After weeks of playing a game of charades, a Fianna Gael alliance has finally arrived. Michael Martin’s party will prop up Enda Kenny as Taoiseach until 2018. In return, Fianna Fail will get to play the role as lead party of the opposition.
Official Irish politics has descended to farce. Although the civil war parties have the support of just less than 50% of the electorate, they want to play the game of controlling BOTH the government and the opposition.
In three weeks time, a new set of water bills will arrive. Yet despite making an election promise to ‘end water charges’ the Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin says that people must pay this bill. It is just another sign of the glaring hypocrisy that motivates his party.
Last week in the Dáil, Fianna Fail joined up with their new friends in Fine Gael to prevent the Dáil voting on a resolution to fully abolish the charges. They knew that a majority of TDs would vote for a resolution signed by 39 TDs. So they suspended democracy instead.
This attack of basic democracy is at the core of the agreed document that underpins the new Fianna Gael alliance.
The ‘Confidence and Supply’ document commits Fianna Fail to voting against or abstaining on votes of confidence that could see Enda Kenny removed. Instead the Fianna Gael alliance will facilitate the passage of budgets that adhere to their agreed principles. They have also promised each other to ‘having an open approach to avoiding policy surprises’. This is polite language for choreographing Dail debates so that Fianna Fail can pretend to be in opposition while propping up Fine Gael.
The Fianna Gael alliance is based on solid right wing policies. There is a commitment to keep the corporation tax on big business as low as possible. They will increase the number of police recruits by 1,500 – but there is no similar specific commitments on hiring teachers or nurses. Most crucially, the new alliance has linked arms to resist workers claims for higher pay rises or an improvement in working conditions.
This is evident in their support for ‘the full implementation of the Lansdowne Road agreement in the timeframe agreed’. This is coded language for insisting that public sector workers will not be allowed press for the full implementation of their pre-2008 pay levels. Instead they have to work extra hours, have a reduced sick pay scheme, and accept full flexibility until 2018.
During the general election, People Before Profit highlighted discrimination against new entrants to the public sector. Those who joined after 2011 are paid less for doing the same work as those who joined before. The Fianna Gael alliance will deal with this scandal by setting up a Pay Commission to examine the issue – in other words, kick it to touch.
At the moment the state uses the FEMPI legislation to batter public sector unions into accepting ‘partnership deals’ which lock down the pay cuts. The Fianna Gael alliance proposes a ‘gradual negotiated repeal’ of this vindictive legislation. In other words, they want another chance to use this law to attack workers conditions.
Naturally enough, the conservatives within Fianna Gael make no mention of the pressing issues which Irish society is debating. There is no reference to the controversy over the 8th Amendment in their agreement. There are no proposed reforms to stop schools using the ‘baptism barrier’ to discriminate against children of non-Catholic parents.
In a gesture to Fianna Fail’s new found rhetoric of social concern, the new right wing alliance tries to cover its tracks with vague gestures. There is a promise to raise rent supplement – but only ‘up to’ 15% and that depends on the geographical area. There is talk of ‘protecting the family home’ – but no commitment to repeal the Land and Conveyancing Act which has increased the rate of evictions. There is a vague reference to increasing social housing supply but an early Fianna Fail promise to build 45,000 new social houses has totally disappeared.
This new government-fake opposition still needs the support of like minded independents. But these can be bought with Ministerial seats or diversion of taxpayers’ money to their particular constituencies. All that is rotten in official Irish politics is coming to the surface.
However, the darkest hour comes before the dawn. The combined right wing politics face a resurgent working class that has inflicted a major setback on them over water charges. This will lead to a confidence to challenge the government over the scandals on housing and health. Many have already learnt that the most effective ways to do this is though ‘people power’ on the streets.
We need to go one step further, however. The anger displayed on the streets needs to flow into the workplaces to build a movement that re-creates strong fighting unions. Once the sleeping giant of labour arises, the cute manoeuvres of Ireland’s right wing establishment will fall apart. Speed the day.