Decision to quit was not sudden

Tue, Sep 4, 2012, 01:00

ANALYSIS:The Dublin North TD’s split from the Socialists came after months of internal wrangling, writes HARRY McGEE

FOR A movement that prides itself on the collective, the public face of the United Left Alliance (ULA) in recent months has, paradoxically, been dominated by controversies surrounding individuals (over TDs’ constituency expenses) and personality clashes (like the one that tore the Socialist Party apart over the weekend).

Clare Daly’s decision to resign from the Socialist Party last Friday was not sudden or impromptu but was the culmination of months of internal wrangling and disputes within the left-wing party over her close political relationship with the developer and Wexford TD Mick Wallace. For her colleagues, especially the party’s figurehead Joe Higgins, any connection with Wallace was anathema following the disclosure that he had knowingly made false VAT declarations.

But since before the summer recess, Daly had pointedly refused to sever connections with Wallace – and would not agree to exclude him from involvement in campaigns against water charges and property tax.

That set her and the leadership on a collision course.

And that “acrimonious divorce”, as she herself has described it, came to a head at the weekend. The Dublin North deputy resigned from the party on Friday. The timing was important. On Saturday, the steering group of the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes held a meeting at which a vote was tabled to exclude from the campaign activists from Wexford who were supporters of Wallace. It put Daly in a quandary. If she stayed in the party, she would have had to remain silent or speak against her Socialist Party colleagues at the meeting. But having resigned, she had no such strictures placed upon her. She was one of a small number (that included the People Before Profit and ULA TD Joan Collins) who argued against the exclusion and called for more mediation. In the event, the motion to exclude was overwhelmingly carried by 78 to four.

Daly’s statement was surprising in one respect. It made no mention of Wallace but majored on the project to build the ULA into a stronger force in Irish politics. For her erstwhile Socialist Party colleagues, that was a major shock.

Said Higgins yesterday: “Not once in the last months or the months before that will you find a word or sentence or letter or resolution from Clare Daly on the ULA in any democratic forum of the Socialist Party, or in private correspondence. It was stated out of the blue.

“The intensive discussions we had with Clare Daly was in relation to the damage to her reputation, and to that of the Socialist Party, because of a perception that we were soft on a developer who had serious tax evasion issues.”

Be that as it may, Daly has raised a pertinent point about the ULA. A similar movement in Greece, Syriza, has ratcheted up its support from 5 per cent in 2004 to almost 27 per cent in 2012 (albeit on the back of economic catastrophe). But the initial appeal of the ULA prior to 2011 has not been built upon since then. There were hopes that it could become a party but they have receded (and the Socialist Party seems coolest on this point). The ULA has no identifiable leader; its spokespeople are not really discernible; it hasn’t (ironically) been much of a united alliance on key messages and policies (beyond generalities). Perhaps it can take heart that Syriza too had to go through long fallow periods, splits, and fallings-out before progressing.

Of the other ULA members, Collins is politically close to Daly, and Richard Boyd Barrett will not object to her involvement as an individual, subject to her giving clarity on Wallace.

However, the Socialist Party has insisted that she severs her connections with Wallace, in essence laying down a precondition for her continued ULA membership that might cause a major political headache.