Ireland: An Historic Election

How can real change be delivered?

Socialist Party (ISA in Ireland) statement

General Election 2020 was historic, the combined vote of the two main capitalist parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael went below 50%. 2016 was the first, when it dipped just below 50% by 0.2%. However, this time it plunged to just 43.4% — an historic low.

The election unfolded around the desire from below for “real change. Sinn Féin (radical nationalist) were the winners, receiving the biggest share of the popular vote at 24.53%, but Fianna Fáil have taken the most seats, as Sinn Féin didn’t stand enough candidates to maximise the full value of its surge in support.

Will Sinn Féin (SF) use this platform to initiate a real challenge, not just to the parties of Irish capitalism, but to the system itself?

If SF (and the Greens) ruled out coalition with either Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, it could give a huge impetus to creating an active “people power” movement of trade unionists, working-class people generally, but particularly young people, which really could change Irish society. We believe that is the course Sinn Féin and the Greens should take.

However, both parties have stated their preparedness to go into coalition with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. If that was to happen, they would be responsible for casting the hopes and aspirations of the people who voted for real change last Saturday down a cul-de-sac of disappointment, as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s primary role is to ensure the interests of corporations and the super-rich are protected. We also note that Sinn Féin has said it has no red lines and that all the proposals it put forward in the election are negotiable, and in a coalition government in the North (Northern Ireland is a separate entity ruled by Britain), it has implemented policies detrimental to the interests of working people.

Difficult context

Solidarity, incorporating the Socialist Party (ISA in Ireland), stood in nine constituencies. However, our main focus was on trying to re-elect our two sitting TDs, Mick Barry in Cork North Central and Ruth Coppinger in Dublin West. We were part of a broader alliance, Solidarity-People Before Profit.

A mood for real change reflected primarily in the surge in support for Sinn Féin as the biggest political force that was not part of the establishment parties. The general context of the election was difficult.

In 2016 we were coming off the back of the mass movement against the water charges, which we had helped initiate and lead and which boosted people’s confidence. Since then people have in general stepped back from active involvement, with the exception of an active struggle on repeal (for abortion rights) for a time in 2018.

The results

We were delighted that Mick Barry was deservedly re-elected in Cork North Central. Mick withstood a huge squeeze from Sinn Féin, who got 26.7% of the first preference vote (more than double its vote from 2016), to win the last seat. Mick has been a brilliant socialist voice and workers representative.

We were very disappointed that Ruth Coppinger missed out on being re-elected by a few hundred votes in Dublin West. This contest was one of the most competitive in the state. There was the surge to Sinn Féin, which took 28% (again double that of 2016). In addition, the Greens have had a longer term surge, going from 4% in the constituency in 2016 to more than 11% this time. In this extremely difficult context, it was an incredibly strong performance for Ruth to achieve 10%, Ruth will continue to champion the causes of workers, women and the planet outside the Dáil.

Our disappointment is matched by that of many in Dublin West and nationally, particularly (but in no way exclusively) of women because of the decisive role that Ruth played on all the issues affecting women. When the possibility of Ruth losing out became apparent, one woman tweeted: “it’s going to be a massive shame if Ruth Coppinger doesn’t retain her seat. this woman has been the face of so much change and an absolute icon to young women in politics… I adore that woman with my entire heart and will personally riot if she doesn’t retain her seat”.

We feel it necessary to make special mention of Sandra Fay’s stance in Dublin South West, as our decision to stand in this area was unfairly criticised by some as damaging to Paul Murphy’s chances of being re-elected.

Solidarity and the Socialist Party had every right to stand in Dublin South West, where we have been standing continually in elections for nearly 25 years. We faced the defection of our TD, who had benefited from the base that the party had built up over decades as well as the hard work of many party members to get him elected, not once, but twice. We had every right to stand, and the ability to do that without materially affecting Paul Murphy’s prospects is one of the benefits of the PR-STV voting system.

When Sandra went out of the contest on 3,696 votes, she gave a massive transfer of over 2,400 votes — two thirds of her total — that propelled him just shy of the quota to be elected.

Solidarity and the Socialist Party will continue to try to assist working people and young people to get organised and to fight on the issues, and at the same time fight for genuine socialist change. Due to the climate change crisis it is becoming ever clearer, democratic public ownership and planning of the key wealth and economic resources by working people is the only solution to the intractable problems of capitalist society.

Government formation — no coalition with FF or FG

Sinn Féin in particular, but the Greens too, should categorically rule out coalition with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

The sole purpose of these two parties is to preserve the rigged capitalist economy and state which favours the super-rich and big business.

It is appropriate to remember the profound disappointment that followed when in 1992 and again in 2011, Labour got a huge vote promising change and then brought Fianna Fáil, and more recently Fine Gael back into power.

There has been some comment about possible attempts to try to establish a government that doesn’t include Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, but nearly everyone else. We understand why this is attractive for people, but clearly it would be difficult to achieve.

The Socialist Party believes it is correct to discuss with any party that desires real change and is serious about fighting for the interests of ordinary working people.

We say the state must immediately move to build 100,000 affordable homes to rent or to buy; implement a €15 minimum wage and enshrine the right of workers to be represented by the union of their choice in law; massively invest to establish proper public services and an end to all forms of privatisation that has undermined public services, particularly in health; separate church and state; argue that real unity among working people in the north and, north and south, based on our common interests as working class people is crucial and would oppose approaches or policies that would stoke up dangerous sectarian division, potential violence or any form of coercion of either community.

Crucially, to underpin real change, it’s necessary to break with the rigged capitalist economy through the democratic public control and ownership of the key wealth and economic resources.

If the outline of an alternative government was brought together, we would argue that left and socialist TDs should adopt the above approach as a bottom line. If these changes aren’t agreed, such an alternative government would be at the mercy of the vested capitalist economic interests who currently control the economy.

However, we wish to state very clearly, if there was a choice for the next government between such an alternative new government, that doesn’t have the involvement of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael and a government dominated by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, we would advocate that left and socialist TDs vote to allow the new government come to power, while not participating in it. In that way, ordinary people will see in practice what approach and policies the new government implements, and our job will be to hold them to account on their promise of real change and proceed to organise workers, women and young people to continue the struggle for such real change.

Regardless of exactly what happens in the weeks and months ahead, the huge rejection of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael and the desire for real change is the single most important thing to come out of this election. People voted for Sinn Féin in huge numbers, now the issue is, will Sinn Féin act in a way to really represent that desire for fundamental change or will they rescue Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, as Labour did in 1992 and 2011.