Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail need to face the new realities
Grand coalition between old rivals may be the most radical outcome of all after decade of trauma, writes Jody Corcoran
Published 19/04/2015 | 02:30
One of the more fascinating findings in our recent opinion poll was that Fianna Fail is the least toxic of all the main political parties when it comes to getting second preference and further votes.
The party, which will hold its Ard Fheis in Dublin next weekend, should take comfort from that finding after a recent bout of heavy-handed analysis which has virtually written it off as irrelevant.
Any analysis that writes off a party with the support of one-fifth of voters is unfair, even if Fianna Fail has done little to present an alternative face to the one evident, which is one of in-fighting, backbiting and self-interest.
When the votes are counted, however, Fianna Fail will still be found to be the kingmakers -if not the king.
In our poll, when asked which party or grouping they would not vote for, just three in ten (30pc) said Fianna Fail, less than Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein, each of which is more vote-transfer toxic.
Looking beyond that headline figure, it was even more interesting to note that just 23pc of Fine Gael voters and 32pc of Labour voters have absolutely ruled out ever considering a tick for Fianna Fail.
To a certain extent, the finding shows that supporters of the 'establishment' parties, that is the majority of voters, will stick together in the face of an onslaught from all manner of unorthodox angles.
And as we should know by now, when it comes to elections, or rather the formation of a government, the 'establishment' is seldom on the wrong side.
There are two schools of thought in Fianna Fail at the moment: enter government as the main party or continue to rebuild in opposition for another five years.
The likelihood of Fianna Fail leading the next government is slim, but can not be ruled out.
In my view, the true position of Fianna Fail is not much more than an opinion poll margin of error behind Fine Gael, a position that can be easily overcome during an election campaign.
That said, it is more likely than not that Fine Gael will lead the next government.
Fine Gael's senior figures are attempting to big up the prospect of a return of the current coalition, perhaps with some Independents, who are understandably anxious to present themselves in a position of influence.
To achieve power, Fianna Fail will need to get its head around entering into a coalition with Fine Gael, whether as kingmaker or king, and Fine Gael will have to do likewise if Enda Kenny really wants that second term.
At the moment, the trajectory of all polls, including our Millward Brown poll, shows the most likely outcome of the election to be a Fine Gael/Fianna Fail government.
When the initial hue and cry of those in search of an outcome more radical dies down, they will find that such a result would be the most radical outcome of all.
A Fine Gael/Fianna Fail coalition, I believe, will strike a chord with a public which is looking for something to give after almost a decade of national trauma.
Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have ruled out government with each other, interestingly enough not on the grounds of a shared history 100 years on, but because Fine Gael is "too right wing", according to Micheal Martin, and Fianna Fail "wrecked the country", according to Enda Kenny.
There are, however, several influential figures in or associated with both who fail to see the potential difficulties as insurmountable.
The late Brian Lenihan opened this debate at Beal na mBlath in 2010, the same location where the theme was taken up three years later by Bill O'Herlihy from the Fine Gael side of the fence.
To varying degrees, Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and Frank Flannery of Fine Gael and Mary O'Rourke and John McGuinness of Fianna Fail, and the commentators Noel Whelan and Ivan Yates have also said the time has come.
The voters will decide, of course - not Kenny or Martin, whose leaderships will end once out of office; or the diehards in each party, of which there are many, who would rather share power with Sinn Fein than with each other.
There are alternatives within the 'establishment', but they are limited and messy, irrespective of the view of former Fine Gael leader John Bruton, based on his experience as leader of the last Rainbow Coalition, that a three-party government is better than two in power.
A three-party coalition, or two parties with a selection of Independents may yet take office, but the numbers just aren't stacking up in that direction at the moment.
Whether you like it or not, the Sunday Independent/ Millward Brown analysis suggests that Fianna Fail is not the pariah it was four years ago.
"What is suggests," says Paul Moran, executive director of the polling firm, "is that Fianna Fail have lost some of the toxicity that the economic collapse brought upon them. This will be of huge importance in the final counts in the larger constituencies come the general election."
With 20pc of the vote probably already secure, and with its experience of "ground hurling" that is the hallmark of coalition here, Fianna Fail is more than capable of holding its own in office with Fine Gael. What an interesting few years that would be.