Another fine mess
Irish state staggers through yet another crisis
6 November 2020
The dysfunctional national coalition government of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, held up by the Green party, has staggered through yet another crisis.
The two major parties had been rejected by the voters because of failures in health provision and housing. They cobbled together a government to exclude Sinn Fein, who received the major share of the vote, and have struggled from crisis to crisis ever since.
Immediately after the formation of the government, infighting in Fianna Fail led to a succession of agricultural ministers. Overlapping with this was a golf dinner which broke Covid-19 regulations and involved both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael ministers along with financiers, a judge and a European commissioner.
Now its the turn of Leo Varadkar, current Tánaiste and guaranteed the position of Taoiseach as part of the coalition deal. Leo has been dubbed "Leo the Leaker" after leaking details of a doctors pay settlement with the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) to rivals in the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).
His response has been to deny that the information was confidential or that he did anything wrong. Eventually he issued a non-apology: He said: ”I am sorry for the controversy and the annoyance that my actions may have caused.”
Fine Gael have kept grimly silent and it is Taoiseach Micheál Martin who has to play Oliver Hardy to Varadkar's Stan Laurel. While a majority of the capitalist class have solidified behind Fine Gael, support for Fianna Fail has fallen sharply and there is deep discontent among many TDs. They believe that he should do more to distance his party from Varadkar. His failure to share out patronage in the West when appointed Taoiseach still rankles, but the major issues are Sinn Fein and the national question.
Many members, especially in the West, believe that strategically they would be better placed if they had formed a government with Sinn Fein. They believe that another turn of the Green card and a tilt of the hat towards a United Ireland would change the fortunes of the party.
Martin is totally opposed to this line of reasoning. He believes that the best way to defeat the former republicans is to exclude them. Much more fundamentally he represents his class in agreeing that the Good Friday Agreement gives the Irish bourgeoisie the opportunity to smother remaining nationalist sentiment - advancing his own "Shared Ireland" scheme as a way of burying the whole idea of Irish unity.
For now this dysfunctional government will struggle on, despite policies that rest absolutely on capitulation to the European Central Bank and on failing to meet the needs of the workers.
In part this is due to the loyalty of the Greens, who welcomed Mr Varadkar’s “acknowledgment that what happened was not right and his apology for this error of judgment”. They have a long history of collaboration, so extreme that their last spot in coalition led to their disappearance as public representatives from the Dail.
But the survival of the government is mirrored by a weak opposition.
Sinn Fein called for further information: "All correspondence, documents, files and notes relating to this scandal must now be made public", said Mary Lou McDonald.
The casual dismissal of the scandal has led to Sinn Fein tabling a motion of no confidence in Varadkar. This will fail because in practice it would mean the fall of the government. They can go no further. They want no reference to a current scandal in the North where prominent members were disciplined when Covid payments sent in error were found resting in their accounts. In any case they need more government dysfunction to establish their own weak credentials as a left opposition. Sinn Fein were supported by People Before Profit, who intoned that there should be further inquiries.
The nearest approach to lancing the boil came from RISE TD Paul Murphy, who led the charge in demanding Varadkar's resignation.
But of course Varadkar's resignation would collapse the government. There is no real parliamentary alternative, so rebuilding a worker's opposition means turning outwards from the Dail, turning away from the illusion of government with Greens or Sinn Fein and aiming for an independent party of the working class.