FACTBOX-Ireland’s political parties

DUBLIN, Oct 13 (BestGrowthStock) – The threat of political upheaval
early next year and a lack of cross-party support for government
recovery plans mean Ireland will have only a very small window
of relative calm to tap investors for fresh funds in 2011.

For snap analysis click on [ID:nLDE69C2D1]

Unlike other European political systems, Ireland’s major
political parties are not demarcated along right-wing/left-wing
lines but rather on what side they took in a civil war in the
early 1920s.

Here are some facts about Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, the two
main parties; Labour, a more traditional left-wing party set to
play a major role in any new coalition and two smaller groups —
the Greens and Sinn Fein — likely to be in opposition.

FIANNA FAIL

Seats: 83 (50 pct of lower-house)

Status: Main government party. Centrist policies. Lying in
third place in most recent opinion polls, its 13-year reign
looks certain to end whenever a general election is called.

History: Translated as “Soldiers of Destiny”, Fianna Fail
was founded in 1926. Nationalist in ethos, its roots lie in the
struggle for Irish independence and the side that fought against
a 1921 treaty giving Ireland self-governing dominion status
within the British Empire. The treaty sparked civil war.

It has dominated Irish politics, only sitting in opposition
on six occasions — or for less than 20 years — and never for
longer than one term since first winning power in 1932. Aligned
in Europe to the liberal European Liberal Democrat and Reform
Party, it is the only party to have commanded overall majorities
in Ireland’s lower-house and each of its seven leaders has
served as Prime Minister.

Leader: Brian Cowen (50), a former finance and health
minister who took office in May 2008, following the resignation
of Bertie Ahern. He is the most unpopular leader in modern Irish
history due to a perception he did not do enough to prevent
Ireland’s current financial crisis, a gruff public persona and a
recent scandal over his drinking habits. He has faced two
parliamentary confidence votes in the space of a year and calls
to stand down from members of his party.

Policies: Cowen and fellow Fianna Fail Finance Minister
Brian Lenihan have led Ireland’s austerity drive, pushing
through three austerity budgets in just over a year and plan to
make well over 3 billion euros worth of savings in December’s
budget for 2011 to help cut the country’s budget deficit to 3
percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2014.

Lenihan has also spearheaded a bank rescue that has seen the
state guarantee all its banks, introduce a “bad bank” plan to
clean up their balance sheets and recapitalise and nationalise
the sector to the tune of up to 50 billion euros.

Foreign investors have praised Fianna Fail’s efforts to turn
the economy around but Irish people are angry at the party’s
courtship of property developers during the go-go years of the
“Celtic Tiger” economy and its failure to reign in reckless bank
lending and runaway property prices.

FINE GAEL

Seats: 51 (31 pct of lower-house)

Status: Opposition party. Centre-right policies. Likely to
lead new coalition despite falling into second place in recent
opinion polls.

History: Founded in 1933, its roots also lie in the struggle
for Irish independence and the side that supported the Anglo
Irish Treaty in the civil war. Describing itself as “a party of
the progressive centre”, Fine Gael is traditionally seen as the
party representing big farmers and city professionals.

Allied to the centre-right European People’s Party, Fine
Gael has been in government six times since 1933, leading a
coalition featuring Labour on each occasion and last governing
between 1994 and 1997. It is the largest party at local level,
surpassing Fianna Fail for the first time last year.

Leader: Enda Kenny (59), a former minister for tourism and
trade and the longest-serving MP in Ireland’s lower house. Took
charge of the party in 2002 but his popularity ratings have been
consistently low and he survived a strong leadership challenge
from his deputy in June. His ratings are seen as the key reason
why Labour has overtaken Fine Gael in some recent opinion polls.

Policies: It backs the government’s goal of reducing the
budget deficit to 3 percent of GDP by 2014, favours spending
cuts over taxation and would rather frontloading savings. It has
pledged to keep corporation tax at its low 12.5 percent level.

Fine Gael also says it would sell state assets and use the
country’s cash reserves to introduce an 18 billion euro stimulus
package. If elected, it would seek to abolish Ireland’s second
chamber and reduce the number of lower-house MPs by 20.

LABOUR PARTY

Seats: 20 (12 pct of lower house)

Status: Opposition party. Set to surpass its best election
showing of 33 seats in the 1992 parliamentary poll and be a key
player in any new coalition government.

History: Founded in 1912 as the political wing of the Irish
Trade Union Congress, Labour is Ireland’s only major left wing
party. Unlike the smaller and more left-wing Sinn Fein, Labour
rarely takes its members to the streets and has played a key
role in the traditional consensual politics in Ireland.

Affiliated in Europe with the Party of European Socialists
(PES), the party has been in government seven times since the
foundation of the state in 1921 and unlike Fine Gael, has once
shared power with Fianna Fail between 1992 and 1994. It has
always been a junior coalition partner and has only once held
the prized position of finance minister.

Leader: Eamon Gilmore (55), a former junior minister for
marine, member of the now defunct Democratic Left party and
former leader of the Union of Students in Ireland. He is the
most popular political leader and his polished performances have
helped him appear a more suitable alternative prime minister
than Fine Gael’s Kenny. His popularity helped push Labour to the
top of an opinion poll for the first time in June.

Policies: Like Fine Gael, Labour also believes Ireland
should cut its budget deficit to the EU-agreed target of 3
percent by 2014 but would tax the rich rather than overly rely
on spending cuts to get there. The party strongly opposed the
set up of the country’s “bad bank” and does not support the
government’s bank guarantee scheme.

Labour has also proposed dipping into reserves earmarked for
public pensions to create a strategic investment bank to spur
job creation and public investment.

GREEN PARTY

Seats: 6 (4 pct of lower house)

Status: Junior government party. By propping up an unpopular
government, the Greens risk losing all their seats at the next
election and are unlikely to be a part of any new coalition.

History: Formed in 1981 by a teacher who was active in the
Vegetarian Society and Friends of the Earth, the Green Party
took its first seat in parliament in 1989 and entered government
for the first time in 2007, securing two cabinet positions.

Affiliated with the European Green Party, it says its
founding principles are based on peace, democracy, protection of
the environment and social justice. The party lost all but three
of its 18 local government seats last year.

Leader: John Gormley (51), the current environment and local
government minister served as mayor of Dublin in the mid 1990s.

Policies: The Greens have backed Cowen throughout their term
together and have pushed through some of their own policies,
often to the dismay of some Fianna Fail members, including a new
civil partnership law and animal rights legislation.

The party want to ban corporate donations and give Dublin a
directly elected mayor before its term in office ends.

SINN FEIN

Seats: 4 (2 pct of lower house)

Status: Opposition party. Leftist policies. Far removed from
other parties so highly unlikely to be part of any new
coalition.

History: An Irish republican party seeking to end British
rule in Northern Ireland, it shares power with the pro-British
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in the north but is the smallest
political party in parliament in the south.

It took its current form in 1970 but the original Sinn Fein,
founded in 1905, formed an unofficial parliament in 1918 during
Ireland’s push for independence and Ireland’s two main parties
formed out of its demise.

Leader: The party’s president is Gerry Adams, a former
guerrilla suspect during Northern Ireland’s decades of violence,
while its leader in the Republic of Ireland’s parliament is
Caoimhghin O’ Caolain (57).

Policies: Sinn Fein are the only party not to adhere to the
government’s aim of reducing the budget deficit to 3 percent of
GDP by 2014. It opposes the government’s bank plans and has said
Bank of Ireland (BKIR.I: ), the only bank not likely to fall under
majority state control, should be nationalised.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Carmel Crimmins)

FACTBOX-Ireland’s political parties