Official politics in Ireland descended into chaos in January. The ruling Fianna Fail/Green Party coalition has collapsed and prime minister Brian Cowen is no longer leader of his own party.
Cowen had defeated a challenge to his leadership of Fianna Fail, but resigned anyway. The Green Party then pulled out of the government—sparking a general election on February 25.
Mired in corruption scandals involving bankers and property developers and riven with division, politicians are desperate to try and keep their seats.
Fianna Fail has ruled Ireland for 66 of the 88 years since southern Ireland became independent—and has been in government almost continuously since 1987.
It now faces virtual extinction at the ballot box.
The cause of all this is a $116 billion bank bailout by the European Union and the IMF that the poor and the vulnerable will be hammered to pay for.
The government is attempting to force through brutal austerity measures. It will supply $27 billion itself—but only through emptying the state pension fund into the bankers’ coffers.
It is also raising the retirement age to 68 by 2014. Ireland’s minimum wage will be cut by 13 per cent and all households face a $410 a year property tax.
Welfare payments, including jobseekers allowance and child benefit, will be cut by 5 per cent.
At least 25,000 public sector workers will lose their jobs.
Meanwhile, taxes on profits are to remain the lowest in Europe—at just 12.5 per cent.
Unsurprisingly this is creating huge anger. However, there is a consensus at the top of society that there is no alternative to the cuts.
So the Irish minority government has secured support from the opposition parties, including Labour, to pass a finance bill.
The scale of the crisis saw 100,000 people march at the end of last year.
But most trade union leaders seem keener to get the Labour Party into a new coalition government than to call industrial action against cuts.
The new United Left Alliance is calling for a real fightback. It plans to stand up to 20 candidates in the upcoming general election.
Simon Basketter, Socialist Worker UK