The Mostly True Guide to the Irish General Election
With General Election 2011 almost upon us, here’s a quick look at the options we will have on polling day.
Fianna Fáil (Irish for “Soldiers of Density”) has been the largest party in Dáil Éireann since 1932 but has recently taken huge steps towards abandoning this tradition. As the senior party in government, it has been blamed for the recent economic collapse. This is no doubt due to the party’s long-standing practice of appointing finance ministers with no background in economics. One of them, Bertie Ahern, famously had such a bad grasp of figures that he not only had no bank account, but kept finding substantial sums of money and couldn’t remember where they came from. His memory became so bad that he could no longer serve as finance minister and was eventually appointed Taoiseach, a post he held for almost 11 years before the economy collapsed and he remembered he had somewhere else to be. Ironically, his successor Brian Cowen is just a bad memory.
The newly appointed leader Micheál Martin has promised that under his leadership things will be very different from the government of which he was a senior member and unequivocal supporter for 13 years.
Fine Gael differs from Fianna Fáil on the single most important issue in Irish politics, namely whether to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. This has kept the two parties at loggerheads for over seventy years despite their being otherwise almost indistinguishable. Fine Gael gets to be in government whenever Fianna Fáil has done something particularly reprehensible (six times and counting).
The current leader of the party is Enda Kenny, a man whose popularity increases the less he is seen. He has stepped up his election campaign by going into hiding, a strategy which has him widely tipped to become the next Taoiseach.
differs from the two other major parties on fundamental and irreconcilable political principles. However, it has bravely put these principles aside and formed coalition governments with both of them on several occasions, and is likely to do so again. As it is the party of the poor and downtrodden, it is expected to do particularly well in the upcoming election.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore has no distinguishing features or policies, making him the most popular of all current party leaders.
Sinn Féin is the political and commercial wing of the IRA. As their policy when elected has traditionally been not to turn up for work they have little experience with real politics. All the other parties have ruled out going into coalition with them so there is no danger of any of their policies being enacted. This leaves them free to dream up all sorts of whimsical and impractical ideas, and they take full advantage of this freedom.
Their leader since 1983 is Gerry Adams, a man with a voice so beguiling it was declared illegal in two countries. For many years, Adams has insisted he is not a member of the IRA and has recently begun insisting that he is not the Baron of the Manor of Northstead.
The Green Party has had four years in government and their leader served as Minister for the Environment. Working tirelessly for environmental causes, they ensured that while Ireland dropped nine places from 35th to 44th on the Environmental Performance Index between 2008 and 2010, we still remained marginally ahead of Romania.
Green Party leader John Gormley is looking forward to spending a lot more time with his family following the election.
A combination of the PR-STV system and the incompetence, cronyism and corruption of the major political parties means that independent candidates often do well in Irish elections. They are likely to do especially well this year and any government formed is likely to depend on the support of several of them, so expect a lot of unnecessary roads, bridges, schools, velodromes etc. to be built in rural areas over the next five years.
There are a few other parties fielding candidates in this election. Likely, you’ve never heard of them and never will again but they’re included here for the sake of completeness:
Direct Democracy Ireland is campaigning on the basis that, if elected, they will let the people do all the work that we normally expect government to do. If they win a majority – or a large minority – of seats, we can expect a massive and radical overhaul of our political system. If they win a small number of seats, we can perhaps expect them to start using Twitter.
Fís Nua is another version of the Green Party that insists it’s not another version of the Green Party.
The United Left Alliance is a loose group of candidates from out of left field.
The Workers’ Party is a Marxist offshoot of Sinn Féin that you really don’t need to bother learning about.
So there you have it: those are your choices. The selection may not be quite what you’d like but it’s better than North Korea or Italy.
Remember, people fought and died to give you the right to vote, so make sure you honour their memory and turn out on the 25th of February – even if it’s just to draw crude genitalia all over the ballot paper. It still counts.
- Irish Politics: A Pre-Election Primer (crookedtimber.org)
- Fianna Fáil faces Irish election loss (guardian.co.uk)
- Election campaigns get under way in earnest – Irish Times (news.google.com)
- The Green Party: Farewell to second and third preferences… and fourth… and fifth… (cedarlounge.wordpress.com)
- Irish election favourite refuses to take part in TV debate (guardian.co.uk)