The Economist’s verdict on the Irish election

Good summing up

In a matter of days Mr Ahern was transformed from a tired and dispirited leader on his way out of office into a statesman, whose skills in managing Ireland’s economic success offered just the reassurance necessary to rally undecided voters. Whether the electorate’s continued confidence in his economic stewardship is justified remains to be seen. The economy is still expanding, but less exuberantly than it was. Increasing interest rates are beginning to curb the excesses in the property market. Sharply rising personal debt levels have dented consumer confidence.

One of the most remarkable turnarounds in Ireland’s electoral politics and the greatest comeback in Fianna Fail’s election history will have repercussions for Irish politics too. The casualties are the smaller political parties, squeezed in a presidential-style campaign that was dominated by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, which have their origins in Ireland’s civil war in 1922.

No party was more tightly squeezed than Sinn Fein. It had hoped to double its representation in the Dail to ten seats but instead lost one. In power in Northern Ireland, the party had hoped to realise its ambition to be in government both north and south of the border. It failed dismally, with its president, Gerry Adams, failing to strike a chord with southern voters, and showing little understanding of economics, or familiarity with the detail of southern politics. In the end this vote for the status quo was a vote for the Celtic Tiger, and against any change that might threaten its survival.