Does Gerry Adams deserve to be in Government when the time comes?
The Taoiseach and Fianna Fail leader would rather do a deal with Adams than with each other, writes Jody Corcoran
After the elections, the issue now is whether the Government will last full term – just two in five have full confidence that it will – which makes more urgent the question of Sinn Fein in Government after the next election, this year or next.
But maybe the real question relates to the Sinn Fein president himself: does Gerry Adams deserve to be in Government when the time comes? Personally, I think Mary Lou would be a fine Minister for Health, that Peader Tobin would be an addition to the Cabinet, that Pearse Doherty would be a reasonable enough minister, out of harm's way, and that Padraig MacLochlainn would be a grand junior minister. That's about it.
They would not look out of place alongside – in some cases, they outshine – many on the Fianna Fail frontbench at the moment, or those wannabes anxious for advancement in Fine Gael and Labour right now.
But does Gerry Adams deserve to be, say, Minister for Foreign Affairs in the next Government, or a member of the Cabinet at all? That's where Middle Ireland seems to have a doubt.
Until recently, Eamon Gilmore had hoped to be Foreign Affairs Minister in 2016; he did, however, attend the State Banquet at Windsor Castle in that capacity, so he can't really complain.
Enda Kenny was recently asked whether he, as Fine Gael leader, would rule out coalition with Sinn Fein after the election. He said: "Who knows what the future holds in politics? People here are masters in the democratic situation – they make the decisions. We'll wait and see what result there comes ..."
The Taoiseach, therefore, has effectively left open the possibility that Gerry Adams will be Minister for Foreign Affairs in a Fine Gael-Sinn Fein Government, a proposition supported by just 7 per cent in our poll.
The conclusion is that none of them has definitively ruled out going into Government with Sinn Fein after the election.
In fact, we can now consider whether Alex White is not, indeed, an enthusiastic supporter of Coalition with Sinn Fein.
Last week he said: "I believe the problems with a lot of the parties to our left is that they've set themselves against going into Government."
And he added: "It's about numbers in the Dail when the Dail sits for the first time."
The current favourite to win the Labour leadership, Joan Burton, has set the bar higher.
She has said she does not believe Sinn Fein is "ready for Government" due to the many "unanswered questions" about the "Sinn Fein-IRA nexus", the "past actions" of "leading figures" and the fact that its economic policies would destroy jobs and investment.
In effect, Joan Burton has also asked the Gerry Adams question: does he deserve to be in Government, with all those unanswered questions? She seems to have drawn a line: No to Gerry Adams, but not no to Mary Lou.
But she has also added her "instinctive conviction" that the formation of government is about numbers in the next Dail, and that she does not think there is any party that can afford to – wait for it – "exclude including" Sinn Fein.
In was recently reported that the Fianna Fail Justice spokesman, Niall Collins, had also veered from the Fianna Fail position, to the point that he had said Fianna Fail could not "rule out coalition" with Sinn Fein after the election.
There is some support for that view in Fianna Fail, especially now the prospect exists for the party to be the senior partner in such a Coalition. Our opinion poll today also finds a Fianna Fail-Sinn Fein Coalition the most favoured by voters, albeit with just 15 per cent support.
As with Joan Burton, Micheal Martin has also set the bar higher, if not entirely out of reach.
His spokesman subsequently said that Fianna Fail's ambitions for the economy, and its focus on job creation, were "not compatible" with Sinn Fein's "relentless" high tax agenda which would only "jeopardise" jobs and "discourage" foreign investment.
Micheal Martin's spokes-man has also repeated that Fianna Fail had concerns about how Sinn Fein "practises its politics".
In this regard, it is understood he is influenced by his attendance, with Micheal McGrath, at a protest in Cork at which an attempt was made by Sinn Fein supporters to intimidate them.
For another example, he is also uneasy at recent Sinn Fein orchestrated protests outside police stations in Northern Ireland.
In any event, Micheal Martin has doubts as to whether Sinn Fein wants to be in Government in 2016; he believes the party's strategy remains more electoral, to only enter Government, as many in Sinn Fein acknowledge, if or when Sinn Fein is a majority party in such a coalition.
And he also enters the caveat that the numbers will decide: in doing so, Micheal Martin is at one with Enda Kenny and the Labour leadership: the numbers will dictate.
The three most likely coalition options after the next election will be Fine Gael and Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein or Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, with the next Taoiseach to be either Micheal Martin or Enda Kenny.
There are possible alternatives, which involve whatever Labour might come back with, how coherent the Independents may eventually become, on the left and on the right, or whether Lucinda's new party, or alliance, or whatever it is, ever gets off of the ground – a moot point.
In reality, though, we are looking at any combination of Fine Gael, Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail.
In the recent local and European elections, Sinn Fein won 15 per cent of the vote and Labour 7 per cent; in the last such elections in 2009, it was virtually the opposite – Labour won 15 per cent and Sinn Fein 7 per cent.
Sinn Fein has, therefore, replaced Labour as the official half-party to make up the numbers, no more than that.
The Sinn Fein project seems to have stalled of late: in the 2011 Meath East by-election, the party won 13 per cent of the vote; in the 2011 Presidential election, Martin McGuinness won almost 14 per cent of the vote.
By and large, it seems Middle Ireland, especially outside large urban centres, is with Joan Burton on this one: Mary Lou for Health, fair enough, but not Gerry Adams in Foreign Affairs.
All of which excludes the bleedin' obvious: democracy will have the final say when the votes are counted.
At that stage, it may come down to whether Gerry Adams is willing to forgo a salute outside the GPO in 2016, as he has eschewed office in Northern Ireland to further the Sinn Fein project – and wait for the Presidential Election.
In the more likely event that the draw of Iveagh House will be too great, it will come down to Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin, who will have a decision to make. After the next election, they are going to have to decide, 100 years after the ramshackled Rising and all that flowed from it, whether they are willing to settle the civil war and take Fine Gael and Fianna Fail into Government together.
Right now I believe both men would rather do a deal with Gerry Adams.