Author Archives: Paul Murphy

From top: Citizens’ Assembly chairperson Justice Mary Laffoy (left) and assembly secretary Sharon Finegan during a presentation on climate change by Dr Connor Murphy (right) in the Grand Hotel, Malahide on September 30, 2017; P{aul Murphy TD

Yesterday, the Joint Committee on Climate Action began public hearings and an examination of the Citizens’ Assembly Report: How the State can make Ireland a Leader in tackling Climate Change

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy is a member of the committee.

Paul writes:.

After the first meeting of the Oireachtas Climate Action Committee, one thing is glaringly obvious. The public, as reflected in the Citizens’ Assembly, are miles ahead of the politicians.

Decisive majorities came out in favour of radical action to deal with climate change: One hundred percent voted for the State to take a lead in tackling climate change; 97% voted for the establishment of a new independent body to ensure that climate change is at the centre of policy-making; and 92% voted that the State should prioritise investment in public transport over road infrastructure.

These and other proposals stand in contrast to the record and policies of the political establishment, including those politicians who spoke at the Committee about the need to ‘educate the public’ – implying that it is a backward public which holds politicians back from taking the action which is needed.

Enda Kenny infamously gave the game away when at the Paris climate talks he declared that climate change simply wasn’t a ‘priority’ for the Irish government.

Under Varadkar, Fine Gael got a new shiny veneer of green. However, the reality remains unchanged, with Ireland second worst in the EU on climate action.

The Science is Clear

There are three essential elements of climate change science. The earth is warming at an unprecedented rate. Human activity is the primary cause of this rise in temperature. The consequences for human society and the natural world will be devastating, unless radical measures of mitigation and adaptation are taken.

The debate on these facts has concluded. We can see this changed reality in the storms, floods, and heatwaves increasing in intensity each year.

However, this reality is denied by the most powerful political figure in the world, Donald Trump, and by a number of TDs.

One of the Committee members, Senator Ian Marshall, seemed to accept that climate change exists, but not that it will have a devastating impact on us all.

He stated that climate change will present “opportunities” for some countries because the melting of polar ice caps would mean an increase in arable land. His conclusion? Ireland didn’t need to try to be a leader in tackling climate change.

It is therefore welcome that the Committee in private session agreed to alter the original work programme to include a session on ‘The Science of Climate Change’. Perhaps Senator Marshall and others might learn something.

Tackling the emitters

Even for those who claim to accept the science of climate change, it doesn’t mean that they are willing to take the action necessary to mitigate it. Doing so means interfering with the right to profit of extremely powerful capitalist interests.

On a global scale, that means taking on the 90 companies responsible for 63% of greenhouse gas emissions.

In Ireland, with agriculture as the economic sector with the highest emissions, agri-business is particularly fearful of a serious approach to tackling climate change. How their interests and the interests of Big Oil will be protected was already clear from the first Committee meeting.

Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin was echoed by many others in emphasising an urban – rural divide, suggesting that investment in public transport is all very well, but would not assist rural dwellers who need cars, and arguing that Ireland reducing its beef export would simply mean increased exports from elsewhere.

This is fundamentally a recipe for inaction. It closely echoes the position of establishment parties on Ireland’s role as a corporate tax haven.

In theory, they agree it’s bad, but nonetheless they emphasise that Ireland cannot tackle it alone and instead point to an international agreement in the dim and distant future as an alternative. In the case of climate change, an international (though inadequate) agreement already exists. The issue is implementation.

Climate change simply cannot wait until all countries act simultaneously. For Ireland to do its part we need to slash emissions from transport and agriculture, the two biggest contributors to our overall greenhouse gas emissions.

That means massively investing in public transport to make it free, accessible, and convenient for the vast majority. and shifting to a sustainable model of agriculture.

Those requirements alone point towards the need of breaking out of the framework of neo-liberal capitalism where profit is king, and instead placing people and the environment at the centre of economic planning

But, fundamentally we can’t control what we don’t own. So public ownership of the major sectors of the economy is key to success.

Minimal change or radical eco-socialist change?

Unfortunately, the approach of the political establishment is to accept the logic of capitalism, in effect taking minimal action and accepting some climate change (some destruction, some deaths) is inevitable to ensure the system’s maintenance.

This was seen in the evidence presented by Justice Mary Laffoy, who chaired the Citizens’ Assembly and Professor Alan Barrett of the ESRI.

A revealing admission about the procedure of the Citizens’ Assembly was made by Ms Laffoy.

The Citizens’ Assembly final report says the following about the wording of a particular question for the Assembly

“A number of suggestions were received from Members …. expressing a view that all future renewable energy projects should be publicly State owned, in light of concerns about Ireland’s energy security into the future and a desire to retain ownership of our renewable energy assets.

The Chairperson explained that this could involve complex areas of European Union law including issues such as state aid rules. …[and] deemed inappropriate that the Assembly should vote on this.” [italics added]

Given that the entire report is a set of recommendations, the majority of which require some change of law, I questioned Ms Laffoy’s decision to block the vote on public ownership.

She said this was the “sensible option” and “we can’t change EU law”. In other words, EU law took primacy over the environment even in the Citizens’ Assembly.

The main emphasis of the ESRI presentation was on carbon taxes. As currently implemented, the ESRI accepted that these are regressive – hitting lower income groups harder proportionally than higher income groups. Most importantly, they have a marginal impact at best.

That is because they are focused on improving individuals’ choices, without taking into account that people’s choices aren’t made in a vacuum, but in a capitalist world where the big decisions that shape their lives have already been taken by corporations and governments.

For example, heavy carbon taxes can be imposed, but without the provision of public transport, someone who has to travel to work has no choice but to continue to travel by car.

None of that is to discount the choices that we all need to make to try to help tackle climate change. But it is to emphasise that we also should make the choice to see this problem as a systemic one.

An eco-socialist exit strategy from the nightmare of climate change is needed. My job on the Committee in the next months will be to try to advocate it.

Paul Murphy is Solidarity TD for Dublin South West and member of the Socialist Party. Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulmurphy_TD

Rollingnews

From top: The Launch of Generation Precarious yesterday; Paul Murphy

Varadkar’s Republic of Opportunity sloganeering hides the reality of a Republic of Precarity for many workers.

The process of increasing ‘flexibility’ in the labour market has intensified over the course of the crisis and its aftermath. It is yet another indication of Naomi Klein’s ‘shock doctrine‘ in action – with a crisis of neo-liberal capitalism used to further embed that model.

Precarity can be an ambiguous concept, allowing the government and right-wing economists to deny any expansion. However, it can be defined broadly as employment “which is insecure, uncertain or unpredictable from the point of view of the worker.” (ICTU report: ‘Insecure and Uncertain’: Precarious Work in the Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland).

It should be indisputable that precarious work in its myriad of different forms has increased dramatically in Ireland, as it has in western Europe and the US in the context of the economic crisis.

It takes multiple forms, from the ‘bogus self-employment’ to the widespread existence of zero hour or ‘if and when’ contract workers, as well as the spread of temporary and part-time contracts and agency workers and unpaid internships.

Side by side with that, corporate profits have gone through the roof – having doubled from €75 billion in Ireland in 2011 to €150 billion in 2015. These come at the expense of workers working harder and longer for the same wages.

The ‘gig’ or ‘contingent’ economy is presented by right-wing economists as being an opportunity for freedom and choice. In reality, it is a tool for reducing the cost of labour and increasing the rate of exploitation by denying legal rights that employees with permanent contracts would be entitled to. It represents a partial return to early 20th century working conditions.

A number of useful reports and studies have recently been published into the expansion of precarious employment in Ireland by TASC and ICTU. Some of the key features which emerge are the fact 12% of workers are now self-employed with no employees – in other words, likely to be effectively in bogus self-employment.

Some 7% of the labour force is working in temporary employment, with half of them (70,500 workers) in temporary employment because they could not find permanent work – a 179% increase on 2008.

Over the course of the crisis, there has been a significant increase in the number of workers who are employed part-time – with 456,200 workers, almost a quarter of all employees.

The fact that there are around 110,000 less workers in full-time permanent employemnt than there were in 2008 is a striking illustration of the changed nature of the labour market.

Just over 8% of workers usual hours varied considerably from week to week or month to month, meaning they probably have zero hour, low hour or if and when contracts.

The evidence illustrates that these precarious contracts are concentrated in certain sectors – such as hospitality, care work as well as construction. It is disproportionally young workers and women who are affected.

These statistics translated into the daily lives of workers means massive instability in people’s lives. It means an inability to plan for next week, nevermind next month, because you don’t know what hours you’ll be working.

It means being unable to get a mortgage because you can’t point to a guaranteed number of hours and income. It means a significant increase in mental health problems caused by such an unstable existence.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way. The historic #McStrike in Britain won the biggest pay rise for workers at the company in 10 years. Deliveroo workers, who are a classic example of ‘bogus self-employment’ have also been getting organised.

Six years ago, we launched the ScamBridge campaign and website, which contributed to the public awareness of the reality of JobBridge exploitation which ultimately led to the scheme being abandoned by the government.

Yesterday, we launched Generation Precarious with the aim of doing something similar to tackle the much bigger issue of precarious work.

The campaign has a two track strategy.

Firstly, to raise awareness of the reality of precarious work and the impact it has on people’s lives and to push for government action to eliminate precarious work, through the banning of zero hour and ‘if and when’ contracts, the introduction of ‘fair scheduling’ and for the outlawing of all unpaid work along with a series of other demands.

Secondly, to highlight and expose particularly exploitative employers, as we did with ScamBridge. We want people to contact us with their stories.

In the coming weeks, we will be selecting our first employer to target for protest to expose their treatment of workers. Crucially, we will be working with those affected by precarious work to try to assist them getting organised into trade unions, which is ultimately the best way to ensure better working conditions.

Paul Murphy is Solidarity TD for Dublin South West and member of the Socialist Party. Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulmurphy_TD

Generation Precarious

From top: a still from a Catholic sex education video made for an Irish audience in the 1980s; Paul Murphy

“We were basically told we should wait until marriage to have sex. To emphasize this point, the teacher took a piece of sellotape, stuck it to her hand, ripped it off and showed us the bits of dirt now stuck to it.

She likened this piece of tape to each girl, and her sticking the tape down to her skin as each boy the girl kissed. She kept repeating this action, basically showing us that kissing many boys made you very dirty.

When the tape lost its stickiness, she proudly used this as an example of how we became emotionally unable to ‘stick’ to one person if we keep ‘kissing all these different boys’. I found this absolutely unacceptable and honestly am still shocked that I was actually told this.”

Sarah

Paul Murphy TD writes:

When Solidarity announced we were proposing a Bill for Objective Sex Education, Sarah was just one school student of many who emailed us about the backward nature of the sex education they received.

Niamh, another student, explained that:

“I vividly remember the teacher referring to contraception as ‘the C-word’. She didn’t like saying it in the classroom as it was against the ethos of the school.”

This anecdotal evidence of entirely inadequate sex education chimes with recently published research by NUI Galway on ‘Smart Consent‘.

An online survey completed by over 1,000 NUIG students on consent found that 76% of students believed their school sex education “left out a lot of important and crucial information” and only 23.8% declared themselves satisfied with the sex education they received.

When you read the ‘Guidelines on Relationships and Sexuality Education‘ issued by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, (it is little wonder that our sex education remains in the dark ages.

It sums up its approach as follows:

“Any attempt to communicate ‘the facts of life’ as mere facts without reference to the religious and moral dimensions of human sexuality and without reference to the pupil’s need to grow in maturity would be a distortion. Scientific facts are not the whole truth about human sexuality and reproduction.”

The sex education that most school students receive is grossly distorted by the religious ethos of their schools. In many cases, Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) is provided by outside religious agencies, including Accord, a Catholic organisation which refuses to deal with same-sex couples in marriage counselling.

The result is that often LGBTQ+ people are not mentioned, contraception is barely referenced and consent does not feature. The so-called ‘gatekeepers’ model is taught in many schools, where girls are warned about sexual activity and boys get no real education on consent.

This contrasts starkly with the attitudes of young people, where there has been an awakening in awareness of the problem of sexual harassment and a real understanding of consent as something that needs to be explicit, mutual and continuous.

This was seen in the last weeks on the streets across Ireland with big protests about how rape victims are treated in the legal system. In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the #WeStandWithHer protests, the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, announced a review of sex education.

However, importantly, he did not say that it would remove religious ethos from the teaching of RSE, which is a central problem. There is no point in reviewing how it is taught if schools will still be allowed to ignore it if it doesn’t fit their religious views!

The Solidarity ‘Provision of Objective Sex Education’ Bill would remove those religious barriers from the teaching of relationships and sex based on mutual respect.

It will be debated today and if it becomes law, would ensure that all school students receive factual and objective sex education.

This would be sex education which has consent at its core, which teaches about methods of contraception and the termination of pregnancy, is not gender normative and is LGBTQ+ positive.

The Bill is being supported by a wide range of organisations including the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, National Women’s Council of Ireland, Shout Out, BelongTo, USI, Irish Family Planning Association, Atheist Ireland, LadyBirds, and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.

Because of pressure on the establishment parties at this stime, the indications are that the government is not opposing the Bill and it will pass second stage.

However, those who want to retain religious control over our schools and prevent young people being educated about sex will try to resist this change. The Catholic Primary Schools Management Association has come out in opposition to the Bill and incredibly claims that the current sex education programme is “working quite well”!

The next step of the battle will be ensure that the government doesn’t leave it languishing in committee, as they have done with so many opposition bills and it actually progresses to become law that transforms our sex education.

Paul Murphy is Solidarity TD for Dublin South West and member of the Socialist Party. Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulmurphy_TD

Meanwhile…

Come on media.

Get your finger out busy.