February 26, 2011: Early election results showed Ireland’s Fianna Fail party was facing the biggest collapse for any Irish party since independence from Britain in 1921.
Ireland sought help from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund which was the consequence for Fianna Fail’s defeat. This would make Ireland the first euro zone government to be brought down by the debt crisis.
Ireland’s main opposition parties prepared to form a coalition with a record majority after voters, incensed at a financial collapse and humiliating bailout, routed the government. Despite typical Irish temperment, Fine Gael and Labour are capable of working together and with a large enough majority should bring some stability back to Irish politics after the chaos of Fianna Fail. The presence of Labour may intensify calls to renegotiate the terms of the international bailout. Regardless of the mandate, the government will come under pressure if economic growth falters and it has to make further cuts.
Fianna Fail, a former goliath of Irish politics, will likely lose more than 50 seats and be left with aprroximately 20 lawmakers to share the opposition benches with a diverse group of anti-bailout independents and Sinn Fein, best known as the political wing of the now-dormant Irish Republican Army. The hard-left Sinn Fein party is set to possibly treble its presence in parliament to around 15 seats and its leader Gerry Adams, who was officially banned from speaking on Irish media until 1993, could top the poll in the border county of Louth. In Dublin, Fianna Fail was expected to retain just one seat out of a possible 47. The make-up of a new parliament will not be confirmed until manual counting finishes on Sunday.
The main opposition party Fine Gael stated it would most probably form a coalition with the centre-left Labour party. Fine Gael and Labour formed a joint platform in 2007. An exit poll from state broadcaster RTE put the centre-right Fine Gael on 36 percent of first preference votes under the system of proportional representation, its best result since 1982 but short of expectations for an outright victory. Under the RTE exit poll, Labour secured 20.5 percent of the vote, possibly giving it a record 35 seats.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, Ireland’s longest-serving parliamentarian, is almost certain to become prime minister. The former primary school teacher will face immediate pressure to fulfil an election pledge to renegotiate the 85-billion-euro EU/IMF bailout and ease some of the burden on an electorate struggling to make ends meet. Fine Gael, like Fianna Fail a pro-business and low-tax party, has pledged to stick to the overall austerity targets laid down by the EU, but Labour wants an extra year to get the deficit under control and has taken a tougher line on renegotiating the interest rate charged by Brussels.