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Zoe Louise Healy: Fine Gael's big Irish victory

Zoe Zoe is a former Conservative Party Chairman’s Press Officer (for Theresa May and Francis Maude). She also worked for four years with the Fine Gael Press Office under former Taoiseach John Bruton and returned from the UK to work with Enda Kenny during the 2007 General Election campaign.  She provides PR consultancy and training in Dublin through her business,

This weekend’s Irish General Election has been a fascinating victory for Fine Gael and a momentous occasion in our history.  This has been an election like no other, with unprecedented global media interest in its outcome.

It was clear from early tallies yesterday morning that the Fianna Fáil vote was collapsing. Their government partners, the Green Party also suffered its darkest day, failing to secure a single seat.

It is difficult to grasp just how poor Fianna Fáil has performed in this election. They suffered their worst election in the history of the State plunging from a 41.6% share of the vote and 77 seats in 2007 to a miserable 17% with roughly 20 seats (tbc) in this election. As one political commentator put it, the Irish have rioted in the ballot box.

Thirteen Ministers have lost their seats and the party have just one TD in the capital, the former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan. Interestingly, this election also marks an end to the Haughey dynasty with Sean Haughey losing his seat Dublin North Central.

In contrast, Sinn Fein has doubled its representation in the Dáil, picking up a number of seats in the cities and are celebrating the election of Gerry Adams to a third parliament. With relish, the 31st Dáil will be a parliament that he will attend.

In this campaign, we witnessed the highest number of independent candidates ever to run in a General Election, with a number of them topping the poll in their constituencies.  After announcing his candidacy during a television interview in mid January, the Independent Senator and Business Editor of the Sunday Independent Newspaper, Shane Ross, topped the poll in the constituency of Dublin South, exceeding the quota by 5,000.

The representation of the left will no doubt be a new force in Irish politics showing something of an ideological realignment in the Dáil with a strong hard left influence on the opposition benches courtesy of the United Left Alliance’s achievement of 5 seats (4 in Dublin and 1 in South Tipperary).

The Labour Party had their most successful election to date, topping the poll in a number of constituencies and getting the largest share of the vote in the capital, a major breakthrough for the Party. The count continues and at time of writing, the Labour Party has won 35 seats and is likely to join Fine Gael in coalition.  Fine Gael has won 68 seats so far and is on course to win 76.

The new Government is facing an enormous challenge but Enda Kenny is the man to lead the country out of its dire economic situation. Since he took over a demoralised Fine Gael in 2002, Kenny transformed the Party and is an excellent team manager. The Party’s success in this General Election is an astonishing achievement and has been a personal triumph for him.

It is inevitable now that Fine Gael will form a coalition with Labour.  It may prove a wise move to have them on the inside rather than on the Opposition benches as Fine Gael implement their 5 point plan to get Ireland working and make some tough decisions. There will be a number of differences on fiscal policy between the two parties, particularly on where the axe should fall, tax rises and the potential introduction of new taxes such as property tax and water charges. If these differences can be settled, a Fine Gael/Labour coalition will hopefully provide a strong and stable government that will get on with the task at hand, and quickly. Unemployment is at 12.7% and if the emigration valve was not open, the number of people claiming social welfare would no doubt be a lot higher.  Up to 1,000 people are leaving our shores each week. As Enda Kenny said last night at a victory rally in Dublin, "We cannot have another generation of Irish building the futures of other countries.”

In terms of what kind of relationship we can expect between the incumbent Taoiseach and David Cameron, I have had the honour of working for both Leaders and predict a positive and friendly partnership.  Of course, Enda Kenny would prefer the Conservative Party to be within the EPP but this should not be an issue in their relationship.

Kenny is an EPP vice-president and becomes the grouping’s 15th Prime Minister.  He enjoys a strong link with the German Chancellor through the EPP and this relationship may give him some leverage in his campaign to renegotiate the terms of Ireland’s crippling EU-IMF bailout deal. During the election campaign he met with Dr Merkel in Berlin.

Enda Kenny will attend an EPP meeting this week to prepare for the formal summit of the euro zone leaders in Brussels on 24th March which will seek agreement on far-reaching reforms to the euro zone bailout fund and on economic governance rules in the EU.

It will be difficult for Ireland to achieve a reduction in the interest rate for Ireland’s bailout loans but no doubt the new Irish government will be seeking support from Britain on this issue. The new Government will also be turning its attention to the country’s banking crisis and putting into action its commitment to force some bondholders to share the burden of recapitalising the banks and will wind down Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide before the end of the year.

As Enda Kenny said last night, we have reached a unique moment in Ireland's history and are on the brink of fundamental change in how we regard our economy and how we regard our society.  He has pledged that he will lead “A government of responsibility not privilege. A government of public duty not personal entitlement." He said, "Let us begin again. And on this spring day, let us begin again with new life, new talent, new shared purpose."


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