As the population of Tripoli, Libya and other Libyan cities brave the bullets of regime mercenaries and risk being strafed by pilots who have not yet defected to Malta and elsewhere, the voters of Ireland go quietly to the polls. They are now taking the opportunity to throw out a government that was so feckless that it presided over a property boom that makes America's similar boom look restrained. The Anglo-Irish Bank has collapsed and other banks are in various stages of insolvency--being bailed out by a loan package from the European Union that has very stiff repayment conditions. It is estimated that the Irish debt now amounts to approximately $500,000 per capita. No wonder common skilled laborers could afford summer homes in Ireland or abroad before the debt was called in.
Since 1932, the third election it contested, Fianna Fail has been the largest party in Ireland. It has since that day always received at least 39 percent of the popular vote and until 1989 when it governed--which was most of the time--it governed alone, with either the support of independents as a minority government or as a majority government. Recent polls have Fine Gael at 40 percent giving it possibly enough deputies--TDs--to govern with support from independents. If not, or possibly simply to gain more stability, Fine Gael will rule Ireland in a coalition government with Labour, its junior partner in coalition governments in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are Center-Right parties, closer to each other in ideology than to their competitor parties. They represent the two sides of the Irish Civil War of 1922-23, fought over the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 that ended the Irish War of Independence. Ultimately, the war was fought over whether or not to take an oath of loyalty to the British sovereign before entering the Dail. Fine Gael is the successor to the party that won the war and ruled Ireland for its first decade of independence. Fianna Fail is the party of the man, Eamon de Valera, who vowed never to utter the oath and after losing the war did so three years later. For the next sixty years elections were fought over the civil war and then during the 1980s and 1990s over economic issues and Northern Ireland. Irish politics were until late last year much like American politics following the Civil War and up until the New Deal and possibly even the 1960s.
It looks like Fianna Fail's junior coalition partner during the 2000s, the Green Party, will be obliterated in this election. Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army, looks to at least double its representation in the Dail from five to ten. Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, the man who claims to have never been in the IRA (but whose nephews and uncles ran the organization in Belfast for decades) quit his always-vacant seat in the British parliament from West Belfast and traveled south to Co. Louth to contest a seat in the Dail. That is where the body of Jean McConville, a Belfast woman murdered by the IRA for either informing for the British or comforting a dying British soldier, was discovered in 2003. A recently published book based on interviews with a former senior IRA operative in Belfast claims that Adams gave the order for McConville's murder. Her daughter has been trailing Adams on the campaign trail acting as a one-woman truth squad. Most politicians have figurative skeletons in the closet; Adams has real skeletons in figurative closets!
Social Democratic and Labour Party leader Margaret Ritchie recently traveled south and injected herself into southern politics to claim that Sinn Fein is acting like "green Communists in the South and red Tories in the North." In other words, they are hypocrites accepting severe cuts in Belfast as part of the ruling coalition but condemning Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour for doing the same in Dublin.
From the 1840s to the early 1990s the Irish working class has always use emigration as a primary means of earning a living. First it was to America, then to Britain and Australia. And finally to the European mainland after Ireland joined the EEC with Britain in 1972. The migration flow reversed itself in the mid-1990s as the Celtic Tiger economic miracle took hold and business boomed. For a dozen years the Irish had it good! Now graduating university students will be once more departing to try their luck abroad. Ireland's loss is the world's gain as well-educated English speakers flock to America, Britain, and the Continent once more.
How the new Irish government handles the new austerity program will be a weather vane for the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain), which are on the verge (or over the edge and on the way to the bottom in Greece's case) of economic insolvency as well. All of Europe will be watching Dublin closely for signals. Those interested in the fate of the European Union should as well.