14 July 2010

...then four come along at once

Hot on the heels of Village's recent musings on the need or lack of need for a new political party (or two) comes news in this morning's Irish Times of the imminent formation of not one, but four new groups that will seek official Party status in the coming months. The two most fully realised thus far are Direct Democracy Ireland, and Fís Nua.

Direct Democracy Ireland have coalesced around the idea of bypassing the curent stagnant and autocratic parliamentary representative system and instilling an element of true democracy into the system by allowing for citizen-initiated referenda that could repeal legislation or counter-act governmental decisions, a process very similar to the Proposition votes that most US States have that enact or repeal legislation and alter state constitutions and statutes. They are also seeking to introduce a Recall mechanism that would allow the citizenry to "fire" elected representatives, again similar to many US States and a process used most famously to propel Arnold Schwarzenegger to power after California Governor Gray Davis was Recalled in 2003.

I have written before on my belief in the need for a reborn Republic, the cornerstone of which would be a new Constitution that included a provision for the citizenry themselves to call for referenda on alterations to the Constitution, and I fully support the measures Direct Democracy Ireland are proposing, but I question the viability of a party formed around such a single issue platform. Obviously the only way Recall or Citizen-Initiatives can be introduced into the current political sustem is through the mechanisms of the current political system, so it will necessitate legislation to be introduced into the Dail and to be passed by the Dail. Given that no new party can possibly hope to win an overall majority (indeed no party new or established can hope any more for an overall majority), the party must be hoping to score a future place in a Rainbow coalition with 3-4 TDs, with their Democracy measures being the price for their support. The flaw with this plan is that achieving those 3-4 seats will prove almost certainly impossible given the single-issue platform they are promoting, and the rogues gallery of other more established minor parties and Independents in the queue ahead of them to pick up the disgruntled protest vote. A more effective route would have been to form a non-political pressure group and try to win cross-party or multi-party support for their initiatives, rather than to be seen to be in competition with potential fellow travelers at the ballot box.

Of greater interest to me is the second of the two existant groups, Fis Nua, a Green party splinter group that includes former MEP Patricia McKenna and town councilor Pat Kavanagh. My own experiences within the Green Party left me with no doubt as to the centre-right position that party had come to rest on, pushed there both by the accommodations made by the leadership to their Fianna Fail colleagues, the subsequent abandonment of the party by anyone with strong Left views, and the overwhelmingly comfortable middle-class nature of the remaining membership. The recent legislative campaigns heralded by the Greens on hunting and dog-breeding are causes hardly in the same historic mold as their pre-Government battlegrounds such as Shell-to-Sea, the Tara bypass, US rendition flights as well as less radical party platforms such as promoting Education and combating poverty, all of which have taken a back seat in the real-politik world of partnership with the devil (or a corrupt neo-liberal dynastic facsimile thereof).

Fis Nua take social equality and social justice as the cornerstone of their new (albeit somewhat vague in places) draft manifesto, and the party is definitely positioning itself in the Nordic Left Green tradition. High on their agenda are issues like those above abandonded by the Greens, along with newer more radical concepts like the decriminalization of drug use and treatment of addicts as a medical rather than criminal issue, the reduction in the size of the Dail by 20% and the allocation of Free Bus and rail passes to all TDs coupled with the removal of any travel expenses to force them to rely on the same services as those citizens they represent, and most radically, the introduction of a guaranteed basic minimum income that would surely please any fan of Andre Gorz (like me).

Of course even with big names like McKenna behind them (who, let's not forget, alienates at least as many people as she inspires) this will be a party even further on the fringe than the Greens, and very unlikely to pick up any transfers from either of the two main parties' traditional supporters, though it will undoubtedly be a serious nail in the coffin of the rump Greens come next election. Its success will rely on the already fractured radical left, who should seriously start to think about working together in areas where specific individuals like Richard Boyd Barrett and McKenna herself have a reasonable chance of success in the next Dail election. However given Boyd Barrett's dismissal of the need for any new political parties in his Village opinion piece (a dismissal that seems a bit disingenuous given the fact that he already has two of his own) this seems somewhat unlikely.

Beyond the actual formation of the parties themselves, the positive note to take from today's news is the physical evidence that substantial portions of society have finally moved beyond the moaning and bellyaching and ineffectual verbal posturings in pubs and taxis, and are actually starting to act and attempt to change society around them for the better. I'm not convinced that effective change can come from within the current political system and structures, but I applaud anyone who attempts to do so.

Thus while I greet today's announcements with guarded joy and wish both parties the best, agree with much of their early platforms, and no doubt will be sending a vote or two their way should either group make it as far as the next election, I remain unfortunately skeptical about either's ability to make any serious and lasting impact on our political stage.

I do, however, really and truly hope to be proven wrong.

Update - Patricia McKenna writes in today's (16/07/10) Irish Times that while she has attended meetings of Fis Nua, she has no intention at the moment to 'play a “prominent” role in any future political party'. Thanks to Vincent Salfia for drawing my attention to this. Please also see the comments section of this post for Vincent's own letter to the Irish Times expanding on Direct Democracy Ireland's future plans. DDI's next public meeting is in the Aisling Hotel, Dublin on July 20th at 8pm, and I think anyone with any interest in the reform of our parliamentary system, radical or otherwise, should pop along and find out more.

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4 Comments:

At 3:10 pm, Anonymous Vincent said...

I appreciate your positive comments about Direct Democracy Ireland (DDI), and I take on board your reservations about forming a party around what appear to be simple technical measures. Please remember that DDI is a new group and will evolve with the participation of its members into a broader set of values and principles, and ultimately a manifesto, with time. Here is a letter from the Irish Times today, which gives a little more on what direct democracy means to me, as well as one from Patricia McKenna, which states she is not in fact committed to Fis Nua:

Madam, – It is great to see that The Irish Timesis reporting on the beginnings of four new political parties and facilitating open debate on the issue. (Home News/Letters, July 14th). Leo Armstrong, who is spearheading one of them, has written two letters which broadly express the frustration felt by the bulk of the electorate, but which lack even principles or values that can differentiate his party from any other (July 15th).

Direct Democracy Ireland (DDI) also plans to register as a political party. As Harry McGee reported (Home News, July 14th), the “main platform” of Direct Democracy Ireland is “to allow citizens to petition for a referendum to allow Government decisions be negated.” This means that citizens can form an initiative, with a certain number of signatures, for a referendum that could reverse certain ministerial decisions, such as the closing of a hospital, or legislation such as Nama.

DDI “also wants mechanisms introduced to grant the electorate the power to sack TDs and Senators who are not performing satisfactorily”. In other words, a recall mechanism would be inserted into the Constitution, giving the grounds for recalling elected representatives if they breach their duties in a specified way.

These mechanisms or initiatives, referendum and recall are features of other governments around the world which operate on a direct democracy basis. The basic premise is to give a certain amount of power back to the people, in ways that act as checks and balances on their elected representatives.

For me, the principles of direct democracy are attractive because they fit in so well with the principles of sustainable development, which are based on public participation and transparency in decision-making, access to information and access to justice. Independent expert advice and publication of cost/benefit analysis are mandatory features of sustainable decision-making; a far cry from what we have witnessed with Nama and Anglo Irish Bank.

The three pillars of sustainable development: social, environmental and economic, are balanced to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The Planning Act, along with every county development plan, is riddled with the term “sustainable development”, to meet EU law requirements, but Ireland’s development has been the definition of unsustainable. That will only change with a complete change in how we run our democracy.

For those citizens who would like to build a society on the solid principles and values of direct democracy and sustainable development, our next public meeting will be held in the Aisling Hotel, Dublin on July 20th at 8pm. – Yours, etc,

VINCENT SALAFIA,

Public Relations Officer,
Direct Democracy Ireland,
Mary’s Abbey,
Dublin 7.

 
At 4:07 pm, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

Thanks for the comment Vincent. As I said in my original post while I might have gone about it differently I wholeheartedly commend the work you and DDI are doing thus far. I look forward to seeing how the movement grows and expands over time, and await a broader set of policies and a manifesto with eager anticipation!

 
At 1:14 am, Anonymous Pat Kavanagh said...

Thank you for your supportive comments Dave. It's early days yet, so please keep an eye on our website www.fisnua.com for further developments of our manifesto.

Also, please note that Fís Nua is a federation, (i.e an umbrella) with a political structure, and we are inviting individuals, groups and organisations with a social justice and ecology agenda to either join with us to forward their own agenda, or to submit their proposals for our consideration. Email info@fisnua.com

Our next meeting will be on 24th July at the Teachers Club, Parnell Sq., Dublin, from 12pm-6pm. Interested parties welcome, (might even see you there yourself Dave?)

Kind regards

Pat

 
At 4:30 pm, Anonymous Pat Kavanagh said...

Just to let you and your readers know that since our last public meeting, we are now discussing, as proposals for our manifesto, a scrapping of the national constitution in favour of a brand new one; withdrawal from the Euro and/or a local currency to work in conjunction with the Euro, and a review/update of Brehon Law as a measure to deal with crime and overcrowding of our prison services.

Anyone who might be interested in these areas can email us with their opinion, or even better, come on board with us to formulate these proposals. info@fisnua.com www.fisnua.com

 

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