Going Left: Could Ireland become Greece, or Sweden?

Paul Murphy and Catherine Murphy talk evolution, the fall of Labour, and the Government's Chaos Theory

There's a lot of blue sky thinking happening on Ireland's left as the country enters election season.

Paul Murphy from the Anti Austerity Alliance, and co-leader of the newly formed Social Democrats, Catherine Murphy are offering political alternatives from different ends of the Left spectrum. There is one thing that they both agree on - they think there will be a lot of lost Labour Party voters looking for new parties to back come election time.

Paul Murphy suggests that Labour has "cannibalised" is support base during its time as a junior coalition partner. He adds that Ireland now has an opportunity to build a "credible" alternative from "the bones of the Labour party."

Catherine Murphy says that she expects "the bulk" of Social Democrat voters will be former Labour supporters.

Sinn Fein and the Left

Trends in opinion polls suggest that Sinn Fein will receive most of the anti-government and Left-leaning votes in the General Election. Paul Murphy openly clashed with Sinn Fein during his successful campaign in the Dublin south-west by-election in October 2014 - and has continued to question the party's credentials as a socialist party.

He says that he believes that voters are "testing" Sinn Fein, but that there is "still space for a more principled and anti-capitalist, socialist left."

The TD thinks that any party who will consider working with Fine Gael, Fianna Fail or The Labour Party (or "the establishment" as he calls them) cannot be considered a real alternative to traditional Irish politics.

He refers to this as a basic "litmus test," and adds that in his opinion real social change cannot come through co-operation with these parties.


The Social Democrats would fail his test, the party is keeping its coalition options open, Catherine Murphy describes the party as a new "mainstream alternative."

The Kildare politician, and former Labour Party member, adds that there is no evidence of "a great embracement of very radical [political] shifts" among Irish voters.

She believes that there is a real space for a new centre-left force, and a real appetite for change: 

"People are far more open to different ways of doing things. I think people learned an awful lot during the crash. It's still very fresh in their minds because they are still paying the price for it - whether it's the loss of public services, whether it's a loss of family members to immigration, whether it's a loss in their personal finances. People are under huge pressure.
"They have learned a very hard lesson, and they are very hesitant about going back to doing things as we did them before, and they are very open to different ways of doing things."

She adds that the party will not act as a "mud guard" for a larger party if it plays a part in a future coalition.

The long game 

Ms Murphy says that an over-focus on short-term thinking based on electoral cycles is one of the "critical failings" of Irish politics, and that the Social Democrats are thinking towards longer term changes in politics and public services in the country.

"That doesn't mean that we get nothing in those 10 years, but we progressively move towards a point in time where you can realistically show that there is actually a return on making these changes," she continues.

The Social Democrats have stated their ambition of working towards bringing a 'Nordic' style social model to Ireland. Catherine Murphy believes that the fact that the model that they hope to follow has been successful in countries like Denmark and Sweden will help voters to get behind the party, as it is "a proven model that has worked elsewhere."

Socialist State

When asked if there is a country that believes Ireland could hold up as a blueprint to work towards, Paul Murphy's short answer is "No."

He continues: "Unfortunately right around the world, to be honest, capitalism generally dominates. The result is massive poverty, with 2 billion people living on less than two dollars a day. The result is climate change which claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of people every year.

"We need a political and economic system which doesn't currently exist in the world," he concludes.

He believes that the creation of such a state as already a work in progress, "I have full confidence in the capacity of ordinary people to create such a society. I think that in loads of different countries people are striving in that direction."

The politician thinks that groups who hope to reorder society face a serious opposition from "vested interests," and that international companies have "no interest in corporations being made to pay their taxes," and, "no interest in a decent living wage being introduced."

Mr Murphy also sees the European Union as "one of the main barriers against change."

When asked if he believes that the experience of Syriza in Greece will hurt the Irish left, he says that the Greek experience was as a "cautionary tale." He says that watching Greece has Irish voters asking,"what would a left government mean?"

He critisises the Greek group for making a "dodgy coalition" and capitulating under pressure from the EU and "the demands of the big business elite."

The Dubliner is highly critical of the Irish Government's role in their downfall. He says that Finance Minister Michael Noonan was, "effectively screaming 'pull the trigger' at the European Central Bank at various meetings" during the country's debt negotiations.

The Chaos Theory

Having formed a new political party during 2015, Catherine Murphy says that the Irish political system is designed by and for "Insiders," as political funding is shared out based on parties past election performances.

She adds that people are frustrated by how politics work in Ireland and feel disappointed by the current Government's record on political reform: "People say to me all of the time, we really thought that this was going to change in 2011 - we really thought we were going to have a democratic revolution."

Having questioned the sale of Siteserv to businessman Dennis O'Brien in the Dail, she adds that people feel like there are "two [sets of] laws" in Ireland and that this has angered voters.

In the preamble to the General Election, an 'Order vs Chaos' narrative has emerged, with the Government parties holding up their economic record, and asking voters to return them to power to consolidate, and build on the country's recovery.

The Social Democrats' co-founder rejects this idea: "I don't think it's as fixed as the Government would like us to believe, where they're talking about stability or chaos.

"In actual fact, people can see very clearly that the social chaos that has been visited on us through the lack of, for example, a cohesive approach to how we actually deliver housing," she says, adding the Fine Gael is creating an "American-style" State.

Irish Water

Ireland's left has mobilised around the protest movement against water charges during the current Government's final years in power. Although this campaign has lost some momentum, Mr Murphy says that it will re-mobilise as the election draws closer:

"I think it is the case that there was a high-point of the anti-water charge movement in December 2014, you had a huge number of mobilisations leading to a big demonstration outside the Dail," he adds that this sentiment was also reflected in opinion polls at the time.

"We're not in December 2014 now, nor are we back to some sort of 'normality' or 'civility' when it comes to the political establishment," he continues.

Anti-water charge groups are planning a national protest in Dublin's city centre before the election.


Paul Murphy believes that the Irish election could follow the trend seen in Spain where Podemos dropped in the poll before the campaign and steadily rose throughout the campaign:

"In the election itself, a mass of working people and young people who had been radicalised by protests, and the crisis that had gone before turned back on to politics and then momentum really developed for Podemos and against the establishment party."

He adds that its performance and emergence as a credible political alternative "broke" Spain's traditional two-party system, and that he still believes that a broad further-left-than-Sinn-Féin party can emerge in Ireland and become a strong political force, rather than being content to be a protest party.

The TD adds that politicians like him are not satisfied with playing the part of protest parties, "Power is held by the 1% and we get crumbs, and we're fighting for more crumbs," he says, speaking about the current situation, he argues that in the longer term Ireland's Left are "fighting for the whole cake."


During their interviews, both politicians point to a shift from the days when Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and The Labour Party had combined support of more than 80%.

These politicians represent two small grouping in the broader political landscape. The most recent Red C poll in The Sunday Business Post showed AAA/BPB support unchanged at 3%, while the Social Democrats were down 1% to 1%. Yet both candidates are tipped to top (or come close to topping) the polls in their constituencies.

These parties are hoping to gain seven seats in the coming election, this is describes as a "minimum" ambition for AAA/PBP by Paul Murphy - and as a "tall order" for Catherine Murphy and the fledgling Social Democrats- both are campaigning to secure a foothold in 2016, and hoping to build towards something bigger later.

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