Here I am presenting a topic that’s not really been discussed in any coherent manner, here’s my attempt, enjoy.
Historically speaking Irelands call for independence truly kicked off with radical Left Wing activists such as James Connolly, Jim Larkin and Padraig Pearse. The rhetoric, ideology and literature of all three paints a pretty clear picture for me; they strove for a Socialist 32 county Republic where the working class would rule themselves, free of the Irish aristocracy and free from the British aristocracy. The result was rather unfortunately different. Further reading for this subject can be found in ‘Labour, Nationality and Religion’ by James Connolly.
While the martyrdom of these revolutionaries served to unite a nation in undisputed want for freedom, it did not take away the cancerous roots that the Church had in society nor that of the landed Irish elite. If anything, both of these elements selected the winning side, this winning side happened to be the Free State. Fast forwarding to the Irish Civil War we can see that those who did not recognize or wish for there to be continued subjugation to the British Crown rose up in defiance, many of those who did so came from working class backgrounds and Socialist/Republican backgrounds. In achieving victory over the anti-Treaty forces the Free State prosecuted, interned and exiled many of these Socialist-Republicans and in doing so hugely diminished the left wing movement in Ireland.
In 1923 James Connolly’s son, Roddy Connolly established the first incarnation of the Communist Party of Ireland, a group that did not have tremendous influence and was dissolved shortly after. It took another ten years for the party to be properly reformed in 1933. Especially in the mid-1930s the Communist Party of Ireland showed itself to be the only true vanguard of the working class in Ireland, both on a domestic and international level. It was the “go-to” party for volunteers seeking to fight against fascist Spain and sent roughly 150 volunteers, for further reading on the Spanish Civil War and the role of the CPI, Blueshirts and the Irish Labour Party I’d recommend “The Connolly Column” by Michael O’Riordain.
During the 1930s the Irish Labour Party, Fianna Fail and what was to become Fine Gael were all very much divided on a number of issues and admittedly quite a lot of policies produced by both Fianna Fail and the Labour Party were progressive. I would argue that these progressive roots have long been forgotten and set aside with particular emphasis on the moment Ireland stepped into the EEC in 1973.
You see, dearest reader, I’ve come to the conclusion that capitalism as an economic ideology diverts the necessity of political parties to maintain some sort of key principles and merely focus on short term populism. Now, a devoted and fervent member of the Irish Labour Party might of course disagree and they’d be fully in their right to do so! But the reality of the matter is that, the Labour Party which was found by a Socialist and Marxist would have never under his leadership co-operated with what was back then quite a well-known right-wing party, Fine Gael.
The erosion of political ideology comes with the implementation of short term political plans, by short term I largely mean 5-10 years. The most “devout” of capitalists have no understanding of the consequences that come with these “short term” deals. In Ireland some of these short term deals have permanently undermined both the people and the economy to such a degree that it now has no autonomy of its own. A solid example of this deal backfiring is the fishing rights which Ireland suspended in order to obtain short term economic aid from the EU, here’s a site that campaigns for a reformation of the fishing policies in the EU and states that the EU has made in excess of 140 billion euro from Irish fishing rights: http://fishingforjustice.eu/wp/
But the above is just basic background information, never the less it’s incredibly relevant background information that allows you, the reader to get a better understanding of the situation that has engulfed Ireland and dare I say other Western European nations.
A number of key concepts have made their way to the heart of the Irish political system, here’s just a small list of the ones that are now defining features:
- The complete and subservient acceptance of the European Commission. Personally as a non-native this is the one that I’ve found the most shocking. For a nation that maintains great pride in having fought off the British Empire, there are not a lot of questions raised regarding the position the Irish state and people have to the EU. Note: The Irish government has to forward its budget to the EU hierarchy before passing it themselves, freedom huh?
- Attracting direct foreign investment seems to be always on the agenda as a way of creating employment. To be frank, this is a rather resigned, uncreative and lazy method of creating employment. Not only does it place down the groundwork for cronyism but it also consciously chooses to lower the government’s involvement with its own citizens.
- Multinational companies that have provided direct foreign investment have also been at the forefront of dismantling the rights of workers in Ireland. In 2011, Abrakebabra, Supermacs (Irish), KFC, Burger King, Subway defeated the government and people by breaking the power of the Labour Court and their ability to set binding rates of pay. As a result the conditions and rates of pay across all five establishments and subsequently other large businesses have deteriorated.
- Again to re-iterate, the dictate of the European Union has rarely been challenged by the current or previous government on important measures by the establishment parties. The most important being the banking bailout. In Iceland, the people marched unto the streets and revoked their government and constitution (democratically) and elected a new government. They also arranged for a new constitution to be written by fifteen non-aligned citizens. Nothing of the sort occurred in Ireland.
- Looking at the “promotion” of policies by each major party, the lack of opposition provided to the EU, the blatantly obvious non-neutral international position and this great emphasis that multinational companies will save the country it’s pretty easy to conclude that with the co-operation of each group, Capitalism has eradicated ideologies from a wide variety of political parties.
It is imperative to understand that in the early stages of the Irish Free State, political movements and parties had a powerful feeling of both class and social consciousness. Many progressive projects were launched in particular by the Irish Labour Party and Fianna Fail during their first stay in power and it would be unfair to forget that. If we are to analyse these parties now, they would be very much left of centre on major economic policies, Fianna Fail’s connections to the Papacy however brought it to the right on social issues.
But not all parties had class and national consciousness, Fine Gael (a unification of the National Guard, Cumann na nGaedheal, National Centre Party). Each of these organizations had colourful backgrounds, one received considerable funding from ‘big farmers’ – another glorified Hitler and fought on the side of fascists in the Spanish Civil War and another was directly complicit in many executions of Irish Socialists and Republicans during the Irish Civil War. It was a series of movements that openly endorsed a “landed elite”, “big industrialists” and devolved ideas of corporatism. Even more interesting is that the “Irish Unionist Alliance” also ended up in Cumann na nGaedhal and therefore subsequently Fine Gael.
Without drawing too much into the history of each political party however it’s time to bring this all up to date to 2015 and make it relevant. The five points mentioned up above can be brought to use; each “large” political party at the moment endorses the same sort of economic, social and political policies. This is a result of their surrender to the policies of capitalism and their pathetic subservience to the European Commission.
I’ve come to hold the belief that Ireland can be very easily classified as a “one-party system” because the parties that routinely rotate in power are not distinguishable from each other in any shape or form. As a result, does it truly matter what banner these “parties” carry? If they promote the same policies domestically and internationally then they may as well be the same party. It is admissible that they have some differences in policy and occasionally this is reflected in their bouts of power. The reality is that these differences are characterized by promises made in elections or the active caring of their direct constituents whom they need to bribe for election.
But it’s not only these reasons explained above that make Ireland a one party system, it’s the very layout of the cabinet, parliament and upper house. The checks and balances that exist to some degree in other systems don’t really exist here; when a party is either (a) majority party of a coalition or (b) standalone majority party is has little to no constitutional opposition that can truly stop it from imposing its agenda.
In the parliament this is backed up by what’s known as the “party whip” which essentially means immediate expulsion from whatever party if you don’t whip along the guideline. A rather sinister and revolution distortion of democratic procedure, is it not? Representatives have to vote for something they may not believe in or support under the pressure of expulsion!
It gets worse, though, while we’re aware that Ireland has to submit its budget for “review” (real decision making) we also have to know who determines and discusses the budget. It’s the cabinet, sometimes, but it’s also this group here: http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/eng/Taoiseach_and_Government/Cabinet_Committees/Economic_Management_Council_for_attachment_.html. The absolute centralization of power currently on-going in the Irish system is clearly defined. This committee that has four people makes the most “important” decisions; it passes them to the cabinet which is predominantly made up from one party, so the decision is obviously ratified rather quickly and then finally onto the rubber stamp that is the parliament.
I think the closest comparison I can make is that of the USSR. There was the Politburo which then had an inner circle of leaders, who made the real decisions. Then there was the central committee that was the rubber stamp for these decisions. What actual difference is there in the way that policy is passed? There is none.
As it stands, Ireland’s mainstream political parties are so similar and the legislative and executive branches are so intertwined to one-party domination that there is little opportunity for dissent and as James Connolly aptly put it:
“Yes, friends, governments in capitalist society are but committees of the rich to manage the affairs of the capitalist class.” Irish Worker (socialist newspaper) 29 August, 1915. Reprinted in P. Beresford Ellis (ed.), “James Connolly – Selected Writings”, p. 248.