Reflections on the Irish Election

With the democratic formality now out of the way, Fine Gael and the Labour Party have formed a coalition government. This has come to pass through a dramatic re-ordering of the parliamentary system. Fianna Fail, the natural party of capital in Ireland since the 1930s, having governed for three out of every four years in that intervening period, has experienced a political collapse mirroring that of the ‘Celtic Tiger’. It has been transformed into a political villain. The main beneficiaries of this were Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Fein, the United Left Alliance and a collection of independents that took their place.

Background - A World in Crisis

The backdrop to all this is inescapable. Today we are living with the cruel consequences of capitalism’s global crisis, of which Ireland is arguably one of most striking examples. Once the world economy hit the rocks in 2007 with the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the United States, the game of international speculative capital, last response of a system in crisis was up. It then proceeded to have a knock on effect in Britain with the collapse of Northern Rock, in Iceland with the collapse of its banking system, and presently with the crisis in the Eurozone. Naturally Ireland was no different given its dependence on international finance and particularly American capital. So when Ireland’s own speculative bubble had its speculator bursting it brought the “boomier years” to an end. Where the economic set up that facilitated this bubble was exposed, the government instantly stepped in to try and keep Ireland Inc. afloat. Government measures included:

  1. guaranteeing all bank deposits
  2. the establishment of a state agency to buy the debts off the property developers/speculators
  3. various measures by the state to recuperate more off workers through levies, pay cuts and raising the retirement age and
  4. a series of austerity budgets.

All this was to no avail, so eventually in November 2010 the European Union and the International Monetary Fund stepped in to save the Irish state. A rescue package to the tune of 85 billion euro was agreed at a interest rate of 5.7%. Crucially the terms of the package require the Irish state to make cuts over the next four years of 15 billion in order bring its deficit down below 3% of national income (1).

Nationalist Shadow Boxing in Response to the Crisis


Real division exists within the Irish ruling class over their attitude toward this package and its terms, with all the parties during the election campaign competing for the mantle of being the ‘best fighter for Ireland’. This is reflected in the competition between the main and fringe bourgeois parties, where the major parties either accept, or want to adjust elements of it, whereas the fringe parties reject it. The differences amongst the major parties are trivial and in essence amount to nothing more than detail and difference of approach. While Fine Gael accepted like the outgoing government did the overall framework of the package agreed with the IMF/EU and stated it wanted to implement it via a 27:73 ratio of taxation and cuts, ditto Labour except they wanted a 50:50 split spread over a longer period.

The United Left Alliance and Sinn Fein, riding on the wave of populism that is palpable in Irish society, adopted a more radical position of repudiation of the deal with the IMF/EU. The case of Sinn Fein is particularly instructive. They are in power in Stormont where they are attacking the working class. For example in the recently released draft budget of the Stormont administration, they plan to:

  • Implement cuts to the tune of €4.7 billion over the next four years.
  • Privatise state assets with the inevitable worsening of conditions in order to make them viable for the private sector to take them over.
  • Implement a pay freeze for 200,000 workers in the public sector.

Furthermore, they have acknowledged as a result of the cutbacks 30,000 people could lose their jobs, and those who are left might be facing an increase in the retirement age. When confronted with this their response is straightforward. Since their Exchequer funding has been cut by Downing Street they have no alternative - sounds familiar? Of course it does. It is the first defence of government’s everywhere. So Sinn Fein’s attempt to cast itself as “a stronger voice for working families, the unemployed and all those struggling to survive” is a con.

They want to live in parallel political universes north and south of the border: attacking workers in the north and try to position themselves as the voice of working class discontent in the south. Aside from this cynical and hypocritical political strategy, their perspective of Ireland ‘going it alone’ is just a nationalist fairy tale. The Irish state was confronted with the choice of bankruptcy or survival with the IMF/EU as their loan shark.

“There is nothing revolutionary about our policies” - United Left Alliance

ULA (2) was formed in order to contest the election by the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party in the form of their front operation People before Profit, which is their preferred vehicle for political activity, and the Tipperary based Workers and Unemployed Action Group that is headed by Seamus Healy (an ex-Lambertist) (3).

The ULA’s “our programme” document laid out the political basis of their campaign. As their candidate in Cork North West ‘Anne Foley’ articulated with refreshing honesty in an interview with a local paper:

I feel the ULA has very common sense policies. When people think of socialists, they think of communism, which is not the case. There is nothing dramatic or revolutionary about our policies. A lot of countries have functioning social democracies, especially in Scandinavia. They have great health, transport and childcare systems. This is the direction we want to take, a direction this Government failed to follow (4).

The aforementioned “our programme” document had a list of demands that they campaigned on and sought to win for, they were:

  1. “end the bailout”
  2. “tax the greedy not the needy”
  3. “end the jobs crisis” and
  4. “end the cuts - defend public services” (5).

Such demands are a rehash of the old Keynesian and statist myths that the harsh realty of a world in crisis can be overcome through deficit spending and nationalisation. These schemes are a utopian attempt to construct an ideal perfect capitalism without all the suffering and exploitation.

Capitalism Has No Alternative

As described above when the shit hit the proverbial fan and capitalism’s crisis engulfed the whole world it encompassed all sectors of the economy with all its devastating consequences. Its origins though lie in the long run structural crisis of capital accumulation. This has forced the bosses and their state to manage the structural crisis through various strategies such as state intervention, neo-liberalism and global financialisation. There main policy has been to relentlessly drive down the living standards of the working class. We have experienced decade after decade of having hard won gains clawed back by the ruling class in their efforts to maintain profitability. The advent of open crisis has heralded the beginning of an even greater onslaught on the working class where capitalism is demanding more and more back from workers in order to keep its system trotting along.

In this context there is no shortage of solution mongers whether it is at election time or not. Whether it is the straightforwardly rampaging austerity camp or those who are peddling national and left-wing capitalist “solutions”, is largely irrelevant. Due to the fact that both camps are committed to attacking the working class in order to restore business as usual or construct some utopian project. The end result is the same, making workers and their dependents pay for capitalism’s continued existence.

It should by now be clear that capitalism has long outlived its usefulness to humanity. Therefore, the urgent task facing working class militants is the construction of revolutionary organisations that can combat all the dead ends capitalism’s offers up, and crucially link the pressing immediate struggles against the austerity agenda to the fight for a communist world.


(1) For a fuller analysis of the crisis in Ireland, see Crisis in Ireland: A Warning to the World’s Workers in Revolutionary Perspectives no. 56.

(2) See ULA to launch two candidates in Cork in the Cork Independent, January 6th,

(3) A Trotskyist current famous for its intolerance and wild changes of positon and alliances. They are named after their founder Pierre Lambert who died in 2008.

(4) Ibid.

(5) See ULA’s programme,