The danger is that votes to break the cycle of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will be used to keep the merry-go-round spinning.
By Paul Murphy.
This is a change election. A majority of people are now indicating support for parties other than Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Is it any wonder? With crises in housing, health, childcare, education, additional needs and disability services, on top of completely inadequate action on climate change, it’s no surprise that people are fed up with parties that serve the rich while we struggle to get by.
A brief look at the history of politics in the Irish state is enough to confirm that no substantial political change will come about from FG or FF in government. That is widely understood in working-class communities, where the overwhelming desire of people is to kick both of those parties out. Having been responsible, together with Labour and the Greens, for the bank bailout and brutal austerity which followed, people want them gone.
The Sinn Féin surge, as well as the Green wave taking place in a different part of the electorate, are reflections of that wish for change. The tragedy of Irish politics is that on many occasions in the past, that wish for change has been betrayed by Labour and the Greens. Votes to break the cycle of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were used to keep the merry-go-round spinning. There is a real danger of this being repeated in this election.
RISE and People Before Profit have issued numerous calls on Sinn Féin to rule out coalition with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. Unfortunately, Mary Lou McDonald’s answer was clear – she refused to do it and spoke about the necessity to be prepared to go into government.
While a Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin government would not be a direct repeat of Labour or the Greens in government, the same fundamental process would be at play. Fianna Fáil representing the capitalist class in this country would block the change that Sinn Féin voters are hoping for. For example, there is no way that Fianna Fáil would agree to a rent freeze that is the minimum necessary to give renters a break. Such a freeze would hit the bottom line of the one in three Fianna Fáil TDs who are landlords, and more importantly the big landlords whose class interests they represent.
Even at this late stage, if Mary Lou McDonald came out clearly and said she won’t be voting for Varadkar or Martin or any candidate from FF or FG for Taoiseach and that she wants to lead an alternative government, this dynamic in the election against FF and FG could be further strengthened. Sinn Féin doesn’t have to look to coalition with the right-wing parties to form a government. The forces outside Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael could continue to grow in the final week of the campaign and have a potential majority in the Dail.
In those circumstances, what should the socialist left do? In the first place, we should vote against the formation of any government involving FF or FG. We should then use our votes in the Dail to allow an alternative government to come to power. Then we should vote consistently in the interests of working-class people. Outside the Dail, we should seek to help build the biggest possible people power movements to demand the radical change we need, including separation of church and state, the repeal of the Industrial Relations Act, and the abolition of Direct Provision.
Should the socialist left join such a government? That depends on what policies that government would implement. If it is to be a government that accepts the right of big polluters to maximise their profits, of corporate landlords to maximise their rent and employers to minimise the wages they pay, and only attempts a better redistribution of the crumbs, then that government will ultimately betray its promises, and we should not participate.
Instead, the kind of left government with socialist policies that we would participate in is one that would challenge the rule of the 1% in this state and open the door to fundamental socialist change. Essential red lines would include; a commitment to take on the big landlords and developers by eliminating the housing list within three years and cutting rents including through nationalisation of the big corporate landlords and introducing a new model of public housing accessible to all; to commence the building of a single-tier properly resourced National Health Service by taking private hospitals into public ownership and incorporating them into the public health service; and to cut net carbon emissions by 10% a year, which would require public ownership of the big polluters.
Regardless of the outcome of the elections, recent years have shown that change can be won when people take the streets in their tens of thousands to demand it. The water charges movement remains an important reference point for large sections of the population who experienced a sense of their own power. Repeal and 12 weeks on request were also not delivered from on high by a liberal government, but driven from below. The emerging global climate movement, including the school students strikes and Extinction Rebellion, can demonstrate the same pattern.
It is no accident that the socialist left was to the fore in all of these movements. Our vision for socialist change is based on the desire of working people for a better, fairer and just world, and our ability to bring that about through collective mass action. We used our platforms in the Dáil and the media to advocate for the strategy and tactics that were necessary to win – for example spreading the idea of mass non-payment, which was crucial to defeat the water charges. Outside the Dáil, our resources were used to build these movements and organise in communities.
Inside the Dáil, Solidarity-People Before Profit has punched far above its weight. We have proposed and passed crucial legislation that could make a real difference to people’s lives – including the Anti-Evictions Bill, the Objective Sex Education Bill and the Climate Emergency Bill, which would prevent future fossil fuel exploration. When the government used its ‘money message’ veto power to block these and another 50 bills, it was me and the three People Before Profit TDs who took the government to court to try to stop them. We have been thorns in their side, for example in being the first to speak out about the ‘fobgate’ scandal of TDs clocking in without doing any work.
Returning as many Solidarity-People Before Profit and other principled left TDs to the Dáil will guarantee loud voices for the socialist change we need, and organisers of people power with an important platform to make a difference. It will also maximise the chance of building the mass party of the left that is desperately needed.
Paul Murphy TD is a member of Rise-Solidarity-People before Profit and a candidate in Dublin South West in the general election