A new dawn beckons in Irish politics. Voters on Friday will choose a new government, in the hope of dragging the country out of its economic doldrums. Fianna Fail, the ruling party, has controlled Ireland for most of the last 80 years but they're expected to be punished following the death of the Celtic Tiger. Anything can happen in this election, with independents and Sinn Fein hoping to make gains on Fianna Fail's spoils.
Irish voters go to the polls in the midst of a severe economic crisis on Friday 25 February, a date which could become a defining moment in Irish politics.
Since the EU and IMF (International Monetary Fund) financial bail out last November, most international observers have been surprised by how moderate the reaction of the Irish people has been, when faced with a crisis of such magnitude. The three weeks of the election campaign gave voters the opportunity to voice their anger, when candidates knocked on their doors. However, this anger was not displayed on the streets in the way demonstrations spilled into violence in Greece, a few years ago. The government was not toppled and its leader not taken to court, as in Iceland. Why are the Irish so measured in their reaction? According to the The Irish Times Economics Editor Dan O’Brien, "a weak infrastructure of dissent" explains this moderation or "passivity", which has charaterised Irish society since the birth of the Republic, in the 1920s. Ireland’s political landscape is not divided along the same lines Left and Right lines as in most continental European countries. Those at the top of society, bankers or politicians, have not paid a high price for their share of responsibility in the financial chaos. Perhaps this general election will trigger some change in the status quo.
The outgoing Fianna Fail party is in complete disarray. Opinion polls indicate two significant patterns . The centre right party Fine Gael is well ahead and poised to win this election with around 38% of the share of votes, and its leader Enda Kenny should be crowned Taoiseach (Prime Minister). Friday 25 February could also mark the start of a re-alignment of Irish politics.
The campaign was polarised by the EU and IMF bail out, which saved Ireland from bankrupcy but is seen as a "bad deal" for the country. The most popular politician in Ireland (42% of support) is Labour’s leader Eamon Gilmore, who has vowed to renegociate all the terms of the financial deal with Europe. For the first time in history, the Irish Labour party could become the second largest political force after this election (20%), well ahead of Fianna Fail (14%), in both votes and seats in the Dail (Assembly).
On the hard left, Gerry Adams may well enter the Irish parliament, while his party Sinn Féin (11%) may double its presence from 6 to 12 seats. Some radical left wing independents also have a chance to be elected. There were 11% "don’t knows" in the opinion poll carried out by Millward Brown Landsdowne for the Irish Independent, published Wednesday 23 February.
Programme prepared by Kate Williams, Marie Billon and Patrick Lovett