Insights from the UK and beyond
By Padraic Halpin
The Irish financial meltdown has turned Ireland’s politics on its head, prompting nuns to consider Marxism, plumbers to track debt markets and the Irish people to abandon the party that has ruled them for most of the last 80 years.
Ravaged by austerity and embittered by years of feckless government, voters who descended upon polling stations on Friday are unrecognisable from those who seemingly sleepwalked to the polls four years ago to re-elect a Fianna Fail party despite decades of corruption allegations.
In post-crisis Ireland, the common man is more engaged by the high interest rate imposed by Europe on the country’s EU/IMF bailout than the weekend’s football action.
“There is no way we can afford to pay back all the debt,” says Alan Pinder, a 49-year-old plumber, father of two and advocate of sovereign debt default. “We have to realise that we are broke, that we can’t afford it. It’s Europe’s problem as well.”
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.