Fianna Fáil's first preference votes, 2002 - 2011

In the midst of the Celtic Tiger years, the Irish electorate was more than happy to return Bertie Ahern's Fianna Fáil to government in 2002. That year saw the party's best performance in a general election since 1989. The party had won a total of 81 seats, a total they had not reached since 1987 and just three seats short of their record number of 84 seats (1977). Most of Fianna Fáil's 2002 gains came at the expense of Fine Gael, which in times of such economic prosperity had struggled to find a strong angle on which to base its opposition to the government. In that year, Fine Gael hit a low of 30 seats, with many political commentators speculating whether it had a sustainable future left in Irish politics.

By 2007, however, the situation had begun to change. Economists were beginning to warn that the end of the Celtic Tiger could be near, though such claims were dismissed by the Taoiseach. The man himself was finding himself under scrutiny regarding his personal finances, with rumours and allegations of corruption beginning to make headlines. In the meantime, Fine Gael had managed to find its feet again under new leader Enda Kenny. Fianna Fáil faced the 2007 general election somewhat shaken, but confident. Although the vote share actually increased by 0.1%, the party lost four seats on transfers. With the Progressive Democrats all but vanquished, Fianna Fáil needed a new coalition partner to ensure their majority. They found this in the Green Party, and Bertie Ahern began a third successive term as Taoiseach, the first person since Éamon de Valera to do so.

The controversy surrounding Ahern's finances increased over the next year, culminating in his resignation as Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil in May 2008. He was replaced in both capacities by his Finance Minister, Laois-Offaly TD Brian Cowen. Not long after assuming the leadership, Cowen suffered a setback when voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum. By the end of 2008, the economic crisis had begun. The next two years would see the government steadily losing support as the economy worsened and Cowen's responses were met with stringent opposition - particularly his bailing out of Anglo-Irish Bank. By the end of 2010, Cowen's government had made a formal request to the IMF and the ECB for assistance in rescuing Ireland's economy.

This action obliterated much of Fianna Fáil's remaining support. By the beginning of 2011, the Green Party withdrew from government and Cowen was forced to step down as leader of the party. He was replaced by former Foreign Minister Mícheál Martin of Cork South Central. A general election was called for February 2011, which saw Fianna Fáil shed 52 seats. Since it first contested a general election in 1926, Fianna Fáil had never returned such a small number of TDs (20) or received so low a national vote share (17.4%)

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The vote shares received across the constituencies show the traditional strong Fianna Fáil vote across most constituencies, with only Kerry North, Tipperary North and Wicklow falling below 35% in 2002, attributable to the presence of well-known figures both independent and from other parties, including Martin Ferris and Michael Lowry. 2007 saw a sharp drop in the Fianna Fáil vote in Mayo, down to 24.4%, for which the enhanced popularity of Enda Kenny and Fine Gael in that county are to blame. By 2011, however, it seemed as if the whole state had followed Mayo's example in the light of Fianna Fáil's intense unpopularity. This election saw historic lows for the party, with the vote dropping under 15% in several southern constituencies.

In Dublin, the situation became even worse for the party. Dublin Central TD Bertie Ahern's popularity in the 2002 and 2007 elections benefited Fianna Fáil in the Dublin constituencies, but with Ahern retiring in 2011, not to mention still surrounded by controversy, this benefit had all but evaporated. The party was left with just one TD in Dublin, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan in Dublin West. When he died after a long battle with cancer in June the same year, the resulting by-election was won by the Labour Party - although Fianna Fáil polled a respectable second place result of 21.7%.

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Fianna Fáil's future is far from certain. Having been the dominant party in Irish politics for 79 years, it is now in a situation where the next number of general elections will see it fighting for its political life. The removal of its dominant position has made future elections much more unpredictable than they had been before, especially when also considering the decline in the Labour Party's support in only one year after the 2011 election, along with the growing popularity of Sinn Féin as a mainstream party in the Republic. Although initially written off in the same way as Fine Gael was in 2002, it may yet be too early to tell Fianna Fáil's future.