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The Feb 2016 Election and the TTIP Elephant in the Room
Ask candidates about TTIP agreement. It is a corporate agreement which will lead to mass privatisation and gutting of our social and environmental protections
The election cycle has come around yet again it is time to take a look at some of the issues being discussed and more importantly those not discussed and have a quick look at the economy.
Across the country there are 40 constituencies down from 43 in 2011 with some changes in constituency boundaries. There are 13 3-seaters, 16 4-seaters and 11 5-seater constituencies . The 3 seaters tend to favour the larger parties because you need 33% of the vote whereas for a 5-seater you only need 20%. So for example a party with 10% or even 15% of the national vote might never get a seat if they were all 3-seaters. So you can end up with a situation for all of the smaller parties, the number of seats they get is, in percentage terms of seats, less than their vote while for the larger parties they can and often do have more seats in percentage terms than their vote nationally.
The number of Dail seats up for grabs this election is down from 166 to 158 seats. The breakdown of candidates by party or alliance attempting to get in are:
Despite what either FG or FF are saying, if they need the numbers FF and FG will go into coalition. And the reason is simple, they are the two main capitalist parties, their policies differ very little and they are completely subservient to corporate power, influence and it's dictates. Currently FF are running a fairly populist strategy, appearing to have shifted to the Left slightly but this is change is very shallow and there would be no actual commitment to following a policy of running the country for the benefit of the people. Anyone who thinks Fianna Fail have changed just because they have got rid of most of the old crowd and have a whole new bunch of fresh faces are forgetting that it is the policies of the party and what it stands for determines what they do and the party whip is there to enforce the core values of running the economy for the capitalist elite. The party whip has been used extensively and will continue to be to basically whip TDs into line. It is a form of party dictatorship and acts to nullify what the mandate to candidates from the people. FG are the same in this regards but even more so obedient to the interests of the wealthy elite. In some ways the rising popularity of Independents who are not under the control of a party whip reflects this concern amongst the people.
As for the election promises from any of the status quo parties (FF, FG & Lab), one should completely ignore what they are saying because they will either flat out do the opposite or there is a catch. FG are saying they will get rid of the USC but are shy about saying they will increase PRSI and other taxes instead.
As we can see from the last 4 years, Labour were a sellout. They have done the same numerous times over the past four decades, each time they have suffered massively at the polls and it takes years to build up their support only to do it again.
Sinn Fein, having not being in power yet in the South remain a promising prospect for many SF voters. However it would be worth examining how they were forced to go along with austerity in the North. So this does not bode well although perhaps they would still be better than either FF or FG assuming for a moment they became the party with the largest share of the vote even though it is unlikely but there is still an outside chance they could end up in coalition. Given the year in it and the huge positive role Gerry Adams had in the peace process, it would be fitting if he was Taoiseach just in time for Easter 2016.
All that can be said of ReNua is that they appear to be very right wing at their core once you look at the heart of their policies which is the ridiculous flat tax proposal of 23% across the board. They probably belong in the libertarian right wing end of the spectrum where the Progressive or should that be Regressive Democrats used to live.
The Green Party are too small in terms of percentage of national vote to have any major influence. Their main problem is that they tend to promote some small green initiatives with little to say on the big issues of economy or social policies. Since the shift of the party to the Right in the last decade signalled quite well with the departure of Patrica McKenna, they have completely sold out to corporate/free market thinking and are hostages to it. During the Bin Tax campaign a decade ago, they foolishly were on the side of bin charges thinking it was about polluters pays when they completely failed to push for a tax on excessive packaging which is where the chain of waste really starts. With the recent announcement that we will have to pay for getting rid of recyclable waste which is likely to cause a huge drop in recycling and the diversion of the same waste to the massive incinerator now under construction in Ringsend Dublin, it just shows how hollow and naive their strategy was. They were completely duped. You would expect the Greens to be constantly driving home how the structure of our economy is the problem in terms of sustainability but they only talk of tweaking around the edges. Never anything radical that challenges the status quo. And any discussion of the economy that asks for change would need to address social and justice issues, but again this Left thought process has long vacated the party.
Direct Democracy Ireland don't seem to have got much attention or support they have interesting things to say in their manifesto and most importantly are against TTIP and other corporate influences like the push for water privatisation. Also good on the environment and our civic rights. In terms of the political spectrum they are more to the middle as the candidates themselves are quite diverse. If there is no actual Left candidate in your area then they're strongly worth considering.
The Workers Party who were at their height in the late 1980s then suffered the split to Democratic Left which long since merged with Labour. In recent years the party has been reviving slowly and also have their LookLeft magazine. They are have good Left policies on the important issues of banking, water, housing, health, education and the environment where in the latter they strong oppose Fracking which wrecks the environment. They are rightly against TTIP seeing it for what it is. However they have only 5 candidates so need all the support they can and if they got 1 or 2 TDs would help build up the Left block.
The Social Democrats were propelled into the limelight with Catherine Murphy's defense of the citizens against the antics of Denis Oligarch Tax Exile O'Brien. Stephen Donnelly has been doing well and seems to really understand finance and banking and would be a welcome match against bankers and their elk. The party has the haven for a few of the candidates who fled Labour once they started going against their own ideals. There is a good mix in this new group and would definitely make a change. They are against TTIP and Water charges.
People Before Profit (PBP) and the Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA) both are strong on Left policies being both against Water charges, both oppose TTIP, strong on housing and health. On the environment they oppose Fracking. At this point PBP are probably the bigger grouping of the two, fielding more candidates. In the Dail Richard Boyd Barret has had a good track record and among many things successfully via campaign opposed the sell-off of our forests to vulture funds -at least for now.
Both PBB and AA have formed a voting pact and it will be interesting to see how many seats they do get. They form the core of the real Left in Ireland and have become more visible since the collapse of the economic bubble. It is probably too much to ask or hope that they do extremely well and in conjunction with the Social Democrats and Sinn Fein form a government along with various independents like Clare Daly and Mick Wallace. Supposing this did actually happen then the question becomes would they deliver and stick to their policies and would the range of capitalist forces put pressure on them. If such a coalition were to ever get into power you could safely bet the O'Brien media via its key mouthpiece the Independent relentlessly attack it. This would be joined by various think tanks and neo-liberal economic lobbies, the billion oligarchs, bankers, bondholders, bailed out developers, the legal profession, and many others from the top 10% to 15% of the population who own the vast majority of the wealth and control the resources to shape the economy and mould public opinion.
It is worth reminding ourselves the legacy of the FG/Lab government and of FF before them and some of the changes since then.
FG have decided they are going to get back into power by sticking to the mantra of a recovery. There is a recovery alright and it is for corporate and banking profits and for probably the top 20 to 25% of the population. It has barely trickled down to the rest and once outside Dublin there is now much evidence. In fact for any gains people might have made, it has been soaked up through increased rents. Much of the statistics in the national figures are a bit cooked and distorted. For instance last year NAMA decided to sell off huge tranches of their property portfolios to vulture funds who bought up thousands of commercial and residential units and have either resold them for a tidy profit or are renting them at exorbitant rates. The word on the street is that the property rental market is now being controlled by these large real-estate owners and they are forcing prices up. Ireland has already headed back to a modern day form of neo feudalism where people cannot afford property and are at the mercy of property owners.
A couple trying to buy a home today are not competing against people like themselves in the so called 'free' market. They are competing against huge financial firms with hundreds of millions to billions of Euro behind them and what's more these firms have all sorts of tricks for tax write offs on their own loans and expenses and no doubt pay little if any tax. What has happened in the last 8 years is that you the tax payer have subsidized via NAMA the transfer of vast amounts of property to faceless capitalist enterprises who are now preying on large swathes of the population many of whom are permanently trapped renting as they have zero chance of ever saving enough to get out of it. For that you can thank FF, FG and Labour.
So where is it all going next? By far the biggest elephant in the room is the Transatlantic Trade in Partnership (TTIP) agreement between the EU-USA. It is a supposed to be a so called free trade agreement but is nothing of the sort. It is by far and away the most undemocratic corporate power grab ever witnessed and it is no exaggeration to say it literally threatens to roll back all the social, environmental and legal gains of the past 100 years are more.
None of the status quo parties talk much about it and when they do they imply it is just about jobs and economic growth and are very much for it. The talks for TTIP have been going on for a few years and all the discussions are in secret and the contents of the agreement although WikiLeaks revealed some of it and it wasn't pretty. It is a corporate wish list and essentially the idea is reduce standards, tariffs and social, economic, legal and environmental protections to that of the lowest player. The TTIP agreement will join up with a version for the Pacific region countries called TPP and another called for CETA for Canada. It means if some country has really lax standards for workers rights or environmental protection, TTIP can say it's uncompetitive to have the stronger ones and enforce the lowest standard. It gets worse though because a central plank of TTIP is something called Investor State Dispute Mechanism ISDS which is a corporate court, presided by corporate lawyers and it is proceedings are secret and, there is no recourse for appeal, ordinary people cannot use the court only corporations and it's finding are legally binding on all TTIP members and above the law of all countries. In others the Supreme court cannot even challenge it, let alone reverse or affect any of its' decisions. Oh and corporations can take member states to these courts to sue them for things like environmental or social protection laws that interfere with corporate profits.
What most people do not know is that ISDS has already been introduced or should I say sneaked in undemocratically into some countries and there have been around 500 cases. In every case the corporations won and in many of them this result hundreds of millions and billions have been handed over from cash strapped states to corporate coffers.
In the UK, groups who got access to the secret text of TTIP and analyzed it have come to the conclusion that TTIP would result in the end of the National Health Service (NHS) and lead to complete privatisation. The same would happen throughout all other spheres such as education. And the exact same would happen here. This is why FG and FF are reluctant to hold a referendum over keeping Irish water as a national resource in the public domain yet they say they will not privatise it. The reason is that ISDS through the TTIP agreement will take the decision out of their hands and force it's privatisation. They know that. Actually FG are such a sellout and really should be tried for treason because they actually want to have the ISDS courts in Ireland. Our sovereignty would be zero!
The take home message then is: Ask any and all of your candidates about TTIP and see if they know anything, what their position is and see what lies they tell you. Don't vote for FF or FG because they strongly support TTIP.
There are other agreements which will all interlock. The main two are CETA and TTP. TTP is The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the signatories are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam.
CETA is The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union and can be thought of as a fail safe option if they can't get TTIP through. CETA is to be signed this year and should also be stopped.