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Irish Labour defy voters to help Fine Gael implement Fianna Fail austerity programme

Having ridden to power on the back of Fianna Fail’s unpopularity, the new Irish government is promising more of the same. Buried away as a throwaway line at page 16 of the 64 page coalition agreement it says:

We believe it is appropriate, in order to enhance international credibility, to stick to the aggregate adjustment as set out in the National Recovery Plan for the combined period 2011-2012.”

As Brendan Keenan observes in the Irish Independent:

Brief though it is, that is a very different message from the happy tone of the rest of the document. It is worth recalling that the ‘aggregate adjustment’ agreed with the EU/IMF calls for an extra €4bn of tax revenues next year and a €2bn fall in the cash value of current government spending.”

The coalition also promises to cut 25,000 public sector jobs. And with some justice the defeated Fianna Fail party points out that the actual policies of the coalition are little different from their own, which were resoundingly rejected by the electorate

Fianna Fail, now on the opposition benches with just 20 TDs, last night claimed the new coalition partners had already distanced themselves from their “electoral populism” and “false promises”.

Fianna Fail backbencher Niall Collins claimed the new Government had “fudged” on the commitment to cut €9bn between now and 2014 and was preparing to implement a range of “hidden taxes” in the areas of property and water.

“And claims they can take out up to 25,000 from the public sector by way of voluntary redundancies without affecting frontline services is nonsense,” he said.

“They are just fooling themselves.”

The plan agreed between the former Fianna Fail government and the EU/IMF called for both increasing taxes; and also cut backs in public spending. The plan says government spending should be €48bn by 2014 — more than €6bn less than in 2010. Fine Gael’s manifesto said it should shrink even more.

The knock on economic impact of this scale of spending reduction is not assessed, and indeed the economic cost of laying off 25000 state jobs is uncosted in the coalition agreement. They seem oblivious to the argument that decreasing economic activity reduces government income, and can thus widen the gap between state income and expenditure.

The Irish Independent reports Sinn Fein Dail leader Gerry Adams describing the Fine Gael-Labour programme as broad commitment to implement Fianna Fail’s four-year plan.

‘Undoubtedly many of those who voted for Labour, in particular, on the promise of change will be bitterly disappointed today,’ Mr Adams claimed.

The new Programme for Government is ‘bad news’ for low- and middle-income families, the low paid, those on welfare and public sector workers.

‘The continuation of an austerity approach means further depressing the economy and gives very little hope that jobs will be created,’ Mr Adams said.

‘We will scrutinise every move made by this coalition and make sure it is held to account — we will stand up for ordinary people.’”

Left TDs, Joe Higgins, Richard Boyd Barrett and Seamus Healy have accused Labour of signing up for “wholesale attacks” on working people.

Indeed it does seem peculiar, that the Labour Party has decided to enter the government, rather than lead the opposition; reinforcing a pattern of Irish exceptionalism where the lines between left and right are blurred. Given that the largest non-government party, Fianna Fail, actually agrees with the main thrust of government policy, then the task of holding the government to account will mainly fall to Sinn Fein.

7 Comments

  1. Colm says:

    Nonsense. Labour voters transfered more to Fine Gael than Sinn Fein and the various far left factions combined. http://www.boards.ie/vote/transfers.php

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Colm: Are you seriously suggesting that Labour voters voted in favour of the Fianna Fail austerity programme?

  2. Colm says:

    I’m saying they voted in favour of being in a government coalition with Fine Gael, and not to “lead the opposition”. As much as Sinn Fein try to present themselves as of the left, and as much as the British far left have rushed to believe them, Irish Labour voters have never bought it.

  3. andy newman says:

    Colm

    Thank you for being so direct in confiming the difference in political culture between the Irish and British Labour Parties.

    From the perspective of the British Labour Party there would seem nothing odd about leading the opposition when you gain the second largest number of seats in parliement.

    It would however seem odd for the Labour Party in Britain to join a Tory led coalition; and outside of wartime, the only occasion where this happened (in 1931) saw the Labour Party split, as the unions repudiated those MPs who joined the national government.

    As it happens, I understand that some 10% of the Party voted against joining the coalition, including one TD, and the position of joining the coalition was opposed by UNITE and TSSA.

    As Colm Lawless, National Chairperson, Labour Youth, wrote only a few days ago in a letter to the Irish Times

    Unfortunately, Fine Gael already has the capacity to receive support from Independents and Fianna Fáil, making a Labour contribution to government irrelevant. In 1994, when there was an almost even split between Democratic Left/Labour and Fine Gael, with FG on 47 seats and DL/Lab on 38. In that situation, it was necessary and productive for Labour to be in government and indeed that coalition achieved a great deal. We campaigned for Gilmore to be taoiseach and to break the mould of Irish politics in the recent general election. The electorate have voiced their opinions and offered us an historic opportunity to be a real force in Irish politics. It is important that we seize it, and offer a coherent opposition, which can implement real change for the people of this country.

    We must not prop up Fine Gael and offer that party a monopoly of power. Fine Gael and Labour are distinctly different parties. In any other European state, we would lead the opposition. It ought to be no different in Ireland.

    Allowing a government to form with 114 seats out of 166 is inherently undemocratic and would allow a discredited Fianna Fáil, who the people rejected outright, lead the charge. Labour Youth believes that this new government must be accountable to the people, and the only way of achieving that is by creating a strong opposition, led by the Labour Party and Mr Gilmore

  4. andy newman says:

    the analysis of transfers that Colm refers to is also interesting.

    It shows that about 22% of Labour voters gave a transfer vote to Fine Gael. Which means of course that the majority of Labour voters did not transfer to Fine Gael.

    The figures also show that Labour voters were twice as likely to give a transfer to Sinn Fein compared to Fine Gael or FF voters; and that more Labour voters transfered to Sinn Fein than to United Left Alliance candidates.

    Wne considering the evidence, we must also factor in that this was the Labour Party’s best ever election, and as such they received the support of many who are not natural Labour voters; so it is very hard on this evidence to draw any firm conclusions of what Labour voters intended.

    However we do know that former Marxist members of the Democratic Left, like Eamon Gilmore, who are the current leadership of the Labour Party claimed when they merged the two parties that their project was to deliver a left/right axis in Irish politics, and step away from the exceptionalism where the height of Labour’s ambition might be to prop up the blueshirts in power.

    Labour have accepted a poisoned chalice; and in so doing have effectively ended for ever the project that the Democratic Left set themselves.

  5. Colm says:

    The majority did not transfer to Sinn Fein because in most instances they would’ve transferred to a second Labour candidate where there was one.

    “As it happens, I understand that some 10% of the Party voted against joining the coalition, including one TD” – Sounds like overwhelming support for the coalition from the party then.

  6. andy newman says:

    well there may indeed be overwhelming support from the party for entering the coalition, but that doesn’t mean that the decision is unproblematic, and perhaps disastrous.

    i) It is an explicit abandonment of the entire strategic political project of those like Eamon Gilmore, Pat Rabbitte (and five other former Workers Party members who are now Labour TDs), to align Irish politics around a normal left/right axis.
    ii) it places the Labour Party on a collision course with the major unions, particularly as you are explicitly rejecting the alternative economic policies advocated by UNITE in Ireland
    iii) Labour will have negligible influence in the government, but will be held responsible for its failings by the electorate.

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