Fianna Fáil trounced as Fine Gael and Labour set to form coalition


Enda Kenny set to be new Taoiseach as financial crisis pushes ruling elite into fourth place in Ireland’s general election

Henry McDonald
Cowen Confidence Vote
Brian Cowen, Ireland’s prime minister and former leader of the Fianna Fail party, has suffered an humiliatign defeat. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ireland’s next government will be a coalition between Fine Gael and Labour, it has emerged, as initial results from the general election indicated a crushing defeat for the main ruling party, Fianna Fáil, and the best electoral performance from centre-right opposition party Fine Gael since 1982.
Richard Bruton, enterprise spokesman for Fine Gael who will be on the incoming government’s front bench, told the Observer that, despite its successes at the polls, the party was heading towards a power-sharing arrangement after Labour made impressive gains in the capital, Dublin.
Asked about the prospect of coalition with Labour, Bruton said: “Yes, I think that is the likely outcome. I know that there was a brief flirtation with the idea of an overall majority. I certainly see that the public didn’t want that. If it ever was likely, it is not happening now.”
In an election dominated by fear and anger over the financial implosion that led to an €80bn bailout by the European Union and International Monetary Fund, Ireland’s once most successful political party Fianna Fáil suffered a historic and devastating defeat, with its support estimated at only 15%. Just months after agreeing to the bank bailout it was on course to be beaten into fourth place by a slew of independent candidates – its worst performance since Eamon De Valera founded it in the 1920s.
The disaster engulfing the party, until last month led by the outgoing Taoiseach Brian Cowen, is far greater than the Tories sustained in the 1997 Blair landslide and marks a sea change in Irish politics. For seven decades Fianna Fáil has been the dominant force in Irish political life and had enjoyed 14 years of unbroken rule until this humiliating general election result.
Meanwhile, support for Sinn Féin was projected to have reached a record 10% in an RTE exit poll, with Gerry Adams, the party president, on course to be elected in the border constituency of Louth.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny is set to be prime minister and will be tasked with persuading his fellow European leaders that the interest rates charged on loans to Ireland should be lowered to prevent the Republic from defaulting.
Bruton issued an appeal to fellow EU nations to “cut Ireland some slack” in a crucial summit next month at which Europe will discuss Ireland and other debt-ridden nations’ finances.
“There is no interest in Europe jeopardising the very genuine efforts the Irish people are willing to make to correct our economic problems. If Europe just loads up the camel too much the camel will collapse,” he said.
One of the first candidates to be elected was in the politically significant constituency of Dublin Central – the home stronghold of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. In the last general election four years ago Ahern topped the poll with a huge surplus and his transfers under proportional representation brought another Fianna Fáil colleague into the Dail alongside him.
But this time around, and for the first time in 14 years, Fine Gael not only won a seat but topped the poll in Dublin Central. Speaking outside the Royal Dublin Society counting centre in Dublin, Fine Gael’s newly elected TD for the area, Paschal Donohoe, said: “It is a great honour and I am very humbled with the support the people have given me. Now it’s time to rebuild the country and restore the nation’s reputation.”

    Donohoe said he believed the resurrection of Fine Gael demonstrated the people of Dublin and the whole of Ireland “desired stability above all else”.

    The scale of the Fianna Fáil losses across the country were so great that for the first time in history an outgoing deputy prime minister, Mary Coughlan, was on the verge of losing her seat.

    Coughlan’s outgoing ministerial colleague Mary Hanafin was also facing the prospect being unseated in her Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown constituency.

    The election also saw the end of one of the famous Irish political dynasties with the son of the late Taoiseach Charles J Haughey set to lose his Dail seat in Dublin North Central.

    According to an RTE exit poll published yesterday morning, Fine Gael took 36.1% of the vote, with Labour coming second with 20.5%.

    Independents and others got 15.5% of the vote – a high figure which was thought to have pushed Fianna Fail into fourth place. Where those independent votes are transferred could be crucial to the final outcome of counts across 43 constituencies.

    The last RTE exit poll in 2007 proved to be 99% accurate when compared to the actual number of votes cast.

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