Category Archives: Ireland

Guest Post: Irish Referendums 2015

David J. Barrett contributed this excellent guest post covering the results of the two referendums held in Ireland on May 22, 2015

Two referendums and a by-election to parliament took place on Friday May 22nd in Ireland. The referendums took place in order to change the constitution to allow same-sex marriage, and to lower the age of eligibility for candidates running for President from 35 to 21. The by-election took place to fill the vacancy caused by the appointment of Phil Hogan to the European Commission.

The referendum in marriage was a long-time coming, but still moved quickly when it did. Ireland has traditionally been very far from the lead in socially progressive legislation in Europe. Homosexuality was only legalized in 1993 and divorce only won a referendum in 1995 by about 9,000 votes – less than 1%. Abortion is still one of the live-issues of Irish politics and is still effectively illegal. Nonetheless after legalization public opinion moved relatively quickly. In 2010 civil unions, with many similarities to marriage (albeit without being exactly the same) was pushed through by the then governing Fianna Fail-Green coalition, after having been repeatedly proposed by the social-democratic  Labour Party in legislation while in opposition for several years prior to that. It faced nearly negligible opposition when actually brought to a vote – with only a handful of senators in the largely powerless upper house seriously expressing disquiet over the issue. Reaction to the legislation among the Irish LGBT community was generally positive, albeit not uniformly so, with the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) expressing their support for the legislation while Marriage Equality – an organization with an eponymous raison d’etre – pointing out the numerous legal differences between civil partnership and marriage.

In the 2011 election Ireland elected openly gay parliamentarians to the Dail – the lower house of parliament – for the first time, having long had Senator David Norris in the upper house. Norris, who led the legal fight in the courts to get homosexuality legalized, was later that year considered the heavy favourite to win Ireland’s largely ceremonial presidency in polls before ultimately faltering, but the popularity of his campaign showed how homosexuality seemed to be increasingly a non-issue in Irish politics.

Same-sex marriage was not in the programme for government of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition that took power in 2011. Instead, the issue was put to the Constitutional Convention, a joint assembly of citizen’s and politicians that would consider a variety of civic and political reforms. The constitutional convention voted overwhelmingly to recommend the issue to the government, along with a variety of other reforms, including lowering the eligibility age for presidential and lowering the voting age.

However the step from civil partnership to full marriage was always going to be more difficult. The Irish court system had previously ruled that the constitutional definition of family was limited to opposite-sex couples only. This meant that any change to the legal status of marriage required a referendum – like any other change in the Irish constitution. While the government’s poll rating had slipped since the election, the referendum began to be seen increasingly as the most inevitable of those proposed by the Convention, not least owing to the passionate support it received from the Labour Party, whose then leader Eamon Gilmore called it the ‘Civil Rights issue of our generation’. Fine Gael as well became increasingly more supportive as time went on, with motions supporting same-sex marriage being supported by the youth wing of the party, and with the foundation of an LGBT wing led by popular Cork based deputy Jerry Buttimer, who came out after the 2011 election.

On January 11th 2014 Rory O’Neill, a popular Irish drag queen who is best name as his alter-ego ‘Panti Bliss’, was interviewed by the state broadcaster RTE, in which he alleged that two socially conservative newspapers columnists for the Irish Times, a major broadsheet newspaper in Ireland, Breda O’Brien and John Waters, were homophobic. Both O’Brien and Waters sued RTE for defamation, who immediately settled and paid them a sum of €85,000. There was immediate outrage not only among the LGBT community but among politicians and wider society, which culminated in large protests and a passionate and extremely well-watched speech by Panti in the Abbey Theatre, which currently has over 700,000 views on YouTube. With the referendum very well anticipated by this point it was a seen as an early battleground between the liberal and conservative portions of Irish politics.

The Yes side spent a considerable proportion of their energy initially ensuring that large numbers of county councils passed resolutions in favour of same-sex marriage, in order to help build a sense of momentum for the idea among the body politic.

Much of the work before the referendum concerned the ‘Children and Family Relationships Bill’, which was an omnibus piece of legislation that aimed to address legal ambiguities involving all kinds of non-traditional families, including LGBT ones. While not strictly related to the referendum the passage of the bill before the vote was seen as absolutely necessary for the referendum to pass, as the bill would remove most of the issues that the No side to the referendum would likely raise regarding children and the family. In the event the bill only passed the upper house on March 20th, very close to the final date of the referendum, so much of the issues dealt with in the bill were seen by many as tied up with the referendum.

The Campaign

Both the Yes and No campaigns carefully studied previous campaigns in the US and Eastern Europe for advice over what worked and what did not for their rivals, giving the campaign a much more international than previous referendums.

Irish referendums have been dominated in recent years by the Coughlan and McKenna Supreme Court Judgments. These hold that governments cannot spend public money to promote their own proposal and that the state broadcaster must be ‘balanced’ in their coverage of the issue – which has usually been interpreted as giving exactly equal airtime to both sides.

The Yes campaign was supported by all major political parties, and a major civic society effort. Fine Gael and Labour in particular were active in promoting the government’s proposal with campaigns that emphasized the idea of equality for every citizen, with extensive and costly poster campaigns, and with many deputies running their own campaigns for the proposal in their own local area. The far-left and nationalist Sinn Fein, similarly, strongly supported a Yes vote, with their campaign invoking the 1916 proclamation, a document written by Irish rebels in 1916 declaring an Irish Republic that is considered the founding document of the Irish state, albeit without legal force, that all children of the nation be cherished equally. The centrist and populist Fianna Fail similarly ran a colourful poster campaign, but the party was noticeably more lukewarm in its support than the others and almost non-existent beyond the efforts of Senator Averil Power, based in northern Dublin suburbs, and a few local councilors. Indeed Wexford based Senator Jim Walsh resigned from the party over the party’s support for the proposal and for its support of the Children and Family Relationships’ bill. The party gave a distinct impression of being more interested in campaigning for the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election, which the party was regarded as strongly competitive in, than in the referendum.

ireland2015-1However civic society was undoubtedly the main force of the Yes campaign. GLEN, Marriage Equality and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, who pooled their organisations to make ‘Yes Equality’ (YE), which rapidly became a campaigning behemoth in several areas of the country. YE largely ran a conservative message, emphasizing the importance of family and stability in people’s lives, and how a yes vote would reduce stigma and improve the mental health of young LGBT people. Much of their early literature focused on well known sports and television personalities popular in rural Ireland, as it was felt that these individuals who would appeal to swing voters, rather than the outspoken liberals most associated with LGBT rights before this point.

YE’s actual strategy was similar to that of any political party – knock on as many doors as possible nationwide and speak to voters. While this has long been considered the best strategy for parties in general elections it is normally not done in referendums due to a severe shortage of volunteers. Most parties find it difficult to muster up their own members to campaign even over contentious European treaty referendums, and other volunteers tend to be extremely sparse. This means that the ‘ground war’ in most referendums is limited to things with high visibility, such as distributing leaflets at sporting occasions. However YE had no such shortage of volunteers, particularly in Dublin and Cork, where the number of campaigners in a constituency per night regularly passed fifty. YE was partially motivated in this approach by the (now utterly discredited and found to be fabricated) study of LaCour and Green, which found that people speaking to those that they know to be LGBT helps change attitudes positively significantly.

ireland2015-3The No side ran a significantly more traditional referendum campaign. It had no political parties in support, but a number of politicians did support  them, such independent Mattie McGrath and former Fianna Fail junior minister John McGuinness in the lower house, and Senators Ronan Mullen and Fidelma Healy Eames in the upper house. The Catholic Church also lent their support to the campaign. It was also supported a by a few media figures – most noticeably newspaper columnists David Quinn, Breda O’Brien and John Waters. Most of these figures amalgamated their efforts into the civic society group ‘Mothers and Fathers Matter’ (MFM). Their campaign focused little on the issue directly at hand. Their posters emphasized surrogacy and the importance of gender specific parents biologically related to the child, as well as arguing that No voters were being ‘silenced’ and discriminated against by a liberal society. The overall thrust of their campaign however focused on the ‘air war’, where their lack of volunteers on the ground (certainly relative to YE) was less noticeable and where they would be obliged to receive the same airtime as YE.

Both sides were well funded. YE in particular attracted an exceptionally large amount of small donations and also managed to make a considerable sum on the sale of campaign related merchandise. In particular YE badges became ubiquitous, with over 500,000 in circulation. The source of funding for MFM was more ambiguous – but they could clearly print posters and post literature at the same rate as YE, and also paid a considerable sum for seemingly endless advertisements on YouTube.

A selection of posters from both sides in Dublin city centre can be seen on either side.

Polling in the campaign stayed quite consistent, with support for Yes consistently high, and usually over 70%. Almost no one from either side of the campaign believed these numbers however, as it was felt that there was a strong social desirability factor in voting yes and many Irish referendums see extremely inaccurate poll numbers (with several European treaties and the abolition of the upper house being defeated in spite of no poll showing the Yes side behind). Additionally many spoke of the 1995 divorce referendum, which polled well and then saw the lead for the Yes side dwindle to almost nothing. As, arguably, the referendum most similar to it both sides planned for a similarly close finish.

ireland2015-2Voters could be forgiven for not knowing that there was a second referendum, as the ballot on the presidential age had no campaign launched either for or against it, and received essentially no air time, which was probably related to the issue seeming almost laughably trivial compared to the other item on the ballot paper. There was essentially no polling done on it either, but almost all expected it to be heavily defeated.

The by-election in Carlow-Kilkenny, a predominantly rural constituency in the South-East of the country, was somewhat unusual, as almost every party had reason to expect to do reasonably well. FG was defending the seat and ran a local councillor, but this was also the area that FF received the highest percentage of the vote nationwide in their 2011 wipeout and were running a former parliamentarian for the area, and both Carlow and Kilkenny were among Labour’s best areas nationally in the last local election. SF was also polling exceptionally well nationally, and this was one of the few areas nationwide where the Green Party had a well-entrenched local councilor. The newly founded conservative ‘Renua’ party also managed to recruit a local councilor off FF, and hoped for a strong showing.


Results – Marriage Equality Referendum
Votes Of total
 Yes 1,201,607 62.07%
 No 734,300 37.93%
Valid votes 1,935,907 99.29%
Invalid or blank votes 13,818 0.71%
Total votes 1,949,725 100.00%
Voter turnout 60.52%
Electorate 3,221,681
Results – Presidential Age Referendum
Votes Of total
 Yes 520,898 26.94%
 No 1,412,602 73.06%
Valid votes 1,933,500 99.18%
Invalid or blank votes 15,938 0.82%
Total votes 1,949,438 100.00%
Voter turnout 60.51%
Electorate 3,221,681

The Marriage Equality passed resoundingly, with only one of 43 constituencies – Roscommon-South Leitrim, in the west of the country, rejecting the proposal. By contrast the Presidential Age referendum lost resoundingly. It failed to win a single constituency nationwide and had the lowest Yes vote of any referendum in Irish history. FF won the by-election, being well clear of FG in the final count.

Results of the same-sex marriage referendum by constituency (source: Wikipedia)

While the Yes vote in the Marriage Equality was lower than most polls suggested, it was still well in line with what they were suggesting. Indeed it was the highest vote in favour of same-sex marriage anywhere in the world by nearly 10%.  Based on previous form with referendums and polling this was considered extremely surprising and a result near stunning victory for YE. David Quinn effectively conceded for the No side within less than hour of the votes being counted and suggesting a near-landslide in Dublin.

The reason for YE’s near total victory can be seen in the extremely high turnout figure – which is near, albeit not quite at, general election turnout numbers in Ireland, and is the referendum with the highest turnout since divorce. While a high turnout the level of enthusiasm for actually voting surprised nearly every observer. Huge numbers enrolled on the electoral register for the first time – with nearly 67,000 voters ending up on the supplemental voting register – a resource for those who register after the deadline for the main register which is historically almost never used. Unofficial tallies of the boxes these votes were cast in suggested that they almost unanimously supported Yes. Ireland has no postal voting (which is likely related to large numbers of residents of Northern Ireland and the US who have Irish citizenship but have never actually been resident in Ireland), and in the final days of the campaign #hometovote started trending globally on twitter. With Ireland’s economic difficulties since 2008 a considerable number of young people left the country for jobs and opportunities elsewhere. A considerable number of them returned from very afield in order to vote on the proposal – with virtually all of Ryanair’s flights to Dublin the day before the vote sold out weeks in advance, and with individuals coming from considerably further afield than that (two friends of the author returned from New York and Mozambique to vote – these are extreme but not actually particularly uncommon examples).

However there was still a geographical split. Urban areas, and particularly Dublin, were noticeably more in favour of the proposal than rural ones, with areas in the North and West of the country having particularly low Yes votes compared to the national average (indeed the only No constituency was in this region, as were the next seven closest constituencies). This sort of split is not particularly unusual in Irish referendums.

What was unusual however was the internal breakdown of areas. Normally middle class Southern Dublin leads the way on issues relating to Europe and on social reform. Here the picture was much more mixed. The highest Yes constituency was indeed Dublin South East – an extremely wealthy constituency home to most of Dublin’s south city centre and the base of most of Ireland’s tech companies – making the constituency have an extremely high student and young professional population that naturally favoured a Yes.  However what many of the other most favourable constituencies for Yes in Dublin share is being predominantly working class. By contrast Dublin South, a middle class area of suburban lawns and golf club memberships, which is usually very high on these measures, scoring among the lowest Yes votes in Dublin. While surprising to observers this was certainly not news to Yes campaigners, who regularly reported having a more difficult time in such more ‘settled’ areas, with an older population, more Church influence and less exposure to non-nuclear families generally. Turnout in Dublin was much more uniform than normal between middle and working class areas, suggesting that the latter was more interested in this than normal.

Cork and Limerick were also decisively favourable and above the national average, though with Yes votes below even Dublin’s lowest constituency. This is, again, normal on social issues in Ireland.

Non-urban areas however behaved somewhat differently in the details than they have in the past – again similar to Dublin. The gap between urban and rural was much smaller than in divorce. Many Dublin constituencies moved little from their Divorce vote – in spite of the liberal side winning 62% in contrast to 50.3% then. The most liberal constituency then – Dun Laoghaire in Dublin, went from 68% in favour to 71% in favour this time. Rural Ireland seems to have distinctly moved. There also in this contest a regional divide in the rural constituencies, with the North and West being distinctly less in favour than the South and East. In previous contests rural areas in Cork have been among Ireland’s most conservative – Cork North West had the highest No vote in divorce (Only 34% in favour) and returned enormous margins against abortion. This time it the liberal side of the issue won 58%. Rural areas anywhere near a commuting distance to Dublin saw enormous Yes wins (69% in Kildare North, 66% in Kildare South, 68% in Wicklow), although even areas outside of the pull of the capital were decisive.

No constituency in Connacht or Ulster were above the national average, and the only loss for Yes occurred in this region. Roscommon-South Leitrim, an inland Western constituency with a very poor economy, has traditionally not been the most conservative constituency – albeit it certainly leaned in that direction. What seems to have happened was a near total lack of support for YE among local politicians, combined with a knowledge that this was not actually Ireland’s most conservative constituency ensuring it got no special attention. Nonetheless the defeat in the area was quite narrow.

Much better bets for No constituencies actually returned a Yes vote – both Donegal constituencies in the far North-West and Cavan-Monaghan on the border of Northern Ireland, where local politicians supported YE campaigns seemingly determined the defy the conservative reputations of the area.

Results of the presidential age referendum by constituency (source: Irish Political Maps)

What the rural areas in the North and West seem to share – and that contrasts them with the rest of the country – is the near total non-existence of the Labour Party there at any level at almost any point in Irish history. Labour was for most of its existence predominantly a rural party in the South and East, and the party still has support and can return parliamentarians there even after becoming an urban force. Nonetheless this relationship is not total, and certainly does not explain the narrowing gap between Urban and Rural Ireland on social issues just as Labour has become more urban.

Another explanation is the institutional strength of the Church in certain areas, with No being stronger where they continue to have sway. This seems likely, but does not bode well for for the Church’s future sway over Ireland – particularly since, as the Archbishop of Dublin noted, 90% of Irish young people have spent nearly their whole lives in Catholic educational institutions, and these were the individuals most likely to repudiate their stance.

The Presidential age referendum had essentially the same geographical split, with the highest Yes again being Dublin South East, followed by other Dublin constituencies. The defeat was extremely heavy however, which likely reflected the perceived frivolity of the vote.

FF won the by-election – but their percentage of the vote (28%), was exactly the same as what they won in the area in the General Election, which does not strongly indicate a party in recovery and more reflects the struggles of FG, who both have reason to be disappointed. Renua did quite well – and with a vote only slightly above the 9.5% they received in a by-election perceived as a contest largely between FF and FG they would likely win a seat. One of the more striking features of the contest  was the poor performance of Labour and the comparatively impressive percentages of the various minor Left parties. Labour were strongly associated with the Marriage Equality referendum that got all of these voters to the polls in the first place (and clearly carried Carlow-Kilkenny) and were certainly not rewarded by the electorate for it. By contrast first time voters seem to have rewarded the minor left parties without the established local history that Labour has, but also without Labour’s coalition baggage.


The result turned most of Dublin into a sort of spontaneous joyous street party for much of the day of the count. The most comparable moment in Irish history for such celebrations was Ireland winning through to the soccer world cup quarter-finals in 1990 (which also provoked the same sort of reaction and is still considered arguable the finest moment in Irish sporting history).

Following on from the referendum FF Senator Averil Power resigned from the party, saying that the party lacked the courage to stand for anything by its (effective) refusal to campaign as a party on the issue, in spite of the efforts of many party activists. This fairly quickly deflated the party after their by-election success and much of the subsequent discussion became whether the party had misread their now predominantly rural base by not engaging in the campaign.

The government has followed up the referendum victory with a gender-recognition bill for transgendered individuals. The combination of such legislation, combined with Ireland’s first ever (albeit extremely restrictive) abortion legislation means that the government can make a reasonable case for this being one of Ireland’s most socially progressive governments ever, something that both constituent parties are likely to try to capitalize on in a general election that is now likely less than a year  away.

Guest Post: Ireland 2014


David J. Barrett contributed this excellent guest post covering the results of the European and local elections in Ireland

The Irish European and Local elections, along with two parliamentary by-elections, took place on May 23rd. They were the first truly major nationwide polling test of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition that took office in 2011, when the financial collapse and subsequent involvement of the IMF finally brought down the increasingly beleaguered Fianna Fáil-Green coalition.

Since the General Election

The new Fine Gael-Labour government, elected amidst a tidal wave of popular anger that brought Fianna Fáil, the largest party in the Irish state in every election from 1932, to third and behind both of the new coalition partners, had considerable good will towards it. Led by Enda Kenny, the long standing Fine Gael leader (since 2002) and a former Minister for Tourism, the government had a crushing parliamentary majority. There were indications that the government could prove fractious. Labour, a Social Democratic party, had largely campaigned against excessive cuts to public services, while Fine Gael, a Christian Democratic party, had made it very clear that they were in favour of implementing the proposed austerity budgets negotiated by their predecessors, even if they were not very happy with it. The final coalition agreement, while containing commitments to several socially liberal reforms that pleased Labour, largely followed the Fine Gael line on the economy.

The government has trumpeted its economic success. Unemployment has fallen steadily (but remains very high), Ireland has left the bailout program and its bonds are no longer rated as ‘junk’. However little of this has, or is expected to, reach the general public. Emigration, particularly to Britain and Australia, remains enormous. Taxes are now among Europe’s highest, public services are rated as mediocre at best compared to other European countries and, most importantly, there is absolutely no sign that anything other than tax increases and budget cuts will be on the cards at all for at least another ten years, making it hard for the public to feel optimistic for an economic recovery that is unlikely to benefit them at all.

Inevitably therefore, this enormous popularity was not to last, and the government as its term has gone on has suffered increasing domestic setbacks. They were most obviously felt by Labour, which began to suffer enormously from (effectively) conceding the economy to Fine Gael. While immediately following the General Election Labour won both the Presidential election and a by-election in Dublin West – the constituency held by the Labour Deputy Leader Joan Burton – the party has increasingly suffered from defections and resignations the longer it has been in government. In November 2011 – six months after taking office – popular junior minister Willie Penrose had resigned from the party over the relocation of an army barracks in his constituency. He was followed one month later by the resignations of two backbenchers over the austerity proposed in the budget, with one the resignations being Patrick Nulty – the newly elected deputy for Dublin West. In September 2012 another junior minister, Roisin Shortall, a senior party figure who was considered a strong contender for a cabinet post, resigned from the party and government over disagreements with the Fine Gael Minister for Health James Reilly following perceived favouritism of his constituency in health resource allocation. In December of that year another backbencher resigned over the budget, eventually joining Fianna Fáil, and in June 2013 MEP Nessa Childers resigned as well, saying that she “no longer wanted to support a Government that is actually hurting people”.  Throughout all of this time the party suffered the loss of a steady stream of local councillors, most of whom resigning from the party with issues of the support of the party leadership for austerity.

Labour’s poll rating fell steadily, from roughly the 19% it received in the general election of 2011 to 9-10% by 2014, and a clear fourth place in the polls, behind Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. In March 2013 the party suffered a crushing defeat in the Meath East by-election – a largely commuter belt constituency where the party had received 21% in 2011 – winning a mere 4.6% of the vote. In spite of all of this Labour’s woes were certainly not the biggest challenge facing the government.

Kenny, having survived a challenge to his leadership in 2010 by his Deputy Leader Richard Bruton, began to surround himself with those figures in Fine Gael who stood by him in that time, and appointed all of them to senior cabinet posts. Unfortunately, it was these figures that began to cause the government the most trouble. A referendum on Children’s Rights that passed in 2012 still has not been signed into law because the Minister for Children used departmental money to promote the referendum – which is unconstitutional in Ireland and resulted in a legal challenge to its validity. Environment Minister Phil Hogan was responsible for the implementation of water and property taxes nationwide, which has made him a lightning rod for public anger. Health Minister and Fine Gael Deputy Leader James Reilly, in addition to negative press over favouring his constituency, has been plagued by a series of news reports discussing cost overruns in his department and for his botched removal of certain medical cards (which provide free medical care to needy groups, such as pensioners, those in poverty and certain chronic illnesses), with his department supposedly taking cards away from individuals with terminal cancer and down syndrome on the basis that they were unneeded. Furthermore his flagship policy – free medical care for children under six, has proven surprisingly unpopular as people perceive the money for it to be taken off other aspects of the health service.

However it was Justice Minister Alan Shatter that caused the most problems. While widely respected as an excellent legislator and an advocate for liberal reforms such as the legalisation of divorce early on in his career, he is also regarded as arrogant and difficult to work with. A scandal erupted in February 2014 involving the bugging of the Gardai Siochana Ombudsman Commission, the body responsible for investigating claims of malpractice by members of the police service, with equipment sophisticated enough that they had to have come from another government agency. Following this and allegations made about police malpractice Shatter and the Garda (Police) Commissioner were forced to resign only a little over three weeks before the elections were due to take place.

However it was not only the government that was suffering problems. Both of the main opposition parties had issues going into the election campaign. On the 30th of April 2014 the leader of Sinn Féin (SF), a left wing and nationalist party with historic links to the IRA, was arrested for involvement with the murder of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of ten, in Belfast in 1972. McConville was ‘disappeared’ by the IRA for being thought to be a British informer, but was subsequently posthumously acquitted. Adams has long been linked to the murder but has never been formally connected to it until new evidence emerged from an oral history of the Northern Ireland conflict conducted in Boston College, Massachusetts. While he was released without charges brought against him three days later it was thought that this would remind people of SF’s past, and bring its association with conflict back into the minds of voters. However it did not notably impact on the polls.

Fianna Fáil (FF), a centrist party with populist leanings, also had problems with the past after it emerged that Mary Hanafin, a former Deputy Leader of the party and cabinet minister who was defeated in the 2011 election wipeout, had been nominated to contest the local elections in Blackrock, an affluent suburb in the south of Dublin. While the party initially denied it, and said that she was running on her own, it transpired that she had received the necessary paperwork from the party general secretary to be a party candidate. This caused quite a degree of anger, as Hanafin was strongly associated with the last FF government, which FF was trying to distance itself from. Eventually the party compromised by saying that they were only acknowledging the other candidate as an official candidate. It should be noted though that despite the huge news coverage this provoked, the party quite quietly ran several other former deputies defeated in 2011, such as Charlie O’Connor in Tallaght, a working-class Dublin suburb, and Margaret Conlon in Monaghan, a rural county on the border with Northern Ireland.

In addition to the regularly scheduled local and European elections two by-elections were also held. The first was held for the tragic death of Nicky McFadden, a Fine Gael deputy for the rural midlands constituency of Longford-Westmeath, of Motor Neuron disease. The second was held following the resignation of Patrick Nulty, elected as a Labour deputy but now an independent, in Dublin West, a working class commuter belt constituency. Nulty himself was elected in a by-election earlier on this parliamentary term, and resigned over inappropriate messages sent to constituents over Facebook.

The Campaign, candidates and elections in Ireland

Ireland uses PR-STV to count elections. This is a proportional system where voters rank candidates, and not parties, in the order of their preference – eliminating the bottom ranked candidates and distributing their preferences until all of the seats are filled (more details can be found on Wikipedia) . Ballot papers are often very long.


The Dublin ballot paper for the European parliament election

Election campaigns in Ireland are highly personalistic. The single best thing that politicians can do to win votes is regarded as knocking on people’s doors and personally meeting them (called canvassing). Parties put up posters, giving their candidates, and rarely their party, prominence on every lamppost (a selection are on the right and left).

From top to bottom, local election candidates in the Rathgar-Rathmines ward in Dublin – Mary Freehill from Labour, Patrick Costello from the Green Party and Paddy Smyth from Fine Gael. All were elected.

From top to bottom, local election candidates in the Rathgar-Rathmines ward in Dublin – Mary Freehill from Labour, Patrick Costello from the Green Party and Paddy Smyth from Fine Gael. All were elected.

For European elections profile is considered crucial however, as the constituencies are considered far too large for canvassing. The parties therefore place great care on who they nominate. There are three constituencies for the European Parliament – the three-seater Dublin, South, a four seater containing most areas south of the capital, including Ireland’s second city of Cork. Midlands-North West, another four-seater, contained the central rural counties, the border with Northern Ireland and most of the Western seaboard.

In Dublin Fine Gael nominated Brian Hayes, a prominent junior minister. Labour nominated their incumbent MEP Emer Costello, a replacement for the previous elected MEP, and Fianna Fáil nominated local councillor Mary Fitzpatrick, who was well known for her acrimonious relationship with former Taoiseach Berie Ahern, and was widely regarded as having her election hopes in 2007 personally sabotaged by him in spite of them being on the same party ticket. FF evidently hoped that nominating someone with such a clear association against the old party leadership would stand to them. SF however nominated the almost completely unknown Lynn Boylan, an ecologist. For the minor parties the far-left Socialist Party nominated its sitting MEP Paul Murphy, who replaced party leader Joe Higgins upon his election to parliament. The Green Party nominated party leader Eamon Ryan, a former cabinet minister now without a seat in parliament following their collapse, and People Before Profit, a minor Trotskyist umbrella group, nominated local councillor Brid Smith. Among the more notable independent for the area was MEP Nessa Childers, formerly of Labour. Polls indicated that Boylan and Hayes would take the first two seats for Dublin, with the final seat competitive between all other candidates, with Fitzpatrick, Childers and Ryan being somewhat ahead of Costello, Murphy and Smith.

In South Fine Gael nominated outgoing MEP Sean Kelly, Senator Deirdre Clune, member of a political dynasty in Cork, and deputy Simon Harris, based just south of Dublin. Fianna Fáil nominated immensely popular incumbent Brian Crowley, a socially conservative figure, and Kieran Hartley, an anti-pylon campaigner. Labour nominated incumbent Phil Prendergast, who was expected to struggle, and SF nominated Liadh Ní Riada, the party’s Irish language officer, who has never previously run for office. The other candidates were the Green’s Grace O’Sullivan, a Greenpeace activist, and independent Diarmaid O’Flynn. Crowley was considered almost certain to be the biggest vote winner nationally, and Kelly and Ní Riada also considered certain to be elected. The last seat was considered to be an internal battle between Fine Gael’s Clune and Harris.

More Local and European posters – from top: Brian Hayes, the Fine Gael candidate for MEP for Dublin, Frank Kennedy, a FF local candidate in the Pembroke-South Dock ward in Dublin, Claire Byrne, a Green candidate in the same ward, and Paul Murphy, the sitting Socialist MEP for Dublin. All bar Murphy were elected.

More Local and European posters – from top: Brian Hayes, the Fine Gael candidate for MEP for Dublin, Frank Kennedy, a FF local candidate in the Pembroke-South Dock ward in Dublin, Claire Byrne, a Green candidate in the same ward, and Paul Murphy, the sitting Socialist MEP for Dublin. All bar Murphy were elected.

In the sprawling Midlands-North West Fine Gael nominated their outgoing MEPs Mairead McGuinness and Jim Higgins, FF nominated outgoing MEP Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher and Senator Thomas Byrne. SF nominated Monaghan councillor Matt Carthy, Labour ran long-shot candidate Senator Lorraine Higgins and the Greens ran former senator Mark Dearey. Additionally a number of independents ran in the region, ensuring a lively contest there. Outgoing independent MEP Marian Harkin, regarded as a centrist, ran to hold her seat. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan (nicknamed such because of his supposed resemblance to supervillain Ming the Merciless), a deputy for Roscommon and an eccentric figure in Irish politics, ran on a Eurosceptic platform that criticised EU protection of bogs and marshes (as in rural Ireland they are often dug up for fuel). In Ireland however he is best known for his advocation of the legalisation of cannabis. Additionally independent Senator Ronan Mullen was a candidate. He is well known for his vociferous opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Most polls agreed that McGuinness and Carthy were certainties, and that Flanagan was polling competitively, and would be in the reckoning with Gallagher and Harkin for the final two seats.

In the Dublin West by-election most candidates were the same as the last by-election in the area, and were local councillors. The seat was regarded as competitive between FF and the minor Socialist Party, which has a strong base in the area. The Longford-Westmeath by-election had Fine Gael nominate the sister of the deceased deputy, and FF nominated the son of a former deputy for the area, both hoping to capitalise on dynastic goodwill in the area. The seat was regarded as competitive between the pair of them, with Labour and SF far behind.

While both Martin Schultz (the PES candidate for EU commission president) and Ska Keller (the Green candidate for the same post) did campaign in Dublin, Irish voters would be forgiven for not knowing this, seeing as it received no news coverage. The campaigns stayed remarkably parochial and focused on local concerns that had little to do with the European parliament, the most notable of which was the Socialist Party renaming itself as the ‘Stop the Water Tax-Socialist Party’ for the election (creating the amusing situation in Ireland of the far-left campaigning against water and property taxes which the right does not oppose), which is something that the European Parliament has no power over.

It was widely expected in the local elections that Labour would do very badly, although some of the worst damage might be mitigated due to local government reforms. Environment Minister Hogan stipulated that all local wards must have at least six seats, which meant that many wards were merged. He also tried to address the population imbalance of local councillors, which meant taking seats away from rural areas and giving them to urban ones, and particularly Dublin, where most of Labour’s seats are. He also increased the overall number of councillors in compensation for the abolition of town councils, a largely powerless layer of local government just below the county councils that the election was for.

For the local elections the ward of Ballybay-Clones, in Monaghan, has not voted yet owing to the death of one of the local councillors in the polling station, so there are six more seats to be filled.


European Parliament

Turnout: 52.44% (-6.2%)
MEPs: 11 (-1) in 3 multi-member constutiencies
Electoral system: STV

Fianna Fáil (ALDE) 22.3% (-1.8) – 1 (-2)
Fine Gael (EPP) 22.3% (-6.8) – 4 (nc)
Sinn Féin (GUE-NGL) 19.5% (+8.3) – 3 (+3)
Labour (PES) 5.3% (-8.6) – 0 (-3)
Green Party (G-EFA) 4.9% (+3) – 0 (nc)
Socialist Party (GUE-NGL) – 1.8% (-0.9) – 0 (-1)
People Before Profit – 1.5% (+1.5) – 0 (nc)
Independents and others – 22.4% (+10.9) – 3 (+2)

Full count details available at

Local elections

Fianna Fáil – 25.3% (-0.1) – 266 (+48)
Fine Gael – 24.0% (-8.2) – 232 (-108)
Sinn Féin – 15.2% (+7.8) – 157 (+103)
Labour – 7.2% (-7.5) – 51 (-81)
Green Party – 1.6% (-0.7) – 12 (+9)
People Before Profit – 1.7% (+0.8) – 14 (+9)
Socialist Party – 1.3% (+0.4) – 14 (+10)
Independents and Others – 23.7% (+7.4) – 198 (+69)

Newly elected Green councillor Claire Byrne made quite a good series of graphics for each local election result, helping to visualise the process of a PR-STV count for those who are not used to it.

The results of both the Local and European elections were catastrophic for the government. Both governmental parties performed worse than any poll predicted. Labour’s dreadful showing was both predicted and still shocking for the party. It was not even competitive for a European seat – with all three of their candidates going out of the count very early on. However it was in the local elections that Labour’s nightmare became clear.

Labour had long been relying on a local vote for its councillors – counting on its local members being much more popular than the party nationally and therefore able to withstand the pressure of the electorate, much like FF were hoping in the 2011 General Election. Like FF, they were bitterly disappointed. An initial early projection had the party winning as few as 39 seats nationally based on an exit poll, and early indications seemed to bear that out, with initial expectations suggesting that the party may elect as few as three members on Dublin City Council, where they had 18 outgoing councillors. The final results were somewhat better, as the party scraped through to hold a number of seats by narrow margins, with eight survivors in Dublin City. Nonetheless, their result was appalling. The party was reduced to only two seats from 86 in Cork City and county – an area where they have four parliamentary deputies – and were entirely eradicated in Cork City and Waterford City. In Wicklow, a commuter county south of Dublin that was a long-time stronghold for Labour, the party won no seats and only 3% of the vote. In working class Dublin the party was nearly totally obliterated. It returned only one councillor with a constituency average of 13% within Dublin South Central, a very deprived area where the party won 35% and two members of parliament in 2011. It went from 28% in the General Election to 11%, and no councillors, in Dublin Central – where the Minister for International Development has his seat.

The party held up somewhat better in middle class areas and in some of their more rural strongholds, although even here success could be measured in holding seats rather than gaining them. It still won 18% in the Dublin Bay South constituency, which contains mostly wealthy and well educated professionals and is a stronghold for socially liberal politics. The party sensationally held on to a seat in Clontarf – a middle class suburb without the more bohemian elements that characterise Dublin Bay South that the party has had difficulty winning even on good days. In the wealthy suburbs to the south of Dublin City, in Dun Laoighaire-Rathdown, the party only lost one seat on the whole council to leave them with seven. In their rural strongholds in the South-East of the country the party also had credible performances. In rural Carlow and Kilkenny, the party won 13% and 11% of the vote – more than sufficient to hold their parliamentary representation there, and the party clung to representation in rural Wexford and Waterford (where, as already mentioned, their heavy losses were actually in Waterford City, where they should do much better). The party is starting to resemble the Liberal Democrats in Britain – with strength in certain rural pockets and among the liberal middle class, and not among the working class that they claim to represent.

Fine Gael’s election was also awful – although somewhat disguised by how badly Labour did and the fact that they held all four of their European seats. No poll had the party coming in second, and the party’s losses in some areas were quite severe. The party failed to return representation in Dublin South Central (which may be becoming a government blackspot) and also suffered heavy losses in Donegal, a border county in the North that always feels as though the government is treating it badly, and Mayo, the constituency of the Taoiseach Enda Kenny – where his brother came extremely close to losing his council seat. What seems to have hurt the party most is extremely poor candidate strategies at local level. The party seemed to be planning on the basis that they would perform much better than polls predicted that they would – and not worse. Apparently the party was planning on an electoral bounce from leaving the bailout program that never actually materialised. In Bray for instance, a Dublin commuter town, the party ran three candidates and only had one electoral quota between them – almost causing the party return no representative there.

By contrast in Europe and the by-elections the party has reason to be pleased, in spite of the defeat of long-time MEP Jim Higgins. In spite of finishing about 400 votes behind FF in the national vote total it won four seats to the one won by its great rival. It achieved this by good vote management and candidate selection. Its lone candidate in Dublin, junior minister Brian Hayes, polled better than the party did in the local elections, and scraped in, probably on his high profile. While Jim Higgins was defeated in Midlands-North West Mairead McGuinness won quite easily there, and in South the party managed to get both Kelly and Clune elected with significantly fewer votes than FF – who only won one seat there. They managed this by having a fairly even split between their candidates, meaning that they tended to avoid being eliminated early in the count. Additionally the party held Longford-Westmeath fairly easily, making this the third time out of four the government has won a by-election (before this parliamentary term no government had won or held a seat in a by-election since 1982).

FF’s feelings about their result are probably mixed. On the one hand it is clearly the largest party in local government again. On the other hand the party has legitimate reason to be disappointed. It actually lost votes on its last, awful, local election performance and many of its gains could be attributed to how badly Fine Gael and Labour did than by a popular mandate for FF. What the party has most reason to be pleased about was its modest recovery in Dublin, where the party currently has no parliamentary representation and where its decline was starting to look terminal. It placed second in the Dublin West by-election – easily ahead of both government parties and it took nine seats on Dublin City Council and came second, and won a seat in all bar one ward on the City Council (which was more than either Fine Gael or Labour managed on either count). Both Hanafin and the ‘official’ party candidate won in Blackrock despite the controversy of her candidature, which clearly did not hurt the party, and is one more seat than the party had any reason to expect in the ward. It is the largest party on numerous councils that are very different from each other, from republican and border county Donegal to prosperous Dublin commuter belt in Kildare. More disappointingly, the party failed to win long-time strongholds like Kerry and Galway, and placed second in the Longford-Westmeath by-election – which is usually reasonable territory for them. Nonetheless, the party has, since the 2004 local elections, lost 164 county council seats, with 84 gone in 2009 alone. This gain of 48 seats in no way compensates for this loss. The party still has a long way to go towards complete recovery, but it may have stopped the rot.

In Europe however the party has most reason to be disappointed. In spite of actually winning the largest number of votes nationally, it only won a single seat – that of Brian Crowley in South. This places it behind both Fine Gael and SF. The reason for this can be seen in awful strategy and vote management. Their candidate in Dublin actually placed third on the first count, but was overtaken by both the Greens and independent MEP Nessa Childers as the count went on, and placed fifth. While certainly a credible performance that has placed their candidate well for a parliamentary seat when the next general election is called, they will still be disappointed with the result. In South Crowley seems to have refused to share his vote or engaged in any kind of disciplined constituency split that Fine Gael undertook, causing the party to lose a seat that, by all rights and even by vote share, they should have won. This is a problem the party has had before at parliamentary level, with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and cabinet minister Willie O’Dea running away with astronomical vote totals, only to leave the other party candidates in the dust with far too few votes to win a seat. However it is Midlands-North West that is most bitter for the party. In spite of polls always showing that it was possible and the insistence of the MEP Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher that his seat was in no way secure, the party still seemed shocked when he lost the final seat by a mere 275 votes. While the constituency was undoubtedly crowded with lots of strong candidates, it seems to have been a huge error to run two candidates – allowing Marian Harkin to assemble a strong lead on early eliminations that transpired to be, just about, unassailable. The party needs to have a long, hard look at its strategy. It lost two seats which it had the votes for – one because it could not impose a constituency division or vote split on a sitting MEP, another because it could, but the ensuing vote split meant that their lead candidate had just too much ground to make up.

Sinn Féin is, understandably, delighted at its result and is certainly the clear winner of the election. All three of its European candidates won and won well, including coming first in Dublin. On Dublin City Council only two of its candidates failed to be elected. The party is now without seats in only four wards across the whole Dublin area – and it was unlucky to fail to win in Rathgar-Rathmines. The party finally achieved its breakthrough across middle class Dublin. It topped the poll in Dundrum, considered the epitome of prosperous south Dublin. It won a seat in Killiney, a haunt for old money where Bono lives. It won a seat too in Pembroke-South Dock in another poll-topping performance – the ward containing Ireland’s most expensive addresses and embassy row. In working class area its results were stunning even to the party itself, and it could have won several more seats if it had actually run more candidates in those areas. For instance in exurban and working class Tallaght South the party won over 50% of the vote – which could easily have it won it three or even four of the ward’s six seats, but it only ran two candidates. In Clondalkin, a similar ward, the party had more than three vote quotas between its two candidates. Very unexpectedly, the party placed first on the first count in the Dublin West by-election. Dublin West, in spite of it being largely working class, has always been considered a bad area for the party with the local strength of the Socialist Party, and while the party placed third in the by-election in the end, it is well placed for the future.

Outside of Dublin its performance could be considered good rather than spectacular. It placed a clear third in the Longford-Westmeath by-election, and failed to win the very republican counties of Kerry and Donegal, which on the back of such a strong showing it should have been more competitive in. Nonetheless the party had clear successes. It beat the Labour Party into fourth place in Galway City – where it had previously had no representation. The party placed second in Cork City, with eight seats and clearly ahead of Fine Gael. It won seats in every ward in rural Limerick – one of their worst areas nationally historically. On the back of this kind of performance there are very few areas where SF could fail to be at least competitive in a general election, and the other parties know it. Indeed their rhetoric towards the party has noticeably softened since the results, hinting that they would be willing to consider coalition with them.

It was a good election all round for the three main small parties – the Green Party, the Socialist Party and People Before Profit. The Greens only narrowly missed a European seat in Dublin, and its candidates in other regions performed credibly. While its vote in the local election fell this was because it ran much fewer candidates than last time, and it won twelve seats, a gain of nine. This included a poll-topping performance Rathgar-Rathmines in Dublin – the first time the party has headed any poll anywhere since 1999. It should be noted however that nine of the party’s seats are in the greater Dublin area, including Wicklow, and those that are not are personal fiefdoms in Dundalk and Kilkenny that the party had held even in 2009. It missed seats in Galway and Cork with good candidates, and it must be noted that even their Dublin seats tend to be in areas where the party had won before their collapse. The party seems to have bounced back to where it was before, and it would need to do quite a bit better than this local performance to win any parliamentary seats – but, like FF, it remains on track for recovery.

The Socialists had a mixed day. On the one hand they won the Dublin West by-election and took fourteen council seats, a real breakthrough. On the other hand they lost their European seat in Dublin fairly easily. Taking the by-election sets up their winning candidate Ruth Coppinger to succeed their long-time parliamentarian Joe Higgins, who is retiring, as the Socialist voice in Dublin West. It was always going to be difficult holding the European seat without Higgins as a candidate and, indeed, no poll had the co-opted MEP Paul Murphy as truly competitive for it. The local result was very good. In addition to its usual sweep of council seats in its Dublin West stronghold the party took a seat on Dublin City Council for the first time, and had a breakthrough outside of Dublin –winning three seats in Cork City and three in Limerick.

People Before Profit had similar reason to be pleased. Unlike the Socialists, it never expected to be competitive for Europe so polling well, even if not well enough for a seat, was a pleasant surprise. The party did quite well in the Dublin area – wiping Labour out in Dun Laoghaire ward, the personal base of de-facto party leader Richard Boyd-Barrett, and winning three seats in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown council – and only very narrowly losing two other seats to Labour in the area. It also broke through on the other Dublin councils. In Dublin City Council it won five seats – including its first seats on the North side of the city that it usually unofficially ceded to the Socialists. It won fourteen seats overall. Like the Socialists this sets them up to have a full parliamentary delegation come the next general election.

One of the big news stories of the contest though was the success of independent candidates. In Europe their success was particularly high profile. Nessa Childers held her seat in the European Parliament, in spite of moving constituency to Dublin. Europe may too need to get used to Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, who did very well in Midlands-North West and took the first seat, and Marian Harkin held off FF to win the last seat in the area. At local level too independents were successful, increasing their representation on virtually all councils. Many independents elected are associated with particular independent parliamentarians, and so resemble a kind of unofficial local party, with such organisations being quite prominent in Kerry, where there are two of them, in Kildare and in Waterford – all places with strong independent deputies. Additionally many councillors formerly members of Labour had spectacularly good elections, placing ahead of the official candidates of the party they left. In spite of the generally good results some of the more established local independents and minor parties did quite badly though. The ‘Lowry Group’ in Tipperary, associated with former Fine Gael Minister Michael Lowry who is under a seemingly never-ending corruption investigation – only returned three councillors. The long established ‘Gregory Group’ in Dublin’s North Inner City did not return any official group candidate – although a former group member was elected as an independent. United Left, a micro-left party associated with two far-left parliamentarians that were connected to the Socialists and People Before Profit before, only elected one councillor.

It is probably foolish to talk of independents as one group. Many of the rural independents are about as far removed from the left-wing urban independents as it is possible to be in the Irish political space – but many of these candidates will certainly poll well in a general election, and win seats.


The most immediate consequence of the election was the resignation of Labour’s leader Eamon Gilmore, who resigned rather than be ousted by a group of panicked parliamentarians. Virtually every member of his parliamentary party has announced that they are running for either leader or deputy leader and, whoever wins, is likely to be much more combative than Gilmore over government economic policy. Depending on who it is and what they demand from Fine Gael, this could destabilise the government enough to cause it fall.

Fine Gael, too has been shaken. The party was under the illusion that FF was now so tainted that it could nearly win by default. That is clearly not the case. The party now knows that it will need to fight hard to win a second term in government – something never before achieved by the party. FF, for its part, knows that it may yet have a chance of re-entering government, stabilising nerves.

If SF remain coalition poison, which is becoming less likely but still present for the parties, and independents do as well as this, only a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is likely to be mathematically possible after the next election, something that is likely to finish the junior partner in that alliance utterly. It seems likely that Ireland is entering a period with no truly large parties, and no real political stability.

Guest Post: Irish Referenda 2013

I was fortunate enough to receive a guest post on the October 4 Irish referenda, which I did not have time to cover, from David J. Barrett

Two referenda took place in the Republic Ireland on the 4th of October on whether to abolish Seanad Éireann (the Irish Senate), Ireland’s rather powerless upper house, and on whether to establish a Court of Civic Appeal.

The Seanad has long been criticised in the Ireland due to its seeming irrelevance and extremely convoluted electoral system. The original constitution of the Irish Free State in 1922 contained a senate, which was used originally as a means to ensure the representation of the remaining Protestant Unionists in Irish politics, and was at first appointed and then elected as a nationwide, nineteen-seat constituency by PR-STV in 1925, which was considered chaotic, and replaced by selection by parliament. While it did return a lot of Protestant members, it also proved to be a stronghold for the fairly conservative Cumann na nGaedhael, which proved problematic when they retained a majority in the chamber after the party lost nationally in 1932. After making it a point to delay every piece of legislation of note by the new Fianna Fáil government, even after another election in 1933 which reaffirmed Fianna Fáil’s new dominance of the Irish party system; the party proposed the Senate’s abolition in 1936. Predictably this was also delayed, before the chamber was abolished entirely.

The modern Seanad was created by the new Irish constitution of 1937, and owes a lot to the corporatist ideas of Fascist Italy that were popular in political circles in Ireland at the time. The Seanad was given only very limited delaying powers of up to ninety days, and was elected in an extremely convoluted manner.

43 members are elected by five ‘vocational’ panels, returning between five and eleven members. The panels are meant to represent various sectors of Irish society and are named after those sections, such as the ‘Cultural and Educational Panel’ and the ‘Labour Panel’. Organisations involved in those areas have some rights in the way of nominating people for election, but the electorate for each panel consists of local councillors, members of Dáil Éireann (the lower house of Parliament) and outgoing members of the Seanad. This means that in practice no vocational members were ever elected and were almost never nominated for these seats, with most elected for them in recent years being former or future members of the Dáil and very much party politicians.

An additional six seats are elected by university graduates, with three returned by the graduates of Trinity College Dublin, a traditionally Protestant university, and another three by the graduates of the National University of Ireland, an umbrella group consisting of four other universities – University College Dublin, University College Cork, National University of Ireland Galway and National University of Ireland Maynooth. The graduates of Ireland’s other two universities, Dublin City University and the University of Limerick, do not have a vote.

The final eleven seats are appointed by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the day, who generally appoints promising party members who they feel can challenge for a seat in the Dáil in the next election, although they have also been known to select prominent figures in Northern Ireland for a seat. This inbuilt addition of eleven government seats means that only one Irish government has not had a majority in the Seanad, however the current Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, used most of his appointments to appoint prominent members of civil society, such as Fiach Mac Conghail, the Director of the Irish National Theatre Company, and Katherine Zappone, a theology professor who is pursuing a court case to get her Canadian same-sex marriage recognised in Ireland.

Background to the Referenda

While no one was particularly happy with the Seanad, and many reports were issued as to its reform, no government ever did anything. This reached a climax with a referendum passed in 1979 to give all graduates the vote for the university seats, which was never legislated for.

Faced with increased questioning of his leadership, Fine Gael leader and then opposition leader Enda Kenny said that, if elected, Fine Gael would propose a referendum to abolish the Seanad, visibly surprising the Seanad leader of his party sitting next to him at the press conference, as it was felt he needed to do something bold and dramatic to keep hold of the party leadership. The idea took hold, and Labour and Fianna Fáil included it as part of their manifesto in the 2011 election, and was included in the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government’s programme for government.

Despite calls for the proposal to be put to the newly formed Constitutional Convention as a proposed change to the Irish constitution, this was not done and a referendum was announced for October 4th 2013, along with a larger procedural and uncontroversial amendment to establish a Court of Appeal.


Richard Bruton, Kenny’s defeated leadership and now Minister for Enterprise, was put in charge of the Fine Gael campaign. Also on the Yes side were their coalition partners in Labour, the republican and nationalist Sinn Fein, the small far-left Socialist Party and the civil society group One House. In opposition were Fianna Fail (motivated to do a u-turn and oppose the referendum presumably as a means of inflicting a defeat on Kenny), the now tiny Irish Green Party and the civil society groups Democracy Matters and Future Matters.

The campaign opened with polls showing wide leads for abolition. Fine Gael ran a very focus-group led campaign, with posters pointing out the Seanad cost the Ireland €20 million a year, and (ironically from the largest party in the state) that abolition would result in fewer politicians. While the party spent a lot of money on the campaign, the campaign never really caught the imagination of party activists and they stayed oddly muted.

The other Yes advocates focused on the undemocratic nature of Seanad elections, arguing that a chamber chosen by the already educated and powerful in Irish society was inherently wrong. This could be seen in Sinn Fein’s election slogan of ‘Equality not Elitism’ and the Socialists pointing out how many people had votes in the poorest parts of Dublin as compared to the richest. The support of groups for yes was regarded as surprising, as both parties are known for opposing virtually every referendum proposed by any government, with Sinn Fein’s at least likely motivated by attempting to seem more ‘responsible’. Labour’s campaign however was very lukewarm, with many prominent party members, including Joanna Tuffy and the party’s Seanad leader Ivana Bacik actively campaigning against the proposal, to no visible sanctions from party headquarters.

The No side said that the proposal was part of a government ‘powergrab’ that was undemocratic and intended to silence dissenting voices, pointing out that no reform had ever actually been done, so abolition was somewhat premature. No group on the No side defended the status-quo. The Fianna Fail, the most prominent No party, used the slogan ‘Demand Real Reform’ while the Greens ran with ‘Democracy is Priceless’ (although with posters only in the parts of Dublin where the party has the best hopes to rebuild). Democracy Matters ran a highly visible campaign, highlighting all of the prominent figures of Irish liberalism that were elected by the Seanad that was widely regarded as effective.

While the polls narrowed, every poll showed a lead for the Yes side, often over 50%, and the campaign failed to capture the public imagination. A debate on the issue on RTE, the Irish national broadcaster, between Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin and Enda Kenny was rejected by Kenny, who largely did not personally campaign, and his place in the debate was filled by Bruton. This was seen by many commentators as ‘chickening out’. Kenny argued that the Taoiseach of the day does not personally campaign on referenda and they are not partisan issues however.

There was no campaign for either a Yes or a No on the Court of Appeals, which was regarded as dull, procedural and a ‘common-sense’ solution to the problem of an overloaded Supreme Court.


Turnout was 39.17% for the Seanad question and 39.15% for the Court of Appeal question.

Abolition of the Seanad
No 51.73% (634,437 votes)
Yes 48.27% (591,937 votes)

Court of Appeal
Yes 65.16% (795,008 votes)
No 34.84% (425,047 votes)

The Referendum to abolish the Seanad was narrowly defeated, while that to establish a Court of Appeal was very comfortably passed, with a victory in every constituency.

The geography of the Seanad result was somewhat odd. The highest No vote was observed in Dublin South East, an extremely wealthy and somewhat bohemian constituency that has a high number of rich professionals, politicians (the Irish parliament building is in the constituency) and students (Trinity College Dublin is there as well) which gave the Yes side a mere 39%. However every constituency in Dublin, whatever their demographic profile, returned a No vote, as did the whole commuter belt around the city. Greater Dublin’s relative uniformity on the issue largely carried the day for the No side, whose performance was quite patchy outside of the capital.

In the south, Cork City’s wealthy southern suburbs were against abolition (unsurprisingly as this is Martin’s political base) but the more working class areas in the north of the city were narrowly in favour – apparently due to an active campaign by a local Sinn Fein deputy. The proposal similarly narrowly passed through Limerick City, while losing in Galway in the west, which has more students.

Results of the Seanad referendum by constituency (source: Irish Political Maps,

While some rural areas in Cork were very narrowly against abolition, these constituencies also have spillover from Cork’s suburbs in them as well. The only genuinely rural Nos were in the two northern Donegal constituencies, which seem to habitually oppose any proposal even slightly controversial (Donegal North East also had highest No vote to the Court of Appeals, and they were the only constituencies to oppose the European Fiscal Compact two years ago for instance). This will be very disappointing for Sinn Fein, who are very strong in the area and would have hoped their campaign would influence people there more.

Aside from the already mentioned Cork North Central and Limerick City, every area that voted Yes was rural, with the highest Yes vote being in Kenny’s own constituency of Mayo (57%), but many of them were quite narrow indeed.

While there were no publically released exit polls with demographic breakdowns there was clearly an urban-rural divide, something that seems to manifest itself in every Irish election that is not a General Election, and was certainly seen in the 2011 presidential election, and while it seems plausible that education made a difference (as more educated people were more likely to be voters in the Seanad already) we cannot know that from the result.

Notably, there is a heavy correlation between Fianna Fail support in a constituency and a Yes vote, and for Labour support and a No vote, something both parties will be keen to downplay when they go through the effectiveness of their campaigns. Fine Gael and Sinn Fein seemed to make no difference.

Results of the Court of Appeal referendum by constituency (source: Irish Political Maps,

The turnout was very low, and was only somewhat above the 33% turnout of the Children’s Rights referendum of last year. There is talk of Ireland suffering ‘referendum fatigue’. These are the fifth and sixth referenda of this parliamentary term, with at least five more expected to be proposed over the coming years, including undoubtedly contentious polls over legalising same-sex marriage and lowering the voting age. While it is hard to get people excited over the abolition of a largely powerless upper house and these are more ‘meaningful’ issues to most people there is the possibility of referenda becoming dominated only by the seriously politically committed – the sort of anoraks with unrepresentative views of the general population that result in the banishment of the moderate middle from the Irish electorate.

What happens now?

The result is a real blow to Enda Kenny, who was seen as the personal leader of the Yes side and the Seanad proposal being very much a personal crusade, His refusal to debate is now seen as much more damaging than it did at the time, and the result is ominous for the readiness of the Fine Gael organisation for an undoubtedly difficult local election campaign next year.

Kenny’s association with the idea was such that apparent ineffectiveness of Labour and Sinn Fein has been largely ignored, but the lack of either to a real ideological commitment to abolition probably meant that they never really cared enough to really run serious campaigns, with Labour in particular conserving reserves for the local elections.

Kenny has indicated his intention to treat the result as a vote for reform of the Seanad, as the No side had hoped, but no one is of yet very sure of what that means, except that the graduates of all universities are likely to be given a vote for the six university senators, but beyond that – as nobody wants another referendum on the issue which is what real reform would need – it seems likely that the idea of Seanad reform will be eventually passed to the constitutional convention, which will issue recommendations but nothing seems likely for the remainder of this parliamentary term.

If you wish to contribute a guest post on any election or subject related to electoral politics, please email me at glhermine<at>

Guest Post: Meath East (Ireland) by-election 2013

A by-election was held in Ireland on March 27. One of this blog’s reader, EPG, posted this summary of the by-election in the comments section for another post, I have re-posted it here in a guest post for everybody to enjoy.

A legislative by-election was held in the Meath East constituency of Dáil Éireann, Ireland’s lower house, on March 27. The by-election was caused by the death of Shane McEntee, a Fine Gael TD (member of the Dáil) and the Junior Minister for Food.

Meath East is located to the north-west of Dublin. The south of the constituency is dominated by Dublin commuter towns, such as Ashbourne, Ratoath and Dunboyne. This is the heartland of an archetypical symbol of the Irish economic collapse called the “negative equity generation”: first-time house-buyers who purchased homes with large mortgage in the mid-2000s, and who now owe far more than their houses are worth. Many (probably most) are not originally from the county in which they now live, an important cultural marker in small and localistic Ireland. Meath East is more rural and settled in the northern part of the county, while the north-west end includes Kells, the largest town in northern Meath. The constituency’s somewhat bizarre, salamander-like shape is due to the exclusion of Meath’s largest town, Navan, and the inclusion of Kells, on population ratio equalisation grounds. Ironically, Meath was the home of James Tully, the Labour TD who oversaw a gerrymander that backfired in the 1970s (the Tullymander). To compound his misfortune, he then suffered shrapnel damage at the assassination of Egyptian President Sadat after Labour’s return to power in the 1980s.

The coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour has fallen sharply in popularity since their election in 2011, while the opposition parties of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have risen, as have independents and other candidates. This was probably predictable, since the government has continued most of the last (Fianna Fáil-Green) government’s policies, especially on economic issues, due to its support of the EU-ECB-IMF “troika” programme of financial support for the Irish State. This by-election was therefore considered a contest between the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties. Meath East is mainly “exurban”, especially in the southern end of the constituency, but also small town and rural. This means the Labour Party was not considered a contender; their support is mainly in cities and important towns with local industry, and their current popularity is low in any case. It was enough to win one out of three seats in Meath East in 2011 under the STV proportional representation system, but it wouldn’t be enough to win an instant run-off by-election, even if they had held up their popularity. As for Sinn Féin, they did well at the by-election in Donegal South-West in 2010, which is also a rural area. But despite the despair of the negative equity generation, Meath is still a relatively prosperous part of Ireland, with big farms and many professionals who commute to jobs in Dublin. It’s a much higher-income area than Donegal, and that’s bad for Sinn Féin. Fine Gael outpolled Fianna Fáil hard in Meath East at the 2011 general election, and the big question was whether Fianna Fáil’s image-improvement since then would close enough of the gap to let them win.

Fine Gael fielded Helen McEntee, daughter of Shane McEntee, who worked on his political and ministerial teams. Family candidates are popular in Irish elections, especially by-elections, and form the “dynasties” that have provided many Taoisigh (heads of government), including the current Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his predecessor Brian Cowen, who both won by-elections to succeed their fathers. She primarily campaigned for a “sympathy vote” rather than seeking a mandate for a pretty unpopular government (). Labour chose Eoin Holmes, a county councillor and film producer who talked a lot about entrepreneurship. Fianna Fáil chose Thomas Byrne, the former TD who lost his seat at the 2011 epic fail but got a Senate seat as a consolation prize. Sinn Féin’s candidate was Darren O’Rourke, who works as an assistant to Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, the party’s former parliamentary party leader in the Dáil (back when Gerry Adams was an MP in Northern Ireland). The Greens chose their former candidate, but they are now considered a minor party compared to the big four, with no Oireachtas representation. Independents and others included a Workers’ Party candidate and Ben Gilroy, a Direct Democracy Ireland activist who is popular among the crazy “Freeman on the Land” movement.

Helen McEntee (FG) 38.49% (-2.38%)
Thomas Byrne (FF) 32.92% (+13.31%)
Darren O’Rourke (SF) 13.02% (+4.14%)
Ben Gilroy (DDI) 6.45% (+6.45%)
Eoin Holmes (Lab) 4.57% (-16.46%)
Seán Ó Buachalla (GP) 1.74% (+0.66%)
Seamus McDonagh (WP) 1.08% (+1.08%)
Independent candidates 1.73% (-6.80%)

The huge story from this by-election has been the collapse of Labour’s vote, which was far bigger than national opinion polls would have suggested. Polls suggest that Labour has lost 6 to 10 points nationally compared to 2011. However, other stories are worth noting. Fine Gael’s vote held up much better than its partner, and much better than national polls would suggest. McEntee held onto her strong support base in the north of the constituency, as well as probably getting a sympathy vote (common for family members in Irish by-elections, though Fine Gael will deny this and claim that her success is a mandate for the party nationally). Interestingly, after 29 years when governments never won by-elections, this is the second government victory out of two by-elections in this Dáil. Labour won the first of these in late 2011, though their successful candidate left the parliamentary party about five weeks later. The last time Fine Gael won a by-election while in government was in 1975, when their candidate was a young Enda Kenny.

Fianna Fáil has recovered strongly, though they still can’t outpoll government candidates in actual elections. It seems that Fianna Fáil, not Sinn Féin, is enjoying the surge of anti-government feeling in relatively prosperous areas like Meath East (and the Dublin commuter belt more generally), though nobody would deny that Sinn Féin is the main beneficiary in deprived urban and rural areas. Among other opposition groups, Direct Democracy Ireland’s performance is striking. Small parties and independents rarely do very well at Irish by-elections. Gilroy ran a campaign strongly focussed on opposing repossessions of houses by banks, in tune with his support among the fringe, legal conspiracy theorists of the “Freeman on the Land” movement. This is at a time when the Irish government is openly discussing policies to make repossessions easier, due to the abnormally low rate compared to other countries with property price ex-bubbles like the USA, the UK or Spain. Gilroy caught a zeitgeist for what is basically a one-man party (though the Irish party registration requirements are reasonably strict, so he must have lots of supporters).

I now have details of the second and third counts, after which McEntee was elected. The second count excluded all but the top five candidates and Gilroy (DDI) won more of their transfers than any of the remaining five. This is less surprising than it may seem for a fourth-place candidate, as many independents tend to be fringe candidates themselves. They would be close to Gilroy’s anti-system and anti-party profile, which is even more anti-system than Sinn Féin. Independents in Ireland often seem to fill the “anti” role played by right-wing populists in other European countries, but with a local twist, and they have a similar support base of broadly non-left people with middling incomes. Fianna Fáil won fewest transfers, even fewer than Labour, which may suggest that the public is polarised by its recent rebirth. The third count was a run-off between McEntee (FG) and Byrne (FF). McEntee won 54.5% of the two-party vote after getting far more transfers than Byrne. A lot of SF or DDI voters must have given a higher preference to McEntee than to Byrne, their fellow opposition candidate, as McEntee’s third-count transfers (1,900) were much larger than Labour’s final vote total on the second round (1,200). Even if we assume that any remaining Labour supporters are firmly pro-coalition and sympathetic to Fine Gael, that still leaves about 800-900 of McEntee’s transfers that must have come from SF or DDI, after accounting for the usual transfer attrition. But she didn’t even need to do that well with opposition voters on these counts; she was safely ahead of Byrne from the outset. McEntee is now the youngest woman in the current Dáil.

The broader, national consequences are still unclear, though they can’t be good for Labour. Each of the opposition parties would have hoped to do better. Fianna Fáil wanted to win and Sinn Féin wanted to win votes in line with national polling (i.e. about 8% higher than in 2011). Fine Gael is glad to win and to have lost few votes, but the party was shaken by the sad death of Shane McEntee and would have preferred if this by-election had never happened.

Electoral Digest: October 24-30 2011

The Electoral Digest covers some elections around the world which were not covered in larger, individual posts due to lack of time, lack of broader knowledge or because the election was of lesser importance or general interest. These posts are short and pretty basic, but aim to give a really brief overview of what happened.

Ireland held a presidential election on October 27. Ireland’s President is a largely ceremonial role, though it is elected for a seven-year term directly through the single-member variant of Irish STV. Since 1997, Ireland’s President has been Mary McAleese, originally elected as a member of Ireland’s former natural governing party, Fianna Fáil (FF). She was reelected unopposed in 2004. FF has won all but one presidential election – that of 1990, won by Mary Robinson of the Labour Party. McAleese’s two-terms came to an end this year, leaving the presidency wide open and resulting ultimately in the most crowded field ever – seven candidates in total.

Fine Gael (FG), traditionally the perennial second-largest party behind FF before emerging as the big winner in this year’s earth-shattering general election, has never won a presidential election before and it was apparently eager to build on its success in March to win the presidency. Apparently the party members didn’t agree, because they chose MEP Gay Mitchell, widely derided as a phenomenally awful candidate. FG’s junior ally and Ireland’s second largest party, Labour, was apparently more serious. It nominated former TD Michael D. Higgins, a 70-year old man who is a rather good embodiment of Ireland’s symbolic presidency. Meanwhile, FF did not field a candidate of its own nor did it officially endorse any candidate, a good sign of the party’s calamitous state following its Epic Fáil result in March. Seán Gallagher, a businessman and former FF member, emerged as the candidate closest to FF though with no official links – at least not right now. The race became particularly interesting when Sinn Féin nominated Northern Irish Deputy FM Martin McGuinness as its candidate, a surprise move which shows SF’s desire to durably implant itself south of the border as the main left-wing opposition force to Labour and the FG-Labour government. Earlier in the race, the frontrunner had been Senator David Norris, a well-known liberal campaigner for gay rights (he is gay himself) and other civil liberties. However, he dropped out after it had been publicized that he had wrote letters seeking clemency for his former lover accused of rape in Israel. He did a Ross Perot and came back into the race and received nominations from four county councils. The other candidates, far more minor but not any less interesting, were former Special Olympics activist Mary Davis and former presidential contender and weird social conservative Dana Rosemary Scallon.

Seán Gallagher emerged as the other man in the race besides Higgins in the final weeks, and he took a comfortable lead in most polls. However, Gallagher’s momentum was derailed at a final debate where McGuinness crippled him with an accusation that he had fundraised money for FF including from some shady people despite Gallagher’s earlier claims that he had never fundraised for FF. Judging from the results, it pretty much killed Gallagher’s campaign.

Higgins (Labour) won 39.6% of FPVs against 28.5% for Gallagher and 13.7% for McGuinness. McGuinness’ result is above SF’s good 9.9% result in March, but it’s a bit underwhelming and shows that his campaign was unable to surmount his past affiliation with the IRA. His candidacy was still a net positive for SF, however. Unsurprisingly, Mitchell won the worst FG result in a presidential race with only 6.4% – only a bit ahead of Norris who got an equally disappointing 6.2%. Dana took 2.9% and Davis really sucked with only 2.7%. In the final count, Higgins beat Gallagher decisively with 61.6% against 38.4%. The beautiful blog Irish Political Maps reviews the election and has a nice map of who won where on first counts, as well as links to maps of all candidates. Higgins performed best in his native Galway and in Dublin, while Gallagher did best in rural areas (45% in his native Cavan-Monaghan) and in lower middle-class suburban areas. McGuinness won Donegal North East, that isolated and heavily republican part of Ulster which has become an SF stronghold as of late.

There were also two referendums held alongside this vote: one allowing the government to intervene in judicial pay and another granting the Parliament (Oireachtas) more powers of inquiry in to “matters of public importance”. While the judges’ pay was not controversial, as most agreed that in times of recession the government should be allowed to lower judges’ pay (something banned by the Constitution), the Oireachtas inquiries was more controversial as civil liberty groups said that it threatened civil liberties and gave too much power to the Oireachtas. The judges pay passed easily with 79.7%, but the Oireachtas inquiries failed with 53.3% against. It only passed in Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s constituency of Mayo and in Wexford.

A Dáil by-election was held in Dublin West due to death of former FF finance minister Brian Lenihan Jr. Lenihan had only narrowly survived in 2011, and he had been the only FF member to be returned in metro Dublin. Dublin West is largely a working-class commuter belt constituency with a strong far-left base, this being Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins’ constituency. Labour nominated Patrick Nulty, who had lost to Lenihan in the final count in March while FF nominated David McGuinness, who had won 1.5% in March as FF’s second candidate. Nulty polled 24.3%, down from 29% for Labour in March. Surprisingly, FF did quite well with 21.7% – up from 16.6% in March. FG placed fourth with a terrible 14.7%, when it had won 27% in March. The Socialists did really well, with 21%, which is higher than the 19% share of first prefs won by Higgins in March. SF (9%, up from 6%) and the Greens (5%, up from 1%) also did well. Nulty won pretty easily in the sixth count against David McGuinness. Irish by-elections are very much anti-incumbent as no governing party has won one since 1982 and no governing party has gained a seat in a by-election since 1975. On this front, Labour’s victory as a governing party is pretty big. But it speaks more to the terrible state of Ireland’s opposition – FF is crippled and has little to no legitimacy left as a governing party and SF has trouble breaking past its IRA past to establish itself as a major alternative – than to the strength of the government – FG had a terrible day on October 27 and Labour is not reaching new heights.

Kyrgyzstan held presidential elections on October 30. In April 2010, protests had ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev who had grown too authoritarian despite himself having been the victor of a revolution in 2005 which had ousted another authoritarian ruler. The provisional government soon faced ethnic riots between ethnic Kyrgyz and and ethnic Uzbek in Bakiyev’s native south (around Osh) and the October 2010 legislative elections were won by the southern-based pro-Bakiyev nationalist Ata-Zhurt party won 28 seats against 26 seats for the centre-left moderate Social Democrats (SDPK) who dominate the provisional government and favour a parliamentary system. This election was to replace interim President Roza Otunbayeva (SDPK). The government’s candidate was Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, who is seen as the man behind the reforms and new constitution. The main opposition candidates were Adakhan Madumarov and Ata-Zhurt’s Kamchybek Tashiev, both from the nationalist and ethnically unstable south. Atambayev was the runaway favourite and had the most funds, and indeed he won easily: 63% against 15% for Madumarov and 14% for Tashiev. The opposition has called foul, but it is hard to say whether there were real frauds or this is more the case of grubby opponents who are unhappy they lost in a landslide and thus call out for fraud. The OSCE noted a few irregularities but no independent observers, as far as I know, have claimed massive frauds.

Bulgaria held presidential elections on October 23 and 30. This is a largely ceremonial office as well, and has been held since 2001 by Georgi Parvanov, elected as a Socialist. The last elections in 2006 had seen low turnout (42%) and Parvanov face far-right leader Volen Siderov in a runoff, which Parvanov won with 76%. Parvanov was not eligible for reelection this year. The governing right-wing GERB party nominated Rosen Plevneliev, the former popular Minister of Regional Development and a rival of sorts to Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. The Socialists, who lost the 2009 elections to GERB in a landslide, nominated former foreign minister Ivaylo Kalfin. Former EU commissioner Meglena Kuneva, formerly a member of the liberal NDSV, ran as an independent. In the first round, Plevneliev won 40% against 29% for Kalfin and 14% for Kuneva. Siderov won just 3.6% of the vote. Plevneliev won on Sunday with 52.6% against 47.4% for Kalfin, a very strong showing for Kalfin and the BSP. Turnout was 51% in the first round but only 48% in the runoff. Local elections were also held on both days, but the electoral commission doesn’t have an English webpage, so I didn’t find out a lot about those. Apparently GERB held Sofia and Burgas easily by the first round, and it won Varna in the runoff.

These elections were marred by some irregularities in the vote count process, leading 6% of first round votes to be disqualified – apparently at a whim by GERB observers. GERB has also been accused of controlling the media while there are the eternal problems with vote-buying and voter rolls which have way too many voters on them.


Ireland 2011: an Epic Fáil

A general election was held in Ireland on February 25, 2011. All 166 members of the lower house of the Oireachtas, the Dáil Éireann, were up for reelection. Held in the wake of one of Ireland’s most dramatic economic collapses after a long stretch of growth, it was obviously going to be an historic election and it was one. For those not familiar with the bizarre world of Irish politics, I’ve explained the parties and their roots in a preview post.

Fine Gael 36.10% (+8.78%) winning 76 seats (+25)
Labour 19.45% (+9.32%) winning 37 seats (+17)
Fianna Fáil 17.45% (-24.11%) winning 20 seats (-57)*
Sinn Féin 9.94% (+3%) winning 14 seats (+10)
Green Party 1.85% (-2.84%) winning 0 seats (-6)
Socialist Party 1.21% (+0.57%) winning 2 seats (+2)
People Before Profit 0.97% (+0.52%) winning 2 seats (+2)
Independents and Others 13.04% (+7.73%) winning 15 seats (+10)*

* includes Séamus Kirk (FF), Ceann Comhairle (speaker), automatically returned in Louth
* includes Séamus Healy, a ULA candidate and other votes cast for certain ULA candidates; and parties such as South Kerry Independent Alliance, Christian Solidarity or Workers’ Party. My estimate places the remaining 14 real independents at 6 left, 3 ex-FF, 3 right, 1 ex-FG and 1 maverick.

Results for all 166/166 seats pending a recount in Galway West between Seán Kyne (FG) and Catherine Connolly (I, ex-Labour). Kyne had a 17 vote edge over Connolly on count 13.

Note on the map: independents counted separately and individually
First, getting the records of this historic out of the way, though needless to say they’re very symbolic factoids. This is the first time since 1932 that Fianna Fáil will not be the largest party in the Dáil and it is also FF’s worst showing both seat-wise and vote-wise since its foundation in 1926. This is not, however, Fine Gael’s best showing – it did better in 1981 and 1982, but it will probably be its best showing seat wise and obviously it has the symbolic victory of being the largest party for the first time in its history. Labour did slightly worse vote-wise this year than in 2011, but 35 seats is the party’s highest seat count in its history. This is also Sinn Féin’s best result in the Republic of Ireland since the 1926 split from which FF was born. Turnout was 70.1%, which is up 3% on 2007 and which is the highest since at least 1992 (where my data stops).

The results of Friday were an unambiguous thumping for FF. Needless to say, it’s quite obvious that it was punished heavily for its economic incompetence during the crisis and the unpopular IMF-EU bailout. FF’s 17.5% is in the top range of its poll results and even slightly over, which shouldn’t be surprising given that unpopular governments tend to underpoll (UK 1992 being the best case of this). However, even a “decent” (for the times) vote share hasn’t translated into many seats. As predicted, FF candidates were “toxic” and got roughly 7-10% of transfers from other candidates only. Transfers from the Greens were probably poor, terrible from the other parties and the vote management between FF candidates in constituencies wasn’t what it was in the good years. Poor transfers have certainly hurt it a lot in a number of constituencies. While current FF leader Micheál Martin managed to top the count with 16.7% in Cork South-Central, the party’s defeat has scalped several high-ranking members including all but two ministers and two junior ministers. The two most notable are Mary Hanfin (Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation) who lost in Dún Laoghaire and took only 9% of first preferences; and most importantly the Tánaiste, Mary Coughlan who lost in Donegal South West taking 11.5% of first preferences. Not an actual cabinet member but certainly a dynastic name, Seán Haughey lost his seat in Dublin North Central which means that there will be no Haughey in the Dáil since 1957. Éamon Ó Cuív, Éamon de Valera’s grandson, however, was reelected in Galway West without too much trouble. A number of constituencies will be left with no FF TD, when FF has had at least one TD in each constituency since 1932. The Tánaiste’s defeat in Donegal SW, for example, leaves FF without a TD in an area where FF has had TDs since its foundation or so.

In Dublin proper, FF now holds only one of the 47 seats in the city with Brian Lenihan, the outgoing Finance Minister, who managed to save his seat in Dublin West. His brother Conor (Dublin SW), however, was not so lucky and got creamed badly. Cyprian Brady, Bertie Ahern’s running-mate in 2007 (in Dublin Central) and who ran for reelection as TD this year, closely supported by Ahern, got the worst result for a FF TD with only 4.7% in his seat. In the areas directly bordering Dublin and considered as part of the broad suburbia (Kildare, Meath, Wicklow) there will be only one FF TD, Seán Ó Fearghaíl in Kildare South (which includes rural areas where Ó Fearghaíl is from, so arguably the suburbia has no FF TD anymore). FF took a big beating in the working-class areas of west and north Dublin where it was strong, way back when. The suburbs of Dublin grew dramatically during the Celtic Tiger years as middle-class families moved out of the city and bought houses on credit. Nowadays, these families have been the hardest hit by the economic crisis and have punished FF by giving it its worst results in the country. It resisted better in rural areas, but still got trounced. FF’s best result was 28.1% in Carlow-Kilkenny.

FF had sought to adopt first-past-the-post twice in 1959 and 1968. In those days, it was to guarantee FF a permanent majority. Perhaps FF is now thanking the heavens that it failed or else this election would have been a true wipeout for FF, which would likely have gotten at most 5 seats and perhaps only Martin in Cork and one or two outside that. In this case, this election would have been similar to Canada 1993 (the PCs won 16%, slightly less than FF, but got 0.7% of seats instead of FF’s 12% this year).

FF’s demise brought their former fledgling partners, the Greens, down with them. The Greens became a joke party, winning 1.9% of the vote and losing all 6 seats rather easily. Its former leader, Trevor Sargent managed 8.5% in Dublin North (-8.2% on 2007) while current leader John Gormley got 6.8% in Dublin South East. Its most outspoken member, Paul Gogarty got wiped out taking 3.5% in Dublin Mid West.

credit where it’s due: this isn’t my map

On the side of the winners, Fine Gael is probably the one which has gained the most coming out of this. Despite its leader, Enda Kenny, having poor leadership numbers and being almost constantly criticized within his own party (most recently in summer 2010), FG managed some impressive gains on the back of good transfers but also very good vote management in its constituencies. It did quite well in rural areas, where it took a lot of FF votes and also in the most ‘affluent’ (a relative term nowadays) of the Dublin suburbia in Meath or whereabouts. Its best result overall was 65% in Mayo, where a lovefest for Enda Kenny in his home turf (since 1975) is to blame. Kenny got in on the first count with 23.6% of first prefs and brought in three other Fine Gael-ers to give FG 4 out of 5 seats in the constituency. Definitely an impressive feat and the most extreme example of FG’s competent vote management on Friday. It will probably, however, kill itself for giving away freebies like in Kildare South where Michael Heydon’s 33% as FG’s sole candidate could have given it a second seat without too much trouble. Heydon’s 33% was the best result for a candidate in all of Ireland. However, FG did not win enough seats to form a majority government, meaning that it will need to govern in coalition – a point I’ll come back to later.

Labour were the second biggest winners and also became the second party in the Dáil for the first time ever. It will have its largest caucus ever, with 37 seats. It did best in Dublin, where it is the largest party. Its results were particularly strong in the working-class constituencies of Dublin (where it’s been strong since the 90s or so) were strong, the most impressive of which was in Dublin North West with 43.2% overall it got 2/3 seats with the final seat going to Sinn Féin, meaning that Dublin NW is the only one with no FG TD and is the only constituency entirely dominated by the left (probably the first time in Irish history). Labour won 6 constituencies in Dublin, most roughly in the west of the city which includes the most working-class or low income areas. FG did best in the more middle-class areas, though Labour seemingly has a ‘bobo’ type vote in places such as Dún Laoghaire (which is Gilmore’s constituency). Labour, however, has been strong or strongest in Dublin only since the 1990s or so, when it integrated the Democratic Left (the moderate wing of the Workers’ Party, the Official Sinn Féin). Current leader Eamon Gilmore is a former DL TD himself. Prior to that, Labour had traditionally been strongest in southern Ireland and weaker in northern Ireland. Its base in southern Ireland was with unionized agrolabour, and traditions don’t die in Irish politics. There are also working-class areas such as Cork or Cobh which provide a strong vote for Labour. It has since grown in Dublin’s suburbs, where it did well this year while the oddity in Longford-Westmeath seems to be a mix of Dublin suburban growth, manufacturing base and a personal vote in Westmeath for Willie Penrose, a Labour TD since 1992. Despite gains nationally, it did poorly in most of Connaught and northern Leinster though it did win a seat in Galway West, which is a very good thing for them. A lack of organization and by consequence a lack of decent candidate pool hurts them a lot. But set against the 2009 locals and Euros, Labour’s vote held up remarkably well (in 2009, it won roughly 14-15% when polls placed it at 18-23%).

Sinn Féin finally made the breakthrough it wanted in 2007. While it slightly over-polled – again – good transfers from other parties have given its candidate a significant boost as they won 14 seats and have made gains in areas outside their border country base around Northern Ireland. Its new base seems to be not only in the border counties of Donegal, Louth and Cavan-Monaghan where it has been strongest recently but also in the working-class areas of Dublin (in stark contrast to even middle-class liberal areas, where it is very weak) and now in old nationalist areas in Munster such as Cork or Kerry (though SF has been present in Kerry North for a good time now with Martin Ferris, and, soon, his good-looking daughter). Gerry Adams himself won in Louth, topping the poll with 21.7%. Pearse Doherty, SF’s popular finance spokesperson since his by-election win in Donegal South West last year, won 33% of first preferences (as the only SF candidate) and in doing so allowed SF to be the largest party in the constituency. Doherty’s high vote makes it likely that SF could likely have gotten a second seat here if it had run a second candidate.

The United Left Alliance (ULA) isn’t a registered party and as such didn’t appear on ballots. Therefore, its candidates are still counted for their respective parties (Socialist or People Before Profit) or as independents so it’s hard to quickly give the whole ULA a vote share. It has five seats, 2 Socialists, 2 PBP and one independent (technically, Workers and Unemployed Action Group). Joe Higgins, the Socialist Party’s leader and incumbent MEP (TD until 2007) won rather easily in Dublin West with 19% on first prefs. Clare Daly (SP) won in Dublin North (which includes the airport, where the radical left is strong) with 15.2% on first prefs. Joan Collins of People Before Profit (formerly SP herself) won with 12.9% in Dublin South Central. Finally, Richard Boyd Barrett, the bourgeois Trot of PBP won narrowly in Dún Laoghaire where he took 10.9%. Seeing Dún Laoghaire the middle-class suburb electing a Trot is always amusing. Séamus Healy of the WUAG (counted here and elsewhere as independent) won in Tipperary South toping the poll with an impressive 21.3%.

The number of Independents has increased considerably for the 31st Dáil. There are 14 outright independents (not counting Séamus Healy) in the new Dáil. Of those, six (O’Sullivan, McGrath, Murphy, Halligan, Pringle and Wallace) are left-wingers. O’Sullivan was elected in a 2009 by-election in Dublin Central as the ‘heir’ to long-time left-wing independent TD Tony Gregory. Finian McGrath (Dublin North Central) is also associated to the late Tony Gregory. Catherine Murphy (Kildare North) is a former member of outfits such as the Workers’ Party, DL and Labour. John Halligan (Waterford) is undoubtedly left-wing, he’s a former member of the Workers’ Party which is strong in Waterford (a working-class town). Thomas Pringle (Donegal SW) is a local councillor elected as a republican socialist and a former member of Sinn Féin. Finally, Mick Wallace (Wexford) is a building contractor/property developer who runs the local soccer team and is known for opposition to the Iraq War.

Three are FF defectors or people who were FF once upon a time: Mattie McGrath (Tipp South), Tom Fleming (Kerry South) and Michael Healy-Rae (Kerry South). McGrath was elected as a FF TD in 2007 but was a thorn in the party’s side before finally leaving FF earlier this year. Fleming ran as an independent after FF didn’t select him. As for Michael Healy-Rae, he’s the son of well-known local fixture Jackie Healy-Rae (a TD since 1997) and is a rural populist type with a distinctive redneck/Ireland in the 1800s feel. There is one FG-independent (though he supported the government): Michael Lowry in Tipp North. He’s a former FG cabinet member who was forced out of the party for shady stuff and is seemingly a pork-barrel spender type of TD.

There are three right-wingers: Senator Shane Ross, easily elected in Dublin South, is a right-wing populist maverick type. A former FG member, he’s a stockbroker and campaigner on shareholder issues. His opposition to the bailout makes him a populist more than a classical liberal. In Wicklow, there is Stephen Donnelly, a former management consultant who campaigned on vague economic issues. Finally, there is Noel Grealish, a former PD TD reelected as an independent in Galway West.

Finally, there’s Luke Flanagan in Roscommon-South Leitrim. Flanagan is a prominent cannabis legalization activist, though nowadays focused on local issues as a county councillor in Roscommon. He seems to be a left-wing populist type.

Taoiseach Enda

Now comes the future. Enda Kenny will certainly become Taoiseach. He can thank his God for the economic crisis, because it’s quite unlikely an uncharismatic and incompetent leader of his type would have come close to power in normal times. His speech last night was one of the most boring and cliche speeches in politics, which means that Enda Kenny is a cure for insomnia. Yet, he’s won. FG doesn’t have enough to form a majority government and the independents don’t seem to be of the type to support a right-wing agenda which FG will allegedly implement. Furthermore, having a government reliant on independents never works especially in Ireland when a good number of those are rural pork-barrel spenders. Another solution is an FG minority supported by FF, without FF’s participation. Micheál Martin might be open to something like that, though it’s still hard to see the two parties working together (even out of a coalition) because, after all, Éamon de Valera didn’t sign the treaty in 1921. Yet a FG-FF type setup with an FG minority cabinet would probably be best for Labour’s long-term future as it could keep FF tied down while not hurting Labour. A FG-FF setup would be more likely to introduce the most stringent and austere of economic policies because it would be a quasi-uniformly right-wing government. As such, that option might please people such as Leo Varadkar, a right-wing FG TD. The most likely outcome, according to the pundits, seems to be a FG-Labour government. Éamon Gilmore has said that Labour is open to talks. Such a government might find its most right-wing policies frustrated by Labour’s presence and would implement a somewhat less austere policy. But it would still be a centre-right policy which would be taken (largely similar to FF’s recent policies during the crisis) and as such Labour would undoubtedly suffer a lot, maybe more than FG, from such a government which would inevitably become unpopular very quickly (especially given that Enda Kenny doesn’t seem a competent leader). SF could only be rubbing its hands in such a scenario which would assure it a bright future, and it would also allow FF to slowly rebuild independently in the opposition. Labour’s strategists ought to think about the long-term consequences on Labour and Irish politics as it enters or not government.

As said in the preview, we won’t know for a long time if 2011 was a realignment or a deviation. As such, I wouldn’t be quick to jump to conclusions about this being a historic election signaling the end of Civil War politics in Ireland and a realignment on ‘normal’ left-right lines. FF is certainly very seriously crippled, but Martin has some credibility left to rebuild the party and a FG-Labour government would probably make rebuilding much easier. FF is still a serious player, with members and organizations on the ground which can either break down further or be oiled up to run again in the future. However, FF’s future chances would be seriously compromised if Labour isn’t in government. In that case, Labour would grow in opposition and would seriously threaten FF’s chances and would enhance transition from Civil War politics towards left-right politics. From my point of view, moving Ireland towards left-right politics rather than archaic Civil War politics would be a welcome thing.

Election Preview: Ireland 2011

Election Day: follow the Irish election results on twitter now!

Ireland votes in an historic election, perhaps the most historic election in Ireland since 1932, on Friday February 25. Earth-shattering changes to Ireland’s remarkably stable party system could come out of it, even though it is far too early to tell whether this will be a turning point realignment election or only an historic but merely deviating election. Unsurprisingly, this election is being fought largely around economic matters. Anybody knows that Ireland has been one of the worst victims of the economic crisis, having suffered a huge housing bubble burst which led to Ireland becoming virtually bankrupt. As a result, it was bailed out late last year by the IMF and EU at the cost of heavy austerity policies. Those who wish for this election to mark a major change in economic policy, however, will probably be disappointed.

How it works

The lower house of Irish parliament, the Dáil Éireann, has 166 seats elected by single-transferable vote in 43 multi-member constituencies. Ireland is pretty much the textbook example of STV in the world, and it has used that system since 1921. I’ll save you the details of STV, readily available online if need be.

The STV system makes for Ireland’s high number of independents, localist politics and family dynasties. Especially in rural Ireland, local constituency issues are major voting determinants and rural voters are traditionally conservative, in the Irish case this means they’re pro-incumbent and they’ll heavily back the two dominant parties. Family names are also very important in Ireland, meaning that politics has a lot of family dynasties.

A Very Brief Political History

Ireland’s party system has been remarkably stable and is also somewhat odd for Europe. Irish politics has been dominated since the end of the Civil War by two parties which took their current names in 1926 and 1937 respectively. On one hand, the long-time hegemonic Fianna Fáil (FF, Soldiers of Destiny) and Fine Gael (FG, Family of the Irish) on the other. Both, however, do not conform the left-right divide present in almost all European countries in that both parties are big tent parties which are broadly centrist, with one more right-wing than the other. Both FF and FG can be described as patronage machines with no ideologies, though that view is slightly pessimistic. The roots of FF and FG, and by consequence the roots of modern Irish politics, lay in the Irish Civil War fought between 1922 and 1923.

Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom until the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922. Politics were dominated until 1918 by the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) whose raison-d’etre was home rule for Ireland, which then also included the Protestant counties of Ulster. The home rule bill for 26 of the 33 counties was passed in 1914 but application delayed until the end of the First World War. The exclusion of the six counties of Ulster was to be a major spur to the rise of Sinn Féin (SF), a radical party which demanded the independence of a united Irish Republic. The violent repression by London of the 1916 Easter Rising also played a major role in boosting SF’s standing in Ireland. By the time of the 1918 election in Ireland, SF, led by Éamon de Valera, won 73 of Ireland’s 105 seat in Westminster, while the IPP was reduced to a mere 6 in Ireland (22 Unionists were elected, largely in Ulster).

Following the conclusion of the Irish War of Independence, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in December 1921. An Irish Free State, a self-governing dominion of the Empire similar to Canada would be formed but Northern Ireland could and did ‘opt-out’ from the Free State. The treaty split SF into two wings, one pro-treaty led by Michael Collins and another anti-treaty led by de Valera. This led to a Civil War which was won by the pro-treaty wing which later became the Cumann na nGaedheal, or Society of the Gaels. de Valera’s anti-treaty wing of SF adopted an abstentionist policy by the election of the 4th Dáil Éireann in 1923 at which time Cumann na nGaedheal’s W.T. Cosgrave became President of the Executive Council, a position he held for ten years.

Cumann na nGaedheal, the predecessor of the modern Fine Gael, was a broadly centre-right moderate party which accepted the Free State and partition and supported free trade. Cosgrave’s government, in power until 1932, established a peaceful democratic state, restored rule of law and ensured the political stability of Ireland.

Meanwhile, the (anti-treaty) SF, which refused to take their seats in the Dáil, split. Éamon de Valera saw more advantages in making his peace with the Free State and republicanize it from inside rather than continuing with the SF abstentionist policy. When a motion by de Valera to end the policy of abstention failed at SF’s 1926 Ard Fheis, he split from SF to create Fianna Fáil.

The parties in 1932 had clear ideological differences. FF represented a republican, nationalist, protectionist and populist ideology which supported social measures and self-sufficiency, while the Cumann na nGaedheal represented a conservative, free-trade and middle-class trend which played the ‘red card’ on FF. FF won the 1932 election, and after a peaceful transition of power, Éamon de Valera, the former enemy of the Free State, became its leader.

de Valera led a nationalist policy in his first years in office, including a trade war with England which resulted in British sanctions on Ireland’s agricultural produce. The dispute was resolved in 1938 with the signature of an Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement. Most notably, de Valera drafted a new constitution for Ireland in 1937 which replaced the Governor-General with a President, recognized the special status of the Catholic Church (the Vatican approved the constitution’s draft before the government even submitted it to a referendum) and the recognition of Irish as the national language and first official language. The 1937 Constitution’s emphasis on the use of Irish led to the modern use of terms like Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Tánaiste (a deputy PM), the Seanad (Senate) or the Dáil (lower house, its members being TDs). Ireland became a de-facto republic in 1937, but only officially became a republic in 1949. Ireland was neutral during World War II, though there remains controversy about de Valera’s appreciation of Hitler.

Cumann na nGaedheal fell into disrepair following its 1932 defeat and merged with the small agrarian National Centre Party form Fine Gael in 1933 after a brief flirtation with fascism. FG did poorly in the 1948 election, winning 20% of the vote against FF’s 42%, but FF lost 8 seats and allowed for the formation of an unlikely coalition including FG, Labour, the agrarian Clann na Talmhan, the anti-communist National Labour and finally Seán MacBride’s Clann na Poblachta. Seán MacBride, a former IRA chief of staff, had founded the Clann na Poblachta in 1946 and it quickly drew support from left-wing, radical nationalists (who felt FF had betrayed republicans by executing IRA members) and other unhappy voters. It did remarkably poorly in the 1948 snap election, called by de Valera to halt Clann na Poblachta’s rising success. FG’s John Costello, acceptable to the Clann na Poblachta, became Taoiseach.

The Costello coalition was generally successful, but was severely hurt by the flop of the Health Minister’s Mother and Child Scheme which introduced free maternity care and free healthcare for all children. Opposed by the Church, the health minister was subsequently abandoned by his colleagues. de Valera returned to power in 1951. The new FF government was forced to implement deflationary austerity measures to deal with a poor economy, which led to FF’s defeat in 1954 and a second Costello coalition with Labour and the Clann na Talmhan. The second Costello government, unable to deal with the economic crisis, has been deemed one of Ireland’s worst governments. FF, embracing free trade, returned to power with an absolute majority in 1957.

de Valera was elected President in 1959 and replaced by Seán Lemass. Lemass, who had served as de Valera’s Tánaiste played a major role in FF’s conversion to free trade and to the subsequent economic growth in Ireland as a result of the government’s new free trade-oriented policies which included tax grants and concessions for foreign firms setting up in Ireland. Though Ireland and FF remained socially conservative, Lemass’ government did liberalize society through the creation of RTÉ television and educational reforms. Lemass retired in 1966 and was succeeded by the finance minister, Jack Lynch. An easy-going and popular man, as well as the representative of a new wave of younger FF politicians who weren’t connected to the Civil War; Lynch won a new majority for FF in 1969.

Lynch lost power to a National Coalition of FG and Labour in 1973 led by Liam Cosgrave. A poor economy following the oil crash and republican anger at Cosgrave’s hard-line policy towards the IRA in Northern Ireland led to a surprisingly massive defeat by FF in 1977, where Lynch won the party’s best result with 50.6% of the vote and 84 seats. Lynch’s government became unpopular two years into its term, the results of the 1979 oil crisis. He resigned and was replaced by Charles Haughey, formerly disgraced in the Arms Crisis, who went on to become one of Ireland’s most controversial Taoiseach. Haughey initially seemed to be favouring some austerity measures, but in reality implemented high spending measures which led to the deficit ballooning out of control.

In the 1981 election, Haughey led a populist campaign supporting continued spending while FG had an attractive tax-cutting policy which gained it 22 seats for a total of 65 against FF’s 75. FF also suffered from the competition from abstentionist Anti H-Block candidates who took votes from FF. A FG-Labour coalition led by Garret FitzGerald took office and implemented severe austerity measures, but the government fell in January 1982 leading to a snap election. Haughey, despite internal divisions in FF which lasted until 1983, was able to form a government with external support. Haughey continued his economic mismanagement and runaway spending, which led to a leadership challenge to Haughey in October which he easily survived but his government later fell when FF was apparently going to implement massive cuts. A left-wing independent and the 3 Workers’ Party TDs withdrew support and led to a snap election in November 1982. FG came within five seats of FF (70 to 75) and formed government with Labour, with FitzGerald as Taoiseach.

FitzGerald liberalized society, moving Ireland to the left although it remained a largely conservative country. In Northern Ireland, he negotiated the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. But domestically, the government was unable to control the spiraling deficit and bad economic situation. FG did support public spending cuts, but Labour rejected any spending cuts. Although the government held together, its inability to control finances led to an outflow of right-wing support towards the new Progressive Democrats (PDs), a liberal party both on economic and social issues.

Haughey returned to power in 1987, with the PDs taking 12% of the vote and 14 seats, becoming the third largest party. Broadly supported by both FG and the PDs, Haughey this time implemented budget cuts, tax reform and other similar measures. Haughey called a snap election in 1987, hoping to get a majority, but instead FF lost four seats. After 27 days, Haughey finally managed to form a government with the PDs, and in doing so angered much of FF by abandoning FF’s sacred opposition to coalitions.

Haughey’s term didn’t go to well. FF suffered a major defeat in 1990, when its presidential candidate, Tánaiste Brian Lenihan Sr. was defeated in the presidential election by Labour’s Mary Robinson. Opposition within the party to Haughey strengthened and a string of corruption scandals emerged, notably the reemergence of the 80s phone tapping scandal which Haughey had authorized.

The 1992 election was FF’s lowest point, with 39% and 68 seats. FG also did poorly, while Labour won an historic 19.5%. A FF-Labour coalition around FF’s Albert Reynolds was formed. Reynold’s greatest legacy was his ability to de-escalate the conflict in Northern Ireland with the IRA announcing a cease-fire in 1994. However, Labour and FF split over a High Court nomination, leading Labour to leave the coalition. No election was held, instead a ‘Rainbow Coalition’ was formed by FG, Labour and the smaller Democratic Left. FG’s John Bruton became Taoiseach. Bruton was generally successful, except perhaps in Northern Ireland where the IRA broke its cease-fire in 1996. He liberalized divorce law and saw the beginning of the Celtic tiger economic miracle. However, perhaps because of Northern Ireland, FG narrowly lost power to Bertie Ahern’s FF in 1997. Though FG gained seats, Labour suffered badly. FF formed a coalition with the PDs.

Bertie Ahern, the teflon Taoiseach, had the ability to remain unmarred by the plethora of corruption cases. Perhaps the booming economy of the Celtic tiger (till 2008) helped, as did the 1998 Belfast Agreement. In 2002, FF was reelected while FG suffered a catastrophic meltdown, being reduced to just 31 seats. Labour did poorly, but the PDs, Greens and SF all did well. Despite a shaky second term which was marked by bad local results for FF in 2004, Ahern won a third term in office in 2007. It lost only 4 seats, for a total of 77. While FG bounced back 20 seats to get 51, Labour didn’t move. The PDs collapsed from 8 to 2 seats, with its leader losing its seat, leading to the party’s dissolution later. While the PD’s Mary Harney remained in cabinet, the government was expanded to the Green Party and supported by some independents. Ahern, faced with corruption and the beginnings of the meltdown, stepped down in 2008 in favour of Tánaiste Brian Cowen.

The Celtic tiger boom coincided with a property boom, helped by lax planning laws which allowed buildings to spring up practically everywhere and selling it at overpriced rates. Supply for property vastly surpassed demand for property, and led to the meltdown. Properties being backed by banks, Cowen was forced to guarantee the bank’s assets with public money. This, of course, led to a massive deficit where Ireland was on the verge of bankruptcy when the IMF and EU bailed it out late last year.

The Parties and the Campaigns

As explained above, both FF and FG are not parties with profound ideological roots. They’re largely similar, and they come close to representing nothing more than two broadly centrist outfits whose only use is patronage.

Fianna Fáil is traditionally more leftist and more republican/nationalist, but that’s hard to tell from its recent policies. FF is also socially conservative. Perhaps one of the reasons why Cowen and FF were so destroyed by the crisis, unlike any other governing party, is that their acceptance of IMF-EU bailout went against the party’s long-standing republican and nationalist rhetoric which at times included a dose of Euroscepticism. FF’s base is largely made up of certain working-class voters and small farmers (most of which are traditionally in western Ireland). It notably has a strong support base with the agricultural lobby groups.

FF has been in power, as we’ve seen above, for 61 of the last 79 years and most recently since 1997. That makes it the second most successful party in the democratic world after the Swedish Social Democrats. It has topped the poll in every election since 1932 and its worst result since then was a still relatively healthy 39% in 1992. A party with such a hold on power means that it is more than a bit corrupt, and perhaps one of the reasons for its success is its ability to control the sources of patronage for so long.

Questions over Cowen’s leadership arose in September 2010 after he showed up drunk to a radio interview. He survived a confidence ballot on January 16, 2011 but four days later he announced that he was stepping down as leader of Fianna Fáil but not as Taoiseach. Foreign Minister Micheál Martin, Cowen’s longtime rival, easily won a leadership contest and became leader on January 26. Martin is a capable communicator, and has managed to get strong leadership ratings. However, while he might boost FF a bit, the party has become too toxic for even he to lead it to victory.

Fine Gael is traditionally the more right-wing, liberal and less nationalist of the two. Yet, despite its right-wing reputation, it has always governed in coalition with Labour meaning that it has rarely implemented truly right-wing economic policies. FG’s close alliance with Labour is explained by its thirst for power, and given FF’s hegemony since 1932 a coalition with the third party is the only way of getting power and access to patronage. FG’s traditional base is with large farmers (in eastern Ireland) and with the urban middle-classes, where it has suffered competition from the PDs, Green and Labour.

FG’s current leader, Enda Kenny, is, to put it frankly, economically inept and a poor leader. Kenny survived a leadership challenge in 2010, a year which went particularly badly for it given that it was unable to capitalize, as the main opposition, on FF’s unpopularity. Nowadays, however, with FG mounting a tough anti-deficit campaign, Kenny has managed to make people forget that he’s probably as incompetent as Cowen and has come to embody financial stability. It has had a very good campaign.

FF and FG’s dominance has been helped by their implantation as the dominant political forces in Ireland right after the Civil War, which cast a long shadow over Irish politics. Furthermore, in rural areas, family ties and history play important roles in determining party affiliation, plus the electoral system means that politics are very local and the rural areas are pro-incumbent, making it hard for FF/FG to lose their bases there. In rural areas, voters vote heavily on local issues and as such it is hard to define any one county as a longtime FF or FG stronghold given that one party’s stronghold in 2007 might have been one of its weakest zones in the 80s. Urban areas, notably Dublin, while still voting FF/FG, also provide a base for Labour, the Greens, SF and smaller parties.

Labour has been a perennial third (or worse) party and has never won over 20% of the vote. Its weakness in Ireland is due both the aforementioned long shadow of the Civil War, FF’s populist left-wing rhetoric in its early days and also the weak implantation of industry and a urban working-class outside Dublin in Ireland. For a long time, Labour was strong with rural labourers, but its main modern base remain Dublin.

Labour’s Eamon Gilmore rode high in 2010, even surpassing all other parties in some polls until not very long ago. But the campaign has been pretty bad, and its economic policy has been under attack by both left and right. In addition, perhaps voters have shied away with electing a party which has little executive experience. Yet, anything short of an historic success (beating 1992’s 19%) would be a defeat for Labour.

Sinn Féin dropped its abstentionist policy towards the Dáil in 1986 and has stood in elections since 1987. It won one seat in 1997, 5 in 2002 and 4 in 2007. Traditionally, its Irish base has been limited to Republican areas bordering Northern Ireland and some working-class areas of Dublin. The party in Ireland received a major boost when Gerry Adams, its traditional leader and until then MP for West Belfast, decided to move his political career south, probably to leave Belfast open to Michael McGuinness. SF originally experienced a boom, out-polling FF for third place (prior to Martin taking over). Pearse Doherty easily won a seat from FF in a by-election in Donegal SW in November 2010. The party opposed the bailout and wants to default on at least some of the deficit. But the party’s economic policy has been heavily criticized and Adams himself was shown to be particularly weak on economic issues. It remains to be seen if it can perform as well as it polls, or if 2011 will be another disappointment like 2007.

The Greens won nearly 5% and 6 seats in 2007, but being in government until very recently with FF has killed them both because the government is as popular as the plague and because they were particularly incompetent in government. They’ll need to fight to retain all of their seats, and it certainly is foreseeable that they’ll lose all of them.

A bunch of small far-left groups, notably Joe Higgins’ Socialists, formed the United Left Alliance (ULA) to contest this election. Joe Higgins, who won a seat in the 2009 EU election in Dublin, is contesting his old seat, lost in 2007, in Dublin West. He’ll undoubtedly win, but it’s tough to tell if the ULA will manage more.


Here were the results of the 2007 election:

Fianna Fáil 41.56% (+0.1%) winning 77 seats (-4)
Fine Gael 27.32% (+4.8%) winning 51 seats (+20)
Labour 10.13% (-0.7%) winning 20 seats (±0)
Green Party 4.69% (+0.9%) winning 6 seats (±0)
Sinn Féin 6.94% (+0.4%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Progressive Democrats 2.73% (-1.3%) winning 2 seats (-6)
Socialist Party 0.64% (-0.2%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Independents 5.15% (-3.8%) winning 5 seats (-8)

In the 2009 European elections, FG won 29% against 24% for FF, while Labour won 14%, SF 11% and the Greens 1%.

Here are the current ranges for the parties in polls since February 20:

Fine Gael 37-40%
Labour 17-20%
Fianna Fáil 14-16%
Sinn Féin 10-12%
Greens 1-3%
Independents and others (incl. ULA) 14-19%

Seats are hard to estimate, but FG will likely fall short of a majority on these numbers. With Labour falling back, it is likely to not win more seats than FF. Labour has a very weak organization in a lot of rural areas, where it can hardly find itself good candidates and totally lacks a base. On the other hand, FF is still a party with a machine and isn’t (yet) a dead shell. However, in STV, FF could very well be toxic – it would get very few transfers. It faces wipeout in Dublin, and if transfers are awful FF could do extremely poorly. Sinn Féin will likely gain some seats, but given its tendency to overpoll, I’d be very reluctant to give them more than 8 or so.

Enda Kenny will more likely than not be the next Taoiseach, and he could do so with an overall majority of his own. That, of course, would be an even larger feat than just merely outpolling FF. Enda Kenny with a majority might not be a good news for the country’s finances, but it would be the best situation for Labour. It wouldn’t need to enter a government that will need to do some major slashing and cutting, and could establish itself as the main opposition party to FG and in doing so work to kill off FF. However, FG will probably fall short of a majority which means a coalition with Labour is most likely. While some of FG’s neoliberal minds such as Leo Varadkar might be highly critical of Labour, FG might itself like a coalition with Labour in that it would neutralize a source of potential, populist opposition to the tough economic policies which are inevitable. As for FF, the size of its defeat will determine where it goes. I’m always a bit wary of talk about earth-shattering political changes, so I’m not one to believe that FF will die after this election. After all, the PRI and LDP haven’t died after they lost the leverage of power, and FF will probably remain a strong political machine. In the case of a FG-Labour coalition, it would more likely than not be the main recipient of popular opposition to the government which will be inevitable once Kenny gets down to slashing and cutting. After all, no FG-led government has ever won reelection and I certainly have a hard time seeing how a government which will need to implement some very austere economic measures will be able to maintain high numbers. Questions of whether 2011 will be realigning or a mere deviation won’t be answered on Friday, and they probably won’t be answered in 2011.

Ireland Referendum 2009

Ireland held a “you gave the wrong answer” re-vote referendum on the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty yesterday after the previous referendum in 2008 had failed, much to the glee of Eurosceptics across the EU. Ireland’s constitution requires popular ratification of treaties of this type, and it did so for past European treaties such as Amsterdam and Nice (again, for Nice, the first failed but the second passed).

Ireland is now seriously hurt by the economic crisis, and its government is extremely unpopular. However, it did manage to obtain special advantages for Ireland in the new treaty, in regards to Ireland’s neutrality and its abortion laws. The YES, supported by most major parties, was expected to win easily and enjoyed a consistent lead in polls. And it did win, by a very large margin which surprised me.

Yes 67.13% (+20.5%)
No 32.87% (-20.5%)
Turnout: 59% (53.13% in 2008)

Ireland Referendum 2009

Only two of Ireland’s 43 electoral constituencies opposed the treaty: the two Donegal constituencies. Donegal, an isolated area of Ulster, has a tradition of general opposition to Europe and the governing authority. The YES was strongest in the affluent suburbs south-east of Dublin, where it broke 80% in two constituencies. The YES’ weakest areas, outside of Donegal, were generally poorer working-class areas. It did win, however, in working-class Dublin South West, where the NO had won its largest victory in 2008 with 65.05%.

The next steps for the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland is Presidential assent, a vote on a statute bill in the Dáil and Seanad before receiving final Presidential assent. All of which should be done soon.

Now, only the Czech Republic lacks Presidential assent and Poland hasn’t yet deposited the instruments of ratification with the Italian government as required by Article 6, paragraph 1.

Europe 2009: Results

Here is the first post in a series of posts concerning the various Euro results from June 7. The results for the major parties winning seats (or not, in a few cases) are presented here, along with a very brief statistical analysis of what happened. If applicable, a map of the results is also presented. Again, except for the Germany map, all of these maps are my creations.


ÖVP 30% (-2.7%) winning 6 seats (nc)
SPÖ 23.8% (-9.5%) winning 4 seats (-3)
HP Martin’s List 17.7% (+3.7%) winning 3 seats (+1)
FPÖ 12.8% (+6.5%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Greens 9.7% (-3.2%) winning 2 seats (nc)
BZÖ 4.6%

As I expected, the junior partner in government, the centre-right ÖVP came out on top but the most surprising was the ÖVP’s decisive margin of victory over its senior partner, the social democratic SPÖ. In fact, the SPÖ, like the German SPD, has won its worst result since 1945. This is probably due to a poor campaign a poor top candidate – Hannes Swoboda. Swoboda ranted against job losses and outsourcing when he himself did the same thing to his employees at Siemens. The good result came from Hans-Peter Martin’s anti-corruption outfit, which got a third seat and increased it’s vote. While improving on its poor 2004 result, the far-right FPÖ is far from the 17.5% it won in the 2008 federal elections. A lot is due to abstention (anti-Euro voters being a large contingent of the abstentionists) and also Martin’s success. The Greenies have unsurprisingly fallen, though they held their second seat due to late (and still incoming) postal votes. The BZÖ of the late Jorg Haider fell just short of the threshold, and it did not win Haider’s Carinthian stronghold. Turnout was 45.3%, slightly up on 2004.


GERB 24.36% (+2.68%) winning 5 seats (nc)
BSP 18.5% (-2.91%) winning 4 seats (-1)
DPS 14.14% (-6.12%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Attack 11.96% (-2.24%) winning 2 seats (-1)
NDSV 7.96% (+1.89%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Blue Coalition (UDF and DSB) 7.95% (-1.14%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Lider 5.7%

The pro-European centre-right GERB won, as in 2007, defeating the Socialists (BSP, officialy grouped with smaller parties in the ‘Coalition for Bulgaria’). The Turkish minority party DPS fell significantly compared to its surprisingly excellent 2007 result. This is due to higher turnout and to competition (by Lider) in the very active vote buying market in Bulgaria. The liberal NDSV led by former Bulgarian monarch Simeon II came back from the dead to win 2 seats and increase its vote share – all this due to a top candidate who had a high personal profile and popularity in an election where person and popularity are very important.


Democratic Rally 35.7% (+7.5%) winning 2 seats
AKEL 34.9% (+7%) winning 2 seats
Democratic Party 12.3% (-4.8%) winning 1 seat
Movement for Social Democracy 9.9% (-0.9%) winning 1 seat (+1)
European Party 4.1% (-6.7%) winning 0 seats (-1)

To my surprise, the opposition centre-right (albeit pro-reunification) DISY defeated the governing communist AKEL. However, both parties increased their share of the vote compared to 2004, mainly on the back of the centrist anti-reunification DIKO and the Social Democrats (who won a seat due to the collapse of the liberal European Party).

Czech Republic

Civic Democrats (ODS) 31.45% (+1.41%) winning 9 seats (±0)
Social Democrats (ČSSD) 22.38% (+13.6%) winning 7 seats (+5)
Communist Party (KSČM) 14.18% (-6.08%) winning 4 seats (-2)
KDU-ČSL 7.64% (-1.93%) winning 2 seats (±0)
Sovereignty 4.26%

Of the shocking results of the night, the Czech result was a shocker to me. I had predicted the Social Democrats to win all along (most polls agreed, albeit very late polls showed a narrow ODS lead), and you have this very large ODS victory that really comes out of the blue. This is really quite a piss poor result for the ČSSD and its controversial and, in my opinion, poor, leader, Jiří Paroubek. I wasn’t surprised by the results of either the Communists (on a tangent, the KSČM is the only formerly ruling communist party which hasn’t changed it name and it remains very much stuck in 1950) or the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). The KSČM’s loses were predictable because 2004 was an especially fertile year for them (the ČSSD was in government, a very unpopular government). Two small parties which won seats in 2004 – the centre-right SNK European Democrats (11.02% and 2 seats) and the far-right populist Independents (8.18% and 2 seats) suffered a very painful death this year. The SNK polled 1.66%, the Independents (most of which were Libertas candidates) won 0.54%. The Greens, a parliamentary party, won a very deceiving result – 2.06%. This is probably due to turnout, which remained at 28%.


Social Democrats 21.49 % (-11.1%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Venstre 20.24% (+0.9%) winning 3 seats (nc)
Socialist People’s Party 15.87% (+7.9%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Danish People’s Party 15.28% (+8.5%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Conservative People’s Party 12.69% (+1.3%) winning 1 seat (nc)
People’s Movement Against the EU 7.20% (+2.0%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Social Liberal Party 4.27% (-2.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
June Movement 2.37% (-6.7%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Liberal Alliance 0.59%

Denmark EU 2009

Red: SD, Blue: Venstre, Purple: SF, Green: DF

No real surprise in the Danish results, which were as I expected them to be. The Social Democrats drop compared to their superb 2004 showing was to be expected, obviously. Obviously, these loses were profitable not to the government (Venstre, Liberals) but to the Socialists (SF) and the far-right (DF). SF and DF have won their best result in any Danish election, either European or legislative. The June Movement, the second anti-EU movement which is in decline since it’s shock 16% in 1999, has lost its sole remaining MEP. The older (and leftier) People’s Movement has picked up some of the June Movement’s vote, though its results are far from excellent. Despite an electoral alliance with the Social Democrats, the Social Liberals (Radikal Venstre) lost its MEP.


Centre 26.1% winning 2 seats (+1)
Indrek Tarand (Ind) 25.8% winning 1 seat (+1)
Reform 15.3% winning 1 seat (±0)
Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica 12.2% winning 1 seat (±0)
Social Democrats 8.7% winning 1 seat (-2)
Estonian Greens 2.7%

Estonia 2009

Turnout was up 17% in Estonia over 2004, reaching 44% (26.8% in 2004), correcting the weird result of 2004 which saw the normally weak Social Democrats come out on top. However, the surprising result here was Reform’s rout (compared to the 2007 general elections) at the profit of Indrek Tarand, a popular independent. The opposition Centre Party, however, came out on top. However, the map clearly shows that Tarand took votes from all places – Centre, Reform, right, Greenies (winning a very deceiving 2.7%), and Social Democrats. The Centre came out on top purely due to the Russian vote in Ida-Viru and in Tallinn, the capital (despite the name, the Centre performs very well in urban areas – it’s not at all a rural centrist party a la Finland).


National Coalition 23.2% (-0.5%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Centre 19% (-4.4%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Social Democratic Party 17.5% (-3.7%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Greens 12.4% (+2%) winning 2 seats (+1)
True Finns 9.8% (+9.3%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Swedish People’s Party 6.1% (+0.4%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Left Alliance 5.9% (-3.2%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Christian Democrats 4.2% (-0.1%) winning 1 seat (+1)

Finland EU 2009

No surprises from Finland, which came out roughly as expected. The junior partner in government, the centre-right National Coalition (Kok) defeated its senior partner, the agrarian liberal Centre Party. However, the Finnish left (SDP and Left) suffered a very cold shower, winning its worst result in years. The Left even lost its sole MEP. A lot of that left-wing vote probably went to the Greenies (who won a very good result) and also the anti-immigration True Finns (in coalition with the Christian Democrats, which allowed the Christiandems to get one MEP). The Swedish People’s Party ended up holding its seat. The map is quite typical of Finnish elections, with the agrarian Centre dominating in the sparsely populated north and the National Coalition dominating in middle-class urban (Helsinki, where they narrowly beat out the Greenies for first) and suburban areas. The Swedish vote is concentrated on the Åland islands (over 80% of the vote for them) but also in small fishing communities on the west coast of Finland (which does not show up on the map).


CDU/CSU 30.7% + 7.2% (-6.6%) winning 42 seats (-7)
SPD 20.8% (-0.7%) winning 23 seats (nc)
Greens 12.1% (+0.2%) winning 14 seats (+1)
Free Democrats 11% (+4.9%) winning 12 seats (+5)
The Left 7.6% (+1.5%) winning 8 seats (+1)

In the EU’s most populated country, the Social Democrats took a major hit by failing to gain anything after the SPD’s horrible (worst since 1945) result in 2004. Overall, the Christian Democrats (CDU) of Chancellor Angela Merkel and its Bavarian sister, the CSU, won as in 2004 but their vote also took a hit (the CDU/CSU was a popular opposition party then, they’re the senior government party now). The winners were of course the Greens, who held on to their remarkable 2004 result and in fact gained a 14th MEP, but certainly the right-liberal Free Democrats (FDP). The Left also gained slightly compared to 2004. The Left’s map remains largely a map of the old DDR but, for the first time, you have darker shades appearing in the West – specifically in the industrial regions of the Saar, the Ruhr and Bremen city. In the end the CSU had no problems with the 5% threshold and they won a relatively decent (compared to most recent results, not 2004 or 2006) result – 48% – in Bavaria. Frei Wahler took 6.7% in Bavaria, and 1.7% federally.


PASOK 36.64% (+2.61%) winning 8 seats (nc)
New Democracy 32.29% (-10.72%) winning 8 seats (-3)
Communist Party 8.35% (-1.13%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Popular Orthodox Rally 7.14% (+3.02%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Coalition of the Radical Left 4.7% (+0.54%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Ecologist Greens 3.49% (+2.88%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pan-Hellenic Macedonian Front 1.27%

Greece EU 2009

No Greek surprise overall, though the Greenies’ poor result could be one. As expected, the opposition ‘socialist’ PASOK defeated the governing unpopular and corrupt right-wing New Democracy. However, there remains no great love for PASOK, partly due to the fact that both ND and PASOK are very similar. The Communist Party (KKE), one of Europe’s most communist communist parties (it still lives in 1951, decrying bourgeois and capitalists), won 8.35%, slightly above its 2007 electoral result but below the KKE’s excellent 2004 result (over 9%). The surprise came from LAOS and the Greens. The Greenies, who were polling 8-11% in the last polls, fell to a mere 3% partly due to a controversial video by the Green Party leader who said that Macedonia (FYROM, the country) should be allowed to keep its name (s0mething which does not go down well in Greece). Most of the Green strength in polls came from disenchanted ND supporters who ended up voting LAOS (the ultra-Orthodox kooks). The Radical Left (SYRIZA) won a rather poor result, probably due to the fact that it is seen as responsible for the violence and lootings during the 2008 riots in Athens.


Fidesz 56.36% winning 14 seats (+2)
Socialist 17.37% winning 4 seats (-5)
Jobbik 14.77% winning 3 seats (+3)
Hungarian Democratic Forum 5.31% winning 1 seat (nc)

The surprise in Hungary came from the spectacular result of the far-right quasi-Nazi Jobbik (which has its own private militia), which did much better than any poll or exit poll had predicted. Jobbik’s results significantly weakened the conservative Fidesz which won “only” 56% (down from 65-70% in some polls). The governing Socialist MSZP took a spectacular thumping, as was widely expected. While the right-wing MDF held its seat, the liberal SZDSZ (f0rmer coalition partner in the MSZP-led government until 2008) lost both of its seats.


Fine Gael 29.1% (+1.3%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Fianna Fáil 24.1% (-5.4%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Labour 13.9% (+3.4%) winning 3 seats (+2)
Sinn Féin 11.2% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Libertas 3.1% (new) winning 0 seats (new)
Socialist 1.5% (+0.2%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Green Party 1.1% (-3.2%)

As expected, Fine Gael came out on top of FPVs in Ireland, inflicting a major defeat on the governing Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil, did not, however, slip to third behind Labour as some pollsters made it seem. This is due in a large part due to Labour’s complete lack of organization in most rural areas. In Dublin, both Fine Gael and Labour incumbents made it through without much sweat. The race, as expected, was for the third seat between the Fianna Fáil incumbent (Eoin Ryan), Socialist leader Joe Higgins and the Sinn Féin incumbent (Mary Lou McDonald). Surprisingly, Sinn Féin was the first out leaving the final seat between Ryan and Higgins. In the end, Higgins got the quasi-entirety of McDonald’s transferable votes and defeated Ryan with 82,366 votes against 76,956 votes for Ryan on the 7th count. Former Greenie (against the party’s participation in government) Patricia McKenna won 4.3% on first preferences against 4.7% against the official Greenie (however, further transfers from joke candidates got McKenna all the way to count 5, while the Greenie got out by count 3). In the East, Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness got elected on the first count, quite the feat indeed. However, no luck for Fine Gael’s second candidate in holding the third seat held by a retiring Fine Gael incumbent. Labour’s Nessa Childers, second on first prefs, far outpolled John Paul Phelan (FG’s second candidate) and got the second seat. Fianna Fáil held its seat. In the North-West, all incumbents (1 Independent ALDE, 1 FF, 1 FG) held their seats with Marian Harkin (Ind-ALDE) topping the poll (however, both Fianna Fáil candidates combined outpolled him and Fine Gael’s MEP). The founder and leader of Libertas, Declan Ganley polled a respectable 13.66% on FPVs and held out till the last count but lost out to Fine Gael due to rather poor transfers from the other anti-Lisbon outfit, SF. In the South, FF incumbent Brian Crowley topped the poll and won easily, as did Sean Kelly (FG). The third seat was between the incumbent Independent (eurosceptic and social conservative) Kathy Sinnott and Labour’s Alan Kelly. Kelly won.

In the local elections, the final seat share is as follows:

Fine Gael 340 seats (+47)
Fianna Fáil 218 seats (-84)
Labour 132 seats (+31)
Others and Indies 132 seats (+40)
Sinn Féin 54 seats (nc)
Socialist 4 seats (nc)
Green Party 3 seats (-15)

Full breakdown by county and city


People of Freedom 35.26% winning 29 seats
Democratic Party 26.13% winning 21 seats
Lega Nord 10.20% winning 9 seats
Italy of Values 8.00% winning 7 seats
Union of the Centre 6.51% winning 5 seats
Communists (PRC+PdCI) 3.38% winning 0 seats
Sinistra e Libertà 3.12% winning 0 seats
Italian Radicals (Bonino-Pannella List) 2.42% winning 0 seats
Pole of Autonomy (La Destra+MPA) 2.22% winning 0 seats
South Tyrolean’s People Party 0.46% winning 1 seat
Berlusconi Coalition (PdL+LN+Autonomy) 47.68% winning 38 seats
PD Coalition (PD-SVP+IdV+Radicals) 37.01% winning 29 seats

Italy EU 2009

Red: PD, Blue: PdL, Green: Lega Nord, Yellow in Aosta Valley: Valdotanian Union (PdL ally), Yellow in Sudtirol: SVP (PD ally)

The Italian results were certainly a setback for Silvio Berlusconi and his “party”, the PdL, which performed a bit lower than what he and polls had expected (38-41% range). The centre-left PD did relatively well, and this will atleast keep the party from splitting up into the old Democrats of the Left and the Daisy. In terms of coalitions, the two large parliamentary blocs stand almost exactly where they stood overall in 2008, with a very very slight improvement for Berlusconi’s coalition. The marking result of this election is probably that of Lega Nord, which has won its best result in any national Italian election (narrowly beating its previous record, 10.1% in the 1996 general election). The Lega has expanded its support to the “south” (north-central Italy), notably polling 11% in Emilia-Romagna and 4% in Tuscany. The support and future of Lega Nord is to be watched closely in the future, due to a potential new electoral law which could significantly hinder it’s parliamentary representation (more on that later). The other good result is from Antonio di Pietro’s strongly anti-Berlusconi and anti-corruption populist Italia dei Valori, which has won its best result ever, by far. It has almost doubled its support since last year’s general election. After being shutout of Parliament in 2008, the Communists and other leftie parties (Socialists and Greens) are now out of the European Parliament, depsite improving quite a bit on the Rainbow’s 2008 result. Of the two coalitions, the old Communist one made up of the Refoundation Commies and the smaller Italian Commies polled slightly better than the Sinistra e libertà, the “New Left” coalition (Greenies, Socialists, moderate “liberal” Commies). Such was to be expected, but the irony is that both leftie coalitions were formed to surpass the new 4% threshold, and none did. However, if there had been a new Rainbow coalition (the 2008 Rainbow included both the hardline Commies and the New Left), they would have made it. As expected, those small parties which won seats in 2004 due to the old electoral law have been eliminated. These include the fascists, La Destra-Sicilian autonomists/crooks, and the Radicals. The South Tyrolean SVP only held its seat due to an electoral clause which allows these “minority parties” to ally with a party to win a seat. The SVP was the only one of these which was successful in doing so. Two smaller Valdotanian parties (one allied with PdL, the other with IdV) failed to win a seat. In provincial elections held the same days, the right was very successful and of the forty provinces decided by the first round, they had won 26 against 14 for the left. 22 provinces will have a runoff. I might do a post on that if I have time.


Civic Union 24.33% winning 2 seats (+2)
Harmony Centre 19.57% winning 2 seats (+2)
PCTVL – For Human Rights in United Latvia 9.66% winning 1 seat (nc)
Latvia’s First Party/Latvia’s Way 7.5% winning 1 seat (nc)
For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK 7.45% winning 1 seat (-3)
New Era 6.66% winning 1 seat (-1) 4.31%

Latvian politics are very confusing, mostly due to the huge swings. This time was no different. A new party, Civic Union (probably EPP) topped the poll over the Harmony Centre, a Russian minority outfit. The PCTVL, another Russian outfit, fell slightly compared to its 11% result in 2004, but remained remarkably stable. TB/LNNK, a UEN party which topped the poll in 2004 fell down three seats. The conservative New Era, senior party in the governing coalition, won only 7% (a lot of its members, along with TB/LNNK members apparently joined the Civic Union). The People’s Party, the senior party in the old coalition which fell apart this year due to the economic crisis won barely 2%. The Union of Greens and Farmers, which won something like 16% in the 2006 election polled a mere 3.7%.


Homeland Union-LKD 26.16% winning 4 seats (+2)
Lithuanian Social Democrats 18.12% winning 3 seats (+1)
Order and Justice 11.9% winning 2 seats (+1)
Labour Party 8.56% winning 1 seat (-4)
Poles’ Electoral Action 8.21% winning 1 seat (+1)
Liberals Movement 7.17% winning 1 seat (+1)
Liberal and Centre Union 3.38% winning 0 seats (-1)

Remarkable stability for a Baltic nation in Lithuania. The winner of the 2008 election, the Homeland Union (TS-LKD) won a rather convincing victory, improving on its 2008 result (only 19.6%) and obviously on its 2004 Euro result (12.6%). The LSDP has picked up an extra seat and has cemented its place as the opposition to the TS-LKD, along with the third-placed populist Order and Justice. Labour, the centrist party which won the 2004 Euro election has seen its seat share cut down from 5 to one, a logical follow-up to its collapse in 2008. The Poles have probably benefited from low turnout (21%) to motivate their base and won an outstanding 8.2% and elected one MEP. I don’t really follow Baltic politics, but if I remember correctly, a government rarely wins re-election, so if that’s true, the result of the TS-LKD is even more remarkable.


Christian Social Party 31.3% (-5.8%) winning 3 seats
Socialist 19.5% (-2.5%) winning 1 seat
Democratic Party 18.6% (+3.7%) winning 1 seat
The Greens 16.8% (+1.8%) winning 1 seat
Alternative Democratic Reform 7.4% (-0.6%)
The Left 3.4% (+1.7%)
Communist Party 1.5% (+0.3%)
Citizens’ List 1.4%

Remarkable and unsurprising political stability in Luxembourg, with no changes in seat distribution. While the CSV and LSAP suffer minor swings against them, the DP and Greens get small positive swings. The Greens’ result is their best ever and one of the best Green results in European elections.

On election night last week, I also covered the simultaneous general election. Here are, again, the full results.

CSV 38% (+1.9%) winning 26 seats (+2)
LSAP 21.6% (-1.8%) winning 13 seats (-1)
DP 15% (-1.1%) winning 9 seats (-1)
Greens 11.7% (+0.1%) winning 7 seats (nc)
ADR 8.1% (-1.8%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Left 3.3% (+1.4%) winning 1 seat (+1)
KPL 1.5% (+0.6%)
BL 0.8%


Labour 54.77% winning 3 seats (nc)
Nationalist 40.49% winning 2 seats (nc)

Obviously no surprise in tiny Malta, where the opposition Labour Party has defeated the governing Nationalist Party. Both sides made gains in terms of votes, feeding off the collapse of the green Democratic Alternative (AD), which won a remarkable 10% in 2004 but a mere 2.3% this year.


Civic Platform 44.43% (+20.33%) winning 25 seats (+10)
Law and Justice 27.4% (+14.73%) winning 15 seats (+8)
Democratic Left Alliance-Labour Union 12.34% (+2.99%) winning 7 seats (+2)
Peasant Party 7.07% (+0.67%) winning 3 seats (-1)

Poland EU 2009

Map by electoral constituency. Key same as above table

Polish politics move quickly, but it seems that this ‘setup’ is here to stay, atleast for some time. The governing right-liberal pro-European Civic Platform (led by PM Donald Tusk) has won a crushing victory over the national-conservative eurosceptic Law and Justice of President Lech Kaczyński. PO’s margin of victory is slightly larger than its already important victory in the 2008 elections. The SLD-UP electoral alliance, which is what remains of the Left and Democrats (LiD) coalition of the 2008 election (encompassing SLD-UP but also a small fake liberal party), won 12%, the average result of the Polish left these days. The Peasant Party, PO’s junior partner in government, won slightly fewer votes than in 2008 (or the 2004 Eur0s). The 2004 Euros, marked by the excellent result of the ultra-conservative League of Polish Families (LPR, now Libertas) and the left-wing populist Samoobrona saw both of these parties collapse. Libertas-LPR won 1.14% and Samoobrona won 1.46%. Smaller ultra-conservative jokes also did very poorly. After the 2004-2006 episode, sanity seems to have returned to Polish politics.


Social Democratic Party 31.7% winning 8 seats (+1)
Socialist Party 26.6% winning 7 seats (-5)
Left Bloc 10.7% winning 3 seats (+2)
CDU: Communist Party-Greens 10.7% winning 2 seats (nc)
Democratic and Social Centre-People’s Party 8.4% winning 2 seats (nc)

Portugal EU 2009

Blue: PSD, Red: PS, Green: CDU (PCP-PEV)

Cold shower for the governing Portuguese Socialists after the huge victory of the 2004 Euros. The centre-right PSD has won a major victory by defeating the PS, albeit a relatively small margin between the two. The lost votes of the PS flowed to the Left Bloc (the Trotskyst and more libertarian component of the far-left) and the CDU (the older and more old-style communist component of the far-left), both of which won a remarkable 21.4% together. These voters voted BE or CDU due to the PS’ economic policies, which are far from traditional left-wing economic policies. The PS will need to fight hard, very hard, to win the upcoming general elections in September.


Social Democratic Party+Conservative Party 31.07% winning 11 seats (+1)
Democratic Liberal Party 29.71% winning 10 seats (-6)
National Liberal Party 14.52% winning 5 seats (-1)
UDMR 8.92% winning 3 seats (+1)
Greater Romania Party 8.65% winning 3 seats (+3)
Elena Băsescu (Ind PD-L) 4.22% winning 1 seat (+1)

Romania EU 2009

The close race in Romania between the two government parties ended in the victory of the junior partner, the PSD with a rather mediocre 31%. The PDL’s 30% was also rather mediocre. The PNL also did quite poorly. The two winners are the Hungarian UDMR, which won a rather remarkable 9%, probably benefiting from high Hungarian turnout in a very low turnout election. The far-right Greater Romania Party overcame past setbacks and won three seats and a surprisingly good 8.7%. This is due in part to the participation of the far-right quasi-fascist PNG-CD  on its list (the party’s leader, the very controversial Gigi Becali, was the party’s second candidate on the list). László Tőkés, an Hungarian independent elected in 2007 (sat in the Green-EFA group) has been re-elected as the top candidate on the UDMR list.


Smer-SD 32.01% winning 5 seats (+2)
Slovak Democratic and Christian Union–Democratic Party (SDKÚ-DS) 16.98% winning 2 seats (-1)
Party of the Hungarian Coalition 11.33% winning 2 seats (±0)
Christian Democratic Movement 10.87% winning 2 seats (-1)
People’s Party–Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (ĽS-HZDS) 8.97% winning 1 seat (-2)
Slovak National Party 5.55% winning 1 seat (+1)

Smer’s result is definitely deceiving for them and possibly a sign that their past stellar poll ratings will slide to the benefit of the opposition SDKÚ-DS. However, the SDKÚ-DS (but also the KDH and obviously the ĽS-HZDS) have slid back compared to their 2004 Euro results. While the collapse of the ĽS-HZDS (formerly led by former quasi-dictator Vladimír Mečiar) is good news, the entry of the quasi-fascist Slovak National Party, Smer’s charming coalition partners, is not. However, the SNS’ 5.6% is not the 10% it used to poll and hopefully they stay low.


Slovenian Democratic Party 26.89% winning 2 seats (nc)
Social Democrats 18.48% winning 2 seats (+1)
New Slovenia 16.34% winning 1 seat (-1)
Liberal Democracy 11.52% winning 1 seat (-1)
Zares 9.81% winning 1 seat (+1)
DeSUS 7.19%

In Slovenia, the oppostion centre-right SDS has defeated the ruling Social Democrats. Here again, the current political setup between SDS on the right and SD on the left, a rather new setup, seems set to stay for a few years. The NSi, which won the 2004 election, and the LDS, which used to dominate Slovenian politics, have both slumped back. The new liberal Zares won 9.8%, roughly its level in the 2008 election.


People’s Party42.23% (+1.02%) winning 23 seats (-1)
Socialist 38.51% (-4.95%) winning 21 seats (-4)
Coalition for Europe (EAJ-CiU-CC) 5.12% (-0.03%) winning 2 seats [1 EAJ, 1 CiU] (±0)
The Left 3.73% (-0.38%) winning 2 seats (±0)
Union, Progress and Democracy 2.87% winning 1 seat (+1)
Europe of Peoples 2.5% (+0.05%) winning 1 seat (±0)

Spain EU 2009

As expected, the conservative PP defeated the governing PSOE, but due to the polarized nature of Spanish politics, no landslide here. However, the PSOE definitely polled poorly, though the PP didn’t do that great either. The regionalists held their ground well, and CiU got some little gains going in Catalonia. Aside from UPyD’s narrow entry and the obvious PP gains, it was generally status-quo.


Social Democrats 24.41% (-0.15%) winning 5 seats (nc)
Moderate Party 18.83% (+0.58%) winning 4 seats (nc)
Liberal People’s Party 13.58% (+3.72%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Greens 11.02% (+5.06%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Pirate Party 7.13% (new) winning 1 seat (+1)
Left 5.66% (-7.14%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Centre 5.47% (-0.79%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Christian Democrats 4.68% (-1.01%) winning 1 seat (nc)
June List 3.55% (-10.92%) winning 0 seats (-3)
Sweden Democrats 3.27% (+2.14%)
Feminist Initiative 2.22%

Sweden EU 2009

First map: Parties (SD in red, M in blue) – Second Map: Coalitions (Red-Green in red, Alliance in blue)

The Swedish results must come as a major deception for both major parties, the Social Democrats and the governing Moderates. Both had done horribly in 2004 and the 2009 results are no improvements for either of them. In fact, the opposition SD has in fact dropped a few votes more from the 2004 disaster. These loses profit to the smaller parties in their respective coalitions (Red-Green for the SD, Alliance for M). The Liberals did very well, unexpectedly well in fact, and elected a third MEP. The Greens drew votes from Red-Green voters dissatisfied by the unpopular SD leader, Mona Sahlin, and its vote share increased by 5%. Of course, Sweden is now famous for electing one Pirate MEP, and even a second MEP if Sweden gets additional MEPs as planned by the Treaty of Lisbon. The Left’s vote fell significantly from its good showing in 2004, while the vote for smaller coalition parties – the Centre and Christian Democrats also slid a bit. The eurosceptic June List, which had won 14% in 2004, fell to a mere 3.6% and lost its 3 MEPs. However, this result might have prevented the far-right Sweden Democrats from picking up a seat. The Feminists, who had one MEP after a Liberal defection, won a surprisingly decent 2%, far better than what polls had in store for them. In terms of coalitions, the governing Alliance actually won with 42.56% against 41.09% for the opposition Red-Greens.

Longer, special posts concerning the Euro elections in Belgium, France and the UK will be posted in the coming days.

English and Irish Locals 2009

A number of countries vote today in the Euros, though many more vote tomorrow. Only the Dutch have taken the risk to publish Euro results before they were technically allowed to, while the Brits and Irish who voted before-yesterday and yesterday respectively have not published their Euro results (they will do so tommorrow, when all 26 other countries do so).

However, local elections were held in England and Ireland (where there were also two by-elections).

England Locals

The Conservatives have won a landslide in the local elections (27 county councils, 3 old unitary authorities, 5 new unitary authorities, and 3 directly-elected Mayors). According to the BBC, the figures for seats and councillors for all these authorities (except the Isles of Scilly, where all are Indies) are the following:

Conservative 1,476 councillors (+233) winning 30 councils (+7)
Liberal Democrats 473 councillors (-4) winning 1 council (-1)
Labour 176 councillors (-273) winning 0 councils (-4)
Independents 95 councillors (+6)
Green 16 councillors (+6)
Residents Associations 9 councillors (+2)
UKIP 6 councillors (+6)
Mebyon Kernow 3 councillors (±0)
BNP 3 councillors (+3)
Liberal 2 councillors (±0)
Others 28 councillors (+13)
No Overall Control winning 3 councils (-2)

The BBC has done a “projected PV share” estimate, which is quite worthless (anybody applying it to a general election is a useless tool) and probably very flawed. The Tories would have 38% (44 in 2008), the LibDems 28% (25 in 2008), and Labour 23% (24 in 2008). However, do note that the 2008 figure is based on entirely different councils, so the 2005 estimate is a much better comparison. The 2005 result is not available.

Anyways, Labour has suffered a very humiliating defeat. What is most striking is Labour’s total rout in some of its strongholds. In Lancashire, Labour fell from 44 seats in 2005 to 16 today (the Conservatives gained 18, the LibDems also gained 6). In Staffordshire, a Labour-held council, Labour is now the fourth party. It fell from 32 seats in 2005 to just 3 today (the Conservatives have gained the council with 49 seats, the LibDems and UKIP have four each). Other Labour council loses are Derbyshire (-16 seats for Labour), Nottinghamshire (-22).

The Liberal Democrats have picked up Bristol from NOC (they were the largest party before though). However, they have performed very poorly in Cornwall (where they hold all 5 – or 6 on new boundaries – seats in Westminster). They controlled the old Cornwall County Council, and today the Conservatives are by far the largest party with 50 seats (38 LibDem, 32 Indies and 3 Mebyon Kernow – a party which wants a devolved assembly and greater self-governance for Cornwall). This is certainly a bad sign for the LibDem incumbents in Westminster.

The other NOC councils are Cumbria (38 Con [+6], 24 Lab [-16], 16 LDs [+6], 5 Ind [+2], 1 Other [+1]) and Bedford, a new unitary authority (13 LDs, 9 Con, 7 Ind, 7 Lab).

This does not smell good for Labour in the Euros, and the UKIP and BNP’s local gains do smell good for them tomorrow.

On a negative note for all (although that may end up a positive note for certain parties), turnout was at joke levels. Around 20% for the Euros (the UK had a decent turnout by British standards for the 2004 Euros – 38%), which is close to 1999 levels (23%). In the locals, turnout was 30% (low turnout in locals is not a surprise or an abnormality in British electoral life). In Glasgow, turnout was 7% (yes, 93% did not vote).

In Northern Ireland, rumours have it that Sinn Féin has topped the poll (an excellent result for them which I did not see coming) due to a strong performance by incumbent “Traditionalist Unionist” MEP Jim Allister against his old Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). It seems that Sinn Féin’s Bairbre de Brún has made the quota by first count, while the DUP gets the second seat but without reaching the quota. The third seat is a thing to watch between the Conservative and Unionist (Conservative + Ulster Unionist [UUP]) MEP Jim Nicholson, the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) candidate Alban Macginness and Allister. These, however, are just rumours.

Ireland Locals and By-Elections

Ireland also voted in local elections (counties, county borough, city and town councils) and two by-elections for the the Irish lower house, the Dáil. Again, the government has suffered a humiliating defeat by the looks of the exit polls.

The local elections exit poll from RTÉ.

Fine Gael 34% (+6.5%)
Fianna Fáil 24% (-8%)
Labour 17% (+5.5%)
Sinn Féin 9% (+1%)
Green Party 3% (-1%)
Indies 13%

The current standings (190 seats out of 883)

Fine Gael 72 seats
Labour 46 seats
Fianna Fáil 30 seats
Others and Indies 29 seats
Sinn Féin 13 seats

In the Dáil by-elections, the counts are almost over.

Dublin South (Quota: 26,019)

George Lee (Fine Gael) 53.4% (+26.1% on 2007) / 27,768 votes
Alex White (Labour) 19.8% (+9.4%)
Shay Brennan (Fianna Fáil) 17.8% (-23.6%)
Elizabeth Davidson (Green) 3.5% (-7.5%)
Shaun Tracey (Sinn Féin) 3.3% (+0.3%)
Ross O’Mullane (Ind) 1.2%
Frank O’Gorman (Ind) 0.7%
Noel O’Gara (Ind) 0.3%
Fine Gael GAIN from Fianna Fáil

Dublin Central, Count One (Quota: 14,207)

Maureen O’Sullivan (Ind Gregoryite) 26.9% (+13.5% on Gregory 2007) / 7,639 votes
Paschal Donoghue (Fine Gael) 22.7% (+13.1%)
Ivana Bacik (Labour) 17.3% (+4.8%)
Christy Burke (Sinn Féin) 13.3% (+4.1%)
Maurice Ahern (Fianna Fáil) 12.3% (-32.2%)
David Geary (Green) 2.9% (-2.9%)
Patrick Talbot (Immigration Control) 2.2% (+1.5%)
Malachy Steenson (Workers’ Party) 1.8%
Paul O’Loughlin (Christian Solidarity) 0.7% (-0.04%)

On count 8, O’Sullivan has won without a quota. She has 13,739 votes against 10,198 for Donoghue. Therefore: Independent HOLD.

These results are a very bad result for Fianna Fáil, and this should be confirmed by the Euro counts. Talking about the Euros, RTÉ does have an exit poll out:

Fine Gael 30% (+2.2%)
Fianna Fáil 23% (-6.5%)
Labour 16% (+5.5%)
Sinn Féin 12% (+0.9%)
Libertas 4% (new)
Socialist 3% (+1.5%)
Green Party 2% (-2.3%)
Indies 10%

The rumours say that Declan Ganley has performed quite well in North West. In the East, FG and Labour seem assured a seat each though the third seat is close between Aylward (FF) and Phelan (FG). Fine Gael will be hoping that Phelan wins to prevent an explanation of why they lost a seat there. In the South, Crowley (FF) and Seán Kelly (FG) are assured re-election and the third seat is too close to call. In Dublin, Mitchell (FG) and deRossa (Lab) are safe while the third seat is up in the air between SF, FF and the Socialist leader Jim Higgins.

Turnout in the locals is 55% – turnout in the 2004 Euros was 59%

Related to tommorrow’s big day, I hope to be able to live blog results if possible.