Sunday 8 December 2019

Ireland's left-wing politicians have a bad habit of fighting each other - there are few signs that will change this time

Ruth Coppinger faces a fight with Sinn Féin for her seat. Photo: Tom Burke
Ruth Coppinger faces a fight with Sinn Féin for her seat. Photo: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

Friday's election will deliver a much-changed line-up in Dáil Éireann - and the three outgoing TDs in the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit (AAA-PBP) grouping will have some colleagues.

This offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity for those advocating on the Left. Voters are disenchanted with traditional parties and hungry for someone offering a different approach.

But left-wing politicians in Ireland have traditionally spent more time and energy fighting each other than they ever have addressing the ones they see as the real enemy: big business and conservative politicians.

Is it likely to be any different this time around when we see an increase in left-wing people making it through the porticos of Leinster House? The record is poor historically and the more recent signals are not encouraging.

Yesterday, the AAA-PBP announced that it was doing famously in the opinion polls.

Its principals, Paul Murphy, who comes from the AAA side, and Richard Boyd Barrett, who originates with PBP, were exultant: one poll put it ahead of Labour, one equal to Labour and a third fractionally behind.

The real cause of their exultation was that Labour was set to get its come-uppance on Friday.

They justify their glee by stressing that Labour is not a "real left-wing party". That of itself is evidence of the "you're-not-left-enough" style of thinking. But let that pass.

The point is that the AAA-PBP people fronting up in this election are already tip-toeing around one another on problems about membership of the broader left-wing election platform 'Right2Change'. This is being facilitated by the trade union leaders, John Douglas of Mandate and Brendan Ogle of Unite, who are trying to politically harness the anti-water-charge movement.

The problem is that PBP could commit to 'Right2Change' while AAA could not. This is largely because AAA is going head to head with Sinn Féin in Paul Murphy's Dublin South West base and Ruth Coppinger's Dublin West seat.

The AAA also more generally raises questions about Sinn Féin's left-wing credibility, arguing - probably correctly - that 'left' is a current flag of convenience for Sinn Féin. But here's the rub: if the numbers stack up a certain way, they will probably still 'facilitate' Gerry Adams' election as taoiseach.

All the principals shunned a direct answer to a whole series of direct questions on this issue. But they made it clear that they would do all they could to block a nominee from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil or Labour. And they could 'facilitate' the election of another candidate. We are entitled to join the dots here.

We are already giving the AAA-PBP a pass here on their last attempt in 2011 to come together under the United Left Alliance banner. It lasted a matter of months. But maybe they have learnt from that.

This time, they try again in a very likely, if not inevitable, link-up with Sinn Féin, whom they openly mistrust. We must apply the continental system on this and say they are guilty of disunity until they can show otherwise over time.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss