Irish elections: a new earthquake coming? Special VoteWatch analysis

Ireland will hold its parliamentary elections on 26 February. Although a small country, its political dynamics are important for the EU as a whole for at least two key reasons. Firstly, it is an indicator of success of the EU-stimulated economic reforms. Secondly, Ireland requires a referendum for any new EU treaty and, as seen in 2008, the result of such a referendum should not be taken for granted.

The three other countries that benefitted from the bailout fund of the Troika (Commission, ECB and IMF) and have been subject to economic adjustment programs have experienced dramatic changes of their political landscape. Greece has seen the rise of the far-left Syriza who won two consecutive elections and does its best to minimise the reforms requested by its international creditors.

In Portugal, the government is now made up of a ‘more public spending’ coalition (of both pro-EU and anti-EU forces) who has only narrowly avoided the rejection of its budget by the European Commission just recently. In Spain, the Socialists are struggling to form a government and it is not yet clear if they will ultimately exclude Podemos from it, a party which rejects many of the EU’s views. If PSOE will not be able to form a functional government, it is not unthinkable that Podemos will become the main leftist party in Spain.

Read: Amigos y Rivales, Top 20 votes of the Spanish parties.

Ireland, for its part, has had its share of political shakeup in 2011. Back then, Fianna Fail, the Republican centrist party which had dominated Irish politics for almost a century was defeated, losing two third of its seats in Parliament. Fianna Fail was the ruling party when the financial crisis hit Ireland between 2008 and 2010 resulting in a harsh recession and a brutal property crash in the country. Irish banks collapsed and the country entered the internationally-monitored economic adjustment program.

The Fine Gael (EPP), a liberal conservative, Christian democratic and pro-EU party won the 2011 elections, gaining 76 out of 166 seats. The Fine Gael is currently the senior partner in the ruling coalition with the Labour Party.

Since 2011, the government has put in place what were seen as largely successful policies to ensure Ireland’s economic recovery. Thus, in 2013, Ireland exited the bailout program and has now the highest economic growth rate in the EU. The employment rate has also seen a substantial increase. However, many voters are disillusioned by the austerity measures after years of social sacrifices, especially after the controversial introduction of water charges, which sparked massive public protests. Prime Minister Enda Kenny (Fine Gael) will have to convince voters that the current recovery is substantial and sustainable.

At the same time, since 2011, the Sinn Fein (GUE-NGL), the left-wing Republican Party has become more and more popular as it opposed austerity and developed strong eurosceptic views. On the other hand, new political groups have been formed (the left-wing Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit group, the Social Democrats, the right-leaning Renua Ireland) which may gain some votes at the expense of traditional parties such as Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or the Labour Party. Moreover, independent candidates, who were very successful in 2011, continue to be on the rise and diminish the share of the votes of the established parties.

According to recent opinion polls, the Fine Gael would remain the largest party in Parliament with around 28-30% of the popular vote, but the current coalition would struggle to form a majority for a second term. Indeed, it seems difficult for the Labour to gain enough votes to maintain a two party coalition, as it faces accusation of betraying its working class roots by participating to austerity cuts. Currently, the party would gather only 7-8% of voting intentions. Thus, the Fine Gael may have to include in a coalition smaller parties such as Renua or the Social democrats.

For its part, Sinn Fein, which would have 20-21% of the votes, has declared it won’t be part of an alliance with the Liberal conservative Party. Some analysts have advocated that the Sinn Fein should form a coalition with Fianna Fail (19% of voting intentions). However, such an alliance seems unfeasible, giving the strong differences in views and political party leaders never expressed their willingness to collaborate.

The more likely governing coalition seems to be between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, which would secure a comfortable parliamentary majority. Such a government would continue the pro-EU stance of Dublin, although the addition of Fianna Fail as junior partner may generate more questioning of the EU’s (economic) policies, after the lessons learned from the two successive referenda on EU’s Lisbon Treaty in 2008 and 2009. Back then, Fianna Fail controlled the government who lost its case at the first Lisbon Treaty referendum as the voters rejected its proposal. FF had to moderate its pro-EU stance and re-negotiate a new deal with Brussels, which was eventually accepted by the voters the year after.

The table below shows the positions that the Irish parties have taken in the European Parliament on key issues voted since the 2014 European elections.

Notes: the only representative of Fianna Fail in the EP is MEP Brian Crowley, who has been unable to take part in EP votes due to illness. For this reason, Fianna Fail is not in this table.

Also, there are no representatives of the Labour Party in the EP. However, we have included MEP Nessa Childers, as she is the only Irish representative in the EP’s Socialist and Democrats group.


To check the details of these votes, please access this Annex.

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