Labour might reflect on Democratic Programme for first Dáil which reflected party's lost ethos

The Labour Party assembles in Dublin this coming weekend (31 March – 1 April) to advertise its wares in what is the start of the long 2007 election campaign. There are many signs the party has lost its way and no longer stands for anything even vaguely resembling a socialist alternative. It hardly could do better than to reflect on the Democratic Programme for the first Dáil, which we publish in this issue of Village (see Page 66).

Labour was instrumental in drafting that programme, although it was not represented in that Dáil, and certainly it reflected what was then the ethos of the party.

It will be argued that the Democratic Programme was merely a rhetorical flourish, composed by a minority and assented to by the others, without due consideration for what was involved. Certainly, the Democratic Programme was not the product of a thoughtful consensus even of those who attended the first meeting of the first Dáil on 21 January 1919. But it is clear it did seek to describe in broad terms the kind of society envisaged by those then engaged in establishing national independence.

The second paragraph of the Declaration asserts: "We declare that we desire our country to be ruled in accordance with the principles of Liberty, Equality and Justice for all, which alone can secure permanence of Government in the willing adhesion of the people". Here it was being declared that the willing adherence of the people to government could be secured only by adhering to principles to which everyone could give allegiance. It was straight from the revolutionary doctrines of the French Revolution and was a repudiation of the basis upon which British governmental institutes was (and is) founded. It remains the basis for government today: acceptance of principles to which everyone can give assent, not just a majority, everyone.

Unfortunately, there is little now in our political culture that respects the idea of equality, aside from the thin idea of equality before the law as stated in our Constitution. There is now nothing in our political culture that regards people as having an equal right to health care, an equal right to education, a right to equal political lore and influence. Certainly there is nothing in our political culture that respects the idea of "the right of every citizen to an adequate share of the produce of the Nation's labour". Nor to the conviction that "no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing or shelter".

The programme asserted: "all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare". What a pity this principle did not guide policy-making since for, had it done so, the vast fortunes now being made from speculation in private property would have been curtailed to the benefit of those who, for instance, are seeking housing.

The Democratic Programme also states: "It shall be the duty of the government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children". And later it asserted: "It shall be the duty of the Republic to take such measures as will safeguard the health of the people and ensure the physical as well as the moral well-being of the Nation". This was written when there was little controversy over what constituted the "moral well-being of the Nation" and the duty of the State to for spiritual well-being. We are more conscious now of the divergences of view on moral well-being and on spirituality and conscious that such ideas could not possibly capture the assent of everyone in society.

The Democratic Programme represented a strong commitment to an Ireland in which the principles of equality, justice and liberty prevailed. A rededication to such ideals is probably too much to hope for, even from those parties who trace their origins to those who established the first Dáil and for the Labour Party.

vincent browne