Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/889/22253
Irish general election: fighting on an anti-austerity agenda
Campaigning in the Irish general election to be held on 26 February is in full swing. The Socialist Party in Ireland is participating as part of the broader Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA). This includes seeking reelection for Paul Murphy, AAA TD (MP), and Ruth Coppinger, Socialist Party TD. Longstanding Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins is standing down but is continuing to play a leading part in the campaign. Joe spoke to the Socialist about the key election issues and debates. Additional material is provided by Kevin McLoughlin of the Socialist Party Ireland.
Socialist TD Joe Higgins explains what's at stake in this election:
"The austerity agenda of the last nearly eight years has intensified inequality in Irish society. It mirrors very much what has happened internationally, reflected in the recent report by the Oxfam charity which shows that for the first time in history the richest 1% own more wealth than the other 99% of humanity.
The election of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain and the enormous support for Bernie Sanders in the USA reflect a growing opposition and anger to this unequal society that is growing apace under international capitalism. That's very much reflected in Ireland too.
We've had a statistical recovery in the economy but many ordinary people just don't feel it, because of the burdens of austerity continuing on them. Subsequent to the financial crash, for example, new jobs tend to be low-skilled, low paid, precarious, zero-hour contracts, and so forth.
We also have a horrific housing crisis which is a real issue in the election. There is a major health service crisis, with A&E's overwhelmed because of a lack of resources and the accumulation of spending cuts.
What we are trying to bring out is that the establishment parties and Sinn Fein are trying to close down the debate on the economy to what they call the 'fiscal space' - a very narrow band of extra tax income which they hope will become available if the economy grows, without problems, over the next five years.
They've had an obsessive discussion here on that but it really is a device for diverting attention from the huge wealth concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite and the big profits major corporations are making. Ireland is really a tax haven for these companies.
We have tried to shift public attention by pointing out there are resources potentially available for boosting people's living standards.
To utilise these resources we need progressive taxation and the banks brought into public ownership. We need large-scale public investment into building new homes.
We link these key demands to the need for a political alternative. We call for a 'political revolution' to cast aside the establishment parties and build a new force that working class people need to represent their interests."
Why aren't the bankers in jail?
In 2014 a parliamentary committee was set up to inquire into the huge banking crisis of 2007-08 that led to bailouts and austerity. Joe Higgins was a dissenting voice on that inquiry (with Pearse Doherty TD) and refused to sign off the majority report. Instead he published a damning 146-page alternative last month, blaming the crisis on the top politicians, financiers and capitalist speculators.
"It meant an intense 18 months of research. We interviewed a parade of former top bankers, property developers, media people, regulators, etc.
Unfortunately, the inquiry's terms of reference were restrictive but nevertheless we took the approach of trying to be a voice for the victims - those who suffered from the speculative financial bubble and the subsequent crash.
It was an eleven member committee with a big majority of TDs drawn from the establishment parties. These people firmly believe in the right of the capitalist bankers and developers to exploit the majority of the population for a profit.
We exposed the whole financial deregulation process which took place throughout the 1990s in pursuit of profits.
The banks acquired massive amounts of money from European financial markets. They then lent billions of euros to speculators.
The price of a home in Ireland went up 400% from 1996 to 2006. Mortgages went from 20 to 40 years duration - unsustainable levels of debt.
The bubble itself acted as a huge crisis on first-time home buyers. I was in parliament at the time and there was no one else shouting out about this extreme profiteering. Inevitably it crashed.
Our minority report showed that the crisis was the result of extreme profiteering driven by greedy bankers and developers, facilitated by the government and leading politicians.
We asked why no bankers or any of the major participants in the financial bubble were in jail?
Of course 99.9% of transactions that caused the bubble were perfectly legal and in fact were legislated for by the establishment parties in the Dail [Irish Parliament].
So we wouldn't sign the official report and instead brought out our own report on the same day. Many ordinary people appreciated this.
We demanded that the major financial institutions be brought into public ownership under democratic control.
Speculation in homes and other property should be outlawed and we called for public investment in providing homes. Some financial institutions have been nationalised. We argued they should be kept in public ownership but democratised and made to work for the benefit of the majority."
It's a recovery for the rich - not us
There has been much debate about the so-called recovery in the economy following the financial crash and the government's severe austerity bailout measures.
While the governing parties have been playing up the limited economic growth others, including Sinn Fein (SF), have been calling for a 'fair recovery'.
The Socialist Party, campaigning as part of the AAA, says that this recovery is primarily a recovery for the rich. To achieve real economic justice, workers should vote for the party that will challenge the system and provide a real alternative.
Recently there has been an intense debate about what the outgoing Fine Gael/Labour Party coalition government has referred to as "fiscal space".
For years these politicians have been saying there are no funds available to maintain vital services, hence their justification for austerity measures. But now there's an election, they cynically put forward promises about increasing public spending over the next five years.
They are also giving the false impression that this is a large amount of money. First they said this 'pot' is €12 billion but then revised it down to €10 billion. However, the previous years' cuts total more than €50 billion!
So even if this extra spending was delivered, which is doubtful given the state of the global capitalist economy, it doesn't go anywhere near repairing the earlier damage.
SF accepts this 'fiscal space', which means they also accept no radical change in the economy.
The fact that SF has taken this position indicates a shift to the right by them in the middle of the election campaign. This is in response to criticism from the establishment that the 'choice' in this election is between 'recovery or chaos'.
So all the main parties have said the election is all about who will spend this €8 billion or €10 billion over the next five years. This is nowhere near good enough. It will mean that the crisis in the health service, in education, public services in general, and the cost of living crisis will continue to adversely impact on the working class.
The campaign - 'Real change, not spare change'
We started knocking on doors before the formal announcement of the election. Alongside this intensive canvassing we've organised numerous street activities and put up posters, etc.
Our posters say: "End inequality"... "Real change, not spare change" which neatly dovetails with the economy recovery debate.
The response of voters on the doorsteps is generally positive to our anti-austerity message. The AAA is well known - standing in defence of ordinary working people, etc.
Many people are open to our message, especially given the dire record of the pro-big business austerity measures of the government parties.
In The Socialist 17 February 2016:
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