Thursday 27 October 2016

Power-talks have begun, but can Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil share power?

Published 07/04/2016 | 02:30

Mick Wallace is one of the group of Independents who is expected to oppose whatever
government might emerge Photo: Tom Burke
Mick Wallace is one of the group of Independents who is expected to oppose whatever government might emerge Photo: Tom Burke

'Nothing added except time," the advertisement for a popular beverage tells us. With apologies to the temperance brigade, we find it apposite as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil finally start to openly talk about sharing power.

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We knew it would have to come to this. But the principals in both parties were happy to let time do its work on their followers' visceral emotions.

The idea of a "Rotating Taoiseach" - first mooted in 1992 by a victorious Labour leader Dick Spring - is back on the agenda. Maybe its time has come and Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin can take turns at driving the bus of state? Only time will tell.

Right now we have more questions than answers. The Independents may have got what they publicly wished for. But right now their plight recalls somewhat the situation of the Green Party in 2007 when they were "wanted but not needed,"

Bertie Ahern did not initially need the six Green Party deputies to make up his overall majority. But they gave him an additional cushion. The Independents who have engaged with both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are in a position comparable to that of the Greens 2007. Current Dáil arithmetic, and the chamber's diverse make-up, means Independents are wanted.

But, depending on how Fine Gael talks with Fianna Fáil pan out, they may - or may not - be needed.

The all-time record of 23 Independent TDs comprise a most diverse grouping with former members of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour and Sinn Féin, and many others.

They remain an eclectic mix of town and country and left and right. Above all, having successfully gone toe-to-toe with the larger parties, they are all gritty and canny political operators.

One of the things the last 40 days of strange and unusual politicking have told us is how these 23 TDs can be variously grouped into six distinct strands, four of which have been talking seriously to the bigger parties about government formation.

Most evidently, there is the Independent Alliance (IA), which stood on a common platform in the General Election of February 26. The IA is itself a microcosm of the 23 Independent TDs, as they mix town and country, left and right.

There is Shane Ross, a former stockbroker from south Dublin; leftists Finian McGrath and John Halligan; and more rural representatives in Kevin 'Boxer' Moran, Seán Canney and Michael Fitzmaurice.

Then there is the group known as the "rural five." These are Denis Naughten, Noel Grealish, Dr Michael Harty, Mattie McGrath and Michael Collins.

The Healy-Rae brothers, Michael and Danny, represent a Kerry and western seaboard take on life. Then there is the social campaigning Dublin duo of Maureen O'Sullivan and Katherine Zappone.

And there are seven variously left-leaning TDs still flying Independent colours. These are Joan Collins, Catherine Connolly, Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, Tommy Broughan, Séamus Healy and Thomas Pringle. This group can be expected to stay resolutely against the government - whatever government might emerge.

Finally, there is Michael Lowry, now adrift from Fine Gael for all but 20 years. He remains a perennial poll-topper and periodically attracts controversy like a magnet draws iron filings. Yesterday, he was the only non-Fine Gael TD to vote for Enda Kenny as Taoiseach and may well continue this arm's length support.

So, clearly, we are talking about the 15 Independents who have tried to be part of the solution to our national quest for government. And, to give them all due credit, these people have carried themselves well to date and managed to put the focus on all the key issues.

But they may soon have a hard decision to make - Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.

Along with that, they must change largely aspirational, broad-brush promises into specific, time-lined pledges with clear evidence on funding sources to make them happen. But first the Independents, like all of us, await the parlay of the two big political beasts.

Irish Independent

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