Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote: “Cast your mind on other days that we in coming days may be still the indomitable Irishry.”
Yeats’s modern day countrymen will need to call on this defiant strength as they weather a sea change in their government and a storm of austerity cuts.
Outgoing Taoiseach Brian Cowen has already announced that he will not be on the upcoming ballot. Today he will formally dissolve the Daíl and set a date for elections a year early.
Commentators expect 25 February to mark the day when Cowen’s ruling party Fianna Fail will lose power of the government, something that has only happened once in the past 79 years and for only one term.
Historian Patrick Muane says “Essentially this election is going to mark a major shake-up in the Irish political system. Since 1932 Fianna Fail has been the dominant party in the Irish state, the pole around which the system revolved.”
Cowen’s departure from the political scene comes after his party’s long term decline following praise for Ireland’s booming economy in the 1990’s. Cowen and his Minister of Finance Brian Lenihan negotiated an €85bn European Union and International Monetary Fund bailout in November.
Muane says accepting the bailout has contributed to an overall perception that Fianna Fail’s incompetence and cronyism have brought about the ruin of the country.
And ruined it is. Employment is at an all time low with private sector workers in the middle class feeling the squeeze the most.
Adam Russell, 30, has emigrated from Ireland but has still seen the affects of the economic crisis. “I went home two months ago…where I’m from it’s a small village and to see a local guy get caught trying to rob four tins of beer from the local super market just kinda hits home at how bad things are.”
Fianna Fail’s fall from power has made room for one of the three opposing parties to come in and try to save the country from collapse.
Irish Journalist Henry McDonald predicts, “If they can agree on a common program, the smart money is on a Fine Gael- Labour coalition.”
Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael, will probably take over Cowen’s position as Taoiseach. But his critics say he will have a hard time winning over voters as he is too straight, impersonal and a bit wooden.
“If I were directing Edna Kenny’s campaign video I’d show him in the kitchen with his wife, playing gaelic football with the Irish hills in the background and going to the pub with his mates,” says McDonald.
Kenny’s image will be only one of his concerns as he is faced with the challenge of passing unpopular austerity laws necessary in order to receive the salvation of the IMF bailout. The new coalition might try to negotiate a lower interest rate or an extended payback with the IMF.
However, these bailout laws could lead to instability within the new coalition government. McDonald thinks that when pressured, left wing liberal Labour TDs who have relied heavily on trade unions and the public sector will vote with their conscience.
“If the IMF insists that there be reform in this sector it will be interesting to see if Labour bite the hand that feeds them,” he says.
And what will happen to the fallen Fianna Fail? Muane says “There is a real possibility Fianna Fail might be displaced as the main opposition party by Sinn Fein, riding on a raw protest vote and allied with left-wing Independents.” A sure sign the party is trying to regroup is the election of the new younger party leader Micheal Martin.
Similarly, McDonald looks for Sinn Fein to bounce back and try to double their seats and expects that the shock to the Fianna Fail system is good to incite a more nationalised approach from the party.
As Ireland says goodbye to their longest supported party and faces even harsher economic conditions Yeats’s Irishry’s resilience will be tried.
“It think people are resigned to the fact that we’re going to go through a lot of pain in the next 10 years. It doesn’t matter that there’s going to be a new government just everybody put their hands to their backs and a good old hard slog to get through the situation,” says Russell.
Perhaps Yeats knew his compatriots better than we do.