By Joe Leary
Special to the BIR
DUBLIN – Foreclosures, higher taxes, higher health insurance costs, and huge pay cuts for most everyone over the last several years had created an Irish anger that demanded change, and right away. In addition to those woes, there was a broad disgust and a deep loss of pride at the government having to borrow from European banks to bail out Irish banks. On Feb. 25, Ireland’s voters complied resoundingly with the call for change and sent the former leaders of Fianna Fail into oblivion.
Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, most of his ministers, and fellow members of his party in the Irish parliament either did not run for re-election or were defeated in the national voting held last month. All the results were not in as this article was being written but it is safe to say that Fianna Fail, which had 72 seats in the last Irish Parliament, will have fewer than 20 seats in the new assembly -- a humiliating defeat by any measure.
The new government will be formed by a coalition of two parties, Fine Gael and Labour. Fine Gael will have the most seats and therefore its leader, Enda Kenny of Mayo, will become prime minister. Fine Gael will also control most of the ministerial positions, but Labour will be given its own ministers as a trade-off for their voting support in the Parliament.
The Irish people are betting that the newly elected politicians will do a much better job of it than the departing Fianna Fail group. That remains to be seen. The problems with the Irish economy are very difficult with the cost of running the government much higher than current revenue. And there is a real feeling in Ireland that the people will not stand for further cuts in services or higher taxes.
The election may have been more a vote in anger – a throw-the-bums-out vote rather than a result of any confidence that the new men and women will be able to provide solutions to the country’s difficulties.
As an example of this, Sinn Fein did well in this election and they are criticizing all three major parties – Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, and Labour – without detailing what they would do. This seems to appeal to young people, who traditionally support hopeful new voices. Gerry Adams, formerly a member of both the British Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly as well as president of Sinn Fein, resigned both seats. But because Northern Ireland citizens are considered citizens of the Republic, Adams decided to run for Dublin’s Parliament from the County of Louth just across the border. Not only did he win, but he also topped the ticket, coming in ahead of Fergus O’Dowd, the established favorite who was also elected and may become a Fine Gael minister.
Last year, Sinn Fein had only four seats in the former Parliament; the party is projected to win 13 seats in the new Parliament. This gain is a significant victory that will provide Sinn Fein with a much larger influence in national affairs.
In the recent Parliament, the Green Party, with six seats, was Fianna Fail’s partner. All its candidates were defeated in last month’s election, marking an end to the party’s influence, at least for the immediate future.
Combined, the new coalition of Fine Gael and Labour is projected (by the Irish Times) to have more than 110 seats in Parliament, well above the required majority of 83. By statute, the coalition’s term is five years, long enough to solidify its power unless some additional unforeseen calamity befalls Ireland. On the other hand, five years will give Fianna Fail time to repair its standing with the Irish people.
Since their basic philosophies are markedly different, there will be some severe disagreements between Fine Gael, which is well on the conservative side, and Labour, which is quite liberal. Running up to the election, they had many arguments and were only united in their mutual criticism of Fianna Fail.
But let us hope for the sake of Ireland that they will get along and be able to set the right course of action for themselves and for the country’s beleaguered citizens.
By Joe Leary