Is the Left being slowly being displaced by a new form of ‘Irish Poujadisme’?

Before I draw in for the weekend, there’s a very good piece by Noel Whelan in the Irish Times (€!) from yesterday which is well worth mentioning… It’s on the nature of protest, and its legitimate limits.

In the tail of the piece he also raises another more political question, which he directs at the left-led protests against the installation of water meters in the Republic: which is about the protection of workers going about their business.

First Whelan’s take on the precise nature of the judgement this week which sent four citizens to jail for contempt of court:

The court found some of the incidents were being carefully orchestrated to generate and provoke civil disobedience, in contrast to the actions of the many people who have carried out peaceful protests against water charges.

The court said video evidence showed “distinct small groups of people persistently move in around and encircle the workers who are attempting to install water meters”.

Again this week the judge offered those imprisoned the opportunity to be released by purging their contempt.
These four were sent to jail not because they protested against water meters or water charges but because they harassed workers.

They remain in jail only because they refuse to give an undertaking not to continue to do so.

Then he goes on to muse:

One would expect politicians of the left to welcome this court decision as a vindication of the rights of ordinary workers to go about their jobs without undue interference. Such is the convoluted logic of some of those now most prominent on the left wing of our politics, however, that the opposite has been the case.

Now, there is a tradition particularly on the left though not exclusively so, that unjust laws may be resisted using otherwise unjust means. Whole nations have broken away and set up their independence because of the unjust nature of taxation.

Is the water charge unjust? Well, of course that’s a matter of perspective.

The government has been forced to set it so low it’s hard to see it as burden. In fact it is so low that it cannot possibly cover the enormous cost of the capital expenditure needed to modernise Ireland’s crumbling water infrastructure.

Paradoxically, this induces a cynical response in a population whose marginal tax rate is already a massive 52%. Water charges are the classic straw breaking a lot of impatient backs.

I suspect the underlying problem is cultural, and twofold:

  • One, as a small independent nation less than 100 years old Ireland has had to live on its wits, and has barely had the time and resources, never mind the democratic space to ‘think’ collectively ahead.
  • Two, the country’s pre EU solution to economic infrastructure problems, by and large, was to ignore them, since for the most part it didn’t have the resources to invest in them.

With the Tiger years, expectations have grown immensely. As have the major centres of population.

It’s no longer a case of bringing isolated farms onto the grid (many of whom are already serviced by local water schemes which run independently of Irish Water) but making sure the established network doesn’t fall apart under increased demand in the urban growth centres.

Here’s the puzzle for me. For all the often pious talk of making Ireland more like Sweden, where tax rates are high and public goods freely invested in, there appears to be no practicable political plan forthcoming from those who advocate such for how to make it so.

Indeed much of the angry leftist activism which led these men to be jailed has a strange gloss (actually more than a gloss) of French rightist Poujadisme, in which the Irish state is projected as “rapetout et inhumain” (“thieving and inhuman”).

Which prompts the question of who, if not the left, will take up the task of establishing a popular compact for building a new set of sustainably Irish public goods?

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  • willie drennan

    Yes indeed. It’s not just an Irish issue – often in Britain the Far Left do seem like the Far Right. And yes indeed – who is going to pay for water infrastructure in both ROI and NI?

  • “If not the left” – I don’t think the thinking of those on the left should be dismissed because Noel Whelan disapproves of their actions. There are two issues here: one, the tactics adopted by some of those opposed to water charges (and remember that many of them have made the point that the minimal charges now are the thin end of the wedge) and the whole question of how to build a society based on values espoused by the left. I think the second is too big for my small head; the first is muddied by the energetic efforts by those opposed to protestors to place emphasis on this alleged loony element in the protest movement and so scare off middle-of-the-road protestors.

  • Gingray

    Ultimately Jude however, Ireland north and south have crumbling infrastructure – Micks right about that. The only way to fix it is by bringing in more money, and that means tax increases for all. If packaged properly I think the public would buy it – a 1c increase for all that will go directly into an infrastructure fund to fix the roads and water.

    But no politician or party will make that call and it just gets worse. Not unique to Ireland either, England and moreso the USA are creaking

  • PaulT


    One, as a small independent nation less than 100 years old Ireland has had to live on its wits, and has barely had the time and resources, never mind the democratic space to ‘think’ collectively ahead.

    Really, so this would have been an issue for an independent Scotland as well I presume, don’t remember it been mentioned during the Red debates

  • mickfealty

    I’m only taking Noel’s point about what the law was trying to do in this case (which was to prevent further harm being caused to the workers installing the water meters) and making my own quite separate point, which is specifically about the creation of sustainable public goods.

    Noel was not making any such point.

    I think a trip to any of the Nordic countries would be very useful to see how these things are done. Make no mistake, it can be. But you really, really need to want to make it happen.

  • Fair enough, Mick. Although I have a nagging feeling that the protestors might have right on their side. If you take the installers going about their business and entitled to do so in isolation, fine. But if you take the installation as part of a process towards privatization (which it is) maybe not so black and white. ‘Further harm’ suggests they were attacked. I don’t remember hearing about that.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    And to extend Mick’s suspicion that the underlying problem is cultural it is useful to look at the culture of Scandinavia before aiming to model ROI on it. Scandinavia is Lutheran which holds that the further one places oneself from the centre along a polarity the closer one gets to the position that one was reacting against. In other words, 2 opposites can come half circle.
    There is in Ireland a mixture of cultural models and aspirations, not least an Anglo Saxon one. Ireland’s former rejection of its colonial past has presented it with a significant number of dilemmas and a weak sense of national identity. I’m now reminded of Trades Union members being simultaneously National Front members in GB. Anglo Saxon Protectionism or Poujadism masquerading as left wing militancy? At least in France they craft a brand new republic when the existing one is no longer fit for purpose. Even Poujade was content when the present one came into being.

  • Croiteir

    Since the falling of the communism in the latter half of the 20th Century the socialist world has been scrambling for relevance. They have resorted to the rights based social agenda in the whole. The water protest are not really left wing but right wing as seen. just as the left promoted rights agenda are not really left wing but right wing in outcome

  • chrisjones2

    If it cant work it out in 100 years with the rate of change in the world Ireland is stuffed

  • chrisjones2

    “if you take the installation as part of a process towards privatization (which it is) maybe not so black and white.”

    are you seriously suggesting that if the state democratically decides to move to privatise an industry physically attacking its employees is justified? Am I misunderstanding you?

    SO if they sell off An Post burning post offices is de rigeur?

  • chrisjones2

    “how to build a society based on values espoused by the left” or even ask the question why would you want to.

    Look at France as a prime example. Last month the winner of a national bakery award was hauled in by police for questioning. His crime – selling his baguettes 7 days a week. Not making his staff work 7 days a week – no using different staff to offer a 7 day service. Not permitted as its too competitive.

    In the end that is what building a society on the values of the left ends up with

  • chrisjones2

    I largely agree. Its also about the exploitation of some genuine and legitimate public fears by those on the make financially or politically.

    The Corrib issue (remember that) was another example where genuine local concerns were hijacked by violence. If you look at their website today there is a wonderful quote

    “It’s a shame that being an adult leads so many people to lose their passion for their values and ideals.”

    http://www.shelltosea.com/content/protest-has-vital-place-healthy-democracy

    Aye. Growing up personally and politically and realising that if you want energy and clean water you have to pay for it is just so damn hard as is realising that the tooth fairy isn’t real

  • When were the employees ‘attacked’? Chapter and verse, please. And get those pyromaniacal fantasies under control, please…

  • chrisjones2
  • Well now, Chris. I hope if ever I’m attacked it’s along these lines. What I see are several guys trying to pull that plastic yoke and several workers trying to stop them. We’re told they were headbutted and bitten but oddly no video showing that. If they were bitten/headbutted then I concede game, set and match – you are right and I am wrong. And of course death threats and the rest of it are totally disgusting. But I would have thought we’d have had more camera evidence of these attacks – maybe a pic of the guy bitten, or of the guy head-butted? I’d have thought pro-water-meter-installation parties would have made sure to present that to the papers. What we see looks more like what we’d have once called a bit of jundying…

  • mickfealty

    Unlikely they will be able to sell it within the 12 year window in which local authorities retain executive control over it.

    We shouldn’t also ignore the fact that one of the drivers here an EU Directive looking for greater transparency in water charges.

    It’s the corporatisation of Irish Water itself which betrays the FG ambition to sell it off, not the meters per se.

    There’s a line here, and the judge in this case was very very careful in drawing it, between the lawful right to protest and the right of citizens to the protection of the state.

  • Abucs

    If a public utility is run well and cost efficient and producing surpluses so that it can constantly modernise and innovate and contribute to the public purse then i would prefer those utilities under government ownership.

    But as far as i can see, government ownership usually brings about the reverse outcomes and so it belongs in some form of regulated private hands.

    The other reasons why all governments want to sell off assets is because they are addicted to social spending which is a disease of the Left and as far as i can see is completely self-defeating to the working class ideals.

    I do not put the Left’s goals anymore as commensurate with the benefit of the working class. The Left now is all about big government controlling everything and anything they can get away with for an outdated and proven failed social ideology.

    As somebody mentioned previously with the transparent backwardness of communism late last century and National Socialism before that, the Left is in danger for being associated as people with a sneeringly superior attitude, and a terrible track record that it is willfully blind about.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Only the Left “being associated as people with a sneeringly superior attitude, and a terrible track record that it is willfully blind about”?

    It’s really the narcissism of very minor difference between being controlled by either big government or big corporate entities, is it not? The same inefficencies mark both or we would not now be in such collective debt to bail out “private enterprise” in the shape of the banks. All large organisations create inefficency due to their extended management structures, and its simply that big multi-national organisations are far, far less accountable than governments even!

    This one size fits all “privatisation” solution is all so “sink the Belgrano” as they say in “The Thick of It”.

  • willie drennan

    “Scandinavia is Lutheran which holds that the further one places oneself from the centre along a polarity the closer one gets to the position that one was reacting against. In other words, 2 opposites can come half circle.”

    A good example of this perhaps would be the agreement between fundamental Catholics and Protestants on the Pro Choice versus Pro Life debate.

    You have also touched perhaps on another relevance for Left versus Right. Noel Whelan referred to “cultural” reasons for decision making, or lack of it, in Ireland. Perhaps a chief influence on the “cultural” though is religion? Seems to me like the politics of the so called Left is embraced more so by Roman Catholics than Protestants. Also seems to me that the so called Left are passionate about being controlled by an external governing body in far-off Europe.

    With changing attitudes to religion though perhaps attitudes to Left and Right in politics are also changing? This may have some relevance to the confusion over who should own, and be responsible for covering costs of, essential services in Ireland. Regardless, I think it’s time to start drawing circles to replace the conventional charts depicting Left and Right.

  • willie drennan

    “It’s really the narcissism of very minor difference between being controlled by either big government or big corporate entities, is it not?”

    So true. “Big government” and “Big corporate entities” seem to be linked at the umbilical. Inefficiencies and lack of accountability are rife in both outfits. How to over come corruption in corporation and government: how to achieve regional accountability in this big bad world is beyond me.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Willie, in my experience in media, there is no set of regulations, no abstract systems, that will overcome corruption. It requires personal effort from those in charge. What is needed is good people working in the public interest, no matter how naive such a solution may sound nowadays. Nothing else works.

    When I put together teams to make films I’d carefully select entirely reliable people I would trust with my life, let alone money. That way I’d run productions within budget and if anything started to go wrong it could be retrieved quickly by a crew who were motivated to get the job done. I acquired a name for ruthlessness as I’d sack anyone proving untrustworthy instantly, but of course you cannot run the civil service in that manner, any more than you could challenge the fiefdoms within big organisations by calling them on inefficiency.

    But I did make films well within budgets, and with very happy crews whom I paid over the odds…..

  • MalikHills

    Where does this idea that Ireland is a relatively young nation come from? The self-governing Irish state is among the oldest in the world.

    All of the nations of Africa (with the exception of South Africa), most of those of SE Asia and the Middle East, and great swathes of eastern and central Europe have had shorter periods of self rule than Ireland has had.

    The constitution of Ireland is certainly among the oldest in the world and even in Europe it’s one of the oldest.

    Few nations have enjoyed a longer period of peace, independence and political stability than Ireland so the idea that’s it’s still a relatively new state trying to find its way in a big bad frightening world is utter nonsense.

    If we were to use Ireland’s relative lack of time as an independent nation as an excuse for poor government, what is the secret of success of Singapore or Hong Kong or South Korea?

  • I can see the rationale from the perspective of someone on the left. What starts to annoy people is the increasing burden of indirect taxation, which has the wealthiest paying the same as the poorest, and as a result you get the poorest in society paying a disproportianate amount of their income in taxes and charges. Also the idea of privitisation which results in the notion that things are no longer being run to achieve the best outcome for all in society.
    As stated, the most equitable way may be to increase the rate of income tax to cover the cost of good infrastructure. The problem is that this would prabably be more politically toxic than the current regime.
    In terms of obstructing workers, the left has always struggled with ends and means, and you often find that they opt for the nuclear option to get to where they want to be. I think you get this hypocrisy everywhere, and most would justify the action in terms of the “greater good”

  • mickfealty

    Erm, isn’t this all a little Angels on pinheads? The main point is surely protesting tax is an odd place for leftists to find themselves.

  • Abucs

    hello Sean,

    there is a lot i agree with you on there.

    I believe also that at the end of the day it is good people working for ‘truth’, ‘compassion’, ‘intelligence’, ‘humility’, ‘self sacrifice’ etc that make the difference. All of those basic ideals that you are right to point out are presented as naive and corny these days by a certain section of the population, particularly on the Left. That is a modern cultural phenomenon that has been destructive and has taken us backwards.

    I believe basically it is culture which plays a big part in those values which are common in society. I think basically the Left is anti-cultural because it has been taught to see cultures as divisive, oppressive and autocratic. This i think has been a huge mistake and in it’s place an inferior pseudo culture has been promoted that feigns tolerance and inclusiveness but creates the opposite.

    Regarding the danger of control by big business. I agree they potentially can be as bad as government. But……

    They do have some basis of transparency to shareholders;
    big corporations also do not generally have police forces;
    nor tanks and armies;
    or able to force you to accept certain morals and values through courts and schools and prisons.
    they also have to live in the real world whereas government can continue down the wrong track for decades being bailed out by tax payers year after year without their failures being recognised, (witness Greece at the moment but most Western nations in general and the larger the government the longer the hiding of failure)

    I think government is much more potentially dangerous than corporations with regards to violence and oppression. (witness National Socialism and Communism, revolutionary France, 19th century Ireland, Ethiopia, Cambodia, etc etc etc).
    I don’t think corporations, for all their faults have
    anywhere near this track record or likely to have in the future.

    At the end of the day big corporations need us the consumer. They are vulnerable to us.

    That being said i do agree with you regarding the unwanted situation where banks can continue to be bailed out by tax payers and then continue to be able to threaten the health of the economy for the prospect of short term profits. We should remember though that banks only get away with this injustice because they are backed and needed by government. All government.

    My form of words were ‘some form of regulated private hands’. Within that definition i would like to see more local community groups being included. But again, that requires a move to think less in terms of big state controlling everything (the Left’s failed Socialism), and more in line with responsible cultural and community groups being recognised and given real and proper power and respect instead of wanting to force everyone into an authoritarian socialist cultural and political collective which is unwanted and does not work.

  • Croiteir

    I would suggest that the position of Catholics – (note the lack of Roman) – is based on Rerum Novarum amongst others. It is more akin to Distributism. As Chesterton said – it is not that there are too many capitalists but too few.

  • willie drennan

    “Rerum Novarum” and “Distributism” would appear neither extreme Left or Right. Again, hard to know where this would stand in the Left and Right diagram. Perhaps then religion does not have so much significance for Left versus Right?

    Mick might say I’m getting off topic but genuine question – are most Catholics in Ireland not Roman Catholics? If so, on the EU issue do you think there is any foundation to the notion that Catholics in general are more comfortable with a central European hierarchy/ governing body than Protestants?

  • Croiteir

    Quite perspective of you. The answer is it does not. Its roots are deeper than that. But people will push this round peg into that square hole anyway.

    Is Catholicism left or right. The answer is no, its neither. In fact the clue is in the name. The Church is universal. it does not support division but unity. And that includes economic activity. Left/right wing politics is divisive. Socialism/Capitalism are opposing faces of the one coin called greed.

    I do not know how to answer the question on significance of religion on left/right politics. I do know that left/right politics is, or should be, a huge concern for religion.

    As For Roman. That was a pejorative term invented by the Elizabethans? to refer to Catholics. Unfortunately some Catholics also use it as the abuse was so widespread it became embedded in the English language to become accepted as the norm. See the link below for the Catholic perspective

    https://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/churb3.htm

    On the EU issue you will find a wide range of opinion amongst Catholics. I am against the centralisation of power and the dominance of the Germans, to me it is the political and economic equivalence of a Prussian landgrab and the policies pursued is no more than a Bismarckian Kulturkampf. I would envision a return to the idea of Christendom I support the concept of removing power from the centre yet retaining the power and security of a united Europe. Subsidiarity ensures the cultural survival of all the European people. It is a concept that would allow us to escape from the Imperialist age that enslaved not only the world to Europe and Europes mercantile interests but also turned the European into a drone in its service.

  • Devin Doyle

    I’m scratching my head at this. France is uncompetitive partly because it is over-regulated, and partly because its regulations are labyrinthine and convoluted, making running a business a nightmare. It’s also extremely expensive to employ people, which makes their economy sluggish and uncompetitive compared to their neighbours. But it’s this heavy regulation that insulated them from the worst of the banking crisis. And frankly, having lived in France, I like their form of leftism, where they see social capital as much more important than financial capital. It has its problems, but one baker being questioned by an over-zealous policeman does not condemn an entire worldview. The other side of that coin is zero-hours contracts and an ever-increasing wealth gap.