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Containing the surge

Nothing worries an established ruling class so much as a series of unpredictable events over which they have no control. This is especially so when these events pose questions about the stability of the status quo. There can be little doubt that developments over the last six months have given rise to just such concerns within governing circles in Dublin.

Look at what has happened over that short period. 

Last December’s  British general election showed the fragility of partition, with unionism losing out in three of the four Belfast Westminster constituencies. Reconvening the Stormont Assembly has offered only temporary relief with the pandemic showing London rule to be more incompetent not to mention more undemocratic than anything emanating from Leinster House.

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Electoral upset in the North was followed a few weeks later by shock in the South. Sinn Fein received the highest number of votes for any single party thus creating an unprecedented situation. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael in partnership were unable to form a majority government. The real question posed by that result is whether Sinn Fein’s manifesto and canvas was so inspiring that it reversed the dismal results of its two previous election performances or did it reflect something different. Did it indicate the slow burning anger of a very sizeable percentage of the population? A disadvantaged section of working people outraged with the arrogant mistreatment meted out by a Fine Gael government kept in power by a clueless Fianna Fail? 

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic appeared at first to have given a reprieve to Leo Varadkar and his party. Clever PR created the impression of a competent and caring government. However, the mask has been slipping of late. He is preparing to reverse much of the €350 weekly pandemic payment while talking caustically about those drawing down more from that measure than they do at work. At the same time his ministers and mainstream media supporters speak darkly about budget deficits and no free money. 

All the while, a global recession is looming on the horizon. Capitalism is facing a much greater crisis than that triggered by the financial crash of 2008 and in the opinion of many, its greatest challenge since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The International Labour Organisation is predicting 12 million full-time jobs will be lost across the EU in 2020. The OECD has estimated the decline in output could be in the level of between one-fifth to one-quarter in many economies, with consumers’ expenditure potentially dropping by around one-third.

Compounding this, emergency measures taken to deal with the pandemic are raising concerns among free marketeers the world over. The Financial Times editorial of 9 May reflected the fears of the ruling classes when it wrote that short of a communist revolution it would be hard to imagine governments intervening in private markets more deeply than happened during the first months of lockdown. 

Just one example illustrates the difficulties this could cause for a neoliberal Irish state. Currently, 80% of the nursing homes in the Republic of Ireland are privately owned profit-making business. These institutions are now coming under intense scrutiny. Over 50% of Covid-19 related deaths in the 26-Counties are associated with care homes, one of the highest rates the world. The obvious answer, to bring all healthcare under centralised state control, threatens this nice little earner for the private sector. Moreover, since the situation vis-à-vis care homes in the North is little different, this could well raise for a partitionist Dublin establishment the unwelcome spectre of demands for an effective all-Ireland health service free to all at the point of entry.

Recognising what is at stake, several high-powered commentators, here and abroad, are advocating a Keynesian approach to deal with the anticipated recession. In reality, they recognise the threat a second more intensive round of austerity would pose for capitalism. However, this would be a difficult option for a Dublin government that doesn’t control its own currency and adheres slavishly to EU regulations preventing state intervention.

Moreover, even if the EU were to temporarily ease back on neo-liberalism, the southern Irish bourgeoisie would be reluctant to adopt Keynesianism. Crude demand stimulation would inevitably lead to another uncontrollable speculative bubble. On the other hand a more controlled investment programme might encourage demands for further, widespread state intervention. Something that could put us on the slippery slope towards socialism.   

Faced with this dilemma, the more attractive option for the Southern Irish ruling class will be to batten down the hatches, protect big business, maintain a de facto austerity regime  and hope to ride out the storm. With a right-wing coalition in office for the next five years, vague promises can be made but never kept. Meanwhile, a compliant mainstream media will point to southern Europe and tell us  how much better off we are with our prudent, frugal government.  

A major concern for the establishment will be to contain the disaffected, that disturbingly large number of people who voted for Sinn Fein and/or left-wing candidates. While coercion is an option, it is not the first choice. The more sophisticated strategy of shaping the opposition is favoured. It worked in Britain and no doubt it will be tried here.

Watch for the pundits encourage Sinn Fein to show maturity and serve patiently as an effective official opposition and tell them by thus acting ‘responsibly’, Mary Lou will undoubtedly lead the next government. Wait for the modest concessions offered to ‘reasonable’ trade union leaders who recognise that ‘we’re all in this together’ and show restraint for the good of the nation.

Listen then for the howls of outrage directed against those in organised labour who call for direct action to break the emasculating Industrial Relations Act or resist redundancies or reject poverty wages. Hear too the demonisation of those activists calling for mass street protest against iniquitous inequalities. 

Take time finally and consider whether capitalism deserves a five-year respite and an extension to its tenure thereafter. Or should we take a lesson from their own book and not waste this crisis?


Some men, faint-hearted, ever seek

Our programme to retouch,

And will insist, whene’er they speak

That we demand too much.

’Tis passing strange, yet I declare

Such statements give me mirth,

For our demands most moderate are,

We only want the earth … James Connolly


Tommy McKearney 




                                      








Coronavirus: A lesson for us all

Statement … Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum


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The Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum, like many groups and individuals, has watched Covid-19 take a heavy toll on the lives of working people around the country. The emergence and global spread of this virus has brought home to many people the volatile nature of the world we live in, and exposed the fragile nature of health services in Ireland. It has also opened up conversations about how we should deal with it and how to learn for future viruses and also the type of future Ireland we should have.

Decades of underfunding, privatisation and commercialisation  have weakened and undermined the public health services that people need and have access to. The creation of a two-tier health system in the two parts of Ireland has contributed to further inequality within society.

Covid-19 has also exposed outmoded thinking about how we should deal with major social and political questions, including the provision of health services to our people, from Derry to Kerry. As many leading medical experts have pointed out, it makes no sense, and is dangerous to public health, to have two separate strategies for fighting Covid-19 and two poorly funded health services.

We believe that an all-Ireland, universally accessible, free public health system would be in the best interests of the citizens. It would go a long way to ending inequality in health care. We must maximise the use of medical expertise throughout the whole country. We need to remove the profit motive out of health services, from hospitals to care homes for the elderly.

Outmoded thinking in relation to creating a single health service for all our people will endanger the present and future generations. We need to plan for the future, not to be locked in the past.

Covid-19 is not the first virus, nor will it be the last, that will have an impact on our people. The continuing destruction of the global environment is opening up new pathways for such diseases to become more regular challenges, both globally and nationally, to people’s health and the provision of health care.

Working people paid for the last crisis in lost jobs, savage cuts in wages and services, homelessness, and precarious work. During the present health crisis working people have again borne an unequal burden, with many lives lost. Working people should not pay for this new and emerging economic crisis. We have had enough.


Contact:   Tommy Mc Kearney

Email: tommymckearney@me.com

PODSRF Press release ...14th May 2020

Desecration of Red Army memorials


The article below was written by Luhansk People's Republic resident  Andrie Kochetov. In it he details the enormous sacrifice made by the Soviet Red Army as it fought and liberated Europe from the curse of Fascism and Nazism only to now see memorials to the heroism of the fallen desecrated by right-wing governments in Eastern Europe.


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In recent years, an epidemic has swept across Eastern Europe. The epidemic of complete unconsciousness of pro-government elites. The unconsciousness of their own history. The Baltic countries for a long time out of hatred of their Soviet past made liquid goods for which Old Europe paid with great generosity and continues to pay those same thirty pieces of silver to the governments of these countries. But Bulgaria and Poland were relatively recently affected by this disease. We all followed the mass demolition of monuments to Soviet soldiers in these countries. This was the result of the painstaking and lengthy work of Western propaganda aimed at completely erasing from the human memory the feat of the Soviet soldier. A soldier who did not spare his life for the liberation of the peoples of Europe. There are well-known data on the losses of the Red Army in the territory of Eastern Europe:

• in Poland - 600,212 people;

• in Czechoslovakia - 139918 people;

• in Hungary - 14,0004 people;

• in Germany - 101961 people;

• in Romania - 68,993 people;

• in Austria - 26006 people;

• in Yugoslavia - 7995 people;

• in Norway - 3436 people;

• in Bulgaria - 977 people;

The ashes of all these soldiers rest in the territory of the countries for whose freedom they gave their lives. And we, the heirs of the Victory soldiers quite reasonably expected respect and dignity for the graves and monuments of fallen heroes, as the generally accepted laws of human morality suggest. But no! Contrary to common sense and morality, egregious acts of vandalism have become the norm for the current descendants of the inhabitants of countries liberated by Soviet soldiers from fascism.

With alarm and indignation, we all watched with what frenzy the Polish authorities rushed to destroy the monuments. How bashfully, the Bulgarian authorities did not see anything reprehensible in numerous acts of vandalism over monuments to the soldiers of the Red Army.

But the Prague authorities distinguished themselves with particular cynicism, which at the time of hype in the information field about the situation with the coronavirus, dismantled the monument to Marshal of the Soviet Union, Twice Hero of the Soviet Union Ivan Stepanovich Konev. And if the Soviet ranks and awards may not be interesting to the modern Czech inhabitant, then the fact that it was Marshal Konev who commanded the Prague offensive operation in May 1945, during which not only was liberated but also saved Prague, they simply must know. It was Marshal Konev who defeated the remnants of the regular Wehrmacht troops and put the long-awaited point in the most bloody war of the past century. Residents of liberated Prague then appreciated the merits of Marshall, conferring on him the title of “Honorary Citizen of Prague”. How can the descendants of these very liberated inhabitants allow the authorities of Prague to demolish the monument to the commander-liberator on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the Great Victory? How can we evaluate the actions of the headman of the Prague-6 district, Ondrzej Kolář, who directed the demolition of the monument? The special cynicism of his phrase is noteworthy: “We dismantled it, because the marshal did not have a mask. " In our opinion, this is a complete degradation of morality. Especially against the background of the recent history with masks that China sent to Italy, and the Czech Republic calmly appropriated these masks, clearly demonstrating to the whole world the “unbreakable unity of the European Union”.

I really want to believe that the leadership of the Russian Federation will not leave unnoticed the fact of flagrant vandalism on the part of the authorities of the city of Prague, and also find a way to “note” directly the special cynicism of Ondrej Kolář. After all, the Russians do not abandon their own. And the slogan: "Nobody is forgotten, nothing is forgotten!" still remains the property of our national memory.

Stormont …where incompetence carries no sanction

Having carried out a costly 12 month long forensic investigation into the Renewable Heat Initiative or ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal, Patrick Coghlin has failed to identify any individual responsible for the fiasco. Nobody is to be made accountable and life carries on in the surreal political world that is Northern Ireland.

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The minister in charge of the department responsible for the scheme was briefed of its flaws by whistleblower Janette O’Hagan as early as 2013. Nevertheless, in spite of this she remained oblivious to what thousands of others knew and exploited. Moreover,  having inexplicably failed to read the legislation she presented to the Assembly, Mrs Foster felt and continues to feel under no obligation to do the honourable thing and offer her resignation. On the contrary, the DUP leader has actually been rewarded and now acts as First Minister of Northern Ireland.


Across the corridor from Mrs Foster sits Michelle O’Neill who throughout the years of the ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal was Stormont’s Minister for Agriculture. Notwithstanding the fact that a majority of those installing biomass boilers were poultry farmers, the minister apparently remained blissfully unaware of the lucrative scheme that many of her constituents and supporters were availing of. However, as with Arlene Foster, this prolonged period of somnambulance has had no detrimental impact on Ms O’Neil’s career. She now holds the position of Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister

What, therefore, are we to make of a political entity where normal standards of proper governance is so spectacularly absent? An area where administrative incompetence, to the extent of visible failure to fulfil core parts of ministerial jobs, carries no sanction? 

The answer has to be that these qualities matter little in a failed political entity that now has a diminishing raison d’être and no long-term future. Otherwise, those with power would take better care to ensure administrative probity and integrity by demanding accountability from its most senior politicians.

How much longer can this dysfunctional Ruritania continue?


Tommy McKearney …. 13 March 2020

Consternation among the elite

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That the agents of imperialism and the ruling elite everywhere weaponise information is nothing new. Two thousand years ago Augustus Caesar had supporters paint salacious and damaging stories about his enemies on the walls of Rome.

Technology has changed since then, but the underlying objective and methods remain the same. The process is carried out using a two-track approach: distort the truth shamelessly but convincingly, and where possible prevent the other saying anything at all.

Evidence of this is all around us, from the bilge broadcast by Fox News to the sophisticated narrative spun by RTE and the BBC, including their reporting of the American bombing of Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad, the imprisonment of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, and, more locally, the imposition of the old section 31.

Pressure on those offering an alternative or anti-imperialist outlook is relentless. Google deleted the Youtube account of the British channel of Iran’s Press TV in January following the assassination of the Iranian general Qasem Suleimani. Meanwhile the US government is seeking ways to close down Telesur, the media network based in Venezuela and supported by Cuba.

Unless any reader might think that the egregious lie is confined to Trump and his spooks, reflect for a few moments on matters this side of the Atlantic. Last month the Independent (London) published an article by Keir Starmer under the breathtaking heading “Our radical socialist tradition must remain at the heart of Labour.”¹ This ostensibly left-wing sentiment was written by the man who bears most responsibility for forcing the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn to prevaricate on its Brexit policy, thereby facilitating a massive Tory victory in the last election.

This former director of public prosecutions, head of the Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales and pillar of the British establishment has the brass-necked effrontery to pose as a radical socialist while winning the approval of every right-wing commentator in Britain.

Not, indeed, that we are spared similar machinations in Ireland. Since Sinn Féin’s shock success in the recent general election in the Republic, though, they have reached new heights as pandemonium reigns throughout the establishment on both sides of the border.

For years unionism has taken comfort from a belief that the South’s electorate had little or no interest in reunification. There is no longer the same certainty. However, an opinion poll conducted by the University of Liverpool and published conveniently in the days after the election provided a measure of reassurance for unionists. With only 29 per cent of Northern voters supporting reunification, according to the survey, Jon Tonge, professor of politics at the university, was able to say that “the data offers an antidote to excitable recent commentary concerning the imminence of Irish unity.” The timing of the report’s publication was perhaps merely a coincidence, but, understandably, many are sceptical.

Meanwhile south of the border every reactionary element in the 26-County state has taken part in the Stop Sinn Féin offensive. The hostile media were unsparing in their vitriol, one right-wing hack going so far as to claim that “24.5% of the electorate voted for the Irish equivalent of the Monster Raving Loony Party.”² It’s hardly necessary to make a comprehensive list of the mainstream media contributors to this brouhaha; but special mention has to be given to the intervention of the Garda commissioner, Drew Harris.

With exquisite political timing, the former RUC officer made a speech claiming that the Provisional IRA’s Army Council is Sinn Féin’s governing authority. If the commissioner is so worried about this he might share his concerns with his colleagues north of the border. The chief constable of the PSNI, Simon Byrne, was happy recently to employ the services of Sinn Féin’s vice-president, Michelle O’Neill, and her colleague Gerry Kelly during a recruiting drive for the force.

In reality, Harris must know that, even if the Army Council still existed in its old military form, no group of seven persons could exercise control over thirty-seven popularly elected members of the Dáil. But fear of a secret army was never really the issue here. Raising the spectre of subversion is the political equivalent of the cardsharp distracting punters as he performs the three-card trick. While attention is focused on a non-existent terror threat, the issues that won Sinn Féin a large slice of the vote are being played down

Make no mistake, it is the issues rather than Mary Lou McDonald’s party that are causing such consternation among the wealthy ruling elite and their followers. If a programme attempting to address inequalities and deficiencies in society gains momentum among the public it would threaten the privileged cohort benefiting from neo-liberal austerity.

This group is growing increasingly nervous, and therefore aggressive, as the global economy is threatened with at best a slowdown, if not outright recession, exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic.

It’s important, therefore, not to let the situation descend into a war of words centred on Sinn Féin. Doing so would merely allow right-wing apologists to shift the narrative away from the reality of biting hardship and inequality and towards nebulous arguments that will never be resolved—because those dissembling have a vested interest in altering the narrative.

In this respect the Right2Change unions have made a positive contribution with a statement issued last month.³ While not being dismissive or disrespectful of the part played by Sinn Féin in making progressive demands, spokespersons for the four unions involved emphasised the need for action on the issues. Brendan Ogle of Unite identified these clearly as “housing, health, education, public services and long-overdue improvements in workers’ rights,” adding that if such a programme cannot be implemented at present “then it needs to be developed to ensure a brighter future.”

He hits the nail on the head here by concentrating on the importance of the programme to be implemented and, if it’s not possible to do so now, that we persist until we succeed. It is vital, therefore, that we are not diverted by those peddling misinformation on behalf of capital and the empire.

As always, there is a world to be won if we keep our eye on the real objective.


Tommy McKearney 


This article first appeared in Socialist Voice, March 2020


1. Keith Starmer, “Our radical socialist tradition must remain at the heart of Labour,” Independent(London), 22 February 2020 (at https://bit.ly/2Vgjtki).

2. Ian O’Doherty, “Sinn Féin: A party of crackpots?” Spiked, 24 February 2020 (https://www.spiked-online.com/).

3. Right2Change, “Right2Change unions call for an historic left led Government for change,” at https://bit.ly/2Vf2RJL).

Sometimes a minor event sheds a light


High-tech not paying its way in the Ireland of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail



From time to time a seemingly minor event illuminates the nature of governance in a country. Such a moment occurred last month when the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, was honoured in Dublin.

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There may have been a degree of electioneering on Varadkar’s part when he presented the IDA’s inaugural “special recognition award” to Cook. Nevertheless he echoed a long-held view among Ireland’s ruling business class. He said Apple had played a key role in making Ireland the “tech capital of Europe”; and, significantly, he emphasised that what he considers success has come by looking to the future and opening the Republic to trade and competition—all this glad-handing of the billionaire businessman from California in spite of the fact that the EU Commission has ruled that Apple owes the Irish state €13 billion (plus interest) in underpayment of taxes.

All very predictable from the leader of neo-liberal Fine Gael; but there was more to this event than meets the eye. A move is afoot by several OECD member-states, led by France and now Britain, to impose a digital tax on American technology companies, assessed on their business dealings in the markets in which they operate. If carried out, such a proposal would hit the huge profits of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and—biggest of them all—Apple.

This frankly modest measure is bitterly opposed not only by the United States but also by the Republic’s government. Hence the kowtowing to Cook in Dublin.

How to explain this strange behaviour? Why would an Irish government constantly take steps to deny the state revenue that is badly needed? After all, no-one seriously denies that we have massive deficiencies in the health service, a housing and homelessness crisis, exorbitant costs of child care, and—as we are told—a depleted pension pot as the retirement age is stretched further towards the grave.

The answer to this apparent paradox lies in the endless struggle to retain control of society and its wealth. Those now in power—and this includes supporters of several political parties—are determined to ensure that the free-market system remains in place at all costs. The alternative—to plan the economy and redistribute wealth fairly and to where it is most needed—would challenge the ruling class’s source of power, that is, its ownership of a controlling share of the country’s wealth.

Illustrating this is the fact that almost half of all TDs are millionaires, and now there is the recently published Oxfam report stating that Ireland has the fifth-largest number of billionaires per capita in the world.

Integral to this elite preservation strategy is the presence of a significant number of foreign transnational companies, with their non-unionised employment practices weakening the bargaining power of local organised labour. An inevitable by-product of this process, and one that our comprador bourgeoisie is comfortable with, is a steady erosion of sovereignty.

Sovereignty, like a slow descent into addiction, can be lost imperceptibly. Moreover, as a people’s power to self-govern is eroded, their ability to fight back is seriously curtailed. As global imperialism, overseen by the US ruling class, is facing a challenge to its hegemony from the newly emerging superpower China, its exponents are struggling to tighten their grip on power and in the process becoming more authoritarian.

The ramifications of this are widespread and complex, as effective power and control is increasingly conceded to those governing the United States, supported by the EU.

One example among many. The advocate-general of the EU Court of Justice recently published an opinion that “the transfer of personal data to processors established in third countries is valid . . .” This is basically saying that transferring data, including credit-card transactions and personnel databases, from the EU to (principally) the United States should be allowed.

American corporations and security agencies are therefore being invited in effect to gather vast quantities of EU citizens’ personal information. That our concerns are not groundless was illustrated by a recent Morning Star article, “Apple drops plans for icloud encryption after FBI complains.”[1] The FBI believed that the move would harm its investigations. Ominously too, Apple alone has responded to more than 127,000 requests from US law-enforcement agencies for information over the past seven years.

Overwhelmed by hyperbole surrounding so-called benefits, and therefore the alleged need to encourage and maintain foreign direct investment, the Republic’s largest political parties have offered no criticism of the high-tech giants. Nor is there any serious analysis of the influence exercised by these corporations in the affairs of the state. Consequently, practically no alternative is being widely discussed to how the economy of this state could prosper in their absence.

Unless we are happy to allow this state of affairs to continue unchallenged—and we are not—a strategy has to be devised for turning the situation round. Faced with the undoubted hostility of the establishment, its political spokespersons, and its compliant media, this will entail an uphill struggle.

One avenue is to avail of an opportunity that allows us to raise the issue in a context immediately relevant to the existing situation in Ireland. That issue is the housing and homelessness crisis. Late last year several news networks in the United States were reporting that many large high-tech transnationals were donating money to the state of California to help alleviate a housing crisis in San Francisco.[2] Along with significant contributions from Amazon, Google, and Facebook, the Apple company was making $2½ billion available to the state government.

Surely it would be in order for the Irish government to make a similar demand upon these transnationals. After all, Tim Cook, on his recent visit, described the Republic as Apple’s “second home.”

Of course this is a reformist approach; but then, at a certain level, so is asking for a pay increase. The point is that by forcing this demand onto the agenda we would open a door to a deeper assessment of the role of transnationals in the Republic. A successful campaign would embolden working people, and if the transnationals resist they are exposed for the rapacious capitalists they are. It’s an option worth consideration.


Tommy McKearney … 2 Feb 2020

1. “Apple drops plans for icloud encryption after FBI complains,” Morning Star, 23 January 2020 (https://bit.ly/2NTcsRY).

2. “Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are spending money to address the affordable housing crisis they helped create,” CNBC, 1 December 2019.


NB: This article first appeared in Socialist Voice February 2020


The fall of Singapore and the anticipated demise of Fianna Fail

The changing face of southern Irish politics.


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The connection between the fall of Singapore in 1942 and the latest election     set-back for Fianna Fail may not seem obvious at first. However, not only did   both events signal the ending of empire but in a strange way each occurred because those in charge were facing in the wrong direction. Micheál Martin has probably never heard of Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival but they share much in common. 


Expecting a naval assault, the British general trained his guns out to sea leaving his army vulnerable to attack from the rear, which indeed the Japanese did. Micheál Martin also made a strategic error by attacking brand Sinn Fein while overlooking his own vulnerability in relation to issues that mattered with the electorate; housing, health, childcare and old age pension.


Ten years after the economic crash and with a smug Fine Gael government supported by Fianna Fail insisting that the economy is booming, people were outraged by a housing and homeless crisis, chaos in the health and childcare services and an attack on old-age pensions. All these issues were identified by Sinn Fein as demanding urgent action and unsurprisingly, the party benefited and did so at the expense of those determined to maintain the injustice of a punishing neoliberalism.


Consequently, the general election has delivered an intriguing result with the three largest parties each having practically equal numbers of deputies. Fine Gael is disappointed but they, unlike Fianna Fail, believe this does not pose an existential threat to their future. With their ingrained disdain for working class people, the Blueshirts are content to hold on to the 20/25% of the electorate who benefit under the capitalist dog-eat-dog system.


With that nasty cohort thus catered for, Fianna Fail has always had to look for a broader base. Now, after supporting the Dublin 4 Posh Boys for the past few years, their credibility is damaged and their appeal lessened. They are therefore left with an agonising dilemma. Do they go into coalition with a Sinn Fein party supported by a number of left-wing deputies, thereby risking a reverse takeover? Or do they remain out of government and precipitate another general election at which they face terminal damage from a hungry and reinvigorated Sinn Fein?


On the other hand and notwithstanding their undoubted success, Sinn Fein has need to reflect on how best to proceed. The increase to their vote now includes a significant left-wing current anxious for economic change, as evidenced by the large transfer of second preferences to other left-of-centre candidates. A challenge for Ms McDonald and her colleagues will be to retain the support of this broad constituency if the party signs up to a programme for government that fails to meet expectations.


In the wider context, politics in the Republic is changing. The state has one of the youngest and best educated populations in Western Europe many, of whom are unwilling to tolerate indefinitely a dysfunctional and lopsided economic system. They have voted for something better  and will insist that this comes about. 

Socialist republicans should therefore work to ensure this happens and not tolerate other considerations diluting our demands.


By the way, a final word about Lieutenant-General Percival. Just like Micheál Martin, he too had difficulty understanding Ireland’s working people, once  finding himself severely discomforted in County Cork by a group of local men inspired by the advice and guidance of a Mr Thomas B. Barry.

Tommy McKearney …11 February 2020

Creating the Mass Movement

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Have you ever wondered why the Fine Gael government, supported by its Fianna Fáil bedfellows, decided to publish the budget a few short days before it was expected that Britain would leave the European Union?

Let’s face it, who in Dublin could have anticipated the mess Boris Johnson created for himself?

If, as we were constantly being told, Brexit would have a profound impact on the Irish economy, why not wait until after 31 October and take those important decisions in the light of concrete facts? Surely a few weeks couldn’t make a huge difference if the outcome were to be neutral as regards the budget. Alternatively, if adjustments were required, applying specific measures to specific needs would appear to be the obvious course of action.

Instead of waiting for clarification, what we heard from Leinster House was a mixture of caution and coercion, with the minister for finance, Paschal Donohoe, blethering on about financial prudence while the minister for employment affairs and social protection, Regina Doherty, threatens to launch a full-scale investigation into 750,000 recipients of social welfare payments.

While there was no indication of any intention to increase—or, in some cases, hardly even to impose—corporation tax, apparently there is to be no letting up on austerity for the less well off. This, believe it or not, is at odds with the current thinking of the EU Central Bank.

Over the past decade, Western market economies defied the old Keynesian logic of counter-cyclical spending to avert recession. When neo-liberal certainties crumbled after the economic crash of 2008, governments in the United States and Europe employed a combination of monetary measures, to provide bankers with cheap money, and the imposing of harsh “austerity” policies on working-class communities.

Now, however, as another recession looms ever closer, these governments will be forced to search for different options. In reality there is little left to squeeze from working people; and interest rates can hardly fall further. Therefore some of the more hard-line neo-liberal finance ministries in the EU have indicated a different approach in response to a call from the ECB to alter their fiscal regulations. The Dutch, in particular, have promised a more expansionary package, relaxing spending curbs and planning infrastructural investment. Clearly this will only be a temporary interruption to the EU’s default neo-liberal position, but it is significant nevertheless.

So what of the Republic? Having obediently adhered to the orthodoxy as dictated by Brussels since 2010, it would appear strange, on the surface at least, that the Dublin government is not now following suit. We might well ask why. After all, there is no shortage of essential projects crying out for investment: a major house-building scheme to address the shocking homelessness and rack-renting scandal; a health package to end the obscenity of over a million citizens on waiting-lists.¹ Then there is rural broadband. Or what about financing the research and development of renewable energy sources? These are just a few of the many areas in need of investment.

Contrary to the tired old mantra that we have no money to spare, there are funds aplenty if the will to use them exists. Take, for example, the building of public housing. Borrowing for the state has never been cheaper, with interest almost at nil, and these projects obviously become self-financing as rent is collected. Such areas as broadband internet and renewable energy are actually income-generators. And that is before any responsible government would make transnationals pay their due share for access to the national infrastructure.

There is a simple answer, of course. The Government and its cabal of privileged and wealthy backers are wedded to whatever policies help maintain the status quo and thereby ensure that the ruling elite continues to hold power. As James Connolly wrote, “governments in capitalist society are but committees of the rich to manage the affairs of the capitalist class.”²

At the present time neo-liberal capitalism suits the parasitic Irish ruling elite best. They fear that conceding that the state can and should invest in the people rather than serve the elite would encourage working people to demand a radical redistribution of wealth in favour of the less well off. Let’s call this what it is: it’s the rich and powerful fighting a ruthless class struggle; and at the moment they are winning.

As always, the challenge for working people is how best to engage successfully and ultimately emerge victorious in this struggle. The superficial answer is to elect a left-wing government, then sit back and applaud as it builds a workers’ state. Reality, unfortunately, is somewhat more complex; because even with a left-of-centre government in office, capitalism will not easily yield its privilege.

Real, meaningful transformation only comes from the grass roots acting as part of a mass movement of the people. This is not to dismiss parliamentary participation but to recognise its limitations. The task, therefore, is to build a movement fit for purpose, a movement that encompasses working people organised through trade unions, community groups, and those engaged in progressive struggle, all acting in concert to transform society and not just pursue single-issue campaigns.

Ideally such a movement would come together spontaneously and sweep all before it. In the real world, however, it requires hard work and determined organisation, coupled with a clear but flexible strategy.

The germ of such a strategy became visible in January this year when the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum organised a celebration of the first Dáil Éireann and simultaneously launched its Democratic Programme for the 21st Century. A central theme of the event was a resolution to convene local assemblies or, colloquially, People’s Dálaí.

To this end the Forum organised a local assembly last month in Coalisland, Co. Tyrone. The event included presentations by groups campaigning on such issues as social welfare cut-backs, fracking in Co. Fermanagh, gold-mining in the Sperrin Mountains, and petroleum exploration along the Lough Neagh basin.³

Although a first step, this was a significant occasion that demonstrated a welcome amount of common purpose. More important still, it proved that it is possible to build a network of progressive activists throughout Ireland, a network able to build the mass movement capable of breaking the political stasis that allows capital to flourish while working people pay the price.

Based on that event, it is obvious that we have the means and the method to transform society. What remains is to implement the strategy. Otherwise Donohoe and Doherty—and their Northern class peers—will continue to play the austerity symphony while workers play second fiddle.




1. Martin Wall, “More than one million people on hospital waiting lists, say consultants,” Irish Times, 21 September 2019.

2. Irish Worker, 29 August 1915. See also Marx, writing in the Civil War in France: “. . . the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes.”

3. A full report of the event will be published in the next issue of Socialist Voice.

This article first appeared in Socialist Voice October 2019  https://socialistvoice.ie/2019/09/building-the-mass-movement/


Green resurrection and need to unite the Left

Left unity has to be built through united activity at grassroot level.


action


It is unfortunate that Sinn Fein has lost so much ground to the market-friendly Green Party in the recent elections in the Republic of ireland. While Sinn Fein can, at best, be described as a somewhat left of centre organisation, the outcome of the recent round of elections indicates a worrying shift towards the centre-right in electoral terms.


There are several reasons for the Sinn Fein setback, coming as it does on the back of an equally disappointing performance in last year’s presidential election. The party has struggled to articulate a clear message over the last few years. This has not been helped by among other; doing a U-turn on its long-held opposition to the European Union, softening its stance on coalition with right-wing parties and confusingly for many republicans; welcoming British royalty to Ireland. For a party that had for long appeared unambiguous about its position, this new departure has failed to gain purchase with many of those it had previously depended on for support.


It is uncertain whether Sinn Fein can reverse this decline before the next general election. A third and consecutive reversal would not only be damaging for the party, raising questions about its leadership but would also have implications right across the board. The Fine Gael/Fianna Fail axis would grow stronger with its neoliberal policies becoming further embedded. Faced with the threat of permanent right-wing governance, the working-class and its representatives would have to consider their options. Understandably, there will be calls for working-class and left unity and few could argue with this.

 

However, it is surely time to give this altogether reasonable demand some deeper consideration. All too often, left unity is considered only in the context of winning electoral office rather than building a social changing movement. Consequently, for some, gaining seats at all costs becomes the primary objective making divisive contests and subsequent factionalism almost inevitable. There is, moreover, the real question of how to exercise power, as distinct from office, if elected in a country controlled by privately owned wealth.

 

A viable alternative to this particular electoral cul-de-sac is to focus on building an effective grassroots movement capable of challenging the undemocratic distribution of wealth in society. Encouraging and facilitating people to actively support workers taking industrial action would be a start; and active support is not just posing on the picket line for a photo opportunity. Organising an effective boycott of properties bought by vulture funds would also help. Tackling the privatisation of services and infrastructure must feature. Challenging the environment damaging private-sector exploitation of our natural resources has also to be included in any programme. Nor is this the limit to what can be done and we all must talk about how to affect this.

 

Doing so would effectively empower working people and make the winning of a general election a final step towards transforming society rather than a beginning that woudl be vulnerable to attack by capital and all its reactionary allies.

Tommy McKearney … 29 May 2019

Sinn Fein is the big loser



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Sinn Fein is the big loser from the Irish presidential election. Presented with a golden opportunity to set itself out as the principal alternative to a Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour triumvirate, Mary Lou McDonald’s party offered the Republic’s electorate a package so bland that it blended in with the wallpaper.

Surely someone in Sinn Fein must now be asking how the Movement has strayed so far from its core base. Did they really think that they could succeed by wooing the middle-class, a strategy that failed miserably in the past for both Labour and the Workers Party?


The choice of Liadh Ní Riada was not the cause of their problem. It was the thinking that led them to choose Ms Ní Riada that lies at the heart of her and the party’s rejection. Misreading the political situation and believing that rebranding as a middle-of-the-road, conviction-less, liberal, soft on business but above all no-longer-Provo organisation would  seal the deal was a major blunder. 

Moreover, this misconception did not start with the presidential election. The party that was caught flat-footed at the beginning of the anti water tax campaign, has changed direction on the EU, with all that implies for its economic outlook. In a two-tier economy there is no middle ground. 

Unable to decide which side of the fence to stand on has opened the door to the type of Trump-like populism that took Peter Casey from obscurity to winning 23% of votes cast in the recent election.

The need to continue constructing a dynamic socialist republican mass movement remains an imperative. 

Tommy McKearney


This© Tommy McKearney 2012                                                                                      email:    tommymkearney@me.com