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Is the radical left set to make a breakthrough in Irish vote?

Ireland’s rulers claim that five years of brutal austerity have paid off—but anger is likely to badly bruise the main parties and boost the left in the general election, writes Simon Basketter

Issue No. 2491

A mass demonstration against water charges in Dublin last month

A mass demonstration against water charges in Dublin last month (Pic: PA)

Voters are likely to give Irish bosses’ parties a drubbing in the general election on 26 February. The radical left may make a significant breakthrough.

Prime minister Enda Kenny has urged voters to support his Fine Gael party to “keep the recovery going”.

But across the street from Dublin’s iconic General Post Office (GPO), the heart of the 1916 Easter Rising, looms the shell of Clerys store. The flagship department store closed last summer with the loss of 460 jobs.

Behind the GPO is Moore Street, where determined protesters are fighting to stop developers trashing the historic site.

Less than half of the hundreds of thousands who lost their job in the crisis have found work. Rents have spiralled. There was a 76 percent increase in families made homeless last year.

Corporation tax revenue is up. But the tax is on a miniscule rate of 12.5 percent—which suggests the bosses are making fortunes again.

The crisis has predominantly been a crisis of parliamentary politics, partly because the union leaders haven’t led a serious fight. But there has been an increased desire for social change.

A referendum on gay marriage passed last year. There are growing demands to abolish the 8th Amendment of the constitution that outlaws abortion.

Meanwhile emigration has returned to Ireland in recent years with a vengeance.

Water charges and a hated Universal Social Charge, essentially an additional tax on workers, have increased resentment.


A mass movement against water charges has seen enormous demonstrations and local actions as well as a non-payment campaign.

There is a demonstration against water charges on the Saturday before the election.

Councillor Gino Kenny is a parliamentary candidate for People Before Profit and prominent campaigner against the water charges. “This is an historic chance for the radical left to make a breakthrough,” he said.

“I want to give people an alternative to Labour’s sellouts and the austerity parties’ neoliberal agenda.”

With an MP and councillors, People before Profit has been able to raise the profile of local and national campaigns against austerity.

Its elected members have been a voice for the resistance to the attacks on working people. As Kenny said, “We can be cheerleaders of resistance inside and, more importantly, outside the Dail.”

John Lyons left Sinn Fein to join the Irish Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and is a councillor in north Dublin. “My aim,” he said, “is to fundamentally redistribute wealth in favour of the majority.

“The world is in desperate need of revolutionary change. The capitalist system creates inequality, wars and racism. Another world is possible.”

Thanks to for interviews

'A historic left challenge'

Richard Boyd Barrett

Richard Boyd Barrett

Richard Boyd Barrett is an MP in Dun Laoghaire, just south of Dublin.

He said, “Parliament is useful so long as you understand that the real force for change lies with ordinary people.

“Together with the Anti-Austerity Alliance we have over 30 candidates across the country.

“This is the biggest intervention by the socialist left in the history of the state.

“It is an indication of the huge change taking place in Irish society and the demand for an alternative to the conservative establishment of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael and the fake leftism of the Labour Party.

“If the left can make significant gains in this general election it can open the door for a victory on the water charges.

“It can give people the confidence to demand real change.”

'People want resistance'

Dublin Councillor Brid Smith is one of People Before Profit’s parliamentary candidates.

She said, “I have been a socialist most of my adult life.

“The Ireland I grew up in, then as now, was marked by injustice and inequality. And then as now I wanted to do something about it.

“Every family has its own horror story—whether it’s a sick relative needing a hospital bed or generations living on top of one another in overcrowded homes.

“I think more and more people are beginning to see the bigger picture.

“Globally they see the same agenda for the system— privatisation, cuts and making ordinary people pay for the crisis.

“And globally they see resistance.”

Who are Ireland's political players?

Fianna Fail dominated Irish politics from the 1920s. But in 2011 the party wasn’t so much voted out of office as purged. It lost 51 of its 71 seats.

The reason was that the Fianna Fail-led coalition decided to bail out Ireland’s failing banks in 2008.

To pay for the help to the bankers, the government signed up to the European Union and International Monetary Fund’s programme of long term austerity.

In 2011 the bosses’ B-team Fine Gael was swept to office. It has since been the senior member of a coalition government with the Irish Labour Party.

There is now deep anger at Labour. Its vote probably won’t collapse, but leader Joan Burton could lose her seat.

In contrast Sinn Fein has sought to reposition itself as a left wing party.

While using anti-austerity rhetoric, it is trying making itself fit to be part of a coalition with a bosses’ party.

Ireland’s PR electoral system makes it easier for smaller parties to get elected.

The Irish SWP is part of People Before Profit. It has an electoral agreement with the Anti Austerity Alliance, which the Socialist Party set up.

A number of independents who have been part of the anti-water charges movement are also standing.

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Tue 16 Feb 2016, 16:07 GMT
Issue No. 2491
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