Irish Voters Cast Off Relic of Entrenched 2-Party System

In a landmark election, Sinn Fein won a seat at the table, though tortuous coalition negotiations will determine who will lead the next government.

Comments: 35

  1. If only the United States could see things more like the Irish.

  2. @Andy It's unfortunate that we don't have an actual "left-wing" party in mainstream American politics. We're stuck with the right-wing neoliberal Democrats and the far-right reactionary Republicans, both of whom are adamantly opposed to making serious changes to the status quo. I'm so sick of hearing people use "socialism" and "socialized medicine" as dirty words. This idea that something as common and mainstream as single-payer healthcare is "socialistic" is completely preposterous.

  3. If Ireland, why not the US? Hope abides...

  4. @HapinOregon Why not the US? Principally because Ireland has a multi-seat proportional representation voting system, while the US system (for most elected offices, as far as I know) is more like "first past the post". The "first past the post" system (as in the UK) tends to produce "landslide" results and squeezes out all but the biggest 2 parties. A PR voting system tends to favor more centrist candidates, since even if a voter won't give you their 1st preference, a 2nd, 3rd, or lower preference is still worth getting (and canvassing for). IMHO, PR works really well. It produces parliaments that are indeed highly representative. Even the long and tortuous paper-based manual counting process has been kept in preference to electronic voting, since it (a) is fully transparent, (b) has lots of drama and entertainment value, (c) provides an education in the whole democratic process, and (d) even tends to cushion the blow for losing candidates.

  5. @Enda O'Brien I actually agree with PR voting, an your comments. And, I think, the US is inching its way in that direction. My "If Ireland, why not the US?" was meant as a rhetorical question...

  6. Great to see Ireland's "ossified political hierarchy" upended. About time some fresh air cleanses the government. I think that this vote along with Brexit will provide additional momentum to reunification. After all, Boris Johnson sold NI down the proverbial river with his pathetic agreement to the Irish Sea "border."

  7. @Tortuga I cant wait for the argument about the hard border that Britain wants to place in northern Ireland.

  8. Two party systems are not working anywhere. I think multi party democracy is the way to go.

  9. What was the goal of the Good Friday accord? To get the warring factions who relied on violence to bring change to the country to abandon their weapons and commit to the democratic process. And except for some die hard holdouts that is exactly what Sinn Fein has done. You can't invite Sinn Fein into the political process and then be shocked that they may, at times, attain power.

  10. @KJ Peters The Good Friday Accord disentangled the political and criminal elements from each other.

  11. While the Irish election is a big deal, it's still in process, thus too early to tell whether Sinn Fein has "won a seat at the table." What is clear is that the outcome surprised everyone, even Sinn Fein, which only ran candidates for about 40% of the seats.

  12. Change is good!

  13. Slan go foill Leo, bhi tu go hiontach

  14. Up the Ra from a yank. Gramps is smiling.

  15. This seems to be a really good thing for Ireland even though Sinn Fein won't be able to wave a magic wand and fix things like housing costs all at once in places like Dublin that are expensive because the country is so strong economically including on the international stage. That strength is partially due to the policies of the long standing leaders of Ireland so they deserve credit for that. The Prime Minister also deserves credit for a strong Brexit agreement that will save Ireland big headaches in the future. Having some new ideas is very healthy though. The peace accords seem to be working for the most part especially in light of the newly reconstituted assembly sharing power in Northern Ireland. Given that, and given actions in recent years by people such as Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein was going to deserve an opportunity like this at some point. Mostly, the Emerald Isle has lately been a progressive beacon of hope and reconciliation for other places in the world. On balance this election presents another opportunity for progress. I wish the Irish people all success.

  16. Out of the wreckage of the Old Order, slowly, fitfully, the future emerges. Taiwan and Hong Kong today value independence and freedom more than Americans. In Canada, a progressive center holds. In Northern Europe, Green parties provide a counterweight to the Nazis. And in Ireland, a progressive party who wants a united country throws off centuries of stifling conformity and tradition to step boldly into the future. Stay tuned. The future is being built right under our noses if we just take the time to notice it.

  17. Ireland has come a long way in the last 100 years. Good for them.

  18. Unionists in NI had the balance of power when the Conservatives were in a minority situation. From a very strong political situation, they were abandoned by Boris in his quest for Brexit. In a few years, when it will be obvious to the people of NI that their future is with the EU, reunification will be a no brainer, even to the sons and daughters of the Most Reverend Paisley.

  19. @Skiplusse Reunification will not happen in the foreseeable future so long as the majority of the people of Northern Ireland wish to remain part of the UK or don't you know that? It seems that many Americans do not know that.

  20. @Skiplusse Reunification is really not an issue for us in the Republic, I'm fine for Northern Ireland to stay in the UK, it's a nice idea but it's a region that has been dreadfully mismanaged and I don't want to have to prop up their failing economy. I didn't give Sinn Fein my top vote as I voted Greens, but I certainly didn't vote for FF/FG and I'm interested to see how Sinn Fein will govern, although a little nervous, I think we all feel they've moved on from the past. I voted for change; there is so much money in this country, the economy is booming, every day I see new restaurants, shops etc, and yet I walk past homeless sleeping on the streets, so many of them, I see homeless families coming out of hostels in the morning on their way to school. It's disgusting, I want to live in a country that protects the vulnerable, I'm happy to pay the high taxes I pay, once they're not squandered, I'm hoping Sinn Fein will put them to better use. As for Brexit, of course it's a worry, but after 3 years of the British faffing about we're as bored of it as everyone else. Let them just get on with it and stop irritating everyone, they really aren't half as important to us as they like to think!

  21. Read this article with appreciation in my cosy bed on a bitterly cold and stormy night here in Dublin. Sometimes it takes an outside eye to accurately summate what is really going on in our rainy isle. I voted Green. I don’t profess to be an eco-warrior. I’m a farmer’s daughter and my father has a backwards but stubborn cynicism towards the green movement and the costly move to eco-farming. I’m ashamed to admit that I still sometimes mess up my recycling. However, as a concerned citizen of a country that professed itself the first in the world to call a state of national climate crisis whilst simultaneously granting permission for fracking natural gas, I voted green. Anything but the incumbent. The proposed site is off one of the most rugged and majestic shores of Ireland in county Kerry. I also went green because of a natural abhorrence of Fine Gael bred into me by my extremely nationalist maternal grandmother. Fianna Fáil failed to flush out enough of the old brigade of cronies involved in past scandals for me to give them a vote. I am equally terrified and excited by the results of this absolutely seismic General Election. I do hope that my taxes don’t go up due to a socialist crusade in government but I also hope that I’m being cynical. Hopefully, fresh faces will prove themselves useful and new voices might ring louder in the quagmire of the status quo. Or the lack of experience and the murky shadows of the guns in the past of the government prove problematic.Let’s see.

  22. Caroline, your gran sounds like a proper Fenian. Remember, with fools like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump leading the Anglo-Saxon world, it may be time to talk a little treason.

  23. I think the 2 party system wasn’t all they were “casting off”. Nice non-partisan writing from a well meaning UK correspondent. My mom used to sing “up the bloody Ra”. Hopefully those days are gone, but I’ll always remember my mother’s voice.

  24. @Kathleen O’ It is important to realize that 75% of voters did NOT vote of Sinn Fein and a large number of those do not recognize the party as "progressive" but as die hard republican socialists who have unclear leadership, are knee deep in sectarian activity in the border areas and have a populist manifesto that does not stand up to scrutiny. As regards the "two party system" - this is absolute nonsense - for most of its history the Republic of Ireland has been run by Fianna Fail - intermittently they have been ejected (usually after "tanking" the economy) and for a short period of time Fine Gael, usually in some form of coalition, has taken leadership. Indeed, in this century - coalition with center right (Progressive Democrats), center (Greens) and left (Labour) parties has been the norm. The rallying cry for "change" has occurred as a direct consequence of severe austerity imposed by the European Union and European Central Bank consequent of reckless activity by the Irish Banks in the 2000s. The population, particularly the "poor" middle classes, was made to suffer - and those people have yet to see any great recovery of their income or quality of life. In addition, the last government may have had resources to increase spending on healthcare and housing were it not for the utter lunacy of Brexit that represented an existential treat to the Irish state. An election 3 or 4 months later may have had a different outcome.

  25. It always grates on me, when reading NYT articles about Ireland, that the accents are omitted on words like Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. I haven't noticed the same thing in articles which include French or Spanish words. Would love to know the rationale!

  26. @Deirdre Heck, I had a hard enough time convincing the race director for our local Shamrock shuffle, that a 4 leaf clover, isn't a shamrock. Don't even get me started on Paddy vs Patty for St Patrick's day here in the states.

  27. When I was in Ireland last summer, I read the local papers and much of the talk was about Trump, Brexit, and the normal NY Times-ish nonsense. I thought to myself, "well my ancestors really did not figure it out here in the good ole USA." I am heartened to see a NEW political party talk about something useful, housing, and they won, sort-of. Keep going Third Party Ireland!!

  28. The Irish have accomplished something we in the US have not - moving a 3rd party into a position of power into a stagnant electoral system. On this side of the Atlantic, we need a new centrist party to compete with the highly polarized positions espoused by the Tumpist GOP and the progressive wing of the Dems. It will be harder her given that we do not have a parliamentary system, and now (2020) may not be the time to try given the systemic difficulties in forming a viable national 3rd party. However, if we are to a less polarized environment, we must also return to our center-right<->center-left heritage.

  29. It is well overdue that Sinn Fein are rewarded with government given their long struggle to defend the rights of the irish in northern ireland.

  30. @Bis K This is a very dubious contention - everyone in Northern Ireland is Irish - the rights of the Nationalist community in the north have been fought for by the SDLP (Good Friday Agreement) and a succession of Irish governments since the foundation of the state. For the past 3 years - despite the lurking disaster of Brexit - Sinn Fein refused to participate, despite being elected to do so, in the Government of Northern Ireland, refused to take their seats in Westminister (where they could have changed the direction of Brexit) and sat back and watched the Irish government (under Fine Gael) negotiate on the behalf of all citizens of Ireland - north and south with the EU and the British government. They have made minimal contribution to the democracy of the Republic of Ireland and have never fully recognized the state nor renounced violence.

  31. Excellent article, really captured the nances and the emotions driving this result very well. Only comment: when we say "centre-right" in Ireland, we're thinking something along the lines of Barack Obama, while left-wing is to the left of Bernie Sanders. On the social issues (abortion, gun-rights, LGBT+ rights, gay-marriage, etc.) there really is no party in Ireland who agrees with the GOP. The church still opposed abortion as do some very religious, but that's about it. On things like healthcare, we all have universal health care - that debate was over 100 years ago, but there is still a lot of debate about how effectively it is being managed. On taxation, we have a tax system that is far more progressive than even the most liberal Democrat is seeking in the US, and nobody is challenging it. I would hate NYT readers to think that Ireland was a country in which the government resembled a centerist Republican administration. Also, very unlike the US, our president, with much less power than a US president but still a large symbolic importance, is almost universally admired for his principles, his intellect and his political courage. Even those who don't always agree with him tend to admire him.

  32. Indeed, thanks for a good article. As an outsider, Ireland's basic problem hasn't gone away, as I see it, and that centers on N.I. going away, so there is just one Ireland. How many more years must pass. The time is now for the change. England has pretty much said N.I. is on their own. It took Queen Victoria to open the world's eyes to Ireland's devastation. Do you see another Victoria in the Royal House today, don't think so. I think the Irish people are ready to leave the past behind and move on . They must seize the moment while it is here.

  33. @Me Too Irish "reunification" (was it ever unified?) requires the consent of the majority of voters on both sides of the border. It is unlikely, currently, that either referendum would pass: Northern Ireland is heavily subsidized by the British Exchequer and has a far less dynamic economy than the south. Conversely, the cost of housing is significantly lower in the North, and there is universal free healthcare. There continues to be serious animosity between the nationalist and loyalist communities in NI - and nobody believes that they are willing to put the past behind them.

  34. The reason Sinn Fein will not form part of a new Irish government is because it won less than a quarter of the seats in the parliament, and is not trusted by most of the other parties. Sinn Fein has never rejected its past support for violence and is widely considered not to be a "normal" political party. The younger people quoted in this article have no memory of the horrors perpetrated by the Provisional IRA and supported by Sinn Fein. Significantly the mask dropped immediately after the election when a newly elected member of parliament was videoed expressing his support for the IRA.

  35. The current Sinn Fein party originated in 1970 as the political face of the Provisional IRA, and supported the campaign of violence which scarred Northern Ireland for decades. During that time the party was led by leaders who were either directly involved in or were supportive of this violence. The party makes no effort to disown this historic violence but puts itself forward as a normal political party. I for one, and a lot of political leaders and commentators in Ireland, do not believe that.The party decision making structures are opaque and not those of a normal political party. The party still defers to shadowy people in the background. Because of this Sinn Fein should not be part of the government of a democratic European country. The younger people who supported Sinn Fein in the recent election have no memory of the terrible destructive violence perpetrated by the IRA and supported by Sinn Fein. However the mask dropped slightly shortly after the election when one newly elected member of parliament was videoed supporting the IRA and his election agent talked about having "broken the Free State".