The ability to ‘compare and contrast’ is a skill that is taught to every school student in Ireland. It teaches young people how to assess the similarities and differences between two or more topics. Indeed, ‘compare and contrast’ are often the first words found on an exam sheet.
On Tuesday gone (January 20) the leaders of all the main political parties in the Twenty-Six Counties were tripping over themselves to claim inheritance of the First Dail.
Speaking inside the Mansion House, Brian Cowen, Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore were quick to heap praise on the first members of Dail Eireann as they sought to plant themselves firmly in the tradition of the early 20th Century freedom fighters.
If the leaders of the Twenty-Six County state wish to be judged by the standards of the men and women of an Chead Dail Eireann then that is what should be done. And what better manner to ‘compare and contrast’ their collective performances than by measuring the Ireland of 2009 against the one envisioned by an Chead Dail Eireann.
When Ireland’s TDs first met ninety years ago they adopted two documents, namely the ‘Declaration of Independence’ and the ‘Democratic Programme’. Combined, these two documents outlined the national, social and economic vision of the Ireland that the world’s then newest parliament intended to bring into reality.
The Declaration of Independence was basically a proclamation of national independence from England. While the first paragraphs of the Declaration were primarily focused on the historical context which led to the establishment of the First Dail the latter sections stated an unambiguous commitment to achieving complete Irish freedom,
“...we, the elected Representatives of the ancient Irish people in National Parliament assembled, do, in the name of the Irish nation, ratify the establishment of the Irish Republic and pledge ourselves and our people to make this declaration effective by every means at our command:
We ordain that the elected Representatives of the Irish people alone have power to make laws binding on the people of Ireland, and that the Irish Parliament is the only Parliament to which that people will give its allegiance:
We solemnly declare foreign government in Ireland to be an invasion of our national right which we will never tolerate, and we demand the evacuation of our country by the English Garrison”
Ninety years later it is difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile such a clear statement of national sovereignty with an acceptance of modern-day partition. Despite this blatant contradiction speaker after speaker at Tuesday’s ceremony heaped praise upon the First Dail without referring to the fact that nearly two million Irish citizens still live under British Rule. The crime of partition and the ongoing denial of Irish sovereignty that it represents were completely whitewashed over by the leaders of all the political parties in the Mansion House. The issue of partition was referred to only in passing and even then it was only in the vaguest and aspirational of terms.
The complete acceptance of partition by today’s establishment political parties, through their collective support for the unionist veto, stands in stark contrast to the words of Cathal Brugha, the 1916 veteran, who spoke after the Declaration of Independence was adopted ninety years ago this week,
“Deputies, you understand from what is stated in this Declaration that we have cut ourselves free from England. Let the world know it and those who are concerned bear it in mind. For come what may now, whether it be death itself, the great deed is done.”
Brugha understood then, as republicans understand now, that Irish freedom would not be granted as a gift by Britain. Instead it would have to earned, to be fought for, to be wrestled from the hands of an imperial power and that in that struggle a high price would have to be paid.
Brugha also understood that courage would be needed for the fight that lay ahead. He himself had demonstrated such courage many times in the past - most notably in the South Dublin Union during the 1916 Rising. Two years after the First Dail was established he would again demonstrate his ample courage at the outbreak of the Civil War.
Not a single one of the ‘great and the good’ who gathered in the Mansion House on Tuesday possess a fraction of the courage of Brugha or many of the others who formed the First Dail.
In accepting and supporting the Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreement’s - based as they are upon the unionist veto - all of the main political parties are willing accomplices in the maintenance of partition and the British occupation. In this they have more in common with the Redmondite tradition of the Irish Parliamentary Party than with the Republican tradition of the First Dail - a fact which Enda Kenny, at least, had the honesty to admit on Tuesday past.
The Democratic Programme, the second document adopted by Dail Eireann, primarily focused on the social and economic aspects of a free and independent Ireland. In many ways it could be viewed as an Irish Freedom Charter. It expands on the 1916 Proclamation and the 1919 Declaration of Independence, leaving no doubt as to in whose interests the Republic should operate - the working class.
Once again a process of ‘compare and contrast’ demonstrates just how poorly the Ireland of today compares to the one of the Democratic Programme, which starts,
“We declare in the words of the Irish Republican Proclamation the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies to be indefeasible...”
For the First Dail, this meant all of Ireland, not just twenty-six counties of it. The First Dail was elected on the suffrage of all its voters, throughout the thirty-two counties. The current Dublin government and every Twenty-Six County government since partition have abjectly failed to advance the cause of full independence. Indeed they have done all in their power to thwart republicanism and colluded in British government policy in Ireland.
When the Brian Cowen’s predecessor, Bertie Ahern, resigned from office, the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown remarked that his government could not have had a better partner with which to conduct their affairs in Ireland. Praise indeed.
The Democratic Programme continues,
“We declare that the Nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all men and women of the Nation, but to all its material possessions, the Nation’s soil and all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes within the Nation, and... all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare...”
Many believe that it is the extract above that has led to the Democratic Programme being deliberately written out of Twenty-Six County version of Irish history. In adopting a programme which asserted the sovereignty of the people over the ‘wealth producing processes, also known as the means of production, the First Dail was clearly positioning itself in the socialist camp that was at that time emerging across Europe.
It is no coincidence that in the Civil War that followed the Tan War the vast majority of those who supported socialism remained true to the original intent of the First Dail as outlined in the Democratic Programme. So, when the combined forces of the business classes, the Anglo-Irish ascendancy, former republicans and the Catholic Church, with the assistance of the British government, finally defeated the republican side the prospects of an Irish socio-economic revolution were also extinguished.
The Twenty-Six County state was ultimately born out of a successful counter-revolution with every aspect of state structure and policy reflecting this reality. Thus despite relatively high levels of government involvement in industry in the early decades of the state the fundamental right of the people to control the ‘wealth-producing process’ was never asserted.
In more recent times the Dublin government has been a world leader in promoting a neo-liberal economic model based upon private ownership and minimal state involvement. In the words of the current Dublin Minister for Health, Mary Harney, ‘spiritually we are probably a lot closer to Boston than Berlin.’
Over the course of the last twenty years a whole series of state and semi-state bodies have been privatised. From Irish Steel to Aer Lingus; from Eircom to Irish Sugar; from Irish Life Assurance to Cablelink strategically important companies have either been wound up or sold to the highest bidder.
In parallel to this wave of privatisation the Dublin government introduced a relatively low direct-taxation regime designed to shift the provision of essential services from the public to the private sector.
It is small wonder that the only references made to the Democratic Programme on Tuesday last were as fleeting and as vague as those made to the Declaration of Independence.
The Democratic Programme also declares the right to work and to a share in the produce of that work,
“...to assure that every citizen shall have opportunity to spend his or her strength and faculties in the service of the people. In return for willing service, we, in the name of the Republic, declare the right of every citizen to an adequate share of the produce of the Nation’s Labour.”
In the Twenty-Six Counties of today an ever greater number of citizens are either unemployed or on the verge of unemployment. For many of those lucky enough to find employment the temporary contract has replaced the ‘job for life’. For decades now the Dublin government - regardless of which party is in power- have favoured the courting of non-union multinationals over the development of indigenous industry.
The limited support that is given to Irish-based enterprises has consistently favoured privately owned businesses over state, semi-state, co-operative, social or other forms of ownership and control.
Instead of working ‘in the service of the people’ the bulk of the workforce instead works for the benefit of the few.
Instead of receiving an ‘adequate share of the produce of the Nation’s Labour’ most have to rely on the whim of their company boss.
The Democratic Programme prioritises the well being of the children of the country,
‘It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training as Citizens of a Free and Gaelic Ireland.’
Ninety years later an estimated one if five children live in consistent poverty or at risk of poverty. Eighty-eight years after partition, after ten years of unprecedented economic growth, hundreds of thousands of children across the Twenty-Six counties live in households that find it difficult or impossible to provide the most basic of necessities such as food, clothes and heat. With the current economic downturn it is inevitable that this figure will rise even further.
In terms of ‘the means and facilities requisite for their proper education’ the record of the southern political establishment is equally poor. Thousands of children are attempting to learn in schools that cold, damp, rat-infested or in some other way sub-standard. Despite repeated promises to reduce class sizes the average class size is actually increasing across the Twenty-Six Counties. And for the 5,000 children that annually drop out of the education system the prospects are bleak.
It was not only the children of the Nation that the Democratic Programme sought to protect. For the elderly the First Dail declared,
“...shall not be regarded as burden, but rather entitled to the Nation’s gratitude and consideration.”
One need look no further than the recent medical card debacle to understand the attitude of Fianna Fail and their coalition partners towards the elderly in modern day Ireland.
For all of society the Democratic Programme placed a duty on the Republic to,
“...safeguard the health of the people.”
Unlike many European states the Dublin government never established a full national healthcare system in the last century. This failure, however, did not prevent savage cutbacks from occurring within health provision in the mid 1980’s - cutbacks from which the public health service had not even recovered before the current round of post ‘Celtic-Tiger’ cutbacks began.
As with so many other aspects of social policy the political establishment in the Twenty-Six Counties has turned its back on the concept of state provision in favour of allowing the private sector make a profit out of illness. The current ‘co-location’ scheme whereby private hospitals are to be built on state-supplied public land is but the latest manifestation of the privatisation of healthcare in Ireland.
Beyond the provisions of services to the people of Ireland the Democratic Programme committed the Government of Ireland to,
‘...promote the development of the Nation’s resources, to increase the productivity of its soil, to exploit its mineral deposits, peat bogs, and fisheries...’
On entry to the then EEC in 1972 the Dublin government effectively signed away Ireland’s fishing rights. Over the course of the last three and half decades tens of billions of euros worth of fish have thus been lost to the Irish economy.
In the same decade the Kinsale gas reserve was handed over to the Marathon on extremely favourable terms - favourable to Marathon that is. Twenty years later it was the turn of Shell to receive a gift from the Dublin government - this time in the form of the Corrib Gas reserve.
And finally there is Tara Mines, Europe’s largest Zinc mines, which again was handed over to private interests to exploit. These are but three examples of how successive Dublin government have sought to ‘...promote the Nation’s resources...’
On the issue of Industry the Democratic Programme required that,
‘It shall be the duty of the Republic to adopt all measures necessary for the recreation and invigoration of our Industries, and to ensure their being developed on the most beneficial and progressive co-operative and industrial lines...’
The Dublin government has instead consistently prioritised the holy grail of Foreign Direct Investment over all other forms of industrial and economic development. Despite the fact that these FDI companies will leave Ireland as quickly as they have come - as demonstrated in recent times - the southern political establishment remains apparently besotted by their potential to ‘turn the economy around’.
Finally the Democratic Programme makes several references to International relations and workers rights,
“...the adoption of and extensive Irish Consular Service, trade with foreign Nations shall be revived on terms of mutual advantage and goodwill...It shall also devolve upon the National Government to seek co-operation of the Governments of other countries in determining a standard of Social and Industrial Legislation with a view to a general and lasting improvement in the conditions under which the working classes live and labour.”
No one could argue that the terms under which international trade occurs in today’s world is based upon ‘mutual advantage and goodwill’. Instead there is a trade framework, created almost exclusively by the wealthy and powerful countries of the northern hemisphere, which perpetuates global poverty through the exploitation of workers and raping of natural resources. As part of the EU trading block the Twenty-Six Counties is partially culpable for the continuation of such unjust trading practices.
Instead of working with other countries to improve workers rights the Twenty-Six County establishment are instead actively undermining such rights. One of the main elements of the Lisbon Treaty is the ironically named Charter of Fundamental Rights. Under this charter workers from one European country will be pitted against workers from another in a savage race to the bottom.
Thus the record of the current and former Dublin governments and ‘oppositions’ can be compared and contrasted to the manifesto of the First Dail as contained in the Declaration of Independence and the Democratic Programme.
In truth those who paraded themselves in the Mansion House on Tuesday past have little right to claim the inheritance of the revolutionary republicans and socialists who established the First Dail. Let us hope that like all pretenders their lies will be exposed sooner rather then later.