I guess we all saw this coming – the Irish Green party (who have spent the last decade trying to posture as marginally left-wing) have chosen to enter coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the two main landlord parties on our island. This coalition is notable in and of itself due to how blatantly cynical it is – Fine Gael stopped pretending they wanted to head into opposition, Fianna Fáil stopped pretending that they were any different than Fine Gael, and the Green Party stopped pretending that they actually care about things. RISE TD Paul Murphy aptly described this coalition as a “last-ditch attempt” by our political establishment to retain power – Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil completely bottled this year’s election due to their assumption that we’re only capable of hating one party at a time and have given up on feigning cultural differences as a result. Every single soulless media pundit spent the pre-COVID months of February and March droning on about how the electorate voted for “change” – a vague concept that basically just boils down to “a government that doesn’t disable homeless people with JCBs“.
Change seemingly took the form of Mary Lou McDonald’s Sinn Féin, a center-left party (who are perfectly grand with enacting austerity up north) that people were marginally excited in. Sinn Féin TDs such as Eoin Ó Broin and Louise O’Reilly exuded a certain charisma that smarmy YFGers in ill-fitting suits could only dream of – by making the suggestion that people should have a house or access to decent healthcare they were able to come off as actual human beings, scaring the living shite out of our establishment in the process. This election cycle was nearly solely defined by our press collectively going through the five stages of grief over Sinn Féin’s rise – at first they were a distant third not worth putting on the debate stage, then they were a shady group of ra-heads intent on crashing our economy by making companies pay tax, then they were the second-largest party in the state. The formation of this new government has felt like some belated punishment for daring to look beyond the confines of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil – we’re essentially now just forced to sit on the naughty eco-austerity step with Éamon Ryan for the crime of embarrassing a bunch of PR specialists based in D4. It seems as if we’re stuck here for the next half-decade – cad anois?
In order to get it out of my system, I’m now going to solely dedicate these next two paragraphs to sectarian mudslinging. This coalition government is best personified through Stephen Donnelly, our new Minister for Health who (according to one of my Twitter mutuals) “is totally wearing someone else’s skin”. Donnelly was one of the founders of the Social Democrats, a largely inoffensive center-left party that solely exists on the /r/IrishPolitics subreddit. Donnelly went on to leave the party in 2016, eventually selling out by joining Fianna Fáil – a party he had relentlessly criticized in the past. According to a Sunday Independent column he penned before his defection, Fianna Fáil’s culture is one “of jobs for the boys, bonuses for the boys, lack of accountability & two fingers to the Dáil” – something he presumably wanted to participate in. The funniest thing about Donnelly’s backstabbing was how utterly oblivious he seemed whenever it was brought up, it was as if he didn’t realize that a majority of people viewed him as a blatant careerist and viewed his defection as a desperate attempt to get a ministerial position. Donnelly is the human equivalent of a LinkedIn friend request, he doesn’t inspire much active interest or excitement and barely exists outside of the warped world of people who use the term “Sindo” unironically. He got into power on the backs of those who held false illusions of change and then once the opportunity arose he decided to play Judas, cheerleading a system that his original supporters set out to stand against. Does this remind you of a certain party?
A while back I tweeted that Leo Varadkar would be what’d happen if you tried photocopying Justin Trudeau but ran out of ink halfway through – Éamon Ryan is what’d happen if you tried photocopying Trudeau’s blackface pictures. Ryan’s task as leader of the Green Party was essentially to wipe our collective memories of the last time they entered coalition, painting over the party’s previous position as an electoral mudguard for Brian Cowen with vague references to the genuine radicalism that drew young people to their party. Despite his utter ineptitude (and unintentional racial slur usage), Ryan has been oddly successful in this regard, with the Greens posturing as a “left” party during their time in opposition, sucking up transfers from left-leaning voters, and drawing figures such as Saoirse McHugh to the party. Now that the Greens are in coalition they can shed themselves of the latex mask of progressivism – Shannon LNG running privately will suddenly become okay, the next round of austerity will somehow be branded as good for the environment, and the often-mentioned plug on this government will never actually get pulled. I think that the socialist left are wrong to go after grassroots members of the Green Party for the brazen careerism of the leadership – after all, at worst they’re just useful idiots who had their genuine passion and energy exploited in order to get some careerist a ministerial car, regressive carbon taxes, and further cuts to public services.
If we want to get anywhere as a “left” there are four main things we need to collectively learn – when to walk, how to talk, where to build, and how to avoid leaving. I think that the current situation within the Green Party serves as a great example of this first requirement. If you’re a young socialist within the Green Party the leadership has told you where to go and if you choose to ignore this the electorate will spell it out for you in five years. You are not going to be able to wring out any semblance of socialist policy from a coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and you are not going to be able to explain away your involvement in the myriad of crises created by the austerity your party is going to greenlight (no pun intended). The Greens are just after committing electoral kamikaze, it’s very unlikely that they’ll become the first party ever to benefit from becoming a mudguard and it’s nearly certain that we’re headed into a profound economic crisis. If you want to effectively fight climate change and enact a just transition to a fairer world your time and energy would be best spent elsewhere, even if that’s fairly intimidating to think about. I doubt it’s truly possible to ever escape the politics of prestige but if we want to effectively organize as young socialists we should be able to swallow our pride and walk away from an organization or party that is fundamentally incapable of reaching our goals.
If you’re fortunate enough to be involved in a grouping that hasn’t sold out yet this doesn’t mean that you’re off the hook – if you’re completely incapable of having a conversation with another person who self-describes as a socialist you’re not going to be able to achieve much of anything. There are definitely lines to be drawn (and conversations not worth pursuing), but I feel like we’ve all fallen into the habit of drawing them way too early. You have nothing to lose from critically engaging with those you don’t fully agree with and fuck all to gain from being a hyper sectarian windbag. There are definitely young people within the Green Party, the Fridays for Future Movement, or Extinction Rebellion who could be won over to a socialist program – it’s just a case of being willing to genuinely engage and have hard conversations with those who will inevitably get burnt out by Éamon Ryan’s failed attempts to not seem like an uncool secondary school teacher. Some on the left are advocating for an organized split of the left-wing within the Green party – this is something I really do not see happening. I personally think that we’re way more likely to see a gradual burnout within the Greens, with all the young activists in the party eventually just giving up and either floating out of political life altogether or joining other organizations. This is why critical engagement is so necessary for our left – we need to ensure that those who burn out under this coalition don’t give up on climate action completely, even if their party is objectively shite. I’m reminded here of a great quote from Alan Wood’s biography on Ted Grant – “Ted used to tell us: you can win over any youngster under 25 years of age, except for careerists and oddballs”. There are significantly fewer careerists than we want to admit and significantly more people we are capable of winning over.
If we want to have more of a chance of preventing impending climate catastrophe we need to work out where to build – be it within our places of work, outside of the Pale, or in our local communities. There are some (admittedly minor) victories to be won under right-wing governments, it’s just that they don’t solely exist within the Dáil. It’s almost a certainty that there’ll be mass movements on housing, healthcare, and the environment over the next few years and we need to be prepared to get actively involved within them. Our movements need to consist of all 32 counties – even if that’s intimidating to think about. But finally, we need to avoid leaving without a fight. Mick Barry was right to point out that immigration has traditionally served as a safety valve for Irish capitalism – landlords shipped us off in coffin ships during the famine and ever since we’ve collectively acted as if our country is fundamentally incapable of employing our young. This has been internalized to the point where we (quite understandably) view immigration as an inherent, unchangeable cycle – every decade or so we ritualistically ship off half our youth and there’s feck all we can do about it. COVID-19 has fundamentally changed this, we have nowhere to go and that should scare the living shite out of those in power. David McWilliams is a bit of a melt but in his recent column for the Irish Times he hit the nail on the head when he stated that “unless this prospective new government focuses on narrowing this divide, with dramatic and radical policies on housing, wresting land and wealth ownership from the older generations, the future will belong to a different political force”. Those who held illusions in Sinn Féin this January were those who watched half their generation emigrate after 2008 – imagine what’d happen if that full generation were able to organize both inside and outside of the Dáil. The next few years will be objectively shite for anyone who isn’t an Airbnb landlord or an investor in the Bobby Sands Suite. However, we are capable of making things slightly less bad by organizing, fighting back, and building a left that can viably tackle issues like climate change, wealth inequality, and the housing crisis. But for now, let’s just get back to talking about music.