Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Ireland Votes: The Results

I was hoping to comment on this sooner, but I’ve been very busy the last few days. I wrote my Irish election guide last week and of course the election happened on Friday and results were pretty much finalised Monday. I was hoping to write big article covering the results but frankly Gael L’Hermine of the wonderful World Elections blog has posted a typically excellent analysis so go read that.

As for the outcome itself, Fine Gael and Labour were already making cooing noises at each other on Saturday, the animosity of the last year or so forgotten as it became clear that there was no reasonable alternative to a coalition between what are now the largest two parties. Fine Gael has almost twice as many seats as Labour though and as such this is going to be a very Fine Gael orientated government. Fine Gael did not achieve its aim of winning enough seats to form a single party government, but it has won enough seats that it will be clearly the senior partner in this coalition, and like the Lib Dems here Labour is bound to suffer in coalition (the party has always historically tended to be quite bad at being a junior coalition partner). The government will probably be formed quite quickly – Labour is holding a special conference on Saturday, and the new government will be anxious to kick caretaker Taoiseach Brian Cowen out and take their ministerial places.

Electorally there has been a revolution. Fianna Fail has suffered by far its worst result ever, whereas Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein all achieved record results. The Green Party was wiped out of parliament. My suspicion is it will return eventually, in some form or another.

There are several groups that may be the beginnings of new political parties. The United Left Alliance is the most obvious – achieving five seats, the ULA had a decent performance and will likely increase cooperation to the point of a merger into a new party, providing a home for left-of-Labour voters who dislike Sinn Fein’s Republicanism. Additionally a smattering of right-wing independents were elected on a broadly populist, economically liberal platform. They may choose to form a party to occupy the right-of-FG/FF space which has been vacant since the dissolution of the Progressive Democrats (one, Noel Grealish, is a former PD deputy leader).

My suspicion is that the new government will hold a constitutional convention. Firstly, because this is a key plank of Labour’s policy platform, secondly because Fine Gael is in broad agreement and thirdly because if FG gives Labour that then it is one less thing it has to give them elsewhere and constitutional conventions are cheap compared to social welfare or protection from taxes for the poor.

It remains to be seen what the long-term effects from this election will be, but my bet is that Irish politics will never be the same again.


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