See Michael Taft's 10-point plan Towards a New Economic Narrative over on Irish Left Review - and take part in the debate.
27 November 2008
26 November 2008
I’m staying in Glenelg, Adelaide’s oldest seaside resort and only 20 minutes by tram from the city centre. New luxury apartments and a rather architecturally intrusive upmarket hotel sit beside older holiday accommodation, some beautiful old houses – some well looked after, some not – the bars, cafes and shops of Jetty Road, and the restaurants in the Marina area. And, of course, the beach.
Jetty Road is Glenelg’s main drag. At the beach end you can get a coffee or a beer, and buy your souvenir T-shirt and boomerang along with a daily paper. As you move inland towards Brighton Road, the shops aimed more at residents and day trippers appear: fruit and veg, chemists, clothes and shoe shops, bottle shops, mobile phones, and really cheap bargain stores doing their best to prop up the Chinese economy. The trams come down the middle of the road, interspersed with buses and cars, and pedestrians just do their best to cross where they can. Controlled chaos, especially at the weekend, when people pile into the place to shop, eat, drink, walk along the esplanade and go for a swim.
Glenelg is a little bit posh, a little bit boho, a little bit young and, I suspect, a little bit poor around some of the back streets. I’ve spent quite a bit of time there over the last three weeks because I’ve been working, taking the bus to the university every weekday and not doing much except some socialising at weekends. It’s my first experience of living in a town that’s orientated towards enjoyment rather than work, and it’s made me think about the planning issues connected with these places.
In my field, there’s an urban/ rural policy divide, although no-one seems quite sure when urban becomes rural or vice versa. The suburbs get sandwiched in between but do get some attention. Not so, it appears, for seaside settlements. I’m not talking about the many port areas which have been turned into luxury apartment ghettos, but the smaller settlements which may have had a fishing industry tucked away at one end but which always had a substantial holiday and day tripper market – somewhere like Newcastle, Co. Down, for example.
What makes Glenelg work? A number of things that aren’t in themselves restricted to the seaside: social mix, a good range of small businesses catering to a strong local and tourist market, lots to do during the day and in the evenings, good transport links, an extensive and well-kept public realm. It appears to be a safe place; certainly there isn’t much rowdiness late at night, and there are very few police around. Add the beach and the weather to this mix and you have a winner.
So next time I’m thinking about urban and rural regeneration, I’ll remember there’s an alternative. Go to the sea!
18 November 2008
Discussion of the report of the Irish Labour Party's 21st Century Commission into the future of the Party has been deferred until next March, for understandable reasons. We in the Northern Ireland Constituency Council have had the section of the report on Northern Ireland leaked to us. The Commission is not recommending that Labour stand for election in NI - even if the SDLP were to merge with Fianna Fáil. A separate Commission was also examining the position of Labour in Northern Ireland, and NI members of that body have received a letter from Eamon Gilmore confirming the position set out below.
So it's no. Not now. Not ever. Go away. I'll be writing about why this is mistaken next week on Irish Left Review.
21st Century Commission Section 8: Labour and the island of Ireland
Historically, the Labour Party is an all island organisation. Labour was also organised in the north by stalwarts such as Paddy Devlin of the Northern Ireland Labour Party and Gerry Fitt of Republican Labour. Today we share the same philosophical views with the SDLP, our sister party in the Party of European Socialists.
Indeed one indication of how closely aligned are our aims and objectives is found in Mark Durkan’s speech to our 2006 conference. Taking as his theme the 90th anniversary of the Proclamation of Independence, he reminded his audience that up to one child in three in this country – North and South – still live in poverty, many in extreme poverty. He asked: “Can all parties North and South not join in a democratic covenant that by 2016 we will truly have fulfilled the 1916 Proclamation’s commitment to treat all the children of the Nation equally?”
Such a covenant would entail:
· A community where no child is ever left behind because of disability, or left out because of colour
· A Nation where to be a child of Ireland does not have to mean a child of Irish parents
· A society where parents of an autistic child do not have to research, lobby and petition various service providers as though they are the first
· A culture where young women are safer on our streets and young men are safer on our roads
· An island where children and their families will be protected against persecution and prejudice as well as poverty
· An economy that invests in the skills and values the talents of all young people including those with learning disabilities
· A country whose services and systems, laws and budgets truly proclaim “Every Child is our Child”.
This is of course very similar to the covenant we set out in Chapter 1 of this report. We should seek to work with our sister Party in Northern Ireland to achieve these aims across the island by 2016.
In marked contrast to many European democracies where issues of economics, social equality and class became of paramount importance, the politics of Ireland in general and Northern Ireland in particular after 1922 was dominated by the War of Independence and the subsequent partition of Ireland. In Northern Ireland this created in effect nationalist and unionist Labour Parties, deriving support from their respective communities but with little political strength. The unionist dominance in Stormont had, in any event, turned Northern Ireland into a virtual one party state. Under its watch, and with the acquiescence of Westminster, sectarian discrimination against the nationalist minority in the workplace prevailed.
All of this, in time, became explosive. It eventually erupted in the 1960s with the civil rights movement, the Orange opposition, Stormont intransigence, the arrival of politically motivated violence and the imposition of direct rule from London.
The Social Democratic and Labour Party emerged from the civil rights movement with the help and support of the Irish Labour Party. Brendan Corish, then Labour Leader, encouraged old Northern Labour stalwarts like Paddy Devlin and Gerry Fitt to link up with the newly elected civil rights Stormont MPs John Hume, Paddy O’Hanlon and Ivan Cooper. The original constitution of the SDLP was modelled on that of the Irish Labour Party. In addition the Irish Labour Party, which still had a small political organisation north of the border, a remnant of its establishment in 1912, instructed all its members to join the new SDLP. Labour sponsored the SDLP for membership of the Socialist International and subsequently for what is now the Party of European Socialists.
More recently, after the Assembly elections in 2007, the DUP and Sinn Féin emerged as the dominant parties of the unionist and nationalist communities. This, together with an announcement by Fianna Fáil that it intended to organise in the North, exasperated (sic) anxieties within the SDLP as to its future role in Northern Ireland politics. It appeared that significant numbers within the party, particularly outside Belfast, would have seen such a move as a lifeline for their organisation.
The problem for the SDLP was that any move to link with Fianna Fáil might have resulted in the party splitting between those who favour an all-island nationalist party, with a “catch all” appeal, and those whose preference is for a party with a strong commitment to social democracy.
What should the Labour Party’s response be to events in Northern Ireland? Should the Irish Labour Party follow Fianna Fáil and consider organising in the North?
Our first response to these questions is that they are not at all as immediate as they were when Commission 21 was established. The Fianna Fáil “threat” to the SDLP’s viability has been removed: it now appears that plans to organise in Northern Ireland are no longer a priority and have been postponed indefinitely.
In addition, the SDLP itself has rediscovered a strong voice and a message for its constituency. That voice and message were most recently heard in the speech given by Mark Durkan to the British Irish Association meeting in Oxford in September this year.
As politics develops in NI and the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are bedded down, the old issues between unionists and nationalists will be replaced by the same sort of issues that confront government and public administration in any modern society. And hopefully the institutions of the Agreement will adapt accordingly. The SDLP Leader has argued that, at the time of the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement, the system of designation of Assembly members as nationalist or unionist was “necessary because of what we were coming from but should not be necessary where we are going”. These measures had sectarian or sectional undertones and should be bio-degradable, dissolving in the future as the environment changed.
As we move towards a fully sealed and settled process we should be preparing to think about how and when to remove some of the ugly scaffolding needed during the construction of the new edifice….
If we are serious about a truly shared future then we have to allow for truly shared politics where parties can – and have to – appeal across the traditional divides. The fault-line in our society will still be there but it should not determine the party political cleavage for future generations.
[these are extracts from Durkan’s speech – not clear in the original document]
In the interim, however, the reality remains that Northern Ireland is not a fully normalised society. Under the Agreement, elections are contested between parties designated as either nationalist or unionist and they draw their support accordingly. Until some of this “ugly scaffolding” is removed – and that can be done only by those who agreed to erect it – we are not at all convinced that parties based in either Dublin or London have any real or significant contribution to make to Northern Ireland politics by organising there – and adopting one or other of those labels for the purpose.
Effectively, this would require Labour to opt for adherence to – and to seek votes exclusively from – just one of the two traditions, would split the existing progressive vote and would risk unsettling the present balance between the parties.
We are also far from convinced that there is any real demand at present within the North itself for a single, all-Ireland social democratic party, as opposed to the strengthening of links between the two existing parties.
The Irish Labour Party’s approach is determined by two major considerations. The first arises from our membership of the PES and the fact that we and the SDLP are sister parties in the social democratic tradition. The should, in our view and that of the PES, be a vibrant local PES party in Northern Ireland, capable of maintaining a clear electoral presence and with the capacity to win seats at local, Stormont, Westminster and European level.
If the SDLP, in whole or in part, chooses at some future stage to merge or create formal links with Fianna Fáil then it would automatically lose its membership of the PES. In all likelihood, in those circumstances a potion of SDLP members would decline to follow the party into such a merger or alliance. It would then be important that we, along with the British Labour Party, ensure that the social democratic and labour movement is adequately represented in Northern Ireland politics. Under the Statutes of the PES it would be possible for the new party to allow for dual membership for Northern Ireland members. Accordingly, an activist could be a member of the new party and the Irish or British Labour Party. Such a provision could accommodate the dual community identity (“British or Irish or both”) that remains at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement.
Our second major consideration derives from our own history and convictions. Labour is a party that is both Irish and republican and that aspires to a shared, 32 county future. However, we recognise the reality that, even with most guns silenced, for most of the time, Northern Ireland remains a bitterly divided society and in danger of becoming ever more so. There is more and more evidence of a hardening of separateness between both communities, of a society that is becoming more divided by tribal identifications. Parallel with efforts to maintain functioning political institutions, we need a real effort on all sides to tackle the sectarian divisions that have increased rather than diminished since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
A devolved government and assembly may contribute to normalisation but, of themselves, they cannot provide a comprehensive solution. We all of us need to address rather than exacerbate the structural divisions within Northern Ireland. Where people live, for example, where they send their children to school. These are the immediate challenges we all face in resolving conflict, combating sectarianism and establishing reconciliation between all people in the North.
We are convinced, therefore, that every Irish nationalist who wants to unite this country must recognise as a task for themselves the need to address rather than exacerbate the structural divisions [word missing from scan] and in particular within Northern Ireland. [some repetition here but reproduced as in the original.] After all, if your vision of a republic cannot include – and instead insists on the defeat of – your political opponents, then it is not a true republic at all. At its most basic, a “republic” denotes public property which is owned in common by, and attracts the allegiance of, all citizens.
For that we need a new accommodation, a new framework and a new form of words, if we are to continue the unfinished project of nation-building.
Both Labour and the SDLP need to work together. We cannot accept as adequate a stasis with nothing better to hope for than separate provision, separate development and a parity of esteem that is exclusively grounded on a sectarian headcount. We need instead a framework that embraces the diverse origins and traditions, ethnic, historical, political and spiritual, of all our people. We need to acknowledge, accommodate and celebrate the fact that we have a rich variety of social and cultural heritages on this island and that neither glorious achievement nor suffering, trial and struggle are the particular preserve of any of our forebears or any of our histories.
That is the national struggle for 21st century Ireland.
Eamon Gilmore, as leader of the Labour Party, should, as a priority, work with Mark Durkan to forge a common policy platform along similar lines to those being proposed against child poverty in the Republic. This common platform should be developed into a common commitment by both parties to be delivered by 2016.
Both parties should commit themselves to working together to develop and deliver the policies and others [sic] consistent with the goals and objectives that define our parties.
The Northern Ireland electorate must continue to have the opportunity to vote for a social democratic party such as the SDLP. We – and indeed our sister parties throughout Europe – are committed to ensuring that there will continue to be a member party from Northern Ireland within the PES.
The relationship between our parties is grounded on a mutual acknowledgement of our different situations and a mutual respect for each other’s autonomy. But there are strong and enduring links between us, based on friendship, solidarity and philosophy. We should work together to make those links more visible, to our members and to the island as a whole.
See Garibaldy's comments in full here.
14 November 2008
Just down the road from my apartment in Glenelg, Stormont is for sale. But at this rate, how long before Stormont back home appears on estate agents’ web sites?
Here in Australia, the Chinese economy and the outcome of Australian Make Me A Supermodel are of far more importance than anything to do with Northern Ireland. But even at home, people are getting fed up. O’Conall Street has noted the lack of support for the dispute between the DUP and Sinn Féin – and it’s even the subject of a competition in the Belfast Telegraph.
So what’s the disagreement about? Mark Davenport sums it up:
….it all goes back to the talks at St Andrews in Scotland in 2006. Sinn Féin believed they had a deal that a local minister would take charge of policing and justice by May this year. However, the DUP insist they didn't sign anything.
Excuse me? Government in Northern Ireland has ground to a halt for that? Although I’ve said before that I think the matter is more complicated for Sinn Féin, the time has come to face up to the extent of disfunctionality at Stormont, and the reason for it.
The current deadlock is a symptom of two wider problems with Northern Ireland’s political system: lack of trust and lack of appropriate representation. First, the trust deficit within the enforced coalition means no-one is prepared to make a concession in case it’s interpreted by their communal bloc as a defeat – ironic given that the public just wants them to get on with it. Although I understand why the system was put in place in 1998, it’s time for the British and Irish governments to step in, accept that it’s not working, and review future options. This will require another period of direct rule.
Second, by lack of appropriate representation I mean the increasingly ridiculous situation of a party political system based on national identity. Surely the events of the past year show that what’s needed are politicians who can respond effectively to economic and social problems, in the interests of all of us. Instead, everything is put through a territorial filter and opposed in code. Another spell of direct rule would provide an opportunity to focus on the restructuring of local councils, giving the smaller parties (and perhaps some new ones) the chance to build up support and show they can act across the communal divide.
Negotiations continue on the deadlock, and it’s reported that a resolution may be close. But even if this is so, it won’t be long before another contentious issue will arise. Northern Ireland’s political system is fundamentally broken, and it's time to do something about it.
13 November 2008
I’m on a two-month work visit to Australia with some holiday at the end, although in reality the two will be more intertwined. I started with a week in Perth, Western Australia, a city that was new to me, based on a visit to the School of Earth and Environment on the beautiful campus of the University of Western Australia (pictured). I was made very welcome and had some productive discussions about possible student exchanges, joint degrees, and collaborating on PhD and postdoctoral research.
I’m not sure about the rest of Perth, though. The trouble with being on a work trip is that sightseeing has to be fitted into, er, work, and I could have done with another week in the city to get the measure of it. I did manage to visit the excellent Art Gallery of Western Australia, unfortunately tucked away behind the railway station rather than located on the superb waterfront, and I attended a dinner at Government House.
I also spent a day in Fremantle, which had that vaguely expensive hippy-ish ambience which appeals to my generation. I had a great lunch at Mario’s, browsed in the Markets, and then went on a tour of Fremantle Prison. The prison is similar in design to Crumlin Road Gaol, and features not only a gallows but also a flogging frame, if you are into that kind of thing. Some of the cells are reconstructed as they would have been in different times in the prison’s history (nineteenth century pictured).
Then it was on to Adelaide in South Australia, where I checked into my apartment in the seaside suburb of Glenelg. I’d been spoilt by my Perth accommodation - a great apartment in a hotel in the CBD - and I knew Glenelg was going to be more basic as I needed to stretch my budget. I’ve got used to it now, but it has a kind of Twin Peaks ambience…
I’m based at the School of Geography, Population and Environmental Management at Flinders University for four weeks. I’ve visited Flinders before, and it’s great to catch up with old friends, and make some new ones. I brought work to do, of course, and we are discussing writing a paper comparing port redevelopment in Port Adelaide and Belfast.
So I’m established in my new routine - public transport, a weird apartment, a laid back seaside town, good weather, friendly people. Could be worse!
5 November 2008
At one of Obama’s final election rallies, Bruce Springsteen said he wanted his country back. Well, I’m glad he got his wish, along with the rest of the American people and, it seems, the rest of the world.
Obama’s victory feels like more than a national issue. Not just because what the US does impacts on us all. More because the election of the first African American US President marks such a fundamental step forward in their society, and a step that’s been embraced with such enthusiasm by the people.
Obama has made history through making people care about politics again as well as by changing what power looks like. I hope political parties the world over are making that connection and thinking seriously about their own practices as a result. Those long lines of voters, reminiscent of Nelson Mandela’s Presidential election, were inspiring.
Right up until last night, it wasn’t clear whether Obama would pull it off – a feeling reinforced by his campaign’s approach of not taking anything for granted. The campaign was superb, using electronic communication to galvanise support and raise money, but not to replace the face to face contact that wins elections – UK New Labour please note.
Obama has talked of change and unity, and now he gets the chance to show us what he means. With the possible exception of Mandela, no politician in recent history can have taken power with so much good-will behind him.
Trouble is, I remember the last time I felt like this about an election victory. May 1997, Tony Blair. I really hope this is different.