Summer school for progressive debate

In a country which sports a full-blown 'summer-school' industry, of which the overwhelming majority is firmly rooted in mainstream culture and politics, fulsome praise must go to the organisers of the annual Desmond Greaves school for providing a truly radical alternative.

Praise is especially due this year, the school's 13th, in recognition of the fact that many of its organisers played a key role in the campaign to secure the historic No vote on the Nice treaty earlier this year -- invoking the ire of Ireland's political and media establishment.

Throughout the last 13 years, the Dublin-based summer school, named in honour of the late Desmond Greaves, editor of this paper for over 40 years, has made its mark as a beacon for progressive political and historical debate. This year was no exception.

Professor Denis O'Hearn of Queen's University Belfast attempted to bring some much-needed clarity to the debate about 'globalisation' -- concluding that it was unlikely to be harnessed for the benefit of the majority of humanity.

Nations that had benefitted, such as Britain and the US, had frequently done so at the expense of poverty and underdevelopment elsewhere.

For smaller nations, such as the east Asian 'tiger economies' and southern Ireland, success had resulted from special conditions, which had enabled them to pursue particular social and economic strategies unavailable to other countries, he argued.

Even where there had been massive economic development, as was the case with the Celtic 'tiger', the neo-liberal form of globalisation had led to more social exclusion and inequality.

Thinking globally and acting locally may be the best way forward, O'Hearn said.

"Resistance against corporate dumping or worker insecurity in one's own backyard, especially when combined with solidarity or similar movements in other places, is still one of the most effective things we can do, not just to oppose globalisation but to try and change it."

Political economist and policy adviser Douglas Hamilton, examined progress towards economic unity in Ireland.

Offering a political and economic overview of developments in the northern and southern economies since partition, Hamilton stressed that one of the most significant developments of the last decade had been "quietly, and without publicity, the growing integration of the two economies and the creation of a single island economy".

The prime mover in this had been the business sectors, he said, as they responded to the pressures created by increasing European economic integration and a fear of marginalisation within Europe.

These economic initiatives had been reinforced by political developments, particularly the institutions and initiatives arising from Strand II of the Belfast agreement, he said.

However, while breaking the link with Britain would have serious financial implications, they would not be as great as argued by many mainstream economists.

In a frequently moving contribution, which opened with a warm tribute to the late Desmond Greaves, Sinn Féin's Jim Gibney outlined the significance of the 1981 hunger strikes in creating political openings for republicanism, including an end to abstentionism in the 26 counties, in the struggle for Irish unity.

"The hunger strike of 1981 changed fundamentally the republican struggle. Those who died not only set a new moral frame or context from which everything else derived, they propelled the struggle forward into a new arena," he said.

Answering questions and criticisms about Sinn Féin's participation in the Stormont assembly, Gibney was clear that the Good Friday deal was an "interim political arrangement" and could not be regarded as "a final settlement".

"The only settlement that will be acceptable to republicans is one that brings about the unification and independence of Ireland."

Jim Gibney was to have been joined for the session on the future of republicanism by ATGWU regional secretary Mick O'Reilly.

However, in a disgraceful act of censorship O'Reilly's personal-capacity appearance was effectively blocked following legal moves by the T&G's British-based leadership.

The only other disappointment was provided by Dr Rossa Phelan whose task of addressing the question of the implications for self-determination and democracy of the EU constitution -- a subject which he is well-qualified to speak on, having written what is widely regarded as a key book on the subject -- but who spent much of his contribution dealing with personal gripes about 'high' levels of taxation and 'overwork'.

Fortunately the afternoon was rescued by a solid introduction by session chair Anthony Coughlan, a key figure in the resistance to the erosion of Irish national democracy by the EU, and a lively question-and-answer follow-up.

Further reports and edited extracts from some of the keynote contributions appear on pages 5 and 7

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-07-30 17:00:17.
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