The 500-plus candidates who contested the 158 seats in the 32nd Dáil did not manage to raise the temperature of the campaign hoped for in the centenary year of 1916 Easter Rising. While some raised the historical significance of the General Election one hundred years after the revolution that forged this republic, but it was austerity that dominated the election debates, and concentrated the minds of voters – though there’s been little mention of austerity as a political choice, which is becoming a big issue in several EU countries.
However, Ireland’s historic centenary was a hot topic among regulars at the famous Wynn’s Hotel, just along the road from the Abbey Theatre, who expressed great pride in the historic role that the Dublin institution had played in Irish politics.
It was at a meeting in Wynn’s Hotel, which was established in 1845, that it was decided to launch the Irish Volunteers on 11 November 1913. The hotel was destroyed in the turmoil of 1916 but rebuilt 1926, a phoenix from the ashes.
The 2016 General Election was dominated by events and focused on issues different from anything I have come across before since my first experience of an Irish election in 1969, when I reported for the BBC on the campaign of Conor Cruise O’Brien, the Labour candidate for what was then Dublin North.
Crime and security rose to the top of the agenda early in the campaign, following the Dublin gangland murders of David Byrne and Eddie Hutch and subsequent threats to journalists involved in recent coverage of the capital’s criminal underworld – threats that were widely condemned across the political spectrum as well as by Seamus Dooley, the Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists, who described them as “shocking”.
Meanwhile, the presence of Sinn Féin in the elections and their Leinster House ambitions was a factor the larger parties had to recognise, as have Unionists in the North.
Criticism and respect
Recently I was pleased to take the number 46A bus from O’Connell Street to the North Circular Road to call at the constituency office of the long serving Labour TD Joe Costello. His office was crammed and buzzing with enthusiastic canvassers, and on the doorsteps it was clear that the former Minister for Development was personally well known by his constituents.
I also joined Ruairi Quinn, the former leader of the Irish Labour Party, canvassing south of the river. I first met Ruairi, who has decided to retire from Leinster House, in Strasbourg when he was Minister of Finance during an Irish presidency of the EU, and also joined him in Berlin at an EU finance summit in Berlin where he was a keynote speaker.
I heard much criticism of politicians in general during the campaign, particularly those of the party these men represent, but I was also struck by the almost universal respect for Ireland’s President Michael D Higgins, a former president of the Labour Party, who is clearly hugely popular among the people of Ireland. As much as the political landscape has had a seismic shift in recent years, there are still some people who can unite this country.
Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament