>Ireland’s transfer season

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Taking a break from marking, I sat up late reading throughthe Irish election results with the help of the Irish Times election special. After a few scares along the way, dominant incumbent party – indeed dominant party in Irish politics full stop – Fianna Fáil scored a convincing victory, although its coalition partners the small liberal Progressive Democrats, like so many liberal parties in CEE, were finally whacked almost into parliamentary nothingness (2 deputies, TDs (Teachtaí Dála) I should say. Commentatrors suggest that, however, that in the Irish case the demise of PDs was more due them being victims og their own success in spreading the free market gospel, rather than victims of Fico-esque or Catholic nationalist populism. The Greens, support concentrated in Dublin, stood still and Sinn Fein – powersharing deal with Ian Paisley in the North – failed to make the anticipated breakthrough, probably because voters distrusted their left-of-centre economic policy (scaled back during the campaign) and they were squeezed by the two big parties, Fianna Fail and Fianna Gael, the latter (historically less nationalist) party making gains but still coming behind FF and having litle prospect of forming another ‘rainbow coalition’ with the Greens and previous coalition partner the Irish Labour Party, one of the few mainstream European social democratic parties to be a long-time minor party in its own national political system. An FF-Labour coalition isn’t apparently ruled out.

The best thing about Irish politics from the lecturer’s/anorak’s point of view, however, is Single Transferable Vote system, which is not only appealingly complex in istelf with its quotas, multiple transfers of voters from losing candidates (and sometimes winning candidates with a surplus), but offers incredible strategic permutations: how many candidates to field, how to manage the splitting of first preferance votes between candidates, ‘losers’ on first preferences being elected as transfers gradually increased their score, candidates hanging on across multiple rounds (up to 13 this election) in waiting for a big transfer from a popular losing candidate, competition between candidates from the same party in multi-member constituencies and, of course, the personal voter for personalities and politicians with a local following. STV Irish style is not super proportional due to the (constituionally fixed) size of constituencies (3-5 members) but it does offer ample scope for local independents to come through. There were 14 in the outgoing 166 member parliament, 5 in this. Interestingly, and perhaps for this reason, there were almost no extra-parliamentary minor parties standing. Sitting up till 1.00am looking over the results from bits of Dublin where various aunties and uncles life and trying to work out why Sinn Fein failed to get a TD elected in Donegal despute getting 20% of first preferences, I became an instant STV groupie.

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