Category Archives: Ireland


Ireland – Government reshuffle

There are a number of government reshuffles to catch up with. Because I am short of time today, I will record the one that is easiest for me.

In Ireland there was a reshuffle on 23 March. It had been provoked by a number of ministerial resignations, including the Defence Minister, Willie O’Dea, and the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, Martin Cullen. A Green Junior Minister had also previously resigned.

The real news about the reshuffle was that it changed very little. This was a surprise because the Fianna Fáil party, which is the dominant party in the coalition with the Greens, is extremely unpopular with opinion poll ratings at historically low levels at around 25% support. So, there was the expectation that the Taoiseach (PM), Brian Cowen, would not just introduce some new faces, but also that he would reorganise the departmental structures to address the country’s desperate financial situation, including increasingly high levels of unemployment. However, this did not happen and he was criticised accordingly.

There is a report on the reshuffle via the Irish Times here and a commentary piece about the conservative nature of Cowen’s leadership as exemplified by the reshuffle here.

Ireland – Lisbon referendum

Last Friday was a good day for me. I got to vote again. In fact, it was the third time I had voted this year (though two votes were on the same day, which somewhat lessens the total pleasure). Anyway, this time the vote was the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

On 12 June 2008 the Treaty was rejected in a referendum by 53.4% to 46.6%. Late last year, the government negotiated various concessions and clarifications. Another referendum was proposed and it was held last Friday.

This time there was a resounding ‘yes’ vote. The turnout was slightly higher this time. However, it seems as if a significant amount of people did simply switch their vote from ‘no’ to ‘yes’. Obviously, apart from any negotiated changes, the big difference this time around was the state of the economy, which is worse than lousy. There was definitely a fear that a ‘no’ vote would leave Ireland badly placed within the EU. One sign of this is that, this time, the farmers voted very strongly ‘yes’, whereas last time there had been a clear ‘no’ majority.

For the record, my constituency, Dublin South, had the highest ‘yes’ vote at (a veritably stalinist) 81.7%! Only 2/43 constituencies voted ‘no’, both in Donegal. The regional results are available here.

Here is the overall result:

Turnout: 58.0%
Yes: 67.1%
No: 32.9%

During the campaign, the ‘yes’ side feared that the government’s very low opinion poll ratings (around 20% support) would lead people to vote ‘no’ simply out of protest. This did not happen. So the government may be bolstered by the ‘yes’ vote. However, there is a very difficult budget looming, there is also a vote on the controversial agency that will manage the banks’ bad debts, and the government’s coalition partner, the Greens, are currently renegotiating their programme demands. If the Greens vote to leave the coalition, then government is unlikely to survive. So, while the next election is scheduled for 2012, there is still the possibility that it may occur much sooner.

Ireland – EP elections

Back to normal next week after a marathon session on the EP elections. Thanks for being patient. In the meantime, I’ll end where I started off with results from Ireland.

The EP election was held in Ireland as week ago last Friday.

The turnout was 57.6%. The EU is reporting the following results (2004 in brackets):

Fine Gael – 29.1%, 4 seats (27.8%, 5)
Fianna Fáil – 24.1%, 3 seats (29.5%, 4)
Labour – 13.9%, 3 seats (10.5%, 1)
Sinn Féin – 11.2%, 0 (11.1%, 1)
Independents – 1 seat (2 seats)
Socialist party – 1 seat (0 seats)

The analysis is the same as for the local elections (see previous post). The incumbent Fianna Fáil/Green coalition did very badly, especially when compared with the 2007 general election. The Greens were wiped out (and now have more deputies in the Dáil than local councillors throughout the state!). In the EP election, Fianna Fáil lost a seat to the Socialist party in Dublin. The Labour party picked up two seats outside Dublin. Sinn Féin failed to break through and they lost their Dublin seat.

The government easily survived a vote of no-confidence after the elections.

Ireland – Local elections

I had a great time on Friday. I got to vote three times, in the European election, in the local council election for my area, and in a Dáil by-election for my Dublin-South constituency.

I’ll report on the Irish local elections now, but much of the coming week will be taken up with reports on the European election in every SP country. It may take some time!

Briefly, the context is that the Irish economy is just … awful (at best). So, the incumbent government (Fianna Fáil and the Greens) was always likely to lose out.

In the local elections, Fianna Fáil did worse in the cities, particularly Dublin, than in rural areas where politics is often very local. Overall, Fianna Fáil polled 25.4%, which is about down 7% on its 2004 local election score. The Greens did very badly too, and is now likely to have only about 3 councillors in the whole country! The main opposition party, Fine Gael, came top overall with about 32.2%, an increase of about 5%. The Labour party’s support also rose by about 5% to 14.6%, which was their best ever local election result. Labour is now the largest party in the Dublin area. Results are available here.

The two parliamentary by-elections were both in Dublin – Dublin South and Dublin Central – and both were caused by the death of an incumbent TD. Fianna Fáil previously held Dublin South and an independent held Dublin Central. In my constituency, the Fine Gael candidate was elected on the first count, which is almost unheard of. He was a former TV journalist and had celebrity appeal. Labour came second and Fianna Fáil came third, which was a poor result for them. In Dublin Central, another independent candidate won and Fianna Fáil did even worse, coming fifth! So, while governments rarely win by-elections, both represent very bad results for Fianna Fáil and both were consistent with Fianna Fáil’s poor performance in Dublin locally.

Overall, Fianna Fáil was expected to do badly. Given its vote held up in quite a few county council areas, there was a sense in which the outcome wasn’t quite as bad as it might have been. However, it was still very bad. Whether or not the Greens decide to leave the coalition before the next election, which is scheduled for 2012, is another question. I would expect so. And whether or not Brian Cowen is still the Fianna Fáil leader at the next election is also a moot point. I would think it’s 50/50 at the moment. There will be a lot of worried Fianna Fáil TDs who think that they might lose their seat if the party’s support doesn’t increase and a change of leader, they might calculate, could help in that regard.

SP resources – Ireland Dáil debates

The debates of the lower chamber of the Irish parliament, Dáil Éireann, are available online. The record covers the period from the convocation of the first Dáil on 21 January 1919 to the present day.

Of interest to semi-presidential researchers might be the debates that surrounded the introduction of the current constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, in 1937. The full proceedings of the debates are available. The name of the Bill where the debate can be found is: Bunreacht na hEireann (Dréacht)—Dara Céim.

Some of the interesting days are 11 May when the then prime minister, Eamonn de Valera, introduced the Bill to reform the constitution. On P. 39 he discusses the election and powers of the president. Given de Valera had considerable influence over the writing of the constitution, his interpretation is important.

On 11 May (PP. 131-133) and on 12 May (P. 230) there is an interesting discussion of the equivalent of the dangers of what we would now call cohabitation if the president were to be directly elected.

On the same day just a few pages later on (P. 233) there is a discussion of the possible perils of majority government and a directly elected president. The key point here is that the Opposition (Fine Gael) were worried that Eamonn de Valera would be elected president and would act like a dictator. There is no evidence that he ever considered being president, but the opposition were trying to raise the spectre of such a situation. On P. 303 one of the senior figures in Fine Gael makes the charge of dictatorship quite explicitly. On 13 May de Valera responds to this charge (P. 421 onwards).

The committee stage of the Bill was discussed by the whole house, staring on 25 May. Amendments concerning the president were debated on this day in the second session (P. 1004 onwards).

Note that the Fianna Fáil government had a bare majority in the Dáil, but it had a clear majority on all the Constitution votes. So, any Fine Gael amendments were likely to fail.

The debate ended on 14 June. The Dáil was dissolved on that day. The the general election was held on 1 July 1937. A referendum on the Constitution was held on the same day and was approved by 56.5%. The Fianna Fáil government was returned in the election.

If you read the debates, then, for information, note that de Valera then held the position of President of the Executive Council. This was the equivalent of the post of prime minister. This means, though, that in the Dáil debates he is referred to as President. This can cause some confusion especially when the deputies are debating the powers of the President (meaning the head of state) in the new constitution. After 1937, the Irish head of government has been called Taoiseach.

Cohabitation – Ireland

This is a series of posts that records the cases of cohabitation in countries with semi-presidential constitutions. Cohabitation is defined as the situation where the president and prime minister are from different parties and where the president’s party is not represented in the cabinet. Presidents classed as non-party cannot generate any periods of cohabitation.

Here is my list of cohabitations in Ireland:

Feb 1948 – Jun 1951
President – Sean T. O’Kelly (FF); PM – John A. Costello (FG); Coalition – FG, Labour, National Labour, Clann na Poblachta, Clann na Talmhan

Jun 1954 – Mar 1957
President – Sean T. O’Kelly (FF); PM – John A. Costello (FG); Coalition – FG, Labour, Clann na Talmhan

Mar 1973 – Jul 1977
Presidents – Erskine Childers (June 1973-Nov 1974), Cearbhall O Dalaigh (Dec 1974-Oct 1976), Patrick Hillery (from Dec 1976) all FF; PM – Liam Cosgrave (FG); Coalition – FG, Labour

Jun 1981 – Mar 1982
President – Patrick Hillery (FF); PM – Garret FitzGerald (FG); Coalition – FG, Labour

Dec 1982 – Mar 1987
President – Patrick Hillery (FF); PM – Garret FitzGerald (FG); Coalition – FG, Labour

Dec 1990 – Feb 1992
President – Mary Robinson (Lab); PM – Charles J. Haughey (FF); Coalition – FF, PD

Feb 1992 – Jan 1993
President – Mary Robinson (Lab); PM – Albert Reynolds (FF); Coalition – FF, PD

Jun 1997 – Sep 1997
President – Mary Robinson (Lab); PM – Bertie Ahern (FF); Coalition – FF, PD

March 2011 – November 2011
President – Mary McAleese (FF); PM – Enda Kenny (FG); Coalition – FG, Labour

Party abbreviations:
FF – Fianna Fáil
FG – Fine Gael
PD – Progressive Democrats

Ireland – New PM

I am travelling this week, so I may not be able to do another posting until Sunday. However, given where this blog originates from, I thought that I should make a special effort to record a change of government.

In Ireland Bertie Ahern has stepped down today as Taoiseach (prime minister). He has been in office since winning the 1997 general election. He has headed a coalition government throughout, but one in which his Fianna Fáil party has always been the dominant partner. The first two administrations were with the Progressive Democrats (liberal), the current government includes the Greens as well.

Ahern’s announced his decision to step down about a month ago and it came as a real surprise. However, he had said that he would do so before the next election in 2012. Perhaps more saliently, he has been the subject of ongoing corruption investigations that have been gaining more and more media attention of late.

His successor is Brian Cowan. He was the Finance Minister previously. He was elected unopposed as the head of Fianna Fáil. There will be a reshuffle, but the coalition arithmetic is unlikely to change.