What lies behind Direct Democracy Ireland?

The radicalising impact of the crisis in Ireland has thrown up all sorts of responses from people and organisations offering some kind of strategy for opposing austerity.

The Campaign Against Home and Water Taxes remains the biggest and most enduring arena in which ordinary people have gotten involved at some level in the fightback. Despite the many sharp debates within the CAHWT over questions of strategy and tactics the vast majority of activists and political groups which operate within it agree that the property tax can only be defeated by an active economic and political struggle involving huge numbers of people.

However an alternative view has been persistently presented from the floor at many public meetings of the CAHWT and on the internet that there is a legal and/or constitutional route to defeating the tax. Versions of this argument have been presented by a group calling themselves the Freemen or latterly under the campaign heading of “Attack the Tax”. There is a crossover between this milieu and the new political grouping Direct Democracy Ireland whose candidate in the Meath East by-election Ben Gilroy received a lot of media attention for finishing in fourth place, ahead of Labour, with 1,568 votes or 6.45% of the vote.

Their argument rests on the idea that the Property and Household Tax (and indeed parking fines among other penalties!) can be resisted by individual householders if they engage the authorities and the judiciary in legal argument about the constitutionality of these unjust taxes. The implication is that high ranking civil servants or the judiciary can be persuaded to abolish these taxes and essentially to do the work of blocking austerity for us.

The appeal of this argument, which in reality has no basis in law, is that it says to people that they do not need to get active and organised in protests, mass leafleting, door to door canvasses and instead laws that pre-exist the formation of the state and articles in the current constitution like some kind of Harry Potter spell book can be cited in correspondence or the courtroom to do the job.

Common to the Freeman, Attack the Tax and DDI is a misunderstanding of the role of the state and the judiciary which are not bodies that exist independently of a corrupt political and economic establishment who will rule against that establishment on the basis of appeals by ordinary folk. Rather, the state and its judicial wing are an instrument to enforce the system and apply and interpret the laws including austerity measures brought in by governments exactly as they are intended.

Direct Democracy Ireland have managed to tap into an anti-party mood by disguising themselves as not being a political party. Their unique selling point is that citizens should be empowered, on the basis of collecting 75,000 signatures to force a referendum on any given issue.The Socialist Party is in favour of any policy that serves to extend democratic rights within this system, however history and international example shows us time and again that whether on the basis of elections or referendums the capitalist system and its worst effects cannot be voted out of existence as is being implied. Ben Gilroy’s opposition to abortion, his support for ruined billionaire Sean Quinn shows that beneath the gloss of opposition to property taxes and austerity that can also be found on their website DDI is a Trojan horse for a reactionary populism that misdirects people’s attention away from the reality that capitalism is a crisis prone system as opposed to being a benign or neutral system being badly managed by politicians.