Something rotten in the state of Ireland

Socialist Worker 393

Something rotten in the state of Ireland

Dave O’Farrell explores the contradictions in the Irish state.

The state in capitalist society is not some neutral entity for resolving conflict in society. It represents the interests of the ruling class, the capitalists, the bankers, the speculators – the 1%. The state is not some abstract entity but is made up of a large number of different parts including the government, parliament, the civil service, the courts, the police, the army and any number of state or even semi state agencies – all with their own various responsibilities and roles.

Most of the time these different elements work with common purpose but from time to time the various arms of the state can find themselves in conflict with each other.  At the moment the Irish state is witnessing many such conflicts.

There are the usual troubles of coalition infighting, but also some much more serious disputes involving NAMA and the Gardaí.

Given the weak nature of the government and the vulnerability of the Irish economy to any shocks in the global economy these conflicts have the potential to destabilise the state.

Nama v C&AG

The Project Eagle sell off of NAMAs northern portfolio – swimming in allegations of corruption – has seen the states ‘bad bank’, backed by the Department of Finance, come into conflict with the states spending watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General. The recent report which suggests t the state lost millions on the sale has heaped fresh attention on not just the dirty dealings of the Project Eagle sale but on NAMA itself .

While NAMA, the Department of Finance and the Comptroller and Auditor General argue over sale prices and discount rates more questions are being asked of what exactly is NAMA’s role. Why is it that many of the bankrupt developers whose loans NAMA took from the banks were not just paid to manage their own failed investments but have now reappeared fronting up developments on behalf of major international property funds?

The Gardaí

The Gardaí are facing conflict from many directions. The ongoing saga of corruption in An Garda Síochána and the management orchestrated discrimination against whistleblowers has already resulted in the departure of a Minister for Justice and a Garda Commissioner and the revelations continue on a regular basis.

The Gardaí have found themselves in conflict with the Ombudsman, who has repeatedly complained of the lack of cooperation from the Gardaí, and also the newly formed Policing Authority.

These conflicts are complicated by the fact that the Gardaí have voted to take industrial action over pay – despite a legal ban on such action. As in all public pay disputes the government are worried that restoring pay to one group will open the flood gates for pay claims from other public sector workers.

How socialists respond

Whenever the state finds itself in such difficulties we must look for ways to turn them to our advantage. While not having any illusions in the various arms of the state we should aim to use the conflicts where we can.

In the case of NAMA their defence of Project Eagle, behind all the technicalities, lies on claiming that this is just how business is done ‘in the real world’. While the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report shows this has clearly failed on their own terms we should use the report as a starting point to question NAMA’s entire reason for existence.

With the Gardaí we have a golden opportunity to use the corruption coming to light to underline the role played by the Gardaí in society but also the threat of industrial action over pay can serve to put pressure on the government for wider public sector pay restoration. Coming hot on the heals of the Dublin Bus dispute and with ASTI teachers set to follow suite, public sector pay is going to be a serious issue for the state .

The disorganisation of the state also leaves the government – particularly in it’s current weak form – open to pressure on other fronts. It is worth remembering that the referendum to insert the 8th amendment into the constitution in 1983 only came about against the backdrop of three general elections in 18 months. When governments feel week they are more amenable to external pressure. We should take advantage of this and push hard to remove it.

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