March 31, 2016
Irish voters may have shot themselves in the foot in the Parliamentary election in late February. In the wake of the catastrophic recession of the last decade, Ireland seems to be confused about which of its political parties and which of its politicians it wants to lead the country into its immediate future.
They have not chosen a workable government and it may be necessary to vote again in a month or two if a major compromise cannot be achieved by the hodgepodge of political parties and independents who were elected.
Fine Gael, the leading and controlling party over these past five years, had instituted severe cutbacks in salaries, pensions and increased a wide array of fees in order to create free revenue to pay back the German bankers who had loaned the Irish government the funds to operate during the terrible years. It was known as the austerity program.
Fine Gael and their coalition partners, the Labour Party, paid an awful price in the February voting. Together they had approximately 110 seats in the Dail (as the Parliament is known). In the election, Fine Gael was reduced to 50 seats (from 76) and Labour catastrophically was reduced to 7 seats (from 37).
With the effects of the depression still being felt five years ago, the ruling party at the time – Fianna Fail - was reduced to less than half of its members in the 2011 elections and thought to be finished as a major party for many years. But no, they made a dramatic comeback this winter and elected 44 of its members to the new Dail.
Much to the consternation of many existing politicians and a large portion of Dublin’s aristocracy, Sinn Fein elected 23 members and is now the third major party in the Republic. They are also the only all Ireland North/South party. Additionally, many voters seemed to reject the larger parties to vote for independent, nonaffiliated candidates (23 of them) or a group of smaller parties.
The problem is that as of this writing, no party or apparent coalition of parties seems capable of mustering enough votes in the Dail to form a government, leaving Ireland temporarily governed by caretakers. Never a healthy plan.
The leaders of both Fine Gael, the former and now acting prime minister, Enda Kenny. and Fianna Fail, with its the newly rejuvenated leader, Micheal Martin, are fiercely attempting to form coalitions to become the ruling party.
Both are making deals, issuing new policies, and promising whatever it takes to obtain votes. If neither is successful, a new election will be necessary. The shame of it is that we are entering the month of April when Ireland will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rebellion, which began the sequence of events that led to complete independence and the final separation from its neighbor.
The celebration will take place, of course, but if a government has not been formed by April 24, it will be led by caretakers. Even if a government is formed, it will be via a patchwork of promises and uncomfortable deals. The voters have made sure of that.
Right now the men and women leading their parties are changing what they said during the run-up to the election. Things they said they would never do they are moving toward with great speed. It will be interesting to see who wins. Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have insisted they will never enter in a government with Sinn Fein, so that leaves compromise with each other and efforts to recruit the smaller parties and the 23 independents that the Irish seem to have fallen in love with lately.
Unfortunately for the outgoing government, less than two weeks after the election Ireland’s Central Statistics Office announced that the country had returned to its boom years. Growth rates were at their best levels in 15 years. And it was broad based, covering several segments of the economy. The economy expanded by more than 9 percent in the fourth quarter of last year and by 7.8 percent for the full year 2015.
That certainly would have been good news for the voters, and it may have prevented the current situation.