“A riot at the ballot box”—that is how a Fianna Fail (FF) spokesperson described their historical demolition in Ireland’s February general election. For most of the Southern Irish state’s existence, FF has presided over Ireland’s capitalist development—from Celtic Tiger to post global financial crisis basket case. Ireland was the second country after Greece to require a bailout and the defeat of FF also makes it the first government to fall as a result of the debt crisis in the European “eurozone”.
Their electoral catastrophe signals a seachange in Irish politics.
Fianna Fail (and their Green Party coalition partner) faced overwhelming electoral anger for its role in the financial crisis and the negotiation of corporate and bank bailouts worth $115 billion with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund last November. Unemployment has gone from 4.6 per cent in 2008 to 13.7 per cent this year.
Fine Gael (FG), a conservative party, has now formed government in coalition with the Irish Labour Party. Fine Gael and the Labour Party, despite the latter’s social democratic pretensions, are both parties committed to restoring Irish capitalism at the expense of workers, the unemployed and anyone on social security. A former FG Minister claimed that, “Voters signed up for years of harsh medicine”. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The election does not signal any enthusiasm for the harsh economic medicine that is now being pushed by FG and Labour. The Labour Party urged people to vote for them to take the edge off looming government cuts. The overwhelming motive for voting FG was anger at FF. The Irish Greens, who entered a coalition with FF at the last elections, lost all of its six MPs.
But more votes switched to Labour, Sinn Fein, United Left Alliance (ULA) and left independents than to Fine Gael. There is now a significant left block in the Dail (the Irish parliament).
Sinn Fein, who tacked left in their rhetoric to attract votes, almost tripled its seats to 14, with its president Gerry Adams entering the republic’s parliament for the first time.
The United Left Alliance (ULA) has scored a spectacular breakthrough, winning five seats.
The United Left Alliance is a grouping of organisations and people, including the Socialist Party, People Before Profit and the Workers and Unemployed Action Group. They have come together to articulate the rage that ordinary Irish people feel at the corruption and craven capitulation of the Irish political establishment.
The new ULA members of parliament, who led a march of 200 to the new parliamentary sittings, realise that battle against the cuts will not be won in the Dail. They can however use the parliament to put working class demands to the fore in the struggle against the Fine Gael coalition government, Irish bosses and the IMF.
Taking some inspiration from the revolutions that have swept the Middle East, the Irish left might yet be poised to turn the “riot at the ballot box” into struggle in the streets and workplaces.
Phil Chilton, in Dublin