Vote left, vote new and vote women

How to use your vote to make a real diffence where it matters, on issues of inequality, gender imbalance, health, violence against women


Irish democracy rests on the flimsy basis of a once-off package vote by the Irish electorate every five years. It is a caricature of the people's “self-determination”. Excluding them from meaningful participation in democratic decision-making on the important decisions relevant to our society. No part in the election is addressing the democratic deficit and given the self-interest of the political establishment in keeping the people at bay as much as possible, it is unlikely to change in the near future.

Indeed we are not even electing a parliament, for parliament, effectively, has ceased to function. It is now a creature of the government of the day. So what we are asked to do now is to chose which of two groups of professional politicians should exercise governmental power over the next five years, there being no significant difference between what these two groups stand for.

They are all agreed on reducing stamp duty, income tax and crime, improving the health service and doing something about traffic. None of the main parties is even addressing the pressing issue of fairness – certainly they are not promising to do anything meaningful about it, although the facts of unfairness and inequality are startling.

One-fifth of our society is living in conditions that most of us would consider miserable. They are living on incomes defined as “at risk of poverty”; that is on incomes the equivalent of €11,000 for a single person and €29,000 for a family of two adults and three children (this includes all social-welfare payments). There are over 850,000 persons in this society living on these incomes. And of these, about 250,000 are living in what is known as “consistent poverty”, that is, they are unable to afford a decent meal once a week, or enjoy adequate clothing and footwear.

There are huge discrepancies in health also. Those in the lower occupational groups die of all the major fatal diseases including cancers and heart disease, at a rate that is a high multiple of the rate that people in the higher occupational groups die. There are massive inequalities in educational attainment, hundreds of thousands of people awaiting adequate housing.

These inequities are hardly surprising because we have one of the lowest expenditures on social protection in the EU. The average expenditure of GDP in the EU on social protection is 41 per cent. Ireland spends about 33 per cent. In contrast, Sweden, a hugely successful society economically and socially, spends 50 per cent, Denmark 48 per cent, France 47 per cent, Germany 46 per cent, the UK 40 per cent (this is reported in the publication ‘Measuring Ireland's Progress, 2006', published by the CSO on 30 April last.

There is another major issue, that of sexual crime, which is by far the most serious of our crime phenomena, although largely ignored except during periods of occasional panic. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) reported on 15 May that in 2006 its 24-hour helpline dealt with 15,781 calls. Of these, 12,244 of these calls were genuine counselling calls, 4,266 of these calls were from first-time callers (up 11 per cent on 2005). Of these, 84 per cent were from females and 16 per cent from males. More than half the calls (55 per cent) related to adult rape and sexual assault and 42 per cent of calls related to Childhood Sexual Abuse.

For four years since this outgoing government was elected, there was a cap placed on the funding of those agencies, including the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, that deal with sexual violence. On that score alone, the outgoing government deserves defeat.

For those who regard such issues as important, along with gender issues, they might wish to favour those parties and candidates who are more likely than others to treat such issues as priorities.

Another factor voters might wish to take into account is the desirability of refreshing our rulers – ie voting in new candidates, rather than re-electing incumbents. Ideally, there would be limitations on the number of terms any candidate could be elected to parliament – preferably just two terms. The rationale for this is that thereby far more people would become involved in the political, legislative and governmental process, broadening the base of the professional class, indeed making it less professional. It would deepen the roots of democrats in society.

But since there is no such restriction at present, the electorate might like to bring it about anyway by choosing new candidates rather than older ones.

A further consideration is to improve the gender balance, bringing more women into politics, into parliament, into government.

So, we urge voters vote for those parties that care about equality and are likely to do something radical about it – parties such as the Green Party, the Socialist Party, Sinn Féin and the left-leaning Independents. Vote for new candidates. Vote for women.

This will not result in the formation of a left-leaning government, but the presence of more radical people in the Dáil, more new TDs, more women TDs would help steer this towards a fairer and just society.



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