24/05/2007 - Results
After a very lively electoral campaign Fianna Fail (FF), the party led by Prime Minister Bertie Ahern won the general elections that took place on 24th May. It is the sixth time that the party has won and the third for the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern. Fianna Fail won 41.6% of the vote and took 78 of the 166 seats in the Dail Eireann, the Lower Chamber of the Oireachtas (Parliament); this is more than was forecast in the polls but not enough however to win an absolute majority (84 MPs) and therefore to be able to govern alone. The party lost two seats in comparison with the previous elections on 17th May 2002.
The main opposition party led by Enda Kenny, Fine Gael (FG) achieved a good score with 27.3% of the vote and 51 seats (+20). Although over five years Enda Kenny has managed to turn his party into a real alternative to Fianna Fail his score is still disappointing and too low to hope to rally a majority in the Dail Eireann.
These elections were difficult for the "small" parties. The Labour Party (Lab) led by Pat Rabbitte which had signed an electoral alliance with Fine Gael in this general election came third (10.1% of the vote) and won 20 seats (-1). The Green Party (GP), an ecologist party led by Trevor Sargent won 4.7% of the vote and 6 seats (=) and Sinn Fein (SF), 6.9% of the vote and 4 MPs (-1). "We shall recover. We are there for the long term. We should have liked to have done better but we did do our best," declared the nationalist party's chairman, Gerry Adams who also congratulated Fianna Fail on its result. "They undertook an excellent electoral campaign and we have to congratulate them." The most vulnerable socio-professional categories who turned to Sinn Fein in 2002 seem this time to have returned to the Fianna Fail fold. Likewise the Greens did not make the breakthrough they had hoped for to the benefit of Fine Gael. The Progressive Democrat Party (PD), Fianna Fail's partner in the government coalition for the past six years suffered a major setback (2.7% of the vote) and only maintained 2 seats (-6). Its leader, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McDowell who did not win back his seat in the constituency of South East Dublin and surprised everyone when he announced that he was withdrawing from political life. Thanking the voters who had trusted him he said, "I love my country and I have great ambitions for Ireland but I'm going to leave it at that. It is clear in my mind that my life as a representative of the nation is part of the past." Healthcare and Childhood Minister, Mary Harney having won her seat back in the Dail Eireann accepted to take Michael McDowell's place as head of the Progressive Democrat Party. The independent candidates won 6.65% of the vote and 5 seats (-9). Finally the leader of the Socialist Party (SP), Joe Higgins, was not re-elected, and the far left party lost its only seat in Parliament.
The participation rate rose to 67.3% i.e. 4.3 points higher than the level recorded in the previous election on 17th May 2002.
"It is an excellent evening for Fianna Fail," declared Bertie Ahern who easily won in his constituency in the centre of the capital, Dublin winning 12,734 votes i.e. double the number of votes necessary to be elected. Qualifying these elections as "exceptional" on the TV channel RTE, the Prime Minister stressed that "very few parties in Europe would have succeeded in achieving what Fianna Fail has done today," and he said that he was "very proud to be the Chairman of Fianna Fail." The electoral campaign was "much more interesting than in 1997 or in 2002," maintained the Taoiseach who indicated that "it had been difficult and tiring but that it had been very interesting."
"What Fine Gael has won shows that Ireland is ready for change," declared opposition leader Enda Kenny. "We have achieved an exceptional result. I am very happy with our national result," he maintained indicating that this score should be measured against the power in office for the last decade. Enda Kenny took his time in acknowledging Fianna Fail's victory and three days after the election he still maintained that he hoped to put forward a coalition likely to deprive Bertie Ahern of a third term in office and that he would start negotiations with Pat Rabbitte, Trevor Sargent and Mary Harney. "Do you want fifteen more years of the same government, or are you ready for the change which 60% of the electorate voted for?" he asked. In order to form a government coalition Enda Kenny would however in addition to the Labour Party, the Greens and the Progressive Democrats have to convince a fourth party to join him.
Aged 55 Bertie Ahern entered the Dail Eireann for the first time in 1977. Employment Minister from 1987 to 1991 in Charles Haughey's government then Finance Minister (1991-1994) in the government led by Albert Reynolds he took the leadership of Fianna Fail in 1994. Elected Prime Minister for the first time after the general elections on 6th June 1997 and re-elected after the elections on 17th May 2002, Bertie Ahern is about to start his third consecutive term in office as Ireland's head of government. The Taoiseach has always maintained that he wanted to remain politically active until he was 60 (his birthday is on 12th September 2012). This general election was however the closest run of his career. Declared the loser for months and appearing more vulnerable than ever the Fianna Fail leader finally managed to surmount his handicap in the last week of the campaign and win the ballot for the third time running (the sixth time for his party). Fianna Fail's electoral campaign, during which the government party played greatly on the Irish fear of witnessing a return to the recession of the 1980's if the opposition forces won on 24th May, did therefore pay off. The Irish and notably the most undecided opted for stability and rather than a leap into the unknown, they preferred to trust their Prime Minister who for the last ten years has turned Ireland into one of the most prosperous countries in Europe, (6% GDP growth rate in 2006, the second biggest GNP per capita in Europe (+40% in comparison with the Union average), unemployment rates estimated at 4.3% of the working population).
In the end the Irish did not hold it against the Prime Minister for having delayed in renovating or developing the country's infrastructures and in improving public services, notably the hospitals which are still extremely decrepit on the island. They also do not appear to have held the accusations of financial fraud of which he was the target against Bertie Ahern either.
On announcing his intention to take the "head of a stable, credible, sustainable government for a five year term in office," Bertie Ahern did not however say with which parties he was planning to join forces. "We shall do our best to form a government before 14th June," (the date when Parliament has to elect the Prime Minister), he said simply. Although the Prime Minister might renew his alliance with the Progressive Democrat Party he will however need to win the support of other parties to achieve an absolute majority in Parliament. According to political analysts Pat Rabbitte's Labour Party and Trevor Sargent's Green Party might be potential partners. Labour also joined forces with Fine Gael in these elections and during the electoral campaign did not hesitate to criticise the outgoing government coalition whom they accuse of being too supportive of employers and economic liberalism. Pat Rabbitte has indicated that his participation in a government led by Bertie Ahern would only be possible if the latter gave up the idea of privately funding hospitals. "Fianna Fail desperately needs the Greens at this moment in time. I cannot see any other means to achieve a stable government," maintained former Prime Minister (July 1981-February 1982 and December 1982 to March 1987), Garret Fitzgerald who in 1982 was the last Fine Gael leader to win an election over Fianna Fail.
"We are open to dialogue but I warn those who might be interested in working with us that it would be a good idea for them to read our programme first," said Trevor Sargent. "The coalition which we would accept to work with will have to have an ecologist agenda," indicated the Green Party leader who repeated that global warming and public services comprised his party's main priorities. The independent MPs might be an alternative for Bertie Ahern if negotiations with the Green Party prove difficult. Without saying clearly what his choice is the Taoiseach seems however to be tending towards an alliance with the Progressive Democrat Party and the Labour Party and even some independents.
In spite of the alliances created before the elections and the campaign declarations made individually Bertie Ahern who is reputed for his skills as a negotiator and his ability to reconcile totally opposite points of view should succeed in forming the next Irish government.
General Election Results 24th May 2007 in Ireland
Participation rate : 67.3
Source : The Irish Times