Feb 23rd 09
We need a Rising! That thought came into my head as I listened to RTE radio’s report of last Saturday’s mass trade union rally in Dublin.
The rally was in protest at the government’s handling of the economy. The Gardaí estimate that 120,000 citizens thronged the city centre. Most of them were public sector workers. By all accounts they were very angry. And why not? The government has imposed a public service pension levy. Not unreasonably many of the marchers feel this is unfair.
The demonstration was led by 500 uniformed fire fighters who marched behind a pipe band. Most of the protestors vented their spleen at the government’s protection of the heads of banks who are clearly engaging in dodgy book keeping.
There’s also widespread resentment at the exorbitant salaries and obscene bonuses being drawn down. Government Ministers are paid around 230,000 euros annually. This is as much as the President of the Republic of France and more than the British Prime Minister.
The head of the Health Service Executive which runs the state’s health service, Brendan Drumm, has a salary of 320,000 euros, plus an annual bonus of 80,000 euros.
Which means the Irish people pay him more than the people of the USA pay President Barack Obama. Bank CEO’s take home three million euros a year; some heads of state companies are paid well over half a million euros a year.
With reports of one financial scandal after another dominating the daily news, unemployment spiraling upwards and no public confidence in government and the economy in free fall, the Fianna Fáil/Green Party government still has no plan, no strategy to lift the economy out of recession.
The measures the government has introduced, including the pension levy, are grossly unfair and seek to protect those who created the crisis while punishing the victims.
Putting billions of tax payer’s money into banks while cutting the number of special needs teachers in schools or laying off hundreds of bus drivers shows that this government has got its priorities very seriously wrong.
The Fianna Fáil/Green Party government underlying ethos favours those who make millions and billions at the expense of working people.
So the anger expressed on Saturday’s rally reflects a deeper and wider anger throughout society, particularly middle and lower income families.
I was listening to the RTE coverage of the rally the day after Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis. The commentator introduced a vox pox of protestors by saying.
‘These are the views of some people up in Dublin for the Rising’.
‘What a good idea,’ I said to the radio.
The last Rising in Dublin occurred in 1916 when a small number – much less than the crowds who were out in the capital at the protest rally – declared a Republic and seized control of various city centre buildings. Most famously the GPO in the city centre.
Much commentary on that period dwells on the suppression of the Rising and the executions of the leaders by the British government. Space prevents me from dealing with that in any great detail here – except to say that the men and women of 1916 were visionaries who took on a British Empire at a time when that Empire covered much of the globe.
They knew that things could be different and better. They believed. They were motivated not just by separatist or democratic and nationalist opinions, though these are all worthy and patriotic motivations. They also wanted equality and justice.
The Proclamation is a wonderful document not just for its brevity but for its egalitarian fairness and decency.
Not one word of that Proclamation is to be found in the ethos or core values of the Irish establishment today. No where is its vision reflected in their ethics or policies.
And that’s part of the reason why people are angry. Like others across Europe, in Britain, in the USA and elsewhere they are worried about losing their homes. A thousand workers a day lost their jobs in January. That’s the equivalent of over two million workers in January in the US economy.
People know that we all have to tighten our belts. They know the recession is a global one but they are deeply hurt by the way an Irish government sides with the wealthy and punishes working families. They feel, and they are right that the government squandered the wealth of the Celtic Tiger in favour of private greed instead of public need.
There is still no government plan to save existing jobs or generate new ones. But then there was no government plan during the boom years to build universal health care, social and affordable housing or school buildings.
In his song, ‘The Rising’ Bruce Springsteen deals with a different and more dreadful event but his uplifting chorus ran through my head as I reflected on what the radio commentator said.
The majority of Irish people are very angry and they want change. Real change, real democracy, real fairness and equality.
So, we need a Rising. Not an armed one. Not one that leads to the execution of leaders or anyone else for that matter. A popular uprising of people power to shape a New Ireland. To make the Proclamation of the Republic a reality.
Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight