A new Ireland

As the centre-right takes control of the Irish government, the country's voters seem to have shown that they are no longer looking to the past to dictate their political loyalties.


    The result of the Irish General election was predictable.  The electorate's anger at the country's financial crisis runs deep and wide – and it was always likely to take revenge on the largest political party in the last government, Fianna Fail (Soldiers of Destiny is the English translation from the Gaelic).

    For two years  the opinion polls predicted that the movement which considered itself the natural party of government in the republic would take a beating.  And it did.  At the time of writing, it's facing its worst ever election result – it is likely to be only the third biggest party in government – it has lost high profile figures and been routed in areas considered to be natural strongholds.

    One Fianna Fail supporter told me "It could have been worse", a reference to the party's decision to ditch Brian Cowen – the now former prime minister – as leader just weeks before the poll. 

    "If he had stayed, we would have won less than half the seats we've got now."

    What Ireland does have is a government which will be led by Fine Gael – a centre-right party led by Enda Kenny.  To create a stable coalition government, he has to go on the hunt for partners.  Independents have never done better in Irish elections – a symptom of the deep disillusionment with tradition parties.  But the problem with Independents is that – well they're independent.  Keeping them in line in government is difficult and many have been elected on platforms of such variety, that fashioning a programme for government that suits everyone is increasingly difficult.

    And so – Mr Kenny is likely to turn to the centre left Irish Labour Party which has had its best ever result in an Irish general election.  Its leader, Eamon Gilmour is well liked and highly respected.  He says he's open to discussions to create a deal which will get Ireland through the next five years – but there has to be an agreement within a week given the country's terrible financial state.

    That will be Enda Kenny's first challenge.  He says he will renegotiate the deal agreed with the EU and IMF to bail the country out at the end of the last year.  He thinks the terms are too punishing and need to be looked at again.

    One veteran of the Irish political scene told me there is wide spread pessimism the result will do anything for the ordinary people across Ireland.  "We all knew Fianna Fail would lose, but the situation is so dire there is little that any new government can do in the short term to make things better."

    What has changed through this election is the face of Irish politics. For too long it has been dominated by the divisions of the Civil War in the 1920s.   Fine Gael and Fianna Fail were formed out of opposite sides in the conflict which split the country in its attitudes to a 1921 treaty with the British. 

    The bitterness from that split exists to this day in many communities.  The growth of the Labour Party shows that the two main parties can no longer take their support for granted. The Green Party, part of the last coalition, was wiped out losing all six MPs including two ministers.  And the republican socialists of  Sinn Fein – so often linked to the Provisional IRA and its armed campaign to create a United Ireland – produced its best showing.

    Ireland faces great changes because of the financial crisis.  It has also brought dramatic changes to the political landscape.  Traditional loyalties can no longer guarantee votes, positions taken 90 years ago mean nothing in a modern, mature political democracy.  No longer is Ireland making decisions on events of the past but, instead, it is looking at what is being promised for the future.


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