Ireland. The deep economic crisis continued to leave its mark in Ireland. The hard savings hit most of society. For example, house prices had fallen by 43% since 2007, and unemployment had risen to 14% in the autumn – among young people it was about twice as high despite many young people leaving Ireland to work abroad. At the same time, it was clear that Ireland’s situation was aggravated by the general and emergency crisis in the euro zone. However, a weak economic recovery could be felt due to an increase in exports.
The dissatisfaction with how Prime Minister Brian Cowen handled the crisis was great at the beginning of the year and he was forced to step down as both Prime Minister and leader of Fianna Fáil. The new election held on February 25 led, as expected, to a change of power. The bourgeois Fine Gael performed strongly and gained 76 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, Dáil Éireann. The more left-wing Labor Party also rose to 37 seats. Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political branch, also made a good choice and got 14 seats. Among those elected to the Irish Parliament were Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams who at the same time left his seat in the Northern Ireland provincial parliament. The former Fianna Fáil government party, which has been in power since 1997, suffered a staggering defeat and received only 20 seats, which was 58 fewer than in 2007. The Green Party, which was also a member of the government, got rid of all their places. The turnout was just over 70%. Fine Gael and Labor formed government. Prime Minister became Fine Gael’s leader Enda Kenny, while Labor leader Eamon Gilmore was named foreign minister. No previous Irish government had had such a large majority in the Chamber of Deputies as this. The new ministry was largely bound by the economic policy laid down when Ireland received funding from the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2010. However, some leeway was created when the EU agreed in July to lower Ireland’s interest rates on the loans.
On May 17-20, Queen Elizabeth II made an official visit to Ireland at the invitation of President Mary McAleese. No British head of state had been in the country since 1911. The Queen’s program for the four days was carefully prepared, from the green costume she wore on arrival to the wreath she laid down at a memorial in honor of Irishmen who died during the freedom struggle. She also visited Croke Park sports stadium in Dublin where 14 civilians were shot dead by police and military in 1920. The Queen did not apologize for British abuse but regretted that the story had looked as it had done. The visit was considered to be another step in the Northern Ireland peace process, where the governments of both countries have worked closely since 1997. There was some resistance to the visit in Ireland, but most Irish people were positive about it.
Just days after the Queen left the Ireland according to Digopaul, US President Barack Obama also came to Ireland in connection with a week-long European tour. In addition to Dublin, he also visited the village of Moneygall, from where some of his ancestors had emigrated.
In July, a state commission criticized the Catholic Church for how it had handled allegations of sexual abuse directed at priests in the Diocese of Cloyne outside Cork in 1996–2009. The criticism applied to both Irish church representatives and the Vatican. In a speech that month, Prime Minister Kenny, himself a Catholic, sharply criticized the Vatican in a way that had previously been unthinkable in Ireland. His play was mainly received well in Ireland. In the autumn, the Irish government decided to close its embassy in the Vatican for savings.
The popular president McAleese was not allowed to stand for re-election. A total of seven candidates took part in the election on October 27 and the campaign was marked by a tough scrutiny in the media by the candidates. The favorite was long seen by Davis Norris, a senator and academic who fought for gay rights. His opportunity to win disappeared after revealing that he had appealed for mercy in Israel to a former lover who had sex with a minor. Great attention was also given to Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness candidacy. At election meetings, relatives of people who were murdered by IRA McGuinness claimed responsibility for the death. In the end, everything pointed to the fact that businessman Seán Gallagher, known from the Irish version of the TV program Draknästet, would win. But his position was undermined by information that he had held a more prominent position within Fianna Fáil than he had imagined, something McGuinness revealed during the final debate on TV. Instead, the presidential election was won by the Labor politician, poet and former Minister of Culture Michael D. Higgins. He took office as president on November 11.
At the beginning of December, new savings in the state budget of almost EUR 4 billion were announced. Cuts would be made in health care, education and social welfare, while increasing fees and taxes.