Archive for Fianna Fáil

Ireland’s New Government

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2020 by telescoper

I remembered this morning that I haven’t posted anything about the news that Ireland has a new Government, so decided to do a quick lunchtime blog on that topic. The election that happened earlier this year left no party with enough seats to form an administration and negotiations to form a coalition were drastically slowed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Last week, however, members of the three parties involved in drafting the Programme for Government – Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and the Green Party – all ratified the proposal. A vote in the Dáil Éireann to formally approve the new Taoiseach was held on Saturday and a new Government formed. Its Ministers have now all been appointed.

Ireland’s new Taoiseach (the equivalent of Prime Minister) is Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil. He replaces Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael who becomes Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister). Under the terms of the coalition agreement they will swap places after two and a half years of the five year term, i.e. at the end of 2022 (assuming the Goverment survives that long).

This isn’t the kind of government that I wanted because it seems to only to offer more of the same short-sighted and socially divisive neoliberal economic policies that have led to disintegrating public services and increasing levels of poverty and homelessness over the last decade. Increasing GDP growth while at the same time worsening social outcomes is not successful government in my view. Tempering my disappointment, though, I do think the coalition represents a step forward in some ways. In my view there is very little difference between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in terms of policy, which means that there has been little substantive opposition from one when the other has been in power, which has been the way Irish politics has been for decades. Now that similarity in political complexion has been formally recognized and Ireland now has a proper opposition party in the form of a resurgent Sinn Féin led by Mary Lou McDonald. I know better than to try to predict political developments but I can see Sinn Féin rising in popularity in opposition, probably at the expense of Fianna Fáil as the incumbent parties are unlikely to find the immediate future plain sailing. I think Leo Varadkar will be privately happy that Micheál Martin is Taoiseach for what is likely to prove the toughest phase.

Ireland’s electoral system involves a single transferable vote and I know many people who used their ballot to “transfer left”. The Green Party clearly prospered from such transfers during the 2020 election, but now finds itself propping up a Centre-Right coalition. No doubt many who transferred left are dismayed to find that they inadvertently transferred right. What that does for the popularity of the Greens in future remains to be seen. I would comment however that the Greens have been pretty successful in getting their proposals into the Programme for Government and I welcome many of them.

Another thing well worth mentioning is the creation of a new Minister at Cabinet level with responsibility for Higher Education. That was a Fianna Fáil idea but I didn’t see it in the Programme for Government. There is a little bit of confusion* about what the title of this new position is. When it was first announced it was reported as “Minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Research” though that seems to have morphed into “Minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Science”, which has left colleagues in the arts, humanities and social sciences feeling a bit disgruntled. It’s a pity that there isn’t an English word like the German Wissenschaft to use in such general contexts.

*UPDATE: I am reliably informed (by Twitter) that the correct title is “The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science”.

Whatever its precise name, the announcement of the creation of this new Ministry has received a cautious welcome from across the third-level sector. I also see this as potentially promising but I think I’ll reserve judgement until we see what it proposes to do. Interesting, though it was a Fianna Fáil policy to create this new cabinet position, the person appointed to it, Simon Harris TD, is actually from Fine Gael and was the Health Minister in the previous administration. I think the general opinion is that he did fairly well in that position, though reading his biography I see that he dropped out of university without getting a degree, which hardly inspires confidence in his commitment to higher education.

This isn’t the sort of Government I voted for, but I hope it can steer Ireland safely through the ongoing crisis reasonably safely. I’ll take it over the dismal collection of crooks and charlatans who are in power across the Irish Sea any day.

Meanwhile, in Ireland…

Posted in Covid-19, Education, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on June 17, 2020 by telescoper

It seems an eternity since we had the 2020 general election in Ireland on February 8th because of the intervention of the Covid-19 outbreak, but it’s still been over four months. Now however it seems we might have a new government fairly soon, as a deal has been agreed to form a coalition between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party; between them these parties have 84 seats (not counting the Ceann Comhairle), enough to create a majority in the Dáil Éireann. It’s not quite done and dusted, though, as the Green Party has to ballot its membership and a two-thirds majority is needed to endorse the agreement. We should know next week.

In case you think this delay means that Ireland has been in political crisis since February, it hasn’t really. The constitution makes it clear that if a new government can’t be formed the old one continues until one can (or until another election can be held). Leo Varadkar has continued as Taioseach in the mean time. His popularity has increased in this period, at least partly because as a trained medical person, he is perceived to have handled the Covid-19 crisis rather well. It seems that incumbents have generally received the backing of the public when they have coped reasonably with the pandemic. Whether that continues in Ireland remains to be seen. When the truth comes out about how many patients were transferred from hospitals into nursing homes where they were left to die perhaps opinions will change.

It has taken over four months for the the parties to agree a `draft programme for government’ which you can find here. That document is 139 pages long but largely devoid of concrete commitments and indeed devoid of anything other than vague discussions, platitudes, and `reviews’. At a quick reading I’d say the Greens have been far more effective at getting their agenda into it than Fianna Fáil, perhaps because the latter don’t really have an agenda other than wanting to be in power. The Green initiatives are in my opinion the strongest parts of the programme, but the rest seems to me to be just “more of the same”.

I’d say that the one redeeming factor is the document is the emphasis on stimulus rather than austerity as a way out of the current crisis but of course that may turn out not to be what actually happens.

From the point of view of Ireland’s universities and research community there is little to rejoice. On page 114 you can find this:

Higher and Further Education have been greatly affected by the COVID-19 crisis and we will support the sector through these challenges to ensure that educational opportunities remain and are made more accessible to everyone, particularly the most vulnerable in our society. In addition, we will continue to support our research community to tackle the social and scientific problems posed by COVID-19 now and into the future.

We are committed to addressing the funding challenges in third-level education. We want a Higher and Further Education sector that sees education as a holistic and life-long pursuit. We will continue to build strong connections with other education sectors and wider society, while recognising our global and environmental responsibilities. It is vital we invest in our Higher and Further Education sectors so we can continue to tackle inequality based on race, gender, and socio-economic background. We recognise the potential for our Higher and Further Education institutions to be exemplars regionally, nationally and internationally.

At a time of great economic uncertainty, when so many people fear for their future employment, we will ensure that Higher Education plays a vital role in our recovery. We will equip students with the skills necessary to secure employment, while preparing for the opportunities and challenges posed by a changing economy, the move to a low-carbon future and disruptive technologies, as well as offering retraining and reskilling opportunities to help people into employment.

Warm words at the start and then a worryingly blinkered emphasis on universities simply as providers of skills training. We do that of course, but we do so much more that Irish governments seem not to recognize.

Later on we get a commitment to

Develop a long-term sustainable funding model for Higher Level education in collaboration with the sector and informed by recent and ongoing research and analysis.

Sigh. There’s been an OECD Report (2004), the Hunt Report (2011), the Cassells Report (2016), etc. How many times will this issue be kicked into the long grass?

The Fianna Fáil `pledge’ to introduce a Minister for Higher Education and Research has, needless to say, fallen by the wayside in the negotiations.

The plan for the new Government is that the plan is as the leader of the largest party in the coalition, Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin will take over as Taoiseach for two years, after which Leo Varadkar will return. This is being referred to as a `Rotating Taoiseach’, which is a pretty apt given that the programme has more spin than substance.

In for the Count

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on February 9, 2020 by telescoper

I voted in the 2020 General Election yesterday morning before Storm Cíara arrived in Maynooth, which it did in the early afternoon.I don’t know if the weather or the switch to a Saturday polling day affected the turnout, but it looks to have been about 60% nationally*. One factor in the Dublin area was that a couple of big sporting fixtures took place in the city on Saturday, the Six Nations Rugby between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium and a Gaelic Football match between Dublin and Monaghan at Croke Park.

Whatever the effect of these things on the overall turnout I’d imagine that a larger fraction of voters turned out earlier in the day than in other elections as few people would want to interrupt their Saturday night pleasures by visiting a polling station!

The worst of Storm Cíara seems to have passed, but it’s still rather windy with the odd heavy rain shower, which is enough to keep me indoors for the count. As the meteorological storm subsides, an electoral storm seems to be brewing – last night’s exit polls the three largest parties tied on about 22% of the vote (with a margin of error around 1.5%).

Taking a look at the preceding opinion polls you will see that outcome is well within the ±3% uncertainty of the last few:

  • Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitude: FF 32%; FG 20%; SF 19%
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 25%; FG 21%; SF 21%
  • BusinessPost/Red C: FF 26%; FG 23%; SF 19%
  • Daily Mail/Ireland Elects: FF 27%; FG 22%; SF 22%
  • Sunday Times/Panelbase: FF 23%; SF 21%; FG 19%
  • Business Post/Red C: FF 24%; SF 24%: FG 21%.
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 23%; FG 20%; SF 25%

If this pattern is borne out it will be a bitter disappointment for Fianna Fáil who have had four years in opposition to make inroads but have apparently failed to do so.

The main story however is the remarkable rise of Sinn Féin, which looks likely to shatter the two-party dominance that has held sway in Ireland more or less since its inception as an independent state. Early indications are that they will do very well and return TDs in constituencies where they have never previously won a seat.

My constituency is Kildare North which elected 1 Social democrat, 1 Fine Gael and 2 Fianna Fáil TDs last time. based on early tallies it seems that Catherine Murphy (the Social Democrat), who is a very good candidate with a strong local following, will get re-elected on the first round but the Sinn Féin candidate Réada Cronin looks likely to win a seat too. That is remarkable because she only polled 6.55% of the votes in the last General Election and also lost her County Council seat in the Local Elections last year. It’s been a remarkable turnaround for her and for Sinn Féin generally. If SF do win a seat that means at least one of the incumbents will lose theirs. But who? We’ll have to wait and see!

Counting has really only just started so I won’t comment much until the real results are available, except to say that it is very difficult to see what kind of Government will emerge from all this, which looks essentially like a three-way tie in terms of popular vote, because that will not translate directly into seats owing to the way the Single Transferable Vote works.

For example, take Dublin Central, the constituency of Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald. The STV system involves a quota for automatic election which is N/(m+1) votes, where N is the number of valid ballots cast and m is the number of seats in the constituency. Dublin Central is a four-seater and it seems that Mary Lou got about 36% of the first-preference votes, which is way past the quota of 20%. This surplus (16% of the valid ballots) will be re-distributed among the 2nd preference votes of those who put her first which could make a huge difference to the fortunes of those lower-ranked candidates. But where will they go?

One might imagine that Sinn Féin voters would rank other leftish parties, but there is a fraction who don’t use the whole ballot paper, but just put a 1 next to the SF candidate. Some of the SF surplus may be wasted in this way. Moreover, during the European Elections last summer I noticed some very strange transfers that went from SF to right-wing rather than left-wing alternatives. It’s all very hard to predict, but we’ll know soon enough.

It took several days to get the full results of the European Parliament Elections last year, but in that case the constituencies were much larger (both geographically and in terms of number of voters). There were also many more candidates on each ballot paper. Hopefully there will be a clear picture of the outcome of this General Election later this evening…

*the official turnout figure is 62.9%

Irish Election Update

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , on February 3, 2020 by telescoper

I couldn’t resist one more update before Saturday’s General Election because there has been another opinion poll (Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI), which I’ve added to the previous ones here:

  • Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitude: FF 32%; FG 20%; SF 19%
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 25%; FG 21%; SF 21%
  • BusinessPost/Red C: FF 26%; FG 23%; SF 19%
  • Daily Mail/Ireland Elects: FF 27%; FG 22%; SF 22%
  • Sunday Times/Panelbase: FF 23%; SF 21%; FG 19%
  • Business Post/Red C: FF 24%; SF 24%: FG 21%.
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 23%; FG 20%; SF 25%

This last one is the first to put Sinn Féin in the lead, although to be honest the margin of error is 3% again so there’s really no evidence for a significant change on the last poll by the same outfit.

I still find it very hard to predict what kind of Government Ireland will end up with, but it seems even less likely than before that Leo Varadkar will be leading it.

British friends keep asking me whether all this change is a result of Brexit. I have to say that the answer to that is ‘no’ and neither is it driven entirely by thoughts of a United Ireland. The focus of campaigning is largely on domestic political issues, chiefly housing and health. Most people tend to think Varadkar has handled Brexit pretty well, but his party had failed badly in these other areas.

Irish Election Update

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , , on February 1, 2020 by telescoper

Well. Life goes on, and so does the Irish General Election campaign. A week today I’ll be casting my vote. Sinn Féin seem the most energized by the events of the last week, even to the extent that their posters have been going up around Maynooth. The one above, showing leader Mary Lou McDonald, is on my way into work (the North Campus of Maynooth University is on the other side of the road, beyond the trees).

Since last week’s update there have been other opinion polls (by the Sunday Times/Panel base and Red C), which I’ve added to the previous ones here:

  • Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitude: FF 32%; FG 20%; SF 19%
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 25%; FG 21%; SF 21%
  • BusinessPost/Red C: FF 26%; FG 23%; SF 19%
  • Daily Mail/Ireland Elects: FF 27%; FG 22%; SF 22%
  • Sunday Times/Panelbase: FF 23%; SF 21%; FG 19%
  • Business Post/Red C: FF 24%; SF 24%: FG 21%.

The latest polls (like the others) are based on a small sample (1000) so has a large marging of error (around 3%) and is based on online responses and an uncertain methodology which may create a systematic bias. Those caveats aside, however, they seems to be telling the same story as the others: decline for Fine Gael and a relatively strong showing for Sinn Féin who are up 7% and 5% on the previous Panelbase and Red C numbers, respectively.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Sinn Féin end up with a share of the first preference votes around 25%. If that is the case they’ll probably wish they had stood more candidates, which they will probably do next time if they perform strongly in the actual election. They did poorly in the European Elections last year, which probably explains their rather defensive strategy. On the other hand if Fianna Fáil really are polling in the low twenties they may regret standing so many candidates, as their vote may end up splitting so that none reach the quota.

It will be very interesting to see how this all pans out. I find it very hard to predict what kind of Government Ireland will end up with, but I’m willing to bet that Leo Varadkar won’t be leading it.

Irish Election Update

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , , on January 26, 2020 by telescoper

I’ve not really got the energy for an long post today but I couldn’t resist a quick update on more opinion polls that must make uncomfortable reading for the incumbent Taioseach Leo Varadkar and his Fine Gael party. Last week I reported on the results with breakdown of first-preference votes for Fine Gael (FG), Fianna Fáil (FF) and Sinn Féin (SF) from two polls, to which I now add a third and a fourth:

  • Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitude: FF 32%; FG 20%; SF 19%
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 25%; FG 21%; SF 21%
  • BusinessPost/Red C: FF 26%; FG 23%; SF 19%
  • Daily Mail/Ireland Elects: FF 27%; FG 22%; SF 22%

All are based on quite small samples (923, 1200 and 1000 for the first three respectively; I don’t know the sample size for the 4th) and consequently have quite large margins of error (around 3%) but in broad terms they seem to be telling the same story.

The remarkable thing about the Red C poll however is that Sinn Féin are up 8% on the last poll from the same outfit while Fine Gael are down 7%. I sense quite a lot of momentum for the Shinners, actually, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they end up with a share of the vote around 25%. If that is the case they’ll probably wish they had stood more candidates, which they will probably do next time if they perform strongly in the actual election.

There’s a lot of talk in Ireland about the need for change, especially in respect of housing and healthcare. Real change will not come via the two establishment parties FF and FG, and I think the best chance in practice to create a better Ireland is through voting for Sinn Féin (although in my own constituency of Kildare North they don’t seem to have much of a chance).

There is a chance that FF+FG will form a sort of grand coalition to cling on to power. That might work in the short term, but I doubt it will form a stable government for long. We live in interesting times…

Signs of the Times

Posted in Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2020 by telescoper

I’ve spent most of today on a secret mission so I’ve just going to do a brief post before I go home.

Since there’s a General Election campaign going on in Ireland, I thought I’d share the above picture I took on the Kilcock Road. Posters like this are a bit of a tradition at election time in Ireland. I’ve never seen anything like them in England or Wales. I’m told posters like this started going up in Dublin the day the election was announced, but it took a day or two for them to appear in Maynooth. There has been talk of banning this sort of display on environmental grounds, but they’re still here.

Other news on the election  is that two opinion polls have been published that must make uncomfortable reading for the incumbent Taioseach Leo Varadkar and his Fine Gael party. The results with breakdown of first-preference votes for Fine Gael (FG), Fianna Fáil (FF) and Sinn Féin (SF) are:

  • Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitude: FF 32%; FG 20%; SF 19%
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 25%; FG 21%; SF 21%

Both are based on quite small samples (923 and 1200 respectively) and consequently have quite large margins of error (3.3% and 2.8% respectively) so one shouldn’t get too excited by the fact that they differ by quite a bit. Moreover the transferable vote system adopted in Irish elections makes it difficult to translate the percentage of first-preference votes into seats in the Dáil because that depends a lot on transfers of lower-ranked preferences. I would however make the inference that it’s very unlikely that any party will get an overall majority on February 8th.

Another thing I’d say is that regardless of one’s voting preferences it seems to me quite wrong for the state broadcaster to pretend that this is a two-horse race and exclude Sinn Féin’s leader Mary Lou McDonald from its planned election debate. The Fine Gael leader seems very opposed to SF being represented in this debate and in my opinion it would serve him right if his party ended up in third place.

Oh, and I should point out that as a consequence of the referendum held in 2018, as of January 2020 blasphemy is no longer a criminal offence in Ireland.

 

Election Time in Ireland!

Posted in Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , , on January 15, 2020 by telescoper

Yesterday, in response to a request from the Taioseach Leo Varadkar, the Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D. Higgins dissolved the 32nd Dáil Éireann. There will be a General Election on 8th February (unusually, on a Saturday) to determine the composition of the 33rd Dáil. So we now have three and a half weeks of electioneering. Sigh.

The previous administration, headed by Mr Varadkar, was a minority Government led by his Fine Gael party supported in a `confidence-and-supply’ arrangement by Fianna Fáil. These two parties have more-or-less alternated in running Ireland since Independence, and both could be characterized as centre-right, Neoliberal parties. Fine Gael MEPs sit with the EPP group in the European Parliament while Fianna Fáil’s sit with RE (formerly ALDE). In terms of UK politics FG is closer to the Conservative Party (though not as far to the right) and FF to the Liberal Democrats. There’s therefore even less of a gap between FG and FF than their closest UK equivalents. Incidentally Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have their roots in the chaos of the Irish civil war in response to the Anglo-Irish Treaty: FG was pro-Treaty and FF anti-Treaty.

The real question to be answered in this election is whether anything might happen to break the right-wing hegemony that has held sway for so long in the Republic. I would to believe so but, frankly, I doubt it. Despite the Varadkar administration’s abject failures on housing and health (led by two spectacularly useless Ministers), and the fact that these two issues are likely to prove extremely important during the campaigns, I feel the innate conservatism of the Irish electorate will led yet again to another FG/FF combination. One of the worries that comes with that is a continuation of the present chronic underfunding of Irish universities.

I am not sure at this point who I’ll be voting for – I don’t yet know who’s standing in my constituency of Kildare North – but it won’t certainly be either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. The strongest left-wing party in Ireland is Sinn Féin and I like many of their progressive policies. My main reservation about voting for them is that I’m not a nationalist. Although I would love to see a United Ireland, I consider myself to be an internationalist and find some of the rhetoric of Irish nationalism very uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I believe it would be good for Ireland to have a strong representation from Sinn Féin in the 33rd Dáil Éireann. Other possible leftish parties include the Green Party, Labour and the Social Democrats.

Incidentally, the voting system for General Elections in Ireland is basically the same as that for the European Parliamentary Elections last year, but with a larger number of constituencies (40 instead of 3). Between them these constituencies elect 159 Teachtaí Dála (TDs) (the equivalent of MPs), an average of about 4 per constituency. There are actually 160 seats, but the Speaker is re-elected automatically. The Single Transferable Vote system is used, meaning that voters have a single ballot paper on which they rank the candidates in order of preference. The candidate with the lowest number of first-preference votes is eliminated and their second preference votes redistributed. Candidates are thus progressively eliminated until the requisite number of TDs is selected.

My constituency is Kildare North which elected 1 Social democrat, 1 Fine Gael and 2 Fianna Fáil TDs last time. This is a primarily rural constituency which is, on the whole, rather affluent, as is reflected in the above result.