Ireland after COVID19: Unite the Union’s ‘Hope or Austerity’ road map

Nine workers, dressed in black, at least two metres apart, wearing masks are facing the camera outside of a Debenhams shop, beneath the store's sign, which is white writing on a black background.
Debenhams’s workers (members of Mandate) protest at shop closures and layoffs 21 April 2020

To date 3.6 million people worldwide have been infected by Covid-19, with over a quarter of a million (258,000) dying from the respiratory illness that attacks the lungs and airways. From December 2019 the virus travelled from its original source in southern China to all of Asia, Europe and the rest of the world in the space of two months, resulting in the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring a global pandemic at the end of January. The pandemic has forced governments the world over to close their economies and lockdown their societies.

With more than four fifths of workers globally living in countries affected by full or partial lockdowns, a global public health crisis is leading to a global economic recession, with the International Labour Organisation stating that 6.7% of working hours globally have been wiped out in the second quarter of this year alone – equivalent to 195 million jobs worldwide. The global economy is in recession and may yet head into an economic depression.

Here in Ireland, north and south, there have been 22,248 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 1,375 deaths (6 May 2020). In the south we have spent the past five weeks effectively living in lockdown, instructed by state authorities to stay indoors, to go no further than a radius of 2km (now 5km as of 5 May) for our daily exercise and only engage in essential consumption – our weekly grocery shop.

The Irish economy has been deliberately shut down by the government: 598,000 people have lost their jobs, with another 427,000 people having their wages paid via a state subsidy; tax revenues are projected to shrink by 14 billion this year, and in their spring forecast the European Commission predicts that the Irish economy will shrink by 8% this year. It took more than two years during the last national crisis – the financial crisis of 2008 – for such numbers to develop, this time round it has happened in a little over two months.

The world has been rocked by the coronavirus, peoples’ lives have been turned upside down; shock, grief, fear and anxiety caused by pandemic and its economic consequences have left millions people reeling, with many feeling vulnerable and isolated. Ideal circumstances for the ruling class, the multinational corporations and their local political allies to take advantage and pursue a shock doctrine response to this global pandemic: to force the cost of the crisis onto the backs of the working class worldwide, to push more privatisation and deregulation, to further increase their wealth, power and influence.

We refuse to repeat the sacrifices of 2008

So whilst we have to remain physically distant we must remain socially close and politically critical. Some would want us to suspend not only our parliamentary democracy (with caretaker Fine Gael ministers last month bemoaning the convening of Dáil Éireann), but our critical faculties also. The old trick from the last crisis, the call to ‘don the green jersey’ in ‘the national interest’ as ‘we’re all in this together’ as a way to stifle criticism and suppress political debate has been used again during this crisis but this time it is not working.

People have lived with the consequences of the political decisions taken during the financial crisis of 2008 for more than a decade now, indeed the decade of austerity and the massive transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich resulted in the state being ill-prepared for the outbreak of such a pandemic and will likely mean that our societal and economic lockdown will last longer than many other countries.

The ease with which the cost of the financial crisis of 2008, resultant bank bailout and decade of austerity was foisted upon the people was in large part due to the lack of real opposition from the trade union movement. Insofar as there was opposition, small and sporadic though it was, it arose through the efforts of the small radical left parties. This was not effective in stopping the austerity. It was not until an alliance of trade unions, community groups and left parties formed to fight the water charges that a movement of critical size and power emerged to oppose one item on the austerity agenda.

This cannot be allowed to happen again. The trade union movement has to become the dominant force that shapes the response to the Covid-19 crisis to ensure that workers, families and communities throughout Ireland are not forced to pay for yet another crisis not our their making .

Unite the Union’s response to Ireland’s post COVID-19 economy

To that end, the Unite trade union recently commissioned the left-wing economist, writer and activist Conor McCabe to produce an analysis of what has happened to date and to sketch a socially just, economic fair and environmentally transformative pathway forward out of the economic and societal crisis we are currently living through, a document intended by the author to be ‘a tool to feed into the conversations we are having and the strategies and tactics we will pursue’ so that the Left does not ‘allow the right-wing and neoliberal voices in Ireland to dominate and shape the pathway out of the current crisis’.

You can read the Hope or Austerity document here.

Independent Left commends Unite for taking the initiative in commissioning the document Hope or Austerity as too often the Left is reactive rather than proactive. Indeed as the author notes ‘we cannot build the future we need unless we plan and fight for it’. In times of crisis we need clear thinking, critical analysis and robust debate, which this document provides.

Of course the crisis is evolving and as the author himself stated during a Unite May Day lecture it is a working document, written to feed into an on-going process of critical discussion and debate. There are parts that need expansion, like childcare and home care, and others that need to challenged, like the normalisation of the regressive and dysfunctional Local Property Tax.

Independent Left recommends a close reading of the document, welcomes the opening of discussion and aims to be a part of the comradely yet critical debates ahead as together we debate the best tactics and strategies to purse as we struggle for a better world.

The Quiet Collapse of the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter

By Councillor John Lyons, Independent Left

Painted illustration of the north side of Parnell Square, Hugh Lane at the centre with imagined colourful stalls along a pedestrianised street.
The plan for beautiful new cultural quarter for Parnell Square is faltering due to the failure of the private-wealth approach

A beautiful new library, part of an ambitious new cultural quarter encompassing places for learning, literature, music, innovation and enterprise, inter-culturalism and design, to be located at Parnell Square Dublin 1, was in store for Dublin and Dubliners. The Central Library in the Ilac Shopping Centre has its charm but this new library was to be something else, a civic space fitting for a twenty-first century capital city, especially one designated UNESCO City of Literature.

The Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, a 11,000 m2 development comprising a new city library and a range of social and cultural facilities –  a music centre, a design space, an innovation hub, a business library, a 200 seat conference space, an education centre, a café and an exhibition area – was to be Dublin City Council’s major flagship development, regenerating the north inner city as well as providing a new focus and destination at the northern end of O’Connell Street.

The  proposed  development was to include  work  to  the  existing  Georgian  houses  at  23  to  28 Parnell  Square  North  as  well  as  a  dramatic  new  building  to  the  rear  of  these  houses.  It included  20 and 21 Parnell Square  North and would have seen the creation of a new public plaza along Parnell Square North. It was intended that Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane would form part of the overall  Parnell Square Cultural Quarter offering and its role and impact would be expanded by the development of the new facilities. Magnificent!

I have supported this wonderful civic vision for Parnell Square over the last five years but with one recurring reservation: the funding model deployed to transform the vision into a reality was predicated upon 55% of the entire cost of the project coming through philanthropic channels. Yes, the rich Irish elite were going to be approached to cough up some of the money they save through our rather elite-friendly taxation system.

Alas, it was not to be. Unlike the Scottish-American millionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who provided £170,000 between 1897 and 1913 to fund an entire network of libraries in Ireland (some 80 in total, 63 of which are still standing today), the millionaires and billionaires in twenty-first century Ireland appear disinterested in the kind of philanthropic activity Carnegie was involved in over one hundred years ago.

Parnell Square Cultural Quarter too Dependent on Private Capital

“Destined to fail,” some said; “bizarre”, said others; “doomed”, declared many. “Why the hell can’t we just fund it ourselves?” asked many more.

The cost of the project was estimated (in August 2019) to be in the region of €131 million. According to Dublin City Council’s executive Owen Keegan, a “unique feature of this project  is that Kennedy Wilson Europe Limited agreed,  on a pro bono basis, to assist the delivery of the project by providing seed capital to get the project through design, costing and final planning, leading the effort  to  raise the required  level  of private donations to  fully  fund  the  project and providing expertise to assist in the management of the project.”

This strange funding structure would have seen 55% of that funding raised via philanthropic donation(s) secured through the efforts of one of the largest private property landlords in the city. The rich folk of the city, and perhaps the country, were going to don the blue jersey and stump up the millions, with Dublin City Council agreeing to finance the other 45%.

Agreeing to allow US property speculator Kennedy Wilson take responsibility for fundraising over 50% of the cost of the new Dublin City Library at Parnell Square appeared like a particularly unusual way for Dublin City Council to go about raising the capital funds required for one of the capital city’s cultural flagship developments.

During my five years to date as an elected representative on Dublin City Council, however, I have become used to proposals which involve a heavy dose of the private sector: from housing construction, waste collection, water and sanitation to grass-cutting, housing maintenance, the involvement of private contractors is ubiquitous. The city council’s capacity to deliver these services has shrivelled through years of austerity and privatisation.

When asked by myself and other elected representatives why we couldn’t fund the project fully ourselves, whilst pointing to the obvious dangers of relying on private donations to raise over half the cost of the development, we were assured by city council officials that this was the best way to go about it.

So the Parnell Square Foundation, comprised of City Council officials and Kennedy Wilson representatives was established in 2013 to oversee the project. And according to city council report from July 2019, “considerable  progress has been made  over the past seven years… In particular,  all  the required buildings  have  been  brought  into  City  Council  ownership,  substantial  support  for  the  City Council’s vision  for Parnell Square  North  has been generated,  a world class design  has  been procured and full planning permission for the proposed development has been obtained from An Bord Pleanála.”

But here comes the “however”: Dublin City Council manager Keegan goes on to state in the same report that, “I have now been  advised, following work undertaken by a consultant engaged  by  Kennedy Wilson on behalf of the Foundation, that the required private fundraising could take over 3 years and that there is no guarantee it will be successful.” (My italics). The consultant’s interim report identified a number of potential obstacles to a successful fundraising campaign for the project including the following:

– the scale of funding required for the project relative to the sums raised previously for cultural projects in Ireland from national and international donors,

–  the fact that the Foundation has no previous donor base to act as project champions,

–  the intense competition for  philanthropic funding from high profile national cultural projects based in Dublin, which have already secured significant State funding and

– the fact that libraries have a lower affinity score with private donors than the arts generally. 

The rich ain’t interested, national government is nowhere to be seen or heard, and so the city council is left to pick up the pieces. Predictable but nonetheless devastating for the city of Dublin.

What Happens Now for the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter?

So where to now? Keegan proposes to proceed with the new library but to delay the redevelopment of the five Georgian buildings which were to house the new Cultural Quarter Education Centre, the Music Centre, the Design Space, the InterCultural Hub and the public realm works, thus effectively abandoning the wonderful civic vision for Parnell Square in favour of a piecemeal development.

Just. Not. Good. Enough.

So I have tabled the following motion to Dublin City Council in the hope that the entire Parnell Square Cultural Quarter vision can be saved and developed as one project, as initially conceived:

The elected members of this city council call on national government to include in this year’s Dublin City Council Capital Programme the necessary central exchequer funding to ensure that the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, Dublin City Council’s major flagship civic development, proceeds in its entirety as envisioned in the planning permission granted by An Bord Pleanala in May of this year, namely the entire 11,000m2 development comprising a new city library, a range of cultural, education, musical and exhibition spaces and the enhancement of the public realm.

For More Information on the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, see here.

Property Developer Bypasses Clongriffin Residents

Gannon Homes use multiple proposals to ‘develop’ Clongriffin Town centre to circumvent community input and calls for health and sports amenities

By Independent Left Councillor John Lyons

So this is the Irish planning system in action: Gannon Homes wants to construct 1,970 residential units in Clongriffin, along with some office and commercial space yet they have lodged three separate planning applications to two different bodies: An Bord Pleanala and Dublin City Council, thus making it a near-impossible task to engage in a proper planning dialogue with regard to the planning vision for the entirety of this area, Clongriffin Town Centre.

The First Strategic Housing Development application is to An Bord Pleanala: 1,030 apartments (352 residential, 678 Build to Rent units), 2 creches, 10 retail units and all associated site works.

The Second Strategic Housing Development application is also to An Bord Pleanala: 500 apartments (235 residential, 265 build to rent), creche and all associated site works.

The third application is to Dublin City Council: The development will consist of the construction of a mixed-use development comprising of 420 apartment units.

This multiple submission tactic completely disadvantages residents, community associations and elected representatives from having their voices heard in the planning system.

It also leads to a sense of fragmentation: our city council Local Area Plan for Clongriffin and the wider Dublin City Development Plan appear lost in this new process.

Who is in charge of taking a wider and longer view of planning in this area? Who ensures that the long-term objectives of creating a sustainable and vibrant mixed-use town in actually achieved here in Clongriffin?

The Strategic Housing Development (SHD) fast-track process is the most anti-democratic move made by Fine Gael, at the behest of property developers, in recent years: any proposals to build 100+ houses or 200+ student accommodation bedspaces bypasses Dublin City Council as the Planning Authority and goes straight to An Bord Pleanála (ABP).

We’ve seen what that means in the radical revision of Dublin City Council’s plans for the Chiver’s Factory site.

Property developers have the government in their pockets: the planning system and thus the city of Dublin is being reshaped in its profit-making image, with a housing and homelessness crisis; a bubble in office construction; a dearth of community and artistic spaces and in the case of Clongriffin, the construction of a soul-less apartment complex-dominated dormitory town rather than the creation of vibrant mixed-use town, as was originally envisaged for this area.

And lastly, in order for your voice to heard in all three of these applications, you will have to cough up 60 euro (20 quid per application). Sure why not?

Not only is our voice drowned out by profit-seeking property developers and their government and civil service cronies but we get fleeced at the same time.

Development Plan for Chivers’ Factory Site, Coolock: Fine Gael backs Greed.

By Councillor John Lyons, Independent Left

Interview between Pat Kenny and myself, for Newstalk, 22 October 2019.

The Fine Gael pro-developer planning system in action: we on Dublin City Council rezoned the old Chivers’ factory site in Coolock from industrial to residential in October 2017 on the advice of the following assessment from DCC’s planners:

‘It is acknowledged that this unit has been vacant for a significant period of time and that the site may not have future potential as an industrial factory type unit. Give the location of the site, particular adjacent to the Santry River and conservation area, and current access off a residential street, a residential redevelopment of the site is considered appropriate in principle.’

Myself and all other North Central area councillors rezoned the land to allow for residential development but we were promised affordable housing and sensible density: 350 affordable units at reasonable heights.

The developer briefed local councillors and held meetings in the local community to inform people of their plans: 350 units at appropriate heights of no more than five storeys.

Fine Gael, however, made two significant changes to the planning system during this time, namely the fast-tracking Strategic Housing Development process which facilitates developers building more than 100 units by-passing the local authority as the planning authority and going straight to An Bord Plenala, which leaves no room for appeal once a planning decision has been reached.

Fine Gael have allowed the former Chiver’s Factory, Coolock, to become the location of ten-floor high rises

The second change to the planning system was the issuing of new departmental guidelines on building heights, released in December 2018 which totally ripped up our City Development Plan regulations on heights and opened the door to developers to lodge planning applications involving outrageous new heights, like the one at the Chivers’ site.

When we were presented with the proposal, the idea was that the developer would build four apartment blocks, none of which would be more than five stories high. Now, the developers, Platinum, have announced that the maximum height of the apartment blocks will be ten stories high. This has come about as a result of the Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, removing height restrictions on plans, rendering our efforts to ensure a sustainable and reasonable development meaningless.

The efforts of Independent Left Councillor John Lyons along with others on DCC have been rendered meaningless by the Fine Gael Minister for Housing.

It is a very poor planning decision, allowing blocks of apartments eight and nine storeys high in a low-rise residential area.

Yet the only recourse available to anyone not happy with the decision is a judicial review in the courts, which can only challenge how the decision was reached and can costs tens of thousands of euros.

Fine Gael is quite clearly allowing Dublin to be shaped by the interests of private capital, and to hell with the communities.

Councillor John Lyons of Independent Left calls for original plan for Chivers site to be honoured

A satellite image of the area, marked in red, of the former Chivers factory, now earmarked for a high-rise development by Platinum Land Ltd. Nearby labels show the position of Greencastle Road, Coolock Drive, Northside Retail Park, Cadbury's and Oscar Traynor Road.
Unrestrained greed will create a disproportionate development on the old Chivers’ factory site, with harmful consequences for traffic, public transport and local amenities

On 21 October, I called on Platinum Land Ltd to scrap their development plans at that afternoon’s meeting of Dublin City Council North Central Area Committee in Coolock

I am seeking a full explanation from Andrew Gillick of Platinum Ltd as to why they shifted from their original intention of building 350 apartments in four blocks of varying heights of no more than five storeys to what was disgracefully granted planning permission by An Bord Pleanala, namely 471 apartments in blocks eight and nine storeys high.

The planning application lodged by Platinum Land was an outrageous insult to the local community in Coolock who have been disgracefully deceived by the developers. Over the last year, Platinum met with the local community and elected representatives, promising that their plan for the former factory site would be a sensible one that integrated the new development into the existing wider low-rise residential community in a sustainable way.

What the people in Coolock now face is a proposed development, given the green light by a highly politicised An Bord Pleanala, that will destroy the visual character of Coolock by allowing blocks of flats eight and nine storeys high in an area predominantly of two-storey houses. This will create an eye-sore that will blight the community for decades to come.

Questions will also be asked about the wisdom of squeezing 471 apartments on a site originally earmarked to have just 350 apartments.

It would appear that the greed of the developer has trumped their promises to the local community and they seem to have little regard for the damage their proposed development will inflict on the area.

This is why I am formally requesting that Platinum Land Ltd revert to their original plan of providing 350 apartments on the site.

I will also demand that they consult with the local community at the earliest possible date.

Irish state prefers funding middle class hockey pitches over working class sports facilities

By Councillor John Lyons, Independent Left

Glin Sports Centre during the European schools championship. Family and friends gather to watch to matches.
Glin Sports Centre Coolock, during the European schools boxing championship.

I was in the Glin Sports Centre in Coolock on 11 August to watch the fantastic young boxer from Kilmore, Ava Henry, fight in the final of a European Championship in Georgia.

Ava is an incredibly talented young person, hardworking and dedicated too. She won the silver medal although we all thought she had won the fight.

An amazing achievement for a twelve-year-old, who will only get better. An All Ireland champion boxer who today became a European silver medalist. Fantastic.

The tremendous success generally by Ireland’s young boxers and the enthusiasm and inspiration that brings to their peers is evidence that even modest amounts of state investment in sports goes a long way. What a shame though, that our ‘independents’ in government go along with the way that Fine Gael favour middle and upper-class kids when it comes to these investments.

Remember this?

Wesley hockey pitch
Shane Ross gives €150,000 to a fee-paying school in his constituency

Last year, not only did Shane Ross give Wesley, a fee-paying school in his constituency, €150,000, he did the same for Loreto Beaufort, another elitist school. This at a time when many state schools don’t even have a sports area. How often do we see schoolkids playing on the tarmac of car parks?

Wesley College, by the way, has two resurfaced hockey pitches, along with two cricket pitches, one for soccer, four for rugby, two more basketball courts and for indoor sports: a gymn and a major hall.

As I said at the time of an upsurge in local gangland killings in Coolock: “We need a task-force established that will be responsible for monitoring the work of the various government departments, state agencies and community groups that have a role to play in tackling the many problems faced by people in the area.” And part of that solution is to invest at least as heavily in the facilities for working class kids as the state does for the rich.

Councillor John Lyons on an Independent Left Canvass in Darndale

By Councillor John Lyons, Independent Left

Independent Left were canvassing in Darndale today (31 July 2019). A great community but one faced with a couple of particularly difficult issues.

I’ve promised to work with people in the times ahead to ensure that the community is a safe and peaceful place for everyone living, working, struggling in the area.

Great to see the new fishing club up in the park, a positive end to the canvass.

Check out my video report.

Stand up to Racism: Isolate the Far-Right in Ireland

Racism is a tool used by the far-right to divide us

By Councillor John Lyons, Independent Left

Across most of Europe, far-right parties have a strong presence, with parties like National Rally in France (formerly the Front National), Matteo Salvini’s League in Italy, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, the anti-Islam Freedom party in Holland and Golden Dawn in Greece. In Ireland, despite several attempts to get a racist project off the ground, the far-right have so far faltered. In part, this is because historically the racist agenda in Ireland has been linked to a very conservative Catholic agenda, which is in retreat from the spirit of our recent times.

It would be a mistake, however, for the left to be complacent. It is clear that the fears of a fragile middle class and the misplaced anger of marginalised working class communities could potentially provide a constituency for an Irish far-right movement.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community offer a version of Islam that rejects terrorism and advocates the separation of mosque and state. They own a mosque on the Old Ballybrit Road, Galway and this has been a focus for racist activity for some years. Early on Monday 29 July, an incident took place that demonstrated the existence of people who would organise a far-right party here and what that would mean for Muslims and other minority groups in Ireland. The Iman’s office was broken into and wrecked, with his family photographs and books scattered onto the street. The attackers were careful to take the security equipment.

Smashed window at the Ahmadiyya mosque, Galway

Understandably, this has, according to M.A. Malik, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association of Ireland, terrified the local Muslim community.

Two years ago, on 5 June 2017, Just after eleven p.m., while many of their members were inside for prayer, the windows of the same mosque were smashed in by rocks. This attack followed a spate of anti-Muslim graffiti in the city.

The link behind these attacks was made explicit to the Iman, Ibrahim Noonan, who received an anonymous call three months ago in which two far-right groups operating in Ireland were mentioned (along with the name of Tommy Robinson).

Currently, such sinister figures are relatively isolated and after both attacks, a broad swathe of the local community rallied around the Ahmadiyya Community. Galway Anti-Racism Network is an important force for organising the support that exists for Muslims and asylum seekers. And for those wanting to donate to the mosque, there is currently a charity 5k event that you can support.

Iman Ibrahim Noonan, members of the Ahmadiyya community, Galway Anti-Racism Network and others showing support in 2017

In response to the recent attack, on my Facebook page I said:

Last November a hotel earmarked for those seeking international protection was burnt out in Moville Donegal, another in Rooskey Roscommon last January and now an attack on a mosque in Galway.
Hateful crimes each one of them, and the target in each instance were minorities – refugees and a Muslim community – often attacked by mainstream politicians and the far-right right across the world as the source of their particular society’s ills.
Nothing could be further from the truth but hate never lets facts get in the way.
We must condemn every attack, verbal and physical, we must stand with our sisters and brothers against the forces of division, hate and violence.

It was quite incredible but yet somewhat inevitable how quickly my post yesterday in support of those at the receiving end of anti-immigrant and anti-Islam attacks degenerated into a thread of nonsensical, ‘Look After Our Own First’ crap. Admittedly, it was only a handful of Facebook users but enough to distract from the main message of my original post.

To diminish or dismiss the lived realities of people facing attacks because of the colour of their skin, place of origin or religious faith is a kind of violence that can slowly corrupt a society.

The problems people face in the twenty-first century, in Ireland and elsewhere, in securing decent, affordable housing, having a job that pays well and is secure, getting their kids through school, accessing high quality health care when needed, are problems created by a capitalist economic system that benefits a tiny elite and leaves the rest of us fighting over the scraps.

Focusing your anger at austerity and the gross global inequalities in wealth and income on immigrants or Muslims lets the billionaires and millionaires, and their politician flunkies, off the hook.

We need to unite and fight for a better world for all.

Ireland and Palestine: the Destruction of Palestinian Homes Shows Why We Support the Occupied Territories Bill

By Independent Left Councillor John Lyons

Palestinian children during demonstrations against Palestinian land confiscation.

On Monday 22 July 2019, about a thousand Israeli soldiers and border police entered the village of Sur Baher and set about demolishing buildings in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Wadi al-Hummus. Two families, totalling 17 people, of whom 11 are children, lost their homes.

Ir Amim, is an Israeli NGO that believes there has been an increase in this kind of destruction of homes. Their figures are that Israel demolished 63 Palestinian homes in the first half of 2019, while the same period in 2018 witnessed 37 demolitions.

The EU did make a statement on the matter, making the point that this policy undermined the prospects for a lasting peace.

As I responded on Facebook:

For decades the state of Israel has been violating the human rights of Palestinians and consistently breaching international law as it does yet it has never faced any serious consequences for its illegal actions so its latest act of brutality was never going to be stopped by the EU “urging” Israel to halt the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. They just went ahead and did what they do best, destroying the homes and lives of ordinary Palestinian families without fear of sanction.

These incidents help explain why Independent Left give wholehearted support to Senator Francis Black and her Occupied Territories Bill.

The bill seeks to prohibit the import and sale of goods, services and natural resources originating in illegal settlements in occupied territories. Such settlements are illegal under both international humanitarian law and domestic Irish law, and result in human rights violations on the ground. Despite this, Ireland and other EU Member States provide continued economic support through trade in settlement goods.

The legislation has been prepared with the support of Trócaire, Christian-Aid, Amnesty International and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), and applies to settlements in occupied territories where there is clear international legal consensus that they violate international law. The clearest current example is the Israeli occupation and expansion of settlements in the Palestinian ‘West Bank’, which have been repeatedly condemned as illegal by the UN, EU, the International Court of Justice and the Irish Government.

Frances Black speaking at the UN on behalf of her proposal to sanction goods, services and natural resources from the Occupied Territories in Palestine.

Stop Water Privatisation: Round Two

By John Lyons

Right2WaterIreland identify ‘excessive usage charges’ as a tool for the privatisation of water

As Right2Water have recently posted, the announcement on 17 July 2019 by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities that excessive usage charges will be imposed on households that waste water is the beginning of a new battle which will see the government attempt to reintroduce the hated water charges in a new form.

Do they really want to go there again? The people have spoken, marched, boycotted, voted, marched and then marched and boycotted some more.

The Irish establishment, the supposed elite group of middle and upper class professionals and politicians, legal minds and media folk, despised the water movement because it was a great movement of the working class, middle and low income people fighting back and winning.

So they are sore, are coming back at it and are determined not to be dictated to on this issue ever again by the “ordinary people”.

They think the sting has gone out of the issue: yes, the political class paid a price in the local and European elections in 2014 and the general election in 2016, but they now feel that they have recovered and to a certain degree they have.

The Greens did well in the recent local and European elections and they favour water charges; the Labour Party did alright for themselves and they are in favour of water charges; Fianna Fail and Fine Gael had good local and European election results and are most certainly in favour of water charges.

Meanwhile the political parties of the Left and Sinn Fein, those that fought hard opposing the water charges, performed very poorly in the recent elections.

So the establishment think that the people have fallen into a slumber, are ripe for a little bit of “water wasting” propaganda, will accept the introduction of a charge for “excessive usage” and will ultimately see as inevitable the re-introduction of water charges.

They think this is their time, an opportune moment in which to begin a new battle to introduce water charges and ultimately privatise our water.

They are mistaken. Being out of touch with working class communities, they think we will be easily deceived as to the true nature of ‘excess usage charges’. Having underestimated the insight and determination of Irish workers, they will lose this battle. And Independent Left looks forward to playing our part in ensuring this.

Tracker Scandal: Bankers Evade Jail Despite Being Thieves

By John Lyons

When you hear, ‘regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland’, think, ‘given license to do as they please.’

The final report from the Central Bank’s Tracker Mortgage Examination  makes grim reading. The tracker scandal reveals yet again the power of Irish bankers, as not one single individual banker will be held responsible for the decisions they made to rip-off their customers. And when finally forced to admit their wrong-doing, their criminal behaviour, they did their best to minimise the amount of compensation they would have to pay out.

And some consumer affairs organisations claim that the report does not go far enough: that there are still hundreds of families who have not be restored to the correct tracker rates.

Will there be any legal consequences for those individuals in the banks who made the decision to rip-off their customers? It appears not.

And the 99 families who lost their homes through no fault of their own? No amount of money can compensate them for the stress and strain they must have endured.

By the end of May, the banks had paid out €683m in compensation. Overwhelmingly the banks involved in robbing their customers are the big five, 98% of those affected were customers of AIB, Bank of Ireland, KBC Bank Ireland, Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank.

We are talking about at least 40,100 customer accounts affected. And while it might seem that the banks are now contrite, effectively, they have gotten the taxpayer to recompense the victims of their cynical practices, since the State remains a significant owner of AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB. To the €64 billion bailout bill, we can add most of this one.

When you think about the stress of having a bank chase you for additional money that you never calculated on owing, when you think about the relationships that could not cope and especially when you think about the slick way in which these burdens were imposed, totally without justification, then the payouts are in fact low. This is especially the case for the 99 families whose average recompense was €194,000.

The problem for the banks, post-2008, is that they had made a mistake with tracker mortgages. For once, the deal favoured the customer. But the customer can’t be allowed to win. ‘Choice’ in the marketplace of mortgages is illusory. It is only a matter of minor variation and in all circumstances, as far as the bankers were concerned, they must be able to squeeze the mortgage holder.

So they broke their own contracts and their own rules and by bullying or by sleight of hand, forced thousands of people off their tracker mortgages.

There are so many lessons in this scandal about how Irish capitalism really works, it is hard to know where to start. But the takeaway is surely this, that when we lift the rock, we can see the insects crawling around. The report might not go far enough but it does allow us to see how the financial elite operate. it has exposed a world that we don’t normally get to see and which is one where the drive for profit is dominant, even if that means theft by people who pose as utterly respectable.