Let us play a thought experiment.
If one were to be entirely fair minded and place ourselves in the shoes of the Labour Party.
These are the excuses we expect people to swallow
- We inherited a country on the brink
- We were constrained by the Troika programme
- We were just a junior partner, coalition is compromise
- We still did stuff though and isn’t it wonderful
- Our critics are provos/trots/populists/progress deniers/people who didn’t understand the gravity of the situation yak yak yak.
Now let us cast our minds back to June 2010. It was a whole eight months before the general election. Labour just hit 32% in an Irish Times opinion poll and for the first time in history are the most popular political party in Ireland.
Since 2008 Eamon Gilmore and Joan Burton relentlessly assailed a beleaguered Fianna Fáil front bench leaving Enda Kenny in the shade. Having taken the scalp of expenses abusing Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue the year before, the poll came just weeks after the party famously accused Brian Cowen of “economic treason” in the Dáil.
Sliding into second place in that opinion poll was enough to trigger a challenge to Kenny’s leadership at a time when all Fine Gael had to do was sit back and make it to the finish line.
Labour then were causing problems for all main rivals. Presenting themselves as example of virtue in public life and certainty in a country overcome in political and economics chaos. Think further back to the emergency budget in 2009 when Pat Rabbitte has this advice for the junior coalition partner.
A party that does not stand for anything will stand for nothing. That is the position the Green Party has arrived at.
They had government on the run and one in three voters in their pocket. Fine Gael in meltdown while Fianna Fáil’s “tough decisions” were starting to take hold. Labour were there to take advantage of both and their opposition strategy was beginning to pay tangible dividends.
Contrary to what has been endlessly repeated since, it was this long period and not three weeks of an election campaign that formed expectations of how the Labour Party were going to behave in government.
No doubt something like Ruairi Quinn signing a four foot pledge on his way to becoming Education minister was hugely damaging but there was a much more important cumulative effect. The entire Labour Party strategy during those years can be understood simply in repeated reminders that they were “the only party not to vote for the bank guarantee”. Regardless of the particulars of that decision this was the message. Labour they said were not like the other parties. Labour were not part of the rotten club that brought the country down. Labour were different and this was key.
The “broken promises” narrative only later became accepted wisdom because of lemming-like repetition by journalists, who of course have good reason to frame politics in ways that cloud a regime they themselves are part of too. For example, it is worth returning very briefly to the infamous ‘Frankfurt’s way’ promise. In short, Gilmore was responding, however insincerely, to comments made by ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet about potential debt renegotiation. What is commonly and conveniently forgotten is that Gilmore climbed down on the remark within two days after being savaged by several Irish journalists, including Vincent Browne. Cast your mind back to a country reeling following the IMF arrival, we were all about ‘restoring confidence in Ireland’s reputation’ in those days and Gilmore was mauled for deviating from the official script. The ‘Labour broke their promises’ line was then spun for years by the same newspapers who had the party in retreat before a vote was cast.
So while it did become a no-brainer for detractors to share opportunistic election martial, we must consider that something like the Tesco advert only worked in its original meaning because the party had built up reserves of perception that Labour was different. Not just from Fine Gael but different and opposed to all the villains, bad practice and business-as-usual that haunted the country since 2008.
In public relations terms the Labour Party were capable of putting enough distance between themselves and the Galway tent, property supplements, banker’s bonuses and all signifiers of unfashionable nod and wink venality. Evidentially, these perceptions turned out to be false. Even if Labour were not golfing with Sean Fitzpatrick they soon proved eager to sacrifice you, me and even themselves to protect and strengthen the very same complex of speculation, exploitation and privilege.
Today they are despised, barely avoiding wipe out in the worst result of the party’s history.
This is the story of how the Labour Party squandered all that good will.
Throughout the past five years you have been regularly chastised for not electing enough Labour Party TDs. On one day, some hack will inform us that they just didn’t have the numbers to see their policies through. On the next, that excuse is forgotten and we are told all the wonderful things Labour achieved. Go figure.
The truth is that despite 2011 presenting a historic opportunity the Labour Party did not bother to run enough candidates to win a Dáil majority. Even Fianna Fáil in death spiral went into that election with greater ambition.
How about a coalition majority? Nope, just days ahead of the vote in 2011 Roisin Shortall on The Week In Politics made it quite clear that the party had no notion of a Labour led government in coalition with “rag bag and misfits”.
The intention then as always was propping up Fine Gael. How Labour went on to play their hand in government is entirely their own responsibility. The failures, defeats and climbdowns are nothing whatsoever to do with voters or our alleged failure to appreciate the party’s position. This persisted right until the recent election when Labour began to tie itself in knots by clinging to this excuse while simultaneously promising all sorts next time based on returning in even fewer seats. What a load of bullshit.
This contempt for the public, any sort of outside criticism or counter opinion was probably the dominant feature of Labour’s time in government. On their supposed liberal agenda Labour are very keen not to frighten horses, keen to build consensus and bring people along as they claim. Contrast this with implementation of austerity. Pleasantries quickly go out the window as Labour got down to a deliberate project robbing wealth, resources and future protection from the vast majority of citizens.
Here is departed deputy for Dublin South West, Eamonn Moloney
I do not like using the word “austerity”. It is a very bourgeois word. When I was growing up we just used the word “hardship“. The people in most working class estates do not use the word “austerity”. I am aware it is cool for the career socialists to speak about austerity but it is an awful word. Hardship is much better, and people like Dickens used it. I do not know how the word “austerity” crept in but it did not come from the labour movement.
Contributions like this will surely be missed! Hardship, Eamonn, is a result of austerity. Austerity is a deliberate project. Something imposed. Look, read the Labour Party constitution written by career socialists
“the Labour Party believes in tackling the underlying conditions which generate the systematic and deeply rooted inequality which people experience. The achievement of equality requires that society be reorganised with specific objective of a more equal distribution of wealth and power”
So austerity is recognising that underlying conditions generate systematic and deeply rooted inequality but instead reorganising society to make it worse — forever. That’s how the bourgeoisie you refer to are bourgeoisie and that’s what Labour were doing in government for the last five years.
Labour did not save the country. They saved the people who run the country. They protected the “underlying conditions that generate systematic and deeply rooted inequality” that faced potential crisis in wake of the banking collapse. To get the customary Connolly reference in these articles out of the way, if governments are “committees of the rich”, can anyone say the Labour Party acted in another interest.
When the Irish Citizen Army, created to protect workers from domestic capitalists, unfurled a banner on Liberty Hall reading “We Serve Neither King nor Kaiser, But Ireland”, they didn’t mean William Martin Murphy. “We are out for Ireland for the Irish. But who are the Irish? Not the rack-renting, slum-owning landlord; not the sweating, profit-grinding capitalist; not the sleek and oily lawyer; not the prostitute pressman – the hired liars of the enemy. Not these are the Irish upon whom the future depends. Not these, but the Irish working class, the only secure foundation upon which a free nation can be reared”. The idea here is not to hold Labour to the revolutionary standard of 100 years ago but to underline that each time the Labour Party claim to have “put the country first” and so on, they have never said what this means.
Under the smokescreen of growth and competitiveness policies never designed to work, everything done since 2011 was by design. Actively working to undo gains won by workers across all sections of society. A race to the bottom. Landlords, employers, financiers, speculators have all prospered under Labour at your expense. People’s homes bought up and sold from underneath them at the government’s invite. The return of absentee landlordism. Mainstays of social reproduction in private eduction, for-profit healthcare, intergenerational privilege and so on, remain intact. They leave office having not challenged a single pillar of exploitation. Intentions and Labour’s own view of their purpose in the world then are clear, so on their own terms how did they fare.
After the Troika’s arrival a vast majority may well have compliantly accepted what was ahead however, even following the Troika demands to the letter, under very different leadership you can imagine the past five years being very different. From a purely self-interested party political point of view it is arguable that the government could have got away with austerity itself if not for the manner in which the parties conducted themselves but there was no, depending on your persuasion, ‘we shall fight them on the beaches’ style appeal or Stakhanovite movement. They entered government under an agreement that contained many grave stipulations, grave circumstances many governments have faced in the past but nowhere did the IMF insist they behave like assholes. For none more than Labour this disregard ensured terminal decline.
In 2012, Sean Sherlock walked into what became known as ‘Ireland’s SOPA’. Essentially, Sherlock was genuflecting to the whims of gigantic record corporations and planned to sign an order allowing courts to block websites accused of copyright infringement. Despite spending his days bullshitting at tech and start-up photo-ops, Sherlock decided to ignore the ‘Innovation’ part of ministerial brief in a gutless attempt to protect EMI’s redundant business model.
Politicians obsequiousness to business is nothing new but the main issue here was Sherlock slavishly providing courts and corporations with blunt powers that remain open to abuse. All this would have passed unremarked had it not been for Digital Rights Ireland beginning rumblings on twitter before coverage on Boards and growing websites like Broadsheet.ie. It was a very good example of how issues can begin with just a handful of people online before seeping into mainstream media and ultimately parliament itself. This is something we saw become more common over the last government term and in itself underlines what is at stake when politics and business collude to erode remaining online freedoms.
Sherlock however was not prepared to accept any contribution and behaved like a child throughout. This tantrum climaxed when Catherine Murphy and Stephen Donnelly forced the minister of state to account for himself in Dáil Eireann during topical issues. Put briefly Sherlock’s words, actions and demeanour amounted to a massive ‘go fuck yourself’ before he promptly folded his script and walked out of the chamber.
The SOPA furore, being an newfangled internet issue, attracted the attention of a lot of young people. There were teenagers without prompt from anyone else making their first protest on Kildare Street before running home to catch a live stream of proceedings. All they saw that day was petulance and contempt from a minister in a futile parliament.
In my eyes it was an awful waste but an early example of how the Labour Party time and again, even with the option of better policies and new approaches were prepared to prop up existing structures no matter how rotten. All while giving anyone watching two fingers.
Indeed, the ‘watchdog’ element could have been one of Labour’s greatest strengths if not their saving grace in government. It would not have made a jot of difference to Troika arithmetic if Labour had decided to act as a force of accountability, justice and transparency. Expectations are extremely low on this front. It really would not have taken much but while the Troika were eager to remake Irish society in their desired image the Labour Party, when it counted, were not.
After coming to power, the Government promised to restore the Freedom Of Information Act hobbled by Fianna Fáil. However, rather than abolish, Howlin very underhandedly attempted to increase fees via amendment at committee stage. When caught bang to rights, like Sherlock before, he threw a massive strop in a hail of bad faith, outright bogus statement and personal attacks on critics. It was quite a week with Howlin, Rabbitte and Kenny out blustering and Labour pissing away more support on the little things.
There was total silence and even defence of Fine Gael on massive scandals surrounding James Reilly, Phil Hogan and Alan Shatter. The number of times you can recall Fine Gael supporting their Labour comrades says all you need to know about the mugs in that relationship.
Elsewhere on symphysiotomy, mobility allowance, Magdalene laundries, Moriarty Report, garda misconduct, Siteserv, TBRC, Tuam babies, Rehab, NAMA in the North, to name a just few, were all quietly swept under the rug. The list of sins they were prepared to overlook is repulsive. The 31st Dáil had constant lows, down there with the worst of them and there was none the Labour Party were not prepared to stand over.
For instance, Labour were quite prepared to go along with the McAleese Report whitewash until Enda Kenny, who was only sticking to plan, refused to admit liability in the Dáil. Fearing the optics, Labour forced a public apology before again washing their hands to hide behind a sham redress scheme. This is reprehensible stuff from a chest beating secular, feminist party but once again, fealty to a crooked state took precedence.
“When it comes to jobs, anything goes” were weasel words of Eamon Gilmore on disgraced Maltese billionaire Denis O’Brien’s official invite to Farmleigh House just months after the tribunal’s final report.
Later, when the Mahon Tribunal published in March 2012, Labour were quick to take the moral high ground, puffing their chests as the only party directly unnamed in local authority corruption systemic in Irish politics. Smug Howlin applauding himself in the Dáil for other party’s tribunals. Just three months later, Jan O’Sullivan sat passively on the front bench as Phil Hogan announced that there would be no need for an independent inquiry into planning irregularities in seven local authorities.
I will never forgot that afternoon when Phil Hogan looked up to knowingly smirk over at opposition benches while announcing the non findings of his “rigorous review”. Right here in this June 2012 debate. Bully Hogan had the arrogance to laugh in our faces from the Dáil chamber and why wouldn’t he while Labour are prepared to look the other way.
As Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Jan O’Sullivan signed off on this white wash. Since then several of her ‘findings’ have been overturned in court leading to a second inquiry and since Alan Kelly became top dog in the department, an as yet unacted upon whistleblower file from Wicklow council has twice went missing having already disappeared once on Phil Hogan’s watch. Make of that what you will.
So tell us Labour. What good is being squeaky clean when you are prepared to sit by while all manner of crime and injustice goes unchecked. Might there be a connection between appalling homelessness and the planning wild west. The level of malfeasance ignored was breathtaking, week after week. If Labour in government are too spineless then why all the head scratching about voters deserting. That the only matters they managed to get worked up about were increasingly contrived outrages about Sinn Féin says all you need to know about the Labour Party’s priorities and road to redundancy.
Indeed, Labour Party priorities are a mercurial thing. In 2015 they published this flyer
Such is Labour’s unflinching dedication to housing that they forgot to include a photo of Jan O’Sullivan, the member of their own party who had just been housing minister for three years. Perhaps the near absence of housing during her time accounts for the omission but nor does that explain the inclusion of Alan Kelly.
Last year saw fewer social houses built than any other year on record. Over half a decade into this problem and this is what they have to show for themselves.
Joan Burton herself had discussed “the emerging housing crisis” in 2010 just weeks before entering government. That was then. Three years later, during another fruitless Dáil exchange, Catherine Murphy suggested Burton was running the risk of becoming the “minister for homelessness”. As we will see below, she was already privately aware.
Labour repeatedly dismissed the housing issue outright until May 2014. Simply refused to acknowledge what they now claim to be one of the party’s dearest held values, only softening their cough after a drubbing in the local elections. What we eventually got was a combination of specious reclassifications and public relations waffle that turns further landlord largess into “social housing units”.
The tale of Alan Kelly here though is worth dwelling on. Up until just a few months ago he had been protected and indeed lionised by journalists as the hard man to see down water protest rabble. Kelly was regularly given easy headlines and soft interviews. Gifted a cosy media pulpit to slander a movement of ordinary people. Then in October once he looked like doing something vaguely uncomfortable for landlords, the media and even some colleagues turned with a vengeance and by then, Kelly along with his party had pissed away any support needed to upset some of the country’ most powerful interests. A lesson there about who the party chooses to make allies and enemies of.
Upon taking office as minister for foreign affairs Eamon Gilmore ceded entirely the crucial European brief which was subsumed into the Department of Taoiseach. That is to say, between Enda Kenny, Michael Noonan and Lucinda Creighton, Fine Gael took all the top jobs at a time when ‘Europe’ had never before dominated national considerations. If this is the example set by party leadership at the very height of EU crisis political manoeuvring and even during Ireland’s presidency of the union, is it any wonder Labour failed to crave out any identity domestically.
Gilmore has since taken up a job as no less than EU envoy to the Colombian peace process. Given his party’s willingness to shamefully cower behind victims of the troubles to avoid Dáil questions it is unlikely he will do much more for Colombia than he managed for his own party in government.
One theory is that Gilmore walked into office and on being shown the books went into some sort of shock. Fight or flight and Gilmore legged it. Having already been damaged internally by a disappointing election he all but vanished from the national stage, completely abandoning his own party. Would they have done better if he was present and visible. Unlikely but his Houdini act was a long way from the man who for a laughable moment just weeks before eyed the Taoiseach’s office.
The second theory is simply that Eamon Gilmore is full of shit. Shortly after entering office he was exposed as two-faced and a national rat by wikileaks cables from Chelsea Manning. On what we must presume were regular cosy chats with the US Embassy, Gilmore informed diplomats that political consideration meant it necessary to maintain a “public posture” on the prospect of a second Lisbon referendum. So there is leader of Labour Party, parliamentary opposition, having a good private laugh at us and the future direction of the European Union. Just so Labour could get into office and achieve fuck all.
In 2010, a few weeks before emerging on top of that opinion poll, the Labour Party tabled a private members motion on cuts to special needs assistants. Gilmore said the following
Listening to the Minister and the Minister of State, one would think there was no problem at all and that no cutbacks were taking place, that somehow, the concerns that are being communicated to us on a daily basis by parents, teachers and SNAs, were made up. They are not. Over the past week or more, my colleagues and I have received many heart-rending stories from parents about what is likely to happen to their child in circumstances where the SNA is removed. These are very real stories that are not made up. The Government needs to respond positively to them this evening rather than in the self-congratulatory way of its response.
Three years later in government
There is no cut. There is no cut in the allocation of money for special educational needs. The Government has ring-fenced the funding available for special educational needs, and for very good reason because it is committed to providing for the needs of children with special needs. Second, the number of teachers dedicated to working with children who have special educational needs has not been cut. The number of special needs assistants dedicated to working with children with special educational needs has not been cut.
This is but one of hundreds of examples of how the Labour Party in government are indistinguishable from what they opposed. Do click here to see Gilmore and Brian Hayes on the same issue. What are you even doing in life if you are no better than Brian Hayes. Isn’t one enough.
Are they liars, careerists, pragmatists, realists? That it came so quickly and effortlessly raises unavoidable questions about the party’s sincerity, wider bona fides and purpose.
At the Labour Party summer school in 2006, Pat Rabbitte himself presented an award to the Rossport Five. In 2013, as minister for energy with the power to act, it was total indifference to allegations that Royal Dutch Shell were engaged in an elaborate scheme of bribing the police force with cases of alcohol.
After his pledge Ruairi Quinn promptly began slashing grants and fees. This was just the start and Quinn has presided over a nightmarish restructuring for students and staff across third level in Ireland. Casualisation and debt. Money everywhere but everyone is broke with not much but Dublin airport and further precarity to look forward to. All this will be covered in depth in a later post but to pluck one recent example, a group students were recently kicked out of room during a meeting on environmental issues.
Trinity News received the following statement
“[t]he Blackstone LaunchPad space in Trinity is reserved during office hours for entrepreneurial students and events. All students engaging in entrepreneurial activities are welcome to use our LaunchPad space. We define the term entrepreneurship broadly to encompass social enterprises and not-for-profit ventures. However all such ventures must aim to eventually generate capital through their activities in order to survive and progress their idea.”
He went on to outline social entrepreneurship promoted in by the space, saying “we have supported many social enterprises since the space opened in February. For example, “CriServ”, an app to assist refugees as they migrate from war-torn areas, and “Small Farms” a student start-up that will produce protein in a carbon-efficient way through cricket farming. Next week the space will play host to a Skype call we have arranged between the UN Food programme Incubation Centre and the Trinity Enactus Society. The space also hosted and sponsored the “Dev, Meet Tech” hackathon in February. The goal of this hackathon was to use ‘technology to provoke positive social change’. We are inspired by the student entrepreneurs we have been working with so far. They wish to change the world, but they do so by creating viable and sustainable businesses that generate capital and create jobs in order to achieve their aims. Political activism, whatever the stance taken by our students, without entrepreneurship is unfortunately not relevant to our mission, and therefore will not be hosted in the space. Any activities run by or for students that aim to promote a spirit of entrepreneurship around campus are welcome.”
This is Ruairi Quinn’s education system. From an RTÉ documentary and book published by his adviser, my take away of Quinn behind the scenes is a man far more concerned with spin than the harm of his policies as even in the end, Quinn announced his retirement early to ensure an entire day of homage for himself.
Joan Burton having been the first TD elected nationally in 2011 had to rely on transfers from hideous right wing politicians to take the last seat in this year’s election. Burton’s record in office can now this week be surmised by the fact that newly appointed Social Protection minister Leo Varadkar can hardly be any worse. Yes, that is correct. An ignorant, privileged, monumental dickhead Thatcherite can hardly do more damage in the dole office than leader of the Irish Labour Party.
Where to begin…. Labour protected core rates as long as you are not under twenty five! Good regime liberals and journalists like Olivia O’Leary will even repeat this bullshit on the party’s behalf. Labour have led an unprecedented campaign of unemployment vilification while at the same time engaged in breathtaking dishonesty through a regular series of fraudulent unemployment figures. Labour is all about some warped dignity of work even when it’s hugely exploitative internships that have completely fucked the labour market for a generation. A Labour Party leader who believes working class communities are unfit to own apparently “extremely expensive phones, tablets, video cameras”.
34 countries in the OECD and in an economy only second to the United States in terms of low paid jobs at least Labour restored the minimum wage whoop whoop. Labour that fills newspapers with stories of garda checkpoints for the unemployed. That invites proven failed and fraudulent companies to come and make profit from unemployment so long as it fiddles the books. Labour, where unemployment is on a level with criminality and mental illness.
There were 457,948 people on the live register when she entered office and who she promptly labelled as a “lifestyle choice”.
The sight of Joan Burton dismissing opposition deputies quoting trade union economist Michael Taft during Dáil debates on Jobbridge was really something. Or when she wiped nearly eighty thousand people from the live register for the sake of a good headline. Pick of the bunch though was ahead of the budget in 2013. Laying the ground for further attack Joan Burton’s people planted a story about supposed ‘welfare traps’ for single mothers in the Irish Independent. Her evidence was a self-selecting sample of just 774 (of 419,200 on live register) who themselves contacted Citizens Information. Of six issues identified in the ‘study’, five were related to cutbacks in Joan Burton’s own department but WELFARE TRAP SCUM screamed the Indo front page so job done.
Also highlighted here you can see that in early 2013 according to her own very important study, Burton’s department was receiving information that processing delays due to her cutbacks were causing potential homelessness. Not that you would have known listening to her in the Dáil or reading the Irish Independent.
Short of mandatory electric shock therapy it is difficult to see how Leo Varadkar can top this and what a legacy that is for Joan Burton. As part of the Social Welfare Bill 2012, she began her long, ill-thought assault on lone parent families. Relying on ever present prejudices and inequalities, the lone parents cuts were purely an accounting exercise. The outcome will cost more money, provide no solutions and fulfil none of its stated aims but Burton did it anyway, causing untold stress and misery, just to meet the bottom line.
Remembering that debate on an April night nearly four years ago now, Burton faced a sustained campaign by activists – who can take no small credit for her political demise, NGOs and even the customary press release from Labour Women. In the chamber, Burton faltered for a moment and nearly bottled it, clearly aware of the damage she was doing. The promise that no cuts would occur without the introduction of “Scandinavian style childcare” came at the very eleventh hour as a sort of fudge but after recomposing herself the minister carried on with what was to be the first of a number of attacks on Ireland’s poorest families. Last year she pushed ahead with visiting further poverty on their children to make room for tax cuts promised in the election. Hiding her actions for the umpteenth time behind the death of Jean McConville and then later adding further insult to injury by outright lying about improvements in the last budget.
It is genuinely difficult to convey the cynicism, dishonesty and base opportunism with which she behaved during leaders questions each Thursday. Burton and Kenny by no small feat achieved something of a departure from the level of evasion we saw from Ahern and Cowen. It is entirely fitting that she will end her career to anyone who witnessed it as reviled as the aforementioned. Labour really are no different.
Pat Rabbitte could have been used to illustrate any number of points. Firstly and perhaps only Pat Rabbitte, more than even Joan Burton and Alan Kelly, in his ubiquitous unrelentingly glib pig ignorance was emblematic of how Labour conducted themselves publicly, alienating almost the entire electorate in a cloud of heedless condescension but more than that, Rabbitte represents a resigned defeatism that permeates the party.
Rabbitte should have retired years ago having shown no interest in his ministerial brief and inflicting enormous damage on the party publicly. His bluster played no small part in ending the careers of new Labour TDs while he hogged jobs at the top table before retiring. Pat Rabbitte as minister was asleep at the wheel and in time it will be recognised that Gilmore made a huge mistake in not leaving him on the back benches.
Rabbitte with the weight of experience and niggling sense of failure cloaked his defeatism in a well rehearsed world weariness. Shaving minutes off RTÉ broadcasts with a large and troubled intake of breath before each reply. For others in the Labour Party though this is yet to sink in. Instead, these low expectations are repackaged in various babbles and sneers.
“Who speaks of Syriza now?” taunted Brendan Howlin across the chamber during the last budget. To put this in its full and ugly context, Howlin was minister in a department of finance that was to the forefront in colluding with a brute and more than likely illegal show of strength on the Greek people. The Syriza strategy may gone greatly awry but Howlin was no bystander and in the end, in terms of things that certainly matter to him, it was Syriza who were reelected. The summer of 2015 was a grotesque moment in the history of a party that wraps itself in the starry plough.
This was not a once off example of Howlin hubris. “Let’s see Sinn Féin deal with same-sex marriage in the North now” was his contribution to celebrations on that day in Dublin castle. A glimpse into the small mind of a man who keeps it partisan when so many worked together but throwing down the gauntlet, as Howlin seemed to think he was doing, is revealing. Firstly, the rights of those in the north are no less our concern. Second, it is the responsibility of no individual party to ‘deliver’.
It may burst what remaining bubble they cling to but marriage equality was won in spite of the Labour Party in government and they blotted their copy book in a big way when Aodhán Ó Ríordáin had the stupidity to suggest the referendum could fall on water protest sentiment. Coolock 88%, Jobstown 85%, Stoneybatter 86%, Darndale 80% – yes votes rolled in from working class heartlands and not just that, but those driven out of the country returned in numbers to have their say. As has been comprehensively argued this was not “voting in solidarity with the government and the State, but in defiance of the multiple impoverishments and oppressions that the State has enacted on the majority of those who live here”. Marriage equality then was in fact a vote against the Labour Party.
During the UK Labour leadership race several Irish Labour members I spoke to either wrote off Corbyn’s leadership chances completely, public condemned Corbyn as Pat Rabbitte did or took the road of saying yes, OK Corbyn, but I worry about his “electability”. What struck me most was not taking lectures about popularity from a party on the road to oblivion but that Labour members here have so comprehensibly swallowed the all false reality and constraints imposed by the likes of Rupert Murdoch. This is it. This the best these clowns can imagine. That there isn’t even a ‘traditional labour’ Corbyn current of significance remaining within the party speaks volumes. Even at this point, having gone kamikaze by wedding themselves to the regime, the idea of an alternative is incomprehensible if not considered outright madness.
Labour is said to always wrestle with its conscience and win, but now it barely has conscience left to fight.
Instead ever more frequent defeats and retreats are painted as victories. Take Aodhán Ó Ríordáin’s self serving duplicity on direct provision. Ireland’s asylum process is a web built entirely from bad mindedness. Ó Ríordáin said as much in various ways but his behaviour since 2014 has been as perplexing as it is nauseating. In the process he has unwittingly become a case study for the most scurrilous actions of government, non governmental organisations and profit seeking in one of Ireland’s darkest scandals. What Ó Ríordáin did was make promises, flop and in order to save face personally, double down on a somehow even more abhorrent regime under the International Protection Act. A Bill, the President whom no one in Labour can question on the issue, went as far as refer to the council of state. Another Yes Equality moment indeed.
Was he hobbled by the department? The minister? What did he and his party even try. Answers to these we will never know because in the absence of anything approaching transparency or explanation all we have is self-congratulation for himself and disdain for anyone watching. As Fine Gael appear to have dropped the Mahon recommendations from the programme for government, we see how Labour played their part in quelling dissent inside and out of direct provision, colluding in the illusion of progress and compassion, before the regime got on with dropping any pretence of whitewash altogether.
Just a few months ago Ó Ríordáin was lecturing women and activists about the eighth amendment and political reality. “Deluded” he called people on national radio. People who have built a movement in spite of anything his party did in Dáil Éireann. Those people are deluded but Ó Ríordáin having been kicked out of the department in failure, is telling people he is going to fix direct provision from opposition benches of Seanad Éireann, huh.
Those of us outside the Labour Party do not understand political reality because for the Labour Party, political reality does not extend further than extracting concessions while always upholding the overall system they themselves are part of. They sat back on all the scandals and corruption mentioned earlier so as not to upset Fine Gael. Is it worth the price or could there be a better way? You wont hear it from Labour.
On issues like abortion, which speaks to so much more, Labour see nothing wrong with their place in the world, always remaining on other side of the house dismissing and demeaning counter efforts. Exposing themselves as very thing they accuse of others. Clare Daly’s constructive prochoice efforts in the last Dáil are beyond question but Labour benches remained almost empty every time, only momentarily filling to engage in excuses and petty turf war.
On a range of issues and with some substance Labour may once have positioned themselves outside a conservative mainstream but largely due to their own actions in recent years and to seemingly little alarm, much of the ground has moved beneath their feet.
Sitting in Dáil Éireann today is a clutch of TDs who are a long time kicking around Leinster House and we know what that does to people. Across much of the world parties like Labour are being gobbled up. Pasokification is the imperfect if ever evolving understanding, named in honour of Labour’s Greek counterparts who were even out polled by the communist party last September. Scottish Labour are finished, PSOE dropped 20 seats. The list is long and parties with far more successful histories in shaping their respective societies are dying in ditches of their own making.
Here at home, don’t be surprised if Labour blame it on a ‘communications problem’ because Labour have not just proven politically redundant but politically inept. Aside from the unpopular business they had to get with in government and the election, look how badly the party are advised. Think how incompetent, detached and tone deaf the whole shambles was almost immediately and throughout these past five years. After the election in 2011, Gilmore told the party they would face a sea of protest placards but he didn’t predict half it could be accounted for by an unfathomable string of unforced errors. The David Begg appointment, the Mairia Cahill fiasco, Joan Burton cutting the ribbon at food banks for christ sake.
Who, for example, had the bright idea to make near pathological Sinn Féin fixation party policy when it was Fine Gael who ran rings round the party week after week leaving no discernible Labour identity in government. In terms of managing public perceptions and implementing a programme, the skills deficit within the party has been exposed as enormous and quite unbelievably really, for party that at least appeared on paper to have no shortage seasoned and canny operators when it comes to the toolkit any seasoned politician needs to succeed. To borrow a well worn quip, the Labour Party were evidently not up to ‘senior hurling’.
The Labour Party are about solutions not slogans. We believe in delivering. We get results.
The Irish people have weighed up those results, being wholly acquainted and made their decision.
If Labour were to dissolve itself, which is something that must be seriously considered, you can easily imagine the current represented in Joan Burton and Ruairi Quinn making up a liberal wing of Fine Gael. Alan Kelly would be perfectly at home in Fianna Fáil while the more image conscious like Ó Ríordáin always have the Social Democrats.
I say none of this to be facetious. Think about it, if the Labour Party believe the right way of doing things is consensus, concessions, compromise, targeted interventions and so on. If it is all about working within then why do it from another party at all and not among fully committed managers of Irish capitalism. There is no getting away from this. This is who the party has spent decades aiming to go in and out of power with anyway. If everyone else is told this is the only way of doing things why is Labour codding itself and not following the logical conclusion of its beliefs by trying to “effect change” from the driving seat.
Quinn said “because we don’t believe in capitalism, we know how to f**king manage it”, this is ambitious but on both counts patently untrue. Burton said the Clery’s closure was “capitalism at it worst” but her ambitions only amount to capitalism at its best and has quite clearly shown her standards in that regard.
Plenty of people still believe in this nonsense. There is space for liberal capitalist party, women in boardrooms and an iron fist. The civil war parties don’t really have their heart in this stuff yet but the kind of people who would defend Labour’s actions over the past five years could make a contribution there without having to support a labour party. If you find so much of this acceptable in exchange for meagre ‘progress’ why not do it from Fine Gael or Greens and save yourself the bother of having to excuse neoliberal policy. The last thing those who rely on a left wing party need is a ‘respectable’ left wing party and in one too many ways Labour have quite contently gone over to the dark side. Dick Spring on the board of AIB, Ruairi Quinn on the board of a third level venture capital firm before becoming education minister. How many landlords are in the party these days? In the coming years we shall see what emerges from the FF/FG convergence. It is happening and there is space for all of you somewhere. Something to think about but for the rest of us, Emer Costello wouldn’t even endorse rent control in Dublin during an RTÉ debate in the European elections. Having already spent more than any other candidate she lost her deposit. People had other options to vote for because Labour stood for nothing.
The Labour Party are clearly not fit for purpose and quite arguably never were. As a litmus test, on the day Labour’s much vaunted collective bargaining legislation was passed last year, we also had warm and welcoming press releases from IBEC and Richard Bruton. For 100 years the party has consistently lagged behind comparable counterparts. There are, how shall we say, some Irish factors for this but the Labour Party itself is also one of these stifling peculiarities and it is time to weigh up the blueprint objectively rather than continuing for another 100 years of mediocrity. Comparing the achievements of parties across different countries is by no means a perfect lens but Labour has clearly not achieved anything approaching the success of others either as Catholic workers party, socialist party or Blairite liberal party.
Labour may have a proud history and tradition that members feel should continue but it is also a history of nearlys and not reallys. The Noël Brownes and Mary Robinsons that the modern party hopes to emulate were hardly even members. Browne was up on screen during the party’s centenary in 2012 but was not a member in 1951, Labour were among those who tuned their back on him during the mother & child scheme. So the, let’s called it restructuring, would provide the space and impetus to seriously re-equip from the bottom up the intersection of politics and trade unionism not just in 2016 but for the next fifty years. Otherwise, Labour’s continued presence is in all seriousness no different to the dance of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael protecting redundant fiefdoms in naked self-interest.
How likely are Labour to engage with any of this or wider questions facing their nominal tradition in Europe is questionable given the bankruptcy of thought and purpose evident in the party and not least considering the way criticism and dissent has traditionally been dealt with. Maybe given reduced parliamentary numbers and with some of the old leadership cleared out things might open up but as if to underline the pervading groupthink, there are nearly as many former members as Labour deputies in the new Dáil. With flunkies like Dermot Lacey and Lorraine Higgins to the technocratic pinnacle represented in someone like Brendan Halligan, you can see the dead end thinking Labour offers. Internal discussion continues I’m sure but any assessments I have seen online were out of date before even published. There will be no social democracy in Ireland. Democracy itself is on the way out across the continent and the Labour Party itself as recent as 2012 in the Fiscal Treaty enthusiastically collaborated in the effective outlawing of socialism in the EU.
And look where it has got them. Internal struggles over the coming months will not amount to much more than personality difference and loyalty. Members may insist that there is no shortage of dissenting views within but we also recognise bluster and to any outside observer the idea that Labour is anything but a near homogeneous and largely ineffective liberal party would be preposterous.
It might once have suited the other right wing parties to keep Labour on life-support so the party could fulfil its tradition role in putting a nice face on capitalism while taking the blame but it is questionable if Labour are even up to that task in future.
For everyone else, take a look around Irish politics now and it will be evident, those who left, were kicked out or never joined have more in common with each other than those who remain. That should be very troubling.
The Labour Party could very well disappear now and no one would miss it.
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