BBC Ulster documentary

February 28, 2007 at 3:31 pm | Posted in News | Leave a comment

To go to BBC Ulster’s documentary on the Corrib gas conflict go to:


Norway’s Gain – Ireland’s Shame

February 28, 2007 at 9:48 am | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

Yesterday, the Norwegian Central Bank reported that the country’s ‘Oil Fund’ – the revenues from the oil and gas industry extracted by the Norwegian State for the pensions of its citizens – stood at a whopping NOK 1,784 trillion (about USD 291 billion) by the end of 2006. This is equivalent to 220.6 billion euros. Given Norway’s population of 4.7 million this amounts to there being 46,900 euro invested for pension purposes for every citizen. This wise and efficient State planning stands in sharp contrast to the Irish governments appalling misuse of our indigenous gas reserves. Corrib gas is being given away with minimal benefits to the Irish people. No royalties are being extracted, no equity share taken, no windfall tax levied. All exploration and development costs can be written off against tax at 100% from Year One. This is at a time when we are hearing ongoing horror stories from the country’s hospitals. To criticize this shocking situation is not to adopt an ideological position. It is simply bad business, bad management and takes the term ‘rip-off republic’ to new heights. What Irish citizens deserve is nothing more radical or subversive than simply the Norwegian model. First, community agreement to oil and gas projects which directly impact on their health and safety. Second, real benefits derived from those projects to benefit all the nation’s citizens.  The tragedy of Corrib is that the citizens of Norway will receive more benefits from this resource than the citizens of Ireland. Norway’s gain is Ireland’s shame.  

Welcome for Green Party vote on Corrib

February 26, 2007 at 12:42 pm | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

I welcome the unanimous vote at the Green Party conference that the Greens in government would not sign a pipeline consent for the Corrib gas project until a full, independent review has been conducted into the project. The Green Party are to be congratulated for demonstrating political leadership on this issue and for recognising that the Corrib project requires a fundamental evaluation so that the safest development concept is employed and that maximum benefits accrue locally and nationally from this natural resource.


The Corrib gas conflict has been allowed to continue for far too long. It has caused division and deep distress for many people in the small communities directly affected by the project. This must end. Political management has been absent from the outset. This too must end. It is not good enough that the Tanaiste can hail the apparent suspension of the proposed incinerator for Poolbeg as ‘a victory for local democracy’ yet fail to recognise similar rights for the people of North Mayo.


The only way forward is through a political solution that recognises the rights of communities to participate meaningfully in decisions which directly affect their health, safety, environment and quality of life. The refusal to accept that important principle is at the heart of the present conflict.


Poolbeg is a ‘Victory for local democracy’, says Minister. What about Corrib?

February 21, 2007 at 3:48 pm | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment


Minister McDowell has today hailed the possible decision not to proceed with the proposed Poolbeg incinerator as a ‘victory for local democracy’. If this is so, why do the Minister and the government not acknowledge the same right of local democracy to the threatened communities of Bellanaboy and Rossport in North Mayo? They are similarly faced with the imposition of an unwanted project which they believe will threaten their health and safety. Surely the same standards should apply in Mayo as in Dublin? Democracy is indivisible and should be applied to all citizens not just to those who merely happen to be constituents of a government Minister.


McDowell is wrong on Corrib gas

February 19, 2007 at 2:21 pm | Posted in Statements | 1 Comment

Statement February 17th, 2007McDowell is wrong on Corrib gas  

At the PD Party Conference yesterday, party leader Michael McDowell again made reference to the strategic importance of developing the Corrib gas field. He was also critical of those political parties who are supporting the campaign against the present development proposal.


Mr. McDowell is simply wrong on a number of grounds. First, opposition to the Corrib gas development is not centred on stopping the development of gas but on the specific processing proposal being made by Shell.


Second, no strategic importance to do with the project has ever been demonstrated. Is it security of supply? No, because Bord Gas makes it quite clear that most Irish gas comes from the North Sea and that there is no medium term threat to the continuity of those supplies. Is it lower cost? No, the price of gas is determined by global market forces and Corrib will be purchased at full market price. Are there significant financial benefits to the State? Again no. No royalties are being extracted, no equity share taken, no windfall tax levied. All exploration and development costs can be written off against tax at 100% from year one. Thus very little financial benefit will arise. Might there be jobs from the project? Minimal, other than in the short-term construction of the plant. Once the plant is operational only fifty jobs will be needed. The companies are not obliged to employ Irish workers on their exploration rigs nor do they have to source their supplies from Ireland.


I challenge Mr. McDowell to deny these facts or disprove them. The reality is that instead of securing an indigenous gas supply that could be strategically utilised and be a source of national wealth, the Corrib gas has been privitised and is in effect another source of imported gas to be bought at full market rate. Assertions and bluster to the contrary won’t obscure the woeful government mismanagement of this resource.

For verification or comment contact Mark Garavan 087-9023687

February 16, 2007 at 3:50 pm | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

Democracy for an Ecological Age

    1. Introduction This paper adopts a solution-based approach to the challenge of imagining a new democratic model for Ireland. It proposes a form of governance based on existing institutional and legal possibilities. The urgency for thinking about a radical restructuring of the contemporary model of representative democracy arises from the growing recognition that we are in a condition of global ecological peril, one that demands far-reaching social and economic changes. It is likely that Western populations will have to experience and suffer (as opposed to simply cognitively apprehend) a significant amount of the negative consequences of this ecological condition before the political will is generated to redress the factors which have accounted for such a perilous state. The purpose of this article is to identify those factors and to suggest how they can be addressed. Modern industrial society – Ireland’s included – is socially and ecologically unsustainable. Data on this is overwhelming and barely needs repeating. A few brief illustrations will suffice. For example, it is now widely acknowledged that human induced carbon releases have begun a rapid (in geological time) climate change sequence. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2001) accepts the possibility that average global temperatures may rise by almost 6 degrees centigrade by century’s end. The fact is that we do not know where climate change will lead us. We do not know whether we are at the start of a runaway climate change event or whether we can slow it down. What we can anticipate is that this aggressive alteration of the earth’s careful balance of natural systems will precipitate a climatic feedback that is inevitably going to reconfigure the conducive environmental conditions that have given rise to the series of complex life-forms presently in existence, including ourselves. The planet’s life-forms are in peril from other sources as well. The loss of natural space and habitats, together with the impact of a variety of pollution sources, has directly caused an extraordinary extinction of species. In 1992, the biologist Edward Wilson estimated that 27,000 species were being lost each year. But by the end of 2001, BBC 1’s State of the Planet documentary warned that the situation was far worse. It asserted that unless radical corrective steps were now taken up to a half of all the species on the planet would be lost within the next 50 to 100 years. The extermination of a species is irreversible. In truth, we don’t know how many species there are nor therefore can we definitively know just how many are being lost. What we do know is that the reduction of bio-diversity is now occurring on a scale greater than any experienced in the last 65 million years and is directly the consequence of human activity. With environmental unsustainability goes social unsustainability. The planet simply cannot provide for Western patterns of consumption to be applied everywhere. The world’s richest countries, with 20% of global population, account for 86% of private consumption. The poorest 20% account for 1.3% (UN State of the World Population Report 2001). Nearly 60% of people in poorer counties lack basic sanitation (approximately 2.6 billion people). A third do not have access to clean water. It is doubtful whether food production can be increased to meet the needs of an expanding global population given the context of topsoil depletion, loss of fresh water supplies and a rapid decline in the supply of cheap oil.  Since at least the 1960s a sustained critique on environmental grounds (supplementing a plethora of previous social justice, Marxist and ethical critiques) has been mounted on the existing political and economic system. Initially this environmentalist challenge was led by natural scientists such as Rachel Carson who were increasingly alarmed by the emerging evidence of deterioration and degradation within a range of biological systems. Since then writers and activists from a wide spectrum of theoretical perspectives have joined in this critical analysis. Within the diversity of explanations contributed by environmentalists as to what has gone wrong there is one common discernible theme that can be identified – our ability as humans to relate ecologically to the natural world about us is deeply impaired.  This inability finds itself reflected in, and accentuated by, the dominant Western worldview.  This is the product of elements of Cartesian dualism, of the mechanistic science of Newton, of an anthropocentric conception of god, of the valuing of particular forms of knowing. This broad paradigm has worked itself out within a raft of self-referential social sciences. The negative ecological consequences of this have been most apparent in modern economic theory which is predicated on a series of assumptions such as in its treatment of natural resources as non-cost income, and in classical political theory which has privileged the concept of Nation-State sovereignty.  The consequence is that, by becoming enclosed within ever expanding and apparently successful social systems, those with political and economic power no longer comprehend the fragility or limits of the wider natural setting within which we must operate. Their apprehension of the world has become phenomenologically suspect. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the concept of GDP as a measure of material well-being. This index limits itself to a recording of the value of traded goods and services within a territorially bounded economy but cannot record pollution, resource depletion, bio-diversity loss or even real levels of human well-being. But if evidence of unsustainability and dysfunction is so apparent why do the electorates of the ‘democratic’ world not insist on change? The answer to this is undoubtedly complex. It must include the observation that not enough see the need partly because the western economic and political system continues to give the appearance of being successful. Furthermore, it is difficult for many to imagine what an alternative society might look like. But a primary reason is because the levers of change, the political mechanisms by which change on the scale required can be effected, are in the possession of powerful state and corporate interests who do not want any change whatsoever.   

2. The contemporary democratic context

 While there are a number of possible democratic models the historically dominant form has been that presented by the liberal Nation State. In this model, citizens periodically elect representatives who make laws that are agreed to bind all. This democratic form has given rise to political parties that offer sets of policies and programmes to citizens at election time which they undertake to implement through the duration of the representative assembly or parliament.  It should be briefly noted that from an ecological perspective this model could be argued to have a number of structural flaws, flaws which reflect the cultural assumptions current in 18th and 19th century Europe and North America from where this model emerged. Liberal democracy is predicated on the sovereign hegemony of the Nation State, which asserts a claim to absolute jurisdiction over a territorially bounded space on behalf of a culturally distinctive set of people. Quite apart from the dubious assumptions made by the model, the democracy that it has given rise to is one that limits representation to present citizens over a certain age. What is explicitly excluded from representation are people living outside the state’s borders, future citizens of the state, future people living outside its borders, and all other life-forms, present and future, both inside and outside its borders. The Nation-State is based on a form of representation which is contracted in terms of space, time and species. However, leaving to one side these broader questions, the difficulty now facing us as we examine how we might bring about the changes needed to reduce the ecological peril before us is that even the limited version of representative democracy offered by the contemporary state has ceased to function effectively. And this has occurred at a time when we need popularly responsive mechanisms of governance more than ever. What we are experiencing is a decaying of democracy occurring at both poles of the democratic process – the quality of representation (supply) and the engagement of citizens (demand). Both of these poles have become degraded and rather than co-existing in a state of tension and mutual alertness, which is their ideal state, have declined into atrophy and apathy. The result of this has been that the formal political space of the liberal state, as an arena within which change might be effected, has become abandoned and effectively conceded to the status quo of unsustainable policies. At the supply end of the equation, three features can be identified as responsible for the process of de-democratisation. The first, and most important, is the dominance in public discourse of a certain version of economic rationality. This rationality elevates the functioning of a theoretically imagined free market economy to be the epitome of sound social behaviour. Concepts such as competition, efficiency, free choice, privatisation and many others have been elevated to a non-problematic status as guarantors of prolonged economic growth and social well-being. Within this rationality, there is less and less room for collective forms of decision-making that might run counter to its hegemony. The logic of the free-market is asserted to be the most rational logic available – anything else becomes, ipso facto, irrational and potentially dysfunctional. The claim made is that each individual pursuing his or her own maximum utility results in optimum social well-being. The state’s role is merely to ensure the best environment within which this rationality can proceed. What has happened is that the rules of a particular economic language game have overwhelmed our ability to speak politically in any other credible way. Those who attempt to do so can be charged with being unreasonable, unrealistic, and even dangerous. The effect on public discourse of this ascendancy has been to close down the capacity of public representatives to speak credibly in any other categories. They have become caught in an intellectual box beyond which they cannot manoeuvre. But, even more alarming, this box is not just a theoretical construction. The second factor degrading democratic responsiveness is that power has effectively shifted from visible, accountable persons and institutions to invisible, globally diffused sites and systems. The control exercised by globalised capital over the increasingly inter-dependant national economies has resulted in power being based upon the ability to control financial resources. Capital flows, investment decisions, currency speculations, and other choices exercised by large corporations, directly affect employment levels and wealth levels in individual nation states. It is this power that keeps the box in place. Rather than resist this de facto ceding of domestic control, nation-states have accelerated this process through the creation of international bodies such as the World Trade Organisation which legally binds states into the regime of free trade. The result is that irrespective of who is elected to de jure leadership positions within states, they effectively can do little substantive policy making, i.e. nothing outside the limits of the box and certainly nothing on the scale required by the ecological demands of this time. Finally, elected representatives have presided over the dismantling of the State’s domain of concern in the last couple of decades, voluntarily so in the west, often compulsorily elsewhere as conditions of international loans or in consequence of military interventions. This has occurred in two directions. First has been the deregulation and privatisation of large areas of the economy that were formerly publicly owned – such as transport and electricity provision. Secondly, the State has increasingly devolved decision-making powers from democratic institutions to a variety of administrative bodies. Nowhere is this latter tendency more apparent than in the environmental policy-making area where questions of environmental impact have been determined by pollution control agencies, environmental impact assessment procedures and ‘scientifically’ grounded risk assessments. Environmental concerns have become shunted away from political forums and instead rendered into a series of technical problems to be processed by administrative bodies. The result in this case has been the reduction, de-politicisation and domestication of the alternative models and critiques offered by environmentalism.           In short, the supply of representative function within nation states has degraded due to the discursive dominance of free-market economic imperatives, the acquisition of effective power by private corporations, and the privatisation and bureaucratisation of the state. Furthermore, the ‘war on terror’ has permitted states to further increase their coercive capacities which can be directed towards any defined threat.  This supply contraction has met with, and in large part has itself influenced, a corresponding decline in the demand for representation from electorates. This contraction is an understandable response to the realisation of the limits of representative effectiveness. The growing loss of belief in liberal democracy is summed up in commonly occurring phrases such as – ‘It makes no difference who you vote for’, ‘They are all the same’, ‘They are all puppets who can do nothing anyway’. This assessment by electorates is confirmed by revelations of political corruption, which have swept many western states in recent years. As a result it has become apparent that the formal channel of exercising democratic power grounded on votes exercised by citizens has become outflanked by informal channels of influence, resting on financial power and political funding (licit and illicit), by the corporate few. The consequence has been a further significant impetus to the de-politicisation of the public sphere, with the category of citizen being progressively replaced by that of consumer. The drama of politics has degenerated into a theatre of the absurd as powerless and homogeneous political representatives seek to cajole votes from disengaged, atomised individuals whose focus has become increasingly centred on the domain of their own personal autonomy. The electorates of the West now largely expect nothing from the political system, least of all the possibility of a vision of social transformation being translated into a politically realisable project.   3. What must now be done Given this context – social and ecological unsustainability and democratic decay – what then is to be the role of an engaged civil society. Despair and despondency, while understandable, will not get us anywhere. We are surely challenged to renewed forms of activism in defence of our humanity and planet.  I want to suggest three tasks which appear as immediately necessary.  The first is to create new networks de-linked from the present system, what Rudolf Bahro used to call ‘liberated zones’ (Bahro 1986)[1]. These would be economic, social, political and cultural spaces outside the logic and control of the present economic and political system. They might involve local trading systems, new currencies, acts of self-governance, reclamations of civic space, communal self-reliance. These networks may be based upon face to face contact, as are traditional geographical communities, or they may utilise the possibilities created by the Internet for virtual community and long distance liaison. The point is to bring people together now to create real, existentially viable alternatives and support networks in order to begin the process of constructing a new, sustainable society. No limit, bar human imagination and ingenuity, can be placed on what these networks may be like or upon what their de-linking activities might be. The challenge to de-link now in every way possible appears to provide a key focus for a new and committed activism.    Secondly, the movement for change must be political. De-linking must not be the same as opting out. Our brothers and sisters and fellow species cannot be abandoned to their fate. Activists must re-enter the political sphere with radical critiques of the present system. The imperative to do this is in order to hasten the downfall of the system. The quicker it’s gone the better will be the opening conditions for a new model. A political programme centred on policies of sustainable survival needs to be developed to which all strands of progressive opinion subscribes and constantly puts before electorates. What mainstream opinion requires above all is an extension to the limits of its economic and political imagination so that it comes to realise that, as the participants in the World Social Forum have been asserting for the last three years from Porto Alegre in 2001 on, ‘another world is possible’. Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, we must develop the new ideas that will inform the ecological society. The present system, and its assertions of rationality, needs to be de-mystified. New ideas and social models will draw on the knowledge gleaned from all the de-linked networks and experiments mentioned above. The coherence and viability of these ideas are crucial because we may yet cling to one hope – as the nation states collapse economically and environmentally they may yet reach out and clutch onto these new policies in desperation and reconfigure themselves sustainably to ensure their own survival. The task of idea-formation is not just one for a narrow band of ‘intellectuals’ – it is for all who have engaged in a praxis of dissent and de-linking. Indeed, the ideas that we may formulate now will only ever be provisional. We cannot know what will work or not into the future – the very ecological context that we require for future governance and economic activity ensures that learning and reflexivity will be an essential attribute of such a model.    4. Towards an Irish model of ecological governance In the final part of this paper I wish to take up the challenge posed above and to move beyond the generalities of ‘oughts’ and ideals to concretely sketch what the contours of a putative Irish eco-State might look like. To construct such a model I will draw for reference on the Irish Constitution of 1937 in order to argue that models for democratic systems that aspire to environmental sustainability can be both flexibly conceived and yet institutionally available in order to be properly embedded within existing cultural and political contexts. This is not proposed as an ideal political structure – rather, it is suggested as a possible model for immediate application. In exploring the outlines of what eco-governance might look like we are not of course starting from scratch. There has been a considerable body of work done on what the desired alternative green world might look like. In general, green conceptions of a sustainable economic and social model have organised themselves around a number of key points of reference. These key points include communitarianism, participative democracy, communal self-reliance, and ecologically sensitive, human scale technologies. The assumption is that these structures, if allowed to determine the political and economic order, will invariably produce a sustainable society. There is little doubt that that might be so. However, while these are a necessary condition for ecological well-being they are unlikely to be a sufficient condition.  It is likely that we will need interlocking systems of governance in order to balance potential problems which might arise given that we are dealing with human constructions. For example, a community-based government is vulnerable to authoritarianism (especially towards minorities or deviants from norms), and introspection, and potentially to non-compliance with wider ecological standards. Therefore, a further level of governance, such as a reconfigured state, may be required as a corrective to ensure equity and compliance and to institutionally represent the interests of non-participating members of the broadly defined ecological community i.e. other communities, future citizens and other life-forms. But States too need an inter-State mechanism to ensure that they comply with internationally agreed norms. To solve the environmental problems facing us we will need binding international agreement. In short, we need multi-level government to ensure that no one defaults, either locally or nationally, from the constraints of acting sustainably.   I wish to show how the Irish State can be pretty quickly reconfigured in this way. This reconfiguration is based on the Constitutional text as it stands without any further amendment and may be offered as forming part of the programme of a radically re-politicised environmental movement. The goal of such a reconfiguration would be to remove the structural flaws built into the liberal state by re-ordering the balance of its representative weight towards the non-participating interests of future generations and other life-forms and towards maximising democratic participation. The point is to re-align democratic principles with ecological principles in order to better ensure ecological outcomes.  4.1 Local government There is no doubt that good ecological governance must be primarily local governance. This argument, which centres on reconnecting people to place, creating self-reliant communities and reducing to a minimum transportation and long-distance trade, has been convincingly made in the environmental literature and does not require re-elaboration. The Irish Constitution permits a radical restructuring of decision-making towards the local. Article 15.2.1The sole and exclusive power of making laws for the State is hereby vested in the Oireachtas: no other legislative authority has power to make laws for the State. Article 15.2.2Provision may however be made by law for the creation or recognition of subordinate legislatures and for the powers and functions of these legislatures. It is clear from this provision that extensive amounts of law making can be devolved to local units of governance. These units are described as ‘legislatures’, i.e. law-making bodies. The powers and functions of these legislatures can be set by the Oireachtas. Furthermore, the Oireachtas may not only create such bodies, it may also recognise them. This implies that de-linked self-governing units are entirely compatible with the existing constitutional structure of the State and may be facilitated by the State following their formation. What this shows is that a radical switch to local governance and sustainability can be legally accomplished immediately.  4.2 Legislation The Constitution permits considerable latitude regarding how law is made by the Oireachtas. There are no stipulations regarding the types of legislative stages that Bills must pass through before becoming law. The present practice is for Bills to go through five stages which differ largely according to the time each allocates for debate and amendment. It is therefore possible to have an ecological or sustainability stage that would in particular enshrine the precautionary principle in any piece of legislation. Such a stage would oblige the Oireachtas to discuss the Bill under this criterion. Such a stage may also be processed by sub-committees of the Oireachtas which would permit direct participation by groups representing environmental and other interests. It is also possible to provide the Seanad with a specific brief on environmental matters. The constitutional practice has been for the Seanad to review legislation coming from the Dail. In addition, the Taoiseach’s eleven Seanad nominees could be selected so as to represent specific ecological interests. Furthermore, some of the Seanad’s five electoral panels could have environmental bodies and organisations added to them as nominating bodies, in particular the panels pertaining to national culture and professional interests, agriculture and allied interests, and industry and commerce. Furthermore, the Constitution permits these panels to be elected by much wider constituencies than they are at present. Thus they may be directly elected by the people under Article 18.10.1. Finally, there is provision for direct participation in law making by the electorate under Article 27. This provision applies to Bills deemed to be ‘of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained’ (Article 27.1). This possibility is triggered by a petition, comprising a majority of the Seanad and not less than one-third of the Dail, addressed to the President who makes the final decision. In the context of the technological possibilities opened up by electronic voting one could anticipate an ecologically responsive state being more amenable to such forms of direct democracy.   4.3 An Environmental Council Betraying its roots in the vocationalist / fascistic 1930s the Constitution also makes provision for the establishment of councils representing social and economic interests. Article 15.3.1The Oireachtas may provide for the establishment or recognition of functional or vocational councils representing branches of the social and economic life of the people. Article 15.3.2A law establishing or recognising any such council shall determine its rights, powers and duties, and its relation to the Oireachtas and to the Government. It seems entirely possible that this provision permits the establishment, or recognition, of an Environmental Council that could be granted extensive powers and duties, including a supervisory function in national ecological policy formation, ensuring conformity to ecological norms, legislative inputs and above all in articulating at a national level the ecological interests of future generations and other species. This Council may be directly elected by the people, or indirectly by the local units of government, and may be made subject to recall by the electorate.     4.4 Ecological Courts Finally, it is also possible to make use of the law and courts to further ensure ecological sustainability. This could be done through an Act which establishes new environmental rights and corresponding duties or elaborates existing ones. Such an Act could be supplemented by the formation of a specialised Ecological Court which could adjudicate on matters that may contravene ecological principles enumerated in the Act. These provisions could replace, or add to, existing Special Area of Conservation designations, Environmental Impact Assessment procedures and various planning assessments. Furthermore, an Environmental Ombudsman could also be created along existing models to process complaints under environmental legislation. There is already a personal right recognised by the Irish courts which could provide for a much expanded set of juridically processible rights. Under Article 40.3.1 the State ‘guarantees to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen’. In a case brought in 1965[2] against the validity of adding fluoride to the public water supply, the courts held that while it was not proven that this was dangerous to the health of the individual, there was nevertheless a right to bodily integrity implied by Article 40.3.1 even though not explicitly mentioned there. The recognition of this right opens up considerable environmental possibilities which could be expanded in a Bodily Integrity Act. The High Court defined the right as follows: I understand the right to bodily integrity to mean that no mutilation of the body or any of its members may be carried out on any citizen under authority of the law except for the good of the whole body and that no process which is or may, as a matter of probability, be dangerous or harmful to the life or health of the citizens or any of them may be imposed (in the sense of being made compulsory) by an Act of the Oireachtas (Kenny J).  This definition was endorsed and expanded in the Supreme Court. … I see no reason why the principle should not also operate to prevent an act or omission of the Executive which, without justification, would expose the health of a person to risk or danger (O’Dalaigh J.).It seems clear that there is a basis here for a greatly expanded set of environmental rights based on existing case law and supported by legislation which would permit legal challenges to any attempt by the State to expose the health of any citizen to even the risk of danger. The ecological implications are obvious. In summary then, a reconfiguration of the Irish political system that may be required in the immediate short term might result in a model with the following general features.  

International Agreements and Enforcement


Environmental Court:

Ecological Standards &Expanded Right to Bodily Integrity 

Environmental Ombudsman

The State:Equity and Supervisory RoleDail – Precautionary PrincipleSeanad –Environmental Representation

Environmental Council


Local Legislatures

Citizen Networks

Such a political infrastructure would be complementary to a new economic infrastructure based on local trading systems operating with local currencies, supplemented by national and international currencies.5. Conclusion While we cannot be overly prescriptive regarding the appropriate models for ecological governance we do need to have some preliminary working ideas in position. New models may be required at relatively short notice. It is in that spirit that this paper is offered.  We cannot know what the opening operating conditions for the introduction of a new model will be. If it is within a context of widespread social chaos and State authoritarianism we will enter realms of great danger and risk. There is little doubt that the lives of many millions of more people will be in danger (there are already millions in danger and being lost). The development of new social models for an ecological age is now the most pertinent task for the contemporary environmental movement. This task is above all else a political task to be undertaken with a new, enriched understanding of politics that defines its aims as that of furthering the fulfilment of human interest by integrating this with the interest of the total earth community. That task is open-ended – its outcome is unclear and must be learnt and refined only as we go along. But what is involved here is not just tinkering with an economic and political system. It is nothing less than the construction of a new civilisation.     

[1] Bahro, Rudolf (1986). Building the Green Movement. GMP Publishers.

[2] Ryan V. Attorney General 1965.

February 16, 2007 at 2:48 pm | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

The Politics of ‘Moral Force’ – Davitt and Saro-Wiwa 

I want to talk about the politics of moral force. As a form of political activity – that is, as a means to achieve social and political change – it can be contrasted with conventional, parliamentary politics on the one hand and with physical force or violence on the other. Moral force is a powerful tool available to anybody with sufficient courage. It involves saying no to being de-humanised in any way and instead asserting and insisting on our dignity and rights as free human beings. Moral force is about bearing witness to our humanity and being prepared to pay the price of confronting those powerful and necessarily aggressive forces which curtail and diminish that humanity. Moral force is not just a tactical strategy. It is intrinsically necessary as a statement about ourselves, about our values, about our disposition towards our comrades and perhaps above all towards our adversaries. In the long term we and our adversaries have the same interests. Moral force is an affirmation of our common humanity in the midst of our struggles. It encompasses not just our actions but our words too. Our words reveal who we are, our spirit, our dream. The means we use to achieve our social and political objectives tell us about the goals we have in mind – the type of world we want to bring about. Moral force requires moral courage because at the time it is employed its position on the side of justice is not necessarily recognized or accepted. Indeed, it is inevitably contested. Moral courage is standing up at the time and taking your position in the always ambiguous uncertain ground of the present. History will determine who was right but history belongs to the future.

 To illustrate this idea I want to talk about three events and two individuals. The events are Irishtown, Co. Mayo in April 1879; Ogoni in March 1993; and North Mayo in the summer of 2005. The two individuals are Michael Davitt and Ken-Saro Wiwa. What these events and people have in common is that they each illustrate moral force and courage in action. While each situation is different and clearly distinguishable they each involve an assertion of human dignity and a refusal to be oppressed or servile to those with power and resources. 


Let me begin then with Irishtown. Mayo of the 1870s was in a horrific social and economic condition. Starvation was a reality for many and during the decade there were growing concerns that there would be a repeat of the Great Famine of the 1840s. It is estimated that during that Famine 100,000 people died in County Mayo alone out of a population then estimated at perhaps 250,000. The 1870s were characterised by growing levels of eviction whereby tenant families would be forcibly removed from their homes and lands because of their inability to pay escalating levels of rent insisted on by the landlords. Often their miserable dwellings would then be ‘tumbled’ so there was no hope of return. The desperation of the tenants was accentuated by a culture of deference, passivity and fear which made them accept their lot as though it were fated and simply their unavoidable destiny in this life. (A phenomenon well described by Paulo Freire in South America). As Davitt wrote in his ‘The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland’:

It was always England’s soldiers, England’s laws, or England’s judges that confronted the tenants, cottiers, or labourers of the land whenever, singly or in combination, they had to assert the ordinary claims of humanity, in illegal or other ways, against this despotic social and political ruling power. Neither law nor land, homes or government, belonged to the people. They were treated as intruders and outlaws in their fatherland.

There had been some efforts to redress the shocking condition of the Mayo tenantry most notably with the founding of the Mayo Tenant’s Defence Association in 1978 chaired by JJ Louden from Westport and with my great-grand uncle James Daly as secretary. James Daly had publicly called for the establishment of a land movement in the west as far back as 1875. It was Daly who invited the newly released prisoner Michael Davitt to tour Mayo in 1878 to see the appalling destitution in the County and who sponsored his visit.

 In Jan 1879 a group of tenants from the Bourke estate in Irishtown approached Daly and asked him to publicise their grievances in the Connaught Telegraph which Daly edited at the time. Their rents were rising and many were under threat of eviction. Instead Daly proposed that they hold a public meeting to highlight their problems in particular and tenant issues in general. That meeting was held on Sunday April 20 and was an extraordinary success. The crowd was variously estimated as anything from 4,000 to 15,000 people – quite an extraordinary turnout at the time and given the conditions. Daly chaired the meeting which was addressed by a number of local figures including one of the MPs for Mayo, John O’Connor-Power. Three resolutions were passed two of which had been drafted by Michael Davitt. 

This meeting had an incredible consequence both immediate and long-term. The immediate result was that the eviction notices were withdrawn from the Bourke tenants and the rent was reduced by 25%. Other local landlords followed suit. More generally though to quote a recent book on the subject by Bernard O’Hara ‘The Irishtown meeting ignited the flame that was to change the face of rural Ireland, and this small Mayo village became ‘the cradle of the Land League’’. In time further meetings were held in Mayo and elsewhere and the land league developed. What had happened? What was so significant about this event? The people had literally stood up and said no to their situation.


  • deference gone
  • empowerment
  • grassroots organisation – not parliamentary force (though the link with the Irish Party was crucial to its success), not physical force but moral force (what later came to be called passive resistance)
  • new repertoire of moral force – meetings, publicising grievances (shaming), boycotting or social ostracism, rent withdrawals, non-occupying evicted lands
  • ultimately a social revolution achieved incrementally over a number of years but inexorably

 The Land League illustrates the value and effectiveness of moral force. A social revolution was achieved using almost entirely peaceful means. But what is required is discipline, clear and focused objectives, patience and resilience. The most crucial point is that the means by which the Land League acted were itself part of the process of the conscientisation and politicisation of the tenant farmers. Both exclusively parliamentary means and physical force means involve handing power over to smaller elite groups. Acting by moral force becomes a praxis that in itself creates the society and world you desire. Means and ends become fused. By saying no to something and by how you say no with dignity and resolve you are already saying yes to something else and telling us about the world you will build. Bitter means will inevitably lead to bitter outcomes. Moral means lead to moral outcomes.


The exact same principles are illustrated in the great revival of the Ogoni people from 1990 following the foundation of Mosop. There are of course many people here who know far more about these events than I do and experienced them directly. As part of their campaign for Ogoni rights a large protest march was planned for January 4, 1993. Again, as in the Irishtown meeting, this was to be a demonstration of moral force – non-parliamentary and non-violent. Again it was to be a public manifestation of solidarity and commitment, or of a moral refusal to accede to injustice and a moral affirmation of rights and human dignity. As Ken Saro-Wiwa had said:

‘And finally we must begin to build action to transform our current advantages into political scores. This is not, I repeat, NOT a call to violent action. We have a moral claim over Nigeria. This moral claim arises as much from the murder of 30,000 Ogoni people during the civil war by Ojukwu’s followers as from the usurpation of US$30 billion worth of our oil and the destruction of our ecology amounting to the same sum. Our strength derives from this moral advantage, and that is what we have to press home.’ (52)

As with Irishtown, bringing together so many people in a co-ordinated march in four centers across Ogoni held risks of violence from either the security forces or indeed the marchers. Again to quote Saro-Wiwa:

 Four men and where possible a woman had been assigned the task of forming committees in each village; and the village committees in turn had been given the responsibility of ensuring that everyone turned out for the protest march along with dance troupes, masquerades and all such.One word about the festival aspect of the march. Joy should not have been a part of so serious and monumental a protest. But I was very worried about a number of things. True, we had told everyone that we were not going to be violent; that not a stone would be thrown. But how could we be sure that this would be carried out? Crowd control would be another problem. If we could not keep the men, women and children who would turn out busy, then the devil would find them an occupation. Hence the decision to keep them entertained with spectacle and song. 

In the event the day was an incredible success. 300,000 people marched throughout Ogoni almost 2/3 of the entire population. I quote Saro-Wiwa again:

‘’The empowerment which had enabled them to stand up to their oppressors at long last was the issue of the day’ (85).

 ‘When it was my turn to speak, I mounted the rostrum and sized up the crowd. From a vantage point above everyone, I saw a new profile of the Ogoni people, a profile I had not identified. I saw eagerness, determination and joy on the young faces that looked up to the men on the rostrum. And I knew that a new seed had germinated and everything would have to be done to water, nurture, grow and harvest it. Ogoni would surely not be the same again’ (88). 

That day, 4 January, was a truly liberation day: a day on which young and old, able and disabled, rich and poor, all of Ogoni came out to reassert themselves and to give notice that the nation had come of age – that it would not accept its destruction passively. We had surmounted the psychological barrier of fear. Ogoni would never be the same again. (92).

You can hear in this account echoes of the Irishtown meeting – the loss of deference, of servility, the recovery of pride and dignity. Again, the means used were part of the very process of liberation.


North Mayo 2005

Finally, the third event illustrating the value and necessity of moral force – North Mayo 2005. As you know on September 30th  last year five men – the Rossport Five – were discharged from prison by the High Court in Dublin. They had served ninety-four days in Cloverhill prison for refusing to obey a court order directing them not to interfere with work on the proposed Shell pipeline in North Mayo. When they entered prison on June 29th they were almost entirely unknown outside a cluster of small villages and communities. By the time they left prison they had become figures of national and, even to some extent, international prominence.

When the men were released they entered a different world from that of ninety-four days previously. Then, the scenes both inside and outside the court were nothing short of horrific. People lay on the footpath overcome with grief and despair. Others stood shocked and numbed that peaceful protest could have resulted in an indefinite prison sentence. When the men entered prison, the Corrib gas project seemed a done deal, certain to go ahead. No one was paying any attention to the demands of locals. Shell had already begun work on excavating peat from the site of their proposed gas processing plant. However, by the time the men were released all of this had changed. The following day the men led a crowd of 5,000 people through the streets of Dublin. That evening, in the early hours of the morning, they returned to Mayo greeted by bonfires and many hundreds of their neighbours.


However, the focus on the men may have obscured the extraordinary events which had unfolded in North Mayo through the summer of 2005. In effect, a local community had revolted and refused to accept a development project that they felt had been imposed on the area. Their refusal was such that irrespective of the law, irrespective of the consequences to themselves, they brought the entire Shell project to a stop. This was exemplified on the Monday morning following the men’s imprisonment and on the day following an extraordinary rally in Castlebar which was attended by a huge crowd of many thousands. Some hundreds of people gathered at the gate of the proposed Shell refinery site in North Mayo and spontaneously decided not to permit Shell lorries enter the site for further peat excavation. A Garda inspector arrived in due course and the people gathered there fully expected that they would all be arrested and charged. In the event, the Gardai chose not to act against the local people and the demonstration continued causing a complete closure of Shell’s worksite. There had been no violence, no aggression – just a moral assertion of rights and dignity.

In effect, people were saying no to being treated as objects without a voice. They were saying no to being exposed to unacceptable levels of risk, no to their families, community and place being diminished and threatened for the profits of a multi-national corporation. But they were also affirming community values and democracy. At the heart of the community’s opposition was their profound sense that the insertion of a huge processing plant and associated pipelines into their community, without any participation from themselves and without any long-term benefit, would irrevocably transform their place from a locale of intimacy and familiarity to something threatening and alien. Therefore, to understand the Corrib gas conflict you have to see the world in a particular way. You have to know the value of place and what that means. You have to know what it is to feel invaded, to be afraid and to have no power to resist. You have to know what it is like to be ignored, to be ridiculed.

In North Mayo however people fought back and refused to allow their place be taken from them. Their stance is therefore a moment of optimism in a world of growing ecological decline and political disengagement. Yet neither the community nor the five men who went to prison were heroes. These were ordinary people caught in an extraordinary situation. They did not seek out this position – these events were thrust upon them. Everything that they did they did because they felt they had no choice. They opposed the Shell project because they believed that they had to do so in order to protect themselves and their families. The five men resisted Shell’s efforts to access lands in the village of Rossport because this was the logical consequence of their opposition to the project. They broke an order of the court because that was the logical inevitability of continuing to protect themselves. They accepted imprisonment because they believed that they could not agree to cease their opposition. They remained in prison indefinitely because they could not accept that they must accede to Shell’s project. People in their villages brought Shell’s work to an end, risking imprisonment themselves, because they could not permit their neighbours to be incarcerated while Shell’s project was permitted to proceed. Thus everything was driven by necessity and events. If this was heroism it was heroism of the ordinary kind, heroism that all people are capable of when they feel left without choice.

 The events may have been triggered ostensibly by a single issue but showing through is the enduring quality of the human spirit. We live in a cynical age where motives are constantly questioned and where value is nearly always measured in monetary terms. From the beginning of the Corrib gas conflict, the concerns of locals were dismissed by crude stereotypes. They were accused of seeking greater financial compensation. They were accused of not understanding what Shell was proposing. They were accused of being left-wing ideologues. They were accused of being luddites and anti-progress. The Corrib gas project itself was imbued with some of the most dominant myths of modernity, that industrialisation equals development, that industrial development equals progress, that fossil fuels must always be exploited.  In resisting these stereotypes and myths one can discern in this campaign a progression from an initial reaction to the gas proposal towards an affirmation of a particular set of values. It is in this sense that the North Mayo protests were not simply defensive and reactive. They were also assertions of autonomy, participation, and democratic rights. In short, people insisted that they had a legitimate view of their own and a distinct version of what constitutes development and modernisation. The methods used perfectly exemplify what I am describing as moral force.   

Davitt and Saro-Wiwa

I want to briefly turn now to the two men I have already referred to – Davitt and Saro-Wiwa. I do so to illustrate how the methods of moral force are tied up not just with achieving political objectives but also with our very humanity, who we ourselves are, who we wish to be as human beings. In a political struggle one can be transformed very easily. One can be diminished and embittered by politics and campaigning. We have all seen this happen many times to very good and committed people. It is Yeats who captured this best in his great lines from the wonderful poem ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’:

 We had fed the heart on fantasies,The heart’s grown brutal from the fare,More substance in our enmitiesthan in our loves But one can also be humanised and ennobled (if one can use such a word nowadays) by conflict. Some people become enriched and manage to touch deep personal and human resources that allow them to access a vision and depth of experience that permits them to transcend the immediate issues they are campaigning on and to articulate values and principles that are of universal significance. Both Davitt and Saro-Wiwa attained these levels which is precisely why their names live on and will live on wherever human beings invoke principles of justice and humanisation. Both were deepened by their political experiences. Both asserted the power of argument. Both asserted the centrality of human dignity. Take Davitt’s extraordinary will which he wrote in 1904. In it he writes: 

My diaries are not to be published without my wife’s permission. On no account must anything harsh or censorious, written in said diaries by me about any person dead or alive, who has ever worked for Ireland, be printed, published or used so as to give pain to any friend or relative. To all my friends I leave kind thoughts; to my enemies the fullest forgiveness; and to Ireland the undying prayer for the absolute freedom and independence which it was my life’s ambition to try and obtain for her.

Davitt moved from a simple Fenianism through the politics of the Land League to ever wider humanitarian interests. He wrote accounts of his travels in Australia where he drew critical attention to the plight of mine workers and Aborigines. He wrote about the Boer war and championed the case of East European Jews in his book ‘Within the Pale’. He became a firm supporter of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Davitt argued for women’s rights, a political party for the British working class (the Labour Party which came to fruition) and he supported free non-denominational education. He abandoned his early belief in violence as a means of effecting change in favour of the most potent tools of all – his ideas and his words.

These too were the means favoured by Ken Saro-Wiwa.

 “I am a man of ideas in and out of prison — my ideas will live.” In his statement before the court which tried him (which he could not read) he said: My lord, We all stand before history. I am a man of peace, of ideas. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people who live on a richly endowed land, distressed by their political marginilization and economic strangulation, angered by the devestation of their land, their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and to a decent living, and determined to usher to this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group and gives us all a valid claim to human civilization, I have devoted my intellectual and material resources, my very life, to a cause in which I have total belief and from which I cannot be blackmailed or intimidated.On another occasion in prison he wrote: 

‘I warned that, in my absence, the violence which I feared most might erupt. I prayed that this should not be, as I was more than anxious to keep the struggle at a non-violent level.’ (25)

 There are depths of humanity here being plumbed. Despite the incredible suffering, the horrific injustice which he and his people experienced, Saro-Wiwa retained an inclusive vision of peace and ultimate reconciliation. In Camus’ great allegorical novel The Plague Dr. Rieux, who is leader of the groups who fight against the onset of the plague, says: There’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is – common decency. 

Part of the necessity and vitality of moral force is that its advocates can look beyond the immediate to the time when the conflict is over and life must be restored. As the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess wrote:

All human (and non-human) beings have long-term interests in common.

 Why do we need this?  ·        We live now in an increasingly brutalised world. Images of violence are dominant and a tolerance of violence is thereby created. Iraq etc. ·        We live in a time of ecological devastation. Global warming has begun. Oil and gas companies are in principle unethical.·        We have a politics without a moral compass.·        We live in a world of ethnic, religious and cultural hatreds and intolerance. Liberalism has become a term of abuse. There is thus much at stake. In our campaigning and protesting we must meet each other on the plain of our common humanity. Despite our issues, despite the exigencies and imperatives of our struggles, we forget our common humanity at our peril.     References A month and a day & letters (1995), Ken Saro-Wiwa. Ayebia Press. ISBN 0-9547023-5-2Davitt (2006), Bernard O’Hara. Mayo County Council. ISBN 0-9519624-77

Joint Statement with Dr Jerry Cowley

February 15, 2007 at 9:24 am | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

Joint Statement Feb 12, 2007  

The Corrib gas conflict has gone on for far too long. From the outset, there has been a failure to politically address the issues which have given rise to the conflict. There has been a refusal by those in political authority to recognise the depth and legitimacy of community opposition to the project. We call again on political representatives to show leadership and proactivly seek to resolve this dispute. Washing one’s hands of the issue is simply not good enough. A political solution offers the only viable solution.

For our part, we commit ourselves to work together to achieve this. We wish to ensure a safe project for the people of Mayo and one that yields real and significant benefits.

Finally, we call on Friday’s Day of Support in Bellanaboy to be conducted peacefully and with respect for all and we appeal to the Gardai to exercise restraint and discipline in their policing.

Dr Jerry Cowley

Dr Mark Garavan.

STATEMENT Feb. 6, 2007

February 8, 2007 at 4:00 pm | Posted in Statements | 2 Comments

I wish to announce that I will be contesting the forthcoming Seanad Éireann elections in the NUI constituency. I will be standing as an Independent unaligned to any political party.

I believe there are many in modern Ireland disturbed and disillusioned by the failure of our major political parties to create a society of decency and standards where all citizens can live their lives with respect and dignity. We need a democracy that works. We need a democracy where good ideas and argument win out over vested interests. To achieve this we need independent voices with the courage to speak out and shape public debate. I commit myself to being one such voice.

I believe the Seanad can be an appropriate forum within which such debates can take place. Over the coming months I will pursue a number of crucially important issues. These include the current controversy regarding the Corrib gas project which has raised disturbing questions regarding the quality of democratic engagement with communities, the management of the State’s natural resources and the failure to plan for our future energy requirements. In addition, it is now clearer than ever that we must urgently face up to the consequences of global warming. We also need a critical examination of our education system’s responsibility to prepare our people to be just and responsible citizens and not simply proficient consumers. I hope that the graduates of the NUI with concerns about these issues will give me their support.

Dr Mark Garavan is a native of Castlebar, Co. Mayo. He is a sociologist lecturing in the Department of Nursing, GMIT, Castlebar. From 1988 he worked for a number of years with Dublin Simon Community. He has worked as a youth care worker in Carlow and Kerry. He was a researcher with the Environmental Change Institute in NUI, Galway from 2000 to 2003.

For comment or verification contact Mark Garavan 087-9023687

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