Next Friday Irish voters will be heading to the polls in an election that is expected to produce historical results. Fianna Fáil, a political party born out of the Republican movement is facing a humiliating defeat while its main opposition Fine Gael may receive enough votes for form government without the need of a coalition with the Labour Party for the first time.
While the results of Irish general elections often fail to make international headlines, this year it is different as next week will mark the first time Ireland has gone to the polls since its economic meltdown.
The major issue of the election has been the incumbent government’s decision last December to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Union for an €83 billion bailout. Ireland’s three major political parties (Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour) have spent the campaign trying to strike a balance between the harsh realities of what needs to be done to keep Ireland afloat and populist policy that minimises speeding cuts and increases in tax rates. Here is a brief rundown of the three major players in the election:
Fianna Fáil — The party was founded by Eamon de Valera in 1926 and has been a dominant force in Irish politics since. Fianna Fail has been in power since 1987 both as in majority governments and in coalition governments with the Greens and the Progressive Democrats. Both Labour and Fine Gael have accused Fianna Fáil of squandering Ireland’s economic boom during the 1990s and have attacked its handling of the banking crisis as well as its decision to turn to the IMF and EU last year.
The past year has seen the party embroiled in scandals ranging from Taoiseach Brian Cowen allegedly being drunk during a radio interview to Cowen being ousted as party leader by Michael Martin only weeks before the election. The latest polls published on Sunday shows Fianna Fáil is facing a humiliating defeat, trailing behind Fine Gael and Labour with 15 points.
Fine Gael — The roots of Fine Gael lie in the pro-Treaty side of the Irish Civil War, a movement founded by Michael Collins. The party was formed in 1933 and has traditionally formed coalition governments with the Labour Party. Its leader Enda Kenny has been at the helm since 2002 and has been criticised for failing to provide a more coherent critique of the Fianna Fáil -Greens government.
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After a humiliating defeat at the polls in 2002, it would appear that Ireland’s economic crisis is a major turning point for the party. Sunday’s polls suggest that Fine Gael may have enough support (Fine Gael is currently in front with 38%) to form its first government without the need of a coalition with Labour.
Labour — Due to the nature of Ireland’s political system (proportional representation) Labour has often been more of a coalition partner than a driving force in Irish politics. Like Fine Gael, Labour found itself experiencing a surge of popularity during Ireland’s economic crisis last year with opinion polls in July placing the party ahead of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil for the first time since the creation of the Republic. Last Sunday’s polls placed Labour behind Fine Gael with 20%.