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IRISH SOCIALIST Party TD (MP) Joe Higgins was resoundingly re-elected to the Dail (Parliament) from his Dublin West constituency on 17 May. Socialist Party councillor Clare Daly narrowly missed out on a seat in Dublin North under the proportional representation system. KEN SMITH who assisted in the campaign reports on our successes and the political background to the election.
Irish election: Socialist Party Scores Spectacular Successes
THE SOCIALIST Party in Ireland, the Irish section of the CWI (the international socialist organisation to which the Socialist Party in England and Wales is affiliated), scored spectacular successes in the recent Irish elections.
Joe Higgins was re-elected as a TD (MP) in Dublin West, coming second out of the three elected candidates. He got 6,442 first preference votes, 21.5%, which rose to 7,853 on the fourth count, when he was elected. Joe increased his vote over the 1997 election.
Socialist Party councillor Clare Daly, standing in Dublin North, got 5,501 first-preference votes (12.5%) on a 60.3% turnout - a higher first preference vote than Labour leader Ruairi Quinn. This went up to 6,772 votes when she was eliminated on count 8. Clare was in third position all the way through until the final count.
At that stage one of the three Fianna Fail (FF) candidates was eliminated and his 5,000 votes divided almost equally between the two other FF candidates, whom she had been ahead of all the way through. As it was she beat a former Fine Gael (FG - main opposition party) deputy leader, Nora Owen.
In the other seats where Socialist Party members were standing, Lisa Maher in Dublin South got 1,063 votes - 2.1%; Mick Murphy in Dublin South-West got 954 votes - 2.6% and Mick Barry in Cork North Central got 936 votes - 2.1%.
In total across five seats the Socialist Party got 14,896 votes - an average of 2,979 per seat.
In Joe Higgins's Dublin West constituency there was a 55% turnout - down from the last election but a big factor in this was the incredible driving rain that lasted all day of the election until about five minutes before the polls closed.
Another factor in this constituency was that it had been redrawn after boundary changes meaning that only three TDS, rather than the previous four would be elected.
The big majority of transfers of surplus votes that got Joe Higgins elected came from Sinn Fein voters. Joe got 1,122 of the Sinn Fein candidate's 2,404 first-preference votes. Sinn Fein gets a lot of its support from the more oppressed layers of the working class, but it's clear they intend to be in competition with the Socialist Party for a section of the working-class vote.
IN THE Dublin North constituency the Socialist Party's main fight was with Labour and Clare was only a few hundred votes behind the elected Labour candidate and sitting TD Sean Ryan.
Although Socialist Party members in Ireland were disappointed not to get Clare elected, they pointed out that this was a similar platform to Joe's near-success in the 1996 Dublin West by-election, from which the party went on to win a seat in 1997. In the past few years over 100 public meetings have been organised by the Socialist Party in the constituency. Such is the respect for Clare Daly that one canvasser encountered a sign on a door which said: "No canvassers please - apart from Clare Daly."
In many ways Clare Daly's result was especially impressive. She was not starting with the advantage of being a sitting TD and there are big swathes of the Dublin North constituency that are quite affluent.
Also, at this stage the objective conditions - the potential for the development of a mass support for our socialist ideas - are still not fully favourable.
This is particularly the case in Ireland where a ten-year long economic boom, the 'Celtic Tiger', has partially dimmed workers' consciousness about the need for a fighting, socialist, class-based political party (see opposite).
On the other side has been the growing campaign against the bin charges, a double form of taxation where people have to pay for the amount of rubbish they have collected by the council. During the election the anti-bin tax campaign organised debates on the issue attended by up to 200 in some cases.
Even though the bin charges campaign is a favourable issue for the Socialist Party, which has played a leading role in the campaign, it still hasn't yet reached the same pitch as the anti-water charges campaign that helped get Joe Higgins elected after its abolition in 1997.
The Socialist Party has built up huge, almost overwhelming, support in some parts of Joe Higgins's constituency. Out canvassing with him one night he bumps into the FF candidate and his campaign team at the same time as a group of youth playing football rush over and chant a football-style "Go Joe, Go, Go Joe, Go" in warm support.
A similar pattern is emerging across Dublin where the Socialist Party put up thousands of billboards and distributed hundreds of thousands of leaflets throughout the campaign.
The Irish media is now trying to play down our success - referring to the party as Independents - and is playing up the increase in the number of Sinn Fein TDs.
Sinn Fein is now reported to be the richest political organisation in Britain and Ireland. And, if the amount of material and stunts carried out by Sinn Fein during this election is anything to go by - including the hiring of planes with huge display banners in Dublin West two days before the election - then the reports are accurate.
Although Socialist Party members were hoping to make a breakthrough with the election of Clare Daly at this general election, to get two TDs, nevertheless, the party has still rocked the Irish establishment.
Election Results And Analysis
THE RESULTS of the Irish general election are unlikely to produce much change at the top in Irish politics, whilst most of the significant pointers to the future shape of politics in Ireland occurred in the results of parties seen as outside the political establishment.
Bertie Ahern's ruling Fianna Fail (FF) party won 80 seats, three short of an overall majority. As The Socialist goes to press, the most likely outcome for a new government would appear to be a repetition of the outgoing FF/Progressive Democrats coalition.
The main opposition party Fine Gael (FG) suffered an electoral disaster, with their share of the vote falling by 5.4%. FG leader Michael Noonan resigned after the election.
Fine Gael's problem is that they too are tainted by the stench of corruption that lingers over Ireland's establishment parties and their economic programme hardly differed in any fundamentals from that of Fianna Fail.
Labour, although making some gains, also did less well than they expected and their national vote dropped by 2%.
It was the parties like the Socialist Party, Green Party and Sinn Fein, along with independents that had the biggest increases in their vote, taking 21% of the vote and 25 TDs (MPs) out of 166 - another sign of the growing disillusionment with the sleazy Irish political establishment.
The turnout at the election at 60% was down 3% from 1997, despite the introduction of longer opening hours for polling booths and electronic voting in three constituencies - including Dublin North and Dublin West.
Apart from the appalling rainstorms on election day, the lower turnout reflects a trend apparent in other countries; ie voters are increasingly alienated from corrupt, sleazy establishment parties.
However, the vote for those outside the establishment in this election shows another process at work, where a layer of voters (especially among the working class) are looking for a real alternative. Also a rise in tactical voting saw an unexpected increase in votes and TDs for the Progressive Democrats, showing that voters were wary of FF gaining an outright majority for the first time in 25 years.
At this stage, Sinn Fein are regarded by their voters at least as being outside of the Irish political establishment and their success in picking up five TDs reflects this. They have made increasingly loud overtures about being involved in some form of coalition government. During the election they played different tunes to different sections of the population, being more radical in working-class areas than rural areas.
In particular, they opportunistically latched on to the anti-bin charges campaign, although they have done very little work on the ground, where the Socialist Party has played a leading role.
The Stooping Celtic Tiger
THE CELTIC Tiger - Ireland's ten-year long economic boom - has proved to be more of a stooping tiger than crouching one.
It has brought with it an increase in class antagonisms against corrupt establishment politicians and the chaos in transport, housing, education and other aspects of crisis in the infrastructure caused by the lop-sided boom.
Just one day after the election a report from the Head of Economic Research at the Ulster Bank warned of a 5 billion euro (about £3.3 billion) black hole in government accounts, meaning likely tax rises and public spending cuts.
The Celtic Tiger has brought huge changes in Ireland which have produced a more dynamic and angry working class, with large swathes of women being taken in to the workforce. One-third of the nation's population now live in the Dublin area and these people are the ones experiencing the most health, traffic, housing and education chaos.
Irish gross national product rose from 41.9 billion euros in 1994 to 86 billion euros in 2000. This represented a leap from 60% of the European average in 1989 to 114% in 1999.
But Irish workers are paid 28% less than the European average and have the second longest working hours in the EU. In the last five years the gap between rich and poor has widened by Euro 242 a week (about £160).
Irish people also have a worse life expectancy than the rest of the EU, with the lowest number of acute hospital beds per capita in the EU and long waiting lists and completely inadequate (and expensive) GP and dentistry provision.
Irish spending on health, education, public housing and transport is all below the EU average, despite a Euro 5 billion public spending surplus (for a population of just under four million). Of this surplus 90% went in tax cuts - mainly to the wealthy and corrupt - and only 10% went to public expenditure.
In The Socialist 24 May 2002: