Reflecting on the Election That Was

The Irish general election has been and gone (it was held on Saturday February the 8th) and its result has prompted words such as ‘seismic’, ‘revolutionary’ and ‘game-changing’ to be extensively bandied about in the media. The traditional centre-right duopoly that has dominated Irish politics for decades has been broken, as the left-wing, nationalist Sinn Féin has achieved an unprecedented level of success. Voters’ anger over the ‘two-tier’ economy that has taken root in Irish society has boiled over. Whatever happens next, there is a widespread sense that the glorification of an economic model that favours corporations and big business (while vast swathes of the population cannot afford adequate housing or healthcare) will no longer be tolerated. The assumption that either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael must be involved in whatever future government is formed can no longer be taken for granted.

It has been fascinating to watch politicians of all hues reacting to this drastic shift in Ireland’s traditional power structure. I have taken note of winning candidates who took the time to acknowledge the disappointment felt by people who lost their seats, and who have accepted their own seats with a sense of humility and honour. I have felt a great sense of respect for departing TDs who graciously accepted that people in their constituencies had every right to change their minds about them, and to seek a change in governance. These candidates fully honoured people’s right to self-determination, without occupying a position of victimhood or implying that the electorate was stupid for not holding exactly the same opinion as them (a pattern I have noticed among certain political figures, angered that things did not go their way).

The politicians whose conduct has impressed me the most are those who have been magnanimous in victory and gracious in defeat. 🌸 You can disagree with the minutiae of someone’s economic policy without denigrating them on a personal level.

At this point in time, it seems likely that Sinn Féin will be involved in the next government. I hope the party understands that they have been given an opportunity to prove that they are worthy of people’s trust. They have been challenged to demonstrate that they can deliver on their promises, and if they don’t measure up to that challenge, people are fully entitled to withdraw that trust. When I saw one Sinn Féin candidate responding to his election by shouting about the IRA, it felt like a mark of disrespect towards many people who had to set aside their misgivings about the party’s history in order to give them a chance. I never expect any political party to be perfect – there will always be people within any group whose behaviour doesn’t reflect well on that group – but I hope that overall, Sinn Féin are able to approach the challenge that has been handed to them with grace and integrity.

The party leader, Mary Lou McDonald, lives in my local constituency. I voted for her because I was impressed by her personal conduct over the course of the campaign, and I believe that of the three likely options for Ireland’s next Taoiseach – Mary Lou, Mícheál Martin or Leo Varadkar – I would most like to see her in that position. The 33rd Dáil will have fewer female TDs than the last one. I never automatically assume that women are going to be more progressive than men – over the years, the divisive and reactionary policies of some women in the Irish political scene have given me cause for concern – but the overall dip in female representation has saddened me.

There are signs of hope with these results – signs that the country may begin to move towards equality – but I’m not necessarily jumping up and down with excitement just yet. 😉 Much remains to be seen!


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