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Video: Speech by a Socialist Member of Parliament about the Irish Elections

23-Feb-2020Diana O’Dwyer

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Mary Lou McDonald got the most votes for Taoiseach

Mary Lou McDonald got the most votes for Taoiseach, because of the support of left-wing TDs. These are not votes to be used to strengthen SF's hand in negotiations with Fianna Fáil. We voted for an alternative government, excluding Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. While voting for Mary Lou McDonald, I also said to her that if Sinn Fein should not ignore this message and the message from their voters. They should not betray their voters by going in with Fianna Fáil. We know FF would block any real change. Sinn Fein should form a minority government, and mobilise people onto the streets to demand the other parties do not block the progress people have voted for. We need to fight for a left government, with socialist policies to take on the big landlords and billionaires, and build a society where people come before profit.

Posted by Paul Murphy TD on Thursday, February 20, 2020

After Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, What Next?

At last, the decades of Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael duopoly would seem to be over. Working class people have voted overwhelmingly for real change, with a big majority betting on Sinn Féin. But will Sinn Féin deliver or will they jump right back on the FF-FG merry-go-round?

The election results present us with an unprecedented situation. The stranglehold of Fianna Fáil (FF) and Fine Gael (FG) as the two largest parties in Irish politics has finally been broken. Sinn Féin (SF) won the popular vote with 24.5% and an equal number of seats (37) to FF (though FF ends up with 38 due to the automatic return of the Ceann Comhairle). FG trail in third with 20.9% of the vote and 35 seats.

Sinn Féin has on this occasion become the primary vehicle for the working class to express years of simmering discontent at the contempt for their interests shown by the two main parties. FG and their confidence and supply partners in FF have utterly failed to translate a recovery for the rich into any significant improvement in living standards or public services for workers and young people or to take the radical steps needed to avert climate catastrophe.

This was reflected in the exit poll where a massive 61% said they had not personally benefited from the economic recovery and 31% wanted radical change. The housing and health crises and the increase in the pension age were deciding factors. 58% of voters identified housing (26%) or health (32%) as the most important issue with another 8% citing the pension age. The establishment parties are belatedly learning that they need to address SF’s left of centre policies on bread and butter issues rather than just resort to the old tactic of demonising them as terrorists and criminals.

The Greens and Social Democrats also benefited from the widespread “anyone but FF-FG” sentiment, winning 18 seats between them. In many cases, their vote came from better off working class and middle class voters and young people. Lower income and manual working class voters opted more for SF and the radical left, who were also by far the biggest beneficiaries of SF transfers.

Four of the five returning Solidarity-People before Profit (S-PBP) TDs were returned on the back of exceptional SF surpluses. Left of centre parties, in particular the Social Democrats, also benefited. While this time SF’s unprecedented popularity boosted the radical left almost as much as it endangered its seats, the damaging loss of Ruth Coppinger‘s seat being the major exception, next time we won’t be so lucky as SF will run second candidates and mop up their own surpluses.

Clearly, we will need to give workers and young people more compelling reasons for why socialist TDs are crucial to winning reforms on housing, pensions, wages, healthcare, and more. With the exception of the teacher and childcare strikes, the radical left was challenged in this election by the relative lull in class struggle compared to 2016 when the water charges and anti-austerity movements were close to their heights. We will need to be at the forefront of all the movements that emerge in the next period, not only to demonstrate what practical difference we can make to people’s lives but to show in action the radical difference between our politics and those of the centre left.

This task has been made much easier by the growing tendency towards voting on left or right lines, which has been a feature of elections since the crash but this time also showed the impact of the popular “vote left, transfer left” slogan on social media. What we are seeing is Ireland’s version of the leftward radicalisation happening internationally, with the Sanders campaign in the US and the shift to the left in the Labour Party in Britain and in other countries. Contained within it is a developing class consciousness, manifested most concretely in a burning desire for a government without FF or FG for the first time in the history of the state.

Government formation

It looks likely that we are facing weeks of government formation talks and possibly another election in the short term. The key question for SF is whether they will form an alternative government or fall at the first hurdle and go into coalition with Fianna Fáil, forcing us all back on the FF-FG merry-go-round. A so-called “left-led” coalition between SF, Greens, and FF is being explored by SF and the Greens, but would require unacceptable compromises. We need only look at the history of Labour and the Greens in government with FF and FG to realise this.

A better option would be for SF to form a minority government without any deal with FF or FG. If the establishment parties won’t form a government themselves, it’s possible they could be pressured to abstain on the vote for Mary Lou for Taoiseach (Prime Minister). Either of them could bring that government down but would then have to face the immediate consequences from an angry electorate who would likely deliver an even stronger left vote. If SF adopted this approach, the only available options for the right wing parties would be to go into government or confidence and supply together, which would harden opposition towards them, or face into another election where they would lose even more seats.

No matter what happens, a key task of the socialist left will be to argue for people-power mobilisations on the key issues facing working class people immediately in order to pressure SF to implement the more radical aspects of its programme and make it more difficult for FF and FG to form a government or collapse a SF-led minority one. A mass demonstration called by the trade unions could demand the immediate return of the pension age to 65. The National Housing and Homeless Coalition could call for a major protest to demand the immediate implementation of a rent freeze and the commencement of a massive public housing building project. The ‘Climate Action Now’ protest called for 14 March could also become an important focal point in pressuring SF and the Greens to adopt a net zero carbon emissions target of 2030 and a plan to reach it.

RISE’s position in relation to this will stay true to what we said during the election campaign. We will use our vote in the Dáil today to enable an alternative government excluding FF and FG to be formed by voting for Mary Lou McDonald for Taoiseach. We also look forward to meeting with SF as part of Solidarity-PBP to discuss how we could support such a government. In our discussions, we will be advocating for an alternative SF-led government (without FF or FG) to take on the vested interests of the big landlords and developers, the big business tax avoiders and polluters and the insurance cartel.

A starting point could be the more radical demands in SF’s own manifesto such as a rent freeze, abandoning the Apple tax case and using the €19 billion for a massive programme of state investment including building 100,000 public homes, restoring the pension age to 65, legislating for a single tier Irish NHS rather than allowing Sláintecare to be endlessly delayed, abolishing third level fees, reducing the cost of childcare by two-thirds, making the minimum wage a living wage, free public transport for under-18s, ending pay inequality in the public sector and abolishing the Local Property Tax.

At the same time, we will continue to put forward the case for a left government with socialist policies which would go much further. It would carry out a Green New Deal with socialist policies to tackle both the social and ecological crises we face, including free and massively expanded public transport, a just transition for workers, and a four day week; take private healthcare into public ownership to immediately massively increase capacity in the Public Health Service and end healthcare apartheid, nationalise the major construction companies and expropriate the vulture funds in order to resolve the housing crisis with the urgency it deserves, and disband the insurance and banking cartels in favour of a state owned financial system.

The fight for a socialist government will necessitate building strong people power movements of workers, women and young people on housing, health, the environment and all the other issues that affect us and the whole working class. Indeed, whatever government is formed, we will need to build our movements in the streets - to fight attacks on our living standards by a FF or FG government or to push an alternative government led by SF to go as far as necessary to bring radical change.

A new broad left party will also be needed to represent our class interests against the 1% elite of big landlords, developers, polluting corporations and billionaires that really run this country. A first step towards building such a party would be for the existing radical left to cooperate more closely together.

It remains possible that none of the big parties will succeed in forming a government and a second election could be held in a matter of months. Alternatively, a SF-led alternative government could be quickly brought down by the establishment parties. In either scenario, the radical left is likely to be squeezed even further and faces losing more seats. An agreed common slate of candidates would tremendously boost the radical left’s chances of retaining its seats and possibly gaining more.

Lessons for the radical left

The election just gone saw the loss of two potential seats for the radical left as a result of vote splitting from running too many candidates. In Clare Daly’s old constituency of Dublin Fingal, Dean Mulligan of Independents4Change lost out by less than 200 votes and would certainly have been elected if both Solidarity and PBP had not run candidates. In Dublin Bay North, John Lyons of Independent Left could also have taken a seat. RISE’s only candidate, Paul Murphy in Dublin South West, was fortunate to have held onto his seat despite Solidarity’s decision to split the vote by running a candidate (notably they themselves did not run two candidates in any constituency as they rightly recognised the danger this could pose to their sitting TDs). It is not a question here of who has the right to stand, which everyone obviously does but whether that right should be exercised in situations where it could cost the radical left seats.

As activists who seek to represent the working class, we should be capable of putting the interests of our class ahead of narrower party or personal goals. The ability to do this will be crucial to any prospect of forming the broad left party we so desperately need. We already face unprecedented crises in housing and health and broader economic and environmental crises are just around the corner.

It’s time for the radical left to get its act together - both by constantly seeking to push the political agenda leftward through every means available to us, including lending our support to an alternative government without FF or FG that implements radical reforms, and by starting the process of building a broad left party rooted in people power movements.