Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 29 November 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: All eyes on Republic after election results

The Irish election has been truly historic, with winners and losers on a massive scale. There have been record successes for Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein, and a massive defeat for the outgoing coalition partners Fianna Fail and the Green Party.

Although the broad results were forecast by opinion polls, seasoned political observers and people across the country are still coming to terms with the new political map in the Republic.

The Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny earlier withstood considerable internal opposition to lead his party to this significant victory. In doing so he showed qualities of steel which he will need to bring the country out of its current financial morass.

Mr Kenny may look to Labour as his coalition partners, or rely on a number of the large and very mixed group of the new independents who have been elected.

Important European meetings are looming and Kenny has already indicated there is no time to be lost. Much will focus on the new government's attempt to renegotiate the terms of the IMF bailout, and this may not be as simple as many believe.

Meanwhile, the Green Party had a disastrous election, and their time in coalition with Fianna Fail may have been a footnote, and nothing more. That cannot be said of Fianna Fail, despite the worst election in their history.

The voters punished the party as the chief architects of the financial disaster. Its leader Micheal Martin has a major task to restore morale, but Fianna Fail has decades of grass-roots support, and it will undoubtedly live to fight another day. The rebuilding, however may take years, and will require a different mindset in a country where the old civil war politics has changed for ever.

Sinn Fein, by contrast, polled well and will provide a strong opposition. Gerry Adams has topped the poll in his new constituency and he may prove to be a formidable spokesman in the Dail.

Sinn Fein is clearly achieving part of its long-term strategy as a party of influence North and South with representation in both seats of power. With the exception of Caitriona Ruane, the Sinn Fein ministers have performed reasonably well at Stormont.

Whether or not this election will have given Sinn Fein the impetus to sustain an important bridgehead in all-Ireland politics remains to be seen, but events across the border will be closely monitored in the North. A financially healthy Republic would be in everyone's interests, but even more important in the North and elsewhere is the continuing reality that democracy remains steadfastly more powerful than violence.

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