2011 is going to be a big year in Irish politics. Fianna Fáil, the ruling centre/centre-right party (currently in coalition with the Greens and some independents) which has been the governing party in Ireland for most of its history since independence, is consistently low in the polls (14%, equal with Sinn Féin in the latest one), and appears on course for the worst result in its electoral history. The next government, which is likely to be a Fine Gael-Labour coalition (a Grand coalition), will have to steer Ireland through the recession, and implement the IMF-EU Bail-Out agreement.
However, the two parties have different approaches to the crisis (though there is common ground). Enda Kenny, the FG leader, is widely considered to be lacking in charisma, though he has shown some killer instinct when facing down a major challenge to his leadership last year. Eamonn Gilmore, the Labour leader, is the most popular leader in the country according to opinion polls, but the upswing in Labour support in the polls has waned recently (which is damaging to their hopes of an electoral breakthrough to become one of the 2 main parties). FG is thought to have the most researched and well thought-out policies (it accepts the same targets that have been set by FF, and would adjust the budget by €6 billion this year, front loading the spending cuts), while Labour, despite churning out policies recently, is open to charges that they haven't been properly considered or thought-out (Labour's adjustment would be €4.5 billion this year, putting off more pain for later).
Both talk about some renegotiation of the bail-out deal, and both talk about the need for some investment in the economy (a sign that simple austerity has been devalued over the last 2 years). If any renegotiation is to take place, it will have to include a political vision and platform beyond Ireland - they would, after all, have to convince other EU Member States to renegotiate. At the same time, there is likely to be more crisis in the Eurozone this year, and different ideas of fiscal union will remain relevant. It's important that we know exactly what each party's stance on the Eurozone is, not just for Ireland's short term advantage, but for the effective running of the currency zone well into the future.
Debates about political and constitutional reform are very prominent and appear to be high up on the various parties' agenda, so if these plans are realised, then it could be a further great shift in the landscape of Irish politics.
In October, there will also be a presidential election - the first in 14 years.* It's a ceremonial office, but it could turn out to be a hard-fought race.
So I've decided that I'll try to cover some aspects of the elections - especially the European aspects. Doubtless there'll be plenty of blogs in the Irish blogosphere doing a better job than me (I'll still be writing about EU politics!), but politics in the Eurozone will be more important than ever this year, and the Irish elections are a good way to look at some of the arguments through both the national and European lenses. The post tag I'll use is "Ireland 2011".
* The presidential term is 7 years, and as nobody could get enough support to be nominated to run against Mary McAleese after her first term, she was automatically re-elected. Between Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson, Ireland has had a female head of state for the last 20 years.