After a fairly shrill election campaign, Ireland finally has a new government. The last counting was finally completed the other day, and the big winners are conservative Fine Gael, who look set to form a coalition government with Labour. Enda Kenny will be the new Taoiseach or Prime Minister.
Kenny is not blessed with much in the way of personal charisma – indeed, he is about as inspiring as a small piece of damp bread – but a majority in the Irish electorate feels that his party has the right policies to bring Ireland back from the brink of complete financial destruction. However, while Kenny and his party have a whole lot of ideas for what should have been done in 2010, the fact remains that it’s 2011 now, and the new Taoiseach will be thrown in to the deep end from day one. Primary among his challenges will be to find a solution for the 44,000 Irish households that are in arrears with their mortgages. If they all default at the same time, no amount of new banking guarantees will save the already faltering Irish banks.
But the big story of the election is of course the defeat of Fianna Fáil, architects of Ireland’s economic woes and prime purveyors of scandal – they have dropped to just 17 seats, and will have to endure life in opposition for the foreseeable future. Not even the new leader, Micheál Martin, who looked down upon the Irish electorate from his posters with a sad, apologetic little smile, was able to save the day for Fianna Fáil. While many rightly rejoice at the prospect of life without Fianna Fáil, perhaps such optimism is a bit premature. As a party, Fianna Fail has dominated Irish political life since independence, and has survived numerous epic scandals in the past. Perhaps it will take more than electoral wipe-out – I would be inclined to suggest garlic and crucifixes.
One of the more dramatic incidents during the election was the double defeat of Dick Roche, Fianna Fáil TD (MP) for County Wicklow. Upon hearing of his electoral defeat, Mr. Roche immediately demanded a recount. Roars of applause erupted as the second count was finished and Mr. Roche again came out the loser. As one voter put it, the most satisfying experience for him was to see Roche lose his seat not once, but twice in one election. However, Mr. Roche’s electoral agent, David Grant, was extremely put off by the cheers, and ominously told the Irish Independent:
“I think it was repugnant. The man has done great service for Wicklow for 27 years, it’s no way to go out. These people have short memories. People must remember that the wheel turns and Fianna Fail’s day will come back and some of those who are cheering here today will be on the receiving end of that another day.”
Perish the thought. It remains unsure whether we are to expect loud sneers of ‘nah-nah-nah-told-you’ from the Fianna Fáil camp if they ever win an election again, or whether something altogether more ominous is in store. But either way, it goes to show the amazing public relations skills of Fianna Fail.
Another major story in this election is the rise of Sinn Féin. Long excluded from mainstream political life due to IRA ties, Sinn Féin has now tripled its amount of seats in the Dáil. While the joke remains “Vote Sinn Féin – Or Else!!”, Sinn Fein´s radically different strategy to deal with the financial crisis – burning the bondholders, protecting the least affluent from further cuts – did win them many supporters. In fact, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams was himself elected as the representative for County Louth, an outcome that was greeted with loud applause in one end of the room and seriously stony faces in the other. Adams is a highly controversial figure, and his election victory has once again raised hard questions over his alleged former role as IRA commander.
Of course, the weeks and months ahead will show what the real outcome of this election will be. Will Fine Gael and their junior coalition partner Labour be able to succeed where Fianna Fáil failed so spectacularly and save Ireland from further financial catastrophes? How will Fianna Fáil deal with having to sit next to Sinn Féin on the opposition benches? Without wanting to tempt fate, one thing remains reasonably sure: we can’t be worse off than we were with Fianna Fáil and their jolly band of hooligans at the helm.