This year’s election has been many things; overwhelming, confusing, long and, ultimately, deleterious to the belief that democracy has any hope whatsoever. OK, that’s a little grandiose. A better way of putting it would be tos ay that it was more of the same, and a lot more of it than we liked. We’ve already given a sort of digest of this year’s activities here, but for some more specific conclusions read on, as we give you our lessons learned from Election ’16.
Knives Are Being Sharpened Within Labour And Fine Gael
The coalition partners were, obviously, the big losers on the day and recriminations from within the party are starting to bubble up past the surface and into some rather poisonous looking clouds above Leinster House. Alan Shatter has seized headlines by being particularly forthright in his position on the electoral strategy, telling RTE’s Sean O’Rourke that Leo Varadkar, in particular, was at fault for his part in the proceedings, as transcribed by theJournal.ie:
“It is quite bizarre that you had three senior cabinet ministers involved in, for practically a year, running committees, to work out where the strategy went,” Shatter said.
“Frances [FitzGerald] would have been chairperson of the strategy committee; Leo [Varadkar] on – God help us – the communications committee, because the communications were a disaster”
Other members have also been quick to stick the boot into party HQ, with most saying decisions were made centrally and never passed down the chain to the outer levels. Having said all that, it really must be remembered that the party were still the most popular in the country, with 50 seats.
Meanwhile, Labour seem altogether more disappointed than angry, with numerous members within the party justly humiliated by the extraordinary demolition of their place in the Dail. They did eventually retain a seventh, and with it the group status that bestows parliamentary speaking privileges, but just a week ago they had 37 seats, making this their worst electoral performance in 104 years.
Given all this depression, a little ebullience is to be desired, but we can’t help thinking that triumphant Willie Penrose’s claim upon victory, that “Labour is back” may have been slightly over-egging the pudding, and the less said about power-mad Alan Kelly’s celebrations, the better.
Sinn Fein Are Quietly Making A Real Go Of It
Among all the Sturm und Drang of disappointments, it’s worth noting that Sinn Fein have kept their heads down and recorded yet another consistent, sure-footed increase in visibility, credibility, and perceived electability. Mounting political – and eventually quite personal – attacks from all of their opponents didn’t seem to dent their support base, and actually appeared to damage the reputations of those throwing stones. Throughout the election, Sinn Fein positioned themselves as unwilling to go into government unless they were the largest party, meaning they could position themselves entirely as an opposition party. Their 23 seats place them very much at the top table of Irish politics.
Some Aspects Of This Election Were Exciting, Even Positive
While many are despondent with the fact that the two oldest and most established parties appear to have found themselves right back at the top of the tree once more, the success of Independents could be called the real story of this election, with their 23 seats in the Dail bettered only by those top two. Many of these independents were spurred on by single issues or campaigns, which can shed a light on the state of the nation as we now sit.
Firstly, with the growing rumblings that Irish Water may actually be put to bed, it would appear that mass demonstrations have put some fear of God into a political structure which have always shown themselves utterly unbothered by political activism. Whether the costly dismantling of the entire system is right, wrong or even feasible, this conversation does feel like a sea change in how these issues are tackled by traditionally aloof and detached political elites, who appear to have finally realised how poorly they’ve misjudged public opinion in this regard. Whether this will fold outward into a broader discussion of austerity generally remains to be seen.
It also looks very much like Ireland is ready to have an adult conversation about its draconian and restrictive abortion laws, currently rated among the worst in Europe by numerous internal and external watchdogs. With a few exceptions, single-issue (or strongly outspoken) pro-life candidates did not fare well in this election, meaning we could be shaping up for a step into the 21st century for reproductive rights in Ireland. This should also give confidence to those pushing for other social advancements, such as the removal of Special Status for Catholic schools.
We May Have To Do This All Over Again Very Soon
And finally, if you simply cannot face having to go back to the sham and drudgery of ordinary, boring, everyday politics, then never worry! Some believe the showbiz-for-ugly-people glitz and glamour of election-time may well be coming back to a migraine near you soon. Alan Shatter – he of no sour grapes at all, no siree – believes there will be another election within 18 months, should a prospective government fail to assert itself, and Bertie Ahern, Pat Rabbite and Nora Owen agreed. Such an event is not unprecedented, but would more than likely give a large benefit to established parties rather than the huge numbers of independents and smaller parties, few of whom may be capable of mounting another long, expensive and grueling campaign so soon after this one.
The upturn of this is that we may well see numbers for independents plummet, and go up for the major parties. All of which begs the question; what exactly is the incentive for these two parties – who have barely a wet rizla between them in fiscal, social or environmental policy - to form a working, meaningful coalition? We’ll be watching this with, well, not interest so much as slack-jawed horror, but we’ll be watching it nonetheless.