Tuesday 25 October 2016

Don't rule out possibility of a Kaleidoscope Coalition in such a crowded political field

Published 14/07/2015 | 02:30

Enda Kenny remains odds-on to be returned as Taoiseach
Enda Kenny remains odds-on to be returned as Taoiseach

Thirty eight weeks (at most) to go to polling date and it would take a brave man or woman to call the formation of the next government.

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Enda Kenny remains odds-on to be returned as Taoiseach - he's 4-11 with the bookies with Micheál Martin way back at 9-2 - but after that it's clear as mud.

Tomorrow's launch of a "new political venture" - involving Stephen Donnelly, Catherine Murphy and Roisin Shortall - only complicates matters further.

The field is looking as crowded now as at any election since 1948.

That resulted in a five-party coalition - six if you include independents who had a presence at cabinet - coming together to keep out Fianna Fáil.

There are a number of similarities between now and then. Clann na Poblachta, led by former IRA chief of staff Sean McBride, was looking to usurp Fianna Fáil then, now it's Sinn Féin, led by... well, you get the picture.

For the National Labour Party which had split from Labour in 1944, read Shortall and Co's left-of-centre outfit.

There are also parallels between the positions of Lucinda Creighton and James Dillon.

Dillon ended up in that cabinet, representing some of the 12 independents, after previously resigning from Fine Gael on an issue of conscience (he opposed Ireland's neutrality in World War II).

There are, of course, differences. There's no equivalent to Clann na Talmhan, the farmers' party that won seven seats and one ministerial position in '48.

Fianna Fáil is nowhere near as strong as it was in de Valera's time.

But could anybody definitively rule out a six-legged administration emerging from the next general election?

Based on the current opinion polls, no one party is going to win more than 50 seats.

Fianna Fáil frontbenchers swear blind that it won't coalesce with Fine Gael, and Sinn Féin has said it'll only go into government if it's leading the coalition, which isn't going to happen.

Unless one or more of those factors change, a 1948-style government will be unavoidable. And that's where Shortall, Donnelly and Murphy could get lucky. Because, even allowing for Labour's current difficulties, it's hard to see this new party getting traction.

Shortall, Donnelly and Murphy are all very credible politicians. But the worry is, to turn Aristotle's line on its head, the whole will be less than the sum of the parts.

Shortall and Murphy will definitely hold their seats. Donnelly should do also.

But after that?

What will they offer that isn't there already from Labour, Sinn Féin and a whole host of independents?

Will they have the time to trek the country looking for credible candidates?

Can they even find those candidates? Where will the money come from? What will their economic platform be when there are obvious differences between Donnelly and the other two on financial matters?

No doubt, there'll be lots of talk tomorrow of a 'new type of politics'. But after similar promises from Fine Gael and Labour last time out, the public may be a little more sceptical on that one.

The fate of Syriza in Greece may also make life more difficult for new parties here offering new beginnings.

Suddenly, the tried and (mis)trusted isn't quite so unappealing, particularly for the kind of middle ground voters they'll be looking to attract.

All of the above also holds for Renua on the centre right.

It looks to have less strength in depth than Shortall, Donnelly and Murphy's venture, but Creighton probably has more box office appeal and in a general election that counts for something.

Yet for all the questions and negatives that surround the two new groupings, it's still very possible that both - along with, at a stretch, the Greens - could end up in government.

National Labour did with five seats in 1948; Democratic Left did with four in 1994, as did the PDs in 1997 - the latter even managed to get a cabinet seat with just two deputies in 2007.

Take it as read that Enda Kenny's strategists are already doing the numbers for after the next election, sizing up who they can do business with and who they can't.

Given recent history, Kenny wouldn't be keen on including Renua in any coalition. But if Charlie Haughey and Des O'Malley were able to get it together for political pragmatism, so can he and Creighton.

The same holds for Labour and Shortall.

They might not be so keen though on the Shane Ross/Michael Fitzmaurice grouping of independents. FG figures see them as too unpredictable and with too many notions.

The likes of Michael Lowry, Noel Grealish, Michael Healy-Rae and Maureen O'Sullivan would, however, be regarded as independents that they could work with.

The caveat is that a lot can change, particularly with the economy continuing to improve and, during a campaign, when voters' minds become focused on picking a government.

That would favour the established parties, particularly the current government.

But unless there's a pretty dramatic shift in voter sentiment, it might be a case of '48 revisited. We've had a Rainbow Government. How about a Kaleidoscope Coalition?

Shane Coleman presents the 'Sunday Show' on newstalk.com at 10am

Irish Independent

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