Ireland's Soldiers of Destiny Surge Back to Life After Crash

  • Fianna Fail pivotal in forming government after 2011 crash
  • Party more than doubled its strength in Friday's election

Ireland’s self-described Soldiers of Destiny are back.

Fianna Fail oversaw one of the worst economic collapses in modern European history before being swept out of power in 2011 after leading the nation into an international bailout. Five years on, the party will be pivotal in the creation of the country’s next government after more than doubling its strength in Friday’s election.

The outgoing Fine Gael-Labour cabinet met in Dublin on Tuesday to consider options, with Prime Minister Enda Kenny afterward describing the election as “disappointing.”

While the performance at the ballot box shows enduring support for a group that’s almost as old as the Irish state, Fianna Fail’s renewed influence has been driven by a fragmentation of the nation’s political landscape. About half of the votes went to a plethora of smaller anti-austerity groups and independent candidates, leaving Ireland with few options for a cohesive government and at risk of joining Spain in a bout of political instability.

“Fianna Fail are benefiting from the fracturing of the party system,” said Gary Murphy, a politics lecturer at Dublin City University. “They’re never going to go back to the glory days because we’re into a period of great flux in Irish politics.”

Led by Micheal Martin, 55, a senior minister in the decade before the crash, Fianna Fail won 44 out of 158 seats with 2 left to be filled. The party won 20 seats in 2011.

Fine Gael has 49 seats, meaning an unprecedented grand coalition between the two parties is only viable stable government, analysts said. A more likely alternative is a Fine Gael minority government with the backing of Fianna Fail, Deutsche Bank AG economist Mark Wall wrote in a note to clients.

In his first detailed comments since the election, Kenny said on Tuesday his party is “determined to play our part in providing a government.”

“We will engage fully and inclusively with other parties, groups and independent” lawmakers to make sure a government was formed, Kenny said in an e-mail statement. He said look forward to discussions with other groups, without giving details.

Fianna Fail was also circumspect. Sean Fleming, the party’s public spending spokesman, said he doesn’t see a “black and white” coalition with Fine Gael.

“Fianna Fail was the alternative to Fine Gael. We fought the election on that basis,” he told RTE on Tuesday.

Irish Ghost

Either way, the party looks set for some sort of return to power despite its support remaining close to historic lows. Founded in opposition to the partition of Ireland, Fianna Fail had been in government for much of the time since then, putting it among Europe’s most successful parties.

During the campaign, the Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition government sought to remind voters of the damage caused by its traditional rival. One Fine Gael poster, set against the backdrop of a ghost estate in rural Ireland, read “Don’t Let Fianna Fail Come Back to Haunt Us.”

“Remember that ad at the beginning of their campaign? ” Conor Lenihan, an ex-senior Fianna Fail lawmaker, said in remarks broadcast on RTE. “Well, we’re back.”

The rejuvenation contrasts with the fortunes of Pasok, one of two parties that dominated Greek politics as recently as 2009, when it took 44 percent of the vote in a general election. Greeks have since rejected the group, giving it less than 5 percent in the January 2015 election that ushered Syriza to power.

‘Too Cynical’

For some voters, Fianna Fail’s return to power in an alliance with Fine Gael would be unpalatable. Late on Monday, Martin demanded talks about parliamentary reform before government formation.

“Fine Gael came in to correct what Fianna Fail had done to us,” said Antoinette Staunton, a retired fashion designer, as she walked close to government buildings in Dublin. “For them to just go in and join up, I’d find that pretty disgusting. It’s too cynical.”

Some analysts are more sanguine, welcoming the party’s return as a bulwark against instability. The yield on Ireland’s 10-year bonds dropped to 0.85 percent on Tuesday from 0.89 percent on Friday, making its borrowing costs lower than the U.K.’s.

“On the positive side, Fianna Fail, the other traditional establishment party, outperformed,” Deutsche Bank economist Wall said. “It would be wrong to say that the Irish electorate has rejected establishment politics in its entirety.”

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