GE2020: Ireland’s Election of … Change?
Irish politics is entering a new phase after a dynamic election battle. Election 2020 was a divisive campaign which highlighted further destruction of the civil war parties’ duopoly and foreshadowed a fascinating decade in Irish politics.
This was a change election. After nine years in power, complaints about beef prices, crime, hospital beds and accommodation were accrued to Fine Gael’s legislative decision making. This governing penalty was intensified by the electorate’s emphasis on quality of life issues such as housing and health. Fine Gael would have anticipated more electoral appreciation following breakthroughs in Stormont and prudent management of Brexit and the economy. They hoped to assure the electorate with displayed fiscal competence, tax cuts and targeted spending policies. Unlike Fianna Fail in 2007, the ruling party were unable to control the narrative. The proximity of the Brexit deadline and the polling date provided little political currency.
Fine Gael’s decline in popularity was certainly the catalyst for Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein’s rise. However, their respective capabilities to be the party of change was the key determinant of their electoral success.
Sinn Fein will be most satisfied having effectively positioned themselves as the party of radical change. Yet, their political ascendancy was hindered by doubts surrounding their governmental suitability. Older voters remained apprehensive about their stance on paramilitary organisations and internal governance structures. Sinn Fein’s decision to only field forty-two candidates after a poor showing in last year’s local elections now appears misguided.
Fianna Fail’s attempt to balance commitments on public spending with sustainable economic policies resonated with conservative voters and those in rural areas. Their involvement in the confidence and supply agreement combined with Sinn Fein’s emergence as viable leadership contenders eroded their ability to capture a larger proportion of the anti-Fine Gael sentiment.
Election 2020 confronted intergenerational equity. The divergence between the quality of life expected and that which is currently available in Ireland was a topical issue. Senior citizens believed that government expenditure should be directed towards pensions provisions whilst young people stressed the difficulties in purchasing a home, a challenge their ancestors did not face.
Smaller parties benefitted from increased exposure in this election. Despite their growth, the Green Party may feel underwhelmed with their return as climate change did not prevail as expected. Election 2020 delivered a fragmented parliament. Smaller parties such as Labour, the Social Democrats and Independents will act as kingmakers in the coming weeks as the larger parties’ bargain to form a government.
Jack O’Grady – Politics Writer