Thursday, 17 November 2011

Act of Union

I'm very afraid we're about to repeat the worst mistake Ireland ever made. In 1800 the Irish House of Commons voted by a narrow majority to dissolve itself and centre government in London.
This Irish parliament was barred to Catholics and dissenters, open only to Church of Ireland members, and it was famous worldwide for its corruption. The vote was achieved by enormous bribes, which enriched the members, and would impoverish the majority of Irish people.
Almost immediately on its passing, the money left Ireland, as the centre of power went to London. Landlords (the real strongmen then) abandoned their Irish mansions and took London houses, leaving agents to manage their land in the years running up to the coming famine.
Dublin had been a thriving city; it descended rapidly into a mass of slums and a gigantic barracks for British soldiers who were warehoused there. Prosperity declined catastrophically, as virtually all business and manufacture drained away and resited itself in England.
Angela Merkel wants to centre power in Europe now; she wants the Irish people to vote in a referendum that would give this our consent. If we did so, the same would happen; history would repeat itself. Our politicians would move to Brussels, their focus and their values would swiftly become those of Brussels, and they would function only as lobbyists and as constituency patrons, as happened to the Anglo-Irish and Irish-Irish politicians of the British Parliament in the years before independence.
You have only to look at the blogs and tweets of those famous Irish people who have moved to England for work if you'd like an illustration: they write about politics (British politics) and news (British news) and 'celebs' (British TV personalities). They become subsumed into the place where they live. And nothing wrong with that, unless it's of central economic and cultural importance to our country, as is our parliamentary representation.
The bosses in Europe are offering the false bargain of a dual choice. There is never only a choice between two; there are always other options than the two offered. They are pointing to the stupidity of the capitalists and the greedy troika of developers, politicians and bankers, and saying that a centralised power in Europe will prevent this happening again.
They could have prevented it before - not by putting the lámh láidir on the banks, but simply by speaking out about the danger that existed, by speaking out loudly and pointing to the countries whose housing market was not a Ponzi scheme, like Denmark, which legislated that rezoned land could not increase in price; or like Iceland, which has now legislated that no mortgage-holder must pay anything over 110% of the current value of their homes.
They could act for the people who elected them, rather than the businesses that are the most influential lobbies on the continent.
I hope that European politicians will grow bigger than they are now, more creative with their solutions, looking for an alliance of like-minded nations, not a Reich directed from the centre. But if it comes to a vote for their current dream, I'm out to shatter that dream and hold on to an independent Ireland that can achieve President Michael D's promise: "to move past the assumptions which have failed us and to work together for such a different set of values as will enable us to build a sustainable social economy and a society which is profoundly ethical and inclusive".
Michael D - before he was President, a creative politician who founded the best TV station in the country, the Irish-language broadcaster TG4, and who revived a dying film industry when he was Minister for the Arts - called for us "to build together an active, inclusive citizenship; based on participation, equality, respect for all and the flowering of creativity in all its forms".
We're at a turning-point. If we resist the attempt to centralise power in Europe, we can become the nation our founders dreamed of. We can never do that as a peripheral province of an empire. 

2 comments:

JJ Toner said...

A fine piece of journalism, L, and I'm sure I agree with you. But isn't there a middle road - a third choice - that would allow for more centralisation of power without reducing the peripheries to slums? There is an argument that Europe will never be truly at peace as long as we are all clinging to this outdated concept of national identity. Isn't it time we started erasing those national boundaries that have been the cause of so much dissention in the past?

Pageturners said...

Nothing much to do with nationalism; this is to do with being left on the periphery and falling into poverty.
Nationalism has been blamed for every war known to man, but if you look closer, it's more often profit and exploitation that's the cause, even in those that appear nationalistic at first glance.