Tag Archives: Fine Gael

Catching up with modern Ireland: March

There’s only one story to report in this month’s roundup: the COVID-19 pandemic, which exploded in Ireland and across the globe shortly before St. Patrick’s Day and soon cancelled parades, closed pubs and churches, and cloistered communities. As history’s longest March draws to a close, here are some key developments from the island of Ireland:

  • A combined 67 people have died, and more than 3,000 have tested positive for COVID-19, in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as of March 29. Sadly, these numbers will grow.
  • Citizens of the Republic are on strict quarantine through April 12, Easter Sunday. Gardaí are patrolling the streets to enforce the lock down.
  • The Republic nationalized all its hospitals. “For the duration of this crisis the State will take control of all private hospital facilities and manage all of the resources for the common benefit of all of our people,” Ireland’s Health Minister Simon Harris said. “There can be no room for public versus private when it comes to pandemic.”
  • Aer Lingus completed the first of 10 scheduled round trips to bring personal protective equipment (PPE) from China to Ireland in a €208m deal, RTÉ reported March 29.

Leo Varadkar, who remains Ireland’s caretaker taoiseach after February’s election defeat, is a trained doctor. His handling of the COVID-19 crisis has generally been praised. Steve Humphreys/Pool via REUTERS

  • In the midst of the pandemic, the Republic is still trying to forge a new government. The Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil political parties, both center right but historic rivals, are reported to be nearing a deal on a new administration in the coming weeks. The left-wing Sinn Fein, which topped the Feb. 8 election, would be kept … well … isolated.
  • The Irish people paused March 26 to applauded healthcare and front line workers fighting the pandemic. “In the Dáil, TDs stood at the allotted hour, forgetting their discussions of emergency measures for a brief moment to clap with gusto in appreciation of the hundreds of battles being fought by medical staff around the country,” The Irish Times reported. In the North, the “Clap for Carers” tribute featured buildings lit blue and cathedrals ringing bells.
  • Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Mulhall advised Irish citizens in America, especially those on short-term visas, to return to Ireland, “if there are doubts about the stability of your employment & your access to health care cover.”
  • The 50th Listowel Writers’ Week in North Kerry, scheduled for May 27-31, was postponed until 2021.
  • As encouragement to the people, Irish President Michael D. Higgins recorded his 27-year-old poem Take Care. Click the SoundCloud link in the tweet below:

Ongoing analysis of Ireland’s 2020 elections

An overgrown canal bridge along the Boyne River, County Meath, July 2019

The ballots in Ireland’s Feb. 8 national election have been cast and counted. We’ve learned of Sinn Féin’s historic showing. Now, “tortuous coalition negotiations in the coming weeks will determine who, if anyone, can command enough support to lead the next government,” The New York Times reports. A new election might be needed. … The analysis below is mostly from outside of Ireland. I’ll refresh with newer articles at top until developments date these pieces. Email subscribers should visit the website to see the updates. MH

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What Happens Next in Ireland, Time, Feb. 14

For nearly a century, the center-right parties of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have had their way when it comes to forming governments, and both have refused to work with Sinn Féin in the past given their historic links to violence. That made sense when Sinn Féin was polling in the single digits and politically toxic, but a lot harder when they are the single-most popular party in the country.

Like many other advanced democracies of late, Ireland is now forced to confront the reality that its old political system—dominated by two main parties—is finished. That has serious implications for Ireland going forward, while at the same time adding yet another data point for the continued momentum of anti-establishment politics across Western democracies. Another reason Irish elections matter is that compared to other European countries seeing an upsurge of anti-establishment sentiment, Ireland’s economy was actually doing quite well.

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What do Ireland’s election results mean for the North?, Esquire, Feb. 14

The looming question, of course, is what will happen to the status of Northern Ireland, which has been in flux since the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. … I remain convinced that it would be god’s own craic if the British government manages to bungle its way into creating a 32-county Irish Republic.

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Did Ireland Go Populist-Nationalist? (In its own way, yes.), National Review, Feb. 14

Some Irish commentators … have been overanxious to deny the “populist” label that outsiders have attached to Sinn Féin. For many in Ireland, populist is not a synonym for a “bad guy” who is against the EU, doesn’t like immigration, or is generally right-wing.

Ireland has often flattered itself as immune to continental populism because it has, in the living memory of older voters, experienced the reign of a conservative, nationalist, and deeply Catholic government that sought to protect rural ways of life and make the economy a tool of foreign policy and statecraft.

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Irish Voters Cast Off Relic of Entrenched 2-Party System, The New York Times, Feb. 12

In recent years, successive public votes in Ireland to legalize same-sex marriage and repeal an abortion ban have pulled many young and dissatisfied people into politics, giving voters a chance to shake up traditions that were once rigidly enforced by the Roman Catholic Church. Their next target was Ireland’s ossified political hierarchy.

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum conceded that the vote for Sinn Féin reflected the desire of a huge cohort of voters — young and old, urban and rural, working-class and middle-class — for new alternatives in a system that had long stamped them out.

3-way tie predicted in Irish elections as counting continues

UPDATE:

Sinn Féin candidates have swept to a spectacular general election victory with nearly 25 percent of first round votes, “reshaping Ireland’s political landscape as party leaders begin to turn their attention to how the next government might be formed,” The Irish Times reports.

ORIGINAL POST:

Exit polling in Ireland indicates Feb. 8 polling will result in an unprecedented three-way tie between Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, and Sinn Féin.  Ballot counting was underway Sunday, Feb. 9.

“It may be many days before we know fully what Saturday’s vote means in terms of the allocation of Dáil seats and many weeks before we know what that in turn means for the formation of a viable government,” says Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole. “But this we know and know full well: that old system is finished and it is not coming back any time soon. This is not just a change election – it has changed Irish elections themselves for the foreseeable future.”

I will monitor the outcome and publish a more detailed post soon.

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Ruth Russell Talk is March 7 in Baltimore

I’m giving a talk about American journalist Ruth Russell’s 1919 reporting trip to revolutionary Ireland on Saturday, March 7, at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore.

The talk is based on my five-part monograph about Russell’s life. I presented this research at the 2019 annual conferences of the American Journalism Historians Association, in Dallas, and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland, in Belfast.

Register for the free event, which begins at 11 a.m. The museum is located at 918 Lemon St., near downtown Baltimore. Here’s my earlier post about the museum, which is worth visiting anytime.

The Irish Railroad Workers Museum and Shrine at 918 Lemon St. in Baltimore.

Election week countdown in Ireland

The Republic of Ireland holds a general election Saturday, Feb. 8. Voters will decide 159 seats in the Dáil Éireann, or parliament, including a leader of the government, the taoiseach, or prime minister. Leo Varadkar, the leader since 2017, is seeking reelection. Members are elected by single transferable vote (STV) system from 39 constituencies, each returning from three to five members. … Major issues include how to handle the post-Brexit border with Northern Ireland and trade relations with Britain. Domestic issues include health care and housing shortages. … Below, I’m posting a selection of coverage up to election day, with the most recent stories at the top. I’ll publish a new post once the outcome is clear.

The weekly countdown is now closed. MH

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Saturday, Feb. 8:

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time. About 3.5 million people are eligible to vote at 6,500 polling stations in 39 constituencies. Heavy rain and gusting winds are expected across the island, especially in the west.

Friday, Feb. 7:

Thursday, Feb. 6:

Wednesday, Feb. 5:

Tuesday, Feb. 4:

Monday, Feb. 3:

Sunday, Feb. 2:

Catching up with modern Ireland: January

The new year got off to a fast start with the restoration of the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly, successful U.K. and E.U. Brexit votes, and announced Feb. 8 elections in the Republic of Ireland.

In the North, the Assembly’s three-year dormancy has laid bare “a state of deep crisis across the territory’s neglected public and political institutions,” The New York Times reported Jan. 22. Residents “wonder whether and how the regional government will be able to overhaul public services like health and education that have declined to the point of near collapse.”

Brexit Day is Jan. 31. Britain and the E.U. approved the separation and now begin negotiating a trade deal. Prospect, a U.K. publication, speculates on How Northern Ireland could use Brexit to its advantage.

With less than 10 days before elections in the Republic, polls show that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael party has fallen 7 percentage points to 23 percent since November, while rival Fianna Fail is up 2 points to 26 percent, according to a Jan. 26 roundup by Reuters. Sinn Fein was up 8 points to 19 percent and may play a role in deciding the eventual coalition government. Visit The Irish Times‘ “Inside Politics” podcast.

I’ll have more election posts in February. Now, other January news:

  • In America, the Jesuit Review, Ciara Murphy writes Ireland is fine with fracking—as long as it happens in Pennsylvania. Her piece hits close to home for me: the project site on the River Shannon estuary in North Kerry is near where my maternal grandparents lived before they emigrated to … Western Pennsylvania, center of the U.S. fracking industry and my birthplace. “For the Irish government to continue with the L.N.G. terminal on the basis of energy security for Irish people is to disregard the harm caused to people in Pennsylvania,” Murphy writes.

North Kerry LNG site.

  • Maps comparing Ireland’s island-wide rail networks in 1920 to 2020–the former being more robust–went viral on social media. The images came from a report by Irish and U.K. business interests to highlight the value of a shared all-island economy between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
  • There were 67 victims of paramilitary-style assaults in Northern Ireland in 2019, up from 51 in 2018, Foreign Policy reported, citing Police Service of Northern Ireland data, in a story speculating about a post-Brexit return to sectarian violence.
  • Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who might have revving her 2020 reelection campaign, has been appointed chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, a largely ceremonial role. She is expected to hold the post through early 2025.
  • Marian Finucane, a longtime RTÉ radio journalist, died Jan. 2, age 69. She was “one of a small number of people instantly recognized in Ireland by their first name only … [a] testament to the intimacy of her relationship with listeners,” The Irish Times obituary said.
  • Former Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon, one of the architects of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, died Jan. 24, age 83.

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.