Sinn Féin’s strength in Dáil Éireann has forced Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to form historic coalition

Posted By: July 01, 2020

 Deaglán de Bréadún. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, July 1, 2020

 Anyone who uses the Irish-language version of their name will be all-too-familiar with the difficulty some people have in pronouncing it.

I could write a book on the subject and, if they were still around, the Marx Brothers might turn it into a movie script.

Remember the fun they had with the other name for Father Christmas in A Night at the Opera, when a stipulation that all parties to a contract must be of sound mind was dismissed on the basis that, “There ain’t no Sanity Clause.”

The surname of Ireland’s new Taoiseach is Martin and his first name is Micheál, which as the sophisticated readers of this column will know is the Irish for Michael.

However, some of our British friends seem to be having difficulty with the name of the Fianna Fáil leader.

A media colleague from across the water asked me if ‘Mikhail’ was the correct pronunciation. I responded that ‘Mee-hawl’ was the proper way of saying it, adding helpfully: “It rhymes with ‘town hall’.”

Getting people to say his name properly is the least of the challenges that face the incoming head of government in Dublin.
The most obvious one is to repair the economic damage caused by Covid-19. The scale of the downturn is only beginning to emerge.

The costs incurred during the pandemic won’t make it any easier to tackle the housing shortage and the problems in the health service.
In that context, you can’t help being impressed that ministers from the Fianna Fáil party will be heading up the health and housing departments rather than leaving those difficult portfolios to their coalition partners in Fine Gael or the Green Party.

As Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly will be coming under scrutiny from Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly, while her party colleague Eoin Ó Broin will keep a watching brief on Darragh O’Brien as Minister for Housing.

One of the difficulties facing the new government is that the Sinn Féin front bench is probably the most formidable that Dáil Éireann has seen since the days when Garret FitzGerald led the Fine Gael attack on Fianna Fáil in the late 1970s and early 1980s and succeeded in putting them out of office in two general elections.

 If anyone had predicted at the time that, someday, FF and FG would end up in government together, the response would have varied from deep skepticism to incredulous laughter.

 It represents an historic development which had its roots in the northern peace process.

If the Provisional IRA had not been persuaded to call off its campaign in the mid-1990s, there was no way that Sinn Féin would develop into the political force it has since become, on both sides of the border.

The strength of Sinn Féin in Dáil Éireann has forced Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to form a coalition, with the Greens making up the numbers for a parliamentary majority.

 One of the key moments in the peace process was the granting of a US visa to Gerry Adams.

A key figure in persuading President Bill Clinton to approve the visa was the recently-deceased former US Ambassador to Ireland, Jean Kennedy Smith, sister of John, Robert and Edward Kennedy.

Her contribution to peace in the land of her ancestors was a lasting one and deserves full recognition.

Hopefully, the new Dublin coalition will do its best to sustain and promote harmony and cooperation throughout the island.

In that context, however, there was considerable disappointment that the list of 11 new Senators announced by the incoming Taoiseach did not include what used to be a customary representative from The North.

Previous nominees in this category have included the late Gordon Wilson from Enniskillen, whose daughter Marie was killed in the Remembrance Day bombing; former civil servant Maurice Hayes and the SDLP’s Bríd Rodgers and Seamus Mallon.

Former president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, Ian Marshall, was elected to the Seanad in 2018 with the support of then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald but lost his seat in the recent general election.

He comes from a unionist background and was quoted in this paper as saying: “How can you have a shared island if you only talk to yourself?” Fair point.