Who are this organisation? Where did they come from? What are their goals? Can a new constitution bring us the change we need? These are some things that I want to explore in this post.
Direct Democracy Ireland (DDI) is one of the many new political groups that have sprung up since the beginning of the crisis. It is extremely positive to see so many people question conventional, establishment politics, getting active and forming new groups. DDI launched as a political party in November of last year at a press conference in Buswells Hotel with about 200 people in attendance. They claim to have 450 members and now have 1,663 likes on their Facebook page.
So given the size, growth and activity of DDI I feel they are worth looking at in some detail. I will not discuss their polices in any great way, anyone can check them out on their website.
The notion that large numbers of people are beginning to question and challenge our system of "democracy" is obviously to be welcomed. But I want to look at this particular organisation and investigate whether or not it has the political answers that we need.
This organisation are registered as a political party however they claim to be a "political service" rather than a party. The DDI was founded by a man called Raymond Whitehead before the general election in February 2011. On various websites he is described as a photographer, antique dealer, former night club and restaurant owner and teacher of "Transcendental Meditation and The Science of Creative Intelligence". Whitehead ran in the general election in 2011, as an independent, in Dublin South and received 120 first preferences votes (0.17%). Whitehead seems to be a jack-of-all-trades with quite a bit of money behind him and DDI seems to be his latest project.
The two other main players in DDI are Ben Gilroy and Clare Leonard.
Clare Leonard is the group's Financial Spokesperson. She was involved with Occupy Dames Street for a short while and spoke at a few of their demonstrations where she often claimed the crisis has "nothing to do with capitalism or socialism" rather its about corruption and some well organised international scam. At the time people from Occupy commented that she had some other agenda and was only there to stir tensions in the group. One of her agendas seems to have been to divert the root of the crisis away from its class basis and to bad mouth socialism and socialist organisations.
Her financial analysis is one of quack economics. One of her main points is the Theory of Fractional Reserve Banking. This is the idea that banks create money out of thin air with no relation to the economy or to labour. The root of this is the idea that only bankers and banks have people by the balls, not CEOs, corporations or capitalism as a whole.
Ben Gilroy claims to be the leader of the organisation. Gilroy has made a number of TV appearances and features in many YouTube videos, with hundreds of thousands of views, since his home was repossessed by the banks. He subsequently set up the People for Economic Justice group to challenge repossessions.
Some of these arguments have come up at meetings of the Campaign Against the Home and Water Taxes and I fear some people on the Left may be giving more space to them than they should. Most of the time people just brush these ideas aside as being quack and irrelevant but I feel giving them room to grow can be dangerous and they should be challenged in a friendly and fraternal manner.
DDI point to at Articles 47, 48 and 50 of the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State (Soarstat Eireann). They are provisions for a Constitutional Referendum, a Veto of Legislation and Initiative. We still have the provision for constitutional referendum however the 1922 article requires two thirds of voters to pass an amendment to the constitution. The Veto of Legislation means when a law is passed by both houses of the Oireachtas it could be over turned within seven days by 40% of TDs or a majority in the Senate. It could also be overturned if within ninety days 5% of all registered voters demanded a referendum. This was not applicable for financial bills. The provision for Initiative gave ordinary people are right to draft constitutional amendments and laws which would go to a state wide referendum. This would involve a petition of 50,000 registered voters and a process would begin which 75,000 signatures would ultimately be needed before people could enact a new state law or make a constitutional amendment.
These articles are similar to the Swiss constitution which DDI also often refer to.
These direct democracy provisions are obviously great ideas and far better than anything we have at the moment. They are provisions that give power back to the people and you can tell that they were written by republicans, who at the time were challenging the rule of the crown and wanted a different kind of system for their new state. You can also tell that they were naive and newly elected politicians that did not have experience in governing a state. The committee that wrote the constitution were also mainly conservative nationalists such as Micheal Collins and Eoin McNeil. However their are some other problems with these particular ideas that I want to deal with.
1) None of these provisions were actually ever enacted. 2) Constitutions are not vehicles for viable change.
1) Article 50 of Soarstat Eireann gave the Dail and Senate 8 years where they could change anything in the constitution without a referendum including the provisions for direct democracy. This could either have been to test the new constitution or the original provisions could have been only sweeteners so the people would accept the document. Needless to say, within two years, the right-wing Cumann na Gael government removed all provisions for direct democracy and in 1937 a new constitution, Bunreacht na hEireann was approved by the people of Ireland with the smallest majority in the history of the state. Just 56% of the electorate agreed to accept the document and a massive 10% spoilt their ballots in protest.
So these provisions for direct democracy never came into law. They only ever existed as ideas on paper written up by populist ambitious politicians.
2) I do not believe constitutional politics can bring any sort real change for ordinary people. I also believe that direct democracy does not go far enough nor does it challenge the roots of corruption, inequality or oppression.
On one hand these ideas give us power but on the other hand they take power away from us. These reforms serve to embolden the capitalist state and divert badly needed attention away from people power. Moving power from the streets and workplaces onto ballots to reform the ruling class.
Constitutions are devised by ruling class politicians for ruling class politicians. They are part of the package of civic nationalism. This is the idea of 'citizens' instead of 'people', the idea that some people have more rights than others and that everyone in the state, as a matter of law, are equal to each other. 'Citizenship' completely ignores peoples economic relationship to each other and the idea that some are far more powerful than others. In short if your political world view revolves around constitutions and the concept of citizens you do not consider class, the economy or culture as factors that influence society. Citizenship also implies that there is such a thing as a non-citizen, that some people have, by some supposed affinity to an certain land, more rights than others. This can easily translate into nationalist or ant-immigrant sentiment. This may seem like a leap when talking about DDI but it does need to be pointed out that there is an air of nationalism about this group. Their logo, for example, is the Trinity Knot, supposedly an ancient Irish symbol to bring together three different concepts and their old logo was the Celtic Cross.
DDI hold up the Swiss constitution as an example of how direct democracy can work but how often do they speak of the rampant state racism and islamophobia in Switzerland or the mandatory military service? Nor do DDI address the question of Swiss casino capitalism and how Switzerland is home to many bank accounts of fraudulent, corrupt, gangster business people.
I feel that the focus on only direct state democracy can be dangerous. Their politics completely deflects attention away from the ruling class and does not address serious issues of economic inequality and capitalism at large. The focus on "the sovereign nation" can also be dangerous as it feeds into the idea of the Irish nation as a definite entity with a mythical past where Irish people, as we know them today, lived together for thousands of years in peace and harmony. Which is just nonsense.
At the heart of this argument is also the idea that new state legislation is all we need. I would argue that while living under international capitalism we need far more than just different rule books for the state to read and point to when they drag people through their court system. The state acts as an institution for the affairs of the ruling class, its job is to manage capitalism and it cannot be reformed from the inside. The law is the rich mans law an dis not here for ordinary people.
I consider it to be quite suspicious that DDI are very concerned about the founding of the state and the 1922 constitution yet there is no mention anywhere of the Democratic Programme of the First Dail or the Proclamation of Independence. These are both very left wing documents. The Democratic Programme was an excellent document written up by Sinn Fein before the 1918 elections as an agreement with the Labour Party that they would not run in the elections. Sinn Fein wanted a national, united government so they set about to discourage the Labour Party, including Jim Larkin, to stop talking about the welfare and social rights of people. The main focus would have to be national liberation first and social welfare and housing second.
The Democratic Programme asserted that the natural resources of the land must belong to the people of the land, did away with the British Poor Law system, claimed that it was the responsibility of the state to look after the old and infirm, demanded that no child must go hungry and that the state must go about developing progressive social and industrial legislation with a view to the general improvement in the living conditions and lives of the working class.
"It shall be the first duty of the government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food or clothing"
The Democratic Programme of the first Dail
So one would wonder why does DDI not use the Democratic Programme as their go-to document? Why do they insist that they are neither left or right wing? Coupling this with their founder, Raymond Whitehead's, background as a mini-capitalist one can only assume that they are secret right-wingers.
For example they are all for recalling politicians but would run a mile from the idea of recalling corporate executives.
Given their recent flashy leaflets and ability to book expensive conference rooms I would also question where they get their cash from.
The idea of direct democracy is definitely a progressive one and generally it is to be welcomed, however as I have argued I do not think that this organisation are going about it the right way. The fact that they are confusing greater power for ordinary people with conspiracy theories such as water fluoridation (that is apparently put into our water by our governments to brainwash us) just says it all. They have 50% of the right message but they are they wrong people to convey it.
Naturally these ideas are bringing good people around this group, people who are extremely disenfranchised with the current political system and are looking for alternatives. But it is the job of those of us who see the problem lying with capitalism to make the arguments that Whitehead et al run away from. If you talk about economic democracy, workers rights, people power and how we need to take money off the rich you will drive a wedge between the good people around Direct Democracy Ireland and rich folk like Whitehead.
Capitalism cannot allow us to have too much democracy therefore the finger always needs to be pointed at capitalism and class society and the solution always needs to be revolution.