Friday 28 April 2017

Water a driving force as new gulf emerges between political parties

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Ciaran Conlon

Is Ireland ready for its very own Democrats versus Republican election? Because our next election could easily end up being fought out on those broad lines. Now, obviously we won't have two parties titled as such fighting for votes in 40 constituencies, but the drift in political positions is lending itself to two distinct camps. The debate about water charges, if a circular argument about whether a government should legislate for something that it knows to be illegal qualifies as a 'debate', has only served to reinforce my thinking in this direction.

On the 'Republican' side of the potential new divide in Irish politics are Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, two parties who self-identify as Republican. On the other side of the fence are the parties and groups that we might call the 'Democrats' - Fine Gael, Labour, the Greens and potentially other progressive Independents. As it turns out this is broadly how the depressing water charges debate broke down but that in itself is just one issue. The dynamic involved is broader than just the water issue, it is about the pull and push factors in a fragmented and hyper-competitive Irish electoral landscape.

The most recent election, and the government formation process that followed it, showed just how difficult putting an administration together can be and how beholden to the tyranny of the Dáil arithmetic everyone ends up being. While it may not be as fragmented a Dáil next time round, as the polling shows some degree of consolidation, what is almost certain is that no party will have a majority and coalition building will have to take place again.

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