2016 general election results: Can a coalition end civil war politics in the centenary year?

Aidan Priestley

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Abraham Lincoln Photocredit: Paolo Rosa (Flickr)
Abraham Lincoln Photocredit: Paolo Rosa (Flickr)

Adrenaline filled, intensively exciting and exhilarating; not words often associated with politics. 2016, however, is shaping up to deliver dramatic developments in the political arena. Only recently voters went to the polls for the general election; the opportunity giving the chance for some of us the chance to experience democracy in action at a count centre, including my own first time.

The results seemed to surprise quite a few people, which quite frankly leaves me surprised. The coalition government was always going to suffer, by what degree was largely unknown but the shape of that damage was fairly predictable. Opposition parties, independents and the smaller alliance groups were all set to make gains on their current positions, almost unquestioningly. That leaves Fianna Fail.

The former powerhouse political party made a sweeping recovery on their dismal 2011 performance which left them with only 20 seats, a number they have now more than doubled. In the space of five years the dominant ruling party of Ireland’s history re-solidified it’s position as central to government operations. Short lived memories of the public indeed. There are a myriad of reasons why this happened, each deserving a post of their own; including voter turnout, the nature of voting in 2011, the so called protest vote and quite simply our own desire for familiarity.

There is some benefit to this result though. Finally the two rhetorically opposed parties, while operationally quite similar, are placed in a situation where the only feasible solution to a stable government is to coalesce. Four score and fourteen (94) years ago, to parody the famous Abe Lincoln speech, the state underwent civil war. From the remnants of that civil war rose the two rival parties Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

1920s Irish Miltary (post civil war) Photocredit: DFArchives (Flickr)
1920s Irish Miltary (post civil war) Photocredit: DFArchives (Flickr)

While the civil war is no joke it has evolved into the farcical structure of government we have endured since that time. Now the parties are presented with an opportunity to demonstrate a real level of maturity and admit that they are more or less politically the same entity. The only difference comes from the one party being statistically more efficient while the other is demonstrably more charismatic. Like two sides of the same ego, a political entity requires both.

Irish politics has been largely stagnant since it’s inception, certainly in my comparatively short lifetime that has been true. The dogma of Irish politics has cast the two main parties in alternating roles of either being leaders of the Rebel Alliance or acting as the villainous Galactic Empire. To continue the metaphor the results of this election have brought with it a new hope; this centenary year has the potential to end a petty sibling rivalry within our political system and facilitate discussions on real political reform for the nation. My hopes might be too high and near guaranteed destined for disappointment, but in truth is that not the very essence of hope in the first place?

This post was originally intended to discuss the broader picture of political developments this year but sheer the excitement of my expectations derailed that ambition. We will pick up this conversation in a second installment looking at the degradation of establishment politics in the US in Sanders: The Empire Strikes Back.

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Aidan Priestley