Irish General Election 2002: The Campaign

On the morning of April 25, 2002 the Irish parliament (Dáil Éireann) was formally dissolved. A general election will be held on May 17, 2002. Fianna Fáil, the dominant party of Irish politics, is widely expected to be returned to power. To oppose them a rainbow coalition of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Green Party is being mooted.

The Republic of Ireland is a representative democracy. The country is divided into 42 multi-seat constituencies (Dublin Mid-West is the one newly created constituency). The single transferrable vote system is used ensuring, insofar as possible, that every vote counts. This system of voting may seem Byzantine to the uniniated. To others it adds an element of suspense as the seventh preferences are redistributed or we await the results of the fifth recount days later.

The composition of the outgoing Parliament is as follows

  1. Fianna Fáil (conservative, populist, republican) 74
  2. Fine Gael (Christian democratic) 54
  3. Labour Party (Social democratic) 21
  4. Progressive Democrats (liberal, tax-cutting) 4
  5. Green Pary / Comhaontas Glas (ecologically-minded) 2
  6. Socialist Party (Marxist/Trokskyite) 1
  7. Sinn Féin (republican, left-wing) 1
  8. Independents (mainly aligned with Fianna Fail) 9
The outgoing coalition government comprised Fianna Fáil, the PDs and a smattering of Independents to make up the balance (83 seats needed for a majority). The only TD certain of making it to the 29th Dáil is Séamus Pattison (Labour) who is the Ceann Comhairle (Speaker/Chairperson of the house).

Party by Party analysis

Fianna Fáil
Most commentators predict that Fianna Fáil will return to government. They may even come close to that holy grail, an overall majority. Fianna Fáil's main asset is Bertie Ahern, the current Taoiseach. He exudes and easy going, Clintonesque charm. However, the party is widely perceived to be 'ethically challenged'. Six Fianna Fáil TDs (member of parliament) have been investigated over allegations of sleaze (mainly tax evasion). Ireland has enjoyed unprecedented economic growth over the last five years. Fianna Fáil will hope they can bask in the warm glow of prosperity and be voted in on a promise of more of the same. They propose the establishment of a 'National Finance Development Agency' to manage various transport and health infrastructure projects.

Fine Gael
Michael Noonan, the party leader, does not have the popular touch of Bertie. However, he does have a sound grasp of economic issues having been finance minister in a previous administration. Fine Gael are promising to crack down on crime. Crime has become an issue in recent months following an increase in the number of violent incidents, particularly in urban centers. The death of two gardaí caused by young car theives slamming into their patrol car, sparked a debate on the issue of juvenile crime. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail emerged from opposing sides of the Irish Civil War. This event has faded sufficiently into history for one senior Fine Gael member to suggest a coalition with Fianna Fáil (to prevent Sinn Féin getting into power). Such a coalition is, at present, unlikely. Memorable proposals in their manifesto include a new 30% middle tax band and the handing back of any 'exceptional' surpluses to the people in the form of government bonds.

Labour Party
The beard is the only vestige of Marxism remaining in Ruarí Quinn, Labour leader. The party is in the center and a bit to the left. The party maintains strong trade union links and merged with the more lefty Democratic Left following the 1997 election. The health service in Ireland is seriously overstretched in some areas. Labour are promising a tax-and-spend solution.

Progressive Democrats
Leader Mary Harney wishes to double number of PD seats but, in truth, their prospects are grim following party stalwart Bobby Molloy's shock resignation. Mr. Molloy had always seemed a figure of integrity and had served in the Dáil since the sixties. Then it emerged he acted on behalf of the sister of a convicted rapist by asking an aide to call the judge who presided over the case. It is unlikely that the PDs will retain his Galway West seat. The PDs appeal to the nouveau-riche of the Celtic Tiger by promising low taxes. They also oppose the so called 'Bertie Bowl' or Stadium Ireland so jeopardising the votes of the soccer mad. The party's 'big idea' is the privatisation of some state utilities including the ESB (electicity supply board). This, they argue, would generate a large windfall for the government and facilitate tax-cutting.

Green Party / Comhaontas Glas
The accumulation of plastic bag mountains in Irish homes has ameliorated by the introduction of charges . This populist, but effective, environmental meaure by the outgoing Government may be an indication that they respect the Green vote. A million postcards have been sent to British Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him to shut Sellafield. Whether the Green Party can capitalise on this anti-nuclear mood may become apparent as the campaign progresses.

Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin's links to the IRA, indeed their refusal to recognise the validity of the Irish Free State, has historically had the effect of severely limiting their electoral chances. However, this time they (in the person of Martin Ferris) threaten to gain a seat in Kerry North . Ferris denies accusations that he has been involved in the punishment beatings of suspected drug dealers. Fianna Fáil has bestowed largesse upon the area in recent months, it is thought by cynics, to ensure Ferris does not get elected. Sinn Féin will not be helped by the Colombian connection but ,nevertheless, may pick up a significant vote in deprived urban constituencies where people feel marginalised by mainstream political parties.

Following the election, the horse-trading and the coalition-forming, the new Dail will convene on June 6, 2002. So as the Sultans of Ping would sing 'I like your manifesto, put it to the testo'.


This election campaign has been fairly dull so far. Tonight (14/5/02) its the televised head-to-head, Bertie vs Noonan. Its a last chance for Fine Gael to win back some floating voters. Fianna Fáil are, according to some opinion polls, close to forming the first single party government since 1977.

For full results and analysis, read the w/u that follows.