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Anti-European party meets its Waterloo in Ireland

Libertas leader fails to gain a seat in Europe.

Voters are furious about its perceived mishandling of the economy. Fianna Fail, the majority partner in the government and in essence the "ruling party" since independence, received the lowest share of the vote in its history, and its partner in government, the small Green Party, was just about wiped out (guilt by association).

Fianna Fail is seen as hand-in-glove with developers, the villains in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, who are held responsible with the banks for bringing the country to the brink of bankruptcy. The “anyone-but-Fianna Fail” mood is so strong that in the three-seat Dublin European constituency, a formerly safe Fianna Fail seat held by Eoin Ryan, was captured by Joe Higgins of the miniscule Socialist Party.

In the local elections, the Fianna Fail share of the vote dropped to 25 percent, 17 percent less than in the general election two years ago, and the main opposition party, Fine Gael, surged to 32 percent. Both parties are centrist and they were judged more on leadership, competence and integrity than ideology.

Party loyalty in Ireland has often been a family matter, going back to the origins of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael in the Civil War of 1922, but this time many voters abandoned the habits of a lifetime and brought about a fundamental shift in Irish politics.

The two by-elections were just as devastating for Fianna Fail. In Dublin Central, the home turf of former Fianna Fail prime minister Bertie Ahern, his brother Maurice, could only come fifth behind working class hero Maureen O’Sullivan, a schoolteacher running as an independent.

In Dublin South, where the vacancy was caused by the death of Fianna Fail’s popular Seamus Brennan, his son Shay Brennan came fourth behind George Lee, who until a few weeks ago was the economics editor of Ireland’s main radio and television station, RTE, where he had a reputation for warning that the government’s policies were leading the country to ruin.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the government had been “convicted” by the people and Eamon Gilmore, leader of the Labour party, which also polled strongly at 15 percent, called on the government to stand down. Though his Dail majority has been reduced to three, Prime Minister Brian Cowen said, “We’re absolutely determined and united as a government to proceed with policies that will bring order back to our public finances.”

In Northern Ireland, where voting is mostly along tribal lines, there was also a political upset. 

Sinn Fein topped the poll in the European election, the first time a party supporting Irish unity has achieved such a result in Northern Ireland’s nine-decade history. This came about because of divisions within the ranks of unionist parties representing the majority pro-British population. 

Northern Ireland constitutes one of 18 UK constituencies in the EU elections and returns three members of the European Parliament. Sinn Fein’s Bairbre de Brun toped the poll in a low turnout.

See here for a roundup of the results from across the EU.

More GlobalPost dispatches on Ireland:

Will corrupt leaders get their due?

The return of the spud

Ireland returns to an old love: the potato