August 2013        

Fine Gael: political pluralism or class collaborators?


■ The data used in this article was obtained from the Register of Members’ Interests, thejournal.ie, the Central Statistics Office, and research on political parties taken from the Oireachtas web site.

In last month’s Socialist Voice there was an article by NL headed “Ireland’s ruling class.” What was brought out in that article was the fact that the class in whose interests the state is run and whose interests the state has defended—the Irish ruling class—is the Irish big bourgeoisie, a domestic monopolist-type class that trades at the global level but is still a class dependent on the imperialist United States, EU, and Britain.
     If we take it that the state is run in the interests of the Irish big bourgeoisie, then what class runs the state machine on their behalf? Do we have the Hillary Westons, Denis O’Briens or Michael O’Learys running the political machinery and making the policy decisions that have shaped this nation’s legacy? Of course not, for we live in a democracy, with the ability to vote in our legislators, politics of plurality, and public accountability!
     Well, without trying to sound too sarcastic, the question of class and the class make-up of our elected TDs is a subject that needs to be examined when we are analysing the ruling class in Ireland. In this respect this article concentrates on Fine Gael, the largest party in the Government, and its members—their occupations, assets, salaries, and expenses.
     James Petras, when he came to Dublin in May to give the annual James Connolly Memorial Lecture, described how imperialism’s reach over the globe is dependent on a native collaborative class to carry through an imperialist agenda. Given that the policy-makers in a country can vary from being ruthless military dictatorships to elected governments, as in Ireland, in each instance they act as the native political wing supporting and defending imperialism, in a lot of cases going unopposed or unchallenged politically by the labour movement.
     With this in mind, taking a deeper look at our own political establishment may unearth the links or the incentive to collaborate with the Irish big bourgeoisie and the imperialist blocs. If we look at table 1 we can see the occupation type of Fine Gael TDs elected in 2011. Seventy-six of them were elected; however, a number of them would have more than one occupation listed, which is taken into account here.
     We find that 86 per cent of Fine Gael TDs, according to their occupation type, would be classified as being in the middle to upper or professional class, with only 1 per cent being in the middle to working class or non-professional category. Not one present or former tradesperson, labourer, shop assistant, factory worker, food or retail service worker, civil servant (other than at the management level) or any other skilled or unskilled occupation make up any part of the Fine Gael parliamentary party (or indeed of any of the other troika parties: see “What we need is a party of a new type,” Socialist Voice, June 2012).
Total number of occupations listed95
Business interests12
High-level management22
Lower-level management2
Law5
Health care3
Professional occupation21
Education16
Defence Forces1
Middle to upper (professional) class total82
Middle to upper (professional) class as percentage86.3
Farming12
Farming total of Fine Gael TDs12
Farming as percentage of Fine Gael TDs12.6
Skilled occupation (manual or non-manual)1
Semi-skilled occupation0
Unskilled occupations0
Middle to working class (non-professional) as total of Fine Gael TDs1
Middle to working class (non-professional) as percentage of Fine Gael TDs1.1
     According to statistics compiled by the CSO, more than 68 per cent of the working population are regarded as being in the middle to working-class (non-professional) category. On this basis a majority of the population are not being represented at the policy-making level; and anyone interested in democracy must realise that here in Ireland the working class and the middle strata hold little or no position of power, despite being the largest social group. Surely this huge democratic deficit must be acknowledged, at the very least.
     Getting back to Fine Gael—and without getting bogged down in stating how many teachers or accountants are in the party—it is clear that the majority have a background in a well-paid profession. Digging deeper we see that that, even after being elected, a majority of TDs have additional sources of income, apart from the salary received from being elected. (More on TDs’ salaries later!)
     In fact almost half the Fine Gael TDs are listed in the published register of members’ interests (www.oireachtas.ie) as having one additional source of income. More than 14 per cent have two additional sources of income, and slightly less than 3 per cent have three additional sources.
     Not alone have two-thirds of Fine Gael TDs additional sources of income but nearly 70 per cent own various amounts of land or property. (If income is derived from land or property, whether it is in farming or letting, this has been included under additional sources of income.) 51 per cent own numerous amounts of land and property, such as Tom Barry, who lists eight separate properties, including hundreds of acres of farmland and several houses and apartments to rent, or Alan Shatter, who owns fourteen different properties in Ireland and abroad, to give just two examples.
     Together with this land or property, 28 per cent of Fine Gael TDs hold some form of directorship, while 23 per cent have shares in a variety of companies or funds, separate from the additional income sources mentioned already. However, the amount of money derived from these shares is not disclosed in the register of members’ interests, so it’s hard to say exactly what the shares are worth. To take a single example, though, Richard Bruton has shares in Bank of Ireland, AIB, Irish Life and Permanent, FBD, Arytza, CRH, Kingspan, and Smurfit Kappa Group. Most of these companies would be in the list of the Irish big bourgeoisie cited by NL in last month’s article.
     Surprisingly enough, Bruton also happens to be minister for jobs, enterprise and innovation, which would suggest a clear link between the political establishment and the Irish big bourgeoisie at the top ministerial level.
     So to sum up, we know that a majority of Fine Gael TDs have additional sources of income, a majority of them own land or property, and a significant number have shares in companies or funds. Unfortunately, without the figures this income is impossible to calculate. What we can disclose, however, is their basic income.
     The basic salary of a TD is €87,258, according to the Government web site, but was €92,672 when the present Dáil were elected in 2011. There is also a public representative’s allowance for backbench TDs of €20,350. Then there is the travel and accommodation allowance, which in 2011 for Fine Gael amounted to €2,676,354, or on average €35,685 per Fine Gael TD (www.thejournal.ie).
     In total, the average annual salary with expenses of a Fine Gael TD is €143,293. If we take into account the fact that ministers, of which Fine Gael has nineteen (the Taoiseach, Government ministers, and ministers of state), have a basic salary of €169,275, as much as a quarter have pay (including expenses) of more than €224,960. (PRA = €20,000 for ministers.)
     The Taoiseach has an annual salary of €200,000, plus an additional €118,981 in expenses, coming to a total of €318,981.
     These are not people struggling with recession, struggling to put food on the table, to pay rent or a mortgage, picking up welfare money each week, surviving on the bare minimum. With these types of salary they can afford private education or extra private tuition, they can afford the high price of private health care, they can relieve the stress of work and daily life with comfortable holidays at home and abroad. They are sheltered from the effects of the economic crisis. This type of wealth promotes luxury, while necessities are no longer necessary.
     This is not an attack on people earning a good living but on the fact that elected politicians in Fine Gael, who claim to represent the people, are so far removed from the majority of working people and their families and their daily struggles, yet they insist that the ordinary person should pay billions of euros in debt for generations to come—a debt not of their making—all the while giving us a pat on the back when the reports on implementing austerity coming back from Brussels are positive.
     What can we logically conclude from this? It could be stated that Fine Gael does actually represent a certain class, that it forms part of our native class of collaborators. It is they who are managing the affairs of the rich, to protect the rich while at the same time they are enriching themselves, allying with and becoming part of the big bourgeoisie.
     I don’t want to commit the fallacy of composition here and make it seem that every Fine Gael TD is directly connected to the Irish ruling class. That’s not the point of this exercise. The Irish ruling class is a class of owners of industry and finance who long ago left behind any notion of developing indigenous industry and are interwoven with and dependent on foreign capital and finance—imperialism—to the detriment of Irish workers and their families, of our democracy, our sovereignty, and our ability to take an independent, anti-imperialist path.
     These are the 1 per cent—or the 0.1 per cent—who dictate economic policy in Ireland, allied to the European, American and British imperialists.
     Just as Petras explained, the ruling class needs its gatekeepers, its collaborators, to function properly; and by analysing the Irish political parties, and in particular Fine Gael, we can demonstrate that this role is played extremely well by them. With no opposition from the Labour Party or Fianna Fáil in policy matters (and with those parties having a largely similar class make-up), where will the labour and working-class movement find its political voice? And for how much longer will this majority group be deprived of having any significant representation in political office?
     If anything is to change, people will have to join or support parties of the working class that are willing to defend and advance their position in society. Rotating the existing parties in government will not bring about change: only a conscious movement in class struggle will bring about the political, social and economic changes that are necessary for the advancement of the working class and its allies.
[EON]

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