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October 09, 2007


Dan O' Neill

Great response Michael....I was involved with the Greens for a short time before I joined Labour and when I see comment like that of Ciaran it makes me cringe..Like you I agree that the left agenda and the green agenda can go hand in hand....Only through the democratisation you talk about can a sustainable environment be created. . . It's two parts of the one coin....Fair play

Paul Dillon

I wrote in a Labour Youth pamphlet some time ago about the left and environmental protection and about how the left can offer a holistic, joined up policy linking questions of environmental questions with economic and social issues.
I agree strongly with the the points on co-operation.
Also interesting to note that there were motions passed on the environment at Labour Party conferences some years before the Irish Greens were formed.

Dan O Neill

"Also interesting to note that there were motions passed on the environment at Labour Party conferences some years before the Irish Greens were formed."

True Paul...The Labour Party has had comprehensive environmental policy since 1978, 4 years before the Greens began!


Dan, Paul - you wouldn't happen to have any of the policies or motions you refer to? If they could be up on a web-page or even summarised, that would be very instructive. It's always struck me that the Left - in particular, Labour - doesn't value its own history to the extent that it makes its past positions accessible to people. Its not just the environment. Labour has an education policy that calls for national schools to be brought under public and democratic control. How topical. And that policy was published back in 1968/69 (of course, James Connolly published a similar demand in an election manifesto back in the 19th century). Sometimes, you don't have to reinvent the wheel.


I would agree with your comments on the difficulties faced by unions, the need to address the 5:40 divide, and the need to find a way for workers in all sectors to find a vehicle for protecting their interests against the onslaught of free market ideology.

It is true also that poor funding and mismanagement by government has damaged the public sector.

But, personally I remain convinved that:

1.In large chunks of the public sector, work practices and management practices alike are woefully inefficient, outdated, and inflexible. Underfunding, therefore, is not the sole, perhaps in some cases not even the primary, root of the problem. Inefficiencies abound and Cuffe alludes to examples which illustrate this point fairly well.

2.The various factions of the public sector are often ruthlessly committed to preserving their own conditions even where this prevents reform that is both obvious and desparately required.

Cuffe was right to highlight these aspects of the public service. You failed to acknowledge or disprove these problems and instead went on the defensive. For me this is the kind of closing of ranks that is far too typical of the public service and is a huge tributary in the vast river of cyicism towards the public service.

The public service is not all bad. For sure many arms of it function well and deliver a thoroughly good return on tax payers' money. But whole chunks of it need to be modernised.

Cuffe was right to point out that the distrust of government undermines the public's willingness to bank roll the public service.

Therefore, those sections of the public service which resist reform are in effect killing the long term prospects of our ever building a society where the public service is held in high regard, well funded, and efficacious.


Tomaltach - hands up, I take your points. I didn't mean to be defensive but I'm sure it may have come across that way to a lot of people. I usually don't pay much heed when I hear trade unions being called vested interests since it is usually coming from the right (who have a vested interest in attacking employees and their representatives). But when I hear it from someone I have regard for, well, I was frankly taken aback. Though he used the phrase 'vested interest' six times in his speech, nowhere did Ciaran define it. He merely labelled trade unions as 'vested interests' and used two examples to justify that (secondary teachers and a handful of public sector staff in Dun Laoire), I'm not familiar with these two issues but even if his complaints are legitimate, they still don't bolster a claim of vested interest. Surely, Ciaran is aware of how pejorative that term is - and to claim the Left is a 'vehicle' and 'receptacle' of vested interests: I doubt that will contribute to a constructive debate.

But on the particular issue you mention, yes, no doubt, without a doubt, dollars to doughnuts - there are people in all walks of life that behave irrationally. And the Left should root out inefficiencies wherever it can - otherwise its platform of promoting a strong public sector (as you rightly point out) will not be taken seriously. I would suggest one small thing: let's start that efficiency drive in another place, one that is quite distant from labelling an entire movement a vested interest just because there are some instances of inefficiencies.


Obviously, I can't speak for Ciarán, but I get a different impression from reading his speech. You seem to have the impression that he's calling the entire trade union movement purely a collection of vested interests. The impression I get is that the union movement has some vested interests within it, and that it doesn't tackle them.

Trade unions are a good thing, but sometimes they go too far in securing rights for their members - Ciarán's example of the ASTI inspection practice is a good one. I think we can all agree that it's a case of a union using its influence to insulate their members from perfectly fair criticism.

The point is that the left (with particular reference to Labour) tend to be uncritical of this. By being uncritical of unions, the left becomes a vehicle for some of the unions' worse decisions.

Conor McCabe

I love this lazy analysis that sees an uncritical approach to the trade union movement as Labour's doing. This holds for England, but not here. The trade union's friend in government has not been Labour, but Fianna Fáil. where do you think partnership came from? and yet, the Irish labour party is told to break its links with the trade union movement in order to move on! A classic example of reading the English newspapers and applying the analysis to Ireland. If links with the trade union movement were a hindrance to election, FF would have dropped partnership years ago.


Eh, no, not quite. I don't read many English papers, and I'd share the analysis.

These blog comments are a good example. Someone says something critical of the unions and people "cringe" and become defensive. I've had someone mention how Ciarán's being saying bad things about unions, and they mentioned this blog.

To me, that's overly defensive of unions. I'm not saying that you should move on, or that you should "break your links" - I don't really care. However, by being largely uncritical of unions, the Left allows itself to be used as a vehicle for some of the negative work that unions do.


Thanks Pidge for your comments. I have stated in my resposne to Tomnaltach - that my post might have been a bit defensive. Its a fair criticism. And to say that there are some things that people get up to in trade union are subject legitimate criticism is also fair. However, let's be clear - Ciaran's piece was quite hurtful to many of us. As I said above - he used the phrase 'vested interest' numerous times in relation to trade unions without any qualification. And as for the Left being uncritical of trade unions - that's not something that could describe the previous Labour leadership who attacked the driving testers during a Conference speech (which I discussed in a post) and who attacked ESB workers prior to the last election (the basis of that attack had me utterly mystified since the ESB workers weren't doing anything industrially). So the Labour leadership was quite capable of having a go at trade union members.

Can I suggest a way of how we can move on. I certainly don't want to give credence to Green-bashing - I write about that in a prveious post as well. We should try to first find a form of dialogue that maximises understanding. Second, we should find ways to work together even though the Left and the Greens find themselves on different sides of the 'House'. I've suggested previously that the Left should positively embrace the all-party committee on climate change and work with the Greens to advance a progressive agenda. There is also very fruitful grounds for cooperation on John Gormley's upcoming local government review - and area where the Left and the Greens have much in common.

THese are concrete areas of cooperation and if the Left and the Greens do engage constructively with each in these area where they share so much, then we might come to greater understanding of each other's positions on other subjects - like trade unions. I know I'm game for it.

Conor McCabe

Pidge, you've missed my point completely. I'm not defending the unions. I'm saying that the analysis that Labour should break its links with the unions is one that completely ignores the elephant in the room - namely, Fianna Fáil's very public links with the trade union movement via partnership, and through its own political history.

If labour's links with the unions has cost it support, why hasn't Fianna Fail's links cost it votes?

It is a lazy approach to assume that just because the British labour party has moved away from the trade union movement, that Irish labour has to do the same, when it is quite plain that such links, through partnership, (and history), have not done Fianna Fail any harm whatsoever.

where's my defence of the unions by pointing out that Fianna Fáil have a good relationship with trade unions, and have had so for decades, going back, in fact, to the formation of FF itself in 1926?

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