Irish General Elections Results – Will a Coalition Government Emerge by the Weekend?

The results of the Irish General Election, held on Friday 25th February, were generally in line with successive polls published in the months before the election. That is to say, a severe loss in support and seats in the Irish Dáil (Parliament) for the outgoing Government parties of Fianna Fáil and the Greens and gains for the main opposition parties of Fine Gael and Labour but also for Sinn Féin and the left with quite a few independents being elected also. The number of seats in the Dáil is 166. The election results for the 31st Dáil are given below; the numbers of seats lost or gained are given in brackets.

Fianna Fáil (FF): 20 (- 58). This can only be described as a nightmare outcome for the party which was in government for the last 14 years. They only received 17% of the first preference votes in comparison to almost 42 % in the last election in 2007 and had generally being getting percentages in the range of 40 % to 50% since their founding in 1927. The performance was particularly bad in the Dublin region (dropping form 19 seats to 1), and the party was left without representation for the first time in twenty five constituencies nationwide. The speculation is whether the party can ever recover to its previous levels from such a severe defeat.

Green Party (GP): 0 (-6). If this election result was a nightmare for Fianna Fáil it was a total disaster for their Coalition partners, the Greens, who lost all their Dáil representation.

Fine Gael (FG): 76 (+25). This makes FG the largest party in the Dáil with their leader Enda Kenny being effectively seen as the next Taoiseach (Premier). They, like FF, are a centre right party and many see little difference between the economic policies of the two. They received 36.1% of the vote. This is the most seats ever achieved by FG (or its predecessors), who only got 31 seats in the 2002 elections.

Labour: 37 (+17).  This was a considerable achievement for Labour (a centre left party) under the leadership of Eamon Gilmore. Both Labour and FG stood on their own policies, there was no pre-election pact but this result put Gilmore in a position to open negotiations with FG on a possible Coalition Government. Labour’s share of the first preference votes was 19.4%, a figure just about the same as they achieved in 1992 which resulted in 33 seats then.

Sinn Féin (SF): 14 (+9). This was a significant achievement for SF (left wing republican party) in increasing their representation in the Dáil to this level after setbacks in the last election. SF is of course in Government in the power sharing Executive of the Local Assembly in the North of Ireland. This result confirms that they are the only party who can make claim to be a truly all Ireland party.

United Left Alliance (ULA): 5 (+5). The ULA is composed of the Socialist Party and People before Profit and was launched last November. Joe Higgins MEP, leader of the Socialist party was one of two SP TDs elected.

Independents: 14 (+8). Quite a number of new independent TDs were elected, ranging from the right wing Shane Ross to some left wings ones and others who were more local constituency oriented.

 

Talks on Coalition

These are ongoing at present between teams of three each from FG and Labour led by their respective Deputy Leaders Michael Noonan and Joan Burton. There are significant differences between the parties on

  • Handling of the economy and the time scale to achieve targets, with Labour proposing extending targets from 2014 to 2016.
  • Cuts –Labour proposes an adjustment of €2 Billion less.
  • Spending versus Tax: FG wants most savings to come from lower Government spending. Labour wants equal amount of savings from lower spending and from  taxation
  • Income Tax: FG proposes no increase while Labour wants no increase only for those earning below €100,000
  • Health: FG wants to abolish the Health Services Executive while Labour would retain it but reduce numbers by 7,000.
  • Public Sector; FG would reduce numbers by 30,000 while Labour would restrict reduction to 18,000.
  • FG likely to sell of good semi-State companies who have an excellent performance and financial record (such as Electricity Supply Board and Bord Gáis) while Labour are opposed to the selling of key strategic State companies.
  • University and Third Level Education: FG would introduce a system where graduates would pay back a third of course costs while Labour is opposed to third level fees.
  •  Child Benefit: FG wants cuts of €250M while Labour oppose any reduction in child benefits
  • Bail Out: Labour called much more strongly for the IMF/ECB deal to be renegotiated.
  • Irish Language: FG would remove Irish as a core subject for Leaving Certificate while Labour would retain it.

Nothing it is said will be revealed until a full deal is brokered and to date there are no indications of the way negotiations are going. The acceptance of any agreement will be by the Parliamentary Party in the case of FG but in the case of Labour it must be agreed by a Special Conference of delegates from party branches and trade unions along with the Labour Parliamentary Party. The Special Conference is scheduled for next Sunday. However while an agreement is expected by the weekend this may not be the case and it may be postponed until early the following week.

There are strong calls from the left of the Labour party for Labour not to enter Government including from those on the left of the Trade Union movement such as Jimmy Kelly, leader of the UNITE trade union in the Republic. They have called for Labour to be the main opposition and to let FG form a minority Government based on what independent support it can garner. It seems unlikely they will be listened to by Eamon Gilmore at this juncture. There have even been suggestions the FG and FF come together (maybe not in a full coalition maybe but in some kind of support pact) leading finally to a Right/Left alignment in Irish politics. In light of the drubbing the electorate have given FF however this is very unlikely.

The Celtic League, whatever the likely outcome, reiterates its call that taxpayers should not be liable for the debts of the banks ( bondholders should be burned), renegotiation of the IMF/ECB agreement, restoration of Social Welfare and minimum wage cuts and  retention of the Irish language as a necessary subject for Leaving Certificate.

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