Ireland still lacks a government while parties and politicians jockey for power and try to form a viable coalition—funny how buses, trains, services and things keep muddling along in their more-or-less organized fashion nonetheless, isn’t it? In the meantime, the final results have been in since Saturday.
(Click on photo to enlarge.)
Shaker Phydeaux was asking for a description of the winning parties, and lo and behold, the Guardian has provided:
Fianna Fáil - which means "Soldiers of Destiny" - has been the dominant party in the Republic since the 1930s. Traditionally centre-left, it has been out of office for only three years since 1987. After the Social Democrats in Sweden, it can boast of being in power for longer than any other party in Europe. Since the late 1980s, however, it has been unable to form a majority government and has relied on a succession of coalition partners, usually the Progressive Democrats or Labour. During this election the finance minister, Brian Cowen, seen as a possible successor to Bertie Ahern, courted controversy by admitting that as a student he had smoked cannabis and "unlike President Clinton, I did inhale".
Fine Gael - the "Tribe of the Irish" - is a centre-right party. It was founded from the pro-treaty forces after the civil war. It has promised in its manifesto to put 2,000 more gardaí on the streets, to expand the number of acute beds in hospital by 2,300 and to lower tax rates.
The Labour party, led by Pat Rabbitte, has over the years moved away from its inner city, working class roots and become more middle class. The third largest party, it held 21 seats in the outgoing Dail, Ireland's parliament. Founded by James Connolly and James Larkin in 1912, its ministers have served in numerous coalition governments. It has never governed alone.
Formed by a pro-free-market faction of Fianna Fáil in the mid-1980s, the Progressive Democrats are numerically small but their ministers have been in successive coalition governments. Despite polling only 4% of first preference votes, the party has been highly influential. Claims credit for introducing the low level of corporation tax - now only 12.5% - that has fuelled Ireland's boom. Ireland's low tax, economic model is now envied by the UK's Conservative party.
[Sinn Fein] It is gathering support in inner city areas and has benefited from the power-sharing settlement in Northern Ireland. Despite the deal with Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist party, political parties in the Republic remain wary of sharing office with those they still think of as former gunmen.
[Greens] It has been gaining ground, blaming the lack of planning for the appearance of housing estates all over the country without the necessary supporting infrastructure and public transport. Ireland, the party maintains, is becoming more and more car dependent.
(Btw, Brian Cowan, of “spliff fame,” handily won back his seat.)
Before I start analyzing, I want to say how lucky I feel to have dual citizenship and so be able to experience what it’s like to vote in two very different types of democracies. It’s been very exciting and educational!
There are so many differences between the campaigns, elections, candidates and form of government here and in the US. The biggest, I’d say, is that unlike in American elections, where I’ve grown hardened over the years to expect no real choices—you know the drill, “hold your nose and vote for the least objectionable candidate”—here, I could cast my ballot for several candidates I actually supported. It’s not that the political spectrum is broader here—especially when you consider the current polarization between Democrats and Republicans. But its more nuanced. Labour and Greens, for example, both support an issue like recycling, but Green support is much stronger. One side-effect of these nuances is my standards are higher.
On that note, I celebrated a couple of victories in my district. Two out of my 6 preferences won: Green-Party TD, John Gormley (my first preference) and Labour-Party TD, Ruairi Quinn (preference 4). Considering that we had only 4 seats in my district, that’s means half of the candidates I supported won. Not bad—though it would’ve been a lot better if the Irish Labour Party had remained more faithful to its Leftist roots rather than evolving into the fearful, pandering, centrist party it is under the current leadership of Pat Rabbitte. (An unfortunate name for the leader of a political party if ever there was one.)
Looking at the pie-chart, you can see that Fianna Fail won the most seats, but the party remains 6 seats short of a ruling majority. Speculation is rife regarding who Bertie Ahern—the most-likely next prime-minister—will seek as coalition partners. While I was hoping for the Greens, most pundits seem to be leaning toward a coalition with the two remaining PD’s and several FF-inclined Independents. This option would represent a warmed-over version of the previous lackluster government.
On the other hand, Fine Gael opposition leader, Enda Kenny, still refuses to concede defeat! He’s holding out—and, presumably, negotiating like a madman behind closed doors—for a coalition between Fine Gael and pretty much every remaining party—plus or minus Sinn Fein. (Sinn Fein, as the most radically Left party, has yet to successfully shed its “IRA” associations.) Apparently, this sort of fragile coalition has governed twice in history, 1948-1951 and 1954-1957.
The pundits are billing the election a huge Fianna Fail victory—but, as you can see, the party actually lost one seat.
This “victory meme” stems back to the fact that former Prime Minister Bertie Ahern managed to pull the election out of the fire despite growing personal financial and tax scandals, which are once again back on the front pages.
In reality, Fine Gael was the real winner and only party to gain seats—19 overall. Likewise, the election was a repudiation of the small parties, of which only the Greens managed to hold steady and lose no seats.
As far as I’m concerned, the election’s biggest cause for celebration was TD and Minister of Justice, Michael McDowell’s defeat. As it came down to the wire, McDowell was in a tight race with John Gormley for the fourth seat in my district. McDowell’s downfall brought the total seats lost for his conservative Progressive Democratic Party—of which he was the head—to 6 seats! There’s talk of disbanding the party—to which I’d say, “Good riddance!” There again, there’s also talk, as I said above, of Fianna Fail bringing the two remaining PD’s into a coalition with several independents.
Another big differences between Ireland and the US is that the public discourse here is much more to the Left. I hate to say it, but a candidate like McDowell, who would be considered “Rightwing” here, could conceivably find himself in the Democratic Party in today’s America. McDowell is a fiscal, pro-business conservative, who John Gormley described recently as a “Thatcherite.” He’s ruthless, ambitious and truly scary when it comes to actions on immigration, refugees, and “law and order.” But he’s anything but Rightwing when it comes to key social issues that have become compulsory for GOP candidates.
For example, McDowell openly supports same-sex unions. (Not marriage, however.) While for all I know, this is motivated by a sense of social justice, his position is also determined by the larger EU environment. With a few notable exceptions (Poland and Latvia come to mind), the EU views gay rights as civil rights. Were McDowell to openly oppose gay rights, he could possibly win a Dail seat in a rural Irish constituency—and I even have doubts about that. But he’d be seen as an unelectable throwback in Dublin, and would never attain a position as powerful as Minister of Justice while promoting such views.
As for his scary side, there are numerous examples. One year after I arrived in Ireland, my sense of relief at being out of George Bush’s America was shattered when I learned that McDowell had just signed a treaty with the US that allowed for the extradition of Irish citizens to America on the mere suspicion of engaging in terrorism. (Article here.) A few months later, in December, 2005, McDowell slandered Leftwing journalist, Frank Connolly, while protected from legal prosecution by Dail privilege. (Details here.) The timing was no coincidence, either. Connolly, as director of the Centre for Public Inquiry, had just released a detailed report on Shell Oil’s actions in County Mayo that was highly critical of both Shell and the government.
I have no idea of McDowell’s stance on abortion. The issue remains a hot potato in Ireland.
One final huge difference between America and Ireland: candidates and TD’s are incredibly accessible. I’ve rubbed elbows with several at various street protests. John Gormley, for example, is a regular at Shell-to-Sea demonstrations. Likewise, Jerry Adams—who remains listed as a “suspected terrorists” by the American government—frequently shows up. At one Shell-to-Sea demo in front of the offices of the Dail, I was standing in a small crowd behind Adams. In a photo that appeared in the Irish Times the next day, my Shell-to-Sea sign was obscured by the Sinn Fein sign of a person in front of me, so it looked like I was holding a SF banner. Several co-workers at the investment bank where I work greeted me that day with knee-capping jokes. Despite my protestations to the contrary, I suspect some of them remain convinced (probably to this day) that I’m a SF supporter.
To end, this passage from the Guardian rings very true to me:
Enda Kenny has gained backing in the countryside, but Ireland is an increasingly urban nation with the capital ever more economically dominant. Dublin is represented by 47 TD’s, almost one-third of the total, and many more come from constituencies in Wicklow, Kildare and Meath where much of the population commutes into the city every day.
The election comes at time when the country's infrastructure has failed to keep pace with the sustained boom of the Celtic Tiger economy. Rapid population growth and new housing have placed severe strains on roads, schools, water supplies and hospitals.
Much of Ireland's success - it has the second highest GDP per capita in Europe - has been due to its low rate of corporation tax, at 12.5%. For decades a net benefactor of EU largesse, the Republic is expected to become a net contributor this year. Bertie Ahern, a strong supporter of the EU, has begun to campaign against EU plans for tax harmonisation. The speed of change in the Republic has been staggering: one-third of all houses in Ireland have been built in the past 10 years and the level of immigration over the same period has gone from virtually nil to 10% of the population.