We will likely become familiar with the term “hung Parliament” in Ireland over the coming days as the election there set for Friday, February 26 shows no clear cut winner, at least according to recent polling.
A hung parliament means that no party has sufficient seats either on its own or with its avowed coalition partner to form a majority
Incumbent government. Fine Gael and Labour show a combined 35 percent to 38 percent range average in recent polls which means the old government cannot reach a majority in that combination.
Fine Gael ran what is widely considered a poor campaign, assuming with their slogan “Keep the Recovery Going” that everyone was climbing out of the deep recessionary hole after the financial meltdown.
Not so, which they soon discovered on the doorsteps of the voters. The party changed its message during the last week, but the damage may have been done.
The Labour Party, Ireland’s oldest, formed by James Connolly, has fallen foul yet again of its thirst for power, even though that power had a sting in the tail they were perfectly familiar with.
Since the 1970s when their slogan “The Seventies Will Be Socialist” was the manta, the Labour Party has continuously sacrificed itself to get into government as a minority party instead of holding out in opposition to the right wing parties they joined with. The result will seemingly be catastrophic this time.
Into that left wing breech has marched Sinn Fein and an assortment of left leaning smaller parties and independents. Sinn Fein have oscillated between 15-20 percent, and the concerted media drive against the party has definitely impacted.
Yet the party has governed extremely well in Northern Ireland, but media in the south still believe Sinn Fein members grow horns in the night. The Shinners would be very happy to break the 25 set mark and form the effective role in opposition that Labour never attempted.
While much of the attention is on the old warhorse party leader Gerry Adams (and when did he ever back away from a fight?) there is actually a slew of millennial aged Sinn Fein candidates, young and ambitious, who will give the party a new look.
Proportionately they are likely to be the party which gains the most in the election, and they will surely play the long game far better than Labour ever did.
Fianna Fail, long the party of governance, polled only 300,000 votes in 2011, a stunning half million votes behind what they polled in 2007.
In between, down came the property market, the Celtic Tiger and a slew of corrupt builders and bank officials all connected to Fianna Fail.
To his credit the party leader Michael Martin has re-energized and refocused the party with a massive mea culpa and a fresh set of new faces. He was dominant in the leader’s debate which as we learned from the U.S. are critical contests.
The smaller parties and independents are the real soup stirrers here, gaining almost 30 percent of the vote but with political opinions spread far across the divide.
So what is the likely outcome after Friday? The media feels Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, or Fianna Gael as Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole cleverly dubbed them, is the obvious coalition, but Fianna Fail would be foolish indeed to go in as the smaller party risking Labour's fate.
With the most obvious combination unlikely, a government will still likely be cobbled together but the view is that a second election within the year to clear the air will likely be needed.