Irish elections: new dancing partners for Fianna Fáil

Issue section: 
(316)

The Irish elections saw Fianna Fáil emerge again as the largest party, but without an overall majority.

Fine Gael, the other right wing party also increased its representation in the Dail, but with 27 fewer seats than its rival. However, it is in the search for coalition partners that the real story of the election emerges, with important lessons for the left.

The three main parties of the left - Labour, Sinn Féin and the Greens - each indicated in advance they would be prepared to form a coalition with one or other of the two main parties. Consequently any left-right division was blurred and no clear left alternative offered to voters.

Labour wedded itself to Fine Gael. Sinn Féin made clear it would be more than willing to enter a coalition with Fianna Fáil and diluted its policies accordingly. But it won less than half the seats expected weakening its bargaining position.

However, the most bizarre story involves the Greens. Party leader Trevor Sargent had said he would not enter a coalition with Fianna Fáil as a matter of principle. In fact, in winning six seats the Greens relied considerably on transfers from Fine Gael. Sargent then negotiated a coalition with Fianna Fáil, calling it a great triumph, only to resign because such a coalition was against his principles. A gesture without substance if ever there was one.

The story was not entirely bleak for the left. Richard Boyd Barrett and Brid Smith standing for the People Before Profit Alliance both did creditably, with Richard a whisker away from being elected in Dún Laoghaire. Boyd Barret was ahead until the final transfer of votes, when his main rival, Green candidate Ciarán Cuffe, received 2,500 transfers from Fine Gael. His campaign bodes well for the construction of a genuine left alternative in Irish politics.