#Right2Change: a political movement that is “not quite in harmony just yet”

Over the last few months discussions have taken place between left leaning parties, independents, social groups and trade union movements with a view to presenting a united left alternative to the electorate in next year’s general election.

The initiative to bring together parties and individuals on the left was coordinated by an organisation called ‘Right2Change’. Born of the ‘Right2Water’ campaign; Right2Change is effectively a mass social movement generated out of what was initially the anti-water charges movement which saw dozens of demonstrations across the country bringing tens of thousands of people out onto the streets.

The protests from the beginning have been supported and attended by parties and independents on the left of Irish politics such as Sinn Fein, People before Profit, the Socialists/Anti Austerity Alliance and a number of left inclined independents.

According to David Gibney (spokesperson for Right2Change) a study conducted by the National University of Ireland Maynooth found that while the Right2Water campaign was originally a single issue anti-water charges initiative, over time it has attracted the support of people from wider society concerned with many issues including, austerity, inequality, unemployment, poorly paid working contracts and underinvestment in housing and public services to name but a few.

The end result is that Right2Change has become a mass social movement looking for a political home. It has issued a set of policy principles (not to be confused with policies), and will support all left leaning parties who are willing to sign up to those principles. Gibney says the Right2Change initiative would like to see politicians take their minds off their parties and focus more on human-rights based policies.

“At the core of it is, we began this process concentrating on policy instead of parties, trying to get people to think about human rights-based policies and stop thinking about parties, personalities and egos and start thinking about what the people actually want in terms of policies,”

Political groups and individuals were asked to decide by Friday 30th October, if they were willing to adopt the initiative and work together to achieve the maximum number of left-wing seats in the next Dail. Sinn Fein were the first grouping to sign up. Speaking after the party announced its agreement to support the initiative, Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald said the enterprise offered an opportunity for voters to elect an alternative government.

The Right2Water movement has evolved and grown from the initial sole concern around water charges to other issues. As a result of very long discussions and consultations, broad policy principles have been agreed which we in Sinn Féin are happy sign up to and to endorse.

This policy provides a space for political parties and progressive independent candidates and a platform to fight the next election. It doesn’t replace any political party’s manifesto, but it does represent those points of commonality, where we agree, and represents a real opportunity in the forthcoming election to maximise the number of progressive TDs elected to the Dáil, and the potential for an alternative government.

Important to note here is the fact that parties will still have their own manifestos to sell to the people but those manifestos will have to reflect the broad principles as laid out by the Right2Change movement. Opponents of Sinn Fein have been quick off the mark accusing the party of putting its self-interest first, arguing that it has struggled with attracting transfers in the past and has only signed up to the initiative for selfish political gain.

However, Sinn Fein can counter that it has for some years now called on the left of Irish politics to unite and ‘challenge the establishment political parties’. It can also argue that its success at attracting transfers has improved somewhat; as shown in this year’s Carlow/Kilkenny by election and the local/euro elections of 2014.

Nevertheless, there is no escaping the point that if Sinn Fein continues to stall in the polls, a pact with the broad Left of Irish politics could help to turn a poor election performance into a good one. This is especially true in urban areas such as Dublin Cork and Limerick where smaller left parties and independents do particularly well.

Their transfers added to a healthy first preference vote could give Sinn Fein a much needed lift when the time comes. Of course, it is not a one Way Street, those who stand in constituencies that vote in preference for left candidates such as Richard Boyd Barrett (PBP) in Dun Laoghaire (Dublin), could also benefit from the life blood of second preferences courtesy of Sinn Fein voters.

Not everybody on the left is completely happy with the exercise. The newly formed Social Democrats have politely declined and the Anti-Austerity Alliance / Socialists are not comfortable with Sinn Fein’s proposal for a voting pact.

The socialists don’t seem to accept Sinn Fein as a true party of the left and are suspicious of a possible coalition deal between Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail after the next election. (Joe Higgins socialist TD, RTE Week in Politics, Sunday November 1).

Sinn Fein for its part have said they will ask their voters to transfer down the line, even if others fail to reciprocate.

Right2Change has announced that along with Sinn Fein a number of smaller parties and independents are on-board. It also states that the organisation intends to identify up to three candidates in every constituency who support the group’s banner principles.

Its activists will openly back these candidates but will not instruct voters on transferring their vote. However, instruction will most likely be unnecessary, if the movement can hold together those who have agreed to run with the initiative, the likelihood is that sympathetic voters will transfer their preferences within the group without needing much of a prompt.

The support of so many trade unions who have agreed to either call on their members to vote and transfer within the group, or to simply inform their members of the various candidates aligned with Right2Change will be crucial in the final weeks leading up to the election.

The union movement in Ireland has traditionally been associated with the Irish Labour party. Labour have for decades been linked officially to almost all the major trade union movements in the country. This connection has existed on the basis that Labour were the natural party of left wing politics.

Recently however the broad union movement have lost faith with the party particularly on the issue of water.

The famous catch call ‘Labours Way or Frankfurt’s Way’; delivered during the 2011 campaign by the then leader Eamonn Gilmore now haunts the party and in terms of providing ammunition for its opponents (particularly on the left), it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

It would appear that the damage done in terms of relations between the trade unions and Labour is for now at least irreparable. Most of the main Unions have come out in support for parties and independents who are willing to sign up to the Right2Change campaign, those who are not willing to tell people how to transfer their vote have stated they will be informing their members which parties and individuals are aligned with the Right2Change campaign in the run up to election, effectively suggesting they cast their vote accordingly.

For my own party Sinn Fein, apart from the obvious benefits of vote transfers, the party might also benefit from having a number of other parties and independents onside. Opponents of Sinn Fein have been accused of engaging in a smear campaign against the party.

Issues such as the existence of the IRA, and claims that senior members are possibly connected to criminality, have created a bed of hot coals under the party.

Interestingly however, over the course of the last week none of the parties associated with Right2Change have raised such issues as a concern in deciding whether or not to jump on board.

If the polls are to be believed almost half the electorate now reject the traditional parties of government; Fine Fail, Fine Gael and Labour. This week on RTE’s The Week in Politics; Aine Lawlor put it to Richard Boyd Barrett of People Before Profit that “a once in a lifetime opportunity” has opened up through the Right2Change campaign but parties of the left will have to get in harmony if they have any hope of convincing voters; a task made difficult by the Anti Austerity Alliance rejecting a voting pact and refusing to support a Sinn Fein led government.

Boyd Barrett responded by saying the media coverage during the week has been sensationalist and that there was no pact nor has there been a split. The PBP leader said he believed the focus should be on the Right2Change principles and the parties and individuals who have agreed to share a common platform.

He appears to be buoyed by the chances of success, voting pacts or not. Mary Lou seems equally excited:

“We believe there is a great opportunity now in the forthcoming election. We believe that we need an alternative and a progressive government. Sinn Féin wants to be part of that and we believe that parties and candidates who share this platform and who agree on these principles should, whilst attending to their own election campaigns, equally encourage people to transfer to other like-minded candidates.”

This is the first time that a broad alliance of political parties and independents on the left of Irish politics have agreed a platform upon which to fight an election backed by a mass movement across all sections of civil society.

The refusal of the Anti-Austerity Alliance/ Socialists to play ball might signal that the left in Ireland simply cannot put together a united front strong enough to convince voters. It is also unclear if it will scupper the entire exercise before it has had a chance to really get going.

However, it must be remembered that the coordinating group around this initiative is not one particular political party, it is a social movement providing an umbrella for others.  Essentially, the initiative does not depend on one particular party or individual to pull the cart and keep the horses in line.

Right2Change as a group have taken the initiative and are the driving force behind the expedition, they might also be inclined to referee between their passengers should the need arise. The job of course is to mobilise voters out to the polls, given the success of the right to water campaign in getting tens of thousands of demonstrators onto the streets, one assumes they will have little difficulty getting the same people to polling stations on Election Day.

With about four months to go there is plenty of time to coordinate, mobilise and build on momentum. However, given the failed attempts to unify the left in the past, all parties will have their work cut out staying on track and defending against the avalanche of assaults certain to fall upon them during what is sure to be a blistering campaign.

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  • Granni Trixie

    Up ‘here’ any party who aligns with SF would have to be prepared to mange stigma/baggage from association with paramilitarism. Is this risk not present in the minds of people in the South?

  • Robin Keogh

    Thats the thing gran. In all the interviews and media commentary regarding the left alliance, none of the parties or independents alligned mentioned such concerns.

    It can appear sometimes when listening to michael martin or by a lot of the media shenanigans that people down ‘here’ are obsessed with the legacy of the conflict.

    They are not.

  • Granni Trixie

    I take what you say but surely it would be ridiculous for people joining SF in a project not to at least weigh up the risks in doing so? If not, that’s quite insulting to all of us in NI who have suffered and still suffer. Please assure me that you are not saying in effect “it doesn’t matter?”.

  • Greenflag 2

    Most people in the Republic are aware that the NI conflict happened but they have compartmentalised the issues into a boxfile as being – Nothing to do with us -or at least ROI politics . They don’t have mandatory coalition so SF in order to win more seats have to reach out to parties other than FF, FG or Labour .

    They don’t want NI style politics in the Republic . It still matters what happened in NI 1920/1969 – 1998/2007 but it’ll be number 20 or so in the listing of issues unless of course the Assembly collapses and the gunfire starts all over again.

  • Greenflag 2

    ‘Recently however the broad union movement have lost faith with the party particularly on the issue of water.’

    SF no different than any other European party of the left found itself dislocated by the financial meltdown and it’s aftermath . Like British Labour or the SPD in Germany or the opposition parties in Spain , Portugal they found it extremely difficult to formulate creditable policies against the new era of financial sector corporate fascism .

    Ergo they jumped on the ‘water ‘ issue which seemed opportune in order to garner support . People were outraged at the charges -it provided a magnet for the anti austerity movement .

    Most people know that water has to be paid for by somebody . Reservoirs -pipelines – purification – distribution – maintenance – wages and salaries etc etc – all have to come from somewhere . There is no ‘free water ‘ at least water that one can drink . When anything is free people tend to take it for granted and waste it . Having lived in a country where water was thin on the ground and not much less thin underground -seeing people waste water or not repair leaking taps etc usually results in my making remarks I afterwards regret 😉

  • Robin Keogh

    I think any party joining another on a project will weigh up risks as part of their own in house strategic assesment.

    There is a cohort of people who associate Sinn Fein with the kind of accusation s peddled by Michael Martin and INM. In fact when people discover i am a shinner i get some shocked faces from time to time as I am apparently seen as upper middle class and not the shinner ‘type’. But, in many cases it serves to open minds a bit. If ‘someone like robin is a shinner maybe they are not so bad after all’… one comment i heard in a discussion.

    Also election results show that the number of people repelled by us is slowly decreasing. Euro elections 20% first preference, similar amount of second preference transfers. Suggesting a significant amount of the electorate are not buying into the smear campaign led by MM and INM.

    I think this is partly due to peoples difficulty trusting FF after years of corruption and Michael Martins roll in the collapse of the economy while he was a cabinet minister. Moreover, INM is Fianna Fails cheer leader which is partly owned and controlled by Denis O Brien who is currently meshed is all sorts of financial allegations and scandals. People are not as dense as some would hope, they see the connections, sniff out the agenda and identify motives quite easily.

    The local shinner in the 26 counties is simply not seen as scumbag by local communities. We are seen as hard workers and genuinely commited to the communties where we live.

    What matters in this part of the country if surveys are to be believed is corruption, public services, transport, jobs etc etc. The conflict and the various interpretations of it simply do not register with most voters despite the best efforts of the press here.

  • New Yorker

    Robin Keogh

    What is your party’s record on human rights?

  • Robin Keogh

    Pretty good as far as i am aware. It supports amnesty and works for equality across the board. It was a champion for lgbt rights long before most of the mainstream parties copped on. It also supports the UN convention on human rights.

  • Croiteir

    Quite a lot of people do not consider that to be baggage/stigma

  • Croiteir

    Or indeed amongst wishful thinkers north of the border

  • Robin Keogh

    Quite

  • Granni Trixie

    Some people yes but quite a lot ? Very many were completely opposed to a physical force campaign, even civil rights supporters. Even for risk assessment purposes people aligning themselves with SF would be wise to take that “baggage” on board. Denial is part of the problem.

  • Granni Trixie

    Interesting analysis – hadn’t thought along the lines previously.

  • Granni Trixie

    Omg UPPER middle class!
    Seriously though – I take your points.

  • New Yorker

    I did not ask for your party’s positions but for its record. What members have done in regard to human rights.

  • Reader

    Robin Keogh: The socialists don’t seem to accept Sinn Fein as a true party of the
    left and are suspicious of a possible coalition deal between Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail after the next election.

    Really easy for SF to fix that, though, isn’t it?

  • Granni Trixie

    You know it just struck me that really what our different perspectives point to is difference in consciousness.

  • Croiteir

    Certainly quite a lot. Denial of that is a problem.

  • Dominic Hendron

    Sinn Fein are not interested in coalescing with anyone, they’re in it to take control

  • Gingray

    Granny
    How many English voters would have wanted Sinn Fein to do well at the last election – it did create a buzz for a while in the hope they might take seats and help give Labour a majority.
    Power makes for strange bedfellows.

  • Robin Keogh

    Care to expand?

  • Robin Keogh

    Suggestion?

  • Robin Keogh

    Well as a political organisation Sinn fein campaigned openly for the law to be changed to decriminalise homosexuality here in Ireland and further campaigned and lobbied government for marraige equality.

    Sinn fein also was part of the global anti aparthied movement actively joining in fund raising campaigns to help people in SA living under the regime while also agitating politically. Gerry Adams close friendship with Nelson Mandela developed in part as a result of this.

    The party has also worked on behalf of the Palestinian people in supporting their right to self determination, visiting Palestine and Palestinian prisoners and calling on isreal to impliment human rights law in relation to detention of prisoners.

    MEP Martina Anderson has been at the forefront of calls to ensure that refugees fleeing crisis in their homelands are gauranteed protection under human rights law in their adoptive countries.

    Personally I have worked in Africa helping to educate men and women on HIV and general health and how to access their rights as laid out in UN law.

    Closer to home Sinn Fein is trying to get the government to ratify the UN convention on the rights of people with disabilities, something it signed up to 8 years ago.

    On abortion issues, Sinn Fein has recieved praise from Amnesty international on the Party’s support to access to certain abortion services

    The list is endless tbh.

  • Robin Keogh

    I know! the cheek of a Shinner to be rich ! 😉

  • New Yorker

    In the news they are known for cover-ups of serious crimes such as rape and murder. Right2Change puts emphasis on human rights and SF are better known for abuse, rather than defense, of human rights and that may make them toxic to other parties which would explain why Right2Change is having difficulty adding other parties.

  • Reader

    Guarantee not to go into coalition with FF without their R2C partners.

  • Granni Trixie

    I thought it is well established that there was no moral justification for the methods adopted by th IRA? I wonder did you see the programme last night of stories of nurses having to deal with people literally in bits? And before you say it I know there was wrong on all many sides I including on the side of the state and loyalists. However, how our discussion stated off was in considering if SF had baggage for consideration by potential partners.

    We obviously aren’t going to agree on the moral justification of intimidating people.

  • Croiteir

    No – what is established is that there was no moral justification for the years of unionist misrule and the violent attacks on Catholics – not nationalists – in the mid to late 60’s that required the Catholics to retaliate which of course morphed into an IRA campaign to rid themselves of that scourge.
    And that is why we will not agree on the moral justification of intimidating people as it leads to a justifiable reaction.

  • Dominic Hendron

    See youtube video of Belfast City Council meeting: Jim McViegh v Gerry O’Carroll

  • Robin Keogh

    Actually Right2Change are not having difficulty adding other parties. They only invited those on the left including independents, most of whom have signed up. On your broader point I am not aware of any human rights watch group who have found against Sinn Fein on their Human Rights record, if you have info to the contrary you might direct me to it.

  • Robin Keogh

    The Irish people will decide who forms the next government, nobody else.

  • New Yorker

    Exhibit A is the Adams family. Rape, cover-up and brutality. To use your phrase, the list is endless as the fish stinks from the head down. To deny it is to deny the reality people read in the media over the years about the violation of human rights of many people, north and south, by your party and its army.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I don’t think that will fix that but given the stay out of five seats we’ll stay out of one pact offer Sinn Féin offered the SDLP, agreeing to that arrangement might be one of the strongest fig leafs they have ever offered a rival party bloc.

    They are all about “Equality” not Partity, Empathy or Mutual Respect you know.

  • Robin Keogh

    Great, but we dont have a judicial system run by the media. It is not governmet by fantasy or rule by supposition. We have a modern civilised structure based on evidence delivered through due process. Its hard to grasp for some that Unionist domination was dismantled years ago to make way for accountable government, justice and democracy. Nevertheless bring your evidence to the relevent authorities and let the fish sink or swim.

  • Zeno

    I thought people just laughed at SF when they claim to be a left wing anti austerity party.

    “Sinn Fein is the only party in Dáil Eireann that is implementing austerity measures this year – over 2,000 fewer teachers in the North and cuts to welfare benefits, to name just two Sinn Fein austerity measures.” Alex White TD

    Then you have the Corporation Tax cut, and even borrowing £700 million off the Brits to cut 20,000 local jobs. Their own Minister Conor Murphy presided over the installation of 32,000 water meters……… I know people like fairy tales, but still.

  • New Yorker

    People generally rely on media of all types when deciding what party and individuals they will support and vote for. Your party has the worst record on human rights of any other Northern or Southern party. When you refer to judicial system are you referencing kangaroo courts?

  • Reader

    Robin Keogh: The Irish people will decide who forms the next government, nobody else.
    Ridiculous. Have you never heard of Coalitions? Negotiations? Pacts? The morning after the last Dail elections, was it set in stone that the Irish people had decided on a FG/labour coalition, or were other coalitions possible? What were you hoping for when the last result came in?
    I understand your reticence though. SF will make a deal with absolutely anyone to get a sniff of power – and nothing must stand in their way.

  • Zeno

    Robin

    Here is a an article about SF’s brand of left wing socialism that I woul like your comments on.

    http://thepensivequill.am/2015/02/sinn-fein-basic-introduction.html

  • Robin Keogh

    If you took some time to look at party policy you will be aware that SF will only go into government as the lead party. That has been the policy since our ard fheis. So if the Irish people give us that mandate we will be in government, if they dont we wont. Simple.

  • Robin Keogh

    As i said, if u have evidence of that please bring it to the relevent authorities. I note you dont provide a link to a human rights watchdog or similar agency finding Sinn Fein in breach of Human Rights.

  • Greenflag 2

    ‘Power makes for strange bedfellows.’

    Indeed and when it’s over estranged bedfellows . I’m sure the Liberal Democrats rue the day they climbed aboard the Cameron wagon . The Irish Labour Party are now in a similar pre election bind .

    An FG politician/ Chief Whip name of Gerry L’Estrange had a sharp tongue . When his party was in Government (1973 -1977) and was being attacked by Fianna Fáil on the draining of the River Shannon, he riposted

    “If you can suck as well as you can blow, the Shannon will be drained by teatime”

  • Gingray

    The Irish Labour Party has had plenty of time to learn this lesson around coalition. Its whether the drop will be higher or lower than 1997 (19.3% to 10.4%). Last time around they got 19.4%, with recent polls having them at 7-8% (couple higher and a couple lower).

    1987 and 1977 also turned out to be bad years, but not in the same ballpark.

  • I’m observing with interest Sinn Féin’s progression in the Republic. It’s notable how economistic they are to the southern electorate, with nationalist rhetoric being reserved for its northern audience. This is probably how things will continue to play out over the coming years. I’m curious to know, however, what impact this will have on Sinn Féin in the coming years.

    Northern opinion polling and census demographics aren’t the most encouraging in regard to Irish unity in the immediate to short-term, and so what Chris Donnelly called Irish nationalism’s “millenarian streak” is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

    Combining Irish unification’s stagnant nature and Sinn Féin’s ever-increasing preoccupation with its southern political fortunes, in years to come will Sinn Féin simply morph itself into the 26 county party system as leftists who dole out the green card from time-to-time, and, like Fianna Fáil did, develop a quiet acceptance of partition?

  • New Yorker

    Your reply does not make any sense in relation to what I said above.

  • Reader

    It’s as though the parties of the left don’t trust what SF says, isn’t it?

  • Greenflag 2

    Same ballpark . Ever hear of the Tullymander election 1977 when the Labour Party reputedly returned to the Dail in one or was it two taxis . James Tully’s 3 seat constituency plan for Dublin which in theory was supposed to result in Dublin being evenly split between the 3 parties ended up backfiring with FF winning their greatest majority ever .

    http://irishpoliticalmaps.blogspot.com/2011/11/constituencies-of-ireland-1977-1981.html

    You might think Tully would have learned from the then NI Derry City gerrymander . Not a bit . Thereafter governments ceded their power to adjust constituency boundaries ergo a neutral electoral commission decides the boundaries and Tullymander and his more successful first cousin Gerrymander are no more in Ireland .

    Gerymander is however alive and thriving in the USA which accounts for the very high rate of constituencies which are no longer contested by any opposition because it would like an SF candidate opposing a DUP candidate in Carrick on Fergus have three chances -slim -fat and none ,

  • Gingray

    Aye, strange election that one. Sooner 3 seaters are eliminated the better! Getting there.

    Yeah the states is bonkers, remember Texas few years, democratic state senators went out of state to prevent a gerrymandered redistribution.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_Eleven