by Frank Schnittger
Sun Dec 1st, 2019 at 12:17:10 PM EST
Fine Gael, the Irish ruling government party, has just lost all four by-elections held to fill the seats of Dail members who resigned on winning seats in the European Parliament last June - making its already flimsy Dail majority even more precarious.
To be fair, it was defending only one of those seats, with the others previously held by Fianna Fail, Independent and Socialist TDs (Teachta Dála, or members of parliament). Governments rarely win mid-term by-elections in Ireland, with opposition party supporters more likely to turn out in low-turnout elections.
Fine Gael's problems were not helped by the widespread expectation that a General Election will be held by May in any case, which makes the election of TDs for a few months somewhat pointless, for many electors.
But their cause also wasn't helped by one of their candidates trying to raise the immigration dog-whistle, by claiming that the children of asylum seekers as young as 3 or 4 could be indoctrinated by ISIS ideology.
But their biggest problem is the ongoing crisis of accommodation in Ireland, with private rents soaring and too few new houses being built to meet the demands of a rising population.
The absence of public housing development and the reliance on private sector developers to meet market demand will probably be the biggest issue in the general election - together with the now seemingly eternal crisis in childcare and healthcare provision.
Hence my letter to the Editor
Fine Gael badly needs to review its candidate selection strategy with the electorate (or at least those that could be bothered to show up) adopting an "anybody but Fine Gael" attitude.
Only in Dublin West did the ruling party candidate, Emer Higgins, even come close to winning, while old-timers James O'Reilly and Colm Burke couldn't even make it to the final count. Meanwhile Wexford voters preferred the candidates of Fianna Fail and the ailing Labour party to xenophobia marketeer, Verona Murphy.
Fine Gael likes to present itself as a progressive party while pursuing the most right wing economic policies of any major party in Ireland and aligning itself with conservative forces throughout Europe. It will suffer the declining fate of centre right parties in Europe if it cannot find and select some more progressive and inclusive candidates who will address the real issues of the younger generation, in particular, affordable and accessible housing, child and healthcare.
The older, neo-liberal, market led, laissez-faire attitude to the provision of essential services and housing will no longer cut it. Either the Fine Gael government starts to address those problems directly, or it will be forced to vacate the stage to those that will.