Monday 26 September 2016

Numbers must add up for next Taoiseach

Before you buy into non-party candidates, remember the Latin adage, 'caveat emptor', writes Alan Shatter

Alan Shatter

Published 01/11/2015 | 02:30

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams

The outcome of the 2016 "early spring" General Election is readily predictable. Unless any of them are victims in the coming weeks of some totally unexpected political tsunami, the next Taoiseach will be Enda Kenny, Micheal Martin or Gerry Adams.

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Which of them is a matter of numbers. To be elected Taoiseach will require the support of at least 79 TDs in the newly-elected 32nd Dail. To appoint a government that is stable, with any possibility of serving a full five-year Dail term, the incoming Taoiseach will need the continuing support and allegiance of more than the bare minimum of 79.

If the new government has only a very small majority or is a minority government, propped up by a large disparate group of Independents whose allegiance is uncertain, within six to 18 months of the 32nd Dail first meeting, it is likely the government will collapse and the Dail will be dissolved. There can be no certainty that any subsequent general election held to elect members to the 33rd Dail will substantially change the parliamentary arithmetic.

The truth is that neither Fianna Fail nor Sinn Fein can or will, on their own, achieve an overall majority. And it seems that Labour have an electoral mountain to climb if they are to make up the numbers required for the continuation of the current Fine Gael/Labour partnership. So where does that leave us?

Although Fianna Fail are doing marginally better than Sinn Fein in the opinion polls, much of the attention of political commentators and broadcasters in recent weeks has focused on the likelihood of Gerry Adams becoming Taoiseach in a Sinn Fein-led Government.

This focus is understandable considering Adams's and Sinn Fein's history, the reports recently published suggesting the existence of a shadowy army council in the background and the mafia-like criminality and violence in which "former" members of the Provisional IRA are engaged.

It is also understandable having regard to the vicious manner in which that party targets its political opponents on social media and its treatment of Mairia Cahill and others who were sexually abused by members of PIRA.

While there has been a welcome end to the Provisional IRA's objective of murdering and bombing Ulster Protestants into a united Ireland, there remains a whiff of cordite around Sinn Fein. While, as a party, it is participating in democratic politics, that participation has to be viewed against its internal authoritarianism and the conduct of some of its members. For many, the prevailing culture of Sinn Fein and the unreality of and dangers posed by its economic, taxation and fiscal policies, render it unfit for government.

While Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein were under the microscope, Micheal Martin and Fianna Fail barely got a look in but have, recently, received greater attention.

It is likely there will be an increase in Fianna Fail TDs but there is little chance of a Micheal Martin/Fianna Fail-led government being formed.

Even Fianna Fail TDs acknowledge that their party, having brought the country to its knees, is perceived by many as toxic and has alienated a huge swathe of the electorate, who will not trust them to manage the State's finances. They do not believe there is any possibility of Micheal Martin becoming Taoiseach.

To date, little attention has been given as to how Independents and members of the smaller parties will vote in the next Dail in the selection of the next Taoiseach and how secure their support will be for a newly-elected government. If recent opinion polls are accurate, the next Dail could have 25 to 38 Independents elected to it.

Some of those elected will be high-profile names from the current Dail; others will be unknown nationally and some largely unknown in the constituencies in which they are elected.

Their election will not derive from major policy proposals or genuinely important local initiatives in which they have engaged. It will result from a perception on the part of some voters that the Independent brand is, for reasons they may not fully analyse, better than the brand offered by the traditional parties. Some will vote for the smaller new parties simply because they are not the traditional parties; others will vote for the Anti-Austerity Alliance/ Socialist Party/People Before Profit combo.

A significant part of the latter's support will be from disillusioned Labour voters - unless Labour can reclaim their allegiance.

In most general elections in which I have participated, either my own constituency or another has elected to the Dail a candidate popularly perceived, in the mood of the moment, to be the next political Messiah who subsequently has rarely failed to disappoint and has not fulfilled the elevated expectations created around them. This could become the phenomenon of the next election in constituencies throughout the country.

The record of Independents and the smaller parties in the current Dail has been substantially to oppose much of what has been done to bring about the recovery and to demand additional expenditure for a variety of services, without identifying or taking responsibility for raising the funds necessary to deliver them.

At a time when so many people have experienced financial difficulties, for which they are not personally responsible, as a result of the economic collapse, it is understandable that TDs taking such stances have received increased public support. However, the most significant aspect of casting a vote is the influence your vote has in determining who will be elected Taoiseach.

And the selection of the Taoiseach will substantially determine the composition of the government and whether Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein will lead that government.

The fact that some Independents or smaller parties have not endorsed the Right2Change manifesto, nor will agree to a general election voting transfer pact with Sinn Fein, does not mean that, subsequent to the election, they will not vote for or facilitate Gerry Adams's election as Taoiseach.

For that reason, is it not time for commentators and, more importantly, voters, to start asking the Independent deputies and candidates, as well as the smaller parties, if elected to the Dail, who will they vote for to be Taoiseach?

Voters are entitled to an unequivocal answer to the Taoiseach question. They are also entitled to an opportunity to test the credibility of that answer against the actions and rhetoric of Independents and smaller parties and their voting records in the current Dail.

Doing so will confirm that if over the past four and a half years, they honestly presented their views and beliefs and not simply assumed populist positions for personal or party electoral gain or notoriety, there is minimal possibility of most of them voting for anyone other than Gerry Adams to be Taoiseach.

What every voter needs to know is that a first-preference vote for your local self-proclaimed Independent election candidate or a candidate of one of the smaller parties may have the unintended consequence in 2016 of electing to office a Gerry Adams/Sinn Fein-led government. So before you buy into their election narrative, remember the well-worn Latin adage, 'caveat emptor' - buyer beware!

Alan Shatter TD is a former Minister for Justice.

inside the cABINET, SEE PAGES 22 & 23

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