Minority government is worst of a bad lot

Posted By: May 05, 2016

Brian Feeney. Irish News (Belfast). Wednesday, May 4, 2016

It’s never going to work and if it starts to work it’s never going to last – a minority government in Dublin. There are at least two major flaws and it’s difficult to know which is worse.

First there is Fianna Fáil’s position. They are trying to have their cake and eat it. They  want to be ‘of the government’ but not ‘in the government’. Try as they might they will not get away with it. Their ploy is a bit like Schrödinger’s Cat, a thought experiment in physics Erwin Schrödinger devised in 1935 originally to illustrate what he believed was an absurd interpretation of quantum mechanics. The cat in a box would be both alive and dead at the same time until you opened the box and saw its ‘real’ condition.

So, Fianna Fáil make a detailed deal with Fine Gael on a programme of government but will not vote to put that government into power in case they’re blamed for putting that government into power but without Fianna Fáil abstaining that government wouldn’t get into power. Geddit?

Secondly there are the Independents. With Fianna Fáil abstaining Enda Kenny needs eight of them to support him because Sinn Féin, Labour and all the other Independents will vote against him. Kenny has two in the bag but has spent the past few days pleading with and cajoling another six who call themselves the Independent Alliance. He’s been offering places in the cabinet and junior ministerial posts. Naturally they’ve been playing ‘hard to get’, demanding local sweetheart deals to justify to their voters their original independent stances. The chances are Fine Gael negotiators will cobble something together to enable Kenny to be elected Taoiseach.

Then the fun starts. Managing Independents in his government will be like herding cats. By their very nature Independents are egotists with no loyalty to anyone but themselves. By definition they’re not team players. They won’t observe cabinet collective responsibility or confidentiality because of their self importance but more importantly because they’re afraid they won’t be re-elected.

One or more will jump ship at the first sign of rough water because, like Fianna Fáil, they don’t want to be accused of being ‘the government’. They’ll jump so they can tell the electorate, ‘Nuffink to do with me.’ It won’t work. Their goose is cooked. They have put a government back in rejected by the electorate two months ago.

Essentially Fianna Fáil’s position is the same. They stole some of Sinn Féin’s clothes during the negotiations with Fine Gael, on water charges for example, but when the going gets rough they desperately don’t want Sinn Féin to be able to accuse them of supporting the government. They’ll be waiting for the opportune moment to jump ship.

Like it or not, and as much as Fianna Fáil has manoeuvred to avoid it, Sinn Féin is now the main opposition party. After all, Fianna Fáil will be in the embarrassing position of supporting Fine Gael in a vote of confidence which Sinn Féin is bound to table at the first opportunity. Like it or not Fianna Fáil will be voting confidence in a Taoiseach the voters rejected.

When the government collapses in a year or so Sinn Féin will be in the ideal position to list the various controversial measures Fianna Fáil has supported.

Many nervous Fianna Fáilers are wondering whether it would not have been better to go back to the voters as the Spanish did. A Spanish election in December produced a result similar to the one in Dublin. Since then there have been five months stalemate with the biggest party unable to attract enough smaller parties to support it. Instead there’s to be another election on June 26. It may produce another inconclusive result but many voters would say at least it’s the honest line of action to follow rather than stitching together a government held to ransom by the clientelism of a few Independents.

Furthermore because they’re in hock to both Fianna Fáil and a motley cast of Independents the ‘new’ government will be unable to take any radical steps fiscally or economically without losing somebody overboard.

Sea green incorruptible Sinn Féin will bide their time.