January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]
A lot was left to play for after the General Election in the Republic which saw Fine Gael on 50 seats and Fianna Fáil on 44, with Fine Gael less than 1% ahead on Fianna Fáil in percentage terms (first preferences); 80 seats is a majority in the new Dáil composed of 158 TDs. Sinn Féin made gains though not anything like what they might have hoped – some polls had them equal to or even outpacing Fianna Fáil but they ended up ten percentage points behind. If the two largest, and conservative parties, are unable to do a deal of some sort (and that could vary considerably in its extent) then another election could be on the cards but with no indication that the result would be much different – and the desire for going through the huge amount of work and expense of an election again for the same broad result is fairly non-existent. The mathematics of a majority government composed of just one of Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil plus others does not really add up. The most complex Irish government to date was a five-party coalition in 1948.
Perhaps the Fianna Fáil vote was underestimated because (like in the last British General Election with people voting Conservative) some people were a bit ashamed to say who they would vote for – in this case Fianna Fáil after what they did to the country coming up to the banking crisis and recession. However, Sinn Féin at just under 14% was some percentage points below what they hoped; perhaps the old connections to the IRA, and the party leader's position in the latter, weighed on people's minds when they came to indicate their preferences; so it will be interesting to see if Gerry Adams steps down, in due course, 'for the good of the party', how they fare next time if they are under different leadership less tainted by the past. The Labour Party, meanwhile, were lucky to get 7 TDs elected (and thus full party speaking rights) and only received 6.6% of the vote; they paid the price for austerity measures even more than Fine Gael because people expected different from them. The overall turnout was just over 65% of the electorate, the turnout down a bit from the previous election when people were keen to kick Fianna Fáil.
However the most remarkable shift over the last generation in politics south of the border is shown by a chart which appeared on the RTE website (and the same information recorded elsewhere) showing the proportion of the vote taken by the three 'old' parties of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour. In 1982 over 93% of first preference votes went to these three parties; this declined to 77.6% in 1997, up slightly to 79% in 2007, down to 73% in 2011, and an all time low of just 56.4% in this election (and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael's combined share of the vote at just under 50% for the first time). The rise of Sinn Féin is part of this change but on just under 14% it is only part of the picture. Apart from some smaller political alliances and parties, the other aspect of it is the rise of the independents; generally people who are seen to be fighting for the local area and in some cases people who are seen to have other qualities. There are as many independent TDs as ones from Sinn Féin. But this surge of independents accurately reflects the lack of trust which voters have for political parties, and, while in some ways healthy, also shows a crisis of confidence in party politics, politicians, and the political system in general.
Regarding peace and green issues, there is perhaps not too much to write home about. Shannon activists Clare Daly and Mick Wallace were both re-elected but the fact that no one from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Labour signed the pledge to end US military use of Shannon (see news item, Nonviolent News 236) is a very sad reflection on the state of affairs in Irish politics. These political parties have sold out to western and US military interests. Neutrality is popular with people in general, as opinion polls show, but the politicians bow down to EU, NATO and US interests on such matters, partly because they are too craven and afraid to do otherwise - and perhaps partly because they really do believe in western military might. However 116 candidates did sign the pledge – "All 50 Sinn Fein candidates are committed to supporting the Peace Pledge as are the Anti Austerity Alliance / People before Profit and the Workers Party. A number of candidates from the Green Party, Social Democrats and other parties, as well as Independents, have also signed up." (from www.shannonwatch.org )
Ireland is still, as it has been for a very long time, fairly conservative in its politics, at least for a majority of people. However the political field has opened up somewhat in the 26 counties, with Sinn Féin (23 seats), the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit (6 seats), and even the Social Democrats (3 seats) giving more of a choice. Perhaps Labour will rediscover some of its more radical roots as it mulls over its participation in the implementation of austerity in the last government. Two Green Party TDs were elected this time following wipeout at the previous election which ensued participation in government with Fianna Fáil.
There were also initiatives to gauge candidates' approaches to fracking and green issues before the election. 35% of candidates signed a pledge to legislate against fracking in Ireland. However party support varied enormously. Only 2% of Fine Gael candidates signed, 25% of Fianna Fáil, 60% of Sinn Féin, 17% of Labour, 25% of independents, but 100% of Green Party candidates. Other initiatives included a group of leading Irish academics, from all the universities in the state, calling on candidates and parties to commit to establishing a Citizens' Convention for a Post-Carbon Ireland; see www.postcarbonireland.org
Other organisations and networks also tried to use the election to forward particular goals. The Mediators' Institute of Ireland called on all parties and all candidates contesting the general election to commit to enacting the Mediation Bill as soon as possible after the 32nd Dáil convenes. The Mediation Bill was listed in the 2011 Programme for Government and the Draft General Scheme of Mediation Bill was published in 2012 but despite agreement of possible financial savings all around, that is as far as it got.
The single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies, as used on both sides of the border, has its advantages. The difficulty is that in a situation like this where there is a 'hung Dáil', the electorate does not choose the government, they choose their representatives who then haggle and horse trade to end up with a government which may not be anything like what people want. Perhaps in a situation like the current one a better solution would be a Modified Borda Count (MBC) Matrix Vote to elect the best people for the posts available, choosing right across the board from elected members of the Dáil. See www.deborda.org for details. It would certainly be simpler, fairer and more effective in dealing with a complex stand off in parliamentary politics.
We do not believe that parliamentary politics is the only game in town. There are other aspects to democracy, and other routes to social and political change - including, unfortunately, the violent ones practised in Ireland in the past, but also the power and strength of organised civil society. However parliamentary politics is ignored at our peril. "Blessed are those who expect little, for they shall not be disappointed" may be the aphorism to come into play when we think of the Dáil or Northern Ireland Assembly. However we just have to look at marriage equality for same sex couples in the Republic to see how change can happen; yes, the Republic was the first state to introduce marriage equality through popular referendum but that happened through party political support. We should, when we can, avoid putting all our activist eggs in any one basket, whatever that basket may be.
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
"We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves."
The New Green Bible (2008), Romans: 14:7
This quote from The New Testament clearly suggests that our aim and purpose in life should not be as is the norm in our society, to live for ourselves, accumulate wealth and spend it on our own gratification but rather to engage in a process of self-realisation through living for others. Implicit in the quote is the idea that we cannot exist apart from other humans as meaning, purpose and self-realisation, in fact survival is attained through relationship with others. The quote implies that such is our degree of immersion with others that a person's death is not simply self-loss but a loss to the community. This is the case with other mammals, biologists for instance have discovered that when a herd of elephants loses its elders to ivory hunters the wellbeing and survival of the herd is undermined because the knowledge they have of their habitat dies before it has been passed on to younger members.
Not only are we immersed with, and enriched by others, we are also immersed in the greater community of the biosphere on whose health and regenerative capacities we are wholly dependent. In turn, life on Earth is dependent on the physical laws of nature, the chemical composition of the atmosphere, the planet's distance from the sun and alignment with other cosmic bodies. That we do not live for ourselves, and life forms arise out of and are dependent on a myriad of relationships, is something hunter-gathering societies are acutely aware of. This is not the case in mainstream modernity where, as our economic system demonstrates, the orthodox view is that humankind exists outside nonhuman nature, dwelling within the technosphere rather than the biosphere.
Greed, along with arrogance and ignorance, allows for the sense of separateness to flourish and in which the idea that one is not responsible for others is imbedded. Thus the COs of large corporations and the upper crust of the 1% have no quibbles about employing accountants to find ways to legally avoid paying tax. (Inequality and the 1%, Danny Dorling, 2015) The idea of separateness also allows the greedy to treat other people and nonhuman nature as devoid of intrinsic value, as discrete entities that can be used as a means to wealth accumulation. The following examples illustrate the destructive and harmful nature of greed.
The Editorial Board of The New York Times, 16th February 2016, inform us of the results of a survey carried out by researchers at Duke University into the ecological destruction caused by the coal mining industry in the Appalachia Mountains. The mining process employed is known as mountaintop removal and involves removing the flora, soil, peat, mud and gravel by dynamite and bulldozer in order to dig out the coal lying beneath. This process, which has been going on for 40 years leaves:
"A grossly disfigured landscape pocked with decapitated mountains standing flat as mesas and inhospitable to forest restoration. …The blight is more than vertical, for millions of tons of slag waste have been bulldozed into the surrounding countryside … The rubble has clogged countless streams and waterways and devastated the Appalachian environment with pollutants, rerouting rain torrents through homes and hamlets below."
The U.S environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy, Jr. in "Crimes Against Nature" (2004) writes about the ecological destruction of the Appalachia Mountains as follows.
"|According to the EPA, the waste from mountaintop removal has permanently interned 1,200 miles of Appalachian streams, polluted the region's groundwater and rivers, and rendered 400,000 acres of some of the world's most biologically rich temperate forests into flat, barren wastelands." (p. 114-115)
In this case greed has caused the death of an ecological world. My second example of the triumph of greed also concerns fossil fuels. Mary Williams Walsh reports in the International New York Times, 17th February 2016 that for years the Puerto Rico power authority purchased billions of dollars' worth of substandard highly toxic oil for its electricity generating power stations and charged its consumers the price they would have paid for less toxic high-grade oil. The ill-gotten gains went into numerous personal bank accounts. Walsh writes that:
"The Environmental Protection Agency found that the oil being burned did, indeed, contain unacceptable levels of sulphur, which rained down in a toxic mix on neighbourhoods near the power plants for years."
In these cases greed won over every consideration including human wellbeing and the health of nonhuman nature, leaving a wasteland for our descendants. If a more compassionate and sensitized civilisation ever evolves how will they, on examining the evidence of our destruction of the fragile biosphere, view us? Unless there is swift paradigm change in our psychological and emotional disposition, one in which greed determines much of our behaviour, we will make the Earth uninhabitable and in the process cause enormous misery and suffering.