General Election: First Impressions

Saturday 2pm. RTE is still working on exit polls and tally accounts but some things are clear. Fine Gael has performed poorly and Labour have performed very poorly. Fianna Fáil have performed well…clearly forgiven by the electorate. Sinn Féin have improved their position and overtaken Labour as the party of the “left” and they will take that as compensation for falling short of the total number of seats they had been expecting over the last eighteen months or so.

The “left” itself is pretty fractured…Sinn Féin and even Labour have the advantage of being better organised than the “AAA”, the ad-hoc anti-austerity alliance and mavericks.

Interesting to hear Pat Rabbitte, old Workers Party, Democratic Left “sticky” complain that there are too many inconsiderate “Trots” around.

Even for anti-partitionists, there is a sense of looking over the fence into the neighbours house. I really dont understand my SDLP friends who take sides to the extent that they do. I do understand the Sinn Féin rhetoric that they are a “32 county Party” but with two different jurisdictions, it is often risible. This is a Party that legislates for austerity in the north and opposes it in the south. Just look at the adverts for “VHI Private Health Insurance”.


Too soon to see the “fall-out”. I tend to regard Independents as a nuisance. And there are going to be a lot of Independents. The extent to which a government can be formed when the combined votes of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil wont reach fifty per cent of votes cast is problematic.

Even if it is numerically possible, it seems politically impossible. Fine Gael (certainly) and Fianna Fáil (probably) wont treat with Sinn Féin. And the lesson that Labour (today) like the British Liberal Democrats (last year) learned is that being the junior party in a coalition leads to electoral disaster.

The extent to which The Far Left (to use Pat Rabbitte’s phrase) and local advocates like the Healy-Rae brothers from County Kerry stay outside the Govvernment-Opposition model is going to be an increasing feature of Irish politics.

At this stage, there are reports that big hitters like Joan Burton (Labour) and Michael Noonan (Fine Gael) are “in trouble”. There will of course be people who win or lose the final seat by a few votes. All mandates are the same. It is better to nearly drown than nearly be saved.

The big losers today are Labour. Pat Rabbitte is bitter. And laughably talking about social democratic values and lecturing Róisín Shortall (who left to form the Social Democrats) and Joe Higgins, always a lefty outsider. A rump of maybe ten TDs is marginalised.

The Social Democrats (three TDs outgoing and maybe one or two more)….surely their best bet is to re-form with a chastened Labour. Likewise the other “new” parties like Re-Nua and Independent Alliance dont seem to have made any real inroads and and maybe need to make up their minds as to whether they see themselves as pressure groups, representing local or specific interests or whether they want to serve in Government.

Frankly , Fianna Fáil deserved the kicking they got in 2011. Frankly, Labour (and Fine Gael) deserve the kicking they are getting today. FF have recovered ….so Labour can take comfort that the Irish electorate are remarkably forgiving.

But overall, my impression is that Ireland is a country in transition. There will almost certainly be a minority government, sustained thru the goodwill of a “responsible” Opposition and in two years, there will be a new election.

Certainly the only way that a Government can be rewarded by the electorate is to do the right things in government or meet the electorate half way. Certainly we cant have a continuing situation where parties (Fianna Fáil and Greens in 2011 and Fine Gael and Labour today) get a beating from the electorate. But I think there is an onus on the assorted Independents. They will not continue to be voted into An Dáil just to be naysayers. They have to step up to the plate.

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