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'For me, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are virtually the same'

Columnist Julien Mercille gives us his take on the election ahead.

Julien Mercille Associate professor, UCD

WE’RE ALMOST THERE. This Friday, we will elect a new government. Here are a few of my tips on how to vote in an informed way.

1. Do vote

Some believe that all politicians are the same and that nothing will ever change, so why bother voting?

In fact, not voting simply allows the same parties to stay in power and prevents change. There is a lot of choice in this election (see point 4 below), so those who want change should use the opportunity and tell friends, colleagues and family to do the same.

2. Know your constituency

There have been changes to constituencies. Wikipedia gives a good list, with the candidates running, and the results of previous elections. This website also gives useful maps of constituencies by party and lists candidates.

3. Vote based on candidates’ actions, not on what they say or look like

Nobody believes Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un when they make eloquent speeches about freedom, because actions speak louder than words. It’s the same thing in Ireland or anywhere else.

Therefore, it’s irrelevant if you don’t like Mick Wallace’s hair or if you think Micheál Martin is a good speaker or if you find Enda Kenny uncomfortable in leaders’ debates, because that won’t affect policies. However, the fact that Wallace tried to close Shannon airport to the US military and that both Martin and Kenny are part of pro-austerity parties does matter, whatever one’s opinion about those policies.

4. Ireland is split along a Left-Right divide, not a phoney civil war divide

And as a general rule, the more Left they are, the more parties emphasise people power.

Parties can roughly be grouped as follows from Right to Left (this ranking excludes Independents and smaller parties, which are case by case — some are on the Right, others on the Left):

(a) Right-wing parties: Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Renua. They defend the current system and claim that by and large, the country is going in the right direction.

(b) Liberal parties: Labour, Greens, Social Democrats (with the latter more progressive than the other two). They emphasise issues like abortion, gay rights, gender equality, and the environment. But, in my opinion, they are not committed to a significant restructuring of our society, believing in more moderate adjustments.

(c) Left nationalist populist party: Sinn Féin. It is located between (b) and (d), but probably closer to (b). It is more serious about changing the system than the liberal parties, but more willing to be pragmatic than the radical Left parties. It is imbued with a strong dose of nationalism as well.

(d) Radical Left parties: Anti-Austerity Alliance, People Before Profit, Workers Party. They believe in people power, a serious restructuring of our economy and political sphere, and are not inclined on compromising on those principles. They argue that equality is not just about allowing gay people to marry or making abortion available to women, but also about economic equality. To achieve the latter, they maintain that the system must be changed.

5. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are virtually the same

Many people are dissatisfied with Fine Gael in power and are thinking about “giving a chance” to the Fianna Fáil “alternative”. But as a number of journalists and editors have noted in the media, the two parties are very similar. Some even talk of “Fianna Gael” to make this point. They have similar values and policies.

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The consequence is that voters should be careful that voting for either of the two main parties will bring change. Alternatively, if you like one, there is no reason not to like the other.

6. Three concrete voter profiles

Here are suggestions for three types of voters:

(a) You’re progressive: There is a lot of debate among progressives on how to vote. Should Labour be sent to the dustbin of history? Should Sinn Féin be supported even if their record in Northern Ireland is not completely clean?

A minimalist approach could work, however: support whoever you like, except Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Renua. This would ensure that those parties will shrink, and the door will therefore be open for change.

(b) You’re moderate: There is a lot of dissatisfaction with the government, as many recent polls have shown. But many voters are also not comfortable with parties like the Anti-Austerity Alliance or People Before Profit. One obvious option here is to vote for one of the Liberal parties above (Labour, Social Democrats, Greens). The more audacious may consider an Independent like Mick Wallace or Diarmuid O’Flynn.

(c) You’re conservative: in this case, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or Renua are the obvious choices. If still looking for change, perhaps go with an Independent who is not on the Left, or try to find candidates from the main parties who happen to have differences that matter to you.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Twitter: @JulienMercille 

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About the author:

Julien Mercille  / Associate professor, UCD

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