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Power to the People?

I recommend reading “Power to the People?â€? by Hughes, Clancy, Harris and Beetham published by TASC at New Island.

It is a source book for information on Irish society not otherwise readily available in one place and often not available elsewhere.

Of current note is the role of “the Voluntary & Community Pillarâ€? in the making of the various national agreements between the “social partnersâ€?. Those partners always included the Government, the Trade Unions and the Employer representative bodies. Only recently was the Voluntary & Community Pillar given access to the making of the agreements. The Voluntary & Community Pillar is the name for an aggregate of Irish voluntary associations, citizen groups and other social movements. Access to negotiations implies the right to withhold agreement and that happened to a considerable degree in 2002 on the conclusion of “Sustaining Progress 2003-5â€?.

Eleven members of the Pillar voted against the terms of the agreement, undoubtedly to the mighty annoyance of the Government.

Arguably, the Pillar is more representative of the people of Ireland than the Government is. The Government is the outcome of the workings of political parties, whereas the Pillar is the outcome of the life of the people and/or is a manifestation of Civil Society.

It is ironic therefore to see the Government seeking to define the life of the Pillar in political terms, in the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001. As noted elsewhere, “politicsâ€? is defined in that Act as, inter alia, opposition to Government policies.

That may be a very workable definition for the purposes of discussions in the Department of An Taoiseach, but it is surely too vague, uncertain and legally dubious (otherwise) to feature in an act of parliament.

Of course, Government could just withhold funding from any recalcitrant group, as happened with Community Workers Co-operative.

CWC was a very effective organisation in combatting poverty. An assessment by Government failed to notice this, and its funding was withdrawn. CWC had opposed “Sustaining Progress 2003-5â€?.

Undoubtedly, Government had not failed to notice that.

In further irony, the Standards in Public Office Commission is expressing dismay at the evasion by the main political parties of the legislation on party funding. Now all that remains is a name change for SIPO to reflect its true intended purpose: to control Civil Society.