We all knew from the polls that it was coming, but still, to witness it on the day, to see household names, political big beasts, not just lose their seats but go down in flames, getting beaten on first preferences by people you have never heard of…extraordinary. Oh, and by the way, our neighbours can go and stick First Past The Post where the sun doesn’t shine. THIS is an election, not the lucky dip tombola that passes for a British general election.
A few observations:
Fianna Fail: It’s a good job that Fianna Fail never succeeded in getting in First Past The Post, as they topped the poll in just two constituencies. If you extrapolate from 43 constituencies to 166, under FPTP Fianna Fail would have had a Canadian night, returning maybe six seats? It was absolutely extraordinary to watch voters use the Single Transferable Vote to gut Fianna Fail. As BBC analyst Gerry Lynch pointed out, centre-right voters were transferring from Maoists to Satan to keep Fianna Fail candidates out. Hosni Mubarak would have won a seat if he was running against Fianna Fail. The fact that so many young Fianna Fail TDs were defeated must be very worrying. If Michael Martin doesn’t get surgical with the Seanad seats Fianna Fail will still win (12, according to one informed Fianna Fail source) and pack them with young solid performers like Averil Power and Barry Andrews, Fianna Fail will have a big problem in the future.
Fine Gael: Extraordinary night for Fine Gael, and for Enda. You just have to give it to them, and to him. I haven’t been a (political) fan of Enda’s (Met him once, nice bloke personally) but he’s done it. He’s proven us all wrong, and now deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Labour: When the smoke clears, Labour need to have a long hard think about themselves. They have had a good result, there’s no question of that, but not the night they expected to have. They got a result comparable to the Spring Tide of 1992, but is that really good enough? After all, Fianna Fail had an appalling night, and Labour still failed to attract much more than what it got in 1992? Why is that? Or put it another way. In 2016, with Fianna Fail decontaminated, leading the opposition to FG/Labour’s cutbacks and with Labour getting hammered from the left by the combined forces of the United Left and Sinn Fein, Does anyone really believe that it is impossible for Labour to end up with a 1997 result, losing half their seats and being back to being a small party again? If Labour go in with Fine Gael, you can kiss Labour’s dream of becoming the dominant party in Irish politics good bye. Yet the pressure will be enormous, because so many of the, eh, chronologically challenged Labour front bench have never been cabinet ministers, and this could be their only chance.
Sinn Fein: This is the other big story of the night, not just how well Sinn Fein did, but how many seeds they planted for the future. When you look at Eoin O’Broin in Dublin West, for example. The result turns up its own challenges for Sinn Fein: Will it become a conventional party of the left, willing to compromise, or will it become an Irish version of the Front National or the Vlaamsblok, with a permanent cordon sanitaire around it? Bear in mind that nearly every radical party that enters government, like the Freedom Party in Austria, suffered at the following election.
The Greens: They did not deserve this. This was an act of petty vengeance against a party that, more than most, has tried to do the right thing. It’ll take them a decade to recover, if at all.
The ULA: Very strong and solid performance, and an interesting base. Both the shinners and Labour will have to watch their backs because Joe now provides a healthy refuge for the “sellout!” brigade.
The Independents. Ming, Wallace, Ross…this is going to be fun. Hats off in particular to Stephen Donnelly, who is still in the running in Wicklow, and seemed to have caught the imagination.
Finally: There could be more ex-Progressive Democrats in this Dail than the last one: Peter Mathews, Noel Grealish, Ciaran Cannon, Mae Sexton, Mary Mitchell O’Connor..