Three comments on the Irish general election due on 25 February.
Fine Gael shifts right
By Liam McNulty
Fine Gael, the largest opposition party and descendant of the pro-Treaty establishment and the fascist Blueshirt movement, has pushed ahead in recent polls leading up to Ireland's general election on 25 February.
It s benefiting from two processes. The first is conjunctural. The recent spell of political instability which saw Fianna Fail leader Brian Cowen unceremoniously pushed out of his leadership position had sown in some the illusion that "strong leadership" is a prerequisite for lifting Ireland out of her current economic malaise.
The second process will have a longer-term impact on the Irish political landscape. The leakage of political support from Fianna Fail looks set to destroy that party's 80-year hegemony.
The Irish ruling class, in many ways, was lucky to have Fianna Fail. Its populist image (which involved Bertie Ahern shamelessly describing himself as a socialist) allowed it to harness broad working-class support whilst at the same time implementing policies in the interests of Irish capitalism.
The working-class support has all but evaporated. In Dublin Central, where Bertie Ahern topped the poll in 2007 [constituencies in Ireland are multi-member, with STV], the party will be lucky to win a seat.
And for the bourgeoisie, a resurgent Fine Gael, shamelessly wedded to neoliberalism, is a much more efficacious instrument.
The lining up of the Irish economic elite and the comfortable classes behind Fine Gael has produced a marked change in their political strategy. In the second live leadership debate FG leader Enda Kenny labelled Labour as a "high-tax party".
Fine Gael is attempting to cultivate momentum to win enough seats to govern alone, or with independents or a diminished Fianna Fail, rather than with its traditional coalition partner, Labour. Cowen's replacement by Micheál Martin has opened up this latter possibility.
Labour has been keen not to rule out the possibility of a coalition within Fine Gael, even though in the leafy suburbs of Dublin 4 FG election literature has been blaming the unions for the economic crisis and FG wishes to accelerate the austerity programme, sack tens of thousands of public sector works, and privatise public services.
In the last days of the election campaign, Labour has been warning voters not to give Fine Gael a "monopoly of power", in the naïve hope that a coalition would somehow moderate Kenny’s neoliberal programme.
On what programme would such a coalition govern? Fine Gael backed the blanket guarantee for Irish banks proposed by the Irish government during the crisis and is clearly prioritising the interests of bondholders over the interests of the Irish people.
It pays lip-service to the idea that the IMF-ECB deal can be renegotiated, but in practice will gleefully implement its conditions. Labour clings vainly to the hope that the deal can be renegotiated. Its manifesto promises it "will seek to ensure that burden sharing with bondholders is part of a renegotiated deal", seemingly blind to the fact that the French and German governments wish to protect the bondholders at all costs.
As the leftwing think-tank TASC has recently argued, Ireland will be unable to meet its interest payments without total economic collapse or intense social breakdown. Irish workers realise this, and Labour is losing out to Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance [ULA] on its left flank.
Sinn Féin has jumped on the anti-banker bandwagon whilst passively implementing Tory cuts in Northern Ireland. However most commentators predict the election of a Trotskyist bloc in the next Dáil alongside a stronger SF.
Rather than cling to the coattails of one of the larger parties, as the Irish labour movement has done since December 1918, Labour should refuse to contemplate a government with Fine Gael and finally put an end to Civil War politics.
This would facilitate a realignment of Irish politics on explicitly class lines, allowing genuinely left-wing politics to flourish within and without Labour whilst forcing Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to reveal which class interests they truly represent.
Genuine socialists within the Labour Party, along with the unions and the rest of the left should articulate an alternative to the IMF-ECB agenda. Otherwise the Labour Party will be joining history's detritus.
A new bloc in Parliament?
By Mark Khan, an Irish Labour Party member
Since last year's local and European elections we have seen a growth in the broader left (Labour, Sinn Fein, and United Left Alliance [ULA]) though the Greens have faded.
However, in the last period of the campaign there has been a noticeable shrinking of the overall left vote in polls, as the newspapers and media, as well as Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, have gone on the offensive against the left as being crazy, unpractical and so on.
The ULA is fielding about 20 candidates in 19 [multi-member] constittuencies, but there are several other left or republican leaning candidates who could caucus with them in the next parliament.
In most cases though those candidates are disaffected former Labour people, ex-councillors and sometimes ex-TDs.
I think a few of those left independents will be returned, and they are likely to caucus with ULA as a technical group in the Dáil. To get various rights in the Dáil, a technical group needs at least seven TDs (MPs). Only twice in history has a small party got over six TDs, and both times that was the PDs [a right-wing splinter from FF].
Chances for the left
By Conall Ó Dufaigh, an independent socialist activist
Unlike most of Europe, the mainstream of Irish politics isn't based on a left-right divide. Instead, we have what's often described as "civil war politics".
The two main Irish parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, are both seated firmly on the centre right. The main difference between them is their having represented different sides in the civil war that followed the formation of the Irish Free State in the early 1920s.
Every government since the 1930s has been led by one or other of those parties. This general election might prove to be the first where the population vote on a left-right wing basis.
Sinn Féin is showing particular interest in this election. In the past few months they have begun organizing protests independently of other groups, in one case engaging in a tokenistic scuffle with police outside the Irish Parliament building. Their rhetoric in the south is often broadly left wing (anti-cuts, opposition to IMF bailout), but you have to remember that they are implementing many of the same cuts as part of the SF/DUP administration north of the border.
In the past few years, Labour have begun to eat into Fine Gael’s traditional middle-class base. This has lead to Fine Gael emphasizing some of their more right-wing tendencies to maintain this base. The inclusion of some of their more reactionary personalities such as Leo Varadkar on the Fine Gael front bench, despite his support for an attempt to oust party leader Enda Kenny, is a clear sign of this.
Of concern to the Labour Party in particular, is the newly formed United Left Alliance (ULA). This is an electoral alliance which includes the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers’ Party and the Workers' and Unemployed Action Group, as well as a number of independents.
With the loss in the last general election of Socialist Party member Joe Higgins’ seat in the last general election, and the death of independent Tony Gregory two years ago, there are currently no socialist TDs in parliament. It is likely that the ULA will win at least three seats, and they may be able to form a small socialist bloc in parliament - something the country hasn’t seen in decades.
• United Left Alliance: http://www.unitedleftalliance.org/
• TASC: http://www.tascnet.ie/
• Irish Labour Party: http://www.labour.ie/
• Irish Times website election info: http://bit.ly/i76u06