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Irish presidential election: an election without candidates

2 November 2018

Throughout the presidential election one could only watch open mouthed as RTE, an organisation usually incapable of reporting real events, spent day after day in minute analysis of a nothing burger election.

The clear favourite was Michael D Higgins who has left his Labour Party days long behind to become a living figurehead representing more or less nothing. The other candidates were self-publicists and reality stars with the exception of the Sinn Fein candidate, Liadh Ní Riada, who successfully imitated the bland conservatism of her opponents. It is hardly a surprise that a minority of the population struggled to get as far as the polling booth as a wave of apathy swept the state.

Yet the election was useful in indicating the political temperature of the electorate. In the absence of politics Michael D was bound to be re-elected. It is a relief that the majority of the other independents came nowhere but what caused the greatest concern was the 25% vote for Peter Casey following his use of a racist dog whistle or rather fog horn in targeting the travelling community. Although the reformist left will not remember this, it was not so long ago that there was persistent boasting that their variety of left populism had at least saved Ireland from the right populism sweeping Europe. This election shows definitively that there is only populism and that it can veer left and right but left to itself will end up on the right. The only defence against populism and reaction is socialism. We should try it.

The election was a disaster for Sinn Fein and they blamed their candidate for going too far in her embrace of the poppy and conflict resolution with the British and unionists. Yet this is deeply worrying for Mary Lou - the Ni Riada line was her line and the line of Sinn Fein. It indicates that while former military figures such as McGuinness and Adams could get away with reactionary debasement to British royalty and their supporters could console themselves with the idea that they didnít mean it, the new post-conflict leadership do not have the same leeway. The presidential election was supposed to be a launchpad for Sinn Fein for the next election. The result must be deeply worrying for them because it means that they will not make the breakthrough that will allow them supplant Fianna Fail or even guarantee them a place in a coalition government with the right-wing Fine Gael. In the absence of these things the Sinn Fein strategy is in danger of collapse. An even stronger indication of Sinn Fein's incapacity was the way in which Sinn Fein voters spilt into three almost equal camps between Higgins, Casey and Ni Riada. This sort of division is typical of Sinn Fein over generations and indicates that they have never matured beyond a gaggle of different political tendencies held together by a loose nationalist sentiment.

However this political ambiguity makes it possible to make sharp changes in political direction. We can expect a revival of Sinn Fein the socialist party and a welcome back from the proponents of a broad left government.

The presidential election had no serious candidates because there is no effective political opposition in Ireland. If one ignores the vainglorious posts of the left about parliamentary advancement then left and right swirl around a common populist collaboration that leaves Ireland at the mercy of parasitic capitalist class and a rapacious imperialist domination.

The need for working class organisation, for a working class party has never been greater.

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