Ireland: Left surges in local and European poll

May 31, 2014

There has been a minor earthquake in Irish politics in recent days. Republican party Sinn Fein has made a breakthrough into mainstream southern Irish politics. It almost doubled its vote to 17% in municipal polls for the southern state and won more than 20% in the European election.

This was alongside a surge of electoral success from those further to the left and independents.

Overall in the municipal elections in Ireland's south, Sinn Fein won 150 seats and those further left won about 40.

In the European election, Sinn Fein topped the Dublin poll with a first-time candidate; this was replicated in across Ireland's south with another first-time candidate winning a European seat for the party.

Nationally, the governing Fine Gael Party lost 8.4% of its vote, leaving it at 24%. The Labour Party, the junior coalition party, lost half its popular vote, to 7%.

The Labour Party was decimated in the local councils across Ireland; the party has now no seats on Cork City Council (Ireland’s second-biggest city), and the party has been reduced to eight seats on Dublin City Council (a drop of 17% of the first preference votes). Nationally, Labour has been reduced to 50 seats, which compares poorly to Sinn Fein’s 157.

The Labour Party is in crisis, with the immediate resignation of its leader Eamonn Gilmore after the election.

In Dublin, Sinn Fein won almost one quarter of first preference votes, an increase of 12%, making it the largest party on the council with 16 seats. With the 23% won by Sinn Fein’s Lynn Boylan in the European election, the party is by far the most popular in the city.

On the far left, the Socialist Party and its electoral front, the Anti-Austerity Alliance, won a very impressive 14 council seats. The block won three seats on the Limerick City Council and three seats on Cork City Council, making it a national rather than Dublin-centric alliance.

The Socialist Party also won a parliamentary by-election in Dublin West, meaning that now two of the four seats in the constituency are Socialist Party.

The Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) and its electoral group, the People Before Profit Alliance, also did well, winning a total of 14 council seats. The group also made a breakthrough in Northern Ireland winning a seat on Belfast City Council.

Outside the main blocks, the United Left (a group made up of some independents from the now defunct United Left Alliance), won two council positions and the Workers’ Party won a seat on Cork City Council. The Tipperary Workers’ and Unemployed Group also won a seat.

A number of independent left councillors were also elected across the country, some of whom will be key to the future development of left politics.

One sour note on the left was the loss of Paul Murphy’s (Socialist Party) Dublin European seat. In a particularly Machiavellian move, the SWP ran a candidate in the European election with the aim of building her profile for the 2016 national elections. This split the left vote.

Overall, this was a clear vote to the left. Sinn Fein stood on an openly anti-austerity platform, including opposition to water charges. However, how it will use its new local successes also remains to be seen. The far left made a serious electoral advance but remains fragmented.

[Abridged from Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.]

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