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Irish General Election 2002: The Campaign

On the morning of April 25, 2002 the Irish parliament (Dáil Éireann) was formally dissolved. A general election will be held on May 17, 2002. Fianna Fáil, the dominant party of Irish politics, is widely expected to be returned to power. To oppose them a rainbow coalition of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Green Party is being mooted.

The Republic of Ireland is a representative democracy. The country is divided into 42 multi-seat constituencies (Dublin Mid-West is the one newly created constituency). The single transferrable vote system is used ensuring, insofar as possible, that every vote counts. This system of voting may seem Byzantine to the uniniated. To others it adds an element of suspense as the seventh preferences are redistributed or we await the results of the fifth recount days later.

The composition of the outgoing Parliament is as follows

  1. Fianna Fáil (conservative, populist, republican) 74
  2. Fine Gael (Christian democratic) 54
  3. Labour Party (Social democratic) 21
  4. Progressive Democrats (liberal, tax-cutting) 4
  5. Green Pary / Comhaontas Glas (ecologically-minded) 2
  6. Socialist Party (Marxist/Trokskyite) 1
  7. Sinn Féin (republican, left-wing) 1
  8. Independents (mainly aligned with Fianna Fail) 9
The outgoing coalition government comprised Fianna Fáil, the PDs and a smattering of Independents to make up the balance (83 seats needed for a majority). The only TD certain of making it to the 29th Dáil is Séamus Pattison (Labour) who is the Ceann Comhairle (Speaker/Chairperson of the house).

Party by Party analysis

Fianna Fáil
Most commentators predict that Fianna Fáil will return to government. They may even come close to that holy grail, an overall majority. Fianna Fáil's main asset is Bertie Ahern, the current Taoiseach. He exudes and easy going, Clintonesque charm. However, the party is widely perceived to be 'ethically challenged'. Six Fianna Fáil TDs (member of parliament) have been investigated over allegations of sleaze (mainly tax evasion). Ireland has enjoyed unprecedented economic growth over the last five years. Fianna Fáil will hope they can bask in the warm glow of prosperity and be voted in on a promise of more of the same. They propose the establishment of a 'National Finance Development Agency' to manage various transport and health infrastructure projects.

Fine Gael
Michael Noonan, the party leader, does not have the popular touch of Bertie. However, he does have a sound grasp of economic issues having been finance minister in a previous administration. Fine Gael are promising to crack down on crime. Crime has become an issue in recent months following an increase in the number of violent incidents, particularly in urban centers. The death of two gardaí caused by young car theives slamming into their patrol car, sparked a debate on the issue of juvenile crime. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail emerged from opposing sides of the Irish Civil War. This event has faded sufficiently into history for one senior Fine Gael member to suggest a coalition with Fianna Fáil (to prevent Sinn Féin getting into power). Such a coalition is, at present, unlikely. Memorable proposals in their manifesto include a new 30% middle tax band and the handing back of any 'exceptional' surpluses to the people in the form of government bonds.

Labour Party
The beard is the only vestige of Marxism remaining in Ruarí Quinn, Labour leader. The party is in the center and a bit to the left. The party maintains strong trade union links and merged with the more lefty Democratic Left following the 1997 election. The health service in Ireland is seriously overstretched in some areas. Labour are promising a tax-and-spend solution.

Progressive Democrats
Leader Mary Harney wishes to double number of PD seats but, in truth, their prospects are grim following party stalwart Bobby Molloy's shock resignation. Mr. Molloy had always seemed a figure of integrity and had served in the Dáil since the sixties. Then it emerged he acted on behalf of the sister of a convicted rapist by asking an aide to call the judge who presided over the case. It is unlikely that the PDs will retain his Galway West seat. The PDs appeal to the nouveau-riche of the Celtic Tiger by promising low taxes. They also oppose the so called 'Bertie Bowl' or Stadium Ireland so jeopardising the votes of the soccer mad. The party's 'big idea' is the privatisation of some state utilities including the ESB (electicity supply board). This, they argue, would generate a large windfall for the government and facilitate tax-cutting.

Green Party / Comhaontas Glas
The accumulation of plastic bag mountains in Irish homes has ameliorated by the introduction of charges . This populist, but effective, environmental meaure by the outgoing Government may be an indication that they respect the Green vote. A million postcards have been sent to British Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him to shut Sellafield. Whether the Green Party can capitalise on this anti-nuclear mood may become apparent as the campaign progresses.

Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin's links to the IRA, indeed their refusal to recognise the validity of the Irish Free State, has historically had the effect of severely limiting their electoral chances. However, this time they (in the person of Martin Ferris) threaten to gain a seat in Kerry North . Ferris denies accusations that he has been involved in the punishment beatings of suspected drug dealers. Fianna Fáil has bestowed largesse upon the area in recent months, it is thought by cynics, to ensure Ferris does not get elected. Sinn Féin will not be helped by the Colombian connection but ,nevertheless, may pick up a significant vote in deprived urban constituencies where people feel marginalised by mainstream political parties.

Following the election, the horse-trading and the coalition-forming, the new Dail will convene on June 6, 2002. So as the Sultans of Ping would sing 'I like your manifesto, put it to the testo'.

Update

This election campaign has been fairly dull so far. Tonight (14/5/02) its the televised head-to-head, Bertie vs Noonan. Its a last chance for Fine Gael to win back some floating voters. Fianna Fáil are, according to some opinion polls, close to forming the first single party government since 1977.

For full results and analysis, read the w/u that follows.

Irish General Election 2002: Results and Aftermath

Totals:
With almost all of the results confirmed, this is the state of the parties going into the 29th Dáil, which will convene on June 6, 2002:


Performance of the parties:

Fianna Fáil (Soldiers of Destiny):
Bertie Ahern's party had its best election in many years, assisted in large part by two factors:

  1. Man-of-the-people Bertie's great popularity and
  2. Canny vote management.
If a couple of marginal seats had fallen its way, Fianna Fáil would now be sitting on an overall majority of seats in the Dáil, something which has not been achieved since 1977. The party's share of the first preference vote increased by only a couple of percentage points, but the gains in terms of seats were significant.

Fine Gael(Tribe of the Irish):
By contrast, the main opposition party had its worst election showing since 1948, losing over 20 seats. They now appear to be on a long slide into irrelevance. Most commentators agree that Fine Gael's main problem is that nobody believed they could offer a credible alternative government to Fianna Fáil. This meant that they could no longer count on the anti-government vote, which was fragmented among a number of the smaller parties. As well as a severe reduction in the number of seats held, they also lost a number of high profile deputies, including former leader Alan Dukes, deputy leader Nora Owen, and Jim Mitchell, who had been tipped by many as a future leader.

Labour:
Labour had a mediocre performance, with neither losses nor gains (pending a recount in Wicklow). They are clearly under pressure on the left from the Greens, Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party, but they may have picked up some support from former Fine Gael voters. Dick Spring, the former party leader who had presided over Labour's most successful period in the 1980s and 1990s, lost his seat to Sinn Féin's Martin Ferris, and current leader Ruairí Quinn barely retained his own seat.

Progressive Democrats:
The PDs also had a good election, defying the pundits by doubling their representation in the Dáil, from 4 seats to 8. Most commentators had all but written off the PDs before the election, but they clearly benefited from two factors:

  1. Satisfaction with the outgoing administration, of which they were members and
  2. The reluctance of the electorate to allow Fianna Fáil to govern with an overall majority.
Many Fine Gael voters, in particular, seem to have deserted their party in order to prop up the PDs as a coalition partner and moral watchdog for the notoriously dodgy Fianna Fáil.

Green Party:
After more than 20 years in existence, the Greens finally made their breakthrough in this election, increasing their representation from 2 seats to 6. Their sitting TDs, Trevor Sargent and John Gormley, consolidated their positions greatly by being the first TDs elected in their respective constituencies, and the other successful candidates benefitted from transfers from right across the political spectrum. The party's success reflects the fact that it finally got its act together with regard to work on the ground. Previously seen as high-minded and out of touch, the Green candidates are now among the hardest working constituency politicians.

Sinn Féin (We Ourselves):
Sinn Féin's breakthrough in this election was the story picked up on in the international media, but with 5 seats they are only the sixth largest party in the Dáil. The increase in their share of the first preference vote was dramatic, jumping from 2% in 1997 to almost 7%, but they had difficulty translating this into seats, as many voters are not willing to give them the necessary transfers. However, they increased from one TD in the outgoing Dáil to 5 TDs in the Dáil which convenes on June 6th. Among their new TDs is convicted IRA gun runner Martin Ferris, widely believed to be a member of the IRA's army council. Commentators are split on whether Sinn Féin's electoral gains represent a threat to democracy, or a strengthening of the peacemaking wing within the republican movement.

Socialist Party:
The SP's leader, Joe Higgins, was comfortably re-elected, but he was unable to bring in any additional Socialist candidates, and remains a lone voice in the Dáil.

Others:
This Dáil will boast a motley crew of non-party TDs. Some of these are former Fianna Fáil members who were denied the party's nomination, but who can be counted upon to support Bertie Ahern. Others are candidates who campaigned on specific local issues, chiefly hospitals and healthcare provision. In the outgoing Dáil, Bertie Ahern relied on the support of four independents to form a government, and these TDs in turn won huge concessions for their constituents. It seems likely that this success led people to support independent candidates in this election. However, Bertie will not need the support of independents in this Dáil, so many of these TDs will probably end their term quite frustrated.


The results:

KEY:


Ulster

  • Donegal North East: 2 FF, 1 Ind ------------------- (no change on 1997 result)
  • Donegal South West: 2 FF, 1 FG ------------------- (1 FF, 1 FG, 1 Ind)
  • Cavan-Monaghan: 2 FF, 1 FG, 1 SF, 1 Ind -------- (2 FF , 2 FG, 1 SF)

Connaught

  • Galway East: 2 FF, 1 FG, 1 Ind --------------------- (2 FF, 2 FG)
  • Galway West: 2 FF, 1FG, 1 Lab, 1 PD -------------- (no change)
  • Longford-Roscommon: 2 FF, 1 FG, 1 PD ----------- (2 FF 2 FG)
  • Sligo-Leitrim: 2 FF, 1 FG, 1 Ind --------------------- (2 FF, 2 FG)
  • Mayo: 2 FF, 2 FG, 1 Ind ----------------------------- (2 FF, 3 FG)

Munster

  • Clare: 2 FF, 1 FG, 1 Ind ------------------------------ (3 FF, 1 FG)
  • Cork East: 2 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab ------------------------ (2 FF, 2 FG)
  • Cork North Central: 3 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab ------------- (3 FF, 2 FG)
  • Cork South Central:3 FF, 1 FG, 1 GP -------------- (3 FF, 2 FG)
  • Cork North West:2 FF, 1 FG ------------------------ (no change)
  • Cork South West:2 FF, 1 FG ------------------------ (1 FF, 2 FG)
  • Kerry North: 1 FF, 1 FG, 1 SF ---------------------- (1 FG, 1 Lab, 1 Ind)
  • Kerry South: 1 FF, 1 Lab, 1 Ind --------------------- (1 FF, 1 Lab, 1 Ind)
  • Limerick East: 2 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab, 1 PD ------------ (no change)
  • Limerick West: 2 FF, 1 FG -------------------------- (2 FG, 1 FF)
  • Tipperary North: 2 FF, 1 Ind ----------------------- (no change)
  • Tipperary South: 1 FF, 1 FG, 1 Ind ----------------- (no change)
  • Waterford: 2 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab ---------------------- (no change)

Leinster (excluding Dublin)

  • Carlow-Kilkenny*: 3 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab -------------- (2 FF, 2 FG, 1 Lab)
  • Kildare North: 1 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab ------------------ (no change)
  • Kildare South: 2 FF, 1 Lab ------------------------- (1 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab)
  • Laois-Offaly: 3FF, 1 FG, 1 PD --------------------- (3 FF, 2 FG)
  • Louth: 2 FF, 1 FG, 1 SF ---------------------------- (2 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab)
  • Meath: 3 FF, 2 FG---------------------------------- (no change)
  • Westmeath: 1 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab --------------------- (no change)
  • Wexford: 2 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab, 1 Ind ----------------- (2 FF, 2 FG, 1 Lab)
  • Wicklow: 2 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab, 1 Ind ----------------- (no change)

*Ceann Comhairle (Speaker of the House), Séamus Pattison (Lab), automatically re-elected.


Dublin

  • Dublin Central: 2 FF, 1 Lab, 1 Ind ----------------- (2 FF, 1 FG, 1 Ind)
  • Dublin Mid West: 1 FF, 1 PD, 1 GP ------------------ (New Constituency)
  • Dublin North: 2 FF, 1 Lab, 1 GP ------------------- (1 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab, 1 GP)
  • Dublin North Central: 2 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab ---------- (2 FF, 1 FG, 1 Ind)
  • Dublin North East: 2 FF, 1 Lab -------------------- (2 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab) (now a three-seater)
  • Dublin North West: 2 FF, 1 Lab -------------------- (2 FF, 2 Lab) (now a three-seater)
  • Dublin South: 2 FF, 1 FG, 1 PD, 1 GP ------------- (2 FF, 2 FG, 1 PD)
  • Dublin South Central: 2 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab, 1 SF ---- (2 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab) (now a five-seater)
  • Dublin South East: 1 FF, 1 Lab, 1 PD, 1 GP ------- (1 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab, 1 GP)
  • Dublin South West: 2 FF, 1 Lab, 1 SF ------------- (2 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab, 1 GP) (now a four-seater)
  • Dublin West: 1 FF, 1 Lab, 1 SP -------------------- (1 FF, 1 FG, 1 SP, 1 Ind) (now a three-seater)
  • Dun Laoghaire: 2 FF, 1 Lab, 1 PD, 1 GP ---------- (2 FF, 2 FG, 1 Lab)

Surprises & consequences:

  • Following his party's huge losses, Fine Gael leader Michael Noonan has stepped down, although he has agreed to stay on as caretaker leader until a new appointment is made. Candidates for the leadership are likely to include Richard Bruton (Dublin North Central), Gay Mitchell (Dublin South Central) and Enda Kenny (Mayo). It's been suggested that former leader John Bruton (Meath) may also be in contention, although he has already ruled himself out of the contest.
  • Alan Dukes, former Fine Gael leader, lost his seat in Kildare South due to some clever vote management by Fianna Fail, who won two of the three seats. Also losing seats were FG Deputy Leader Jim Mitchell, who lost out to Fianna Fail's Dermot Fitzpatrick in Dublin Central, and former Deputy Leader Nora Owen, who was eliminated on the fifth count in Dublin North, her seat going to Labour's Sean Ryan. Nora got even less votes than the local Socialist Party candidate, and commented that the news of her loss was like "being stabbed very quickly".
  • Outgoing Fine Gael TD Michael Finucane conceded the final seat to fellow Fine Gael TD Dan Neville in Limerick West, ending the recount. Finucane had trailed his running mate by a narrow margin at the end of the fourth round of counting, and had asked for a recount. His seat was taken by Fianna Fail's John Cregan.
  • Dick Spring, former Labour leader, narrowly lost his seat in Kerry North, mainly due to the surprise popularity of Martin Ferris, the Sinn Fein candidate who topped the poll there.
  • Labour leader Ruarí "Ho Chi" Quinn barely retained his seat in Dublin South-East, scraping in on the sixth count.
  • Fianna Fail leader Bertie Ahern is said to be in talks with the 13 Independent TDs with a view to winning their support for a minority government, as opposed to going into coalition with the Progressive Democrats. However, most commentators still expect the next government to be a Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrat coalition.
  • Fianna Fail's only major surprise was that Mary O'Rourke, Minister for Public Enterprise in the last Dail, lost her seat in Westmeath to fellow-Fianna Failer, former Senator Donnie Cassidy.
  • Progressive Democrat leader Mary Harney is bound to be chuffed; one of her party's early campaign slogans was "Think what we could do with eight seats" (or words to that effect), and she also placed a bet in Paddy Powers bookmakers on Baggot Street in Dublin that her party would win eight seats or more in the election. They won exactly eight seats; Mary collected €260. She said it was far too early, however, to think about her second bet; €20 on the PDs being part of the next government. The odds offered on that when she placed the bet were 33-1; they've now been sharply cut to 6-1 on.
  • Electronic Voting took place in three constituencies (Dublin North, Dublin West and Meath) for the first time ever. This dratically reduced the time taken to count the votes, and there were surprisingly few problems with it. It will cost an estimated €32 million to bring electronic voting to the entire country, but the outgoing government claim that it will have paid for itself within 20 years.


Sources:

  • http://www.ireland.com
    The Irish Times website.
  • http://electionsireland.org
    Records the results of every single general election, local election and referendum in the state's history.
  • http://www.unison.ie
    Irish news site.
  • ryano
    Co-author and man brave enough to argue with Sinn Fein.
  • Blush Response
    Co-author who beat us to it, goddammit!

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