The Fianna Fail party that governed while the Irish economy collapsed is showing signs of life. The party was pummeled in the last general election, winning only 20 seats in the Irish parliament (Dail Eireann), having previously held 71 seats. The big winners were Fine Gael and the Labour Party who won an extra 25 and 17 seats respectively, sweeping the two parties into a coalition government on the back of an unprecedented popular mandate. It looked like the end of the road for the once all-powerful Fianna Fail.
Since that February 2011 election Fianna Fail has struggled to establish the party as even the genuine force of opposition in the parliament, with Sinn Fein repeatedly grabbing the headlines while Fianna Fail licked its wounds. Both government parties rarely missed an opportunity to berate Fianna Fail for the economic mess the country was left in, constantly reminding the media and voters that the problems in the country were all caused by the previous government.
It is beginning to look as if that mantra may be wearing a bit thin.
Fine Gael and Labour were voted into office in the belief that they would change the way politics in Ireland is conducted. They promised sweeping economic and political reforms with ‘burn the bond-holders’ the motto of choice for the more militant of Labour supporters (a reference to the fact that Fianna Fail had pledged to repay mostly German and French bondholders in exchange for IMF/EU/ECB funding to keep the country running).
To a large extent the new government has not delivered. Some commentators are pondering just how much longer Fine Gael and Labour can continue to blame Fianna Fail for the rescue plan they implemented in the dying days of their tenure, while at the same time continuing to implement that same plan. Perhaps the government parties felt that there was such public discontent with Fianna Fail that it did not really matter that they were just carrying on the same policies. All that mattered was that they were not Fianna Fail.
A recent opinion poll should help to focus the mind of those currently in power. Fianna Fail are at 22%, Fine Gael at 30%, Labour at 12%, Sinn Fein at 14% and Independents at 19%. Fianna Fail have risen from 16% in recent months and continue to make ground against the Labour Party who look certain to be severely punished at the next general election. In recent years Sinn Fein have polled well prior to the actual ballot but never quite made the major breakthrough when the votes were counted. If that trend were to continue then the possibility of Fianna Fail being back in government within the next two general elections would be a real possibility – an amazing turnaround by any standard.
It is up to the current government and Fine Gael in particular to deliver on their election promises. Blaming Fianna Fail does not seem to be enough for an impatient and suffering Irish public.