The left in Ireland is a broad range of parties with no one unique ideology. Often disagreeing on the specifics of issues, the opposition parties represent a diverse portfolio of policies, often grounded in deep ideological beliefs. The lack of compromise on some issues has resulted in the failure to form a Government, most notably in 2020:
Following the February 2020 general election, the likelihood of a government of left-wing parties, supported by independents, appeared marginally likely, but never appeared likely. This task became ever more difficult as the Labour Party ruled out being part of any government, including a government of left-wing parties.
Meanwhile, Solidarity TD, Mick Barry, wanted Sinn Féin to reject being part of Government with the establishment parties of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and form a left-wing opposition. People Before Profit were willing to be part of a left-wing government, and would go into Government with Sinn Féin, if they ruled out going into government with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
The Social Democrats were open to going into government with Sinn Féin, but did not rule out going into government with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. However, in May, its co-leaders ruled out going into government with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
The Green Party did not rule out going into government with any of the parties, and were open to negotiating with all parties, including Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. In the end, the Green Party agreed to go into government with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
By then, the chances of a left-wing government officially ended. This raises two questions; is it realistic to think that Ireland will have a left-wing government, within the next decade or so and what divisions exist amongst this broad range of parties?
In the short-term, it may be unrealistic to envisage a left-wing government but in the longer-term, it is becoming ever more likely. Divisions exist among these parties in terms of issues, such as the property and carbon tax.
The property tax is one of the main issues which divides parties on the left. All parties have mixed positions on the local property tax.
Sinn Féin have consistently opposed the implementation of a property tax, since its introduction and do not believe that the ‘family home’ is a form of wealth. According to The Irish Times, ‘in its October 2019 pre-budget submission, the party said it would phase out the LPT and replace it with a wealth tax that would levy a 1 per cent tax on net assets over 1 million Euro, albeit with exclusions for working farms and other employment-generating assets’.
Labour supports the property tax as they believe that property is a form of wealth. Despite this, they support the introduction of a wealth tax. In September 2020, its finance spokesperson, Ged Nash TD, said, ‘we need to look seriously at where wealth is held in this country. Inequality is embedded throughout Irish society and we can’t go back to business as usual when we look to rebuild the country after the pandemic’.
The Social Democrats have consistently supported the introduction of a property tax. However, they believe that the LPT system should be reformed to ensure that people get what they pay for. In 2018, co-leader, Catherine Murphy, said, ‘“I am regularly approached by people who legitimately ask “what am I getting for the Local Property Tax I pay?” In reality the answer is, very little’.
Meanwhile, the Green Party have supported the property tax, since its introduction. In government with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, it provided for the updating on the valuation of properties to new houses built from after 2013. According to TheJournal.ie, according to its 2020 general election manifesto, it ‘mentions a wealth tax in its manifesto, saying this would apply on individuals “holding assets over 10 million Euro”.
People Before Profit have always opposed the introduction of the property tax. It believed that the property tax was an austerity tax which impacted on ordinary working class families which own their own home. Instead, they would support the introduction of a wealth tax. According to TheJournal.ie, in its 2020 general election manifesto, it wants a ‘new tax band for “single tax cases earning over 100,000 Euro’.
The carbon tax is another issue which divides parties on the left. Sinn Féin opposes the carbon tax and according to its 2020 general election manifesto, ‘it is a regressive tax’ and ‘will not make the state greener or cleaner’.
The Labour Party supports the carbon tax since its introduction as they believe it is a wealth tax. Meanwhile, the Social Democrats support the carbon tax, but ‘it must be designed to incentivise people to change their behaviour’.
The Green Party have been one of the main parties in favour of the carbon tax, because its view is that the carbon tax will make the economy and country, greener and cleaner. According to its 2020 general election manifesto, ‘the Green Party is in favour of a gradual increase of carbon tax over 10 years to reach 100 Euro per tonne, with a mechanism to return revenue from carbon tax back to citizens through social welfare and tax credits’.
People Before Profit have consistently opposed the carbon tax as it believes that it impacts on the poorest in society. According to its 2020 general election manifesto, it believes that the carbon tax should be scrapped, as it should be ‘on the big polluters, not on ordinary people’.
These two issues bitterly divide parties on the left. Other issues, which have not been discussed, which divide parties on the left, include the Special Criminal Court, Minimum Unit Pricing and capitalism.
People Before Profit are opposed to all these measures, whilst Sinn Féin has historically opposed the Special Criminal Court and has abstained on recent occasions.
It will be extremely difficult for a government of left-wing parties, to be formed within the next decades if it continues to be divided on a different range of issues. It is quite likely that any potential government formation, involving Sinn Féin, will have to involve Fianna Fáil.
This will end the prospect of People Before Profit being part of a left-wing Government, as it has a long-standing policy of being opposed to going into Government with Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.
The character of a left-wing Government and its image will already be in tatters. From now until the next election, the left in Dáil Éireann have a lot of work to do to unite on a range of issues, which it shares common ground on.