Any reported rise of Fianna Fáil is not fuelled by political enthusiasm
A recurring theme in Irish news over recent months has been the supposed resurgence of Fianna Fáil as a political force. We’ve been offered a number of poll results which suggest that Fianna Fáil have the support of as many as 33% of citizens. Triggered by these results, excitement has arisen in certain quarters about the idea that they are next in line to form a government, even though they would need to almost double their current number of seats to win a majority. The supposed boost for the party is not explained by an enthusiastic desire for a Micheál Martin-led government to take power in Ireland.
February’s election in Ireland was disastrous for the Irish two-party system. The combined vote for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on first-preference for the first time fell to below 50%. The parties, if they had joined forces, would have had the majority of the seats, but they would still not have had the majority of first-preference votes. They did not join forces because this would have meant that they could not occupy both the government and opposition, as they have traditionally felt entitled to do. So instead Ireland has a minority government which received 25.5% of the popular vote.
This minority government operates via an agreement that means Fianna Fáil, in opposition, does not generally oppose legislation put forward by the government. By abstaining, Fianna Fáil allows the government to get their majority even though their government does not have an overall majority of TDs. Their agreement to prop up a minority government essentially means that they refuse to oppose. So the official opposition of the 32nd Irish Dáil is largely refusing to do the work of holding the government to account. In light of this, it is hard to see how Fianna Fáil can have actually done anything concrete in order to regain support.
Given this, the ‘surge’ in support for Fianna Fáil is probably better understood as a drop in support for the government. Any voters who are moving to Fianna Fáil are unlikely to be doing so in a spirit of enthusiasm or positivity. The rise in Fianna Fáil’s vote share at the February election was not surprising — parties who have been in opposition always gain a share of the vote. They hadn’t been the ones squeezing Irish living standards since 2011 after all.
The Irish establishment is of course eager to get a ‘stable’ government in place, and is clearly irritated by the fact that so many votes went to independents and parties who will not work with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. After all, since the election, we’ve seen numerous pundits (as well as Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary) have a go at the electorate for not choosing wisely enough. Too many people voted for candidates that don’t belong to the main parties, and Irish elites did not like that one bit.
It is likely that Ireland will be asked to vote again before the end of 2016. Pundits will line up to tell radio shows how the electorate need this time to make a more ‘sensible’ choice. We will be instructed to choose the party that governed Ireland into the crash and bailout, or we can choose the party who punished the Irish people with austerity for five years to honour that bailout.
The old mantra that the electorate has short memories did the rounds after polls showed an increase in support for Fianna Fáil. But after the 2016 election it turned out that maybe those memories aren’t so short. The party that left office in 2011 achieved its second worst result in the history of the state. After all, most of the electorate has little in common with the policies on offer from the two main parties, and remembers that both of these parties guided the country through a crisis by punishing the poorest.
For this, many people will rightly never forgive either party. The systems which have kept two parties swapping power every few years are falling apart all over Europe. Just like elsewhere, a political space is opening in Ireland which rejects the old, inherently corrupt politics of the past. Young adult voters, who witnessed what happened to Ireland during their teenage or early twenties, are unlikely to want to see a continuation of this. Exit polls from February’s election showed that Fianna Fáil do not appear to be holding on to the younger voters in Ireland. Similarly Fine Gael’s share of the vote slips away at younger age brackets. There is most certainly a fightback against neoliberal economics which are followed so faithfully by Ireland’s main parties.
The Property Tax, the Universal Social Charge, cuts to public services and the water charges have demonstrated to most of the population that these parties are not on their side. How can these parties, whose ideologies and economics are so discredited and bankrupt, expect young voters to support them?