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Ireland’s Election

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The following is a guest post by Steve Clarke, Senior Foreign Law Specialist at the Law Library of Congress.

Ireland employs a very complicated single transferable voting system to elect the 166 members of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas.  Under this system, in which voters rank their choices, between three and five members are elected in 43 separate constituencies.  Tabulating the votes in this system takes at least several days exclusive of any recounts.  Nevertheless, the projected results have been released for the general election that was called on February 2, 2011, and held on February 25, 2011 .

The results show that the centrist or, as it likes to describe itself, “progressive” conservative Fine Gael will replace the generally more liberal democrat Fianna Fáil as the largest party in the Dáil.  The new Taoiseach (Prime Minister) will therefore be Fine Gael’s leader, Enda Kenny.  However, Mr. Kenny will need the support of another party to form a coalition that has a majority of  the seats, and it has entered into talks with the Labour Party for that purpose.  Fine Gael is closer ideologically to the ousted Fianna Fáil, which has held power for over two-thirds of the time since independence, but historical animosities make an alliance of the two unlikely.  Furthermore, Labour has surged into second place ahead of Fianna Fáil and will be a stronger partner as a result.  Still, the Fine Gael and Labour will have to reach agreement on a number of social and economic issues before they enter into a coalition, and they do not have much time.  Austerity measures, job creation initiatives, and responsibility for bond-holder debt have all divided the two.

Mr. Kenny is under pressure from the European Union to form a new government quickly.  The EU lent Ireland approximately eighty-five billion Euros to underwrite the government’s bailouts of the Irish banks after their near collapse.  But the bailouts angered Irish voters who believe that they have left the country with a debt it cannot escape.  Mr. Kenny has responded that his first priority will be to renegotiate the terms of the European loan to reduce the interest rate to help ease this burden.

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