School sets out progressive political agenda

Ken Keable reports on the 2004 Desmond Greaves Summer School

THIS YEAR'S Desmond Greaves Summer School was once again a place for great discussion and great speakers on the condition and future of Ireland, the European Union and the world.

Being held, in the Labour History Museum, Beggar’s Bush, Dublin, meant that the speakers had as their backcloth a wonderful banner bearing a giant painting of Jim Larkin addressing Dublin workers in 1913, his arms characteristically upraised. As usual, Connolly Books of Temple Bar provided an excellent political bookstall.

Greaves School 2004

The school opened with a tribute, by the school organiser, Kevin McCorry, to Irish Democrat Belfast correspondent Bobbie Heatley, who died on 26 July. He also paid tribute to the chair of the first session, Patricia McKenna, for her role as MEP and expressed his regret that she had not been re-elected.

Patricia McKenna, introducing the first speaker Anthony Coughlan, said that he could always be relied on for his research on EU matters and that it was only when the Irish establishment began to appreciate his effectiveness, with the 'no' vote in the first referendum on the Nice Treaty, that they had begun to demonise him, falsely accusing him of racism.

Anthony Coughlan gave a masterly speech on the Treaty to Establish a Constitution for Europe, insisting on its correct title, which the Irish establishment carefully avoided using, along with the word “constitution”, in order to conceal the truth.

He emphasised that the treaty would re-found the EU on a new basis – the basis of a constitution, something it had never had before and which made it into a state in formation. It would have all the powers of a state except the power to impose taxes. One clause provided for a majority of ministers in the Council to amend the constitution without further reference to the people. Saying that the states most likely to reject the treaty were Poland and the UK, he urged that Ireland’s referendum should not be held until after the UK had held theirs.

He quoted Desmond Greaves who had said that the European Community was “a contract not to have socialism”.

Audience participation at the Greaves School

Smiling broadly, Mick O’Reilly, leader of the ATGWU (Irish section of the TGWU), was clearly delighted to be at the school, as events surrounding his suspension by TGWU general secretary Bill Morris had prevented his advertised attendance last year. Since then, with strong support from his members in Ireland, he had been reinstated (with a face-saving modification to his job title) whilst “Sir Bill” (having been knighted by Blair) had “moved on to higher things”.

He said that Irish Labour’s blind pursuit of removing Fianna Fáil from office at any cost could weaken its electoral appeal. Its policy development had already been weakened by submerging its political ambitions into a mismatched alliance with Fine Gael.

The key political issue, he felt, was not the removal of Fianna Fáil from office but challenging the right-wing stranglehold over the economic and social agenda. A pre-election pact with the essentially right-wing Fine Gael party would benefit Fine Gael far more than Labour. He wanted the left instead to present the electorate with a stark choice – either continue with the right-wing policies of Fianna Fáil-led governments or choose a left-led government that will challenge neo-liberalism, promote equality and champion the public sector.

This could involve a coalition of Labour with Sinn Féin and the Greens, plus some of the Independent TDs, he suggested.

Turning to the trade union movement, he strongly criticised the leadership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) for acting as a prop to the most right-wing government that has held office since World War Two.

The trade union movement should see its purpose as representing its members, not propping up governments, he insisted.

He also spoke refreshingly on the cultural atmosphere in society, saying that multi-national corporations are challenging everything, at every level, and we need to create a public space free of the commodification of culture.

Alan Harpur of Queens University, Belfast, said that he saw the North in terms of colonial relationships, with what he called “settler colonialism”. Capitalism in Northern Ireland was a failure in that it had never provided work for all those who wanted it. The worldwide mobility of capital, he said, produced a “race to the bottom” in terms of pay and conditions.

Roger Cole, Chair of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) which stands for an all-Ireland republic, supporting the UN and not in NATO, gave a sparkling speech full of facts showing the wide and growing gap between rich and poor worldwide, and the evil effects of the neo-liberal agenda pursued by the USA, the World Trade Organisation, the EU and the present Irish government. He castigated the Irish media, dominated by big business, for supporting the ending of Irish neutrality, and especially its silence on the continuing massive military use of Shannon airport for Bush’s war.

Roger Cole, although a member of the national executive committee of the Irish Labour Party, said that the votes show that Sinn Féin has replaced Labour as the major party on the left of Irish politics.

Stressing the imperialist aims of the EU, he said that Fianna Fáil had emerged as effectively an imperialist party. It was the first Irish party since John Redmond’s to support an imperialist war. (Redmond was the leader of the Irish Party at Westminster who urged Irishmen to join the British Army during the First World War). He called taoiseach Bertie Ahern “Redmond reborn”. The elections on 11th June marked the beginning of the end of the Fianna Fáil party.

As the imperialist war goes on, he said, public opinion will move against it as it did in the First World War. There is already a powerful and growing opposition to Ireland’s participation in the emerging EU superpower.

Roger Cole described the proposed EU constitution as “another Act of Union” which “destroys the legal basis for Irish independence.” He thought that the campaign against the EU constitution and against Irish support for Bush’s war could change opinion in the Labour Party and create the basis for an alternative coalition.

End of the session

The final session of the school, on “Power Politics and the EU", was chaired by Sinn Féin foreign affairs spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD .

Dr Andy Storey, of the School of Development Studies at University College Dublin and of Afri (Action from Ireland, which works to promote justice, peace and human rights in Ireland and worldwide) spoke on 'The EU as a Global Power”'

He said that the composition of the new EU Commission represents a rightward shift. The EU’s new “foreign minister” Xavier Solana was a former Secretary General of NATO. The EU’s Rapid Reaction Force (RRF), with 60,000 troops available, was intended mainly for operating in Africa. For the RRF Britain and France proposed nine “battle groups” of different countries by 2007, and there was laughter when he said it was suggested that Ireland, Austria and Sweden would form a “neutral battle group”.

In 2003 the EU had “lost its military virginity”, he said, by operating in Bosnia, Macedonia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He criticised the commonly held view that the EU was essentially benign, and quoted commentator Barry Posen who said “If NATO, led by the US, became the sheriff of the European periphery during the mid-1990s, it has a new deputy sheriff. And if the sheriff has to go into the badlands to apprehend other miscreants, there is a deputy to preside over the town and its environs.” He also highlighted the extension of the EU’s military role in the proposed constitution. The establishment of a European Armaments, Research and Military Capabilities Agency, which was already in train, was a sinister development.

Turning to economic policy, he said that the EU and GATS (the General Agreement on Trade in Services) were targeting the poorest countries, attacking public service provision, undermining democratic policy making and restricting countries’ ability to regulate foreign investment.

The final speaker was Green Party Councillor Deirdre de Burca, on 'Democracy in the EU'. She was presenting her personal opinions, in the context of a vigorous internal discussion now in progress in the Greens on the proposed EU constitution. Her theme was the democratic deficit, neo-liberal policies, and the relationship between the two.

The democratic deficit, she implied, was not an unfortunate by-product of the EU but central to its purpose. A writer she quoted had created the term “collusive delegation” for the ruse by which governments pass their powers to the EU in order to evade both their own responsibility and parliamentary control.

Crucial elements of the democratic deficit, she said, were the role of the European Central Bank, the Stability and Growth Pact, and the exclusive responsibility for trade policy held by the unelected, unaccountable Commission. This includes international trade negotiations on health, education and cultural services, opening up these areas to private international competition.

The proposed constitution, said Cllr de Burca, would give the unelected Commission more power, enshrine neo-liberal policies in law, and give more power to the little-known European Council, which she described as the most undemocratic body in the EU .

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2004-09-10 07:23:24.
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