frontline vol. 2 issue 4.
Ireland - Right Dominates ‘Dolly Mixture’ Government
Problems for the left and another gang of neo-liberals elected. No, not Scotland, this time it’s our Irish neighbours. Gerry Corbett rounds up the results of the recent General Election in the Republic of Ireland.
When Irish voters went to the polls in June 2007 many viewed their politicians as a corrupt bunch. In the event the Irish people voted for the centre right and more of the same.
In what has been called a “dolly mixture” government by opposition parties, the Fianna Fáil / Green/ Progressive Democrat coalition are promising another 5 years of privatizations and cuts in services at a time when many are worried that the Irish economy, which has been in a boom period, will start to slow or even go into recession.
Fianna Fáil, with a reduced number of seats still gained a comfortable lead over their Fine Gael opposition but not enough for an overall majority. So, unlike the Scottish parliament, rather than forming a minority government, Bertie Ahern went into a coalition that could sustain his neo-liberal policies for another term.
The opposite ends of the political spectrum faired less well. On the right, the Thatcherite Progressive Democrats lost six of its eight seats and likewise the Socialist party’s Joe Higgins lost his Dublin West seat. If you include Sinn Fein, with one less seat than before it added up to a poor night for the smaller parties. The independent candidates didn’t fair much better falling to 5 from 14 seats.
The one party that bucked the trend was Fine Gael who increased their representation by 19 to 52 but were still unable to broker a deal to set up a coalition to take on Fianna Fáil and challenge for the Taoiseach.
Smaller Parties Squeezed
Very much like the recent Scottish elections, the small parties took a bit of an unexpected pasting. Sinn Fein, had previously thought that they may be in the place where the Greens are and become “king makers” but failed to deliver on the day and the expected surge in voters that was expected to increase the Sinn Fein representation didn’t materialize. Is it possible that their involvement with the Good Friday Agreement wasn’t such a vote winner after all?
The loss of Joe Higgins , the only TD from the socialist party is a loss for the left in Ireland, he stood for the principles that the Irish people recognize as socialist. Joe was figure who was respected even by his opponents. One Irish anarchist group called his presence in the Dail “a crouton of decency in a thick soup of lies.”
It was also a disappointing result for the Irish Socialist Network who’s vote dropped by a third in the West Dublin seat of Finglas means that it was a wipeout for the left. The one group who seemed to buck the trend was the People before Profit Alliance /Socialist Workers Party who nearly doubled the vote in Dublin South Central to just over 2000 votes, however this was not enough to gain them a seat. So who will take up the socialist mantle now? Sinn Fein? The Labour Party? Both parties have said that they are willing to go into coalition with the centre right parties and therefore would likely be involved in the privatization agenda in Ireland which would mean job losses and attacks on the working conditions of Irish workers.
As to the future, things don’t look good for Ireland’s public services. As things stand, in the last session, Fianna Fáil privatized the national airline Aer Lingus and if Bertie gets his way then many more services will follow in this term. Will the Greens be radical enough to stop the privatization onslaught? Their numbers alone would suggest that they are unlikely to hold much sway within the government and the Progressive Democrats would back such a move towards the free market control of once public services, and indeed would possibly want to go further down the neo-liberal approach to services.
Possibly one of the most disappointing turns in this election, was from the perspective of tax. All the major parties favoured some form of tax cuts. The Greens and Labour endorsed low tax on capital and Labour went further with tax cuts for middle income people. Meanwhile Sinn Fein seem to have abandoned all their progressive tax policies.
An unexpected issue was the high level of road accident deaths which prompted a discussion on the financing of the Irish infrastructure or rather the lack of it and when asked about the issue Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams side stepped the issue and brought it round to the issue of the high suicide rate in Irish youth. He did however, make a good point about the fact that Irish youth saw demonstrating against the war in Iraq as something worthwhile but felt that they were unable to have an impact on domestic issues in the same way. Why is this? It is unlikely that they don’t care about domestic issues. So is it that they don’t trust the politicians to make the necessary changes? Or is it that they don’t believe that politicians have the ideas that are relevant to them?
The Irish left has had a setback. There was no shortage of left groups to vote for...Socialist Party, ISN, SWP/People before Profit and several good independents such as Joan Collins and Seamas Healy. The question now is how they will react to this election. As the Irish Socialist Network commented “It seems that many left groups simply had not put down deep enough roots in working class communities. The bin tax campaign, which formed the solid basis of the 2004 local election successes, had ended and the roots put down by the left during that campaign proved too fragile. By and large, the left failed to campaign consistently on issues that effected people directly.”
The ‘Celtic Tiger’ boom will soon run out of steam and the left now has an opportunity to conduct the mass work that will make it a credible alternative to the failings of the neo-liberal gang.