Inconclusive results from the Irish general election held on 26 February suggest that the country may be headed back to the polls later this year. The country’s ruling coalition, Fine Gael-Labour has fallen short of the majority, with close competition from their main rival, Fianna Fail. If either side cannot guarantee a majority, then a hung parliament will ensue, which is reminiscent of other countries in the Eurozone, such as Spain in 2015.
Irish political scholars have suggested that Fine Gael is being punished for their stark austerity policies. Ireland has been struggling since the economic crash of 2008 and the tough measures imposed on citizens since 2011 have done little to improve the nation’s livelihood, instead they have only incited anger from many Irish who are still struggling economically and are seeing little signs of improvement. Many small parties have received a larger-than-expected amount of support, suggesting that the Irish people are sick and tired of mainstream political voices that do little to enact change. Hence, the outgoing party Fine Gael appears to be well short of the 79 seats to claim a parliamentary majority.
A deeply divided Ireland will take time to rebuild especially considering the nation’s weakened economy. Within the country, there is a sense of political disenfranchisement amongst citizens. Furthermore, with the upcoming June referendum in the UK, the possibility of a “leave” vote could have disastrous consequences for Ireland, which is an important trading partner for the country. This fragmentation of the political landscape also mirrors other countries in the Eurozone. In particular, Spain and Portugal have also had inconclusive elections following the economic crash.
Furthermore, many are wondering about the political future of Ireland after both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail pledged to not form a coalition with one other. The nation has been ruled by both parties in recent history so a change from the norm has political scholars asking what will come next. Historically, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have roots in the Irish civil war and were important in establishing the country’s independence. The two centrist-right parties have stated their displeasure for a new election later this year although it remains unclear whether either party will be able to convince enough smaller parties to form a coalition. A nation without both parties at the helm and in opposition will be a different Ireland.
It appears that although Ireland as a nation was on an upward economic trend, this economic growth failed to reach the general population. As a result, Irish citizens have stood up and told their politicians that economic gains mean little when the average Irish cannot tell the difference between the immediate aftermath of the economic crash and today. Austerity policies have failed to increase the standard of living for Ireland’s people, similar to other nations in the Eurozone, such as Spain and Portugal. Their voices have been heard – politicians who do little to help the average citizen are no longer welcome when a large part of country is still struggling as a direct result of the government's actions. Change is apparent; no matter the eventual result, the political landscape of Ireland will never be the same.
Zoe Meers is the Europe and Eurasia Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.
Image credit: William Murphy (Flickr: Creative Commons)