Soldiers of Destiny living in sin with Blue Shirts

Posted By: May 09, 2016

Deaglan de Breadun.Irish News (Belfast). Monday, May 9, 2016

ENDA KENNY has been re-elected taoiseach in a nail-biting finish but his Fine Gael party is living in sin with Fianna Fáil.

The term has gone out of fashion in recent years, due to the compelling argument that couples cohabiting outside wedlock should not be labelled in such a way. But we can still apply it to politicians because, let’s face it, tormenting folks in that category is a rare source of comfort in these difficult times.

When the general election was called in the south, opinion polls suggested an inconclusive outcome. Inevitably, speculation grew about the prospect of a marriage of convenience between the two big political beasts, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

When this writer asked a fairly senior figure in Fianna Fáil about the possibility, he replied in non-committal terms that the matter was above his “pay-grade”. This contrasted with his response when asked about a tie-up with Sinn Féin, which was dismissed in four-lettered Anglo-Saxon terms.

But an old hand at the game with a long history among the Soldiers of Destiny said an announcement of marriage banns with the Blueshirts would cause grave internal divisions. Fianna Fáil was committed to holding a special conference to decide on coalition and a proposal like that would get voted down or else lead to a split and significant defections to Sinn Féin.

In the aftermath of the general election, we were told in effect that there would only be a one-night stand between the two parties.

Provided certain conditions were met, the soldiers would stand aside and let Enda Kenny be voted-in as head of a minority government, backed by a gaggle of Independent TDs, but Fianna Fáil would remain in opposition and keep Fine Gael strictly at arm’s-length.

That’s not quite how it has turned out. The arrangement made between the two parties isn’t a full-scale marriage but it is more than a casual and quickly-forgotten liaison. Fianna Fáil may still be on the opposition benches but the two parties are involved in a continuing relationship.

It has echoes of the song Me and Mrs Jones, made famous by the recently-deceased and much-missed Billy Paul. Like the singer and the married woman in those sad but wonderful lyrics, there’s a “thing” happening between FF and FG.

Unlike the pair in the song, they aren’t meeting daily at 6.30pm in the Dáil coffee shop and they’re certainly not linking hands together in public, but there’s a document that shows they have indeed been making all sorts of plans.

That agreement reads like a manifesto at times. Some of their supporters might say what they’re doing is dead wrong but, as with Mrs Jones, it’s too far gone to call a halt at this stage.

You can’t help feeling sorry for Fine Gael’s former partner, the Irish Labour Party, which is cast in the role of abandoned spouse in this scenario.

Midlands TD Willie Penrose expressed his disapproval in no uncertain terms: this was a case of one right-wing party hanging onto power while the other called the shots from a safe distance. Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald meanwhile denounced the relationship as “strong on soundbites but light on substance”.

But at the end of the day, to borrow Albert Reynolds’s favourite phrase, this is what the electorate decided. If the people had wanted strong government then they wouldn’t have thrown Labour overboard, reducing its Dáil representation from 33 down to seven  TDs. If it had the numbers, that party would probably have joined a coalition led by Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, as it has done in the past.

Stability wasn’t the highest priority for the electorate on this occasion. They tried that last time but the result involved a lot of pain, with the introduction of water charges top of the list.

Where will it all end? The closeness of the tie-up between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil creates an opportunity for Sinn Féin to present itself as ‘the real opposition’. But first of all, Gerry Adams needs to close down his Twitter account.

A standing army of critics and opponents is watching his every pronouncement in 140 characters, ready to have a go. The media would of course greatly miss his tweets, because they have been a veritable goldmine of news stories for some time: the gift that keeps on giving. Go raibh maith agat, Gerry.

Why does he do it? Maybe it’s a way of presenting himself as a harmless fellow with a quirky sense of humour and not the demon portrayed by his critics. Perhaps after 33 years as Sinn Féin’s ‘Dear Leader’ he thinks he can do no wrong.

Enda Kenny made a fool of himself in the past by telling an anecdote which featured the “n-word” and it didn’t prevent him becoming taoiseach, not just once but now twice.

But the head of Fine Gael hasn’t got as many enemies as Gerry Adams – he’s not even close in that respect.