Ireland: Radio debate on United Left Alliance and left unity

The future of the left in Irish politics

January 20, 2011 -- RTE, Today with Pat Kenny -- A new political alliance was born in Ireland just before Christmas. It is the United Left Alliance. It’s an umbrella group of left-wing parties and individuals who have joined forces to fight the March 11, 2011, general election.

The grouping consists of three existing political parties: the Socialist Party, the People Before Profit Alliance and the Workers and Unemployed Action Group. However the Labour Party and Sinn Fein are not members.

So what constitutes a left-wing party in Ireland today? Joining me in studio to discuss that question are Pat Rabbitte of the Labour Party, Mary Lou Mc Donald of Sinn Fein, Joe Higgins MEP and leader of the Socialist Party and Richard Boyd Barrett of People Before Profit. Also joining us in studio to cast a cold eye on all their plans is Jim Power, economist from Friends First.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sat, 01/22/2011 - 14:13



Tuesday-Friday, 18-21 January, 2011

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has formally resigned from his Westminster seat in West Belfast following news that an election date has been set for a 26 County general election.

Adams is to contest the 11 March election for his party in County Louth.

He had already stepped down as a member of the Six County Assembly and at the time said he would also resign from his Westminster seat. He was replaced at the Assembly by former IRA hunger striker Pat Sheehan.

The party will now select a candidate to defend his West Belfast Westminster seat.

Mr Adams was first elected as West Belfast MP in 1983. He lost the seat to the SDLP's Joe Hendron in 1992, but regained it in 1997 and has held it since.

The moves comes as Sinn Fein's organisation in the 26 Counties geared up to contest the election.

Sinn Fein Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain strongly welcomed the setting of the General Election date.  In particular, there was a welcome that the election would be held on a Friday, which should facilitate voting by students and others who only travel home at weekends.

The announcement of the election date punctuated a testy 'war of words' between O Caolain and Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who at one point threatened to sue Mr O Caolain if he repeated a series of pointed questions about Cowen's dealings with the chiefs of Anglo Irish Bank.

Mr O Caolain said that while the election could and should still be held earlier, there would be widespread relief and satisfaction that the end of this Fianna Fail/Green government is now clearly in sight.

"The extraordinary events of the past 24 hours have seen an embattled Taoiseach make a huge miscalculation, thinking he could pull the cynical political stroke of appointing new Cabinet ministers a few weeks before a General Election.

"That miscalculation was based on the fact that up to now the Green Party has acted as the mudguard for Fianna Fail, even accepting the sell-out of economic sovereignty in the IMF/EU deal.

"Both Fianna Fail and the Greens deserve to be devastated at the polls on 11 March.

"Sinn Fein looks forward to the General Election campaign and to presenting our vision for Ireland's future and our proposals for economic recovery to the people across the length and breadth of this State.

"We welcome the setting of the General Election date. The election could and should still be held earlier - on 11 February if the Dail were to be dissolved tomorrow 21 January, the 92nd anniversary of the inaugural meeting of An Chead Dail Eireann. That said, there will be widespread relief and satisfaction that the end of this Fianna Fail/Green Government is now finally in sight.

"We have been going through both an economic crisis and a democratic crisis. A totally discredited Fianna Fail/Green Government has tried to foist on the Irish people a five-year plan of savage cuts and a sell-out IMF/EU deal that will impoverish people in this country for years to come. The priority of the new Dail must be to reverse those disastrous measures.

"General Election 2011 must mark a sea-change in Irish politics. Sinn Fein will be at the forefront of that change."

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 02/06/2011 - 18:01


Friday, 4 February 2011

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Over 120 people crammed into the hall in the Absolute Hotel for last nights launch meeting in Limerick of the United Left Alliance election campaign for their candidate, Cian Prendiville.

Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MEP, speaking speaking at the rally said "We are 24 days away from the most significant general election since the foundation of this state. At the end of these four weeks, politics in Ireland can have taken a big step towards being transformed, with a death blow struck against Fianna Fail and the Greens, and a historic break through for the genuine left with the election of a whole layer of socialist and left TDs. Out of the United Left Alliance can very quickly develop a strong, new mass party for workers and the unemployed. "

Limerick City United Left Alliance candidate, Cian Prendiville, commented "I think in the last week the need for a real alternative in this election has been underlined. Fianna Fail had a leadership contest where no one disagreed with the failed policies of the last years, they just wanted a better spin doctor to front the war on working class people. Fine Gael & Labour showed their true colours by assisting the passage of the Finance Bill which brings into effect the brutal budget they claimed to oppose. Sinn Fein still haven't made their mind up whether they're opposed to cutbacks like they are saying in the south, or whether they would be 'pragmatic' and implement them like they are in Stormount. Now more than ever we need the principled opposition to the cuts and bail outs offered by the Socialist Party and the United Left Alliance. And the evidence from polls and feedback is that the ULA can do very well in this election, winning up to as much as 6 or 7 seats."

Cian Prendiville,s campaign received a big boost yesterday when former independent socialist Limerick City Councillor and Mayor, Joe Harrington, announced that he will join the campaign and encourage people to vote for Cian. In a statement he said "Labour, after its astonishing complicity in getting the Finance Bill through, must not further betray socialist principals by joining Fine Gael in a new government to push through austerity programmes. That would be a further disaster for working class people.  A vote for Cian, Joe Higgins and the other ULA candidates around the country will provide a strong alternative to this disastrous approach."

Cian Prendiville welcomed the support saying "this endorsement just goes to show that our election campaign is picking up steam, and can really shake the political establishment in Limerick. Joe Harrington was a strong community campaigner, and was central to the non-payment campaign that defeated water charges in Limerick. The United Left Alliance and the Socialist Party will now seek to carry that banner, and give a voice to working class people of this city."

Full Statement by Joe Harrington

I will be supporting and campaigning with Cian Prendiville in the forthcoming election.  Cian is a candidate for the United Left Alliance, a group putting forward a real alternative option for working class people. 

Unfortunately, the Labour Party has dropped any sort of a socialist banner it may have been carrying and now offer no fight back against the attacks by the rich and powerful on workers rights and jobs in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe.   Labour, after its astonishing complicity in getting the Finance Bill through, must not further betray socialist principals by joining Fine Gael in a new government to push through austerity programmes.  That would be a further disaster for working class people.  A vote for Cian, Joe Higgins and the other ULA candidates around the country will provide a strong alternative to this disastrous approach.

The ULA is part of the development of movements and organisations across Europe and internationally which fight the attacks on workers, the unemployed and the poor and to fight for a new vision for society.  Since the days of the Limerick Soviet, Limerick workers have a proud history of independent action on their own behalf. It would be a shame to now lie down under the worst attacks on our living standards and rights.  I believe working people should now vote for Cian Prendiville and set about building the movement to take back what is ours.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 02/06/2011 - 18:07


Sat, Feb 05, 2011

ON THE CANVASS: Ideology takes second place behind anger but all agree it’s curtains for Lenihan and Co, writes MIRIAM LORD 

NOT EVERYONE wants a workers’ revolution.

But a lot would like a little revenge. And that’s where Joe Higgins steps in.

He was canvassing outside The Sacred Heart of Jesus Primary School in a wind bitter enough to try the most sacred of hearts. Bloody typical of the Fianna Fáil/Green government, he snorts, they couldn’t even manage to hold an election when the weather is half way decent.

But people still stopped to talk, despite the howling gale. It seems everybody knows Joe in Huntstown – he lives in the area and maintains a very high profile.

“I don’t agree with your politics,” said one man in a less-than-encouraging opening gambit. “But I sat down with the wife the other night, and for the first time ever we looked at each other and said: ‘who are we going to vote for this time?’” They concluded, he told Joe, it would be “none of the usual shower”. MEP Higgins, who lost his seat in Dublin West at the last election, is to be the beneficiary of their decision.

The leader of the Socialist Party is back in town now, and it looks like he’s staying. With an extra seat up for grabs in Dublin West, it is generally accepted that Joe is going to waltz with ease back into Dáil Éireann.

He seems none the worse for his sojourn in Europe, nor has his time in the fleshpots turned his head. One might have expected a more continental cut to his jib: a lightweight wool jacket, perhaps.

But no. Comrade Higgins pulled up for his canvass in a 19-year-old Toyota Corolla with a massive dent in the boot; his brown corduroy trousers flapping in the wind and the hood of his anorak hanging off.

He’s in great form. Even has time to praise Enda Kenny for the selfless way he allowed himself to be pictured in yesterday’s newspaper with one hand around the chest of a strapping Labrador pup and the other cupped inelegantly around the creature’s nether regions. “Looks to me like he was trying to save the carpet from an accident.”

He has a team of six canvassers. “They’re all young unemployed males from Blanchardstown,” explains activist Matt Waine. They stand on the wide footpath to each side of the school gates.

Parents gather to collect their kids. Before the exodus begins principal Seán Dempsey arrives outside. He looks very familiar and he is not a happy man.

Then the penny drops. It’s Seán, brother of former minister Noel Dempsey. The family resemblance is striking. So striking that the photographer does a double take, momentarily confused.

“He’s creating a traffic hazard” Seán tells us, looking over at where Joe is standing. “I’m going to tell him it’s inappropriate.” Oblivious, MEP Higgins chats to parents, mostly mothers wheeling buggies.

Seán asks him to move. Joe says he’s on public property. Seán says he’s creating a hazard. Joe says ‘that’s ridiculous” but he moves a little further away. A passing taxi driver beeps in support. A high percentage of non-Irish nationals attend the school. “Howaya Joe!” say the mammies.

Later, a teacher comes out and tells us Higgins “has always been around through the years and is a great supporter of this school. I think fair is fair.”

Seán returns with a clarification. He isn’t picking on Joe Higgins for party political reasons. “I’ve told them all to go . . . I told them to remove a Brian Lenihan poster off the gates.”

Audrey, two young girls in tow, says she’ll be giving Higgins her number one. “I’ll vote for him because he’s genuine. I went on the bin marches with him. I know he’s from Kerry, but he’s genuine.” Joe’s Socialist Party is part of the United Left Alliance (ULA), a grouping of left wing parties and like-minded Independent candidates. It includes People Before Profit.

They launched their campaign in Buswell’s Hotel yesterday morning. It will be spearheaded by Richard Boyd Barrett, Dún Laoghaire’s favourite leftie and candidate of choice among visiting overseas journalists who want to interview a representative of the group which says it offers an alternative to the political establishment.

Richard is charismatic and voter friendly and the mainstream parties dearly wish they could find similarly passionate and articulate representatives to plead their causes.

But creeping up on the inside is Cllr Joan Collins of Dublin South Central, who not only has a great name when it comes to voter recognition but also did her chances no harm when she was filmed berating Bertie Ahern outside Leinster House as he reminisced on his glory days in government.

Boyd Barrett says PBP is aiming to win “upwards of five seats”. One of his big hopes is Cllr Gino Kenny of Dublin Mid West, who was in bellicose mood. The IMF-EU bailout deal “has been a major declaration of war against working people,” he said, vowing that his party “will lead a major struggle” against tax hikes and “bring the war to the people of this country”. Higgins would be in full agreement.

But on the doorsteps in Huntstown, ideological arguments come a distant second to general anger with the government.

Grandmother Gina Ward says the cuts are hurting. Her daughter Siobhán’s hours have been slashed and looking at the family dog she laughs: “even Patch is suffering, he’s gone down to non-Pedigree chum”. While Gina is not a member of a political party, she is very politically aware and active in the community. She is an ardent supporter of Higgins. He also happens to live on the same street. That happens a lot, when you go canvassing with candidates.

Although Joe says he’s getting a good reaction in the more middle-class areas like Castleknock. “Oh Jesus, yes, I was out there on Wednesday. It’s not the Valhalla of the mega-rich that some say it is.” She may be a supporter, but Gina doesn’t really agree with all Joe’s ideas. She has him well sussed.

“He handpicks the houses and waffles the ear off you and he’s off again. But he’s a great aul skin.” Gina doesn’t think the worst of the likes of Leo Varadkar, who is in the same constituency, but says they don’t see much of the likes of him.

In her book, Joe’s solution to reject the IMF deal won’t work. “But at least he says things out straight. I couldn’t live under a socialist regime, but as a political figure, Joe is the best.” And she tells a story about the night a woman with five children, who had to leave her house, arrived at her door looking for help.

“It was 11.30 and I rang all the local TDs and got their answering machines giving their opening times. Joe arrived and he had to get out of his car by the boot because all the doors were broke. He took the family and found them somewhere to stay.”

What about Joe’s politics? “That’s not the politics we want, but it’s what we need at the moment.” She has no time for Brian Lenihan since the incident at the last election count. She had gone with friends to support Joe.

“This one arrived up from Castleknock, all done up, wearing a pair of dralon curtains. ‘Oh Brian’ sez she ‘even the working classes have voted for you’. I had to be restrained by Labour.”

© 2011 The Irish Times