Donoghue’s call came after a decade of austerity perpetrated by the richest section of Irish society on the poorest. During the crisis years, 650,000 people were pushed into poverty as successive governments took vital resources away from them to bail out bankers. Hospital waiting lists became the longest in Europe and social welfare was decimated thanks to a cumulative cut of over €30 billion. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people were thrown out of jobs or their houses. These were not the actions of ‘enlightened centrists’—but of neoliberal extremists’, hell-bent on protecting the interests of Irish capitalism.
The response of the Irish ruling class has been framed around three policy initiatives. Their first step was to form a ‘Confidence and Supply Agreement’ between FF and FG to last for three annual budgets. The primary aim of this arrangement was to stop Sinn Féin from becoming the main opposition party and to halt the rise of the radical left.
Their second step was to rely on what was then an emerging economic recovery to reduce the level of class struggle in Irish society. Initially this meant granting concessions to working people on issues like water charges and bin charges, but as the recovery gathers strength, the right has become embolden in pursuing a more reactionary agenda. This is clearly seen in the ratcheting up of attacks on the left and in Leo Varadkar’s recent willingness to use dog-whistle politics to divide working people against each other.
The third element of their strategy is to successfully manage a liberalising population. Since the failure of the first divorce referendum in 1986, the trend has been to the left on social issues. Subsequent referenda have passed on women’s right to travel for abortion, on divorce and on equal marriage for the LGBTQ community.
Here Varadkar has proven himself a skilful operator, successfully projecting an image of a leader capable of modernising Irish capitalism. Varadkar’s rise through the ranks of the FG party was built on a stable diet of reactionary conservatism.
Their aim is to get abortion off the political agenda in a way that stops the left from gaining. So far this has had some success at the top of the movement, but found little traction in the grassroots of the campaign.
Meanwhile, there is every possibility that another recession would disproportionately affect the highly open and unusually financialised Irish economy.
More immediately, the government risks being tripped up on domestic matters. The recent scandal over cervical cancer misdiagnoses has the real possibility of bringing down the current government. Here in full view is a rotten state institution, the Health Service Executive, which cuts corners in the care of female citizens and attempts to close ranks to protect itself from transparency and accountability
The Irish state has been happy to let women die in the course of protecting itself and as this becomes common knowledge, it risks undermining the carefully laid plans of the neoliberals. Coming in the midst of the scandal in the Gardaí over the Whistleblower Maurice McCabe, there is a real sense of crisis for the institutions of the state.
The left is meanwhile beginning to renew itself in ways that will cause problems for the establishment. The Great Recession (2008) came too soon for a working class tied into social partnership and a Left that was marginalised by decades of high growth and employment.
Next time around, revolutionary forces will have a small but significant presence in Irish society and will be better placed to lead future struggles around jobs, conditions and social services. Whether the left is up to this challenge remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that the so-called centrists will continue to “loosen their own form of anarchy on the world” in a bid to protect their power and privileges. The role of progressive forces must be to ensure that this neoliberal centre cannot hold.
This post is from Rebel.ie and was originally titled “Irish Politics: Can The Centre Hold?” I’ve shortened the article slightly to make it more blog friendly, for the full article with more facts you can follow the link.
Rebel is a socialist website dedicated to challenging establishment politics here in Ireland and beyond, and to creating a platform for alternative left-wing viewpoints to be aired. The website is organised by members of the Socialist Workers Network; a revolutionary socialist organisation and component part of the 32 county socialist party People Before Profit.
You might also like the following three articles from their website:
Trumponomics: Symptoms of a Declining Empire
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Is a United Ireland inevitable?
Sinn Féin has been arguing that support for the EU is the main way to strengthen the fight for independence in Ireland, even going as far as to describe them as their “gallant allies”. But the hard facts suggest that the EU has been an enemy of national sovereignty, or anything that upsets their applecart. Take two recent examples. Firstly, the experience in Catalonia where a majority of people in the country voted in a poll to secede from Spain. The response of the EU? They sat silently as Spain violently crushed the movement, refused to recognise the vote, and assisted them in hunting down the democratically elected leaders of Catalonia. It was the same story in Greece. After the popular “Oxi” vote against austerity, the EU simply ignored them and pressured the Syriza government to capitulate. Since then, the Greek people have been forced to endure a vicious program of austerity that they never voted for.
Racism and the 1%
If you are rich and powerful, how do you explain and justify your wealth and power not only to the world but also to yourself? Do you say I understand that capitalism, by its nature, produces wealth at one pole of society and poverty at the other and I’m very lucky to be at the rich end? Do you say I made my wealth by exploiting the labour of those who worked for me? Of course not: you say I made my money and established my power by my hard work and my personal cleverness and superiority. Even if you know you inherited your wealth, you say that was because of the hard work and superiority of your forefathers. In other words you believe that social position and status is primarily determined by individual personal endeavour and ability. That those at the top are there because they are personally superior in one way or another than those at the bottom.
Now consider the situation of Travellers. When the rich and privileged look at Travellers, they see people living in the worst conditions of any social group in Ireland; they see poverty, bad housing, low educational achievement, high rates of mental distress and suicide and, of course, issues with the police and the law. And their whole way of thinking stemming from their own privileged life makes them see these terrible conditions not as the result of centuries of oppression and exclusion, but as brought about by Travellers’ own failings. Hence the mantra from establishment that Travellers must address the ‘issues in their own community