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Image from the book cover of Fintan O'Toole's "Enough is Enough"

‘Mad as hell’ journalist stokes huge petition drive

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Image from the book cover of Fintan O'Toole's "Enough is Enough"

Two days ago Irish Times columnist, Fintan O'Toole, launched an online petition to show that the Irish public will not support any candidate who does not commit to radical reform.

The petition has already received thousands of signatures and is gaining momentum by the hour, with Mr. O'Toole tweeting that "the petition is flying...We need 100,000 to really make it count."

The ten point plan that O'Toole is encouraging people to sign is a simplified summary of the ‘Fifty Ideas For Action’ in his new book "Enough Is Enough; How to Build a New Republic" and is set out on www.fintanotoole.ie.

"1. SHARE THE PAIN
No one paid from the public purse should earn more than €100,000 during the period of the emergency.

2. PUT THE PARISH PUMP BACK IN THE PARISH
Real local democracy, paid for by local taxes, and using direct democracy at every level, must be established.

3. END CLIENTILISM
Change the electoral system that turns TDs into constituency fixers. Replace it with a mix of direct election and a list system similar to that used for the Scottish parliament.

4. CUT THE FAT
Reduce the Dail to 100 members. Either transform the Senate within 12 months into a genuine forum for civic society or abolish it.

5. MAKE PARLIAMENT WORK.
Stop the use of the guillotine system to pass laws that have not been scrutinised. Give Dail committees the powers to examine proposals for spending before it happens and to hold those who spend public money accountable. Make senior public servants responsible for their decisions and actions.

6. BRING WOMEN INTO POLITICS
Cut public subsidies to political parties unless at least 30 per cent of their candidates are female.

7. END IMPUNITY
Conduct an urgent review of company law to ensure that white collar criminals are brought to justice.

8. GET MONEY OUT OF POLITICS
Ban all significant private donations to political parties. Make parties publish annual accounts. Register and control lobbyists. Protect whistleblowers.

9. RESTORE THE RIGHT TO KNOW
Bring back the original Freedom of Information Act.

10. NO MORE CRONYISM
Make all appointments to State and public bodies open to public competition and Dail scrutiny. Ban any individual from being a director of more than three companies or public bodies."

The online petition follows a march that took place on Saturday to demonstrate opposition to the government's austerity plan, organized by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).

O'Toole addressed the crowd of approximately 50,000 people outside Dublin's GPO, after they marched from Wood Quay, crossing Ormond Quay and down Bachelor's walk.

He began with a reminder of Irish history, "On one side of this street, in 1913, James Larkin was arrested as he addressed the workers of Dublin who had stood up to claim their dignity as citizens rather than serfs. On the other side, in 1916, Ireland was declared to be a republic under the control of its own citizens."

Today, we gather here to reclaim that sense of citizenship. As the fate of our country is being decided, it is a case of mind over matter. They don’t mind, and we don’t matter. Our rulers have no shame, and they believe we have no voice."

He added that "they tell us we have no choice, that there is no alternative. A government with no mandate will do a deal with people we have never elected."

"On the one side, we will borrow yet more billions to bail out the banks. On the other, there will be war on the poor and the vulnerable: a savage assault on the minimum wage, cuts in welfare payments and attacks on basic services for the old and the young, the sick and the disabled."

He finished his speech by saying that "we are here today to say that we are not economic units whose only function is to behave ourselves and pay off the gambling debts of our masters. We are not children who must take our medicine or be sent to bed without our supper. We are not subjects, we are citizens. And we want our republic back."

Mr. O'Toole, who was master of ceremonies for the protest, also lead the crowd in a one minute chant of "out, out, out" to the government.

Although the business group Chambers Ireland said the demonstration was “out of touch with reality”, this did not stop O'Toole from setting out his ten measures for reform as part of his online petition.

O'Toole sees the IMF bailout as a step back in time for Irish sovereignty.  “You can chart that via the foundation of the State, the expansion of powers within the Commonwealth, the 1937 Constitution, getting back the Treaty Ports, the declaration of the Republic, all those big moments. And this is really the first time since the establishment of the first Dáil in 1919 that things have gone in the other direction.

“We’ve lost a key part of our sovereignty for the next four or five years at least. It’s a terrible, terrible day for the country.”

The idea behind the Enough is Enough petition is that the government does not want to change itself so a massive civic movement of people putting pressure on the system is needed.

“The only answer I have is that no-one can do it but us. It’s not going to come from within the elite; the governing culture is not interested in reforming itself to anything like the radical extent necessary."

“I’m being kind of deliberately optimistic here but say you got 300,000 people to sign up to something saying we’re not going to vote for anyone who doesn’t accept the need to do these things, that would have an effect.”

While conducting research for his book The Irish Times columnist noticed a growing disillusionment with the leaders of Ireland.

“People’s sense of crisis has deepened,” he said. “It was possible last year to believe that by this year we would be beginning to see some kind of economic stabilization and that you could then chart out a way forward, but this time I found it very difficult to find anyone who has faith in anything we’re being told.

“The problem is our democracy has imploded and only citizens can rebuild that democracy themselves."

He added that his new book and the ten points that have been taken from it to form this petition are his way of taking action. "I’m just desperately trying to articulate some sense of what a way forward might be, but none of it is worth a barrel of spit if it’s not a part of a process of people getting engaged themselves.”

O'Toole's point number 2 suggests putting the parish pump back into the parish, meaning that more power should be invested in local government.

"One of the fundamental problems with our system is that we have very little real power at local level. What happens is everything gets pushed up the system so you get parish pump politics at national level and a whole attitude to national politics that has proved to be disastrous."

He stated that “there’s no point in having a new system of local government if it’s just a reproduction at a minor level of the decrepitude of national government. So this needs to be the place where you have to do your basic experiments in new ways of doing democracy."

“I think the key here is local government without local funding is meaningless, because then it will just be top-down stuff again. You have to re-establish a link between people’s taxation and the decisions that are being made at local level."

“In Ireland, at local level we’re very good at people getting involved and feeling part of the community. The key thing is to try and translate that into a way of doing politics. If you could get half the amount of energy around local politics as you have around local football teams we’d have a fantastic local democracy.”

However,  O'Toole admits that the political structures that are holding us back are also a product of our own society.

“We invented machine politics,” O’Toole stated. “The first place in the world where you had mass democracy was Ireland. Daniel O’Connell invented mass democracy machine politics where you had every parish in Ireland organized.

“You had literally millions of people actively engaged in a political organization. There was no parallel for that anywhere else for at least another 50 years. Even people who were poor, relatively uneducated, in some cases barely literate, were able to ‘do’ politics, their system worked.

“But the problem is we’re stuck with machine politics; it’s in our social DNA. We know how to do it, we’re used to it; Fianna Fáil is arguably the most successful political machine in Western Europe in the 20th century. Once it took power it very seldom lost it. And we’ve endorsed that and given our blessing to it.

“So you have this machine that has stayed in place. It actually started out with a purpose but now it exists for no purpose other than power and we do have to decide whether we still feel that represents us politically.

“I’m hoping we’re at a key moment where structures and attitudes that have been in place right back to the 19th century will now be kicked away.”

The petition has received 7330 signatures since going live three days ago and continues to rise.

Sign the petition at fintanotoole.ie/petition.

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