Cautionary Tales from Ireland: Part 3

Further to Brian Walker’s earlier post the atmosphere in Irish politics remains febrile. Brian Cowen’s intention (declared yesterday) to resign as party leader of the Fianna Fáil party but remain as Taoiseach (prime minister) until the upcoming election has not slowed down the blood-letting. It appears instead to have belatedly pushed his coalition partners, the Green Party, over the edge. Yesterday, Opposition politicians offered to cooperate over the passage of a crucial Finance Bill (linked to the EU/IMF bailout) if the Greens would agree to withdraw from Government and allow the dissolution of the Dáil (lower house of parliament) by the end of the week.

Today, the Greens did just that, withdrawing from Government altogether citing their frustration with the continuing cloud hanging over the Fianna Fáil leadership together with a breakdown in trust and communication with the larger party. Early guesses suggest an election will now take place before the end of February.

The political situation has been clouded in Ireland since at least late November, when the Greens forced Brian Cowen to agree to an early election in principle. A quick and utterly unscientific straw poll taken by yours truly (who happened to be in Dublin this weekend) suggests general public delight at the prospect of the current government finally leaving the stage and ending the uncertainty.

For those interested in constitutional politics, the next few months in Ireland are likely to be interesting. The two most likely coalition partners, Fine Gael and Labour, have promised at least to abolish the mildly dysfunctional but mostly inoffensive Seanad (upper house) and, in Labour’s case, to hold a constitutional convention with a view to creating a completely new constitution. Politically speaking, the radical left in Ireland – never historically strong – have been reorganising and look likely to make a reasonable showing in the coming election. Fianna Fáil, historically the largest party, are currently languishing neck and neck with the fairly peripheral Sinn Féin in opinion polls and look to be destined for long term exile, if not obliteration.

I suspect Irish politics will be measured out in 24-hour movements for some time to come.

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