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7 January 2010 Edition

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OPINION: Engaging Eamon Gilmore's Labour Party: A response to Eoin Ó Broin

KENNY AND GILMORE: Labour jumped down a Fine Gael funnel to re-emerge as the Irish Labour-Lite

KENNY AND GILMORE: Labour jumped down a Fine Gael funnel to re-emerge as the Irish Labour-Lite

The price of Labour


BY DAMIEN McILROY

I HAVE to say from the outset I do enjoy reading Eoin Ó Broin’s articles in ‘Another View’. I find them incisive, fresh and challenging. I found his last article on ‘Engaging Labour’ so challenging that I feel compelled to write a response. Knowing Eoin, I am sure he’ll appreciate that. So I’ll start with the first part of his conclusion. Eoin wrote:
“Those of us who believe that a better, fairer Ireland is possible have a responsibility to engage and convince those who share our broad values and aspirations that an alliance for change is the best way forward.
“But an alliance for change will not emerge on its own. Those of us who believe in it need a strategy, including a strategy for engaging with the Labour Party.”
This bit I entirely agree with. I disagree with just about everything else above and below that statement. Those bits I don’t disagree with are too broad. Overall, the analysis within the article is well-intended but stretched, superficial and removed from the current political realities. A good example of this is Eoin’s confident prediction that:
“This year’s European elections saw the combined Left vote in the 26 Counties reach 30% for the first time in the history of the state. The economic and political model promoted by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is in crisis. There has never been a better time for the Left to promote a real alternative.”
This statement is incredible. For starters, the combined Left vote during the European elections may have reached 30% but it was split fundamentally on the issue of the Lisbon Treaty. The importance of this should not be underestimated because that is part of the real evidence base, in policy and principle, which will allow us to measure the potential for the realignment of politics in the 26 Counties.
Labour campaigned in opposition to Sinn Féin during the first and second referenda on the Lisbon Treaty, so they were fundamentally and consistently at odds with us over the direction in which the European Union will develop.
Our party president during his 2009 Ard Fheis speech reminded Labour of their “duty” not to prop up Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. This was the right thing to do, it was the moral thing to do. Subsequently, Eamon Gilmore in The Sunday Business Post unequivocally ruled out a Left alliance, stating:
“There will be no alliance with Sinn Féin, parties of the Left, with individuals of the Left. There will be no alliance of that kind.”  
It is quite clear that Eamon Gilmore’s Labour Party are generally content to prop up Fine Gael as their exclusive partner in what Eoin has rightly defined as “a conservative government, dominated by a resurgent, right-wing Fine Gael”.
The Labour Party have used their own momentum driven by obsession for power over principle and willingly jumped down a Fine Gael funnel to re-emerge as the Irish Labour-Lite Party. They have become sufficiently shaped and conditioned to sit well in “a conservative government dominated by a resurgent, right-wing Fine Gael”.
Eoin then invites Sinn Féin to do the same and jump down a Labour funnel by demonstrating “to the Labour Party that republicans are serious about the long-term objective of transforming the social, political and economic landscape of the country”.
On the contrary, and by Eamon Gilmore’s own admission, it is the Irish Labour-Lite Party that need to demonstrate to Sinn Féin that they are serious about ending “crony capitalism” and building a “new, better and fairer Ireland”.
We need to demonstrate our seriousness about the “the long-term objective of transforming the social, political and economic landscape of the country” to the people of Ireland, not Labour-Lite.
People need to see what  Sinn Féin stand for, as a distinct Left republican party in comparison to other parties. The electorate must be able to differentiate between Sinn Féin and other parties, including Labour. Those points of distinction from other political parties must be based upon sound Left republican principles.
Gerry Adams in his Ard Fheis speech also said:
“Labour should explore with us and others the potential for co-operation in the future.”  There is a cautionary tone to this line - to explore “the potential for co-operation” means to do just that.
Our starting point is to gauge where the Labour Party are at right now. While some individual members of Labour might be close enough to Sinn Féin on some issues, right now, as a party, they are nowhere near Sinn Féin in terms of political alliance that will see a significant realignment in politics in the 26 Counties.
The Labour Party have invested too heavily in portraying themselves as the exclusive partner to a Fine Gael-led alternative government. Just as they campaigned against us in the two Lisbon Treaty referenda, in some constituencies they will be our fiercest opposition. They will campaign and seek to politically damage us in the next general election. They will seek to take seats from us and we will do the same to them.
We must not be misty-eyed about a potential ‘Alliance of the Left’ that has no potential - at this time. That is not to say that we don’t genuinely maintain and develop relationships with the Labour Party. But we must be resolute and focused on what a Fine Gael/Labour-Lite coalition will herald: as Eoin quite correctly says “a conservative government, dominated by a resurgent, right-wing Fine Gael”. In short, more of the same. We must plan our strategy around these realities. The people of Ireland deserve better than more of the same.
The Labour Party have committed themselves to a political mistake at the expense of a Left alternative; that’s up to them.
Sinn Féin must map and move on the potential for political alliances on issues of mutual concern with interested political parties, individuals and communities of interest but we must do so on our own two feet, so to speak.
We must make decisions defined by our republican principles. If others are close to us on ‘issues’ then we should pull them onto our ground.
Primarily, we must continue to make ourselves and our politics relevant to the people of Ireland and to wield power on their behalf, not to make ourselves relevant to other political parties in order to wield power.
When you are building a house you don’t start with the roof; you put in solid foundations. For the moment, in the 26 Counties we are a party in opposition. Let’s get comfortable with that notion again. Let’s build our party, make alliances on our terms, work hard for our people, develop and expand our support base and challenge inequality from whatever quarter it comes from.
Being a party in opposition to the status quo brings with it opportunity and a different type of power in its own right. Let us explore and exploit the outer limits of that opportunity.
Republicans are ‘long-termers’. Let’s be patient and strategic. When the time is right, when we have sufficient political strength, we will be in government, North and South, and then the real work of political realignment on the island of Ireland will have begun.

Labour will seek to politically damage Sinn Féin and take seats from the party in the next general election 

 

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