Irish Election 2020

Feb 14 / Monica McKeever
Once again, a general election has produced shock results, which seem to be saying that people want change in their governance. The surprise at the weekend, when Sinn Fein (translated to English as “We ourselves”) topped the polls in the Irish election has left a lot of people reeling. 

Irish election results 2020

This political party was founded in 1905 and subsequently became known for their nationalism. They have historically strong links to the IRA, and although they deny this, one of their recently elected representatives was heard shouting ‘up the Ra’ (“Ra” is short for IRA or Irish Republican Army) at a victory event. Their campaign was aimed at persuading the electorate that the country needs change from the establishment parties who have ruled the country for the last 100 years. The two main parties – Fianna Fáil (meaning “Soldiers of Destiny”) and Fine Gael (meaning “Tribe of the Irish) have been in power either alone or in a coalition for decades. The politics of both parties are traditionally centre right, but a large part of the electorate have always voted one or the other, choosing to remain loyal to their party for generations.

The political landscape has thus for decades been dominated by these 2 opposing parties. For specific periods since their formation either Fianna Gael or Fianna Fáil has had a majority in the Dáil (Irish parliament – Dáil means assembly in Irish and it is the principal chamber of the Oireachtas . The Oireachtas is the Irish legislature and includes the Dáil, the President, and the Seanad (Senate).

A political party needs 80 seats to form a government, and so they have often made up the numbers by joining forces with either Labour (the third biggest party until 2016 when it won only 7 seats compared to 37 in 2011), the Green party or independent TDs (Teachta Dála – commonly abbreviated as TDs – members of the Irish parliament). From the years between 2017 and the latest election in 2020 the 2 main parties signed a deal called a “confidence-and-supply agreement”. Under this joint contract the opposition party (in this case Fianna Fáil) agree to vote with the minority government, by either voting on the side of the government or abstaining in motions of confidence or appropriation of supply (budget).

In this period Ireland, along with the remainder of Europe, was involved in the Brexit negotiations. As the exit of Britain from the EU affects the country of Ireland considerably more than any other European nation, the ability of Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar to concentrate his efforts on the European stage was considered crucial by the majority of the Irish political arena. Varadkar, worked extremely hard in negotiating with Britain and the European Union to ensure Ireland’s position within the union, but also maintain their close relationship with the UK, and avoid a border on the island of Ireland.

Along with the finance minister, Simon Coveney, Varadkar is held in very high political esteem in Britain and Europe for his statesmanship and political prowess. In this period also the opposition party (Fianna Fáil) maintained the confidence-and-supply agreement and continued to vote with the government for the good of the country, even though they could have brought them down.

Unfortunately, while the Brexit talks were ongoing the economy of Ireland was soaring, but the issues of the country itself were ignored. The property market was rising sharply as Dublin was experiencing an unprecedented surge in jobs and people. Social housing supplies were so over-stretched the number of people sleeping on the streets had reached more than 10,000. On top on this the health system which badly needs an overhaul was bursting at its’ seams with long waits for treatment and serious staff shortages.

With the event of Brexit on 31st of January 2020 Irish politics took a break to focus on its own internal issues. And here came the emergence of Sinn Fein, who saw this as an unmissable opportunity. They focussed their election campaign on the shocking number of homeless people in Ireland and the state of the hospitals. They blamed the 2 main parties and successfully campaigned that it was time for change. As Ireland is currently a very young nation a large percentage of the people voting do not have the strong tradition of voting for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. They also do not remember the troubles in the North and the fact that Sinn Fein were considered the political wing of the IRA. What they did know was the rents they were having to pay were enormous compared to other cities, and they could not get an hospital appointment due to the queues. And as a result, they gave a majority to a party who surged from 24 seats in 2017 to 37 seats in 2020.

As the traditional parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have both always maintained they would never enter a government with Sinn Fein, due to their historical link to the Irish paramilitaries, it seems unlikely they will be able to get the 80 seats required to form a government, but if they somehow managed it, it would remain to be seen if they had the experience required to lead a country, and implement the changes they have promised the people of Ireland.
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