By Simon Basketter
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Irish elections show angry rejection of establishment

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Issue 2691
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (centre) celebrates with party members

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (centre) celebrates with party members (Pic: PA)

The major establishment parties took a kicking in the Irish general election last Saturday. It follows a long term trend for progressive change in Ireland.

Sinn Fein won 37 seats. This is remarkable as the party stood only 42 candidates.

If it had run more candidates Sinn Fein would have made an even bigger breakthrough. It got the most first preference votes with 24.5 percent.

At least half a dozen candidates received far more votes than they needed to be elected under the proportional representation system.

The bosses’ parties of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, which have ­alternated running the Irish state, are in trouble.

Outgoing Irish taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael, and the Fianna Fail leader, both received lower votes in their constituencies than Sinn Fein.

Varadkar was the first ­outgoing taoiseach not to top the poll in his constituency. He had hoped the mess the British government had made of Brexit would make him appear statesman-like.

But an Irish Times newspaper exit poll showed voters cared more about health and housing.

After being the natural party of government for most of the history of the Irish state, Fianna Fail was decimated in 2011 for implementing European Union austerity.

Who are Sinn Fein?
Who are Sinn Fein?
  Read More

Fine Gael has spent the past nine years presiding over a deepening housing crisis.

In 2007 before the economic crash, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael between them took 69 percent of the vote. Now they are down to around 44 percent.

In the exit poll Sinn Fein came first except with over-65 year olds. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael only got about 15 percent each from those aged between 18 and 34.

Solidarity-People Before Profit scores 7 percent in this age group. Socialists held their ground in a number of seats (see right). The Labour Party did badly, punished for previous coalition deals. The Green Party was more easily forgiven for its role in earlier governments.

Importantly a rag bag of right wingers with a mix of anti-abortion and anti-immigrant bigotry ­generally did appallingly.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said it would be undemocratic to exclude Sinn Fein from government formation efforts.

It wants to join the establishment but is under pressure from its ­working class supporters not to.

Previously both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have said they wouldn’t go into coalition with Sinn Fein. A number of outcomes are possible.

These include a left wing coalition led by Sinn Fein, a grand coalition of the right, or one party getting a “confidence and supply agreement” to tick along.

Another election soon is probably the most likely outcome.

What is clear is that, after the movements that brought marriage equality and abortion rights, Ireland is changing faster than the ­establishment can deal with.

People People Before Profit candidate Brid Smith (centre) and supporters celebrate success
People People Before Profit candidate Brid Smith (centre) and supporters celebrate success

Socialists pledge a return to ‘people power politics’ after election success

Candidates from the Solidarity?People Before Profit group won five seats. Brid Smith was re-elected in Dublin South Central on the second count after winning some 9,547 votes.

Richard Boyd Barrett also won a seat for People before Profit as he topped the poll for first preferences in Dun Laoghaire.

Richard said after his election, “I think it has been a very important election.

“The tectonic plates are shifting away from the two big parties.

“There’s a real appetite for progressive change and I’m confident that our vote this time is part of a rising tide for the left.

“I think it really resonated that there was a possibility to break the cycle of Fianna Fail and to have a left alternative and that has gone to Sinn Fein, to us, to other forces on the left and the important thing is to keep that momentum.”

Gino Kenny of People Before Profit retained his seat.

We need a big protest movement on housing, health and pension age.

People Before Profit

Gino said after he was elected, “I think we have crossed the political rubicon in Ireland and there is a huge shift to the left.”

Paul Murphy of the Rise group, which is part of Solidarity?People Before Profit, and Mick Barry from Solidarity both won their seats.

Conor Reddy of People Before Profit just missed out on a seat. And Ruth Coppinger for Solidarity lost her seat.

In a statement People Before Profit said, “We are witnessing a political earthquake. The future for the right is bleak.

“Anger at the ballot box is important—but to carry it through we need mobilisation.

“We need a big protest movement on housing, health and pension age. Let’s start with a real fight to get the pension age to 65.

“The future augurs very well for the left. But we will stick to our promise—not an inch to Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

“We will be returning to ‘people power’ politics to resist any attacks on working people.”

Updated on Tuesday 11 February


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