The divided Sinn Fein causing a civil

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The Irish party system appears to
be in a state of ‘flux’ at the moment, and considering traditional party
system, the general history of smaller parties and the emergence of the new
parties, it is believed this is a ‘new normal’.

The origins of the Irish
political system started in the 1916-23. In 1922, when the Irish State was
established, Sinn Fein replaced the Irish Nationalist Party. In the 1921,
Anglo-Irish Treaty divided Sinn Fein causing a civil war. Those who were
pro-treaty established Cumann na nGaedheal in 1923, and formed the first
temporary government. Those who were anti-treaty stayed away from politics and
did not recognise the new government. In 1926, anti-treaty Republicans divided
and formed Fianna Fail party, with Eamon de Valera as the leader. Fianna Fail
entered the Dail in 1927. In 1933 Cumann na nGaegheal connected with two other
parties to form Fine Gael. Since that time Fiann Fail and Fine Gael both have
beeen present in the Irish Political life. Since independence of the State Fianna
Fail won on average 43 per cent of the vote and Fine Gael 31 per cent. All 14
Taoisigh ever elected, were members either of those two parties. The beginning
of the Irish Free State gives the reason why Fianna Fail and Finne Gael do not
enter the coalition. The Treaty clash explains why those two parties remain
such a strong position in Irish politics.

The Irish party system had been
influenced by the Treaty division and the civil war. It is been argued that
party competition had its beginning before the twentieth century. The division
between conservative-liberal lines were interrupted by Nationalist/Catholic
versus Unionist/Protestant lines. It is believed that Irish political system
has its origin from the struggle for independence. Fianna Fail was supported by
owners of small farms and nationalists. However, never solved nationalists
issue is the certain reason why those two parties do not govern in coalition. The
treaty issue was also the reason which split Sinn Fein. The party system
started changing when Worker’s Party and Progressive Democrats appeared in
1980s. The Green Party also influenced political competition. Fianna Fail and
Fine Gael policy platforms seem to be very alike. Beside the historical Treaty
issue, it is hard to clarify the difference between the ideologies of those two

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Both Fianna Fail and Finne Gael
can be classified as ‘catch-all’ parties. The two parties have similar
typologies and both of them origin within independence movement. None of the
two parties can be classified as Christian democratic because neither of them
protected church’s interest. Catholic Church in Ireland had strong enough
position that no political defence was needed in past-independence time.
Because neither Fianna Fail or Finne Gael can be categorized as Christian
democrat prototype, it is been suggested that they both are secular
conservatives. Undoubtedly, Fiana Fail and Fine Gael represent
nationalism.  The fact that both Fianna
fail and Finne Gael tend to move from left to the right of the political
spectrum, makes it hard to fit them into one category.

“An analysis of their respective
party manifestos shows that Fine Gael has switched from left to the right (and
vice versa) four times in the post war era, while Fianna Fail has done so on
the three occasions”( Coakley, 2009, p 143)

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael promote
conservatism, Christian democracy and social democracy, but none of them can be
clearly categorized. Irish political system has been dominated by centre-right
wing, which can be proven by Dail elections in 1992-2007, when Fianna Fail,
Fine Gael and Progressive Democrats won 70 per cent of the first preference
vote. Thus, the left-wing parties collect the lowest support compared to other
European countries. However, the left wing parties: Labour, Democratic Left,
Sinn Fein, The Green Party, The Workers Party and few more received only 20 per
cent votes.

Labour, which is the oldest Irish
party, had its origins in the trade union movement in 1912. Labour’s position
remains behind Fians Fail and Fine Gael, naming Labour ‘half’ party in a
two-and-a-half-party system. The few reasons suggesting why left wing parties
hold such a weak position is the nationalist issue during the formation of the
Irish State dismissed other problems and caused inconvenience for the working
class socialists. The other reason was that due to slow growth of the economy
there were not enough people categorised as working class and most of them were
supporting Fianna Fail. Until 1960s, Labour was receiving votes mostly from
rural labourers. The party has been also criticised for poor development of
organisation and electoral strategy comparing to the others two ‘civil war’
parties. Coalition with centre-right party –Fine Gael, between 1948 and 1992,
also did not help achieve greater support. The other factors to explain weak
position of the left wing is the authority of Catholic Church, rural labour and
enormous amount of people leaving the country. During Celtic Tiger times huge
emigration was replace by immigration. It is hard to predict if those who
qualify as citizens would choose to follow right or left wing.

became a multicultural country. New citizens do not support a particular party
due to ‘party identification’ or ‘inherited link’.

                The overview of the past, could
suggest that Irish Party System is moving away from Scandinavian-type party
system, to an Italian-type. The Scandinavian-type means that the one party is
prevailing and competing with the other coalition group. Before 1992, there was
one main party in Italian politics, thus small parties turned over the office.

                Looking at the Electoral support
for Irish parties graph, since 1922 it is hard to predict future of the Irish
politics. The picture suggest that Fianna Fail will remain on the leading position,
the others become more and less successful than Labour. Fine Gael had mostly
stronger position than Labour but was competing with the others. The economic
depression of the 1930s hugely influenced European political scene, however the
global economic crisis in 2008, potentially create political upheaval. The
result of 2009 poll and election suggest that the dominant parties are not
resistant to declare or even disappear. If, according to the poll and election
outcome, Fianna Fail level of support has decreased by 25 per cent it would
cause enormous change on the political scene. Even though it is hard to predict
the future performance, analyses imply that Irish system is relatively open to
appearance to new parties.

There were
six new parties which entered government since 1933. European integration, free
movement and high immigration percentage encourage the new radical right
parties in many European countries.


Perhaps lack of success of the small parties
can be related to the social-psychological model which explains the support pattern
of voting for the same party thought generations. People vote as their parents
did. This idea echoes is a common view about voting in Ireland, which is that a
large part of electorate is essentially ‘Fianna Fail’ or ‘Fine Gael’ and that
the root of such attachment lie in the family. (Coakley, 2010, p 170) Support
for either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael is based most likely on the historical
ideology and experience: pro-treaty and anti-treaty. The New generation does
not identify with any particular party as much as the older generation. Young
voters focus more on the election manifesto, looking for stable future rather
than on the historical events.

                The recent formation of
government would also suggest that the state of ‘flux’ may continue for the next
few decades. Non-party members of Dail have been influencing formation of

parliament holds a greater number of independent TDs compared to other West
European countries,  “Regularly occupying
between 5 and 10 per cent of seats in  parliament where the government majority is
usually quite small has enabled independents to achieve a significant role (…) Minority
governments (primarily those led by Fianna Fail) have often preferred to rely
on parliamentary support of independents, given that the alternative was to
form a coalition with another party or to bring an extra party into coalition.

decreasing party membership and characteristic system could be an explanation
for strong position of independence in Ireland.

                 To examine the evolution of Irish party system
the influence of Fiana Fail has to be enlightened. Since 1932, Fiana Fail was the
 dominant party, spent in office 58 out
of next 77 years. Fiana fail can be described as ‘pragmatic and fearless’
party, long time in office has been attracting a lot more loyal supporters than
any other party. It is  believed that
Fiana Fial achieved their dominant position not from majority of seats but from
its attitude. “Fiana Fail has been one of the most successful parties in
post-war Western Europe, wining on average 48 per cent of seats and 45 per cent
of the first preference vote at general electionsin period 1945-2008” (
Coakley, 2009, p148)

Ireland is
not the only country where independence movement  turned out to be a most succesful party.
Fiana Fail dominance in 1930s and 1940s , influenced smaller parties to enter
coalition in 1948.  Then in 1973 , Labour
and Fine Gael agreement resulted in the end of Fiana Fail rules. Fiana fail was
hoping to win majority of the seats in 1989 and refused to continue coalition
but did not receive enough support and voted itself out of the office. Similar
situation took place betwwen 1932 and 1989 and it would suggest that political competition
was mostly between Fiana Fail and the rest. 
Fiana Fail had big influence on the evolution of Irish party system,
their strong position forced Fine Gael and Labour to govern together to avoid
Fiana Fail implying  their own rules.  When Fiana Fail was out of office the future
of party system structure was shaken. However, their absence in office never
lasted longer than one term. In 1960s the differences between Fiana Fail, Fine
Gael and Labour became more visible. 
Fine Gael decided to change their policies in favour for society which
shifted their position to the left side of political scene. Those actions
motivated Fiana Fail to adjust their policy. Fianna fail decided to support
businessman and focus on the economic growth. Thus, significant differences did
not influence political competition between parties. In 1989 meaningful changes
where implemented in the political pattern,that  took place when fianna fail arranged coalition
with the Progressive Democrats. This move ensured Fianna Fail that even if they
would have a chance of forming a miniority government, they would be able to do
so with any other party. Fiana fail would rather share power than risk losing
power for any period of time. In this result Fine Gael was left with no
potential partner to enter coalition. Fiana Fail governed together with Labour
in1992, with the Progressive Democrats in 1997 and 2002, then in 2007 with both
progressive Democrats and the Green Party. Fianna Fails strategy reduced the
strength of opposition but at the same time the other parties support did not

                History would suggest that even
though the two leading parties are more and less successful it is hard to
achieve such a strong position as either of them. New parties come and go,
however ther is more of them than ever before.

                In 1989 the Progressive
Democrats were established by former member of Fiana Fail. The willingness to
promote privet enterprises, social policies of settlement on Northern Ireland,
reducing taxation allowed them to win 14 seats in 1987. Progressive Democrats
were involved in Irish political and economic life between 1990 and 2000. The general
election in 2007, resulted in only two seats and ended their activity.

                The other party which did not
manage to receive greater support is the Green Party, formed in 1980s. They were
strongly linked with environment policies and protection of Irish language. The
2007 election gave them 6 seats, thus forming a coalition with Fiana Fail and
independence. The Green Party lost all their seats in 2011 but returned in 2016
with 2 seats.

                It is hard to predict how Irish
political system will evaluate, however the historical events would suggest
that Finne Fail and Fine Gael will continue competing with each other for
another few decades. Although Irish Government is more defragmented  now before which could indicate that new
parties might appear soon. High percentage of immigration is influencing Irish
culture and gives new requirements and needs. The new generation does not
identify with the particular party and families are not as loyal as they used
to be when party support was ‘inherited’. All those facts would insinuate that
the state of ‘flux’ is the new normal.

Categories: Strategy


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