2004 will be a defining year for the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat coalition. They face their first electoral test on 11 June in the Local and European elections the first to take place since their re-election in 2002.
By MICHAEL MURPHY
Government face backlash
Bertie Ahern's popularity and that of his party has plummeted considerably in the last 18 months and the indications are that Fianna Fáil will be hit very badly in the elections.
Thousands of ordinary people across the country will take the opportunity to pay them back for the attacks on their living conditions. The crisis in the health service continues, the cost of health care has increased again with hikes in hospital charges, attacks on rent allowance payments, stealth taxes in the form of bin charges and the new development levy which effectively prices thousands of first time buyers out of the housing market. The ongoing corruption allegations involving politicians and tax evasion by big business have also furthered this sense of anger.
This anger will be reflected in people voting against the government and Fianna Fáil in particular could be in for a big hit with the loss of many seats. Already many Fianna Fáil politicians are quite worried because of the anger in society. There are signs of tension and division in Fianna Fáil as a result. Defence Minister Michael Smith's much publicised rift with Ahern over the Hanly report and also the "opposition" to cuts in employment schemes by some backbenchers gives a small indication of internal opposition that could emerge if they suffer badly at the polls in June.
In the run up to Christmas Ahern was forced to issue a call for loyalty - his third in 11 weeks to his parliamenatry party. He also said that if one more person undermined him he would "take him out". The reality is however that if Fianna Fáil suffer significant losses in the elections his position could become unteneable and there is the real possibility that he would be removed as party leader. This would be a massive defeat for him but a big blow to the government as well.
Fine Gael have not and are unlikely to recover from their disastrous showing in the general election. The forthcoming elections could see a further weakening of their position particularly in Dublin. If they don't make serious gains their future will be in question.
Other forces like Labour, Sinn Fein, and the Greens will make gains to some degree in this election. There is a huge vaccuum in Irish society and many people are looking for an alternative to the establishment. The increased support for these parties in the opinion polls and the gains they can make does not represent a new found enthusiasm for these parties. The fact that up to 40% of people won't vote in these elections illustrates the discontent with the political establishment.
Socialist Party challenge
The Socialist Party intends to stand in up to 15 areas in the local elections and also to stand in Dublin in the European Elections.
We believe that our party can make a breakthrough in a number of areas and we will add to out existing councillors Clare Daly in Swords and Ruth Coppinger in Mulhuddart.
We are standing to give ordinary people a real alternative to the corrupt policies of the establishment parties, but unlike the other so called opposition parties we will use any position we win as a platform to organise ordinary people against this rotten government.
This was our attitude during the anti bin tax struggle. Two of our elected representatives Clare Daly and Joe Higgins went to jail for defending the rights of ordinary people to protest against these unjust taxes. How many other politicians would take such a stand? We intend to use these elections to demonstrate the real anger of ordinary people on issues such as the bin tax.
We will stand on a clear platform of opposition to the neo liberal agenda of this government at local and national level. The bin tax struggle showed we don't just put up token opposition like other parties and leave ordinary people in the communities to face the consequences of unjust decisions. We do and will organise to take that fight from the council chamber out into the community.
Socialist Party local election candidates
Castleknock Ward: Susan Fitzgerald
- Mulhuddart Ward: Councillor Ruth Coppinger and Helen Redwood
- Howth Ward: Brian Greene
- Balbriggan Ward: Tadhg Kenehan
- Swords Ward: Councillor Clare Daly and Michael O'Brien
- South Dublin
Tallaght Central Ward: Mick Murphy
- Dun Laoghaire / Rathdown
Dundrum Ward: Lisa Maher
North Central Ward: Mick Barry
Laurence Gate Ward: Frank Gallagher
- Other constituencies
- The Socialist Party is currently discussing standing in a number of wards for Dublin City Council and other areas such as Limerick and the Malahide ward in Fingal.