Fine Gael vs Fianna Fáil: what's the difference?
Learn more about the two biggest parties in Irish politics
For most of the last hundred years, every Irish government has been led by one of two main political parties: Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. But for many voters, the similarities between these two parties can seem more obvious than their differences. So what do they stand for, and what might make either of them more worth your support than the other?
Where did these parties come from?
To understand where these two parties came from, you have to look back to the Civil War in the 1920s. After the Irish War of Independence, the leaders of the independence movement signed an agreement with Britain, known as the Anglo-Irish Treaty, that would allow Ireland to form its own government, but still remaining a part of the British Empire with the British King as the head of state.
Those who supported this agreement would become Fine Gael, while those who wanted to continue the fight for an Irish Republic and to remove Ireland completely from the British Empire, formed Fianna Fáil. Though Ireland eventually did become a Republic in 1949, the two parties continue to exist.
Similarities and differences between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael
It can be hard to pin down exactly what separates the two parties right now. Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have seen their policies change over time, along with the differences between them.
The parties agree on some of the big issues facing Irish society today.
- Both are strong supporters of the EU and are critical of the UK’s Brexit process
- Both support keeping Ireland’s corporation tax low so that companies from overseas will want to move here in order to pay less tax
- Both are on the centre-right of politics, meaning they support business-friendly policies
However, it is possible to find some general points of difference between these two parties.
- Fianna Fáil generally want to spend more on areas like health, housing and social welfare than Fine Gael
- Fine Gael generally supports lower taxes than Fianna Fáil
- Fine Gael tends to be more liberal on social issues, for example, most Fine Gael TDs supported the Yes side in the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, while most Fianna Fáil TDs called for a No vote
Who supports Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael?
One of the clearest differences between the parties is who they represent.
Since the beginning, Fianna Fáil has seen itself as supporting a wider section of Irish society compared to Fine Gael. It has always presented itself as representing small farmers, industrial workers, and rural communities. These groups once made up a majority of the Irish population, but nowadays are decreasing as society and the economy change.
Fine Gael, on the other hand, has traditionally presented itself more as the party of ‘law and order’, with support for business and large farmers. Nowadays, the party has worked to rebrand itself as more in touch with ‘modern’ Ireland than Fianna Fáil, hoping this will win support from urban, professional and middle-class voters.
Are these my only options?
While Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are usually the two most popular parties in Ireland, voters have a much wider range of choices. Parties like Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, the Greens, Solidarity, People Before Profit and the Social Democrats all offer alternatives to the "big two", and it's up to each individual voter to decide which (if any) of the existing parties deserve their support. You can read more about Ireland's political parties here.