Opinion Polls driving Fianna Fail and Fine Gael together – Doom for Labour Party

The prospect of Fianna Fail entering a coalition with Fine Gael after the next General Election is looking ever more possible. A recent Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll certainly points toward such a possibility and also makes very, very bad reading for the Labour Party.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams

Labour are currently in Government with Fine Gael whom they joined in coalition after the 2011 General Election. Fine Gael took the bulk of the Fianna Fail vote with Labour also soaring to new highs in the hope that the party would see off the money-men of the EU/IMF/ECB troika who were/are hated by large sections of the Irish population.

‘Burn the bondholders’
‘Let the banks fail’,
‘Gilmore for Taoiseach’ were the rallying cries.

The reality has been very different for the Labour Party. Nurses, Labourers, Teachers, Public and Civil Servants, lower-paid workers and even the unemployed all voted for Labour in their droves at the last election. Now they are looking elsewhere.

Irish Nurses proitest against Government policies

By continuing the policies of the previous Fianna Fail government both Labour and Fine Gael chose to play a long game. Fine Gael could make the case that they have no choice but to implement the policies they inherited while alternately blaming Fianna Fail and then claiming the credit for the economy stabilizing. Labour however, have no such luxury.

It was the Labour Party that was supposed to represent the working classes. Instead they implemented cuts to services and installed the hated Property Tax, threatening and bullying the Irish citizenry into submission.

Eamon Gilmore is the Labour Party leader

Just 6% of voters now say they would now vote for Labour (down from 19%) while 23% say they would vote for Sinn Fein and 22% for Fianna Fail. Sinn Fein and the Labour Party occupy much of the same left-wing space on the political spectrum yet it is Gerry Adam’s party that now seems to represent the working classes. Historically though Sinn Fein have always done better in opinion polls than at the ballot box. This is probably because their support comes largely from a younger population who are in fact less likely to actually vote.

With 26% support Fine Gael cannot afford to be too smug either. Both they and Fianna Fail have repeatedly said that they would not go into a coalition Government with Sinn Fein. Logically then, if an election were held tomorrow the obvious new Government would be a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail!

In the US this would be the equivalent of John Boehner cozying up with Barack Obama in a Democrat-Republican national government to run the country.

Could it happen in Ireland? This possibility has recently been floated by former members of both of these political parties. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have their genesis in the 1922 Irish Civil War. Over the last two decades any lingering differences have rapidly dissipated. Socially Fine Gael is viewed as being more conservative than Fianna Fail but there seems to be little to choose between their economic approach.

Is a grand union possible?

In Ireland after the economic crash, anything is possible.

Divisions In Irish Government Over Abortion Laws

The Fine Gael and Labour Coalition Government are committed to implementing legislation on foot of the X-Case. This 1992 Irish Supreme Court case confirmed that a woman was entitled to an abortion in Ireland if her health was threatened. This included the risk to her health of suicide and it is this provision that is causing so much trouble for the Government.



Fine Gael are perhaps the most conservative of the larger political parties in Ireland with many of their T.D.’s (members of the Irish Parliament) being from rural districts. Some of their Dublin T.D’s are now also very concerned about the new legislation and it is clear that they will vote against the proposals.

The proposed legislation does not actually change the law of the country relating to abortion. Rather, it clarifies and formalizes the procedures that should be implemented when the medical profession encounter such difficult scenarios.

The impetus for the legislation was brought about by the tragic death of Savita Halapanavar who was denied an abortion and died from complications relating to a miscarriage she had while in the care of the Irish health-care system. It is clear that her life could have been saved had the medical profession had clearer instructions on how to act. Currently Doctors are having to interpret the legal position on an individual case-by-case basis and at their own risk.



It is proposed that the abortion legislation will provide a procedure whereby a suicidal woman can be legally given an abortion. This circumstance may occur for example where a woman or teenager is raped and becomes pregnant. The rebel Fine Gael T.D’s are concerned that this provision may be abused and lead to a situation of ‘abortion on demand’.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has so far ruled out a ‘free vote’ on the issue, whereby Party members would not be obliged to vote for the legislation with the possibility of being expelled from the Party if they did not. Fianna Fail may allow their own members to have a free vote which would certainly cause problems for Fine Gael if they did not follow suit. The Labour Party, Sinn Fein and most Independents will vote in favour of the measures so it seems that the new legislation is very likely to be passed and become law.

The difficulty for Fine Gael is just how much damage it will inflict on itself over this, perhaps the most divisive of all social issues.

by Michael Green
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Further Fianna Fail Poll Surge Is The Low-Mark Of Irish Despondency

The ruling Fianna Fail Party was trounced in the 2011 election. At 17% of the vote they seemed to be on the very edge of oblivion. Fine Gael and Labour had brushed them aside, bolted into power on a wave of optimism about ‘real change’ and ‘burning the bond-holders’ (a reference to not paying back bank loans to unsecured bond-holders in Europe).

For a while it seemed that there might actually be some a change in direction. But alas it is now clear that the current Government has merely assimilated the trappings of power worn with such gusto by Fianna Fail, and in fact is implementing much of the previous Government’s policies.

It is difficult now to see any real difference between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael from a policy standing. The historical civil-war divide between the two parties is now all but irrelevant. Fine Gael have made very few changes to the deal struck with the EU/IMF/ECB troika who are lending Ireland huge sums of money in order to pay back German and French banks (and at a nice interest rate). Even the renegotiation of the Irish Promissory Note Deal is but a scratch on the surface of the mountain of debt facing the country. Heralded as a triumph it actually increases the amount of debt Ireland owes!

The Irish electorate is facing a scenario where there are two big Parties occupying the moderate central section of the Irish political landscape (Fine Gael, Fianna Fail) while the Labour Party vainly attempts to brand itself as the party of the left wing, a space now dominated by Sinn Fein and the Socialist Party. Rumours abound that the vacancy for a more right-of-centre Party may about to be filled with the establishment of a new ‘Progressive Democrats’ style of Party, but it has not happened yet.

The most recent opinion poll shows that Fianna Fail are now the best supported Party in the country at 27% compared to Fine Gael on 25%, 20% for Sinn Fein and Labour at 13%.

How could this happen?

How could the Party that was in Government while the Irish economy imploded be a mere two years later regarded as the best bet to lead Ireland to recovery?

Perhaps it is a sign that the current Government has failed or that the prospect of Sinn Fein in power is just too much for some people. Perhaps it is the disgust with the Labour Party being expressed so openly now by even some of its own membership. Perhaps it is the now five years of austerity and hardship that has been imposed on a relatively docile Irish citizenry by its masters in Government.

Perhaps it is a combination of all of the above – or is it that such are the depths of Irish despondency and cynicism with the Irish body politic that people will now vote for anyone just to get some real change.

Anyone.

Even Fianna Fail.

by Michael Green
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Opinion Polls Confirm Labour Party Slide and Fianna Fail Gain

Two separate opinion polls have confirmed the recent rise in support for Fianna Fail and the continuing decline in the popularity of the Labour Party.

The left-wing Labour Party has been widely criticized by both its rank and file membership and by some of its own Parliamentary members for its conduct while in Government. The primary purpose of the Labour Party was to protect the most vulnerable and poorest sections of Irish society. Their association with the policies of the ruling Fine Gael Party is making a lie of that philosophy.

Already they have signed up to budget cuts and tax increases including the new Property Tax that the Party claims it had no choice but to agree to. Their difficulties are reflected in two recent polls that show the Party now trailing Sinn Fein in several key Dublin constituencies. The results of the two polls are shown below:

Labour Party 11% and 11% (19% in 2011 General Election)
Fianna Fail 24% and 21% (17% in 2011)
Fine Gael 26% and 28% (36% in 2011)
Sinn Fein 13% and 19% (10% in 2011)

The trend is very clear with Labour in decline, Fianna Fail improving, Sinn Fein improving but volatile and a big increase in the ‘worry factor’ for Fine Gael.

by Michael Green
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Unionists May Call Bluff On Sinn Fein Over United Ireland Referendum

In a surprise development Democratic Unionist Minister Arlene Foster has suggested that her party may actually support Sinn Fein’s call for a vote on a United Ireland – the ‘border poll’.



Sinn Fein have recently begun a campaign to have a border poll held in Northern Ireland to decide if a majority still want to stay within the United Kingdom. The Republican party have been boosted by recent census statistics that have revealed a big reduction in the overall size of the majority of Protestants in Ulster. The party has repeatedly said that it wants a referendum held in advance of the 1916 Easter Rising centenary.

The DUP Economy Minister has stated that she held talks with First Minister Peter Robinson about calling the bluff of Sinn Fein and that any such referendum would produce an overwhelming mandate for remaining within the UK. She claims that Sinn Fein are engaged in ‘fantasy politics’.

This is certainly a very high stakes game. If a referendum were to be held it would doubtless be mirrored by an increase in violence, intimidation and tension within Ulster and would likely empower the more radical extremes of both Protestant and Catholic traditions.

by Michael Green
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Sinn Fein Calls for Vote on United Ireland – a ‘border poll’

The ‘Good Friday Agreement’ that saw an end to the armed conflict in Northern Ireland has a number of provisions including the possibility of a vote on the removal of the border with the Republic and thus a United Ireland. It has always been the express political aim of Sinn Fein to achieve a United Ireland and the party has clearly taken heart from recent census results of the population in the six Counties.

The census revealed that the once significant gap between the Protestant majority and Catholic minority has diminished significantly. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency published the results of the 2011 census showing that 45% of the population are now Catholic while 48% are Protestant. This compares to the 2001 census when the ratio was 53% Protestant to 44% Catholic – a very significant closing of the gap.

When asked to identify themselves as British, Northern Irish or Irish 48% identified as British with 29% identifying as Northern Irish and 28% as Irish. Respondents were allowed to choose a number of identities in the census. 40% identified as ‘British only’, 25% as ‘Irish only’ with 21% ‘Northern Irish only’.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has ramped up the pressure by calling for a referendum during the lifetime of the current Northern Assembly (parliament). In an attempt to sway moderates he has also suggested that there would be economic benefits on both sides of the border should a United Ireland come into effect after a ‘border poll’. Of course any such moves are going to be fiercely resisted by Ulster Unionists who claim Ulster as their own.

Edited by Michael Green
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Increase in Support for Fianna Fail as Government Parties Suffer

A recent opinion poll of Irish voters has shown a further increase in support for Fianna Fail. The party that has been blamed for the current economic downturn was pummeled in the last General Election but is now beginning to show signs of recovery.

Perhaps part of the reason for Fianna Fail’s rebound is the failure of Fine Gael to introduce a ‘new kind of politics’ as they promised. At the last General Election Enda Kenny’s party asked Fianna Fail supporters to ‘lend us your vote’ while they got the country back on track. Many voters did and it seems are now regretting their decision.

The poll showed Fine Gael at 29%, down 7% since the 2011 election. Fianna Fail are next at 21%, up 4% since election day. The vote for Sinn Fein is very volatile and they are currently at 16%, up by 6% from the last election. The biggest loser is the Labour Party who look certain to be severely punished for their collusion in introducing austerity budgets and a national property tax. They are currently on 13%, down by 6% since the election.

Of course it is difficult to say just how much of the Fianna Fail support is just a protest at the current government. What remains a real possibility though is that the party could at least hope to return to government in the next election, especially given the difficulties faced by the Labour Party.

A year ago that seemed like a fanciful thought.

Flag Protests Continue in Ulster

The demonstrations by Ulster Unionists over the Union Jack Flag controversy have continued with no end in sight.

The protests were sparked by the recent decision by Belfast City Council to restrict the number of days that the British Union Jack flag would be flown above Belfast City Hall from 365 days to 17. Increasingly violent protests have been taking place with Belfast business owners despairing at the loss of revenue and warning of possible job losses.

Unionist protesters are even planning to demonstrate outside the Irish parliament building (Dail Eireann) in an event that is certain to be met with opposition by Dublin nationalists.

There is a very real concern that the protests in Ulster have been hi-jacked by paramilitary factions seeking to promote their own agenda. A confrontation with similar Dublin-based factions would result in a big problem for local law enforcement.

Trouble Continues in Ulster Over Flag Restrictions

The decision by Belfast City Council to restrict the number of days that the British Union Jack flag can be flown above Belfast City Hall from 365 days to 17 has been greeted with an escalating amount of violent protest in Belfast and beyond.

At least 27 police officers have so far been injured in the violence that has followed several protests by loyalists who oppose the decision. Bricks and petrol bombs have been thrown at security forces, cars burned and death threats made to Councillors.

Despite appeals by the North’s First Minister Peter Robinson,himself a loyalist, for the violence to cease, it has been reported that loyalist paramilitary influence may be driving the protests.

The violence has coincided with the visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who was warmly greeted by both Peter Robinson and his Sinn Fein counterpart Martin McGuinness. The former first-lady and her husband Bill Clinton were pivotal figures in the fledgling peace process and became the first US President and first-lady to visit the province in 1995.

Sixth Successive Austerity Budget May Be The Final Straw

The annual budget announced by the Irish Government has been received with a greater degree of anger and protest than previous announcements. This is the sixth successive austerity budget that Irish Governments have enacted. All have been unpopular but this latest budget may represent a tipping point.

Already reeling from years of tax hikes and cuts in services the Irish public had elected Fine Gael and the Labour Party on the basis that a new direction would be taken. A very different direction from that followed by the previous Fianna Fail administration.

It is not that the Irish people expected a sudden end to the financial pain that the country has endured – far from it. But they were entitled to expect that Fine Gael and Labour would not simply continue to enact Fianna Fail’s policies. These were the very policies that caused Fianna Fail to be trounced so convincingly at the last general election.

Fine Gael promised a new direction while Labour promised to protect the less well-off and vulnerable. These latest budget announcements have clearly made a lie of those promises.

Cuts to child benefit, a new property tax, increases in social insurance payments, cuts to services to pensioners! 3.5 Billion euro in cuts and tax hikes were announced which will result in just about every family being hit by an average of at least an extra 1000 euro annually. The important word in that last sentence is ‘extra’. The property tax alone will take hundreds from every household on top of the other taxes.

‘You cannot tax your way out of a recession’ is a tenet that clearly the current Government does not agree with. It is just impossible to quantify the amount of cash that is being taken out of the Irish economy, both in terms of actual currency and in terms of consumer and investor confidence, at precisely the time when that economy needs to be stimulated.

It seems that Fine Gael are playing a long game. Get the pain over with now. Take the hit and hope things turn around in the next couple of years before the next election. If all fails then blame the last Fianna Fail Government for getting us into this mess. If the economy turns the corner and things improve then they can claim the credit. Pretty cynical stuff.

And what of the Labour Party – the protector of the vulnerable. By introducing a property tax in Ireland they have likely provided Sinn Fein with the final nail to pound into their coffin. The property tax will be an annual tax and it is almost certain to be one of the big issues that may even decide the next general election. Labour look certain to be decimated. Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein can offer to scrap the tax if they are installed in power – that would be a sure vote-grabber. Pretty cynical stuff.

The next few days and weeks will show if the Irish people still have some fight left. Is this really a tipping point or have the Irish simply given up and succumbed to the weight of recession and austerity? And cynicism.