Insights from the UK and beyond
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 –Β little more thanΒ 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 ballΒ 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.