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2004-06-16 10:51:00
Embassy Dublin
Cable title:  

Local and European Elections in Ireland: A

Tags:   PREL  POGV  EUN 
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DUBLIN 000911 



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Local and European Elections in Ireland: A
Shift to the Left As Ahern Takes A Beating

REFERENCE: Dublin 868




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Local and European Elections in Ireland: A
Shift to the Left As Ahern Takes A Beating

REFERENCE: Dublin 868

1. (SBU) Summary: Irish PM Bertie Ahern will be
recovering from a major political setback when he
meets President Bush on June 26. His Fianna Fail
party turned in its worst performance since the 1920s
in local and European Parliament (EP) elections June

11. The big winners were opposition parties Sinn
Fein, Labour, and Fine Gael, all to the left of the
current Fianna Fail - Progressive Democrats
coalition. Domestic issues appeared to carry the
day: while anti-war Labour picked up support, the
equally anti-war Greens lost ground, and we believe
Sinn Fein's appeal is largely its ability to persuade
voters it can deliver public services. Ahern's
government, looking towards 2007 general elections,
faces a real battle to convince voters it has not
lost touch with the people, and will likely realign
itself to the center-left. A refocusing on social
issues might cause tensions, however, with the pro-
enterprise Progressive Democrats. A cabinet
reshuffle is now likely to involve wholesale changes
in the ministerial line-up. End Summary.

Ahern's Party Gets a Bloody Nose

2. (SBU) PM Ahern did not try to hide the extent of
his disappointment when he met the press to answer
questions relating to his party's hammering at the
polls. Fianna Fail's support fell by eight percent
(from 38.9 to 31.9) from the last local elections in
1999 - resulting in a loss of 84 council seats (from
382 to 298). On the European stage, support fell
over nine percentage points, leaving the party with
three MEP slots instead of six.

Who Gains?

3. (SBU) On the surface, Sinn Fein is the big
winner. The party more than doubled its local
authority representation from 21 seats to 54, and
took its first MEP seat. Analysts attribute this to
Sinn Fein going into traditional Fianna Fail
heartlands and promoting its anti-establishment
platform to voters keen to punish the government for
the poor provision of public services. Sinn Fein
appears to be widening its support base beyond inner
city, working class communities to win seats in rural
constituencies. In the words of PM Ahern, "Sinn Fein
won this election."

4. (SBU) On the surface, Ahern is correct.

However, it should be remembered that Sinn Fein was
starting from a very low position. The party only
began to seriously look at electoral politics in the
"South" in the late 1990s and as a result had few
local authority seats outside Dublin and the Border
counties prior to last week. Emboff heard
predictions from senior Irish figures that Sinn Fein
would turn a large number of its new local authority
seats into Dail (Irish parliament) seats at the next
general election.

Fine Gael: Another Big Winner

5. (SBU) The largest - and most moderate -
opposition party, Fine Gael confounded all
commentators by staging an impressive rally from its
disastrous showing in the 2002 general election. New
party leader Enda Kenny has turned the tide, with
Fine Gael topping Fianna Fail in the European
Parliament with five seats, and only marginally
behind Fianna Fail in the number of local authority
seats held. While media focus is on Sinn Fein's
gains, the government should be equally uneasy over
the resurrection of its traditional rival, Fine Gael.

Labour: the Bridesmaid in Future Government?

6. (SBU) The Labour Party also gained ground,
picking up 18 extra local authority seats (an
increase from 83 to 101). It is difficult to gauge
whether the party made much political capital out of
its opposition to the Iraq war and the June 26 visit
of President Bush war. Labour ran an equally strong
platform accusing the government of broken promises
on basic services.
Labour and Fine Gael's improvement combine to present
voters an emerging alternative to the present
coalition government, when general elections are held
in 2007.

Greens and PDs: Also-Rans

7. (SBU) The Green Party lost both its MEP slots
and barely increased its percentage vote in the local
authority elections. The party appears to be a spent
force for now. The Progressive Democrats did not
field any EP candidates, and actually lost local
authority seats (a fall from 25 to 19).

Comment: Cabinet Shuffle and Bertie to Brussels?
-------------- --

8. (SBU) While not exactly blaming each other for the
government's poor showing, Ahern and Deputy PM (and
Progressive Democrat leader) Mary Harney provided very
different explanations. Ahern stated that the government
must open its ears to public concerns, and hinted that
reforms in policy areas such as transportation
deregulation may be moderated. In contrast, Deputy PM
Harney strongly opined that the speed of reform should be
increased. The coalition may experience a bumpy ride for
the rest of its term in office, as Ahern makes plans for
an expected Cabinet shuffle this fall, and realignment to
the left. During a stormy Fianna Fail parliamentary party
meeting on June 15, backbench TDs called for the removal
of Finance Minister McCreevy, Justice Minister McDowell,
Health Minister Martin, and Environment Minister Cullen.
However, we suspect that ministers closer to retirement,
such as Agriculture Minister Walsh and Defense Minister
Smith, are more likely to depart in a shuffle.

9. (SBU) Ahern's poor showing - and the apparent UK and
Italian rejection of Belgian PM Verhofstadt - has
reignited rumors he may allow himself to be put forward as
a compromise candidate for President of the European
Commission. Ahern is viewed by many as second in line for
the plumb post. If consensus on Vehofstadt's candidature
is not forthcoming at European Council Summit June 17-18,
pressure will grow on Ahern to put his name forward.
Close colleagues of Ahern continue to say this is
unlikely, however, and Ahern himself reassured his party
again on June 25 that he will lead them into the 2007
general elections.