Irish Elections ’16: The end for Kenny?

With Ireland’s Labour all but wiped out, Enda Kenny faces tough choices in forming the next coalition government, reports

Taoiseach Enda Kenny's Fine Gael was punished heavily at the polls on 26 February. Image: William Murphy

Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael was also punished heavily at the polls on 26 February. Image: William Murphy

The ruling coalition in Ireland has been roundly rejected by voters at the polls, leading to a period of great uncertainty as to the composition of the country’s next government.

The share of the vote of the two parties comprising the coalition, Fine Gael and Labour, declined substantially, leaving the two parties well short of the 79 seats required to form an overall majority, leading Fine Gael’s leader, and current taoiseach (Prime Minister), Enda Kenny, to search for workable alternatives.

The election on 26 February proved to be a chastening experience for Labour, whose support dropped drastically to just 6.6 per cent of first preference votes cast (down from 19.4 per cent at the previous election), reducing the party from 37 seats to just 6.

As with so many elections, the economy appears to have proven a decisive factor in influencing support for the various parties.

Its senior coalition partner Fine Gael also suffered significant, if smaller losses: the party lost 17 seats, leaving its total at 49. It is still the largest party in the Dáil, the Irish lower house, but its lead was narrowed to a mere five seats by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael’s traditional rival. Fianna Fáil’s ability to genuinely threaten to overtake its old adversary marks a remarkable turnaround in the electoral fortunes of the party, which was heavily punished in the 2011 election.

Such a strong recovery puts any questions regarding Fianna Fáil’s ability to stay relevant and influential in Irish politics beyond doubt. The traditionally smaller political parties and groups also proved to be beneficiaries of the election, with Gerry Adams’ Sinn Féin, the left-wing Social Democrats and AAA-PBP, and numerous independent candidates gaining ground on establishment parties.

Many have discussed the possibility of a grand coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, an outcome that would likely provide the most stable government.

As with so many elections, the economy appears to have proven a decisive factor in influencing support for the various parties. Although the ruling Fine Gael-Labour coalition appeared to have presided over a significant economic resurgence, as well as a drop in unemployment, analysts argue that citizens’ anti-government sentiment stems from the recovery’s inability to coincide with an increase in standards of living.

Issues surrounding employment and austerity plagued the previous government, and were not silenced during this one. Image: William Murphy

While Enda Kenny continues his role as taoiseach on a caretaker basis, he and his party are conducting talks with various other parties to attempt to form some sort of stable government. Fine Gael’s coalition with Labour has been emphatically ended, and Kenny has refused to work with Sinn Féin, given its previous association with the IRA.

Many have discussed the possibility of a grand coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, an outcome that would likely provide the most stable government. This would be a big step for two parties who fought a brutal civil war on opposite sides from 1922-23 and have directly competed against one another ever since. Fine Gael will likely run a minority government, the instability of which may force another election.

Leave a comment