The recent General Election was a very good one for Sinn Féin. We increased our number of TDs from 14 to One thing is clear: the after-math promises to be far more interesting than the insipid election campaign, a campaign defined by the monotony of the government’s ‘Keep the Recovery Going’ message. It may have resonated with the select few, but most reacted with an incredulous, ‘Are you for real?’
The employment figures may be up, but the people in jobs are still feeling the pinch eight years after the crash. Meanwhile, our public services appear to be getting worse. Most people – even those with private health insurance – have experienced the horror of watching a loved one on an A and E trolley. The opposition parties sensed that change in the public mood. Fianna Fáil, with its finger back on the public pulse, devised a set of policies that reflected people’s concerns.
To be fair, this wasn’t just Fianna Fáil focus-group politics. Micheál Martin, as comes across in his recent Village interview, does have a commitment to social justice and has steered the party to the left of Fine Gael. The ideological differences may be slight but they are discernible and make a coalition less likely. There are, of course, other mercenary reasons why the grand coalition may not happen. Fianna Fáil won the election.
It wasn’t a knock out, but it had/has Fine Gael on the ropes. A rematch at its time of choosing would suit it much better than it would a demoralised, soul-searching, Fine Gael party, which has fundamental problems. Inevitably, there will be a simplistic focus on the party leader. In post-election interviews pledges of allegiance to Enda from cabinet ministers have been noticeably absent or halfhearted. Big Phil, his protector in chief, is no longer around to sort out any of the renegades. The heave seems inevitable. Will it come to that? Or will it be a dignified resignation like Eamon Gilmore’s. The former Labour leader was treated mercilessly by Joan Burton who in turn will find her leadership questioned by the party faithful. The Labour Party’s mauling by the voters was entirely predictable.
Bleating on about having to make hard decisions doesn’t win you much sympathy, as the Greens discovered last time out. Labour calculated that, having lost the working class vote to Sinn Féin and left-leaning parties, it could count on the socially liberal middle classes for support. The fact is that abortion has been shown not to be a defining issue either way. Those who wanted to repeal the eight amendment didn’t get a tail wind, and those vehemently opposed to abortion, like Lucinda Creighton, were kicked out.
Likewise, the marriage referendum was seen as eaten bread. Fine Gael and all other parties had managed to appropriate that liberal space effectively – sure we’re all liberals now, some having got here a bit later than others – but who cares. Other electoral tactics back red. The political Banking Inquiry simply muddied the waters and showed that the last government had few options, and that the same pro-cyclical expansionary policies were advocated by all the parties.
The Green resurgence owes much to the hard work and unstinting optimism of Eamon Ryan. Not even his narrow loss in the European elections could stop his gallop, and indeed it proved to be a blessing in disguise. He and Catherine Martin are the dream team: a moderate, articulate and photogenic pair, who have the capacity to provide a platform for further green success. Like other newly elected candidates, the Greens will hope that another election won’t happen too soon. But the signs on that front are not good. The rejection of Eamon Ryan’s proposal for co-operation amongst the opposition parties means that the new dawn for Irish parliamentary democracy will have to wait.
Those who think that this election will result in a new Borgenesque Danish parliament of progressive legislators are delud-ing themselves. Instead, we may revert to the worst type of parish-pump horse-trading that the country has ever witnessed. We don’t have a Scandinavian list system; we have proportional representation with the single transferrable vote, an electoral system that has resulted in an array of independent political efs. Right now, shopping lists the length of your arm (in the case of the Healy Raes – the length of two arms) are being prepared for the highest bidder. It all promises to be unseemly and retrograde, and will be, perhaps, the best reflection of where we are as a nation in the centenary of 1916.