A New Party Called Hope



water_charges_march_sat_oct11_photo2_right2waterPodemos rally in Madrid, Spain (top) last year and Irish Water protests at the GPO in January.


We don’t ‘do’ that.

But we know a man who does.

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

Hope has been in short supply in this country in recent years but, thankfully, it has emerged in recent months. But this hope has not come in the so-called ‘recovery’ which is deeply uneven across the country and from which the majority of people remain excluded from.

No, the real hope emerged, first in the water protests, and now in the possibility of a new political movement built from the grassroots of these unprecedented protests.

Since independence in 1921 the overwhelming majority of Irish governments have been composed of the tweedle-dee, tweedle-dum, parties of Fine Gael/Fianna Fail/and Labour. What have they achieved for ordinary people? Corruption, inequality and austerity are now the hallmarks of the Irish Republic, a centenary after its founders aimed for a Republic of equality.

But an alternative is rising. The first steps have been taken with the launch of a set of ‘policy principles for an alternative democratic and progressive government’ by the trade unions involved in the Right2Water campaign.

Their proposals for a new government are broad ranging and visionary. They include holding a referendum to enshrine in the constitution that water remains in public ownership and management, introducing the right to gainful employment and a living wage through a Decent Work Act, enshrining the right to housing in the constitution, rent control and a state-led national home building programme.

Other proposals include the creation of a universal healthcare system free at the point of entry, a European Debt Conference to restructure sovereign debt throughout the Eurozone; the introduction of a Financial Transaction Tax in order to repay states for the private bank debt they assimilated; and a state led and democratically accountable programme of restructuring and writing down of mortgage debt.

Outlining the need for “real and meaningful reform of our local and national democratic processes which would put citizens at the heart of decision making” they propose that citizens should have the capacity to recall elected members of parliament before the end of term and the ability to propose changes to the constitution or call a referendum in relation to legislation introduced by the Oireachtas.

It is clear to many people that a real change is needed and, what is most significant about the current time, is that increasing numbers are now seeking alternatives to the traditional, establishment, political parties.

The most recent opinion polls showed that the traditional establishment parties could only achieve a combined core vote of 40% (Fine Gael, 20, Fianna Fail, 14, Labour, 6,) with Sinn Fein at 20, Independents 18 and 20% undecided. Recent polls have also shown that almost half of voters want a new party to be formed and two thirds do not trust the current party political system.

My own research into the views of those who have protested against water shows that an overwhelming majority believe that there is a need for a new political movement/party in Ireland.

This is radically challenging the conventional conservative assumptions and analysis of Irish politics and citizen engagement. There is a clear opportunity for a new political party to emerge.

However, the question to be answered is whether or not this current wave of anti-establishment sentiment can be converted into a process of political change. That depends ultimately on what type of new political party/movement emerges and whether it can be done in time to have an impact on the coming general election.

Key to the success of such a new party will be achieving the support of the people in the currently ‘undecided’ and ‘independent’ category. How could this be done? We can look to the example of the new Podemos (Yes We Can) party that has spectacularly emerged in Spain.

They have created a new party that is winning large support through a platform of broad anti-corruption and-austerity policies, declaring that it is neither Left nor Right but for the ordinary people against the elite in Spain, Europe and the financial markets.

They have involved people who do not normally engage in traditional politics through local community meetings and online processes of voting on party policy. This is important as it is clear that people want new ways of doing politics that is inclusive and democratic.

The Right2Water unions’ policy proposals are hopeful in this regard. They are clearly aiming at a broad audience and want to try achieve unity amongst a diverse coalition of Left parties, independents, and community groups.

They have even developed their policy principles, not as a completed election manifesto as is traditionally the case, but are currently looking for submissions from the general public on the proposals to feed into a conference they are organising on June 13. This is a real opportunity for ordinary citizens to contribute to a process that could dramatically change this country.

While the government and media are claiming the growth figures (at least half of which are based on multinational activity that has no relation to the real Irish economy) point to a ‘recovery’ the reality for most people is on-going suffering from debt, a housing crisis that has become an emergency (from overburdening rent, mortgage, homelessness repossessions), low pay, casualisation and zero hours contracts, major problems accessing health services, worsening long term unemployment, rural decline, and the continued poor housing and community facilities for people living in disadvantaged areas.

Meanwhile the Siteserv controversy has just confirmed what many people are feeling – that there is little difference between the Fine Gael/Labour administration and the cronyism and corruption of the Fianna Fail years.

Podemos in Spain has developed a new language and approach to politics that has tapped into, and mobilised, widespread citizen disgust and opposition to the establishment elite.

Much work is required to develop a similar type political alternative in Ireland but the political atmosphere at the grassroots amongst ordinary citizens suggests that the appetite is there for it.

Dr Rory Hearne is the author of Public Private Partnerships in Ireland: Failed Experiment or Way Forward for the State? (Manchester University Press) and is a lecturer at Maynooth University.

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40 thoughts on “A New Party Called Hope

  1. Miko

    What? Hope for the deeply corrupt subculture that believes it is entitled to free everything? No thanks. Pay your way.

    1. Mr. T.

      And Young Fine Gael up early, hard at work with the division and undermining of society.

      1. Paolo

        Mr T. The majority of people are not against water charges. They understand the need to improve the water supply and reduce wastage. They understand that to do this requires investment and they understand that the only way to prevent Irish people pissing away a resource is to charge directly for it.

        Most people believe that.

      2. Miko

        Never voted for FF. But I do agree that there is a division of those that work and pay for everything and the freeloaders. Where were the protests for USC, Pension charges etc

        1. Tucker Done

          It’s such a simple-minded, teenage argument – freeloaders vs the rest. Let’s just cut all social welfare payments. See how the economy bounces back once we’re free of all those scummy freeloaders who now have been forced, finally, into gainful employment.

          1. Miko

            Simpleminded? This from the group of people that think free money for everyone is actually an economic policy! The only thing Rory and his ilk will achieve is a society where everyone is impoverished. Not matter how “unequal” Irish society is now, the “poor” in Ireland are immeasurably wealthier then they would be in Roryland…

          2. Paolo

            This may be difficult to understand Tucker but the alternative to champagne socialists like Murphy et al is not cutting all welfare etcetera. The vast majority of people in Ireland are left of centre and recognise that there is a social contract, they recognise that the political class in this country let them down but they also recognise that the social contract has two sides to it. At the moment, the people who are in most need are suffering because of private sector corruption, political corruption and a class of people who believe that they deserve everything for free when there are limited resources. People who want free water, free bins, free drinking/smoking/gambling money. They don’t lift a finger to help themselves but immediately complain about being “left behind” by “the system”. I’m from an area where most of the people were unemployed (officially). Some people got an education, made an effort and made a life for themselves but most just assume that they will live their lives on the dole, live in a public authority house, have a medical card and generally piss about. That is the reality that people see and that is what makes responsible people so angry. The wasters are making it impossible for the truly disadvantaged to access the services that they really need to.

    2. Fergus the magic postman

      Are you not embarrassed Miko? Do you not make yourself cringe?

      You make me cringe.

    1. Miko

      Pomeras? Rory seems to have missed that they’ve backtracked on all of this nonsense in their latest policy documents. Cofounder resigned as reality dawns on them after seeing what syrizia did to the Greek Economy. Similar to what Rory and his ill would achieve if they were in charge.

  2. Miko

    Oh yes, why the continued omission of Rory Hearne being a founder of People Before Profit? Seems to be left out of his polemics instead pushing himself as some sort of independent “academic” research…

    1. Mr. T.

      You really hate the idea of a fair society with decency, dignity and respect for the person, don’t you. You reduce it to a perceived free for all with no revenue to pay for anything. But really you’re a little court jester, a little dancing monkey for the billionaires who thrive of inequality and weakened communities.

      1. Paolo

        A fair society would be great but Right2Water are not interested in fairness, they are also not interested in the environment and the future of our water supply.

      2. Jonotti

        Whenever a socialst mentions decency, dignity or respect the really mean “please give me the money that I’m entitled to”.

        1. Paolo

          The thing is Janotti, socialists don’t believe in free stuff, they believe that everyone should have the same level of access to the means of production. After that, they have to make what they can of their equal position. Socialism explicitly accepts that people are not equal and that some people will fail while others will succeed.

          These Right2Water and People Before Profit folks are not socialists, they are scroungers who don’t believe that they are responsible for anything and that the people who do work should watch as their neighbours doss about on the dole and complain about the downturn while spending their time at the bookies.

          1. TheDude

            yes Paolo, all who disagree with water tax\privatisation and anyone who has a grievance with the schoolteacher government are unemployed gamblers

          2. Jonotti

            I was too lazy to put socialists in inverted commas. The Irish breed of socialist us the most nakedly selfish person going.

          3. Paolo

            Water is not being privatised. It may be privatised in the future but if that is ever proposed, I will be out protesting against it.

            Irish Water is a SEMI-STATE COMPANY

  3. Sheikh Yahbooti

    We’re not a nation, we are an economy. We’re not citizens, we are consumers.
    Work, consume, die.
    Buy more schytt.

  4. Boom

    “Independent” lecturer. Who pays your wages Mr Hearne? Guys like him are part of the problem.

  5. nellyb

    “Hologramas por la libertad (Holograms for freedom), the world’s first holographic protest, was meant to be ironic. It was organised and staged in April 2015 by Spanish activist organisation No Somos Delito (We are not a crime). Streaming their projection of hologram people marching with banners and placards in front of Spain’s Parliamentary building, they argued that holographic protests were the reserve of a dystopian future, where governments had stripped citizens of their right to protest and assemble in public spaces in the flesh. What world would it be if you could only protest as a screen?”

    1. SiJu Cat

      Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

  6. Gavin

    Amazing how so many people on here cant understand another view point and mange to lump everyone who disagrees with them in any way under the one heading of socialist sponger.

  7. Brendan Young

    Rory Hearne presents an interesting argument, but with some pieces missing. Podemos grew out of mass movements and struggles against austerity: it was not simply declared the way the likes of Renua have been – based upon an existing political apparatus. To begin to create a similar political movement here would require those promoting the idea to engage with the current actual movement in Ireland and champion its key slogan: don’t pay the water charge. In the current context, this is the key anti-austerity slogan. A new anti-austerity political party that does not engage with the actually existing movement risks running into some of the difficulties that Podemos is experiencing at present.

    The desire for a break with the politics of austerity of FF/FG has generated speculation that a SF-led left government is possible at the next election. I share that desire, but I don’t think the conditions for this outcome exist. SF will probably have the biggest group of TD’s to the left of FF / Labour, but no serious analysis I have seen indicates that SF will get into office other than as part of a coalition with the right – probably FF.

    Coalition with FF would be disaster for a political project committed to democracy and social equality: it would be restricted to what FF would accept, would put FF back into office (which many ordinary people would correctly see as a betrayal), pull SF to the right and divide it (hopefully some would resist the inevitable continuation of austerity) and lead to a revival of FF. It might open a space to the left of SF and create opportunities for the Left, but could lead to demoralization and a shift to the right – as in England.

    In the current discussion on the formation of a new, anti-austerity political party, the unions affiliated to Right2Water have organised two conferences. In my opinion, two starting principles would be the basis for a left electoral project that could include the broad anti-austerity movement, the unions and the Left: a commitment to struggle – engaging with the actual movement in advocating non-payment of the water charge (from where else in society will a new political movement be drawn?); and explicit rejection of coalition with the parties of the right – FF, FG and Labour (otherwise why not call for a vote for them?). Clarity on these points would open a new discussion. Democratic participation from the movement is also necessary.

    A SF-FF coalition is an acceptable option for some union leaderships (whether that includes the R2W unions is unclear): there would be some reforms, but coalition with FF would inevitably drive SF the way of Labour – and in a shorter timescale. So in any discussion of real political alternatives, we need to address these issues openly so that we’re all clear about what we are aiming for. The starting point in the creation of a political party is organising those committed to change and active in fighting for it. Promoting the actual participation of those currently active in the movements against austerity – not just by anonymous submissions on policy via the internet – but through debate and decision-making, is a vital step in the creation of a new radical force in Irish politics.

  8. Stiof

    The Right2Water photo was taken in October, not January. Not that it matters much in the scheme of things, but I’m fairly sure I wasn’t speaking at the GPO & at a stag in Westport at the same time.

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