Throughout the Irish General Election, Labour has tried to use the movements against the 8th amendment amongst others, to throw a fig leaf over its failures over the last five years. Anti Austerity Alliance activist, Darragh McCarthy argues that people who want change need to abandon Labour this Friday.
With polling day now a mere couple of days away, the majority of the electorate have already made, or are just about to make up, their minds regarding who they think will best represent them after this year’s General Election. For some secular voters, as well as for many in the LGBTQ+ community, the Joan Burton-led Labour Party may, on the surface of things, seem like the obvious choice. After all, were it not for the Labour Party, we might not have had a referendum that achieved marriage equality in the South.
Though, while Labour can claim some responsibility for the referendum occurring when it did, a vote for them on these grounds alone can only be a lazy vote, as Labour’s wider political failings over the past few years have significantly dwarfed their achievements. The Labour Party made a commitment to a marriage equality referendum in their 2011 General Election Manifesto and established the Constitutional Convention that paved the way for such a referendum to take place. But the Labour Party can not claim full responsibility for same-sex marriage equality in this country when a comprehensive socio-political (LGBTQ+) movement spent many tough years making all the forward ground it did. Although some might short-sightedly put the achievement down to just Labour, this perceived political gain quickly loses its lustre after a quick look at the number of discrepancies between the party’s rhetoric and the actions of Labour over the past few decades, or even just throughout 2015 alone. This is something that has not gone unnoticed by the electorate, as the Behaviour & Attitudes poll for the Sunday Times recently put Labour at 4%, the socialist Left for the first time in a national poll surpassing Labour, with the AAA–PBP at 5%. Other recent polls have also shown this similar support for a greater genuine Left presence to replace the Labour Party in the Dáil.
In Joan Burton’s speech to the 2015 Labour Party Conference, she said: “The Labour Party is all about equality. I want to see an Irish society that is equal. And this means that all citizens are treated equally under our constitution.” This claim, that they are “all about equality”, is as insulting as it is simply false. They have demonstrated this time and time again, revealing that, in reality, what they are about are relatively minor progressive changes – if any – that benefit them politically. For the most part, Labour continue to fail the working class, women, young people, families (single parents and their families, in particular) and migrants.
But rather than just listing more examples of Labour’s glib, self-serving political rhetoric, it might be more useful to take a brief look at how their policy and decisions have always been limited versions of the larger, more fundamental demands made by the Left in Ireland. There are a slew of recent examples of Labour failing to live up to their avowed party values to draw on in order to illustrate this point. One came last year, when the party voted against an ultimately voted-down bill to allow for abortion in cases where there is no chance of life, and later voted against an Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA) bill to call a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment. Added to this, back in 2013, Labour voted for a maximum fourteen-year jail sentence for women who take an abortion pill in the early stages of pregnancy.
Then, last December, they voted against an AAA amendment to delete Section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act that allows religious discrimination in school admissions, which would have outlawed discrimination in access to schools on religious grounds. Labour did, however, eventually get around to amending Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act introduced in 1998 (by a Labour minister), which now outlaws discrimination in religious schools on the grounds of sexuality. But this was a limited version of the same bill proposed by the AAA months before. One thing this bill would have achieved would have been an end to giving religious bodies legal power to discriminate against teachers whose views offended their religious ethos – in effect meaning that atheists, unmarried mothers, divorcees, minority faiths and others could all face litigation and ultimately lose their jobs.
Last summer also saw Labour forced to retreat on what had been a regressive and needlessly restrictive Gender Recognition Bill that it would have been content to implement alongside its coalition partner, Fine Gael (the conservative part of Irish government that Labour supposedly limits). But, even in its transformed final arrangement, the Gender Recognition Act included a number of unnecessary failings and limitations that Labour maintained, failing to even recognise intersex and non-binary individuals, as well as neglecting to address trans youth properly – if aged 16-17 youth must undergo an onerous process of obtaining a court order in order to have their correct gender recognised, and below that age are excluded from recognition.
What the last year or two of an increased support for a full separation of Church from State has shown us, if nothing else, is that the people are way ahead of the political establishment on the issue. These supporters want an end to discrimination against and oppression of LGBTQ+ people, women, migrants, and other minority groups. They have expressed this through the massively significant ‘Yes’ result in the 2015 Marriage Equality Referendum, and through the overwhelming support for a change to Ireland’s abhorrent constitutional ban on abortion. Surely LGBTQ+ people should strive for a society that grants themselves, and others that face similar discrimination and inequality, more than just same-sex marriage. If Labour can be partly responsible for achieving SSM in the South, this is about the limit of the work for which it can legitimately accept some praise. Its political shortcomings seriously outweigh any other reasons the party might put forward to vote for them in the upcoming election, especially when real alternatives exist on the Left. Labour have, in reality, on every occasion they have been able to seize, done the bare minimum to actually properly change the lives of LGBTQ+ people for the better.
While Labour may be the best that the totally regressive and conservative Irish political establishment has to offer, that does not mean we should settle for the best of a bad bunch. Why not instead help provide a platform for potentially the most active and progressive political movement in the Republic’s history? The Anti-Austerity Alliance will continue to fight at every opportunity for the full separation of Church and State, as well as for an end to the resulting oppression of LGBTQ+ people and women in our society – something which the establishment has benefited from immensely since the creation of the Irish state. So those that consider themselves strongly in favour of a separation of Church from State above all else in choosing who to receive their vote, Atheist Ireland has found that “the grouping with the most comprehensive secular policies is AAA-PBP”. Such people, with those that identify as queer, who want to reduce the oppression they face as much as possible through the ballot box, should seriously re-evaluate the implications of their possible support for the political establishment to which the Labour Party belongs. We should fight for real equality, rejecting Labour’s twisted and, frankly, bankrupt version of it. On Friday, this will mean voting for the genuine Left – groups like Anti-Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit (AAA–PBP) – instead of voting for a party of duplicitous, opportunistic careerists and fraudulent liars that use issues affecting oppressed groups for their own political and electoral ends, rather than actually assisting and aiding these people they claim to represent.