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Ireland's furious voters

Irish politics have changed irrevocably as a February election approaches.

Fianna Fail Party Leader Michael Martin
Newly elected Ireland's ruling Fianna Fail party leader and former foreign Minister Micheal Martin speaks during a press conference in Dublin on Jan. 26, 2011. Fianna Fail party elected Micheal Martin to replace Prime Minister Brian Cowen as its leader, following Cowen's resignation at the weekend. (Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)

DUBLIN, Ireland — "All changed, changed utterly," wrote poet W.B. Yeats.

His words describe the Irish political landscape today as voters prepare to elect a new government on Feb. 25.

Farcical scenes in the last days of the Irish parliament, the Dail, and the imposition of new, punitive taxes to pay for the country’s financial meltdown, have combined to give furious Irish voters one overriding goal: Throw the bums out.

Their anger is combined with a sense of shame at the low to which Ireland’s stock has fallen internationally after the heady years of the Celtic Tiger, when the apparent success of the small open and lightly-regulated economy on the edge of Europe was widely admired.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the downfall of Brian Cowen’s government has been one of the most remarkable events in Irish political history,” said Stephen Collins, political editor of the Irish Times. “Politics will probably never be the same again.”

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen was forced to step down as leader of Fianna Fail — traditionally Ireland’s largest party — after the small Green Party left the ruling coalition on Sunday.

The Greens had lost confidence in their partners over a botched attempt by Cowen to reshuffle his cabinet to give younger members of his party an elevated status going into the election.

Cowen had told government ministers who were not intending to seek election to resign, but he was then unable to gain parliamentary approval for their replacements, leaving him with only half a cabinet and egg on his face.

No longer leader of his party, unable to command a majority in the Dail and widely derided for incompetence and bungling, Cowen was forced to bring forward the date of an election he had originally planned for March 11.

Despite the spectacular implosion of his government, Cowen insisted on staying on as taoiseach to try to push through a finance bill giving effect to punitive budget changes dictated by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union.

The impact on Fianna Fail of the meltdown in government is expected to be catastrophic when voters go to the polls in Ireland’s proportional representation elections.

For most of a century the movement founded by Eamon de Valera in the 1920s, and now led by former Foreign Minister Micheal Martin who was chosen by Fianna Fail deputies Wednesday to succeed Cowen, has taken on the mantle of a ruling party in Ireland.

With branches in every parish and close links to Gaelic games, the Catholic Church and big business, Fianna Fail consistently polled higher than 40 percent, enabling it to form government coalitions with smaller parties.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/ireland/110126/irish-election-brian-cowen-fianna-fail