On Tuesday February 25th at Liberty Hall, Dublin, Sinn Fein held one of their post-election “public rallies.” It was well attended, many being, but not all, Sinn Fein members as the party’s negotiating team, Pearse Doherty, Eoin O’Broin and Louise O’Reilly (Chair) together with Michelle O’Neil (Vice President) and Mary Lou McDonald (President) took to the stage answering questions from the audience upwards of 400. Questions were varied and reasonably well answered.
It is clear Sinn Fein are offering a form of socialist government, but that will not deliver socialism. It is one of the contradictions, as Harold Wilson in Britain discovered between 1964 and 1970, which will - should such a government come to pass in the 26 counties - become apparent as a socialist administration tries to govern the affairs of Irish capitalism.
However, it must be said Sinn Fein’s programme is radical should they get the numbers, and should this happen their main problem will be the attitude of the Irish Ruling Class and their role in the broader capitalist world. They will allow the government of Mary Lou to go so far and no further. If they cross this line then, electoral mandate or not, the ruling classes will move. For this reason, and not trying to spoil the party, socialism can only come about in its true form via the revolutionary removal of capitalism! Capitalism itself did not come about through peaceful means, despite what their apologists might want us to believe. In the early years in England the embryos of mercantile capitalism found it fit to chop off a Kings head. About 144 years later the French bourgeoisie did similarly to their King.
Among the questions asked were on the plight of migrants in Ireland and Sinn Fein’s opposition to the “Direct Provision scheme” and the housing crisis. The party spokesperson’s, given the time allotted gave as fair answers as they could. Time was limited and there was a packed house to satisfy. I asked a question on health and Sinn Fein’s policy advocating, rightly so, a fully comprehensive, care free at the point of need single tiered health service. Louise O’Reilly (would be Health Minister) answered, again allowing for time restrictions, emphasising the party’s commitment to health care and a system delivering care “free at the point of need without looking at a person’s savings first”.
All progressive stuff and although not revolutionary certainly radical and definitely doable providing the capitalist class, bankers etc, do not continually put up barriers. That could prove problematic. Why should the bourgeoisie put up barriers and create problems? Simple, because they, as employers, do not need a large healthy workforce as they did in the past. The VHI (Voluntary Health Insurance) provides them with the amount of fit healthy workers they need in the 21st century. This way people pay for their own health care via VHI who, incidentally amass huge profits themselves. They are part of the Irish capitalist class, in turn a component of the international bourgeoisie.
I referred to the problems faced by Aneurin Bevan, the Minister for Health under the 1945-51 Clement Attlee Labour Government in the UK when the NHS was first formed (1948). Ms O’Reilly, again due to time acknowledged these hurdles but obviously could not go into detail. I then asked if it followed that if the service is to be funded by “general taxation, does it follow Sinn Fein are committed to full employment thus a greater return from Income Tax to pay for the health service”. To this, and I’ll say it was because time would not allow but…? I got no answer. All that said they are committed to tackling the crisis in the health service and addressing the housing problem and epidemic of homelessness, that is unquestionable.
What they do if, or when, they ever get into government remains to be seen. It is no good saying such crass and unhelpful statements as “it will never work” or “they aren’t right for the economy”. The economy is the rich person's domain, so they want us to believe and, under the present system, this may be the case which is why they, the capitalist class, do not want a radical “government of the left.” They want the electorate to doubt Sinn Fein, they need doubting Thomas’s among the population the better stick with the devil we know mentality.
To these doubters, not from the ranks of the bourgeoisie, who doubt Sinn Fein’s ability to manage; look at it this way: we have had Fianna Fail Green/coalition, we have had Fine Gael/Labour coalition and both have failed drastically. The Labour Party almost went out of existence due to selling their soul to Fine Gael. Sinn Fein have not yet been given a chance to manage the Irish capitalist economy. I do recommend they look at the problems Wilson faced in the sixties as cracks in the British post-war consensus began to appear.
Now to the problem staring us all in the face. Sinn Fein President, Mary Lou McDonald, emphasised the party’s strenuous efforts made to make the numbers add up. This I do not doubt for one second but at the end of the day will they get the required eighty? It looks unlikely! This throws up the flaws in our, otherwise very fair, electoral system. The electoral system in Ireland, by the standards of other so-called “liberal democracies” is as good as it gets. It is not like in Britain a first past the post system which is very unrepresentative of the electorates wishes. The gaping holes are, however, there to see. We have three parties – formerly two – with Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael receiving roughly the same seats. Sinn Fein can justifiably claim to hold the popular vote and should, therefore be in government. They are quite correct, they should but they have not the numbers. Even with the similarly minded smaller parties and independents they can not make the magical eighty. Neither can Fianna Fail and Fine Gael coming together: they would need smaller parties or party contributing.
Sinn Fein are still working on this massive problem and, if I were them, which I’m not, then if I could not secure the numbers seek a commitment from those in negotiations with, they will not prop up the other two either together or as individuals. In other words, they, the smaller parties and independents, will not enter government with either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael or a combination of both. This way the least preferred option, from the parliamentarian’s point of view, a second election would be forced.
It is my cynical view that these two political crooks, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael may have planned this all along. Tell the electorate they will not, under any circumstances enter government with each other, then when the situation suits or demands, pending on your point of view, do exactly that. A clear breach of election pledges by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to be even talking of such a stitch up. This ploy may well have been their bottom line, last card, all along to keep Sinn Fein out of government. Parliamentary politics is a dirty game, arguably a person, or party, has to be crooked to enter the game! Perhaps Sinn Fein, at the moment the honest brokers, will soon learn.
What could be done to our electoral system to prevent this happening again? Could a rule not be inserted preventing such a comedy of errors happening again? What about something along the lines of the following? In the event of a three way split - as is the case here - and if one of these parties cannot form a government due to lack of numbers with the smaller parties and independents - again, what appears to be the case here - then if two of the parties sharing the tie have been in government together or, have had a governmental pact with each other; confidence and supply for example, then those two parties are forbidden from either coalition or confidence and supply again as it is clearly not the wishes of the electorate. Therefore, another election must be held! This rule would not apply if it were a two-party race but, as we know, at least on this occasion, this is not the case!
People who did vote for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael did so on the understanding they would not enter into pacts with each other or coalition. I think they have had this planned for some time, perhaps along the lines of: let the Shinners try and form a government, when they can’t because they have not the numbers we, in the national interests will come to the nation's rescue and, against our wishes, but for the good of the country, will save the day!
Could something along these lines have been concocted some time back by the former big two? Perhaps making electoral fraud a criminal offence could be an idea, then it would be impossible for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to cobble together a crooked coalition having promised they would not! If this was not an option then we would not be wasting time which could be spent going back to the polls.
Finally, Sinn Fein must take their share of the blame for creating such a reservoir for the predatory fish of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to swim. If they, Sinn Fein, had fielded a full team in the first place, then no replay would have been necessary judging by the mood of the electorate. If you do get a replay, Mary Lou, do field your first full team. Half a team of players never won the Sam Maguire but they can influence the result! With the other half on the pitch they might just lift the trophy!!
Kevin Morley, writer, activist, author of A Descriptive History of the Irish Citizen Army & Striking Similarities & The Misogynous President.