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Posted 24 February 2011

2011 General Election: Today’s politics makes tomorrow’s history

This Friday's election will be historic, but even more historic moments could well be around the corner. You have to go back to 1918 (when the Irish Parliamentary Party was routed by Sinn Féin) for an election of similar historic significance.

While the opinion polls inevitably are divided on the details (for debate see recent posts on, all are agreed on three things:

  • Fianna Fáil is about to have the worst election result in its history;
  • The combined forces of the Left (notably Labour and Sinn Féin) are going to have their best election outcome ever; and
  • We're going to have a lot more independents in the Dáil – including for the first time a number of independents peddling a right-of-centre agenda.

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Professor David Farrell, UCD School of Politics and International Relations predicts that the Fianna Fáil implosion will inevitably be the most headline grabbing. "The Fianna Fáil party is one of the most successful electoral machines in Europe: in power more often that any other, and never out of power for more than one term. Our proportional representation electoral system is the one thing that will save this party from complete electoral meltdown such as, for example, visited upon the Canadian Progressive Democrats (which in 1993 went from being in government to having just two seats in parliament), but it cannot cushion it entirely – the party will do well to cling on to 30 seats."

Fianna Fáil will be out of office, but it would be premature to talk of its outright demise. If for no other reason, this is because of the legacy that is being left to the Fine Gael-led government (likely to be a coalition with Labour), a government that will certainly not enjoy the political honeymoon so cherished by new governments generally. "The people are clamouring for action, for quick and significant steps to dig us out of the economic and financial mess – in short for something that is pretty nigh impossible to deliver." Professor Farrell added.

Political memories are short. Much like we've seen in the U.S. with the mood shifting against the Obama administration that inherited the Republican's economic mess, the Fine Gael-led government will soon face the wrath of the electorate. It will need a fair wind if it is to survive. This may or may not play to the agenda of a Fianna Fáil rehabilitation, but more significantly it could well lead to a further bout of even more dramatic electoral turmoil. If Fine Gael is not careful it too could face an electoral rout in a few years.

"These will be testing times for the body politic – times that call for courageous leadership and a willingness to think outside of the box. It is primarily for this reason that a number of us are pushing for large scale and fundamental political reform, for a new political system for Twenty-first Century Ireland. A government that shows enthusiastic willingness to embrace the change agenda, to throw out old shibboleths, to recreate structures fit for purpose, is one that has a far better chance to survive the storms of criticisms."

In this election, all the parties have been talking the talk of political reform (and we've been rating them on this dimension on The question now is whether the new government is prepared to walk the walk.


(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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Irial Glynn with Cian O'Sullivan, UCD, Dublin and Kilmacud Crokes, Craig Dias, UCD, Dublin and Kilmacud Crokes, and Peter Kelly, UCD, Kildare and GAA Allstar