Part 1: The Basics
2016 is set to be a bumper year for political betting, with the Holyrood, London Mayoral and US Presidential elections coming up. But first there is another contest which should provide some excellent betting opportunities: the Irish General Election. It’s time to start doing our homework.
When? The last election was held in February 2011, and the next must be held by the 8th April 2016. There had been speculation that the Taoiseach Enda Kenny would go for a November election, but recently he appeared to rule that out, reiterating that the election would be held in the spring. February or early March is most likely, avoiding Easter and the centenary of the 1916 rising.
How? There are 40 constituencies which elect a total of 158 TDs by Single Transferable Vote (STV), a sort of AV on steroids. I’ll discuss this in Part 2 of this article.
Who? If you follow Irish politics only intermittently, the current political landscape will look both familiar and unfamiliar. The STV system makes it easy for new parties to emerge and for independents to win seats, defections are common, and the kaleidoscope has been shaken again since 2011 when the current Fine Gael-Labour coalition came to power.
Fine Gael under Enda Kenny remains in the lead in the opinion polls at around 28% of first-preference votes, down from 36% in 2011. Like David Cameron, Kenny’s message is one of stability and economic competence. After a truly swingeing period of spending cuts, tax rises, public-sector job losses, and pay cuts, the Irish economy is now rebounding fast; growth this year will be 6.2% and is forecast to be 4.3% next year, with the deficit falling to 2.1%. Unemployment remains very high but is now dropping rapidly. Finance Minister Michael Noonan has just delivered an upbeat budget of tax cuts and increases to pensions and welfare payments.
For Labour, the junior coalition partner, the story is one which Nick Clegg will understand. As a party of the centre-left which in 2011 took 19% of first-preference votes, they have borne the brunt of blame for austerity and they now languish at around 8% in the polls. The avuncular Eamon Gilmore, who led Labour to its best ever result in 2011, resigned as leader in July 2014. His successor, Joan Burton, has agreed a vote-transfer pact with Fine Gael and the two parties are hoping to continue the coalition after the election, although they differ on policies.
Running on a strong Syriza-style anti-austerity platform, Sinn FÃ©in has seen its support rise substantially since 2011, and until recently it looked as though it might be the second-largest party in the DÃ¡il, having come fourth in 2011. However, its support seems to have tailed off in recent months; it now polls at around 19%.
Now looking likely to beat Sinn FÃ©in and take second place is Fianna FÃ¡il under MicheÃ¡l Martin. The party had been the largest party in the DÃ¡il for eight decades, but in 2011 it lost 51 of its previous 71 seats, having copped the blame for the 2008/9 financial and property crash. It is currently polling a little better than its 2011 figure of 17.4%, but its once-formidable party machine seems to be hollowed out.
That still leaves around a quarter of first-preference votes for smaller parties and independents, of which there are many. (In the last election, 19 out of the then 166 seats went to independents and very small parties, mostly comprising a mixture of the far-left and some ex-Labour and ex-Fianna FÃ¡il independents.) The Greens were badly hit by being in coalition with Fianna FÃ¡il in the lead-up to the 2008/9 crash, were wiped out in 2011, and now poll at around 1% to 2%. More significant is a loose alliance of far-left parties and independents which has come together as the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit party (think Jeremy Corbyn and you’ll get the idea). Although they poll at only around 3% nationally, their support is usefully concentrated in left-wing areas of Dublin; they currently have 4 seats in the DÃ¡il.
Finally, there are two new kids on the block. Renua Ireland, a centre-right party, currently has 3 TDs. In a nice Irish twist, having split from Fine Gael over abortion, the party has now decided not to have a position on abortion. It does, however, seem to have picked up some electoral momentum and could win a few seats. The Social Democrats, a new centre-left party set up by ex-Labour independents, also currently have three TDs.
Coming in Part 2: Transfers, Seats, Coalitions – and the betting