By Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin
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Where next for the Irish left after the local elections?

People Before Profit made gains in a difficult election, but the terrain has shifted to the right
Issue 2809
five people canvas in the Irish local elections

Supporters of People Before Profit campaign for Conor Reddy (centre) in Dublin during the Irish local elections (Picture: Conor Reddy – People Before Profit Dublin North West)

Irish socialist party People Before Profit (PBP) made significant gains in local elections in the south of Ireland last weekend. We entered what was a difficult election for the left with seven seats and came out with nine—possibly ten if a recount goes our way.

Overall, this will mean a total of 12 or 13 seats for People Before Profit-Solidarity. The majority of them are members of the Socialist Workers Network (SWN) or other revolutionary socialist groups within PBP.

The political terrain has shifted dramatically over the past two years or so. Sinn Féin, which was polling at 36 percent in May 2022, has dropped to around 12 percent. This is due, in part, to their move to the centre in preparation for getting into office in the south of Ireland.

Sinn Fein began making reassurances to big business that it was a safe pair of hands. And it stopped being part of protests over housing and the cost of living crisis that would have won it support.

However, the biggest factor in Sinn Fein’s loss of support has been the rise of the far right and its vacillations in response to it.

It ignored the problem of far right protests outside accommodation centres for asylum seekers and more recently pandered to anti-immigrant sentiment. One of their TDs, Martin Browne, addressed an anti-asylum seeker protest in Roscrea, telling the crowd that they had been treated “unfairly”.

A representative of theirs, now an elected councillor, described Georgians as “economic migrants” and said they should be “on the next plane home”. Their leaflets in the local elections declared that Ireland “must have control of its borders”.

This strategy saw their vote cut by more than half in two of their strongest areas in the country. In Ballymun-Finglas Sinn Fein fell from 42 percent of the first preference vote to 21 percent and in Dublin South Central from 44 percent to just 21 percent.  

The Irish government—a coalition of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Greens—is declaring the election results a victory for itself, claiming that “the centre is holding”. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael recovered slightly from the 2020 general election result and are now at a combined vote of 46 percent. But they are actually down on the 52 percent they had in the equivalent local election in 2019.

They are hoping that the Sinn Féin wave is receding and that they will be able to get back into office with the help of right wing independent TDs. And. like the rest of the so-called “centre” in Europe, they are increasingly moving to the right over immigration.

We have to understand gains for the socialist left in this context. We campaigned on the slogans, “Put campaigners on the council,” and, “Evict Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.”

Housing was central to the campaign. We highlighted the tens of thousands of long-term vacant and derelict properties that are scattered around Ireland and challenged the narrative pushed by the far right that “Ireland is full”.

Our campaigning for Palestinian liberation has also gained us support. There were many Palestine solidarity activists who campaigned for PBP in this election, who had not been involved before.

Given the rise of the far right in Ireland, it was crucial that there were principled, anti-racist, left wing campaigners running in this election. It was crucial that the opposition to the far right was not left to liberals like the Green Party, Sinn Féin with all its vacillations, or the mainstream right wing parties.

We saw the success in Clondalkin of people like Darragh Adelaide, a young black Irish speaker, and Conor Reddy in Ballymun-Finglas, one of the most deprived areas in Dublin. These victories gave the lie to the idea that the left must pander to anti-immigrant sentiment if it is to be successful.

The result also gives weight to the model of politics that PBP has been building over the past 20 years. It’s a politics that doesn’t counterpose struggle and elections, but one that sees elections as a way to build struggle.

All of the activists who were elected have a strong campaigning record—on housing, workers’ rights, climate justice, anti-racism, and Palestine.

This election has allowed us, not just to fly the flag for socialist politics, but to recruit new activists and build new networks. These will stand us in good stead as we try to organise in communities in the future.

It was also a litmus test for how we win people to our politics—there are few better ways to hone your arguments than to knock on people’s doors and talk to them. And where we have won seats, we have a better platform with which to be organisers and campaigners in our communities.

While the Socialist Left has made advances in this election, in general the terrain has shifted to the right.

Far right and fascist candidates won seats for the first time in Ireland. In Ballymun-Finglas, the far right took 20 percent of the first preference vote.

Despite retaining seats in Carlow, Galway, Sligo and Cork, the socialist left found it difficult to break through outside of Dublin. The challenge is qualitatively different outside of areas with an established base for the left—and overcoming this will be a key part of socialist strategy moving forward.

We are therefore facing major challenges. It is crucial that we use these gains to continue growing roots in communities and building a fightback against both the government and the far right across the country.

This must partly involve putting pressure on Sinn Fein and the rest of the left to rule out coalition with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael

The left in Ireland must build struggle in working class communities and on the streets, tackle racist arguments and the far right head on, and offer a politics of genuine hope.

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