The people have spoken
THE PEOPLE have spoken with a vengeance and, in the process, transformed the political landscape of Ireland. Fine Gael, for the first time, is the biggest political party in this State, with well over 70 seats in the new Dáil. The Labour Party moves forward to become the second party, with the best outcome since it was founded almost a century ago. Fianna Fáil has been dealt a blow of seismic and unimaginable proportions with the loss of over 50 seats to make it the third largest party, only marginally bigger than Sinn Féin, in the incoming Dáil.
Let there be no doubt, however, that the public did engage in this general election. No one can say that our parliamentary democracy did not work. The people expressed their views at the ballot box. We will live with the outcome for a long time.
The result marks a personal and political triumph for Enda Kenny and the Fine Gael party. He is the clear winner. The taoiseach-in-waiting has brought Fine Gael to new heights with the largest number of seats ever won by the party since its foundation. It is ironic that the attempt to remove him from the leadership last June probably helped him reach this goal. Michael Noonan, who replaced Richard Bruton as finance spokesman, was one of the key performers in the campaign. Fine Gael has plenty of new talent to adorn its Dáil benches.
The Labour Party has also experienced a process of renewal. Eamon Gilmore should be well-pleased with the result, even though there was a wobble or two on strategy along the way. The characterisation of Irish politics as a two-and-a-half party system, Labour always being that half, has been shattered. Labour is now the second-largest party. It has elected a number of new and younger members to the Dáil.
The story of the election, however, is the scale of the annihilation of the Fianna Fáil party. All of the opinion polls could not condition us for what has happened in reality: not just the loss of over 50 seats, the re-election of only Micheál Martin, Brendan Smith and Éamon Ó Cúiv from the outgoing Cabinet, winning one seat only in Dublin, the death of political dynasties. In an unprecedented development Fianna Fáil now finds that it has no representative in over half the constituencies in the State. It is now the third-largest party, just ahead of Sinn Féin. It will take some time to grasp the implications of this new reality.
What augurs badly for the new leader, Mr Martin, is the profile of his Dáil team to rebuild the party. He will lead the Opposition benches with a rejuvenated Sinn Féin, which has made real inroads in this State for the first time. The party has more than trebled its representation since the last election and this came as a surprise even to itself. There are also a plethora of assorted Independents as great in number as Fianna Fáil.
The Green Party was unlucky, in all of these circumstances, not to have had even one of its members re-elected.
The Dáil will become a very different place.