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Irish general election called

Ireland's national unity government is dead.
Long live the national unity government!

17 January 2020

Often the first rule of analysis is to ask the most basic question. The simplest question to be asked about Ireland's current election is why is it being held?

The answer is illuminating. It is being held because the government collapsed. It is true that the Taoiseach did a skip and a jump to call the election before he was pushed, but nevertheless the collapse is real.

The government fell on three issues:

Firstly a narrowly survived vote of confidence on housing. Secondly an upcoming vote on the health service that the government were bound to lose. In between came a strong whiff of corruption with the resignation of Dara Murphy, a largely absentee Fine Gael TD who continued to draw €2,810 per week in pay and allowances as a TD while simultaneously working for two years in Brussels as the campaign director of the right wing European People’s Party.

The thing is, this was a government of national unity. Fine Gael were in a minority and depended on independents and on the opposition Fianna Fail party linked through a confidence and supply agreement.

Right away we can foresee the outcome. The next government will be another government of national unity, committed to essentially the same programme. The parties may switch position, there will be some attempt to alleviate the burning resentment of many workers, but it will be the same
parliamentary dance to the same tune and if the local elections are anything to go by, the capitalist parties will compose racist overtures to spice up the music.

What is striking is that the continuing crisis of Irish society is expressing itself through instability in the Dail rather than through active opposition on the streets. In large part this is the responsibility of the trade union leadership. Their leadership of the opposition on health is ironically expressed through the "Still Waiting" campaign. That's its main activity - waiting. When the union leaders swing into action they act to settle a mass strike by nurses through constraining it to pay and leaving the collapse of the health service to one side and then in turn constraining the pay settlement to fit within the PSSA agreement with the government.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions was so concerned about housing that it had two campaigns. One, "Raise the Roof", was essentially a mass lobby to strike a deal with the government. The second, the National Homeless and Housing Coalition, was cynically used to soak up opposition in a "walk in the park" campaign that went nowhere. Their leadership was so dreadful that homeless people organized independently to organise a sizable demonstration of their own just before Xmas.

All of the political parties have thrown themselves into an election frenzy, but under adverse circumstances. Both Sinn Fein and the centrist left groups suffered reverses in the recent local government elections.

Sinn Fein are desperate to build momentum following their return to the Stormont administration in the North. However the deal imposed by the British is so rancid that it attracts little support and their right swing towards the British royal family and accommodation to Orangeism and Loyalism has struck a sour note.

The position of the centrist left groups is best expressed by Richard Boyd Barrett of People Before Profit. He reminded us that less than 50% of voters supported Fianna Fail or Fine Gael. This is just a shy way of expressing an old Communist Party policy, long ago adopted by the other reformist socialist groups, that a "broad left government" is within our grasp.

Richard is right to be shy. The problem with this approach is that the larger "left" groups that could form such a government are the Labour Party, infamous for being at the core of a coalition government that led the austerity offensive, or Sinn Fein, whose left credentials are wearing thin and who are now charged by the British with implementing the "Fresh Start" austerity offensive in the North.

The thing is that the 'parliamentary cretinism' displayed by the PBP/Solidarity leadership is totally misplaced. Not only is the Dail an instrument of the capitalist state, designed to oppress the workers, but by and large its programme is written by the European Central bank and its main task is to ensure Irish workers repay the sovereign debt representing almost half the total EU banking debt.

The task of socialists is not simply to chalk up Dail seats or vote tallies, but to do so while building independent organisations of the working class that can break capitalist and imperialist rule. From this perspective the most pressing task of the election cycle is to support the forthcoming industrial action by the Teacher's Union of Ireland, trying once again to break out of an austerity two tier pay system that means that public servants doing the same work are paid different rates and to uncompromisingly and consistently expose the complicity of the trade union bureaucracy in maintaining that system.

That's where the future lies - in action by the workers to smash the framework of austerity that still dominates their lives rather than a tired reformism that chases public opinion from behind the cloak of the union bureaucracy rather than leading with the banner of revolutionary socialism.

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