The shape of the social, economic and political landscape of NAMA Ireland will be strongly determined by the parties who hold power over the next decade, and in particular by the new government that emerges after the next general election. But when will this election take place? After much speculation of a likely Autumn 2009 in the wake of the potential collapse of the current Fianna Fáil/Green Party/Others government, the government actually managed to survive the three major stumbling blocks that many believed could bring it down – the Fianna Fáil-Green Party renewal of the programme for government negotiations, the NAMA legislation and the December 2009 Budget. It now looks likely that the government will stay in power for the next few years, barring a series of by-election losses. One scenario could envisage an unpopular ‘zombie’ government clinging to power for as long as possible and running the full 5-year term until late May 2012/early June 2012 – another scenario could see a resurgence in popularity for the government with an improving economy leading to the government parties deciding to stay in power for a long as possible to benefit from this, thus running the full 5-year term until late May 2012/early June 2012. So…a Summer 2012 general election is a virtual certainty then? Hmm…

There is one fly in the ointment and that relates to the timing of the next Constituency Commission report. Recently the process of redrawing electoral boundaries for general (and European!) elections has tended to commence immediately after the publication of the definitive population by area census figures (26 April 2007 in the case of the 2006 Census) with the Commission being required to present its report no later than six months after its establishment (the last Commission publishing its report on 23 October 2007, less than five months after the 2007 General Election had taken place). In the wake of the McGrath/Murphy/Molloy High Court case of June 2007, however, the 2009 Electoral Act now stipulates that the process of establishing a new Constituency Commission should commence after the provisional census population by area figures are published – probably in October 2011 in the case of the next Commission – with the Commission being able to carry out its work of revising electoral boundaries during this period and then publish its report once the definitive census population by area figures are released some time in Spring 2012, and some months ahead of a potential Summer 2012. This does not mean that politicians would be fighting the next general election on the basis of newly redrawn electoral boundaries – a nightmare scenario for political parties which would require them to restart the process of candidate selection in some constituencies and for candidates who might find their political base torn asunder by an unfavourable boundary change and without sufficient time to build up new support bases within a new constituency – it can take many months of debate in Dáil and Seanad Éireann for a new Constituency Commission report to be officially ratified. But the government may not wish to fight the election in an ambiguous scenario where the electoral boundaries for the following general election have been published and dark, albeit unfair, murmurings about “gerrymandering” and “cheating” pervade on the part of candidates and parties whose electoral prospects would be significantly improved by the recommendations of this 2012 Constituency Commission report – possibly feeding in to residual anti-government feeling. Based on this, I think a February 2012 date might be a good bet for when the next general election is to be held – a date by which the government junior partners, the Green Party, may also feel that they have achieved as much as they are likely to from their participation in government and pull out in an attempt to distance themselves from Fianna Fáil.

Adrian Kavanagh