By Ray Fleming

FROM time to time an election takes place whose result opens a new chapter in a nation's history. Ireland's general election has produced just such a result -- decimating the incumbent Fianna Fail party which has been in power for most of the 80 years of Irish independence, giving Fine Gael a good chance to form a strong governing coalition with Labour, and showing that Sinn Fein is increasing its support and representation.

Fianna Fail is totally discredited after its incompetent handling of the Irish economy ended in a humiliating bail-out by the European Union and IMF. Enda Kenny, the leader of Fine Gail and the new Taoiseach (prime minister) campaigned on getting revised conditions for the bail-out and will have to start negotiations with Brussels almost immediately ahead of an EU summit on 24 March. It will not be easy, especially since he will have to resist any pressure from other EU members to drop Ireland's exceptional low corporate tax rate which will be essential in inducing new investment in the country.

Sinn Fein increased its parliamentary representation from 4 to 13; Gerry Adams, who has relinquished his Westminster seat, was among the successful candidates and in his victory speech he reminded his supporters that Sinn Fein's long term objective is a united Ireland. The party will contest the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in the summer to consolidate its current second party status in the power-sharing executive.