Sunday 25 September 2016

Fionnan Sheahan: The people have spoken - now it's up to the politicians to translate what they said

Published 27/02/2016 | 14:56

Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams,Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin
Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams,Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin

IN THE days after the 2011 general election, the Fine Gael leadership was briefly putting it about that the Labour Party wasn't needed for government.

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Although falling short of an overall majority, Enda Kenny could - mathematically, anyway - have made up the numbers with the support of Independents.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)
Taoiseach Enda Kenny (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)

"We can go without them if they don't want to take responsibility," a senior party source said.

(You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out who it was.)

Eamon Gilmore's team was playing hard ball ahead of the entry into formal negotiations for a coalition.

Read more:  'Given a choice between stability and chaos, people wanted chaos: Seven things we know so far

Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams,Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin
Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams,Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin

Labour was for a short time wondering to itself: would it be best to sit this one out and become the largest opposition party.

Of course, it wasn't really an option.

Fine Gael and the voters made them an offer they couldn't refuse.

Labour did go into government.

The effect of that decision is seen today in the fallout from the general election.

Read more: Election 2016 LIVE: Fine Gael and Labour in meltdown as Irish political system rocked

The consequences of entering government at the start of a bailout and three years of austerity is now being felt by both parties.

The 2016 General Election has thrown up a result that leaves no obvious government.

After one in five voters walked away from Fine Gael and Labour, clearly there is neither a mandate nor the numbers for them to return to power.

The shape of seats in most constituencies is now becoming clear.

Over the next 48 hours, the results of final seats will determine the final make-up of the next Dáil.

And every last transfer will count.

Fine Gael and Labour are decimated, potentially on the way back with collectively less than 60 seats.

Read more: Fianna Fáil claims Enda Kenny will turn to Sinn Féin first before he considers 'Grand Coalition’

Even when adding on smaller parties and Independents into what Bertie Ahern has coined as a "kaleidoscope coalition", they might still not be able to get into a majority position.

After this result, Labour might well decide to sit on the sidelines to lick its wounds and rebuild, as suggested by party strategist Derek McDowell.

Party figures did say there was a point below which it would not be advisable to enter government again. That point has been passed.

A bigger block is actually made up of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, but this is among the options Micheál Martin has ruled out and Gerry Adams has insisted his party will only enter coalition as the biggest party.

Fianna Fáil has begun its recovery from the 2011 wipeout and will double its seat numbers.

But its still a far cry from the days of Ahern or Charlie Haughey when 'overall majority' was within touching distance.

Smaller parties and Independents are the big winners of this election. But how many of those are able or willing to enter office.

After seeing what's happened to the PDs, Green Party and now Labour, the Social Democrats will certainly be taking time before even thinking about running into power.

A grand coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is the most obvious solution - until you talk to grassroots members of both parties.

Civil War politics and policy differences aside, there is a deep unease within both parties about the notion of allowing Sinn Féin to be the dominant force on the opposition benches.

Until the final seats are decided, there will be no movement from any parties. A calm assessment of where they stand will be taken before approaches are made to try to cobble together a government.

The Dáil will meet in two weeks time. In the meantime, there's a lot of shape throwing to be done.

Read more: Analysis: 'Worst performance by party topping poll in history, with another election looming'

As of now, the two most likely options are that grand coalition on the anniversary of the Easter Rising or another general election quite soon.

Nobody in the political world will want that.

The people have spoken: now it's up to the politicians to translate what they said.

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