There seems to be one clear message from last Friday’s voting in Ireland: people liked their Celtic Tiger, and now that it’s gone, they want somebody to pay. Elections for the European Parliament were held alongside local council polls, and there were a couple of Dublin by-elections thrown in for good measure, so the opportunities to stick it to the ruling coalition were delightfully varied. Fianna Fáil had an awful day, their worst since the 1920s. They were overtaken by Fine Gael on a national scale, but the details of the defeat must have made it particularly galling for Ireland’s one-time vote-harvesting machine.
Dublin had three Euro-seats to go round, but the Fianna Fáil incumbent Eoin Ryan couldn’t hold off the challenge of Joe Higgins, a Trotskyist with a minuscule campaign budget (Higgins is a uniquely entertaining speaker, a cross between a priest and a stand-up comic, and I can’t wait to see what he unleashes in Brussels). Worst of all, perhaps, was the debacle in Dublin’s north inner city: in the general election two years ago Fianna Fáil won 45 per cent of the vote with Bertie Ahern as their champion; this time Ahern’s brother Maurice slumped to 12 per cent at the Dublin Central by-election and trailed home in fifth place, far behind a left-wing independent who was supervising final-year exams when the result came in. The Aherns incurred the wrath of Ken Loach during the campaign by sneaking into the premiere of Looking For Eric uninvited so they could have their photo taken with the French kung fu legend: this sporting equivalent of baby-kissing couldn’t save Maurice, who even lost his council seat. As Loach’s screenwriter Paul Laverty put it, ‘the higher a monkey climbs, the more you can see its arse.’
North of the border, Sinn Féin topped the poll with a little help from Jim Allister of Traditional Unionist Voice, which is every bit as dreary an organisation as you would guess from its name. Allister broke with the DUP after they decided to share power with the Provos, and managed to put a big dent in his old party’s vote. If he repeats the same trick in the next Assembly elections, Sinn Féin would be the largest party, and Martin McGuinness would stride into Stormont as first minister.