When the Dáil meets next Wednesday the United Left alliance will be the group putting up the most visible opposition to the economic policies put forward by the new government. The five seats the ULA have won will provide a platform from which to build a broader social struggle to oppose cuts and privatisation and put forward an alternative economic agenda. The mainstream media have tried to largely overlook or dismiss the significance of the emergence of the ULA but the consensus between the mainstream parties will be what proves the biggest boost to support for the new movement.
As Ireland’s revolving door parliamentary system throws up its latest right wing government, pundits and analysts are lauding a brave new world in Irish politics. The beating Fianna fail have taken should however not cause anyone to get overly excited about prospects for the next government.
Fine Gael’s long standing strategy to gaining power has been simple. Wait around long enough for Fianna Fáil to mess things up badly enough, win over some of their support and form a government, usually with Labour. Labour being the perennial youngest child of Irish Politics are always eager to play with the big boys and don’t mind how much they get pushed around in order to achieve this end.
Fianna Fáil for their part would in the past just wait until people realised that what they had suspected but hadn’t thought possible was actually true, Fine Gael are worse than Fianna Fáil. Other parties in the mainstream served little purpose but to support either one of the big parties, either as a disposable accessory, such as the Greens or an ideological parasite inside the host, such as the Progressive Democrats. Both of these parties however have paid dearly for their association with Fianna Fáil and have respectively been consigned to the compost heap and the bad bank of history.
This time around however Fianna Fáil have won less votes than at any other point in their history. You see, in the past, even when Fianna Fáil haven’t been in government they have still been bigger than Fine Gael, they have always been the biggest party in the state even when they don’t have the majority of seats. Now with only twenty seats out of one hundred and sixty six they are the third largest. The irony for Labour is that while they had long dreamed of becoming the second largest party in the state they more than likely imagined this would be at the expense of Fine Gael rather than Fianna Fáil.
However the gains made by Labour and Fine Gael are modest when compared to the support lost by Fianna Fáil. What has been remarkable are the gains made by those outside of the three main parties. What is also remarkable is the fact that the mainstream media have continued to focus on the gains made by Labour and Fine Gael rather than realising that a large section of the Irish population were actually looking for an alternative. The election of fourteen independents is certainly a sign that people were looking for representation outside of the main parties but a fair amount of these independents are what could be described as chancers. Some like Michael Healy Rae and Michael Lowry are of the gene pool of the main parties and many so called left wing independents are only marginally left of the Labour Party, who aren’t actually left wing at all. Then we have Luke ‘Ming’ Flannagan, who the media can’t get enough of, he has long hair and smokes dope but agrees with a lot of Fine Gael policy. The other media darling at present is Mick Wallace, he has long hair wears pink t-shirts and talks on the left. However he is a property developer who owes forty million euro to the banks and decries what the banks and property developers have done tot he plain people of Ireland. How long this new raft of independents will hold the public’s attention when they fail to present any real alternatives is anybodies guess.
Sinn Fein tripled its representation in the Dáil, mostly by posing as left wing and managing not to mention nationalism or sectarianism for the whole duration of the election. This new bunch of socially concerned shinners spoke out against cuts and privatisation, which must have been a big surprise to anyone living in Northern Ireland who is suffering cuts from a government that Sinn Fein are participating in. However in Northern Ireland they claim their hands are tied as budgets are set by Westminister, this is of course completely different to the south where budgets are set by the EU and IMF. Other big winners from Sinn Féin’s increased representation are hard line Unionists in the north who have been busy recruiting on the basis of what they are portraying as increased nationalism in the south. How long the shinners can wear their new social democratic mask before it slips and people see the balaclava is debatable. However what is fairly certain is that the increase for their support was due to the desire of many people for a left wing alternative.
The United Left Alliance have gone from zero seats to five seats and this is where the real potential for change is. The ULA now have a platform from which to oppose the neoliberal consensus of the incoming government. While the new government and opposition settle into the talking shop that is Dáil Eireann a new resistance will emerge in workplaces, communities and educational institutions. The imperative now is for people to get involved in the struggle and to show the new government that we won’t take their attacks lying down.