If the Labour Party were really to act in the “national interest” which it prates so much about and in accordance with the programme it sought the votes of the people on, its leaders would let Fine Gael form a government on its own, with Fianna Fail and other support from outside. Fianna Fail would not dare to vote against a Fine Gael minority government for several years, so that such a government would be quite stable. Instead, as Sean O’Casey said of Labour at the time of the first Fine Gael-Labour Coalition of 1948-51: “Their posteriors are aching for the velvet seats of office.” Instead of Labour being the largest element in opposing the Fine Gael/Fianna Fail implementation of the EU/IMF stitch-up, Messrs Gilmore, Rabbitte, Quin and Howlin and Joan Burton have assumed Irish Labour’s traditional role of “mudguard of Fine Gael rather than advance-guard of the workingclass”! It used be said that Labour struggles with its conscience, and Labour always wins. . . Except that on this occasion a handful of ageing Labour leaders were so desperate to get into office for their own benefit that there was not even the pretence of such a struggle.
Since 1948 Labour’s role in Irish politics has been periodically to revive Fine Gael from near terminal decline by putting it into office, simultaneously enabling Fianna Fail with virtually identical policies to revive itself in opposition. Thus the Irish Establishment could afford the luxury of having two big parties to champion its interests rather than one. Labour Ministers got big jobs, good salaries and pensions for their services, while the Labour Party was decimated in the subsequent election. This has happened on four occasions since 1951. The difference on this occasion is that Fianna Fail’s electoral defeat has been so great that it may not be able to recover in opposition. There is no real objective social basis for its continuance as a political party, now that the impact of the financial crisis and the huge increase in its vote has enabled Fine Gael to morph into becoming Ireland’s “natural” conservative party.
Whether this will actually happen depends on the non-Fianna Fail forces on the Opposition benches working together in the period ahead to make themselves into a cohesive, credible and radical opposition, cooperating with one another at least on fundamentals. It is inevitable that there will be a major reaction against Fine Gael and its Labour junior partner in the next general election, as they spend years as the local administrators of German-sponsored EU-IMF austerity. The next election may also come about much sooner than five years because of the continuing national and international financial crisis.