Mass media talks of possibility that Joe Higgins, Socialist Party, could challenge for MEP seat
The month long actual campaign for EU and local elections in southern Ireland, as well as the many months or preparatory work, are now coming to a conclusion as polling day is on Friday 5 June. Friday will be a significant day and the results of the elections are likely to have a real impact on the overall political situation in Ireland.
A recent headline in the Irish Times read, ‘Higgins could squeeze out two incumbents’, referring to the EU election campaign in Dublin by Joe Higgins, Socialist Party. The article, by Stephen Collins, commented: “The assumption up to last week that the loser was going to be Eoin Ryan of Fiannna Fail or Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Fein. However, the latest Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll indicates that both of them could lose out, with Joe Higgins slipping through to win the final seat”.
Along with the council and Euro elections throughout the country, there are also by elections for the Dail [national Parliament] in two Dublin constituencies. If, as is expected, the government and in particular Fianna Fail, get a hammering from voters, it could well be the beginning of the end of this crisis ridden administration.
These elections are taking place in the context of an unprecedented collapse of the Irish economy. Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan recently said he expected another quarter of a million to join the unemployment lines by the end of 2010. That would be more than 600,000 unemployed in a country with a workforce of 2 million!
There is real anger but there is also disbelief at the economic catastrophe that is unfolding. Instead of taking the anger and organising against the draconian attacks of the government and the bosses, the trade union leaders have thrown water on the anger in an attempt to stop struggle. Their lack of lead and their sell outs has had a temporary demoralising effect on some.
While the mood of opposition to Fianna Fail is universal, understandably there is not a good mood amongst people, generally, and sometimes it is difficult to get people to fully engage. The main opposition parties of Fine Gael and Labour have been strengthened electorally and will do well but there are not deep illusions in these parties. Conversely, there is also a sort of blanket disgust towards parties and politicians, as many see them correctly as just self-serving or corrupt and in many cases both.
Socialist Party runs strong campaigns
With still slender resources, the Socialist Party has run strong campaigns in all the areas and has had a real impact. We are standing eleven candidates in the local elections. All our current councilors, Clare Daly, Swords (North Dublin), Ruth Coppinger (Mulhuddart – West Dublin), Mick Murphy, (Tallaght South West Dublin) and Mick Barry (Cork North Central) are standing for re-election. Our former TD Joe Higgins is standing for election as a councillor in the Blanchardstown/Castleknock part of West Dublin.
We are standing candidates for five different councils – Drogheda and Balbriggan Town Councils in North Dublin, Fingal County Council, South Dublin County Council and Cork City Council. Frank Gallagher is our candidate in Drogheda, Terry Kelleher, is our candidate in Balbriggan.
In total, we are standing eight candidates for Fingal County Council.
The other candidates not already mentioned are John McCamley – Swords; Brian Greene – Malahide/Howth and Denis Keane – Mulhuddart. For the first time, we are standing a second candidate in Cork – Dave Keating in the Cork North East. Our candidates have records as fighters and many are long standing activists in the workers’ movement.
The record and policies of the party and our councillors cuts the Socialist party out as being different, and we have been able to get a good reception on the door steps. All our councillors are excellent representatives of their communities and the indications are that all will poll well on Friday. Mick Murphy and the party have run a very vibrant campaign in Tallaght but we are involved in a hard battle to maintain our council seat.
This situation is down to changes that were imposed in the ward/constituency late last summer. As a result, Tallaght Central is now double the size it was and only 40% of the old area in which was originally elected is contained in the new ward. The areas included tend to be more affluent. The number of council positions has not increased accordingly and that also makes getting elected more difficult. Labour is also experiencing a growth in support in this area, which is a factor. We are aiming to get a large turn out and vote in the areas we are based in to compensate for the lack of an established base in the newer parts and we are confident that we will get big support and hopefully it will be enough to keep the seat.
We feel a number of our candidates who are not councillors will poll well but it would be difficult for us to achieve a breakthrough and get new councillors in this very competitive election. The exception to this is Joe Higgins. Joe has got a very positive response in Blanchardstown and Castleknock and we are confident that this will translate into Joe taking a council seat. If Ruth Coppinger was re-elected in Mulhuddart, that would give us two council bases in Dublin West which would be a strong basis for Joe to challenge for a Dail seat in the next election which could be soon enough.
Taoiseach [prime minister] attacks Joe Higgins campaign
Joe Higgins stood in the Dublin constituency in the last Euro Elections in 2004 and got a very credible 23,000 votes of 5.5%. This time, even though the vast bulk of the party’s resources have been focused on the local elections, the campaign has got a stronger response. There are many factors; the crisis in the economy, the confirmation of what Joe had been warning of as a TD [member of Irish parliament from 1997-2007], and that Joe’s absence from the Dail is seen by many as very regrettable in the current circumstances.
Mindful that we had limited resources, we held a number of public meetings early to try to get some new activists to help in the Euro campaign. We also have a very good campaign website at www.joehiggins.eu which lays a big emphasis on the need for people to get active. In the course of the campaign, over one hundred people who are not members of the Socialist Party have actively helped in Joe’s campaign leafleting and postering. These activists have delivered over 60,000 leaflets and put up 2,000 posters on poles.
The fact that so many people have been willing to help is significant and meant we were optimistic that we could get a good response when the campaign started properly. Dublin has four MEPs – one each for Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein. The number this time is cut to three, so at least one of them will lose out.
The first opinion poll over three weeks ago put Joe on 7%. It indicated that both the Labour and Fine Gael MEPs would be comfortably elected but that the Fianna Fail candidate on 13% and the Sinn Fein candidate on 14% were both struggling. At that point Joe was sixth in the political with 7%.
In the meantime, nearly 300,000 leaflets about Joe campaign have been distributed into homes throughout Dublin, we have put up a 1,000 new posters and Joe has been prominent and strong in the media focusing on the key national issues, namely the economic crisis and the attacks on working class people in jobs, pay and public services. As a result, the situation has changed.
Last weekend, what has been a slow campaign livened up considerably with the new poll for the Dublin constituency. It showed that both Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein had weakened further to 9% and 11% respectively.
Significantly, Joe Higgins had moved up and into joint fourth in order on 9%. The possibility that Joe could challenge for an MEP seat was headline news on the TV and radio and in the headlines of some national newspapers.
Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein worried
Clearly Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein are very worried. Early this week, the Toiseach, Brian Cowen, felt compelled to attack the Socialist Party saying the election of Joe Higgins would not bring one new job to Dublin and would be disastrous for investment. The irony of Fianna Fail attacking us on the issue of jobs will not be lost on people.
The loss of their MEP position in Dublin for Fianna Fail, the main traditional party of Irish capitalism, would be a disaster. The possibility that they could lose it to Joe Higgins, is their worst nightmare. We will fight as much as possible in the last days. The response from the activists to the momentum we have gained and to the opinion poll has been to redouble efforts. To defeat Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein would be huge and is a very difficult task. In order to do it, the momentum behind our campaign would have to increase significantly, as would our vote. We would have to catch and then over take them in first preference votes. We will just have to see what the next days bring.
Regardless of what happens on Friday and at the counts on Saturday and Sunday, the campaigns in the local and Euro elections have been excellent and we are confident that we will have strengthened the position of the party, not only in positions or votes but in terms of connections and new members for the party.