. But in fact, the state of the world around us – be it our community, our country and the planet affects us deeply in a psychological-emotional way.

Our identity and our sense of well-being is affected by the well-being of others.

This is profound as it suggests we cannot be happy if we see fellow citizens in our community suffering. So taking action – like protest – against inequality is not just an act of self-interest or charity – but a logical response that recognises our welfare is bound up with the welfare of others. And it has been found that more equal societies (where clearly the values of solidarity and cooperation are dominant) do better.

However, politics and our shallow democracies in this age of extremism have become a major problem.

Civil society movements can protest and change the frame of debate and influence some policy change but it is at government and national parliament level that decisions are made about the direction of our economies and societies. Increasingly it is in authoritarian, conservative right-wing ways.

But the movements in support of Corbyn and Sanders have recognised this – that the power of the people needs to create a new politics in government that is willing to challenge the power of the privileged, financial markets and corporations.

Here in Ireland, in the run up to the 2016 general election, the successful Right2Water campaign established, Right2Change, a political campaign which sought ‘a fairer, more equal Ireland that benefits all of the people rather than a select few’.

Right2Change developed with the participation of community activists, trade unionists and political representatives, ten policy principles that would underpin a ‘progressive Irish government’ (i.e. a government led by parties of the left and independents, rather than the two right-wing parties of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael that have shown time and time again, decade after decade, their inability and unwillingness to create a fair and socially just society). The principles included the right to water, decent work, housing, health, debt justice, education, democratic reform, equality, a sustainable environment and national resources (read them here  ).

Right2Change convinced 100 candidates to enter a voting transfer pact (including Sinn Féin, People Before Profit and independent candidates) in the 2016 general election. They got 19% of first preference votes and 36 out of 158 seats in the Dáil.

The establishment parties (Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Labour) received their lowest combined support in the history of the state.

But what has happened to the momentum for change since that election? The establishment politics of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backed each other up to ‘shore up the centre’ (ie. protect the status quo) and form a new government of the centre-right.

The various left parties (including Sinn Féin, Social Democrats, People Before Profit etc) and independents, while each have done great work on various issues, they have not worked on developing a common vision, co-ordination or manifesto for a forthcoming election.

And while, despite the housing emergency and wide-scale housing crisis affecting a broad range of people, a citizen’s housing movement has yet to appear although it is growing and could yet emerge from Apollo House, local grassroots housing actions and national housing coalitions. Worth noting that this Taoiseach and the government are building their politics on a PR-image and veneer of addressing issues.

This makes them very vulnerable to anything that shatters that shiny image. Therefore, a large protest campaign uniting private renters, the homeless, those in mortgage arrears and those waiting for social housing together highlighting the devastation caused by the housing crisis would present a formidable challenge to that image and thus the government).

However, with the apparent lack of a broad united left political and citizens movement alternative the most recent opinion polls have shown the centre-right alliance of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil recovering in public support.

But all this can change utterly in an instant as our election (where Fine Gael did much worse than expected) and the recent UK and US elections have shown. Citizen’s movements and new politics that offer hope and a positive vision for a future based on equality can dramatically change the political landscape.

That is why I will be speaking at the ‘Another Ireland is Possible’ Right2Change conference this coming Saturday in the Mansion House in Dublin. I believe, and I know many others do too, that we need a citizen’s movement for hope in Ireland that can transform our country into a Republic of Equality for all.

I will be talking about the housing crisis, solutions that could provide affordable housing and the role of people, citizen action and the need for a genuinely new citizen-led politics to bring about this change. The conference is open to the public and organisers are “encouraging everyone who shares a vision for a fairer, more equal Ireland to join us on Saturday, 4th November 2017 to discuss a pathway towards achieving a truly egalitarian Republic”.

Wealth has the power. But citizen’s movements create a counter power that can challenge all others. It is the power of ordinary people to take away the legitimacy of the government –to withdraw the consent of the people. If enough people protest the government has to listen. The water movement showed that.

But movements and politics must unite in order to create this power. They must bring together all the groups excluded – from the middle and working classes, public and private sector workers, unemployed, lone parents, the youth, disabled, migrants – into a power that government cannot ignore. All those groups working on their own can effect some change but it cannot radically transform societies and economies.

And that is what we need now- not tinkering around at the edges of a system that is producing such extreme inequality and human misery. We need transformation to bring about a caring and flourishing society that the economy serves and not, as we have it now, an economy that dictates and destroys society.

The sad reality is we should be living in an age of extreme hope and not despair. With digital technology and the massive wealth that exists globally (and in Ireland) we should have a world without poverty, without homelessness.

Here in Ireland there is no reason why we can’t have a Republic of equality for all (not just the Taoiseach’s ‘Republic of Opportunity’ for the privileged few) where we guarantee decent housing, health care, education, quality employment, liveable communities, and sufficient caring support to the young, old and disabled- to everyone. Countries like Sweden and Denmark can do it.

Poverty and inequality are not inevitable –they result from societal and political priorities and choices. We need a new politics, and citizen’s led movements to change the current priorities – and to turn fear into hope.

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

You can register for the November Right2Change conference here (speakers from the ‘People for Bernie’ Campaign, Spanish 15 M Movement, Union of Students in Ireland, Right2Water, Housing/Homeless and Decency for Dunnes workers campaigns)

64 thoughts on “How Another Ireland Is Possible

  1. dav

    Their seems to be a palpable anger amongst the alt-right on this site about the homelessness problem in this country.
    Not directed towards the problem or the lack of effort of the government to do anything, but anger at the homeless people themselves, along with anyone who dare to try and help them.

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      1. dav

        No, I think people who give out about charities who help the homeless, whom our own government is incapable of helping, seem to share the alt-right values of hating the poor, the weak and those who can’t defend themselves.

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        1. Andrew

          People who question the efficacy of charities hate the poor ? ‘The poor’ as you call them deserve better than platitudes and hand wringing.

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    1. Yeah, Ok

      “Waaaaahhhhh blueshirts”

      Dav, you contribute nothing to this site except your insane perception that you are the only virtuous and good person in existence. Not everyone who disagrees with you is a blueshirt, nevermind alt-right. When you finish your undergrad hopefully you’ll begin to appreciate the subtleties of society.

      Reply
        1. Yeah, Ok

          Dav, your original post is one of vanishingly few by you that don’t whinge about blueshirts – even your first reply to my comment is a pathetic blueshirt accusation!

          Head outside and enjoy your midterm, good wee lad.

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  2. hugh_mungus

    I was following along until you got to Bernie “we’re gonna take down the establishment, whoops I didnt get the nomination now all your donations go to the establishment, oh and btw vote for the establishment”, Sanders. As long as people keep falling for these people right & left nothing will change.

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    1. f_lawless

      I agree about Sanders and suspect the same about Corbyn. I think probably both are too circumscribed by the respective establishment parties they operate through to be realistically able to change the status quo very much. Nevertheless. I would say the desire for real change still exists among those movements which rose in support of them.

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      1. painkiller

        they’ll never get a day in office so the lucrative thing to do is promote change i.e.kick establishment beehives and whip up public outrage. I think people would be very disappointed to be reminded that politicians in office are very different people than when in opposition.

        https://imgur.com/k1rCdf7

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  3. Holden MaGroin

    I thought that was really eloquently expressed. Well written Rory. Only I have college on Saturday I’d probably go.

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  4. Weldoninhio

    Had me up to Apollo House. The want everything, want to pay for nothing brigade deserve nothing but contempt.

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  5. Milo

    Needs way more pitchforks Rory. Talk is cheap. Change will only happen when fear is introduced. The rich should be worried but they are laughing at us as we squabble about identity politics and rights. Only when the wealthy become personal targets will anything change. Just like the banks.

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  6. phil

    Im all for it Rory…. however Im pessimistic , we just despise each other way too much to allow a fairer system to come in to being that would allow all of us to have the possibility of success, success being a healthy secure life and lifestyle for us and our children.

    Id settle for us all to agree to fix law and order, we could start with a period of 10 years where everything on the statute books is prosecuted, from the smallest to the most serious of crimes , and from the most respected to the least respected people in this land, no exceptions for any reason, and no discretion. The we reform the laws, removing the ones we dont agree with . Finally we see how it goes from there … Equality under the law would be a good start.

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  7. Happy Molloy

    Right2Change did enter into a vote transfer pact but the member parties said they would be unwilling to go into government together as they would have to compromise on their dogma.

    The battle needs to be fought on your side first Rory, until you guys can work together and compromise to be more palatable to a wider group of people you will remain shouting from the sidelines.

    That is absolutely true.

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  8. Diddy

    The problem with capitalism is the cult of the individual. Most people like working with others toward a shared goal. I I I doesn’t suit most of us

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  9. Paddy Bullman

    Right2Water sold out the people of Ireland. They sat on the commission and signed on to bring water charges in through the back door and did Absolutely Nothing to stop the 9.4 exemption being wiped away. Turncoats and Traitors every last one of them, and anybody that will support them . . . . . . .

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  10. VinLieger

    Stopped reading when he started talking about “human consumer-slaves” i did lol at his pathetic reference to blade runner to try show all the kids how with it he is

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  11. Rob_G

    But it is also a time of extreme insecurity – a deep sense of fear and trepidation about the present moment (and the future) – how can I have some sort of decent life, or even just survive?

    – misery porn nonsense. The country is mostly doing fine, and is getting better – witness all the transport unions going on strike for more money. This only happens when there is a little money in the pot, and they have a reasonable expectation of having their demands met.

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    1. Clampers Outside!

      +1

      Loses a lot of credibility when he moves into emotive language.

      ” The sad reality is we should be living in an age of extreme hope and not despair. ”

      If we lived in an age of extreme ‘despair’, then they would have given up hope and would NOT be forming community groups and be active. Then again, the Left does have a love of using language in a meaningless way. Thank the postmodernist affliction of the “academic” Left for that.

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    2. Nigel

      Haha ah this takes me back to the olden Celtic Tiger days when people warning about the over-inflated property market and the creaking national infrastructure and the decaying health service and the disastrous approach to planning were dismissed as moaners and complainers and whiners! Thank God we didn’t listen to them!

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      1. Rob_G

        Like Clampers said, I think the Rory would be a lot more credible if he highlighted (or even better, offered solutions for) the problems that Ireland actually has, rather than trying to paint the country like some sort of Mad Max hellhole.

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        1. Nigel

          Why? I mean, I’d like to see solutions highlighted or suggested too, but their presence or absence doesn’t really make him more or less credible in his pointing out the problems.

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          1. Nigel

            Aw, bless. So long as you find an excuse not to listen. I remember ‘hyperbolic’ and ’emotive’ being thrown around pre-Crash, too. ‘Creeping Jesuses’ was one I particularly liked. ‘Might as well kill themselves,’ was a famous response. ‘Why don’t they offer solutions’ was another great one, when getting people to notice the massive glaring problems would have been a major solution in itself. They say those who repeat the concern trolling of the past doom everybody to repeat it.

            No YOU’RE posting too quickly.

  12. Andrew

    The major problem in this country is that so many people have a vested interest in property prices rising. So that is anyone who owns a home our has a mortgage. That’s a considerable proportion.
    Rising property prices sucks money out of the real economy and at the same time makes everything more expensive as wage demands increase to meet the rising cost of accommodation.
    I can’t see people with this kind of vested interest vote for the left in large numbers.

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  13. Shayna

    @Clampers Outside – I posted a long and meaningful comment and was greeted with, it was too quick? I have half a mind to take this upstairs. No wait, I can’t, the other half of my mind can’t manage the stairs. (sorry – poor taste, I can manage stairs).

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    1. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

      Yup. If you go back, it’s still there. Then you add a rant, saying FUPP OFF I’M NOT POSTING TOO FUPPING QUICKLY and press “Post Comment” again.

      Reply
  14. Kevin Parlon

    More tired old revolutionary Marxist claptrap dressed up in new clothes. Our societies have never been freer, healthier, more long-lived or prosperous. The truth is what Rory and his ilk really want is something more like Venezuela. Only they’ll do it properly next time, right rores?

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    1. Frilly Keane

      Hey it’s a gig int’it?
      Let them off

      Sure tis only all talk
      No harm being done

      This is Doctor Hearne’s angle on things
      Shur he’s bothering no one
      And when he’s on the telly n’stuff
      Just flick

      Reply
  15. Pádraig Ó Raghaill

    The chance of changing Ireland’s political direction is probably similar odds to it hosting the Rugby World Cup.

    Ireland has a stable power structure. To change Irish politics, you have to challenge the power structure. That is the inconvenience of political change. You may think you can do it through one of the fringe parties. However, that is not the case, as there is no “elite” influence.

    You can lead a ‘revolutionary public’ like Corbyn is doing in the UK. Corbyn is leveraging a disenfranchised sector of society, but doing that you need momentum. You need a message that is broadly shared and gives hope to a broad demographic.

    You could ‘white ant’ the existing political structures. However, here, it is a solid ‘old boys club network’ the problem with a small population and thus where politicians come from.

    Catalonia is led from the top, not the bottom, and the people are far more movement minded, its a culture thing. Revolution is a misnomer, as it is nearly always a putsch.

    The most plausible way to gain traction here would be with a momentum campaign. However, that requires something new, something not offered at the moment, in any Irish political parties.

    Reply

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