Niall O'Dowd: Sensation as Sinn Féin set to become North's largest party

The new celebrity politician of Ireland, George Lee, accurately summed up the implications of the rip tide that has run through the electoral triathlon, of which two legs have  been effectively decided.

In his victory speech, he said that the Government does not have a mandate to continue. The local government wipeout which seems to be in progress and the way the two by-elections to the Dail are going would certainly bear this out.

Nor are the early forecasts for the European Elections any more hopeful for the government. It´s too early to call these with certainty, but Fianna Fail could end up with no representative in the East (effectively with no one in Dublin), and Sinn Fein´s Mary Lou MacDonald could also struggle to retain her seat.

Both sides of the Irish Sea are swept these days with the prospect of electoral change, as England´s Prime Minister Gordon Brown could no doubt ruefully tell Ireland´s Brian Cowen.

But more soberly, what each leader could equally truly tell the other, is that electoral change could, very likely will, come without bringing major policy changes.

For the elephant in the Irish room the fact is, that to all intents and purposes, Dublin has ceded control of her economic affairs, no matter what new coalition of forces comes to power in the Dail, to the European Central Bank.  Whatever unpalatable medicine that institution chooses to dish out will have to be swallowed by us all.

Love affairs have to be paid for and Ireland´s fatal romance with the property developers has indeed proved a Liason Dangereuse.

The money for the dole and for bank bailouts has one thing in common - it has to be borrowed - and Brussels is the only place it can be borrowed from, that is if it can be borrowed at all. 

A mini International Monetary Fund (IMF) regime of spending cuts and credit restrictions is already in place, and a much more stringent one, more closely resembling the full blooded IMF variety, is scheduled for the autumn budget no matter what government is in power.

However, despite the restrictions of the Brussels straight jacket, the Irish electorate have managed to make one important, independent statement.

It has said loudly and clearly that it is sick of greed, corruption, inefficiency and waste. In caning Fianna Fail as it has done, and may yet do further, it has issued a warning to the political class that some kinds of behavior can no longer be gotten away with.

The powerful Irish institutions of the Churches, the Banks and the body Politic are learning a new and threatening word, accountability.

There is a seeking of justice abroad; people want to see bankers in handcuffs for fraud, and clergy in jail for the horrors they inflicted on children in their care.

The electorate wishes to see decent people taken off dole queues to which they should never have been consigned by bankers and by developers greed and by political corruption.

All these goals may not seem important in Brussels, but they are also important to the people of Ireland, whose votes are being counted this weekend.


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