Saturday 1 October 2016

FG and FF are happy to leave us in political purgatory

Published 05/03/2016 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the ‘Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising’ exhibition at The National Museum of Ireland earlier this week. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the ‘Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising’ exhibition at The National Museum of Ireland earlier this week. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Forming the next government is resembling rush hour on the M50.There are loads of people involved, all travelling in a similar direction, but getting nowhere fast.

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All sides insist that there is no rush. Next Thursday's deadline for the new Dáil to sit was a fanciful one based on the idea that Fine Gael and the Labour Party could toss the pages of their respective manifestos up in the air and see which ones landed face up.

Instead, the one thing all sides agree on remains the only genuine option in this new political reality - some sort of deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

The terms of engagement seem reasonably simple but everybody continues to put off the inevitable.

Five years after 'driving the economy off a cliff', Fianna Fáil is, in the words of Conor Lenihan, back.

No matter what way you look at it, there can be no government without Fianna Fáil's participation, or at the very least its consent.

Fine Gael had a long-term economic plan, but clearly didn't have a Plan B for what was essentially an election defeat in all but final seat numbers. So the party realises business will have to be done with the devil, but needs to come up with a way of protecting itself from getting burnt before the process can start.

You might expect that after a week both sides would be settling down for a bit of informal flirting, but instead they are playing 'impossible to get'.

This is best displayed by the row over Irish Water. First, Barry Cowen suggested the abolition of water charges was a red-line issue for Fianna Fáil.

Then, Simon Coveney damaged his own leadership ambitions by appearing to say that it might be a runner.

The punchline was that those law-abiding citizens who felt obliged to pay wouldn't be getting their money back.

You don't have to be a political wonk to realise that the majority of people who paid their bills reside in so-called 'middle Ireland', or to put it another way, in the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael heartland. No major surprise then that as the week went on both parties backtracked, U-turned and reinvented the wheel on water charges.

It was a ridiculous topic to go to war on anyway.

After all the talks of floods, hospital trolleys and homelessness within days of the election, the two main parties were back arguing over water charges - a topic which drowns both sides as they desperately search for an unachievable moral high ground.

It's like two bald men fighting over a comb. Pointless, and they both come out losers.

In the background Fianna Fáil is trying to keep its troops calm as the notion that the party could head a minority rainbow coalition gathers momentum.

And Fine Gael is trying to figure out what to do with Enda Kenny. While he remains a potential for re-election as Taoiseach there will be no heave, but make no mistake his days are numbered.

There is certainly no way Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael would want to go back to the electorate after the week they've given us.

The destination is obvious, but nobody wants to ask directions.

In the meantime, the country sits in political purgatory.

Irish Independent

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