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Ireland - Politics

Irish politics remain dominated by the two political parties that grew out of Ireland's bitter 1922-23 civil war. Fianna Fail was formed by those who opposed the 1921 treaty that partitioned the island. Although treaty opponents lost the civil war, Fianna Fail soon became Ireland's largest political party. Fine Gael, representative of the pro-treaty forces, remains the country's second-largest party.

By the 1990s, however, there were signs that this largely two-party structure was evolving. Mary Robinson of the Labour Party shocked the political establishment by winning the 1990 presidential election. Articulating a progressive agenda for Ireland's future and outspoken on social issues, Robinson represented a distinct break from the traditional politics of the two major parties. The November 1992 general election confirmed this trend. The two main parties lost ground as the Labour Party scored an historic breakthrough, winning 19% of the vote and 33 seats in the House. As a result of the election, Labour held the balance of power between the two largest parties and initially chose to go into coalition with Fianna Fail. That government collapsed in November 1994, and Labour again demonstrated its new role when it dictated the terms of a new "rainbow" government coalition with Fine Gael and the Democratic Left.

The year 1997, however, saw a return to a more traditional model. In the June general election, Labour lost heavily and was reduced to 18 seats in the Dail. Though Fianna Fail did not win an outright majority, it increased its seats to 76 (currently 75) and was able to form a coalition with the much smaller (4 seats) Progressive Democrats. Fine Gael also picked up seats but was unable to form a coalition with the much-reduced Labour party. In the November 1997 presidential election, Fianna Fail candidate Mary McAleese, a lawyer from Northern Ireland, won a record victory over four other candidates.

As a result of the 1997 elections, a minority government led by Taoiseach (prime minister) Bertie Ahern of Fianna Fail took office. Mary Harney, who heads the Progressive Democrats Party, serves as the Tanaiste (deputy prime minister, pronounced "TAW-nish-tuh") and Minister for Enterprise, Employment, and Trade. The coalition relies on the support of four independent members to give it a governing majority. In 1999, the Labour Party absorbed the smaller party of the Democratic Left, bringing its total number of seats in the Dail to 21.

Since coming to power, the government of Prime Minister Ahern presided over a strong economy. Ireland boasts the highest growth rate of any country in the OECD, low unemployment, and a surplus in the country's finances. However, the "Celtic Tiger's" inflation rate has edged up over the past year. To address this concern, Prime Minister Ahern has pledged action to curb inflation and, thereby, sustain sound economic growth. On the diplomatic front, the government has played a key role in brokering a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, in bolstering Ireland's role in the European Union, and in leading Ireland to join NATO's Partnership for Peace in 1999.

The May 2002 national elections returned Fianna Fail and its coalition partner, the Progressive Democrats, to power. Fianna Fail increased its seats in the Dail to 81 while the Progressive Democrats doubled their representation to 8 seats. Fine Gael lost a total of 23 seats, primarily to a number of smaller parties and independents. Sinn Fein increased its representation in the Dail from 1 to 5 seats in the May 17 election. Prime Minister Ahern was re-elected Taoiseach on June 6, and organized the government with very few changes in the ministerial appointments; Mary Harney remained Tanaiste.

Local and European elections took place in June 2004 and saw gains for opposition parties. The election also featured a referendum on citizenship. Until that time, Ireland had granted citizenship on the basis of birth on Irish soil. Concerns about security and social welfare abuse prompted the government to seek to bring citizenship laws in line with the more restrictive policies prevalent in the rest of Europe, and the 2004 referendum measure passed by a wide majority. Now, persons with non-Irish parents can acquire Irish citizenship at birth only if at least one parent has been resident in Ireland for three years preceding the birth.

The May 2007 national elections brought the Fianna Fail party and its leader Bertie Ahern back to power in a coalition government for an unprecedented third five-year term. Coalition members joining Fianna Fail were the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats. The Mahon Tribunal was investigating allegations of corruption against the PM when he was Minister of Finance in the early 1990s. However, the PM has not suffered politically -- the coalition remains intact and in September 2007, he survived a vote of no confidence on the issue. Ahern appointed Finance Minister Brian Cowen Deputy Prime Minister (Tanaiste). The Foreign Minister was Dermot Ahern (no relation to the Taoiseach).

On April 2, 2008 Prime Minister Ahern announced his intention to resign as leader of Fianna Fail and Taoiseach on May 6, stating, in part, that the Mahon Tribunal investigation into corruption charges against him was distracting the government from its business. The Taoiseach's bombshell announcement caught Ireland by surprise. There were many kind words for Ahern's accomplishments, particularly regarding the Irish role in the Northern Ireland peace process and Ireland's "Celtic Tiger" economic growth.

Finance Minister Brian Cowen was elected leader of Fianna Fail on April 5, and assumed office on May 6. He was elected Taoiseach on May 7. Cowen appointed Mary Coughlan, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment as Tanaiste. The Foreign Minister is Micheal Martin. While Cowen's Cabinet changes were more extensive than expected, members of the previous Cabinet have been largely shuffled around rather than moved out. Fianna Fail's coalition partnership remains solid; Fianna Fail's indispensable Green Party and Progressive Democrats coalition Ministers were retained.

By mid 2009 the Fianna Fail/Green Party coalition recorded the lowest satisfaction rating of any Irish government since polling began in the early 1980s. According to a 29 May 2009 Irish Times poll, only 12 percent of those polled were satisfied with the government. Support for Fine Gael, the main opposition party, was at 36 percent. Fianna Fail's support stood at 20 percent. The Green Party's support was three percent. Prime Minister Brian Cowen's approval rating was 21 percent. The coalition still held a majority of four seats, but with the Greens holding six and the Independents holding five, a defection by either group could bring down the government. The Labour Party's support of 23 percent was particularly significant because Fianna Fail -- for the first time in the Republic's 87 history -- was the third most popular party.

On October 29th, 2011 Irish poet and human rights activist Michael Higgins was elected Ireland's president for the next seven years. Election officials said that Mr. Higgins won nearly 57 percent of the vote in the final count. The 70-year-old former culture minister for the Labor Party defeated independent businessman and reality television celebrity Sean Gallagher, and Sinn Fein's candidate, former IRA commander Martin McGuinness. The Irish president wields no government power beyond the ability to refer potentially unconstitutional legislation to Ireland's Supreme Court.

The longtime leading party, Fianna Fail, was trounced in the February 25, 2011 elections by Kenny's Fine Gael party and the second-place Labor party. The Family of the Irish / Fine Gael led by Enda KENNY won 76 seats, and the Labour Party / Pirt an Lucht Oibre, led by Eamon GILMORE, won 37 seats. The Soldiers of Destiny The Republican Party / Fianna Fil An Pirt Poblachtnach, led by Michel MARTIN won only 20 seats, Sinn Fin, led by Gerry ADAMS, won 14 seats, and the Green Party / Comhaontas Glas, led by John GORMLEY, won no seats. Irish voters were angry that the preceding government sought a bailout from the EU and IMF after the Irish economy collapsed during the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. Under terms of the loan, the government must slash spending and civil service salaries.

Ireland's new parliament elected Enda Kenny as prime minister on March 08, 2011 , with a mandate to renegotiate an unpopular bailout package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The vote came just days after the country's two largest political parties agreed to form a coalition government that will have an overwhelming majority in the lower house of parliament.

Parliamentary elections were held 27 Feruary 2016. Ireland has a bicameral Parliament (Oireachtas) that consists of the Senate (Seanad ireann) with 60 seats and the Parliament (Dail ireann) with 166 seats. All 158 members of Dail ireann are directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by single-transferable vote to 5-year terms. The district magnitude of constituencies ranges from 3 to 5.

People clearly decided not to re-elect the Government. The ruling coalition appears to have been hit by a backlash against years of austerity and lack of benefit for the country's poor. Prime Minister Enda Kenny said "Clearly the government of Fine Gael and Labour are not going to be returned to office and obviously one has to wait now until all the counts are in right across the country to see what the options that must be considered are."

The indications were that Fianna Fil, Sinn Fin, Independents and smaller parties made major gains. Both Government parties were set to lose a significant number of seats. It would not be easy to form a new government. The outgoing Fine Gael-Labour coalition was elected in 2011 on a landslide with the biggest parliamentary majority ever.

Early official results suggested that center-right Fine Gael would remain the largest party in Parliament with 26 percent of the vote, followed by center-right Fianna Fail with 23 percent. Fianna Fil was on track to win more than double its number of seats. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail had enjoyed a duopoly for more than 80 years, swapping power for generations.

Bitter rivals, both parties evolved out of Irelands bitter civil war, and outsiders have difficulty discerning the differences between them. Fine Gael's predecessors, including their hero Michael Collins, accepted the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty that partitioned Ireland into two states. Fianna Fail founder Eamon de Valera, who was president of the Irish republic, opposed the partition of Ireland, and resigned as president and led the anti-treaty side in a bitter civil war against the government of the new Free State.

Fine Gael blames the precursors of Fianna Fail for the assassination of Michael Collins, while Fianna Fail blames Fine Gael for executing scores of its civil war prisoners. Fine Gael is now centre-right in economic policy, strongly pro-European and increasingly socially liberal. Fianna Fil, who went to become the most successful political force in post-independence Irish history, is economically centrist and often populist.

One of the iron rules of the country's politics was: Fine Gael and Fianna Fail could never form a coalition together. A grand coalition between the two civil war adversaries, with a rotating Taoiseach, would the only viable way to break the deadlock. But a Fine Gael - Fianna Fil coalition would see Sinn Fin in opposition, which would virtually guarantee the continued rise of that partys popularity.

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny hosted round table discussions with Independents and smaller parties with a view to forming a minority coalition government. Fine Gael indicated it was open to dropping its election pledge of entirely abolishing the Universal Social Charge (USC) in negotiations to form a such government.

On 13 June 2017 Leo Varadkar became the first European prime minister to claim south Asian heritage, Ireland's youngest ever Taoiseach (prime minister), and the youngest ever prime minister of an EU member since the bloc's foundation. Varadkar made history when he disclosed his sexuality in a 2015 radio interview. In doing so, he became the first openly gay person to serve in Ireland's cabinet. Before the current campaign there was a wide assumption (one still held internationally) that a man of Varadkar's demographic - gay, mixed-race, the son of an immigrant - would lean liberally on social issues. As his record was under wider scrutiny, and many of liberal voters emerged disappointed. Journalist Fintan OToole describes Varadkars tendency to talk about political issues, even ones within his own remit, as if he were commenting from the outside on abstract propositions.

A vote of no confidence in Deputy Prime Minister Frances Fitzgerald meant that the republic could be heading for fresh elections in the coming weeks as the country's minority government crumbles. Fresh elections would leave Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in an extremely weak position during the summit, increasing the threat of a hard border with Northern Ireland. Micheal Martin, the head of opposition party Fianna Fail, said he filed the no-confidence motion in Deputy Prime Minister Frances Fitzgerald, a member of the Fine Gael party that heads the government, over the handling of a legal case against a police whistleblower when she was justice minister in the previous government. The minority government of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar relied on support from Fianna Fail to govern. The no-confidence vote set for 28 November 2017 could lead to elections in December or January unless Fitzgerald resigned.

Michael D Higgins was inaugurated as President of Ireland on 11 November 2011, meaning his seven year term would come to an end on 11 November 2018. If there would be an election in 2018 it must be held within 60 days of that date so the earliest would be in mid-September. President Higgins had yet to declare whether he intends running for a second term by late 2017. Michael D has said hes not going to announce whether hell run for the presidency until September 2018. So we could have a scenario whereby we have one or more declared candidates, and an incumbent office-holder who still hasnt told voters his intentions.

Almost two-thirds of voters (64%) said they would like President Higgins to remain in office in an October 2017 poll. Hes widely regarded as a good ambassador for the country, and handles State occasions well. If he opted to go for a second term, Higgins may scare off potential candidates who might otherwise throw their hat in the ring. He was unlikely to get involved in the nitty-gritty of campaigning.

As Irish politics has become increasingly fragmented post the recession, councillors have flexed their muscles and availed of their nomination power The trend towards larger fields of candidates in modern presidential elections is explained by the increased willingness of county councils to bestow a nomination on prospective candidates.

The electorate on 27 October 2018 had a choice of six candidates for President (Peter Casey, Gavan Duffy, Joan Freeman, Sean Gallagher, Michael D. Higgins and Liadh Ni Riada) on the ballot paper. However, in terms of candidate numbers, this is not Irelands most competitive presidential election. This distinction belongs to 2011 when there were seven candidates were on the ballot paper. In 1997, five candidates were on the ballot paper. Prior to this, the most candidates on a presidential ballot paper was three, in both 1945 and 1990.

Eamon de Valera held the distinction of being the only president in the history of the office to have won two terms at the ballot box. Higgins was on course to share this distinction. An RT News exit poll suggested Michael D Higgins was on course to be re-elected President with 58% of first preference votes. Higgins was elected for a second term as President of Ireland, with a total of 822,566 votes (55.8%). The exit poll also suggested that businessman Peter Casey will get 20.7% of the first preference vote. It suggested 6.3% for Senator Joan Freeman. Sen Gallaghers support collapsed in 2011 he received 28.5% of the first preference vote. The RT exit poll put him at 5.5.%.

It was a disastrous election for Sinn Fin. In the previous general and presidential elections Sinn Fin had consistently been building its support which had plateaued at around 15%. However, the RT exit poll put Liadh N Riada on 7.4%. That was a serious blow and one that the party leader, Mary Lou MacDonald would have to take full responsibility for.

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