The Irish Soviet?
Ireland's rump government plan for survival after Covid 19 lockdown
15 April 2020
When the Dublin government announced financial measures in response to the Covid 19 pandemic a local satirical e-zene, Waterford Whisper News, had a field day. The right wing Fine Gael government had gone communist. The country was now a Soviet. Ireland should be done with it and imprint a hammer and sickle within the tricolour.
There was reason for the satire. Many of the major issues of Irish society, claimed by the government to be insoluble because of the lack of a money tree, disappeared overnight. An army of homeless were ushered into empty hotels. For the first time in its history the Irish state conjured up a national health service by renting the large private sector. Individual payments to workers were ushered in and then increased when they proved insufficient. In the background a State that constantly misses all environmental targets and has no serious plan to deal with climate change suddenly saw the skies clear above the entire island.
Of course the Irish Soviet is a figment of the satirical imagination. Most government expenditure is directed towards the bosses. Payments to workers are in part an attempt to maintain the structures of production to speed eventual recovery. With this said, there are substantial funds assigned to ensure social peace, especially as the recent elections had demonstrated just how unpopular the leading capitalist parties are.
This is a rump government, the struggle to establish a new one is ongoing, and the issues that brought it down are the issues that it is now trying to temporarily resolve: a massive housing crisis, a health service in a shambles and large sections of the population under wage and pension pressures. The problem with their resolution is twofold. Firstly, how do you row back on the temporary concessions made today? Secondly, how do you present the bill for the extra expenditure to a working class still paying for the 2008 banking bailout?
The rump government has shaken off the shock of the drop in electoral support and benefited from a rally around the flag mood generated from the pandemic. They have benefited from their adherence to World Health Organisation and European medical authorities guidance and from relatively early and widespread testing and access to medical supplies. The government also has had a degree of luck in the rate of spread of the disease, although it remains to be seen if the rate will remain low. Externally, the shambolic response by the British authorities has managed to make Fine Gael look good in contrast.
On the minus side the new Irish 'NHS' is already running into problems as consultants argue that their private practice must be included in the arrangement. Many jobs are in small enterprises who immediately shed their poorly paid workforce, some are complaining that workers were not turning up because the coronavirus payment was larger than their wages. Unemployment has surged from 5 to 35 percent.
The partition of the island is an issue, not only because two different pandemic systems are running side by side, but because the Good Friday Agreement, with its identity politics, makes rational negotiation impossible. Once Unionism declares slavish obedience to the Westminster protocol as part of its heritage, all discussion stops.
But the primary issue is Irish economic dependence. For the ruling class this issue does not exist. The narrative is of a gallant sacrifice that overcame the credit crunch and created the premier growth rates in the European union. Irish workers did not agree. An expected electoral success for the ruling Fine Gael party turned into a car crash. Even worse, the alternative party, Fianna Fail, failed miserably also and many voters cast an angry and despairing vote for Sinn Fein. Under cover of the pandemic efforts are being made to set up a government of national unity, but this remains a struggle as the two major parties have ruled out a coalition with Sinn Fein but do not have, between them, the numbers required to form a stable government.
Government supporters weep into their beer as they complain that an economy €2 billion in surplus has been thrown €19 billion into deficit. Few agree. A whole series of reports from inside and outside the Country point to the underlying structural weakness of the economy. Much income is gained as a tax haven for transnational firms, resources and services are sold off to vulture capital and the public sector has been stripped to the bone. A massive sovereign debt still remains, which workers are still paying off. Can another decade or two of austerity, required to finance current expenditure, be credibly enforced?
One way out would be debt forgiveness by the European financial institutions. It's a question that was raised in 2008 and decisively rejected. All the signs are that it is being rejected again. A European fund has been announced, but falls short of any guarantee by Germany and the richer Northern states to support a Eurobond.
Failing the issue of a guaranteed Eurobond the weight of the debt then falls on an ingrained nationalist social partnership. Sinn Fein are rivals of the major parties, not opponents, and are essentially in support of administrations North and South. The Irish trade union leadership is largely silent and have clearly been brought in to sign off on the government proposals as they were during the credit crunch.
Can the existing alliances between the bourgeois parties and union leaders deliver the working class into further penury? Will a new revolutionary challenge to capitalism be mounted by the workers? These are the key questions that must be raised as a massive class struggle in Ireland and across the globe erupts in the aftermath of the Covid 19 lockdown.