I have lived in Ireland for the last 1,5 year and have started to explore cultural, social and political aspects of life in the West. I ended up in the most western part of the state, in the county of Galway which boasts with breath-taking landscape and Irish speaking people. However, the country which, in the last decade was labeled as the “Celtic Tiger” and used to be known for its fast growing economy, is now with severe economic challenges and political crisis. The failure of Fianna Fail, to avoid EU/IMF bailout has led to a preliminary election. This short diary is a reflection on my, non-Irish experience of the Irish election…
Parliamentary election day. Ireland has gone through a dramatic period of time. The Fianna Fail government negotiated (or accepted, depends who you talk to) an EU/IMF bailout which is generally considered as a bad deal among the Irish. Fianna Fail, one of the two major political parties, has held power for the last 14 years, historically opposed to the signature of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The main counterpart to Fianna Fail is Fine Gael, the party which was in favour of the agreement with the UK. This historical distinction is deeply rooted into voting patterns of the Irish people which from the first glance decide upon the two choices. However, this time it seems to be different. Labour might be an important factor in the formation of the future government with Fine Gael. The public opinion polls predict a major victory for Fine Gael, but there are two possible scenarios; Either Fine Gael can govern on its own or in a coalition with Labour. Having in mind that Fine Gael policies can be simplistically labelled as ‘rightist’, the single government might even be more conservative than the Fianna Fail one. On the other hand, a coalition with Labour could provide a certain balance as opposed to the rigorous policies of Fine Gael. At this point, it is hard to predict the result…
One of the most interesting players of this elections is Sinn Fein which leans more towards the left, but carries the baggage of political association with the IRA. The party leader, Gerry Adams, for the first time tries to get a seat in the Irish Dail. Adams, originally from the North, in this way tries to enter to the republican political arena. However, during the campaign it became pretty obvious that he is not familiar with the political reality in the Republic.
I count on a good success of the United Left Alliance which is a newly emerged political platform constituted of several left wing parties. The Socialist Party of Joe Higgins is one of them and Joe (who btw, stays in my memory as one of the politicians who was very visible opposing the Lisbon Treaty) hopes for a comeback in national politics after his experience as an MEP in the European Parliament.
Tomorrow is a counting day. Votes are distributed according to single transferable vote system which seems to be great fun. The voters give a preference to their candidates by numbering them. In this regard, the number 1 candidate is their first preference, but if he reaches the quota the remaining votes go to the candidate number 2. The same happens if a candidate is eliminated from the game; his votes go to the next candidate which was preferred by the voters. It basically looks a bit like a more complicated Eurovision song contest.
I’ll try to catch “the counting spirit” tomorrow in the Galway’s base: Leisure land. So far 70% of the people voted. What a great result, my compliments to the Irish voters!
Leisure land, Galway City
It is amazing, but people can actually participate in the whole counting process. Even better, people do participate and there is a certain excitement in the air. I stroll around the tables and check how people make their decisions. Interesting, it seems some of them have no political orientation. Fianna Fail supporters in general do not seem to like to support the candidates who are not associated with the party, so after my observation: no votes for “the others” J. It seems that the major battle will be for the 5th seat. I count on Catherine Connolly, non compromised Galway city councillor. However, there is a long night ahead before having the final results.
The candidates, their canvassers and family members are waiting and talking to people. The media is like a big brother: tracing every little detail. In some corners it is possible to notice some disappointment, the Greens seem to be one of the major losers of this year’s game. Going into bed with Fianna Fail did not particularly help them, but I hope for their comeback. There is need for green policies, not only in the Irish context but also in a global context…
The Galway West constituency still has not finished with the counting. Several candidates on different occasions requested a total recount. That means that approximately 57.000 votes have to be re-examined again and again. However, the main two names are known: Nolan Derek, the Labour candidate, 28 years old and the grandson of famous de Valera Eamon O’cuiv, a very experienced politician of Fianna Fail are elected. As predicted, the main problems are with the 5th post. This can be see as the main battle of this elections in Galway West. It is very hard to predict about the transfer of the remaining votes. I still count on Catherine. As mentioned before, she is a very uncompromising politician. In the past she was associated with Labour but decided to be independent after a dispute with the party leaders. I do see both Labour and Catherine in the Dail. This is a moment when different opinions can only positively contribute to the future of the country.
At this point, it is also known that there is most probably a coalition between Fine Gael and Labour.
The Irish Times has just published the news that Fine Gael and Labour reached the agreement to form a coalition. In the next days we will know what this de facto means. Catherine, in the Galway West constituency, lost the 5th seat because of 17 votes. In any case, the election were kind of historical. People did not choose their candidates according to Fianna Fail – Fine Gael lines but instead gave other opinions and political visions a fair chance.
I also have a positive take on the political campaigns. There was no presence of xenophobic voices even though the country faces a very difficult economic situation. Furthermore, the candidates were mostly very respectful to each other and there were no major populist elements in their campaigns or statements. That’s a part I definitely miss in other European countries. The future developments are a mystery, but that was definitely a good start for Irish politics.