Political pundits are predicting meltdown for Fianna Fail at the Irish general election on 25 February, maybe losing more than half their seats. Considered the ‘natural party of government’ since coming to power in 1932, Fianna Fail has always had the most seats and the biggest share of the vote since 1933, and been in power for 61 of the last 79 years.
Whatever the result, all four of the main political parties in Ireland voted through the austerity measures required to get the €85 billion bail-out from the IMF and the EU. Whatever party or parties forms the next government, it will have little room for manoeuvre.
There will be €15 billion worth of cuts over the next 3 years, cutting, among many other things, the minimum wage, benefits and public sector jobs, following on from the billions already gouged from state expenditure. The economy has shrunk by over 20% in the past two years: even the most optimistic forecasts show only a marginal recovery for the foreseeable future. The 14% unemployment rate is the highest ever in absolute numbers and, of the 34 OECD states, only Spain and Slovakia have higher rates. Employment in the construction industry more than halved between 2008 and 2010. While thousands more are forecast to lose their jobs this year, a record 50,000 people are predicted to emigrate from Ireland in 2011, more than in any of the years of the 1980s’ recession.
Because the outgoing Fianna Fail/Green Party government is being widely blamed for the effects of the capitalist economic crisis in Ireland, other combinations of bourgeois parties are being backed to take over the running of the Irish state. The most popular prediction is for another Fine Gael/Labour Party coalition. This would be the seventh time this combination had been in charge. For all the supposed differences between the right wing Fine Gael and social democratic Labour, they have not found any difficulty in the past in enforcing austerity.
Some are predicting that, with a backlash against the ‘excesses’ of ‘free market’ capitalism, Labour and Sinn Fein will benefit, and be capable of forming a government in alliance with others. Should this unlikely first ever left wing Irish government transpire, the programmes of each party indicate that they will be perfectly capable of managing the state in the interests of Irish capitalism – for all that Gerry Adams continues to insist that he is a “subversive”.
The response of the working class in Ireland to the attacks on their conditions of life has been limited. In recent years there have been a number of massive, but union-dominated marches in response to different waves of austerity measures. The influence of the unions is still significant. Last year a number of major unions agreed a 4-year strike ban. While this is still holding there is still the potential for workers to see beyond the parliamentary games, beyond ‘responsible’ trade unionism, beyond the lies of Irish nationalism, and launch struggles in defence of their own class interests.