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Iceland: Ireland's Role Model
For A Real Republic
For some it is hard to comprehend that whatever happens to the certain small book called “Bunreacht na hÉireann” can and does affect the lives of many people in many different ways.
The following is a story on the past experiences of our small neighbouring country during the current global economic crisis. Ireland has much to learn about Iceland’s recovery, however, this is part of an ongoing success story continually neglected by the corporate main stream media.
It all started in December 2009 when the government of Iceland presented a bill to President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson and urged him to sign it within 14 days before it faces a vote of the citizens. In accordance with Iceland’s fundamental democratic principles, the President refused to sign the bill regardless of opposition from the government.
“It is the cornerstone of the constitutional structure of the Republic of Iceland that the people are the supreme judge of the validity of the law,”
Grimsson then scheduled a meeting for the 2nd of January with a movement called “InDefence” who had gathered an Initiative [petition] that quickly risen up to 62,000 signatures calling for a referendum on the bill, before it became enforced. This bill was for a new agreement with Britain and the Netherlands to force Iceland to pay £3.1 Billion to compensate savers who lost money in an online bank called “Icesave” following the collapse of Landsbanki and saddling each Icelander with £11,000 of debt.
“Importers couldn’t get trade finance for food. We feel deeply wronged,” said Johannes Skulason from InDefence. Shelves were bare for weeks in Icelandic shops as the banking system disintegrated. Einars Már Gudmundsson, a novelist, said “I had never heard of Icesave till this happened...”
“We were told that what these banks did abroad has nothing to do with us but when it all went wrong the responsibility fell back on us. Profits were privatised, but losses were nationalised.”
He added: “We’re told if we reject the terms, we will be the Cuba of the North. But if we accept, we’ll be the Haiti of the North.”
On the 6th of March, 2010 the “Icesave referendum” was held and resoundingly defeated by 93% of voters who refused to swallow the medicine of austerity.
On the 27th of November, 2010, for the first time, in the history of the world, thirty one ordinary citizens from this small independent republic were selected under reconciliation for forming a Constitutional Assembly to review and restructure the nations laws through a process called “direct democracy” influenced by a social covenant born from the soaring unemployed outside the Althingi – parliament during the Pots and Pans Revolution. Revolution became the inevitable, over the cost of living and the collapse of the krona, which wreaked political and economic havoc, forcing the government to turn to the IMF for a bail-out of £1.3 Billion in November of 2008. When Iceland’s banks began collapsing in October 2008, the former UK’s P.M. Gordon Brown, declared Britain’s new enemy labelling Iceland as a “terrorist state” seizing the assets, provoking a backlash of feeling and escalating resentment towards the small country of 320,000 Icelanders under the protectorate of Norway. Iceland’s amended constitution established a new direct democratic process that fashioned public debates on the foundations and values of society with the discovery of incompetence and misdeeds inside the private and public sector which were steeped in corruption.
The new constitution of Iceland had been drafted from the material of one thousand randomly chosen Icelanders who offered their views through social media, which helped encourage further legal proceedings towards an investigation into the Central Bank, MP Bank, Kaupthing Bank, and Straumur Bank. These proceedings lead to the arrest of 3 parties, including the former Landsbanki treasury boss, Jon Thorsteinn Oddleifsson. Landsbanki was found to have taken retail deposits from more than 400,000 British and Dutch customers through the online product “Icesave”. Two months later, seven men were arrested by the British Fraud Office in London, including two well known property tycoons, Robert Tchenguiz and his brother Vincent, who had been responsible for bringing down three of Iceland’s banks, such as the Kaupthing Bank owing more than $50 Billion to creditors and local authorities.
The moment the mechanisms of initiative and referenda had become legislation for shortening the gap between citizens and representative government, the Icelanders began the road to certain economic recovery to which became the next example, proving once again that direct democracy prevails. In Switzerland, citizens also have the right to propose almost any constitutional amendment. However such an amendment cannot, of course, violate the international law on human rights. Putting forward such an initiative in Switzerland, citizens need to gather a minimum of 100,000 signatures within 18 months.
Many results show that when people become actively involved in the political decision making process, the call for protesting diminishes and feelings of anger, fear and despair throughout society become eradicated. Therefore such behaviours resonating with the mentality of helplessness and apathy are substituted with the senses of ownership and pride, thus producing a happier and preferably responsible society with much lower crime rates. Through online technology, higher levels of involvement have many potential upsides, including the possibility of improving government efficiency, thereby saving public money.
In Ireland it is becoming common knowledge that the members of the 1922 Constitutional Committee of the Irish Free State Constitution, previously made provisions for a more direct democracy through Articles 47 and 48, before the ratification of Bunreacht na hÉireann in 1937. A Real Republic exists when citizens embark on being constitutionally empowered to restructure bureaucracy towards mutually assured prosperity.
“Therefore voting for candidates who are in favour of reinstating the forgotten Citizen’s Initiative in the next General Elections could make 2016 the birth year of a Real Republic.”