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17 April 2003 Edition

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How dare you lecture us about democracy

The 26-County establishment wouldn't know democracy if it was handed to them in a brown envelope marked "political donation", argues columnist PAUL O'CONNOR


I'm becoming afraid of myself. I fear I may be a fascist. I've heard republicans lambasted as a threat to democracy so often I'm beginning to believe we must be. When I look in the mirror these days, I see a sinister figure who wouldn't be out of place in a film about the SS.

The negative spin by the two governments last Thursday precipitated a barrage of criticism of republicans. Its terms were only too familiar. "Our electoral politics, North and South, can't accommodate forever people not fully signed up to the rules" scolded Mary Harney. "We urge Sinn Féin to take the final, irrevocable step into democratic life." Seamus Mallon emerged like Lazarus from the final resting place of the SDLP with a similar lecture. "Where is the respect for the entire political process? Where is the respect for the other political parties involved in the reinstitution of devolution?" he huffed, "A paramilitary organisation has seen fit to tell all of the political process set in Ireland, North and South, the Irish Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister that they will dictate what happens in terms of the peace process here."

I wish someone would develop a wind-farm to generate electricity from the hot air emitted in high-pressure gusts during these bouts of moral condemnation. Seamus Mallon alone could provide renewable energy for 50,000 homes.

On Saturday, columnist Bruce Arnold compared republicans to the Iraqi Ba'ath Party, claiming that for as long as Saddam had ruled Iraq, "Sinn Féin-IRA has denied Northern Ireland its normal political life". And needless to mention, Sir Anthony's menagerie of paper tigers snarled, roared and spat in the Sunday Independent, with Eoghan Harris and Eilis O'Hanlon taking a well-earned break from cheerleading the invasion of Iraq to indulge in their more usual sport of baiting republicans. Harris suggested Richard Haass be replaced as US special envoy by Pentagon hawk Richard Perle, while the same paper editorialised that Sinn Féin must "accept the constraints that democracy imposes".

So there you have it. Republicans are evil-minded people with nothing but contempt for democracy and the democratic process. And perfectly normal and healthy politics existed on both parts of this island before they - in pursuit of their own twisted ends - set out to disrupt them.

In other words - a state maintained by a paramilitary police force and one of the heaviest military garrisons in Europe would have a "normal political life" were it not for republicans. "A Protestant state for a Protestant people" is an acceptable definition of democracy. And partition was imposed and maintained because it reflected the wishes of the Irish people.

But even if the Six Counties is admittedly an artificial, gerrymandered statelet, a failed entity hooped together by the iron bands of military force, surely the South is a model democracy? After all, if the great and the good of the Dublin elite feel so comfortable lecturing republicans, surely their own democratic credentials must be beyond reproach?

     
We are the true democrats; and our opponents, whose desire is to maintain marginalisation and exclusion, are the enemies of democracy
Let's take a look at a few examples of 26-County "democracy":

First, the Nice referendum. Remember how after its first defeat Bertie told us "the people have spoken" and their voice must be attended to? A referendum is the purest exercise in democracy, but that didn't stop Bertie & Co insisting the people go it again until he got the right answer for his masters in Europe.

For a mere §500 you can enjoy the company of the Irish Taoiseach for a convivial evening at his annual constituency bash; while if you're really rich, you may be invited to the join the fun - and meet the ministers - at the Fianna Fáil hospitality tent at the Galway Races. Otherwise, gaining access to the ears of power means waiting in line at the constituency office of your local TD for whatever few minutes he can spare you.

Behind-the-scenes lobbying by interest groups such as the vintners, developers, legal profession, retailers and insurance industry is constantly shaping legislation. This government has gutted the social and affordable housing provisions of the Housing Act, which required builders to set aside 20% of any development for social and affordable housing. It just so happens that builders and property developers are among the largest contributors to Fianna Fáil... No doubt about it - Ireland has the best democracy money can buy.

Then there's the fact that two-thirds of our legislation now originates in the European Union and is rubber-stamped by the Dáil with hardly any debate. This legislation is formulated in Europe by unelected bureaucrats in accordance with their own agendas, and those of special interest groups and competing member-states (among whom Ireland is one of the smallest and least influential). Where do the Irish people come into all this? We're to accept laws in whose creation we had no voice and change our patterns of work and consumption accordingly.

The truth is, the 26-County establishment wouldn't know democracy if it was handed to them in a brown envelope marked "political donation".

When they speak about democracy, they really mean something else. They mean a kind of "people-management" that leaves the existing political class and their corporate friends free to keep running the show with minimum interference from ordinary citizens. The people of Ireland may exercise their democratic rights by voting once every five years or so for tweedledum, tweedledee, or tweedledumber - or choosing not to vote at all. And that's all the input they are to have. Once they've been voted in, the politicians are amazed by our impudence if we dare to question their actions or demand they be accountable to us.

For republicans, on the other hand, democracy means empowerment. It means individuals and communities taking control over their own lives and having a decisive voice in decisions that will affect them. It means that instead of being passive at the receiving end of corporate or bureaucratic machines, communities develop structures through which they can work together to enhance their economic, social and cultural well-being. It means democractic participation is not confined to casting a vote once every five years but extends to activism, protest, lobbying and picketing. It takes politics out of the smoke-filled rooms and brings it back to the people on the street.

And that is why the political establishment despise and fear us. It is not because republicans supported an armed struggle - our most vociferous opponents are equally vociferous in support of war on Iraq; they have no qualms about violence, so long as it serves their ends and those of their friends - but because republicans challenge the cosy cartel that excludes most people on this island from political and economic power.

Our opponents question our democratic credentials - but it is they who have marginalised and disempowered whole communities. Republicanism became a force to be reckoned with on this island because the nationalist people of the Six Counties rose up and refused any longer to be treated as second-class citizens. Now we must lead all those excluded from the halls of power to their rightful place as full citizens in an Ireland of equals.

We are the true democrats; and our opponents, whose desire is to maintain marginalisation and exclusion, are the enemies of democracy.

It is time to nail the lie that republicanism are not democrats, and expose our opponents for corrupt oligarchy that they really are.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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