Thursday 19 April 2018

Willie O'Dea: Deluded Fine Gael must accept that it lost the election

On and on goes Enda Kenny, making all his nowhere plans for nobody, writes Willie O'Dea

Enda Kenny. Photo: Tom Burke
Enda Kenny. Photo: Tom Burke

Willie O'Dea

Just over five weeks ago, Fine Gael and Labour won a total of 57 seats. Or, to put it another way, between them they lost 56 of the 113 seats they had won in the 2011 election. Or, to put it yet another way, they lost half their seats.

In fact, no matter what way you put it - Fine Gael and Labour lost the last election. The voters overwhelmingly rejected their request to have their mandate renewed.

Most people in the Labour Party appear to have grasped this simple fact, yet it seems somehow to have eluded Enda Kenny and his dwindling band of acolytes.

It is as if Kenny is arrogantly clinging to the notion that if no one mentions this simple arithmetical fact out loud, then everything can stay as it was. Perhaps this is the natural consequence of being so obsessed with spin. You presume that the only reason something didn't appear on the TV or radio is because that particular something never really happened.

We saw it on the night of the election count. Rather than go on RTE's election results programme and face an open discussion with Dobson, O'Callaghan or McCullagh on the electoral mauling he had received, his media handlers were arranging for him to do a short and tightly controlled piece on The Nine O'Clock News.

We saw it too with Kenny's March 10 resignation as Taoiseach. There were no media or cameras present when he handed in his resignation to the President. There was no footage of him arriving at the Aras or meeting the President, so let's all pretend it didn't happen.

Except Kenny did lose the vote for Taoiseach, just as he lost the election. He has seen his parliamentary party decimated. The policy programme and five-year record that he and his ministers put to the people was roundly rejected. Instead, the people looked to the alternative offered by Micheál Martin and backed it to a degree that no one had predicted only a few months earlier.

Maybe it is this result, the resurgence by Fianna Fail, that they find so hard to face up to.

This perhaps explains the near-delusional arrogance of Kenny and his acting team of acting ministers over the past few weeks, including Richard Bruton's pronouncement last week of Fine Gael's superiority in all matters relating to negotiations, whether that be their timing or support for a government that is not centered around itself.

Here is the party that promised a break with the past five years ago, now clinging to its own pretensions of the past. Fine Gael's disconnect with today's political realities is breathtaking.

The voters have given their verdict. They have rejected the outgoing government, but have, in their wisdom, not voted in a clear replacement. Now it is up to the Dail and to all TDs and parties elected five weeks ago to take that result and make it work in the people's interests.

That is what we should be doing, but instead, we have the Fine Gael rump of the outgoing government telling itself that it has won an overwhelmingly minority, while the self-proclaimed harbingers of change in Sinn Fein and the Social Democrats rush to the sidelines to keep themselves pure and unsullied by resolutely refusing to do what they were elected to do.

The reality for most other European democracies is that forming a minority government is not difficult or complicated. Yes, it does take some weeks of negotiations, but they get on with it.

Sweden has had a minority government that is about 40 seats short of a majority since 2014 and it's getting on just fine. It has a government that has to listen to its parliament and its opposition and seek a consensus with them on major issues. It has to treat its parliament as an adult assembly and its parliament has to behave like one. The same is true elsewhere.

The reality is that the people have not given a single party or alignment of parties a clear mandate to govern. They looked at the alternatives offered by the two main competitors, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, and rated them about the same - with barely 1pc between them.

And so it is up to these two competing blocs to work to secure the support of as many other TDs and groupings as they can and - when one of them has secured that support - for the other party to behave responsibly and allow the prevailing will of the Dail to proceed and not act like the dog in the manger.

That is what I hope we will see happen next Wednesday, but I am far from confident that it is what we will see.

Willie O'Dea is the Fianna Fail TD for Limerick city.

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