The 26 counties general election on 25 February is the most important election the state has had since 1932, when De Valera and the Catholic nationalists — Fianna Fail — formed their first government (with non-participating Labour Party support). Irish politics is in the melting pot.
The main governing party, Fianna Fail, has a new leader, Micháel Martin. It has not got much else. The rats are deserting the sinking ship. No fewer than 30 — out of a total of 72 — Fianna Fail TDs are not contesting seats. Some of them, such as Neal Blaney in Donegal, are scions of old Fianna Fail local dynasties.
The small Green Party, Fianna Fail’s partner in coalition, with six seats now, is expected to have more after the general election. Sinn Fein, the new constitutional nationalists, the would-be new Fianna Fail, is almost certain to win more seats, maybe many seats.
The Labour Party, which in tandem with Fine Gael, the 26 counties’ second bourgeois party, is committed to a coalition, but has now distanced itself from the savage cuts imposed by international finance on the state and, following the example of the British Labour Party, is arguing for less immediate cuts.
This is belated, but looks like an attempt to do as the British Labour Party did before it lost the British May 2010 general election. Unlike the British Labour Party, the Irish Labur Party has not been in government. With a bold policy it should be able to greatly increase its Dail strength. The patterns of voting for first, second, third, etc, preferences in the 26 counties version of PR, are complex and often surprising, but a lot of Fianna Fail “first preference” voters vote Labour second preference. The Labour Party might benefit greatly from the disillusionment with Fianna Fail.
Sinn Fein is offering a mixture of economic and nationalist demagogy — tear up international finance agreements — that could chime with the feelings of many voters. It is seemingly radical and outsider, far more so than the Labour Party, veteran of many coalitions.
The last thing the workers of Ireland need is a resuscitation of the national chauvinism of early Fianna Fail, during the Great Slump. Yet, in desperation and disillusionment with the recent past, it will probably be what many of them go for. And Sinn Fein, despite the demagogy, is in the marketplace of Irish politics, too, looking for the best coalition offer it can get after the general election.