Every now and then, especially around Irish general elections, I’m asked to explain the Irish party system to those from outside the country. Despite my own political bias, I’ll try and do a fair description of each.
Fine Gael: The governing party, led by Leo Varadkar. A slightly more socially liberal version of Angela Merkel’s CDU. Broadly centre-right (but not ideological), pro-business, pro-European and with a wide urban middle-class and rural large farmer base.
Fianna Fail: the traditional party of government. Centrist, very pragmatic, moving from left to right as needed but reluctant to make major change and has both conservative and liberal wings. Has support from most classes on an equal basis. Comparable to the old French Gaullist party or the old Chicago Democratic Party. Nationalist but not exclusionary about it.
Sinn Fein: the political wing of the Provisional IRA. A party in flux, on a journey from supporting armed insurrection to democracy. Pretends to be more left wing than it is. Has both socially conservative and liberal wings, and strong rural and urban working class base. Attracts many voters that would vote populist right on the continent but is firmly anti-racist.
Labour/Social Democrats: Social democrats responsible for most of the great liberal reforms of the last quarter century yet rarely rewarded by the voters. Struggling to stay relevant as parties on left and right cannibalize its votes. Comparable to Labour under Ed Miliband. the Social Democrats are a tiny offshoot of the Labour party also struggling to define themselves, especially from Labour.
Green Party: You know yourself. Comparable to the Lib Dems in the UK in that they became the receptacle for every angry voter with a grievance who then became livid when the party actually entered government in 2007 and was subsequently annihilated the following election.
The “Alphabet Left”: a collection of various Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party (Former Militant) deputies forever falling out and reforming. Unwilling to join a government unless it is a government of the pure left. Corbynistas but with much more contempt for each other. Currently called Solidarity/Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit/RISE.
Independents: Ireland has a rich tradition of Independent deputies elected from both left and right or because they were loyal members of a party right up to when it refused to give them a nomination. They tend to be bought off with deals for local spending in return for their parliamentary support.