Green Party leader Eamon Ryan (centre) is propping up a right-wing coalition.

After some 140 days of manoeuvring, Ireland has a new government. The rival right-wing parties, Fine Gael (FG) and Fianna Fail (FF) who lost badly at the February general election, found  their salvation in the shape of a divided Green Party.

The Green Party, which  had previously colluded in imposing devastating austerity on working people when it bailed out billionaire bankers after the 2008 financial crash, has joined the most reactionary forces in Irish politics despite deep misgivings amongst its membership. 

A new tranche of post-Thunberg eco warriors – some young enough to be unaware of Green Leader Eamon Ryan’s previous treachery in unseemly neoliberal adventures, voted against coalescing with the defeated FG/FF coalition.

But the wily Ryan secured enough support to shore up a new and rejigged version of that same old government.  However, resistance within the Greens is mounting as new austerity propositions are mooted.  Rumours abound that these Greens might resign rather than impose new hardships. We’ll see.

The majority in the Irish Parliament, the Dail, is fragile, with divisions in all parties.  ‘Snubbed’ far right lawyer Jim O’Callaghan declined a minor ministry in umbrage.  He sees himself as leader in waiting as the “Soldiers of Destiny” (direct translation of Fianna Fail) find themselves lumbered with an economy in collapse, growing social unrest, and a political landscape which is changing at dizzying speed. 

Another envious Soldier of Destiny – only offered a junior ministry – is Thomas Byrne, who leaked an embarrassing snippet on rival (and new agriculture minister) Barry Cowan. Barry claimed motoring expenses when he had not even qualified for a full driving licence.  Found out when charged with driving over the permitted alcohol limit, he was quietly banned for three months.  Well, quietly –  until now. 

His contrite apology may not be enough to save him, further endangering the scant credibility of the new government.  As Covid-19 disrupts the economy, these matters are far from trivial, and are already fracturing the fragile arrangements cobbled together to impose the rule of Ireland’s ruling elite. 

The election, you will recall, saw big gains for Sinn Fein followed by desperate manoeuvres to keep them out of power. Voters essentially signalled a rejection of the present political system imposed a century ago as the Revolutionary First Dail of 1919 was defeated by Westminster-backed reactionaries in 1922 (they misnamed it the “Civil War”) . 

And there is a new and widespread questioning about whose interests the status quo really serve, while people live in deepening poverty, unemployment soars, and the state refuses to protect communities and families.

There are 160 seats in this 33rd Dail, and the Ceann Comhairle (Head of Council or Speaker) is chosen and has only a casting vote.  Thus 80 is the magic number for a governing majority.  On February 8th, the previous minority government party, Fine Gael lost 12 seats returning only 35; while Fianna Fail recovered from an all-time low to take 38.  This constituted only 43.1% of the vote and left them seven seats shy of a majority. It took four months to heal old wounds and find a willing Green accomplice.

But the big news story was a surge towards Sinn Fein which gained 15 to reach 35 seats, and at 24.5%, achieved their best level of support since that Revolutionary First Dail of 1919.  There were also slight gains for the myriad of left groups, Social Democrats, Solidarity/People Before Profit, and a marking time for Independents and the centrist Labour Party rump.

Incidentally, 1919 saw the first woman elected to the UK House of Commons, Mde. Constance Markievicz MP, but she refused to sit at Westminster.  Alongside other Sinn Fein MPs and James Connolly’s Irish Labour Party, she opted to inaugurate the First Dail, meeting in Dublin’s Lord Mayoral Mansion House. Their revolutionary programme was largely informed by the socialist principles of James Connolly, the Irish Marxist leader executed by the British occupying forces in 1916.

Today, history is finally caching up with that spirit of equality and social justice, just as the global economic crash engendered by the Covid-19 pandemic leaves the for-profit capitalist mode of production unable to balance its books in Ireland – or anywhere else.   

This fractious new Irish administration faces an impossible task – as does the Johnson/Cummings junta in London and the Trump pantomime in Washington, for that matter.  The Irish ruling class has little to offer ordinary citizens and communities other than renewed hardships, and it will prove totally incapable of reigniting the vital spark of profiteering which has kept them in control of state power for a century. The flame has gone out.

The embers of a 400-year-old era are dying.  But as they do, that arrogant class which claims it owns everything will become more dangerous than ever, and viciously cunning as it faces the inevitable threat of its own establishment. 

We must be wary, and learn how to consciously join hands and minds to imagine a new form of state which can serve the majority of people, through creating a real democracy – expressing our real needs, as much as the survival of our species.

In coming weeks, as the global economic situation spirals ever deeper out of control, the great democratic potential and the rich socialist ideals of Ireland’s First Revolutionary Dail of 1919 will enter consciousness again.  As the centenary of those struggles for Irish independence claims our attention, we will have an opportunity to re-engage with a vision of a better world which has been dormant for a hundred years. 

And as this counter-revolutionary 1922 Free State / Republic fails,  we must focus energy on building a second republic, networking it throughout every community on the island, and reaching out in solidarity to communities in the three nations on our neighbouring island, and to Europe and beyond. It is our rich heritage, and remains our real, if interrupted, destiny.


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