Sunday 18 August 2019

The first item on the Left’s election agenda does not always have to be ‘the split’

Mr Higgins, who is not contesting the next Dáil election, has long argued that Sinn Féin is no left-wing party and his arguments have been amplified by his colleagues, Ruth Coppinger and Paul Murphy
Mr Higgins, who is not contesting the next Dáil election, has long argued that Sinn Féin is no left-wing party and his arguments have been amplified by his colleagues, Ruth Coppinger and Paul Murphy
John Downing

John Downing

Brendan Behan's accurate dictum about "the split" being the first item on the agenda of republican organisations applies to a broader swathe of the Irish political Left.

The ability to find common cause, overcome details of ideology and frame a common and effective approach to election campaigns has not been the strong suit of Irish political leftists. But it is too easy to be glib and dismissive.

There are now, and often have been, people of talent and sincerity on the Left in Irish politics who have deserved better hearing and consideration. But in the nothing-for-nothing business of politics, you make your own space and take what luck comes your way.

A high price is paid for self-harm in politics. The Irish Left has frequently excelled in this department.

The General Election next spring is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for people advocating for more people-centred politics focused on quality of services and equality of opportunity.

Big numbers of voters are disenchanted with the traditional parties and hungry for someone offering a different approach.

'Right2Change' comes from its near-namesake cousin, which made fair headway opposing water charges. In a new departure, it has announced the backing of five trade unions - Unite, Mandate, Opatsi (the plasterers' union), the Communication Workers' Union and the Civil and Public Services Union.

Union backing has long been the preserve of the Labour Party. And there are often tensions around unions engaging in direct political action.

But there are also counter-arguments here and these are among the obstacles for any group to overcome.

Joe Higgins' Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA) is shunning the movement. Mr Higgins, who is not contesting the next Dáil election, has long argued that Sinn Féin is no left-wing party and his arguments have been amplified by his colleagues, Ruth Coppinger and Paul Murphy.

History will probably prove them right - but how many elections can one fight at any one time? And where does it leave Mr Higgins's past long-time Labour Party membership?

But in the meantime, we note two practical problems for the AAA with Right2Change.

These are Dáil seats in Dublin West and Dublin South, which were won respectively in recent by-elections by Ms Coppinger and Mr Murphy, after close struggles with Sinn Féin in both cases. These are two great reasons for not wanting to get into an alliance with Sinn Féin - but surely there are other reasons to go easy on the "you're-not-left-enough-for-me" rhetoric.

It is interesting to note that several TDs have signalled support: Clare Daly, Mr Higgins's former party colleague; Thomas Pringle; Mick Wallace; Tommy Broughan, Séamus Healy and Joan Collins. Mr Pringle has overcome his concerns about Sinn Féin running three candidates in what will be his five-seat Donegal constituency next time.

We must note also that doubts persist about the position of Richard Boyd Barrett. It is clear that other TDs, now making up the Social Democrats, are definitely keeping aloof.

These are early days and there are many impediments to this one getting off the ground. But it's certainly an interesting start.

Irish Independent

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