By Mick Barry TD
Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking-Glass, published in 1871, featured the characters Tweedledum and Tweedledee. According to Wikipedia, The Tweedle brothers “agree to have a battle, but never have one… Rather, they complement each other’s words, which led John Tenniel to portray them as twins in his illustrations for the book.”
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are today the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Irish politics. As if to prove the point they will swap around the two top jobs in Irish politics on Saturday, 17 December, and the policy of the Government will stay more or less exactly the same.
Protecting the wealthy
Formed in the Summer of 2020, the Fianna Fáil / Fine Gael / Green Party coalition has consistently and vigorously prioritised the interests of big business, the wealthy and big landlords over the interests of working people and the poor.
The corporate media has tended to praise them for their handling of the crisis that immediately confronted them after taking office — the Covid pandemic. But the reality is that thousands died unnecessarily as a result of the premature lifting of a lockdown in the summer of 2020 and again with the premature lifting of another before Christmas 2020. In both instances the Government bowed to pressure from business interests and recklessly gambled with the health of the population.
The Government has also been battered by a cost of living crisis greatly exacerbated by global factors. However, the Government has not been anywhere near sufficiently bold with cost of living countermeasures and has stood idly by while capitalist profiteering has gone on left, right and centre.
Abysmal record on housing
Nowhere has this Government’s failure (or its ties to monied interests) been seen more clearly than in relation to the housing crisis. It has failed to halt the relentless rise in rents, which are up 82% in a decade compared to an EU average of 18%.
A record 11,300 plus people including 3,000 plus children will spend this Christmas in emergency accommodation, some of them for the second, third or even fourth time.
Alarmingly, apartment commencements were down 29% in the three months to the end of October. Housing starts were down 23%. Varadkar and Coveney are pushing for tax breaks for developers as the way to deal with this. It is typical that this Government considers such a market-driven “solution” to tackle a problem caused by the failures of the self-same capitalist market.
The Government’s housing crisis has coincided with the arrival of more than 60,000 refugees from Ukraine and an uptick in arrivals from other countries seeking asylum.
The far right have tried to exploit this situation by trying to get the victims of Ireland’s housing crisis to point the finger at others, including the victims of Putin’s War. The racist role of the far right is there for all to see but it is Government inaction on housing that has clearly gifted them with this opportunity.
Bigger problems to come
Even though the Government under Micheal Martin was battered by the Covid and cost of living crises, it had the relative advantage of facing them with a booming economy, rising tax receipts and cheap international credit. That will not be the case in 2023 as international capitalism plunges into a recession from which Ireland will be far from immune.
Already, a glimpse of the problems ahead can be seen in the tech sector, with Varadkar speaking of job losses in the pipeline of thousands rather than hundreds.
Commentary about the Government now reaching “the half-way stage” belies the fact that this Dáil is closer now to the 60% mark. A General Election must take place by March 2025 and Local and European elections are due in May 2024. The Government may decide to hang together rather than hang separately and try to keep going to the bitter end.
Alternatively, jockeying for position between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael could cause instability as could jockeying for position within Fianna Fáil after Martin’s step down from the Taoiseach’s position and as the General Election draws nearer.
Irrespective of whether harmony is disrupted in the Tweedledum / Tweedledee camp, it is a sure thing that the pair of them will be casting a nervous eye on a discontented public as the New Year rolls around. Their capitalist system faces major crises both here in Ireland and globally, the necessity of building a socialist alternative to the parties who dutifully serve this order has never been greater.