On the Road to Nowhere?

It’s three years today since the counts took place for the last General Election. On that day we saw the two traditional centre-right parties almost gaining almost 50% between them and, with their gene-pool independents, the centre-right gained in and around 60% of the popular vote. Not surprisingly, this vote has been well-reflected in the Confidence and Supply arrangement between the Fine Gael-led Government and Fianna Fáil.

Recent opinion polls — and they’ve been reasonably consistent apart from a few blips — indicate that support for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil combined with like-minded Independents is still hovering around 60% or so. While this is a far cry from the combined centre-right support of over 80% in the 1980s, it still shows that the Left has a lot of work to do in order to shift where the balance of power lies in our society.

And the other big difference between the centre-right and the left in Ireland is its extremely fragmented nature — two parties dominate the centre-right space compared to a myriad of competing forces on the left who often cannibalise each other. The fragmentation of left forces is a key reason why the current Irish left has still not managed to make the breakthrough that many of us have hoped for.

To be clear, I’m not advocating a merger between left forces — that wouldn’t be practical, necessary or indeed desirable. What’s needed is the creation of a joint platform — on issues like income equality, housing, tackling climate change and the provision of public services like health, education, childcare and public transport — between the left forces around which public support can be built over time.

In addition — and this might prove to be the hard piece — transfer pacts would need to be put in place to maximise the number of left seats in the Dail. Look at the experience in Sweden where a Red-Green alliance has formed the last two governments in that country because they have created a joint platform and worked together.

However, I’m realistic enough not to expect a development along these lines to take place before the next General Election — but we do need people of good will across the left to be talking about this issue now — in the way that people like Jack O’Connor, Rory Hearne and Eoin O Broin have been — if it is to gain momentum, as it surely needs to, after the election. To come

The reality is that unless the various forces on the left start working together — instead of cannibalising each other — then the Irish left, and its agenda around the creation of a more socially and economically equal and environmentally sustainable society, will continue to be on the road to nowhere.

Pat Montague