The dust has settled. The Irish electorate voted for change. Fine Gael (FG) and Labour (LAB) have formed a coalition government. Fianna Fáil (FF) and the Greens got a hammering. That are the facts. But what are the implications?
Let’s turn our attention first to the winners. Here is the new Taoiseach Enda Kenny (FG), a man who has taken his party from the political abyss of only 31 seats (the all time low) to where it is now in only 9years since he became party leader in 2002. The party managed under his leadership to increase the number of seats to 51 in 2007 and to 76 in 2011 (the all time high). An overall majority of 84 seats for FG had been a real possibility until few days before polling day. The pendulum then begun to swing towards Labour. The people apparently favoured a coalition over a one party government. Nonetheless this is a phenomenal achievement. Labour under Eamon Gilmore almost doubled its presence in parliament from 20 to 37 seats. What looks like a very respectable number might be viewed by many party supporters as a rather disappointing result under the present circumstances. Labour did not benefit to the same extent like for instance FG from the willingness of many voters to change their voting pattern. One reason for this might have been that Labour did not manage to present themselves as a real alternative with creditable policies on key issues like the economy and taxation. Sinn Féin (SF) took this approach much more successfully. Gerry Adams clearly distanced himself and his party, for which he stood for election in the republic for the first time, from all the other established parties. The promise to oppose any further recapitalisation of the broken Irish banking system without adequate burden sharing by the bondholders of those institutions was well received by the electorate. The number of seats for Sinn Féin went up from 4 to 14. The Socialist Party (SOC), People Before Profit (PBP) and an unusual large number of left leaning Independents have done equally well.
And the loser is: Fianna Fáil. The main government party of the last 14 years saw its share of seats plummeting from 78 to 20. This is without precedent in the history of the state. In Dublin’s 12 constituencies with a total number of seats of 47 only 1 FF TD (the former minister for finance Brian Lenihan) was returned to the new Dáil Éireann. He managed to hang on to his seat by his fingers tips. He got elected on the 5th count. I mention this just to put the result in some sort of context. The election of Micheál Martin as the new FF party leader days before the general elections might had limited the damage. That the Green Party was wiped out entirely is not more than a footnote.
Only time will provide answers to the following questions:
- Have the party preferences of voters shifted permanently?
- Does Fianna Fáil have a future in Irish politics?
- Will the Green Party dissolve itself just as the Progressive Democrats did in 2009?
- Will there be a reform of the electoral system with the aim to strengthen local government?
The new FG/LAB administration got a strong mandate from the Irish voters. To translate this into a strong government an equally strong opposition is needed. Lets hope both will emerge rather soon.