Face of Irish socialism calls time on parliamentary career

Higgins has an extraordinary ability to craft witty turns of phrase delivered in the rich accent of the west Kerry Gaeltacht

Joe Higgins: “I have seen parties and some individuals oscillating wildly from the left into the camp of austerity”

Joe Higgins: “I have seen parties and some individuals oscillating wildly from the left into the camp of austerity”

Mon, Apr 28, 2014, 06:19

Although he has railed publicly and passionately against austerity, Joe Higgins has cut an austere and ascetic figure in his four decades in politics. He lives modestly, collects just half his Dáil salary and eschews individualism in favour of collectivism.

His persona is serious, but he has an extraordinary ability to craft witty turns of phrase delivered in the rich accent of the west Kerry Gaeltacht

Many disagree with the Marxist dogma but Higgins is widely respected as a person of the highest integrity.

The Dublin West TD, who will be 65 this year, was thinking of standing down from the Dáil at the end of this term. The unexpected resignation of independent socialist TD Patrick Nulty has brought that announcement forward two years however. The Socialist Pa rty, which Higgins was instrumental in founding, has a very good chance of winning the seat through Ruth Coppinger.

If she wins, it would lead to questions as to whether or not the party would run two candidates there in 2016. Higgins’s announcement will settle those questions.

Some have said that while effective, he did not have the same brio this term he had when he first entered the Dái l in 1997. He denies that: “I have not lost the appetite or energy for the fray. I refer anybody to contributions I have made in the Dá i l in this term. I ran the Facebook site . I am just as determined now as I was 30 or 40 years ago.”

Higgins, a fluent Irish speaker, was born in 1949 in Lispole in w est Kerry. He trained for the priesthood and it was as a seminarian in the US in the late 1960s and early 1970s, that he became radicalised. Back in Ireland, he began to teach English and French , at the same time becoming a leading member of the Militant Tendency within the Labour Party. He became a thorn in the side of the leadership, opposing coalition and many of the policy positions adopted. Higgins and 13 others, including Clare Daly, were expelled from the party in 1989 when Dick Spring was leader.

Higgins was elected to Dublin County Council in 1991 and later to Fingal . He was the leading figure in the protests against water and bin charges in the 1990s, and was sentenced to a month in prison for refusing to pay a fine. In the Dublin West byelection in 1996, he was narrowly defeated by Brian Lenihan junior.

The following year he won a seat he held until 2007. The disappointment of losing the seat was tempered by his success in the European elections in 2009. He regained the Dá i l seat in 2011.

Higgins has said he has never departed from his views or ideas: “I can see again and again parties like the Labour Party posing as a champion of working people when in opposition and then going into government and selling them out in the most callous fashion.

“We see it clearly with the issue of water tax. The party was opposed to it three years ago but the Labour Party is imposing water tax. We have always stood by our pledges to working-class people following on from our ideas to struggle to a changed society.

“I have seen parties and some individuals oscillating wildly from the left into the camp of austerity.”

He says his career highlights include his time as chairman of the Dublin anti-water tax campaign and his efforts for fair pay and work conditions on behalf of Irish-based Turkish workers of GAMA (they were awarded some €30 million in back pay following his intervention). He was also involved in many anti-war campaigns .

There were deep disappointments too including the loss of his seat in 2007, the resignation from the Socialist Party of Clare Daly, and the failure of the United Left Alliance. “Winning the EU parliament seat in 2009 was a massive achievement. To displace two sitting MEPs in the capital city was no mean feat.” Typically he defers to the collective saying, “No person or movement should revolve around one person.”