Monday, February 23, 2009

We need a Rising!

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


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Tim said...

When an idea is just rising on the horizon, the soul’s temperature with respect to it is usually very cold. Only gradually does the idea develop its warmth, and it is hottest (which is to say, exerting its greatest influence) when belief in the idea is already once again in decline.Friedrich Nietzsche
I feel the international warmth of a rising and recognise that it has never been a better time.Ni heolas go haontios

Anonymous said...

Hi Gerry, being a union elevator constructor for 35 years taught me that without great leaders at the head of the protests is meaningless. There is only one man in Ireland that is capable of taking the reins and forging ahead with an incentive of restoring the ideals of the Proclamation and lead the country to unity. You got my vote. E.F.

Linda Coleman said...

Yeah, we need a rising, too. We activists in the States are impressed with the turnout in Ireland, and disappointed that there's been a virtual media blackout of the protest over here.

Until your speech, Gerry, I hadn't realized that Irish government ministers were so highly compensated. You called it right--it is obscene.

In the states, the average private sector CEO makes 400% more than the average worker; health insurance CEOs make extra bonuses into the double-digit millions per year--on top of their six-figure salaries--especially disgraceful when you consider that there are 47million people in the U.S. without access to affordable health care.

Meanwhile, right-wingers are whining that Obama wants to "redistribute the wealth." Gee whiz, I think it's about time somebody did!

Paul Doran said...


The same thought has enetered my mind for a long time. In the south the people are so apathetic.Wouldn't happen in the North.What I would love to see a few of those bastards be cuffed and led off.Note your comments re re allignmnet of the Left, you are a bit late out of the blocks on that one.It is a long time since I heard the word Socialist come from the SF thinks they are drinking the devils buttermilk too long now. Maybe young O Brion could help you guys along the way he has good views on the left.and get rid of a few of thoses inept Cllrs in Dublin.If they were all like Larry,

Anonymous said...

Gerry, Your rising blog inspired me to reread the Proclamation. It gave me an enormous sense of pride to be Irish. The loyality and bravery that those men who followed their leaders, the men of the brotherhood and the citizens army and those volunteers who knew if they lost their fate would be death will remain with me forever. The Con Colberts,Michael Mallon, Edward Daly and the Sean Heustons and all the rest who gave their lives makes me more arrogent about always wearing Ireland on my chest. E.F.

Anonymous said...

Yes Gerry we all know that the banks are undercutting taxpayers to the tune of millions,we all know that fianna fail favours those who are rich at the expense of the poor and yes we all know there MUST be a rising.Maybe not as extreme as the one our country's heroes died for but there must be a stand from the working class irish people.But we need a foreman.We need someone with a high profile,we need someone who is in the media spotlight or maybe even the president of a political party to unite our people.People cannot have a rising in drips and drabs we need a leader to come to the forefront to speak for those who cannot be heard.The economic downturn is what sinn fein need to get the backing of the people not just in Ulster but on the whole of the island.Use your political brain to conjour up a storm!Gerry you are the president of the only openly republican political party in Ireland.If not onto you then then the responsibility falls onto your party.There can never be a rising without a leader it is proved in the history books.Gerry put yorself out there and unite the people of ireland in a common cause of democracy,fairness and equality.

Anonymous said...

Gerry we all know that the banks are undercutting taxpayers to the tune of millions,we all know that fianna fail favour those who are rich at the expense of the poor and yes we all know there must be a rising maybe not as extreme as the one the heroes of our country died for but there must be a stand from the working class Irish people.But we need a foreman.We need someone with the mind of a leader,someone of high profile or who is in the media spotlight Maybe even a president of a political party who feels so strongly about this "rising" to unite our people.We cannot just have a rising in drips and drabs we need a leader to come to the forefront and speak up for those who cannot be heard.This economic downturn is what sinn fein needs to get the backing of the people not just in ulster but on the whole of the island.Gerry you are the president of the only openly republican political party in Ireland.If not onto you then the responsibility falls onto your party to unite our poeople.There can never be a rising without a leader it is proved in the history books.Gerry you are the man for me and many people I know and conversate with.Throw yourself out there,use your political brain to conjour up a storm and unite the people of Ireland in a common cause of deomcracy,fairness and equality.

Linda Coleman said...

To the anonymous commenter who wants a "foreman:" yes, it's true that every movement needs a public face, but in my experience from protests in the States, a politician is not always the right person to be the public face of a movement. It turns the cause into a partisan fight; we had good luck in the anti-war movement when Cindy Sheehan stepped forward. As the mother of a soldier who was killed in Iraq, she got huge public support for ending the war, even though the media tried to make it partisan.

In the protests for universal health care, we've gotten a huge boost from nurses' unions. Their spokespeople have done an excellent job communicating with the media on the need for universsal health care, and it's hard to argue with nurses when they tell us what's good for us.

Another reason to find a media savvy person spokesperson from the trade union to rally a movement is that they give politicians, like Gerry, political cover. When enough people rally, as they've done in Ireland, the politicians can point to that, saying that something must be done because "the people have spoken." That way, it's not the politician's partisan agenda, it's yours. This is the way we activists have tried to give "political cover" to Obama, and it looks like things are headed in the right direction, anyway.

Best of luck to you.

Anonymous said...

Gerry why have you and the sinn fein members not take a stance spooks being allowed to work in the north of Ireland. Have they not done enough harm in the past, and as usual the sinn fein leadership just roll over and allow this to happen.