A new government has been formed in the Irish republic after the general election of 25 February saw the former ruling party, Fianna Fail, comprehensively trounced. Fianna Fail has dominated political life in that part of the Irish nation that is formally independent from Great Britain for the last eight decades, but was finally brought low by an electorate enraged at its years of pro-rich economic policies – policies which culminated in the country being forced into a humiliating and onerous £72bn EU/IMF bailout at the expense of working people and national sovereignty. (For background on the election, see ‘ Sinn Fein make solid gains as Irish voters eject government ‘, Lalkar, March 2011.)
As predicted, the new government is a coalition between Fine Gael, for now the main beneficiary of the Irish people’s disgust at Fianna Fail, and the smaller Labour Party, which also made significant gains. Despite ostensibly occupying divergent positions on the right and left of the Irish political spectrum, it took just a few cosy days of talks for these two parties to agree, as indeed they have done on a number of previous occasions, to come together in a coalition government, openly pledged to pursue an anti-poor austerity programme, differing from that pursued by the previous government in nothing but minor details.
The concessions that Labour succeeded in wresting from Fine Gael relate solely to the speed at which the screw will be turned on working people as they are made to pay the price for the capitalist crisis. Fine Gael agreed to take an extra year to reduce the budget deficit. Ireland will now aim to drive down its national debt to 3 percent of GDP by 2015, from its current level of 12 percent. Fine Gael had earlier expressed its agreement with the position of the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank that the debt should be slashed by 2014.
Fine Gael had said that 30,000 jobs needed to go in the public sector by 2014, whilst Labour said it should be ‘only’ 18,000. As a result of the coalition talks, the two parties agreed that between 18,000 and 21,000 jobs should go by 2014 and a further 4,000 should go by 2015. Alongside these job losses, there will be a major programme of privatisation of state-owned companies. Doubtless, Irish workers will remember in future how the Labour traitors traded the modestly-paid jobs of thousands for a handful of inflated ministerial salaries and the perks of office.
In fact, given the scale of the crisis in Ireland, a weak link in the capitalist chain, it is hard to see how the new government can avoid even more draconian attacks on working people than those already envisaged.
Fine Gael had apparently expected to be able to renegotiate the terms of the financial bailout with their eurozone partners. But the European imperialists have wasted no time in brutally disabusing them of this naïve notion. The EU has imposed a harsh repayment rate on Ireland of 6 percent, about twice the level demanded by the IMF, itself hardly a charitable institution! As a result, the new coalition government has already agreed to continue with the same austerity programme introduced by Fianna Fail for the next two years, whilst it negotiates (begs would be a more apt description) for some alleviation from its EU partners.
However, the French and German imperialists, in particular, have a quite different agenda – namely, inflicting more pain on the Irish people. Attending his first EU summit just days after taking office, Fine Gael leader and new prime minister Enda Kenny was told by French president Sarkozy and German chancellor Merkel that he had to impose additional austerity measures before they would even consider lowering Ireland’s interest rates. “These countries that have homework to do must do it,” Ms Merkel patronisingly declared. (Quoted in ‘Ireland pressed for deeper austerity’, Financial Times, 12 March 2011)
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, newly elected as a TD (member of the Dublin parliament) for Louth, described the Fine Gael/Labour government programme as “more of the same failed policies which were just rejected by the electorate”.
His colleague, Mary Lou McDonald, elected in Dublin Central, correctly characterised the next phase of struggle, and the realignment of Irish politics, stating: “Fianna Fail is generally in support of the policies of Fine Gael and so it will be over to Sinn Fein to provide real backbone in opposition.”
Sinn Fein’s team of 14 TDs, led by Gerry Adams, has already been doing precisely that.
Seeking to opportunistically equate his cynical power grab with both the inspiring people’s movements in Tunisia and Egypt and the Irish people’s own glorious record of anti-imperialist struggle, Enda Kenny preposterously described the results of the election, and his party’s return to office, as a “democratic revolution”.
Speaking in the Dail (Irish parliament) debate on the coalition’s Programme for Government, Gerry Adams brilliantly dissected this fraudulent claim, at the same time setting out just what the completion of the national-democratic revolution really would mean in contemporary Ireland.
Comrade Adams said: “Taoiseach [Prime Minister], in your remarks at the weekend you referred to the election results as being a democratic revolution. It was far from that.
“People did vote for change. But in this Programme for Government they are getting the same old Fianna Fail austerity strategy, as dictated by the EU and IMF, wrapped up and presented as something new and radical …
“There is no strategy for getting people back to work or resolving the economic crisis. So there is patently no excuse for describing it as a democratic revolution. Taoiseach, please call it something else, but don’t call it a democratic revolution. That has yet to come …
“And what you may wonder would a democratic revolution look like?
“Firstly, it would mean reclaiming economic sovereignty. It would mean rejecting the IMF/EU deal. Not modifying it. Not tinkering with it …
“The bank bondholders would be made to pay their own gambling debts. A real democratic revolution would ensure that the banks served the Irish economy and the economy served the people …
“A real democratic revolution would see the most vulnerable protected, the livelihoods of working people safeguarded and public services, particularly health and education, properly organised and funded and available to all on an equal basis.
“Those with the ability to contribute more would be required to do so … Healthcare and education would be provided fairly and equitably and efficiently, and the shameful division of children and of the sick on the basis of wealth or lack of it would be no more.
“To be fully democratic a democratic revolution in Ireland would also transform politics, make elected representatives more accountable and institutions more effective …
“Our natural resources would be reclaimed and used for the national benefit.
“Women would reclaim their rightful and equal place in positions of responsibility and leadership in all sectors of society.
“And of course, no-one can credibly speak of a democratic revolution in Ireland unless it ended partition, ushered in national reconciliation and united the people of Ireland and the island of Ireland.”
And in an earlier speech to the Dail, Comrade Adams made it clear that Sinn Fein would continue to campaign, not only in parliament but also in streets, workplaces and communities. He called on the Irish people “to make a stand for themselves, for their neighbours, for their communities, for the vulnerable, for the disadvantaged” and warned, “if politics is reduced to this chamber then it will be the old politics. Sinn Fein will campaign on all these issues in and out of this parliament and across this island.”