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Sunday 17 December 2017

An Irish Syriza could be another Greek tragedy

"Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains!" Over a century and a half since Karl Marx issued this famous rallying cry in the Communist Manifesto, some of his biggest Irish fans are trying to make it a reality.

Talks have begun between Sinn Fein, smaller left-wing parties, independent TDs and trade unions - aimed at creating a Celtic version of Greece's Syriza that can sweep to power in next year's general election.

Why is this happening now? One obvious answer is the anti-water charges movement, which has brought lots of radical groups together under one banner.

As last year's monster marches showed, the Irish left is far more powerful when its leaders stop fighting each other and unite against a common enemy.

Another key factor is that Sinn Fein and others are thrilled by recent developments in Athens. After all, Syriza began life in 2004 as a ragbag alliance of Trotskyists, environmentalists and various other lefties.

Thanks to the Greek people's terrible suffering under EU-imposed austerity, Alexis Tsipras (inset) is now Prime Minister of the world's oldest democracy.

During his victory speech last month, Tsipras gave a shout-out to Syriza's comrades in Sinn Fein and predicted that they will lead the next Irish government. Gerry Adams obviously shares that dream, but claims to have no interest in a deal with Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.

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Instead, he is after a purely left-wing coalition, based on the fact that some opinion polls now show Sinn Fein and independents with almost 50pc support between them.

If Adams can actually pull that off, it will certainly be a historic achievement. The Irish left is notorious for personality cults and faction-fighting that could have come straight out of Monty Python's Life of Brian.

Brendan Behan was only slightly exaggerating when he quipped that the first item on any new Irish revolutionary group's agenda is the split.

The Dail today contains TDs from People Before Profit, the Socialist Party and the ironically-titled United Left. There are also many independents such as Mick Wallace, Catherine Murphy and Maureen O'Sullivan, clearly left-wing but happy to operate as lone wolves.

While Gerry Adams can certainly try to create a united team out of that lot, creating a united Ireland would be simple by comparison.

In fact, Northern Ireland is one of the biggest stumbling blocks. Sinn Fein are obviously obsessed with the idea of a 32-county republic, so much so that their IRA pals were prepared to kill for it.

By contrast, most other socialist groups see the North as basically a class struggle and have no interest in pursuing a 'Brits out' policy. On other issues, Sinn Fein find themselves in the unfamiliar role of condemning violence.

The anti-Irish Water protests have turned ugly in recent weeks, most notably during two episodes where Tanaiste Joan Burton was trapped in her car and President Higgins was dubbed "a midget parasite".

While campaigners such as Paul Murphy tied themselves up in knots trying to justify some of this nastiness, Adams wisely washed his hands of it.

If anything, the sniping between Sinn Fein and their potential allies is getting worse. This week Richard Boyd Barrett said he wasn't sure if the Shinners can be called left-wing at all, particularly since they have just signed up to an austerity package in Belfast.

Adams, meanwhile, accused Socialist Party leaders such as Joe Higgins of being "almost as bad as Fine Gael" in their attitude to Northern Ireland - which in republican-speak is a pretty chilling insult.

Even if an Irish version of Syriza does emerge before the general election, events in Greece might well put people off voting for it. Alexis Tsipras' new government is already facing its first crisis, with Angela Merkel refusing his demand for a debt conference and the ECB threatening to cut off emergency funding to Greek banks.

Gerry Adams thinks we should tell the EU to "bugger off" - but as Greece's finance minister found out last Thursday, it will take more than a cool knee-length leather jacket to intimidate the Germans.

"Ireland is not Greece," has been Enda Kenny's mantra ever since Syriza came to power. Our own home-grown Marxists have their work cut out if they want to prove him wrong.

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