Monday 20 October 2014

Enda, the peacemaker, could drive FG/SF express

Taoiseach could be the leader to unite republican traditions and heal Civil War rifts, if that's what the poll numbers dictate, says John Drennan

Published 08/09/2013 | 05:00

HISTORY: Enda Kenny has had testy exchanges with SF
POSSIBLE MINISTERS: Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald

THERE is always a point, even for smaller political parties, where a sense of inevitability gathers that they will be in government. This occurred, despite their best efforts, with the Progressive Democrats in 1997, the Greens in 2007 and now that same tide is flowing Sinn Fein's way.

It helps, of course, when you are at 20 per cent in the polls despite the ongoing series of gruesome skeletons being dug up from the past.

But, whatever about the taint that attaches itself to Gerry's profile, no matter how much laundering he does, it is becoming clear one of the key questions in the next election will be "have you, or would you ever have, intimate political relations with Sinn Fein?"

So far, this has focused exclusively on the horrors of a coalition of the economically irresponsibles of Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein.

But, could this actually be yet another classic Irish three-card political trick where even as everyone is convinced a Fianna Fail/Sinn Fein alliance is under the middle cup; stealthy hands are preparing quite a different set of events.

Fine Gael will continue to frantically deny that the notion of a civil partnership of Sinn Fein and Fine Gael has ever darkened the normally pastel thoughts of Enda.

However, in 2009 that wily caster of political seeds, Frank Flannery, had the famous 'thinking out loud' moment – which 'Dear Leader' Enda of course knew nothing about – where Flannery noted Sinn Fein was now a "legitimate political party" which Fine Gael could work with.

The far less wily Trevor Sargent also controversially claimed that in 2007 Enda had made an approach asking if there was a possibility Sinn Fein would support a Fine Gael-led government but without getting all of the nice things such as the Mercs.

The Taoiseach backed away on each occasion to such an extent that Flannery was sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.

Of course, if Fine Gael were to take a walk down the Sinn Fein wild side, it would miss its Labour 'colleagues' terribly.

Though the coalition siblings have been occasionally fractious, when the Fine Gael Big Brother has looked across at its counterparts mostly it has been with a satisfied eye.

Cutting Labour loose would be a decision taken in great sorrow, but if the numbers are not there and stable government is needed, a patriotic sacrifice would be required.

Enda 'the Peacemaker' could portray himself as the good shepherd bringing the lost Sinn Fein flock out of the desert.

Fainthearts might be told that the gathering in of the Sinn Fein wolves amidst the well-fed Fine Gael sheep represents the final surrender of the SF schismatics to Enda.

Indeed what better time would there be for Enda, the latest Fine Gael successor to Michael Collins, to accept the homage of his Sinn Fein 'partners' than on the reviewing stand of the Easter 1916 commemorations?

Of course, if the figures create such a scenario, Enda could yet be competing with the option of a Fianna Fail/Sinn Fein coalition.

But as SF is planning to carve FF up, it may not be inclined to deliver the elixir of governance to its political enemies.

It could also be argued that such a radical departure as Sinn Fein in government would need to come accompanied by the vestal authority provided by the Taoiseach's office to secure the general acquiescence of the voters.

A Taoiseach going into coalition with Sinn Fein can, with great imagination be portrayed as representing an act of statecraft as distinct from political graft, while a reluctant FF/SF bunk-up would look like the opportunism of desperate men.

That's even before we get to the claims Fine Gael could credibly make that a Fianna Fail/Sinn Fein coalition would be a case of putting two lunatics in charge of the slowly recovering Irish economic asylum.

It has been argued that the bitter exchanges between Kenny and Adams would make such an odd rapprochement difficult. This, though, is to ignore the often complex nature of the Irish political mating ritual for while normally likeminded parties coalesce, the Irish political equivalent of foreplay tends to consist – be it FF and the PDs, FF and Labour or the Greens and FF – of vituperative abuse.

The further benefit for Enda of the tart nature of his exchanges with Gerry is that Enda cannot be accused of being soft on Sinn Fein or soft on the causes of Sinn Fein.

In fact it adds to the sense of sacrifice 'Dear Leader' Enda would be making by going into coalition with a party he detests so viscerally. If it is of any consolation to Enda he might not have to deal with the reality of Tanaiste Gerry Adams.

Mr Adams could be persuaded to follow the precedent set by a different Civil War general, Richard Mulcahy, who, though leader of Fine Gael, did not become Taoiseach in 1951 because of objections over his past from future coalition partners.

He might regret it subsequently, but life would be better for Enda if the government started its life with Mary Lou in the Tanaiste's seat.

And it wouldn't be so bad for Adams were he to remain the leader of Sinn Fein and become Minister for Something Nice, such as Tourism or Arts.

The argument will be made that surely a Fianna Fail/ Fine Gael national government is the better alternative.

Such an analysis, though, fails to deal with the reality that the 90-year tribal war that has occurred between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael makes it all the harder for either side to bend the knee.

Like a Celtic/Rangers hook-up, were Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to merge, the political stadium would be in flames before the first match ended.

Some would claim that something odd would surround the spectacle of the self-proclaimed socialists of Sinn Fein going into coalition with a party of right-wing, socially regressive, mostly rural back-woodsmen with a right-wing economic ideology.

We suspect, however, Sinn Fein would manage to work out some form of modus vivendi.

So could it yet be the case it will be 'Dear Leader' Enda who will unite the republican traditions and heal the Civil War wounds?

There would be a certain historic synergy in a party which declared the Republic in 1949 becoming the ones to accept the surrender of the Sinn Fein irredentists who refused to recognise that Republic.

For Enda, ironically, another advantage unfolds since King, or perhaps President Enda – for you can be sure Kenny will be tilting his lance at the Aras when Michael D is gone, – would not be around to deal with the electoral fall-out of any deal with the Sinn Fein devil.

Hold on to your hats, Middle Ireland; if a way cannot be found to rescue Labour, the Fine Gael / Sinn Fein express could be coming sooner than you think.

Sunday Independent

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