Public Affairs

Richard Boyd Barrett TD: Aiming for a left government

2024 will be defined by elections, and as Ireland approaches a general election in the next 12 months, People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett TD tells Joshua Murray that the party is “not ruling out” a formal coalition with Sinn Féin in order to form “the first left government in the history of the State”.

With four TDs in the current Dáil, People Before Profit may find itself in a position where it can partake in a left-wing coalition in the next Dáil. Boyd Barrett, who has been a Dún Laoghaire TD since 2011, says that what distinguishes People Before Profit from other left-wing parties is that it is “not interested in being in government for its own sake”. Instead, he says that “parliament can be used as a platform to build movements for change, but the main engines of change are the struggles of working people, or the trade union movement, and of social movements”.

Nevertheless, in the party’s March 2023 publication, The case for a left government: Getting rid of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the party has underscored its commitment to establishing a left-wing government via parliamentary process, with People Before Profit TDs committing to vote for Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald TD as Taoiseach in the next Dáil as long as Sinn Féin does not enter coalition with “either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil”.

Although Boyd Barrett has made this commitment, he is adamant that People Before Profit “would have certain red lines” in order to enter formal coalition with a party in the next election. He lists the creation of a state construction company, the establishment of an Irish national health service, and the implementation of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) on the State of Israel as among these red lines.

Expanding the state ‘key’ on housing and climate

Housing, having propelled left-wing parties to achieve a relatively unprecedented level of electoral success in 2020, continues to be the main challenge for the incumbent government. Boyd Barrett believes that People Before Profit has the best solutions for “radical transformation” of housing policy. On the Government’s Housing for All policy, he says:

“The problem with Housing for All is that it is more than 50 per cent dependent on the private sector to deliver housing. Of course, there is always going to be some private sector in housing, but the idea that we are going to depend on it to deliver public and affordable housing is insane.”

With the ESRI having argued that there is a need for a revised target for construction, the left-wing TD argues for an increased role for the State in the acquisition of land.

“Speculation on land values has been a huge contributor to driving up the cost of housing, the cost of rents, and has fuelled land hoarding by private developers and speculators.” He cites Finland as an example of where this has been done, arguing that the Nordic country has “been one of the few countries in Europe which has made real progress on homelessness” because “the state decides who can build and who has to contribute to providing public and affordable housing”.

“Tenants should have long-term security in private rented accommodation if they pay the rent and have done nothing wrong.”

Richard Boyd Barrett TD, People Before Profit

Other measures on housing which Boyd Barrett argues for include the introduction of “real rent controls which are linked to income”, rather than rent pressure zones which he asserts have “failed disastrously”.

“Tenants should have long-term security in private rented accommodation if they pay the rent and have done nothing wrong,” he says.

Boyd Barrett similarly believes that expansion of state control is the key to Ireland meeting its targets in the Climate Action Plan, of which he simultaneously describes the targets as “probably inadequate”.

“The apparently noble aspirations of the Climate Action Plan are contradicted by the overreliance on private developers to deliver renewable energy.”

The People Before Profit representative says that the planned expansion of offshore wind and green gases is “obviously the right thing to do”, but that the way it is being pursued by the Government is “hostage to fortune”, further arguing: “Our ability to develop renewable energy resources is dependent on profit-driven developers who may decide that it is profitable or may decide that it is not profitable.”

In tandem with this, Boyd Barrett argues, is the need to “remove the profit model” from public transport. “If you want to get people to into public transport, you cannot have a system where it is based on what is supposedly commercially viable or on whether private companies can make money,” the Dún Laoghaire TD says.

“If you want to reduce emissions from transport, what you need is free and frequent public transport and we have to wake up to the reality that that means that it is going to have to be subsidised.”

Support for Palestine

Boyd Barrett says that his interest in socialist politics – aside from a lifelong enthusiasm for punk music – was piqued by his experience working on an Israeli farm at the time of the First Palestinian Intifada in 1987.

Saying that he “travelled to Israel and arrived back from Palestine,” support for Palestine is a principle which Boyd Barrett describes as “very close to my heart”, saying that he was “inspired by the spirit of peaceful resistance among young Palestinian people” at the time of the 1987 Intifada.

At the time of print, at least 28,000 people, of which a majority are women and children, have been killed in Gaza from Israel’s latest bombardment and invasion of the Palestinian territory. Israel claims that its war is with Hamas following attacks on 7 October 2023.

Speaking one day after his party’s publication of a pamphlet entitled From the River to the Sea: The Struggle for Palestinian Liberation, Boyd Barrett is asked about People Before Profit’s support for the “dismantlement” of the Israeli state and its replacement with a “secular, democratic Palestine”, which rejects the two-state solution propagated by the Irish Government, the Palestinian Authority, and most of the international community.

On his vision for what he describes as “unification of all the people in the region”, he analogises: “There are very few people in Irish politics that would openly call for a two-state solution in Ireland. We understand that partition that engenders sectarianism is a problem that needs to be overcome.”

He adds: “We need to accept that it is a very legitimate debate to have as to whether a state which is based on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians since its inception and an apartheid system which has persecuted Palestinian people… has a right to exist.”

He clarifies that “it is important to counter the suggestion that somehow raising that suggestion is a statement of antisemitism”, arguing that “the opposite is the case”.

“For thousands of years, Muslim people, Jewish people, Christian people, and people of other and no faith lived in peace and harmony and co-existed across the [Middle East], and that includes in Palestine,” he says.

“The precondition for bringing peace to the region is to dismantle the apartheid regime.”

On the role he wishes to see played by Ireland in this regard, Boyd Barrett reiterates his call for the Israeli Ambassador to be expelled from Ireland, arguing that “Israel has to be made to pay a price” for what he states is a “genocide being committed [by Israel] in Gaza”.

(L-R) Richard Boyd Barrett TD, pictured with party colleagues Bríd Smith TD and Gerry Carroll MLA.

‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’

People Before Profit TDs faced criticism from government TDs after not applauding the contribution made to the Dáil by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in April 2022. Boyd Barrett rationalises this decision by asserting: “It is a mistake for the Ukrainian people for their government to hitch their wagon to the United States and NATO, particularly now when you look at what the US and other NATO members are doing in terms of supporting [Benjamin] Netanyahu and Israel’s horrific persecution of the Palestinian people.”

This critique of the government in Kyiv, however, does not translate into support for Russian president Vladimir Putin, whose actions in Ukraine the Dún Laoghaire TD describes as “disgraceful”. He adds that he would “like to see Putin overthrown by the Russian people”.

Looking at his world view more broadly, Boyd Barrett, who is generally perceived as People Before Profit’s senior figure for foreign affairs, says that there is a “really scary prospect” of “increased militarism”, citing the NATO alliance, as well as the increased power of Russia and China as examples of this.

“Our slogan has always been ‘neither Washington nor Moscow’, and in this age you could also add in Beijing,” he says.

Boyd Barrett believes that the United States is an “empire in decline,” outlining the dichotomy of the choice facing the American electorate between Joe Biden (who he refers to as ‘genocide Joe’ over his support of the Israeli siege of Gaza) and Donald Trump, saying that “radical change is needed in the United States”.

The solution to these global challenges, he believes, is “internationalism from below”. “We need an internationalist movement based on international solidarity and which is about using the resources currently being used for militarism and war to solve global challenges in housing, health, education, infrastructure, and tackling the climate crisis.”

A socialist Ireland and the left’s EU conundrum

On how this concept of internationalism from below can be applied in Ireland, Boyd Barrett, when asked about his position on the European Union, says he is “not a big fan” of the EU, but that “it would not be particularly useful for us to campaign to exit the European Union”.

Although his party campaigned in the North for the UK to leave the EU, Boyd Barrett reflects that Brexit “was not progressive” and “was based on very narrow nationalism and xenophobia”. His euroscepticism, however, is reflected in his views on austerity packages taken on by the Greek government in response to the EU debt crisis.

“If they [Greece] had made the decision to leave on a left-wing basis, then it would be a different story,” he says.

Invoking the prediction by James Connolly that the partition of Ireland would lead to a “carnival of reaction”, the socialist TD states that “partition has been a disaster” in Ireland, adding that there is a need for a “movement not just for, but of, a united Ireland”.

“We have seen signs of that in things like the movement for women’s rights being fought on an all-Ireland basis, as well as a common fight for social and affordable housing north and south.

“We want to challenge partition from below by building movements that unite working class people north and south,” he concludes.

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