Ireland had a general election last Saturday. The election was “called”, there was three weeks of campaigning, and then the vote. THREE WEEKS OF CAMPAIGNING. Let that sink in for a moment, my American friends.
I have always been a bit of a political junkie and I have never been shy about stating my opinion on such matters. Be it my love for Obama, my unending, all-consuming hatred for Trump or my views on issues such as guns, women’s rights, healthcare and LGBTQ rights – many a “friend” and even some relatives have unfollowed me on social media or this blog because of my spouting off on political issues. Whatever.
I was not able to vote in the general election last week (one of the big reasons I want to get my Irish citizenship) but obviously the outcome would directly impact me so I followed the campaign with interest. Ireland’s parliamentary government is quite different to what I’m used to in the US. That, combined with an unfamiliarity with the political parties and Ireland’s rather unique single transferrable vote system of proportional representation has me still trying to figure out exactly what happened last Saturday and what it all means. Though, from the various news outlets I’ve been frequenting, I’m not the only one.
From what I’ve been able to discern, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are “bad” – at least for the issues that I regard as important – and one of these two parties has been in control of Ireland for like, ever. What was apparently earth-shattering in this election was how well Sinn Féin did. Sinn Féin is the centre left/left wing party but, historically, the party had ties to the IRA, which to put it mildly, is less than ideal. But even though Sinn Féin won the popular vote they won’t get the most seats in parliament because they only contested 42 out of 160 constituencies. Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are refusing to form a coalition with Sinn Féin and the other left-leaning parties (Green Party, Social Democrats, etc.) did not win enough seats to make a majority. So what’s going to happen? I have no idea. But, in my defense, I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one who has no idea.
After nearly four years of the cheeto-in-chief and the utter calamity that is Brexit, am I wrong to find some hope in Irish politics? As other countries are going further and further right, is Ireland moving further left? With this result, not to mention the recent referendums on gay marriage and abortion, it seems like that might be so.
Ireland is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. There are a lot of things that need serious fixing in this country. The housing crisis is only getting worse, corporations are getting away with paying zero taxes, cultural preservation is being forsaken for things like hotels, homelessness is everywhere, public transport is an embarrassment for a european capital… the list goes on. So yeah, Ireland is definitely not perfect and there is a lot that needs fixing.
But despite all that, it does feel to me that Ireland could be in the midst of sea change. The world is an absolute dumpster fire right now and I lose hope on a daily basis that anything will ever be okay again. Could the tiny island of Ireland, my home, be a ray of sunshine in the shit storm that is modern politics? Maybe, maybe not. But at this point in time, with the state of things the way they are, I’ll take a maybe.