Ireland is having an election on Friday

February 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

I hadn’t not noticed, but I have to admit that I did think I had a bit more time. Fortunately occasional contributor Chris Terry of Britain votes has written this fantastic guide over on his site.

I’d only add a couple of things – well four. One: I love the Irish Labour Party’s election broadcast

Two: FF vs FG. It might seem odd that Ireland has two major economically liberal centre right parties (there used to be 3 until the Progressive Democrats imploded), but –  as Chris says – the roots of this split go back a long way. To the decision as to whether to accept the 1922 peace offer from the British or keep fighting for full independence. They then formed the two sides of a bloody civil war. Even so one would think that 89 years after the fact, and 74 years after Ireland got full independence, one could let bygones be bygones.

The way I see it there are two main reasons this hasn’t happened. The first is that the question of Ulster is still very real to most Irish people in a way which we elsewhere don’t really appreciate. FG have always been seen to be softer on Ulster – FF more Republican.

Secondly, so many years of deeply entrenched partisanship (Dev only died – still in office – in 1973, and he handed over to Erskine Childers’ son, so the shadow of the war was long) have meant that FF and FG have developed very different constituencies. FF are still the party of those who backed them in the war: rural areas and such working class as there is in Ireland; likewise FG are still the party of those who stood by them in the war: the urban middle class. So whilst the policy is often similar, the offer is couched in the terms of benefits to different members of society. It has also influenced their policy and their language: FF are the nationalist, populist right; FG are the economic, material, and they would say rationalist right.

I had thought- as had others – that the collapse of the liberal right meant that there might be a détente, and FF and FG might finally decide to bury the hatchet and band together against the left. But there just isn’t a climate for that discussion yet – nor are the left strong enough to merit it.

Also the Republican movement’s roots in the socialism of James Connolly and Countess Markiewicz mean that FF still have strong links with the powerful Trade Union movement, despite their total lack of left wing policy for some 50 odd years. FF are a “Kings party”;  like the Pakistani PML, the Tunisian RCD, or the Armenian Republican Party, they are the party of the establishment and of the institutions. As such no matter how bad it gets they can’t disappear entirely.

Three: In fact I’m going to go out on a limb and make some predictions:

FF: trounced but not as badly as everyone assumed because they’re just too damn big – 35 seats

FG: 70 seats – any less would frankly be an embarrassment.

Labour: if they’re not going to do well this time they never will, and yet their campaign just doesn’t seem to have sparked – 30 seats

Sinn Fein: This could be where I get it totally wrong but my feeling is that love them or hate them (and there are plenty of good reasons for the latter) they’ve come along at just the right time with momentum (they were lucky in a way in that the Gerry Adams allegations were just so so so bad that they can’t really be used against him) and with a different offer – 20 seats

Greens: If ever anyone has screwed up how to be a junior coalition partner, this was it – 0 seats

Others – 11 which sounds high but its a fragmented election and with STV you do get a lot of independents.

Four: Events dear boy. Irish elections produce some real humdingers. Anyone who likes elections should read the amazing story of Mary Robinson’s stunning win from a position of being the considerably second choice candidate for a party barely holding on to third place. That all happened very late in the day: Flynn’s extraordinarily counterproductive outburst took place only three days before polling day – and (whilst I can’t find any polls) I imagine that Robinson only actually took the lead on the day before polling day or even the day itself.

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