We are posting an update on the most recent political developments in the Dail and Stormont from Socialist Democracy (Ireland).
1. DUBLIN GOVERNMENT SUPPRESSES THE PARLIAMENTARY LEFT – BUT EXACTLY WHO ARE THE LEFT?
The 33rd Irish Dail has demonstrated in spades just how unstable it is. Effectively a national government of opposing parties, held together by a Green Party glue, they stumbled in their first month with a faction fight inside Fianna Fail and the sacking of a minister. More recently a Green Party TD resigned the whip to vote against limitations on a rent freeze while a Green minister abstained.
The plans for dealing with that instability were made clear on 30th July, when new parliamentary speaking rules were introduced, severely curtailing the rights of the smaller opposition parties and the Dail is now closing for the summer.
Not surprisingly, there was an animated discussion, with TDs screaming across the floor and the Dail suspended for a time. Much of the left’s ire was reserved for the Green party as they voted with the rest of the government.
A greater shock to the parliamentary left was the role of Sinn Fein, who were included in the magic circle of speaking in the first round and who supported the rule change.
PbP’s Richard Boyd Barrett tweeted:
“Very disappointing: plan to gang up today in #Dail with FF,FG, Greens &Lab to ram thru motion with no debate to gag smaller left/Ind groups-exclude them from opening round of debates. Serious attack by Gov on opposition rights, shocking SF supporting this.”
Eventually all was forgiven when Sinn Fein and Labour did not join the government vote. However the rule change went through and the left groups’ visibility will be restricted in the future.
In the immediate future there are serious strategic questions that the left groups, prone to amnesia, would need to consider.
What now for their Sinn Fein left government strategy? Sinn Fein are now the official opposition and the left are excluded. It could be argued that this is just a blip, however a similar SF/DUP manoeuvre in the Northern Assembly has removed most oversight from ministerial decisions.
And it should not be forgotten that a crucial element of the imaginary left government was the Green party itself. Given their enthusiastic support for the latest government ploy how realistic is the proposal for a left government at the next election? Do the Greens simply move seats?
The overall rationale for the left parliamentarians was that they would use their position to build class struggle in the communities. Limitations on Dail speeches should be only a minor inconvenience in this project. However this is where their amnesia is complete. PbP TDs and Rise TD Paul Murphy are now creatures of the Dail and of parliamentary procedure. Their relationship with Sinn Fein is based on the fact that most owe their seats to Sinn Fein transfers and are likely to be dumped in the next election.
However the hinges under the world are shifting. Capitalism across the globe is in a fundamental crisis. This Irish government is the product of a desperate unity of the capitalist parties. They have already failed on housing and health and are facing in to a severe economic downturn, a European crisis and the chaos of a hard Brexit. A totally new insurrectionary socialism that makes its voice heard on the picket line, the occupations and protests and leaves parliamentary speechifying behind will be needed by workers in struggle.
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2. NEW MOVES IN THE NORTHERN ASSEMBLY – SHARING THE SPOILS – A RETURN TO PRAGMATISM
Those celebrating the return of government in the North of Ireland tend to ignore certain weaknesses. Nearly one third of MLAs have not been elected and are simply hoisted into place by their party. Over 90% of MLAs are members of the government parties, so there is almost nothing in the way of opposition. It should also be noted that the quiet whitewash of the Renewable Heating Incentive, where millions were handed out, mainly to DUP supporters but with Sinn Fein in on the action, established impunity for the parties, the army of special advisors and the complicit civil servants who somehow forgot to record meetings.
So it is some sort of tribute that the latest scam, a Bill to reduce ministerial accountability, has provoked some level of protest in the press and among some lawyers.
Firstly, the Bill gives the Infrastructure Minister complete autonomy to take the biggest planning decisions; regardless of the Executive’s views on such a decision, it could do nothing to intervene.
Secondly, the bill would undermine the St Andrews Agreement’s curtailment of individual ministers’ powers – something that the DUP had insisted on.
So what gives? One strong supporter of the Good Friday Agreement complained that the parties, rather than building a peace dividend, were squabbling over the spoils of war. After decades of trying to force Sinn Fein out of government the DUP have reached the end of the line. Brexit has shown that the British have lost interest and see no need to offer ongoing support to the unionists. They are forced to return to the strategy of pragmatism outlined by Peter Robinson and set up an arrangement for dividing power and patronage. Sinn Fein are happy to get their share and their main aim is to prove that they are a party of government and ready for coalition in the next Dublin coalition.
The division in the DUP was shown by 11 abstentions on the vote by those who imagine that the British will bring back unfettered Unionist rule. This led Sinn Fein to rush to the defence of the DUP leadership, with junior minister Declan Kearney asserting untruthfully that planning issues would not be able to proceed until September.
The bill has passed and MLAs have departed on their holidays. A feeding frenzy of deregulation of planning laws, alongside privatisation of services and full scale sectarian patronage will be unleashed, free even of the minor constraint of a parliamentary discussion.
Opponents decry the absence of an official opposition. That misses the point. The assembly has no real role in administration of the North. It’s main role is the division of resources. All the parties get something.
Out of 90 MLAs, only one – the UUP’s Doug Beattie – has tabled an amendment. Despite the fact that warnings are pouring in, discussion in the Assembly has taken only a few hours, including voting time.
Even though there is no official opposition, there is one figure we would expect to be in the forefront of exposing corruption. Yet from People before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll there is silence.
Why this is so is a matter of speculation. PbP seem to have joined their trade union sponsors in defining non-sectarianism as silence and neutrality. In any case their current strategy is for a left government in Dublin led by Sinn Fein. That precludes any sharp critique of their dirty deals in the North.
The main issue is that a pragmatic sharing of the spoils is not a sustainable strategy. In practice it means draining the budget of elements meant to establish the public good and diverting funds to clients of the parties. Public service will decline in a situation where the economy is heading towards a sharp decline and the inbuilt sectarianism will fuel greater conflict.
Building socialism means building opposition to this nasty clientelism and to its patrons in London and Dublin.
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