By Niall Crowley

Claiming our Future is inviting people to sign up to build a movement for an equal, sustainable and thriving Ireland. Over 2000 people have already done so and the target is 10,000. Just log onto and sign up to be part of putting forward an alternative future for Ireland based on equality, environmental sustainability, accountability, participation and solidarity.

These were the five values selected for Claiming our Future at its first event in the RDS on 30th October this year. Over one thousand people participated at the event and they deliberated and decided that the new movement should promote these values and that these values should shape a new policy agenda to be advanced by the movement. These values were chosen as reflecting our shared aspirations for a different Ireland, as holding the potential to unite and bring together the different strands of civil society and as challenging the dominant values that are guiding the policy choices being made by the Government.

The event at the RDS was a unique and extraordinary day. Participants were drawn from a broad range of backgrounds – community, environment, trade union, voluntary, education, cultural, global justice and wider. They were largely unknown to each other – stretched well beyond what is unhelpfully termed the ‘usual suspects’. Everyone was in place ten minutes before the samba drums rolled to mark the start. Everyone was still in place as Gloria, the lesbian and gay choir, sang to mark the conclusion. No one wanted to leave.

They had spent the day seated at a hundred tables talking through and deciding on an agenda for this new movement. New technology and software enabled the preferences decided at each table to be assessed so that the overall preferences for the hall could be established and communicated. Palpable excitement greeted the announcement of the consensus of the hall after each of the debates. A powerful and challenging agenda emerged for the new movement – based around eight policy choices.

The policy agenda that will now be worked on was debated under two main headings and includes:

1.       Making the economy work for the people.

  • Change the current development model and define and measure progress in a balanced way that stresses economic security and social and environmental sustainability.
  • Regulate banking to change the culture from one of speculative banking to one where currently state owned banks and new local banking models focus on guaranteeing credit to local enterprises and communities.
  • Achieve greater income equality and reduce poverty through wage, tax and income policies that support maximum and minimum income thresholds.
  • Prioritise high levels of decent employment with a stimulus package to maximise job creation in a green/social economy.

2.       Making the state work for the people.

  • Reform representative political institutions to enhance accountability, equality, capacity and efficiency of national and local decision makers.
  • Develop participatory and deliberative forms of citizens’ engagement in public governance and enhance democratic participation by fostering the advocacy role of civil society organisations, civics and ethics education in all school levels and a diverse media.
  • Provide universal access to quality healthcare, childcare and services for older people.
  • Invest in equality in access to and participation in all levels of education (preschool to university).

The starting point for Claiming our Future goes back to the beginning of the year and a series of meetings between Is Feidir Linn, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Community Platform, the Environmental Pillar of Social Partnership, Tasc and Social Justice Ireland. All six organisations had been working to put forward alternative responses to the economic crisis and all were finding it increasingly difficult to articulate any alternatives in the public domain. All organisations shared a concern about the weak link between national and local action to respond to the crises and about the difficulty in mobilising people to demonstrate support for these alternatives.

Claiming our Future was born out of this dissatisfaction. It seeks to respond to the challenge to civil society to draw together its different strands and to tap into a new strength out of this unity and cooperation. It acknowledges the need for all parts of civil society to review their messages and ways of working given the new and unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in. It aims to develop work that brings forward a demand for what we want to emerge out of the crises we are in that could now accompany the ongoing work of protesting against the way the Government is responding to these crises.

In the build up to the event Claiming our Future created a strong infrastructure which will now hopefully evolve to serve it well over the coming period. A steering committee was formed out of the six organisations that originated the idea. An operations committee came together to shape the event and involved a much broader range of organisations – women’s groups, trade unions, cultural groups, youth groups, older people’s organisations, environmental organisations, global justice groups, migrant organisations, disability organisations, faith based organisations, voluntary service groups and many more.

A communications committee worked to get the message out about Claiming our Future and to frame the public debate about this new phenomenon. Local convenors have worked in nearly all counties to mobilise people for the event and to organise a debate to inform the ideas that were put forward at the event. Finally over one hundred facilitators came forward to shape the agenda for the day and to work together to facilitate the debate at the different tables at the event. A website was developed and a strong social media presence was enabled by Keelin FitzGerald who is working as an intern with Claiming our Future.

This infrastructure relied on the participation of a broad range of people on a voluntary basis. There were trade unionists, community activists, environmental activists, social media experts and individuals and all gave inordinate amounts of time, energy and creativity to secure the success of the event. The challenge of course is now posed back to this infrastructure and to all these people to grow the next phase of the movement and to innovate and to make it work as successfully.

At the end of the event a commitment was made to continue to develop the movement. Participants voted almost unanimously, in a sea of ‘green for go’ voting cards, to express their commitment to staying involved and working together for an equal, sustainable and thriving Ireland. Participants each wrote down an action that they would take as individuals on foot of the event. This was done on a Claiming our Future postcard which will be sent back to them at the end of November as a reminder. This was important as there was a strong sense that the power that was in the room rested on the individuals that were there and the steps they themselves would take on foot of being there.

Participants were also invited to brief ten people on what had happened over the day and on the decisions that were made and to encourage them to sign up to Claiming our Future on the website. In this way the movement could grow from the one thousand people who were there to ten thousand people for the next phase.

The organisers are now reconvening the various committees and groups that make up the infrastructure for Claiming our Future to discuss and agree on next steps. Work will need to be done to develop a debate on the policy steps required to secure an implementation of the eight policy choice made. A commitment was also made to bring Claiming our Future outside Dublin and to hold two further events in the first quarter of next year.

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