The Taoiseach of Ireland, Enda Kenny, announced earlier today that Ireland will go to the polls this month-specifically on 26th February, only 23 days from now.
1. How is it different from the last Irish general election of 2011?
Several new parties will be entering the fold-Renua Ireland (centre-right and liberal conservative, led by ex-Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton), the Social Democrats (centre-left, led by TDs Stephen Donnelly, Catherine Murphy, and Roisin Shortall), and Direct Democracy Ireland (plus a few splinter groups also dedicated to the concept of direct democracy). The Socialists and People Before Profit have also allied to form the Anti Austerity Alliance/PBP joint ticket, although TDs Joan Collins and Clare Daly, who were originally elected under the PBP and Socialist Party of Ireland banners respectively, have refused to join it.
There have also been significant constituency changes for this election, particularly since there will be 158 TDs elected, down from 166, and with 40 constituencies instead of 43. The formerly split counties of Donegal, Kerry, and Tipperary have been united to form 5-seat constituencies, and Leitrim has been reunited and joined with Sligo. Laois-Offaly meanwhile has been split into its component counties, each electing 3 TDs (deputies), with the 'Greater Dublin' area also having a major redrawing.
2. Who is standing?
As of this time of writing, there are currently across the 40 constituencies of the Republic of Ireland 88 Fine Gael, 36 Labour, 70 Fianna Fail, 50 Sinn Fein, 31 AAA-PBP, 36 Green, 21 Renua Ireland, 14 Social Democrat, 14 Direct Democracy Ireland, 5 Workers Party, 3 Independents for Change, and 2 Communist candidates respectively standing for election (not to mention 1 each from the Workers Unemployed Action Group, Fis Nua, and the Irish Democratic Party). There are as usual lots of independent candidates of varying beliefs and values; STV is the easiest means of proportional representation for independents to be elected (although since the Dail constituencies in Ireland have to be between 3 and 5 seats in size by convention, proportionality in Irish elections is limited at best).
3. What result is likely to emerge from this election?
The current Fine Gael-Labour coalition is likely to suffer heavy losses in this election, with Labour as the junior coalition partner bearing proportionally greater losses especially with the hard left AAA-PBP alliance on its tail; Fine Gael stands to lose many seats as well, however. Fianna Fail may recover but it is unlikely ever to see its previous highs again with the political landscape of Ireland more fragmented than ever before. This election will be crucial also for the AAA-PBP to establish themselves in the long term now that the urban left-wing ticket is no longer split, and also for Sinn Fein to establish themselves as the main opposition to the likely coalitions that will emerge. The Irish Green Party has a chance to regain a foothold in the Dail as well, and strong personal votes, particularly important in preferential voting systems, could see the Social Democrats and Renua Ireland maintain their presence.
4. Which constituencies are the ones to watch for this election?
In my opinion, Cavan-Monaghan and Donegal, since they are Sinn Fein's strongest outposts in the Republic of Ireland. Dublin Bay North, since it has the most candidates standing (19) and in such a wide variety as well. Dublin Bay South, because Irish Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is hoping to get his seat back (this is the best chance for them) and it will be an important test for Renua Ireland founder Lucinda Creighton as well. Dublin Central, for similar reasons to Dublin Bay North except there are only 3 seats to fight over with 10 different parties and 4 independents in the ring. Dublin West-could Joan Burton, leader of Labour in Ireland and current Tanaiste, lose her own seat and will popular AAA-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger retain hers? Wicklow-the Social Democrats may be a new and relatively minor force in Irish politics, but can Stephen Donnelly's personal popularity see him through?