Saturday 22 October 2016

Fianna Fáil's lust to be biggest party again will trigger election by 2017

Published 14/04/2016 | 02:30

Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath and Micheál Martin celebrate their re-election in Cork South Central, where they together pulled 41.6pc of the vote. Photo: PA
Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath and Micheál Martin celebrate their re-election in Cork South Central, where they together pulled 41.6pc of the vote. Photo: PA

The best-case scenario for the life expectancy of the 32nd Dáil is probably a matter of months - it is very unlikely to reach a second birthday.

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Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael negotiators seem intent on putting together some flimsy, prefab-type structure; not being designed for permanency, it will be blown away by the first storm.

Thus temporary measures to get around the current impasse are sought. The new celebrity Independents talk a good game about mandating a government for a minimum of three budgets but they carry no authority.

No grand coalition means no majority government. This also means no security of tenure for ministers, no medium-term national planning, no multi-annual budgeting and minimal legislation.

Savvy observers can already see that it's time to consider the prospects for our next election.

My best guess is this will kick off in the autumn of 2017. It hardly matters where the breakpoint is; but it will be triggered by Fianna Fáil's lust to become the largest party again.

People will have become frustrated by the lack of progress produced by the 'minority mess'. But all manoeuvres will be mindful of avoiding the blame for causing a second election. Voters will once more be both vengeful and angry.

The tablets of stone currently being sculpted by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael don't really represent a joint approach to policy.

We are nowhere close to a standardised Programme for Government document.

Without this, the shelf-life has to be short for whatever they produce. There is no bulwark to face down public sector strikes.

Mr Kenny's desperation to cling to the Taoiseach's office is another major structural flaw.

His blind ambition to become the first Fine Gael Taoiseach to be re-elected creates an appalling vista for Fine Gael, and the party's future is held hostage by this goal.

Let's assume 70pc of the electorate votes exactly as it did on February 26; this still allows for considerable volatility amongst the 639,000 others.

This would be enough to change the destination of more than 40 seats - one per constituency on average.

Given the potential outcomes for each grouping/party, it's logical to conclude some should have good reason to dread an early election.

The best argument Fine Gael could come up with last time out was for 'stability versus chaos'. It seems the majority chose chaos.

Fine Gael can't play that card again, because it has no coalition partner and has lost the numbers to be credible. It won't have a 'recovery' mantra either; they've cashed that cheque .

Fine Gael will face serious problems in holding onto second seats in Carlow/Kilkenny, Clare, Dún Laoghaire, Galway West, Wexford, Meath East, Limerick County and Wicklow.

The party is more likely to get 40 rather than 50 TDs. Under Kenny (whose disapproval ratings have risen from 60pc to 70pc and are currently at 80pc) Fine Gael TDs could be decimated on the basis that if the party won't get rid of him, the people will.

If Fine Gael has to depend on Fianna Fáil support, they can hardly go about kicking them in the pants for their reckless economic incompetence.

There's an argument that Fianna Fáil may have underperformed in many constituencies because incumbent TDs didn't really believe there was enough support to risk managing their 'personal' vote to secure a second seat for a running mate.

Niall Collins and Willie O'Dea in Limerick constituencies stood alone as solo candidates. Barry Cowen facilitated Sinn Féin's Carol Nolan getting elected in Offaly by 170 votes instead of Fianna Fáil's Eddie Fitzpatrick, by grabbing more than 12,000 votes for himself.

These quota squatters were put to shame by Micheál Martin and Michael McGrath in Cork South Central garnering 41.6pc of the vote and two secure seats. In the event of any dissolution of the Dáil, 10 seats look likely to swing away from Fine Gael towards Fianna Fáil on the basis of revised vote management alone.

Fianna Fáil's other significant potential game changer is starting with a base of 44 TDs, rather than 20 TDs.

In Dublin, the middle classes and business community voted for 'establishment' and continuity - to maintain the rediscovered prosperity in the capital.

Fianna Fáil remained lampooned for the Bertie/Cowen crash legacy. Even gene pool former Fianna Fáil supporters anecdotally told me how they voted Fine Gael on the basis of perceived economic momentum.

Despite this identifiable support in affluent areas, Fine Gael fell down where recovery was absent.

Next time out, Fianna Fáil can work on its narrative and diminish the negative memories of the Troika bailout.

An overview suggests that Fine Gael's 2011 peak support base is declining, while Fianna Fáil's market share is set to correspondingly recover since the disaster of 2011 in line with previous historic norms from the 1970s to 2007. This means Fianna Fáil can win 60 seats.

Sinn Féin failed to maintain a growth curve in February, yielding a worse result than in the European elections.

Most focus the blame for these disappointments on leader Gerry Adams. The forthcoming Ard Fheis may signal the beginning of the end of his time as party president, though he may well maintain some figurehead status.

The party may also jettison its aversion to coalition participation on the basis of only entering government as the "largest party".

Dropping this opens doors to political pragmatism, compromise and ultimately office.

Mary Lou MacDonald's hectoring tactics may be tedious, but they could give her an early electoral boost.

Sinn Féin will undoubtedly wound Fianna Fáil for propping up the government. Tweaking candidates and improving transfers could yield additional TDs, with a ceiling set at 30 deputies.

Labour's problems of broken promises, austerity budgets, disillusionment amongst trade unionists and ageing personnel require long-term remedial work.

Veterans like Willie Penrose, Emmet Stagg, Brendan Ryan, Kevin Humphreys and Eric Byrne may not last the gruelling journey ahead for the party.

Independents/others face the greatest danger from another roll of the election dice. In summary, all except Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have reasons to fear another ballot.

Irish Independent

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