After so much posturing by the so-called parliamentary left during the current Dáil, it is so heartening at last to see some real left-wing politics emerging, through the courageous and determined action of Catherine Murphy.
Deputy Murphy’s persistence in uncovering the close relationship between one of the country’s most active capitalists and the state-owned banking corporation, IBRC, is revealing the nexus between large capital and the state in a way that is rare in our republic. Motivating Denis O’Brien to seek to gag the media in revealing some of the details of this nexus shows how much she is unnerving capital interests.
It is this which marks it out as serious left-wing politics, in stark contrast to the self-serving and populist mobilisation around water charges of other left-wing groups in the current Dáil. Far from unsetting capital, these actions have undermined a key public service and distracted public attention away from the enormous power that capital holds over our state.
That Catherine Murphy’s dogged questioning has led to a situation where, for the first time in the history of the state, key organs of the media felt unable to report information she put into the public realm under parliamentary privilege shows naked power at work. Rarely has the power of our democracy been used to such effect, and never before have capital interests felt they had to go as far as seeking to curtail these democratic powers.
What we have seen over the past week therefore, shows the potential of a serious left to begin to shine light on the ways in which the interests of big capital have made extensive inroads into our public realm. Over time, this has developed instincts among senior politicians and bureaucrats that confuse the public interest with the interest of big capital, mostly foreign-owned.
Much is still to unfold in this standoff between a courageous public representative and a very rich and powerful capitalist. Rarely has the term ‘public representative’ carried so much meaning and potential as Catherine Murphy has given it over recent weeks.
As Denis O’Brien himself alluded to in his self-pitying article in The Irish Times, at stake in this standoff is what it means to be a republic. For, in his article, he deliberately called himself a ‘republican with a small “r”’. If he believes this, then he has a very restricted meaning of the ‘res publica’ that form the basis for the meaning of republicanism, seeming to equate it with the right of big capital to keep its activities that involve public monies beyond probing public scrutiny.
Catherine Murphy has a much fuller understanding of the ‘res publica’ and nothing symbolised this as dramatically as her speech to the Dáil against the backdrop of a court injunction preventing the media from reporting the very information she was putting on the public record.
So what we are seeing is a decisive struggle to rescue the heart of what republicanism means, an essential core that has been very badly weakened over recent decades of our public life. Our democracy requires many more such genuine ‘public representatives’. Maybe then we could speak of an Irish left finally being finally born.