Ireland

On 20th October 2012 the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions organised thousands of trade union and community demonstrators in a march in Belfast for an alternative to the Westminster government's austerity policies. Speaker after speaker lambasted the policies of austerity.

News that Enda Kenny has been chosen as “European of the year” by a group of German Magazine Publishers makes sense only in the context that recently the European Union itself recently won the Nobel peace prize. We would have to ask the question “European what of the year?”

The decision of the Workers and Unemployed Action Group to withdraw from the United Left Alliance is an unwelcome symptom of the growing impasse within the ULA, previously reflected in the controversy over Mick Wallace and the departure of Clare Daly from the Socialist Party. The WUAG has a long standing base in South Tipperary and its departure will have an influence on the development of the ULA at a national level.

Across Europe it is the sick the old and especially the young that are being forced to pay for the economic crisis. In Spain and Greece youth unemployment stands at over 50%. In Ireland although that figure is somewhat lower at 17.9% but this still means nearly 1 in 5 youth are workless and the statistic covers up the distressing reality that we face; in particular, ongoing attacks to education and the lack of work in Ireland that have led to many young people turning to migration. If people emigrate they don't show up on the figures.

Many politically active workers and young people in Ireland and beyond will be scratching their heads over this weekend’s spat between the leadership of the Socialist Party and former Socialist Party TD Clare Daly. A series of statements and counter statements have done little to clarify what are the real political differences between the SP and Daly who is widely acknowledged as a hard working and respected TD. Unfortunately, the issues aren’t going away easily, the right wing press will make sure of that.

James Connolly and Jim Larkin founded the Irish Labour Party in 1912, based on the trade union movement as a means to express the political and social aspirations of the Irish working class. Connolly understood that the working class needed to organize to combat British Imperialism and the rack renting landlords and the slave drivers of Belfast and the sweated trades owners of Dublin.  Connolly went to his death in 1916 as a workers leader who had fought his whole life in the interests of working people.

There has been a certain feeling over the past three or four years that we are living through history, the sort of history, that is, which people pick over many years into the future when they try to explain the factors that led to a war or a revolution for example.

RTÉ and the Irish press report fairly regularly about the workings of the Troika and the discussions Enda Kenny (leader of Fine Gael) and Michael Noonan (Minister of Finance) hold with European Union and the IMF, although the edited highlights and the “communiqués” don’t mention the small print. As many people behind on the mortgage will have found out to their cost over the last few years, the devil is in the detail.

RTÉ and the Irish press report fairly regularly about the workings of the Troika and the discussions Enda Kenny (leader of Fine Gael) and Michael Noonan (Minister of Finance) hold with European Union and the IMF, although the edited highlights and the “communiqués” don’t mention the small print. As many people behind on the mortgage will have found out to their cost over the last few years, the devil is in the detail.

By any standards a country whose young people are forced to leave for want of a future can’t be healthy. The Troika and the European Bond Markets speculators judge the health of nations by the “success” of their austerity measures in slashing public spending and attacking services. Most working people would consider how the old, children and women are supported. Economists look at the statistics for trade, earnings and GDP. One measure looks at the scale of inequality within society.

The Dublin lockout which took place from the 26th August 1913 to 18th January the following year stands as one of the most marked episodes of entrenched class conflict in Irish history.

We are publishing an extended version of a speech delivered by Gerry Ruddy at the recent Marxist Summer School in London (June 2012) attended by nearly 100 comrades, in which he outlines how Ireland came to be dominated by international capital after “independence”, confirming what James Connolly had predicted long ago, and explains how genuine national independence can only be achieved through socialism.

The flurry of articles in the Irish press over the last few days attacking the Croke Park Deal should not come as any surprise. However, it is noteworthy that these ladies and gentlemen chose the days after the referendum vote to start putting the boot in. After all, it would have been highly inconvenient and counterproductive to attack a large section of the voters who might draw the conclusion that the government parties Yes campaign was merely trying to set the austerity programme of the last few years into stone.

The Irish Times reports that as soon as the result of the referendum on the treaty appeared to be in the bag, Enda Kenny was on the phone to Angela Merkel presumably for a pat on the head as he reported on the completion of his mission. However, an Taoiseach and to a much greater extent Eamon Gilmore should be concerned about the concentration of No votes in the working class areas of Dublin and the border areas in the North West.

At Easter every year in every parish in Ireland and in many places around the world Irish Republicans gather to pay homage to those men and women who died in the struggle for independence. This year, 2012, will be no different. However, whereas 50 years ago there was only one Republican Movement, today there are at least seven different republican traditions that have emerged out of the northern struggle.

This year as every year there will be marches and commemorations attended by the various strands of Irish socialism and republicanism to mark the anniversary of the Easter Rising. There will be a remembrance of those who fell in the struggle for national liberation and socialism in 1916, during the War of Independence and since then. Attention is already being given to the possible events to mark the centenary of the rising in 2016.

Belfast in 1907 was a hotbed of militancy.  It was the fastest growing city in the British isles. Its most successful industries were labour intensive. 

Catholics who have been born and raised up in the North of Ireland will have had some experience of being on the receiving end of comments like the following: Having a child with ADHD is “punishment for sleeping with a Catholic” or “no longer hangs out her washing at home, the smell of Catholics being atrocious." These comments were made in a workplace, not in a factory, not among blue collar workers - as polite society would have us all believe is the only place where sectarianism lurks - but in a social work setting.

Just short of a year since the General Election and the Croke Park Agreement is in the news once more. This is no surprise, we explained in advance that because of the economic situation any deal that was struck would be short lived. On the one side the Government would come back for more and the commitment to no wage cuts for four years would be meaningless. On the other hand the agreement to “reform” public services under these conditions was a sign of serious weakness from the ICTU leadership, which could lead to a serious assault on the working class. Less than 11 months after the General election a number of Fine Gael TD’s have demanded that the deal is dumped. Here’s what the

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When the Irish Catholic priest Fr. Hugh O’Donnell decided it was time to build a Catholic church in Belfast he had a problem: it costs a lot of money to build a church. The Catholic population of Belfast was too small and too poor to provide enough money, so if he had to rely on the Catholics alone it would take forever. He had to seek help elsewhere. So he asked the Protestants of Belfast to help him out. As you do.

There are many ways to judge the health of a society. The speculators in the European Bond Markets judge the health of nations by the state of their public finances; socialists and trade unionists point to the way that old people and children are treated and especially the position of women in society. Economists look at the volume of imports and exports and at the rate of economic growth.  One measure looks at the scale of inequality within society.

While between 2 and 3 million struck in Britain, in the North of Ireland about 200,000 people took part in the Public Sector  strike action on 30th November. Schools and civil service offices were shut, as were job centres and council services. Rail and bus services were non-existent. Union members held marches, pickets, and rallies throughout the country over the issue of pensions. The main rally took place in Belfast city centre, where around 15,000 gathered and several thousands spread over Craigavon, Omagh, Armagh, Ballymena, Derry and other towns.

Last Thursday’s by election in Dublin West came down to a three horse race between Councillor Patrick Nulty of Labour who won and Councillor Ruth Coppinger of the Socialist Party who came third, while Fianna Fáil (FF) squeezed into second place after a tie for second and third place – on the basis that they had more first preference votes.

The Greek working class has moved decisively into action. The last few days in Greece have demonstrated that faced with an approaching economic calamity the workers are prepared to fight to defend their living standards and their jobs also. However, the bankers and the various competing European powers have no option but to fight for their own interests and will fight to the last gasp. The scene is set for further conflict in the euro zone between the increasingly divergent interests of the European states and between the classes in each of the European countries.

 The decision of the Secretary Of State to revoke Marian Price’s release from prison has been met with widespread opposition from the Republican movement. The justification given was that the threat that she poses has “significantly increased” and that she had been encouraging support for an illegal organisation based on her involvement in an Easter comm

The Nama Wine Lake Blog recently exposed the scandalous statistic that while there are some 300,000 vacant houses in the state, there are still some 100,000 households on the list for state housing. Nama Wine Lake estimates that this represents a minimum of 176,147 people. Even a very conservative estimate of the “overhang” of vacant properties – excluding holiday homes indicates that there are some 100,000 vacant homes - 23 -33,000 of which are on the so called “ghost estates”.

The 24 hour strike by UNISON members to defend Health and Education Services in the North is an indication of the scale of the crisis in the public sector. But its also the most significant trade union struggle to hit the North since the onset of the current economic crisis.

The UVF attacks on the Short Strand area of Belfast over the last days and the clashes between Catholic and Protestant youth demonstrate that despite the claims of the various ministers at Stormont, the underlying tensions and conflicts in the North have neither been resolved nor overcome.

Within the last couple of weeks there has been yet another outbreak of youth protest internationally with the huge movement in Spain which encompasses some 80 cities and now a new movement in Greece has erupted. Meanwhile in North Africa and the Middle East new waves of struggle are being prepared. However, if the Irish press are to believed the waves of struggle that are affecting everywhere else will barely cause a ripple in good ould Ireland. After all, with the royal and presidential distractions of the last few weeks, the only revolting youth to get any coverage in Ireland were Jedward.

The announcement that the Irish banking sector needs another €24 billion, that’s €24,000,000,000 in real numbers or another €5,500 for every Irish man, woman and child, is another sign of the capitalist crisis in the state. Standard and Poor’s one of the main international credit agencies has now downgraded Ireland by a further point.

Some commentators described it as a “democratic revolution.”They were not talking about the current uprisings in parts of North Africa or the wave of mass demonstrations across the Middle East. Rather they were talking about the results of the 26-county elections, which saw the dominant force, Fianna Fail reduced to a mere handful of seats, 20 in all.

We republish here an article by Gerry Ruddy, originally published in the The Red Plough (March 2011), which draws some important lessons from the mass movements in North Africa and the Middle East and their relevance to the struggle for a united Ireland.

Friday's election saw Labour gain the most votes and seats in its history. But Fine Gael came out as the largest party. Eamon Gilmore and Enda Kenny have established negotiating teams to prepare the way for a coalition government. While Labour's leaders have given the negotiations the go ahead any final decision must be made by the party conference which meets on Sunday. Fightback is wholly opposed to such a deal.

While the political arithmetic of the next Dáil won’t be clear until after February the 25th, the battle lines in the state have been drawn for some time. The Irish bourgeois are well aware that Fianna Fáil are a dead duck. Now Enda Kenny has decided to concentrate his fire on the Labour Party. There is one reason alone for this. The bourgeois want full control of the levers of power and to all intents and purposes they want a continuation of Cowen and Lenihan’s austerity programme, regardless of whoever leads the government.

The government had decided as far back  as December last year, when their latest drastic budget cuts were presented and passed, to turn student nurses into ‘free labour’, or, as the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has rightly called it, ‘slave labour’.

As the General Election approaches, the Labour Party leadership continues getting rid of the most radical aspects of its election programme. And, Labour Party members only get to know about these changes through the media.

Ireland may go to the polls on March 11th, but the huge implosion in the Fianna Fáil Party might yet bring that date forward. The FF and Green Party coalition government has eventually reached the end of the line, the Greens have left the government and will “support the finance bill from the opposition benches” Three years of austerity measures and a protracted period of political and financial uncertainty have completely transformed the political landscape in the state and affected the consciousness of all classes within society also.

Who gains from the cut in the minimum wage proposed in the four year plan? Well, according to Brian Cowen it’s the very people who are on the minimum wage just now. As usual with Cowen, it is a question of denying what is abundantly clear to everyone else.

After weeks of dancing the seven veils, trying to hide what they were up to, the government, the EU and the IMF announced on prime time Television today (28 November) that they have signed up to an €85 billion bailout. The money which has 5.8% interest rate attached to it will go to recapitalise the banks( €10bn); fund the budget (€50bn) and deal with “banking contingencies” (€25bn). So in other words the whole lot is going to bail out the banks and keep the government finances going.

100,000 marched from Wood Quay to the GPO today in protest against the austerity measures outlined in the four year plan despite the cold wintery weather. A few even demonstrated in a curagh on the Liffey – the workers navy has arrived. Meanwhile the government are behind closed doors discussing the bailout package with the officials.

Despite some increasingly desperate and clumsy attempts to hide the fact that they were in discussions with the EU and the IMF over a bailout the Government was eventually forced to admit what everyone already knew; that they were desperate to secure a huge bailout to attempt to stabilise the Irish economy. The announcement was met with a huge wave of anger and the thin veneer of normality in Ireland has been ripped apart on prime time TV.

News that the Coalition reached a deal with the EU and IMF hasn’t come as a shock. Reports were circulating for days that the EU and the Finance Ministry were locked in discussions and some have even claimed that the IMF was been briefing the heavyweight financial bourgeois press internationally in an attempt to pressurise the coalition and the opposition parties into seeking a deal. This article was written prior to the announcement of the deal but its analysis has been confirmed by subsequent events.

We are reprinting this article because the arguments used by Connolly in answering the capitalists are as valid today as when they were written in 1901. Taken from the Workers’ Republic, May 1901.

Each measure to which capitalism is constrained in order to make a step forward in restoring equilibrium, each and all of this immediately acquires a decisive significance for the social equilibrium, tends more and more to undermine it, and ever more powerfully impels the working class to struggle.” (Leon Trotsky 1921)

Dr Jim McDaid’s decision to resign as a TD is just the latest symptom in the terminal crisis affecting the Fianna Fáil/Green coalition. While the government still holds a tenuous majority of three seats, there are four by-elections pending, the chances are that we will be propelled into a new general election sooner rather than later. Doubtless Cowen and Lenihan will try and hang on. But the opinion polls and the economic catastrophe mean that the coalition is likely to lurch from one crisis to another.

The cuts announced by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer represent around 6.9% in headline public spending cuts in the North over the next four years. This amounts to some £4 billion in revenue spending, but there is also a 40% reduction to come in capital spending on roads, hospitals and other public projects.

The Sunday Independent carried several articles in its October 10th edition leaving absolutely no room for doubt that the knives are being sharpened and the target is the Croke Park Agreement. Such is the venom for the trade unions and the working class that even James Connolly was dragged into the argument – on the side of the bosses! Here we outline some of the arguments from the Sunday Independent and we also let James Connolly speak for himself.

News that Green Party Leader John Gormley would like to see a National Government to sort out the crisis in the economy has now been replaced with the revelation that he believes it’s “too early” to talk about such things. However, it appears that moves are afoot on behalf of the Green Party to draw the opposition parties into cross party talks around plans for the €7bn super budget which will be presented by Brian Lenihan to cover the next four years.

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