Sunday, March 06, 2011
We arrived in Ireland on election day, and as we traveled, we constantly saw candidate posters, mostly on the lampposts. This is Derek Nolan, a young Labor candidate from the Galway district where Arny and Tracy are currently living. His posters were the first to go up, say Arny and Tracy -- though the campaign in Ireland is only a few weeks -- in great contrast to the US!
Just as we arrived in Dublin, we met Derek Nolan on the street, as shown above. He seemed happy to be recognized: the vote count had just been completed, so he was on the way to his first meetings prior to the induction of the newly elected Irish Parliament. The vote count is done by hand and is incredibly complex. Each voter numbers his preferred candidates beginning at 1 (as urged on all the signs) and going up to whatever number the voter likes -- sometimes 20 people might run for 5 slots. Each of the 4 parties proposes a slate of candidates, and independents also play a big role. So multiple recounts are needed to determine the winners.
This election was a really big upset for the Fianna Fail party that has been in power for many years. In Killybegs where we spent a night, our B&B hosts and the waiter at the restaurant where we ate were really excited because a young independent from their town had defeated the second in command of the government. Here's the poster for this big loser, Mary Coughlan, who's now out of power along with her entire party:
Reprecussions from the boom and bust of the last few years were the major issues in the election, with huge animosity towards Finanna Fail. The Fine Gael party, Labour, Sinn Fein (with roots in the old Independence movement), and independents all did well, but none had a majority, so ongoing negotiations were taking place all week -- with a little interference from Angela Merkel, German Chancellor. Fianna Fail was corrupt and had sweetheart deals with the banks, which have big debts to German banks (hence Merkel's interest). Irish people are angry because they have been left in a very bad economic situation, while the bankers are still collecting big salaries after lots of bad doings.
As we traveled we saw building projects abandoned, and occasional other evidence of how the enormous period of prosperity nicknamed "The Celtic Tiger" that was present during our 2005 trip has gone bust. The big influx of people from Poland and other Common Market countries have been leaving, as well as lots of unemployed Irish people, especially recent graduates. Tourism is down. The high-tech industry is in vast decline. And everyone is demoralized because they had hoped the change in Ireland's fortunes was permanent.