Four months after nearly achieving an overall majority, Ahern’s epitaphs are being written and his government is severely undermined.
The feelings of anger and disgust amongst working class people is palpable and that mood looks set to harden.
The trouble started within weeks of the election. It became obvious that Fianna Fail and the PDs had played an electoral con trick as they imposed a virtual mini budget of cuts. Their election lies will plague them.
The report from the Flood Tribunal, the corruption of Ray Burke, the questions that Ahern hasn’t been able to answer, had a bigger impact than other similar revelations precisely because people’s anger was up due to the lies about the economy and cuts.
The fundamental reason this government didn’t collapse out of office but was returned was the impact the boom had, particularly on the government’s finances. That fundamental prop is now collapsing and they will be prone to instability and crisis.
Ahern dropping Stadium Ireland shows the seriousness of the financial situation. The farce of UEFA delegates looking at an empty field in West Finglas and the rhetoric that Ireland’s bid for the European Championships in 2008 is still alive sums up the mess they are facing.
Some estimates say their budget deficit will be €1,000 million, others that it could be closer to €2,000 million. Either way, unless they go on a massive borrowing spree to buy some time, cutbacks seem the order of the day.
Growth rates have been revised downwards in the course of this year and with the American economy weakening further, the prospect of an actual recession is stark. That would create a financial crisis the like of which has not been seen since the 1980s.
There was already a mood among working class people that power had been abused, that they hadn’t got their proper share from the boom.
It is possible that cuts and attacks on jobs and conditions could provoke an angry backlash. The ability to make concessions to groups of workers was used by the government over the last five years to cut across struggle. They won’t have the same room in the months and years ahead. Given their unpopularity, a number of significant struggles could bring down the government.
What is certain is that this government will not last another four and a half years. Whenever it ends, political instability and a sharp radicalisation are likely. With all the main establishment parties being undermined, the capitalist establishment is facing a real political headache.
As things stand, there isn’t an alternative government in waiting. New arrangements are possible between these establishment parties. It is also possible, given the crisis and pressure from the establishment, that independents or even the Greens or Sinn Fein could join an administration.
Undoubtedly there will be a growing thirst for a real alternative and huge opportunities for the Socialist Party over the next years.
Such a political crisis may materialise over the next couple of years, but things could also change in an explosive fashion.
After Nice the next test will be the budget. Fianna Fail backbenchers are getting a lot of flak and framing the budget can cause real tension within the government parties.
If they implement serious cutbacks they could face a massive public backlash, like in 1999, which forced a humiliating volt face on Fianna Fail and the PDs. Governments have collapsed on many occasions over budgets before.
There are many reasons why this government is likely to have a very bumpy ride, the key underlying one is the weakness of the economy. But other issues can come from nowhere and have a big effect, including the position that they take on a war on Iraq, in regard to the use of of Shannon airport by US war planes and on the UN Security Council.
Now is the time for working class people to fight to defend their living standards and to build a real socialist alternative to this corrupt and crisis riden capitalist system.
This article was printed in the November 2002 issue of the Voice, socialist newspaper of the Socialist Party in Ireland.
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