jump to navigation

Left Archive: Manifesto, Local Government Elections, Labour Party, 1979 September 14, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Labour Party.
1 comment so far


To download the above please click on the following link.

Please click here to go the Left Archive.


Many thanks to Peter Mooney for donating this document to the Archive – one of many from his collection that is being posted here this year and next.

This fourteen page document was published by the Labour Party in advance of the 1979 Local Government Elections.

The introduction is of particular interest:

It notes that:

The policies of the present Fianna Fail Government have taken away the initiative and autonomy of Local Authorities and replaced local initiative with a centralised bureaucracy. FF’s Dublin centred bureaucratic form of Local Government is stringing local communities throughout the country.

It argues that:

Labour is committed to genuine local democracy at community level. We recognise that local initiative of ordinary people can, if property harnessed, bring about the resolution of many of their local problems.

It suggests that:

Labour realises that the problems of local communities will only be solved finally by the application of a comprehensive set of socialist policies to all our social ills. Labour’s socialist programme which has been developed in detail to cover the many aspects of communal life forms the basis of this short-term programme of policy action which is designed to enable Local Authorities throughout the country to being immediately the task of attacking social injustice and promoting social policy and harmony.

Various sections engage with Transportation, Planning, Housing, Physical Amenities, Youth Facilities, 1979-The year of the Child, Disabled People, Local Government Reform and the Conclusion.

In relation to funding the document argues;

The autonomy of local authorities has been further undermined by the abolition of domestic rates. Labour has always argued that rates were a bad form of taxation. Labour will abolish the rating system entirely and establish a new form of financing for Local Authorities. This will consist of a statutory per capita grant each year, plus a block development grant.

DeRossa to Step Down in February January 16, 2012

Posted by Garibaldy in Labour Party.

Just saw the following on P.ie.

Labour MEP Proinsias De Rossa has announced he is stepping down as Member of the European Parliament in February.

He said: “Since 1982, I have been privileged to represent the people of Finglas and Ballymun in the Dáil, and more widely the people of Dublin in Europe. I wish to thank the electorate for that opportunity and for their support in the 11 elections I have successfully contested since ’82, and indeed in the 4 elections I had previously unsuccessfully contested.

“My work as a public representative for 30 years, and before that my 25 years as a grassroots political activist, has always been motivated by a desire to change society for the better. I have dedicated all my energies to the pursuit of peace and the elimination of poverty and inequality through peaceful change, and the deepening of democracy.

“These are matters on which I will continue to be active. I hope to participate in efforts to develop and promote alternative policy responses to Europe-wide austerity economics, the deepening of EU democracy and the social market economy, and the recognition of a Palestinian State living in peace alongside Israel.

“I want to thank all the people with whom I have worked politically, in particular the members of the Labour Party, Democratic Left and The Workers’ Party, as well as countless NGOs and civil society organisations, whose driving motivation was and is the achievement of social justice. Their selfless commitment to a better society and the basic common sense of the Irish people are the main reasons I am optimistic for the future of Ireland and our place at the heart of the European Union.”

Labour equality event September 12, 2011

Posted by Tomboktu in Inequality, Labour Party, Other Stuff, Skepticism.

Here’s an interesting little challenge. I received an email via the UCD Equal-L list about a Labour Equality event at the weekend. It’s for an panel discussion with Michael D on Friday in Dublin.

The challenge is that given how Labour has performed, I don’t particularly want to promote one of their events. However, some of the speakers on the panel are perfectly capable of laying into the party for its failures in government — in fact, one of them did lay into the government last week in the Irish Independent (here), and another has been a regular critic on her blog (here).

Oh heck. I’ll put it under the fold, so that you have to want to read it in order to see it .

And I’ll use a “skepticism” tag.

That should ease my conscience. 🙂


Left Archive: Times Change – Number 20, Summer/Autumn 2000 [Labour Party] September 5, 2011

Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Labour Party.
add a comment

To download this file please click on the following link: TC2000

This is an interesting document that is part of a sequence of Times Change quarterly publications initiated by Democratic Left much in the style of the Workers’ Party Making Sense which had a very similar style to it. The banner heading has the subtitle ‘Quarterly Political and Cultural Review’. This edition of Times Change was printed after the merger of Democratic Left and the Labour Party and therefore is of particular interest.

There’s an oddly contemporary feel to the editorial which mentions a Tobin Tax quite favorably. Other articles include one on ‘Creating an Egalitarian Society: Issues of (Re)Distribution, Recognition and Representation by Kathleen Lynch, director of the Equality Studies Centre at UCD, which argues in its conclusion that:

Given the evidence we have in recent years of systematic political corruption, collusion between elected representatives and capitalist interests, growing economic inequality and cultural resistance it is time to adopt a radical agenda. To have equality included as a denominated core norm of our constitution would be a good place to start.

Alexadra Klemm has a piece on media coverage of asylum seekers which points up the profoundly negative discourse then extant in the media on this issue.

Gerard O’Quigley argues that for many socialists while there is relief [that disaster has been averted for the social democratic project in electoral terms – in the early 2000s] this is ‘mixed with a sense of resignation that the political project of social democracy is now little more than neo-liberalism with a human face.’ He then examines the ‘Third Way’ in light of the analyses of Anthony Giddens. What is striking is how much at that point was positioned in relation to the triumph of the British Labour party some three or four years earlier.

There’s a letter from Edinburgh by a communications manager from the SNP on the Scottish Parliament and an interesting account by Proinsias O Drisceoil of a 1954 Kilkenny debate on partition between Unionists and Republicans. There’s also a long essay on Gunter Grass [who had been very close politically to the German SDP] and a cover page article on Aosdána. There’s also an intriguing review on ‘conventional nationalist history’ and science.

If a general observation can be made it is that this is more markedly culturally oriented than previous editions and more clearly positioned within a broader social democratic referencing discourse. But it is also strikingly less political, which is not to say that there are no political elements, but that these are less prominent than before.

The Archive is unaware of any subsequent issues, but would be very grateful for any further information and perhaps some outline of the relationship to the Labour Party and whether that was similar or distinctively different to the pre-existing relationship to Democratic Left.

The Éamon Gilmore Fan Club June 21, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in Labour Party.
add a comment

Spotted this recently over at Your Friend in the North. Looks like Gilmore’s fan club has got over excited.

Trade Unions hurt Labour: Quinn October 16, 2008

Posted by Garibaldy in Irish Politics, Labour Party, The Left, Trade Unions, Workers' Party.
Tags: , , ,

A most interesting  report in the Irish Times gives vent to Ruairí Quinn’s real feelings about the broader labour movement. Writing in a new book, State of the Unions, edited by Tim Hastings (which I can’t find a link for) he argues that the Trade Unions harm the Labour Party because the unions expect it to act as their voice in the Oireachtas, while failing to provide sufficient votes and electoral support in return. In addition, he argues that the public blames the Labour Party whenever unions engage in unpopular activity.

What is the significance of this? Possibly none whatsoever. But this is not the first time such sentiments have been voiced by elements of the Labour Party leadership, and it suggests that a Blairite push to negate the influence of the unions as far as possible may not be far off. The timing of the publication is particularly unfortunate given that the Labour movement now more than ever needs a united front. Even though this piece was obviously written some time ago, the credit crunch has been around for a year or more, and it has been obvious that the southern economy was heading for difficulties. It says a lot about the nature of social democracy in the south that at such a time an influential figure like Quinn should chose to say this. There is clearly a declining sense of a labour movement, and it is being replaced with one that there is a political party that is linked to the trade unions financially, and that sometimes agrees with them, but that has distinct and separate interests. It seems silly to raise this debate now.

I don’t want to go on about this, I just wanted to bring it to people’s attention for them to discuss, particularly in terms of what it tells us about the biggest forces in the left in Ireland, and the current difficulties of the left.

On a side point that will be of interest to many here, Quinn reveals that the desire to curb the influence of The Workers’ Party in political and trade union circles was a significant factor in the creation of SIPTU. There has been some discussion of politics and the trade unions past and present in the comments here.

Irish Times sensationalism September 25, 2008

Posted by joemomma in Labour Party, Media and Journalism.

The once respectable Irish Times continues its descent into tabloid sensationalism.  Today’s edition carries this splashy photo lead:

Labour TDs in cordial greeting as Dáil resumes

No doubt this sort of image sells papers, but it’s the headline that really cranks up the hype:

Labour TDs in cordial greeting as Dáil resumes

Now I’m an adult and I know that cordial greeting does go on in this country, even amongst our political classes, but it is really necessary to have it thrust in our faces on the front page of our paper of record? I’m happy enough for such matters to be discreetly reported on the inside pages, but bear in mind that children will have seen this on the news stands.

We are Change: Who are you? April 16, 2008

Posted by smiffy in 9/11, Irish Politics, Labour Party, Lisbon Treaty.

The Lisbon Treaty referendum campaign took a swerve into the bizarre on Monday night, with the alleged assault on Prionsias de Rossa after a debate in Liberty Hall.  While the details are still rather sketchy (and I’ve heard about it from a number of sources, including those who were present) it’s been covered in the Irish Times and on yesterday afternoon’s Liveline.  The discussion on politics.ie is as tasteful and informative as one might expect, although it is depressingly aging to hear de Rossa described as an ‘elderly gentleman’ (all the more so, given that it’s accurate). 
It seems that those responsible for the assault come from the strange ‘We Are Change Ireland‘ group, a local branch of a loose organisation based primarily in the United States but with affiliates in the UK, Canada and here.  While one shouldn’t read too much into yesterday’s incident at this stage, it may represent the first strand of a more worrying trend. 

WAC originate in the crazier extremes of the so-called 9/11 Truth movement.  Glancing at the self-produced videos on their website, they come across as a group of rather amateurish Michael Moore wannabes, the kind of people who have never met a conspiracy theory they didn’t like, or accept.  Incidentally, the ‘confrontation’ of Gerry Adams is hilarious, as is the encounter between our old comrade Nick Cohen and the We Are Change UK group.

Despite their image as a humourous misfits, it’s very hard to place them on the political spectrum.  While some of the jargon they employ about civil liberties and the militarization of the European Union might suggest a leftist bent, they also appear to have some sympathy with a certain kind of right-wing extremism exemplified in the likes of Lyndon LaRouche and, to an extent, Alex Jones.  There’s even the pseudo-religious strands (see the interview with arch-crank Michael Tsarion) which resemble the worldview outlined in online films like Zeitgeist and the pronouncements of David Icke.

Indeed, this kind of Ickean mixture of conspiracy theory politics and crazy, mystical cod philosophy does tend to leave a rather nasty taste in the mouth.  In Jon Ronson’s chapter on Icke in his great book Them: Adventures with Extremists, he recounts the debate about whether, when Icke talks about giant, blood-drinking lizards ruling the world, he actually means Jews (and the more he protests that he really means lizards, the more this is interpreted by his opponents as really meaning Jews).  Amusing as that particular anecdote is, what Ronson’s book is particularly good at is demonstrating the overlap between the outlook of conspiracy theorists and that of genuine neo-fascist organisations.

I am conscious of using the terms ‘conspiracy theory’ and ‘conspiracy theorists’  are perjoratives.  This is not to suggest, of course, that political conspiracies don’t exist and that states don’t engage in activities about which they would prefer the public remained ignorant.  However, the problem with a certain kind of individual or group – best analysed in Richard Hofstadter’s classic essay ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’, a little dated in the age of the internet but well worth reading – is that it substitutes ‘analysis’ (to be generous) for activism.  It seems to see the process of uncovering hidden motivations, alliances and activities as progressive in and of itself.  It provides no attempt to actually change anything or to improve anyone’s life (except insofar as seeing the hidden hand of the Illuminati everywhere enhances your life).  It’s a recipe for political quietism.

Perhaps it would be accurate to see WAC as anti-political, in this sense – in engaging in a simulcarum of activist politics but with no real political goals or objectives other than as a self-perpetuating mechanism for generating new and even more bizarre conspiracy tales.

This alone would make them an interesting phenomenon – a group whose political outlook is entirely generating from the internet and devoid of any substantial content – and certainly worth noting.  However, Monday’s events seem a little more sinsiter.  The tactics employed both within the meeting and afterwards would be familiar to those who have followed the development of Youth Defence (a genuinely far-right organisation) over the last 15 years.  One hopes that WAC are, and will remain, a tiny group of crackpots, rather than the tip of the iceberg of something much worse.

The post-Mullingar Discord… Labour and Fine Gael in 2008 January 2, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Fine Gael, Irish Politics, Labour Party.

Pat Leahy writing in the Sunday Business Post the other day noted something that I’d missed. When talking about the ‘fate of the opposition’ parties over the next twelve months he suggested that ‘…there is [a] significant cleavage emerging between the two main opposition parties following the failure of the so-called ‘Mullingar Accord’ to deliver power to Fine Gael and the Labour party’. He referenced the ‘rightward shift in policy and rhetoric’ of Fine Gael and how conversely the Labour Party is going ‘through a period of political retrenchment’. He argues that Gilmore is ‘hardly ‘old’ Labour but he’s happy to let Willie Pensroe et al sing the Red Flag to their hearts content if it keeps them happy… nor is he going to spend his time talking up Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny’. All interesting points, are they not?

But there is a dynamic emerging between the two parties which is of particular fascination and he touches upon it when he notes that ‘the day before the Dáil broke up for the Christmas break, the chamber witnessed some pretty vicious exchanges between Fine Gael – specifically Leo Varadkar – and Labour deputies’.

So, that sent me searching the debate transcripts…

Vol. 644 No. 4 Competition (Amendment) Bill 2007: Second Stage (Resumed). Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Deputy Michael D. Higgins: In concluding this debate, I express my thanks to the 17 Deputies who spoke. The Bill is important and is certainly not a knee-jerk reaction. After all, it is just over two years since I wrote to the Taoiseach asking him to do something, in November 2005. Yesterday evening I outlined details of his letter to me in which he suggested that he agreed that ICTU was concerned. A previous version of this Bill existed and I received communication from the social partners asking me to withdraw my Bill so that the issue could be solved in the partnership talks. I deeply regret that that did not happen and that the Bill is not being allowed to proceed to Committee Stage, where all those who wanted to amend it would have the opportunity to make a contribution.

In the short time available to me, I would like to clarify a number of points. When I came into this House for the first time 20 years ago, I was told that when interpreting a Bill, it is important to interpret the entire Bill. One particular section cannot be taken and used out of context. This is advice that some of the younger Deputies should follow and they should avail of the courses on the interpretation of legislation that are provided by the commission. For example, section 2 of my Bill is qualified by section 3(2), which states: “Where the Government makes a declaration under this subsection that there is, in relation to a scheme to which this section applies, a public interest in negotiating a collective agreement between the public body concerned and an organisation that is representative of the profession concerned, providing for the terms …..” Therefore, there is a choice. I could have tried to strike down section 4, but I did not because I was not striking against competition.

The Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ahern, in a rather strange speech of 17 pages, devoted 14 pages to what one might call a hymn of praise to the Competition Authority and three and half pages to the Bill. He happened to get it wrong and I would like to clarify some points in law that are straightforward and clear. Article 81 and Article 82 of the EU Treaty only apply to transnational commerce. They do not apply directly into the State. They are translated into domestic law by the different member states. In the case involving Actors Equity, as part of SIPTU, and the Competition Authority, the latter clearly invoked a section of the domestic legislation. There is no point in sowing what is a dishonest confusion into the argument in that respect.

There may be many people who worry about bricklayers and stonecutters getting organised and referring to ancient guilds that might be established, as we heard last night. BATU is in existence and it has 9,000 members. It is in the building industry and it organises brick and stone layers, carpenters and joiners, as well as wood-cutting machinists. They enjoy a registered employment agreement so the Government is wasting its time if it wants to wish itself back to the 18th century, or if it wants to start advocating that little children should be climbing chimneys. Unions have every right to work against the process of casualisation. I believe that right is on the side of their argument. Reference was also made to farm workers. My party was founded in 1912 and we organised rural workers and there is a joint labour agreement that governs minimum rates.

In making his speech last night, the Fine Gael spokesperson said that there is a legal flaw in the Bill because it only amends the Competition Act 2002 and does not either the EU Treaty or the relevant EU regulations. That would be a nonsense because that is not what the Bill sets out to do. It sought to amend the Bill that gives compliance with the EU regulation and with the EU Treaty. He suggested that the Bill would be of no benefit to groups such as Actors Equity, as the Competition Authority’s rule is now based on Article 81 of the EU Treaty and not the Competition Act 2002. This is completely wrong.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: It was EC Council Regulation 1 of 2003.

Deputy Emmet Stagg: Shut up and listen.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Michael D. Higgins, without interruption.

Well, okay then. some heat, but it could be worse, so I looked at the previous day. It was worse… (or better, depending upon political perspective).

Competition (Amendment) Bill 2007: Second Stage Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Deputy Leo Varadkar: I wish to share my time with Deputies James Reilly and Jimmy Deenihan.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: I acknowledge the bona fides of the Labour Party in presenting this Bill. It is a genuine effort to address genuine hardship for some individuals such as self-employed members of Equity, the NUJ and others. Similarly, I acknowledge the efforts the Labour Party is seeking to provide a means through which professional groups such as dentists, pharmacists and general practitioners can negotiate with Government for public services. However, despite this, neither I nor Fine Gael can support the Bill on a number of grounds, both to do with the ultimate policy implications of the Bill as drafted and legal flaws within it.

The explanatory memorandum suggests that section 2 has been brought in to facilitate Equity. However, the Bill does not refer to Equity and rather uses a broad-brush measure, section 2(1)(a), which effectively proposes to legalise across the board horizontal price fixing by trade associations at the expense of business groups and social partners. If this provision were enacted, it would be possible, for example, for architects to club together and demand a fixed price for services provided to particular contractors. Bricklayers could form a union and demand negotiations with the Construction Industry Federation for particular rights, such as double pay on Sundays. Casual farm workers could form a union in, say, the midlands and insist on negotiations with the IFA and farmers to give them particular employee rights while continuing to enjoy the benefits of being self employed.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:
What about the public interest?

Deputy Leo Varadkar:
When I refer to that, the Deputy will hear it. I am just dealing with section 2 of the Bill.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins: That section is qualified.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: I am coming to that. I did not interrupt the Deputy. Perhaps he could have the decency to contain himself for at least one debate.

Deputy Willie Penrose: We are fed up with the views coming from the Deputy.

An Ceann Comhairle:
Deputy Varadkar is entitled to express his view.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:
I am. This is a democratic country, left or right.

Deputy Willie Penrose: The Deputy is very “right”.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Instead of competing for business, electricians in a town could form a union to negotiate terms, conditions and fees with local shopkeepers and enterprises. The Bar Council and the Law Society could similarly fix prices, terms and conditions for services provided to any social partnership group. This Bill is potentially a Trojan horse and if implemented would see a return of the medieval guild system of collective bargaining whereby architects and other professionals were required to form guilds in order to negotiate set prices for services, as well as creating barriers to others entering those services.

The Bill abolishes competition law to the extent that it applies to the self employed. As stated by the Competition Authority decision in the Equity case, if one were to take a wooden approach and find that all trade union members were exempt from the Act, the protection afforded to Irish consumers by the Oireachtas in the Competition Act 2002 could easily be rendered illusory. An association of independent pharmacists, publicans and barristers, to name but a few, would shortly obtain safe havens for their members by adding union to their name and obtaining negotiating licences. At the same time it is even possible that traditional companies could redefine themselves as partnerships and corporate bodies. Let us bear in mind that the Labour Party Bill does not just refer to individual self-employed people and unions, it talks about giving these rights to partnerships and corporate bodies. Traditional businesses could redefine themselves as collections of partnerships and corporate bodies and then use that provision to exempt themselves from competition legislation in the context of section 2.

Section 3 seems to be written with the intention of resolving the IPU-HSE impasse. I commend the Labour Party for seeking to resolve this problem but I do not believe this is the correct means to do so. However, despite the apparent intention, there is no specific mention of the IPU or similar organisations either in the Bill or the explanatory memorandum. The provisions of this section are very odd indeed. Essentially, it legalises price fixing in circumstances where the Government negotiates with an organisation representing a profession or trade for the provision of a service to members of the public or to a class of members of that public. The mechanism for achieving this is to empower the Oireachtas, following a declaration of the Government, to deem such an organisation not to be an association of undertakings for the purpose of section 4 of the 2002 Act. This exemption would not only be open to sole traders and independent professionals but also to members and employees of partnerships and corporate bodies under section 3(5)(b).

So, what’s going on here? Mullingar is clearly finished. And with its demise the necessity for Labour to reinforce its image and identity appears to be the main priority. Let’s not understate the difficulties that that presents in a polity where both of the larger political parties shift back and forth across the centre as it suits them. but this must be a God send. Here is a way to put clear red water between them and Fine Gael, and in the process there is the opportunity to paint at least some elements in Fine Gael with the same sort of colours that – at least in part – did for the Progressive Democrats. How ironic that ‘Thatcher’s Children’ should pop up in Fine Gael just as the economically liberal PDs leave the field of battle (and how tricky too for Labour… because if FG are to remain as putative coalition partners they have to do some hard thinking about policy… particularly since one B. Ahern will have departed to better things by 2012 and that particular excuse will be gone).

So, clearly there is a sense abroad in Labour that Varadkar – and perhaps his peers – is fair game for this sort of baiting, and indeed Varadkar has hardly been shy about projecting himself in the bear pit of the Dáil chamber as a muscular right winger. I can only imagine that this plays well with both Labour party members and a broader constituency on the left because. And this surely must colour the relations between the two parties and consequently that must have significant implications for the future political direction of the opposition. Already in this last Dáil term we have seen the intriguing sight of Labour and Sinn Féin working together. Now we are seeing a sort of political centrifugal force pushing Labour and Fine Gael away from each other.
While it is important not to overstate this, it is also worth considering that personal relationships between politicians tend to influence broader political issues. One might suggest tentatively that for both parties this is no time to be making new enemies, but for a Fine Gael still under the misapprehension that ‘one last push’ will lead them to government with or without Labours overt support that seems to be a message they are unlikely to listen to. As for Labour, well, what have they got to lose?

Leahy concludes by saying that the ‘new Fine Gaelers are as different from the old Labourites as they are from the old Fianna Failers. Those differences will become more apparent in 2008’. This should be fun…

The future for Sinn Féin… in the South, in the North and in Government November 13, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, Labour Party, Republicanism, Sinn Féin, The Left.

It is time, once more, to discuss SF and the state of SF today.Yesterday in the Irish Times Gerry Adams was reported speaking in Louth to Republicans.

He said that:

…Sinn Féin now needed to do things differently given the election outcome, at which the party won just four seats.

Mr Adams suggested that the party would raise the profile of its southern leaders and said Sinn Féin needed to be aware of the different political realities North and South and “shape our republicanism accordingly”.

He also identified a need to rejuvenate the party and expand its work in local communities.

He went on to say that:

…the election result was a disappointment, but said it was “not the blow our political opponents suggested” and the party was now engaged in a fightback.

He welcomed suggestions that Fianna Fáil might organise on an all-Ireland basis.

“In its own way it can help erode the partitionist mentality that pervades so much of Fianna Fáil’s politics,” he said, and the SDLP, not Sinn Féin, had most to fear from a Fianna Fáil presence in the North.

He also called on Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to honour the Belfast Agreement by giving representation in the Oireachtas to people from the North.

One of the things that has most impressed me is that in the wake of what was not a great election result was that that party has been willing to roll up the shirt sleeves and engage. The Senate elections showed a gritty pragmatism and determination to continue. That it also fitted into a realpolitik developing on the opposition benches in the Dáil is neither here nor there. The point is that despite a setback – although not quite the setback that the media or their opponents have sought to portray it – SF was clearly willing to continue in business. My own sense is that the Labour-Sinn Féin deal is a crucial turning point in the perception of Sinn Féin. There will continue to be a core group for who Sinn Féin remains anathema – that may take a generation to change. But, the outworkings of proportional representation, the necessity for government change, and the exemplary effects of government in the North are such that that group will become more isolated, particularly as a younger generation of Sinn Féin members and representatives develops. Still, this does not inevitably lead us to the sunny uplands of an ever increasing Sinn Féin representation in the Dáil.

Another thought. The recent IT poll is interesting, but P O’Neill did a fine job on IrishElection of parsing out the basic elements of it. These are, Fianna Fáil suffered enormously from the Provisional License fiasco. Fine Gael and Labour were given a perfect opportunity for increased visibility. Result? Fianna Fáil loses 9% or so, Fine Gael and Labour increase by a corresponding margin – and credit where credit is due, Rabbitte did a fine job that weekend of pushing a Labour line. That it is entirely meaningless in the context of a political environment where the next electoral contest is years away is key (a brilliant piece in the SBP on just this topic on Sunday). There is plenty of time for Fianna Fáil to grab back that support. Plenty of time for Labour (in particular) to grasp hold of and retain that increased vote share. And plenty of opportunity for Sinn Féin to build upon the core vote.

But let’s look at the fine detail. Sinn Féin has a solid 7% and has seen no change. Allied with the Sunday Business Post RedC polls that looks like a nice comfort zone. Particularly, and read the fine detail in a context where FFs losses in class terms have been heaviest amongst the C2DE voters (and intriguingly not at all amongst the ABC1 voters). That means votes are leaching leftwards. Perhaps it is sinking in that this Fianna Fáil government is unlikely to be like the last one. That the economic situation is more difficult and the rhetoric about steady as she goes actually means steady as she goes. Populism only goes so far and eventually people tend to wake up to reaity. Long term dynamic? Who knows. But again, votes from those groups are there to be taken by Sinn Féin. And that’s all Sinn Féin has to do across the life of this government, to prove that it is relevant, that it is an alternative electoral home for both the disenchanted left, disenchanted Greens and the disenchanted FF voting working class. Which is interesting because that actually poses a problem, a problem that has been at the centre of the efforts over the Summer by the Government to minimise Dáil speaking time. Sinn Féin, like it or not, is in competition with Fianna Fáil. One of the most startling aspects of the recent political situation was the way in which Fine Gael and Labour have both been willing to cede some time in the Dáil to Sinn Féin. This is not from the goodness of their hearts, but a solid political calculation that Sinn Féin (moreso on the part of FG than Labour it has to be acknowledged – Labour has, every once in a while, a Republican, or more often just a Green, arhythmia to its heartbeat) poses a greater threat to Fianna Fáil than it does to either of them. Even better – from their point of view – is the idea that Sinn Féin can act as a lightening rod for disaffected Green Party voters pulling left and radical votes away from that party in 2012.

[Incidentally the Greens aren’t doing too poorly either with a solid 5%. Not bad for a party in government. But their tactic of being ever so slightly semi-detached and their ‘wasn’t us Guv, we didn’t make the decisions, only had 6 TDs, couldn’t get a better deal…’ approach seems to be working. Still, I can’t help feeling that that particular song is going to wear a bit thin sooner rather than later]

And returning to what Gerry Adams said, well, quite a lot of food for thought. For a start a recognition that acting as an all-Ireland party cannot mean acting as if the island was a single unitary whole is a good step forward. I’ll return to that in a moment. He is correct that the election vote was not quite the disaster that the media are keen to portray it as. Still. It wasn’t a ringing endorsement of the project either. The welcome for Fianna Fáil is mischievous, but the point about Oireachtas representation is important, because it demonstrates the cosmetic nature of the changes that FF proposes in organising in the North. Real representation is something that SF will have to fight for long and hard since the current and future occupants of Leinster House will be very very unwilling to cede any. How many polities genuinely are happy to share power?

In a way this process is now rife with contradiction. Fianna Fáil have to, by the logic of their own rhetoric, have a presence in the North. But to do so entails an enagement in a polity that will result in curious paradoxes. FF say they would not contest Westminster elections. Fair enough – SF don’t take their seats there. But SF do contest the UK General Elections. The Good Friday Agreement underpins the idea of some sort of representation in Leinster House. But if that is done that gives a further platform for Sinn Féin. The very thing that FF doesn’t want to do (incidentally I find it curious that FF is seeking alliances with the SDLP… one might expect that FF would be more interested in going for the hegemonic party of the working class, SF, if only to replicate its own power base in the South. The SDLP strikes me as more middle class. An odd fit is it not? And yes, it is true that alliances with SF might take much longer to forge, if they were ever possible, but still… the structural analysis remains the same).

Nor is this all one way in terms of the paradoxes. If FF were to seriously engage in the North it is possible that over time they would wrest support from Sinn Féin – although I’d tend to agree with Adams that the first casualty would be the SDLP. That might take years or that might take decades. But it could happen. If it did there is every possibility that this would seriously fragment the Nationalist vote and in doing so actually destabilise the emerging polity. Bad for Sinn Féin. Indeed. But potentially bad for everyone.

And here I want to touch on something that has struck me recently. The media narrative at the moment is one where SF is regarded as essentially having ‘lost’ in the South (despite the fact that it has more TDs than the late lamented WP did for most of its parliamentary existence). Curiously this is a narrative shared by both Eoghan Harris, Fianna Fáil and the Phoenix although there are subtle distinctions. The Phoenix reported on November 2nd that “the key message from an upcoming SF conference will be that SF is the left party south of the border but the ‘Nordies’ are anxious to curb their more excessive comrades in Dublin and other urban areas in the south, who regard government as a dirty word…the Nordies have now taken control of an organisational team for the south….”.

This contributes to the sense of the party as a ‘Northern party’. And furthermore a consequence of this is the implicit message that SF should retreat North – or as Harris puts it in a rather unlovely turn of phrase… “Sinn Fein in the South is left with the lumpen-proletarian scrapings of socialism, and the trendy obsessions of a few bourgeois Bohemians such as the Shell to Sea campaigners. And the increasingly anarchic agitations of these lumpens and Bohemians will alienate more and more working people who want a modern social democratic party” (thanks to Ed Hayes for pointing me to that article which dates from July in the Sunday Independent). By the way, more than one spoon full of cornflakes must have paused midway to mouths when readers were treated to the following:

In the North, Sinn Fein looks like a powerful party of the mainstream: down south it looks like a sidebar party of the powerless – not a numerous class in the Irish Republic. In the North, Sinn Fein is moving towards the social-democratic centre… If Sinn Fein in the North wants a noble project it should give up the pseudo-socialist revolution in the Irish Republic and start a real revolution in Northern Ireland. This is the task of making peace with the people who fear it the most. And if this strikes you as naive, I have two reasons for believing that Sinn Fein in the North could carry this project to a successful conclusion.

This vision of SF as a regional party – albeit one fairly well cemented into government in Stormont is quite interesting because it tells us as much about the ambitions of those who propose it as the idea itself. For Ahern and Fianna Fáil there are clear pluses from seeing SF diminished in the South. And so we have the shadowplay of FF organising in the North. I’m wondering how solid any FF presence will be in the North, but more broadly what we see is the idea that the North will always be a ‘region’ and that region will have regional parties. This isn’t unknown in other polities. Consider the Bavarian based CSU (part of the CDU) – an unhappy comparison perhaps, but one that no doubt is exercising the thoughts of at least some in FF and the SDLP. In either event SF stops being regarded as a ‘national’ force and retreats in the face of the greater strength of Fianna Fáil.

The problem is that this situation could actually develop. It is not unfeasible to see Sinn Féin lose more seats in the South, particularly in the context of an embedded peace. A partitionist mentality has evolved on both sides of the Border which has achieved a certain life of its own. And there is the actuality that political conditions are different, socio-political contexts and even cultural approaches have a distinctiveness in the North from the South. Sinn Féin as the hegemonic party of Northern nationalism could be a long term feature of Northern politics. But once more we find the issue of a ‘regional’ party nature of SF emerging. I think this ‘narrative’ is very dangerous for SF and to trace a path between the realities of a two polity island and the necessity to retain party integrity is vital to their future.

And yet. And yet. I don’t believe FF is serious about moving North, at least not yet, not now, just when the situation has stabilised. In truth FF needs SF to remain where it is, cemented into power and dealing with Paisley (and there may just be a hint of a more cynical calculation that in four or five years after the tough decisions emerge that SF will be weakened either by loss of popularity amongst the electorate in the North or by leftward splits).

And if FF isn’t serious now I find it even more unlikely that Brian Cowen will be exercised by the notion in the future. That being the case the North provides both exemplar and inspiration for the SF project.

Moreover I wonder if SF will lose seats next time out. As it stands they had good chances in at least three seats this year. Had the day gone well for them they might have had an increase of one or two on their then total. Not earth-shaking, but comfortable nonetheless. But those seats remain to be taken.

Whatever situation one chooses as the most likely, or least far-fetched, it seems to me that the next ten years are going to be particularly difficult for Sinn Féin both sides of the Border. In the North they have the responsiblity of Government. In the South the responsibility of being a minor oppposition party. Bridging that gap, and the psychological distance that that gap will engender is going to be difficult. On the one hand achievement, and controversy, almost as a matter of course. On the other back breaking struggle without clear light at the end of the tunnel in the short to medium term.

Yet, they’re not alone. Labour has finally decided to forge its own path, for the moment anyhow. The Green Party has, intriguingly, also forged something of an individual path within Government. There remain considerable opportunities as well as challenges.

That they seem to recognise this and to be facing up to those challenges is heartening for both their own sakes and that of the Irish left.

They aren’t the only game in town on the left. But they are crucial to the left game.

%d bloggers like this: