Friday, May 25, 2007

Irish General Election & Bertie Ahern

For most of today, I've been following the Irish General Election with an Internet feed from the Irish state broadcaster RTE. From being down and out just a few weeks ago, Bertie Ahern seems to have risen in a Lazarus fashion and is set to be re-elected as the Taoiseach(Irish Prime Minister). In Ireland an STV system exists and the final result will be unclear until tomorrow. In winning a third consecutive term he becomes only the second ever leader to achieve this feat, a quite remarkable achievement given that he has been in office for 10 years.

Why did Bertie make such a comeback? Part of the reason has to be his charisma coupled with his ability to brush off problems and come out looking rosy. In Ireland, tribunals and investigations into politicians seem to be a way of life, indeed various allegations have been made about Bertie though nothing seems to stick or is referred to a tribunal, one of which has been in existence for ten years.

Also a major reason for his success, has to be the Irish economy which has grown significantly over the last ten years which has seen the country transformed. The economic performance has been nothing sort of phenomenal with the highest rates of growth in Western Europe and a huge fall in unemployment. Being a regular visitor to the country (both my parents come from Ireland), I've seen first hand the changes that have taken place and the increased prosperity. Indeed just a few years ago, migration of people abroad was a major problem with the population dropping as a result, now people especially from Eastern Europe flock to the country because of the economic opportunities available. Indeed my own parents and many of my parents generation left the country as there was simply a complete lack of opportunities in Ireland, this simply does not happen anymore.

However, the considerable economic success has not been without its downside, huge infrastructure problems exist and the huge growth population in parts of Ireland especially in Dublin (50% growth over four years in some areas) has seen the failure of infrastructure to cater for the growth. The health service is in complete crisis with strikes being a regular feature, money has gone in but it's in a much poorer state then in the UK and also charges on a whole range of services including going to the doctors and ANE (anyone who complains about the NHS should see the state of the Irish health service). In education, a complete lack of places exist for thousands of school children, it's all very well building houses but the infrastructure needs to be in place.

The campaign in Ireland shows the turn-around that can happen in the space of a few weeks, in a way it could be compared to the General Election here in 1992 with the main opposition Fine Gael making large gains but failing to breakthrough after many years in opposition.


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