Thursday 23 October 2014

Labour needs to take a look at 2013, not 1913

Published 29/08/2013 | 05:00

l An Taoiseach Enda Kenny's current mantra is that we must "hold the line" on the financial 'adjustments' to be presented in the Budget statement on October 15.

However, he and his colleagues know very well that in the world of real politics that may be impossible to do. A fierce wind is blowing, demanding an end – or at least a significant 'easing' – of austerity.

The Opposition is playing that card. Worse, a desperate Eamon Gilmore knows that the trend in the opinion polls points towards, at best, a massive 'trimming' of Labour representation in next year's local and European elections.

Objectively, a significant easing in the 'adjustment' figures would be anything but prudent. The real question (which is not and will not be asked in this Cabinet) is: "How can we stick with those figures – but also spread the burden more proportionately?"

A key factor, sedulously hidden or ignored, is that the so-called 'deal' on the promissory notes did not provide a windfall of 'real money'. It was merely an unilateral 'action' to kick one of our elephants down the road.

As Mario Draghi said, this "action of the Irish Government" was not negotiated with, but "noted" by the ECB. If we make a mess of this Budget and have to go back for a second bailout after the domestic political game is over, they will tell us that we are a sovereign nation – and must bear the consequences of our messing up our first bailout.

But our little domestic games are taking place in the context not only of an European but a global 'systems failure'. When the generation of European political leaders, led by the likes of Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, began the boring but methodical process within which our EU is a stage, they did so because they had been taught, in the most brutal and incontrovertible way, that the traditional method of managing 'international' relationships just did not work.

When it came to setting up a common currency, that late 1940s context of threat had been forgotten – and the lessons already learnt in the federalisation of the US, Germany, Italy, Spain, were brushed aside. So the common currency is definitely not mended. And it is unlikely to be in the near future, even though, objectively, 'mending' is nothing less than a necessity.

After 50 years of involvement in grassroots politics, I see huge practical difficulties in a new party. I would prefer to see the Labour Party shake itself up and look at 2013 rather than 1913 – let alone the dreams of 2010.

But if the younger (in heart and soul) elements of the current Labour Party cannot step up to the mark on, or before, Budget night, then a new Irish social democratic party it will have to be.

Maurice O'Connell

Tralee, Co Kerry

DICKENSIAN CONDITIONS

* Congratulations to Martina Devlin and her excellent article on the Lockout of 1913 (Irish Independent, August 26). While the pleasures of the newly arrived motor car, yachting cruises around the British Isles and the latest in fashion from London or Paris were the everyday life of the rich, the Dickensian conditions of the inner-city tenements made it a daily struggle for the poor.

In 1913, the population of Dublin was 400,000. Of that number, 87,305 lived in squalid tenements. One tenement typically housed between 70 and 98 people, with just one toilet out in the backyard.

Infant mortality was 142/1000 children, while TB was much higher than in either England or Scotland.

A French newspaper of the time, 'Le Miroir', highlighted the plight of the less well-off in Dublin with a photograph of a destitute father and child asleep in a doorway and the caption 'La Misere á Dublin'.

Working conditions were also Dickensian, with many factory owners and business men "fumbling in a greasy till" as they exploited their staff with poor conditions and measly wages.

Recent attempts have been made to portray William Martin Murphy as some type of early 20th Century Renaissance man. However, as Ms Devlin rightly points out, the influence that Murphy exerted on the Dublin of the first 20 years of the last century was all-powerful.

He was a member of the Bantry Band, a group of Irish MPs from the Bantry area whom the 'Freemans Journal' at the time described as "a gang from the remote part of the island whose inordinate grasping and self-serving have already pressed the patience of Irishmen".

His newspapers provided him with a propaganda vehicle which he used at every opportunity to deride the workers and unions and their efforts to secure decent wages and better working conditions.

As Jim Larkin memorably said: "Better to be in Hell with Dante and Davitt, than in Heaven with Murphy and Carson."

For further insight into all these issues and more, we invite you to view the exhibition 'Bare Feet and Bowler Hats: Capturing the Dublin of 1913' running until September 17 at Carman's Hall, Dublin 8.

Mark Lawler

Carman's Hall Dublin 8

ALL WEAPONS DEPLORABLE

* The escalation of the Syrian conflict into the use of chemical weapons is without doubt deplorable.

Should we not be equally outraged by the killing and maiming of citizens by the use of conventional weapons or by the ambiguous legality of white phosphorous bombs and their use in populated areas?

John Bellew

Paughanstown, Dunleer, Co Louth

WAITING TO BE SHOT

* Frank O'Connor asks an interesting question about Michael Collins' behaviour in Beal na Blath.

There are only two answers.

The first one is, he really didn't believe his own people from his own area would shoot him.

The second one is, he was tired and reckless, bowing to what he felt was the inevitable result of him signing the treaty. I can't imagine it's much fun waiting to be shot on some dark night.

Pauline Bleach

Wolli Creek, NSW 2205, Australia

SIMPLE MATHEMATICS

* I refer to Barry Kenny's response to my letter of August 14. Mr Kenny ignores my central contention. Given that there are only two tracks north of Connolly, a highly intensive service means that all trains will have to travel at the speed of the slowest train.

The new signalling may facilitate greater frequency but means that trains not scheduled to stop at inner- suburban stations will either have to stop outside each of these stations or proceed at an average speed equivalent to the slowest train.

Airport DART services would have to do likewise – simple mathematics allows no other outcome.

Anthony Gray

Drogheda, Co Louth

STOP MOANING AND COOK

* I was a bit annoyed at your article yesterday from Colette Browne regarding Jamie Oliver, who has done so much to change people's mentality towards food and cooking.

Since when is nutritious food dearer than cheap processed food? How much would a meal for four in McDonalds or a chipper cost? Easily €20, if not more.

How many packets of rice, pasta, potatoes, lentils, chickpeas, peas and vegetables could you buy in, say, Lidl or Aldi or even Dunnes or Tesco for €20?

I work full-time and I am also a mother, yet I have time to cook from scratch and so I only spent about €60 a week on food, including meat and fish, for a family of three.

I do not buy rubbish or processed food, I cook everything from scratch and, if I need to, I cook at weekends and freeze my meals for during the week.Instead of moaning at how expensive fresh food is, stop buying packets of crisps, chocolate bars and chicken rolls and get cooking!

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Irish Independent

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