The 32nd Dáil meets for the first time this Thursday and – a fortnight after the election – it seems impossible to discern the shape of the next government.
In our wisdom, we’ve elected 50 Fine Gael TDs, 44 Fianna Fáil, 23 Sinn Fein, 23 Independents, 7 Labour, 6 AAA/PBP, 3 Social Democrats and 2 Greens. Lookit, to talk Politician, we are where we are.
79 seats are needed for a majority. FG, FF and SF have ruled out doing business with each other, so good luck trying to herd any variation of that lot into a majority. That said – I didn’t interrupt you – is there anything to be said for the new Ceann Comhairle presiding over 157 opposition deputies?
The weekend saw reports that Enda Kenny is trying to Borgen together a FG-led coalition with thirty other TDs. It sounds like a recipe for chaos but – as journalist and historian David McCullagh points out – there is a precedent in the Inter-Party Government of 1948. With 41 TDs outside of FG, FF and SF – it’s at least mathematically possible that either of the Civil War parties could lead an Inter-Party Government.
Rumours swirl too of Dáil reform and of Fine Gael talking a grand coalition and the head-spinning idea of a rotating Taoiseach. Of course, in a normal country, such a coalition – 50 FG and 44 FF TDs – would be the obvious, logical solution.
Then again, you live here. You know this isn’t a normal country. The big farmer, stout shopkeeper, Blueshirt officer class would never lie down easily with the men of (allegedly) no property, the cute hoor, buckleppin’ Soldiers of Destiny chancers.
If you’ve ever wondered the difference between FF and FG, Dan Boyle tells the story of his Green Party colleague John Gormley – years before Gormley’s own political career – asking FG canvassers what precisely is the difference. Gormley got the reply “I think you’ll find in Fine Gael there is a better class of person”.
That recalls the veteran Labour TD who told me, years ago, “Given a choice, we’d deal with Fianna Fáil every time. They’re complete and utter hangmen, but there’s a peculiar honour there and they tend to stick to their deals.
“Plus, they don’t think they’re better than everyone else.”
Received wisdom calls FF left of centre and FG right of centre. In the only country in the world to spawn socialists opposed to property tax, such distinctions are meaningless.
Anyway, as Irish Independent columnist Colette Browne notes – given both parties’ records on marriage equality and proposals to repeal the Eighth Amendment – FG is actually now more of a socially-liberal party than their better-craic, what-are-ye-havin’-yeerselves-lads twins in FF.
Both parties have strong, self-serving arguments against a grand coalition. Election 2016 (or at least Election 2016 Mark 1) is over. Given the uncertain state of the 32nd Dáil, hanging together – or rather hanging separately – until another election is affordable and sellable seems a new priority. If the two big parties coalesce – no matter for how much of a “temporary little arrangement” – they’re surely goosed. They can either join together permanently and let the Sinn Fein bogeyman become the largest party of opposition – and presumably the largest party in the following government – or they can fall out and see the exact same result.
Then again, the lure of power – whatever its draw-backs and long-term consequences – may prove irresistible.
Afterward, we might finally get a proper left/right divide. Y’know, like they have in just about every other democracy in the world. Although perhaps not with the allegedly left-wing Sinn Fein, in power in the North now and happily enacting Tory policies.
Barring a grand coalition, the next logical option is a minority FG government backed by FF in a reverse Tallaght Strategy. That seems to make little sense for FG. Given they have just been rejected by the electorate, why would they volunteer for responsibility without power? Every decision would have to be supported by FF, who would only be waiting to spring the trap of the next election.
Also, it’s hard to see the attraction for FF in this. Come the next election, the Shinners would (rightly) accuse them of having backed every unpopular decision the Blueshirts took. Again leaving SF in poll position.
With six less seats than FG, an FF minority backed by FG seems even less of a runner.
Sinn Fein has no intention of doing business till they can anoint Jarry the High King of a United Ireland (relax, it’ll never happen) and the AAAPBP are far too happy being sanctimoniously shouty to ever sully their holy principles with the grubby compromises of actually taking office and trying to enact some of their policies.
This Thursday, the Dáil elects a Ceann Comhairle. She (I hope it’s Maureen O’Sullivan) has her work cut out. There’ll then be an election for Taoiseach but that’s likely early days yet.
Barring “Events, Dear Boy”, Enda then heads to the Park and gives Michael D his resignation. Then Caretaker Taoiseach Enda heads to Washington where – unless your name is Barack – you’ll take that bowl of shamrock from his cold, dead fingers. Then it’s back to the GPO for the centenary celebrations.
Which reminds me: prior to the election, my sister – by way of illustrating the arrogance and disconnection of the outgoing Fine Gael/Labour coalition – pointed out that after all the country has suffered under Austerity, we didn’t even get a bank holiday to celebrate the centenary of the Rising.
“Do you honestly think,” she asked, “that Fianna Fáil would have missed a trick like that?”
As the 32nd Dáil meets for the first time, the shape of the next government seems no more apparent than it did when the dust settled on shell-shocked count centres.
I think – unlikely as it seems – it might just be a grand coalition with or without a rotating Taoiseach.
157 opposition TDs.
I didn’t interrupt you.