The outcome of the general election in Ireland was fundamentally affected by the economic boom, with people opting for the main incumbent party, Fianna Fail, over the official opposition of Fine Gael (the second traditional capitalist party) and Labour. People opted for the status quo in the hope that it would be the best way to maintain economic growth.
Kevin McLoughlin, Socialist Party, Southern Ireland
As the issue of whether Fianna Fail or Fine Gael would form the basis of the new government became a central issue, smaller parties, including the Socialist Party, were squeezed between these two blocks. It was a very close thing - a switch of less than 250 transfers would have been enough - but Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins lost his seat in Dublin West despite getting 5,066 votes (15%).
Socialist Party councillor Clare Daly in Dublin North had a very strong campaign, getting 4,884 votes (9%). Socialist Party councillors Mick Murphy and Mick Barry in Dublin South West and Cork North Central had the creditable achievements of 1,580 votes ( 3.8%) and 1,700 votes (4%) respectively.
Many people around the country are shocked that Joe Higgins lost his seat. Joe was for many the real opposition in the Dail, had an unrivalled record of campaigning and fighting and was the only really powerful advocate for genuine socialism in Ireland.
The loss of Joe's seat is not only a blow for the Socialist Party, it is a blow for working class people and genuine socialists throughout the country and internationally. He has been a model of what socialist public representatives should be and as a TD has made an historic contribution to the labour movement in Ireland.
People clearly appreciated the Socialist Party's record and gave us a warm response on the doorsteps. However, many were considering voting for the Fine Gael/Labour block as the only means of getting rid of the government. In the penultimate week of the campaign, with the growth of Fine Gael's support and the disastrous campaign that Fianna Fail had waged up to that point, a change of government seemed to be a real possibility.
However, the prospect that the opposition could become the government, kick-started a shift in opinion in the last days of the campaign. This late swing to Fianna Fail served to diminish the first preference votes for the Socialist Party. In addition, the context in which the election was fought, low workers' confidence and setbacks in struggle, made it more difficult for us. The other more campaigning, fighting, Independent TDs also found it difficult, most of whom also lost their seats.
Both Dublin North and Dublin West constituencies should have been given an additional parliamentary seat, because due to population growth they are the two most under-represented constituencies in the country. If they had been given these extra seats, even with the swing to Fianna Fail, the odds are that both Joe Higgins and Clare Daly would have been elected.
The people of Dublin West did not reject Joe Higgins or his approach to struggle or socialism. If you take into account the 900 votes he lost by the exclusion of the Palmertown area, his vote was only marginally down on 2002. Joe will continue to be a representative for the Socialist Party and an essential figure on the left in Ireland.
As they were in 'opposition', Labour expected to make significant gains but are now down one seat on 2002. It is clear that Labour is in decline and is increasingly losing its base in the working class. The outcome was even worse for Sinn Fein. While their vote, at 6.9%, was up slightly on 2002, they had expected to be in double digits for both percentage points and seats. Instead they came back with just four TDs.
The new government will emerge from unprincipled wheeling and dealing over the next weeks. Fianna Fail are in the driving seat and the Progressive Democrats, Independents, Greens or the Labour Party will be prepared to go into government with them. It inevitably will be a right-wing pro-big business administration.
The hopes for change and for maintaining economic growth and jobs will be dashed as the property and construction bubble, which has driven the economy along since 2001, ends.
The government's actions in the changed economic climate will create the basis for struggles at work and in communities. There will be the potential for a dramatic swing away from all the established parties, as they all will have defended the capitalist market, which is causing the attacks on people's rights.
The temporary setback that the Socialist Party, other genuine left forces and the working class have experienced in this election can and will be more than made up. It is vital that socialists and working-class activists continue to prepare today for the major battles and opportunities that will be posed to build the socialist movement in the years ahead.