Enda Kenny hails 'democratic revolution' in Ireland

The leader of Ireland's center-right Fine Gael party, Enda Kenny, says his party has won a 'massive endorsement' to govern after Friday's election.

Peter Morrison/AP
Fine Gael party leader, Enda Kenny, reacts after addressing party members at the Burlington Hotel, Dublin, Ireland, Saturday. Ireland's ruling Fianna Fail party faced its worst defeat in nearly 80 years as a tidal wave of voter angery about the country being nearly pushed to bankruptcy swept the opposition Fine Gael to the brink of power Saturday.

The leader of Ireland's center-right Fine Gael party, Enda Kenny, claimed victory Sunday after angry voters rejected the ruling centrist Fianna Fáil party and its Green Party partners.

Mr. Kenny says his party has won a “massive endorsement” to govern and called the result of Friday's vote “a democratic revolution.”

With counting almost complete and final official results due Monday, Fine Gael is headed for 75 seats in the Dáil, Ireland’s parliament, eight short of a majority. Labour is headed for 37, while Fianna Fáil has gone into meltdown, dropping from 77 to 20. The party, which has governed for most of Ireland’s history, suffered the largest drop in support of any party since independence. The Green party lost all of its six seats.

Fine Gael will now govern in coalition with Labour to tackle the enormous challenge of recovering from the economic meltdown that led to the voter rage seen Friday. In the meantime, Ireland's "natural party of government," Fianna Fáíl, will have to rebuild after a stinging defeat that will linger in the minds of voters for years to come.

“A whole new generation see Fianna Fáíl as toxic and it has lost a generation of leaders,” says David Farrell, political science professor at University College Dublin, adding that the longtime ruling party will have to rebuild from scratch. “It was arguably the most successful ‘broad church’ party in western Europe and now it’s struggling to pick up a twentieth seat.”

Voters unleash anger at the polls

After an economic meltdown that spurred thousands of Irish to flee the country in search of a better life, voters sent a stern message.

“I am absolutely satisfied that Fianna Fáil has been mauled,” says conservative voter, Robert Cassidy. “It’s long overdue given the damage they’ve done to the country.”

The result of Friday's vote, however, is not a straightforward swing to the right. Along with Labour, left-wing Sinn Féin has seen a dramatic surge, more than tripling its seats to 15.

Independent candidates of both left and right polled well, indicating the beginnings of an ideological debate in previously uniformly center-right Ireland.

Who is Enda Kenny?

The man who will be Taoiseach (prime minister) is the longest-serving lawmaker in Ireland, having first been elected in 1975. Kenny was a minister in the last Fine Gael-led government between 1994 and 1997, and became leader of the party in 2002 after it suffered its own dramatic meltdown in the polls.

Seen as a safe pair of hands, the former school teacher from rural County Mayo in the west of Ireland successfully rebuilt the party but is considered by some to be a dry and uninspiring figure. Despite this, he successfully saw off a challenge to his leadership last year and has a made a virtue of being a team player rather than an iconoclastic leader.

Kenny's new government must now lay the foundations for recovery. What will it take?

“We need dull, technocratic measures," says Brian Lucey, professor of finance at Trinity College in Dublin.

"We have to encourage as many people as possible [back] into the workforce as quickly as we can,” he says, suggesting tapering of welfare payments instead of the cut-off currently in place and tax refunds for businesses that create jobs.

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