Adjusting 'Our Notions of the Nature of the State': A Political Reading of Ireland's Child Protection Crisis

By Garrett, Paul Michael | Capital & Class, June 2012 | Go to article overview

Adjusting 'Our Notions of the Nature of the State': A Political Reading of Ireland's Child Protection Crisis


Garrett, Paul Michael, Capital & Class


Introduction

The economic crisis that has engulfed the Republic of Ireland is inseparable from a wider international crisis (Callinicos, 2010). However, the response by the Irish government was to prove particularly disastrous.

When Lehman Brothers hit the wall in September 2008, the storm broke. Brian Cowen's panicked--and deeply compromised--government offered to guarantee the full liabilities of Irish-owned financial institutions, exposing its citizens to a potential wallop several times larger than the nation's annual GDP. Soon afterwards, the Fianna Fail-led administration moved to nationalize Anglo Irish, the third-largest bank in the state, and shore up its two main competitors with huge cash injections. (Finn, 2011a: 11; see also Allen, 2009; Lewis, 2011)

The Republic was also the first country in the eurozone to adopt a neoliberal infused 'austerity' budget. In late 2010, as the crisis deepened, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB) provided a 'bailout' package that resulted in further punitive public spending cuts and a dilution--some would argue eradication--of national sovereignty (McArthur, 2011). A budget in December 2010, the fourth in little over two years, cut even deeper into public spending (Barnardos, 2010). Following the 'austerity' budgets, the 'total fiscal tightening up' now stands at nearly 20 per cent of GDP, more than double the Tory-led Coalition cuts in Britain' (Burke, 2011: 140). What is more, in a stark 'reprise of the colonial relationship ... the major holder of Irish government debt are the British banks, with state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland at the front of the queue' (Burke, 2011: 141).

Following a general election in February 2011, a government headed by Fine Gael, with the Labour Party as coalition partner, was formed, but there is no indication that the crisis is to end or that this administration is intent on embarking on a new, more socially and economically benign course (Kelly, 2011). However, the current crisis is far more than a mere economic crisis and may be conceived as a series of interlinked 'conjunctures'. Located within a broadly Gramscian framework, the notion of 'conjuncture' refers to the emergence of social, political and economic and ideological contradictions at a particular historical moment. Here, different 'levels of society, the economy, politics, ideology, common sense, etc, come together or "fuse"' (Hall, in Hall and Massey, 2010: 59). Thus, a 'conjuncture' is a 'critical turning point or rupture in a political structure, primarily signifying a crisis in class relations' (Rustin, 2009: 18). Such a multifaceted crisis in the present order represents a potential opportunity to construct a new hegemonic settlement, which may be socially progressive or retrogressive depending on the political bloc that emerges as dominant.

This discussion is, therefore a modest attempt to analyse the state at this conjuncture. It is acknowledged that the state in Ireland is similar to those in other jurisdictions in that it is a fluid, dynamic formation whose components shift over time. Furthermore, the discussion will not seek to supplant or disrupt some of the other models of the state which have evolved in recent years: for example, the notion that the state in Ireland can be viewed as a 'competition state' (Kirkby and Murphy, 2011). It is understood that the state in the Republic is a neoliberal state and its core function is to furnish an 'apparatus whose fundamental mission [is to] facilitate conditions for profitable capital accumulation on the part of both domestic and foreign capital' (Harvey, 2005: see also Allen, 2007). Following the analysis of David Harvey, it is also recognised that here the 'state-finance nexus' fulfils a key role, confounding the 'analytic tendency to see state and capital as clearly separable from each other' (Harvey, 2010: 48). Central to this model are dynamic 'structures of governance' where the 'state management of capital creation and monetary flows becomes integral to, rather than separable from, the circulation of capital. …

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