Society of Ireland

Simple 2008

Following the May 2008 appointment of Brian Cowen as Taoiseach, the ruling Fianna Fail party had been polling close to their 41% levels of the 2007 election but the party began to fall in the polls from September 2008. Their support fell to third place for the first time ever behind both leading opposition parties in a national opinion poll published in The Irish Times on 13 February 2009, polling only 22%.[18][19] A 27 February poll, indicated that only 10% of voters were satisfied with the Government's performance, that over 50% would like an immediate general election.[20] They gained about 24% of the vote in the June 2009 local elections and continued to languish as the crisis intensified during the remainder of the year, reaching a new low of 17% support in September 2009. During the 2009/2010 period opposition calls for an early election intensified and some of their own TDs resigned from the party supporting the calls and reducing the Government majority to single digits. The Government was urged by the courts to hold a long-delayed Donegal South by-election. By December 2010, following the IMF intervention, their support reached a further record low of 13% and their coalition partners, the Green Party, announced that they would withdraw support from Government in January 2011 once the 2011 budget had been passed. The Government announced that an election would take place in Spring 2011 but the intended date had to be brought forward to 25 February 2011 following a widely criticised cabinet reshuffle. Taoiseach Cowen was replaced as party leader by Micheal Martin. At the election, Fianna Fail received 17% of the vote and their seats collapsed from 71 outgoing to a record low of 20. The Fine Gael and Labour opposition secured record seat gains but no overall majority and formed a coalition government. [edit]Government emergency budget of October 2008 Further information: Fallout of the 2009 Irish government budget Irish government deficit compared to other European countries and the United States (20002013)[21] Ireland officially declared it was in a recession in September 2008. Prior to this declaration, the Irish government announced, on 3 September 2008, that it was to bring forward the 2009 government budget from its usual December date to 14 October 2008.[22] In a statement, the government claimed tha this was largely due to a decrease in the global economy.[23] The budget, labelled "the toughest in many years",[24] included a number of controversial measures such as a proposed income levy which was eventually restructured,[25] and the withdrawal of previously promised HPV vaccines for schoolgirls.[26][27][28][29][30] Other results of the budget included a new income levy being imposed on all workers above a specified threshold and the closure of a number of military barracks near the border with Northern Ireland.[31][32][33][34][35] An unexpected public outcry was invoked over the proposed withdrawal of medical cards and the threatened return of university fees. A series of demonstrations ensued amongst teachers and farmers,[36][37][38][39][40][41] whilst on 22 October 2008, at least 25,000 pensioners and students descended in solidarity on the Irish parliament at Leinster House, Kildare Street, Dublin.[42] Some of the pensioners were even seen to cheer on the students as the protests passed each other on the streets of Dublin.[43][44] Changes to education led to a ministerial meeting with three Church of Ireland bishops[45] who were assured by O'Keeffe that religious instruction would be unaffected by the budget changes.[46] Rebellion within the ranks of the ruling coalition government led to a number of defections of disenchanted coalition members. County Wicklow TD, Joe Behan resigned from the Fianna Fail party in protests at the proposed medical card changes after suggesting that past taoisigh Eamon de Valera and Sean Lemass "would be turning in their graves at the decisions made in the past week".[47] Independent Deputy Finian McGrath then threatened to withdraw his support for the government unless the plan to remove the overs 70s automatic right to a medical card was withdrawn completely.[48] Taoiseach Brian Cowen postponed a planned trip to China, sending Minister for Education and Science Batt O'Keeffe ahead to lead the delegation.[49] Behan, alongside McGrath and former government minister Jim McDaid,[50][51][52][53] later voted against his former colleagues in two crucial Dail votes on medical cards and cancer vaccines. These defections reduced the Irish government's majority of twelve by one quarter. A supplementary budget was delivered in April 2009 to address a fiscal shortfall of over 4.5 billion.


ESHSI, Department of Modern History, Trinity College, Dublin, Republic of Ireland Contact: Membership Secretary