Now that an outline of the seats held after the Irish election and the make up of the next government have been discussed. Lastly, it is pertinent to discuss the meltdown and future of what was once the dominant force in Irish politics, Fianna Fáil.
How did a party that since 1932 managed to form nineteen governments and along the way craft Ireland’s current constitution, end this year going from 77 to 20 seats, with four short years as its longest period out of office.
What future, if any, is there for the party? There have been numerous accounts of Ireland’s rise and spectacular crash but perhaps the best is What went wrong in Ireland by Professor Patrick Honohan now governor of the Irish Central Bank. It was the property crash that burst in 2008 and took the country down, but it was tying, by way of wholesale bank guarantee, the vast debts of the reckless and incompetent banks who foresaw only rising property prices, to the large but manageable debts of the State, in addition to those of the banks that drew so much anger at the ballot box.
There has understandably been much talk that Irish politics would “never be the same again” and that the “era of Fianna Fáil dominance, which lasted for three-quarters of a century” was over. However, this does not mean that they will not be back in government in four or five years time. All it does mean is that they will not be as strong at the next election. As the author says, “Proportional representation saved Fianna Fáil from total obliteration but whether the party can survive as a serious political force is open to question. One thing is certain; it will never recover its place as the dominant party of power”.
As has been stated here before, “There is an argument in Labour for staying in opposition to try and build the party to a position where it would be a real contender to be the biggest party at the next election” this would mean Labour would be the biggest opposition party and that would allow FF to disintegrate and then be wiped out at the next election.
Noted academic Michael Marsh said that “Political Ireland is now largely a Fianna Fáil-free zone, but remains a long way short of a fundamental realignment of the party system”. He says that the recent election was about “vengeance” but people have short memories and a modern political is not possible until FF are wiped out and Labour take to the opposition benches along with a new electoral system. He does note however that “Fianna Fáil fell from 41.5 per cent of the vote in 2007 to just 17.4 per cent, effectively deserted by six of every 10 people who supported that party last time” as well as the interesting fact that “Proportionally, we would expect a party winning Fianna Fáil’s vote share to win 29 seats, so their total was nine fewer than this. We can often expect a smaller party to get no more than a small seat bonus but not that it would fall so short of an expected share”.
The reason for this he says is that the party ran too many candidates which split the vote as well as the party’s “failure to attract transfers”. He makes the point that “Three-quarters of all deputies are from the three parties who have dominated politics and government to date, but the relative size of these three is quite unlike anything we have seen before”.
A party that has controlled and dominated Irish politics partly because of its flexibility and lack of any clear ideology should be punished in the next election before any real political transformation in Ireland occurs. They are assisted however, by an electorate that simple voted against them this time, rather than for any one else.
It will be interesting to see if the party can rebuild itself from this, let’s hope it can’t.