First published in the Western People on Tuesday.
The Anti-Bin Tax Campaign of the past ten years is one of those things that continues to underline the chasm between the urban and the rural ways of life. For some reason, the idea got into some Dublin people’s heads that it costs nothing to collect, store and dispose of the domestic refuse of the citizens of the biggest city in the country. That perhaps all that rubbish would just disappear, like frost in a thaw.
Turns out that’s not really what rubbish does, not matter how you wish it would, and the protest escalated from a refusal to pay to standoffs and blockades with bin trucks. You may think having a bin truck full of rotting bananas and sour milk and half-eaten fish fingers in the middle of a housing estate didn’t make for pleasant evenings for ordinary working people when they came home from work. You would be right.
But for all the protestors’ rhetoric about ordinary working people, it was those same ordinary working people who ended up footing the bill for the Anti-Bin Tax. They put up with the stench and disruption all through the protest and then had to pay, not only the charges, but the many fines levied on top of those charges as well.
Happily, it didn’t end up all bad for every ordinary working person. Among the ordinary working people who lead the campaign were Joe Higgins, Joan Collins and Clare Daly. Sound familiar? Of course they do. Those three are now inside in Dáil Éireann, pulling down €92k a year, which they may spend as they please.
All three have been members of the Socialist Party, but Higgins is the only one still a member. Daly resigned last year over friction caused by her friendship with independent TD Mick Wallace – “the red flag of the people covered in slobber,” as the Socialists could have put it at the time, if they had been quick enough – while Collins packed her bags back in 2004.
Collins was elected to the current Dáil as a member of the United Left Alliance, even though the ULA included that same Socialist Party that Collins had quit earlier – what a shock she must have got when she found out it was the same bunch all the time.
Daly and Collins have now gone ahead and founded a yet another left-wing political party called United Left. There may be a certain optimism in using the word “United” in the name, as the Irish parties of the far left have proved to be anything but throughout their history.
So this, then, is who was popping off in Dáil Éireann about the “outpourings of President Obama and his wife,” “the sycophantic fawning over them by the political establishment and sections of the media,” and Ireland’s position as “lapdog of US imperialism.”
As it happens, another American president was in an equally fawning Ireland fifty years ago, and that one also said it felt like coming home.
One of the things John F Kennedy did during his brief Irish visit of 1963 was make a speech at a memorial to John Barry, a native of Wexford and the founder of the American Navy – a US imperialist from the soles of his buckled shoes to the powder on top of his wig, by Deputy Daly’s reckoning. This is part of what Kennedy in Wexford, about the relationship between the US imperialists and their lapdog, Ireland:
“My country welcomed so many sons and daughters of so many countries, Irish and Scandinavian, Germans, Italians and all the rest, and gave them a fair chance and a fair opportunity. The Speaker of the House of Representatives is of Irish descent. The Leader of the Senate is of Irish descent. And what is true of the Irish has been true of dozens of other people. In Ireland I think you see something of what is so great about the United States, and I must say that in the United States, through millions of your sons and daughters, 25 millions in fact, you see something of what is great about Ireland.”
This is what Clare Daly can’t see. The United States is a country made up of lapdogs. But they are lapdogs from Ireland and Scandinavia and Germany and Italy and all the rest that didn’t want to be lapdogs any more.
The tired huddled masses, the wretched refuse of the teeming shore, as Emma Lazarus so memorably described them, went to the United States when there was no-where else for them to go and found that in those United States they could look a man in the eye and not have to tug a forelock or stand in the muck to let a better walk by.
Is America an imperial power? Yes, it is. But if the Romans were enthusiastic imperialists and the British accidental imperialists, the United States is unique in world history in not wanting empire, but having empire thrust upon them. First, by the Second World War, and second by the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. America rules the world not because it wants to, but because it’s the only country that can. There is no alternative. Someone has to come along, maintain some sort of order and pick up the trash.
Deputy Daly has spent too much time among the dustbins. It’s time she climbed into one, and stayed there.