Sunday, 23 January 2011

A Failed Fianna Fáil & an Irish Political Earthquake

The Republic of Ireland's Green Party today withdrew from Brian Cowen's Fianna Fáil led Coaltion Government,

It means that an election is imminent. We're probably looking at mid-February instead of the March 11th date announced by Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Cowen yesterday. He looked secure in his position when he won a party leadership secret ballot last week but a botched Cabinet reshuffle was rejected by their then Green partners and yesterday he announced that he would step down as Fianna Fáil's leader but would remain as Taoiseach until the election. Such an untenable position is extraordinary and all of this has precipitated today's pivotal decision.

Unless he dissolves Parliament tomorrow, he faces a vote of no confidence in his leadership on Tuesday. Without the Greens, his 2 seat majority has evaporated and he is likely to lose that vote in the Republic's Parliament, the Dáil Éireann (if it happens).

Fianna Fáil in Meltdown
The latest opinion polls show that the Republic of Ireland's long-serving governing party are on the verge of a historic meltdown. I don't use these words lightly.

As the Republic's finances has spiralled, and as the international financial bailout has led to swingeing public sector cuts, so have the governing party's opinion poll ratings. They were re-elected in May 2007 with 41.5% of the vote but in the latest Paddy Power Bookmakers Red C opinion poll on January 7th, they had slumped to just 14%. Fine Gael polled 35%, the Labour Party polled 21% and Sinn Féin polled 14%.

Fianna Fáil are tied, a month from a general election, in 3rd place, with Sinn Féin.

The Fall of Fianna Fáil?
This latest opinion poll points towards an electoral collapse for the party of Éamon de Valera, Jack Lynch and Bertie Ahern.

This is a party that first contested an election in June 1927 and instantly won 44 seats. It has never registered less than that figure in the ensuing 84 years. Indeed, between 1932 (when it first formed the government) and the present day, Fianna Fáil have won between 65 and 86 seats including a stunning 20 seat majority in a STV Proportional Representation election win in 1977 with over 50% of the vote (matching its achievement in 1938). Its lowest ever % total of the vote was the 26.2% it earned in that first election in June 1927. It has only polled less than 39% on election day on 4 times in its history.

The party has been in power for 53 years of its 84 year history and is the second most successful political party in the democratic world after the Swedish Social Democratic Party.

So an opinion poll that puts it in the low to mid teens weeks away from election day demonstrates how catasclysmic this election result could well prove to be.

The Alternatives? Fine Gael and the Labour Party
So if Ireland's top party are on the verge of an apocylyptic result, who is set to take advantage?

Well, the results show that it is the perennial 2nd party in Irish politics, Fine Gael who are set to capitalise. Unlike it's historic protaganist, it has never formed a single party government - only coalition governments, usually with the Labour Party. The reason for this? Because it has never polled, since it first stood in an election in 1937, more than Fianna Fáil. That's right readers - NEVER.

Its best result was in November 1982 when it won 70 seats, just 5 less than Fianna Fáil with its highest ever share of the vote at 39.2% - yes, the same 39% which Fianna Fáil have on only 4 occasions ever slipped under.

Only 9 years ago, back in 2002 when Bertie Aherne swept his way to re-election, Fine Gael 'collapsed' to just 22.5% of the vote and 31 seats - its worse performance since 1944. But under new leader Enda Kenny they won 51 seats with an extra 4.8% of the vote in 2007.

Now, with opinion poll ratings in the mid-30s, the Dáil Éireann's 'Father', its longest serving member Enda Kenny is now set to become the successor to Cowen as Taoiseach as the largest party in its history.

So who would Fine Gael partner-up with to form a stable government? It'll likely be their partners of old, the Labour Party. Back at the end of last year for the first time in their history, they led an opinion poll.

From its first election in 1922, it has fluctuated from a low of 7 seats in 1932 to a high of 33 in 1992. Led by Eamon Gilmore, they won 20 seats in the last election in 2007 with 10.1% of the vote. If they match on election day the state of the polls at present they are set for their best ever election result.

The Rise of Sinn Féin?
But keep a keen eye out on the IRA's political mouthpiece of old.

Sinn Féin are now the prominent Republican and nationalist party in Northern Irish politics but since the 1930s' due to their abstentionist policy, have been a bit part player in the Dáil Éireann. They currently only have 5 members but one of those was won in a sensational by-election result last year. Their 2007 result of 6.9% is likely to be smashed if their mid-teens opinion poll ratings transfer into polling booths votes on election day. With Arthur Morgan's retirement from Lough this year, Gerry Adams is also set to take his place to historically take a seat in Dublin.

A Historic Shift in Irish Politics
So, can Fianna Fáil fight back before election day? Maybe, but only if Cowen falls on his sword now and isn't seen to be the party's figurehead going into the election. The best I sense that they can hope for is to score 20% of the vote. They need to finish above Sinn Féin though this can't be guaranteed. It's likely to be a Fine Gael and Labour Party election win though the margins of which will determine the composition of the next government.

But whatever happens, it can be fair to say that this is going to be seismic. This result in some 4 weeks time is going to be a political earthquake. Do not underestimate what is about to happen.

Fine Gael have never been the top party in Irish politcs.
Labour have never looked so strong.
Sinn Féin  have never looked so ominous.
Fianna Fáil have never been so fragile.

The economic mire which the Republic has found itself in is going to result in unprecedented scenes next month. To what extent that will be will only be known on election night.


  1. Fascinating, thanks Mark, but not the end of the Civil War parties....

  2. Not the end of course but a historic realignment in Irish politics I feel could well be on the cards.

  3. Thanks for the mention of Paddy Power Mark - we are chuffed. Please get in touch.