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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Issue 118: April 2004

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News.]

Social justice, social wealth

Ireland as a whole is a divided country in more ways than one. When it comes to the division of wealth, both the Republic and Northern Ireland would seem to be some of the very worst in Europe. And without politics North or South being primarily defined by social and economic policies, this looks set to continue.

But disillusionment with politics and politicians is not surprising. In the North this is partly because of the ineffectiveness of politicians and those who support them actually delivering on devolved government. Six years on from the Good Friday Agreement another Good Friday goes by without any sign of the return of local control at Stormont. In the Republic, cases of political corruption have tended to tar most politicians with the same brush.

But politicians also have a responsibility to live up to something like their promises and statements, and in making judgements on the past to at least have some element of truth. We have already dealt in these pages with the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, claiming he was against the Iraq war while he gave, and continues to give, the USA the only support it wanted from Ireland - full use of Shannon Airport.

Here however we wanted to refer to Mary Harney's speech at the recent Progressive Democrats conference; "We are a party of change. In Government, we are working to deliver social justice." As the leader of a party which supports Thatcherite privatisation at every turn, and has threatened to pull out of the Government if it does not get its way on the privatisation of transport in the Republic, one can wonder what she means by 'social justice' because she evidently means something very different to any sensible definition.

Social justice can only mean fair treatment for a number of vulnerable groups including the elderly and the unemployed. In her speech to the PDs Mary Harney did define, to some extent, what she meant by social justice. While she specifically mentioned disabled people, and promises regarding the new Disability Bill, there was no mention of the elderly and unemployed, or indeed those stuck in low wage, dead end jobs. The nearest she got here was referring to "Social justice means a decent job for everybody who is available for work" (note the use of 'decent job' rather than 'decent pay', and only mention of those in work).

The increase in employment in the Republic over the last decade has been remarkable, but at a cost. Control of the driving seat of the economy is primarily in the hands of computer and pharmaceutical multinationals who are in Ireland because it is the best place to make a profit. By the laws of capitalism there is nothing wrong with this except that by those very same laws, if anything does go wrong or they can make a faster buck in Bangladesh rather than Ballydehob, then they will be out of Ireland faster than you can say 'social justice'.

But social peace and stability is only likely to come in a society which has relatively few divisions. And the lifestyle engendered by the new regime is not sustainable on a global level. Of course people may enjoy their new lifestyle if they are well enough off to afford the good things and pay for dealing with the bad, as with healthcare. But the private wealth and public squalor of Ireland is not something of which we can be proud, quite the reverse.

We need a concept of social wealth, of the collectivity of society which can afford to look after people as a whole rather than simply relying on individualism and private wealth. And we need a concept of social justice which is going to deliver for everyone - whether or not they have their finger in the economic pie of a good job. Otherwise injustice will be perpetuated in perpetuity, and Ireland will continue to provide an example of an economy, or economies, closer to Boston and the individualist elitism of the USA than to the relative social inclusion of Berlin. But even the latter, and social policies in other European countries, are under pressure these days

But we also need a concept of real sustainability in a world which is going dangerously close to the abyss, as with global warming. If we can work on social justice, social wealth, and sustainability, then we might really have a society in which we can be proud, and which can not only cherish the children of the nation equally but help ensure that there is something worthwhile to pass on to those same children. Unfortunately we may have an awful lot of explaining to do to our children and our grandchildren.

Luken From Below

This month's poem from Lothar Lüken:

Patrick's Night

The same old factions still prevail,

for ever chasing each others tail,

with priests committing every sin

and children raped by their own kin.

Persistent illusions of close-knit tribes

while local leaders pocket fat bribes

and tax breaks for those who wallow in wealth

leave not enough funds for public health.

Celtic tigers or Celtic toads -

European money paves our roads,

which we mindlessly litter with garbage

and deathly drunken drivers' carnage.

Ah, self-delusions of a nation

who in raucous celebration

wave green banners, dance and cheer
bash some blacks and puke green beer.

[Return to related issues of Nonviolent News.]

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