This is a response to an article in TheJournal.ie by Vincent P. Martin, who is ‘barrister and co-founder of New Beginning, an advocacy group founded to campaign for Ireland’s recovery and seeks to find a fair and sustainable solution to the problem of over-indebtedness.‘ His article, titled ‘Our crisis was caused by too little democracy – not by too much’, claims that 2008 and the bank bailout marked ‘the end of effective democracy in Ireland’.
Let’s concede some of what Vincent P. Martin is saying: that the bank bailout is anti-democratic; that Article 5 of the Constitution, which declares that Ireland is a democratic state, has been treated as irrelevant.
It’s arguably true that Ireland was a democracy prior to 2008, but only in narrow and formal terms.
Substantively, however, all the anti-democratic conditions that led to the bank bailout –the institutional imperative of protecting the financial sector at the cost of the health and well-being population; the concentration of immense social power in the hands of private golden circles; a media establishment that presented the worldview of the rich as common sense- had long been in place.
Crucially, the just-so story Vincent P Martin tells here, about how the Dáil worked well in ordinary times, is false.
Firstly because there is no such thing as ordinary times.
Secondly, the State he lauds as ‘surviving the 30 years of troubles in the North’ was one that relied on censorship, religious authoritarianism, a range of carceral institutions – mental hospitals, industrial schools, slave labour laundries- and the spectre of bloody violence spreading from the North, in order to keep the population under control. This same State relied on an outflow of emigrants and their consequent loss of the political franchise as a safety valve for ensuring its longevity.
Whilst Vincent P Martin lauds the Irish State for surviving whilst much of Europe ‘fell to tyranny’, it ought to be stressed that this was not on account of the magnificent traditions of anti-fascism that informed political life in other European countries. In fact, the Irish political and religious establishments were very much in favour of tyranny in Europe, as their support for Franco in the Spanish Civil War showed.
In such a context, we can see why political representatives and other fans of the State might make grandiose claims about how great Ireland’s democracy is, or was.
But the truth of the matter is that the dominant conception of democracy in Ireland is all to do with giving your voice to someone else. The fetish for representation above all else is part of a commitment to an inegalitarian social order.
I agree with Vincent P Martin that people should not be afraid of democracy. But they shouldn’t fall for cut price accounts of it either, such as the one promoted in this article. A New Beginning that calls for a return to the old regime will be anything but.