Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

President Higgins ‘will not allow’ Dáil to disband if programme for government fails – A SFFFSDLP Government lurches across the Phoenix Park horizon in Dublin

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Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael is doing well in current opinion polls, and is threatening a fresh Irish General Election if Green Party members reject coalition with Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and several right-wing gombeens.

The President Michael D Higgins is entering stage left, and is refusing to play Varadkar’s game.

President Higgins says to lame-duck Taoiseach “Good riddance Leo, at last you’re sacked”

This means Fianna Fáil, which is doing badly in opinion polls, may act in its own interest and form a coalition with Sinn Féin, trying to also attract the Social Democrats, Labour and the Greens.

We can call this the SDLP option.

FF might need to replace its leader Mícheál Martin to complete this manoeuvre.

The opinion poll data is very persuasive in a situation like this :

Paddy Healy notes :

“Irish Mail on Sunday Poll June 21
FF At Less Than Half Sinn Féin Vote!!!
In Comparison with poll in Irish Mail on Sunday in May
Independents up 4%, GP up 2%, no change for SF and FG and FF slightly down. All others as it was.
In Comparison with General Election 2020
FG +13, SF +2, FF -9, Gn +1 Lab NC, SD NC, Sol/PBP-1, Ind -2”

FFFGGG might be dying, SFFFSDLP ministers might soon be on the way to the Phoenix Park to collect seals of office.

A dissolution of the Dáil is unlikely to be permitted by President Michael D Higgins should the programme for government be rejected this weekend, according to senior sources in the main parties.

Leading figures in both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are increasingly concerned the requirement for a two-thirds majority in the Green Party could be “a bridge too far” — with many TDs saying it is “too close to call”.

Attention is now shifting to what will happen should the deal be voted down. The Constitution demands that should that happen, then acting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar would formally seek a dissolution of Dáil Éireann and trigger a second general election. 

However, the parties believe President Higgins will not accede to such a request in light of the ongoing pandemic restrictions.

Such a failure could allow Fine Gael bow out of consideration, having tried to form a government. It could also force Fianna Fáil to open talks with Sinn Féin, as two of the three large parties would be needed to form a government.

One senior source said: “How could he allow a general election with Covid still not over? There is a concern he will send Leo back and see if the parties could find an alternative route to power.”
— Read on

This governmental option will definitely be opposed, on principle, by the five radical radical-left deputies in the Solidarity-People Before Profit Bloc (they will probably be joined by three other TD’s : Joan Collins, Catherine Connolly, and Thomas Pringle).

RISE TD Paul Murphy addressed this scenario in a February 19 interview :

“Question :

The SPBP Bloc would vote against such a government?

Answer :

Yes. We will vote against any government which involves FF or FG. If Mary Lou McDonald is nominated for taoiseach as part of a bloc with FF or FG, we will vote against her.

Question :

Can we be clear on this? This is not in other words a tactical issue? It is an issue of principle for the SPBP Bloc?

Answer :

Absolutely, Yes. It is non-negotiable.

Question :

That particular formula removes the contradiction between the party’s government policy in Dublin and Belfast…

Answer :

Yes – the same thing.

Personally, I think two things would happen if SF pursue that road. One is negative. A sense of demoralisation would take over people who thought they had voted for change – but, once again, their vote for change was used to put in the same old parties.

The other thing that would happen is a vindication of the approach adopted by the socialist left. Especially if we are seen to have done everything possible to bring about an alternative government excluding FF and FG. That SF let people down. That would be quite a moment in terms of developing left politics.”

A deadline of June 30 approaches – if a government is not formed by then, the non-jury Special Criminal Court, will die.

But, hold on – cavalry are charging to the rescue!

Members of the Irish Senate are on manoeuvres to the right of Leo Varadkar’s lame duck Fine Gael government.

The attached article clarifies that if the Michael McDowell led legal challenge succeeds, the grossly undemocratic non-jury Special Criminal Court will not die on June 30 next.

It makes sense that the right-wing McDowell, a former government minister belonging to the extinguished Progressive Democrat party, takes legal action to extend the life-span and powers of the lame duck Varadkar régime. McDowell is joined by legal colleague Ivana Bacik of the Labour Party and assorted gombeens from Seanad Éireann!

Is this part of the final political epitaph of the Irish Labour Party – we saved the Special Criminal Court with Michael McDowell?

“While 49 members of the Seanad have already been elected, 11 must be nominated by an incoming Taoiseach. Without agreement on a new government, they cannot be appointed meaning the Upper House is incomplete.

Senator Bacik said the Taoiseach has not publicly stated whether or not it is the view of the Attorney General that the Seanad cannot sit.

“We are asking that the Taoiseach would clarify his understanding of the law. We are asking him in particular to confirm that he can advise the President to convene the Seanad without the need to appoint the 11 nominees. We want the Seanad to sit so that we can go about our business, to be back in the Seanad Chamber and able to legislate,” she told RTÉ News.

A crucial point for the House to sit is seen as 30 June. At that point, a motion will need to be passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas to ensure that the non-jury Special Criminal Court can continue to sit.

Those who signed the letter also include: Labour Senators Annie Hoey, Rebecca Moynihan, Marie Sherlock and Mark Wall and Independent Senators Victor Boyhan, Gerard Craughwell, Sharon Keogan and Rónán Mullen.”

The policy of Sinn Féin on this issue in the recent past was beyond doubt – but the party is sniffing at membership of a right-wing Dublin coalition government, and nothing can be taken for granted.

A Sinn Féin right-wing policy change, via the party leader talking to right wing journalists, was highlighted in January 2020.

“SINN Féin has watered-down its policy to abolish the Special Criminal Court and now says the non-jury court should instead be put under review.

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald said the court was “not unproblematic” but said it would put its existence under review, rather than outright abolish it, if in government.

This represents a shift from Sinn Féin’s policy during the 2016 general election when it committed to repeal the Offences Against the State Acts, which gives legislative underpinning to the court, in its manifesto.

The party has consistently voted against the renewal of the Act in the Dáil over recent years.

“We accept that we have to have mechanisms that work to keep the community safe. So Special Criminal Courts aren’t unproblematic, they are. I want us to see a review of that,” Ms McDonald said on a campaign stop in Bray, Co Wicklow on Friday.

“The principal issue here is about keeping people safe, and we have special criminal courts, and still these people are at large.

Learn more

Sinn Féin’s shift in policy comes in the wake of growing concerns about serious violent crime in this general election campaign. Ms McDonald accepted there needs to be “special provisions” for violent crimes and gangs. She said the review would have to involve the judiciary, law enforcement agencies and the Department of Justice.

Asked if Sinn Féin would retain the court if the review recommended this, she said: “We will accept, not alone abide by, we will champion any and every measure that has the ability to keep communities safe and put these thugs and gangsters behind bars. That’s our position. I am not going to play a game on this issue. It’s a very, very important issue.

“It’s not just about the Special Criminal course itself, although the judicial process is, of course, a matter of concern for people. The bigger concern is that these people are on the streets and lots of folks believe that there isn’t a real capacity to take them off the streets, and to keep our citizens safe.”

The reactionary drivel above should be contrasted with this powerful political case for abolition of the Special Criminal Court

The Irish Special Criminal Court Needs to be Abolished, this issue should be a campaigning focus for everyone on the left.

A sinister hard core of brutal police thugs was planted firmly in poisonous ground in the 1970’s, and the Special Criminal Court was their incubator.

Cormac Breatnach’s Letter zones in on a hideous political show trial from the 1970’s, the Sallins Mail Train Robbery Case. Cormac’s Brother Osgúr was one of the people tortured by the Police Heavy Gang.

“Sir, – In his letter on the Special Criminal Court (February 14th), the Irish Council for Civil Liberties director Liam Herrick’s called for a review of this court.

This is in line with Ireland’s international legal obligations. The continued use of this non-jury court has been the subject of national and international criticism, including Amnesty International and the UN Human Rights Committee.

The Sallins mail train robbery case, conducted by the Special Criminal Court in 1978, has long been accepted as Ireland’s greatest miscarriage of justice of recent times. It remains “unresolved” and the injuries in Garda custody were never satisfactorily explained even by the Court of Criminal Appeal, which overturned the men’s convictions. How did it come to pass that three innocent men (including my brother Osgur Breatnach) admitted to a crime they did not commit, ending up with prison sentences totalling 33 years?

The case “involved serious ill-treatment, potentially amounting to torture, of those men while in custody” (ICCL/Amnesty International joint-statement of July 2019).

In 2007, nearly 30 years later, Supreme Court judge Adrian Hardiman delivered a paper to the Judicial Studies Institute Journal, entitled “Weasel Words and Doubtful Meanings”. (The JSI is a body established pursuant to section 19 of the Court and Court Officers Act, 1995 to organise training, seminars and study visits for the judiciary). In it, he criticised our justice system’s failure to learn from the lessons of the past: “Twenty years ago . . . Irish society was gripped by the fate of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven . . . the fact is that, during much the same time as these miscarriages of justice were unfolding, so too, in Ireland, was the Sallins mail train robbery case which led to massive settlements and grave damage to the reputation of our policing and criminal justice systems. But we have never, as a country or as a community, internalised the lessons of that event or of the other declared miscarriages of justice which have taken place since . . . wrongful convictions, of which we have had our fair share in modern times, inflict appalling damage on individuals and their families. They also debase the entire criminal justice system.

Patrick McCartan, now a retired judge, was the solicitor who defended the accused in the District and Special Criminal Courts. He described the trial in the non-jury court as “the most serious miscarriage of justice that has occurred in my lifetime” in RTÉ’s Documentary On One “The Whistleblower”, first broadcast in July 2019.

Both the ICCL and Amnesty International reiterated their calls in July 2019 for an independent public inquiry into the Sallins case and the State remains obligated under international human rights treaties it has ratified to guarantee the disclosure of truth, justice and reparations for victims of past human rights violations. Sadly, the Government refuses to act in this case and has ignored the victims’ and their families’ calls for an apology. Special courts and special powers do not enjoy any place in a democracy. If not abolished, at the very least we need a comprehensive review of the Special Criminal Court, and a commitment to hold an inquiry into the Sallins case.”

See also :

In a few days we will know if left wing Greens have successfully rejected the poisoned chalice of right wing coalition government with FFFG and Gombeens. Sinn Féin was left off the hook. Is that about to change?

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