Return to bulletin menu
Ireland: A country  dominated by imperialism

The hosting of the G8 Summit in Co Fermanagh shows the degree to which Ireland is still dominated by imperialism. This most immediate illustration of this relates to the location of the summit itself. For despite it being in an Irish county the event is hosted by the British Government. This points to the fact that Ireland remains divided. By choosing Co Fermanagh as the location Britain is sending out the clear message that its state (incorporating the six counties of Northern Ireland) is intact and that the political settlement on which it rests is stable. The G8 Summit will give a clear endorsement of this position. Of course this completely undermines the notion promoted by nationalists that the status of the north is more fluid and it is somehow moving towards joint sovereignty or a united Ireland. The reality is that partition is the arrangement favoured by imperialism (not just Britain but the US and EU as well) for maintaining political and economic stability in Ireland. In these circumstances the idea that the intervention of imperialism of whatever stripe, or the “logic” of capitalist development, can play a progressive role in Ireland is an illusion. They are in fact barriers to self-determination. 

However, imperialism is not just maintained through external force. The most important element is support from a section of population of the subjugated nation. In Ireland this support comes from the capitalist class. Throughout its history the Irish bourgeoisie have been inconsistent fighters for both self-determination and national development. Frightened of the potential power of Irish labour it has been more willing to seek accommodation with imperialism than achieve national rights. While it still makes gestures towards Irish Republicanism it has long abandoned the ideology and has used the power of the state to suppress the various attempts to revive republicanism as a movement. In common with imperialism, and for the same reasons, the Irish capitalist class supports the continuation of partition. 

What underpins the political alliance between the Irish capitalist class and imperialism is the domination of Ireland’s economy by foreign capital. While limited attempts were made at national development in the 1930’s & 40s, by the early 60’s these had been abandoned and the southern state opened itself up to foreign capital. This accelerated with membership of the EEC in 1973 and has continued apace through the period of the Celtic Tiger up to the present day. 

Ireland is now one of the most globalised economies in the world. It is also one that is dominated by foreign capital. For example, of the top (in terms of turnover) 50 companies in Ireland, 31 are multinationals. Many of the remainder that are nominally “Irish” are oriented on the international market and a large proportion of their operations are based overseas. Multi national companies dominate pharmaceuticals, information technology and financial services. The foreign presence in those sectors of the economy that are most export orientated is so dominant that Irish exports actually exceed the value of GDP. 

Ireland has a two-tier economy – a top tier composed of foreign owned companies oriented to the international market, and a bottom tier of indigenous owned companies catering to a relatively underdeveloped domestic market. This divergence is reflected in the wide gap between GDP, the output generated within Ireland and GNP, the income that goes to residents. The gap, which stood at 20 per cent in 2011, indicates both the big profits being made by foreign firms and the extent to which value is being extracted from the Irish economy as those profits are repatriated. 

One of the reasons that profits are so high in Ireland is the low level of corporation tax. At only 12.5 per cent it is one the lowest in the world. Moreover, while this is the head-line rate the “effective” rate for multinational corporations is constructed tax arrangements for specific companies that deliver a rate of less than 2 per cent. Apple execu-tives have publicly acknowledged that the company has had a special arrangement with the Irish government since 2003. Between 2009 and 2012 it paid just 0.05% on the $22 billion earned by its Irish subsidiary, Apples Sales International. This company has no production attached to it and employs only a handful of people. In hosting such profit declaring entities the Irish state acts a clearinghouse for the profits of multinationals. The description of it as a “tax haven” is a correct one.

The epitome of Ireland’s accommodating approach to international capital is the banking collapse and the subsequent Troika bailout. This came about when the property boom, fuelled by lending into Ireland by European financial institutions, turned to bust and the Irish banks were left with liabilities far exceeding assets. Rather than let the banks fail the Irish ruling class was prepared to bankrupt their own state to guarantee the bondholders would suffer no loss. To continue with this approach they were prepared to enter a bailout programme that transferred decision-making on a raft of government policies to the Troika. Despite all the talk of the importance of “economic sovereignty” Ireland has probably less now than it did in 1922. 

The Irish capitalist class sees its fortunes as being completely bound up with those of imperialism. Even the old gestures towards some idea of independence such as “military neutrality” have been abandoned. The Irish state supported the Iraq War (most obviously by allowing use Shannon airport by the US military); it contributes personnel to EU rapid reaction forces; and is drawing ever closer to NATO membership. Most recently it has supported the EU intervention in Africa with Irish troops deploying under the command of British officers for the first time since 1922. 

The complete identification of the Irish bourgeoisie with imperial-ism rules it out of any role in the struggle for national and democratic rights. For these can only be won in opposition to imperial-ism. That task must fall to the working class. In the circumstances that we face today the slogan that “the cause of labour is the cause of Ireland” still retains its relevance.


Return to top of page