Sam Boal

Do the Social Democrats believe in the rule of law?

There is no future for our democracy in people picking and choosing which laws they obey, writes Labour TD Derek Nolan.

THERE ARE MANY things in Ireland we have not done well since independence. But there are many things we have done well.

After a brutish civil war we settled into a functioning parliamentary democracy. My party, Labour, is proud of the role we played in aiding that transition by providing opposition to the Cumman na Gaedhael government.

In 1932 we facilitated the transition of power by supporting the first Fianna Fáil government under Éamon de Valera. Cumman na Gaedhael to their credit did likewise.

There may be faults in Bunreacht na hÉireann, it shows its age in many places, but its commitment to democracy and rule by law in an age dominated by left wing and right wing totalitarianism shrines through.

Our economic success – we remain one of the wealthiest nations on the earth even despite our recent meltdown – is also predicated on our long tradition, inherited from the British and those that worked the British parliamentary system, of the rule of law.

For external investors in our open economy that continuity, predictability and impartiality is a hugely positive factor. It provides the assurance people require to bring their money to this island and create employment.

Which brings me to the Social Democrats.

Whether we agree with water charges or not, whether we believe water should be paid for by general taxation, or be provided by local authorities on a county-by-county basis, or that the semi-state provider should be non-commercial or commercial is in many ways immaterial.

There are many taxes and charges that we don’t like, could devise better and whose impact we question. It is one of the reasons why we have a Finance Act every year to change these things.

15/7/2015 New Political Venture called Social Demo Sam Boal Sam Boal

‘Law of the land’

But Irish Water has been established by law in the Oireachtas and operates on that basis. It is the law of the land.

I’m one of those who thinks the 46% payment rate for a new utility isn’t too bad. Like the property tax before it compliance will I believe grow over time. We are already seeing some of the benefits from the single utility model.

While take up in my neighbouring county Roscommon has been low I would hope to see that improve in light of the ending the boil notices that have long since blighted that county.

The problem is compounded though by the behaviour of many of our legislators who seem to believe that they get to choose which laws they should comply with and those they should not. You would expect it from some.

But it’s the performance of the new Social Democrats, Catherine Murphy, Stephen Donnelly and Róisín Shortall, that’s most disappointing.

In Murphy and Shortall’s case, despite being well paid over a protracted period of time, they are refusing to pay their charges. That doesn’t sound much in line with the Nordic model the new party talked so much about on Wednesday. Nor indeed the broad socialist and social democratic movement across Europe.

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There are of course instances when refusing to abide by the law is probably justified. The most obvious and obviously accepted example is apartheid South Africa. It is understandable too where the campaign of civil resistance came from in Northern Ireland in the 1960 and pre-independence India.

But, frankly, Irish Water is simply not of this magnitude.

‘Expect better’

So I would say to me former colleague Deputy Shortall that it would be worth rethinking her position on this one.

I would say to Deputy Murphy, who has impressed people with her desire to ensure probity is in place in many of our state institutions, that campaigning is meaningless if she is not prepared to abide by the law of the land either.

Politics is not just about following the crowd, but about showing some leadership too. By all means campaign against the charge, commit yourself to repeal (but be honest enough to indicate the implications of that for other spending areas) but you are at nothing as any kind of democrat if you don’t obey the rule of law.

There is more at stake here than water charges or Irish Water.

A significant number of parliamentarians in pursuit of their policy of chaos or in pursuit of short term political advantage don’t seem prepared to accept the decisions of the Oireachtas of which they are members.

There is no future for our democracy in people picking and choosing which laws they obey.

From some I expect little better, but for the Social Democrats it’s a very bad start.

Derek Nolan is a Labour Party TD for Galway West 

Poll: Would you vote for the Social Democrats?

Read: 6 things you need to know about Ireland’s newest political party

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