Insights from the UK and beyond
No-one comes out well in Ireland’s political posturing
Poker, chess, chicken. Pick whichever analogy you like: there’s a high stakes game being played in Irish politics and it’s not a game their international partners much like. Since Ireland said on Sunday it would be asking for help from the EU and IMF – little more than two days ago, though it seems like a lifetime — the pieces of the political game have moved almost without cease. Ironically, though, the net result may be little different to what was forecast before the tumultuous events of the past 48 hours: a four-year austerity plan outlining 15 billion euros in savings, a by-election Fianna Fail are set to lose, the harshest budget on record on December 7, and an election in early 2011.
It started with the government’s bailout appeal. What should have led to a few weeks of EU/IMF negotiations was immediately overshadowed by the surprise move of the junior coalition party, the Greens, who stunned voters – and, it appears, their partners Fianna Fail themself, itself, when it announced it would not continue to be part of the government once 2011 budget measures were implemented.
Next move came from two politicians that few knew were even playing in the game: the independent lawmakers on whom the government relies for parliamentary majority. Jackie Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry threw the success of the budget – and the immediate future of the government – into doubt after saying they might not back the budget after all. This threw the ball to opposition parties Fine Gael and Labour who took it, ran with it, and demanded a snap election.
Back to Prime Minister Brian Cowen, whose poker face kept everyone guessing for several tense hours. He was to make a statement, the government reported. The Twittersphere ignited with rumours he would resign, markets wobbled. But no, Cowen stood firm and swatted the ball back to the opposition. I’ll call an election, he said, but not before the budget is passed and implemented — effectively daring Fine Gael and Labour to vote it down and so be branded unpatriotic and self-interested in the process.
Then, stalemate. The opposistion went strangely quiet as they mulled what to do. Fine Gael disappeared into a huddle for over three hours to devise a plan. Then Fien Gael’s Enda Kenny showed his hand: ‘Bring forward the budget date’ he demanded with a flourish. Cowen stood up, paused for a few seconds, and simply said ‘No’.
There may be no more hands left to play, if you choose to view this as a high stakes poker game, or moves to make, if you’d prefer chess. The budget looks likely to go ahead on December 7, it looks likely to pass since Fine Gael have now also started trotting out the national interest line. And an election will follow in early 2011. But the net result of the last few days’ political posturing has been to add to international uncertainty about Ireland, and raise the ire of political partners, who have been at pains to stress that Ireland must get its four-year plan and budget out as planned if it wants aid. No-one has come out well, nerves are shredded, and Irish people appear fed up and frustrated by the gaming. The four-year plan may put a halt to the manoeuvres for now – expect plenty more before the year is out.