Ireland's general election campaigns have far-reaching consequences for UK and European relations

This Saturday, Ireland will elect its next government and, while our election doesn't quite match the UK's for melodrama, it does share one central theme: change.

The messaging by candidates in the Irish elections have far-reaching consequences for UK/Ireland relations, argues Dan Pender
The messaging by candidates in the Irish elections have far-reaching consequences for UK/Ireland relations, argues Dan Pender
To some people, this desire to change how Ireland is governed is surprising; our economy is strong, and we’ve weathered (for now) the Brexit storm. 

Delve deeper, and you will find a country that is grappling with the challenges of the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. 

Ireland, as has been the trend, is moving to the left politically. 

People overwhelmingly feel that their politicians, particularly those from the traditional ‘ruling’ parties, are out of touch. 

Such sentiment is reflected in the election campaign. 

The campaign of the ruling party, Fine Gael, anchored in effective management of the economy and the next phase of Brexit, is flatlining. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, lauded on the international stage as a progressive in the mould of Macron and Trudeau, is seen as lacking empathy.  

His main competitor, Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil, with a focus on the immediate, tangible challenges of housing and healthcare, is finding much greater resonance, particularly among lower social and economic groups.

Sinn Féin is enjoying an even larger bounce. 

They have best captured the public mood of disaffection and are increasingly seen as ‘real’ change. 
The party’s surge in the polls has many traditionalists scratching their heads.  

What does all of this mean for the next stage of Anglo-Irish relations?

Ireland wants the UK people and economy to do well. The personal connections between both countries are strong, while the economic links – €160 billion and 400,000 jobs – are compelling. 

In the UK, an Irish general election result that returns in either a government comprising Sinn Féin or a larger block of Sinn Féin parliamentarians will, for some, cause consternation; memories of violence don’t disappear overnight.
 
However, three factors should not be forgotten. 

First, the decisive nature of Boris Johnson’s success and imminent political changes here mean domestic issues are now taking precedence. 

Second, whether in government or not, Sinn Féin’s proven pragmatism, coupled with the reality that coalition governments and the compromise that comes with them are the norm in Ireland, means a sweeping ‘Republican’ march is not upon us.      

Finally, while Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin as Taoiseach would mean little Anglo-Irish policy change, his experience and conciliatory nature will see a change in tone. 

Much also depends on the political strength and make-up of any coalition he would lead.

Whatever the outcome, there is a feeling that now is the right time to reset Anglo-Irish relations.
 
Just as the UK general election drew a line, the impending outcome of Ireland’s means we are both entering a new phase. 

Ireland, as the leading English-speaking EU member and European HQ of some of the globe’s leading tech, pharma and financial services brands, enjoys real advantages, including unfettered Brussels access.

A determined UK, led by an emboldened government, will rightly place major emphasis on its place in the world, starting with new US and European trade deals.

It’s the perfect moment for political and business leaders to look forward, not back, and show that our two countries are ready to move on positively. 

Dan Pender is the founder and managing director of Dublin-based agency PR360 

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