SF keener on coalition than it has admitted so far
Published 02/12/2015 | 02:30
Did the mask slip? Was Gerry Adams just trying to stir things up while rattling the Fianna Fáil cage? Or, maybe he simply just dropped the ball?
Before you pick your own theory, let's again recall that the next election is a game of "79-plus". And that other games will also be played out within that framework - not least the contest for the lead Opposition party next time.
The "79-plus" is about putting together a majority for government in a 158-seat Dáil after next spring's election. And this little outburst helps Fine Gael's argument that it is the only real option, leading an as yet undetermined government.
In such a scenario, would Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin be the biggest party of Opposition? Opinion polls have oscillated on this issue, the latest one suggesting Sinn Féin.
Against that, the 2014 local election results suggest Fianna Fáil could take that slot handily enough. It remains all to play for. So, Gerry Adams has grounds for reminding the generality of voters of his party's standing, and could defend his talk of coalition with Fianna Fáil on that basis.
That line of argument, in part at least, answers the second of our three opening questions. For answers to questions one and three, let's look again at what Mr Adams specifically said about the prospect of coalition with Fianna Fáil.
"You know, the wonderful thing about the election is nobody really knows what's going to come out of it. So when we are clear what comes out of it, we'll talk with whoever we think is appropriate to talk to."
Let us also recall the caveats Mr Adams and colleagues have previously outlined. It is that Sinn Féin will not be the junior partner in any coalition - lest it go the way of oblivion of Labour or the Green Party and others before them.
Only time will tell us how hard and fast that "no junior party" rule will be for Sinn Féin. But when you read that quote cited above, you see the mask has definitely slipped. Sinn Féin's current coalition claims - like all the others - will be re-visited after the election for potential adjustment.
Mr Adams is saying we cannot know the outcome of this election. When we do, we may have to think again.
We have noted that he has annoyed Fianna Fáil. The realpolitik assessment of his party's election chances by its director of elections, Billy Kelleher, was partly aimed at parrying the jibe from Fine Gael: "Vote Fianna Fáil and you get Sinn Féin." So, right on cue last night, Fine Gael trotted that one out again.
But lest we be too hard on either Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin, let us again restate that everyone's pre-election declarations on coalition are up for grabs after the election. They simply have to be - and we include Fine Gael's pledge to shun Sinn Féin among those.
We have noted four cases in the last 25 years when the "impossible coalition" happened when Dáil arithmetic dictated. This included December 1994, when Fine Gael got over its phobia about Sinn Féin's cousins, the Democratic Left.
The least likely election outcome is another election. A coalition deal, however durable, will be done.
So, to summarise the answers to those questions: the mask has slipped, showing Mr Adams and Sinn Féin are far keener on coalition than they would like us to know right now. It is fair to guess that, once the principle is established, haggling over price may alter many pre-election caveats.
Yes, he has rattled Fianna Fáil, which is good for Sinn Féin, at least in the short term.
But he has also irked his own troops, some of whom believe he dropped the ball. All in all, a rather mixed day out for Gerry Adams.