The extreme centre: the Irish Labour Party

Don’t mind Fine Gael, as Vincent Browne might say. They are doing exactly what we always knew they would do. No surprises there, nothing people who voted for them would have any reason not to expect. Certain Irish voters prefer their politicians economically right-wing and dismissive of the less well off - and that’s what they got.

The Labour Party is another story.

Let them eat cakes
The other night on RTE’s Late Debate, Labour’s Aodhan O Riordain gave a typical example of Labour morality in action when he said that it had been an act of ‘extreme selfishness’ that his colleague Patrick Nulty TD had voted against broken Labour promises and government attacks on the economic circumstances of the poorest members of Irish society. Think about that, dear reader, for a minute.

Labour claimed to be concerned with social justice, fairness, equality and all those heart-warming things. A lot of people believed them. But it all turned out to be lies – as Collette Browne’s recent article in the Irish Examiner discusses. Carol Hunt in the Sunday Independent also accuses Labour of acting out of self-interest.

There’s another reason why Labour are proving so damaging to the country’s interests and that is their ruthless adherence to the party whip system. Ever since the right wing of the party took over under Dick Spring back in the 90s Labour has set a course that has led them inexorably to the economically extremist destination they have now arrived at. They have insisted for 20 years that getting into government is more important than standing by the principles they profess to have at election time. The upshot for the electorate is that Labour, more than any other party, has done most damage to the more pluralistic and representative politics that we used to enjoy for a short while.

The day after Nulty voted against the budget, a Management Consultant by the name of Billy Linehan launched a vicious attack on him in the Irish Times.  In a searing analysis of Linehan's article, Michael Taft has argued it was intended as a stark warning to any Labour Party people about what they can expect if they trouble to stick to their principles. In the article on Taft writes:

Billy Linehan claims that ‘ideology is for yesterday’. Now when you hear something like that you should ready yourself for an ideological onslaught. And Linehan doesn’t disappoint.
Aodhan O’ Riordain will have earned himself a lot of party political brownie points for his unpleasantness. For his inversion of ordinary human decency is what the Labour Party prides itself in calling ‘party discipline’.    This is the sickness at the heart of our political system: my party right or wrong no matter what.

So that's it for Labour. They’re in. Job done. Labour more than any other party, by refusing its claimed role in Irish life at every critical point presented to it, has ceded the ground to the incompetent, faux neo-conservative rightism that we are suffering under – even now when we’ve had every possible sign and signal that we need to do things differently. What they are doing is in fact an insult even to the professed principles of genuine capitalists and neo-conservatives who are as aghast at the bastardised version of their own credo as the rest of us are by the deliberate infliction of inequality on the people least responsible for what has happened. While upholding this frustrating mess of stupidity, Labour people wring their hands and complain ‘we don’t like doing this, we know it’s wrong, but we are going to do it anyway. Nobody will love us any more. Poor us.’ See Ruairi Quinn’s long whine about feeling ‘hurt’ by criticism at the Institute for Public Administration the other day.

For opposing certain measures Labour has withdrawn the party whip from three of their TDs so far. When their broken promises are pointed out to them, senior Labour party people have begun to deploy the ‘we-never-actually-said-what-we-encouraged-you-to-believe-we-were-saying’ defence. We've heard this  especially about the bank guarantee and colossal payments to bondholders that we don’t in fact owe a penny to. The Labour Party used this defence too when they formed a government with Fianna Fail having campaigned vigorously as the party that would once and for all break the Fianna Fail grip on Irish politics. The message couldn’t be plainer: more fool you for believing a word we said.

Gilmore in his 'Stop Nama' days
Meanwhile supposedly genial old gents and Labour Party stalwarts like Fergus Finlay are happy to go on the airwaves talking about what they call ‘the hard left’ and ‘the extreme right’. Let’s take a look at what some of these alleged extremists are saying. Constantin Gurdgiev, to the right, has consistently opposed the universally acknowledged lunacy of paying unsecured bondholders. He has called for thorough transparency in finance and banking transactions, something Labour is helping to prevent right now – even though it is an issue that goes to the heart of how our economy was destroyed. At the same time Gurdgiev has been more responsible probably than any other individual for putting the government’s account of its crisis management into its proper financial context. Shane Ross, also to the right, has called for root and branch reform of the financial regulatory system that completely failed us - and the removal of those most responsible for the catastrophe.

David McWilliams predicting the property bust as far back as 2003

David McWilliams has condemned the refusal to allow interested, solvent, external parties to take over the running of our banks – saying that it is costing us unnecessary billions to pretend we can save them ourselves. He has also pointed out that it is all the same people who caused the banks to fail who are preventing this from happening, at punitive expense to us and to our children and grandchildren. On the left, Joe Higgins had consistently warned that international finance capitalism was threatening our economy. He predicted collapse would ensue if it wasn’t reigned in and that in the event of a crisis, the ECB and other banks would be calling the shots, again at our expense. Higgins also warned that ‘race-to-the bottom’ economics would have a disastrous effect on employment. The Occupy Movement are calling for people to participate more in the running of their own communities and for a bottom-up democracy that will optimise political accountability, something that is seriously lacking in Ireland.

Are these the ‘nutters’ and the ‘extremists’? Or is it politicians whose policies are destroying small businesses, causing half a million people to be unemployed and as many again to leave the country, while imposing decades of monumental debt and severe cuts on the rest? What could be more extreme than that? Eamon Gilmore recently claimed that the trouble with the people saying we should not pay unsecured bondholders was that they were not offering ‘a credible alternative’. Making payments of billions that we don't owe is a credible policy? The most urgent problem we face is to build a form of collective governance expunged of the bizarre logic of what has become the extreme centre.

Miriam Cotton


  1. " This is the sickness at the heart of our political system: my party right or wrong no matter what." a perfect summary of what got us where we are. Until weget a constitutinal amendment barring the whip system, like they have in Germany (as Vincent Browne has been advocating for a while) and then elect some TDs who can think for themselves we don't stand a chance of gettong out of the mire. It's ironic that it's those congregated around the centre that are the problem. Those on the "extremes" - left and right have policies and proposals that would make a positive difference.

  2. Agree its the whip system which allowed the executive to neutralise parliamentary democracy. And in the last days of FF even the executive was just a branch of the dept of finance, itself now ruled by the Troika. TD's seem happy to look important while not being important at all, plus a pension. Small price to betray democracy.

  3. Labour were so eager to get into power they would have promised anything. Sad thing is they will destroy our economy and then will all the rest walk away will gold plated pensions. It's time the Irish people stood up and said enough is enough.

  4. Agree. I was at a Claiming our Future meeting and Vincent Browne made the point that the people to persuade about change are the electorate - all agreed (except two Labout Party memebers!) that politicians are now a lost cause.

  5. As noted in the post for Labour and indeed all centre left parties it's about getting into office. However there is more, what Labour do in office depends ultimately on the economic situation. So if times are good then Labour deliver reforms (I mean reforms as in spending more on public services & hiring public servants, not reforms as in privatisation). When times are bad, then it is about returning the economy to good health so those reforms can be delivered again. If cuts are needed then so be it, if closing A&E's or privatising the ESB or Bord Gais is required then it will be done. Anything to keep the wheels of Irish Capitalism turning. The Labour Party has consistantly sold out on every principle it has since its foundation in 1918. It has betrayed all those who look to them for equality and justice from the 1918 election (which Labour stepped aside from in the national interest) To the strikes and occupations of 1919-1920 which union leaders sabotaged. The outright refusal of the Labour leadership to confront & stop Eoin O'Duffy & the Blueshirts in the 1930's. The sacrifice of Noel Browne to the Bishops in 1948. Fianna Fail setup the Welfare State in the 1960's not Labour. Labour was also slow to support the Civil Rights Movement in the North. Labour & Mary Robinson in particular did nothing to help the Bloody Sunday Families in the fight for justice. They opposed the Hunger Strikes. Voted for the tax on kids shoes when John Bruton was finance minister. Introduced a tax amnesty (Ruairi Quinn) for the rich in the 90's. And now this lot pushing through austerity 2011 onward. Also it should be noted that the collapse of the USSR had a dramatic effect on the Centre Left which led to the conclusion that free market capitalism was the only game in town and that managing capitalism was all that could be done. Labour now faces near or total wipe out in the next election. A credible left of labour alternative is badly needed. If such a group does not emerge (the ULA seems to be filling the space at this point) then political sentiment will go to the right, with a resurgent FF a new populist right party similar to UKIP etc. Or far worse the reemergence of fascism in Ireland. With an immigrant population making up 8.6% of the population (see eurostat) it is entirely possible.


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