History: our comfort blanket? Saturday’s ICTU march

Contributed by A Guest Poster

Were many Pue’s readers at the ICTU demo last Saturday?  Did anyone notice the historic theme which ran through many of the speeches?

Union rallies are hardly a byword for entertainment.  A pilgrimage from Parnell Square to the Dáil is normally followed by a too long array of boring speeches delivered by the usual suspects.

This time it was different.

Fintan O’Toole was MC. His opening speech (here, courtesy of the IMPACT website) invoked the memory of 1913 and 1916, setting it in a civic republican perspective.  Is this, one thought, an attempt to out green Fianna Fail – always anxious to wrap themselves in the foundation myths of the state?  But he gave a brief lecture on civic values, based largely on his current book.

O’Toole returned to the historical theme when he suggested that one of the cuts made should be the year 2016 – suggesting we should go direct from 2015 to 2017 in order to avoiding the embarrassment of having the shame of having to commemorate the 1916 centenary – a novel proposal and one aimed at causing particular embarrassment to Fianna Fáil. 

The theme continued with the next speaker, actress Ruth McCabe (currently on Single Handed each Sunday night), who read extracts from the proclamation of 1916 and the democratic programme of 1919 to a crowd that listened in silence, occasionally applauding.  I don’t know whether the tremor in her voice at one point was genuine emotion or artistic effect but you could have heard a pin drop.

In his wrap-up speech David Begg referred to the 1916 proclamation and to our gallant allies in Europe’. He suggested that they had turned up 95 years too late bearing not the promised rifles but weapons of economic destruction.  This went down well among the crowd – although understanding the reference involves having a detailed knowledge of the history of 1916.  In his comment on the projected 6.75% interest rate Begg said that it was reminiscent of the actions of a highwayman and that ‘at least Dick Turpin had the good grace to wear a mask when relieving victims of their money’.

What are we to make of this use of history as we head into what the late Breandán Ó hÉithir called a put-them-out election? Who would have thought that three decades after the publication of Conor Cruise O Brien’s  States of Ireland, a supposedly post modern Dublin crowd would applaud the reading of the proclamation?  It would seem that the ‘revisionist’ historical narrative has hardly taken root at all in the popular imagination.

One last thing that I nearly forgot – as the demonstration broke up I overheard two union officials talking of the likelihood the Fianna Fáil would suffer the fate of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the 1918 election.


14 Responses to “History: our comfort blanket? Saturday’s ICTU march”

  1. Sarah Says:

    I was at the march on Saturday and the fear that I have with the use of 1913, and particularly 1916, in the current situation is that firstly, it detracts us from the question and problems at hand. Secondly, and more importantly, I fear that it may lead to racism. By stirring up images of what we believe it is to be ‘Irish’, we leave behind those ‘new Irish’ who contributed to our pseudo boom of the 1990s and 200s. How do they fit into the picture if we are regurgitating images from a hundred years ago? That’s not to say that we shouldn’t remember James Larkin and James Connolly at such events – we should. And I thought that it was important to remind everyone of the founding principles of this state and how they have been sold out. But in doing so, let us not forget that while the financial boom of the last decade may have been fake, the cultural boom wasn’t.

  2. puesoccurrences Says:

    I second Sarah’s last point – ‘let us not forget that while the financial boom of the last decade may have been fake, the cultural boom wasn’t’ – and agree with the dangers of exclusivity in defining nationality that this might imply. (Though we have to be very grateful that no right-wing party has appeared thus far in our midst.)

    But I would add that I find all of this ‘loss of sovereignty’, ‘is this what the boys of 1916 died for’ talk, etc, a little lazy. At times – and I include Fintan O’Toole’s appearance on the Frontline last week – it tends to over-generalisations, accustions and fist-clenching without ever getting us nearer to a constructive solution. If we were to properly look at some of the republican ideals of the early twentieth century, at the opportunity to embrace the poverty of all the mainstream political parties and the fact that we are now at a point of serious social change and take the chance to reform the political system into a proper social democracy (or at least prompt the emergence of a viable social democratic party), then that would be a good way to bring something new to these challenging times.

    While we have to recognise the formative importance of that early twentieth century period, there are times, I think, when it takes things too far. We *need* now to forge our own path based on the realities of the global economy and global society that we live in. If that happens as a result of drawing people together by listening to the proclamation and talking about Larkin and drawing from their ideals, all well and good. But to dwell too long on the past without putting forward a viable alternative future would be a terrible failure.


  3. Brian Hanley Says:

    I was there too. Invocations of Connolly and Larkin are fairly par for the course at Irish union events. The cynics like to point out that the more union leaders talk about them, the further they are away from anything like either their ideals, or their tactics.
    I was actually using the Democratic Programme in class last week because it’s demands for ‘unfettered control’ of Ireland’s destiny does strike a chord at the moment and because compared to the Proclamation, it’s not that well known.
    On the 1916 Proclamation I think we can take for granted that the ‘revisionist’ narrative has not taken root with most people.
    In terms of the left ‘out-greening’ Fianna Fáil, historically the trade union movement has always dealt rather better with that party in government than coalitions, despite the ICTU leadership’s nominal support for Labour. Indeed the 1980s Coalition era saw a lot of industrial strife, whereas social partnership was agreed under Fianna Fáil.
    A hint of things to come under a new coalition in 2011 perhaps?

  4. Joanne Says:

    Apparently 5187 signatures as I type…..and rising… http://fintanotoole.ie/petition/

  5. peter rigney Says:

    Your observer missed David Begg’s reference to the package as a Versaille treaty- a point taken up in today’s handlesblatt by Barry Eichengreen of Berkeley under the title ‘Ireland’s Reparations Burden’ translaation in the irish economy blog here


  6. Frank Says:

    Let’s also remember that Ireland can be defined as much by those who didn’t participate in the Irish revolution of the 1913-1923 period as by those who did. Indeed, many of those who took no active part in the struggle for Irish independence contributed greatly to the development of the new Irish state during the 1920s and onwards.

  7. Staying at home...again Says:

    Your point being Frank, that never mind the IMF or the banks, I’m not bloody well standing up for myself, no way. Not a striker nor a marcher, me. Well history is also made by those who don’t stay at home and future generations will say thanks to those who did stand up and say no.

  8. Frank Says:

    Oh dear, why does everyone have to be a striker or marcher or both in order to merit the consideration of history? Future generations may also thank those who quietly went about their daily business, raising a family and holding down a job while others striked and marched, as this is also required if we are to emerge from the economic mess that our politicians and bankers have landed us in.

  9. Captain Rock Says:

    ‘raising a family and holding down a job’ and going on marches and strikes are not mutually exclusive.

    • Anisio Says:

      there is a limit to taxing the ‘rich’. In any case, we don’t ralley know the full extent of income and wealth here or abroad. The data are all over the place and you have to wonder how much of it is ralley reported and counted. If want to press me to say that we have to raise taxes on the ‘non-rich’ (now who would they be?) I would raise my hand and say yeap. Local taxes, carbon taxes, higher marginal taxes, fewer tax reliefs – keep going until you had a whopping 10 percentage points in tax take to GDP …. and you get to the EU average – which is only an average of Sweden and Slovakia et al. So, keep going until you reach about 40% and you have closed the deficit. But, seriously I am not proposing to tax our way out of recession and still less to cut our way out. The best way is to grow our way out and that involves some extra borrowing, some extra taxes and some delay in payments to the NPRF. Any stimulus package needs to be very, very forensic like the GND stimulus package of 3% (Comhar) neglect to point out that our tax take as a % of GDP is at the bottom of the EU league. Even if we moved up towards the EU average of about 37% (and still remain low-tax) our public services will continue to remain sub-standard. Think of those children suffering as a result of a completely inadequate publicly-funded health service for various groups at risk (including children at risk of neglect and abuse). There are huge pockets of income and wealth that escape the revenue net for all sorts of reasons. An injection of 7bn, alone, in the banks to recapitalise just shows that when it comes to the economy and the banks’ money is no problem. Taxing the rich is part of the answer. Other elements are raising local and national taxes on those who can afford to pay, widening the tax base, reforming the public service, drawing on cash at the NTMA, pursuing imaginative funding solutions through European level (e.g. European Recovery Bonds). We don’t need to cut, our already inadequate, public spending bill. Rather we need to redirect it by reducing waste and big salaries and increasing areas that are under-invested. The alternative is deflation which as the ESRI now admits will prolong the recession. The Dublin Consensus has only one policy target in mind reduce public liabilities and assets and crown in a competitive market position by reducing wage income and restoring profitability and it has only one policy instrument in mind cut, deflate and privitise.I would propose the following:Fast-tracking reform of taxation by immediately ending all tax breaks and non-standardised tax relief except where there is an immediate administrative or economic imperative to do otherwise;Introduce a new top rate of income tax on all incomes over a particular threshold;Shift to consumption energy-using taxes over a three year period beginning now;Raise Corporate taxes to 15% and peg it at this level for five years;Introduce property taxes on second homes as well as property over 1million;Fast-track local revenue raising and linking these explicitly to local services where people can see where their tax money is going (early childhood care, local health centres, community facilities);As part of a selective and targeted stimulus package, fast-track those elements of the Capital Programme that are labour-intensive and that will yield quick gains in terms of schools, early childhood centres, hospital facilities and social housing there is evidence that the income multiplier effects from such a targeted package would be significantFrom within the recapitalisation fund given to banks, take measures to ring-fence an emergency credit fund for otherwise viable businesses in danger of going bustImmediately terminate the inequitable and costly hospital co-location policy.

  10. Frank Says:

    Maybe so Captain Rock but it all depends on individual family circumstances. Anyway people shouldn’t be automatically pilloried just because they decide not to march or strike. Unless we prefer to live in a dictatorial state where marching and striking are obligatory.

  11. Captain Rock Says:

    To go on strike, it is of course necessary to have a job. We don’t live in a dictatorial state, though if one was proposed I resume striking and marching might be a way to stop it?

  12. Captain Rock Says:

  13. David Evans Says:

    David Begg is one of those people at whom I gasp in amazement when I read another yet report of a speech by him lambasting those financial wizards who have bankrupted the country. This is a man who sat on the board of the Central Bank during the worst excesses by bankers, whose duty was to oversee prudent banking activity. He seems to think that his position was a sinecure, without responsibility, and awarded simply by virtue of his trade union standing.
    He has some neck ironically blaming ‘our gallant allies in Europe’ for helping us with ‘economic weapons of destruction’ for our current troubles. Blame lies not only with profligate bankers, developers and politicians; it lies also with all those who were appointed to positions of responsibility to prevent such activity but who were either asleep on the job, or, more likely, who were just not capable of taking on the role.
    And as for the rabble who cheer his every word when he castigates all in sight – don’t even let me get started!

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