Five points to take from Euro and local elections

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Five points to make as the dust finally settles on the European and local elections – and the first is that politics is a volatile business.

Back in the Spring of 1982, Charles Haughey was Taoiseach relying on the support of two Workers Party TDs and Tony Gregory.

He decided to pull off an audacious stroke to give Fianna Fáil a majority – by asking a Fine Gael TD to become the next EU Commissioner, thus creating a by-election that would allow Fianna Fáil win an extra seat.

He chose Dick Burke, a former Commissioner, who accepted the job despite his party going apoplectic.

Fianna Fáil was expected to win the by-election as it was held in its then stronghold of Dublin West. The whole thing backfired. Despite running Fianna Fáil royalty – Eileen Lemass, a daughter-in-law of Seán Lemass – she was beaten by a complete political unknown, Liam Skelly, who had run for Fine Gael.

The historical lessons from all that wasn’t the defeat or the stroke. There were two. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael between them won well over 80 per cent of the vote in a by-election in a Dublin constituency, showing how strong the hegemony was at the time.

The second was that it marks the last time a single party was close enough to having an overall majority of its own.

In fact, the Fianna Fáil victory in 1977 under Jack Lynch was the last time a single party was the ruling party in Ireland. It’s now almost 50 years since that happened and is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.

In addition, the two strong parties which dominated politics in Ireland, along with the ‘half-party’ Labour, have had their bases eroded. They are now in the pack with everybody else.

This time Sinn Féin discovered to its cost that the votes it won in 2020 are not given. But you know it could be that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and others could learn that lesson too within the next five months.

Pictured: Dynasty…Tomas Grealish getting a big hug from his older brother Noel Grealish TD after his election to Galway County Council.  Photo: Gerry Stronge.

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