Stephen Collins: Stability or chaos is the choice facing the Irish electorate

Greek experience exposed hollowness of the “anti-austerity” stance but not everybody is convinced.

No Irish cheerleaders this time: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the first cabinet meeting of his new administration. Getty Images

No Irish cheerleaders this time: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the first cabinet meeting of his new administration. Getty Images

 

Where were the Irish cheerleaders for Syriza when Alexis Tsipras won last Sunday’s election in Greece and pledged to implement even tougher “austerity” measures than those he campaigned against when he took power at the beginning of the year?

Back in January two members of the Dail, Pearse Doherty and Paul Murphy travelled to Greece in a blaze of publicity to campaign for Syriza, while another, Shane Ross, tweeted his enthusiastic support from the safety of prosperous south county Dublin.

This time around they were all very quiet, maybe because of disillusionment with Tsipras or because they have come to the conclusion that that their backing for Syriza might prove embarrassing when the election here comes around.

It is hard to escape the fact that the Greek experience exposed the hollowness of the “anti-austerity” campaign and the highlighted to voters all across the EU the dangerous consequences of falling for the seductive slogans of populist politicians.

Tsipras endured a traumatic education in economic and political reality in the first half of the year but ultimately he had the intelligence to make the compromises necessary to haul his country back from complete disaster.

Now that he has divested himself of the clownish Yanis Varoufakis, who has found his appropriate level as a guest at this year’s Kilkenomics festival, Tsipras may well turn out to be the best thing that has happened to Greece for a long time.

If he makes an honest attempt to implement the country’s bailout programme, fulfils his pledge to end widespread corruption and establishes a proper tax collection system the long suffering Greek people may finally be on the road to a sustainable modern economy.

The lesson for voters in other countries EU countries is obvious but will it be absorbed? That is something we in Ireland are going to find out in the coming months.

Stability or chaos is the choice facing the Irish electorate, according to leading members of the Government, but going by the results of the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll a sizeable chunk of the electorate still needs some convincing on that score.

While the poll is reasonably encouraging for the Coalition parties they both still have a distance to go to get within striking distance of a Dail majority.

At 28 per cent Fine Gael has a good chance of breaking the 30 per cent barrier when election-day comes but its coalition partner is in even greater need of an extra few percentage points to add to its poll result.

Labour has taken the brunt of the punishment from voters over the lifetime of the current coalition and the media has written the party’s obituary many times over the past few years.

Now the polls, taken in conjunction with the feedback TDs are getting on the doorstep, has given the party grounds for hope that it will be able to salvage enough seats to form another coalition with Fine Gael.

Labour is at 8 per cent in the Irish Times poll and when the figures are adjusted for likely voters the party’s share moves up to 9 per cent. It means that Labour is within striking distance of the 11 per cent or so that would enable it to come back to the next Dail with a sufficient number of seats to ensure the party’s survival as a viable entity.

One thing both Coalition parties have going for them is that it is difficult to see who else can possibly form a government, or even who else wants to be in government, when the dust settles.

On the Opposition side of the fence Fianna Fail has held steady at 20 per cent and has edged ahead of Sinn Fein for the first time since the local elections of May, 2014.

The slippage in the Sinn Fein vote for the second Irish Times poll in a row will be a worry for the party but it is still in a position to make significant gains.

The big imponderable is how many seats will go to smaller parties and Independents. At 25 per cent nationally there is a chance that every single one of the 40 constituencies will return a TD from outside the mainstream parties with the prospect of two in some.

Independents/Others are particularly strong in Dublin with almost a third of the vote. When Sinn Fein is added to that mix it appears that half of the voters in the capital are prepared to vote for some kind of “anti-austerity” candidate.

There is a health warning about over interpreting the regional breakdown in polls because the sample in each area does not give the accuracy of the national survey. Nonetheless, taken in tandem with last year’s local election results, there is a real prospect of massive swings in the capital.

The battle for Dublin will have a critical influence on the shape of the next Dail and the prospects of a stable government emerging. It will all boil down in the end to whether enough voters are swayed by the stability versus chaos argument.

A striking feature of the poll was the low satisfaction rating achieved by all of the party leaders. It indicates a worrying level of disillusionment with politics in general that could have serious consequences in the ballot box.

The big unknown is whether the mood will change when the election is called and real choices have to be made. The challenge for the Coalition parties is to convince enough voters that economic competence is the key issue. If they can keep the campaign focused on that they have a real chance of retaining power.

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