Hung Parliament crisis in Ireland
The dust still has not settled on the disturbance of traditional politics in Dublin, with no new government elected – or perhaps, electable – in the new hung Dail. As the numbers just refuse to add up, behind the scenes deal brokering tries almost every combination imaginable, but the verdict from the 65% of voters who went to the poles, prevails over all the spin and misinformation of state and private media. None of the above, please!
The General Election of February 2016 marks a moment of parliamentary stalemate, but also a moment of significant historic change in the political life of the Republic of Ireland.
The outgoing (and ultra conservative) senior coalition partner, Fine Gael, achieved less than a third (50) of the 158 seats in the new Dail with 25.5% of first preference votes. Ireland uses a proportional representation system with multi-seat constituencies and a single transferable vote.
FG’s junior partner, The Labour party won seven seats with 6.6% of first preferences – frequently tail-ending in the multi-seat constituency process to be deemed elected without reaching the quota. This compares with their 37 seats in 2011! It may be an unrecoverable savaging for the ultra-Blairite labourites. In contrast, the left made a first significant breakthrough.
The Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party formed an electoral alliance, AAA/PBP (Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit) which took six seats with 3.95% of first preference votes while standing candidates in just a few constituencies. They also attracted many second, third, and further preference transfers. The new Social Democrats Party, jointly led by a Harvard economist, a former Labour TD and a former Independent TD retained its three sitting TD’s with a 3% gained in a handful of constituencies contested.
Sinn Fein took 13.85% of first preferences winning 23 seats, and for the first time, became transfer-friendly. 17.8% of votes went to independents of several stripes and 23 were elected also. They stood 50 candidates across the 40 constituencies.
The other main capitalist party, Fianna Fail, recovering from its disastrous previous drubbing, took 44 seats (with 24.35%), still a long way off its hegemonic heritage as the largest party and most frequent government leader. They have not been forgiven for their original capitulation to the Troika, nor for the consequent extreme austerity politics which has reduced whole communities to poverty. Their former coalition partners, the pro-Troika Green party took two seats (previously zero).
Beneath the well-rehearsed glossy official narrative of “keeping the recovery going”, the uncomfortable reality of growing poverty, broken promises, reducing pay packets, corporate corruption and downright lies, many people have stopped believing in the invincibility of the republic’s political class. The principal outcome of the election results has been a weakening of the state as the unpopular caretaker government remains in place pending coalition negotiations for a new regime, and these are proving tortuous.
A resurgence of pay demands, after years of cuts and freezes is spawning a strike wave lead by transport workers and nurses – the health service has been savagely affected by Troika diktat. The national housing crisis caused as Troika demands for a free-market economy now sees house prices spiral above 2008 pre-crash levels, and is asking new questions about a system which is in chaos. The capitalist parties, quite simply, have no answers to people’s demands for safe jobs, decent living accommodation, adequate public services, and the old arrangements carefully deployed in the 1920’s with a twenty-six county Catholic Free State, and a six-county Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People in the north-east, are failing to deliver stability in the rapacious conditions of free market globalisation.
The introduction of individualised charges for water services – demanded by the Troika as a step towards commodification and resource privatisation – has jarred with a population which accepted increased personal taxation some years ago, partly, and specifically, to fund water provision. The Right2Water campaign (now transformed into a broader Right2Change movement) has brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets, and produced a 10-point manifesto calling to reverse public spending cuts, asking all candidates to support water being recognised as a human right.
This question now haunts the corridors of Leinster House as cabals of centre and right leaning politicians try to concoct a government for national “stability”. Parties are riven as they now dither over pre-election support for the abolition of the Irish Water Corporation, and the ever-present Troika wags its finger at the new Dail retinue. People are beginning to realise any “economic stability” can only be built on the further social destabilising of their lives, with resulting political “instability”.
Many of the existing “caretaker” ministers stayed home this St Patrick’s Day, denied the traditional exodus to America and other exotic climes in search of inward investment. Taoiseach (PM) Enda Kenny, did bring a sprig of Official Shamrock to Barack Obama with the usual begging bowl. However, he was overheard lamenting he would rather stay in Washington than go back “and face what’s waiting for me at home”.
As this story unfolds, the two old “civil war” parties which have traditionally swapped power face a real problem. Together, they hold 94 of the present 158 seats, a comfortable majority. But these were won on the basis of long-standing sharp mutual hostility. Fianna Fail, the party of Eamon De Valera, opposed the Free State treaty in 1923, but relented and entered the Dail in 1927 (Dev calling the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown a meaningless form of words). They soon became the de facto party of Social Democracy as the trade unionists of the Labour Party drifted to the right. Post-Thatcherism saw this drift become a tidal race embracing “economic growth” as the Labour/TU block obligingly facilitated “Partnership”, emasculating militancy and setting the scene for a massive sell out of any remaining principles.
Fine Gael, on the other hand, has always backed the big money, and in the 1930’s actively supported fascism. But even taken together, both old conservative parties received 49.85% of the vote, and now threaten splitting as the back channels try to make the maths work. Neither is oblivious to the deteriorating global financial situation, although this is excluded from the heavily censored official news debates. This false narrative is wearing thin, however.
So there is presently, no elected government directing affairs in Ireland. The “caretaker” remnants of the rejected coalition remain, some ministers now sacked from the Dail. A threatening Brexit is adding to the urgency. A third of all imports come from the UK, Ireland’s biggest trading partner. And the convenient Dublin / London arrangements on travel, tax, Northern Ireland joint responsibility, mutual voting rights, and so much else, all become issues as this aspect of the EU break-up looks more and more likely.
The entire strategies of post-1916 compromises, and particularly, the historic outcomes of the 1922 counter-revolutionary Cumann Na nGaedheal (now Fine Gael) putsch, which have characterised life on this island for almost a century, are breaking up as the consequences of the globalised Great Recession of 2007/8 sharpen, both here and across Europe.
It seems the Republic of Ireland, self-declared out of the Free State in 1937, may have outlived its usefulness to the new ruling corporate bond-holding class, as the 4.5 million ordinary citizens provide an awkward result and begin to lose patience with continuing austerity. A minority government would have difficulty imposing Troika wishes, as independents and the left balk at further hardships, and another election could be expected sooner rather than later.
The coming weeks will be critical for the survival of this aging “first” 26-county republic.
22 March 2016