Tag Archives: Fine Gael

Ireland avoids snap elections … for now

The resignation of Irish Tánaiste (Deputy PM) Frances Mary Fitzgerald has averted a pre-Christmas election in the Republic, but has increased the certainty of a poll in 2018.

The already precarious confidence-and-supply agreement between Fine Gael Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and coalition partners Fianna Fáil “may survive another few months, but make no mistake: the election countdown is now on,” The Irish Times wrote in an editorial.

The Times turned its harshest fire on Varadkar, saying the political showdown “provided the first real test of his judgment as taoiseach, and he failed it … [he] allowed his stock to diminish inside and outside his party.”

Leo Varadkar (From Evening Standard/PA Images.)

Political problems mount on both sides of Irish border

Political turmoil is growing on the island of Ireland. Each new development complicates the other. Here’s a quick summary:

  • The minority government coalition in the Republic of Ireland is on the verge of collapse. The opposition Fianna Fail party is threatening to break the three-year deal it made with the Fine Gael party just 18 months ago. A dispute over a police whistleblower case is the surface reason, but don’t be fooled: this arranged marriage was rocky from the start. If  Fianna Fail walks, Irish voters may have to trudge to the polls before Christmas.
  • As Reuters reports, this crisis comes three weeks ahead of a European Union summit in which the Irish government has an effective veto on whether Britain’s talks on leaving the bloc (Brexit) meet the Republic’s concerns about the future of the border with Northern Ireland. A weakened Irish government means less power at the bargaining table.
  • In Northern Ireland, the power-sharing Assembly has been suspended since January, when the nationalist Sinn Fein withdrew from government over concerns about the role of Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster in a renewable energy scheme. The New York Times does a good job of piecing together the ensuing events. “This is a more profound crisis than we’ve had at other times in the last 20 years,” said a member of the Alliance Party, a smaller centrist group that does not identify as either nationalist or unionist.
  • Complicating the border issues, Foster has written to the leaders of all 27 E.U. countries, telling them that Northern Ireland will not tolerate any difference in status between itself and the rest of the United Kingdom, after Brexit. She wants Northern Ireland to remain identified with the U.K. rather than any special arrangement with the Republic, as Sinn Fein wants. This reduces the chance of compromise on restoring the Assembly.
  • Remember, earlier this year Foster also entered into coalition government with British PM Theresa May.  As The Guardian reports, Foster now accuses the Irish government of exploiting Brexit to attempt to unify Ireland.
  • The ongoing Brexit negotiations, and what happens to the government in the Republic, will continue to impact Northern Ireland. Given the current difficulties, there may be calls to renegotiate the governing framework of the Good Friday Agreement, which reaches its 20th anniversary in April. Or political control may simply revert to London, a huge step backward. Next year also marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and start of the Anglo-Irish War, which resulted in the island’s partition in 1921. Foster is right, in that talk of a referendum to reunify the island is only likely to increase.

Map of Ireland from the 1920s shows the partition of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State, later the Republic of Ireland.

Is Leo Varadkar Ireland’s first post-Catholic leader?

Leo Varadkar has secured the leadership of the Fine Gael party and is now in line to replace Enda Kenny as Ireland’s next taoiseach, or prime minister.

Much is being made of the fact that Varadkar is openly gay and just 38, making him the Republic’s youngest leader. He is also the son of an Irish mother and Indian father. (Remember that Éamon de Valera, who spent several terms as Irish leader over a long stretch of the 20th century, was the American-born son of an Irish mother and Spanish father.)

The New York Times and other media noted that Varadkar comes to power two year after Irish voters approved same-sex marriage. The Times barely conceals its glee that Ireland “has rapidly been leaving its conservative Roman Catholic social traditions behind” and that Varadkar, though raised Catholic, does not practice the faith.

The U.K. Independent used a similar “once-staunchly Catholic country” formulation in its lead story, while initial coverage from RTE, BBC, NPR, CNN, The Guardian and other outlets did not mention religion.

Leo Varadkar is the new Fine Gael leader. Image from RTE.

Writing in The Irish Times, Miriam Lord observed that Fine Gael voters:

…patted themselves on the back for not making a big deal of the fact that Leo Varadkar is a gay man or that his father is an immigrant from India. Because it isn’t a big deal. Smiling at the way news outlets all over the world were announcing Catholic Ireland’s “first gay prime minister” when, sure, nobody paid a blind bit of difference to that at home, because why would they?

But, she concluded, “it was this very indifference to ‘origins and identity’ that made them feel very, very proud.”

Varadkar’s confirmation as taoiseach is expected–but not assured–later this month. He has said that he is committed to holding a referendum next year on whether to repeal the constitutional ban on abortion, which has already bolstered the secular narrative of a post-Catholic Ireland.

Enda Kenny to resign as party leader, taoiseach

Enda Kenny will resign as Fine Gael party leader and as Ireland’s taoiseach effective 2 June. He has served as the Republic’s prime minister since 2011. He is the longest serving taoiseach of his party, which has more often been in minority opposition to Fianna Fáil.

The Mayo-born Kenny, 66, signaled his intentions months ago, but the 17 May announcement caught Irish political observers off guard. His leadership has suffered from bumbling a plan to institute national water charges, and the handling of a long-running police misconduct scandal.

Enda Kenny and former U.S. President Barack Obama during a St. Patrick’s Day visit to the White House.

Still, Kenny leaves a solid legacy. Here’s Stephen Collins writing in The Irish Times:

His crowning achievement was to lead the country out of the financial crisis that brought it to the brink in 2010, and preside over a government that transformed it into the fastest growing EU economy for the past three years.

Kenny’s mixture of political skill, sheer stubbornness and incredible stamina enabled him to achieve what many deemed impossible, but he never managed to win the level of public popularity achieved by some of his less successful predecessors.

His successor will have to deal with Britain’s coming withdrawal from the European Union, which could mean the return of a hard border with Northern Ireland. At the same time, the Republic’s new leader will have to navigate growing calls for the island’s political reunification.

Other big issues include a potential 2018 referendum on whether to repeal Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion, and whether to allow the country’s diaspora to vote in national elections.

Fianna Fáil could refuse to allow Kenny’s successor as party leader to also follow him as taoiseach. That would mean another national election. 

Deal reached for new government in Ireland

Two months after the inconclusive general election in Ireland, the Republic’s two main political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, reached a deal 29 April that will lead to a new coalition.

Fianna Fáil has agreed to facilitate a Fine Gael minority government in a ‘political ceasefire’ between the two dominant (and historically antagonistic) political forces in the state,” The Guardian reported. “But Fianna Fáil will remain on the opposition benches in the Dáil, the Irish parliament.”

Fianna Fáil will allow Fine Gael to govern until a review of the coalition’s performance in September 2018. …

In the February election, Fine Gael, led by taoiseach Enda Kenny, lost 26 seats but it remains the largest party in the Dáil with 50 seats. Fianna Fáil made a stunning recovery from a historic low of 21 seats in the 2011 general election to 44 seats this year.

Formal ratification of the deal could come at the weekend or early next week. The agreement is likely to return Kenny to his post, making him the first Fine Gael leader returned to power.

The Irish Times offers an analysis of “the realities facing Ireland’s next government.”

The two center-right parties emerged from the divide over the Anglo-Irish treaty in 1921, which partitioned Ireland into two states and caused a bitter civil war. Fianna Fáil has historically been the dominant of the two parties, but was severely punished by voters in 2011 for the country’s economic collapse. The rise of smaller parties and independent candidates also has skimmed votes from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. 

Election drama builds in Ireland, north and south

This is an important week in Irish politics on both sides of the border.

In the Republic, negotiators from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil continue their intensive talks on forming a new government. A key leadership vote is tentatively set for 14 April, which is 48 days since the 26 February election.

Ireland’s record for going without a government is 48 days, when a November 1992 election failed to produce a coalition pact until January 1993, according to the Associated Press. Now, if the two major parities and incoming small party and independent members fail to reach a deal soon, calls for a second election are likely to increase. That hasn’t happened since 1982.

Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly building in Belfast.

Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly building in Belfast.

In Ulster, campaigning is heating up for the 5 May Northern Ireland Assembly election, with the first debate among leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Sinn Féin, Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the Alliance Party set for 13 April.

This is the fifth such election since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 created the historic power-sharing legislature. Voters will cast ballots for 108 members from 18 constituencies in the six counties.

Notably, the generation born in 1998 and a few years earlier will be able to vote for the first time in this election. That could either soften or harden recent electoral trends. In a preview, the London School of Economics and Political Science observes:

In 1998, the (moderate) SDLP was the party with most votes in the Assembly, while the (moderate) UUP was the party with most seats. In the 2003 election, the (stronger pro-British) DUP took the most votes and seats, and (stronger Irish nationalist) Sinn Féin moved from being the fourth largest party, to the second largest party. In 2007 this trend consolidated, when the sum of votes for the DUP and SF reached 56%. By 2011, the DUP and SF were the undisputed largest parties in the system, leaving the SDLP, the UUP, and the Alliance significantly behind.

The northern vote not only comes on the heels of the still-unresolved election outcome in the Republic, but also ahead of the 23 June referendum on whether the U.K. (including Northern Ireland) remains in the E.U. All of which puts the lie to notions that the U.S. is the only place having interesting elections this year.

Irish election results finalized, but not future government

The top of this USA Today story says it all:

Ireland was in political limbo Thursday [3 March] when counting was completed six days after elections. Discussions to form a new government could last for weeks after the outgoing coalition government …  failed to win a majority in the polls …

Complete results here from The Irish Times.

What shape might the new government take? Former Times editor Geraldine Kennedy writes:

It is not as difficult as they all seem to think to get a stable and workmanlike government based on the results of the general election. They just need time to act out the ritual party dances to bring their supporters along with them. … What is needed now is for politicians, particularly the leadership of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, to be big and imaginative enough to think outside the box, to explore and agree a new dispensation, which we imposed on politics in Northern Ireland.

Imagine that! Politics in the Republic will have to a little more like North.

Polling and pundits forecast historic election outcome

Ireland appears to be careening toward an historic election outcome Friday. The question is: Historic in what way?

If the Fine Gael/Labour coalition of the last five years can hold, it would be the first time a Fine Gael leader is re-elected as Taoiseach for a successive term since the party was founded in 1933, The Economist notes. County Mayo native Enda Kenny leads the centre-right FG party in the role of prime minister.

But Fine Gael is treading water in the polls, and Labour is sinking. Opposition Fianna Fáil, which had a near monopoly on power in Ireland during most of the 20th century, is rebounding after being punished in the 2011 election for the country’s economic collapse. That has some pundits suggesting the once unthinkable possibility of a grand coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, which each evolved from the bitter split of Irish nationalists during the country’s civil war in the early 1920s.

In public, party leaders say this isn’t practical. They are still focused on winning Friday’s count. But if the results suggest such a coalition is the only way to move forward with a government, you can bet that private negotiations will begin immediately, even as public posturing continues.

Writing in The Irish Times, columnist Fintan O’Toole suggests that “it’s surely been clear to any objective observer that the logic of the fragmentation of Irish politics (now about 10 parties) leads, at least in the medium term, in only one direction: Fianna Gael.” He continues:

When there were two big centre-right parties carving up anything from two-thirds to three-quarters of the vote between them, it made complete sense for those parties to exaggerate their tribal differences in order to generate the sense that something huge was at stake in their tribal competition. But the space they jointly occupy has shrunk; … they now have one comfortable majority between them. If they don’t occupy that space together, it becomes a power vacuum. One can never rule out the ability of petulance, tribalism and vanity to overpower logic, but office is a great magnet.

This suggests another possibility: a “hung Dáil,” or a stalemate due to the failure of any party or bloc of parties to form a majority of newly elected TDs in government, The Irish Times explains. This could mean months of gridlock, and eventually calls for new elections.

For a super-detailed looked at the last polling before the election, see the blog of Dr. Adrian Kavanagh, Maynooth University, FF-FG or Voting Again?