Another Ireland is Possible – but socialism is ruled out


The conference of 270 activists entitled "Another Ireland is Possible" in Dublin's Mansion House on 4th of November was marked by a plethora of speakers and topics ranging across the globe.

However it quickly became clear that the conference, organised by the leadership of the Right2Water unions, did not have as its purpose a discussion on future strategy but rather to present the outcome of a strategy already agreed amongst themselves.

The strategy quickly became crystal clear. The task was to construct a political vehicle for the left unions within the narrow confines caused by the failure of their own past policies and actions.  A clue was given by the title. “Another World is Possible”, “Another Europe is Possible” are slogans put forward by the left to avoid the task of fighting for socialism on unfavourable terrain. It is a mechanism that has failed time and time again as the groups move steadily to the right.

The central task was set in the afternoon session by Mandate chair John Douglas, who chastised the audience for cheering the collapse of the corrupt Labour Party. In his view the absence of a viable Labour Party was the main problem, unconnected to its implementation of austerity. The problem was amplified by the fragmentation of the left which made it impossible to endorse a single party.

Strategy of acceptance

This statement needs unpacked. The trade union leadership have been inside social partnership for many decades. They have largely abandoned industrial action except for rare shows of strength which lead straight back to the Workplace Relations Commission and another dirty deal.

The overall strategy of the unions has been to accept the crippling banking debt, accept and implement the crushing austerity, accept privatisation, and lobby for concessions within the narrow limits allowed by the European Central Bank and the Troika. Before their collapse, the target of campaigns was the Fianna Fail party, but when that party was decimated they collaborated with the even more right wing Fine Gael, using government coalition partners in the Irish Labour Party as cover.

Not surprisingly, anger at the union leaders and the Labour party grew, leading major figures in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to avoid demonstrations and to the Labour Party, in its turn, to suicide at the polls.

The left union leaders faced two problems: building the reputation of the unions and constructing a political vehicle through which they could lobby government.  The solution to the former was their endorsement of the "Right2Water" mass mobilisations. The attempt at the latter was demobilising "Right2Water" in order to form "Right2Change" in advance of the 2016 elections.

Political disaster

The Right2Water campaign drew on popular outrage at the endless charges, taxes, wage and pension cuts associated with the austerity. A water charge in a country where it rained endlessly was seen as a step too far.

The government has withdrawn water charges and offered refunds, but because the campaign never went beyond the issue of charging, or the method of lobbying the Dail, the Irish Water company and the pricing and privatisation processes remain in place.

The Right2Change campaign was a disaster. It was an attempt to build a new political movement with Sinn Fein cast as the new Labour Party and with the reformist parliamentary left groups providing cover. The programme advanced was sheer tripe, essentially arguing that if every need was cast as a human right and written in as an article of the constitution then the capitalist class would be bound to respond.

None of the groups involved had any real political agreement and those that linked to Right2Change did so only on the basis that it might attract extra votes. The populist programme attracted little full-hearted support outside of the Communist Party.

The mobilization around Right2Water has been thrown back and the elements of the campaign have fragmented.

New campaign

There were three elements to the response at the November conference:

The first was to showcase campaigns currently endorsed by the left unions, with the centrepiece given to community groups supported by them.

The second, central, role was given to researcher and author Conor McCabe, who was tasked with providing a political philosophy and goal for a new movement.

The third element was a smorgasbord of international movements, offering a vision of different forms of populism.

Many problems

The overall problem, summed up the community campaigns endorsed by the unions, is that their aim is not the independent organization of workers but simply a local extension of the lobbying strategy that the unions already employ.

The international presentations raise more questions than they answer. All shared with Right2Change the firm declaration that the way forward was through a reformed and improved capitalism. The U.S. speaker, Winnie Wong, was right to claim that Bernie Sanders had helped to popularise the idea of socialism, but wrong to ignore his role in herding youth towards Clinton. The British speaker for momentum Professor Cecile Wright, ignored its undemocratic structures, acceptance of a witchunt against  vice-chair Jackie Walker and its failure to oppose the right wing of the Labour Party.

Most questionable was the speaker, Emma Avilés Thurlow, for the Spanish 15 M movement. At times she sounded like Donald Trump, decrying not only socialism but even reason and logic. Organization was best achieved through feeling and emotion - by raw populism. She claimed no direct connection with Podemos and the meeting was too polite to question her about the crisis in Catalonia or the utterly reactionary role of Podemos there.

An Irish Commonwealth?

However the centrepiece of the conference was the presentation by Dr Conor McCabe. It set out a model of exploitation in Ireland and a model of a new movement of opposition.

The presentation had many weaknesses. It correctly identified the role of finance capital in exploitation and the role of the Irish government in collaboration. He also pointed out that the payment of the banking debt would continue to bind the Irish economy until 2054. However the system is not identified as imperialism and that enabled the speaker to argue that we could "push back" against the housing crisis by persuading the government to build social housing. However this is not possible if we remain inside the "fiscal space" allowed by the Troika.

The failure to fully describe imperialist and capitalist exploitation enables a movement to be proposed which is not socialist and not revolutionary. The model proposed was of an "Irish Commonwealth" (apparently a 26 county commonwealth - despite the collapse of northern settlement, partition was not on the conference agenda).

The commonwealth was to be based on a political triangle of political parties, community groups and trade unions. This sounds suspiciously like what currently exists, where trade unions cooperate with selected community groups to lobby the capitalist parties.

This not a recipe for class struggle or for an independent movement of the working class.

The dogs that didn’t bark

It could be argued that any current organized by the trade union left can be a support for the working class, but this is true only to the extent that that the unions act in the interests of  workers rather than those of the union bureaucracy. The limits of that intersection are shown by what is not covered by the conference.

Unsurprisingly, silence surrounded the whole issue of Lansdowne Road ll, agreed by the unions, even though this makes permanent speed-ups, pension cuts and a two-tier pay system. The deal essentially anchors the low wage, privatised economy on which claims of recovery are based.

A similar silence surrounds transport. Dublin bus, Bus Eireann, Ionrod Eireann, all ended in the Labour Court or Workplace Relations Commission with minimal settlements and imposed "modernisation" that marks out a path to mass privatisation of transport.

But it is around the issue of housing that the limitations of the left bureaucracy are most evident.

In December 2016 Brendan Ogle and the union leaders, under the banner "Home Sweet Home" occupied Apollo house in Dublin and moved homeless people in. The argument was that the property, held by the "bad bank" NAMA, had been paid for with public money and should be available for the homeless.

The campaign became caught in a scissors. The judicial system demanded an immediate vacation of the property with the possibility of imprisonment if there were any resistance. On the other hand, the occupation was greeted with wild enthusiasm by workers and calls for further occupations.

The leaders negotiated a settlement that found places for the individuals who had joined the squat and closed the occupation, promising to build a national campaign. After six months silence the funds collected were transferred to housing charities and plans to lead a national campaign abandoned.

Caution about the explosive nature of the housing issue remains. A week before the "Another Ireland is Possible" conference a new housing action campaign was founded. Given that the founding groups included the Communist Party, the Workers Party and Eirigi also attended the  conference on the 4th, the assumption is that a firewall is being put in place to protect the unions.

The context of the "Another Ireland is Possible" conference is the aftermath of the water charges struggle. The left unions tried to build a political vehicle to represent their interests in the Dail and to reassure their members that the union leaders were not totally encapsulated in social partnership.

Future explosions?

Almost all sections of the Right2Water campaign were looking after their sectional interests. No-one was concerned about the failure to seriously tackle the privatisation agenda. They were content with ad-hoc structures that prevented a democratic national campaign from developing.

Now Right2Water has disbanded and the various forces have fragmented. Sinn Fein is aimed at coalition in the next capitalist government. The left unions, their project having failed, are now constructing a narrower alliance. The socialist groups have reverted to frantic recruitment to their own organisations. The Socialist Party, usually the most reliable allies of the union bureaucracy, held a separate conference across town from the "Another Ireland is possible" conference. The Socialist Workers Party attended to promote their Marxism recruitment event. Both groups no longer pretend that their alliance in the Dail is anything more than a marriage of convenience.

The water battle has been disbanded, mainly due to the populism of the forces involved. However it did hobble Irish capitalism. Irish Water remains on the books as a government company. It’s expenditure is contained within the "fiscal space" left after debt repayment and thus limits the capitalist room for manoeuvre as it attempts to patch up decaying public services and offer sweeteners in strike situations.

The situation remains explosive. The downward pressure on pay continues, with settlements remaining below inflation. Not only has the housing crisis not been solved, it has not even been tackled. The government remains committed to protecting landlords and the vulture capitalists who now own large sectors of the Irish property market.

Despite the claims of recovery the Irish working class remain embedded in permanent austerity. This will eventually lead to explosion. The structures established in the wake of the water charges campaign are insufficient to meet the coming challenge. Only a revolutionary party of the working class can prepare for the day when the workers call quits on imperialism and native capital.


Right2Water site should not be used to promote “fake news” in UNITE election

This article is from  published on 10 April 2017.  It concerns how Right2Water Ireland's official site is used for 'Fake News'  by unnamed authors and noright of reply.



An article has appeared on the Right2Water site from a Unite official in Ireland stating; “Let’s be clear, without the support of Len McCluskey, there would be no Right2Water or Right2Change.” The author here is not giving due credit to the many Unite members who tramped the streets and blocked access to communities as part of the great mass of water protesters and who did play an important practical role in the movement.

Instead the credit for a determined struggle, in which victory is not quite yet achieved, has been snatched from the people that faced down the goons on their own doorstep and handed to the leader of a British trade union.  This is an absolutely shameless piece of biased electioneering in the Unite leadership contest. Worse still, it is clear that official involved considers the Right2Water site his own private playpen. There is no open access to the site and no right of reply.  Supporters of Right2Water are not being invited to discuss, but used as targets for "fake news" in a titled election.

This eclipsing of the role of the people who were the real backbone of the water protests entirely mirrors the election taking place in Unite.  It summarises perfectly the trade union leadership's attitude to its own rank and file membership.  By presenting these laurels to McCluskey the author ignores one of the candidates completely, Ian Allinson, failing to even mention his name. 

Allinson was a member of the Unite NEC for 10 years and, unlike the others, is in full time employment outside the union. He is a workplace activist who has effectively unionised a traditionally hard to organise sector at Fujitsu UK and has been on strike and on the picket line during the election nomination and campaigning period. He has to apply to his employer for leave from work to campaign and does not have the vast resources that is at the disposal of McCluskey and the reactionary right winger Coyne.  In spite of this difficulty his supporters ensured he was on the ballot.

As with the previous leadership challenge of Jerry Hicks, Ian Allinson has had to rely on a network of rank and file trade unionists and supporters and appeal for funds to produce leaflets and information on his candidacy.  Despite the obvious difficulties the Hicks campaign achieved second in the last election.  Allinson hopes to emulate this record, and make his rank and file driven campaign a viable left opposition to McCluskey and the potential basis for a rejuvenated trade union movement that reflects the needs of its membership. 

Allinson, like the anti water charge protesters, is part of the real struggles of working classpeople.  He is from the shop floor and this connects him with those struggles in a way the others cannot match.  Yet this does not merit a mention on the R2W article.  Just as the author writes the people who struggled against the water charges out of history he also erases the candidacy of the only rank and file candidate in the election.

This should not be allowed to pass. The leadership's condescending attitude to the mass of the protesters is a reason why the anti water charges campaign needs to be democratised. Only by drawing in representatives from local activist groups and communities and rank and file trade unionists can the threat to privatise water be conclusively ended.  Through such a process the campaign can also begin to address health, education, transport and all the issues generated by austerity which face the Irish working class.  For the the same democratic reasons Unite members in Ireland should vote for Ian Allinson and a union that is driven by the interests of its rank and file members. 

More information on the Allinson campaign at;


Why the 9.4 water exemption clause on water charges is a game-changer, missing from Oireachtas Report and sadly going to disappear

This is another interview from OceanFM, NWT, June 23 2017 on the issue of the 9.4 Exemption clause of the EU's Water Framework Directive that gives Ireland an exemption on water charges.  Michael Mooney, a former election candidate in Donegal with the Right2Change campaign speaks clearly and passionately on the history and importance of the 9.4 Exemption clause.  He voices the disillusionment and shock that many in Ireland feel over how we were led, how the campaign against water charges has gone and about our fear that water charges are coming down the line.

OceanFM NWT, June 23, 14 mins


Buncrana Together

Charges coming down the line

Anyone interested can view the draft River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021 on the Dept of Housing's website. 

Click the link opposite to view the complete draft plan.  Page 77 gives you an idea of whats coming down the line with regards charging and structuring.   

Imagine the importance of the River Basin Management Plan, a fundamental building block of the Water Framework Directive where all future structuring of our water is planned.  Imagine after it's importance and the 9.4 Exemption was highlighted in the Oireachtas Committee and it didn't even get a mention in it's final report. 


What have we got really?

Having read the report from the expert Commission in particular paragraph 2.1 'Water Charging in Ireland: Timeline of Key Decisions', page 6, we came across the following;

"September 2014: the CER decided on the water charges tariffs (taking account of the Ministerial Policy Direction) that came into effect on 1 October 2014. The main aspects of the charging regime were: a free household allowance of 30,000 litres; free allowance for each child; exemptions for certain medical conditions; charges for usage above the allowance; and households without a meter would be charged on an assessed basis, using occupancy as the criteria for assessment.  More details of the Charging Plan are listed in Appendix 2.

Does that not sound all too familiar and that was back in 2014?  Note also not a peep about Irish Water Ltd which is by now well entrenched, politically and financially.