Saturday 25 February 2017

A Dáil in decline, protests dictating policy - and a government doomed to instability

Liz O'Donnell

Liz O'Donnell

'The Dáil is altogether a more toxic place.'
'The Dáil is altogether a more toxic place.'

In the old days, most politicians wanted to be in government. For Fianna Fáil, government was the norm. Fine Gael, always in second place ahead of Labour, fluctuated in popularity depending on its leader. Labour held up the rear, distinguishing itself by vigorous opposition to successive Fianna Fáil administrations, particularly in the Spring era.

The Progressive Democrats were newcomers who, despite their size, upended the entire pecking order by making up the numbers with Fianna Fáil, thereby 'breaking the mould' in Irish politics. This came about not out of idealism, but from pragmatism. Fianna Fáil overcame its distaste for coalition so as to rule. For the Progressive Democrats, being in government was the only place to be to bring about reforms.

This new alliance was disastrous for Fine Gael and Labour. The Progressive Democrats were not only propping up the old enemy Fianna Fáil, but were also blocking the opposition parties from getting into power when Fianna Fáil's electoral star was waning. Independents were rare as unicorns. The far left were ideological loners. In the main, Irish politics was dominated by those four parties.

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