Why are Ireland's Principal Political Parties so Similar?

Essay, 2011

10 Pages, Grade: 70%, 1,5


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Main Part
2.1. The Common Origin: An Obstacle for Differentiation
2.2. The Homogenous Irish Population: In Favour of Conservative Parties
2.3. No Alternative: Where is the Left-Wing?

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Tom Garvin introduces his book “The Evolution of Irish Nationalist Politics” from 2005 with the following appraisal:

The political parties of the Irish Republic are somewhat exotic entities. The country’s party system, and its style of popular politics in general, are untypical of Western liberal democracies in many ways.[1]

He is proved right when looking at the classical political model and Ireland’s party structure. The general political spectrum that “divides political ideologies on the basis of their beliefs”[2] is not applicable to the Irish political landscape. One can neither find a clearly left-wing nor a genuine right-wing party. Instead, two big and nearly equal conservative parties prevail: Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

For many years these parties dominate the Dáil winning together over 50% of the seats every election.[3] Since their foundation in the early 20th century the parties share basically the same political platform and represent therefore just an alternative to each other. The Irish population constantly favoured centre-right politics and consequently other political camps were generally left by the roadside: in 2007, for instance, the Labour Party and the Green Party together won only 26 out of 166 seats.[4] Another factor for Ireland’s flat political landscape is the lack of cleavages within the Irish society. Not only due to “exceptional ethnic and religious uniformity, […] [based on] the role of the Catholic Church in social and political life”[5] but also due to Ireland’s late industrialisation, traditional and homogeneous voting was and still is more influential than in other western democracies.

The three factors, introduced above and explained in detail below, are not the exclusive reasons for Ireland’s unique political landscape. Instead, the whole party structure matured over the past 100 years. It is therefore important to regard the process as a whole, to better understand the evolution of the current situation.

2. Main Part

2.1. The Common Origin: An Obstacle for Differentiation

Ireland’s two biggest political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, have the same origin: both derive from Sinn Féin – a party that is still present today but that has meanwhile lost political importance.

The Act of Union from 1800 bound Ireland closely to Great Britain and although different attitudes towards the British sovereignty developed over the times, the Home Rule has never been truly challenged. Ultimately, the Easter Rising in 1916 “sparked off a movement for independence”[6] from which especially Sinn Féin profited, as it campaigned for a sovereign Ireland. In 1918’s election Sinn Féin successfully surpassed the Irish National Party by winning “73 of the 78 seats in the 26 counties that now constitute the Republic of Ireland”[7]. Sinn Féin interpreted this election result as a mandate to free Ireland from the British dominion. After a two-year guerrilla war between the Irish Republican Army and the British, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in 1921. However, Sinn Féin, once unified for an independent Ireland, broke up over the question of signing the treaty “and a bitter civil war between the opposing sides followed”[8]. The party members in favour of the Anglo-Irish Treaty allied in 1923 to Cumann na nGaedheal and formed the first provisional government.[9] The opponents did not accept the new government, formed under de Valera Fianna Fáil in 1926 and entered the Dáil one year later.[10] Finally in 1933, Cumann na nGaedheal merged with two minor parties and formed Fine Gael. Since then, both parties are the main actors on Ireland’s political stage.[11]

The common origin of both parties is an obstacle for differentiation. While the classical political spectrum says that parties are mainly based on a social conflict or on a differing economic attitude, the existence of the two biggest Irish parties is somewhat different. Fine Gael’s and Fianna Fáil’s foundations were solely based on the disagreement on the Anglo-Irish Treaty and this is therefore more a symbolic rather than an attitudinal difference. Naturally, a symbolic variation bears less room for the evolvement of distinct characteristics. Not only “The Independent” but also Fine Gael senior member John Kelly described Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as “the old Siamese twin”[12],[13] because they generally share the same political ideology. The common, conservative centre-right attitude left only little space for differentiation.


[1] Garvin,2005,p.1

[2] Buzzle.com– What is Political Spectrum,by Mukta Gaikwad

<http://www.buzzle.com/articles/what-is-political-spectrum.html>,Last accessed:22.04.2011

[3] ElectionsIreland.org – Elections to Dáil Éireann

<http://electionsireland.org/results/general/index.cfm>,Last accessed:22.04.2011

[4] Gallagher+Marsh,2008,p.207

[5] Garvin,2005,p.1

[6] Coakley+Gallagher,2010,p.137-138

[7] Coakley+Gallagher,2010,p.138

[8] Collins+Cradden,1997,p.6

[9] Coakley+Gallagher,2010,p.138

[10] Coakley+Gallagher,2010,p.138

[11] Coakley+Gallagher,2010,p.138

[12] Independent.ie– Two political Siamese twins, 27.06.2010, by McCarthy <http://www.independent.ie/national-news/two-political-siamese-twins-but-joined-at-the-brain-2236747.html>,Last accessed:22.04.2011

[13] Gallagher,1985,p.141

Excerpt out of 10 pages


Why are Ireland's Principal Political Parties so Similar?
Dublin City University
Introduction to Modern Ireland
70%, 1,5
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
681 KB
This is a lucid, concise and convincing essay.
Ireland, Political, Parties, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Irland, Politische Parteien
Quote paper
Constantin Huesker (Author), 2011, Why are Ireland's Principal Political Parties so Similar?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/275952


  • guest on 7/15/2014

    Buyers beware of plagiarism. My course all use Turnitin, so using any portion of this essay will turn up in the similarity index. Iain McMenamin (lecturer on the course for which this very good essay was submitted)

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