Friday, May 16, 2008

Irish Times/TNS-MRBI poll

The results of the latest Irish Times polls provide a mixed picture for new Taoiseach Brian Cowen. On the one hand, he is experiencing something of a honeymoon with the Irish electorate. On the other hand the outcome of the Lisbon referendum remains far from certain. Both the yes and no sides have taken a roughly equal number of the "Don't Knows", while a staggering 47% of the electorate remains in that category. As David McCullagh, RTE's political correspondant has just said on the 9 o'clock news, the "Yes" side were even further ahead at this stage of the first Nice referendum, and the "No's" still won. As you know by now, I am profoundly opposed to this Treaty on the grounds that I regard it as an appalling deal for Ireland which will consign Irish independence and European democracy to the dustbin of history, by centralising power in the hands of unelected, unaccountable, bureaucrats in Brussels. I believe it deserves rejection on June 12th, as it weakens Ireland's hand at the Council of Ministers, the Irish Supreme Court's independence from Brussels, Ireland's right to referenda on EU treaties and institutional changes, and Irish neutrality. It is a bad deal for Ireland, and I am counting on the 47% undecided and a high turnout of "No" voters to make up the numbers to defeat the document. To those on the "yes" side who dismiss my hopes as fantasy, I would remind you that almost all the undecideds in 2001 voted "No", and if it happened once, it could well happen again. I certainly hope so. The Irish people deserve better, and by voting no we will - I trust - bring that about.

On the party-political front, it's a much brighter picture. Fianna Fáil are up an incredible 8% to 42%, Fine Gael down a sizeable 5% to 26%, Labour up an unexpected (for me) 3% to 15%, the Greens down an unusual (since the election) 2% to 4% as are Sinn Fein to 6%, while the bells seem to be tolling all the louder for the Progressive Democrats on 1%. The latter was in spite of a new leader, which normally would be expected in our political-culture to engender a honeymoon period like that seen for Cowen. But it seems the warnings of those predicted the ineffectiveness and - in the media's eyes - relative invisibility of a party-leader in the Seanad without an electoral-mandate - are being proven correct. And with a year to go before local and European elections, the clock is already ticking. The party has had a rollercoaster existence, either triumphing or collapsing at each election. The party's seats since 1987 have ranged from 14 to 6 to 10 to 4 to 8 to 2. In that context, a revival by 2012 cannot be entirely ruled out. But with an unelected (in terms of Dail Eireann) leader of whom only 28% even have an opinion (72% haven't even heard of him), and with a mere 16% approval rating, it has to be said that the omens for the party surviving long-term - and even short-term - remain decidedly grim. In hindsight, I believe the decision to re-enter government in 2002 when FF could govern without them, proved to be the beginning of the end for them. Time after time, on issues ranging from bus-route privatisation, cafe-bars to a privacy law, they were forced to back down, and taken with so many of their policies being poached by the other parties (even Labour to some extent), the electorate came to regard them as surplus to requirements in the Irish political-process. Perhaps they are beyond repair. I certainly think so.

For Fianna Fáil, the outcome reflects not only new leadership, but also an end to being held hostage by the Tribunals. Prior to his resignation, I had wanted Bertie to stay on, regarding him as a persecuted victim of a latter day Salem. And while I still feel he was more wronged-against than otherwise, I welcome the fact that the media will now focus on something more than Tribunals and the "will he-won't he" rumourmill that was a terrible distraction from more important issues. Despite the huge fluctuations in FF support since the 2002 election apparent in polling, I think the reality is that in a country where party-allegiances are still largely inherited, the underlying FF support is around 40%, with around 25% for FG, and 10% for Labour. The rest constitutes the "swing-vote", and is a lot smaller than in countries like the UK. And that is one reason why attempts to compare the Cowen honeymoon with that of Gordon Brown may be mistaken - we are not a typical electorate, motivated by policy-differences like most other European countries. Rather we are one whose voting intentions are based primarily on traditional family-allegiances largely forged by the Civil War. As part of a minority that would prefer it were otherwise (but who leans towards FF-led governments), I guess that's the situation we have to work with unless and until it changes, which is unlikely in the short-term.


kerdasi amaq said...

Who do you want Ireland to be governed by?

People you can vote out of office or people you CANNOT vote of office.

That is the question facing the Irish People today.

The Irish political parties have made their choice; now they must sucker the Irish People into endorsing it.

Will said...

Well said Kerdasi... but unfortunately we now face the same struggle all over again!