uisceOver on Facebook, Basil Millar threw out this challenge to a number of people including myself:
What is being done to bring about unity on the left?

This as I understand it is in reference to suggestions for the Right2Water Unions to present Platform for Renewal to May Day Conference in Dublin

I presume the crucial element of unity is a set of proposals which can be agreed upon. To that end I’ll make a few suggestions which may or may not be useful. Some of them can be achieved at zero cost, indeed will make savings.

Some thoughts

*A unified grouping needs a name with emotional resonance that people can remember. I suggest UISCE.

Uisce is a word which every Irish person understands and has an emotional connection with. It is after all, the element which has united many people who would otherwise be apathetic. If required, it can serve as an acronym, eg United Independents, Socialists, Communities and Ecologists.

(It’s my personal hope that unity on the left will take the form of an umbrella group, a citizen platform, which will include like-minded independents, socialists and ecologists – the latter because I believe ecology is a possible weakness of the left and is crucial to all our futures, both economically and environmentally)

*A crucial first task of any alternative government will be to make tax transparent. There are a plethora of taxes – VAT, income tax, PRSI, USC, property tax, motor tax, etc, yet nobody knows where any of it goes. In 2008, money was collected from Stamp Duties 6%; Capital Gains Tax 7%; Excise 12%; Corporation Tax 14%; Income Tax 29%; Value-Added Tax 31%; Other 1%.[source]. More up-to-date figures, as late as 2014 are here. But as well as knowing where it comes from, we need to know where it goes. It might be worth discussing, for example, whether the USC should be used, and only used, to fund a Universal Health system.
A breakdown of how our taxes are used (and everyone pays tax of some description) should be publicly accessible on the Department of Finance website, thereby democratising the debate on how tax should be spent.

*How water treatment and management is paid for should be clarified and agreed. I take it that the abolition of Irish Water is a given. Water use and sewerage used to be paid for by a local tax known as Rates, before the 1977 Fianna Fáil government abolished rates, thereby hobbling local government and accumulating the problems we have now. Its nearest contemporary equivalent is the Property Tax, and a possible solution is to take revenue-gathering powers from Irish Water and make the Property Tax the equivalent of Rates, with the same purpose. This means that it would be collected by The Revenue Commissioners, which at a stroke would ensure that water could not be privatised. It’s one suggestion.

* Decriminalization of all drug use Something has to be urgently done to alleviate the terrible suffering of individuals, families and communities due to drug abuse. Legalization will be controversial, but the Portuguese experience suggests that it is the only successful approach. For a quick overview of the Portuguese story: Drug decriminalization in Portugal at Alcohol Rehab. For an academic overview: The Effects of decriminalization of drugs in Portugal

*Capital Flight should be prevented/forestalled. One of the big problems facing an incoming left government, as happened in Greece, is flight of capital. Charlie McGreevey’s Special Savings Incentive Account (SSIA) from the early 2000s was flawed, but something along its broad outlines could be introduced, to help finance government spending. One of the major aims of any left government should be to keep local money local, whether on a national or community level. Capital which flees the country can’t be taxed, so rich citizens, as well as those with savings resting uselessly in bank accounts, should somehow be persuaded to invest in government bonds. The less money which flows out of the country to pay foreign investors, the better.

*Local hospitals, including in Dublin, should be reopened,. One has only to witness the chaos and misery of hospital emergency departments, and contrast them with how they were – an oasis of calm by comparison – when Ireland was classed as a poor country. The main reason appears to be the centralization of hospitals. That combined with the fact that hospital managers took over from experienced matrons and consultants who knew how hospitals actually worked. The system which worked should be re-instated. The existence of the HSE has been a disaster and should be ended.

*Remove Fluoride from water supplies. Fluoride is a neurotoxin [Lancet; further effects} and should be banned immediately. Only 5% of the world, including the US, uses fluoride. Most European countries ban it.
If EU ambassadors advise their staff that Irish tap water is not safe for their babies, then it’s not safe for Irish children either. Ireland remains one of the few EU countries to use fluoride. Enact Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley’s bill to ban it.

*Ban Fracking Fracking produces enormous volumes of toxic waste water—often containing cancer-causing and even radioactive material. Once brought to the surface, this toxic waste poses hazards for drinking water, air quality and public safety. Report. The anti-fracking movement in the North should be supported – water systems do not recognise borders.

*Ban GMOs There has of course been strong resistance to research showing that certain GMOs and pesticides are dangerous to health, but a two year study has show that they cause breast cancer in women and other cancers in men over the long term. [Source] It is very important to resist the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership The core objection to it is the Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), which is an instrument that allows an investor to bring a case directly against the country hosting its investment, without the intervention of the government of the investor’s country of origin. At the very least, a Gene Technology Act should be introduced. The Norwegian Gene Technology Act may be a good model. “The purpose of this Act is to ensure that the production and use of genetically modified organisms and the production of cloned animals take place in an ethically justifiable and socially acceptable manner, in accordance with the principle of sustainable development and without adverse effects on health and the environment.”

*Debate on EducationThis is a complex subject, requiring debate. Personally I’m of the view that the methods of teaching imposed on teachers and students alike is outdated. Teachers should be trained to be directors of autonomous learning by groups of students. In other words it is learner-centred, and teachers have pedagogical autonomy, along the lines of the Finnish model. see Educational Model Finland (pdf)

*Abolish TV licence For many people the cost of the TV licence is equivalent to the proposed water charges. Arts programming, including the work of the current RTÉ Symphony Orchestra, should be funded via an increased funding to the Arts Council; independent film and documentary, including important tv series like eco eye, should also be funded, possibly by an advertisements tax.

*The office of County Sheriff, an anachronism dating from Norman times, should be abolished. It is not acceptable in the 21st century that a business can be closed down without warning, and its assets confiscated and sold off, which has been known to be a direct cause of suicide. The debt, whether to Revenue or to another business or individual, should be negotiated with the guidance of a debtor’s court. If the business is declared bankrupt, then and only then should there be an an Execution Order for Goods. The Debtors (Ireland) Act, dates from 1840 and should be updated.

*Post Codes This issue may not have caught public attention in the way that Irish Water has, but it also appears to be a lavish waste of taxpayers money, perhaps to the tune of €100 million, all told. All this while excluding an Irish company (already supported by Enterprise Ireland and Garmin] from tender – a company which offered the implementation free of charge!
See the the correspondence of Loc8 to the PAC If Loc8 is correct, the cost will probably well over €100m:- €8.3 million to An Post to get them to allow us have a postcode, €4 million for An Post to change technology to use only first 3 characters of eircode which the public do not have to use on their letters in the first place, €20m to Capita Consortium to design, implement and run it, €4 million to consultants, unknown figure but at least €5 million for other Government Agencies (including Irish Water) to adopt the postcode and at least €70million for Irish businesses to license and adapt their systems to use it… “If Eircode is implemented it will only be Revenue, Social Welfare Health and Irish Water that will actually ever use it because of its limitations.”
See also Open Postcodes which is also efficient, free, and officially ignored.

*Adopt open source software and documents across government departments and agencies, including the Garda, Health systems etc. As well as being much cheaper, they are much more secure.

*Free Public Transport Air Pollution costs Ireland $2.5bn a year in premature deaths – according to Duncan Stewart 50% of that is from Road Transport alone. In 2003, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce told a Dáil Committee that poor transport infrastructure was costing Dublin up to €3 billion annually. (estimated from figures drawn from the EU White Paper on transport 2002). Apart from a significant boon to the poor and less well off, including students, Ireland imports almost €7 billion in fossil fuels every year. Quite apart from the omnipresent danger of an oil shock, even halving this figure would be a significant boost the exchequer and economy. For Dublin, there is already a ready-made, rational solution, far cheaper than anything proposed by the Rail Procurement Agency or the NTA (both of which should be abolished) See Aris Venetikidis remakes the notorious Dublin bus map. Incidentally, the bus trams are already manufactured by Wright Brothers of Antrim.

*Community Energy Generation and Control I had hoped to include this but haven’t the necessary backup links to hand. However, I would recommend that any group invite
Duncan Stewart to outline its deep and many benefits. This would revitalise communities and keep the money generated by the community in the community.

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Useful Links

Right2Water Trade Unions Present Alternative Economic Framework

This is a translation by Richard McAleavey of an interview conducted with Ada Colau, who, standing as part of the Barcelona en Comú platform, was elected mayor of Barcelona, May 2015.

The Provision and Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland

Leo Varadkar backs softer drug rules

Final Report Visit by a Committee delegation to examine the impact of Portuguese approach to the possession of certain drugs. Lisbon, June 2015

EV rider: What is it actually like to drive electric vehicles in Ireland?

Students for a Sensible Drug Policy Ireland

Amsterdam buses to be all-electric by 2025

Climate-smart cities could save the world $22 trillion

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