In and around the 2007 mark, some of the higher lights of my existence were regular discussions I’d have with a friend of mine called Estella. Punctuated only by the occasional intake of tea and or scones in our favourite Galway haunt, we’d talk about all sorts of things but invariably, at some point or other, the conversation would swing to our mutual and often acidic dislike of Fianna Fáil. Neither of us could abide the fecklessness, the smugness, the successive waste of opportunity and money, and we were similarly astonished how they seemed to consistently get away with it all.
Estella is at Exeter University now, and in her absence I tried to keep her updated on the seismic events of Election Day we couldn’t have imagined years ago. It’s just a shame she, like a lot of my friends who’ve had to leave Ireland for one reason or another, wasn’t able to vote on this one. It certainly wasn’t for lack of interest.
But if voting was out of the question, revelling in the cataclysmic embarrassment of Minister after Minister would have to do for Estella and everyone else. Mary Coughlan’s vote more than halved in Donegal South West and was eliminated on the fourth count. Mary Hanafin and Barry Andrews barely scraped 15% between them in Dun Laoghaire while serial poll-topper Willie O’Dea’s vote share dropped by nearly two thirds, an occurrence more embarrassing than having his insane eyebrows shaved off.
The real 'piece de resistance' of this election, the political nerd’s answer to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, was the downfall of Dick Roche and John O’Donoghue. While they’d have been turfed out on their asses decades ago in most other countries, The Bull and The Roche hung on until last weekend, when their gout-ridden fingers finally gave up the ghost. Dick Roche, who became a terrifyingly present fixture on British TV during the darker moments of the IMF intervention, could only drum up 5%, while O’Donoghue’s vote collapsing by 10% provided him with the opportunity to make a statement that would make even the most sure-stomached among us vomit in outrage: “I hope that the irony will not be lost upon you, that I stand here on my evening of defeat, in a hall, this magnificent sports complex, which I helped to build”. May his kind never be elected again.
Specific cases aside, the big picture of this election is startling. Fianna Fáil have gone from never not having a TD in every constituency to having no party representation in 25 of the 43 constitutuencies.
In Dublin, they have 1 TD out of 47. It’s unbelievable to the point of anomaly. As such if Fianna Fáil’s performance was borne out of mistake after mistake, Fine Gael’s rise to 76 seats was borne out of avoiding too many of them. Enda Kenny didn’t so much win this election as defeat the others on away goals, and at some invisible point during the campaign people decided that a Fine Gael – dominated government was what they wanted and they’d tolerate Kenny to have it.
That sense of default victory combined with the constrictive state of the public purse means that in this, the most transformative election in living memory, the public mood has stayed basically the same. It’s unlikely Enda Kenny can summon us out of our torpor. And with Labour looking all but certain to become junior partners in government, that would leave Fianna Fáil, battered and bewildered though they are, as the single biggest party in opposition. The numbers may be skewed dramatically, but the reality is political reality is the same as it ever was, and from that position Fianna Fáil can rebuild just in time for the centenary of the Easter Rising. After the 2007 election, Estella and I would regularly ask each other “How did Fianna Fáil stay in?” The chances of us in 2017 asking each other “How did Fianna Fáil get back in?” look all too likely