Wednesday, May 20, 2009

éirígí and Elections: an Exercise in Participatory Democracy

éirígíWhen éirígí was established in April 2006, it had two goals in mind: the reinvigoration of the struggle for national independence and socialism in Ireland, and the reinvigoration of the movement that would achieve those goals.

The struggle for genuine national democracy necessitates the building of a democratic socialist republican movement. A movement that has it aims, objectives, agenda, tactics and strategy rooted firmly in the collective analysis of the rank and file membership; a movement whose elected leadership is directly accountable, without exception, to the organisation as a whole.

This objective of maximising the participatory nature of the republican struggle was put into practice by éirígí activists across Ireland when the issue of the party’s participation, or otherwise, in elections was debated in the months leading up to last weekend’s Ard Fhéis.

The topic of the debate came as a surprise to no one given that the éirígí constitution states as one of its means “the contesting of elections where the contesting of such elections is deemed to advance éirígí’s objectives. An Ard Fhéis alone can authorize the contesting of elections and participation in institutions to which members are elected.”

What followed was an exercise in participatory democracy. Over the course of four months éirígí members across the country took part in a multi-phased discussion focused on the topic of elections and elected institutions.

The first phase of this discussion process was based around an elections background paper which included a range of the different options open to éirígí. These options ranged from complete non-engagement in the electoral process, right through to the contesting of every election and participating in every elected institution.

On completion of the first phase of discussion, which took place at a local level within all local Ciorcail, it was clear that the option of tactically contesting elections and tactically participating in certain elected institutions was the preferred option of the majority of the membership. A second clear theme which emerged at this point was the unanimous view of the membership that éirígí should not participate in the elected institutions based in Westminster or Stormont.

The second phase of the discussion saw An Ciorcal Náisiúnta produce a draft proposal which was broadly reflective of the feedback from the first phase of discussion. This draft proposal was then explored and discussed by all local Ciorcail.

The third phase of the discussion process saw members from across the country come together to discuss the draft proposal at a national conference in Dublin. This conference allowed activists from different parts of the country to exchange ideas and identify both common ground and areas of contention.

Following on from the national conference An Ciorcal Náisiúnta amended the draft proposal to reflect the general feedback that had emerged through the second round of local meetings and the national conference. This amended draft was the focus of the fourth phase of discussions, which again took place at the level of local Ciorcal.

The fifth and final phase of the entire process was the discussion that took place at the recent Ard Fhéis and the vote that followed.

Throughout the entire process every member of éirígí had the right to submit proposed amendments to the draft proposal. On many occasions those proposed changes were incorporated into the draft proposal. Where those proposed amendments were not incorporated each individual member had the right to propose amendments at An Ard Fhéis.

As with all major policy and strategy decisions within éirígí the final vote was taken on the basis of one member – one vote, a mechanism which guards against the possibility of delegate manipulation.

The entire four-month long process of discussion was conducted in a comradely and inclusive fashion right up to, and including, the moment of the vote last Saturday.

The outcome in terms of éirígí’s democratically-ratified position on elections wasn’t a perfect result for any one individual. But that was never the intention. Through a drawn-out process of discussion and consensus building, éirígí was able to develop a collective view that involved give and take by every member of the party, including members of An Ciorcal Náisiúnta.

The final package adopted by An Ard Fhéis was made up of three main elements, namely an éirígí policy paper entitled ‘Elections, Elected Institutions and Ireland’s Revolutionary Struggle’, a series of Ard Fhéis motions and a series of constitutional amendments. All are reproduced below.

Following on from An Ard Fhéis an éirígí elections committee is to be established. This committee, in conjunction with the membership, will develop a draft electoral strategy paper for éirígí – a paper which will then be put to the general membership for adoption at An Ard Fhéis.

As the newly-elected Rúnaí Ginearálta Breandán Mac Cionnaith said,

“éirígí is keenly-aware of the pitfalls and dangers presented to the revolutionary struggle by participation in elections and elected institutions. We have taken the decision to tactically contest elections at a time of our choosing without any naive illusions.

“We know that the British occupation and partition cannot be ended through parliamentary reform. We also know that a socialist system cannot simply be voted into place by a parliament.

“For British rule to be ended and the socio-economic order to be changed a revolutionary situation must first come into existence. Such a revolutionary situation can only come about when working people taking control of their lives, their workplaces, their communities and their streets. No political party can deliver revolution. Only the people themselves can do that.

“éirígí believes that the popularisation of socialist republicanism will play a role in creating that revolutionary situation and assisting with that popularisation is what we intend to do over the coming months and years.”

Click here to read ‘Elections, Elected Institutions and Ireland’s Revolutionary Struggle’.>>

Click here to read Constitutional Amendments and Ard Fhéis motions linked to the elections discussion.>>

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