Commentary by Danaë LAZARI
On Friday 26th February, Irish citizens went to the polls to elect members of the 32nd Dáil Eireann (lower house of the Oireachtas – Irish legislature). Almost two weeks later, the results are in but a new government has yet to be formed.
The new Dáil will meet for the first time on Thursday 10th March. The TD’s (Irish MPs) to fill its 158 seats will come primarily from prominent parties Fine Gael (50 seats), Fianna Fáil (44 seats), Independents/Other (23 seats) and Sinn Féin (23 seats).
The election result made it clear that Irish citizens did not want the previous government returned, but has now created some rather awkward scenarios for the Irish political scene, first among them the difficulties that it has created in actually forming the government in the first place. Although looking at other possibilities, it now seems inevitable that historically opposing parties Fine Gael (FG) and Fianna Fáil (FF), who were vehemently against the possibility of governing as a coalition before the election, will have to do just that. Finance Minister Michael Noonan (FG) was the first minister to even suggest such talks may take place on the 8th March, just two days before the new Dáil sits for the first time. Former Taoiseach (PM) Enda Kenny (FG) has stated that he considers it unlikely that a new Taoiseach will be elected on Thursday, and that he doesn’t know how long it will take to form a new government.
Fianna Fáil had, in 2011, suffered the biggest loss of a governing party since the birth of the Irish Republic, due to their perceived gross negligence regarding the Irish economy, which sent the country spinning into recession. Fine Gael’s campaign urged citizens to vote to ‘keep the recovery going’ – the austerity-driven recovery that has indeed led to Ireland becoming one of the fastest growing economies in the EU this year. However the results belie a serious issue in Ireland – the recovery is not felt on a local level, and local politics still play a huge role in Irish politics. Labour had a huge loss of 30 seats, in part because they refused to clearly define their idealistic stance, and because they did not support the protest movements on water charges, seen by many as the austerity straw that broke the camel’s back, and triggering protests on a level previously unseen in Ireland. The excellent result for the Independence Alliance’s opening campaign also points to the fact that Irish people are looking for something new in their government.
This fact may be uncomfortable for people beyond those involved in trying to cobble a Dáil. Ireland has been lauded by EU institutions as one country which, by following prescribed austerity measures, was able to climb out of a deep recession to become the fastest growing economy in the EU this year. This result comes as a blow to those who would hold Ireland up as an example for other countries facing austerity measures.
More importantly for Ireland, the result shows a disconnect between what citizens want and what contemporary political parties can offer them, especially when it comes to left-wing politics. Labour, the traditional house of young, liberal-minded voters, failed to show a clear stance on important issues, and suffered for it, but these voters proved themselves a force to be reckoned with during the same-sex marriage referendum of 2015. Other parties similarly failed to show a clear vision for the future of Ireland. It will be interesting to see not only the form the new Dáil will take, but also the implications this result may have on the future of the entire Irish political scene.