Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Report : United Left Alliance Post-Election Rally in the Gresham Hotel, March 11 2011

with 7 comments

Tomás Ó Flatharta reports on this event, adding some impressions – other readers and attenders might like to add some words.

United Left Alliance post-election Rally: Why We Need A New Left Alternative

Four of the five United Left Alliance TD’s spoke (Séamus Healy of South Tipperary was the only absentee).

Eddie Conlon (People Before Profit/Campaign for an Independent Left) chaired.

The room was packed – I estimate an attendance of more than 300.

The chairperson warned speakers to keep within 10 minutes, and to avoid repetition.  That way, more time would be available to contributors in the audience.

The North Dublin TD Clare Daly started with a description of  the issues which came up during her constituency canvass.  Compared with previous campaigns, she reported there was a much higher level of anger.  People were determined to give Fianna Fáil a kicking.

This is similar to what I came across in the Joan Collins Dublin South-Central campaign.  Typically, in the past, people at the doors were very polite – you learn that unless they explicitly offer a Number 1 vote to your candidate, they have chosen  a rival.

This time around you got a polite and often warm welcome once the voter knew you were campaigning for Joan Collins, but vigorous anger was directed towards the outgoing Greena Fáil coalition.

On one occasion I knocked at a door but nobody answered, and moved on to the next house.  Then behind me I heard a woman call out angrily from the upstairs window – somebody was in after all!  She started talking with a fellow-canvasser and became much more friendly when he explained we were working for Joan Collins, the woman who handbagged Bertie Ahern :

The voter calmed down a little, but deeply regretted we were not from Fianna Fáil – she produced a rock being kept ready to throw at supporters of the outgoing government!

On another untypically warm afternoon an angry transport worker opened a door to me with a small but lively dog under his oxters – this animal was primed for an unpleasant welcome to Soldiers-of-Destiny. Again the tone changed radically once he saw we were working for Joan Collins – I was asked to congratulate the candidate for handbagging the ex-taoiseach.

As Clare Daly explained, many people are suffering from rapidly increasing emigration, and are finding it very difficult to keep up with rising mortgage repayments, while take-home was slashed by at least ten per cent for most workers through increased income taxes imposed in the December 2010 budget.

The Dublin North TD is a member of the state’s largest union SIPTU, which sent her an e-mail earlier in the day signed by General President Jack O’Connor.

Apparently he argues that the new Fine Gael/Labour Programme for Government is “considerably better” than a possible alternative of Enda Kenny led single-party government.

What can we say but mention a June 2010  “person of the month” award Jack may not be happy about :

Daly described the SIPTU leadership position as “a declaration of surrender in advance” because the FG/Labour measures coming down the tracks will make Fianna Fáil look OK.

The Kenny/Gilmore team is threatening 25000 job losses in the public sector, and another senior Union leader, Shay Cody of IMPACT, says these will be “voluntary”.

The ULA should encourage a reclaim of the Unions – the problem is not the personal faults of individuals, but a policy based on the lack of any perspective which rejects the dictates of the capitalist markets.

Just under 100 years ago the Labour Party was founded – today we face a similar job – to found a new party of the left.

Next up was the Dún Laoghaire Deputy Boyd-Barrett, who referred to the Dáil speech of Joe Higgins questioning Enda Kenny’s “Democratic Revolution”

The real Fine Gael / Labour programme is the opposite of a “democratic revolution” – Fine Gael posters said “Let’s Get Ireland Working” not “We Are Going to Sell Off State Assets”.  The new Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar will be in-charge of handing over publicly owned companies such as Irish Rail or Dublin Bus to private vultures.

We should note that Enda Kenny was connecting with a real popular sentiment with the slogan of “revolution”.  Right up to the last minute many people if Fianna Fáil were really going to get the predicted hammering which came to pass.  The establishment, in the last days of the campaign, talked up the chances of a single-party Fine Gael government.

In broad terms the left vote at the 2011 election (Labour, Sinn Féin, United Left Alliance, most independents) was a rejection of the establishment – and that vote would have ben bigger but for the cowardice of a Labour Party leadership determined to enter coalition with Fine Gael.

Eddie  Conlon then asked all the unsuccessful ULA candidates in the hall to stand and receive well-deserved congratulations.

Joe Higgins then asked us to analyse what had happened in the last week, and work together on a strategy which will guide us in the years ahead.

In some ways the description of the election as ”historic” is justified – we did witness the destruction Fianna Fáil.  We must work to make sure it will not recover.  It is ironic that a party which traces its 1918 origins to the Sinn Féin led mass rejection of British Imperialist aggression, has been brought down by its shameful surrender to the imperial rule of the big European Banks.

A second historic development is the election of 5 ULA TD’s – there is real potential fora vital left bloc in the new Dáil.

If we give relevant practical ideas, offer a credible alternative, Fianna Fáil will not be able to benefit from the inevitable unpopularity of the new government.

The same applies, in a different way, to Sinn Féin, which will shift uncomfortably by facing left in the Dublin Dáil, but implements the austerity drive of the British Con-Dem government in the Belfast Stormont government.

Developing battles are inevitable, and we  must help the launch of broad-based mass campaigns that are not just appendages of the ULA.

FG/Labour have a big majority – 117 versus 27 on the nomination of Enda Kenny for taoiseach – and that could lead to arrogance, very quickly.

We must be merciless opponents of this government, which will follow the same policies as the former Fianna Fáil / Green Party coalition.

We should learn from the magnificent Arab revolutions – resistance may take the from of industrial action.

We should use the Dáil platform to aid these struggles – and broadcast the ideas of socialism which were driven back in the last 20 years of neo-liberalism.

We must take media work very seriously, use our own outlets effectively, arguing that the financial institutions should be placed under democratic control.

During the election campaign Joe spoke at 14 ULA public meetings in various parts of the state, which were attended by over 1300 people – many of whom were not active in the door-to-door, postering, leafletting work.

We must  begin now building a new party of the left, without rushing the  construction of structures.

All our work will go to zero unless we build an alternative – a principled party of the left advancing the cause of democratic socialism.

Joan Collins then went to the microphone saying 150 people were active in the Dublin South-Central campaign.We need to deepen the unity of the left created in this election.

Then, in a refreshing departure from the norm, she expressed agreement with much of what we already heard, saw no point in repetition from the top table, and looked forward to hearing contributions from the audience.


The meeting was also addressed by an Egyptian Socialist Wassim Wagdy on the uprising which has dumped Hosni Mubarak from his Cairo throne.

Anthony McDonnell of the Dublin Port Workers’ Support Group

briefly reported on the background to a court hearing scheduled for March 16 – the ULA TD’s will be following up this issue.


Points raised in the discussion included :

Kieran O’Sullivan :

We need United Left Alliance structures which rank-and-file members can join, and play an active role shaping policy – we need a schedule of activists’ meetings, followed by a national convention of the ULA which is a decision-making body.

Kieran Allen (Socialist Workers’ Party/People Before Profit) referred to the “riot in a ballot box” we experienced, and the need to move forward to a new party.

That party has to be about more than contesting elections, and we should campaign for a referendum to reject the IMF / ECB dictates.

We should be different from Sinn Féin, campaigning against water charges, and launching  a “Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay” movement.

We need to be democratic within the new party, and show respect to people with different views to ourselves.

John Meehan (People Before Profit / Campaign for an Independent Left) focussed on the contradiction between popular rejection of the IMF/European Central Bank plan rewarding private banks – demonstrated in  reliable opinion polls – and governments which do the opposite.

This contradiction was partially bridged by the increased electoral support gained by the ULA, Sinn Féin and many independent deputies – and we need to move this process forward, moving the new government towards the same levels of unpopularity achieved by the defeated Fianna Fáil / Green Party coalition. See :

Irish People Repudiate IMF/ECB Bailout of Bank Gamblers

Paul Shiels pointed out that one of the last actions of  outgoing Fianna Fáil minister Pat Carey – one of many FF TD’s who lost his seat – was a giveaway of public Gas and Oil assets to private interests.

A DIT student suggested we organise a team of Marxist economists to aid the ULA TD’s.

Brendan Young (People Before Profit / Campaign for an Independent Left) focussed on the breakthrough we have achieved, and the need to do even better at the next election, probably in four years’ time.

That will mean establishing a bigger social base for a new party.

The level of mass struggle is still fairly low, and this government may last 4 years.

It would be premature to drop a ready-made programme into a developing new party – we lots of participation, circulation of discussions, and better sharing of information.

A woman comrade – Vanessa – drew attention to the gap between the policies of the Labour Party leadership and the people who voted for them.

We need to remove sectarianism from the left, and stay open to people who will break away from the Labour Party.

She urged the ULA TD’s to support the former dock workers being prosecuted in the courts for defending jobs – see below.

Vincent Lavery – who was active in the USA for many years – said racism is rampant in Ireland, and advocated rejection of the “cancer” of class warfare.

Noel from Dublin South-Central asked would the people of Drimnagh, Crumlin, and Ballyfermot be denied a voice in the new Dáil technical group, where the ULA’s Joe Higgins shares speaking time with Finian McGrath and Shane Ross?

Joe Higgins replied to the discussion :

The ULA TD’s will support the dock workers being dragged before the courts.

On mortgages – we need to work for writing off of unpayable debts.

TD’s will need to work with research teams doing a lot of good quality background work – such as, on the issue of oil and gas exploration.

We should be clear that 95 per cent of delegates at the Labour Party Special Conference discussing the new Programme for Government voted for coalition with Fine Gael.  Of course the ULA should be open to people breaking from the party led by Eamon Gilmore, but we must insist that is done on a principled basis – namely the basic anti-coalition policy platform of the United Left Alliance.

Joe clarified the speaking rights issue – all five of the ULA TD’s spoke during the debate last Wednesday on the formation of a new government.  The ULA has one-third of the Technical Group’s speaking time, and this will be shared out democratically among the by the TD’s.

The Dublin West TD finished by explaining that class warfare is being waged by the sharks of big business, and we must fight back, because the new government will do the bidding of their masters.

Richard Boyd-Barrett addressed the abortion ad gay rights issues, saying the ULA does not yet have a policy on these issues, but we must discuss them and arrive at a principled position.

The we all retired to the bar at the back of the hall, relaxed, chatted, and worked on more things to do!

The more we do these kinds of events, the better!

Written by tomasoflatharta

Mar 12, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Posted in Ireland

7 Responses

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  1. Excellent and encouraging report. Let’s hope that the broad left unity that people are crying for will prevail.

    Mick Ahern

    Mar 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm

  2. The meeting in the Gresham was OK, if fairly predictable.
    It was also billed as a celebration but, in my opinion, was more of the same; no different to most left-wing political gatherings. Speeches, speeches, speeches followed by a few drinks at the bar. The mood was certainly upbeat and that’s how it should be but Jesus lads, (I say ‘lads’ advisably) you gotta learn to celebrate in different ways.

    One point that was overlooked was the issue of the new finances available and flowing into the coffers of, whom ?????

    At a meeting/celebration in Crumlin the previous Monday Joan Collins gave us a breakdown of some of the monies available to her. (She also expressed surprise at the amount)

    € 92k salary
    € 25k expenses (vouched )OR
    € 15K expenses (unvouched)
    € 41K constituency expenses

    Presumably all 5 ULA TDs will get this

    How is this going to be divvied out? The sooner we know this the better.

    Brendan Young spoke of the need to ‘establish a bigger social base’ for a new party. How is this to happen? The Gresham style jamboree might encourage the usual activists but that’s all.

    I left before the bar opened.

    I wonder would Emma Goldman become a member ?

    Joe Kelly

    Mar 12, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    • Emma: to dance or beacuse of all that money? 🙂

      Does that list of monies available include the Dáil office or is that (including wages) supplied by the state?

      The above list comes to €158,000 per TD (vouched) or €790,000 for all five!

      Estimated average earnings for all employment sectors (last Quarter 2010) is €699.46 per week, for average hours of 31.8 per week, or (x52) €36,371.92 per year.

      The estimate for Industry is €822.04, for average hours of 37.7 per week, or (x52) €42,746.08 per year.

      The estimate for Public Administration is €958.22, for average hours of 36.9 per week, or (x52) €49,827.44 per year.

      Average private sector earnings is €624.88 per week, for average hours of 31.8 per week, or (x52) €32,493.76 per year.

      Average public sector earnings is €912.84 per week, for average hours of 32.1 per week, or (x52) €47,467.68 per year.

      Average earnings for production, transport, craft and manual workers at the end of 2009 (latest figures) was €555.21 per week, for average hours of 33.9 per week, or (x52) €28,870.92 per year.


      Which earnings should the ULA TDs personal salary (taken) be based on? The average earnings in Industry (above) include all grades but they also reflect a ‘normal’ working week of near 39 hours. You can see how much lower manual workers’ earnings are (but for less average hours worked). A settlement of in the region of €40,000 per annum for a ULA TD’s wages might fairly represent ‘a worker’s wage’.

      Which would leave in the region of €118,000 left in monies available to each TD ‘for the cause’in general (including of course each TD’s real out-of-pocket expenses). Or over half a million for all five.

      There is also the monies available to a ULA MEP and some monies to ULA councillors.

      Of course each TD etc. stood for their own party and the total monies available cannot be considered as going into a ULA pool. But the general picture is one of resources beyond that which the left is used to. For example, a short while before the election the PBPA had little or nothing in its bank account.

      Des Derwin

      Mar 18, 2011 at 1:56 pm

  3. This may be of interest:

    Paul Murphy has been selected to replace Joe Higgins as Socialist Party (and United Left Alliance) MEP for Dublin.

    In addition, I understand that most of the council vacancies created by the election of ULA councillors to the Dail have also been filled.

    Eugene Coppinger, an activist in the Swords branch of the Socialist Party, has been coopted onto Fingal County Council in place of Clare Daly.

    Melisa Halpin, a long standing SWP activist, has been coopted to Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council in place of Richard Boyd Barrett.

    Pat Dunne, an activist in the Campaign for an Independent Left and People Before Profit, has been coopted to Dublin City Council in place of Joan Collins.

    As far as I can gather, the vacancies on South Tipperary Council and Clonmel Town Council created by the election of Seamus Healy to the Dail have not yet been filled.

    Mark P

    Mar 23, 2011 at 7:40 pm

  4. Beginning to worry. SP and SWP(PbP) going their separate ways North of the border. Both parties appear to be retreating from pushing the ULA.
    “There is a tide in the affairs of men”
    Am I being pessimistic.

    Jim Monaghan

    Mar 27, 2011 at 5:30 pm

  5. I believe that you are being too pessimistic.

    The United Left Alliance was founded as an electoral alliance for the general election in the South. Since those elections, all of the participants have indicated that they want to push on with the project and see it develop, with an eventual goal of a fully fledged party.

    There are, however, many things which will effect how things progress. There is a lot still to be discussed, and the North is one of the most important issues. To be blunt about it, while the components of the ULA share most of each other’s views on the economic crisis in the South, the degree to which their views on the situation in the North are compatible is less clear.

    Mark P

    Mar 29, 2011 at 8:18 am

  6. The following press release may put your mind at ease, Jim:

    The interim steering committee of the United Left Alliance met yesterday to discuss building on their major breakthrough which saw five TDs elected to the Dáil.

    A round of local public meetings throughout the country in April will be soon announced. From these local branches of the United Left Alliance will be formed which will immediately get stuck into local issues affecting communities as well as national campaigns and struggles against the austerity policies of the Fine Gael/Labour government.

    A National Convention of the United Left Alliance will then take place in late June where a broad range of policy areas will be discussed as well as the steps necessary to launch the United Left Alliance as a party.

    Joe Higgins TD said:

    “The Moriarty Tribunal report served as a timely reminder to people that Fine Gael like Fianna Fáil are a party wedded to the interests of big business. We believe that between that and the inevitability that Fine Gael and Labour’s promise to have the terms of the EU/IMF deal significantly altered will come to nothing, opposition to this government will continue to grow.

    “A point will soon be reached when Fine Gael and Labour blaming Fianna Fail for the austerity policies they continue will no longer wash with ordinary people. The United Left Alliance will be well positioned to further build and extend its support on the basis of the radical left alternative it offers to the cuts consensus.

    Richard Boyd Barrett TD commented:

    “Water charges, property taxes and job cuts are all attacks waiting to take place on Fine Gael and Labour’s watch. The United Left Alliance is determined to position itself so that it can respond to these attacks in every town and city in the country.

    “Likewise the floundering of Fine Gael and Labour in the face of the current phase of the banking disaster will show starkly the need for genuine political representation for ordinary people. The United Left Alliance has already made its mark in the Dáil. This will be more that matched by our role in campaigns and the developing struggles in communities and workplaces in the weeks and months ahead.”

    Mark P

    Mar 29, 2011 at 8:02 pm

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