In 1944, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, disaffiliated from the Labour Party because it believed the party was being infiltrated by communists, specifically the selection of Jim Larkin as a general election candidate. Five TDs (James Everett, Thomas Looney, John O’Leary, James Pattison and Dan Spring) associated with the ITGWU left Labour to form National Labour. They contested the 1944 general election as a separate party, winning four seats (Looney losing), and five seats in 1948 (James Hickey gaining). It formed part of the Inter-Party government, led by Fine Gael’s John A. Costello as Taoiseach, and with Labour, Clann na Poblachta and Clann na Talmhan. James Everett served as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, and in working in government, their differences subsided, the National Labour TDs rejoined Labour in 1950 (Noel Whelan got the decade here wrong last Saturday, as well as Derek Keating and John Whelan’s names).
Could we see a similar short-term split? There are now five TDs (Willie Penrose, Tommy Broughan, Patrick Nulty, Róisín Shorthall and Colm Keaveney) and one Senators (James Heffernan) who were elected as Labour but who have lost or resigned the party whip. They continue as party members, speaking at party conference, but if this situation persists at the time of the next general election, it’s possible that they would contest on a separate common platform. The analogy with National Labour is that they would aim to rejoin the party fully in due course, on a change of leadership, or shift in policy direction. There are others who might contest under such a platform, possibly under a banner as Labour Left. Cian O’Callaghan, current Mayor of Fingal, who has worked for Patrick Nulty, comes to mind. This would be intended as a temporary split, the name here reflecting the dissent of Labour Left of the 1980s and early 1990s, as opposed to that of Militant, which did split completely, and when its members were expelled, most prominently Joe Higgins and Clare Daly, they did not plan to return. 1
Tho another possible outcome is that Labour would leave the government, and that these rebels would contest as full Labour Party candidates. If this rate of attrition continued, Eamon Gilmore could face a vote of confidence within the parliamentary party within the next two years. I want to see this coalition last, so this is not an outcome I would like to see.
In 1976, Ronald Reagan challenged President Gerald Ford for the Republican Party nomination, winning 23 states to Ford’s 27. Then in 1980, Reagan was the nominee.
In 1980, George H. W. Bush won 6 states, with Ronald Reagan winning the remaining 44. Bush was selected as Reagan’s Vice President, and after Reagan’s two terms was the nominee in 1988.
In 1988, Bob Dole won 5 states and Pat Robertson won 4 states, with Vice President Bush winning the remaining 41 states. Bush was elected president, contesting again in 1992. In 1996, Bob Dole was the nominee.
The pattern doesn’t hold between 1996 and 2000. Bob Dole win 44 states, Bat Buchanan won 4, and Steve Forbes won 2, whereas George W. Bush was the nominee in 2000.
In 2000, John McCain won 7 states to Bush’s 43. Bush was elected president, contesting again in 2004. Then in 2008, McCain was the nominee.
In 2008, Mitt Romney won 11 states, Mike Huckabee won 7, with McCain winning the remaining 31. Now Romney looks the most likely to win this year’s nomination, though it is by no means secure for him.
This table lists all votes won in Irish presidential elections in order of absolute numbers. Of course this order ignores issues such as growth in the electorate and variance in turnout. But an interesting table, if just because it shows that the highest and lowest poll both came from this year’s election.
|Michael D. Higgins (Lab)||2011||701101||39.6|
Brian Lenihan (FF)
|Mary Robinson (Lab)||1990||612265||38.9|
Erskine Childers (FF)
|Tom O’Higgins (FG)||1973||587771||48.1|
Mary McAleese (FF)
Éamon de Valera (FF)
Tom O’Higgins (FG)
Éamon de Valera (FF)
Seán T. O’Kelly (FF)
|Sean Gallagher (Ind)||2011||504964||28.5|
|Seán Mac Eoin (FG)||1959||417536||43.7|
|Mary Banotti (FG)||1997||372002||29.3|
|Seán Mac Eoin (FG)||1945||335539||30.9|
|Austin Currie (FG)||1990||267902||17.0|
|Martin McGuinness (SF)||2011||243030||13.7|
|Patrick McCartan (Ind)||1945||212834||19.6|
|Dana Rosemary Scallon (Ind)||1997||172458||13.8|
|Gay Mitchell (FG)||2011||113321||6.4|
|David Norris (Ind)||2011||109469||6.2|
|Adi Roche (Lab)||1997||88423||6.9|
|Derek Nally (Ind)||1997||59529||4.7|
|Dana Rosemary Scallon (Ind)||2011||51220||2.9|
|Mary Davis (Ind)||2011||48657||2.7|
Also, the following were elected unopposed:
- Douglas Hyde in 1938
- Seán T. O’Kelly in 1952
- Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh in 1974
- Patrick Hillery in 1976
- Patrick Hillery in 1983
- Mary McAleese in 2004
At the last presidential election, held 30 October 1997, there was also a ballot to amend the constitution, the 17th Amendment to the Constitution Bill. This was to safeguard the tradition of cabinet confidentiality with explicit exceptions which sought to correct a difficulty which Justice Liam Hamilton found during the Beef Tribunal, when he was unable to question Ray Burke on his recollections of a cabinet meeting. With three tribunals of inquiry established in 1997 alone, this was of increasing importance.
It involved the insertion of a new Article 28.4.3°: -
The confidentiality of discussions at meetings of the Government shall be respected in all circumstances save only where the High Court determines that disclosure should be made in respect of a particular matter –
- in the interests of the administration of justice by a Court, or
- by virtue of an overriding public interest, pursuant to an application in that behalf by a tribunal appointed by the Government or a Minister of the Government on the authority of the Houses of the Oireachtas to inquire into a matter stated by them to be of public importance.
The amendment was supported by the five leading parties; the wording had originally been drafted during the lifetime of the Fine Gael–Labour–Democratic Left coalition, and the coalition of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, which had been in government since June, carried the amendment bill forward, proposing it in September.
It was opposed within the Dáil by the Green Party, whose John Gormley described the attempt to railroad the amendment as “tantamount to blackmail” (The Irish Times, 28 Oct. 1997).
More notably and contentious politically, it was also opposed by senior figures within the Progressive Democrats. Party founder and former leader, Des O’Malley, then a backbench government TD, criticised the bill in the Dáil as being too restrictive. He spoke (Vol. 480, No. 4, Col. 680) of his own experiences of a Minister, and the effect the amendment would have on the ability of former ministers to write memoirs,
I was a Minister for 13 years and I know it is usual to speak with the Secretary. Will this now be illegal? Frequently it is necessary to speak with a number of civil servants about matters discussed at Cabinet. This is perfectly proper but the current proposal will make it illegal.
I am in the unusual position of having resigned, for good reason, on two occasions from Government. I know the procedure and the trauma occasioned by this. At present there is an absolute right for a Minister to explain to the House why he resigned from Cabinet. However, what is now proposed will preclude him from doing so. This is ridiculous.
It is a tradition in Britain and less so here that former Ministers write their memoirs. Two were written here in recent years by former Deputies Garret FitzGerald and Gemma Hussey. Both quote extensively from what was said and done at Cabinet meetings. In Britain, almost every former Minister writes his or her memoirs, quoting extensively from Cabinet discussions. Bona fide students of history need to know what discussions take place in Cabinet but now they will not be able to find out.
He criticized the rush of the bill, and called for it to be redrafted and delayed until the vote on the Amsterdam Treaty (which ultimately took place in May 1998).
Also outspoken was former Progressive Democrat TD (and future party leader), Michael McDowell. He publicly clashed with Mary Harney, then leader, after he wrote in an article for the Irish Independent that the proposal was “the predictable consequence of running the country out of the hip pocket and handbag of coalition leaders, without consultation or reflection”. He had also around this time criticized Mary Harney for rowing in behind Fianna Fáil and giving formal party support to Mary McAleese as a presidential candidate. He announced on Questions and Answers that he intended to allow his party membership to last until March. Significantly however, he would “not unequivocally rule out any future role in politics” (The Irish Times, 25 Oct. 1997).
The Irish Times editorial line was opposed to the referendum, with a heading “Vote No” to the editorial on the day of the vote and columnists Dr Garret FitzGerald, former Taoiseach, and Vincent Browne also wrote against it. Garret FitzGerald criticized the way that “the best that two successive government have been able to come up with has been a constitutional amendment for just two very specific and limited exceptions, outside of which the dangerous rigidity of Supreme Court’s ruling will continue to operate in a thoroughly perverse way”. He echoed O’Malley’s concerns of the right of resigning ministers to give an explanation, a right of a minister to discuss cabinet with civil servants, and the effect it would have on historians (18 Oct. 1997). Vincent Browne proposed an alternative constitutional amendment, “The confidentiality of government discussions shall not be a matter of Constitutional right but shall be regulated by law” (29 Oct. 1997), and expressed confidence that a further appeal to the Supreme Court would overturn their ruling of 1992.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties opposed the amendment on similar grounds to those of Des O’Malley and Garret FitzGerald mentioned above (The Irish Times, 27 Oct. 1997).
It would be a stretch to draw any direct parallels between the referendum on cabinet confidentiality and tomorrow’s referendum on Oireachtas inquiries, it is interesting at least to find Michael McDowell, the Green Party, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and The Irish Times, (and Vincent Browne as a columnist), again on the same side calling for a No vote. (And it was also Brendan Howlin who spoke for the Labour Party in the Dáil supporting the Amendment).
Ultimately, it passed by 52% to 48%, with 5% of votes spoiled. I would imagine that tomorrow’s vote on Oireachtas inquiries will be similarly tight, and again with a high proportion of votes spoiled.
With seven candidates and none polling at 50%, there will be multiple counts in this election. The number of counts depends on how far apart the candidates are from each other at the lower end. If the candidate G is at 2%, F at 4% and E at 8%, then F and G can be eliminated together, as even all of G’s votes could not put F ahead of E. As many can be grouped in elimination as follow under this logic (as below, when Dana, Roche and Nally were eliminated together, as Nally and Roche could not together have put Dana ahead of Mary Banotti). The count will continue until one candidate reaches 50% of the remaining vote.
It is likely that there will a large proportion of non-transferable votes by the last count, as many might not fill their ballot to the candidates remaining by that point; for example, if someone voted 1 McGuinness, 2 Norris, 3 Davis, and left the rest blank, their ballot would not be in contention between the two candidates currently leading the polls.
Here then is a summary of the three elections to date with more than two candidates, to give an impression of the proportion of votes that were transferable to candidates in the last count, and how heavily they favoured particular candidates. In both 1945 and 1990, the Fianna Fáil candidate fared poorly on transfers, and in 1990, it was enough to push Robinson ahead of Lenihan on the second count. As polls this weekend stand (Irish Times/MRBI, SBP/Red C, Sunday Times/Behaviour and Attitudes), Michael D. Higgins will have to both narrow the gap on first preferences between himself and Sean Gallagher, and win an a significantly greater proportion of the transfers than him on successive counts to win this.
|Candidate||First Count||Second Count||Total|
|Patrick McCartan (Ind)||212 834||19.6%||–212 834|
|Seán Mac Eoin (FG)||335 539||30.9%||+117 886||55.4%||453 425|
|Seán T. O’Kelly (FF)||537 965||49.5%||+27 200||12.8%||565 165|
|Candidate||First Count||Second Count||Total|
|Austin Currie (FG)||267 902||17.0%||–267 902|
|Brian Lenihan (FF)||694 484||44.1%||+ 36 789||13.7%||731 273|
|Mary Robinson (Lab)||612 265||38.9%||+205 565||76.7%||817 830|
|Non-transferable||+25 548||9.6%||25 548|
|Candidate||First Count||Second Count||Total|
|Mary Banotti (FG)||372 002||29.3%||+125 514||38.8%||497 516|
|Mary McAleese (FF)||574 424||45.2%||+131 835||40.8%||706 259|
|Derek Nally (Ind)||59 529||4.7%||–59 529|
|Adi Roche (Lab)||88 423||6.9%||–88 423|
|Dana Rosemary Scallon (Ind)||175 458||13.8%||–175 458|
|Non-transferable||+66 061||20.4%||66 041|
Note: The percentages next to the column for the second count give the percentage of the transfers received by the remaining candidates and those not transferred, not the percentage of total remaining votes.
This year saw a considerable jump in the number of county and city councils exercising their constitutional prerogative to nominate candidates for president. In 1997, the first year any candidate secured the support of four councils, eleven of the thirty-four councils supported candidates, between Derek Nally and Dana Rosemary Scallon.
This year, that figure has jumped to twenty-five, nominating four candidates between them, Mary Davis, Sean Gallagher, David Norris and Dana Rosemary Scallon. The bulk of these voted for Mary Davis (full breakdown below).
So we now have a field of seven candidates, with more than half nominated by Councils rather than by Oireachtas members: Mary Davis, Michael D. Higgins, Sean Gallagher, Martin McGuinness, Gay Mitchell and Dana Rosemary Scallon.
This system of nomination for the presidency has long been criticized. In researching the elections, I came across a report from The Irish Times of 26 May 1973, in which Labour Chief Whip Barry Desmond said of the “rather outdated Constitutional requirements … I would hope that in any further revision of our Constitution this question will receive objective review … with a view to broadening the democratic aspects of the scope of the nomination”.
Throughout the years, candidates who had made their wishes to contest known and who have received national media attention have failed in their attempts to win the support of councils: Alfie Byrne in 1938, Patrick McCartan in 1945 (who later secured the signatures of Labour and Clann na Talmhan TDs in an individual capacity), Eoin O’Mahony in 1966 and 1973 and Dana in 2004.
Michael Gallagher recently outlined alternative methods of securing based on signatures. If we were to move towards linking PPS numbers with the electoral register, it should not be difficult to prevent duplication and fraud, if signatories had to sign in with ID and be crossed off a database at their local Garda station. I don’t think our current system, with some sort of vetting procedure is so outrageous by international comparisons, but there is clearly demand for a change to the system to be explored. And particularly if the size of the Oireachtas is to be reduced, it will be more difficult yet to reach 20 Oireachtas signatures. We might consider a figure such as 20,000 electors, as is the case in Finland, or 50,000, which was the number who could force a referendum under the Constitution of the Irish Free State.
But while we have the current system, aspiring candidates should treat the system respectfully. Cllr Paul McAuliffe’s speech last night highlighted perhaps the biggest problem David Norris faced with councils. While his supporters had taken the time to write to him, he had not heard from Norris himself. While one might not agree with the current system, it does put either Oireachtas members or councillors in a position where they have to publicly consider the merits of a prospective candidate. Nominations from Councils are more anonymous on the nomination form, they are listed by locality, rather than specifying any voting record, making them amenable to Independents, presumably designed with that in mind. While we do have the system, we should consider what it does mean for a representative at local or national level to take their Constitutional obligation seriously, while retaining an expectation that they would facilitate a candidate in most cases. Had Norris picked six councils, which based on political alignment he believed he would have had the best chance with, and taken the time to meet with sufficient councillors there, he would likely have secured his nomination with greater ease. It would have been harder for the councillors in South Dublin or Cork to have voted against him had they had a meaningful conversation with him. Though it would have taken effort, it is how Mary Davis managed to secure such support.Here is a table summary of the Councils which nominated candidates in 1997 and for this year’s election:
|Derek Nally||Carlow, Clare, Kildare, South Dublin, Wexford|
|Dana Rosemary Scallon||Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Longford, North Tipperary, Wicklow|
|Mary Davis||Galway, Galway City, Kerry, Limerick, Louth, Mayo, Monaghan, North Tipperary, South Tipperary, Sligo, Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow|
|Sean Gallagher||Cork City, Clare, Leitrim, Meath|
|David Norris||Fingal, Laois, Dublin City, Waterford|
|Dana Rosemary Scallon||Carlow, Donegal, Offaly, Roscommon|
Sources for the table: Wikipedia, contact with Aisling Kerr in Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.
The leading parties this year differ from those in 1945, the first contested election, but as the only election to date where an Independent candidate secured a place on the ballot by canvassing the support of Oireachtas members, and with reports today that David Norris could well be successful in his attempts to secure a nomination in this way, it is interesting to read back on this year.
Seán T. O’Kelly, then Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, was chosen as the Fianna Fáil party candidate. Fine Gael had been declining in support, losing seats and votes at each election since 1933, and at the outset were reluctant to contest. On 11 April, The Irish Times reported that the only likely candidate was Dr Patrick McCartan. This report also included a statement from Labour that “no member of the Labour Party in the Oireachtas may sign a nomination on behalf of any Presidential candidate or associate himself in promoting any such candidate”.
Patrick McCartan had been a member of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Dála, elected in 1918, 1921 and 1922. He reluctantly voted for the Treaty, and soon after retreated from political life, not contesting the 1923 general election. By 1945, he was associated with anti-de Valera Republicans, and received the support of the Old Comrades’ Association of the IRA (Irish Times, April 1945). McCartan had to secure the support of either four County Councils or 20 Oireachtas members; he fared poorly with the former, while working quietly on the latter.
The prospect of an Independent candidate spurred Fine Gael to action, who nominated Seán Mac Eoin, an IRA leader during the war of independence. His paper was submitted on 6 May 1945 with 17 Fine Gael signatories, as well as Independent TDs Alfie Byrne, Thomas Reilly and Richard A. Anthony.
On 15 May, Labour Party then reversed their decision, and allowed their members to sign a nomination form, perhaps concerned by then that a straight contest between the two largest parties would give Fine Gael too much of a dominant position within the opposition. Patrick McCartan was nominated with the support of 9 of the 11 Clann na Talmhan TDs, 5 of the eight Labour TDs and 6 Labour Senators. His Labour nominees included future leader Brendan Corish. This year, it is the many Independents, Fianna Fáil, Socialist Party and People Before Profit TDs and Senators who are free from any direct order as to who to nominate, while it is still not precisely sure what Sinn Féin will do.
The high salary of the president, at £22 000, was an issue in the campaign; Clann na Talmhan had agreed to sign McCartan’s form on the condition that he would accept a reduction to £5000 with expenses of £2500.
Patrick McCartan performed reasonably in the election, and transferred relatively strongly to Seán Mac Eoin, despite ideological differences, presaging the success of Clann na Poblachta in 1948 and the formation of the Inter-Party government.
|Candidate||First Count||Second Count|
|Patrick McCartan (Ind)||212,834||19.6%||-212,834|
|Seán Mac Eoin (FG)||335,539||30.9%||+117,886||55.4%||453,425|
|Seán T. O’Kelly (FF)||537,965||49.5%||+27,200||12.8%||565,165|
So Seán T. O’Kelly was elected on the second count and was unopposed when he nominated himself for re-election in 1952, serving till 1959.
Now that we have the full list of members of the Seanad and their party affiliations, we can make comparative chart between the sizes of parliamentary parties after this election and after the 2007 election.
|People Before Profit||0||2|
Enda Kenny is due to be nominated by the Dáil for appointment as Taoiseach by the President with the largest ever mandate from TDs. The largest to date has been the vote Albert Reynolds received in January 1993, with 102 votes to 60, on the formation of a coalition of 67 Fianna Fáil and 33 Labour, and with the support of Independents Johnny Fox and Neil Blaney. Enda Kenny should expect at least 113 of 165, between 76 Fine Gael, 37 Labour, less the Ceann Comhairle from one of these parties, but with the added support of Independents such as Noel Grealish.
For those interested in the history of Dáil alliances, this spreadsheet details the votes for and against the candidates for Taoiseach by parties and Independents in each Dáil. I divided these first by Dáil and then in the last two sheets, summarised the support or opposition other parties have given to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Tomorrow also looks likely to be the first time since 1932 that Fianna Fáil will decide not to propose a candidate for Taoiseach. There were quite a few occasions that Fine Gael proposed no candidate, or that there was no vote on the Fine Gael candidate because an outgoing Fianna Fáil government was returned, so the Fianna Fáil list is more comprehensive.
These do show a few interesting features, such as that Labour did not oppose Fianna Fáil in the vote until 1944, or the support the Progressive Democrats gave Fine Gael in 1989 and 1992, both coalitions that could have become standard had numbers fallen otherwise. Or the shifting support of James Dillon (TD 1932–69) and Noël Browne (TD 1948–54, 1957–65, 1969–81) for the nominees of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the former of whom was to become Fine Gael leader in 1959.
We hear a lot about the fate of coalition partners after coalitions, particularly that of junior parties. Here is a full breakdown of how parties have fared in the elections after coalition.
Inter-Party government 1948–51
Comprised of 31 Fine Gael, 14 Labour, 10 Clann na Poblachta, 7 Clann na Talmhan, 5 National Labour, with the support of 8 Independents. Fine Gael had been on a downward trend since its first election in 1937 and the government gave it a real lease of life.
National Labour folded back into Labour in 1950.
After the fall of the government in 1951, Fine Gael increased to 40 (+9), while all smaller parties lost seats. Labour got 16 (-3), Clann na Talmhan 6 (-1) and Clann na Poblachta 2 (-8).
Inter-Party government 1954–57
In 1954, 50 Fine Gael, 19 Labour, 5 Clann na Talmhan.
In 1957, all parties lost seats: 40 Fine Gael (-10), 12 Labour (-7), 3 Clann na Talmhan (-2)
Fine Gael–Labour 1973–77
In 1973, it started 54 Fine Gael and 19 Labour.
In 1977, both parties fell: 43 Fine Gael (-11) and 17 Labour (-2).
Fine Gael–Labour 1981–82
Started in June 1981 with 65 Fine Gael and 15 Labour. Was always a minority government, it initially had the support of Jim Kemmy, while four Independents and small party representatives tactically abstained, until the January 1982 budget vote.
In the February 1982 election, Fine Gael fell to 63 (-2), while Labour had no change at 15.
Fine Gael–Labour 1982–87
In 1982, 70 Fine Gael and 16 Labour.
In 1987, a dreadful result for both parties, 51 Fine Gael (-19) and 12 Labour (-4). The emergent Progressive Democrats took support from Fine Gael and pushed Labour into fourth place.
Fianna Fáil–Progressive Democrats 1989–92
In 1989, 77 Fianna Fáil and 6 Progressive Democrats.
In 1992, the PDs became the first junior coalition party to increase its seats after an election. Between the two parties in 1992, they had 68 Fianna Fáil (-9) and 10 Progressive Democrats (+4).
Fianna Fáil–Labour 1993–94
Fine Gael–Labour–Democratic Left 1994–97
The 27th Dáil saw two governments. Political legend has it that Labour lost support because they went into government with Fianna Fáil. But according to Pat Leahy’s Showtime, their support was still high in November 1994. If this is true, then it was their political promiscuity rather than their support for Fianna Fáil as such that hurt them.
Overall figures for 1992 saw 68 Fianna Fáil, 45 Fine Gael, 33 Labour, 10 Progressive Democrats, 4 Democratic Left, 1 Green and 5 Independents.
In 1997, Labour and the PDs lost out: 77 Fianna Fáil (+9), 54 Fine Gael (+9), 17 Labour (-16), 4 Progressive Democrats (-6), 2 Green (+1), 1 Sinn Féin, 1 Socialist and 6 Independents (+1)
Fianna Fáil–Progressive Democrats 1997–2002
After a full term, both parties increased their seats: 81 Fianna Fáil (+4) and 8 Progressive Democrats (+4). Again the PDs proved the only junior party to increase seats after government.
Fianna Fáil–Progressive Democrats 2002–07
Of course, the PDs were not so lucky the third time they entered an election while in government. In 2007, both parties fell to 78 Fianna Fáil (-3) and 2 Progressive Democrats (-6).
Fianna Fáil–Green Party–Progressive Democrats 2007–11
Bertie Ahern formed a government in 2007 comprised on 78 Fianna Fáil, 6 Greens and 2 Progressive Democrats and the support of 4 Independents. The PDs were on our last legs anyway at the formation of the government, and we voted to dissolve in November 2008. And then nine days ago, Fianna Fáil fell to 20 seats (-58) while all six Greens lost their seats.
So across all coalitions, only twice had the junior party made gains at the next election, the Progressive Democrats in 1992 and 2002. And that party’s later electoral record is probably not something anyone would wish to cling to as a hopeful outcome. Having said that, none of this can inform of the counterfactuals, how a party would have fared at a subsequent election had they stayed out of government.
Brian Cowen was clearly going to win yesterday’s confidence motion. That was obvious when he tabled the motion, which he wouldn’t have done had he not been sure after talking to the TDs that he safely had a majority. But despite now no longer being in cabinet, Micheál Martin has perhaps benefitted most from the events of recent days.
We know that as well as Martin, Mary Hanafin and Brian Lenihan had misgivings about Brian Cowen’s leadership. Hanafin’s response when asked last weekend about her views on Cowen’s leadership, which suggested that she accepted rather than supported him as leader, was one of the events that put pressure on Cowen. She remained publicly undeclared through the vote. Lenihan publicly supported Cowen on the RTÉ News at One yesterday, allowing him to be portrayed as dishonest by John McGuinness who said that Lenihan had canvassed against Cowen before Christmas. Martin managed to refer to Hanafin and Lenihan respectively in code when asked by Vincent Browne why he spoke out when he couldn’t be sure of success, “You can’t hide behind a bush or pull back from your position”.
Perhaps Micheál Martin should have resigned before the vote and otherwise better managed his attack, even knowing he was going to lose. But as the only one of the challengers to Brian Cowen who clearly set out his own stall, he has placed himself best for the post-election leadership contest. He was the most likely anyway; Lenihan is rightly seen as responsible for the decisions on banking in the last two and a half years, and Hanafin will be lucky to hold her seat in Dún Laoghaire.
Despite being the only person contesting this election who was appointed a minister with Brian Cowen in 1997 by Brian Cowen, he will have the room now to distance himself from the Taoiseach and the election result. And it is already possible to see where his initial rhetoric as leader will be. He talked last night with Vincent Browne, and a few weeks before on The Frontline, of a willingness to support from opposition to a government which continued the broad economic outlook of the current Programme for Government. Depending on the balance of numbers between Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Martin hint on the night of the results of cooperating with a minority Fine Gael government, what has been termed as a reverse Tallaght Strategy. It is almost unimaginable to think that Fianna Fáil would help Fine Gael to single-party government, or that Fine Gael would agree to govern under such a precarious arrangement, but even hinting at it would allow him to define a policy niche for Fianna Fáil.
In the past 150 years, there have been three significant wave elections in Ireland, which featured a significant change in the rank order of political parties since the previous election and a medium- to long-term change in the party system. We are now facing into the fourth.
1874 (and 1885) – Home Rule replaces Liberals
1868: Liberals – 66; Conservatives – 39
1874: Home Rule – 60; Conservatives – 33; Liberals – 10
The first of these was in 1874, when the new Home Rule League emerged as a political force led by Isaac Butt. In the previous few elections, after the demise of the Repeal Movement and the Independent Irish Party, the British Liberals and Conservatives were the only parties active in Ireland. In 1874, most of the Liberal support moved to Home Rulers. It took the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell, as well as the nature of the close but difficult relationship between the Nationalists and the Liberals, to wipe the Liberals out as an active force in Ireland. Under his leadership in 1885, Home Rulers won 85 seats, with Conservatives winning 18, mainly confined to Ulster and the University of Dublin seats.
1918 – Sinn Féin replaces Home Rule
1910: Nationalist – 72; Unionists – 20; Liberal Unionists – 2; All-for-Ireland League – 6; Independents – 3
1918: Sinn Féin – 73; Unionists – 22; Nationalists – 6; Labour Unionists – 3; Independent Unionist – 1
The Nationalists maintained this dominance until 1918, even if in later years it suffered from factionalization. The rising in 1916 had put focus on Sinn Féin, a party founded in 1905 with an abstentionist policy advocating that Irish MPs should withdraw from Westminster and establish their own assembly in Dublin. They had a poor electoral record till 1917. During the First World War, the Nationalists in Westminster had been fighting against the introduction of conscription in Ireland. They were successful in that till 1917, and when they were finally beaten by the Government, they withdrew from parliament in protest. This was seen as an admission that the Sinn Féin approach was justified. It was then Sinn Féin’s activism that led to conscription being impossible to introduce, and Sinn Féin-backed candidates won a series of bye-elections in 1917 and 1918.
In December 1918 election, Sinn Féin broke through in full force. The Nationalists held only one seat outside of Ulster, William Archer Redmond in Waterford. Having been unopposed in election after election in many parts of the country, their electoral machine was no match against the vibrancy of the young Sinn Féin movement.
Sinn Féin then split in 1922 on the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In the four elections after the split, the rank order was the Pro-Treaty side, as Cumann na nGaedheal, followed by the Anti-Treaty side, as Fianna Fáil from 1926, followed by minor parties such as the Farmers’ Party, Labour, the National League and a large number of Independents. Though Cumann na nGaedheal governed alone, it did not have a majority and once Fianna Fáil entered the Dáil, it was dependent on the support of the Farmers and the Independents, which mainly represented business and Protestant interests.
1932 – Fianna Fáil beats Cumann na nGaedheal to top
1927: Cumann na nGaedheal – 62; Fianna Fáil – 57; Labour – 13; Farmers – 6; National league – 2; Irish Workers’ League – 1; Independent – 12
1932:Fianna Fáil – 72; Cumann na nGaedheal – 57; Labour – 7; Farmers – 4; Independent Labour – 2; Ind – 12
Then in 1932, Fianna Fáil won the most seats, and since then we have had a near uniform party system, with Fianna Fáil dominant, Fine Gael some way behind, followed by Labour and sometimes other parties. Only three times has this order been interfered with, when Clann na Talmhan moved ahead of Labour in 1933 and 1944, and the Progressive Democrats did so in 1987, but this did not last more than a single election. Under this party system, parties naturally pivoted around their relationship with Fianna Fáil. As long as Fianna Fáil insisted on ruling alone as a matter of principle, parties with natural differences such as the Fine Gael and Labour found themselves as regular partners in government.
2011 – Fine Gael and Labour set to pass out Fianna Fáil
2007: Fianna Fáil – 78; Fine Gael – 51; Labour – 20; Green Party – 6; Sinn Féin – 4; Progressive Democrats – 2; Independent – 5
2011 Latest Red C poll: Fine Gael 35%; Labour 21%, Fianna Fáil 14%, Sinn Féin 14%, Greens 4%, Others 12%
The polls have near consistently shown Fine Gael as the largest party in the next Dáil and it also looks likely that Labour could win enough to push Fianna Fáil to third place. A lot could change between now and the election, but the demoralising effect of ministerial retirements and the internal battles so close to an election could further depress Fianna Fáil voter turnout, while they remain toxic to transfers. Though it is likely that they will be closer to Labour in the final poll, they will fare poorly on transfers.
However well or poorly Fianna Fáil fare, they will be a very different party from now. Their raison d’être had been linked with their success, their belief that they embodied the Irish nation. Whether they become a small conservative nationalist party or a business and enterprise oriented party will depend very much on who remains.
While it is fair to expect Fine Gael and Labour to form the next government, it will be an unwieldy government, and this may be the last time for a generation where they are seen as natural government partners. Just as Cumann na nGaedheal did in the 1920s, Fine Gael could rely for its Dáil majority on sympathetic Independents. There is even a small possibility of this occurring this year, with Shane Ross having announced his intentions to stand, David McWilliams hinting. Were Declan Ganley to stand and be successful, he might support such a government with the assumption that on European matters Fine Gael would have the support of Labour. But such an arrangement remains yet only a distant possibility.
Just as it took two elections, 1880 and 1885, for the new party system after 1874 to emerge, we will be in a state of flux between parties for a little while yet. This election will be about the electorate giving its verdict on Fianna Fáil. Next time we should see the system that will remain for most of the early part of this century.