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I never vote for anyone. I always vote against.
- WC Fields





Eamonn McCann
Hot Press 9/5/2002


It’s perfectly proper that political parties should make an election issue out of the refusal of an Irish leader to explain what his associates have been up to in Colombia or to spell out the relationship between his organisation and one of the groups involved in the appalling violence currently raging in that misfortunate country.

The man at the centre of a Colombian controversy which shouldn’t be allowed to go away is Peter Sutherland, former Irish Attorney General under Garret FitzGerald, then chairman of Allied Irish Banks at the height of the off-shore account scam, later a European commissioner, subsequently director general of the World Trade Organisation, currently on the board of the multinational Ericsson company and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Oh, and chairman of British Petroleum. A certified member of the executive committee of the world ruling class.

It was in his capacity as chairman of BP that Sutherland became involved last month in what the Times described as a “shouting match” at the Royal Festival Hall in London. A number of shareholders at BP’s annual general meeting on April 18th wanted answers to questions about the company’s use in Colombia of a security firm with links to right wing paramilitaries who in turn have been accused of horrendous human rights abuses.

Sutherland was having none of it. The allegations were “outrageous”. He ordered the shareholder to “sit down now!”. When the persistent chap continued to demand answers, Sutherland, according to press reports, “finally cracked” and declared, "This AGM is not going to be allowed to become a pantomime”.

Outside the hall, a group of Colombian trade unionists and lawyers held a press conference giving details of BP's alleged involvement with irregular armed groups in Colombia. BP's drilling sites are militarised, they maintained. An entire Army brigade, the 16th Brigade, with a notorious human rights record, is dedicated to defending BP installations in the Casanare region, they alleged. The security firm employed by BP, Defence Systems, has been implicated in the killing of members of the Colombian oil workers union, USO, they charged. Both the security forces and the security firm are involved in a war of terror against trade unionists working for BP and against communities protesting that BP's activities have ruined their livelihoods, they complained.

Although a number of share-holders continued to press their point, little progress was made at the meeting towards establishing how much truth, if any, there might be in these startling allegations. Apart from his generalised dismissal of the suggestions as “outrageous”, Sutherland refused point blank to respond.. "We on the board and...most of the shareholders are not concerned with these matters," he declared.

Has Sutherland been denounced by any mainstream politician or media commentator in Ireland---where, let’s remind ourselves, he was once a member of the cabinet and chief law officer of the State---for refusing even to attempt to rebut the serious changes laid against his subordinates? Of course not. Why then should Gerry Adams be pursued for an explanation of what three Republicans were doing in Colombia?

We cannot say for certain that Adams even knew that the three had travelled to Colombia, much less what they had gotten up to upon arrival. But we do know that Sutherland will have had full access to all information about BP’s operations in the country. Why isn’t Miriam O’Callaghan giving him the third degree? Where are the editorials in the Indo and Times? How come the issue hasn’t been raised at the election press conferences of the major parties?

The reason has to do with the nature of our political system and with the scabrous character of the parties which dominate the system and whose policies mirror its malign priorities.


The main reason for making the effort to get out and vote is that the election provides an opportunity to give some of the most disgusting no-goods in the land a hard kick in the goolies.

We all know it matters little whether it’s Ahern, the man who signed more than 1,500 blank cheques (fifteen hundred!) for the crook Haughey to use for thievery, or Noonan, the ghoul who issued threats to a women dying in pain as a result of the State’s neglience if she didn’t accept the lousy deal he had offered, who becomes Taoiseach.

Fianna Fail guarantees a continuation of lies, corruption and kow-towing to a morally diseased hierarchy. Fine Gael wants to throw thousands of public sector workers out of their jobs. The PDs are gibbering with eagerness to flog off every State asset which isn’t bolted down in between telephone calls asking judges to go easy on rapists. Labour wants into government with any of the above and offers as its Big Idea that the pension fund should be raided to pay for public services because it’s terrified to suggest taxing the rich.

What matters is how much resistance will emerge after the election to these pro-capitalist priorities. What we need in Leinster House are representatives of discontent, men and women who will use their positions as TDs to amplify the voice of dissent and offer a focus for every fightback which arises against rottenness, political leaders who recognise that real power doesn’t reside in the Dail but in the boardrooms and charnel houses of high finance and who understand that it’s not when TDs perambulate through the lobbies but when workers walk out and communities come together in organised angry array that the ruling class feels a tremor of unease.

Disillusion with the main parties and with their rigged system is widespread and deep. This is likely to be reflected in a number of constituencies in more solid support than the opinion polls suggest for the Greens and Sinn Fein. But, dismayingly, neither of these parties is willing to rule out joining a coalition to prop up either Ahern or Noonan as Taoiseach. Indeed, each is avid to be in a position to be asked.

My own advice is that where you can you should give active support to parties and candidates who unambiguously pledge in no circumstances to vote to put Fianna Fail or Fine Gael into government. Vote for candidates who undertake if elected to accept only the average wage, turning over what’s left to grass-roots campaigns. (There should be a law about this---that all political representatives receive the average income of the people they represent. It is an idea which, when you think about it, makes so much sense you don’t have to think about it.) Vote for candidates who are up for a fight from the outside and whose presence in the Dail will be felt by representatives of the parasite rich as a kick in the goolies.

Go for: RICHARD BOYD BARRETT (Socialist Workers' Party) in Dun Laoghaire; CLARE DALY (Socialist Party) in Dublin North; RITCHIE BROWNE (SWP) and FIINIAN MCGRATH (Independent) in Dublin North Central; LISA MAHER (SP) in Dublin South; BRID SMITH (SWP) and LINDA KAVANAGH (Workers' Party) in Dublin South Central; SHAY RYAN (SWP) in Dublin South East; MICK MURPHY (SP) in Dublin South West; JOE HIGGINS (SP) in Dublin West; MICK BARRY (SP) in Cork North Central; MICHAEL O'SULLIVAN (SWP) in Cork South Central; SEAMUS HEALY (Independent) in Tipperary South; JIMMY KELLY (SWP) in Waterford; and CATHERINE KENNEDY (SWP) in Wicklow.

What would we call that?

A start.



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