Fianna Fail back in government?

Friday, May 18th, 2007 by Kevin Teljeur

So to Tadhg’s second question, which was about Fianna Fail’s chances for re-election. First, have a read of this page about the workings of the centre piece of the Irish political system, the Dail (or parliament).
I think there’s an even chance that Fianna Fail won’t be back in government after the election. For those of you who don’t know how this works here, Ireland has the highest number of elected representatives per head of population compared to almost anywhere else in the world. There really are a lot of them, all well paid I might add, and several political parties; the main ones are Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour, Green Party, Sinn Fein, Progressive Democrats, Socialist Worker’s Party. Now you’ve seen Wikipedia’s possibly somewhat shaky take on who is who (or indeed what) in Irish politics (and some of those entries are a little suspect; the Progressive Democrats have a very plain and uninteresting entry for a party which has had a colourful and occasionally controversial role in recent Irish politics), have a look at the most recent election results.

Fianna Fail has been steadily declining in terms of support over the last few years, requiring more and more support from other parties to form a stable government. They’ve been in power for ten entire years at this point, which is quite a run. Their main opposition has been from Fine Gael, who got a solid hiding in the last election because the economy was doing well and everyone agreed that the un-charismatic, unimaginative Fine Gael were the last people that anyone wanted to see in power, presiding over the new-found wealth. Labour has remained steady, since they always have a reliable and steady number of civil servants and working-class voters to rely on for support. The Progressive Democrats started well, but since they took on the hot potatoes of the health service and justice, they’ve dropped down in poll ratings. Picking a charmless oaf for a party leader surely can’t have helped either. Sinn Fein have been steadily rising, since they do a lot of work on the ground to improve people’s lives and since the peace process in Northern Ireland went well, they can slowly start shaking off the label of being the political wing of the world’s most successful terrorist organisation. The Greens have been seeing the benefits of both becoming a better, more organised political party and also because environmental issues are now genuinely important in the eyes of many voters.

After ten years, some of the fundamental problems that affect Ireland still haven’t been solved, and with that the opposition parties have been able to make some remarkable promises to fix that, Issues such as health, transport, housing, crime… As I wrote before, although things in Ireland are good, they could be better, and if you work hard and pay out a lot of basic living expenses then you’re more sensitive to the idea that you’re money is being misspent by the State you pay taxes to. Fianna Fail is generally seen to be corrupt and beholden to various vested interests; I think Fine Gael have as much to answer for in that way as Fianna Fail, but because they’re in opposition and a much smaller party it doesn’t tend to get noticed as much. I think people are interested in the idea of someone else running the show for a term, interested in the (sometimes outrageous) promises of those parties to make changes.

At the start of the campaigning, I really thought Fianna Fail would get back in to power because it looked like people wouldn’t buy the idea that Fine Gael, together with Labour and perhaps the Greens as coalition partners, would make a credible alternative government. I wasn’t too despairing of the idea, since it looked unlikely that any coalition partner that Fianna Fail would need to take on to get a parliamentary majority (and so, power) would agree also to having the Progressive Democrats onboard, and that would likely have meant the Green Party as a coalition partner for Fianna Fail (since Labour – previously having partnered with Fianna Fail – had made a pre-election agreement with Fine Gael, and no-one will partner with Sine Fein). That actually looked good to me. In the past I’ve been very despairing of the electorate’s continual choice of Fianna Fail as majority party because of their association with corruption and bad policies, but I’m coming around to thinking that they might be the best of a bad lot; they have the experience to do the job, and I’ll explain later on what has me thinking that.

It’ll be Fine Gael with Labour and possibly the Green Party as the next government. There might on polling day be a sudden shift in the way people will vote, but it’s likely that Fianna Fail aren’t going to get the votes they need to get back into power with the Progressive Democrats alone, and the Progressive Democrats are going to be wiped out. And you know, I’m not even sure that a change in government is going to be a very good thing at this moment in time…

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