This is what change looks like, whatever this is

The electorate clicked its heels and didn’t just end up in a tornado but created one

The count to the 2016 election has been full of shocks, sea changes and seismic shifts in Irish politics. Here are some of the headline grabbing quotes.

 

Is your head still spinning? Are you still wondering where we stand? The electorate clicked its heels and didn’t just end up in a tornado but created one. We want change, but it turns out we’re not very certain at all what that change actually is. There was no alternative put forward, so this happened.

This weird, fractured, all-over-the-place result, which took a wrecking ball to a government and then wondered what rubble could be cobbled together. It will come as a shock to some media commentators and international observers and people in big houses, that the Irish people really did not like their government. Or maybe any government. So this happened, whatever this is.

The real regret of this election and of the last few years will always be the inability of the left to come together to create a sizeable new party for people to vote for, or even a cohesive alliance that proposed people could either vote for the status quo or a new vision. No one showed the electorate a new way, a new route, a new future.

In an era of Irish society when social justice issues came to the fore, when a mass protest movement was finally born and sustained, when people spoke about their desire to have equality and fairness at the heart of what we do, there was no one entity to solidify that idealism and capitalise on that appetite for progressive change.

Remembering 1916/Forgetting 2008

This is a year when it’s been drilled into our heads to remember, remember, remember what happened in 1916, perhaps so much so, that many are after forgetting what happened in 2008.

The resurgence of Fianna Fáil has to be viewed from a baseline of electoral annihilation in 2011. But the two big stories of the election are how Independents won it, and how the Social Democrats is a real party that will grow.

The third story is the resurgence of Fianna Fáil. Everywhere that Fianna Fáil won seats, especially in Dublin, there was talk of constituency work, the repeated mantra that forgets that a general election is a national one. Irish politics once again plays its favourite game of retracting from national to local. When there is no broad alternative, the blinkers narrow.

‘Healy-Rae me once…’

Younger Fianna Fáil candidates, facsimiles of the past, were hoisted on shoulders, their grins broad. Meanwhile on different planets, Michael Lowry was cheered and hugged. And in Kerry, as the comedian Alison Spittle put it, “Healy-Rae me once, shame on you…”

Smaller right wing entities showed themselves to be irrelevant. Renua never got out of the starting blocks. The acres of media coverage Renua received displayed that their existence was purely a media story, given status in an echo chamber that replied Renua was meaningful when it wasn’t. No one cared.

Soc Dems outperform

Contrast that with the Social Democrats, who came into being on a fraction of the publicity Lucinda and co enjoyed. Their three most high profile candidates, Roisin Shorthall, Catherine Murphy, and Stephen Donnelly all topped the poll in their three constituencies. Donnelly received nearly 3,000 more first preference votes than the quota necessitated.

Elsewhere, Soc Dem candidates outperformed expectations. In Dublin Central, a tough constituency down to just three seats, Gary Gannon missed out on the third seat as the counts entered the double figures, losing by just a couple of hundred votes, scuppered by those ever important and often unpredictable transfers. It was an election where transfers won too, dragging candidates into the spotlight when they initially languished very much in the wings.

Labour sadness

There’s a sort of sadness to Labour being rejected. But the duo of Kenny and Burton was too cosy for their supporters who want them to represent them, not collude with an establishment that excluded them.

Held to higher standards than Fine Gael, they become the latest victims of the brutal punishment the electorate likes to administer to smaller coalition partners. Maybe the Green Party could have been there holding the Kleenex if they weren’t so giddy about returning to the Dáil for the first time since voters did the very same thing to them.

Labour’s old guard had already semi-departed with Gilmore, Rabbitte and Quinn. But the new school was also tossed aside, the likes of John Lyons, a gay man who bravely stood up for equality for his community and society, and the likes of Ciara Conway who was the first ever female TD to represent Waterford for Labour. No amount of cries “but we’re trying” from Labour entered the consciousness of the electorate. “We trusted you,” their former voters said, “and you went along with the policies of that other lot.”

Absence of an alternative

But back to that absence of an alternative. It’s clear that the Irish people wanted change. But a captive audience assembled and no one came on stage. So the audience booed, they heckled. Some asked for their money back, others wondered what else was on, others just went home. They dispersed, returning to familiar haunts or gave something new a shot. With no new headliner, the support acts won.

There are probably plenty of emigrants waking up in Hackney and Sydney and Toronto looking at this election and wondering what on earth we’re at. Do we even have an answer to that ourselves?

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