The people must act or we will remain irrelevant

Before an election, a civic movement has to create a critical mass around the idea of radical political reform

Before an election, a civic movement has to create a critical mass around the idea of radical political reform

HAVING AN election after agreeing a four-year deal that will shape all key decisions is like debating which brand of condom to buy after you’ve become pregnant. It is a parody of democratic choice. Popular sovereignty has almost no meaning in Ireland right now. Its restoration is the precondition for a meaningful election.

We need a non-party technical administration to hold the fort while the people have their say on the four-year plan and on radical reform of our political system. Within that space, we need to make a collective decision on the International Monetary Fund-European Union deal.

The primary goal of the IMF-EU package to which any new government will be committed is not to stop Ireland spiralling downwards into economic depression. It is to ensure that Irish citizens cough up yet more money for the banks.


The process of converting bank debt into national debt is to be completed. Instead of the banks borrowing money from the European Central Bank at one per cent interest to fund their operations, the State (you and me) will borrow it for them at perhaps five per cent.

To pay for this, the poor and the vulnerable will be further hammered.

Welfare will be slashed, public health services will deteriorate, children, the disabled and the elderly will lose the already inadequate services that afford them some hope and dignity. But the €100 billion that is owed by the Irish to German banks and the €109 billion owed to British banks will be secured.

The consequences are entirely predictable. Mass unemployment and mass emigration will be locked in to an economy that, beyond the multinational sector, will not grow.

Poverty and inequality will increase sharply, with all the social and financial costs this implies.

The viciousness that is about to be unleashed is summed up in the idea of slashing the minimum wage. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the state of the public finances.

It is simply an opportunistic move to punish those at the bottom for a crisis whose real authors will sail blithely onwards. It is also based on another lie: that Ireland’s minimum wage is the second highest in the EU.

It is not.

In terms of purchasing power, it is the fifth highest in the EU. But many EU countries operate non-statutory minimum wages on a sectoral basis which are substantially higher than Ireland’s.

This strategy is to be tied up in secret negotiations by a government that has made itself an international laughing stock and that is now officially a zombie.

There is to be no argument and no pretence that the Irish people have any function except to bear the pain and assume the debts.

Democracy is to be neutered – the government we elect will be there simply to deliver a done deal.

What needs to happen?

First, the Government must go at once and be replaced in the short term by a technical administration (led by non-political people of integrity and competence) that will enter negotiations on the basis of the Irish public interest, not of continuing Fianna Fáil’s disastrous agenda.

Second, at least two alternative plans need to be prepared by the political parties and put to the people in a referendum, restoring the idea of popular sovereignty.

Third, before an election, a civic movement has to create a critical mass around the idea of radical political reform.

How can these basic needs be forced on to the agenda?

First, the people of Donegal South West have to refuse to vote for Fianna Fáil – at all. They can deliver a clear message that this Government has no mandate to conclude any deal.

Second, hundreds of thousands of people have to get out on the streets for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions demonstration on Saturday. Forget what you think about the unions – this is the one chance citizens have to demand a choice. Whether you agree with Ictu’s alternative plan or not, the idea that there should be a coherent alternative is crucial to the survival of our democracy. Without it, an election will be an empty ritual.

Third, in response to public requests, I intend to put up on my website ( by the end of the week a list of 10 basic demands for changing our political culture and system.

If people agree, they will be able to put their names to the demands, which include a €100,000 salary cap for public officials, a change in the electoral system, a shrinking and overhaul of the Dáil, and measures to kill the toxic three Cs: clientelism, cronyism and corruption.

What matters most is that we cease to be an invisible people. That our government is irrelevant is their fault.

That the people are irrelevant is ours.

Sovereignty belongs, not to the State, or the government, but to the people. We have outsourced it for too long to an incompetent, amoral and self-serving elite. Now we face the starkest of choices: use it or lose it.

Fintan O’Toole’s website is

He will discuss his book Enough is Enoughat Triskel Arts in Cork on Wednesday evening and the Town Hall Theatre in Galway on December 1st