Yes, we want change, but what sort of change?

The following article written by Eoin Ó Murchú was first published in the 07 October 2023 issue of Unity, the national weekly publication of the Irish Communist Party.

The buzzword in our politics, North and South, is change. We can all see the need for something different.  The North is totally dysfunctional, with the DUP boycott leaving citizens without proper government and totally dependent on the whims of British ministers.

Public services are getting worse and worse. Northern Ireland has the lowest productivity of any area of the United Kingdom, the worst public services and a National Health service that is falling into total disarray.

Waiting times for healthcare in the North, are far longer than their counterparts’ south of the border, and social welfare assistance is far less.

The North is demonstrably a failed state, and ironically the DUP boycott – designed to emphasise the Union with Britain – is conversely bringing forward the day when there is a border poll on Irish reunification and the day when that reunification becomes reality.

But the South too is beset by problems.  Housing and health are areas of failed policy, as the governing parties insist on putting the interests of private capitalists ahead of the common good.

So, under Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the state refuses to directly build the social and affordable housing that everyone acknowledges is needed.  Young people, even those with well-paid jobs, are forced to live with their parents and are facing a future with living standards well below those of their parents.

The health system, whilst better in some ways to that of the North, is beset by long waiting lists, and scandalous failures in the areas of child mental health services, spinal surgeries and many others. Cost is also an issue

That’s why the demand for change is heard so loudly and so widely. But what sort of change is the real question, because merely turfing out the rotten gang who presently hold power is of no use unless there is a really different approach to housing, health, economic development, the environment, personal liberties and the rest, as well as the issue of reunification.

Sinn Féin is the main beneficiary of the demand for change. For some time, it has held a dominant position in the opinion polls, and will inevitably come out as the biggest party after the next election; though whether it can put together a governing coalition is still a moot point.

The latest poll puts Sinn Féin on 34%, with Fine Gael on 18% and Fianna Fáil on 20%.The other left and centre parties, including the discredited Green and Labour parties, can only hit 10% between, with the balance held by independents who are mainly of the centre right.

This means that the most likely arithmetic combination would be between Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil.  It would be a disaster for the Irish people, and indeed for Sinn Féin in the future, if such a prospect led to a watering down of the programme for change that SF is proposing.

The Irish Communist Party has consistently argued that workers, in trade unions, community groups and one-purpose organisations, need to develop themselves as lobbyists to put the pressure on to make sure that there is no backsliding.

Already, SF’s previous commitment to opposing the European Union has been abandoned, and its opposition to involvement with the EU’s or NATO’s Pesco or Partnership for Peace has been watered down.

There will be no change, no outline of a New Ireland, if that watering down leans over into the economic sphere and if SF accepts the EU diktat against state-led development of the economy.

Change will be illusory unless we get actual provision of decent housing and a proper health service.  Unless we get what SF’s health spokesperson, David Cullinane, describes as an all-Ireland National Health Service (free at the point of entry), our votes will be in vain.

We cannot lie back as passive observers on the fringe. We must get involved through the organisations of the working class.

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