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I attended Sinn Féin’s ‘Towards a United Ireland’ conference in the Mansion House yesterday (Saturday 21st January), which was an excellent event with brilliant debates on one of the most pressing issues facing us in Ireland today – the partition of our country.Contributions from Mary Lou McDonald, the unionist commentator Alex Kane and Cat Boyd of Scotland’s Radical Independence Campaign were particularly insightful. What struck me about the conference was the undeniable vibrancy that exists within Sinn Féin at the minute, something that’s lacking in most other political parties.

However, the conference highlighted many of the shortcomings of Sinn Féin’s vision for a united Ireland. Predictably, one of the arguments put forward by a range of Sinn Féin speakers in favour of a united Ireland was “tax harmonisation” and “foreign investment’, which actually means extending the gombeen tax haven economy of the south to our six north-eastern counties. If the price of ending partition is taking part in the one of the greatest injustices of our age – global tax avoidance – then it’s not something that’s going to engage working class communities, and justifiably so.

A few mentions were made about bringing in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil into a broad coalition to achieve a united Ireland. There was even mention of “social partners” in an era when the bosses have ripped up social partnership agreements and are going on the offensive against workers’ pay and basic rights. This stems from the false idea that there is such thing as a “national interest”, which ignores the reality of class conflict within any given nation. FG and FF are the parties of landlords, developers and unscrupulous bosses. Indeed, just a few days ago, these parties prevented a bill being passed in the Dáil which would have made it more difficult for landlords to evict people and make them homeless. And recently Blueshirt beast Michael Noonan sang the praises of foreign vulture funds that are driving up rents and forcing families to sleep in cars and damp, miserable hotel rooms. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are not our allies and progressives have nothing in common with them. They’re our enemies of our people.

All that being said, Sinn Féin’s event was a positive one that will hopefully kick start a long overdue debate on the ridiculous division of our country. The main thing I took from it was to reinforce something I’ve been thinking to myself for a while. If Irish independence is seen as the cause of only Sinn Féin, it will never happen. A campaign for independence needs to be broad, encompassing socailists, trade unionists, feminists, environmentalists and other progressives including, of course, Sinn Féin. In order to do this, Sinn Féin supporters need to stop claiming that People Before Profit do not support a united Ireland, a falsehood repeated by Gerry Adams again yesterday. Whatever about the Socialist Party/AAA, whose views on partition is atrocious, People Before Profit have always supported Irish independence. Misrepresenting the views of people who are your natural allies will do nothing to build a mass movement.

The encouraging thing is, there are already cross-border campaigns today that can be built on; the campaign for marriage equality, for instance, as well as the struggle for abortion rights, the Right2Water movement and the huge demonstrations we saw all over the country in summer 2014 in solidarity with Palestine.

A campaign for our full independence needs to tap into the seething anger we are seeing here and across Europe against neoliberal capitalism. We need to be clear that our vision of Ireland is one that repudiates the counter-revolutionary Ireland of Blueshirts, landlords, priests and gombeens. We want to see a society that does not help multinational corporations to avoid paying tax; one that does not force families to sleep in cars; one where we have more to offer our young people than oppressive low-paid call centre jobs or the prospect of emigration; one that makes the necessary shift away from fossil fuels and towards green energy; a society where our children are not segregated at the age of four in order to be indoctrinated by religious institutions; a country that opens its borders to refugees fleeing war and famine, and puts an end to the inhumanity of direct provision.

Realising this vision of another Ireland is entirely possible, but it’s up to progressives to get the strategy right and ensure it happens in our lifetime. Otherwise, we’ll be left with the rotten sectarian colony in the north and the tax haven racket in the south for the foreseeable future. Let’s grasp the opportunity to build a radical independence campaign and change our country for the better.

Onwards to the socialist republic.

haassThroughout its existence, the Irish peace process has been defined by seemingly endless negotiations aimed at resolving outstanding issues stemming from our recent 30-year conflict. In December  we witnessed another month-long apparent talking shop when US diplomats  Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan, notable for her involvement in and support for the criminal invasion of Iraq, were summoned to Belfast by Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson to broker a deal on flags, parades and dealing with the legacy of the past. The widespread illusion that the US government – one of the most violent and aggressive on earth – can play a progressive role the Irish peace process is one that is continuously promoted by a passive local media and a generally incompetent and unimaginative political class.

Following the negotiations, Richard Haass outlined a number of modest proposals, including a code of conduct for parades and “limited immunity” for ex-combatants, all of which were promptly rejected by the unionist parties. The lack of agreement was greeted with a mixture of derision, disappointment and frustration. But having occurred after twelve months of unionist disarray, which began in December 2012 with the intimidating Belfast flag protests, followed by serious sectarian violence in North Belfast during the summer months, it should have come as little surprise that the Haass talks ultimately failed to deliver as expected.

2013 was a year in which unionist intransigence led to unionist crisis. Having stoked up a climate of hatred and encouraged throngs of angry working-class people onto the streets following the decision of Belfast City Council to fly the Union flag on the same number of days as it is flown in Britain, the middle-class DUP and UUP quickly distanced themselves from the inevitable violence which followed – a common feature throughout the history of the six county state.  

Subjectively, unionism has changed little in 50 years. Infatuation with empire, social conservatism, homophobia and sectarian supremacy reflect the reactionary nature of unionism’s main representatives, the DUP and UUP. The Progressive Unionist Party, misguidedly lauded by many on the left, fares little better under any serious examination of its politics. PUP leader Billy Hutchinson was present at a loyalist demonstration against the ICTU’s anti-G8 protest in Belfast last June. His associates heckled trade union speakers with sectarian chants and flaunted Israeli flags. Accusing the ICTU demonstration of being “anti-British”, Hutchinson displayed the bizarre paranoia inherent in the peculiar ideology of Ulster Loyalism.

Objectively, however, unionism has transformed dramatically in recent years. In the past, ‘Big House’ unionism – consisting of industrialists and leading politicians – managed to cultivate an alliance with working class Protestants to form an opposition to Irish nationalism and republicanism, as well as “rotten Prods” deemed to be too left-wing. Secure manufacturing jobs and slight economic advantages over their Catholic counterparts ensured the loyalty of many working-class Protestants to the sectarian Orange state and their wealthier co-religionists.  This cross-class alliance has proven more difficult to maintain under neo-liberalism, as the previously secure well-paid manufacturing jobs in Loyalist areas have now been replaced by precarious employment or, in many cases, none at all. Harland and Wolff – once the largest shipyard on in the world, employing thousands of people – is now the facade that is the Titanic Quarter.

In 1992, economist Francis Fukuyama wrote that the collapse of the Soviet Union marked the “end of history”. Likewise, the Good Friday Agreement was meant to mark the end of Irish history. Everyone was to “move on”, cast aside their contending national aspirations and forget about Ireland’s bitter past. The economic strategy of successive governments in Dublin which promoted low tax rates and enticed foreign investment at the expense of sustainable indigenous development was to be rolled out in the north. A new, bland “Northern Irish” identity was to be created which attempted to normalise the abnormal, beginning a process of political disengagement on the part of the general public. This was a distinctly neo-liberal peace process.

Fifteen years on from the Good Friday Agreement, the poison of sectarianism continues to thrive. Hideous “peace walls” – now collectively longer than the Berlin Wall – snake their way through working class districts in Belfast, carving out areas designated for the rival tribes.  Religious segregation is part of everyday life: our children attend different schools, we live in separate housing estates and we play different sports. Dissident republicans, to the irritation of almost everyone, continue to cling to the immoral, dead end strategy of an unwinnable and unjustifiable armed struggle, which can achieve only the imprisonment of its members and yet more senseless deaths.

That the Good Friday Agreement failed to eradicate sectarianism is common knowledge. The unspoken truth, however, is that that Good Friday Agreement was never intended to put an end to sectarianism. The aim was to institutionalise it and make it manageable. Elected representatives are required to declare which religious group they belong to, with each tribe possessing a veto over the other – a mechanism that was wrongly used recently to prevent an inquiry into alleged corruption between the DUP and construction firm Red Sky.  

Despite being more than half a decade into the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, left-right politics have not taken hold in the north.  An impotent Assembly, which is entrusted with the same powers as a local council in England, is unable to fully tackle the insidious effects of capitalist collapse. The most contentious issues of the day do not arise from the fact that the region suffers from growing unemployment and a mass exodus of young people who see no future in an economy offering only lousy wages, debt and precarious work. Flags cause a bigger uproar than a crisis at an A&E. Parades still anger people more than welfare “reform”. The past has not gone away. The past is the present.

Faced as we are with two apparently irreconcilable interpretations of the past, the conflict will continue to be a contentious issue. For mainstream unionism, ‘the Troubles’ was merely a spontaneous outbreak of mindless criminality against a legitimate state. Accepting no responsibility for the outbreak of the conflict, unionist leaders have modelled themselves as defenders of a normal western democracy, methodically denying the systematic discrimination in employment and housing allocation which existed under unionist rule as well as disregarding the attempted suppression of a peaceful civil rights movement.

A recurring theme in recent Irish history has been the unwillingness of both mainstream and extreme unionists to accept a society in which sectarian domination of one group over another is no longer a reality. They have failed to embrace that reality. Amidst fantastic myths of an imaginary “cultural war” being waged against them, many unionists seem unable to realise that the union with Britain is stronger than it has ever been at any time in history. Republicanism and nationalism have changed. They are now incorporated into the northern state. Indeed, most Catholics, many of whom would even consider themselves to be “nationalist”, support the north remaining part of the UK.

Partition is here for the foreseeable future, something neither sections of unionism nor republicanism can admit. There is, however, little to suggest that this strange six county state will ever be anything other than a dysfunctional, sectarian colonial outpost.

This article was published in the Morning Star

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“The island of saints and scholars and gombeens and fucking arse-lickers.” 
Christy Moore on Ronald Reagan’s visit to Ireland

 
Ireland has always had something of an affinity with the United States. Decades of mass emigration to the States created a powerful Irish-American community, so influential that presidential candidates are always keen to highlight whatever tenuous link they have with this tiny island.

The visit to Belfast by Barack Obama before the G8 Summit was, like all other presidential visits, a circus of sycophancy and flattery, revealing much about our media and political class. Politicians, dignitaries and journalists appeared infatuated as the charismatic, photogenic war criminal took to the stage at the Waterfront Hall to instruct us how to build a peaceful society. The crowd giggled and cheered when he used a common local phrase, handing an easy “news” angle to an obedient local media.

The pomp was absurd and the conduct of our politicians, who are supposed to constitute a government, was embarrassing. United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly put it well when she attacked Enda Kenny for “prostituting” the country to the Obamas “in return for a pat on the head”, for which the Taoiseach attempted to rebuke her in his characteristically dull and mumbling way.

As ever, the local media in the north was devoid of any real analysis. Irritating clichés such as “feel good factor” and “putting Belfast on the map” were brandished about by hacks who had clearly run out of things to say after violence predictably failed to materialise at the ICTU’s anti-G8 demonstration last Saturday. Obama’s apparent support for the northern peace process was hailed by many. No mention was made of the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan or the thousands of civilians murdered by CIA drones. Nor was the incarceration of Bradley Manning, who has spent over three years in solitary confinement, deemed worth discussing.  

The Obama visit exposed the insular, provincial mindset which is dominant in the north of Ireland. Despite the mutilated corpses of nearly 200 children murdered by US drones in recent years, the president was treated like a demigod, whose infinite wisdom on peace and harmony was to be bestowed upon us mere ignorant Paddies. This was in keeping with our political leaders’ peculiar fixation on seeking approval from the most violent and aggressive government on earth for the Irish peace process. SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt described Obama’s speech in the Waterfront as “inspirational”. No acknowledgement was made of the countless crimes committed by Obama’s administration. The SDLP appear to oppose political violence only when it happens on a small scale here in Ireland.

This is part of an alarming tendency which has taken hold in the west. George W Bush was rightly despised by most people around the world, unlike Barack Obama. He still enjoys a considerable degree of popularity. Yet, in many respects, Obama is worse than Bush. Not only has he continued Bush’s wars, he has escalated them with enthusiasm. At the minute, he is seeking to arm gangs of Islamic fundamentalists in Syria, a prospect which promises to make the bloodbath there infinitely worse. His administration has persecuted more whistleblowers than all other previous administrations combined, most recently, Edward Snowden. And, in a disturbingly Orwellian fashion, Obama sits down every Tuesday with a team of national security advisors to draw up a list of people, no matter where they are in the world, to be summarily executed by US forces. Did he take time out of the G8 Summit last Tuesday to draw up a similar list? Did he ponder about who would be on his list this week after speaking with school children in Belfast? Questions such as these are deemed unmentionable by our obedient media.  

Obama’s charm has deceived many. It’s no accident that he was awarded ‘marketer of the year’ in 2008 by Advertising Age. As well as being a war criminal, Obama is also a brand. His supporters don’t want to accept that he has continued Bush’s wars, filled his administration with Wall Street lobbyists and spies on American and foreign citizens. All of this is brushed aside by his liberal apologists who suggest he is unable to do anything different. The fact that he is less blatant about his imperial crimes than Bush was appears to have absolved him in the eyes of trendy middle class liberals. Where is the popular indignation against Obama that we saw when his predecessor invaded sovereign nations?  Where is the outcry about the plight of hunger strikers in the Guantanamo Bay internment camp? Why do we not hear calls for his arrest for war crimes, as we did with Bush?

It’s of little shock that the gombeens and arse-lickers who packed out the Waterfront Hall – similar to the ones referred to by Christy Moore – fail to see beyond Obama’s sinister propaganda.

This article was published in the Morning Star

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On August 9, an article in the Belfast Telegraph warned readers that Northern Ireland faced an impending economic “meltdown”. Accountancy firm KPMG’s Eamonn Donaghy, described in the report as “a top financial expert”, argued that the region’s economy was not sustainable without reducing corporation tax to 12.5%, in line with the Republic of Ireland. Mr Donaghy is one of a long list of “experts” regularly carted out by the local media in support of the tax cut.

Unimaginatively held up as the saving grace of a battered economy, all four main parties in the Stormont Assembly have rallied behind the appeals of these “experts”, whose collective failure to foresee the worst economic crisis in 70 years should, by all rights, consign them into obscurity. The prevalent narrative of the issue is a pleasingly simple one – low taxes will attract business to the region, and this investment will create jobs.

Reporting of the issue has been extraordinarily one-sided. Representatives of banks, finance firms and other multinationals are given considerable space in the Irish News, the Newsletter and, of course, the Belfast Telegraph. In the article mentioned above, Mr Donaghy was treated as a well-informed, unbiased commentator. Nothing was said of the fact that his firm, KPMG, would stand to gain a great deal from the tax break.  “In every other country where corporation tax rates have been significantly cut,” Mr Donaghy said, “positive economic benefits and job creation has happened.” The names of these countries were not mentioned and no evidence was provided to back this up.

Pot of Gold or Fool’s Gold?, a thorough report carried out by Tax Research UK’s Richard Murphy, demolished the case for cutting corporation tax. Promises of job creation were shown to be a hopeful gamble with a large immediate cost. As a result of a previous EU court ruling, a minimum of £300 million will have to be cut from Stormont’s block grant from Westminster if the tax rate is reduced. On top of that, not a single new job can even be guaranteed. Murphy’s findings were given little attention by the local press.

Parties from both the unionist and nationalist sides, notorious for inter-communal bickering, have been remarkably united on this particular issue. The conventional wisdom states that north is “over-reliant” on a “bloated” public sector, which requires a “rebalancing” of the economy. However, the private sector-led recovery promised by David Cameron has not happened in Britain, and there is little reason to believe it will occur anywhere else anytime soon. It marks a curious juncture in Irish politics when nominally centre-left parties, Sinn Féin and the SDLP, adopt a distinctly Thatcherite economic platform.

The blueprint of Dublin’s notorious tax haven, the International Financial Services Centre, once dubbed “Lichtenstein on the Liffey”, looks set to be replicated north of the border. “For Northern Ireland,” Murphy wrote in the Guardian, “the problem will be that of all tax havens: fly-by-night companies that have no intention of creating real jobs, and whose sole aim is to park profits in the province before moving them on to another tax haven as quickly as possible will be those attracted by this policy.” He continued: “That policy has virtually bankrupted the Republic. Why on earth would anyone want to replicate it?”

Advocates of this corporate welfare have, on occasion, been surprisingly candid. When he addressed the Northern Ireland Affairs committee in 2011, CBI NI chair Terence Brannigan admitted: “There is no guarantee [of job creation] and it would be totally misleading of me to sit here and say that I could guarantee you. I couldn’t guarantee you anything.” Former unionist MP – and millionaire – John Taylor, now Lord Kilclooney, told the House of Lords that “95% of the population of Northern Ireland who are not company directors would be worse off”.

Recently described by Taoiseach Enda Kenny as the “cornerstone of the economy”, and deemed politically untouchable, the 12.5% corporate tax rate has long been a solid feature of southern Ireland. Claims that it “attracts jobs” are easily dismissed. Dell’s abandonment of its Limerick plant in 2009 and the current unemployment rate of 15% testify to this. The country’s reliance of foreign investment merely underlines the failure of our economy to develop in a sustainable way. Conor McCabe, in his 2011 book Sins of the Father, rightly points out: “Given such a modest effect on the Irish economy – 7% of total employment and approximately €2.8 billion in corporation tax – why is foreign direct investment constantly put forward as the prime objective of the State’s economic policies and strategies?”

Suggestions by proponents of the tax cut that the Celtic Tiger was fuelled by the 12.5% rate, too, are groundless. It was, at best, a secondary factor in causing the boom in the south of Ireland. The Irish state had an overall lower tax base with many loopholes which could be exploited by big business – something the North could never duplicate while it remains under the jurisdiction of the UK.  More important to foreign investors than a low corporation tax during the boom years was Ireland’s highly educated, English-speaking workforce, its proximity to mainland Europe and its lack of government regulation (along with widespread corruption carried out in the interests of capital).

The refusal of multinationals to pay their fair share should be challenged, not accommodated. A race to the bottom serves only the interests of the super-wealthy. Reducing what is already one of the lowest corporation tax rates in Europe is not going to stem the effects of the Great Recession, no matter what business “experts” contend. Tax cuts don’t develop economies or create employment – they create tax havens.

Neo-liberal solutions will not solve a neo-liberal problem.

– This article was published in The Morning Star