The Socialist Party in Ireland, the Irish section of the CWI, scored spectacular successes in the recent Irish elections. Joe Higgins was re-elected as a TD (MP) in Dublin West, coming second out of the three elected candidates. He got 6,442 first preference votes, 21.5%, which rose to7,853 on the fourth count, when he was elected. Socialist Party councillor Clare Daly, standing in Dublin North, got 5,501 first-preference votes (12.5%) on a 60.3%% turnout – a higher first preference vote than Labour leader Ruairi Quinn. This went up to 6,772 votes when she was eliminated on count 8. Clare was in third position all the way through until the final count.
These 3 articles are a slightly longer version of material produced for The Socialist (23 May 2002), paper of the Socialist Party in England and Wales.
Article 2: No change at the top
Article 3: The stooping Celtic Tiger
Spectacular Successes for Socialist Party in Ireland
At that stage one of the three Fianna Fail (FF) candidates was eliminated and his 5,000 votes divided almost equally to the two other FF candidates, whom she had been ahead of all the way through. As it was she beat a former Fine Gael (FG – main opposition party) deputy leader, Nora Owen.
In the other seats where Socialist Party members were standing, Lisa Maher in Dublin South got 1,063 votes – 2.1%; Mick Murphy in Dublin South-West got 954 votes – 2.6% and Mick Barry in Cork North Central got 936 votes – 2.1%.
In total across five seats the Socialist Party got 14,896 votes – an average of 2,979 per seat.
In Joe Higgins’s Dublin West constituency there was a 55% turnout – down from the last election but a big factor in this was the incredible driving rain that lasted all day of the election until about five minutes before the polls closed.
At the last general election Joe Higgins received 16% of the vote. This increase in his percentage share of the vote to 21.5% is even more spectacular when the taking into account the loss of Socialist Party votes which resulted from boundary changes which reduced the size of the constituency.
The Irish PR system means that a candidate either has to get above a quota to get elected or to be the candidate with the highest vote remaining after all the others have been eliminated. In Joe’s case this meant (because there were to be three elected) he had to get a third of the votes plus one to ensure election and was elected on count four. In Clare Daly’s case it was a quarter plus one (because there were to be four elected). (If there were five to be elected it would be one-fifth plus one and so on).
The big majority of transfers of surplus votes that got Joe Higgins elected came from Sinn Fein voters. Joe got 1,122 of the Sinn Fein candidate’s 2,404 first-preference votes. Sinn Fein gets a lot of its support from the more oppressed layers of the working class, but it’s clear they intend to be in competition with the Socialist Party for a section of the working-class vote.
In the Dublin North constituency the Socialist Party’s main fight was with Labour and Clare was only a few hundred votes behind the elected Labour candidate and sitting TD Sean Ryan.
Although Socialist Party members in Ireland were disappointed not to get Clare elected, they pointed out that this was a similar platform to Joe’s near-success in the 1996 Dublin West by-election, from which the party went on to win a seat in 1997. In the past few years over 130 public meetings have been organised by the Socialist Party in the constituency. Such is the respect for Clare Daly that one canvasser encountered a sign on a door which said: "No canvassers please – apart from Clare Daly." In another incident a voter driving a brand new BMW pulled up to Socialist Party canvassers and asked them if they were campaigning for Clare. He then went on to explain that he had been a Fine Gael voter all his life but would be giving Clare his first preference vote in the elections because of her principled stand and her campaigning work.
The Socialist Party election campaign in Dublin North caused a lot of nervousness amongst some of the candidates standing there. In the last few days of the campaign other parties suddenly woke up to the fact that Clare Daly might win the seat. Sean Ryan, the Labour TD, issued a leaflet saying: "Make no mistake about it – Sean Ryan needs your vote on Friday May 17".
Other parties and political forces were not averse to spreading vicious rumours about the Socialist Party campaign in Dublin North. In a radio programme in which all the parties participated during the election campaign in the constituency, the Green Party candidate Trevor Seargant (leader of the Greens) claimed that Clare Daly’s opposition to the Bin Taxmeant that she would be responsible for the privatisation of the refuse service. Another smear circulated to local residents, emanating from the local council leadership was that Clare had paid her bin tax and there was photographic evidence to prove it!
In many ways Clare Daly’s result was especially impressive. Clare Daly was not starting with the advantage of being a sitting TD. Dublin North is a constituency made up of working people, and there are areas which are quite affluent. There are sections of the constituency which have upper middle class residents, shady property developers and even pop stars.
Also, at this stage the objective conditions – the potential for the development of a mass support for our socialist ideas – are still not fully favourable. This is particularly the case in Ireland where a ten-year long economic boom, the Celtic Tiger, has partially dimmed workers’ consciousness about the need for a fighting, socialist, class-based political party (see box).
On the other side has been the growing campaign against the bin charges, a double form of taxation where people have to pay for the amount of rubbish they have collected by the council. During the election the anti-bin tax campaign organised debates on the issue attended by up to 200 in some cases.
Even though the bin charges campaign is a favourable issue for the Socialist Party, which has played a leading role in the campaign, it still hasn’t yet reached the same pitch as the anti-water charges campaign that helped get Joe Higgins elected after its abolition in 1997.
The Socialist Party has built up huge, almost overwhelming, support in some parts of Joe Higgins’s constituency. Out canvassing with him one night he bumps into the FF candidate and his campaign team at the same time as a group of youth playing football rush over and chant a football-style "Go Joe, Go, Go Joe, Go" in warm support.
A similar pattern is emerging across Dublin where the Socialist Party put up thousands of billboards and distributed hundreds of thousands of leaflets throughout the campaign.
The Irish media is now trying to play down our success – referring to the party as Independents – and is playing up the increase in the number of Sinn Fein TDs.
Sinn Fein is now reported to be the richest political organisation in the British Isles. And, if the amount of material and stunts carried out by Sinn Fein during this election is anything to go by – including the hiring of planes with huge display banners in Dublin West two days before the election – then the reports are accurate.
Although Socialist Party members were hoping to make a breakthrough with the election of Clare Daly at this general election, to get two TDs, nevertheless, the party has still rocked the Irish establishment.
The results of the Irish general election are unlikely to produce much change at the top in Irish politics, whilst most of the significant pointers to the future shape of politics in Ireland occurred in the results of parties seen as outside the political establishment.
Bertie Ahern’s ruling Fianna Fail (FF) party gained 80 seats, three short of an overall majority. The main opposition party Fine Gael (FG) suffered an electoral disaster, with their share of the vote falling by 5.4%, despite making some last-minute hard hitting criticisms of Fianna Fail. The problem for Fine Gael is that they too are tainted by the stench of corruption that lingers over Ireland’s establishment parties and that their economic programme hardly differed in any fundamentals from that of Fianna Fail.
Consequently, FG leader Michael Noonan resigned after the election.
Labour, although making some gains, also did less well than they expected and their national vote dropped by 2%.
It was the parties on the fringe like the Socialist Party, Green Party and Sinn Fein, along with independents that had the biggest increases in their vote – a sign of the growing disillusionment with the sleazy Irish political establishment. Altogether, Independent candidates (which despite protests includes the Socialist Party) took 11% of the vote and 14 TDs.
Whilst there is still a recounting of one of the 166 constituencies taking place as The Socialist goes to press, the most likely outcome for a new government would appear to be a repetition of the outgoing FF/Progressive Democrats coalition.
The turnout at the election at 60% was down 3% from 1997, despite the introduction of longer opening hours for polling booths and electronic voting in three constituencies – including Dublin North and Dublin West. Some of the fall in turnout would be explained by the appalling rainstorms that lasted just about all of election day. But more generally the lower turnout reflects a trend apparent in other countries that voters are increasingly alienated from corrupt, sleazy establishment parties.
However, the vote for those outside the establishment in this election show another process at work, where a layer of voters (especially among the working class) are looking for a real alternative. Also a rise in tactical voting saw an unexpected increase in votes and TDs for the Progressive Democrats, showing that voters were wary of FF gaining an outright majority for the first time in 25 years.
At this stage, Sinn Fein are regarded by their voters at least as being outside of the Irish political establishment and their success in picking up five TDs reflects this. Sinn Fein also benefited from a national profile because of their leading position in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
However, Sinn Fein is not a working class party. It will use the increase in its vote and the platform in the Dail to promote a narrow nationalist position which will cause division and confusion within the working class in Ireland. Sinn Fein are the most well financed political organisation in Europe, according to reports, and have made increasingly loud overtures about being involved in some form of coalition government. During the election they played different tunes to different sections of the population, being more radical in working-class areas than rural areas.
In particular, they opportunistically latched on to the anti-bin charges campaign, although they have done very little work on the ground, where the Socialist Party has played a leading role. They produced a leaflet in many areas of Dublin claiming responsibility for leading the campaign against the bin tax in the areas where it has been introduced. This attempt to appear more radical in order to win more votes was aped by the Green Party in their last press conferences where they used much of the anti-establishment phrases of the Socialist Party campaign.
The Celtic Tiger Tiger, the ten-year long economic boom has proved to be more of a stooping tiger than crouching one.
It has brought with it an increase in class antagonisms against corrupt establishment politicians and the chaos in transport, housing, education and other aspects of crisis in the infrastructure caused by the lop-sided boom.
Just one day after the election a report from the Head of Economic Research at the Ulster Bank warned of a 5 billion euro (about £3.3 billion) black hole in government accounts, meaning likely tax rises and public spending cuts.
The Celtic Tiger has brought huge changes in Ireland which have produced a more dynamic and angry working class, with large swathes of women being taken in to the workforce. One-third of the nation’s population now live in the Dublin area and these people are the ones experiencing the most health, traffic, housing and education chaos.
Irish gross national product rose from 41.9 billion euros in 1994 to 86 billion euros in 2000. This represented a leap from 60% of the European average in 1989 to 114% in 1999.
But Irish workers are paid 28% less than the European average and have the second longest working hours in the EU. In the last five years the gap between rich and poor has widened by 242 euros a week (about £160).
Irish people also have a worse life expectancy that the rest of the EU, with the lowest number of acute hospital beds per capita in the EU and long waiting lists and completely inadequate (and expensive) GP and dentistry provision.
Irish spending on health, education, public housing and transport is all below the EU average despite a 5 billion euro public spending surplus (for a population of just under four million. Of this surplus 90% went in tax cuts – mainly to the wealthy and corrupt – and only 10% went to public expenditure.
Details of votes in different constituencies in which the Socialist Party stood:
|Dublin West||Joe Higgins|
|Dublin North||Clare Daly|
|Dublin South West||Mick Murphy|
|Dublin South||Lisa Maher|
|Cork North Central||Mick Barry|