With the Labour Party stalling at 5% or thereabouts in the national polls, its electoral future seems pretty bleak. However, desperate times call for desperate measures, which may explain the group’s decision to select Jack O’Connor, the current party chairman, as its candidate for the constituency of Wicklow. The former head of Ireland’s largest trade union, SIPTU, O’Connor gained notoriety as a staunch apologist for Labour’s entry into coalition government with Fine Gael in 2011. Indeed, as one of the highest paid union officials in the country during the depths of the post-Celtic Tiger recession, he became famous for his repeated claim that without Labour’s presence in the corridors of power the draconian austerity measures of the FG administration would have been far, far worse. This, of course, was an utterly spurious argument to make, as the inept party leader, Joan Burton, proved with her enthusiastic embrace of Troika-mandated austernomics during her time as Tánaiste.
Labour as a whole has yet to recover from its tarnished record as a junior partner in a decidedly right-wing government. The perception that its leadership from 2011 to 2016, including several high-flying refugees and their associates from the Democratic Left/Workers Party/Official Sinn Féin, was more interested in the “Mercs and perks” of high office than heralding in a socialist new dawn is firmly embedded in the collective imagination of the Irish general public. A perception Sinn Féin and other parties of the Left are only too happy to foster and exploit. The Labour Party has made a noose for its own neck and the tragicomic figure of Jack O’Connor is just another strand in that fatal electoral rope.