Left behind

Sinead Barry comments on the hundred years of failings in Left-wing Irish politics

Members of the Irish Women’s Workers Union

In the 1918 Irish General Election, the election of the first Dáil, the Labour party abstained from running so that the people of Ireland would have a clear choice between the two most important strands of political thought of the time: the Irish Paramilitary Party (IPP), who were in favour of Home Rule, and Sinn Féin, who were chiefly concerned with the emancipation of Ireland from British control.

Unbeknownst to them, this act of passivity would set in motion a tradition of weak left-wing politics in Ireland, which has continued for 99 years and still shows no sign of slowing. It is even rumoured that Éamonn DeValera went so far in belittling the worker’s movement that he declared publicly: “Labour must wait”. Whether he did or not, Labour claimed the backseat for their own. It is unclear what uncontested chance at power they were waiting for.

In keeping with this hands-off approach to government, Labour supporters once again refrained from campaigning in 1921 for the Treaty vote. While these actions seem insignificant when compared to the bigger political picture of the foundation of the State, it is exactly this perception that became a troublesome trope in our society.

This is the trope that everything that the Left in Ireland does is insignificant. Forever doubtful of their own right to participate in real politics, Labour created a self-fulfilling prophecy when they took themselves out of the picture all of those years ago. The majority of what the Left in Ireland have accomplished has been inconsequential.

Let it not be thought that I am skimming over the fact that the most popular Irish Party of the early 20th century, Sinn Féin, also consider themselves to be left-wing; the key difference is that socialism as a concept is more universally than nationally concerned. It is more involved with humanitarian issues than with those of the Irish people, or of any other country for that matter. Sinn Féin have always been and likely will always be a Republican party before all else. They can thus hardly be considered a true representative of the Left.

As our Free-State learned how to walk, the Left was abandoned far behind, due in part to its passive beginnings, and in part because of the influence of the Church on public opinion. The early Irish state relied immensely on the support of the Church for funding. Just how heavily the state depended on this institution is made clear in a report published by the Department of Education that asserts that a whopping 90% of primary schools are still owned by the Catholic Church today.

The Church’s firm grasp over 20th Century Irish thought, coupled with their renowned fear of anything coloured red, indisputably hindered the development of the Left wing’s already stumbling movement. Due to this, throughout the 20th century, Labour’s economic focus shifted to one more centrist and led the American historian Emmet Larkin to describe the party as “the most opportunistically conservative Labour Party anywhere in the known world”. Today, we hardly consider Labour to be inclined leftward at all. To fill its place have sprang up a number of self-inflated, babbling “liberals” with little obvious political direction.

The root of the problem facing most of the leftist Irish parties today – including but not limited to the likes of  People before Profit, and Solidarity – is that they have latched onto this fashionable and progressive idea of being left without seeming to propagate any of its ideals.

Parties such as Solidarity (aptly previously known as the Anti-Austerity Alliance) truly epitomise the anti-party. It is immensely difficult to fathom what these parties actually stand for. They instead adopt a negative approach, the complaining antithesis of politics, people who wouldn’t be able to revoke any of the things they are so enraged by if they were ever given any real power.

For example, Solidarity’s proposed budget in 2016 centred around the core idea of recovery for the majority. But their plan was knotted in contradictions, including, but not limited to, a reversal of cuts that would cost no less than €6.25 billion. This party and its many clones simply can not deliver what they promise. They are scarce more than a flickering projection of an amusing Sassy Socialist meme onto the real world.

One of the key elements of socialism is to pay relatively high taxes, and receive in return high service standards in areas such as education, healthcare and welfare. In order to pay for these fundamental services money obviously must come from somewhere. During the Irish Water fiasco these parties advocated the total boycott of this tax. Yes, there was gross mismanagement on the government’s behalf during this time. However, none of the left parties provided any alternative way to earn capital that could be spent on continuing our country’s recovery from the recession years. They march and they boycott and make it seem as though a leftist solution to any of the country’s problems is an impossible dream.

This belligerent approach to politics is what gives them their aggressive element. With these kinds of parties as our only Irish Socialist role models, it isn’t difficult to comprehend how student politics – which tends to skew left – can so easily become smeared in antagonism.

We see Trinity’s own People Before Profit (PBP) society egotistically removing pro-life posters. We see our SU president Kevin Keane striding through the Arts Block with a megaphone on march day, pressuring students to go to the March for Education in an ironic push to ensure enough people exercise their democratic rights. The self-promotion doesn’t stop there, however. Looking outward from our campus, we see this conceit mirrored in bigger politics. For example, the Communist Party appeared at the Repeal march, with not a single pro-choice banner, but instead an immense Communist one. It is clear that the Irish Left are more interested in themselves than in the ideals they claim to promote.

The general population of Ireland by no means have anti-Left tendencies. Those coming from left-wing parties as of May 2016 hold 41 seats in the Dáil. The Journal published an article stating that eighty-eight percent of people support a special tax for those earning over €100k per annum. Over half of working-class voters share left-wing ideals on tax and welfare. Why then can this country not pull together a halfway reasonable movement? From the establishment of our state the Left have claimed the back seat. Now is the time for them to grow up and learn how to drive.

Sinéad Barry

Sinéad Barry is a current Deputy Comment Editor of Trinity News. She is a Junior Sophister English Literature and Philosophy student, and a former staff writer.