Monday, May 11, 2009

Historical Irish Lessons in democratic displacment

In the first post I discussed what I would refer to as Democratic Displacement in the European Union.

Ireland is, rather bizarrely, in the position that of our population of 4.5 million - or about 0.8% of the European population – that is those of us over the age of 18, who are registered to vote, are the only people who have been given the right by referendum to decide the future of the European Union.

That is unfair on us and our approximate fellow 491 million citizens.

A treaty, which fundamentally re-arranges the way the EU works should simply not be decided by less than 1% of the population, the decision should be pan-European, by referendum – otherwise it is undemocratic.

It is comparable to asking only Maine along with Hawaii to or god forbid Alaska to elect the President of the United States

As we seem to be the chosen people this time out, I want to do this blog/podcast concentrating on the lessons of democratic displacement from Irelands past.

Of all countries in Europe, perhaps Ireland, with our post colonial heritage should best understand what happens when government becomes removed and remote.
The Irish of all people should look to the past and learn from its failings, to avoid them in the future.

Again, I need to emphasize that this is not anti British, or an anti European rant, it is my personal understanding of the lessons of the past.

For many, many years the vast majority of the Irish population was denied the right to choose self determination.

In our history systems of exclusion and discrimination were gradually phased out, first emancipation, then property ownership and finally gender based barriers were removed.

But for a great deal of our history, power was vested to men of property from one religious group – they were the economic and political powerbrokers of their time, in other words – those who inherited a feudal system, and the predecessors of today’s special interest groups – those who benefited from the system of the time.

Extrapolating from James Camlin Becketts book, A Short history of Ireland – from the census figures in 1851 0.025% of the Irish population had a say in the running of the Island.

Ratification of the Lisbon treaty would not be the first time that Governance of the Ireland of Ireland moved offshore to a largely appointed, un-democratic special interest group.

After the 1801 the Act of Union Ireland was ruled directly from London as part of the United Kingdom.
Executive power lay in the hands of the unelected, appointed Lord Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary for Ireland.

By elections limited to male property owners, Ireland sent 105 members of parliament to the British House of Commons, and representative peers elected twenty-eight of their own number to sit for life in the House of Lords.

The shift of political power, vested in a small proportion of the population, from Dublin to London, withdrew the rulers even further from the ruled.

The result of this was The Great famine, the most severe in the history of European agriculture from 1845-1848.

The warnings that this would happen were apparent and clear. The historian Woodham-Smith calculated between 1801 and 1845 there had been 114 commissions and 61 special committees dealing with Ireland and that – I quote - "without exception their findings prophesied disaster”

This was a contrast to Britain, which was beginning to enjoy the modern prosperity of the Victorian and Industrial ages.

The root cause of the disaster was the failure of the socio-economic system and the reluctance to admit fix the problems of Laissaiz-Faire, which at the time was regarded as the only viable economic system.
Also, the modification of Laissaiz Faire would reduce profits to the small special interest group.

Laissaiz Faire was the prototype of modern market economics.

The other issue that compounded the problem was the distance of governance.
The 45/48 famine was known as the great famine, or An Gort Mhor.
The failure of one commodity, the primary food crop, led to starvation and disease.
However, other commodity crops such as grain were exported in large quantities to service debts due to absent politician.

A hundred years before, in 1740/1741 there was another famine – the Year of the Slaughter. 10% of the Irish population are estimated to have died. Less is known about it.

However – as there was a government on the Island in Dublin at the time, docks were closed and food exports reduced and curtailed in an effort to alleviate the famine.

Even though those in power were from a tiny segment of the community, they lived in a parallel life of privilege, their proximity to the affected, ensured that pragmatic action was taken and a greater disaster than might have been was averted.

The 1740/41 famine, for example, did not result in the mass emigration of the 1848 famine, partially because the governing classes were closer and more answerable to those in the same society than there successors.

Of course I am not saying that the Lisbon treaty will result in another famine – in this time we are more advanced, but hardship will be experienced in a different way.

In the past, Ireland was an agrarian society, when the model collapsed due to reluctance to change from ill-advised economic concepts and political distance then people went hungry.
In the present Ireland is a service nation, leading in IT and electronic manufacturing.

It will not be the lack of potatoes that will cause pain, it will be the shortage of pounds, pence and euros in our system caused by ill-advised economic concepts and political distance that will put people into debt for decades.

So what can we do to avoid this –
Well, it sort of sucks – the only people who will have a say in the future of Europe are the Citizens of the Irish Republic.
The good news is, there are things we can do.

We can continue to reject the Lisbon treaty until a more democratic alternative, giving better representation, accountability, transparency and democracy is presented.

For Irish readers, the main thing is to get out and vote, you can vote for or against the treaty – that is your choice, but I would urge all of you not to vote for something you don’t understand or do not feel comfortable with and certainly not on the advice of Fianna Failure.

Some feel we should rely on the politicians for advice.

Brian Cowen, The Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) - on 12 May 2008, admitted in a radio interview that he had not read the Treaty of Lisbon in its entirety!!
As a Laywer he is one of the few who has the ability to read such legalese, but it is such a huge body of work I dont blame him.
The Irish times found most people simply did not understand what the thing was about.

For other European readers, write to your representative, make it clear that if you are not given a democratic choice for our Europe of the future, they can count on not getting your vote.

Let people know about this blog and other websites that give an alternative view on Europe.

Remember, We alone have the power to ensure that our political system works for us – that our system works for we the people, not a small corporate and political elite.

Its our choice.

Again, as always – thanks for reading, thanks for listening.

Even if you don’t agree with me – I hope you give some thoughts to the points made

And please let others now about these blogs, podcasts and youtubes.

Citizen Simon - out

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