Noonan kept his head when things looked their worst
What made the Irish case different from the other two, however, was that in Italy and the Netherlands the collapse of a long-established party came about due to the rise of a new political force. In Ireland it was not a new party but Fine Gael, the successor of the party that founded the State in 1922, that took over the mantle of the biggest party after a lapse of 79 years.
And to reinforce the stability of the system, the Labour Party, which was founded just over a century ago, became the second biggest party for the first time in its history.
During the 2011 campaign the Fine Gael director of elections, Phil Hogan, asked Fianna Fáil supporters to lend his party their votes for one election and many of them obliged. It seems that after two years of the Coalition a significant number of them are at least thinking of returning home.
The development is a sobering one for Fine Gael but there is no need to press the panic button just yet. Back in June 2010 there was panic in Fine Gael when Labour pulled ahead of it in the polls and there was a heave against Kenny’s leadership. He managed to see off his rival and hasn’t looked back since, so it should take more than one poor poll now to undermine its confidence.
The demonstration of competence in government, by contrast with the irresponsibility of Fianna Fáil during the boom years, will be a strong card to play at the next election as long as Fine Gael doesn’t flinch from doing what is necessary to get the economy back to robust health.
Labour’s drop back to 10 per cent will obviously cause some angst in that party, but it should reinforce the point that its only chance of making it out of government in good order is to stick it out until the end when it can hope to have some real achievements to its name.
The local and European elections next year will be the real test of where all the parties stand. The Local Electoral Area Boundary Committee is drawing up new electoral areas. The date for submissions closed at the end of January, and a report detailing the new boundaries will be published in May.
A crucial element in the committee’s terms of reference is that the number of councillors representing each electoral area should typically be seven and not more than 10 or fewer than six. In a seven-seat area a quota will be 12.5 per cent and if the committee goes for the upper limit and introduces 10-seaters across the country it will be just 9 per cent.
The elections, which will take place in June of next year, will be particularly important for Fianna Fáil. The party needs a big infusion of new blood if it is going to make a significant recovery at the next general election. Big seven seat-plus electoral areas should give it a chance of getting new people elected, particularly in Dublin, where it badly needs new talent.