Southern Ireland’s local and EU elections – beginning of the end of the two capitalist parties’ dominance?

Sinn_Féin's Dail (parliament) front brench, 2024. Is the party heading for big gains in the EU and local elections? (Photo: wikimedia commons)

Next Friday 7 June voters in the South of Ireland go to the polls for the first national elections since the general election of February 2020. Since then, there have been seismic changes in Ireland. COVID, the Cost-of-Living Crisis, the brutally intensifying housing crisis and a rising violent far Right movement have all marked this period.

June’s local and European elections will be the first national electoral test for Sinn Fein after years where they have consistently polled as the largest party in the South. The political instability that is gripping all capitalist democracies is also clear in Ireland, too. Since the general election of February 2020, the role of Taoiseach [Irish prime minister] has changed hands four separate times. There have been no less than three different Taosigh [prime ministers] since 2020.

These elections also come at a time of unprecedented full employment. Where there is a veritable gold rush of corporate profits – 317 billion euros in 2022, according to the latest figures. The housing crisis impacts upon every low to middle income family and symbolises all of the deep dysfunctions that impact on the working-class majority.

Sinn Fein: Has their hour come?

Sinn Fein [historically regarded as the political wing of the Provisional Irish Republican Army] are running candidates in every single electoral ward in the local elections. The first time they have ever done so. They are also running multiple candidates in the European elections. Despite holding a clear polling lead over Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael since 2020, in recent polls that lead has narrowed very considerably. In 2019 Sinn Fein had a poor local election. This time round they will do a lot better than 2019, but potentially not as well as polls have indicated. If their dip in the polls translates into election results, then this complicates their elaborate ‘government in waiting’ preparations over the past few years.

An example of this process is the recent ‘Davy’s Memo’ kerfuffle which revealed a lot about Sinn Fein’s future orientation. Davys’ Stockbrokers are, despite the name, a strong political and ideological force in their own right. The pre-eminent stockbroking firm in Ireland, they are charged with handling the wealth of many of Ireland’s capitalist elite. Their views and analysis can be fairly taken as a proxy for those of that same elite.

Davys pointedly distinguished between Sinn Fein’s economic policies and those of the Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party. Corbyn’s programme was, in truth, weak from the standpoint of other historic left reformist movements, and insufficient to tackle the multiple crises facing the working class in Britain. It did, however, try to point in the right direction with reforms that could, if implemented, have relieved some of the pressure on the working class after 40 years of Thatcherism. Corbyn did not want to overthrow capitalism or introduce socialism. Notwithstanding this, Corbyn was still crushed by the British capitalist elite. It is telling that Davys can find nothing in Sinn Fein’s economic programme that might harm the interests of their client base.

Nevertheless, huge numbers of working-class people are preparing to place their trust in Sinn Fein to address the social and economic crises under which they live. It is without doubt that Sinn Fein will reap an electoral advance at the local and Euro elections based on a growing mass rejection of 102 years of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil misrule.

Can far Right forces consolidate at the local and Euro Elections?

Almost 20 candidates running for election to the European parliament, and over 100 running in the local elections, can be categorised as belonging to the far Right. This is unprecedented for an election in the South.

While these candidates are spread over four separate small and mutually antagonistic parties, their emergence as a political factor is nonetheless a grave threat to the interests of the working class and labour movement. A recent poll put one far Right candidate, an individual actively involved in the harassment and intimidation of asylum seekers, on 4% in the South European constituency.

There can be absolutely no complacency about these forces. Yes, they will probably yield negligible votes with many of their candidates losing their deposits. However, they are using the elections as a platform to spread their racism, hate and division. In doing so they are reaching well beyond their social media bubbles. Some of their messages will resonate within the layers of politically disorientated poor and working-class people, who have been locked out of any sense of prosperity or well-being. The election of even a handful of far Right councillors would represent a dangerous development. Unless actively beaten back by the workers’ movement these forces will be stronger at future elections.

A Challenging Election for the Socialist Left

The socialist Left faces into a potentially challenging election. People Before Profit, Solidarity and the Workers’ Party between them are running a total of 56 candidates in the locals. In Dublin People Before Profit’s Brid Smith stands a very good chance of winning a European seat, based on recent polls. If Smith does win it is likely to be at the expense of sitting MEP Clare Daly, who many workers regard as on the left. People Before Profit’s candidates in the two other Euro constituencies are, however, failing to make any impact.

The vast majority of the socialist Left’s candidates are running in Dublin. A recent Red C poll put People Before Profit on 10% in Dublin, behind Sinn Fein and just two points behind Fianna Fáil. Nevertheless, in most communities outside of Dublin there will be no socialist Left option in the local elections. This contrasts with the various far Right parties who are running candidates in the majority of local electoral wards.

In this context it is critical that as many People Before Profit, Solidarity and Workers’ Party candidates are returned to council chambers as possible. An electoral setback for the socialist Left will further encourage the far Right and the mainstream capitalist parties. While Militant Left has significant political disagreements with the various left parties’ policies and programmes, we call for a vote for these parties’ candidates. Independent candidates with track records standing against the far Right and in support of working-class struggle should also be supported.

However, realistically, this election will likely see fewer socialist Left councillors returned, particularly outside Dublin. This poses the question of electoralism as the primary political orientation for the Irish Left. The question of building a mass party of the working class, based on a bold socialist programme, is also now posed with a particular sharpness in the face of a rising far Right political wave.

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May 2024