With the general election sauntering towards us (could it come any slower?) I thought I’d put together a rough guide for people outside Ireland as to our party system.
Fine Gael: the largest party and main government party. Broadly speaking, centre-right and small “C” conservative, although anchored to the centre. Think Ken Clarke Tories or German Christian Democrats. Pro-Business, pro-farmer, but not anti-welfare. Traditionally the default party when Irish voters get sick of Fianna Fail. Divided on abortion. 30% in polls.
Fianna Fail: Nationalist, anchored to the centre but swings from left to right depending on the political wind. Traditionally the dominant party in Irish politics until 2011 when it suffered its worst defeat ever. Think Gaullists or even New Labour in terms of flexibility. Whatever works. Pretends to be divided on abortion but essentially pro-life. 18%.
Sinn Fein: former political wing of the Provisional IRA, which is still a source of awkwardness for the party. Left wing populist in opposition, but not particularly radical in government for last 10 years in Northern Ireland. Pro-Choice. 18%.
Labour: Social Democrats. Suffering the same problem of social democratic parties across Europe as it loses its working class base to other more radical parties. Traditionally the most socially liberal party in Ireland and responsible for nearly all the great liberal reforms from marriage equality to divorce to contraception. Pro-Choice. 8%.
Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit: A collection of the left, Socialist Workers Party, Trotskyites and populists. In favour of funding everything. Curiously for the left, only in favour of high taxation if paid for by nobody you know. Otherwise almost Ted Cruzian in opposition to tax. Pro-Choice. 3%
The Social Democrats: The nice lefties. Only party to openly support keeping an unpopular tax (The Universal Social Charge) to, you know, fund services. Pro-Choice. 3%.
Renua: Flat Tax, three strikes and you’re out. If not Thatcherite, no.1 with Thatcherites. Pro-life in practice if not in theory. 2%.
Greens: Still trying to recover from the horror of government and get back into parliament. Pro-Choice. 2%.
Independents: whatever you’re having yourself. Some left, some right, some whatever you said to them. A lucky dip. 25%.