Fine Gael-Labour coalition to follow Irish election win with EU talks on loan

Record majority of more than 50 seats expected for Fine Gael-Labour coalition in ‘democratic revolution at ballot box’

Henry McDonald
in Dublin
Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny will face a string of gruelling EU summits within days of taking office. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

One of the most dramatic elections in Irish history is expected to produce a record majority of more than 50 seats in the Dáil for a Fine Gael-Labour coalition.
Enda Kenny, the Fine Gael leader, has pledged that one of his first acts as prime minister will be to seek a lower interest rate on loans to Ireland to shore up its banking system and keep public services running. Fine Gael strategists believe that a stable coalition with Labour will signal to other EU states that the Irish people want a renegotiation of the bailout deal.
Kenny will go to a European summit next month when the terms of the bailout and a rescue package for debt-ridden nations in the EU will be hammered out.
The Fine Gael leader said his party’s performance marked “a democratic revolution at the ballot box” for Ireland.
He promised an inquiry into the behaviour of the country’s banks and their role in overheating the property market, which in turn tipped Ireland into a deep recession. Voters clearly believed the last government failed to regulate the banks, bailing them out instead with billions of taxpayers’ euros without conditions that would have seen an increase in credit to customers.
Kenny said the inquiry would include an investigation into the events of autumn 2008, when the Fianna Fáil-led government saved several high-street Irish banks from collapse.
“In respect of the banking inquiry, whatever has to be done, make the truth known to the people. We’re going to find out what went on, what decisions were made and the way they were made and to that to the Irish people,” Kenny said.The Fine Gael leader’s historic triumph – the largest majority since independence – was in sharp contrast to the fortunes of Fianna Fáil. The party, founded by Eamon de Valera, lost up to 60 seats and has only one in Dublin, the key electoral battleground of any Irish election. Voters blamed the party for the outgoing government’s handling of the €80bn bailout by the International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.
Sinn Féin gained 14 seats with less than 10% of the vote. The party’s president, Gerry Adams, topped the poll in the Louth constituency with more than 15,000 first preference votes. Sinn Féin also won its first ever seat in Cork city in modern times. Adams said Sinn Féin received a surge in support because “the state is in a complete crisis. There needs to be a total realignment of politics.”
Fianna Fáil’s leader, Micheal Martin, said the party accepted the people had punished it for Ireland’s economic ills. “Fianna Fáil will survive, of that I am sure,” Martin said in his native Cork, where he topped the poll in his constituency.
Despite Martin’s confidence that he can restore the party’s fortunes, Fianna Fáil suffered more humiliation on a second day of counting across Ireland. Its deputy leader and former cabinet minister, Mary Hanafin, lost her seat in the Dun Laoghaire and Rathdown constituency to the leftwing candidate Richard Boyd-Barrett from the United Left Alliance.
The main beneficiary of Fianna Fáil’s almost complete collapse in Dublin was the Labour party, which enjoyed its best ever general election. The only Fianna Fáil candidate in the capital to be returned to the Dáil was the country’s last finance minister, Brian Lenihan.
Labour’s leader, Eamon Gilmore, strongly indicated that his party was ready to enter into a coalition agreement with Fine Gael. Gilmore said he was confident he could find a common programme with Kenny, but said it was up to Fine Gael to take the initiative.

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