Article from the Jan 2005 issue of the Socialist , newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI
It is amazing how much mileage Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern got from his claim to be a socialist last November.
The Fianna Fáil/ Progressive Democrat government has been in power for nearly eight years now. It has handed over to big business crucial public assets, especially our telecommunications infrastructure. It has allowed developers and speculators to profiteer outrageously in the housing market, causing huge suffering to working people in need of a home. The government has assisted US imperialism in its criminal invasion of Iraq.
That the leader of this very right wing government could claim to be a socialist shows that the concepts of truth and political honesty mean nothing to him. This was no accidental slip of the tongue by him. I have no doubt that he calculated his claim would be much remarked upon.
It was part of his strategy attempting to rehabilitate Fianna Fáil in the eyes of working class people, following the battering they received in the Local and European Elections last June. He was trying to markedly shift attention from the fact that the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrat governments have enormously enriched a tiny minority of speculators, bankers and big business people to the great cost of the majority.
It was quite interesting though that Bertie Ahern would temporarily wrap the label of socialism around himself in his efforts to make people believe that Fianna Fáil was working in the interests of ordinary people. We are told again and again in the capitalist press that socialism is unpopular and "out of fashion" and will never become a major force in Irish society. Without intending to do so, Bertie Ahern, who has been credited with having a certain ability to pick up on moods in working class communities, was really giving the lie to this anti-socialist propaganda. He obviously understood that the increased support in the Local and European Elections for our own party and for Sinn Fein, which was portraying itself as a radical anti-establishment party, does reflect a search for an alternative to the parties of big business.
I think it was important however, in view of the fact that the issue became so widely discussed, that the Socialist Party publicly responded. It was important that we challenged the completely unprincipled way in which right wing politicians abuse the truth and abuse even language itself. When I had the opportunity to respond in the D‡il, I tried to show the mendacity of what Bertie Ahern was about through a combination of satire and an exposure of the real record of the government over which he presides.
Revamped, repackaged cabinet
I was quite surprised by the widespread reaction to the points that I made, which were replayed a number of times on national and local radio. Certainly, I think those who desire an alternative way of running society were happy to see the Taoiseach effectively ridiculed.
Since Ahern made the comment about being a socialist his revamped, repackaged Cabinet has introduced many new attacks on working class people. In the budget, they increased health care charges for A & E services as well as increasing the amount that the sick have to pay for medicines. The budget and the book of estimates contained nothing that will fundamentally lessen the health crisis or provide homes for the 50,000 on the housing waiting lists. Local authorities all over the country have increased bin charges and made massive cuts in the waiver system for pensioners and those on social welfare. There is still no end in sight to the overcrowding of school classrooms.
Ironically, the anti-working class policies of Bertie Ahern's government will encourage many working people to search for a political alternative, including a socialist alternative to the establishment parties.
Earlier Joe Higgins columns