‘It’s all over bar the voting’ said Your Man.
That’s the most important part of the exercise – the people voting. We are in Drogheda. It’s a nice day. It is also the peoples day. Tomorrow the process of counting the votes will begin. Some results may not be known until Monday but the general shape of the next Dáil – the 31st Dáil - will emerge quickly.
It’s been an exhausting, informative, and at times very enjoyable election campaign. This blog wants to thank all of those from far and near who expressed their support and solidarity to me on my travels around Louth and the rest of the state. Some directly on the streets and up the long lanes and byways and some via facebook, blog and email. Go raibh maith agaibh uilig.
One of the memorable moments of the campaign for this blog was in the course of a debate on LMFM radio – that’s Louth Meath FM radio for the non locals – when this blog said that the southern state wasn’t a real republic.
The other candidates began jumping up and down on their seats in indignation. But the fact is that by the standards set in the Proclamation which defines the republic, this state falls far short.
This blog drew their attention to the huge levels of poverty and inequality, of unemployment and inadequate housing and of a second rate health and education systems and much more. And in particular of the elites and the golden circle who have run the state for decades in their interests and not those of the people. And the lack of sovereignty. And partition. These are not the values set down in the Proclamation.
A worse reaction was encountered when at the launch of our party election campaign this blog described the political system as corrupt. Some of the journalists reacted as if I had slapped them on the face and demanded to know on what grounds I made such accusations and cross examined me on my definition of corruption?
It was an interesting insight into the mindset of some. Many of these same journalists have covered countless stories of brown envelope backhanders, of planning corruption, of political cronyism and Tribunals in which the high and mighty in politics have been exposed as corrupt.
Moreover things are now so bad that the other parties – from Fianna Fáil, through Labour and Fine Gael and the Greens have published detailed proposals on the reform of the system. Why? Because they know it’s corrupt and they know that citizens know it’s corrupt and want change. But now after years of having sipped from the same trough they are falling over themselves in bringing forward reform proposals.
The word corruption has two principal meanings: 1. Immoral or evil; 2. Influenced by or using bribery.
Establishment politics in the south has been marked by essentially immoral policy decisions - decisions that reward the excessively wealthy and punish the poor.
The relationship between establishment politicians and developers and speculators has been shown to be corrupt. Witness Ray Burke (FF) and Charlie Haughey (FF) and there have been others from other parties.
There has been both personal corruption - i.e. receiving backhanders from developers etc. - and political corruption.
Political corruption is where politics is corrupted by elected representatives who allow privileged elites - industrialists, bankers, developers, speculators - to wield undue influence on policy decisions, adversely affecting ordinary citizens. This was the type of corrupt influence that inflated the property bubble - putting families in massive mortgage debt but enriching developers and ultimately sinking the economy.
Whole armies of lawyers and accountants worked day and night to exploit exemptions in the tax system to ensure their clients paid as little tax as possible.
Laws to provide more social and affordable housing, to integrate our communities, were cast aside when the developers and the property speculators objected.
It was illegal in the 1980s for councillors in County Dublin to accept bribes to rezone land. That didn’t stop some of them. Who benefitted? Property developers. And the corrupt councillors.
But in the 1990s and 2000s Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy brought in all kinds of property-based tax reliefs that deprived the public of untold millions in revenue - the full cost will never be known - and allowed developers and speculators to line their pockets. This was all perfectly legal but it was still corrupt.
The corrupt influence continues. For example, the proposed abolition of Section 23 property-based tax relief in the 2011 Finance Act has been put on hold so that an economic impact analysis could be done. There was no such freeze on the regressive Universal Social Charge to assess its crippling impact on low to middle income families and local economies.
Freedom of Information legislation was weakened and undermined because some in power do not accept the right of citizens to know how their state operates.
The rights of our citizens to decent housing or accessible healthcare became favours to be granted, or strokes to be pulled, in exchange for votes.
In the most extreme example, public officials and representatives were found to have taken bribes.
What all of these have in common is that the public good, the best interests of the people of this state, took second place to private interest. This is the corruption in Irish society, the legacy of government by and for vested interests.
Those who are convicted of corrupt planning practices will be held accountable for that, though not for the problems their decisions helped to create in poorly planned communities around Ireland.
But what about those who broke no laws? It’s not against the law to look after the developers before the families on housing waiting lists, or the bankers before those on social welfare. But it is a corruption of the notion of republican democracy, a breach of trust, one that as republicans we must confront at every opportunity.
Hopefully today’s election will signal the beginning of the end of corruption in Ireland and the start of a realignment of our politics. North and South there was never a greater need for genuine republican politics.