This week the Irish Government painted itself into a very big corner. Normally, in this situation, we are accustomed to a response from the Irish Government somewhere along the lines of; what paint, what corner? with not much more than an impotent whimper from the Irish media. This week however it all changed because the push to legislate for the x-case involve’s a devastated family, the Indian Government and the focus of the world ‘s media.
This story has gone world-wide with articles in every language you could ever google translate. Vigils were held for Savita across the country and internationally, figures for yesterday’s march in Dublin were officially recorded as 6,000, but participants and video footage show the figure to be more like 12,000. A Sinn Féin motion next week in the Dáil will seek answers and legislation which is 20 years overdue, but already the Government T.D’s are trying to tiptoe across the wet floor; refusing to tackle this issue through cross-party co-operation.
We’ve seen all this before, with government back stepping and making excuses like a wrong turn in Soho, but this issue also has the potential to open up the debate on social movement in Ireland. We would expect that any liberal democracy worth it’s salt has a healthy, thriving social movement sector, with citizens free to express anger or support for a whole array of issues that affect society; an integral part of the democratic process you might say. But on closer inspection and through some comparison, we soon find that not all democracies facilitate the development of social movement as much as they could.
There are four interchangeable values that describe how a political regime treats social movement; inclusive, exclusive. passively and actively (fig 1).
Conditions required for the Development of Social Movement in Liberal Democracies
These terms are all pretty self-explanatory, but to demonstrate;
at the red end of the scale I’ve placed the most unfavourable conditions for social movement; that is, a political regime that is actively exclusive. The UK, particularly during the Thatcher years was and is active in its exclusion of social movement, seeing it as socially costly and a threat to economic efficiency.
Next up the scale we have passively inclusive, the U.S.A. The government itself has little input or support but pluralism allows social movements to develop, form lobby groups, contest elections etc.
A country which is actively inclusive would be Norway. The state does intervene and get involved in social movements often organising social concerns itself.
The reason why you’ll find passively exclusive at the green end of the scale is because this is a scale showing the most favourable conditions for social movements to grow and develop. In order for that to happen the social movement needs to be independent of government (excluded) but allowed to develop and find solutions to social issues ( passively excluded). These conditions can be found in Germany and are credited for facilitating the development of contemporary environmentalism achieving a high level of ecological modernization.
So to place Ireland on the scale at present, with government and most media coverage intolerant and dismissive, the type of regime we live with is actively excluding social movement. Already Government T.D’s and some journalists are attacking the Women’s Rights social movement, in particular the action x movement which began over 20 years ago and was highlighted again this week due to tragic circumstances. The story broke in Wednesday’s Irish Times, with a comprehensive account of what had unfolded in an Irish hospital by Savita’s husband. When she pleaded for a termination, she was told this was a catholic country. This was dropped from the Irish media coverage in the following days, excluded in an RTE Six One news report on a piece of audio from Savita’s husband, which was included on the Channel 4 news at 7pm that same evening.
The political regime in this country must change, the way we do things in this country must change, and it won’t happen at the ballot box, as we are so often told. It will and can only happen with you demanding change now.