November 28th is the date set for the bail referendum. The government proposes to make big changes: bail may be refused to a person charged with a "serious crime" if a senior Garda tells the court that there is a suspicion that the accused might commit another crime before the trial.
There has been no definition of "a serious crime", there is no obligation on the Gardai to tell anyone why they suspect an accused person will commit another crime. This starts to overturn the idea that you are innocent unless you are proved guilty. If the referendum is passed the word of a senior Garda will be enough to have you locked up for months while awaiting trial.
There are vicious gangland bosses. There are muggers, housebreakers, car thieves and rapists. They don't exist because Ireland's laws are 'liberal'. You will find crime in every country, regardless of its laws. Crime feeds on deprivation and alienation: high unemployment, poverty, hopelessness. According to the Gardai up to 80% of Dublin's crime is drug related, addicts who will do anything to get the money for their next fix.
Yet heroin addicts have to wait months and even years to get on a treatment programme because the government won't provide enough cash to shorten the waiting lists. In Neilstown and Killinardin local people had to set up their own methadone programmes when the Health Board refused to act, and they have to fund this excellent community activity by running bingo sessions.
Most crime is against property. Offences against the person (murder, manslaughter, dangerous driving causing death, rape, woundings, and so forth) constitute less than 2% of all recorded crime and their number has been declining.
Of course this is no consolation if you have been attacked or robbed. But what is being proposed will not solve the problem. In Britain a similar legal change was made 20 years ago and has had no noticeable impact on crime. The politicians are using public concern to attack long established civil liberties.
Restrictions on bail could lead to a situation where people the authorities don't like can be effectively interned for long periods by remanding them in custody. If the intention is really to reduce the number of offences committed while on bail it would surely make more sense to reduce the delays in getting to trial.
But maybe the politicians have their own reasons. Seven day detention means that suspects can be frightened or beaten into signing 'confessions' but that their bruises will be gone by the time they have to appear in court. Remember Nicky Kelly, remember the Guildford Four. The Government has estimated that expenditure on the criminal justice system will exceed £590 million this year. This is more than has been set aside for agriculture and food (£322 million) or transport, energy and communications (£116 million). They want more cops, more prisons; they want to go into the next election showing they are "serious" about tackling crime.
Politicians are very selective about "fighting crime". The government supports crime when the culprits are their own friends, which is why no beef baron was ever charged with fraud and why rich tax dodgers are given amnesties. They never cared about the scourge of heroin (and all the housebreaking and mugging that goes with it) until people began to challenge the state's monopoly on policing by patrolling their own communities..
The gardai should not be given more powers. We have seen what they can do with the powers they already have: the refusal to investigate child sex abuse charges against priests and nuns until recent years, the Tallaght Two, the Sallins train robbery, Peter Pringle, the Kerry Babies case. This summer a murder trial in Cork (Frederick Flannery) had to be abandoned when it was revealed that the gardai had hidden vital evidence from the defence.
Vote NO on November 28th.
After almost 3 years of fighting double tax water charges, their abolition is in our grasp. The next few weeks and months will be crucial. If we maintain the pressure on local politicians over the coming period, they will be left with no alternative but to back down on this issue.
This is the largest and most successful single issue campaign in this country since the massive tax marches of the 1970s. Despite bribes, threats and intimidation tens of thousands of PAYE workers have told the Councils where to stuff their charges.
We have refused to back down in the face of threatened disconnection's of water supply. We have frustrated the Councils' attempts to drag non-payers through the courts. The political establishment has been rocked to its very core at the sight of a massive campaign of civil disobedience involving huge numbers of working-class people who have indeed proved that solidarity is strength.
The heroes of this campaign are not politicians, trade union leaders or popstars. Its heroes and heroines are ordinary householders, workers and pensioners - everybody indeed who has organised leaflets, collected money, signed up members, attended protests and pickets and - most importantly of all - refused to pay the charges. The campaign cannot be defeated because its strength lies at grassroots level. There are no "leaders" in a position to sell us out.
This is the lesson we must take from the campaign. We must remember that it is only the power of the working-class organising itself and taking decisions by itself which puts fear into the hearts of the misleaders of the current political system. To them "democracy" is a game. According to the rules of their game, our role is to put a number on a ballot paper once every four or five years. When they see working-class people organising and fighting together, their fear is not simply that they will be defeated on a single issue such as water charges. What they really fear is that in fighting water charges the working-class will realise the strength of its own power and will realise the true nature of a political system which is run in the interests of a minority at the expense of the majority.
As we face into the final and crucial phase of our campaign, let's not repeat the mistakes of previous big campaigns. The massive show of strength in the tax marches of the '70s was dissipated and diverted because control was left in the hands of a few trade union leaders. Anti-service charge campaigns throughout the state over the last ten years have often been led up the cul-de-sac of electoral politics. Eamonn Gilmore (DL), Kathleen Lynch (DL) and Emmett Stagg (Labour) all made opposition to and campaigning against charges a fundamental part of their election drives. All are now members of the government which supports Councils implementing these charges.
Electing one or two - or even more - well-meaning individuals will never rid us of a political system which gives us double tax, unemployment, poverty and exploitation. Trying to elect politicians will however mean we have failed to learn that we can only change things by acting ourselves and not by passively supporting one or the other 'trustworthy' politician or political parties. This political system - capitalism - will only be overturned when we - the working-class - seize power for ourselves and put an end to privilege and power.
Only mass action in which control is maintained at grassroots level can achieve this. The anti - water charge campaign has taken small steps right across Dublin towards rebuilding class confidence and community solidarity. Our actions have laid the beginnings of networks and contacts and has given people the confidence to find the ability within to break the law and take on the powers that be. Let's not throw this away by investing that confidence in a new set of "leaders" - no matter how well-intentioned they might be.