No party was more ready or resourced than Fine Gael. Yet from the get go, the lead coalition party has appeared wobbly. First there was confusion over the amount of spending predicted to be available to the Government, if re- elected. The Taoiseach dismissed questions on this fiscal space quipping that most people don’t understand economic jargon. Not the right answer. What about the Taoiseach’s previous theory “Paddy likes to know the truth”. Michael Noonan settled down the troops in a press conference, as usual exuding authority and confidence. Handlers breathed a sigh of relief.
Then, after what seemed an age the Taoiseach finally ruled out Michael Lowry, something that could have been done crisply and unequivocally 10 days ago. Instead, ambivalence on Lowry dominated the news, ironically giving Lowry prominence as a potential king maker in a prospective government and also discrediting the Taoiseach. The Lowry issue also caused ructions in the Labour party, with the smaller party taking a more definitive position. When the Taoiseach was finally forced to bite the bullet on Morning Ireland, he managed to make matters worse by also ruling out “all independents”. A risky move. All the polls suggest the coalition parties will need to do business with a handful of sensible “establishment” independents or another small party to make up the numbers.
Many independents are maverick, not only in their approach to politics but in how they handle crisis. Essentially, independents are populist politicians, many of whom have left parties because of a row or who because of eccentricity don’t fit in a party. For governments to be dependent on their votes is a white knuckle ride and makes a government inherently unstable. So for independents to be the right fit to support governments, they need to be reliable types, not prone to tantrums or red line principles. Pragmatic types like Noel Grealish is one such independent. Shane Ross is the other end of the spectrum.
Interesting to see Lucinda Creighton anticipating her party holding the balance of power. But what about the Labour Party’s commitment to “Repeal the Eighth”? And liberals in Fine Gael anxious to broaden the availability of abortions beyond the current legislative restrictions? Any government depending on Lucinda’s party would be stymied on that important policy for a start.
Fianna Fail are having a good election so far. In fact that party is increasingly likely to participate in government. A respectable outing by FF would deliver thirty to thirty five seats, with no messing around with mavericks to enable FG to form a 3 way partnership government. Such a scenario is of coursed dismissed by both tribes now. Micheál or Enda wouldn’t even countenance it in the mirror while shaving.
But, apart from the old civil war wounds and blue shirts and soldiers of destiny turning in graves, is this really such an appalling vista? Is a hung Dail preferable? Or a collage of independents and small parties? I think not. There is a duty on political leaders to honour the people’s vote in elections and form a government which reflects their considered choice. Des O’Malley buried the hatchet with his arch enemy Charles J Haughey and broke the mould of Irish politics by going into coalition with FF in 1989. Nobody died and the rest is history.
Liz O’Donnell is a former Progressive Democrats politician, who represented Dublin South as a TD from 1992 to 2007.