Whatever coalition Fianna Fail and Fine Gael cobble together, it won’t last

Posted By: April 22, 2020

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been meeting the raggle-taggle Regional Technical Independents Group in the new Dáil to try to cobble together a majority.

In the unlikely event that they manage it, separately or together, it won’t last.

For a start, the title of the so-called framework document is, ‘a draft document to facilitate negotiations’. It contains ’10 new missions for a new government’; all woolly, aspirational, uncosted, with no timescale. There is something designed to appeal to every party and Independent who might consider joining what the Irish Times’s Miriam Lord has called the new ‘Finagle party’. Yet there is no commitment to anything. One cartoonist (not Ian Knox) has compared the document to the gingerbread house made of cake, sweeties and pastry. Except it isn’t the wicked witch inside; it’s Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin. In other words, any party would be daft to enter.

It’s all a mixture of typical old-fashioned Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael spin and plámás aimed at inveigling people again into supporting the two discredited civil war parties. Don’t forget, most voters rejected both parties. Together they only got 43 per cent.

For example, they talk about renewing The South economically, socially, and every way you can imagine after Covid-19, but say they won’t raise income tax or cut social welfare rates. They’re going to do it by magic. They talk about ‘change’, but they are the parties who oppose change. People know exactly what they’d do. After three months they’ll announce they didn’t think things were as bad, so there’s no alternative but to raise taxes, cut borrowing and put reform on the long finger. They haven’t copped on yet that no one trusts them. It’s the same old, same old.

In practical terms the new Finagle party is in a bind. Together they amount to 72 seats but need 81 to govern. On the face of it their best option is the 12 Green TDs, but that party is split with half a dozen new TDs Green fundamentalists demanding an immediate 5 per cent cut in CO2 emissions. There’s even talk of a challenge to Eamon Ryan the party leader who sounds too accommodating. Others remember the party was annihilated after coalition with Fianna Fáil and yet others realisz that the only reason they got twelve seats was thanks to transfers from Sinn Féin’s gigantic surpluses. They’d have no hesitation in bringing down a FF/FG coalition if they didn’t like legislation.

Here’s another problem. Micheál Martin is desperate to be taoiseach. This is his last and only chance, so FF and FG have agreed a ‘rotating taoiseach’. It’s agreed Martin goes first, resigns after two years, if a government lasts that long, but also resigns as leader of FF. Does Varadkar automatically take over? Will the Dáil buy that in 2022? Will FF vote for him? The electorate rejected him in February so why would FF keep him in power? Are there leadership contests in FG and FF? Would FF keep a new FG leader as taoiseach after Martin has gone and everyone is looking at an election looming?

In short, you are looking at a fundamentally unstable government in horrendously difficult economic times. Don’t forget this government would be composed of 72 TDs from parties rejected at the 2020 election supported by bits and bobs of Independents, or an unstable Green party terrified of being slaughtered for going into coalition with the civil war parties who represent the tired old ways.

Varadkar says a third party is necessary to enable a government to be formed because he doesn’t want to repeat the experience of herding cats round the Cabinet table as he’s done since 2016. Martin is unashamedly desperate so FF will cobble together as many Independents as necessary. His government would therefore be composed of people attached by buying them off on a weekly basis. Whatever way you look at it, it’s disgraceful; it won’t last.