Ireland’s on-going water wars are provoking a new moment of crisis in the troubled Republic where Brexit has been described as “the most profound crisis” in history of the post-colonial state. The possibility of a hard UK/EU border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, disrupting communities and well established hinterland trading patterns, presents an intractable problem on the island. Traditional sectarian divisions are dissolving in the new and uncertain paradigm.
Tens of thousands of people from across the country rallied in Dublin, April 8th for what the Right-2-Water campaign organisers termed “a victory celebration” following a Dail parliamentary Water Committee vote to end metering and reject water charges. But the fight is not over yet. Neo-liberal Blueshirt commitment to commodify water in line with Troika/EU “legal” dictat is now dead in the drink. This despite threats of EU fines if charging (as a pre-requisite of subsequent privatisation) is not imposed.
The Blueshirts were the fascist antecedents of the ruling Fine Gael party which had emerged out of the defeat of the 1919 – 1922 revolutionary independence struggles. A Westminster-backed sectarian division of the island effectively thwarted economic and social development for most of the twentieth century.
The current Minority Government of far right Fine Gael (FG) backed by opportunist Independents, and which has been facilitated by a voting pact from the rival conservative Fianna Fail Party (FF) has been thrown into turmoil as popular sentiment against evidence of corporate and statutory corruption mounts daily. Both FF and FG suffered catastrophic defeats in the last two general elections, and their usual coalition partner, the pro-corporate rightist so-called Labour Party struggled to retain 7 seats from a high water mark of 37 in 2011.
The Minority Government was cobbled together after three months of stalemate when the sacked Enda Kenny (FG Leader) offered to soften the Troika Austerity Programme. But just as the political class has awarded itself bonus payments and increases, they continue vicious funding cuts to health, transport and other public services. Patience is wearing out.
For almost two weeks, regional bus drivers have been on strike as underfunding of the public transport service has led to provincial route cutting and proposals to axe 300 jobs. The company, Bus Eireann, is almost bankrupted as the Blueshirt programme subsidises privateers and curtails public provisions.
The Health service has fared even worse, with Mental Health Services in a particularly deep crisis, and general ward closures leaving hundreds of patients on trolleys in corridors – nightly. Nurses are presently balloting for industrial action as their service struggles to cope and patient safety becomes a principle issue.
Perhaps most sinister of all is the scandal of corrupt policing. Hundreds of completely false fine penalty notices were issued to innocent motorists, and the Court Services actually collaborated in forcing victims to pay up, or go to gaol. At the same time, almost a million reported driver breath-tests never took place at all. The whistle-blower exposure of systematic recording of phone calls at Garda Stations (including solicitor/client calls) for decades has broken the trust once awarded to An Garda.
The treatment of one whistle-blower Sgt Maurice McCabe, who was character assassinated by senior officers, and suffered a false whispering campaign about his “possible” involvement in child-abuse, a criminal conspiracy which also involved the national childcare agency, illustrates the frightening scale of complete corruption within the Irish police service.
It is now also beyond any shred of doubt that senior Gardaí orchestrated the framing of an English journalist, Mr Ian Bailey, for the murder of a French woman, Sophie Tuscan Du Plantier in 1996, even coercing supposed “witnesses” to lie, their “evidence” being subsequently withdrawn. On the basis of these flawed and false Gardaí allegations, Mr Bailey is still being sought by French authorities for a crime with which he demonstrably could have had nothing to do with! Such disgraceful behaviour has seen the resignation of a Garda Commissioner, the sacking of a Minister for Justice, and still has the potential to collapse the fragile 26-county state as economic stresses indicate a bleak future for citizens.
An unelected and unmandated Minority Government which usurped power with the help of a propagandist establishment media now finds itself without any answer to the social and economic catastrophe its economic programmes have created. As failed privatisation strategies cripple the fabric of Irish communities, and a torrent of lies and fictions fail to mask the virtual collapse of civil social function, a political collapse is close at hand.
But a new Dail may well be even less stable than the present one. The “Representative” form of democracy has become transformed into a part of the problem of governance it once sought to resolve. Defending Irish democracy now requires extending it into new and more authentic structures which directly express and serve the interests of the majority of the people. And that means confronting the many corruption agencies and aspects of the present state. Transferring power from the abusive hands of the neo-liberal consensus and into the hands of the people is a revolutionary task of the present moment.