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'This campaign has attached jump leads to Irish history': How the world's media has covered the election

News organisations talk about Ireland’s success with the economy and Brexit, but also its failure to tackle the homeless crisis.

WHEN LEO VARADKAR became Taoiseach, the world’s media covered it as a pivotal moment in the country’s development: from a conservative Catholic nation to a liberal country at the heart of Europe.

So what’s the angle this time around? Sinn Féin’s impressive rise in the polls is one, and homelessness is another – while a few outlets decided to zone in on the Healy Rae dynasty.

One of the most notable mentions came from ITV’s political correspondent Robert Peston, who called RTÉ’s three-way leaders debate “really quite shocking” in how detailed, honest, and laced with humility it was.

Here’s a quick sweep at what’s catching the world’s eye in our election.

French news agency AFP, which supplies news copy for agencies around the world, said that Brexit and homelessness was “dominating” the Irish election in its headline – in the copy it said that since the vote in 2016, Brexit has “dominated Irish politics since”. (It’s probably more accurate to say that Brexit has dominated Irish politics since the EU and UK couldn’t get agreement on the Irish backstop in the summer of 2018).

Of the housing crisis, the news agency says: “The Irish economy has recovered from the ruinous recession it suffered in 2008, and grew by 0.7% in the second quarter of 2019.

However, a housing shortage has pushed rent and property prices out of the reach of much of the middle class.

In a piece looking at Sinn Féin’s rise, AFP spoke to voters in Waterford about their view of the party. One voter, William Hoban said he “previously declined to vote for the party because of their links to intimidation and violence”.
“I’ve never voted Sinn Féin, ever,” said the 53-year-old but this year said he would “give them a chance”.

“They’re getting more reasonable,” he told AFP.
But a vote to unite Ireland is not high on his list of priorities. “It’s just a bit early,” he said. “It wouldn’t be fair to unionists”.

Tony Hayes, co-founder of the Irish Handmade Glass Company, said he would vote for Sinn Féin for the first time. “It’s time for a change down here,” he said.

Channel 4 

“This campaign has attached jump leads to Irish history” was one of the lines to the intro of a Channel4 10-minute long video that looks at the Irish elections.

When asked by Channel4 about Sinn Féin’s links to the “violent terrorism” of the past being still in the minds of some voters, Mary Lou McDonald said that “this election is about building for the future”.

Jon Snow then interviewed Fintan O’Toole about the surge of Sinn Féin, who said that Irish politics is split between old centre-right parties and new “progressive left wing” parties “anxious for social change”.

He said that whether “I like it or not or anyone likes it or not, voters are corralling around Sinn Féin, and that we might get over 40% of people voting for left-wing parties.

The Healy-Raes

The Healy-Rae family, meanwhile, came to the attention of the Guardian and Politico this week.

The Guardian’s piece, it opens with the line: “Ireland has a tradition of mocking people from Kerry as clueless hillbillies, a baseless caricature repeated in a thousand jokes”.

The article continues:

They lead tractor convoys and torch-lit processions, dance jigs on car bonnets and argue for the right of rural people to drink and drive. Many Dubliners scoff at mention of the family.
The more Dublin snickers, it seems, the better for the Healy-Raes, who alchemise metropolitan disdain into votes at home.

The article says that the Healy-Rae brothers, outgoing TDs Michael and Danny, “could end up in government” – which is a possibility, but seems very speculative, at the very least.

Politico also has a general piece on the Irish election and the opinion polls; its interactive poll of polls shows Sinn Féin’s rise and Fine Gael’s fall.

In that piece, Leo Varadkar is asked by Politico if Brexit is coming up on the doors, and answers: “Not a lot. It comes up occasionally … People always volunteer their current problems now rather than problems that are fixed or in the process of being fixed.”

The BBC gives a rundown of the four main political parties, with the other parties mentioned as a footnote, while Sky News lists the main issues of the general election.

Sky News says: “Despite a thriving economy – Europe’s fastest-growing, with almost full employment – and a strong performance on Brexit, it appears that Fine Gael is being punished by angry voters for a range of societal issues.”

Al Jazeera looks at a formerly homeless family and the housing crisis issue as part of its coverage of the Irish election. 

Bloomberg has looked at the bookies’ analysis of who is likely to lead the next government (they favour Fianna Fáil) while the New York Times did a straight election piece as well as a separate one on how the next government will have to handle the War of Independence centenary with care.

Time magazine has a good, comprehensive explainer on the Irish election, and has this interesting observation:

Under Ireland’s unusual electoral system, voters choose a group of several lawmakers to represent their local area in parliament. Voters can specify their second and third choices, and so on, to allow votes to be transferred to remaining candidates until all the local spots are filled. Some say the system can encourage an electoral focus on local rather than national concerns.

The article also says that left-wing parties have “historically struggled” to break through in Ireland, “partly due to the slow pace of industrialisation in the country and the conflict over British rule”, which it says “many argue prevented the emergence of a strong trade union movement or class struggle in the twentieth century”.

The New Statesman, a weekly British publication,  published a few pieces on the Irish election, including an opinion piece about how homelessness has “haunted” “Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar”. It lists some of the issues around housing that have shaped the general election campaign.

In another piece, Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin told the publication that the party “has worked hard to shift its register away from anger about government decisions and towards credible policy alternatives”. 

When asked if there were two strains to the party – with the question referencing Dessie Ellis, a former Provisional IRA member who was jailed for 10 years for possession of explosives - Ó Broin said: “I am proud to be a member of the same parliamentary party as Ellis… Anyone who has a moral problem with him has a moral problem with me.”

 Anyone who asks me, I tell them: ‘I’m a Gerry Adams republican’.

Today is the last day of election campaigning, with broadcast media observing a moratorium which kicks in from 2pm today. Voting begins tomorrow at 7am, until 10pm.

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