The Irish elections were a triumph for the Left, with Labour nearly doubling its vote, Sinn Fein tripling theirs, and five members of the United Left Alliance gaining seats in the 166-seat Dail. But will the Fine Gael-Labour government be the wreck of the latter party?
This week the Irish Sunday Independent revealed the new coalition will implement essentially all of the austerity plan proposed by Fianna Fail, which was turfed out with a devastating loss of more than two-thirds of its seats in the old parliament, down to a historic low of 20.
The new government’s refusal to impose a haircut on its creditors in the bond market means the burden will fall on the Irish people. Labour’s presence has mitigated the worst cuts, reducing the proposed public sector sackings from 30,000 to 20,000, and gaining various other bits and bobs, such as a transition from a poll tax to a property tax.
But overall, Labour is going to be tasked with selling the plan to the Irish public, which may do for it what being in coalition did for the Greens, which were wiped out in this election.
For the genuine Left, the Labour party are no left, despite much of their strength coming from the Irish communist tradition and the “workers party” — the final political form of the official IRA, after it took first a marxist and then a parliamentary turn in the 1960s and 70s. Indeed, the leader of Labour, Eamon Gilmore, was a workers party member when he entered parliament, and does the usual Irish shuffle about his possible membership of the OIRA (through a university-affiliated group).
In the new Dail, the United Left Alliance has been joined by another 11 independents to form a 16-member parliamentary bloc. They’ve vowed to fight many of the cuts to the death, including the imposition of metered water rates, and a whole range of other charges.
There are further changes afoot, with a separate election for the Upper House, the Seanad, which will also involve a referendum on whether it should be abolished. Widely seen as an archaic hangover and duplication, the chambers members have not distinguished themselves in defending it against charges of time-serving and careerism.
In fact, Fianna Fail senator Ann Ormonde argued in favour of it: “What is wrong with having career senators, in addition to using the Seanad as a respite centre for those who stay for a short time and then move on?” Maybe NSW Labor should try a similar approach: vote us out and we’ll be on the street.
Even if it is abolished, the Seanad will sit for another five-year term, the ultimate lame duck.
The winners from government, as they were the winners from the election, will be Sinn Fein. Though Fianna Fail is the official opposition they will be consumed with infighting and despair for some time to come, and are discredited in any case.
SF will be the de facto opposition, especially with Gerry Adams leading. Should the government fall apart, and fresh elections called, the Shinners may well make a further leap forward. The object would be coalition membership, at which point they would be in power on both sides of the border.