Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 30 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

New political space has created new opportunities for Left and progressive politics following electoral demise of Irish Labour Party

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore who resigned as Labour Party leader
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore who resigned as Labour Party leader

This week the Irish Labour Party will elect a new leader. However, this contest brings to mind James Connolly’s metaphor of putting old wine into new bottles.

The Party was decimated during the recent elections.

Labour suffered the same fate as many other Irish junior coalition partners; so hungry for government, they failed to stand up for anything and fell for everything.

Sinn Féin is now the main Party of the left nationally. Almost half a million voters endorsed the Party’s national platform on economic recovery; opposition to austerity; support for equality, national democracy; and, defence of the Peace Process.

Labour failed to advance any of these positions in government. It became a mudguard for the unjust conservative policies, which represent the interests of economic and political elites.

The electoral demise of Labour and its strategic crisis crystallises one crucial aspect of the ongoing realignment of politics in Ireland.

A new political space has created new opportunities for Left and progressive politics.

Sinn Féin has been given the leadership responsibility of representing the people of no and little property – in government in the north and opposition in the south.

The main trade unions leaderships have traditionally tied themselves unconditionally to the Labour Party. Those same union leaderships need to adjust to the new post-election reality.

The Labour Party is no longer represented in the European Parliament. Sinn Féin is the joint largest Irish parliamentary group.

There are many smaller left republican and progressive parties and groups – with mandates, and none – which espouse anti-austerity and national, democratic agendas.

The phenomenon of progressive Independents is another important feature of the changed political landscape.

The old certainties and orthodoxies, which defined the Irish left, have been displaced.

Unsurprisingly the conservatives north and south are already regrouping.

Progressive trade unionists, activists and republicans on the political left should do the same.

The realignment in Irish politics has to deliver real change for ordinary citizens. A national discussion is required within the left on how to coalesce around joint strategies to do that.

This month Sinn Féin started a discussion series in An Phoblacht, to encourage a wide range of contributions, on how the post-election opportunities can be maximised.

The Irish Left needs to reinvent itself as an alternative government with realistic strategies and policies.

The Irish labour movement, left, republican and progressive activists, and genuine members of the Irish Labour Party, should now engage together on developing Programmes for Government, which put our people first.

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