Prospect of left-wing coalition draws closer

  • 25 April 2006
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A recent speech by Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party has raised hopes of a new alliance of the Left. Scott Millar reports

Left-wing parties, activist groups and community organisations are to enter discussions on the possibility of forming a left-wing slate of candidates for the next general election.

The moves follow a call by Joe Higgins TD at the Socialist Party's recent conference for the "need to construct a major party of the Left". He said the Socialist Party, "while retaining its ideas and unique analysis and socialist programme, will strive to assist such a development".

Members of the Campaign for an Independent Left (CIL), who have been holding a number of meetings to discuss the possibility of forming a loose alliance of left-wing groups, have welcomed the move by the Socialist Party to aid unity.

The CIL currently consists of mainly Dublin-based activists, including the City Councillor Joan Collins, but also with members outside the capital, including independent Tipperary TD Seamus Healy and his activist group.

Colm Breathnach, of the Irish Socialist Network (a group consisting mainly of former Workers Party members), which is affiliated to the CIL, said: "We have been plodding along, putting forward the need for a new party of the left. The idea is out there now and there are stirrings right across the radical left. Up until now the Socialist Party have been quite standoffish about this but Joe Higgins' speech certainly seems to be a new departure which we welcome.

"The upcoming election is also concentrating minds. The ATGWU has said that they would like to take some sort of initiative to bring the Left together, however previously they have sought to also involve Sinn Féin and Labour, which would not be possible due to those parties' willingness to enter coalition with right-wing parties."

Joe Higgins, although cautious, says such a development is key to the Socialist Party and general left-wing strategy. "There is a huge vacuum on the left in Irish politics in the sense that there is no mass working-class party at the present time, we stand for the creation of such a party. It cannot be small groups just declaring themselves to be it, whether they are the socialist party or others.

"Certainly between now and the general election we will enter discussions with community groups and others on the left about the possibility of a co-operative approach. For us a deal with Sinn Féin or the Labour party is out. They are parties that are angling for coalition with right-wing capitalist parties. That, as a matter of principle, is out for us."

Whatever about Joe Higgins' and the CIL's reservations about Sinn Féin's involvement, that party's activists, particularly in the Dublin area, have shown a willingness to involve themselves in attempts to develop a left consensus. Daithai Doolin, one of Sinn Féin's Dublin City Councillors has addressed recent CIL meetings. Also, a motion at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, seeking to rule out coalitions with "right-wing" parties, would have been carried but for the intervention of the party's northern leadership.

An Phoblacht, the Sinn Féin party newspaper, has also approached Colm Breathnach to write an article outlining the aims of the CIL for the paper's forthcoming issue. This would be a first for a former Workers Party Councillor.

While the leadership of the Labour Party has moved away from pursing a left unity agenda, many of the party's TDs – and even the defeated leadership contender Eamon Gilmore – have in the past made clear their preference for such a development.

Paul Dillon, a member of the Labour Youth national executive, who addressed a recent CIL meeting, said: "Labour Youth has made clear its total opposition to pre-election pacts and we are not the only ones who believe that in the party. The mistake lies in giving in to the right-wing hegemony that exists and giving into PR spin doctor-style politics and not building up from below which should be the priority if we are to bring about real change."