Ireland: United Left Alliance pledges to be radical opposition in the Dáil, and build a mass left alternative on the ground

The United Left Alliance's Joe Higgins' first speech in the Dáil on March 9, 2011. Transcript here.

March 9, 2011 -- United Left Alliance -- At the March 8 press conference convened by the United Left Alliance in response to the program for government agreed by Fine Gael and Labour Joe Higgins, Socialist Party/United Left Alliance TD [MP] for Dublin West said:

As we predicted, despite the media palaver about Fine Gael and [the] Labour [party] being incompatible they rapidly split the minute differences in their respective manifestos and have presented the public with essentially a continuation of the Fianna Fáíl/Green Party/IMF cuts program.

Tied in the straightjacket of cuts and austerity, the policies of this government mean more unemployment, more emigration, more stealth taxes and more transferring of wealth from taxpayers to failed banks and greedy bondholders. Scarcely any demands are being asked off the wealthy to pay for the crisis they created.

Many who voted for the two government parties hoping for change will quickly feel betrayed. The United Left Alliance will be ceaselessly active campaigning on all the issues extending its support and influence as all the establishment parties are proved wanting.

Joan Collins, People Before Profit/ULA TD for Dublin South Central said:

Labour’s promise to oppose water charges has been ditched and they will carry on with the Fianna Fáil/Green policy of wasting hundreds of millions of euro on meter installation instead of investing directly in repairs.

This water tax, like the property tax will be an intolerable burden on ordinary people. As with Thatcher’s doomed Poll Tax in Britain the common response of people will be "can’t pay won’t pay!"

The United Left Alliance will be a key organising force, with others in the No Water Tax campaign which was launched this time last year in anticipation of this unfair tax. A campaign of non payment comparable with the successful campaign of the 1990s will be built across the country.

Paddy Healy, trade union activist and brother of Seamus Healy, Workers and Unemployed Action Group/ULA TD for South Tipperary and West Waterford, said:

The government’s plan for health care was hardly the subject of any critical analysis by media commentators. Fine Gael and Labour plan to force obligatory predominantly private health insurance on everybody and simultaneously sack between 7000 and 8000 public health administrators in the process.

The Dutch model of health care touted by Fine Gael is a two-tier system which in 2009 alone made €1.2 billion in profits and wasted €38 million on advertising. Similarly this government’s intention of forcing hospitals to compete for patients and to be subject to pressures from insurance companies to cut costs and stand vards is a recipe for disaster.

Clare Daly, Socialist Party/ULA TD for Dublin North promised:

We will hold this government to its promise to reverse the minimum wage cut which affects 80,000 workers. However the real prize they are still after is the abolition of the Registered Employment Agreements and Employment Regulation Orders which provide for minimum terms and conditions of 300,000 workers in many branches of the private sector. We support every necessary measure being taken by workers to defend their pay and conditions.

The ULA TDs will be equally uncompromising defenders of public sector workers, 25,000 of whom face the sack under this agreement further decimating our public services in the process. The notion that this can be achieved voluntarily is laughable given the experience with the HSE late last year.

We will be calling on the trade union leadership, some of whom shamefully support this coalition to move aside and make way for a fighting leadership for the trade union movement.

Richard Boyd Barrett, People Before Profit/ULA TD for Dun Laoghaire summed up:

The United Left Alliance will be the consistent radical opposition in the Dáil to the Fine Gael/Labour/IMF government. We will use the platform of five Dáil seats to likewise argue for a fundamentally alternative way of organising society in the interests of people before bankers and speculators.

We will also use our positions to advocate an active response from working people and the unemployed to the attacks this government want to inflict on them. The United Left Alliance will be active on the ground in the communities, workplaces, schools and colleges building resistance in the form of strikes and people power protests in the months and years ahead.

Having made our breakthrough in this election we will go on to build the ULA as a nationally as a mass left alternative to the political establishment.

The five newly elected ULA TDs began their first day of the new Dáil (March 9, 2011) on the streets with the people. Richard Boyd-Barrett, Clare Daly, Seamus Healy, Joan Collins and Joe Higgins were joined by more than 200 supporters and well wishers as they assembled at the Central Bank and marched to Dáil Eireann [parliament] to take their seats. “When they say cut back, we say fight back”, they chanted.

The sense of occasion was reflected in the upbeat and positive atmosphere mixed, however, with a streak of defiance as the marchers made their way through the streets of Dublin chanting slogans of people's power and resistance to austerity. As they reached the gates of the Dáil each of the five ULA TDs made stirring speeches, which were received rapturously by the swelled number of people swirling around Kildare Street. The message was clear: the ULA’s TDs will spearhead the fightback against austerity in the Dáil and join the people protesting in the streets.

Richard Boyd Barrett, TD maiden speech in the Dail

By Richard Boyd Barrett

March 10, 2011 -- On behalf of the People Before Profit Alliance, and along with my colleagues in the United Left Alliance (ULA), I will not vote in favour of Deputy Kenny’s nomination as Taoiseach [prime minister]. The reason for that relates to a comment Deputy Martin made about the need to break from certain bad traditions in Irish politics. One of the worst traditions in politics, which we seem to have a particular capacity for in this country, is saying one thing during an election campaign when one is looking for votes and then doing something very different as soon as the votes are in the ballot box. That is precisely what has happened with the new program for government.

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Deputy Kenny said that the European Union-International Monetary Fund deal was a bad deal for Ireland and it was a bad deal for Europe. There was a clear implication that something would be done about that and that we would stand up to those institutions that were trying to unload the cost of a financial crisis created by bankers and speculators on to the backs of ordinary people. This deal will cause immense suffering for them and it will cripple our economy for years to come. The rhetoric about standing up and doing something about the IMF-EU deal has disappeared in the program for government, which sets out clearly the intention to continue the program of austerity and cuts implemented by the previous government in the interests of paying off the bankers and bondholders at the behest of the EU and the IMF.

Another promise emblazoned on almost every Fine Gael poster was to get Ireland working, yet the plan to get Ireland working is reflected in one of the few specific commitments in the program for government, which is to slash 25,000 public sector jobs. One does not have to be an economic expert to realise one will not get Ireland working by axing 25,000 jobs. That will mean an additional 25,000 people unemployed, less money being spent in the economy and more suffering.

It is particularly depressing that the Labour Party will support Deputy Kenny, the incoming government and the program for government. Labour Party members should be ashamed of themselves for signing up to a program that will axe the jobs of 25,000 of the people who very particularly voted for them in the hope and expectation that their jobs would be safe. They should be ashamed that when asked about the issue of water charges on national television and in the national media, they made solemn promises that they would not introduce such charges and now they have signed up to a program for government that sets out to implement such charges. They should be ashamed to sign up to a program that talks about selling off state assets to pay off the bankers, bondholders and speculators.

It is shameful to sell the family silver and to strip the assets of this country in the name of paying off bankers and bondholders. What about the promise to do something about the universal social charge, which has savaged the incomes of low- and middle-income families who have lost hundreds of euros, as a result of which many cannot meet their mortgage repayments or pay other bills? What about the promise that the Labour Party would recalibrate the taxation system so that those earning more than €100,000 per year would be subject to increases? That has also been abandoned and all we have been told is that there will be a review.

For all those reasons, it is impossible to support the incoming government which has abandoned all its promises related to the desperate cry for change which the people expressed during the election campaign for a program for government, which is simply a plan to do more of the same and cause suffering to ordinary people and which will cripple our economy for years to come. Last weekend, [Labour leader] Deputy Gilmore said he feared he would see forests of placards. He should fear and so should the incoming government.

The pledge of the United Left Alliance is to support those groups in society who,  through no fault of their own, are being targeted with job losses, brutal pay cuts that will put families under and savage cuts to the public services on which they depend. We will facilitate, support and encourage people to take up their placards and to democratically resist this counterproductive, unjust and economically unsustainable program for government that will do nothing to realise the hopes for change people expressed in the election campaign.

That is the pledge of the ULA over the coming period.