Dé Máirt, Meitheamh 28, 2011

Call For Rejection of Water Tax Welcomed


éirígí Tir Chonaill spokesperson Micheál Cholm Mac Giolla Easbuig has welcomed the decision by Donegal County Council decision to support a motion calling for a rejection of the Fine Gael/Labour coalition's proposed water tax.

"Contrary to the spin from the government, the proposed water tax has nothing to do with environmental concerns or water conservation." Mr Mac Giolla Easbuig said. "The EU/IMF programme seeks to extort additional money from already hard pressed households through the imposition of a tax on our domestic water supply. It amounts to a corporate shakedown to pay off the gambling debts of bankers and developers.

"Rather than spending millions of euro on the installation of water meters and charging householders for their supply of water, the state needs to provide significant investment to fix the creaking water infrastructure and so prevent the loss of over half the treated water through leaking pipes.

The éirígí spokesperson went on to say "Experience elsewhere has shown that the introduction of utility charges is the first step towards the privatisation of the service. Domestic water supply is now a big global business. Water utility companies in England and Wales, which were privatised by the Thatcher government in Britain in the early 1990s, are now owned by big corporate investment banks and pension funds. Households there pay on average over €400 for their domestic water supply.

"While the passage of this motion is an important development, it is crucial that a mass campaign of opposition to this unjust tax is now built. Households cannot afford to pay and should not pay a tax that is being introduced to pay off private banking debt. As part of the No Water Tax campaign, éirígí is committed to working with local communities and other parties of the left in building a campaign of opposition and non-payment to defeat this tax and ensure the domestic water supply remains in public hands".

Dé Domhnaigh, Meitheamh 19, 2011

Social Welfare – The Real Fraud


Joan BurtonA recurring, and generally unchallenged, theme that emanates from the political and media establishment is the notion of widespread social welfare ‘fraud’.
If we were to take at face value the claims of politicians, employers’ groups, right-wing economists, journalists and commentators, the cost to the state is colossal. If we were to believe them, there would have been no need for social welfare cutbacks in the first place if it wasn’t for this ‘fraud’.
Over the past week in the Twenty-Six Counties, as the Social Welfare & Pensions Bill 2011 has been debated in Leinster House, speaker after speaker from the Fine Gael-Labour coalition made reference to this ‘fraud’.
The Twenty-Six County minister for social protection, Labour’s Joan Burton, said that“every euro saved on fraud is money that could be given to legitimate social welfare beneficiaries and to pensioners who need income support”.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan was preparing the ground to justify another u-turn by his party on more social welfare cuts, saying that “if the area of social welfare fraud was adequately tackled it would be possible to leave social welfare rates as they are”.
It is an appalling but clever tactic to avert the gaze of people from the true causes of the economic crisis and the savage cutbacks that are causing so much hardship and poverty. It is a long established, deliberate attempt to paint an image in the public’s mind of every social welfare recipient as being somehow a sponger that doesn’t want to work or a downright fraudster. This is then used to justify cutting social welfare rates, pushing people even further into poverty.
The corporate media, as on so many other issues, are willing accomplices in keeping this narrative of ‘widespread fraud’ circulating while refusing to properly question or analyse the accuracy of the claims being made. But is there the widespread fraud they suggest or is it a different kind of fraud and deception, one directed by the politicians in Leinster House and the Twenty-Six County Department of Social Protection itself?
For example, a recent article in the Donegal News, entitled “Over €6 million detected in social welfare fraud” quotes the Twenty-Six County Department of Social Protection as saying that these ‘savings’ resulted from anti-fraud measures and reviews carried out by welfare offices and inspectors. Such newspaper articles and TV programs as the recent TV3 documentary and the RTÉ Prime Time programme in the run up to the Budget in 2009 when welfare cuts were to be first introduced are commonplace in highlighting this supposed widespread fraud.
There are a number of problems with assuming that all this, or even a significant amount of it, is fraud-related. What the department, or the corporate media, doesn’t tell you is how many of these people will, in all likelihood, have their payment returned to them following appeal. In other words, they don’t tell you how many of them have had their payment stopped unfairly in the first place.
They don’t tell you how this will impact on people who are already struggling to survive on pitiful social welfare rates. They don’t tell you the hoops these people are forced to jump through and the lengthy delays they will endure to eventually get what they were entitled to all along.
Closer analysis of the department’s claims of fraud and fraud detection tell a very different story to the official narrative.
Over the past decade, of those who have had their welfare benefits withdrawn, cut or refused in the first place, every year between 40 and 50 per cent of those who appeal that decision have those decisions overturned in their favour.
In other words, the fraud and deception taking place is that by those in government trying to portray these people as fraudsters when, in fact, it was the department defrauding those people entitled to benefits. In 2003, the numbers of those who appealed who won their cases was 44 per cent. By 2009, the numbers had risen steadily, year in year out, to 48 per cent.
Successful Social Welfare Appeals 2003–2009 (%)
2009 – 48%
2008 – 47%
2007 – 47%
2006 – 46%
2005 – 47%
2004 – 46.5%
2003 – 44%
This is clear evidence of something fundamentally rotten with a system that, year after year, gets virtually 50 per cent of such potentially life changing decisions wrong. Yet, year after year, the only reforms we see implemented are those that make it harder for people in need of and entitled to benefits to secure those benefits.
Many of those who initially have their claims refused or cut do not appeal the decisions for a variety of reasons. In many instances, people believe that, having been refused, they are not entitled to their payment, even though in reality they are.
Between 10 and 15 per cent of those who appeal withdraw that appeal before it is heard. This is hardly surprising considering social welfare appeals can take anywhere between six and 12 months to be heard.
For many people, their circumstances will have changed. For many others, it is the final straw. Fed up and in financial difficulties as a result of being unemployed yet being denied their entitlements, many have opted for emigration, a situation that the department and the Dublin government as a whole won’t lose any sleep over.
The reality is that the vast majority of people on social welfare would much prefer to have a job, despite the best efforts of the political and media classes to suggest otherwise. During last week’s debate, Fine Gael TD Andrew Doyle said that the Twenty-Six County government needed to “give people an incentive to stop relying on social welfare”.
The clear implication of that is that people are on welfare either by choice or due to lack of motivation or ‘incentive’ to find themselves a job. It is part of a pattern of efforts by the establishment to demonise those forced onto social welfare through no fault of their own, and to justify cutting welfare rates and benefits. It is also complete nonsense as there are no jobs out there for people to be ‘incentivised’ to secure, as more than 460,000 unemployed people can attest to.
The statistics for employment growth and long-term unemployment also expose the lies that the unemployed don’t want to work or need to be pushed and cajoled into taking up employment. Throughout the Celtic Tiger era, from the mid-1990s right through to 2007, employment grew annually in the Twenty-Six counties. At the same time, long-term unemployment fell to very low levels and remained at those low levels right up until 2007.
More recently, throughout 2009 and ’10, growth in employment plummeted. As a result, long-term unemployment has soared to record highs. What it reveals is that, when there are jobs for people to take up, they will do so.
High unemployment has nothing to do with people being lazy and not wanting to work. It has to do with a lack of jobs. But should we be surprised at successive governments and the corporate media promoting this notion of ‘laziness’ and ‘fraud’? Of course not. It suits them to put the blame for unemployment on those unfortunate enough to lose their jobs rather than those who are actually responsible for the job losses and unemployment crisis – the business class and the politicians.
Before the recent general election in the Twenty-Six Counties, Fine Gael and Labour promised real change from the politics of Fianna Fáil, who had held the reins of power for more than a decade. Less than 100 days into office, it is crystal clear that the Fine Gael-Labour coalition is more than happy to jettison its pre-election promises.
They are proceeding along the same path as that of their predecessors in bowing to their masters in the IMF and ECB, scape-goating and targeting low paid workers and social welfare recipients, while protecting the assets of the wealthy. The agenda remains the same. All that the general election has changed is the names and faces implementing it.

Dé Máirt, Meitheamh 14, 2011

Anti Racism World Cup 2011


ANTI RACISM WORLD CUP 2011 is set for launch. The Anti-Racism World Cup takes place annually at Donegal Celtic FC. Over the last 5 years the event has grown from humble beginnings to being the largest annual community anti-racism event in Ireland.

Teams travel to the ARWC from across Europe and beyond, from Dusseldorf to Palestine, Congo to Manchester, representing Anti Racist/Anti Fascist campaigns, Community Groups, Youth Groups and more. The Teams and their supporters take part not just in a weekend of football with local Irish Teams but also participate in political talks, exchanging ideas and talking about their experiences with local groups and individuals, and of course there’s the top class international and local music line-up and the family fun fair.

If your organisation would like to become part of the ARWC come along to the launch or contact stevearwc@hotmail.com or alternatively log on to iour website for more details at www.antiracismworldcup.net

The event takes place this year at Donegal Celtic from 22nd – 24th July and will be formally launched at Donegal Celtic FC, Suffolk Road on Monday 20th June 12.30pm. All are welcome

For more information please contact Seán Brady on 07747776036.

Dé Céadaoin, Meitheamh 08, 2011

The Windsor Visit & The illusion of Change

The following is an opinion piece written by éirígí Tír Chonaill spokesperson Micheál Cholm MacGiolla Easbuig

If we were to believe our politicians and the corporate media, the recent Windsor visit was about the Irish people 'maturing' as a nation, 'putting the past behind us' and normalising relations between the people of Britain and Ireland.

What they did not tell us is how welcoming the head of state and commander in chief of an army that still occupies part of our country is 'putting the past behind us'? Or how spending tens of millions of euros at a time of widespread unemployment, emigration and poverty to host lavish banquets in honour of an anti-democratic sectarian monarch is a sign of us 'maturing' as a nation.

They didn't tell us because it is manufactured spin produced by a cosy consensus of political and corporate media elites. Instead of reporting news and analysis of this visit the media acted as cheerleaders for it.

What they produced was a one-sided commentary full of gushing praise for the Windsors which bore no relation to the reality of this visit or what they represent. It resembled a fashion magazine social diary column rather than coverage of a visit by the Commander in Chief of an army that has one of the worst human rights records in the world.

In order for us all to 'mature' sufficiently, Britain's crimes had to be ignored. The families of the victims of the Dublin/Monaghan bombings were snubbed once more with Britain again refusing to open its secret files in relation to Britain's involvement in those murderous attacks.

Here was the Head of State and Commander in Chief of an army which continues to commit human rights abuses, torture and murder around the world being fawned over by our politicians. Nobody dared mention the 'occupation', whether it be Afghanistan or the one nearer to home, in case it might offend the Windsors. Reporting on Britain's human rights abuses and crimes are apparently in the minds of many journalists of far lesser importance than reporting the colour of Windsors outfit.

The main aim of this visit was 'normalisation'. But it was the normalisation of partition and the occupation of the six counties, not normalisation of relations between the people of Ireland and Britain.

But there is nothing normal about five thousand British troops remaining in Ireland, backed up by 9000 of the human rights abusing paramilitary RUC/PSNI and hundreds of MI5 operatives. There is nothing normal about their systematic campaign of intimidation against those who dare challenge British rule in Ireland. There is nothing normal about their thousands of illegal stop and search operations which are in violation of European human rights legislation.

There was also nothing normal about the Garda response to protests against this visit. For weeks éirígí activists and others opposing the visit, endured intimidation and threats at the hands of the Gardai. On the eve of the visit, as myself and other éirígí activists legally erected posters in Dublin advertising protests, we were stopped and interrogated. And while Windsor was praised for using cúpla focail, only for the arrival on the scene of a TV crew, I was set to be arrested for speaking my native language.

Gardai tore down and stole posters off activists. They effectively banned the tricolour in Dublin city centre, confiscating and dumping them in refuse trucks while the union flag flew above government buildings. A number of banners including one that read 'fund communities not royal visits' was siezed by Gardai who deemed it 'offensive' during a search of a car belonging to éirígí Dublin City Councillor Louise Minihan.

These bully boy tactics underlines the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of the state. It exposes the lie that this state allows freedom of assembly, freedom to engage in peaceful protest and freedom to organise political activity. As a socialist republican and someone who has witnessed Garda policing of anti-Shell protests in Mayo, this behaviour is no surprise. Peaceful protest in this state is tolerated only if the Gardai and their political masters say so.

But there was also another agenda at play here. Many of those pushing for this visit to happen in recent years wish to see this state re-enter the British commonwealth. And while some might say this could never happen, the same would have been said ten years if it was suggested that this visit would ever happen. People were accused of scaremongering when they suggested this states neutrality was under threat, yet now Shannon airport is virtually a US military airbase, while Irish troops operate regularly alongside NATO.

It is vital that people dont allow their politicians to sleep-walk them into re-entering the British Commonwealth. So I am calling on the government's two TD's in this county, deputies McGinley and McHugh, to publicly declare where they and their party stand on this issue. We need to be ridding this island of the final remnants of British rule, not seeking to be re-conquered by Britain.

The last visit of an English Monarch to the twenty six counties took place 100 years ago. Opposition to that protest was led by socialist republicans like James Connolly and Constance Markievicz. While the majority of the political establishment led by Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore were bowing and scraping before the Windsors, and others weren't too sure whether they were actually for or against this visit, once again it was socialist republicans that led the resistance and protests against it.

To conclude, let me reiterate our opposition to any 'British royal' being welcomed to any part of Ireland. In the aftermath of the Windsor visit, it has now emerged that invites have been extended to Charles Windsor to visit the north-west. In the event of any such visit, éirígí will organise resistance and demonstrations against it here in this region just as we did in recent weeks in Dublin.

Dé Sathairn, Meitheamh 04, 2011

Say No to Water Tax – Keep Our Water Public!
Louise Minihanéirígí Dublin City councillor Louise Minihan has slammed the confirmation that the Dublin government intends introducing new water and family home taxes from early next year.
Minihan said: “Today’s confirmation that water and family home taxes are to be introduced is yet another attack on hard pressed working people already burdened with privately accumulated banking debt.
“The diktats of the IMF/EU are being implemented with vigour by a Fine Gael/Labour coalition that promised change but is simply delivering more of the same neoliberal policies that created the economic crisis.
“The imposition of a water tax is simply the first step on the road to the full privatisation of the domestic water supply and will be resisted by working class communities across the Twenty-Six Counties.”
The water charges announcement was made yesterday [Tuesday] at a conference in Dublin which discussed the installation of domestic water meters across the Twenty-Six Counties. It was addressed by Twenty-Six County environment minister Phil Hogan and representatives of private business interests seeking to profit from the installation of a water metering system and the inevitable privatisation the domestic water system.
Water supply has become a major global business, with multinational corporations amassing enormous profits from the privatisation of domestic water supplies.
Amongst those addressing delegates at the conference was Darren Bentham, director of universal water metering with the Southern Water Company in England. The recent history of that company demonstrates how global financial interests are profiting from the commodification and privatisation of domestic water supply.
The company has passed through the hands of various private investors since the Thatcher water privatisation programme in 1989. In 2007, Royal Bank of Scotland sold the utility company to a consortium of international investors for £4.3 billion. The Greensands consortium, made up of a fund advised by JP Morgan investment bank, bought a 32 per cent stake, the Australian Challenger Infrastructure fund took a 27 per cent stake, while merchant bank UBS took 18 per cent. The remaining share of the company is divided between an Australian pension fund and infrastructure investor Paceweald.
In 2010, Southern Water declared pre-tax profits of over £300 million, while domestic users paid an average of £330 in water charges per year.
In 2007, OFWAT, the water regulator in England and Wales imposed a £20 million fine on Southern Water for supplying false customer service data. The data supplied by the company suggested it was performing better than was actually the case and resulted in higher domestic water charges for its customers. In 2008, the British Environment Agency named Southern Water as Britain’s second biggest polluting water firm.
According to OFWAT, domestic water and sewage bills have increased on average 44 per cent since the privatisation of the domestic water supply and sewage treatment system in England and Wales in 1989. In 2008, the average household bill in England and Wales was £330. However, the water regulator has since approved increased tariffs and households in England and Wales will face higher bills this year.
According to Minhan, the experience of households in England and Wales will be repeated in the Twenty-Six Counties.
“Despite the establishment propaganda, the introduction of domestic water charges has little to do with water conservation and everything to do with creating a profit boon for global corporations and the privatisation of public services,” Minihan added.
“The 2008 Local Government Management Services Board on Service Indicators in Local Authorities revealed that two-thirds of local authorities in the state lost 40 per cent of water through leaking pipes.
“In order to conserve water, the Dublin government needs to invest in fixing the creaking water infrastructure and introducing genuine water conservation measures. Instead, householders now face the prospect of charges for their domestic water supply in order to pay off the debts of rich bankers and developers.
“While Phil Hogan claims that householders will get a free allocation of water before charges are imposed, a similar yarn was spun when Dublin City Council introduced the bin tax almost 10 years ago. Yet, from next year, low income householders in Dublin City Council face a charge for bin collection of €208. In addition, the household waste collection service is being increasingly privatised.”
Minihan concluded: “éirígí is part of the No Water Tax campaign and is committed to playing its part in building a vigorous campaign of opposition to water tax across the Twenty-Six Counties and to ensuring the domestic water supply remains in public hands.”

Dé hAoine, Meitheamh 03, 2011

The Mavi Marmara Massacre One Year On
The Mavi MarmaraA year ago last Tuesday [May 31], the Israeli military intercepted the International Freedom Flotilla in international waters as it headed for Gaza.
On board the various boats making up the convoy were pro-Palestine activists from all around the world, including Ireland. They were attempting to break the illegal siege of Gaza and were carrying shipments of humanitarian aid which they intended to deliver to the besieged strip.
What followed was a massacre. Nine activists on board the Mavi Marmara were murdered by Israeli troops, while many more were seriously injured. Those who survived were kidnapped and forcibly brought to Israel against their will where they were interrogated, beaten and tortured in many instances. Their passports were seized and other properties stolen. This was an act of naked unprovoked aggression, international piracy and state terrorism.
So, a full year on from the massacre aboard the Mavi Marmara, many questions remain to be answered.
What efforts are being made by the ‘international community’ to bring to justice those who ordered and carried out this slaughter and other Israeli war crimes?
What efforts are they making to bring an end to the inhumane and illegal siege of Gaza?
What efforts are they making to force Israeli compliance with international law, whether in relation to illegal settlements, its apartheid wall or political repression?
What efforts are they making in relation to the kidnapping, internment without trial and abuse and torture of prisoners, including hundreds of children?
Twelve months on and the answer to all the above is a shameful ‘none’.
The reality is, despite Israel’s claims to have eased the siege last year and despite the opening by Egypt of the Rafah crossing last week, Israel continues to illegally blockade Gaza. While the opening of the Rafah crossing is welcome, it relates solely to the movement of people and does not address the core issue of free movement of goods to and from Gaza or the movement of people between Gaza and the West Bank, which Israel continues to ban.
A UN report published in March this year said that Israel's restrictions continue to prevent any improvement in people's lives and violate international law [Click here to read the report in full].
According to the report, “As an occupying power, as well as in every instance in which it exercises control over Gaza and its population, Israel is bound by international humanitarian and human rights law obligations.
“This legal framework prohibits Israel from imposing restrictions that are detrimental to the rights and needs of the population and which are not strictly required by legitimate security needs. Such restrictions may amount to collective punishment, which is prohibited under any circumstances.”
The report adds: “Israel must fully lift the blockade. This includes a removal of restrictions on the import of construction materials and the exports of goods, as well as a lifting of the general ban on the movement of people between Gaza and the West Bank via Israel.
“Additionally, Israel must remove to the fullest extent possible the current restrictions on the access of people to areas in the vicinity of the perimeter fence and to sea waters along Gaza’s coast. When resorting to the use of force, it must ensure that civilians and civilian objects are not targeted, and that all necessary measures are adopted to prevent or minimize the negative effect of attacks on the civilian population and its property.”
As you read this, the former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic is in custody awaiting extradition to face charges of war crimes committed during the Balkans wars. The International Criminal Court has said that the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has a case to answer for war crimes committed by his troops bombing civilian areas. The US and British military are currently involved in a bombing campaigning of Libya supposedly to protect Libyan civilians and bring Gaddafi to justice for his alleged crimes.
Binyamin NetanyahuBut no such effort has been made to bring Israel’s leaders to justice for their crimes. In fact, much effort has been made to bolster the zionist regime and protect their war criminal leaders. The British government introduced measures to prevent the arrest of Israeli leaders when in Britain, while Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu only recently addressed the US Congress, where he was treated to a hero’s reception despite the atrocities he is responsible for.
Despite condemning the attack on the flotilla last year, the European Union has steadfastly refused to break off diplomatic and economic links with Israel, with moves currently underway to start upgrading those links even further. The Dublin government, despite saying there would be “serious consequences” for Israel if they harmed any Irish citizens, have also refused to take any meaningful action against them. Both the previous and current administrations in Leinster House refuse to countenance shutting down the Israeli embassy and severing all diplomatic and economic links with the zionist state.
It is this shameful lack of action in defence of the rights of the Palestinian people by governments and other institutions whose duty it allegedly is to uphold human rights and international law that forced activists to organise last year’s flotillas and other such actions. Indeed, a second flotilla will now set sail for Gaza in late June. This will comprise of more than 1,000 activists, including an Irish ship with many Irish activists onboard.
Outlining the reasons for the second flotilla, Irish Ship to Gaza coordinator Fintan Lane said: “Israel has no right to treat the people of Gaza as inmates in what has become the world’s largest prison. This amounts to collective punishment, and as such is a violation of international humanitarian law. Irish Ship to Gaza is part of a broad-based, grassroots international movement of concerned citizens who are committed to peacefully uphold the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people in the face of continuing inaction by our governments.”
Already, Israel has issued threats to use military force once again to prevent the flotilla getting through to Gaza. With this threat of piracy, kidnapping and other violations of international law, as well as the events of last year in mind, you would think that the ‘international community’ and governments around the world would be intervening to hold the Israelis to account and ensure safe passage for this humanitarian flotilla.
Their response, however, has been truly shameful. Rather than ensuring Israel complies with international law and insisting that they will be held to account for their crimes if they attack the flotilla, various governments and institutions such as the UN have ceded to pressure from Israel and are instead trying to prevent the flotilla from being able to depart for Gaza at all.
It is the warped logic of ignoring the crimes of the perpetrator and shifting the blame onto the victim of those crimes. Indeed, if the UN took meaningful action and ensured the ending of the siege there would be no need for this or any other flotilla.
The bottom line is that the Palestinian people continue to live under a brutal military occupation. Peaceful protests continue to be attacked by Israel. Palestinian civilians continue to be murdered by Israeli troops. Palestinian land continues to be stolen as illegal settlements and the illegal apartheid wall continues to be built.
While Palestine remains occupied, it is our duty as Irish socialists and republicans to give whatever practical support and solidarity to the Palestinian people.
Over the coming weeks let us all redouble our efforts and help to end the siege of Gaza, to bring an end to the apartheid Israeli regime and to secure freedom at last for the Palestinian people.
For more information on the upcoming flotilla, go to www.irishshiptogaza.org.
For more information on the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), go towww.ipsc.ie.