SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 147 - April 2011


Socialists lead anti-austerity fight in Irish parliament

AFTER FEBRUARY’S historic election the new Dáil Éireann (lower house of the Irish parliament) assembled on March 9 to elect the Taoiseach (prime minister).

The Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny was proposed as Taoiseach by the youngest Fine Gael TD in a gushing speech. Then Labour’s youngest TD was very happy to second the proposal. The leader of the defeated Fianna Fáil party, Micheál Martin, gave his own endorsement. As people watched on live TV undoubtedly many wondered who was going to bring some reality into these proceedings, who would oppose the austerity consensus and fight for the victims of this crisis, ordinary working class people?

Gerry Adams, leading a group of fourteen Sinn Féin TDs, should have been next but in a move that will be symptomatic of the new Dáil, he was beaten to the punch by Socialist Party and United Left Alliance TD, Joe Higgins.

Joe saw Adams’ hesitation, rose to his feet quicker, was duly recognised by the Ceann Comhairle (chair), and then delivered a blistering speech that marked the cards of the new government and outlined the role that the Socialist Party and the United Left Alliance, a coalition only formed last October, would play in opposing the government’s attacks and to build a real left and socialist alternative.

In the course of the first day, new Socialist Party TD Clare Daly and the three other ULA TDs also spoke. Printed below are edited extracts from Joe and Clare’s speeches.

Deputy Joe Higgins:

I OPPOSE the nomination of Deputy Enda Kenny as Taoiseach of a Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition government. The very first sentence of the programme for government states that a democratic revolution took place in Ireland on 25 February. The Oxford dictionary defines ‘revolution’ as the overthrow of a government or social order in favour of a new system. That being the case, the programme presented by Deputy Kenny is a grotesque betrayal of that revolution because it proposes, almost to the letter, to continue the reactionary programme of the old order of the late and unlamented regime of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, a regime that was rightly reviled, rejected and sent to oblivion by the Irish people for its economic and political crimes. Given the day that it is [Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent], I am surprised that the remnants of that government did not return with their brows heavily stained with penitential ash to recognise the role it played.

The outgoing regime indulged the profiteering speculators and grasping bankers, imprisoning a generation of young working people in monstrous mortgages and negative equity. When that greedfest inevitably choked on its own excess, it treacherously connived with the EU, IMF and ECB to save the skins of the major European banks that had their snouts deep in the feeding trough that was the Irish property market where they slurped as frenetically as any Fianna Fáil developer or big Irish banker.

For this, and the crash that inevitably resulted, we see the savage attacks on the living standards of our people, which this nominee for government intends to continue. They attack public services and steal from the disabled and the poor. A revolution would overturn and reverse all that. However, this nominee for Taoiseach proposes to confirm and reinstate the discredited programme of a discredited government. Therefore, a vote for Deputy Kenny for Taoiseach is a vote not for revolution or change, but for counter-revolution and more of the same. It is a vote for monstrous cuts in the living standards of workers and the unemployed, for wholesale privatisation of public assets, for blatant new tax burdens on ordinary people, including a water tax and home tax, and for a health service held to ransom by profit-seeking private insurance companies.

The first paragraph of the first chapter of a proposal for government that would be honest would try to answer the question: ‘Why should the Irish people have their economic life-blood drained to salvage the tens of billions of euro gambled and lost by private speculators in private deals for private profit in Irish property? By what moral code does a government justify placing that millstone on our people?’ We will put that question to them again and again until it is answered.

This is not the first time an Irish political establishment responded to an Irish and Europe-wide crisis by sacrificing its people. Nearly 100 years ago, the forebears of today’s speculating European financiers and their political clients plunged into war in a vicious competition for markets, raw materials and profits. The Irish Parliamentary Party of the day will forever be remembered in infamy for its campaign to dragoon a generation of youth to feed the insatiable appetite of the imperial war makers. Today, by sacrificing our people, our services and our youth to feed the equally insatiable appetite of the wolves in the European and world financial markets – faceless, unelected and unaccountable – first Fianna Fáil and the Greens, then Fine Gael and Labour, play an equally shameful role as the Irish Parliamentary Party. It was a great Irish socialist, James Connolly, who, in opposition to that conflict, called for a torch to be lit in Ireland that would "not burn out until the last throne and the last capitalist bond and debenture" was burned. How deeply ashamed James Connolly would be today that the Labour Party he founded marches into Dáil Éireann to become part of a government that will burn not the bondholders, the speculators or the grasping big bankers but the Irish people, the working class, the unemployed, the poor and the low and middle-income workers.

The Socialist Party and the United Left Alliance rejects the right wing programme proposed by Deputy Kenny. We reject the rule of the financial markets, which is causing such crisis and suffering among our people. We demand instead that they be brought to heel and brought into public ownership and democratic control in Ireland and Europe to be used instead as vehicles of major public investment to create projects that would quickly see tens of thousands of people returning to work from the tragedy of standing in the dole queue.

The incoming government will have a crushing majority in this Dáil. It should not think from this that its economic programme of savage austerity will go unchallenged. It certainly will be challenged in this chamber and it should be remembered that we in the United Left will facilitate the mobilisation of worker power, people power and community power to defend the living standards of the vast majority of people, who are attacked by this programme.

Deputy Clare Daly:

THE TAOISEACH is being remarkably understated when he refers to a leap of faith being necessary to convince us that the programme he has outlined somehow heralds a new dawn. The reality is that it would require blind faith and a leap of such epic proportions that Cú Chulainn himself [an Irish mythological hero] would not be able to manage it. The reason we can state as much with confidence is that the programme the Taoiseach has outlined, woolly as it may be in parts, is virtually identical to that implemented by his predecessors, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, for which they paid such a heavy and justifiable price at the ballot box.

I put the government on notice that when it attempts to implement the measures outlined it will face a battle royal in communities and workplaces. It is okay in here today in that there is something of a party atmosphere. But I do not see too many people outside Leinster House partying today. Those honest mortgage holders in their modest homes, who felt their solution was in this government, will find themselves foisted with a home tax and water charges on top of their existing debt burdens. We do not see too many public sector workers celebrating the fact that 25,000 of them will lose their jobs. Neither are there celebrations among the 300,000 workers covered by employment regulation orders, such as those in the catering industry, some of whom greeted us on our way into Leinster House this morning. Their employment terms and conditions are now up for review as a result of the government’s recommitment to the structural reform programme outlined by its predecessor.

As colleagues earlier stated, many in the semi-state sector, from which I came, are not happy and are fearful the only concrete figures for revenue-generation proposed in the programme for government will come from the sell-off of what the government parties deem to be non-strategic state assets. The Socialist Party and the United Left Alliance believe all state assets are strategic and important. It is economic lunacy to attempt to dispose of these assets. I assure the government that its efforts in this regard will be met with vigorous opposition by those of us on this side of the chamber, by our colleagues in the workplace and the communities which we represent.

When they voted for this government, people hoped they were voting for change. What they got, however, was more of the same. The Taoiseach should be aware the people will not wait five years to give him the same medicine they gave his predecessor. His programme for government will be met with active opposition in the real world, the one in which people are not partying today. I give him our pledge that we will be to the forefront in raising these issues in the chamber and taking the battles in here outside to communities.

I sincerely hope the Taoiseach enjoyed today because his honeymoon will be incredibly short-lived.

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