THE water charges unveiled yesterday will do nothing to conserve water or reflect ability to pay and may not work to fix our creaking system. The plan was hatched by a Government which is, as the Right to Water Campaign said this week, “on the run”.
But hold your fire until the next Election. We have worked too hard to create this democratic republic for it to be thrown away to a bunch of fascists.
The fact that one Government made a dog’s dinner of introducing a new tax — reduced to crumbs delivered in the Dáil yesterday — does not justify throwing away our democratic principles.
We must not let mob rule take over. We can’t assume we have some sort of genetic resistance to it in this country. We’re made of the molecules and atoms as the thugs who infiltrated the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917 — the Revolution which was hailed by the Socialist Party’s Ruth Coppinger as “a beacon” in a recent Newstalk interview.
In A People’s Tragedy historian Orlando Figes writes of the regional methods of torture refined and enjoyed by Lenin’s police, the Cheka: some burned their victims’ hands in boiling water until the skin could be peeled off, leaving the torturer with a nifty “human glove”; some crushed their victims’ skulls by tightening a leather strap with an iron bolt; some rolled their naked victims in nail-studded barrels; some attached a cage of rats to the victims’ torso and heated it so the rats ate through it to escape; in winter some poured water on their victims and left them to become ice statues.
It is impossible to tell how many people were killed under Lenin’s Cheka, but it ran to several hundred thousand. And then there were the victims of the famine of 1921, after Soviet troops “requisitioned” some or all of the harvest and left the peasants so hungry that gangs of cannibals roamed the countryside looking for victims.
Coppinger defended Lenin’s revolution under questioning on RTÉ last week by saying the October Revolution had ended Tsarism. That may well be true, but the Bolsheviks also put an end to all hope of democracy in that country. If you want to judge the success of the Revolution, you only need to look into the beady eyes of Vladimir Putin.
Yes, the Russian people had suffered misrule and exploitation for generations. They were ill-fed and poorly educated. But we just can’t rely on the fact that our relative prosperity and educational status will keep us safe from barbarity. We are just as capable of depravity as they were.
It was clear from the footage of some of the water charge protests this week that Government politicians had become dehumanised in the eyes of some protesters. The person who hit Joan Burton with a water bomb in Tallaght could not have seen her as a human being and that’s the first step towards an atrocity.
We must step back from this and fast. We have stepped back before. As a society we have rejected violence since the time of the first Dáil. You might say that this involved turning our backs on our fellow citizens north of the border and there would be a lot of truth in it. But had Jack Lynch pitched in, all guns blazing, to defend Nationalists in the North in 1969 I think it is unlikely we would have the relative peace in the North we have now.
As a society we have actively chosen democratic means to our ends again and again. Sinn Féin commanded less than two per cent of the vote in the Republic in the late 1980s. Since the Good Friday Agreement their share of the vote south of the border has grown so much that some polls now put them ahead of any other party. We have consistently voted, not with our feet, but with our pencils, and in so doing we have created a country which was described just last week by the Legatum Prosperity Index as the 12th most prosperous country in the world, and the fifth safest.
I was never prouder of our people than at the time of the last General Election. For the first time since I got the vote I gave no high preference to either of the two parties who formed the Coalition because I thought they were lying through their teeth as to what they could deliver in Government. But I hailed the Irish people in the conduct of that Election. There was absolutely no violence. There wasn’t even much graffiti. People just filed in and quietly marked their ballot papers and that was their Revolution.
Even at the time of the bailout there was almost no violence. Ex-Junior Minister Mary White was spat at. But there was no serious civil disturbance and the only people we have to thank for that is ourselves.
Most of us need look no further than the example of our parents and grandparents to cement our commitment to this country as a democratic Republic.
My father was one of RTÉ’s founder journalists and as I went through the station’s gates last week to talk about water charges I was overwhelmed with memories of his pride in setting up our first national TV service, his wide-eyed belief of the Republican ideals of Wolfe Tone and his determination — as a Protestant born of English parents — to play his part in this society. Some of us had parents who scraped a living off rocky ground or managed to keep a small shop open through two recessions.
Others among us chose this country because, for all its faults, it seemed to offer a brighter future than their country of origin.
Some of us have very little for which to be grateful to this society, but most of us do.
All of us will be better served by a democratic future than a fascist one. All over Europe the anti-democratic parties of the far Left and far Right are poised to seize power. We must hold true to our democratic principles no matter how angry we are.
I am angry too. Very angry that the Coalition brought in the fourth regressive Budget in a row. Very angry that they have focussed their Budget largesse on the so-called “Squeezed Middle” which needs it less than any other group in society but votes for them.
Very angry that they would single out the self-employed for higher income tax than the employed in the same tax bracket, as if to save their own skin and that of the senior public servants who vote for them.
I’m very angry they cut the Respite Grant paid to the disabled by a savage 25 per cent and then scattered fivers at everyone in the audience in the form of Child Benefit.
But they are still democratically elected politicians and the way to tackle them is by presenting the electorate with a better plan.
They’re not planning to scrap the next General Election. The place for our anger is on our ballot papers.
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