Irish Republican News · February 26, 2016
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Voters crowd polling stations after rancorous campaign
Voters crowd polling stations after rancorous campaign

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Turnout in the 26 County general election is being described as high, despite cold and rainy weather in many areas. Voting began at 7am and closes at 10pm in an election that opinion polls indicate could be witnessing a late swing back to the government parties.

It was revealed this morning that Taoiseach Enda Kenny received the endorsement of David Cameron in a glowing letter of approval sent to the Fine Gael leader by the British Prime Minister. The news was highlighted in a front page splash ‘exclusive’ by the Irish Independent newspaper, after days and weeks of some of the most extreme anti-Sinn Fein propaganda ever seen from the newspaper group, which is owned by notorious business mogul and Fine Gael donor Denis O’Brien.

An article ‘Ten reasons not to vore for Sinn Fein’ marked the lowest point in a concerted campaign by the media to damage Sinn Fein, eulogise the current coalition and rehabilitate the previous Fianna Fail government.

In a judgement widely seen as having been timed in an attempt to influence election day voting, a prominent republican aligned with Sinn Fein, Louth man Thomas Murphy, was this afternoon handed an 18 month sentence for tax evasion. In a statement released after the sentencing, which received unprecedented media coverage for a tax case, Mr Murphy continued to maintain his innocence and said he will appeal the sentence.

Most opinion polls continue to suggest the government parties may fall narrowly short of a majority. A return of the Fine Gael-Labour combination looks set to require more than half-a-dozen “Independents and Others” to stay in office, a coalition likely to rapidly collapse. Another possibility, a pact between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, the two largest parties on the right, also looks unlikely due to their long enmity and their parties’ origins as civil war opponents.

While Sinn Fein is set to substantially increase its presence in the Dublin parliament, from 14 seats to more than 20, it is not expected to be in a position to lead a left-wing government. With another election likely in the short term, it would be a huge breakthrough for the party if it were to become the largest on the opposition benches.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the election had been a “battle of ideas going on between the golden circles and the people”, between austerity and equality. He called on voters to elect a first-ever progressive government. His Belfast-based colleague, Martin McGuinness joined the election campaign trail in Dublin urging the electorate to “seize the moment”.

He accused Fine Gael of resorting to the “politics of fear”, while describing Sinn Fein as “politics of hope”. He said people had an opportunity to change things for the better, and Sinn Fein want to be part of that change.

“For the first time, in all our lifetimes, we have the opportunity to have Sinn Fein in government north and south.

“Governments that will stand up for equality. Governments that will deliver a fair recovery. Governments with a plan for unity and reconciliation. Governments with a plan to sustain the peace process. Governments that will act in the national interest.”

LABOUR IN CRISIS

A lot of attention has fallen on the junior coalition partner, the Labour Party, with polls showing it could receive anywhere between 4 per cent and 10 per cent of the vote.

The party’s election campaign has suffered a series of reverses. In the first week the labour deputy leader Alan Kelly, known as ‘AK47’ for his brusque demeanour and short temper, said in an interview that “power is a drug . . . it suits me”. He quickly disappeared from the public eye to focus on canvasing for his seat in Tipperary. Among those he is up against is independent Michael Lowry, who remains highly popular despite having been found to have acted corruptly when serving as Fine Gael’s Minister for Communication.

Speculation also surrounds the future of Labour party leader Joan Burton, who is in a battle to hold her seat in Dublin West. Burton fared poorly in the election debates, although her party has seen its poll ratings make a tick upward in the final dats of caxmpaigning. However, Fine Gael health minister Leo Varadkar was forced to ask constituents in some areas to give a third preference to his coalition colleague, a move that appears to confirm that her seat is in jeopardy.

There was controversy in that constituency today when voters in one part of the electoral battleground found they had been inexplicably removed from the electoral register when they went to vote, and were turned away. One resident of Cruise Park Square, Tyrrelstown, said they had voted in every election from the same address since 2007, but had not been able to vote this year. A local council spokeswoman said it reviewed the register annually and the onus was on each citizen to ensure their details were correct.

GAFFES

Polls show there has also been a slight increase in support for Fine Gael, despite running a very negative campaign and after a generally poor performance by the party leader Enda Kenny. He committed another gaffe last weekend when he branded some critics in his hometown of Castlebar as “whingers”. The comment echoed notorious remarks by former Fianna Fail leader Bertie Ahern in 2007, who criticised “cribbin’ and moanin’” as the state veered towards its eventual economic collapse.

The Fine Gael leader later stood by his remarks, despite facing calls for an apology. “Some of them wouldn’t know sunshine if they saw it,” said Mr Kenny. Fianna Fail’s candidate in Mayo Lisa Chambers criticised the taoiseach, accusing him of being out of touch. “The arrogance that has been the hallmark of Fine Gael in government and their national campaign is now emerging locally and is a sign of the pressure the taoiseach is beginning to feel,” she said. Kenny later insisted he meant rival politicians.

Her party has risen in polls on the back of favourable coverage in the mainstream media as it joined in the attacks on Sinn Fein, always seen as its biggest rival in the centenary year of of the 1916 Easter Rising. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing, as party leader Micheal Martin had to abandon a walkabout in Dublin’s north side after being harangued over his role in the economic crisis by angry anti-austerity demonstrators.

In an uneventful final election debate, one of the few talking points was when Kenny, in response to a question on his party’s health cuts, said: “Gerry [Adams] here defends Mr Murphy but he won’t defend Senator Cahill in answer to your question.”

In a moment of apparent confusion, Mr Adams asked “Who’s Senator Cahill, who’s Senator Cahill?” before Mr Kenny responded, “Mairia Cahill”.

Mairia Cahill, who accused the IRA of covering up a sexual attack on her by one of its members in the 1990s, was handed a seat in the upper house of the Dublin parliament as a Labour Party senator in November last year. She is set to lose her post following the next Seanad election at the end of April.

At another point during the debate, when asked about his party’s cronyism, Mr Kenny admitted he appointed party supporter John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), a fact which he has repeatedly denied up to this.

Mr McNulty was the Fine Gael candidate for the Seanad by-election and was appointed to the board by the Arts Minister to ensure an easy election. Mr Kenny confirmed during the debate he had made the decision, one he “shouldn’t have made”. The following morning he again denied this.

CLASHES

Earlier this week, there was outrage from republicans when Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty, speaking during a radio debate with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, suggested Mr Adams and his family had been legitimately targeted during the conflict in the North. “You started it,” she said. Ms Doherty subsequently claimed to have received death threats as a result of her comments, but this could not be confirmed.

And Labour’s Ann Phelan pulled no punches when she stormed out of a radio debate on KCLR on Monday night, claiming she was “fed up of the whole bloody lot of ye”. Sensing she was on the ropes, she went back on air to explain she had been tired and hungry and it had been through a trying day.

TEA AND SCONES

On the final day of campaigning, Mr Kenny and Ms Burton gave a brief press conference after they had tea and scones together at Grand Canal Dock in Dublin city centre.

Taoiseach said it had been a “great privilege” to lead the Coalition for five years and asked Fine Gael supporters to continue their preference for Labour candidates.

Ms Burton returned the favour, asking Labour votes to continue their preferences for Fine Gael.

“A very small shift in voting intentions in terms of both parties would actually return a stable government for the next five years,” she said, adding that such a small shift will maximise the number of government TDs returned.

Mr Kenny said the return of the government can be achieved, and repeated it his not intention to do a deal with Fianna Fail and Micheal Martin after the election.

“What I would like to happen is that a clear signal is given by the people and a clear decision made by the people when they do cast their votes,” he said.

“One of the ways they can avoid confusion and instability and the consequent dangers in that is to support the government that has been in office for the last five years.

“That government is on offer for the people to provide stability and continued progress in implementing a strategic plan that will bring further prosperity to our country and essentially make the recovery felt in every home and every person.”

Fianna Fail’s Director of Elections Billy Kelleher ridiculed the last photocall by the Taoiseach and Tanaiste. “This is how desperate they are, sharing a cup of tea down by the docks. Things are really coming to an end for them.

“They have used fear and smear as their basic campaign tactic. They have changed their message, they have changed their policies they have retreated from some of their major policies,” he said.

He insisted it would not be credible for the party to enter coalition with Fine Gael.

BATTLE OF IDEAS

In his last major address, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams called on young people “not to listen to the bullsh*t” but to come out to vote and to “vote wisely to elect a progressive government”.

Speaking on the eve of the election to a large Irish and international media gathering outside the GPO yesterday Mr Adams said “tomorrow is the people’s day” and “it can also be the people’s Rising. We’re calling upon young people particularly to lead that rising.”

The Louth TD, said the election was a “battle of ideas going on between the golden circles and the people”, between austerity and equality.

He wanted everyone to consider “seizing the moment and voting Sinn Fein”.

Asked about coalition government, he reiterated that the party’s annual conference would decide. “Our ardfheis has decided very, very clearly we will not be a junior partner with any of those establishment parties.”

The party is part of a left-wing coalition known as Right2Change, which is fielding over 100 candidates and is aiming to form Ireland’s first progressive government.

The election takes place amid a deep divide in Irish society which has fuelled the rise of the left. The latest data shows that 29% of households in the 26 Counties are living in enforced deprivation. More families became homeless in Dublin last month than in any previous month on record, the latest figures show, and almost all of them had never been homeless before.

Dublin Simon has described the latest figures as “extremely alarming”, while Focus Ireland said they were “shocking”. Mike Allen, director of advocacy with Focus, said the figures showed the proclaimed “recovery” had not reached the general population.

The counting of votes begins tomorrow, with the first (unofficial) tallies expected by noon. First counts are expected in the late afternoon. An exit poll is being conducted by state broadcaster RTE, with results due to be released from 7am Irish time tomorrow morning. There have been reports of a second exit poll, but no indication that it will be made public.

All results wil be published here as they become available.

© 2016 Irish Republican News