In an election where one can say that opposition reigned supreme, GE16 was representative of the anti-austerity mood festering in Ireland at present.
Fine Gael set out their stall as a modern day Robin Hood, claiming victory from a fictitious national recovery that many never saw. Ambushed by waxy posters reminding us of their good deeds at every bend in the road, glares from telephone polls telling us not to forgive and forget those who sent us into recession and ultimately stating that we are better off now than we ever were before.
They took their finger off the electorate's pulse it seems, the public was angry, very angry. Wipe out the Labour Party kinda angry. Over the last number of years, our new favourite pastime has become protesting. The coalition were safe in Dail Eireann then, laughing from their Ivory tower. On Friday, these parties were not so safe.
- Were Fine Gael Too Smug?
The problem with Enda Kenny’s coalition government was that most people did not accept its continual attacks on their living standards. Chronic cuts to public services like health care, a crisis in the provision of affordable housing and a steep rise in poverty and social inequality were seen as unacceptable. The Irish government’s austerity plan over the past few years was in part modelled on UK Conservative Party austerity budgets and electoral strategy, which the majority of British voters endorsed. Presumably, Enda Kenny thought that if it worked for Cameron, it could work for him. But after five regressive budgets in a row, and much more severe financial cuts to living standards in the Irish Republic than the UK, it seems that the electorate had had enough. The symbolic last straw for many voters was the government’s introduction of the Water Charge, which crystallised resistance against Kenny in much the same way the Poll Tax did against Margaret Thatcher.
- The Rise of the Independents
Election 2016 has seen a brand new political force break apart the two-party system of yonder years. The Independents have risen from a relative obscurity, becoming more than a bunch of lads standing on a corner of the high street handing out leaflets. The smaller parties (Social Democrats, People Before Profit, Anti-Austerity Alliance, and others) have now become major players in the Irish political battlefield, and their influence will now be seen in many constituencies.
Michael and Danny Healy-Rae romped home in their Kerry constituency, with Michael achieving the highest first preference vote in the country with a staggering 20,378 haul. Many joked that if a re-election was to happen in Ireland in the coming months that the Healy Rae's would be ready, prepping even more relations for TD spots.
- Fianna Fail Welcomed In From The Cold
Michael Martin's party have learned from their mistakes, well that's the party line anyway. The Fianna Fail leader oversaw a spectacular turnaround in fortunes for his party, left on the verge of collapse after a savaging in the 2011 poll.
After leading the campaign and strong performances in the leaders debates, the Cork man also dispelled any doubts from within his party over his leadership. However, the celebrations may be short-lived as he will now be forced to negotiate the deadly waters of government formation, and the possible unthinkable coalition with Fine Gael.
It seems the population wanted to change but were not very certain as to what type of change they wanted. Put another way, the electorate rejected the coalition government and politics of austerity, but the left, Sinn Fein or any other political party proved unable to channel this sense of dissatisfaction in any particular direction. The situation can be summed up thus: traditional politics is exhausted, we are at the end of a political cycle, but the direction of the future politics is yet to take shape. As yet, no political entity is able to give shape to or solidify, the idealism and appetite for political change.