"Those politicians are idiots!" Have you ever found yourself shouting at a television screen or a radio, wondering how someone so well spoken and apparently sophisticated could be so wrong? "He has to be delusional!" "She doesn’t know simple arithmetic!"
I’m ashamed to say I also felt contempt for the Irish people for a long time. It seemed like no matter what cuts were made, how bad the health service got or the fact that the Irish Government accepted the odious debt of bondholders, the people appeared to accept the lies and deceit without making too much of a fuss about it. Overtime, I found a simple solution to my problem. As soon as I heard a politician being interviewed, I simply hit the mute button on the t.v or radio and voila, my blood pressure would stay under control.
So for years I managed to avoid listening to politicians and conversations or discussions on politics, even when the Government broke their election promises and agreed to pay the bank bail out debt that didn’t belong to Irish people and future generations. I would use the excuse that there wasn’t much I could do about it. I couldn’t change anything and voting obviously made no difference. For me the 2011 General Election was just further proof that politics was simply a career choice and people would say anything to get a job with a great salary, expenses and pension. The only thing that politicians needed to do was to say the right things to the right people and they were elected.
Then one day I got a leaflet through the letterbox that said the Government was actually planning to charge people twice for water. As well as paying for water through our general taxes, we would also receive a separate water bill. It also said that a protest was going to take place in Dublin in October 2014. It was then I told myself that even though appears no one in this country is interested or prepared to do anything about the obvious incompetence of this Government, I am going to attend the protest no matter what. The number attending the protest did not matter. I expected there would be 500 – 1,000 people max but I did not care. I told myself that if I attend this protest then at least I knew I had done something rather than give out and moan about it.
I am not ashamed to admit that on the day of the water protest I walked the streets of Dublin with tears in my eyes on a number of occasions during that day. I witnessed something really special happen that day. I wasn’t alone. I saw many tears of joy and sheer pride in people’s eyes because we all realized there were others who had felt the same way! It turned out there were many more of us thinking the same thing. More than I could ever have imagined. RTE and the mainstream media had estimated the size of the protest small but there had to be 100,000+ people at the protest. To give you an idea of the size, I walked at the front of the protest from O’Connell Street. I had no idea how many people were behind me but I knew it was big because the people were walking perhaps 10-15 abreast – shoulder to shoulder, and when I looked behind me, I could see people as far as I could see going through the streets of Dublin. Can you imagine the surprise on our faces when we nearly reached the starting point in O’Connell street having walked nearly six kilometers (I measured it) and seeing the full length of other side of O’Connell street still full with people just starting the march! Absolutely astounding! What made it even more special was the fact the people still in O’Connell street had some idea of the size of the march they were part of because they still hadn’t left yet but they did not know we had just walked nearly six kilometers!
That the first of many protests/marches/assemblies about water charges, austerity, evictions, homeless, political corruption and other issues impacting Irish society but I also thought it wasn’t enough. Why was it hundreds of thousands of citizens could be expressing their dissatisfaction about Government decisions yet the Government could ignore them? Why is it that people only have two choices? a) They can vote every five years on the politicians they elect and b) they can protest if they wish when that Government made poor decisions. How can this happen in a country where the people are supposed to be sovereign and have the final say on all matters for the common good?
When I ask this question, I always receive somewhere in the answer "Well, that’s democracy."
But is that the case? I thought democracy was meant to be ‘the rule of the people’. So how come we are not seeing the wishes of the people influencing the Government on national issues such as water charges, the bank debt, the housing crisis, the health service crisis? When I ask this question, I am told "Well, that’s representative democracy. We elected the Government to make those decisions our behalf." But is that the case? I’d like to know how many people voted for a Fine Gael & Labour Government at the last General Election? I’d like to know who entered the polling booth in 2011 with the hopes and intentions to vote for a coalition Government of Fine Gael and Labour? As it stands, we vote for candidates that appear to ‘represent’ our views. We are all presented with the manifestos outlining how the party/alliance/candidates would mange the country if in Government. However, when the candidate is elected, they could form a Government that agrees a programme for government that goes against their manifestos, the reasons we gave the candidate our vote in the first place! To make matters worse, there isn’t a thing citizens can do about it. A Government can do whatever they like for next five years and no one can do a thing to stop them. Did you know that sixty three percent (63%) of all new legislation was guillotined in 2015? It means the Government was able to curtail debate, in order to pass legislation through the Oireachtas. As a result, the Government puts its own agenda or convenience before the rights of the parliament to consider the full implications of the proposed legislation. This is so wrong. Where’s that thing we call democracy?
To look at it another way, imagine being on holiday and you’re walking down the street full of restaurants. They all look amazing. You look at the menus hanging up outside the restaurants before deciding which one to go into. You particularly like one menu so you go in, are seated and handed the menu to look at while the waitress takes your drink order. The waitress returns to the table with the drinks and to take your food order. You tell her you’d like the fresh cod but then the waitress then says: “I’m sorry, we are unable to serve you fresh cod this evening.” So, you decide to go for smoked salmon. Again the waitress says: “I’m sorry but smoked salmon is off the menu this evening.” Getting annoyed, you ask the waitress what other fish would she recommend from the menu and the waitress says: “I’m sorry, all fish is off the menu tonight.” Then it gets worse when you hear the front door of the restaurant being locked. The waitress then says: “I’m sorry but you can’t leave the restaurant. You decided to come into this restaurant so you will eat from this restaurant not only tonight but for the next five years!” She then takes the menu from your hand and says: “The menu doesn’t matter either – you will eat whatever we decide to give you to eat”.
Now, you wouldn’t accept this when going out for dinner so why is it we accept it at election time and told "This is democracy"?
This is why I believe in the One Year Initiative. I’m sick of all the lies and deception involved in politics that ultimately results in the most vulnerable in Irish society suffering. I’m sick of parties thinking they know best and when elected the people have to take whatever crap thrown at them for five years. I believe in democracy and believe the only chance we have to fix Ireland is through democracy, through the rule of the people. It’s time to demand democratic equality. As citizens we should have equality in every aspect of our lives including democratic equality. That means every person in Ireland can have a say in the national decisions being made about the country. I’m not just talking about getting to vote for someone every five years. Democracy is not two minutes in a polling booth every five years. Yes, we should elect people who represent our views the best but it should not end there because of the reasons I mentioned.
For me, the implementation of the One Year Initiative will change the political system in Ireland, return real power to the people and provide the democratic equality so desperately needed. It will provide all citizens with a mechanism and the chance take direct action to veto/block the poor decisions. The people would have a mechanism interject when poor legislation is being introduced and collectively, they could make decisions on Ireland’s future through people-initiated referendums.
Take the water charges as an example. Whether you agree with them or not, no one disagrees the whole thing is a mess. That’s why the power to veto/block poor legislation is so important. Had the power to veto existed then the Government could not have pushed through the water charge legislation because the people could’ve stopped them. It could even be argued that there would be no need to stop the water charge legislation because it would never have originated in the first place as it was so poorly thought out. The Government would’ve known the people would have a mechanism to stop them introducing it. The same principle would imply to unjust bank bail out and eviction laws.
The political system is broken. If there is going to change, I believe it must come from the people. Too many people think change must be top-down and it must come from the Government. If we had democracy, the Government would react and respond to the will of the people.
The One Year Initiative is a step-by-step process to do just that. If we all stand together (and there is no reason why we can’t) and demand 1Yi, then an assembly/convention will be established to devise a modern mechanism of people-initiated referendums for a modern Ireland. The assembly/convention would have one year to devise the mechanism and it would then be put to the people to decide if they want it in the Constitution through a referendum. If they agree, then we will do something that citizens around Europe and the world are crying out for – democratic equality. Grasp the vision of an Ireland where all citizens are equals and have an equal say in Ireland’s future. Demand 1Yi.
Mark McAuley, 1Yi Supporter