måndag 17 januari 2011

The Irish election and the death of innocence

Denna blogg publicerades ursprungligen på The Cross Culturalist, en blogg jag har gemensamt med en amerikansk politisk kollega. Inlägget handlar om det Irländska valet som planeras ske runt April/maj, och jag diskuterar hur Irland hamnade här och vilka som lär vinna valet.


Ireland is scheduled to have an election soon. A date has not been set, but somewhere between March and May seems most likely right now.

In this post, I intend to analyse the situation and try to explain where this might lead. And why one thing already is clear: Innocence is dead in Ireland.

How did Ireland get here?

It's only a few years ago that Ireland was described as an economic miracle. Growth rates were skyhigh, and new malls opened up all the time in Dublin. The property market was hotter than ever and loans were easy to come by.

This was not unique to Ireland; it was only much worst there. In a post on Rightspeak, I discussed how it came that Ireland had fallen so low. To summarize: Inexperience in dealing with overheated booms, a corrupt government which promised everything to everyone and delivered nothing to anyone and the fact that Ireland is too small to afford to bail out any banks (the government promised to save the banks, but since everyone knew they couldn't afford it, that just made them look ridiculous).

The Irish political scene

Irish politics has, all since the country became independent (1922), been dominated by Fianna Fail. While not always in power, a government without Fianna Fail has been a rare exception. Since 1932, Fianna Fail has held power 62/78 years. Sometimes alone, sometimes in coalition with someone else. No government except the Fianna Fail governments have managed to get re-elected. Labour and Fine Gael have tried to co-operate and have formed a total of three governments, but since the only thing that holds them together is that they both hate Fianna Fail, those governments are usually unstable and always shortlived (as previously mentioned, no such government has ever been re-elected).

What makes Fianna Fail so successful? I would say that their unbeatable alliance between the Church (Fianna Fail has close ties to the Catholic church) and the trade unions is the main reason. Fianna Fail are no strangers to social conservatism and have never done anything significant to upset the value voters, but they have also worked to please the unions even in the heydays of the Celtic tiger by raising minimum wages and by allowing public sector wages to spiral out of control (they are the highest in Europe). When you have both the religious churchgoers and the secular trade unionists on your side, it's hard to lose an election (granted, many trade unionists still voted for Labour, but they never bothered to actively fight the government as long as it was doing most of the things they wanted).

It is also a fact that Irish people, politically speaking, are very risk averse and normally won't vote for another government simply because "you know what you have, but you don't know what you get". Unlike the US where people seem to enjoy changing government once every fourth or eight year, just for the sake of it.

Other than Fianna Fail, Ireland also had Fine Gael, a christian democratic party generally seen as being to the right of Fianna Fail, although they are less socially conservative than FF - in 1996, when Fine Gael were in charge (together with Labour), divorce was legalized. One might wonder why FG and FF never have governed together: Why is it that FG prefers an awkward coalition with Labour to a coalition with the more ideologically close FF?

The answer lies in the early history of the Irish republic. In short: FF is the ancestors to the original Sinn Fein, the party which together with the original IRA made Ireland independent. FG on the other hand are the ancestors of the Irish Parliamentary Party, a party which fought for home rule - but not independence. This party was dissolved once Ireland became independent, and while Fine Gael have never been loyalist, they have been the by far most pro-European party and also the most outspoken critics of the Provisional IRA's armed campaign for Irish reunification.

Fianna Fail have been far more nationalist, and while they never supported the Provos, they were not nearly as critical of them. One Irish journalist recently described it this way: "Fianna Fail knows one thing: They are not Fine Gael". Many Fianna Failers are confused by the way things have turned out the last couple of years, but whatever happens, they know that they can never co-operate with Fine Gael. It's a matter of principle.

Labour is, as the name implies, a labour party. They are leftist, and have been in government a few times - both with Fine Gael and with Fianna Fail. They are the third biggest party in Ireland with 11 % of the vote in the last election, but this is expected to rise. Despite being close politically, Labour shuns Sinn Fein almost as much as FF and FG shun each other.

Lastly, let's look at Sinn Fein, probably the most famous Irish party despite being small (7 % in the last election). Sinn Fein have, for the past decade or so, been busy trying to improve their image and convince people that they have buried their armalites and that they will forever stick to the ballot box. Sinn Fein have never been a part of any Irish government since independence, simply because they up until recently refused to condemn violence. They still support Irish reunification (as does all the other parties), but they have abandoned their armed struggle.

There is also the Green Party which has governed together with Fianna Fail since 2007 (they recently dissolved their coalition, and that's the reason why an election will have to be held now). Additionally, there is a bunch of independents (representatives with no party affiliation) in the Dail (Irish parliament).

What happens now?

The current crisis has crushed Fianna Fail. From almost 42 % in the last election, they are predicted to receive only 13-15 % now. Fine Gael are around 35 % in the polls, and Labour are around 20 %. The real surprise is Sinn Fein, which has managed to more than double their support and now regularly receive around 15 % in the polls. There is a lot of buzz among the Irish pundits on whether or not Labour may consider a coalition with Sinn Fein and the independent representatives. They would then be just a few points away from 50 %, and they may not even need 50 % to get a majority since seats in the Dail are not allocated only on a party's share of the national vote.

Labour denies that they would ever consider even talking to SF, but this is probably mostly because SF is the kind of party you either love or hate, and there are many voters (especially older voters who remember the Troubles) who would be turned off if Labour announced that they would try to form a government with SF. It sure must be tempting for Labour, knowing that they may not have to compromise with the right-winged Fine Gael but instead can govern together with a like-minded party.

FG is trying to secure enough seats so that they won't have to ally themselves with Labour again. They have a decent shot - they themselves as I said have about 35 % in the polls, and independents (mostly single-issue candidates which can be easily bribed) are hovering around 11-12 %. If there are any Green Party representatives left (and you can't take that for granted), maybe they would be interested in supporting an FG government?

Assuming these poll numbers become reality on election day, an interesting scenario may develop: FG knows that they cannot govern with Labour, and that if they try, that government will quickly turn into a mess and FF will be able to rise from the ashes like an Irish phoenix. What every party in Ireland wants most is FF's head on a plate; they have spent decades on the sideline and watched FF dominate. Now, they want FF gone once and for all.

My guess is that Labour will threaten Fine Gael by saying that they will co-operate with SF. Fine Gael will then agree to most of their demands, and the new government (which would be FG + Labour) will be characterized by leftist politics.

Fine Gael, on the other hand, may threaten with co-operation with Fianna Fail - yes, you read that right. Even if they may not allow Fianna Fail into the government, they could still rule with some passive support from them (since their policies are relatively similar, FF would vote the same way as FG most of the time). Fact of the matter is, some Fianna Failers have called for the party to merge with Fine Gael. Most don't support the idea, but that it is raised in the first place says something about how much things have changed.

Ireland, while being tired of Fianna Fail, is not a socialist country. A government composed of SF + Labour would certainly ensure that Ireland would take a significant turn to the left that I'm quite sure most people wouldn't appreciate. Plus, the government would have serious credibility issues simply because some of its members would be former terrorists.

The best government if you ask me would be a pure Fine Gael government. They would be a fiscally conservative government that wouldn't be as corrupt as the current FF administration. And even if they are weaker on social issues, they certainly won't push for any liberal reforms in these days.

The death of innocence

Finally, what do I mean when I say that this crisis has caused innocence to die? What I mean is that the Irish people have become more suspicious and less trusting, just in general. In the past couple of years, their banks, government and even their church has let them down (the church by covering up cases of child abuse). If you cannot trust the government, or the private sector, or even the church... who can you trust? The Irish used to have an almost blind faith in all three. They were so innocent, thinking that the troubles that other countries with overheated economies had experienced would never happen to them. They knew about child abuse cases in other countries, but never imagined that their own priests could do such horrible acts. Innocent like a child who trusts Santa to provide him with all the things he want, as long as he is a good boy. The Irish thought that they were so good, that surely wealth would continue to rain down from heaven all over them. Surely they had deserved that after having had to deal with the Northern Ireland troubles for over 30 years? What they have now learned, and what they must not forget, is that you don't always get what you deserve.

I am not trying to mock their suffering. I am myself a student at an Irish university (NUI Maynooth, Finance and Economics), and I see people struggling every day to pay their bills. People I know here at university are afraid that they may not be able to finish their degrees because of the rising tuition fees (called registration fees in Ireland). A particular sad case is a girl I know very well who is living on a scholarship, barely making ends meet (I do not understand how anyone can survive on such a low income), and who is afraid she might lose her scholarship next year (we are both in our second year, the program is three years). She has worked just as hard as I have - if not harder - but despite that, because of this current crisis, only one of us may end up actually graduating (I myself am borrowing money from the Swedish government agency for student loans, from which I also receive a grant).

Sorry about the long post. Thanks to all the readers, I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave a comment.

John Gustavsson

3 kommentarer:

Ronie Berggren sa...

Väldigt intressant, och som vanligt otroligt välskrivet :) Det ska bli spännande att följa valresultaten. Irland har dock, anser jag, flörtat alldeles för mycket med EU för sitt eget bästa.

Anonym sa...

Mycket bra och som vanligt otroligt bra skrivet... Vi träffades du och jag på unite nyår och pratade om bland annat om att du stöttar Mike Huckebee i valet 2012. Minns du?
Jag har själv nu hittat en egen favorit. Nämligen Billiy Jindal! Den smartaste och mest förtroendeingivande poltikern som republikanerna haft på väldigt länge, dock lite ung än...
Vad tycker du om han??

Mvh Josef från Ö-vik!

Ronie Berggren sa...

Kul med en Öviksbo intresserad av amerikansk politik. Hur fick du det intresset?

Bobby Jindal är onekligen en cool politiker.

Här är ett inlägg med honom du kanske kan finna intressant: