It’s hard to see how Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael can cobble together anything likely to be acceptable to the Green Party membership, and a fresh election may well be the only way out of the current impasse.
For me, the funniest moment of this year’s general election debates came when Prime Time’s David McCullagh focussed his laser-beam gaze on the Green Party leader, Eamon Ryan, and asked about his proposal to reintroduce wild wolves to Ireland.
“Eamon. The wolves. You said the wolves would keep down the deer population, but deer run quite fast, sheep not so much. So why would the wolves go after the fast-moving venison instead of the slow-moving mutton?”
The perpetually pained-looking Ryan struggled to respond, and gave the finest impression of slow-moving mutton himself. As things worked out, though, the Greens won 12 seats. It wasn’t quite the predicted Green wave, but it was a respectable result, even if it placed the Greens in a sort of reverse Goldilocks zone, 12 seats meaning they couldn’t credibly avoid at least exploring the prospect of going into coalition, while simultaneously meaning they lacked sufficient weight to ensure their agenda might be fully realised in government.
To be fair to Eamon Ryan, he seems to realise that his party would look profoundly unserious if – having made impending climate calamity its unique selling point – the Greens decided to sit things out now. Against strong opposition – not least from his deputy leader, Catherine Martin – he managed to sell two-thirds of his parliamentary party on holding government formation talks with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
This can’t have been easy for a man who probably still wakes in a cold sweat from nightmares about the Greens’ spell in government under Biffo’s end-times reign, after which they lost all their seats and had nothing more to show for it than expensive lightbulbs, but it is difficult to imagine how Ryan can sell two-thirds of the Green Party membership on the notion of sheep lying down with wolves.
The spat between Simon Coveney and Catherine Martin – in which Martin reacted furiously to Coveney’s claim that he would rather face another election than “put farmers out of business” – will have gone down well with both deputy leaders’ members, but the Greens’ red line on a 7% emissions reduction seems a forlorn hope when Ireland’s emissions have gone down by barely 1% over the past 15 years.
Truthfully, the Dáil numbers don’t really suit anyone. FF has 38 seats, (37, excluding the Ceann Comhairle,) Sinn Féin 37 and FG 35. The Greens have 12 seats. Labour is down one to six, and the Social Democrats have six seats. There are five Solidarity/People Before Profit seats, one Aontu, one Independents4Change, and 19 Independents.
You need a minimum of 80 seats to be Taoiseach.
Mary Harney’s line to John Gormley that “the worst days in government are better than the best days in opposition” may no longer be operative, because the next five years are going to be absolute hell. The Covid-19 bill will be in the untold billions, and hard decisions will have to be made at a time of global financial depression.
Mary Lou McDonald’s proposed “coalition of the left” looks as ludicrous as ever, and she has got unlimited mileage from bemoaning that FF and FG won’t do business with her, even though SF has made excluding both Civil War parties from power its raison d’etre. I will never understand why FF and FG don’t call her bluff and offer the Shinners a three-rotating-Taoisigh-you-go-first deal. The Taoiseach of Our Hearts would run a mile.
The Social Democrats, with six seats, are too cute for coalition, and their mothership, the Labour Party, reduced to six seats, is too traumatised from its 2016 post-austerity hammering to consider government now.
I predicted here, on February 19, that government formation talks would be haunted as much by the next election as by the previous one. Now that the world has ended, the next election appears all the more relevant.
The outgoing FG government has taken unprecedented measures to battle the Coronavirus pandemic. There has been an admirable unity of purpose across the political spectrum, and it would probably be fair to say that there is a general acceptance in public opinion that the government has done – by and large – a good job.
That consensus may fall apart very quickly, however, as it becomes increasingly apparent that there are serious questions to be asked about Ireland’s handling of Covid-19 clusters in nursing homes. Cillian De Gascun, chair of the Coronavirus Expert Advisory Group, notes that, internationally, deaths of nursing home residents tend to account for between 40% and 60% of Covid-19 deaths. Of the 13 countries for which figures are currently available, Ireland is tied with Canada at 62%, the highest proportion of care home deaths.
There’s an important caveat in that many countries are not recording care home deaths at all, and some are not recording deaths where Coronavirus is the suspected but unconfirmed cause of death. Ireland is recording all deaths.
The government’s distribution of PPE to frontline workers (albeit at a time of a global shortage of PPE) was shambolic, and there is fury among many over-70s over inconsistent messaging on cocooning.
The Leaving Cert was a fiasco, too. It’s three decades since I did my Leaving, and I still get nightmares. God love the Leaving class of 2020.
Over-long waiting times on test results is already troubling Liveline, so watch that space.
All of that said, the latest Red-C Business Post poll shows Fine Gael riding high on 35%, and there are rumblings in Fine Gael that a second election mightn’t be a bad thing, so long as the fingerprints on it aren’t blue.
FF is languishing on an abysmal 14%, only two points above their 2011 post-crash figures. Micheál Martin’s unfortunate date with the history books as the first FF leader to never be Taoiseach looks increasingly certain if he and Leo can’t land the Greens, or, perhaps, make a more suitable match with a dozen or so pragmatic independents.
Bertie Ahern, ever the shrewd political observer, reckons the Shinners may have left as many as a dozen seats on the pitch last time out, so Mary Lou would surely, secretly, welcome another election.
Who knows? Maybe a fresh election might be our best bet.
You will recall the Father Ted episode Speed 3, where Father Beeching (Eamon Morrissey) and Father Clarke (Arthur Mathews) are brainstorming with Ted, trying to think of a way to save Father Dougal, who is stuck on a boobytrapped milk float which he must keep driving at four miles an hour or a bomb, set by renegade milkman Pat Mustard, will detonate.
Eventually, Father Beeching asks “Is there anything to be said for saying another Mass?”
It’s been nearly 100 days since the election, and while social distancing might stymie canvassing, and make count centres look lonesome, we may well end up back at the ballot box again.
With the formation of a stable government looking increasingly unlikely, is there anything to be said for having another election?