The establishment took a kicking in Ireland’s general election last weekend. The vote reflected continuing resistance to austerity, and in particular the powerful campaign against water charges.
The left of Labour Anti Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit (AAA/PBP) group and Sinn Fein made significant gains.
The AAA/PBP won six seats, a real advance and a great achievement. People Before Profit’s newly elected TD (MP) for Dublin Mid West Gino Kenny said, “We’ll use the Dail (parliament) to mobilise as many people as possible. When there are strikes or upheavals, we’ll be there.
“We’ll use the parliament to voice the concerns of people who are fighting. The main thing is to be shoulder to shoulder with anyone who’s striking against the system.”
People Before Profit’s newly elected TD for Dublin South Central Brid Smith said, “Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and the government entered the campaign confident to the point of arrogance. They believed that ‘the recovery’ for those at the top would carry them through. The Irish people have decisively rejected them.”
Early hopes that Fine Gael/Labour could win on the basis of claiming to have secured prosperity soon turned to dust. One opinion poll taken just before the election showed that more than half said they “had felt no economic benefit” from the supposed recovery.
Ireland has the second highest percentage of low-paying jobs in the developed world.
“Whingers”—as Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny described the voters—got their revenge and gave him and his coalition partner the Labour Party a seriously bloody nose.
The Labour Party went from 20 percent of the vote last time to 6.6 percent.
Voters have followed the path taken by the Spanish and Portuguese electorates in rejecting a government that implemented a European Union (EU)/International Monetary Fund (IMF) bankers’ bailout.
Since 2010, Ireland’s top 300 wealthiest individuals have doubled their wealth. These 300 individuals have a combined wealth of £70 billion, a fifth of all the wealth in the country. In contrast half of all Irish people have less than 5 percent of that wealth.
Just over three decades ago the three main parties received 94 percent of vote. In the 2007 election the combined popular vote for Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour was 79 percent.
Now it is just over half. So the establishment parties are down 25 percentage points.
The last two elections have rewritten Irish parliamentary politics.
After being the natural party of government for most of the history of the Irish state, Fianna Fáil was decimated in the 2011 election for implementing an EU austerity package. This time Fianna Fáil recovered slightly. It did this partially by tacking left in opposition to the government.
It campaigned on an “Ireland For All” slogan. It portrayed Fine Gael as only being interested in the wealthier classes. Which is true about Fine Gael—but it’s true about Fianna Fáil too. Anti Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy was right to say the election was a “political earthquake”.
No rush to form a coalition
The massacre of the coalition has raised the prospect of the previously unthinkable marriage of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are two conservative parties with very little difference between their policies.
A grand coalition between them is possible, but it would be a historic shift.
Their roots are in the civil war of the 1920s over whether to accept the partition of Ireland. That was the context for
AAA/PBP TD Gino Kenny to say, “Civil war politics was over a long time ago. What we’re going to have now is class warfare.”
After these results it will be hard to set up a government, and one possibility is a second election.
Sinn Finn have ruled out formign a coaliton. Sinn Fein has tacked left in the South compared to in Northern Ireland where it has overseen austerity measures.
Throughout the course of the year Sinn Fein appeared to be getting 20 percent and over in the opinion polls and there was some talk of them replacing Fianna Fail.
Sinn Fein scored 13.8 percent of the votepercent a increase of 3.9 percent. But the experience of the last two junior coalition parties—Green and Labour—being trounced after a spell in government may mean Sinn Fein won’t rush to be in a coalition.
It may be possible, just, to prop up a coalition with a rise in the number of independents and smaller parties.
Happily, pro-business, anti-abortion party Renua Ireland was effectively ruled out of coalition when its leader, Lucinda Creighton, lost herseat.
In contrast Ruth Coppinger, elected for the Anti Austerity Alliance, promised action over the constitutional ban on abortion.
“The People Before Profit/Anti Austerity Alliance group will put forward a bill to repeal the 8th Amendment within three months,” she pledged.
Left independents such as Joan Collins, and Clare Daly add to the radicals in the Dail.
‘People are still very angry’
Richard Boyd Barrett TD, Dun Laoghaire
Richard Boyd Barrett, a member of the Irish Socialist Workers Party and People Before Profit, was re-elected. He increased his vote significantly to be the first elected in the Dún Laoghaire constituency.
‘We played a really critical role in building what is probably one of the biggest mass movements in the history of the state around water charges. That has boosted our fortunes enormously.
Although we have relatively small forces in the Dail (parliament) we set the agenda for the left on a whole range of issues.
People are still very angry at the unfair impact of austerity. It has generated an enormous housing crisis, a huge
shambles in the health service and low pay.
There is a limited balance sheet recovery going on that has benefited the top 20 percent. That’s who Fine Gael essentially represent.
In turn that has angered and infuriated a majority who have felt nothing of that recovery.
The more the government talked about recovery the more people were saying, where’s our recovery?
New forces on the left are rising. Sinn Fein has gained, we’ve gained dramatically and a few independents and a new grouping called Social Democrats have made some gains.
There’s a major realignment of the left political landscape and a move away from civil war parties. There is an important move against the establishment. Much, but not all of it, is to the left.
Now we don’t want another centre right government of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. That would be a right wing neoliberal government.
Sinn Fein has adopted an anti-austerity posture for the last five years, pushed all the way by ourselves and the mass movement.
They wobbled however on their involvement in that movement. So they lost credibility among a significant layer of people.
They also have a dilemma. They want to keep their options open.
They want to join the establishment but they are under huge pressure from the mass movement and their own working class base.
The water charges movement was always about much more than water.
It was a culmination of fury and anger against six years of austerity and the betrayal of the Labour Party finally finding a focus.
There’s a fantastically high level of political engagement in the working class. I don’t think that’s going away any time soon and I think it will put enormous pressure on any government that comes in.
Our task is to continue to agitate and push that movement forward. Whether we can convince unions I don’t know.
But we have to try to push the unions while the government is being negotiated, which will take several weeks.
We need to be pushing hard to mobilise that movement again and set the agenda for any incoming government.”
‘Build the resistance’
Brid Smith, Dublin South Central TD
My election in Dublin South Central confirms the fact that this election has seen a major advance for the left in Ireland.
The big picture is that the combined vote of the two main capitalist parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, has dropped to a historic low—from 82 percent in 1982 to 45 percent now.
For the AAA-PBP to win six seats is a huge achievement and there will be at least three other serious socialists in the Dail.
This shows that we have a massive opportunity to go on mobilising resistance and building organisationally. We must seize this moment.
Regarding my own election we had a magnificent grassroots campaign. I would like to thank the working people of Dublin South Central for putting their faith in me, and my brilliant team for defeating the attempts
of the Fianna Fail lawyers to deprive the people of their democratic choice.
Now the struggle continues.”