Friday, March 4, 2011

Ireland: Ruling party crushed, left gains in poll

On February 25, Ireland’s governing party, Fianna Fáil, and its coalition partner the Green Party, were massacred in a general election revolt.

The most successful establishment party in Western Europe for the past 80 years, Fianna Fáil were demolished – reduced from 77 to only 20 seats on the back of public outrage over austerity measures and social spending cuts.

In Dublin, Fianna Fáil was reduced from 19 seats to one.

The Greens - its partners in political crime - were wiped out entirely, failing to win a single seat in Dáil Éireann (Ireland’s parliament) and winning less than 2% of the vote.

Voters punished the government for its handling of the global financial crisis, which saw Fianna Fáil bankrupt the country by bailing out Ireland’s major banks to the tune of €45 billion.

To get out of the financial black hole - and 13.6% unemployment - it had created, the government then pawned the country for as much as €100 billion in financial loans from the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The austerity measures demanded by the IMF and EU agreement will result in 30,000 public sector jobs being cut and social spending reduced for years to come.

The government’s 2011 budget alone planned to contain €4.7 billion in cuts and €1.5 billion in new taxes on working people.

The government survived the first round of mass protests, but came unstuck when a by-election in November saw the anti-cuts Sinn Féin candidate elected in a landslide.

The Greens blinked - refusing to endorse a cabinet reshuffle - and when Taoiseach (prime minister) Brian Cowen resigned as Fianna Fáil leader, an election was called.

No party won a majority of seats. The big electoral winners were the right-wing Fine Gael , with 74 Teachtaí Dála (TDs - Dáil members) elected, and the centre-left Labour Party, with 37 - its best ever result. A Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition seems the most likely outcome.

But the election was also a watershed for left and republican parties opposed to the austerity measures.

The republican party Sinn Féin, which opposes the anti-worker austerity and the bailout, had 14 TDs elected to the Dáil, up from 5 in 2007.

It won 10% of the overall vote - its highest result in Dáil elections.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams topped the polls in the constituency of Louth with one of the highest votes for any candidate in Ireland.

The far left also recorded an impressive result.

The United Left Alliance (ULA) was only formed in November by the Socialist Party, the People Before Profit Alliance and the Workers and Unemployed Action Group.

Standing for socialist solutions to the crisis, the ULA had five TDs elected and polled high in every constituency they contested.

Both Sinn Féin and ULA TDs have vowed to take only an average worker’s wage — and to fight the austerity measures imposed on Ireland by the EU and IMF.

The ULA TDs include Joe Higgins - a member of the European Parliament from the Socialist Party - and the People Before Profit Alliance’s Richard Boyd Barrett.

Both beat sitting cabinet ministers to get elected.

Boyd Barrett told the March 1 “The main parties have gone along with the cuts. Disgracefully Labour has rolled over to the IMF and is prepared to jump into bed with Fine Gael.

“We will campaign inside and outside the Dail to make the wealthy pay for the mess they have created.”

Fourteen independents candidates were also elected, some left-wing, and the ULA is negotiating with them to form a “technical group” of seven TDs in the Dáil to give the ULA the same speaking rights as the larger parties.

Discussions have also begun about transforming the ULA from a quickly cobbled-together electoral alliance into a new party to fight for socialist politics in Ireland.

Some unions have called on Labour not to join a coalition government with Fine Gael, which would oversee huge attacks on the working class. However it seems almost certain it will, despite opposition from within its own ranks.

Whichever parties form government will be under pressure to, at the very least, renegotiate the terms of Ireland’s bailout package.

The new government will almost certainly face mass civil unrest and protests as it attempts to implement the austerity measures. Some analysts are already suggesting that the next government may not last full term.

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