The Guardian view on Ireland’s critical week

Posted By: July 13, 2014

A new Labour leader means Enda Kenny’s government has one more roll of the dice

Editorial. The Guardian, Tuesday 8 July 2014

A European island nation, dominated by its dynamic capital city. An economy battered by the banking crisis and a burst property bubble. Government austerity now the order of the day. The country ruled by a once-popular coalition now fallen on harder times. The junior coalition party humilated in recent elections. A government reshuffle imminent. A general election in the offing.Welcome to Ireland.

Ireland’s current political crisis has not been closely followed in Britain. Not being among the foreign nations to whose affairs the British deign to pay attention, this treatment is nothing new for our next-door neighbour. But Ireland’s government, which is set to be reshuffled this week by Fine Gael prime minister Enda Kenny, is going through many of the difficulties that David Cameron’s government faces here — and for many of the same reasons.

The cute comparisons don’t always apply, however. In Britain, the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, saw his party’s European election vote collapse — from 23% in the last general election to 7% in May — but has pressed on regardless. In Ireland, the deputy prime minister, Eamon Gilmore, saw his Labour party’s vote suffer the same fate — from 19% to 5% — but jumped before he was pushed. Last weekend, Labour members electedJoan Burton in his place. This week, Mr Kenny and Ms Burton have been haggling over the shape and priorities of the new coalition cabinet. With an Irish general election due in 2016, the political futures of the leaders and their parties depend on them getting the changes right.

Ireland’s coalition partners are facing an uphill struggle. Swept into power in 2011 in the eye of a financial storm that had brought the Irish state to its knees and the Fianna Fáil government into contempt, Fine Gael and Labour have now become the new owners of Ireland’s economic difficulties. They have been duly punished at the polls, though an economic recovery is under way. But there’s not much sign of it outside Dublin and too much of the capital’s revival is again due to property prices.

The challenge facing the new cabinet is to show they feel the voters’ pain and hear their protests. Ms Burton is speaking up for what Ed Miliband would call the squeezed middle, focusing on tax cuts to boost demand, inequality and affordable housing. Mr Kenny, who may be tempted to take Herman van Rompuy’s European job if it is offered (a move that Mr Cameron would welcome) needs to ease the austerity and rein in the banks more. This is a pivotal political week in Ireland. If the government parties get their act together, they could be re-elected in 2016. If they don’t, they could hand a big share of power to Ireland’s “none of the above” party. That bit may sound familiar too. Except that Ireland’s populist beneficiary isn’t led by Nigel Farage — but byGerry Adams.