Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

The United Left Alliance in Dublin Central

with 6 comments

The United Left Alliance (ULA) has held a series of launch meetings since the February 25 General Election.

This is a report of the Dublin Central Gathering, held on Monday May 30 in the Teachers Club, 36 Parnell Square.

About 34 people attended. 

The meeting was chaired by Eddie Conlon of the ULA A Steering Committee and the speakers were :

Joan Collins TD ULA/People Before Profit (PBP) Dublin South-Central.

Paul Murphy Member of the European Parliament (MEP) ULA/Socialist Party (SP) –

[Paul took over the seat vacated by Joe Higgins, who is now a TD for Dublin West]

Colm Stephens PBP/Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) Dublin Central.

Joan Collins opened the meeting with fresh news that an actor who shares the socialist TD’s name was recently hit by the property crash –

The actress has put her three-bedroom, three-bathroom Manhattan apartment on the market.

She told Hello! magazine: “We can no longer afford to keep it.” “

Read more:

Even though the super-wealthy are feeling the effects of the crisis, the main feature of the economic crisis we are living through is the transfer of debts built up by wealthy developers on to the ordinary people – The European Central Bank has stepped in because the funds of private banks have dried up – to the tune of €160 billion.   The costs of enormous Sub-Prime Loans are being dumped on us.

This is a Europe-Wide Recession  – in Spain, for example, Youth Unemployment has now reached 42 per cent.

The rich will not pay.

It is not true that there is no wealth in Ireland – check the 2011 Irish Times Report on Wealth in Ireland.

A golden circle is taking care of its own members, two years of austerity and cronyism has produced a return to emigration, cutbacks, and unemployment.

The most pressing issue facing us is the attack on the Employment Regulation Orders and Registered Employment Agreements.  This will hit, mainly, women workers and migrants.

Joan highlighted a planned ULA Protest outside a Water Privatisation Conference at Croke Park – called for 8.30am on June 1 – about 60 protesters turned up at this early hour.

The ULA has 5 members of the Dáil, 20 Councillors and one Euro-Parliament member.

We need to build the ULA,  and explain how it can become a political alternative.

It should be open to individuals and groups.  It should not mean having to join the orgainsations which came together to form the electoral alliance – the PBP, the SP, the SWP or Séamus Healy’s South Tipperary organisation.

Paul Murphy looked at how the mainstream media is promoting the concept of powerlessness, the proposition that there is no alternative (TINA made famous by Margaret Thatcher).

This is designed to

  1. Let the Fine Gael / Labour Government off the hook
  2. Render people powerless

We should popularise arguments that things can be done differently.  The government has made a firm choice not to pursue the wealthy.  Portugal, Iceland and Greece are experiencing similar problems to Ireland – only the left is pointing the way forward out of the crisis.

Capital investment has collapsed.

We must default, refuse to pay the debts of private business.

Serious public investment is needed – but at the moment many people’s heads are down – how can we seize an opportunity to turn this around?

Real steps forward can be made at the June 15 ULA conference.

Colm Stephens reported on a trade union conference attended by 565 activists recently.  This is a framework to allow all on the left to work together.  Personally, Colm joined the SWP in 2003, and has worked for left unity.  In 2005 People Before Profit was set up.  Unity is strength.

During the election campaign, no harm was done when Joan Collins confronted ex-taoiseach Bertie Ahern outside the gates of Leinster House as he bade farewell to his Dáil career.  A space has emerged to the left of the labour party and Sinn Féin. We need a party of struggle.

A new party has to be flexible, act quickly ,ad allow for a range of opinions within its ranks.

Sinn Féin is wrong to leave open the prospect of coalition with Fianna Fáil.

The ULA needs to be active in all Dublin Central areas, and prepare for the 2015 local elections.

He said support should be given to the “Enough” campaign.

Local issues included the Croke Park community, cuts to Dublin Bus Services, the Seán McDermott Swimming Pool and water-charges.

Some notes from the discussion that followed :

Marnie Holborrow (SWP) reported that a Sunday Independent poll had found that a majority is opposed to the attacks on the JLC’s and ERO’s.  The Labour TD Tommy Broughan is feeling the pressure, and has claimed this is a “red line issue”.  We need to be out there campaigning on this front.

Why are people not resisting more -when will they reach a breaking point?

Paul McSweeney (SWP) referred to the history of community struggles supported by the Tony Gregory organisation over a number of years. Building up the confidence of people who to resist is an important task.

Brian Pelan was a recent Socialist Democracy supported candidate in the West Belfast Stormont Assembly election – while he did not poll very well, he welcomed the support gained by other left wing candidates – PBP and SP.

Is the ULA going to be an All-Ireland Project?

John Meehan pointed out that Gerry Carroll had polled fairly well in West Belfast. The PBP had not run candidates in the local elections, where Éirígí candidates had gained a similar level of support – it looked likely that the same people had voted PBP in the Stormont Assembly Election, and Éirígí in the locals.

Lower Falls :

Upper Falls :

At the moment the ULA only operates in the 26 County part of Ireland, and movement towards a similar project has to come from the existing left currents based in Northern Ireland.    ULA representatives like Joan could help by attending meetings in places like Belfast and Derry – the key principle is that groups need to start from principles they have in common, not issues that divide them, and work from there.

Gerry Carroll was a candidate in the June 9 West Belfast by-election caused by the resignation of Gerry Adams, and should be supported.

[Update : Gerry Carroll won 7.6% of ther poll (1752 votes)  coming in third behind Paul Maskey of Sinn Féin and Alex Attwood of the SDLP – turnout was a record low 37.53% – the full result is here:,_2011]

The most important point about the Croke Park water privatisation protest is that the ULA on its own is helping to build the protest – not the individual parties which are part of the alliance.  This is the way we should operate in the future.

Eddie from the SP spoke about the need to involve young people  – a feature of the current revolt in Spain is hostility towards all political parties, which is not a completely positive thing.  A new mass workers’ party will not develop unless it addresses the concerns of young people.

Concerning Northern Ireland, he argued that unless the Protestant working class is involved, a new party will not work.

Brendan Young discussed the debt problem – although many people are pissed off about it, they are not convinced the left has an alternative. The state perhaps should borrow from the Chinese banks – why not? – after all the Chinese financiers keep the USA Federal Bank afloat.  It will be hard to win people over only calling for a wealth tax, targeting the International Financial Services Centre and Hedge Funds.

We need to work for an alternative European model.

At the moment the German ruling -class is promoting a dead-end race to the bottom.

The next budget, at the end of 2011, is likely to galvanise people – perhaps at the moment most people are giving the new government some time, as the crisis is blamed on the former Fianna Fáil / Green Party coalition.

The recent general election was a historic turning-point – and the ULA must develop beyond its existing constituent organiations.

It must have a culture of debating openly – the Bolshevik Party debated its internal differences in public over the Brest-Litovsk treaty :

We should discuss our relationship with other candidates to the left of Sinn Féin and the Labour Party in the Dublin Central constituency – the people who support Maureen O’Sullivan TD and Councillor Cierán Perry.  The key issue of principle is opposition in principle to any coalition with the right, and to build united campaigns on issues such as the water-tax which are genuinely inclusive, and are not the property of an existing organisation, or organisations.

Responding to a question from Harry Owens, Brendan clarified that the minimum agreement needed is opposition to any coalition with the right-wing parties.

Des Derwin discussed the practical difficulties and opportunities in the Dublin Central constituency.  We need to reach out to other currents active in the Dublin Central area – none of them were even curious enough to attend this meeting!

Brendan, from Mountjoy Street, expressed the hope that a ULA Dublin Central branch could attract more than just the existing membership of the SWP and SP – in addition, he hoped people would be given the space and room to only join the ULA, and that they would not be pressurised to join the constituent organisations.  Often socialism is presented is presented as something alien to Ireland, but a proud socialist and workers’ tradition exists here, reaching back to Davitt, Connolly and Larkin, and we should build on that.

An SWP speaker encouraged people to support the June 25 ULA National Forum –

people working in the civil service had found it hard to get public sympathy because of the media onslaught against them.  Groups were being picked off – the same tactic was being used against bank workers, and it was building up against low-paid workers on the Sunday premium issue.

Water Charges will affect everyone, and we should resist them.

Eddie Conlon with information on how the ULA Steering Committee works by consensus. Shifting from an alliance to a more open organisation will be a difficult job, but it has to be done.  Structures have to be built where everyone has a say.  Lessons from other European countries are mixed – some good, others bad.  These difficulties have to be teased out.

There is disagreement on how to organise in the North – we have to be open about this.

The ULA has begun as a 26 County electoral vehicle – developing something similar in the North must come organically from the organisations which are there on the ground – it cannot be imposed from the outside.

The PBP does operate on a 32 county basis, and Eddie supports that.

Debates need to be conducted in a comradely manner, so that people do not walk away.

Brian Pelan broke in here, and Eddie was happy with that.  Brian argued that the preconditions being put forward by the SP for not forming an alliance in the North would never be met.  Effectively, this a new version of the Loyalist Veto, and they need to think again.

Eddie and others said this debate needs to continue.


The Dublin Central ULA meets on Monday June 13 at 8.00pm in the Teachers’ Club.

6 Responses

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  1. Two discussions related to the ULA are here :

    On Cedar Lounge, the Dublin West by-election is discussed :

    Maccholz asks

    “I’m allright jack” The Fine Gael way?

    John Meehan

    Jun 11, 2011 at 10:09 am

  2. Thanks very much for this report Tomas. I was ill and couldn’t attend this meeting.

    It’s worth noting that there is something of an ambiguity about the formulation no coalition with the right wing parties. From a Socialist Party perspective this includes Labour and Sinn Fein. From an SWP perspective it doesn’t include those parties. This is something which will have to be discussed out and cannot simply be ignored.

    I’m a bit surprised that a local ULA launch in Dublin’s North City involved so many visiting Northerners. I’m glad however that people seemed to generally accept that steps forward for the left in the North will very much depend on the left there and cannot simply be a case of an initiative rooted in the South declaring itself open for business there.

    I do not agree that the “Enough” campaign should be supported. It represents exactly the kind of front group we should be moving past.

    Brendan is correct that the ULA in Dublin City Centre has to deal with other activist currents in a way that most other branches simply do not. I don’t place a huge amount of significance on any of them in a national sense, but he’s certainly right that local politicians like Cieran and Maureen are factors who have to be taken into account.

    Mark P

    Jun 11, 2011 at 11:57 am

    • We should discuss the no coalition issue out a bit – it seems to me the key issue is how to relate to the tens of thousands of people who vote for SF and the Labour Party, but who do not go along with their respective leaderships’ willingness to enter right-wing coalition governments.

      That brings us on to the “Enough” campaign – which I view as an SWP glove-puppet (perhaps despite the best intentions of the people who set it up). The far-left will never develop a productive relationship with people outside its own ranks unless it dumps manipulative behaviour like this – being concrete: in Dublin Central we will need a broad-based campaign against the Water-Tax (for example) that is open to supporters of SF, Labour and other currents of opinion – and which is not a ULA glove-puppet. More immediately, the ULA in Dublin Central needs to approach Cierán Perry and the Maureen O’Sullivan organisation.

      I think there was just one visiting Northerner at the meeting – Brian explained he was in Dublin for a few days’ holidays – and most people welcomed the debate, even though passionate differences were aired.


      Jun 11, 2011 at 6:18 pm

  3. Agree that focus needs to be on relating to the thousands of workers who may have illusions in Labour, SF etc and to draw them towards the ula.
    On the Enough Campaign- an swp glove? Really? I was the meeting to launch the campaign in the Gresham and there were up to 450 people at it. Also Andy Storey (Afri) and Joan Collins TD, People Before Profit spoke at it- it was very impresive meeting.
    I’ve seen reports that there have been meetings since with 50 or so activists at them since the launch. Plus I see there is plans for protests when the IMF here in July and other activities.
    Surely, all these things these are a good thing.
    Mark P, can you explain the ‘type of front group’ remark- I’m puzzled?
    Tomas, you assert its a ‘glove puppet’ of an organisation, you say its manipulative- please elaborate. All I can see from the outside is people getting organised to fight the EU/IMF cust agenda. I think when you talk about developing “productive relationship with people outside its own ranks” I think you need to drop some of the ‘insider’ paranoia- (CONTENT DELETED)


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    Jun 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm

  4. I absolutely agree that the ULA needs to try to win over those workers who voted for Labour or for Sinn Fein. I do not believe that can be achieved by giving those parties false “left” credentials and I’d go so far as to say that the “soft” approach to Labour taken by Richard Boyd Barrett put his seat in Dun Laoghaire at risk. If Labour are fundamentally “of the left”, then many left inclined people will feel fully justified in voting for it. We need to explain that Labour is just as committed to right wing policies as Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.

    There is a secondary point to make here (and it’s one which has been discussed on this site before): Labour voters and Labour members are two different groups. Whenever I hear someone (and without exception it’s someone from the SWP) saying that we need to “win over the Labour rank and file”, I find myself wincing. It shows a near total ignorance of the Labour Party and shows all the signs of an analysis imported from another country (Britain) at another time (a couple of decades ago). The Labour rank and file consists of a very small number of people – less than 5,000 paper members and a much smaller activist base. And that rank and file, with the exception of roughly 50 people is not left wing in any sense, as shown yet again at their most recent conference.

    Jim, the Enough campaign emerged fully formed from the SWP office. It isn’t an example of “people getting organised”, but of the SWP creating a shell and trying to fill it. I think that this is a method the left should have left behind. Further, I think that the campaign is politically mistaken, in posing the issue of a referendum in ways which seek to attract support from anti-bail out right wingers.

    Finally, it’s important to note that the number of people who can be attracted to a public meeting has little or nothing to do with whether a campaign is a front. Lots of broad based campaigns have held dismal public meetings. Lots of barely disguised “sock puppet” campaigns have held large ones. Yes, you are correct that the campaign was launched at a large public meeting. Strangely, you seem to forget that it then held what was supposed to be a “major” demonstration which achieved an embarrassing turn out. Some parts of the left seem to be students of a strange school of history, in which successes are of note but failures disappear.

    Also, Jim, I’d encourage you to respond and to talk some of these issues out.

    Mark P

    Jun 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm

  5. Interesting discussion. I agree that the bail-out referendum is a waste of time and potentially divisive. Also, while being no huge legal expert I do have some basic grasp of constitutional law, the whole premise of the Enough Campaign is flawed. A referendum is only of any use when it comes to changing specific provisions of the constitution. My understanding is that the EU/IMF bailout has no constitutional dimension. So, even if the campaign succeeded in getting a referendum and it was passed, there is no legal mechanism to compel any government to implement the decision. It’s tactically ill-advised to specially create dead ends which will tie up hundreds of people in political activity with no chance of achieving their stated outcome. Moreover, it could lose a whole tranche of people eager to get political active but unsure about how to go about it. The ‘moral’ force of a referendum will mean nothing to the media, law, FF-FG-Labour Gombeen nexus.

    Water charges: that’s a runner and I think the various constituent elements of the ULA will have a job on their hands trying to make political sense of the anger that will follow the first bills coming through the letterbox.


    Jun 14, 2011 at 9:46 pm

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