Irish election: Enda Kenny claims opposition victory

Ireland's new leader, Fine Gael's Enda Kenny, has said the country is on "brink of fundamental change"

Ireland's main opposition leader Enda Kenny has said his Fine Gael party has won a "massive endorsement" to govern after parliamentary elections.

Votes are still being counted but Fine Gael is expected to be the largest party in the Republic's parliament, without having an overall majority.

The dominant party for generations, Fianna Fail, faces a crushing defeat.

Mr Kenny said he would now work on renegotiating the previous government's 85bn-euro (£72bn) EU/IMF loan package.

The Irish Republic is the first EU member state to have received a financial bail-out to go to the polls. Mr Kenny said the "exceptional mandate" he had secured would enable him to put his case to other EU countries for changing the terms of the loan.

"I look for co-operation and support across Europe," he told Irish national broadcaster RTE, adding that he intended to make an immediate start on revisiting the terms of the bail-out in the coming week. Mr Kenny is particularly keen to reduce the 5.8% interest rate imposed on EU loans.

He said European leaders knew of the difficulties that the Irish people had with the loan package and he saw "room to manoeuvre" over the interest rate. He aimed first to speak to the European People's Party grouping of centre-right parties in Helsinki on 4 March before tackling the issue at an EU summit in Brussels a week later.

Analysis

A seismic change has taken place in Irish party politics.

Fianna Fail was the dominant political force in Ireland for 80 years, but has been left humbled and humiliated.

Fine Gael has historically been the bridesmaid of Irish politics, but will now take the lead role.

A lot will be said in the coming days about a fresh start for Ireland and a new beginning.

However, given the dire state of the country's public finances, the new government will have no option but to continue with austerity measures.

The extent of his election success was emphasised by the 17,472 first preference votes he received in his Mayo constituency in the west of Ireland. It was the highest number of first preference votes for any candidate under the Irish system of proportional representation.

RTE said Mr Kenny was now certain to be elected taoiseach (prime minister) when the Dail met on 9 March.

Outgoing Taoiseach Brian Cowen congratulated Mr Kenny, describing the opposition's vote as "outstanding".

Voters blamed Fianna Fail for the end of the "Celtic Tiger" economic boom. The party is on course to lose more than 50 of the 78 seats it secured in the 2007 election. Former junior coalition partner, the Greens, also fared badly.

Micheal Martin, who has replaced Mr Cowen as Fianna Fail leader, also congratulated Mr Kenny and said he expected Fianna Fail to fall short of the 24 seats he had hoped for.

"I was under no illusion that there was an enormous challenge ahead of us," he said. "I'm eager now to lead the party through a period of renewal and restore the trust with the Irish people."

Fianna Fail have paid the political price for the EU/IMF bail-out

Fine Gael is hoping to secure a majority in the 166-seat Dail but with an estimated 36% of first-preference votes, the party is expected to fall short of the required 83 seats.

A coalition with the Labour party, tipped for second place, is most likely although Fine Gael might also seek a deal with independent members of the parliament.

The party's director of elections, Phil Hogan, said he was optimistic of winning between 78 and 82 seats but Mr Kenny preferred to wait for the final result.

However he said that once the final outcome was clear he would form a government as quickly as he could so as not to send the "wrong signals" to other European governments.

When asked whether there were major differences between his party and Labour, Mr Kenny responded: "The people deserve a strong government and there's not an hour to be lost."

'Wipe-out' in Dublin

BBC Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson says Fianna Fail is facing almost complete wipe-out in Dublin. Its share of the vote in the capital city is estimated to be just 8%, and analysts say the party will struggle to win more than one of Dublin's seats.

Former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan has been elected but he is likely to be Fianna Fail's sole survivor in the city. His brother, former junior minister Conor Lenihan, lost his seat.

Noel Dempsey, a former Fianna Fail minister retiring from politics, said a nationwide total of 20-plus seats was all the party could hope for.

"It's looking pretty grim," he said. Another spokesman said the party had struggled in every constituency.

Irish politics

  • Dominated by two parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, which emerged after Irish nationalists split over the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty
  • Fianna Fail was once seen as more centrist, Fine Gael as more conservative, but differences have blurred
  • The Labour Party was the traditional junior partner in coalitions until 1997
  • The Green Party came into its own in 2007 when it joined Fianna Fail in coalition
  • Sinn Fein, shunned by the mainstream because of its IRA connections, held nearly as many seats as the Greens in the outgoing parliament

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who gave up his seat in the UK parliament to stand in the election and stepped down from the Northern Ireland Assembly, topped the poll in Louth, in the north-east, with more than 15,000 votes.

Sinn Fein is aiming at least to double its representation in the Irish parliament.

Mr Adams said it was on course for major gains: "I think the votes across the state show a significant amount of people support the position we have taken up."

According to the RTE exit poll, throughout the country Fine Gael won 36.1% and Labour, its traditional coalition partner, took 20.5% - its best result ever. Fianna Fail was knocked into third place on 15.1%, its worst ever result.

Sinn Fein won 10.1% while support for the Greens, Fianna Fail's junior coalition partner, plummeted to 2.7%. Other candidates, in a race with a record number of independents standing, took 15.5%.

It will take two days to complete the official count.

Many parts of the country saw a big increase in turnout on the 67% recorded in the last general election in 2007.

What do you think about the Irish election results? What lies ahead for Ireland's economy? Please read a selection of your comments below:

Without a separation of bank and sovereign debt we are sunk. No matter who sits in the parliament, with no removal of the private bank debt from the Irish taxpayer the country will default. The sharks will swoop in and buy up everything (property/state assets/bank assets), we descend into servitude. History repeating itself, will people ever learn?

Paul Nolan, Gorey, Wexford

It is a complete farce, it doesn't really matter which party wins the election. The real power lies with the IMF, they essentially 'own' Ireland now. Fine Gael will just be the puppets of the EU bailiffs. Sad times indeed for once such a proud country.

Polly Bell, Cork, Ireland

As an Irish Citizen who works in the Republic and lives in the North (British controlled zone) I have taken quite a bit of interest in this election and looked back into the history to see how these parties formed. Whilst Fianna Fail can be partly blamed for the lack of banking regulation, trying to remain on the pigs back and for years ignored the EU with regard to economic overheating and unsustainable growth, they are not entirely at fault. Citizens must share some of the responsibility for this. They were happy to take the ridiculous loans and accepted the lunatic property valuations. The three main political parties don't seem to have a clear ethos or identifiable set of beliefs and remarkable the only party that did expose their thinking was Sinn Fein. It was clear that in the republic they position themselves to the left and have made it clear that they will follow a largely socialist approach. This would be a massive departure from their stance in the north, which is largely neo-conservative. For Ireland to succeed, she needs to understand who she is and what she represents. They need to decide which system of government is best for the country. They need to decide if they want to serve the people or the banks and captains of industry. Its regrettable that a right winged party, Fine Gael, holds the upper hand and they are clearing now and historically a party who do not know if they are Irish or best suckling the teat of British colonialism. Hopefully Labour will find themselves, understand their roots and if in coalition will steer the country towards more non-offensive policies. Ireland needs to realise that its not a US state. It may have senators, a president and have 26 of its counties in a republic and a health system that checks your wallet before your pulse...hold on....maybe it needs to become the 51st state afterall :-)

Brian Toner, Newry, Island of Ireland

Fianna Fail's defeat is like the aftermath of an earthquake except in an earthquake there are only innocent victims. The last twelve months we have listened to one lie after another and the Irish people have finally woken up to the fact that when people in particular politicians lie they must be punished. It is such a shame that some of the party's members were allowed to resign before the election and receive such huge sums of money as a reward for their lies and deceit.

Catherine Brown, Dublin , Ireland

Doesn't matter who gets the ministerial car - Jean Claude Trichet is the commander in chief. We are just an EU fiefdom and this stage, here to pay the gambling debts of French, German and UK banks.

Ewan Duffy, Celbridge, Kildare, Ireland

Wholly deserved.

Stuart, Tavira, Portugal

There was only one person I talked to on my recent trip home who admitted she was going to vote for Fianna Fail, she said: "I know they are awful, but I can't bring myself to vote for anyone else." This is the attitude of someone who supports a football team and sticks by them no matter what to do and cannot vote for a rival. It would be like a Manchester United supporter being dissatisfied with their team and supporting Liverpool instead - they simply cannot bring themselves to do it. Fianna Fail understands this mentality as is shown by a frequent slogan of theirs: "Vote for the winning team." Only when people realise that politics needs to be taken more seriously than sport can this mentality be changed.

Diarmuid, Paris, France

Fianna Fail went on the "payroll" of the financial services sector and promoted and magnified the worst excess of financial practices that let to Ireland's sever recession. Then Fianna Fail compounded the problem by lying to everyone about the real state if the Irish Government's finances, leaving Ireland exposed to the harsh terms of the EU bailout that will haunt Ireland for years to come. Fianna Fail's electoral disaster is well earned.

Michael Flynn, Philadelphia, USA

The people are angry so they hit out at the ruling party, however the winner in this election like Obama over here will be accepting a poisoned chalice. Any fool can govern when things are good, the only answer for Mother Eire is to default and let the financial sector clean up its own mess.

Chris Brennan, Boston, Massachusetts

Whoever wins, it won't change the size of the debt.

Joe Ryan, Nogent, France

Delighted to see a Fine Gael led Goverment with Labour, between them they should have about 110 seats, in the Dail (parliament|) which will give our country stability.

John Mayne, Limerick, Ireland

Well said Polly Bell from Cork. Its about time 'the people' - those poor subjugated victims of the financial services industry took a bit of responsibility for their own property greed. Time to stop bleating at the politicians and bankers. Anybody who participated in what was obviously a property bubble must accept their fair share of the blame before Ireland can move on. The same goes for the USA, UK, Spain and Portugal. Personally I am not seeing anything that looks like the kind of leadership necessary emerging from this election but for Ireland's sake I hope I'm wrong.

Francis Power, London, UK

Now Kenny will have to perform, he can't just whine. People must not blame the IMF for the problems of the country but they should look inside their own heads. It was the Irish people who kept electing TDs who don't understand their roles as national policy makers and not pot hole fillers or getting people their GMS cards. We need stable income which means everyone must file an income tax report and pay property rates. User pays must be implemented.

Keith Parrott, Killarney, Co Kerry, Ireland

We're all doomed! That's what my mam tells me - this election was not about who can remady the economic catastrophe but very much about punishing an entranched elite who got rich off the cetic tiger and messed it up, big time for everyone else. Ireland is indeed sitting a rather long and uncomfortable class at the school of hard knocks and tough surprises, its children may be playing truant and heading for the private tuition of Canada and Australia but the lesson will be remembered. I spent my adolescence in the West of Ireland from age 10 in 1995 emigrating from London. Even at that age I could sense the gap in wealth and living standards compared to the relative comfort of growing up in a single parent family in Croydon. Firsthand, I saw the boom transform a rural, working poor society into a confident, aspirational nation. In the years after returning to London in 2001 I was amazed at friends wheeling dealing talk of flats, properties, buying up Bulgaria and trips to Thailand - I was to say a little envious - me just in my first graduate job felt as if they where racing ahead. Trips back home involved enduring endless one-upmanship talk of assets and their 'big plans' for retirement. Heading back his Christmas was the most depressing stinker of an affair, mixed with utter disbelief at the self delusion of folks thronging shopping centres weighed down by presents, still spending money that was not theirs seemingly oblivious that several weeks ago their nation accepted a damming international bailout. Job lost, business failed, home gone, girlfriend deserted, wife and children moved in with grandparents. With luck and my feet on the ground I am one of Lord Young's 'Never had it so good' - the last three years was something that happened to somebody else. Sure I am sill part of the jilted generation but that's ok. Loans, none, negative equity, what's that? We moan about libraries while Ireland debates the existence of entire hospitals. Ours was an Irish generation told we'd never have to leave home and endure the relative shame of having a nation unable to sustain our aspirations. People I know are shell-shocked at the prospect of an unknown future in foriegn shores and with pain to endure for at least a decade, many envision never returning. For those that do stay and the new government, god bless and good luck. The Irish are some of the hardest working and caring people on the face of the Earth, they have had a short sharp lesson of the power of modern world economics whilst making huge strides in their quality of life and they will be better for it. However, ask a 30-year-old Irishman in 15 years whether it was all worth it and it will be an undoubted yes.

Declan Wilkes, 27, London, formerly of Quilty, Co. Clare ROI

The Irish people aren't punishing FF for the end of the Celtic Tiger, they are punishing them for their relationship with builders, their mismanagement of the banks, their encouragement of the bubble that lead to the burst.

Joe, Brussels, Belgium

I don't know why Ewan Duffy is blaming the UK 'gambling debts' for the financial crisis in Ireland. The UK isn't even in the euro and hasn't been bailed out by the IMF. In fact it has been asked to bail out countries such as Ireland, Portugal and Greece to the tune of many millions of pounds sterling. The Irish taxpayers may find repaying the national debt tough, but the British taxpayer is being penalised too, and not just for their own debt.

Teresa Snow, Newton Abbot, Devon, England

I agree with Michael Flynn from Philadelphia: default would be in the Irish public interest. The bailout is a wealth transfer from common people to the perpetrators of this mess - and only makes them richer. One should not assist at one's own hanging. Especially not when the real criminals not only get off scott free. but profit in the process. It is time for Western citizenries to lose their fear of corporate overlords, just as Arab citizenries are losing their fear of dictators.

Alex Antypas, Budapest, Hungary

As an Irish citizen I was very excited for this election. Fianna Fail have been in power for too long and have taken elections and the people for granted. I can only hope this huge defeat will make them look at themselves and that they will be a constructive opposition. I am delighted to see the amount of independants elected and I think this will make the Dail much better as I would hope these independants will vote with the government when they are doing things that are the interest of the people and vote against when they think the government is not doing right by the people. This Dail could be the most effective for having a strong opposition and policies will be better formulated for it. i can see light at the end of the tunnel for Ireland.

THOMAS JOHNSTON, Newcastle upon Tyne, England

The election is a sideshow really. The IMF run Ireland now. Fianna Fail got what they deserved but the unfortunate reality is the sheer scale of our debt means that it is going to be almost impossible for the new government to get us back on our feet. I fear Ireland is heading in to a spiral of debt. The more we try to fix the problem, the worse it will get. The only hope is to default on the bank debt and honour our sovereign debt. Those who stupidly lent money to our banks to inflate the property market can't expect tax payers to pay for their ineptitude.

Kieran Leddy, Dublin

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