With five days to go to polling in the general election, momentum appears to be with the Fine Gael party which may attain power without the need for Labour in coalition. That is a daunting prospect both for Fine Gael and for Irish people who are struggling to survive the economic disaster that has been visited on them – those dependent on social welfare, on inadequate incomes or who are burdened with excessive levels of debt including mortgage debt, on those out of work and students waiting to take their place beside them in the dole queue or, more likely, the emigrant ship.
The upside for Fine Gael in taking power on its own or with a number of independents is having a free hand to introduce its policies without the need for compromise, but this brings with it the significant downside of having sole responsibility for the failure of those policies, and there will be failures. Despite its PR literature, Fine Gael is not a centre-right but rather a right-wing party. Its roots are an interesting reminder. Born in 1933 out of the remnants of the regressive and repressive Cumann na nGaedheal party which joined forces with the quasi-fascist National Guard – better known as the Blueshirts, Fine Gael has always been on the right of the Irish political landscape. Broadly speaking it is a ‘law and order’ party with a strong impulse towards ‘Thatcherite’ economic policy and a marked subservience towards the ‘European project’.
The upside for Irish politics is that Labour would be placed in opposition, which it would lead for the first time in that party’s existence, but would be under pressure from other opposition parties of the left – Sinn Fein and the ULA, and leftist independents. That would force Labour to rediscover the core values of the party and to re-engage with its principal founder, James Connolly, with his socialist republican analysis and ideas, and with the values of the Irish Republic of 1916. This would become even more necessary with the attempt by a greatly diminished ‘new’ Fianna Fail to reconnect with its early radicalism so as to challenge Labour and Sinn Fein in the subsequent election.
Ultimately this scenario, while creating additional short-term suffering for those currently experiencing hardship, would lead Ireland away from the Tweedledumb-Tweedledumber politics of the past 80 years and towards a politics that spans from left to right – the norm in western parliamentary democracies. In the run-up to the centenary of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic this would be a boon for the citizens.
In the project of creating the enlightened, progressive Irish Republic it is not this election that matters, as much as the one to follow. Wishing for short-term right-wing success this time out is not as crazy as it seems!