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Left gains in Ireland

Five deputies for the United Left Alliance, while Sinn Féin takes at least 13

February 27, 2011
4 min read

Elections to Ireland’s lower house, the Dáil, have seen a jump in representation for the left, while also rewarding Ireland’s Tories. The vote for Fianna Fáil, Ireland’s traditional party of government, slumped, leaving them with less than half the 77 seats they had before.

Fine Gael, now the largest party, is likely to seek a coalition with Labour, which has beaten its previous highest seat tally and seen a big jump since the last parliament. Yet it has done so largely with the votes of people opposed to austerity, which Fine Gael is committed to continuing, albeit with some cosmetic changes.

Ireland uses proportional representation in multi-seat constituencies of between three and five seats. The Single Tranferable Vote system is somewhat complex, and voting is still continuing in some constituencies, but the overall picture is now clear.

The Greens lost all six of their seats. They were widely criticised on the left for supporting spending cuts in coalition with Fianna Fáil. While they’ve continued to publicly justify their decision to go into the coalition by citing green reforms that would not otherwise have happened, there will surely be serious reflection going on in the party after these sobering results.

Left-republican Sinn Féin more than tripled its share of the vote, with Gerry Adams elected with 22 per cent of first preferences in Louth. In an amusing aside, David Cameron’s office was forced to apologise to Adams after he resigned from his Westminster seat to run in the Irish republic’s election. Technically MPs are not allowed to resign, so the traditional way of allowing them to do so is to give them the office of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. This is an “office of profit under the crown” which makes them ineligible to sit in the House of Commons. Cameron’s office claimed he had accepted the post, prompting Adams to reply: “I simply resigned. I was not consulted nor was I asked to accept such an office. I am an Irish republican. I have had no truck whatsoever with these antiquated and quite bizarre aspects of the British parliamentary system.”

The United Left Alliance, which was put together hurriedly at the end of last year, is mainly made up of the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party-dominated People before Profit Alliance. However, one of its five elected deputies, Séamus Healy, is the key figure in the Tipperary-based Workers and Unemployed Action Group.

Healy was elected first in the three-seat Tipperary South constituency, as was the Socialist Party’s Joe Higgins in Dublin West. Higgins made a breakthrough in the European elections in 2009 when he beat sitting Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou MacDonald to the third Dublin euro-seat. He has also been a Dáil deputy before, though not in the last parliament, and is a popular figure in Dublin for his role in the campaign against the Bin Tax.

The Socialist Workers Party’s Richard Boyd-Barrett just made it as the last of four deputies from the Dublin constituency of Dun Laoghaire. It was a run off between him and Ivana Bacik for Labour, but once she was eliminated, her votes transfered to him – though not before she had demanded a recount.

Given the nature of their breakthrough, the United Left Alliance must now consider what kind of left reorganisation it wants to pursue. Undoubtedly the ULA will become a more enduring formation, but whether it remains a simple electoral alliance or becomes something more concrete remains to be seen. In theory, its two main constituents (who are allied to parties of the same name in Britain) are fairly close politically. Yet they come from political traditions which tend to regard their own particular brand of trotskyism as sacrosanct.

Since its breakthrough in 2009, the Left Party in Germany has been copied in various places across Europe, but the model the ULA would perhaps be better looking to is the Left Bloc in Portugal, which started as an agreement between two small far-left groups and now has 10 per cent of the MPs in Portugal’s parliament.

Yet while the left has been strengthened electorally, with a Fine Gael/Labour government unlikely to upset the IMF and Europe’s neoliberal establishment (which in any case Fine Gael are part of) it will be popular mobilisation that still counts in the months to come.

James O’Nions

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