Saturday 10 December 2016

Labour faces ruin as the cracks start to appear in Coalition's arranged marriage

Published 29/03/2014 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore. Photo: Tom Burke
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore. Photo: Tom Burke

The daily challenge of the smaller party in coalition government is of constant effort to stay separate. The greatest electoral peril for the minor partner in such an arranged marriage is of being dominated by or perceived as too close to the bigger party. Relationship management is critical.

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Labour's experience of coalitions is not a happy one. Dick Spring going into government with Fianna Fail in 1993 was a disaster by any measure, from which they emerged bloodied and discredited. All the electoral gains were set at nought by the time the next election came in 1997, with the party retaining just 17 of its outgoing 33 seats, prompting the resignation of the party leader.

The Rainbow coalition cobbled together in 1994 with Democratic Left and Fine Gael was unpopular, accident prone and short-lived; many voters perceived it as an unprincipled holding on to power by Labour changing horses. So, despite Labour delivering a raft of liberal legislation on equality and divorce and decriminalising homosexuality, the party got short shrift when the people had an opportunity to pass judgment.

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