A minority government cannot bring stability
Published 14/03/2016 | 02:30
They will try again tomorrow week and it is odds on that the result will be the same. Yesterday, we found out from a poll in the 'Sunday Business Post' that another general election would give us much the same political deadlock.
But life moves on in the great bad world out there. Big issues could soon loom into view, the kind of things you need a good stable government to navigate.
We know that in a little over three months, on June 23, Britain, our biggest trading partner and the country with which our economic, social and political interests interlock, could opt to leave the European Union. That would require us to re-define a huge range of issues with London in conjunction with Brussels.
We know that our economic recovery is fragile and the economies of our mainland European neighbours are stalled. Record low interest rates, oil prices and other factors could shift. Recent and bitter experience has taught us that global economic shocks could kick in without much warning and do us huge damage.
At home we have a huge crisis in homelessness and the health services, to name but two issues.
The deadlocked Dáil numbers are compounded by signals from the Labour Party with seven TDs, the Social Democrats with three, and the Green Party with two, all telling us they are unlikely to play the coalition game.
Fine Gael, with 50 TDs, and Fianna Fáil, now with 43, each tell us that they are pursuing the option of trying to pull together a minority government.
We already know that the 23 Sinn Féin TDs and the six Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit TDs have no interest in finding compromise solutions to any of our big issues. They will never choose government as long as they can howl their opposition at the skies.
So, this week's charade is likely to feature the "Independent Independents", if you understand my term, the six in the Independent Alliance and the 17 others who are not in any grouping at all. Let's all be very careful here that local constituency matters do not outweigh the needs of the nation.
We also hear encouraging talk about changing the Dáil rules to make it more effective as a watchdog of government and to empower the individual TDs to pursue the interests of people who voted for them.
But changing Dáil rules will not change our political culture, which has evolved since the introduction of mass voting late in the 19th Century. It does not mean that the parties and individuals in opposition will abandon the habits of a lifetime and oppose constructively, trying to find alternative measures for the government ones they have successfully blocked.
In a febrile Dáil, where the government has no overall majority, could we realistically expect them to avoid playing to the gallery as another general election looms into view? Could we expect the opposition to behave responsibly, when in point of fact they do not have any political responsibility because they are outside the government?
Oppositions oppose the government. They will not suddenly cease to do that because we have a different Dáil arithmetic. Nor will welcome moves to curtail the use of the guillotine in law-making, and empower the parliamentary committee system and individual TDs, suddenly transform Leinster House into Denmark's 'Borgen'.
In times past, we did get durable and stable government which had a shaky majority. From March 1987 until June 1989, a minority Fianna Fáil administration relied on Fine Gael to do the decent thing and not vote it out. In fact, that government could have continued for longer but we have learned since that Charlie Haughey manufactured a crisis to call an ill-starred election for his own reasons.
In June 1997, Bertie Ahern relied on the votes of four Progressive Democrat TDs and three Independents to put together a government. At the time, some commentators predicted it would last a matter of weeks. But it went the full five-year term.
The difference, however, in both cases was that Fianna Fáil was within shouting distance of an overall majority. This time, our prospective cornerstones of government are vastly short of the mark. Fine Gael is 30 TDs short and Fianna Fáil is 36 shy of the mark.
Yet we will go through this coming week with both major parties acting out their role and talking with all the diverse parties and groups. Mr Kenny will make a short jaunt to Washington and also to Brussels for an EU leaders' summit.
By this day week, and the return of this new 32nd Dáil, we will be no nearer a result. But by then we will be facing into Easter and another major series of events which will not help focus attention on hard government negotiations. Already people are talking about things going into the month of May.
But those with even a glancing acquaintance with Irish politics know full well that our only realistic chance is through a reasonable arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Stability will not come via a minority government. We know that now. But our politicians will spend another six weeks going through the political motions before they will feel able to publicly acknowledge this.
Some TDs will privately acknowledge that playing for time is not a bad thing at all. It is true that compromises which seem totally unacceptable right now could become more palatable over the coming weeks, if another inconclusive general election appears to be the only option.
If this is true, then all sides should watch their mouths and dial down the rhetoric. Fianna Fáil, especially, could help itself and everyone else in this regard.
We remain in a position where Fine Gael would prefer to lock in Fianna Fáil with a coalition arrangement.
But Fianna Fáil would prefer to stay semi-detached and possibly offer some kind of support.
It is an ironic piece of role reversal in the prelude to any kind of power-sharing talks, where both sides always want to concede the least and extract the most.
The irony of it all sums up the extraordinary position our politics are in just now. But compromises must be found.