The North will not be given much thought as we await a Fine Gael/Fianna Fail/Green coalition

Posted By: May 06, 2020


Distributed to Congress by Irish National Caucus

 “‘Consensus’ is a code word, especially in Fine Gael circles, for a Unionist veto. They hadn’t the nerve to write ‘Unionist consent,’ but that’s what they mean in this passage. What has happened here is that Fine Gael first, then to their shame Fianna Fáil, have twisted the consent principle in the GFA into a Unionist veto on change.”—Brian Feeney.

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Wednesday, May 6, 2020.

So it looks as if there’s going to be a Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael/Green coalition in Dublin which – most of the time – will give a working majority of three.

It will be inherently unstable given that substantial numbers in all three parties are unhappy with their partners. It’s far from a done deal, but the pressure is on to settle the differences by June when by law money bills have to be voted through.

So far the major sticking point seems to be the Greens’ demand that CO2 emissions must be reduced by 7 per cent per year for the next few years. Senior Fine Gael figures, including Simon Coveney, are opposed to that. Micheál Martin is so desperate to be taoiseach that if you wonder what he will stand for, the answer is anything. The two civil war parties long ago agreed between themselves to go into coalition, and why not? After all Fianna Fáil has been propping up Fine Gael since people voted to get rid of them in 2016. Why not continue to do it?

Some of the younger, newly-elected Greens are determined to have some muscle put into the airy-fairy waffle in the Framework Document FF and FG cobbled together, particularly on health and housing, instead of just pushing “transformative” climate change measures. These may also hold up agreement. However, you can be sure one matter won’t detain the construction of the three-legged stool long – The North.

For a start, none of the parties has mentioned this place [the North]since their dance commenced. It’s never been a matter of interest to the Greens even though a substantial proportion of their membership lives in The North. In the south the Greens are nicknamed “Fine Gael on bicycles”.

They’re fairly well heeled and largely urban based so the havoc their environmental plans will cause among farmers doesn’t matter too much to them.

So you can take it that the waffle about “a shared island” in the FF/FG Framework Document will be the policy on The North. What is it? The short answer is nothing. It’s taken straight from Fianna Fáil’s failed manifesto for the February election when they were stuffed. In case you’ve forgotten, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t have, they  intend setting up a talking shop in the Taoiseach’s Office “to work towards a consensus on a united island”. You’ve noticed, haven’t you, it’s now not a united Ireland. Probably a step too far for Fine Gael.

You may also have picked up another new word: “consensus”. They say “This consensus will be underpinned by the terms and institutions of the Good Friday Agreement [GFA]…”. The word consensus is nowhere in the GFA. For Fianna Fail, the so-called republican party, this is a major departure from traditional policy, perhaps at the insistence of Fine Gael, perhaps at the insistence of Micheál Martin. ‘Consensus’ is a code word, especially in Fine Gael circles, for a Unionist veto. They hadn’t the nerve to write “Unionist consent”, but that’s what they mean in this passage. What has happened here is that Fine Gael first, then to their shame Fianna Fáil, have twisted the consent principle in the GFA into a Unionist veto on change.

It’s a dangerous path to follow. The Conservative government began this notion in 2019 by inventing the need for Unionist consent to altering procedures in the Brexit Irish protocol. Michael Gove has absurdly been insisting on the need for cross-community consent in the current stand-off about a Belfast EU office. Strangely, although there was cross community consent for rejecting Brexit, that didn’t matter. Now, although there’s cross-community consent for a Belfast EU office, given that the majority of assembly members and parties support it, that doesn’t matter either. It has to be minority Unionist consent which is a perversion of the principles of the GFA.

Still, none of that will detain the negotiators in Dublin as they rush to get into the Cabinet.