Ireland is on the verge of a great anniversary. the centenary of the 1916 Rising. A Rising of poets and teachers against oppression. A Rising of women and workers against inequality and squalid living conditions. A progressive Rising for a new Ireland, free from shackles of the world’s foremost military and economic colonial superpower.
One hundred years on Ireland has its own endemic problems. A sovereign country that cannot provide enough hospital beds for its sick, or build enough homes for its citizens whilst in the grips of a homelessness crisis. Water charges, property tax and the closure of public services throughout the country have people totally and utterly dismayed.
Perhaps its eight years of incessant austerity that has Ireland ripe for a real alternative. In 2011 the electorate rightfully punished Fianna Fáil, in 2016 it was the Labour Party who faced the brunt of people’s ire.
The 2016 general election has been a missed opportunity for the Left. For the first time in the history of the state Ireland’s two conservative parties Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s vote share fell beneath 50%. Despite this, Ireland’s progressive parties faired dismally. Sinn Féin 23, Labour reduced to 7, Anti-Austerity Alliance 6, Social Democrats 3, Greens 2 and of all the independents approximately 12 are progressive. Combine them all and they could not form a majority government.
Ireland has never had a left-of-centre government and you can see why. The jubilation on the faces of ‘progressive’ political activists as Labour TD’s lost their seats irked me. Rather than circle over the carcass of Labour’s election campaign surely it would have been more productive to turn their guns on the forces of the Right. Neo-liberal Fine Gael and the nepotism, patronage and economic basket-case that is Fianna Fáil. Transfer pacts and tactical voting could have seen a far different outcome on this election.
Instead, Ireland has an impotent left-wing, delighting itself as it cannibalises each other whilst Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael look on in bemusement. It is no wonder these two civil war parties have dominated this state since the 1920’s and look destined to lead it beyond the 2020’s.
We are now destined for months of political wrangling as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil play the numbers game to form a government. There is not one ideological shred that separates these two political entities as Seán O’Faoláin stated as long ago as 1945:
“Irish Politics today are not politics; our two main parties are indistinguishable not because their political ideas are alike but because neither has any political idea at all – warriors of destiny and the race of the Gaels – silly romantic titles that confess a complete intellectual vacancy as far as the reality of political ideas are concerned”.
To counter Ireland’s conservative parties the left has Sinn Féin who categorically rules out entering coalition as a minority party, as does the AAA-PBP and Labour (after its electoral battering). The only two progressive parties ready to enter government are the Green Party and the Social Democrats, accumulating five seats. That is the reality of the Irish Left at the moment. Most wanting to remain in permanent opposition whilst dancing on the carcass of the Green Party (2011) and Labour (2016) when they had the courage to take difficult decisions in government at a time of crisis.
Ireland deserves better. It needs a radical government and that will only result if the Left does things radically different. This is only my second election in Ireland and given the parliamentary numbers and the rhetoric since the results were announced my third election could soon be on the horizon.
Hopefully Ireland’s progressives would have sorted themselves out by then.
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