Presidential elections don’t tend to tear the space-time fabric of Irish politics. But as mood shifts, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese both managed to encapsulate subtle moves away from the manichean nonsense of patrician Catholic ‘civil war’ politics south of the border. The soon to be returned 9th President, Michael D, will happily cite them as examples of why any judgement on him should be deferred to hindsight. At least he won’t be burdened by the dire forecasts that the 8th President carried into office with her.
While you could argue the personalised nature of the election was amplified by the rolling media attention, that alone would at least signify a move of sorts away from traditional adherence to tribal voting that has seen multiple generations of families returning the same party to office and the related existence of political dynasties who were often elected with reference to DNA rather than competence. The Dublin West by-election (see #dubw) seems likely, at 10 pm anyway, to formally mark the end of the Lenihan and O’Rourke representative dynasty with a complementary Labour win. That added chirpiness in the junior coalition partner may gently shade relations beyond some gritted teeth congratulations from Fine Gael who may be minded that their candidates well and truly tanked in both contests (and that at least one referendum may fail). Labour ministers have already fronted anti-government protests over cuts which will come in the December budget, to the irritation of senior Fine Gael figures.
The first victim may be Mick Wallace, the independent TD in Wexford who is in danger of being declared bankrupt in a theatre of operations in which Fine Gael may project a healthy, morale-boosting, mid-term by-election win for themselves.
As ever, Sinn Féin won’t really engage in a public conversation on the election results, but the rather stark equation in the thread title won’t be lost on any of the four largest parties. Labour, too, can’t fail to notice that the overall result is markedly different from anything that has been seen in a long time. I can’t imagine it would make the same senior Fine Gael figures any less irritated.
Who knows what Fianna Fáil can really take from this election. Gallagher’s vote suggests that much of the Fianna Fáil vote can be brought out as a block, although the experiment is still at one remove from actually proudly puffing out a FF, the republican party, badge on the candidate’s chest. In that regard, it still seems to represent a coherent interest group, but that coherency may still make it one that others may equally seek to pitch to (the Lenihan connection making Dublin West returns an equally hard read for the party’s strategists). At the same time, it was interesting to watch an ad hoc victimhood strategy being cobbled together [*raises eyebrow*] as the media finally warmed to discussion of the detail of Gallagher’s roles within Fianna Fáil rather than his carefully prepared youthwork/farmer/small business schtick. Maybe Fianna Fáil will seek to foment a sense of injustice for political leverage, but the relatively trivial nature of the complaint suggests it hasn’t much longevity.
Then again, official Fianna Fáil seems to have a limited sense of irony as they recently railed against the payment of a €700m unguaranteed Anglo-Irish Bank bond by the coalition next week. That Fine Gael may be lambasted and electorally punished for cleaning up Fianna Fáil’s mess may be one additional reminder they don’t want to get this week. If the element of the proposed deal that is intended to bailout some EU member state banks means that the ECB take the hit, rather than the Irish solution of local taxpayers, any memories of this Presidential election will recede very quickly.