Sunday

16th Jun 2019

Opinion

Ireland's politics on the brink of a seismic shift

  • A Fine Gael-Labour coalition is probably the likeliest outcome of the Irish elections (Photo: Annie in Beziers)

As polling day arrives (25 February) in Ireland there is certainty about only one thing – Fianna Fail, the party of Eamon De Valera, which has governed for 61 of the last 79 years, is going to suffer the worst electoral defeat in its history.

Founded by De Valera as a response to the partition of Ireland by the 1921 Anglo-Irish treaty, every Fianna Fail leader except its current leader Micheal Martin has been Taoiseach. Languishing on 14% in the polls, well behind the Labour party and only marginally ahead of a resurgent Sinn Fein, even in its traditional strongholds in County Cork it is going to take a severe beating.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Fianna Fail's trouncing has long been inevitable as the country's debt ballooned following the financial crisis, while its budget deficit grew to a whopping 36 percent following the collapse of its banking sector in November 2010 and subsequent €80bn bail-out by the EU.

Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen was a beleaguered figure throughout 2009 and 2010 and stood down last month after Martin challenged him for the party leadership. Nonetheless, while the government is tired and discredited Fianna Fail's position as the 'natural party of government' is as distinctive in the Republic as the Catholic Church.

So who will step into the breach? Fianna Fail's traditional rivals Fine Gael, a party with a more free-market approach than Fianna Fail's essentially ideology-free pragmatic politics, is on around 35 percent and likely to win 70-75 seats in the Dail, a performance that would see it comfortably the largest party but short of a majority. While Cowen's party had introduced a second brutal austerity budget in a bid to cut Ireland's deficit, Fine Gael and their leader, Enda Kenny, are offering similar but even harsher tasting medicine.

On the other side, the Labour party is expecting to perform well, although its poll ratings have fallen from around 30 percent to 20 percent over the last six months. Even so, if they can win 40 seats and beat Fianna Fail into third place, it will be the party's best performance since partition.

With Fianna Fail so unpopular and discredited as to make a coalition with Fine Gael almost unthinkable, Labour could well find itself as king-maker – balancing the right-wing instincts of Fine Gael to create a more centrist government. Moreover, in Eamon Gilmore, Labour have the most popular leader in Irish politics. They have campaigned on a ticket to re-negotiate the terms of the bail-out, which carried very high interest rates of around seven percent, and to reduce Ireland's budget deficit to three percent by 2016 rather than the 2014 promised by Fine Gael.

A Fine Gael-Labour coalition is probably the likeliest outcome, despite their distinct ideological differences. At a time of massive political and economic upheaval, stability is what the Irish people will probably vote for. A Fine Gael-Labour government would have a commanding majority in the Dail, while Labour's presence would calm the concerns of those who fear that Fine Gael are promising more economic and social hardship than necessary.

However, one of the shocks of the election is expected to be the return to prominence of Sinn Fein in the Irish Republic's politics. Standing on just over 10 percent, Sinn Fein are expecting their best performance in the Dail since the end of British rule.

Gerry Adams, the former IRA leader and grand old man of Northern Irish politics, will almost certainly become an MP in the Republic rather than the north of Ireland. Meanwhile, the Green party, long-time coalition partners with Fianna Fail are looking at the possibility of being completely wiped out.

The question is whether this election marks a seismic shift in Irish politics. Will it usher in a new era where politics is dominated by Fine Gael and Labour representing the mainstream right and left, or will the political machine that is Fianna Fail be able to recover quickly?

If its core vote holds up in a time of turmoil, the Fianna Fail machine may yet survive. Meanwhile, though they have always been the second party in Irish politics, Fine Gael governments have not got a great track record in government. If they are put in the position of governing alone in a time of crisis, and enact more savage cuts to public spending and wages, their popularity will plummet just as Fianna Fail's has.

Ben Fox is a political adviser to the Socialists and Democrats group's vice-chairman of the European Parliament's economic and monetary affairs committee.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Catalonia MEPs are a judicial, not political, issue

Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comin currently live outside Spain. They were prosecuted for the serious crimes, and they have fled justice. It is not possible to judge in absentia in Spain, where the justice system protects the rights of defendants.

Letter

MDIF responds to Orban criticism

In his response, Dr Zoltan Kovacs does not even try to refute my main point about Hungary: that most Hungarian news media have been captured by the state, and that this anti-democratic trend is spreading across Eastern Europe.

Letter

Right of reply from the Hungarian government

A right of reply on behalf of the Hungarian government to the opinion piece "Orban-style 'media capture' is spreading across Europe" published on 6 June.

EU report recognises Albania's achievements

Albania currently faces a serious crisis, which it would be foolish for all actors in the international community to ignore. Yet we must ask that our partners in Europe read Federica Mogherini's report carefully and recognise accomplishments.

'A Europe that protects': what does that actually mean?

Current challenges to the rule of law, an independent civil society, and the equal treatment of minorities are just as much in need of tackling as are the challenges of globalisation, migration, and digitalisation.

News in Brief

  1. EU plans to restructure eurozone bonds
  2. EU ups US imports in beef deal
  3. Unicef: UK among 'least family-friendly' in Europe
  4. Czech PM: No joint 'V4' candidate in commission race
  5. Johnson tops first round to replace May, three eliminated
  6. Bratislava will host new European Labour Authority
  7. Juncker cautions against further climate goals
  8. Study: Counterfeit medicine is a 'growing threat' in EU

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. 'Russian sources' targeted EU elections with disinformation
  2. Top EU jobs summit dominates This WEEK
  3. EP parties planning 'coalition agenda' ahead of jobs summit
  4. MEP blasts Portugal over football whistleblower
  5. Catalonia MEPs are a judicial, not political, issue
  6. Meet the lawyer taking the EU migration policy to the ICC
  7. Europe's oil supplies 'at risk' after tanker attacks
  8. EU paths fork for Albania and North Macedonia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us