The Irish political landscape fascinates me. In the seven years I have lived in this country I have witnessed the mass emigration of Irish people, a banking collapse and subsequent government bailout, the loss of state sovereignty and the painful rigours of austerity in its harshest forms. I also witnessed the most remarkable general election in 2011, where one of Europe’s most successful political parties, Fianna Fáil, was obliterated in Dublin and reduced to a rump of 20 TD’s nationally. The Irish electorate had well and truly spoken.
By any stretch of the imagination, Fianna Fáil’s disgraceful mismanagement of the Irish economy should have the party consigned to opposition for the foreseeable future, ‘indefinitely’ some would argue.
But this is Ireland. We do things differently here…
It seems like an eternity ago that I witnessed under the leadership of Brian Cowen the most inept government in the history of the Irish state. Stumbling from one crisis to the next, often self-inflicted. Sitting around the government table with Cowen was current Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. A man with a thankless and near impossible task in attempting to resurrect the party.
Yet Easter has come early this year. Quite unbelievably, Fianna Fáil could be on the verge of forming a government just five years after driving the economy over a fiscal cliff. That is some resurrection!
How is this possible? In the United States or the UK, economic credibility is the issue that swings elections. Why doesn’t Bill Clinton’s mantra “It’s the economy stupid” apply here?
This is Ireland… We do things differently here.
Tribalism is still endemic here in Ireland. Though I spoke to many elderly voters in 2011 who, after voting for Fianna Fáil for 40-50 years, went elsewhere, are slowly drifting back. They have become the ‘silent Tories’ of Ireland still ashamed to publicly admit their return to form.
Nevertheless, Micheál Martin has played a ‘political blinder’ during this election campaign. A strong debater his appearances on TV have been solid and he has gained much respect across all strata’s of the Irish electorate. In fact in the most recent Irish Times poll (22nd February) he is the most popular political leader in Ireland with his ratings hitting 35% (up 8% since the last poll). Of significance here is that he is making Fianna Fáil transfer friendly in Ireland’s proportional election system. They seem set to pick up extra seats throughout the country.
The ‘all forgiving’ Irish electorate may well work their magic again. They’ve forgiven Fianna Fáil for corruption scandals and economic recessions before. With them sitting on 23% in the polls and climbing, they may well be in a position to enter discussions with other party’s or independents to form the next government.
A remarkable turnaround or a case of mass collective amnesia? Who knows?
Yes, this election is a mandate on the government, but it will also be a lasting indicator of the Irish electorate and their love affair with Fianna Fáil.
Picture via journal.ie