Time for Irish Left to put Unity is Strength into practice

What lessons are there for the political Left to draw from the recent General Election in the south of Ireland. [RoI] On the surface it looks pretty dark, the more so if one has been reading the press, who have been proclaiming that the election has been a disaster for the Irish Left. All agree SF had a very disappointing election, the party started the campaign with five TDs in the Dáil and leadership hopes of at the very least doubling that number; and being invited by Bertie Ahearn to join a Fianna Fáil led coalition Government. Only to come down to earth with a hefty bump with the unexpected loss of Sean Crowe’s Dublin South West, and far from making any gains SF came out of the election with four seats in the Dáil, one down on their number in the last parliament.

The Green Party were defending six parliamentary seats all of whom were elected in the 2002 general election, they maintained this number and increased their first preference votes by almost 1%. Nothing spectacular but they must have come out of the election pretty pleased, not least because Bertie Ahearn called them in for talks about entering a coalition with FF.

As I write the Greens have just rejected his offer, which seems to have surprised many media pundits, who were basing their analyses partly on the fact the Green Party in Germany entered into a coalition government in 1998 with Gerhard Schröder’s party the SPD. Over looking the fact that this was a Red-Green progressive coalition, all be it not of the deepest red. If the Green Party had entered a coalition with FF it would have negated much of what the Green’s stood for, as Bertie far from being on the left, is on economic matters a neo-liberal and pro globalization to boot, which is anathema to most Green Party members.

Labour came out of the count with twenty seats, the same number as they gained in the 2002 general election, although they were one seat down, having gained an extra TD in a bye-election during the course of the Parliament.

The Socialist Party were hardest hit on the left, loosing their only sitting TD Joe Higgins, which was a blow to not only the SP but the left in general, as Joe was a real asset to the struggle for justice, equality and the re-distribution of wealth.

Tony Gregory always a force for the good and Independent TD for Dublin Central,who most would consider as being on the left politically was reelected.

Whilst certainly not a good night for the left, which can ill afford to lose a single seat, let alone two of its more prominent players, it was far from the disaster the media has portrayed and if only the parties which can loosely be described as being on the left could see it, an opportunity could evolve which could lead the left to both grow and punch well above its electoral weight. Although I will not be holding my breath as in all probability, far from seeing this set back as an opportunity to revisit their political strategy, the leaderships of SF and the LP will covertly move their organizations into the centre of Irish politics in the mistaken belief that if it works for Bertie and Enda it will for them. Which is to miss the point entirely.

There are three options as to the future that the left within the southern State could take,

1/ They can remain as they are, begging for scraps from the Fianna Fáil- Fine Gael table in the hope of being invited into a coalition government. Which would enable the top leaderships to prance about on the ‘national’ stage and get their bottoms into the seat of a government limo and at best give the rank and file a resemblance of power and a slight hope that being in government may enable their party leaders to mitigate the more right wing polices of the government. The down side for a small party entering into a coalition is that when the Taoiseach becomes unpopular, as they all eventually do, so to will his coalition partners. History also teaches that no smaller coalition partner has ever been able to use that position as a springboard to electoral growth, the reverse is true. What the 2007 election tells us is that in this supposedly non-ideological world, it seems the Irish electorate sees little point in voting for the monkey when it can vote for the organ grinder.

2/ If those parliamentary parties that claim to be on the left, the GP, SF, LP, and left wing Indies were to come together in this parliament and form a parliamentary opposition block, they would be a considerable force in the new parliament, if successful they could enter the next general election as a loose coalition, This would enable them to offer a viable left alternative to the electorate and if they gained support at the polls, they would then be able to enter any negotiations as to a future coalition government as a power in their own right and not an after thought which is regarded by the main party leaders like a needy relation. Admittedly this is extremely unlikely due to deep hostility between the LP and SF leaderships, which dates back to the split that took place in the Irish Republican Movement in 1969-70.

3/ In my view Number 3 is the most viable option and offers a real chance for a section of the left to punch above its weight and in the process gain more electoral support. In the previous Dáil the 11 Independent TDs, the Green Party and Sinn Fein agreed to form a technical group. This gave them the right to speaking time in the Dáil, to call private members debates on topical issues and to quiz the Taoiseach during leaders’ questions. Before this grouping came into being, they had to request the other parties to give up some of their speaking time for them.

If, less some of the Indies who are not of the left, this block was to be reformed both within the Dáil and in the country as a whole, and managed to work closely together on the numerous issues and campaigns its members agreed about. It would gradually gain respect and name recognition amongst the electorate and come the next General Election if the left had not formed a coalition to fight the election on the lines of for example the Union (L’Unione) in Italy or the United Left (Izquierda Unida) in Spain. The political Party’s and individuals who make it up could enter the electoral contest on a manifesto that stated clearly that whilst they were contesting the election as individual party’s etc, if elected they would enter into any coalition talks as a group with clear demand based on their manifesto commitment.

This would be making it clear to the electorate that they would only enter into a coalition if a considerable part of their manifestos were to be implemented by any incoming government. The advantage for the electorate would be they could vote for a left party for the first time knowing if elected there was an above average chance of getting a good part of its platform onto the statue book; and not just a handful of leftist bottoms on to government limo seats and if they were unable to reach agreement on joining a coalition, there would be a powerful progressive opposition block within parliament.

I suppose what I am suggesting is that those of us who are on the left, what ever our political or past differences, can sink or we can swim together and in the process hopefully help build a nation of fairness, equality and prosperity for all. There is simply not the electoral space for a mirage of leftist party’s, not least because they are all aiming at the same core section of the electorate, thus far from gaining support they often cancel each other out.

The L’Unione coalition in Italy is important as prior to it coming into being the Italian left, the largest political organization in the country failed to gain governmental power. True this was mainly due to the cold war and US interference in Italian politics, but it was not only that. Post 1989 the left throughout Europe [including Ireland] has been fragmented in a host of differing factions, Party’s and organizations. In Italy, the Oak Tree and L’Unione coalitions have been a real attempt to amalgamate these different political viewpoints in a single electoral tool.

The majority of those who are to the left of the SDP in Germany have recently founded the Left Party and similar projects are in place throughout the EU with the European Party of the Left at the center.* A valiant attempt to unite the left was made in Scotland with the Scottish Socialist Party, unfortunately this ended in failure due to personality clashes and possibly covert interference by the British intelligence service and its friends in the Murdoch media empire. Never the less perhaps it is time the Irish left seriously considered a project that unites the left in an electoral platform.




Filed under Irish Left/Politics.

7 responses to “Time for Irish Left to put Unity is Strength into practice

  1. Chris Gaskin

    A good piece Mick.

    Eoin O’Broin said something similar a couple of years ago in An Phoblacht.

    As a Sinn Féin member I have serious concerns about the Labour Party and their position on the National question. The neo-stickies who lead them are a serious impediment to any left wing unity.

    I favour Sinn Féin being part of a broad left wing, progressive, consensus.

    I would like to see the left grow and flourish in Ireland. This will only happen when left wing parties stand together and stop fighting one another in the vain hope of being the mudguard for either of the failed civil war parties.

  2. Anonymous

    Can’t see your third option happening Mick. There are too many splits within the left for it to come together to form any sort of united voice, and even if they did I’m wondering about where that would leave Sinn Fein. Would it be buried among all the other parties of the left and ultimately be subsumed by them? they’d fight among themselves to see who could rise to the top and gain more prominence. I really cannot see it working. Like the Scottish model you refer to, personality clashes (with or without British or Irish intelligence service medling)would see all three of your suggestions end in failure.

    Neo stickies?? Chris??? That was very amusing.

  3. Mick Hall


    I do not disagree with your somewhat bleak assessment, but if we look at the pitiful number of votes cast for the once mighty French CP yesterday in the first round of the parliamentary elections; and remember what happened to the workers party vote. It seems to me self preservation alone should make the left consider some form of an electoral coalition.

    We both mentioned the failure of the SSP, but again the lesson there is that as a single entity the left gained six seats in the Scottish parliament, once the split asunder they gained sod all.

    No left was more dogmatic, argue-some and cantankerous than the Italian left, yet they have come on in giant strides since the Union coalition. As to SF, I believe they could be the anchor of any left electoral coalition, as they are such a disciplined party. I suppose it depends on whether SF is a party in the mould of Connolly or if its critics are correct and it is just another nationalist party in the tradition of FF and the SDLP.

  4. Anonymous

    What bollocks. Sinn Fein part of the Left in Ireland? I dont think so. Nationalism and Socialism is a bad mix – look at Germany.
    Gaskin and all you others should reflect that actually underneath it all Sinn Fein is a facist party

  5. Mick Hall


    To claim that SF is a fascist party is simply to fail to understand the nature of fascism. Just because a political party does things one believes are bloody awful does not make them fascist, simply a bunch of shits or criminals.

    Fascism is the means the ruling class [or into days society the power elite’s] use at times of great economic and political crises to maintain themselves in power. It plays to the lowest human denominator, bigotry, racism, national differences; and is against all protective organizations that represent the working classes, i e left political parties, trade unions. WC press etc.

    What ever you may think of SF they do not fall into this category. indeed it is impossible not to place them on the left if one takes into account their international affiliations within the EU and the content of their election manifesto.

  6. Anonymous

    Mick let us look at the unity of the left as seen from a NI perspective. The on line publication you wrote for the blanket cannot now be seen to be part of the left in Ireland. Anthony McIntyre was a member of the Ireland Palestinian solidarity campaign when he ran the cartoons on his website, no one at the belfast branch knew of his intention to do so. There was a significant fall out among comrades when Twomey and McIntyre decided to run these cartoons, which can hardly be said to be a blow for free speech since they’d already been published elsewhere. Now his website is suffering from lack of contributions. Again Leftist republican politics is not united either. How therefore would it be possible for the left to unite in the south with SF and the Irish Labour party the PDs etc all holding such diverse ‘ideas’ of what leftist politics consists of. There will never be unity of the left in Ireland, it has about as much chance of unity as republicanism does. Dismal I know.

  7. Mick Hall

    On the points you raise, like you I believe McIntyre and Twomey made a mistake when they published the cartoons and I told them so at the time and wrote a piece for the blanket pointing my opposition out. The fact they published it confirmed my belief in them.

    I feel the comrades who now refuse to publish their work in the blanket are badly mistaken, after all at least one of them seems to have no problem with writing for the Belfast Telegraph. I am not condemning Eamon for doing this, as the whole purpose is to get progressive political ideas out there. But to then boycott the Blanket as if it were a matter of principle was plain wrong.[imo]

    The fact that a single mistake/political difference immediately led to this, just shows that many on the left still prefer the isolation of the phone box to tolerating political differences amongst comrades.

    You write that your conclusions about uniting the left are dismal and so they are. For the fact is if we include SF there is now a section of the left both within parliamentary forums and out, who are having an influence on the body politic of ireland, all be it small, but with potential. Alone we do not have a hope of growing, united in a left coalition their is a real chance of making progress. I would add without some sort of loose coalition sections of this left will go the way of the LP and the Workers Party in the 1990s.

    There are three alternatives for the left, the safety and intolerance of the phone box, to struggle and argue for some kind of United Front, to go home and shut the door and await better days.

    Finally as you mentioned the north of Ireland, myself I believe the left should organize on an all Ireland bases and that would include any UF.

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