Ireland’s governing Fianna Fáil (FF) party and its Green Party coalition partner were massacred in a general election revolt on February 26.
The most successful establishment party in Western Europe for the past 80 years, FF was demolished – reduced from 77 to only 20 seats on the back of public outrage over austerity measures and social spending cuts.
In Dublin, FF was reduced from 19 seats to one.
The Greens — its partners in political crime — were wiped out entirely, failing to win a single seat in Dáil Éireann (Ireland’s parliament) and winning less than 2% of the vote.
Voters punished the government for its handling of the global financial crisis, which bankrupted the country by bailing out Ireland’s big banks to the tune of €45 billion.
To get out of the financial black hole — and 13.6% unemployment — it had created, the government then pawned the country for as much as €100 billion in financial loans from the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The austerity measures demanded by the IMF and EU agreement will result in 30,000 public sector jobs being cut and social spending reduced for years to come.
The government’s 2011 budget alone planned for €4.7 billion in cuts and €1.5 billion in new taxes on working people.
The government survived the first round of mass protests, but came unstuck when a by-election in November resulted in the anti-cuts Sinn Féin candidate being elected in a landslide.
The Greens blinked — and withdrew support for the government. The Taoiseach (prime minister) Brian Cowen resigned as FF leader and an election was called.
No party won a majority of seats. The big electoral winners were the right-wing Fine Gael (FG), with 74 Teachtaí Dála (TDs — Dáil members) elected, and the centre-left Labour Party, with 37 — its best result. An FG-LP coalition seems likely.
But the election was also a watershed for left and republican parties opposed to the austerity measures.
Republican party Sinn Féin, which opposes the anti-worker austerity cuts and the bailout, had 14 TDs elected, up from five in 2007.
It won 10% of the overall vote — its highest result in Dáil elections.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams topped the polls in the constituency of Louth, with one of the highest votes for any candidate in Ireland.
The far left also recorded an impressive result.
The United Left Alliance (ULA) was formed only in November by the Socialist Party, the People Before Profit Alliance and the Workers and Unemployed Action Group.
Standing for socialist solutions to the crisis, the ULA had five TDs elected and polled high in every constituency it contested.
Both Sinn Féin and ULA TDs have vowed to take only an average worker’s wage — and to fight the austerity measures imposed on Ireland by the EU and IMF.
The ULA TDs include Joe Higgins, a member of the European Parliament from the Socialist Party, and the People Before Profit Alliance’s Richard Boyd Barrett.
Both beat sitting cabinet ministers to get elected.
Boyd Barrett told the March 1 SocialistWorker.co.uk: “The main parties have gone along with the cuts. Disgracefully Labour has rolled over to the IMF and is prepared to jump into bed with Fine Gael.
“We will campaign inside and outside the Dail to make the wealthy pay for the mess they have created.”
Fourteen independent candidates were also elected, some left-wing.
Discussions have also begun about transforming the ULA from a quickly cobbled-together electoral alliance into a new party to fight for socialist politics in Ireland.
Some unions have called on Labour to not join a coalition government with FG, which would oversee huge attacks on the working class. However, it seems almost certain it will.
Whichever parties form government, they will be under pressure to, at the very least, renegotiate the terms of Ireland’s bailout package.
The new government will almost certainly face mass civil unrest and protests as it attempts to carry out the austerity measures. Some analysts are already suggesting that the next government may not last its full term.
Election night coverage of ULA candidate Richard Boyd Barrett’s victory, followed by an interview.
Sinn Fein TV report on SF president Gerry Adams winning the seat of Louth.