Will Galway, and Ireland, go Left?

A protester as Mrs Brown at the anti water charges demonstration in Galway in 2014, and water charges might be one of the issues of Election 2016. Photo:- Hany Marzouk

A protester as Mrs Brown at the anti water charges demonstration in Galway in 2014, and water charges might be one of the issues of Election 2016. Photo:- Hany Marzouk

A lot has been written in the run-up to the Election 2016 about which parties will make up the next government. Will Enda Kenny get another five years? Could Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil form a coalition? Or could Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael put Civil War politics aside and go in together?

Each of the above-mentioned parties has rubbished the various suggestions, but when the votes have been counted more pragmatic rationales tend to win out. However Insider is curious if is there any scenario where a Left government comes to power? We have seen major advances for radical left-wing parties in many countries across Europe and beyond in recent times. Syriza in Greece is one example, alongside Podemos in Spain. Since losing the 2015 general election there has been a decisive turn back to the Left within the Labour Party in Britain, which culminated with Jeremy Corbyn's election as leader, much to the fury of the Blairite liberal Right.

Even in the US we have seen the massive movement that has grown up around Bernie Sander's challenge for the Democratic presidential nomination. This is a man who openly calls himself a socialist in a country where for so long the 'S' word was most often used in a derogatory sense. The fact it is now seen by large swathes of the public as a positive term, linked to the demand for a living wage, universal health care, an end to the domination of Wall Street in the economy, and for corporate accountability, has struck a chord with millions of disenfranchised Americans.

So it seems the Left is on the rise in many countries, but what about Ireland, and more specifically, Galway? Traditionally there is at least one Left seat in Galway West and, given how close Independent city councillor Catherine Connolly came to being elected last time, there could well be two. Currently it is Labour's Dep Derek Nolan who holds the said seat. However, there are serious question marks around Labour's ability to retain it, give the party's role in implementing austerity in Government, which will have won it no sympathy with low income households.

Given Labour's less-than-impressive showing in numerous opinion polls over a sustained period of time, it is widely expected it will haemorrhage seats in this election. So if Labour is to lose out in Galway, who will gain at its expense? Certainly, the aforementioned Cllr Connolly will fancy her chances. Sinn Féin, of course, will be in the running, given its success in the local elections.

Recovery? What recovery?

Another major factor on the Left has to be the growth of the movement against the water charges. This is probably the key issue to emerge over the course of the last number of years. Hundreds of thousands of people have engaged in protests, some of the biggest this country has ever seen, while approximately 50 per cent of those liable are currently actively engaged in a boycott of the charge itself.

To the forefront of this have been numerous local community campaigns, as well as groups such as the Anti Austerity Alliance, who have spearheaded the non-payment aspect. Given the strength of the water charges issue, the AAA's Galway West candidate Tommy Holohan cannot be ruled out as a serious contender. Of all of the candidates running, Mr Holohan is by far the one most closely associated with anti water charges movement which could give him an important edge over his rivals. Significantly Holohan and the AAA have made boycotting the charges the central issue of the campaign, a position which neither Cllr Connolly nor Sinn Féin has adopted.

While the Right appear to be trumpeting the economic recovery and stability as their core issues, the Left is strongly questioning the character of said stability and recovery. The argument from the likes of the AAA is that things are far from stable. It points to the ongoing crisis in the health service which it claims is worse now than ever. It also points to the housing crisis which has reached epidemic proportions over the course of FG and Labour's time in government.

Up to 40 per cent of homes bought in Ireland are paid for without a mortgage, according to figures from the Property Price Register. That means almost half of the houses sold have gone to people who can fork out the entire amount upfront. This would correlate with the argument that the recovery is only being felt by those at the top end of the financial spectrum. Figures also show a spike in the number of homes worth more than €1 million being sold, yet more evidence that it is those with deeper pockets that are driving the housing market, while at the other end homelessness has become a very serious problem as people are being priced out of the rental market due to rising rent and stagnant wages and rent supplement.

A Left Government?

Insider is informed that the Left is calling for an end to austerity policies which would mean axing the water charges, the property tax, and the USC for those earning less than €35,000, and halving for those earning €35-70,000; restoration of education and health spending to 2008 levels; reversal of the Haddington Road cuts, as wells as social welfare cuts including disability and lone parents allowance; the building of 33,000 houses while acquiring 15,000 vacant housing units to alleviate the housing crisis; and a €12 an hour minimum wage.

This is to be paid for through the progressive taxation model, meaning the rich pay taxes commensurate with their income; enforcement of the full 12.5 per cent corporation tax rate; introduction of a financial transitions tax on banks; a two per cent millionaires' tax on wealth; and a repudiation of debt to GDP of up to 50 per cent, which would save up to €3.5 billion a year. It is a fact that the richest one per cent in Ireland have 27 per cent of the wealth while the poorest 50 per cent have only six per cent. Meanwhile, company profits were approximately €21 billion in 2014, so perhaps there is something to this in terms of ensuring the recovery is felt by all.

If the Left does stand to gain in this election, is there any prospect for a Left government to be formed? Are the different parties even willing to countenance the idea? The short answer appears to be 'Yes', with a but, the 'but' being whether Sinn Féin is willing to rule out going into coalition with one of the right wing parties and whether it will commit to breaking with the ideology of austerity.

The AAA, has not signed up to the Right2Change principles because it could not commit to potentially forming a government with Sinn Féin unless the Shinners refuse to rule out the prospect of coalition with Fianna Fáil or Labour, and fully commit to ending austerity. However the AAA appears to be open to the idea of a Left government if agreement can be reached on these "red line issues" after election day.

Another significant factor is that AAA has formed a coalition with the People Before Profit Alliance which would see the two groups sharing a joint platform within the next Dáil if they can manage to get seven or more TDs elected between them. This would provide the new joint entity with enhanced speaking time in the Dáil and give them a separate platform outside of the independent block. It could also mean they would be a significant entity in a potential Left government if such a scenario was to come to pass. All of this adds to the intrigue as election day draws ever closer.

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