Friday 24 May 2019

The inexorable rise of Sinn Fein makes the unthinkable FG/FF coalition a possibility

Timmy Dooley was Fianna Fail's director of elections
Timmy Dooley was Fianna Fail's director of elections

Gerard O'Regan

By name, nature and inclination, the Clare TD Timmy Dooley is vintage Fianna Fail. By name, nature and inclination, Ruth Coppinger is vintage new hard left. Ruth is also very typical of the weekend tsunami which engulfed, with such force and power, our political mainstream.

Rarely has the cultural chasm between the Dooleys and the Coppingers of this world been so palpable as when they both shared a television panel this week. It was yet another post-election post-mortem. Timmy who was a Director of Elections for his party looked slightly bewildered by all that had happened in so short a time.

While Fianna Fail had some electoral consolations at local level, his antenna would have told him a new dawn is on the political horizon. And what it may bring nobody really knows. For her part Ruth was showing little signs of elation following her historic win in that sprawling melting pot which is the Dublin West constituency. Her demeanour was decidedly grim. It was as if her success was but a microdot on the great left-wing revolution to come. Throughout the exchanges she remained decidedly dour - resisting any attempt at jocoseness.

Timmy was clearly suffering from post-election fatigue. Obviously seeking a break from hard-edged political discourse he tried here and there to lighten the discussion a little. But Ruth was having none of it, as she relentlessly tore into what she scathingly dismissed as the establishment political parties.

Things were made even more grim by the presence of Sinn Fein councillor Eoin O'Broin – whose partner Lynn Boylan had stormed to victory in the Euro elections. Eoin was equally determined to put the boot in, and repeatedly caught an obviously weary Tommy verbally flat-footed. The sound bites of unashamedly populist one-liners had the FF man regularly on the back foot.

Eventually it was left up to Fine Gael's General Secretary, Tom Curran, to come in with a left-field uppercut. How is it, he asked, that some high-profile Sinn Fein members – barely getting by on the average industrial wage – can afford holiday homes in Donegal? Suddenly the SF man was on the back foot. The moral high ground looked a much more vulnerable place.

But as the discussion progressed it was impossible not to conclude the obvious. A combination of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael must be considered as a possible coalition government if there is a near-nationwide upswing in left-of-centre politics in the general election. Rarely has the supposed differences between both parties – with their roots in a long distant civil war – looked more politically irrelevant.

So could such a grand alliance really be an option? As things stand, Fine Gael certainly won't get an overall majority, and their traditional partners, Labour, will be fighting to avoid a possible meltdown at the polls. Fianna Fail will bounce back, but only to an extent.

The near certainty is that the party will be well off achieving an overall majority on its own. A likely mishmash of unreliable Independents will not make up the numbers for it to form any kind of stable government.

As to another possible alternative – can FF really bed down with Sinn Fein to get into power? One of the many obstacles is that to protect Fianna Fail's middle-class vote, the likelihood is that Micheal Martin will be forced to give a pre-election commitment that this option is simply not on the table.

Given the meltdown of FF last time out, the collapse of Labour support on this occasion, and the seemingly inexorable rise of Sinn Fein, it's surely time to think the unthinkable. And one such previously unthinkable thought is a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition.

If it were to happen, the Dail opposition would comprise a record number of Sinn Fein TDs, plus Independents, and Green and Labour party deputies. The parliamentary balance for our democracy would be fine.

On a different – and slightly personal note – the drama of this week took me back to a time when a young Eamon Gilmore was a firebrand political activist in UCG. I worked with the local 'Tuam Herald' back then and a distant memory is that, not surprisingly, his hair was longer and much darker than it is now. But I also remember his commitment – whether one agreed or disagreed with him – to the public good.

Now that he will no longer be in the central arena, perhaps we should also recall it's not so long ago that those Troika Men with their hard faces and sharp suits were among us. Those were the days when we did not have enough cash to keep the ship of state from hitting the rocks.

It was a perilous time for Ireland. But, agree with him or disagree with him, Eamon Gilmore did his bit to steer that ship to calmer waters. It's not a bad accolade for the ousted Labour leader – and his place in the history books of the future.

Irish Independent

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