There is a stunning lack of accountability in Ireland. It doesn’t have to be that way. Writing in today’s Irish Times, columnist Elaine Byrne recounts how an indignant and industrious Icelandic citizenry has peacefully and effectively achieved meaningful political change in the wake of the country’s financial crisis.
Demonstrations and mass protests, many organised by young people using social networking websites, have basically brought down a government and contributed to the establishment of a National Assembly, consisting of:
“Some 1,200 citizens randomly selected from the national register and 300 invited guests, including cabinet ministers and MPs, trade unions, representatives from the media and others, were brought together in a modern-style social partnership.
The task of the National Assembly, comprising 0.5 per cent of the population, was to plan a future vision for the country. People were asked what sort of society Iceland should now build in the aftermath of bankruptcy.”
Byrne is of course comparing Icelandic citizen activism to the lack of action in Ireland, where there have been no significant mass movements in the wake of the financial crisis. Irish people must be aware of what has gone on behind closed doors in government and banking circles. Last week’s Prime Time special on RTE revealed this sordid story in detail. The government’s solution to the financial crisis, NAMA, if it is even marginally effective, is more like a sticking plaster designed to hold the economic system together long enough to ride out the recession rather than a step towards meaningful change. No one seems to be asking people what sort of society Ireland should now build in the aftermath of bankruptcy. But neither are Irish citizens effectively communicating to their political leaders that they want a say in their future.
Also in today’s Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole writes that Irish people do have ‘choices in their public values,’ arguing that they should be grounded in sustainability, solidarity, security and sufficiency (enough is enough – and greed is not good). He recognises that these values could be described as socialist, or could be identified with many religious traditions.
In societies where religious institutions have not been closely aligned with the state, churches or other religious organisations have often been able to lead social change based on these values. This seems unrealistic in today’s Ireland, where the moral authority of the Catholic Church has been damaged almost beyond repair. Some religious groups, like the Council of Religious in Ireland (CORI), have attempted to critique Irish government policy from a Catholic social justice perspective. But CORI is often overlooked; or else their representatives are humoured by Fianna Fail politicians who then blithely ignore their concerns.
Last week, I wrote about an anonymous victim of clerical child abuse who wondered why the Irish people were not confronting an institution that had done so much damage. This week it is Byrne and O’Toole who are wondering why Irish people do not seem ready to use their democratic citizenship to challenge and change an economic system so that it is less risky and more just.