The aim of this book is to assess the quarter century of political competition in the Republic of Ireland from the time of the ending of recession of the 1980s up to the 2011 general election where Ireland was ruled by the Troika and austerity was a by-word for both policy making and how many people lived their lives. This book assesses in a thematic way the forces which shaped the decisions that political elites in Ireland took over the course of this crucial quarter century in modern Irish life. It examines the nature of electoral competition in modern Ireland by focusing on a number of key themes that shaped the decisions of Irish politicians. These include the nature of coalition politics in Ireland; the payments to politicians by developers and businessmen that led to a number of tribunals of inquiry; the culture wars over divorce and abortion; the process of the economic collapse to boom and back to collapse cycle that effected the lives of so many Irish people; and the collapse of Ireland’s natural party of government, Fianna Fáil. It analyses why Irish citizens have been comfortable in continuing to vote for traditional political elites despite the failures of the Irish state and explains why it has been so difficult for new parties to emerge.
Chapter five focuses on the reasons for the political success of Fianna Fáil and the PDs. Pursuing generally neoliberal economic policies which had low corporate and personal levels of taxation at their core this coalition government oversaw an Irish economy which reported spectacular levels of economic success on a whole range of indices. Public spending by government remained high and was imitated by levels of personal spending by an electorate slightly dumbstruck with new found wealth. The ultimate result was that Fianna Fáil was re-elected for a third time in 2007 amidst warnings from some quarters of an impending economic crash, which were dismissed by all parties. Economic boom seemed to presage perpetual Fianna Fáil government and this chapter examines the conditions that would ultimately lead to the political hubris which in no small way contributed to the collapse of the Irish economy and the fracturing of the Irish state.
Chapter six focuses on the Fianna Fáil led government’s attempts to fix the economy and stave off political collapse. The property crash and the failure of the banking system brought with a savage economic crisis. Most of the government’s plans were based around implementing austerity measures to ease Ireland’s colossal debt crisis which magnified significantly once the private debt of the banks became the public debt of the state. They all failed. The economic mayhem in Ireland caused by the greed and recklessness of bankers and property developers alike ended up decimating but not killing off Fianna Fáil. The shambolic nature in which the Fianna Fáil Green coalition collapsed is discussed in this chapter as is the election result itself which saw the Irish people revert back to the traditional and comfortable alternative of Fine Gael and Labour.
The conclusion shows how despite much change Ireland stll remains a state wherein political continuity remains an important theme within Irish life. This is best exemplified by the fact that Fianna Fáil despite presiding over the economic collapse and the ending of Irish economic sovereignty managed to gain the largest amount of votes at the 2014 loal elections. It outlines various reform scenarios and shows how difficult it is for new political options to emerge.
Chapter two examines the politics of coalition. The minority Fianna Fáil government fell in April 1989 when it lost a vote in the Dáil on the issue of providing additional funding to haemophiliacs suffering from the Aids virus. Although that government had lost six other Dáil votes the Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey decided that his government could not be held to ransom on issues of money and finance. The election of June 1989 had far reaching consequences for the Irish party system and Irish politics in general when Fianna Fáil having failed to convince the people to give it an overall majority ultimately went into coalition with the Progressive Democrats and so ended one of Fianna Fáil’s core values; that of single party government. This chapter analyses the politics of recession, the presidential election of 1990 and the eventual resignation of Charles Haughey
Chapter three examines Fianna Fáil’s difficulties with coalition and assesses its governments with first the PDs and later the Labour party. It examines the formation and collapse of both governments and the establishment of the Rainbow coalition of Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left from 1994 to 1997. It analyses the Beef Tribunal report and discusses the political consequences of this tortuous affair. It assesses the Rainbow coalition government’s difficulties with issues of morality and corruption by discussing the Divorce referendum of 1995 and the beginning of the period of tribunals in Irish life.
Chapter four examines the tribunals of inquiry that co-existed uneasily with the electorally successful governments of Fianna Fáil and the PDs from 1997. Fianna Fáil and the PDs managed to unseat the then rainbow coalition governing in the 1997 general election and were decisively re-elected in 2002 where Fianna Fáil nearly won an overall majority. Yet the tribunal of inquiries into payments to politicians and into the planning process in Dublin both of which only finished in 2010 would haunt the political class throughout this period. While the evidence of the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to the Mahon tribunal on planning brought his in many ways successful career to a shuddering end the wider consequences for political life in Ireland were relatively inconsequential. In that context this chapter examines the various tribunals of inquiry that stalked the Irish political landscape for practically two decades and assesses the impact they had for Irish politics and society in that period.
The introduction sets the scene and argument of the book. It begins by describing how the Irish people in 2011 elected a government of Fine Gael and Labour who themselves had presided over a severe recession in the 1980s leading to their rejection by the people in the 1987 general election. It shows how decision made by Irish politicians and voters alike resulted in the boom to bust scenario that characterised Irish politics since 1987. In that context the introduction sets out how this is a book which seeks to explain how political agency and clientelist relationships in modern Ireland have shaped political competition within the Irish state
This chapter assesses the crises of the 1980s. Throughout the mid-1980s Ireland went through a ruinous recession which saw unemployment and emigration reach levels not seen since the 1950s. The Fine Gael Labour government of 1982-87 unable to get a handle on either problem eventually came to an end when Labour withdrew from office forcing an election in February 1987 in which both parties performed poorly. Falling just two seats short of an overall majority Fianna Fáil were the largest party and embarked on a political journey which aimed to restore the state’s financial position by promoting a twin pronged approach of social partnership and foreign direct investment. This chapter assesses the Ireland of 1987, examines the general election of that year and analyses the birth of the process of social partnership widely seen as being the launchpad for two decades of macro-economic stability which provided the conditions for economic success in Ireland. It also assesses the complex relationship between the state and its citizens regarding the moral questions of abortion and divorce that convulsed Irish society in the 1980s leading to a number of deeply divisive referendums.