Fine Gael and Labour’s poor election results are right now being celebrated by the many thousands in Ireland who have struggled through long years of bitter austerity measures that have ceaselessly targeted the less well off. Some are even saying that today’s emerging results are definitive proof that the political left has found its fight, but little of this is supported by the evidence. Taoiseach Enda Kenny has conceded that the ruling Fine Gael and Labour coalition is no longer tenable as the government for the thirty-second Dáil, but it remains likely, even with the reduction expected in Fine Gael’s seats and the obliteration of the Labour Party, that Fine Gael will remain the largest party in Leinster House. This is not good news for the left.
What comes as less comfort is the fact that the second largest party in the Dáil, and the only party with which Fine Gael can form a ruling coalition save for the possibility of another election being called in March, is Fianna Fáil. Polls conducted by RTÉ and the Irish Times suggest that together Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil may be able to form the next government. This, taken with what’s left of the Labour Party and right-leaning independents, may indeed show that it is the right that has grown in support and proven that it, and not the left, is the side that has found its fight.
Europe requires “stable government,” and what we have learned from Greece, Portugal, and Spain is that to the European Union stable government is synonymous with right-wing neoliberal government and policies which advance the progress of the free market. However much Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil maintain the deceit of mutual dislike Irish politics and stable government in the country are not solely a matter for Irish parliamentarians – no matter the historical grievances. Europe demands stable government, and stable government it will get. It would be, as our quaint expression goes, in the national interest. Whatever does come of this election in the end it is beyond all doubt that Ireland will now face another five years of austerity and EU-driven spending cuts.
In terms of social justice and what is actually in the interest of ordinary Irish people it is clear that we are in a state of crisis, and real reflection is needed on the left. There is no real leftist alternative in Ireland. What we have are a number of Cold War soviet styled relics which have failed completely to transform the hunger for change on the streets into a transformative political vehicle. These antiquarian clubs and associations, which generally hide their true identities behind popular causes, use the language of solidarity and unity without any real commitment to solidity in common cause. There are only two alternatives for this obsolescent counter-cultural and fashionable para-political mess; either they get their act together and identify what Ireland really needs and start serving those ends, or they step aside and allow a new left to emerge – one that is fully literate of the changing political and social realities of the twenty-first century. Our failure to do this will do nothing but condemn Ireland to a future of dehumanising neoliberal disaster capitalism.