The long, painful death of the Irish government entered its final stage over the last few days, with mass resignations of Cabinet ministers and conflict between the two governing parties resulted in the general election being called for March 11.
Ireland’s government includes the major party Fianna Fail, who have been in power since 1997, and the Green Party, who joined the government in 2007. The government’s popularity collapsed in 2008 and 2009 as Ireland was hit severely by the global financial crisis.
Other Irish parties have benefited from this collapse. In particular, opposition parties Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has resigned his seats in the British House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly with an intention to move into the Irish legislature.
In the most recent Irish poll, Fianna Fail fell to equal-third place, polling 14% (down from 41.5% in 2007). Sinn Fein also polled 14%, up from 6.9%.
Fine Gael’s vote has climbed from 27.3% to 35%, and Labour’s vote from 10.1% to 21%.
In late 2010, Ireland was forced to accept a bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. This controversial move further damaged the reputation of the government and resulted in calls from opposition politicians for an immediate election.
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen agreed to call an election following the passage of the budget in early 2011 after the Greens called for an election early in 2011.
When Irish politicians returned from the Christmas break, rebel Fianna Fail politicians launched a spill (or, as the Irish call it, a ‘heave’) against their leader, Brian Cowen. He won a challenge spearheaded by Foreign Minister Micheál Martin, which resulted in Martin’s resignation as a minister.
Five other ministers resigned on Wednesday and Thursday. All five had announced they would not contest their seats at the next election, and it became clear that Cowen intended to replace them with more junior TDs (members of the Parliament) who were facing difficult races for re-election.
The plan collapsed when the Green Party refused to endorse the ministerial changes, claiming that they hadn’t been properly consulted on the plans. Following this, Brian Cowen called the election on Thursday.
Since Cowen’s election call, there have been renewed efforts by members of his party to remove him as leader, less than two months out from the election.
The election looks set to be a very interesting one, with the governing parties facing devastating losses. Over the next few weeks I will put up a few more posts about Irish politics and the Irish electoral system. It’s certainly an election worth watching.