This is an interview with Direct Democracy Ireland leader, Pat Greene. As I stated in an earlier edition of The Navigator, I was looking for this interview to happen for some time. It did not disappoint. We met earlier this month in the Ashbourne House Hotel. We chatted on a range of issues. What really came across was Pat’s logical thinking and his vision for a fairer Irish society. Both of which are sorely needed today. I must point out that Direct Democracy Ireland is opposed to the Chief Whip system so the views expressed by Pat in this interview are his own and are not necessarily subscribed to by every party member.
What does Direct Democracy Ireland stand for?
What it’s standing for, primarily, is to reinstate articles 47 and 48 (of the Irish Constitution). Now, not as they were in 1922, but an updated version of them. What we are looking for more than anything else is that we can take part in democracy properly. At the moment, that isn’t there. We are being dictated to. So, what we stand for is that we want to be able to say “Stop!” Democracy happens once every 5 years for 10 minutes. You walk into the polling booth, pick up your piece of paper, tick a box and walk back out. That’s your democracy. And that’s it then for another 5 years. The politicians, the civil servants, can do what they want. You cannot say boo. There are no powers. The Seanad has been reduced to a shadow of what it was supposed to be. It’s supposed to a balance in the Oireachtas and it isn’t. So you have no balance. Then you have the party whip who destroys any democracy that is left in the House. So, you’re left with about 4 people in control of the entire country. Then, if somebody outside, externally, gets their ear, the rest of us can go hop, skip and jump because we don’t have any say. And that’s what we stand for, what we came into being for. To work on that and get that done.
Does a Direct Democracy impinge on the right of minorities or the individual?
The individual has no power to start with (under the current system). The individual needs help from people around them. If I may explain what direct democracy is, roughly. In the Swiss model, and we have been mirroring the Swiss model even though it’s not an identical construct. You come up with an idea of what needs to be done. You see something going wrong in the country or you see something that needs to be done and you think is right. You go down to your local government office and you get a pack. You fill out the forms and you submit the forms. Time then starts ticking. You have, say for argument’s sake, in a local authority area you would 6-8 weeks to get the required number of signatures and lodged with the authorities and they would have to get a plebiscite. On a national level, you would have to get, for argument’s sake, 80,000 signatures, people on the voting register. Now that would have to be across the entire country. No counties left out. If people find it hard to canvas Leitrim because they can’t find anybody, you would have to get 10% of the people. End of story. So Leitrim is never left out. So, you would have 6-10 months, maybe even 18 months were all this is up for grabs. If the 18 months goes by and you don’t have the right number of signatures then it has fallen. You have failed. The same with the plebiscite. Then it goes forward to referendum and the Government will have no choice. It has to be called. It has to be debated and called.
If you are talking about the rights of an individual, they would actually have more. If they are in a situation where they can go around to their neighbours and friends and say, here, look we’ll sign this. They sign it and they can get a referendum or a plebiscite called. So you definitely can’t argue that his rights are impinged upon. A minority can do the same. They can argue at a local level and say listen lads, this is what’s happening to us and it’s wrong. We need X, Y and Z for something to be done. In comparison to a minority at the moment, they can do nothing. There’s nothing they can do. They can shout. They can jump up and down and do what they like. Whereas, if they get enough signatures there’s also a proper national debate. Then a referendum vote called on it. It’s binding. Now it doesn’t change the constitution. It’s just a binding vote is all. The constitution is left alone. That’s a different ball game. Now, if you want constitutional change you can ask for constitutional change. On a day to day basis, it’s just a vote on this; what we are going to do as a society? And the main thing is as a society, not as individuals. The rights are, in my opinion, enhanced rather than reduced.
How do you ensure that something the majority are bringing in will not harm a minority?
Well, a balance has to be put in there. There has to be something there that says no. This has to stop. It could be a group of, I hate using the words, well educated, but certainly a group nationally that would be accepted. They could say “hang on a minute, we can’t have this.” The usual one thrown on it in regards to minorities is we a referendum on pink cats or cats are to be dyed pink. Well one, you’re not going to get enough signatures for it because you need them in each county. You’ll sit on O’ Connell Street and they’ll harangue at you as we used to say back in the day. You can’t just do that. It’s not going to happen. When it come to minorities, in Direct Democracy we’re going to advocate bringing in a Bill of Rights. We don’t have that. We have no rights as individuals. So, if you have that basis, that can’t be touched or damaged. So, after that, what is there to debate. If you have a right, you have a right. If you don’t have a right then certainly a majority can impinge on a minority. That all has to be looked at. It could happen. I’m not saying it won’t. That would be silly of me, but there has to be a mechanism put in there to safeguard the likes of Hitler taking power and coming down on a minority. Demonising a minority.
Something like a reformed Seanad?
Yeah, I think the Seanad would be the best option there. Certainly it should be reformed. I think everyone in the Seanad should be elected. I don’t think anybody should be in there because they are a professor of a university.
Or because the Taoiseach likes them.
Exactly. That was brought in to castrate the power of the Seanad. They should be elected at the same time as the rest of the Oireachtas. That’s my opinion.
Would you go into government with any of the current political parties?
If they sign up to a definite date instigating a direct democracy, I would certainly consider it. I don’t know if there are any red flags there. Once you get a direct democracy their power is gone, being honest with you. If they said they would put in a direct democracy tomorrow, now when I say direct democracy I mean a form of direct democracy that Direct Democracy Ireland wants. In the end, it’s approved by the people. I don’t want a piecemeal direct democracy that is truncated like the original one. That’s how it was got rid of so easily. I want a situation that is actually going to work on a day to day basis. So the Government has to look over its shoulder at the people when decisions are being made. The Representative Democracy system is still there. It works as it is, but the direct democracy system is just bolted onto it. That’s the only difference. It means that at any stage the people can just jump in and say “Stop!”
Like the Bailout. First of all, if we had direct democracy, the chances are we wouldn’t have reached having to get a bailout because somebody would have put the breaks on before that and there would have been a proper debate. That aside, at the time, if we had direct democracy when Cowen was negotiating with the so-called troika imagine how much stronger his hand would have been if he could turn around and say that’s not going to work with that lot. His hand would have been strengthened no end. We would have got a much better deal. Secondly, if he had gone ahead with a deal as he did and we realised, hang on, this can’t happen, we could have stopped it in its tracks there and then. It would have taken 10 days to get the signatures, the whole country was electric and the referendum would have been called and it would have been stopped and renegotiated, as simple as that, until the people were satisfied. Not the banks, not Cowen, not the troika.
So basically, yes. If they brought in a well constructed and honest direct democracy. Not just something they can say yes, we have direct democracy. Not something like once every 8 years. In California, they have it whenever they have elections. If you want a referendum you have to wait every 4 years. It’s not really direct democracy. It’s truncated. Damp, washed out. It’s useless. But, they can always fly the flag of direct democracy. It doesn’t work. Switzerland is the better model. California ticks the box, but it is not really there. Any democracy, such as the United States, where finance controls it, in my opinion, direct democracy is the antithesis of that. They will fight it tooth and nail. They will not let it go. When the people have power, they don’t. It’s too dangerous for them.
Going back to the question, it would have to be written down and well constructed and from that basis it would be on and every move would have to give more power to the people.
Some commentators have said you would have been better off as a lobby group. Is this something you would agree with?
No. Again, it goes back to you can lobby all you like, but how do you get turkeys to vote for Christmas. You can’t. You need to get into a position of power. You can lobby all you like. I have spoken with people who have been lobbying for over twenty years on this very issue, on direct democracy. They have been trying to get published in certain magazines and their stuff is not being published. So you can lobby all you like. Unfortunately, the description that is there is if the cesspool is there, but you have to jump in if you want to swim it. That’s it. Otherwise, you won’t be able to clean it up. No is the answer.
How would you have reacted to the refugee crisis if you were in power?
Well, that would be a difficult one to consider. The refugee crisis is a very emotive issue and in reaction to emotions, there is not an awful lot you can do. You have to go with the flow. My own personal opinion is that there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. A lot of people here are saying look at, we have a lot of people here dying on the streets homeless and we’re bringing in half a million refugees, if not more, from Syria or from wherever. I think it’s ill-conceived. I think something needs to be done about the refugees. It really is a rock and a hard place. My preference would be we have it looked at, analysed and that a certain degree of status would be given to people from Syria so when the Syrian conflict is ended and over repatriation would be considered. That’s my own personal opinion. I haven’t spoken to anybody from DDI about that. If it were left to Direct Democracy per se, it would be a vote of conscience. I don’t think it would be a case where we would say this is what we would do so we would leave it as a vote of conscience. I do believe a debate should be had on it, though. People say it is an immediate crisis. Yes, it is, but where did the crisis start? What began the crisis? What is happening in the moment in Syria? What other power plays are happening? We’re being asked to take on a burden that we can ill afford. I would like to have it examined a lot more closely. I’m not saying no. I’m not saying yes. My heart says yes, my head says let’s think about this. It’s a lot of money. Our schools will have to change. The health system is already under pressure. We’ll be bringing people in. We don’t know what age group. We don’t know if they have any skill sets. We have no control. We are being told just take these people in.
It has started out in Germany. We saw the emotions when the young child died. Then we seen the far right in Germany starting to build again. Which is a very dangerous position. Especially in Germany. France would be the same. Marine Le Pen. That’s still there and it’s still a problem. I can’t for the life of me figure out why European governments are reacting the way they are. The emotions have to pulled out of it. When that child was on the beach, dead, it was heartbreaking. But, when you consider what you are doing to a nationality, to a country, it has to be logic based. If it is not not logic based it just leads to emotions. What do emotions lead to? More emotions and reactions. When you get people acting emotionally nobody is thinking and that’s a very dangerous position to be in. So, it’s not an easy one to answer. That’s my straight up and honest answer on that one. I can’t say yes or no, but I can say that it has not been thought out properly.
How do you plan to help small businesses?
For starters, the rates. The rates are too high. Now people say, well how are you going to fund local authorities? Well, if they were run properly the way businesses are the savings would be there. The thing about the rates is if you have a vacant premises at the moment, and this has been said by county managers; for argument’s sake, we’ll say I’m in a premises for 6 years. The last 5 months of that I’m in financial difficulty. I don’t pay any rates. I don’t pay my rent. I end up losing my business and the landlord is left with the business premises to put up to let. So, the landlord himself is paying half the rates for a building that is empty. It is earning nothing. So it remains empty for say two years. At the end of those two years we say you, Pat, you want to open up a small office there. All of a sudden you are hit for two years rates. So any rates I didn’t pay are still all there. You would have to pay all the rates that are “lost” to the council. We would do away with that because the longer that building is left empty, the harder it is to get a business started up because a bill has been running up.
The other thing is the bureaucracy. It has grown beyond belief. Health and safety has gone beyond it. The cost of health and safety courses and you have to have insurance companies. People aren’t allowed think anymore. You have a shelf now in small businesses of what is called Standard Operating Procedures. If you have a situation where you are a small business and your fridge breaks down if you have to go the Standard Operating Procedures and read them all. Mind you, you’re supposed to learn them all, but it’s a full shelf so there’s not a hope. You have to go through all that to see what you’re supposed to do. Now, if you go outside of that you’re to blame. This blame culture comes in. So the Standard Operating Procedure tells you what to do. Common sense would be, go to petty cash, pick up €150, go down to your local shop, buy a fridge, shove all the stuff into that and sort it out that way. A bit of cop on. But, no. You have to have a Standard Operating Procedure and that has to be updated every year. Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. That can take up a shelf 6 foot long, the Standard Operating Procedures, depending on the size of the company. It’s ridiculous. I would reduce the bureaucracy. I have nothing against bureaucracy, a certain level is required but after that it turns into a cost reduction exercise for insurance companies. No more.
I would also make it easier for indigenous businesses. I would try to get the IDA or whoever, and I have been saying this the last 30 years, this whole thing of moving away from manufacturing doesn’t wash with me. They still make pencils in France. They still make pencils in Germany. They still make parers in Germany. They could easily make them in China, but they still make them in Germany. If Germany and France can make these things then why not us? Manufacturing can still be applied to the Irish system. The unfortunate thing is, a lot of people in the IDA think you have to make super profits. Partnered with that is the overburdening cost of government. That has to be addressed. Also, the issue with businesses getting loans and over draughts is stupid. I would keep the banks as they are and force them to loan to businesses rather than playing the stock markets. I would also look at and review the VAT rates for small businesses.
This is something taken from the DDI website; “…to revoke the present statutory powers of Ireland’s Finance Minister, the Department of Finance and that of the Central Bank.” How does the party plan to do this?
With great difficulty (laughing). It’s really setting up other structures. It’s not really revoking it. That’s a hook. It’s really to get people thinking; these institutions do have a lot of powers. Who gave them these powers or were they just taken? It’s a way of getting people to question these things. The Central Bank itself, I asked the question long before I got into politics, you hear it on ads on the radio; this is such and such a bank and it is regulated by the Irish Central Bank. What does that mean? Then we found out it means nothing, unfortunately. So what is the point in giving them powers if they don’t actually have any powers? The Central Bank should be working for Ireland and Ireland only, not the EU. At the moment, they are burning something like half a billion Euro a year or something like that because the EU gave them instructions to it. This is money that is circulating around and it should come back to the Irish people, but it isn’t. It’s literally being torched. I don’t know the exact figures on that, but it’s something like that. This is all happening because the EU said that. Now hang on. I’m the Irish Central Bank. Shouldn’t I be working for the Irish people? Now, in terms of revoking the powers, it’s more a changing of powers so they reflect what we need and not what outside influences need. So that’s really what we are looking at.
There is a serious amount of anger out there aimed at Enda Kenny and Fine Gael. Do you believe the Government have, in general, done all they could given the difficult situation Fianna Fail left the country in?
They have done what they were told to do. Our budget has to be ratified by another organisation. It is not our budget. They do a budget, said what they are going to say, but first of all the Bundestag has to have a look at it and then another organisation has to have a look at it, I think that came to light this morning (the day after the budget announcements). We have no sovereignty. To give away that amount of sovereignty for what? What have we got for it? Also, I think that our entrance to the EU, EEC and all the different treaties need to be looked at again. We went into the EEC as it was back then and we gave away our fisheries. We have 85% of the fishing grounds of Europe and 5% of the catch. They are taking billions in our fish and that’s just raw fish. What would happen if we had them all processed here? Now that was on the basis that our farmers would be subsidised. Now the farming subsidies have all put dried up, but they still have the same amount of fishing. Now, I don’t know about you, but if we had drawn up a contract and then you start holding off I would say hang on, I’ll start knocking this down. They are not working for the Irish people. They seem to be working for a job in Europe. That is their ultimate goal, to get into Europe themselves. To be accepted by, as David McWilliams said; to be in the good room. The need to accepted by the elite. All that should be done away with. Our assets. There was an advert on the radio just before I met you saying that the Corrib gas fields can provide 2/3 of the Irish needs for gas and they gave an example of an engineer who is already benefitting from it, but what they didn’t tell you is that we would have to purchase that gas at the full amount value. The amount money we got out of that gas was, what have you got in your pocket? 50C? So, they are not doing enough. There are so many areas they can look at to address the balance, the inequality, that is something they should have done and they haven’t done.
In regards, to the argument over the euro zone and Syriza and Yanis Varoufakis and people saying he lost. Well, in fact, they didn’t lose. What happened was the other finance ministers sat across from him, including our own, sat on the far side of the table and just stared him out of it. That is not, in my opinion, helping the Irish people. That is just doing what they were told by their buddies in Europe. Now, I may be wrong in that. I certainly don’t think I am, but no, they certainly haven’t done enough.
How do you feel about Clare Daly? She signed a petition called Reinstate 48*. Have you heard of this?
Clare Daly would be fairly familiar with some of my colleagues. They would have a great rapport with Clare. She signed it because she believes in reinstating 48. I haven’t spoke to her about it, so I don’t know what her thoughts are. So, it is a step in the right direction. The whole concept of reinstating 48 is close to what we want, but what does it mean? Whereas, what we want is to put together something more. What Clare is doing doesn’t go as far as Direct Democracy Ireland. It does get the message out there. What Clare is saying is that she is willing to hand power back to the people. I would like to explore it a bit more to see how far it goes.
How did you become involved in the party?
I was a very angry man. I mean a very angry man. My family would have always spoke about politics. It was always politics over sport. Nothing against sport, but politics always came first. I could see the pressure. I could see the pressure that was involved. And along came this man speaking called Ray Whitehead. Ray was talking about direct democracy, something I had never heard of. We did do civics in school. We talked about communism an awful lot. We never talked about democracy. We talked about how bad communism is and we talked about how good democracy was, but we never talked about what exactly it was. Ray had this idea of the person can call a referendum, the person can make a change, the individual. That resonated with me. What rang with me was the power I would have to change government. I was a member of the club for a while. Ben Gilroy popped up too and he was fighting with the sheriff. Successfully I might add. When I came into the position I thought right I’m going to make this work for me and then the position came forward for leader and I went for it and I got it. Happy days. I keep pushing for a very good construct for a direct democracy to satisfy the anger I felt. Now, that is a personal thing. However, it is the same anger people feel when they wake up. The average Joe Soap believes that the Government should tell them what to do. When you go into the bank, we are going to this, we’re going to that, these were the things that were making me angry. You realise that, actually, they can’t do that without your permission. You take a step further and ask what else do they need my permission for? Then you realise, at the end of the day, all you’re dealing with is your local estate management crowd on a larger scale. When you look at your local at estate management company, they have a secretary, they have a treasurer. The same as government. Do you have to do what you’re told by the local estate management? No. Do you have to do what you are told by government? No. Is it in your interest to work together to help with government? Yes, but the Government should not be telling us what to do. That’s why I’m in DDI. I want to be able to say stop. All these people agree with me I should be telling you to stop. Now let’s debate it and see if the rest of the country believes I should be telling you to stop and that’s what it’s about and that’s why I’m in Direct Democracy Ireland.
How would you address the issue of housing? As we have seen in Carrickmines, some people are going to bed at risk of dying.
Are you talking Traveller housing or housing in general?
Housing in general.
Well, I would suggest that the Traveller housing is a separate issue because a lot of them want to keep their cultural identity and they want the facilities to move around. Personally, I think the facilities should be better. Some of them are desperate. The whole idea of not having firebreaks, I mean come on. Hello! That’s basic engineering.
The housing situation, in general, there needs to a minimum of 20-25,000 houses build a year, not 5 years. Per year. That’s just to start tackling the situation. We’re coming out with policies on that anyway. They are now talking about Nama building houses. My personal view on that is that Nama has already cost us billions. Now they are going to make it look like Nama worked by selling us houses that belonged to us in the first place. So, yes I would still use Nama. There are houses all over the place and people keep telling me they are in the wrong place. Has it a roof? Has it a heating system? Has it water and sanitation? Put the people in it. End of story. We are in a crisis. We are in a state of emergency. There should be a state of emergency called on it. They can’t do that, they won’t do that. Fair enough, but at least admit there is an emergency. It hasn’t really begun. Every house in the last 2-3 months that was been before the courts on so-called re-procession has been pushed into February/March of next year. So, the level of re-processions, or evictions is what they effectively are, the level of evictions hasn’t been shown. It has been hidden until next year. So, even if they get a court order for February it won’t be acted upon for another two months, until after the elections. Suddenly you will have this tsunami of people looking to be housed. We are already at breaking point. We are already passed breaking point. So, we have to get houses built. We have to get them built quickly. People are talking about situations where there is no land. There is. There always was in Dublin, it was just held back to bring up property prices. I would do what a mayor in Spain has done and penalise any bank that has property idle for 3 months or more and penalise them hard. 3-4 months maximum. That can be debated, but any longer than that and you might as well not penalise them. So, basically the amount of time it takes to sell a house and procure the paperwork. After that, penalise them and penalise them hard. This will force the houses back onto the market.
Can you talk much about the manifesto? Have you finalised it?
No, we haven’t finalised it. So, no. I can give you the title if you like. It’s basically a Stronger Democracy for a Stronger Ireland is the heading of it. I believe in the wisdom of the crowd will prevail. You can say that’s how Hitler came to power, but it wasn’t. The people were manipulated by Herr Goebbels. So, we need to change the education system. Again, this is all up for discussion. The education system today is all geared towards providing for industry. Creating people that can do the jobs industry requires. It’s not providing people with life skills. Life skills have come to mean you’re multifaceted. You can work in this area, you can work in that area. They’re not life skills. They are skills. Life skills are how you think. Somebody said in the newspaper the other day, if everybody is thinking the same thing, who is thinking? That really rings true. If you have people making decisions based on emotions, they are definitely not thinking for starters. They have to be able to distinguish between an emotional state and a logical state. If they cannot distinguish between the two, it doesn’t matter if it is direct democracy or representative democracy or no democracy, it doesn’t matter, it eventually has to collapse in on itself.
So education has to change, the psyche has to change, everything has to change. It is not just case of bringing direct democracy and job done. It’s a long process. It is a process I, and Direct Democracy Ireland would like to stay on top of until we are satisfied and then I’ll go home. I’m out of politics. If I thought a political party was out there, that was in a better position to go into power, who would bring in the type of direct democracy that my colleagues and I want, I would resign tomorrow morning and focus on them. What would be the point? Once it’s in, it’s in, but it has to be done properly. There has to be a move towards it.
You can get in the structures, but you also have to get it in the media too. The use of language too. We want to be using the proper language. A language where people ask questions. Like, Plato. If people ask questions politicians won’t just make statements and walk away. Then someone else will make the same blasé statement. If people ask questions they won’t get away with that.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
That’s a good one. Probably explaining to people what we are about. A lot of people say to me you’re right wing aren’t you? Others say we are left. We’re neither and were not in the middle either. It is hard for people to get their heads around that. Also, it can be difficult explaining the difference between a direct democracy and Direct Democracy Ireland. There are a number of forms of a direct democracy and we are just one of them. Not everybody looking for a direct democracy wants exactly the same thing. That can be confusing for people unfamiliar with the concept.
*Reinstate 48 is a campaign to bring back article 48 of the Irish Constitution. More information can be found here; http://www.reinstate48.ie/