I was never one of the Irish-Americans who felt that Sinn Fein and the IRA were romantic groups. Yes, some of the songs of resistance are stirring, but there is nothing romantic about the IRA’s violence for many decades. Sinn Fein’s artful ambiguity about its support for peace v. the armed struggle caused me to distrust the Party’s leaders.
When we have visited Ireland recently to learn about and discuss the Irish crisis we have met with representatives from Fine Gael, the Greens, and Sinn Fein. We weren’t avoiding Fianna Fail and the Labour Party. Fine Gael is the dominant party running Ireland in coalition with the Labour Party. The Greens were justly crushed in the last election because the Irish were disgusted with its leaders’ opportunism at the expense of the nation when they served as lackeys of Fianna Fail to keep that Party in power long after the Irish had decided they needed a new government. Fianna Fail was the dominant Party whose policies were so criminogenic that they produced the housing and banking crisis, made the insane national guarantees of virtually all liabilities of Ireland’s massively insolvent banks, embraced slashing working class wages, and praised austerity during the Great Recession. That guarantee created Ireland’s fiscal and sovereign debt crises. Sinn Fein had long been a marginalized party, but its popularity began to grow as no other party offered a serious alternative to Fianna Fail’s disastrous policies.
Ireland is an unusual European nation in which parties do not generally reflect class or even policy divisions. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are the products of a schism that was not based on general philosophical differences about public policy. Their policies tend to be indistinguishable. From an American perspective, it was remarkable, therefore, to see that the Irish were so enraged at Fianna Fail and its policies that they smashed it at the polls – and promptly replaced it with Fine Gael – its fraternal twin, whereupon virtually nothing changed.
The Labour Party also seems curious from our perspective because it is even more neo-liberal than Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. It does not represent the interests of laborers, at least as European labor parties normally see those interests.
The remarkable transformation, which has created the only serious alternative to neo-liberalism and the only major change in a major party’s traditional platform, is Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein has successfully become a normal party rather than a single-issue party of the continuing revolution and eventual union. The philosophical position it has embraced is that neo-liberalism is bad economics, bad for children, bad for families, bad for the 99%, bad political philosophy, and bad for democracy, bad for the environment, and bad for humanity. Austerity and the assault on working class wages are the worst examples of neo-liberal thought imposed on the euro zone under the Berlin Consensus.
Sinn Fein is now the only significant Irish party with a sensible economic philosophy and policies. The other major parties have championed the suicidal and vicious economic policies of austerity plus the war on working class wages. The Irish government employs the nastiest form of austerity – Pro-austerian greed; anti-need (PAGAN). They raise taxes on the working class, seek to reduce taxes on the wealthy (the “greed” component), and cut public services for the needy.
Austerity has made recessions worse throughout the euro zone, including Ireland, but Ireland’s ruling coalition demands more of the same and have terrified a majority of the Irish people (if polls are accurate) into continuing choose suicide and increasing inequality. But the Irish electorate is fractured and the only place an Irish voter can go if he or she opposes suicidal austerity and attacks on the working class is to vote for Sinn Fein. As a result, the same polls show that Sinn Fein may become the second largest Irish party. Berlin’s insane economic policies and Sinn Fein’s willingness to change and reject the long-discredited neo-liberal nostrums have combined to make Sinn Fein a normal and far stronger party. It is the only major Irish party with an economically literate policy for an Irish recovery and an inclusive Ireland in which equality increases.